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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
Sunflower Friends

Giacinta sat in the grass, gazing across the Tuscan fields and rolling hills surrounding her villa. A breeze rustled the strands of her golden hair and then its wispy tendrils glided into the valley below. The lavender bells and poppy petals quivered and shimmered before the rich, brown earth swallowed the breath of air. The glossy black wings of a crow glittered in the sunlight. Caw! Caw! Caw! Giacinta watched the crow swoop from a chestnut tree, only to disappear in a field of sunflowers. “Where did the crow go?” she wondered. She stood up and ran down the gentle-sloping hill towards the floating raft of bright, orange-yellow flowers. “Crow? Where are you? I know you came in here! I saw you.” Pushing the stems to the side she forced her way deeper and deeper into the thick mass of sunflowers.


Giacinta’s head only reached the bottom leaves of the sunflowers, dwarfing her with their size. Brushing against them, the leaves seemed to reach for her with their prickly green hands. The sunlight faded as the huge petals umbrellad the girl. “It’s dark in here,” she said. She looked from side to side. “I don’t want to be in here any more! I’m frightened.” Giacinta turned and ran back the way she came, but the sunflowers all looked the same. She couldn’t tell which way she was going. “Help! Help!” she sobbed, sitting down in the dirt.


“What’s all that shouting?” Giacinta heard a voice calling and wiped the tears from her eyes.


“Who said that? Is that you, crow?”


“No, it’s not a crow. It’s me, Mario.”


“Where are you? I can’t see you. It’s sort of dark in here.”


Suddenly something brushed by Giacinta’s leg. “Down here. It’s me, Mario!”


Giacinta felt something tugging on her shoe. “You’re a porcupine! What are you doing among the sunflowers?”


“I live in here. It’s not safe for a porcupine out there. There are wolves and foxes and all sorts of things that like to eat porcupines! I stay in here where it’s safe,” Mario said.


“You’ve got prickly spines. You look like Mamma’s pincushion. Don’t poke me with your sharp prickles, please,” Giacinta pleaded.


“Don’t worry! I won’t. I only use them when I’m in danger. Now, what did you need help with?” Mario asked.


“My name’s Giacinta and I think I’m lost. I saw a crow fly into the sunflowers and  came to look for it. I didn’t realize there were so many sunflowers. Now I can’t find my way out. Will you help me find my way back to my villa?”


“Mario’s the name and of course I’ll help you, but I won’t leave here. I’ll take you to the edge of the sunflower field, if I can remember the way,” the porcupine said, rubbing his chin. “Hmmm. Which way is it?” He looked to the east and then to the west. “I think it’s this way. Come on. Follow me.” Giacinta pushed the sunflower stems out the way and followed the porcupine. They headed west, towards the tallest hills.


“I don’t think we’re going the right way. Oh, I wish I’d never gone looking for that crow. It’s probably back in the chestnut tree laughing at me,” she pouted. “We’re still in the sunflowers and I can’t even see the hills any more,” Giacinti frowned.


Mario looked up. “Maybe you’re right.” He looked to the south and then to the north. “I think we go this way. Yes, that’s right; we have to go this direction. Silly me!” He ran ahead. “Come on, Giacinta. Follow me.”


Another hour passed and they were still in the sunflowers. Giacinta pulled bits of sunflower petals and seeds and a few pieces of broken leaf and stem out of her tangled hair. “We’re not going the right way. We’re even more lost now than we were before.” She sat down in the dirt and cried. “I don’t want to be in the sunflowers any more. I want to go home to my villa.”


A tiny mouse with a long tail and wiggly whiskers ran past carrying a few sunflower seeds in its arms. It spotted Giancinta and stopped. “Why are you crying?” the mouse asked.


Giacinta looked down at the furry brown mouse. “I saw a crow fly into the sunflowers and I came to look for it. Now I’m lost and can’t find my way back to my villa. Mario, the porcupine, tried to help, but now both of us are lost.”


“I think I know the way out, though I’ve never left the sunflower field before. Why don’t you come with me? I’ll help you. By the way, my name’s Sienna. What’s yours?” the mouse squeaked, wriggling her nose.


“I’m Giacinta and this,” she pointed to the porcupine who hid behind a leaf, “is Mario. Can he come too?”


“The more, the merrier. Come with me,” Sienna said. She ran ahead, moving quickly through the sunflowers.


“Slow down. I can’t run as fast as you,” Giacinta called.


Sienna slowed down. Mario ran behind Giacinta and was glad they weren’t going so fast. “I can’t run that fast either,” the porcupine huffed and puffed. “I’ve got short legs.” He was nearly out of breath.


“Let’s see, I think we go this way,” Sienna said, pointing eastward. “Yes, this is the way out of the sunflowers.”


After another hour the group stopped. “I don’t think you know your way out of here any more than Mario did. I think we’re still lost and now we’re even deeper in the middle of the sunflowers. I want to go home,” Giacinta cried and sat down in the dirt.


Mario sat down next to her. He felt like crying too. “She’s right. We are lost!” he whined.


Sienna crawled up in her lap “Yes, I think you’re both right. Oh dear, what shall we do?” the mouse fretted.


“I’ll tell you what you’ll do! You’ll let me show you how to get out of the sunflowers!” A voice grumbled from behind a sunflower stem.


“Who said that?” Sienna asked.


“Me!” Just then a wild boar stepped out. “Leave it to a porcupine and mouse to get lost.” Mario and Sienna shook with fear. “Don’t let these tusks scare you. I’m Zanipolo and yes, I’m a wild boar, but I only use the tusks to dig things up from the ground, not to hurt mice and porcupines and lost girls with golden hair.” He reached up and pulled a twig out of Giacinta’s hair.


“Do you know the way out of the sunflower field? My mamma will be putting supper out on the table soon and I’m hungry,” Giacinta sighed. A crow cawed and flew out of the sunflowers with a dead snake in its beak.


“There’s your crow,” Sienna noted.


“At least the crow knows its way out of here. You know, we’ve done so much running around that I’m quite hungry myself,” Mario said. “What’s your mamma cooking?”


“When I left  Mamma had her hands in a huge mound of bread dough. It was full of olives, sunflower seeds and grains. I think we’re having ravioli with tomato sauce and herbs, corn smothered in butter, and artichokes,” Giacinta said. “I’m making myself hungry!” She rubbed her tummy and thought about her supper.

”Stop that! Stop that! I’m starving! Zanipolo, can you get us out of these sunflowers? Mario said, his own tummy growl with hunger.


“I think so. Mouse, why don’t you climb on my back and hold on, but not too tightly. Don’t pull my hairs. They may be bristly, but they’re very sensitive,” Zanipolo said.


“My name’s not Mouse! It’s Sienna. The porcupine’s name is Mario and the girl’s name is Giacinta. Lead the way.” Sienna climbed onto Zanipolo’s back and grabbed a handful of fur. He cringed in pain once or twice, but after she found a safe spot, the wild boar ran through the field. Giacinta ran behind the wild boar and Mario followed her. They ran and ran and ran.


“Here it is. Here’s the edge of the field. We made it!” shouted Zanipolo. “I knew I could do it!”


Giacinta smiled and looked all around. She saw the rolling hills and the chestnut trees, the valley filled with lavender and orange-red poppies. “There’s my villa, up on the hilltop.” She ran up the hill, but stopped before she reached the top. The animals weren’t following her. “Would you like to come to my villa and have supper with me?”


Mario nervously stuck his head out. “I want to come, but what if a wolf is hiding and eats me? I’m too frightened to leave the sunflowers.”


Sienna sat on Zanipolo’s neck. “I’ll come, but only if you promise me there are no cats at your villa.”


“I’ll go with you. I’m not afraid of wolves! I’ll just poke them with my tusks. Come on, Mario. I’ll protect you. Hold on, Sienna,” Zanipolo said.


Giacinta smiled. “I don’t have a cat at my villa and I don’t think there are wolves in this area. I’ve never seen one or heard one howl at night, but just in case, stay close to Zanipolo,” she warned the porcupine.


They ran up the hill towards the villa. Nervous and fearful, Mario’s eyes darted from side to side. Sienna held on tight to Zanipolo’s hairs, enjoying the ride as they bumped and jostled up the hill. Giacinta laughed and ran with her arms out to her side. She was glad to be out in the open again. When they reached the villa they turned and looked down on the sunflower field. “It’s very big. No wonder we couldn’t find our way out,” Giacinta said. The others stared at the blanket of yellow that spread from one end of the hill to the other.


“Go and hide in the shed. I’ll bring you some supper,” Giacinta said. She ran into her house and told her mamma about being lost in the sunflowers.


“Where are your friends?” Mamma asked.


“I told them to stay in the shed.”


Mamma laughed and headed for the shed. She opened the door and the animals cowered in the corner. “Don’t be afraid. You saved my Giacinta! Come and have supper with us at the villa.” Zanipolo marched out of the shed with Sienna on his back. Mario followed.


“This chair’s for you,” Mamma said to Zanipolo. He sat down and noticed the frescoes painted on the walls. Sienna climbed off and stood on the table. Mamma gave the wild boar a plate of ravioli with tomato sauce. His eyes bulged with delight when he saw the mushrooms hiding in the pasta.


“For you,” Mamma said and put a huge plate down in front of Mario. It was decorated with tiny lemons and grape vines with purple grapes hanging from vines. Mamma ladeled mushrooms, tomato sauce with meat on top of the ravioli.


Sienna squeaked with joy when Mamma put a gigantic chunk of mozzarella cheese and a slice of bread full of olives, sunflower seeds and grain down on the red and white checked tablecloth.


Giacinta watched the wild boar, porcupine and mouse gobble down their supper. “Now, for you,” Mamma said. She handed Giacinta a plate piled high with ravioli and garlic bread. “Thank you for helping my Giacinta. Eat! Eat! There’s more if you want it.”


After Zanipolo had eaten three plates full, Mamma brought in a tiramisu. “I hope you aren’t too full,” she laughed and gave them each a hefty portion. “When you are finished, you can sleep here tonight, in front of the fire, where it’s warm.”


That night the boar fell asleep, his snout lay close to the fire. The flames flickered and sparked as the porcupine snored and dreamed of the delicious ravioli supper he’d eaten that day. Sienna squeaked and curled her tail, feeling warm and cozy and full of cheese.


The next morning, after breakfast, Giacinta waved goodbye to her friends. Zanipolo ran towards the sunflowers, anxious to get back to digging for bugs around the roots. “Come back and visit me,” Giacinta shouted. The wild boar waved and disappeared into the yellow mass of flowers.


Sienna ran down the hill towards the sunflowers. When she reached the edge, she turned and wiggled her ears and waved. “Come back and visit me,” Giacinta shouted. “There’s a piece of cheese waiting for you when you do.” Sienna disappeared into the flowers.


A black crow soared high above the chestnut tree watching them. Caw! Caw! Caw!


Mario didn’t run. He walked slowly towards the flowers. “I’m not afraid of wolves any more,” he boasted.


Giacinta shouted, “Come back and visit me whenever you can!”


Just then a dog barked in the distance.  “Yikes! It’s a wolf!” The porcupine dashed into the sunflowers. When he was safely there he stuck his leg out and waved goodbye to Giacinta. She laughed at her frightened friend who tried so hard to be brave.


From then on Giacinta was content to sit on the grass and gaze at the Tuscan fields and rolling hills. She never went into the sunflower fields again, though sometimes she walked around the edge.

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