“I’m coming home,” Josie chirped when Annabelle answered the phone. “What can I get for you, Mom?”
“And why would I need you, useless as you are?”
Mother’s words cut through the distance, piercing deep into Josie’s heart. Numb, she hung up and tried to steady her trembling hands.
She made herself a cup of tea, grabbed her ticket from the table and tore it into shreds. She sat in silence for a while sipping her favourite oolong, feeling nothing but pain.
Mechanically, out of habit, she stuck her cup in the dishwasher, pushed the “on” button and went to bed.
Caught in a Nightmare
Josie stretched and opened her eyes.
“I must be dreaming,” she gasped.
She was home, in bed, but everything in her room looked strikingly strange. Wardrobe and lamps, tables and rattletraps—all flat and unreal as if cut out of paper.
Josie, too, felt like a figure in a magical paper book her mother used to read to her when she was little. She loved watching houses and trees, castles and cows rising from the book every time she turned a page over.
Only now, it didn’t feel good at all.
She jumped out of bed, opened the porch door and stepped outside. Her heart froze in the grip of sudden fear.
“It can’t be,” she whispered and pinched herself on the arm.
But there she was, standing on grass that felt dry and sticky to her bare feet. Violet clouds hung above like bandages on the scratched skin. No houses, no streets, just fields and trees as far as her eyes could see.
“I’m going mad,” Josie thought and hurried inside.
Feeling helpless and confused, she fell on her bed and cried.
Josie cried and cried, when she suddenly heard a voice:
“Crying your eyes out will not change anything, love. If you want to know what’s going on, get up and find out for yourself.”
Whoever had spoken to her the moment before wasn’t in the room, but the words brought Josie to her senses.
“Anything is better than uncertainty, I guess,” she thought, drying her tears. “Besides, I can always cry more if I want to, can’t I?”
So she changed, took the last biscuits and a bottle of water from the kitchen, and went outside to search for answers.
Soon, she was walking through the silent forest. No bird trills, no sound of broken branches or rustle of leaves underfoot. So quiet it was, she could hear her own breath. She was alone.
Or so she thought…
You’re Never Alone
Josie wandered through the forest for hours searching for something—she didn’t know what. Frazzled and hungry, she stopped in a beech grove looking for a place to rest when she saw a path. Narrow and inconspicuous, the path was hidden behind blooming blackberry bushes.
“Where is it going to?” she wondered and stepped on.
To follow the path wasn’t an easy task, but she endured, oblivious to the thorns, curious what she was about to discover.
The path turned sharply left and soon after Josie stepped out into an open glade.
In the middle of the glade she saw a little cottage wrapped in a symphony of tulips and daffodils. Begonias and fuchsias hung from their baskets firmly attached to the cornices. Whimsical white carvings decorated windows and the door, and ran along the walls underneath the roof.
On the spacious porch sat an older woman sipping something from a yellow mug.
The soft fabric of her burgundy dressing gown, embroidered with twinkling stars, flowed from her knees like a waterfall. A pointy wide-brimmed hat hid the woman’s face.
“A fairy-house and a wizard,” Josie thought, tiptoeing closer to the porch.
“Welcome, Josie,” the woman said and raised her head. “I was waiting for you.”
Her eyes, deep and sparkling like the surface of a lake under a full moon, met Josie’s, full of wonder.
The woman waved with her free hand, and out of nowhere a table appeared in front of her, set for two.
“Wash your hands, love. Dinner’s waiting.”
When the two of them had helped themselves to vegetables and roasted chicken, Wizard looked at Josie and said, “You’re braver than you think.”
“But I’m scared,” Josie said and let her fork rest on the plate. “I don’t know where I am and why. All I know is that I want to go home as it was before. Can you help me?”
“Yes,” Wizard said, picking vegetables from the dish. “But first, let’s help you to remember.”
As she spoke, a small mirror emerged between a saucer and a chicken tray. It looked ordinary, like the one Josie had on a shelf in her bathroom.
“All you have to do is to think of your mother.” Wizard pushed the mirror in front of Josie, then cut another piece of a chicken breast. “Look in the mirror and tell me what you see.”
Minutes passed before Josie spoke:
Wizard sighed and sipped water from her glass. All was quiet for a while, each of them lost in a well of her own memories.
“And how does it make you feel?” Wizard asked.
“Like I want to disappear.” Tears rolled down Josie’s cheeks, dropping softly to the ground.
“I’m here,” Wizard said, moving close and embracing Josie tight. She rocked and stroked her like a loving mother comforting her child.
Then she said:
“Words are magical, you see. Kind words fill the universe with love and compassion. Mean words add pain and darkness to the world.”
Wizard stroked Josie’s hair, pushing a strand aside. “A mother’s words have ineffable power over her child, who knows no spell to rebuff their harm. All the child can do is to freeze inside. That’s how she survives.”
“And you will. But there is something you need to do first,” the wizard said. “Go into the Enchanted Woods that lie over the Forgotten Hill. Find an obstinate girl and befriend her, no matter how impassable she will be.”
Reluctantly, Josie agreed.
The next morning, Wizard gave Josie bread, cheese and water, pointed out the direction and waved her goodbye.
“Let the Wind of Good Fortune follow you. I’ll be here waiting for you as long as it takes.”
Burned to Ashes
At sunset, Josie reached the Enchanted Woods. With its purple pines, dense oaks and dark blue spruce trees, the forest looked gloomy and hostile. It was smaller than she’d imagined; it would be easy to get around, but she had to go inside.
“I’d better spend a night out here,” she thought and looked around for a proper spot. A patch of taller grass caught her eye and she went closer to examine. The spot felt soft and comfortable enough; it would make a good shelter for one night.
Josie lay down looking at the dim stars above—they didn’t twinkle and didn’t spark. Dead stars in a dead sky.
“How do you become friends with someone obstinate?” she wondered minutes before a heavy sleep swallowed her.
The next morning, Josie entered the Enchanted Woods.
Find the Buried Child
Daylight disappeared the moment she crossed the invisible line.
Trees looked neither dead nor alive. There were no squirrels or birds, and no insects to see. Dark shadows hid behind the trees and trailed soundlessly along the bare ground that felt soft under Josie’s feet.
Curious, Josie crouched and touched the ground. It felt like ashes, light and heavy at the same time. “Where do they come from?” she wondered, getting back on her feet.
“At least my place isn’t so spooky,” Josie thought, tearing between spruce trees that prickled her with their sharp spines. She paused for a moment to fix her shuffled dress when she heard something coming from the left.
Carefully, she pushed a branch of an elderberry bush aside and peered behind it. Sitting on the root of a giant oak was a girl—face buried in her hands, shoulders rising with her sobs.
A fairy tale is a fantasy with a lesson hidden inside.
Silently, so as not to startle the girl, Josie approached and said, “I’m Josie. What’s your name?” The question dangled in the air and vanished, like a trickle of smoke. Ignored.
She tried again. “Why are you crying, little girl?” Josie asked.
“And what do you care? Leave me alone!” The girl’s muffled voice made Josie shudder.
“She is a piece of work,” Josie thought. She wanted to leave, but something about this girl felt familiar to her. She sat on the oak next to the girl, paused for a moment, then asked, “Who hurt you so much?”
“And what would YOU know about hurt?” the girl snapped and straightened her back.
“I’m here because I’m hurt, too,” Josie said, looking down to her knees. “My mother hurt me very much.“
Silence fell between them before the girl spoke.
“I’m Belle if you must know.“ Her eyes were puffy but her look was hard.
Josie looked into Belle’s eyes. “I’ve seen these eyes before,” she thought, but she shook the thought off.
“Nice to meet you, Belle.”
Belle looked at Josie for a while, then turned away and took a deep breath.
“I love to dance,” she began, her face suddenly alive and illuminated. “Only when I dance, I’m happy. I’m me.”
She jumped to her feet. Her hands flew into the air and joined over her head in an elegant bow. She balanced on her toes, turning graciously around, hands opening and closing like two wings.
Mesmerised, Josie watched her in silence so as not to frighten off the magic moment.
But Belle stopped, as suddenly as she began, and returned to her place; her eyes were as dark as two extinct stars.
“What happened?” Josie asked breathlessly.
Belle turned to her. “This!” she exclaimed and grabbed Josie’s hands with hers.
And Josie became Belle.
L’Histoire se Répète
“Mommy, please, take me to the ballet school,” pleaded Belle, standing in front of a woman with hard eyes and short, brown hair.
“Stop this nonsense!” her mother yelled. “You make my head explode. The school’s too far, and I have better things to do than driving you there. Stop crying like a baby and make yourself useful for a change—peel the potatoes for dinner.”
Belle pulled her hands back and looked away.
Josie felt sorry for her new friend. Now she understood what the woods and the ashes were—Belle’s pain and her shredded dreams.
Josie wanted to hug her and tell her how beautiful she was. That she wished Belle’s mother took her to the ballet school. That she gave her love Josie felt for her in her heart.
But Belle was gone, so was her wood.
Search Deeper and You Will See
“What do you think of Annabelle?” Wizard asked after the supper.
“The girl you met in the woods?”
“Anna-belle. Mom?” Josie gasped, and everything suddenly fell into place.
Wizard smiled. “Indeed. How do you feel about her now?”
“I’m proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself too. You’ve learned an important lesson.” Wizard nodded, her pointy hat eagerly agreeing with her.
She continued. “Your mom is a human, and the child inside of her wants to be loved. It doesn’t make it all right, the way she treats you sometimes, but now you understand why. And that is the ingredient of the magic spell you need to learn to protect yourself from her hurtful words.”
They sat in silence for a long while, and then Josie asked, “Will I ever see you again?”
“Of course! Whenever you need love and support, think of me, and I will be there for you,” Wizard said, holding Josie in her arms. “I’m the older you.”
Josie woke up and turned to her side. Pictures of Wizard and Belle flashed on the back of her closed eyes.
She took a deep breath and opened her eyes wide. Then she slid off the bed.
Dust particles waltzed in the light that was crossing the air in a tight straw before bumping into the wall. A neighbour’s dog barked, and the water grumbled in the dishwasher.
Josie stood there absorbing the profoundness of the sounds, the intensity of the colours and the versatility of the objects she knew so well. Her dearest home looked real and alive, just as it used to.
She felt LOVED.
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