I wouldn't have gone if it wasn't for the trail.
It was so strange. A golden trail of dust, leading me from my cottage to...the forest.
We aren't supposed to go into the forest.
I hesitated. I would surely be punished for disobeying the most forbidden act of all, but there was something about this golden dust...like it was meant for me, and only me.
My father's stern voice sounded in my head, like a strange, warning echo, "Bells, don't go into that forest. It's full of demons. There is nothing for you there except pain."
So why did the trail look so alluring? Nothing so beautiful could be dangerous.
Against my better judgement, I followed it.
I entered a patch of trees cautiously, ignoring the frantic echo of my father's voice in my head, trying to shake away my trepidation.
It wasn't easy, and as the trail began to fade, I started to wonder if this was a fluke...or a trap.
I swallowed hard.
I could turn around. I could be done with this right now.
But something in me--either the very courageous part or the very foolish part--urged me forward. So I continued.
And then I saw it.
In a clearing was the table setting.
I approached cautiously, unsure...but the trail was leading right up to it, so this must be my final destination.
What was that sitting on the seat? Grimms Fairy Tales, the title read. I sat down carefully and picked it up, tucking my legs up against myself as the chilly autumn air gusted. I opened to a random tale, my eyes sprinting over the words.
I don't know how long I sat there, just reading, losing myself in the fairy tales.
It wasn't until after I had read many tales that I finally set the book aside to explore the table. The book had immediately drawn my attention, and now that I had satisfied my eagerness with the stories, I began examining the table in front of me.
Why was no one here? I hope they didn't mind me touching their stuff....
The teapot was hot to the touch, and I considered pouring myself a cup of tea, but ultimately ruled out the idea. What if it was poisoned? I fingered the black beads absentmindedly.
The key made my heart flutter, and I reminded myself that it wasn't mine, though I did wonder what it unlocked....
The butterfly bookmark was enthralling. It looked like it had just fluttered out of a Grimm Fairy Tale itself....
And the teacup! We didn't have china this exquisite at home. Not even close.
I bent closer to examine the little gold hourglass necklace.
It was carved with little stars and moons, lovely...
I started noticing details.
A little container holding what appeared to be a potion of dried herbs....
And finally the sign. Fortune Teller.
Was that why I had been led here? To have my fortune told?
But there was no one here, so how could that be?
I opened the Grimms fairy tales again absently, deep in thought. I happened to flip to the story Sleeping Beauty.
Surprised, I stared down at the title.
And just then, I watched in awe and horror as the letters and the paper on the pages began to extend from the book, like a pop-up, emerging from the story itself.
Before me sat a little fairy--one of the good fairies from the story, I hoped.
"Hello, Bells," the fairy said kindly. She was made entirely of paper. And she talked.
I thought through my options in a second. I could make a break for it, and risk offending the creature, who might then unleash a terrible curse upon me. Well, that was out. I couldn't move from shock and fear anyway.
So I moved on to option 2: small talk. Keep her distracted, keep her talking. Find a way out.
"Hello," I managed to squeak out. My throat felt raw.
"I hope you have enjoyed your stay," the paper fairy said pleasantly.
"Y-yes," I stuttered.
"That's good. I am glad you opened up to my story. You wouldn't have wanted someone from, say, Hansel and Gretel! That witch is completely demented. No, it's a good thing I was summoned," she said, nodding her head as though this was perfectly logical.
The only thing I could think to ask was, "You know characters from other stories?"
"Of course I do! We're in the same book, aren't we?" she answered impatiently.
"Anyhow, we're wasting twilight hours," the fairy cut me off. She crossed her plump legs.
"Now. Would you care to have your fortune told?"
"Were you the one who sent me the golden dust?" I asked instead.
She sighed. "Not me specifically. If you must know, it was Glinda--"
"From The Wizard of Oz?" I asked incredulously.
The fairy puffed her cheeks out and tucked a strand of hair back into her bun. "Yes, but honestly, I don't trust her. I don't know her very well. Follow the yellow brick road--yes yes, we know. It's all she says. 'Where should I go to find Thorn Castle?' I'll ask. 'Follow the yellow brick road' is all I get in reply!" the fairy whined. "It's so frustrating!"
"I'm sure it is," I murmured. I had either fallen down and hit my head, or I was asleep. I hoped it was the latter, and I would wake up in my own bed.
"What was I saying? Oh yes, about fortunes. Well? Before you sidetrack me again, do you want yours told or not?"
"I...sure," I said.
"Excellent!" She rubbed her paper hands together. Irrationally, I wondered if she would give herself a paper cut. I added unstable mental health condition to my list of possibilities for what was happening right now.
She closed her paper eyelids and said, "I see, in your future...." And then her eyes popped open and she scowled. "Cinderella."
"What?" I asked incredulously.
"Oh, sorry. I meant that Cinderella was the one who stole my glass slippers and never returned them. Actually, it was Granny Moonstone, her fairy godmother, who came to me begging for them so she could grant Cinder her wish. And I wanted to wear those to the Autumn festival!" she pouted.
"Okay, can we focus please?" I asked. After all, I was dreaming. What did I have to worry about?
"Right right, sorry. Future...."
"Are you sure you can even do this?"
"Of course I'm sure!" she cried indignantly. "Well that's gratitude for you," she muttered under her breath. "I'm fully qualified!"
"I was just making sure," I said, backpedaling.
She scowled at me and then closed her eyes again. "In your future, you will....follow the yellow brick road."
I stared at her for a minute, wondering if she was serious.
When she burst out laughing, it was my turn to scowl.
"I just....it was too perfect of an opportunity to pass up....I had to!" she gasped through her laughter.
"I'm leaving," I grumbled, standing and preparing to go.
"No, wait!" she called. She fluttered in front of me and hovered in the air in front of my face. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I'll do it right this time." She sighed. "Briar Rose was much the same as you, Bells. She didn't get my jokes either."
"How do you know my name?" I asked her, grudgingly returning to my seat.
She rolled her eyes. "Glinda told me. Now, let me concentrate."
I sighed in exasperation and fell silent.
"Ah, there we go," she said. She opened her eyes and smiled with satisfaction after a moment. "Well, I see what will happen. Firstly, you won't get caught when you return home. No one will ever know you've been here. Second, you will have a choice, a choice that will find you soon: you can choose to join us in the storybook world and leave your life behind, or stay here."
I stared at her. "When? How much time do I have?"
She shrugged. "The future is indefinite. It could be a few hours from now or a few years. It's hard to say. But the choice will come. What will you choose?"
"Um....I sort of need some time to think it over," I said as she stared at me, expecting an answer right away.
"I understand," she said. "Well, that's all. I must be on my way now. It's nice to have met you Bells, even if you don't get my jokes. Tell Glinda I did my job, alright?" she said.
I nodded and stared, wide eyed, as she disappeared back into the book.
"Bye," I said, but she was already gone.
I thought over what had just happened.
I would have a choice to join the storybook world? A choice to mingle with the characters I had befriended since I was a little girl? To be a part of their stories and maybe make my own, have my own tale in the Grimm's book? It was the most glorious thing I could imagine.
But then, there was the issue of leaving my family behind....
I grimaced. I didn't want to continue living in this boring, cruel, mundane world when I knew I had the opportunity to be a part of something so much better.
One thing was for sure: This was the best Halloween ever.