Introduction: I wrote this story in several parts, each as entries for Loren’s CWWC 2016. Enjoy!
Beyond the Looking Glass
Tonight rain and moonlight are tap-dancing together on the roof. Mademoiselle Trumente hates the rain because it will not obey her rule of absolute quiet. I slip out of bed in bare feet and steal silently over to the mirror. I have had much practice in being silent, for if I make a noise, Mademoiselle Trumente will be up the stairs in a moment, a silent apparition of doom. She will stand there in her threadbare slippers, strands of her greasy hair trembling and quaking about her red face as if they too, are afraid of her wrath. Her anger is a fierce fury, hotter than any fire, sharper than any sword, and deathly quiet. Everything in this house is deathly quiet. Even her punishments are quiet.
Down to the cellar for a day and a night;
No food; stale water; darkness; silence.
But tonight Mademoiselle does not appear at my door. I carefully avoid the third floorboard which always heaves a long groan of sorrow if I so much as touch it with a toe. I snatch up the lit candle and hold it in front of me as I gaze into the mirror. A girl’s face stares back at me from the gilded frame on the wall.
Long tangles of wavy, red-brown hair.
Pale face; drawn and thin and colorless.
Chocolate brown eyes with flecks of gold.
Small nose. Thin lips. Sharp chin. Black dress.
The mirror is unforgiving, but I want it to forgive. It will not show me what I need it to show. I have to know who I am.
I gaze far down into the depths of the dark eyes, pulling with all my might, willing secrets to come to the surface. There! Far down in my eyes, something moves. I concentrate, grasping the thought with my mind until the picture fills the eyes of my reflection, then my face, then the whole mirror. It is a beautiful scene. Torrents of water tumble over boulders, crashing into milky froth where they leap into the lake below. Pearly swans glide on the lake by the dozens, preening, eating, swimming. Graceful willow ladies and strong, ancient gentlemen trees stand shoulder to shoulder by the river. And… there it is. The familiar picture of two silhouettes sitting on a log-bridge. One of the figures is a young girl reading a book. The other figure is strange and fantastical: a cross between a dragon and an enormous bird crested with swirling plumes. The dragon-bird is listening intently to the girl as she reads aloud.
My mirror is a window to another world, a world guarded by strange dragon-birds called Ferrymen. How do I know what the dragon-birds are called? How can I see this land behind the looking glass? I do not know. I only know that I belong there. The girl swinging her legs on the log-bridge is me, I just know it. And the dragon-bird… I strain my mind, rifling through memory files that stretch back 16 years. As always, I come so close to solving the mystery. My mind clenches the memory, but cannot rip it open.
Why, why, why am I here?
Why do I live in this dark, old house?
Why must I always be quiet?
Who is Mademoiselle Trumente,
And why must I obey her?
What is the spell hanging over this house,
And how do I shatter it forever?
But mind is too weak. It lets go of the memory, and the picture in the mirror begins to fade. But this time I will not let it go. I cannot live like this, with my life shrouded in clouds of mystery and loneliness and silence. I squint my eyes hard and force my mind to keep the picture before me. But it is no use. My legs are weak, and my mind is weaker. I cannot hold the picture. Wait! I need you to give me the answers! Don’t go…
Suddenly, I am angry. Angrier even than Mademoiselle is when I drop something and it clashes to the floor. I will not let the picture go until it answers my question. I will not let my mind give up until it finds the memory.
The picture comes nearer and nearer. I can hear the faint roar of the waterfall reaching me through the glass. I can hear the murmur of the girl as she reads to the Ferryman. What is she saying? Will it solve the mystery? Why, why, why am I here? My brain is churning. The picture is fading again. No!
If my mirror is a window to another world, I will break the window-panes and crawl over the windowsill. In desperation I pick up the small wooden chest on my dresser and hurl it at the mirror. The glass shatters with a tremendous explosion. All I can think is Mademoiselle Trumente will be up the stairs now. How long will I stay in the cellar this time? Three days? A week? The rest of my life? I close my eyes and crumple to the ground. I give up. That’s the only thing left to do. I give up. I wait wearily for Mademoiselle to glide noiselessly over to me and stand above me, outraged. I don’t care what she does. I give up. I have never been so tired in my life. Still Mademoiselle’s shadow does not fall on my face. With an effort, I open my eyes.
Broken shards lay scattered on the ground beside me, but I pay no attention to them. My eyes are fixed on something much more interesting.
No silence but sound;
No floor but ground;
No ceiling but sky;
Where am I?
My dull room has vanished. I am now surrounded by a beautiful and vaguely familiar sight. Torrents of water cascade down boulders in the distance, white swans preen and glide on the mirror-like lake, and as I look up… The Ferryman. A strange half-bird, half-dragon is sitting on a thick branch above my head.
I am in the land beyond the mirror. I scramble to my feet in amazement. Instinctively I clamber up the mighty tree to the Ferryman. I am no longer afraid of heights, or depths, or anything at all. I sit across from the Ferryman and stare unblinkingly into his unblinking eyes. He opens enormous claws and reveals a small cardboard box with the words, “Bad Memories: Do Not Open” scrawled across it.
I am puzzled. Obviously the Ferryman wants me to open it, but the message on the box clearly warns against doing so. I look up at the Ferryman again, who nods his head.
Slowly I open the box. There is nothing in it but a strange purple cloud that whooshes out and swirls around my head. I blink, and when I open my eyes I am no longer in the land beyond the mirror.
I am sitting in an empty school room. Rows of desks surround me, and the windows are closed and curtained. What now? I am just about to open a window to see where I am, when writing appears on the blackboard.
This is the school for your memory. Learn your lessons well and never forget them. The chalk scrapes rapidly over the board. I am strangely not afraid of the mysterious writing. My emotions are dull and numb, like frozen fingers. The writing continues.
When you were three years old, a terrible earthquake struck your homeland. For four days the ground shook and cracked, trees groaned and fell to the earth, and homes were swallowed up. You and your parents fled the land, struggling against the heaving earth and high winds. One day your father slipped near a chasm and never returned. Your mother was beside herself with grief, but she was a strong woman. She needed a hero, so that is what she became. She battled the fierce winds alone, clutching your hand tightly. She vowed in her heart that she would never, ever let you go. She traveled for a day and a night, never sleeping, never eating, but giving you all the little food she had and carrying you when you cried out for sleep.
My emotions are quickly thaw into tears as I am swept into the story. My mother. My mother saved my life, and I cannot even remember what she looked like. Tears cascade down my cheeks as fiercely as the torrents of water cascaded down the boulders in the land beyond the mirror. But the story on the blackboard is still not finished.
How did you come to live in the dark old house, you wonder?
When your mother could travel no longer, she fell to the ground in exhaustion, hugging you in her arms. That is how the Ferrymen found you. They carried you both down to the land beyond the mirrors.
Aha! So that’s why I know what the Ferrymen are called.
You recovered, but that long journey had sucked everything from your mother. While you played happily with baby Ferrymen, your mother lay still and pale, unmoving and unseeing. Weeks passed, and the Ferrymen shook their heads over her in despair. But… she lived! Three weeks after the Ferrymen had found her, your mother opened her eyes and asked feebly where her daughter was.
I exhale slowly in relief. My mother lived! But what was her name and where is she now? Is she still living? The blackboard seems to read my mind.
Your mother’s name was Susan Gray.
I rifle again through my memory files. Nope. “Susan Gray” doesn’t bring up any results.
As for your other questions…
Your mother is living but not full of life,
Near and yet impossible to reach.
She is beside you every day
But never knows you.
You know her best,
And yet you know her not.
The Ferrymen will help you solve this riddle. When you have solved it, come back for the rest of your lesson.
With that, I find myself back at the land beyond the mirror, back with the swans and birds and Ferrymen. The Ferryman who had given me the box is still sitting on the tree branch, but at my return he spreads his great wings and soared to the ground. I step up to the dragon-bird boldly. “I need to solve this riddle.” The Ferryman listens thoughtfully to the riddle, then nods his head. He flaps over to hollow log near a swan nest and pulls out something. The swan parents nearly go mad, and I have to smile as the big, lumbering Ferryman flees back to me, two swans flapping furiously after him. He shoves a piece of paper into my hand with his scaly claws. It is an old photograph. At the top is the signature: “Susan Gray” A picture of my mother! I study it carefully.
Long tangles of wavy, red-brown hair.
Chocolate brown eyes with flecks of gold.
But not me:
Wide, ruddy, smiling face,
Long nose, full lips, dimpled chin, green dress.
Of course I am grateful to the Ferryman for this precious gift, but I don’t see how it can help me solve the riddle. But then I notice that something about the photo seems vaguely familiar. Can it be that I remember her after all? I pull out the memory files of my brain and look through them yet again.
Aha! I have found a match! Wait, what? And a most bewildering match it is.
Now I know who the picture reminds me of: Mademoiselle Trumente. How can this be?
Suddenly I am back in the schoolroom again. Writing appears almost immediately on the blackboard.
You have solved the riddle. Good. Yes, Mademoiselle is your mother.
Although your mother recovered partially after the earthquake, her hearing and part of her mind was damaged by the deafening sounds and terrible trials she had endured on the journey. Her body was not as young or as easily healed as yours was. Gradually her hearing worsened and it became painful to her to hear any little sound. Even the small noise of rain pattering on the roof was ear-splitting. That is why Mademoiselle insists that her house be quiet.
When your mother finally took you to where you live now, she could not remember her name, so she invented one herself. She taught you to call her “Mademoiselle Trumente” not because she loved to hear you say it. You always said “Mad-Michele” instead of “Mademoiselle.” How she laughed over that! Eventually the nickname stuck. By that time your mother’s hearing was far-gone and she could not tell you anything without great pain to herself. Her hearing has gradually worsened over the years until now. Now you must help your mother, if indeed you are willing. If you don’t help her now, her memory and hearing will be lost forever.
“Oh yes! I am willing to do whatever it takes to get my mother back. Mother, I am so sorry. I will come back to you and help you. Please forgive me, Mother.” I call out her name as if that could make her hear me, as if that could make her care for me and love again like her own daughter, even though I knew that if she could hear my cries, she would just cover her ears.
Very well. Go to the fairies. They will know what you need.
The schoolroom vanishes once again in the blink of an eye, and I find myself on a damp woodland path. Moss drips from ancient trees and magical, glowing blue butterflies flutter around me. I stop at a wooden sign nailed to a tree. “Fairies Be Here.” I scan the ground, but all I see are toadstools and logs and tree roots. Just then I see a tiny movement near one of the toadstools. A miniscule winged creature has just fluttered out of a little door in the toadstool.
I eagerly approach the fairy, but when she feels my shadow drop on her, her face suddenly contorts with terror and she rushes back into the toadstool house, slamming the tiny wooden door. A few seconds later I see her miniature pixie face peering anxiously out of a curtained window. She scans the forest. When she sees me, her face freezes in terror again, then melts into intense relief. Strange. What is going on?
The fairy scurries out of the toadstool and beckons me to lean down.
“Why are you here?” she whispers fearfully. “I don’t… I can’t believe that you’re one of Them…” She trails off and mutters to herself. “No, she can’t be on Their side. She is not one of them, I just know it.” She gazes up at me with wide, green eyes that sparkle with fear. “Why are you here?” she asks again.
I tell her how I got to the land beyond the mirror; I tell her about the strange schoolroom, the riddle, and my surprise when I learned that silent, angry Mademoiselle Trumente is my mother who once loved me so much that she sacrificed herself to save me; and I tell her about the last message on the blackboard: “Go to the fairies. They will know what you need.”
During my story, the fairy’s eyes had constantly roved the forest, then returned to me. She was obviously afraid of something. Now I can’t stand it anymore. I have to know what she is afraid of, so I ask her.
She sighs. “So you don’t know Them. Very well, I will tell you, but you’ll wish you had never asked.”
A shiver runs up my spine like a mouse with cold feet. The fairy begins a sort of ballad in her soft, silvery voice.
“They are cunning, they are brave,
They are brutal, they are relentless,
And They are hunting us.
White creatures, ghostly in the mist,
Stooped and spiny.
Horrible creatures that flit from tree to tree
As tall as trees themselves,
Or small as flowers growing in the sun.
We can never know what form they’ll take,
But we can always know
That They will be terrifying.
They steal into our village on silent feet,
But Their silence is a loud and terrible silence.
In the morning, our village wails and mourns.
One more fairy gone to the land of no return,
One more friend lost to Them.
But now, we will fight back.
They are brave, but we are braver.
Bravery is overcoming fear;
We will overcome our fear
And destroy Them.
The fairy lifts her head and she looks beautiful standing there, proud and defiant. But she is tiny. How can such little fairies ever hope to conquer such strange, terrible creatures as tall as trees?
“I am so sorry.” I say, meaning it. “But what about me? Was the message right when it said the fairies will know what you need? Do you know what will save my mother?”
The fairy looks me in the eye. “I do. There is a plant called the Healing Lily that grows in the mountains. For centuries the fairies have prized the Healing Lily as a cure for blindness or deafness. It will cure your mother… if you can find it.”
I clap my hands excitedly. “Oh, that is wonderful! How am I to get this Healing Lily?”
“That part is not so wonderful. The plant lives on the mountain, but so do They. You will come with us, and help us fight Them, and when They are conquered, you may take the flower.”
I gasp. I have no experience in war; I am not strong; I do not know how to use a sword or shoot a bow and arrow. And I most definitely do not want to meet Them. I struggle to find my breath.
“But – but isn’t there some other way? I won’t be much help to you – I don’t know anything about fighting.”
“We will teach you.”
“But…” It is no use. I know I must fight Them or never save my mother.
That night at dusk I cloak myself in a dark cape. The fairies have given me their largest lantern, which is still rather small for me. I stand by the fairy ring where many fairies stand solemnly in front of their houses, watching me. The first fairy I met – who I now know as Gwendolyn – nods at me. I take a deep breath and wave to the fairies. It is time. It is time for me to test my bravery. I must carry the message to the surrounding kingdoms: “War on Them tomorrow.” The elves and dwarves and all the other people of the forest have been preparing for this moment for months. Now I will be the spark that lights the match, and tomorrow the fire will burn against Them.
I turn and hurry down the woodland path, consulting the fairies’ map every so often. It is certainly true that I can cover ground much faster than fairies could. My hair streams out behind me as I run silently over the moss. I pass a dwarf graveyard, spooky in the misty night. Are They lurking behind every tree that I pass? Are They waiting for just the right moment to jump out and capture me? Will they put out the spark before it has time to light the match? I take a deep breath and remember what the Gwendolyn said: bravery is overcoming fear. I will overcome my fear. I. Am. Brave.
Before sunrise the next morning, strange people begin trickling into the fairy village. Centaurs, dwarves, elves, and fauns appear in groups around the fairy ring. By mid-morning, the army is complete and we begin the march.
Gwendolyn is supposed to be my guardian. If I was not so preoccupied with the thought of the battle ahead, I might have laughed at the thought of a little fragile fairy serving to guard me from terrible monsters. But as it is, I am grateful for any companion, however small.
At least I don’t have to fight. The fairy rulers had assigned me to spy duty along with Gwendolyn and several other fairies. Although I can be more easily spotted than a fairy, I have much better hearing and eyesight which will be useful on our mission.
After nearly an hour of marching, we arrive at a soaring stone wall with a small wooden gatehouse wedged in it. Here we stop to rest, and Gwendolyn gives me a history lesson.
“This gatehouse is the way to Their kingdom. We have not always been enemies with Them. A little over a decade ago we did not know They even existed. We went freely in and out of Their land, which was inhabited only by friendly trolls – or so we thought. But one day the trolls living in Their land found something, we know not what. Trolls were suddenly hurrying through our land and theirs with a mysterious glint in their eyes, gathering this and that and following each other in long lines. About two weeks after the trolls started acting strangely, the wall went up. No one was allowed into Their land without the gatekeeper’s permission, and soon They appeared and started hunting us.”
Gwendolyn shuddered and continued. “Eventually no one was let past the stone wall. The trolls locked the door in the gatehouse that led to their land with many chains, and someone, probably one of Them, scratched a message into the door: ‘The world is not safe anymore.’ No one ever comes back if they stray beyond that door. What lies beyond is unknown.” Gwendolyn’s tiny head bows with sorrow and fear and she finishes her story:
“At noon we will storm the gatehouse and destroy the door. Then we must fight or die.
They are cunning and brave,
Brutal and relentless.
They are hunting us,
But now we will hunt Them back.”
The little mouse named Fear runs up my spine again with its cold feet.
At noon the dwarves and Centaurs work quickly to destroy the door, and the whole horde surges through the small opening like a huge river being channeled through a tiny pipe.
I take in my first sight of Their land as I stand on Their side of the wall with Gwendolyn in my open palm. Empty meadows stretch around us, but in the distance we can see a mountain covered in dense, black forest. The spikes and spires of hidden buildings pierce the air on top of the hill.
“That must be Their headquarters,” Gwendolyn whispers to me, nodding her head at the hidden city. “Remember? The Healing Lily lives on that mountain, and so do They.”
“Do we h-have to go there to spy?”
Gwendolyn nods her head. Our fellow spies make a group around us, and Gwendolyn flits around to each member, explaining our mission: we must find out how many people dwell in the hidden city and how hard it will be to win it for ourselves.
Our party finally flies forth – or in my case, creeps forth through the tall grass. I know the minute we are seen They will wipe us out, but They seem to be in hiding. The meadow is as devoid of creatures as it is of shelter. Hmm… I wonder why They didn’t just fight us at the gateway. But I have no more time to wonder: we are at the mountain. Gwendolyn addresses our group in a hushed voice.
“While traveling in this forest, you must all use extreme caution. They may be waiting for us behind any tree. Everyone must be absolutely silent – no talking and no whispering unless it is an emergency.” The fairy turns to me. “Tread carefully, Adele.”
Fortunately for me, the forest is made up of mainly evergreen trees, and the pine needles are silent under my feet. Once I thought I saw Them and my head shot up in fear. For that one moment I wasn’t looking where I stepped and a twig cracked loudly under my feet. My hand flew to my mouth and all of the fairies stopped in midair. I felt like the clumsiest being that ever lived. But it was a false alarm; even then They did not appear. Now I still feel vaguely nervous, like we are doing something wrong.
As we climb higher, I shiver in the cool air and try to hold back puffs and gasps as our way steepens.
Suddenly, we’re there.
Another stone wall surrounds this city. There are no guards or signs of life. Everything is silent. Maybe this is an abandoned city. I spot several small chinks in the mortar, and step cautiously up to one of them.
Whoa. I see towering wooden and stone buildings with many turrets standing proudly inside the walls, stretching up, up into the sky. But there are no signs of life at all. Gwendolyn signals everyone to gather around and whispers that we must go into the city. Even though the city looks deserted, the order still sends a shiver through me. What if They are just setting a trap for us? But the fairies are already flying high over the wall. I climb the wall clumsily using old vines as handholds and chinks as footholds. The climb down is much easier because there is a narrow staircase running down the wall to the ground.
I look around the city, on the alert for any signs of hidden monsters, but I see nothing. I catch up to the fairies who are just about to enter a house.
“Stop, Gwendolyn!” I whisper fiercely. “It might be a trap!”
Gwendolyn whispers back: “It might be a trap, but I don’t think so. We looked in the windows and the house seems empty. Besides, They won’t notice a few little fairies. You… you’d better stay outside, just in case. Get ready to run.” I gulp and edge closer to the staircase that runs up the wall of the city.
Gwendolyn and her fairy friends slip softly into the house by way of a small knothole in the wood.
I hold my breath.
It feels like hours until Gwendolyn finally pops out through the hole and flies over to me, grinning. “There’s no one home!” she exclaims gleefully. I breathe a sigh of relief. Gwendolyn smiles and continues, “It looks like this is an abandoned city. Although we can’t conquer any inhabitants, the city will at least provide shelter for our soldiers.”
What a relief! “So now we have to tell the soldiers, right?”
We set off down the mountain with joy in our hearts. We are safe! At least for now…
When we break out of the forest into the meadow, we head straight for the wall where the soldiers are preparing for battle. Gwendolyn eagerly tells her fairy king the good news that now they will be safe at night. But we spies still haven’t exactly accomplished our mission – where are our enemies? So after a short drink break, the spy party reforms and sets off as the soldiers begin the march up the mountain to settle their food and extra weapons in the city. If we bring them news of the enemy before nightfall, they will fight; if we don’t, they will wait till morning to search for Them.
As we start off again, I spot a large white bird soaring overhead. Is it one of Their spies? I swallow hard and shrink down into the grass. Now I can see that it’s a swan – wearing something around its neck. The swan is obviously acting as a messenger, but whether from enemies or friends I do not know. I slip the loop of string from its neck and open the letter with trembling hands.
Beware! Things are not as them seem, Adele. Beware the hidden city, for it hides unpleasant surprises. They are the hunters, and you are the hunted. Do not fall into their trap. Signed, The Ferrymen
My heart stops. It IS a trap! And our soldiers are walking right into it!
I lose no time in hurtling up the mountain, a cloud of bewildered fairies at my heels.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING, ADELE?” Gwendolyn shrieks into my ear.
“I’LL TELL YOU ON THE WAY.” I shriek back through the sound of air rushing past me.
When I finally I catch up to the soldiers, I’m so exhausted I can barely walk straight.
“Wait!” I cry between gasps. “It’s a trap! Don’t do it… escape while you can… They will kill you…” I crumple to the ground with exhaustion. I catch my breath, then try again.
“May I have your attention, please!” I shout. Dwarves, centaurs, elves, and fauns all stop their work and look at me in surprise.
“I apologize for stopping you, but I have just received a letter that says They are hiding in the city on the top of the mountain. It’s a trap! They are the hunters and we are the hunted…” Before I can finish my speech, a golden-haired fairy flies in front of me.
“Wait! Wait. It was me. I… I wrote the letter.” The fairy hangs her head and stares at the ground. “I’m sorry. I… I don’t know why I did it, really it’s just…” she trails off and a tear slips down her cheek. “I guess I just wanted to scare you. I’m so sorry, Miss Adele…” now she falls to the ground and lets the tears fall freely. “Truly I am,” she whispers.
The soldiers are bewildered. Some seem disgusted at the fairy and me for causing a false alarm, and some just look relieved.
I don’t know what to say. I should be angry at this fairy for causing so much trouble, but I’m not. She seems honestly repentant, and somehow… I wouldn’t have imagined she would do such a thing. Poor girl! I try to give the fairy a comforting hug, but that nearly suffocates her, so I quickly switch to another tactic.
“It’s alright,” I tell her softly. “I forgive you. But please don’t do it again – you really scared me!”
The fairy smiles through her tears and nods her head.
When we arrive at the hidden city, everything is quiet and still, just as we left it. I’m beginning to feel ashamed of myself for believing the letter.
The soldiers divide into groups and file into the houses. I watch the lines file past as I listen to Gwendolyn tell a story to a group of fairies. I realize absent-mindedly that the houses can hold a lot of soldiers. It seems like the lines keep filing in, and the houses never get full! What a blessing it is to have this for a fortress. Gwendolyn’s silvery voice fades to a murmur and my eyelids droop. Suddenly my eyes start open at the sound of someone crying right beside me. It’s the same fairy that wrote the letter – Gwendolyn told me her name is Eliana.
“I’m so sorry, Miss Adele,” Eliana breaks off into sobs again.
I frown and try to stifle a yawn. “I thought we already cleared this up, Eliana. It’s okay, really. I forgive you!”
“No, it’s not that, (*sniff*) it’s just that I didn’t (*sniff*) write the (*sniff*) letter.”
I sigh in frustration. What is the matter with this girl?
Eliana settles on the ground and tells me her story between sobs and sniffs: “When I was about to fly out of the house we were spying on this afternoon, the… the floor just sort of opened up and some of Them came out. They threatened me and said that if I didn’t help them, they would raid my village.” The fairy wrings her little hands in despair. “So I had to agree. I had to! That’s why I said I wrote the letter – I was afraid They would be angry with me if I didn’t stop the letter from ruining their plan. But I know it wasn’t right now.” Eliana stared at the ground and fluttered her wings slowly back and forth.
Every scrap of sleepiness has fled from me now. “But if the letter isn’t a fake, that means it’s true! And if it’s true, They really did set a trap. And if…” A horrible thought suddenly forces itself into my mind. That’s why so many soldiers can fit in a house! They are trapping each one as he enters! My mind is whirling. “Tell Gwendolyn what you told me, Eliana,” I yell over my shoulder. I snatch up a torch and take off running to the nearest house.
I slow down as I approach it. What am I doing? What am I thinking? I can’t singlehandedly save a bunch of strong soldiers from Them! I twist my dress anxiously and hold the torch a little higher. I can’t see a thing through the windows. I just have to know! I have always been impulsive. Now my heart takes over and leaves my brain behind, then my legs take over and leave my heart behind. Stop this, Adele! You can’t go in there – you’ll be killed! But my legs propel my onwards. It’s like I’m watching a scary movie, but I can’t stop it, I can’t change to another movie, and worst of all, it’s real.
My hands tremble as they turn the doorknob. My feet stumble inside. My eyes close in fear, then open again.
I wish I had kept them closed.
The floor of the house is now a yawning pit, and They are in it – the horrible, ghastly, spindly, white monsters that are the terror of every kingdom far and near. And They’re looking at me. Hungrily.
I am paralyzed. I can’t even scream for help. I blink back tears and when I open my eyes, I’m down in the pit, surrounded by Them and… someone else. I realize there is one other human here with me. Only one. The soldiers have disappeared, but this one man stands unafraid amongst Them. Even in my desperate fear, I am curious.
The man takes one look at me and rushes forward, a strange look on his face. It looks like he either wants to kill me or hug me, I can’t tell which. I hope it’s the latter. I gulp, and look at his strong frame and square jaw and glinting steel gray eyes. His piercing gaze rakes me over from head to foot. He locks me in a stare for a moment and looks into my eyes as if trying to draw out all my secrets. I shiver.
“Wh-who are you?” I stammer.
When he hears my voice, the man’s face changes. He looks sad, angry, and deliriously happy at the same time. In the back of my mind, a spark is trying to light itself.
He speaks in a rough, broken, but almost pleading voice. “You know who I am. Don’t you? Oh Adele, how could you not know me?”
I shrink back, startled. How does he know my name?
His hard, steel gray eyes melt until they are as soft as fawn’s gaze. His face fills to overflowing with… something. I have never seen anyone look at me that way, except once, when I was younger, maybe 6 or 7. Mademoiselle – I mean my mother – suddenly scooped me up and cuddled me on her lap. I remember seeing that same expression on her tired, ruddy face. Now I know what it was. Love.
I cry out suddenly. No, it can’t be…!
“Father? Is… is that you?”
The man’s face glows from some inward beam of light. Now I know for sure. The spark roars into flame in my mind. Somewhere, dimly, I can remember my father smiling at me like that: a brilliant smile overflowing with love.
I rush weeping into his outstretched arms. Father’s tears mingle with mine as he holds me close and strokes my hair. “I love you, Adele,” he whispers.
“Oh, I love you too, Father.”
“But… how are you alive? I thought you fell down a chasm!”
“I did. But I fell down here and as you can see, I survived to tell the tale!” Father grins through his tears. “The trolls were quite hospitable when they found me, and gathered up countless little things to make me comfortable. I took a while to recover from that fall.”
I remember something from Gwendolyn’s history lesson: “A little over a decade ago…the trolls living in Their land found something, we know not what…”
Now I know what they found – Father! Thirteen years ago Father fell into their world.
Father goes on, “Now I know why they were so eager to protect me: they wanted to conquer the world, and I was to help them. Apparently the troll king was not a favorite with his subjects, but they had no choice but to obey him. He commanded them to capture hundreds of Saepertines from the forest…”
“Wait, what are Saepertines?” I interrupt.
Father raises an eyebrow. “Look around you.”
I do, and see with a shudder the ghostly, spiny monsters. All this time They had miraculously kept back from Father and me.
“Oh,” I whisper, “you mean Them.”
Father nods. “When I saw a Saepertine for the first time, I was terrified, and when the trolls told me I was to be their Master I nearly fainted. But luckily they were as afraid of me as I was of them – they had never seen a human, you see. That was why the troll king needed me for his plan – they would finish off any troll in an instant. Soon I had them trained to despise everyone except for me and the trolls. All these years I have been trapped here longing for a sight of you and your mother.” His eyes light. “How is your mother, anyway?”
I look down at the ground. “She… she isn’t doing very well. She’s nearly deaf, and…”
Father cuts me off with a cry, “My Susan?!”
I nod sadly. “That’s why I’m here.” I tell him how I came here, and about the Healing Lily.
Father looks relieved. “So she won’t be deaf for much longer, then. But how are you going to get back to our world? I’ve been looking for an escape route for years.”
“The fairies and Ferrymen will help. They can help me with anything.”
Suddenly I’m jolted back to our immediate situation by the appearance of a soldier at the top of the pit. He, too, is paralyzed by fear at the sight of Them. “Father!” I shout, “We have to save the soldiers!” I realize that during the time I was sitting here talking, hundreds of soldiers may have met their death, falling prey to Them like I almost did.
They are cunning, they are brave,
They are brutal, they are relentless,
And they are hunting us.
Father face pales, and after giving me a quick hug, he disappears down a tunnel that must lead to other pits. I swallow hard. The monsters surrounding me evidently know that I am a sacred object, not to be touched, but I’m still frightened. I feel like Daniel in the lion’s den.
Father soon returns with a solemn look on his face. “Some soldiers have gone, never to return, but the Saepertines will reap no more harvest.”
I take a deep breath. “So are we ready to find the Healing Lily? Can you sneak out with me without being noticed?”
“Of course! Jonathan Gray can do anything with his daughter at his side.” He winks at me.
Oomph! I stumble over a log and land headfirst in muddy water. Yuck. By the time we reach the top of the mountain, Father and I are both covered in mud from head to toe.
Finding the Healing Lily is definitely not easy. For half an hour Father and I scramble over rocks and peer down crevices. As I turn to climb down a boulder, a faint glow catches my eye. It’s those butterflies again! I see the same glowing blue butterflies as I did when I entered the fairies’ kingdom. They explode in a glowing blue cloud when I approach them and reveal the Healing Lily at last. According to Gwendolyn’s description, the Healing Lily is a small, cream colored flower with a brilliant purple center and five long, delicate petals. Yep.
Leaving the fairies was sad on both sides. Gwendolyn was happy that I had found the Healing Lily, but sad to see me go. Before I left, she flew up to me with a serious look on her face.
“I just thought I should tell you, Adele, that your mother may have to pay a price for using the Healing Lily. It’s known to have many nasty side-effects, especially if the person who takes it is really deaf. Sometimes…”
I quickly cut her off. “Thanks for the warning, Gwendolyn. I’m sure we’ll be alright.” I’m in a hurry to get back, so I race over to Father and pull him away from a conversation with the fairy king. “Goodbye, everyone! Thank you all so much!”
I thought over my adventures as I once again passed the sign with “Here be Faeries” painted on it. So much has happened since I saw that sign for the first time! I will remember this journey forever.
In the blink of an eye the forest disappears and I’m back at the Ferrymen’s world. The swans are still floating serenely on the lake, and the dragon-bird Ferryman is still sitting on the branch of the tree. At our approach, he flaps down and escorts us to a mirror which reflects his whole land. Father and I hold hands and crash through the glass. I open my eyes to shattered glass shards all around me. The Healing Lily is still clutched tightly in my hands.
Father looks around him in ecstasy. “I’m really home!” he whispers in an awed voice. Heand I slip quietly down the stairs, where I prepare the lily as Gwendolyn instructed. Halfway through the process, Mother appears at the door and stares at us silently. She shows no sign of recognizing Father, or of being mad at me.
I pour the mixture into a glass, and hand it to Mother. She looks confused, but drinks it all down. I wait eagerly for her to say something, for a change to come over her.
It does. The change is beyond my wildest dreams.
My mother has vanished. Before I can think, I feel a touch on my arm and a broken voice speaks to me.
“Adele, my daughter, Jonathan, my husband! Welcome home!”
I gasp. “It’s known to have many nasty side-effects…” One of which, apparently, is invisibility.
An invisible Mother is hard to get used to. At each meal the conversation inevitably turns to Mother, and to two questions in particular: Will the invisibility ever wear off? Can we find some sort of cure?
One night we all agree that we will travel to the Ferrymen’s land together. My heart thumps like a wild thing inside my chest as we stand in front of the mirror in Mother and Father’s bedroom. Once again I gaze far down into the depths of my dark eyes reflected in the mirror, pulling with all my might, willing the land to reappear. Yes! I wrap my whole mind around the tiny scene buried deep inside my eyes, reaching for it until the mirror once again shows me a living picture of the land beyond the looking glass. Father, Mother, and I all plunge forward together into the mirror. We land on the other side, in the Ferrymen’s world, surrounded by shattered glass. This time there are three Ferrymen to meet us.
I explain our problem to them. They listen attentively, then huddle into a group and talk together in a strange clicking language. Finally the group breaks up and the first Ferryman approaches me. He signals us to follow him, and he flies over to a small mirror hidden away in a hollow tree. Father, Mother and I join hands once again. We have no idea where the mirror will lead us, but we trust the Ferryman.
We crash through the mirror successfully, and pick ourselves off the ground. We’re standing in a forest. In front of us is a small, round hut, with smoke curling out the chimney. I love it at once – the rounded door, the circular windows, the flowering vines creeping up the stone walls. We knock on the door and a small, bent old man with a thousand wrinkles in his face invites us in. His hair is snow-white and his eyes are ocean-blue. His brown, creased face reminds me of a molasses crinkle cookie.
“Come in, come in, and welcome. What can I help you with? The Ferrymen sent you, I presume?”
I am surprised that he knows but I nod, and explain our problem once again.
“Ah yes, my dear. You have come to the right man. Old Vandaff can get you straightened out.” He leads us into his house, and immediately my eyes are drawn to a wall filled with shelves. On those shelves stand rows and rows of the most beautiful bottles I have ever seen. They are filled with swirls and layers of delightful colors – lavenders, mints, yellows, and teals. The old man hobbles over to the shelves. “Pretty little things, ain’t they?” he asks with a chuckle. “There should be one here for invisibility…” he rubs his finger over the rows, whispering their names under his breath. “Starweed, lavender mist, nightflower… aha! Here it is: glitteroot. What a lovely plant. Have you seen glitteroot, my girl?” he asks me.
“I haven’t, sir, but it sounds beautiful.”
“Oh it is,” he exclaims. “And when it works its healing, it is more beautiful still. I will show you some glitteroot growing in the forest later. All of my cures are natural and forest-grown,” the old man says proudly. He carefully lifts the bottle from the shelf, pours a little of its purple-clouded contents into a measuring spoon, and mixes the syrup with a bit of warm water. “Come now, Miss Gray,” he gestures royally with his hands, “it’s time for us to see your pretty face.” He winks at the invisible spot where Mother stands and hands the cup into her invisible grasp.
I still can’t get over how the cup tilts up seemingly in midair when Mother drinks. She finishes the cup and… nothing happens. She’s still as invisible as ever. The old man catches our worried looks, and reassures us, “This is only the first part of the cure. We’ll need the lake to finish off the job. Follow me, please.”
We follow the old man down a narrow path. Along the way he points out some of the plants that were in the bottles, including glitteroot. It is a lovely plant, covered from its emerald leaves to its dark purple flowers with sparkling flakes of some glitter-like substance. Finally we arrive at the lake. The old man instructs Mother to get herself completely wet in the water. As she does, two amazing things happen.
The first thing is that Mother appears. Father and I splash out into the water, laughing and crying with relief. Father swings Mother around, and I hug them both. I stop hugging them when I see the water around Mother. Some sparkling substance is seeping into the water around Mother. It swirls around, spreading gradually throughout the whole lake and spiraling madly up into the air around us. Twinkling stars of glitter dance around us as we stand in open-mouthed awe. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
Sparkling stars of light
Dancing to an unknown song,
Singing in a silent voice
Radiant in joyful grace.
Finally the stars fade, and we splash slowly through the water to the old man. He stands there with a look of joy and pride on his face. “I told you it was beautiful. It never gets old,” he shook his head admiringly.
I don’t notice any plants beside the path this time. I have eyes only for Mother. How glad I am to see her again! I notice that her eyes are brighter, her face clearer, than they had been before the Healing Lily. She is cured at last!
My parents and I climb to the flat roof outside my bedroom window that night. Father had said that’s what we used to do in our old house, when I was little.
We unroll a blanket and lay on it on our backs, staring up at the stars. After a while I crawl to the edge of the roof and look down into the velvety darkness. I take a deep breath. The air seems more fresh up here, and the moon and stars look brighter. I feel free. I feel wonderful. I have my parents back, parents I didn’t even know where living. Life won’t be perfect, but it will be good. With Father and Mother by my side, I know life will be good.