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From One Story to Another

Carla Dow | Terri Kelleher

One late summers evening as the sun rested low on the horizon, not quite ready to go to bed but heading that way, a young boy and a little girl bounced high on a trampoline.

The trampoline sat on a big green lawn, tucked up behind a cozy family home, nestled in old market town, on the edge of a sprawling wide moors filled with tradition and folk tales, customs and fairy stories.

“Jacob! Lauren!” a voice shouted from within the house.

Jacob stopped bouncing and narrowed his hazel eyes.

“Mummy,” he huffed his tone telling anyone who cared to listen, which at that moment was only his sister Lauren, that he was not pleased to be called inside.

But Jacob and Lauren were good children — mostly. Oh, they could be as mischievous as the best — and worst — do not get me wrong, but mostly they were well behaved. And today they had decided to be well behaved.

Jacob bounced a final six bounces before climbing down from the trampoline — because he was six years old and it seemed the right thing to do. Lauren flicked her blonde curls out of her eyes and bounced a final seven bounces — not because she was seven you understand, she was four, but she always had to beat her big brother.

The children ran to the house, waving to the lazy sun as it gave a final wink before settling down for the night, taking the daylight and the warmth with it.

Jacob snuggled under the head of a T-Rex printed onto soft cotton, Lauren submerged herself in bedspread-sea of pink princesses, and Mummy began where she had left off…

“The old woman had only pretended to be so kind; she was in reality a wicked witch, who lay in wait for children, and had only built the little house of bread in order to entice them there. When a child fell into her power, she killed it, cooked and ate it, and that was a feast day with her.

“Witches have red eyes, and cannot see far, but they have a keen scent like the beasts, and are aware when human beings draw near.”

Lauren’s eyelids grew heavy and sleep washed over her. But Jacob gaped at the storybook, his eyes as wide as saucers. There, alongside the words his Mummy had read was a drawing of a little house built of bread and covered with cakes, with windows of clear sugar. Next to the house stood the young boy Hansel, the little girl Gretel and… an empty white smudge. It was as if someone had taken an eraser to the page — or someone had disappeared in a puff of magic.

Jacob sat bolt upright, crumpling T-Rex beneath him. The book went flying. Mummy looked cross. Lauren slept on.

“Jacob!” Mummy was cross.

“Mummy! The witch — she’s… she’s gone.”

“Jacob what are you talking about?” But Mummy wasn’t listening; she tucked the cloud of pink princesses up around Lauren’s chin. “Time for sleep,” she said sternly.

“But Mummy, the witch.” Jacob said. This was serious. A witch was missing from the storybook — who knew where she could be?

“It’s just a story Jacob. Now sleep.” Mummy shut off the light and closed the door.

But no matter how hard he tried, Jacob could not sleep. And he really did try. He squeezed his eyes tight shut until fireworks of colourful stars burst behind his eyelids — but still the lost witch flew in circles around his head, cackling in his ear.

This was no good. Jacob pushed T-Rex aside and reached for the storybook. He found the right page…

“Witches have red eyes, and cannot see far, but they have a keen scent like the beasts, and are aware when human beings draw near.”

Hansel and Gretel gazed at the delicious gingerbread house, most unconcerned that the witch was not around to cook and eat them.

“Where have you gone?” Jacob whispered.

“I’m right here,” Gretel replied, poking a finger into his arm.

Jacob had gazed so far into the storybook that he had fallen right inside.

“Waghhh, how did I get here?” Jacob’s eyes grew wider still, till they were almost as big as the moon. But neither Hansel nor Gretel replied — they were too busy shoving handfuls of gingerbread house and shards of sugar window into their mouths.

Jacob wanted to join in, but he had a witch to find. He searched page upon page of green forest, carefully laying white pebbles behind him as he went so he could be sure to find his way back again. But search as he may, he could not find the missing witch.

At breakfast the next morning, Jacob almost fell asleep in his cornflakes.

“Why are you so tired J?” Mummy asked.

So he told her about falling into the storybook, about Hansel and Gretel eating the house, about walking for miles searching the forest for the missing witch.

“Don’t be a silly-billy,” Lauren giggled, spilling milk down her chin.

“I’m not a silly-billy,” Jacob huffed, “I’ll show you.”

And he threw the storybook onto the floor, held on tight to Lauren and Mummy’s hands and jumped right onto the page with the smudge that looked as if someone had taken an eraser to the page or disappeared in a puff of magic. Nothing happened.

Mummy said, “Time for school.”

After a long day of sums and letters, it was finally time for the bedtime story. Jacob was so keen he even forgot to wave at the winking sun, so Lauren did it twice to make up for him.

Mummy began where she had left off… “When Hansel and Gretel came into her neighborhood, she laughed with malice, and said mockingly…”

Mummy stopped reading.

“What did she say?” Lauren frowned.

“Nothing. She’s not here…” Mummy looked confused.

“I told you,” Jacob said.

“Time for sleep,” Mummy turned off the light.

As soon as her footsteps had faded down the stairs, Jacob leapt out of T-Rex’s jaws and opened the storybook again. Lauren leaned over to peer at the page and before they knew it, there they were — the young boy and the little girl in the middle of the fairytale forest.

“We have to find the witch,” Jacob said. And they searched high and low, far and wide, all night long. Finally — as the sun was teetering high on the horizon not quite ready to get up but heading that way — Lauren spotted a long nose with a hairy wart poking out from behind a tree.

“There she is.”

They crept quietly around the branches and watched the witch. Much to their surprise she was crying, sobbing and sniffling so that tears ran down from her red eyes and across her wrinkled cheeks in tiny rivers.

“I may not be able to see far, but I have a keen smell for when children draw near,” the witch cackled.

But Lauren was not afraid. She stepped bravely out before the old hag.

“Why are you crying?” she demanded to know.

The witch sniffled and rubbed at her hairy chin.

“Why aren’t you in the picture back there?” Jacob asked, coming out behind his sister.

The witch stuck a gnarled finger into a hairy earlobe and pulled out a potato, which she promptly ate.

“I’m not going back to the story,” she said. “I’m fed up with always playing the bad witch, always cooking up scrawny children that taste like slugs and snails and puppy dog tails. I’m always being pushed inside that iron oven and howling quite horribly, being miserably burnt every time your Mummy reads the story. I want to be in a story where I am the fairest Queen of all the land, with a King’s palace to live in and a nice basket of apples to eat.”

At this, Jacob fell to the forest floor laughing. But Lauren was more sensitive to the witch’s feelings because she thought being an apple-eating Queen sounded quite nice actually.

“I have just the fairytale you need,” Lauren said and she pulled the old woman along a few chapters to find the story she was looking for — Snow White.

About Carla Dow

Carla J. Dow has worked as a news journalist and has written for a variety of charity publications including for the Red Cross. Most of her work is inspired by real-life encounters from travelling and volunteering around the globe. Carla's current projects include a never-ending attempt at her first novel and an equally endless plethora of short stories about people who do not belong.

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