For a few seconds, I tried to catch my breath. Then I looked at the woman, but she was staring ahead. We had reached the end of the long, long hall. In front of us, a giant wall was blocking the way. It had no doors. It was just an empty, gray wall.
I stared at the woman again, but she was motionless. Suddenly, her hand moved, drawing a door on the wall with the crayon. She bit her bottom lip and her hand was trembling. Finally, she drew a doorknob. Then she pushed the drawing. The drawing opened like a real door. A bright light shone through the door, and I shut my eyes tightly.
When I opened my eyes, I was still with the woman, but we were in a different place. We were outside, standing on the ground in sunlight. Around us, the area was decorated like a room. A bed with sky blue colored blankets, a red sofa, a wooden desk and two chairs, and a closet. It felt cozy and comfortable, like home. But a mist surrounded the area so thick that I couldn’t see anything beyond it.
Well, at least we’re safe now, I thought. Something about the room made me relax. When I looked around, the woman was already sitting on the sofa. She seemed so exhausted. Carefully, I sat on the bed. I realized that I wasn’t only tired, but my stomach was growling. I hadn’t eaten, or even seen any food since I’d come to this strange world.
Just then, on the desk, plates appeared like magic. The plates were filled with fruits, chicken, breads, cakes, vegetables, pasta...with several forks and knives. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I looked at the woman. She was looking at me, too. Then we both started to laugh. The comfortableness and the food made me happy. I laughed until my stomach hurt. When I stopped laughing and watched the woman, I saw her eyes twinkling. We grabbed the chicken with our hands and bit off mouthfuls. Getting as much spaghetti noodles as we could at once, shoving salads in our mouths, drinking juices...I thought I could eat forever!
But finally, I got full. Satisfied, I rolled on the bed, feeling happier than ever. Then I remembered that I was not alone. Embarrassed, I sat up. But the woman was watching me with a soft gaze. I wanted to say something to her, but I couldn’t find the right words. To my relief, the woman started talking.
“I think I didn’t even say hello to you,” she said. Her voice was soft and gentle. “I have a lot to tell you about this city and me. Would you like to listen?” I nodded, and the woman started her story.
Chapter Fourteen: The Woman’s Story
“I was born as a child of a common farmer. Not big, but enough to keep us from starving. My parents were always kind to me and my brother. My brother is three years younger than me. He liked to tease me, though he said sorry after a minute with the cutest face in the world.”
She laughed a little, as if remembering her happy childhood. “When I grew older, I opened a small bookstore. I liked to read books. When I wasn’t playing or studying or helping my mom, I used to run into my room and read.”
She stopped and picked up a small white coffee cup. On my side of the table, a glass of lemonade with a straw had appeared. I picked up the cup and drank cool, sweet lemonade. The woman continued.
“The bookstore went well. I earned money all by myself and was happy to do it without anyone’s help. Then one day—right after I opened the store—a man came in. He was wearing black sunglasses and a cap, so I couldn’t see his face. He didn’t look at the books, but came straight to me. Then he said, ‘What does the wolf and three trees sign mean?’ He was asking me about the sign in front of the store.”
The woman stopped for a second and said, “I hope you saw that sign on the front of my diary.”
I nodded. I could remember the sign. She smiled at me, and then continued. “Anyway, I answered him: ‘I found it in a book and I liked it.’ It wasn’t a lie, if you doubt me. After I answered his question, he started to look around the store. Then he picked up a book. It was a biography about our city’s king. And do you know who wrote it? It was me.”
She giggled and I followed her. It was quite funny, after all.
“Then the man came to the counter,” she continued. “And said, ‘I really want to buy this book, but I don’t have any money with me. So, may I take this book right now? I’ll give you the money tomorrow.’ Usually, I don’t sell on credit, but something about him made me agree with that.” Then she burst into laughter. “Okay, I have to admit, I was already fond of him. The day after, we met at a small café. From that day on, we became a couple.”
Then she sighed, smiling at the same time. Carefully, I asked the woman a question. “So, is the man concerned with the goblins?”
The woman’s face suddenly became very serious. “Of course. He is the king of this city!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. The woman knew about the king! But she didn’t seem to know that he was a wolf now.
“Well, I know it’s hard to believe. When he told me that, I almost fainted! But it’s true. Of course, no one else knew, so we could keep our secret. I couldn’t have been happier. But then, the goblins came.”
The woman bit her lips and stared at the ground. In an almost whispering voice, she continued the story.
“The goblins destroyed everything. Our land, houses, and families. I didn’t have time to check on my parents and my brother. As I tried to run away, I saw people trying to harm the goblins but there were too many of them, all of them holding swords. Even the soldiers couldn’t stop them. The goblins occupied our city, and people were all captured in the prison tower.”
I guessed that the prison tower was the tower that I was locked in. I noticed that the woman was trembling. I didn’t know what to do. Then, she stood up and turned away from me.
She muttered, “I never saw him again. Everybody thinks the king abandoned us, but I know he didn’t. He will come back.”
It almost sounded like she was talking to herself, and not to me. Then she walked into the thick mist, which was very close to us now, and I followed her.
Chapter Fifteen: Through the Mist, to the Swamp
As I entered the mist, I noticed that I couldn’t even see my own feet. I heard my footsteps and the woman’s footsteps ahead of me, but that was all. I suddenly felt blind. The only thing comforting was the soft voice of the woman.
“Right after the goblins seized our city, some people gathered and attacked the goblins. They were holding the best weapons they could get. Sticks with sharp ends, rocks, kitchen knives, hammers...but those tools were all useless. Of course, we had some advantages such as being taller and bigger. But the goblins had a lot of experience with fighting, and they were faster than us—although that was not the main reason why we lost. Whenever we injured the goblins, from the blood they spilled, new goblins popped out. Finally, we lost the fight.
“Before the rebellion, we lived normally, though goblins strolled the streets and the goblin king sat in the king’s chair. But after our fight, we were imprisoned in the tower, and were given only a hard, cold piece of bread for a meal.”
When she finished the story, my body was covered in goose bumps. I wondered how we could defeat the goblins without injuring them. From out of nowhere came a sharp pain, almost bringing me to tears. I needed Jason. He would know what to do.
Suddenly I realized I could no longer hear the woman’s footsteps. I walked faster, guessing that I had fallen behind. But still, I couldn’t hear her footsteps. Slowly, panic rose from my throat. What if...what if the goblins caught her? No, if they’d caught her, I would have heard some sounds. But I couldn’t see or hear her anywhere. What if something was really wrong?
I started to run, but my legs weren’t moving well, as if they had stiffened because of fear. I bumped into something—probably a tree—and I began to feel dizzy. Instinct told me that I couldn’t stop right here. Staggering, I ran again. But before I had gotten far, I tripped, falling hard onto the ground. For a minute, I lay there, thinking about everything I had left behind in my world. My school friends, the diary that had become my best friend, and Jason. I wished that I was lying in my own bed, sleeping under my cozy quilt.
When I finally stood up again, all I could see was mud and a few clumps of grass here and there and...wait. The dense fog was gone, although the sky was cloudy and gloomy, sending no sunshine. I was standing in grass, half covered in mud. All around me, the only thing I could see was a swamp.
Trees grew from shallow water with branches that looked oddly twisted. Between the strange trees I saw yellow circles with black dots at the center. It didn’t take long for me to realize that those circles were eyes.
I could make out the shape of long snouts and bumpy bodies. Crocodiles. Ever since I was young, eyes like that had always given me the creeps. I realized that there were many eyes, all staring at me, not even blinking. I was stuck at the center of a swamp full of crocodiles! I waited for some kind of help. The necklace! Maybe the girl from the necklace can help me! But I heard nothing from her. Now what?
Crocodiles could easily attack me if I stayed on the grass. It wasn’t safe. Besides, what about the goblins? I could easily be seen. I couldn’t see the sun, but the sky was darker now. It must be evening.
I couldn’t spend the night standing up. I looked around desperately for a safe shelter. A ray of sunlight bounced of the necklace and shined a rock wall on one end of the swamp. There was a hole in the cliff. I couldn’t see where it ended, but whatever was in there, it looked better than a clump of grass.
Fortunately, I found some stones in the swamp that could be used as stepping stones. The only problem was the crocodiles. When I was thinking, I heard a sudden splash. I startled, and saw a ripple away from me. The crocodiles were moving toward the ripple, away from the stepping stones! As soon as the last one was gone, I jumped onto the stones. As I hopped from stone to stone, my legs were trembling with anxiety. Looking back, I found the crocodiles’ eyes again. Shivering, I climbed to the hole in the cliff and crawled in. I soon found that the cave was not too big or too small, and there was soft moss and pine needles. It was dark outside, and the clouds were drifting in front of the crescent moon. Comforted by safety, I slowly fell into sleep.
Chapter Sixteen: Escape from the Swamp
All night long, my sleep was interrupted by sounds. The shrieks of owls, the squeaking of mice, buzzing insects...the stench of the swamp made me dizzy. The night was cold and my teeth chattered. When the sky became lighter, I hadn’t even gotten five minutes of peaceful sleep. Still sleepy, I crawled out of the cave.
Suddenly, I gasped. Along with the smell of the mud, a sweet scent was blooming like a flower. It was so weak that I almost missed it, but my nose remembered perfectly, even though the fragrance had been missing for three years.
It was just then that I saw two figures standing in a light mist. I remembered them in less than a second. I shouted to them, “Mom! Dad!” They were smiling at me.
I could see my mom’s wise green eyes and dark brown hair. My dad’s twinkling blue eyes, full of joy and laughter. They were here. Not even thinking, I ran toward them. I could feel the tree roots snatching at my feet, mud soaking through my shoes, branches slapping at my arms and face, but I had to run. I couldn’t lose them again.
But no matter how hard I ran, they seemed to be getting further and further away from me. My lungs were burning, and my heart was pumping crazily. Tears ran across my face. I was losing them again, and the scene of three years ago appeared clearly in front of me.
The burned house, people whispering to each other, firefighters putting out flickering, small fires, and me, sitting on the ground, staring at the house with blank eyes, clutching Jason’s hand…
It was so painful to remember all that again. Suddenly feeling so tired, I just plopped down on the ground. But the ground was not muddy. It was soft, and a sweet aroma lifted and surrounded me. I wiped the tears from my eyes and I could see hundreds of flowers around me. As high as my ankles, red orange, yellow and pink flowers were blooming all over the place.
And far away, I could still see my mom and dad, still smiling at me. Even among so many flowers, my mother’s scent was distinguishable. My dad’s laughter was riding a soft breeze, echoing through the air. They saved me from the swamp; maybe they caused the ripple to distract the crocodiles, too. Slowly, they started to fade away.
I already knew they hadn’t come back from death, but as they disappeared, I couldn’t stop crying. I remembered it all too well; the remains of my house after the fire, the funeral, going to Aunt Madeline’s house… It was all too clear.
Slowly, another sorrow started to appear, and I fell into a deep sleep with a tear drop on my cheek.