“Lice, lice…you have lice!” KayLynn, the most important girl in 5th grade, was pointing toward the back of the classroom.
“Eeewww!” Shannon Dowdy shouted next to her.
Everyone in fifth grade knew that Tanya never, or hardly ever, washed her hair. It was a cruel joke, mostly. Bottles of shampoo and conditioner had been sent home by the school nurse, but Tanya had refused to use it. And now with a desperate attempt, the school nurse had spread a nasty rumor to Miss Tandembum: “Tanya has lice!”
Of course even dirty little Nicolas knew he should wash his hair. But as the classroom jeered at her, Tanya kept her head down. Someday, any day now really, the value of not washing her hair would become known. She would be famous!
“Doesn’t your mommy and daddy make you take a bath?” Josh scolded her from two seats across the room.
“Oh, no why would they, she has perfectly licey hair now!” Garret laughed as he poked KayLynn on the elbow. “Besides we wouldn’t want her to ruin her chances of becoming famous, now would we?”
Tanya looked-up with tears in her eyes. No one understood. She couldn’t wash her hair yet. It wasn’t the right moon.
“Neener, neener, Tanya is a weiner!” Three of KayLynn’s friends sang in unison.
Miss Tandenbum cleared her throat, “Class!” The bellow filled the room as tears streamed down Tanya’s cheeks. “No one needs to tease Tanya, even though she needs to wash her hair thoroughly, it is not a sin to get lice, but it is a sin to keep them!”
“You got cooties!” Todd whispered but Tanya did not listen. She never listened to them.
“Here is a note for your mother, please take this home today.” Standing over Tanya’s desk, Miss Tandenbum held a folded piece of white stationary from the school nurse. “You may be excused from your class work today, and you are to return tomorrow with a note from your mother.”
Tanya looked-up at the piece of paper. She did not want to take it, so she sat there with her head down trying not to exist. When a little voice whispered in her ear, “Take the note.”
Reaching out for the paper, Tanya tucked the note inside of her book. The little voice whispered again, “Now let’s go home.”
It had been like this since the beginning of fifth grade. Tanya could not wash her hair except on a full moon. And there were other caveats as well.
She could only use fresh rain water. The rain water could not have been stored for more than seven days, in fact, it was best just to not wash it if the rain water was over six days old really, but she had once washed it with seven-day rain water. And the hair sprite only complained and acted like it was sick—making fake puking noises behind her ears while she was trying to complete her math test.
Secondly, Tanya could not shampoo her hair with commercial shampoo. She had to use a variety of different herbal and natural ingredients depending whether it was spring, summer, fall or winter.
In the spring when the sprite had visited the sap root trees for gatherings, Tanya had to use lemon juice followed with lavender oil.
During the summer, when the mud pies flew all around the sprite festivals, Tanya used one hen egg to grab the dirt mixed with a teaspoon of honey to bind the spritely dirt down the drain.
Fall hair washing months were a little easier. Most of the sprites were stitching and knitting their fallen leaves into clothes for winter. So, a few apple peelings added to the rain water normally curled around any leaf particles and whisked them away.
Old man winter had a flurry festival with ice crystal and snowflake pageants all the cold dreary months. So, it was not necessary to wash out any dirt, but rather to add natural conditioner such as essence of lavender and rosemary oil. Hair dried out if your sprite was as active during the winter such as Tanya’s sprite was.
Of course, it was a bother to not shampoo her hair, and Tanya had been reluctant at first. But, if the secret was true, then what did she have to lose?
Besides, the first year had gone so well! Tanya had made her first wish and within a few months of full moons, at the stroke of midnight on December 31 to be exact, she had gotten her first wish.
Bright an early on January 1st, Tanya had insisted that her mother take her to the orthodontist. Her teeth were straight and perfect now. No more braces or headgear for her.
And with reluctance her mother agreed.
The orthodontist had said, “It is a pure scientific breakthrough! It was a marvelous engineering wonder.” There had never been or (ever would be) such a miracle in teeth straightening in his entire career.
Promptly, wires and brackets were removed, and Tanya was allowed to eat taffy, caramel and any other sticky candy she wanted for as long as she lived! It was a wish that come true—just as the sprite had promised.
Now, there was no hesitation on Tanya’s part to push the hair sprite for promise of another wish. And though the sprite hesitated at first, she compromised.
“Usually, I only grant one wish per inhabitation, but because I like you and you do everything I tell you, I will stay with you another year and grant you one more wish.” The sprite was a bit of a manipulator, “But there is one condition…”
“What condition could you possibly want now?” Tanya had observed all of the hair gleaning that the sprite had ordered.
“You have to set me free after I grant your last wish…no matter if you like it or not.”
Tanya wrinkled her brow. There was something tricky about the way the sprite said like it or not. “How could I not like my own wish?”
The sprite, who was now sitting on the bridge of her nose, pointed her spritely finger, “Promise!”
“Ok, ok…I promise if you grant my wish, I will set you free.” Tanya took a deep breath, “I want to be famous!”
“Then consider it done! Now let’s go and have some fun.” But the hair sprite was a plotting and scheming character. And soon everyone in Tanya’s classroom began to poke fun of her dirty hair.
On the walk home, Tanya could hear the sprite bustling around inside her dirty hair. “What are you doing?”
There was a brief pause, “I am packing.”
“Why are you packing? It is not December yet.”
“I have fulfilled my promise now, and you have to set me free!” The sprite was sitting on top of her ear shouting.
“But I am not famous yet. You can’t leave. We have a pact…you promised.”
Tanya stopped just short of the gate in front of her house waiting for the hair sprite to speak.
“You are famous now. Everyone in fifth grade knows you as the Girl with Cooties! Like it or not, you are f-a-m-o-u-s.” The sprite was giggling, and Tanya felt it tickle her neck as she slid down her long hair and plopped down on Tanya’s shoulder.
“That’s not fair! I wanted to be famous in a good way not a bad one.” Tanya turned her head to avoid looking at the sprite standing on her shoulder.
“Fair or not, that was the deal! Now I am off and away…” The sprite lit its wings with fire dust from a small pouch slung over its shoulder and burst away.
Tanya mumbled and grumbled. It was not fair! The sprite had cheated. She was not really famous—at least not the kind of famous she had wanted. And now, everyone thought she had cooties because of that stupid sprite. Unfair!
As she turned the door knob and entered the house, Tanya could smell pot roast simmering in the kitchen. “Mom, I’m home!”
There was a clinking noise followed by busy feet pattering across linoleum flooring. “Why are you home from school so early? Are you sick? Come here and let me feel your forehead.” Mom was a loving and caring woman.
“No, I have a note.” Tanya handed the folded paper to her mom.
Tanya waited watching her mom’s eyes tear-up and stern look crossed her face. “March up those stairs young lady, and wash your hair. I have to run down to the drug store real quick and pick-up a hair treatment to doctor you with.”
“But Mom…I don’t really have…”
“Not another word. Up the stairs missy!”
Tanya stomped up the stairs mumbling…”I hate sprites! Feral varmints!”
The bathroom door was ajar at the top of the stairs. Fresh towels and washrags were in the cupboard next to the bathtub. Tanya looked in the bathroom mirror once. Then she stood over the sink looking hard at her greasy hair. “Why did I ever listen to a sprite? I should have known better.”
Sighing, Tanya tugged on the cupboard door. But it would not open. “Mom, the cupboard is stuck. I can’t get a towel out to wash my hair!”
Below there was thud noise. “Tanya, tug a little harder on the door. It has been sticking lately.”
Tanya tugged at it with one arm hard. Then she used both hands pulling and straining on it. “It’s stuck!”
“Pull harder, it will open!”
With both hands tightly on the knob, Tanya leaned back and using her weight to leverage against the wall.
Crackle, crack, Bang!
The cupboard came loose from the wall and tumbled down on the bathroom floor with it barely missing Tanya.
“What is going on up there?” Tanya could hear her mom running up the stairs.
And there beside the broken towel cupboard, unfolded towels and broken chunks of plaster was a rolled parchment that had fallen out from inside the wall.
Tanya was half scared and half excited. She reached down to pick it up. Her heart was pounding with joy.
“Let me see that!” Tanya’s mom took the unfurled the yellowed edges to reveal and map. “Oh my goodness! Tanya I can’t believe this.”
“What is it Mom, what is it?”
Together and in between lines that looked like block on a globe there was an island marked in clear lettering that read:
Atlantis-City of Gold.