The queen stepped away from the edge of the balcony. The hem of her dress caressed the white marble in the swaying rhythm of her pensive stride. The scent of roses reached the transparent door in furtive breezes as the night wrapped the bedroom of the palace in its warm, friendly darkness.
A hand appeared on the door frame and the queen stood still, one step away from entering the room. A sigh, burdened with worries, vanished into the air. Her gaze lifted towards the crowds that glittered happily on the midnight sky, revealing her beautiful face with big, blue eyes shadowed by long lashes and surrounded by the rich waves of a dark hair.
She could feel the night shielding her away from all that was evil in the world.
Every now and then, something that felt like a sweet pain clouded her eyes. Where had that prince came from? She knew almost every great royal house and yet… the calm nobility and the imposing grandness that came from the unknown prince had left a vivid impression on her. Who was he? Where did he appeared from? How could it be that those piercing eyes and the mysteriously charming smile lingered on, like a careless weight, shattering her thoughts? The velvet eyed prince… that was the name she had, playfully, given him when she realized that she didn’t know which royal house he was of. Then came the dance, in fantastic whirls and endlessly sweet pirouettes, with a strong arm that stopped the graceful glide of her rich dress.
A gentle breeze played in her hair for a moment, taking her out of the revery. It was the Wind, who knew that it was time for his queen to rest and had come to her, as he did every night. She rewarded him with a smile and then lay in the whiteness of the pillows. The Wind breezed the drapes of the canopy that embraced the bed and its precious burden. Then, he crossed the balcony towards the grove of black locust trees and started to play a song of sweet whispers through the leaves. A wistful melody that would last until morning light…
The next day at dawn, all of the toy-people had gathered in front of the palace. In their middle, in the flower garden, a colorful balloon was tied down, with the basket’s small door open. Ani and Carmen stood next to the balloon, bidding farewell to the White Kingdom’s guests and to Smiling Teddy.
‘Great Counselor, keep in mind that Ella and Tina are in your charge. It is your duty of the upmost importance to bring them back safe and sound, in return for the courage that they have shown’, said Carmen. ‘There’, the fairy went on, motioning to a small chest on the basket’s floor, ‘you have supplies for the road. Whenever you feel hungry or thirsty, open it and, as soon as the lid goes up, the chest will fill with sweets and cups of fresh spring water.’
‘Well, then, let’s get in!’, said Tina, stepping inside the basket.
She was closely followed by Ella and the Great Counselor, who closed the door.
As the balloon lifted, Ella and Tina could feel the gazes of the inhabitants of the White Kingdom following them. All eyes were filled with hope, as the terrible responsibility of saving the toys in the Human World weighed on their shoulders. The sisters looked at each other with the shadow of a worry in their eyes. But they could not, and would not, allow that the ruthless spell do more harm than it had already done.
With brave thoughts whirling in their minds, the girls turned their attention to the horizon of the White Kigndom and waited for the balloon to rise above the palace.
‘Balloon, head for the realm of the Witch-with-Water!’, ordered Smiling Teddy.
Tina seemed somewhat absent and utterly uninterested in the landscape that flowed beneath them. Ella, on the other hand, watched every hill, forest or bird that they encountered and assaulted her guide with all sorts of questions about the life of the White Kingdom.
‘So, do the toys only live inside the palace? Or can they be found in other places too?’
‘Only some of them live in the palace. Everyone may come or go as they please. But there are settlements with pretty, little houses all over the kingdom.’
‘How do the toys get here?’ asked again the girl before the stuffed bear could finish talking.
‘Through the curtain that you saw when you first came. Ani and Carmen hear the signal and help cross everyone who wants to.’
‘I’ve got it!’, shouted Tina, bursting out of her day dreaming and interrupting the question that her sister had begun to ask, making Ella watch her in amazement.
‘You’ve got it? What?’
‘I know how we can get to the witch faster. Keep in mind that we only have one day.’
‘So how?’ Ella asked, more with her eyes than her lips.
‘We cast a spell with our charmed powder: we ask it to take us to the witch’s castle. Will five seconds be enough for that, Great Counselor?’
‘Hmm… no, not for that. But it could take us somewhere near the boundary of her realm.’
Ella and Tina took out their cubes, lifted them above their heads and said the incantation that they had learnt in great secret from Ani and Carmen, the night before.
In the blink of an eye, the scenery changed completely, from the shining marvel of the White Kingdom, to cold, unwelcoming darkness.
‘We’re in the right place’, said Smiling Teddy, ‘somewhere near the border.’
‘This place is so quiet’, said Ella in awe. ‘So this is what it looks like!’
‘The night is eternal in the realm of the witch, there is never any daylight. In fact the only light that unveils this place comes from the full moon. Forever night and forever a full moon.’
Frozen silence reigned over the forbidding, empty nothingness. All around them, there was nothing to be seen but narrow paths, lined with barren rocks and sharp mountain tops.
‘My, this is a cheerful place!’, noticed Tina, trying uselessly to look in all directions at the same time.
The stillness and the emptyness seemed deepened by the army of shadows cast by the moon, making it hard to tell what was path and what was rock, what was a spot of light and what was pure fancy.
The balloon advanced slowly, melting into the night.
‘We will soon arrive at the Metal Forest!’, announced Smiling Teddy. ‘If we can get through it, we’ll find ourselves at the castle.’
‘If?’, asked the girls in a single voice.
‘All I know is that there is a dreadful trap in the forest, but I cannot tell what it is or how to keep clear of it.’
‘But we have the magic balloon! Why can’t we just fly over the forest and be safe?’
‘Unfortunately, Tina, the forest is so tall that it would take years to fly over it. Besides, the branches of the trees are so thick and tangled, that there would be no room for the balloon to pass. The only way to take it with us is if it keeps floating along the path. Not to mention that this trail is the only lit one. If you stray from it, deep among the trees, you will find yourself sunk in pitch blackness, so profound that you won’t even know if your eyes are open or shut.’
Soon after, the forest came into sight. A sea of gray stretched forever on either side of the trail that they all stepped onto.
The moon poured golden glitters all around. The girls’ feet thumped on the metal beneath, sending echoes far into the thickness of tree trunks and shrubberies. The only ones who made no noise were Smiling Teddy and the balloon. The former because the fuzz that covered him from head to toes was soft and thick enough to muffle any sound and the latter because it floated calmly a few inches above the path.
As they moved along, the eerie silence seemed to deepen ever more, disturbed only by the echoes of their footsteps, that sounded more like the roar of thunderbolts than the stride of little girls. By then, they could no longer see the point where they had entered the forest.
‘The echo is so loud!’, complained Tina.
Nobody answered, for there was something in the air that reminded them of a cathedral where it is forbidden to disturb the ritual of the silence. They walked on without speaking, tight against each other, lost in their own thoughts. Step by step, they ate away at the road’s length, hurriedly, anxiously.
But the forest proved difficult to cross, as they had been walking for hours withought getting anywhere. And they couldn’t even estimate the distance they had covered, because the scenery was always the same! The same moonlit path, the tree trunks that sank in the dark, shrubs here and there turned by their imagination into fantastic creatures of the night.
‘Hey!’, shouted Ella, making everyone jump, ‘we’ve been through here before! It is the exact same place! I know because I remember that bush, which looks just like a giant bear ready to attack!’
The mist from the morning was all gone now, and the light was bright and strong, reflected back from the shiny, immaculate snow. Tina, Ella and the Invisible Man managed to search all the rooms from the West wing and were now outside, in the watch tower.
It was freezing. Except them, no other visitors dared to be amazed by the city sightseeing in the icy frost. As such, they could talk and lift objects in peace, without worrying about how they could sound.
‘Not much work to be done here!’ said Tina while carefully analyzing the walls. ‘The clock, the bell, and the old chests. Then, we can move to the East side wing.’
The Invisible Man was gently shaking all the chests disposed in a circle all around the watch tower.
‘Don’t forget to admire the view. You might not get another chance to visit this tower. Visible or invisible.’ said Ella while looking to the last shaken chest.
‘Behind you!’ said the Invisible Man.
‘Oh, sorry! Didn’t ‘see’ you move.” joked Ella.
‘Hey, were’s the bell?’ Tina suddenly asked. Ella followed her glance to a higher point of the tower, where, normally, an old iron bell was hanged. Its place was now empty. Only the cord remained and was leaning back and forth as if the wind was blowing.
‘Invisible Man! Again with the shenanigans? There’s no need now to move objects around. Seriously! Put it back! The museum’s keepers will notice its absence.’ Ella said with a faint trace of a smile.
‘What bell?’ asked the Invisible Man.
Tina turned to him and started to feel the air to get a hold of the Invisible Man exact position.
‘Ok. Where is it? If you had it on you, I would see it somewhere mid-air, just like our script book. What did you do with it?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about! I haven’t seen it. I don’t even know how it looks.’ said the Invisible Man.
‘Why are you laughing now?’ Tina asked with a trace of exasperation in her voice. ‘Seriously, we’re the only ones here!. If it disappears we’ll take the fault for it. Everybody saw us getting in the tower.’
‘I didn’t laugh!’ made the Invisible Man. ‘And I know of no bell!!! You have to believe me!’
‘Maybe the wind blew it over…!?!’ said Ella with an incredulous voice.
“Yes! The wind! Let’s look for it!’ said the Invisible Man and moved away from Tina’s hand.
‘You don’t sound suspicious at all. How can the wind untie the cord? It’s not like there aren’t winds in this tower all year round…’ Tina said with a shrug. Then she started to, meticulously, look around. Maybe the Invisible Man was panicking again and was under the pranking influence once more.
‘Found it!’ she shouted to Ella from the side of the tower. ‘It’s here, on a chest!’
Ella and the Invisible Man came running.
‘Oh, good thing it’s here! Can you put it back, Invisible Man? I assume you’re taller than us. The proper adult-size?’ Tina asked while handing over the bell to the air where she heard the Invisible’s Man steps running.
When she sensed a faint breeze close to her hand she, quickly, pulled back her palm and squeezed the bell to her chest.
‘You’re not going to move it away again? Are you?’
‘I didn’t move it the first time either!’ he made with a discouraged voice.
Tina handed the bell the second time.
Tina dropped the bell on the floor. In front of her, in translucent shades, was the shape of a man in a Baroque, old attire. He was a fairly tall fellow, with brown hair that was coming out in curls from under a hat that, once, probably, had a determined shape, but was now resembling more to a pot with breeches. He even had a sword to his belt. Tina was not sure he was wearing one, two or three capes mashed together. From somewhere underneath his peculiar cape multiple, colorful rags where dragging out for one meter behind him. Everything was completed by a pair of silver, sparkly glows without fingers. And, as if, that wasn’t odd enough, his skin (or the part of it that was visible, anyway) was in a constantly rotating rainbow colors state.
‘Invisible Man!?!…’ she dared ask. ‘ I wouldn’t presume…’
“No!” came a determined answer that confirmed her suspicions from her right hand side. ‘I’m completely invisible! Not just by 3 thirds.”
“I am … Lowwd Gauchy! Welcome to … my domain’nd!”
“Your domain?” Ella asked. “Oh! You mean the museum? Tina, I think we just met the ghost from the museum. See that! It is real!”
“I aaam not…an it. I am… Lowwd Gauchy! A heee’nd!” he said with an affected voice. He accentuated the importance his words by making looong, boring pauses between them.
“Why do you add a “d” to all your sentences?’ Tina asked. “It’s confusing!”
“I amm do not add anything to… my sentences’d! But I have… a talk endeawwwing… defect ‘ nd. I aamm… unable to pwwonounce ….the wwwr’s… cowwectly’ d!’
“You can’t what? He can’t what?” asked the Invisible Man.
“He can’t pronounce the “r”s correctly!” Ella translated for everybody.
“Oh! wwwight! ‘nd” imitated the Invisible Man.
Tina burst into laughter.
“Do you think … it is funny … to smash … the sacwwwed bell?”
“The bell!” Tina made and quickly bended to gather it from where she had dropped it. “I hope I didn’t break it.’
After she lifted it and checked it to see it was unspoiled, she gave it to the Invisible Man.
“Here, touch it. Finally. Maybe this time we can actually see if it’s doing anything.”
“Amateuwwwws! nobody is … touching anything… on my domain’nd!”
With that Tina and Ella saw Lord Gauchy loudly slapping the air and taking the bell back from the Invisible Man.
“Heyyy! Don’t slap my hand! I was going to put it back. It is of no use to me!”
“Wait! He can see you?” Tina asked the Invisible Man.
“Suuwwwwe …I can see him. And I can see …. he only has…6 days left…until he gets stuck… in his invisible fowwm.’d” Lord Gauchy concluded with a changed voice and a mysterious smile. ‘ Come’d! I will…help! You …and nobody else…can touch … anything in my domain’d. Without my…telling you so!” and he yanked the bell from the Invisible Man and put ii back in its cord.
Ella though the bell was somehow content to be back. It made a short, ringing tune afterwards that sent chills all over her spine.
“To the …libwaawwwy! Follow me!”
“To the library, Invisible Man! Apparently we’ve got ourselves a bit of a help!’ said Tina and followed the ghost. “Hey, in the library there are so many people. Won’t they see you?”
“No. I am do….appeaww only to….whomewwewww I want!”
‘Hold on. Why did you move the bell in the first place? Tina, Ella, you’re not still going to believe I took it.’
‘Right! If you saw us, and you saw the Invisible Man, why toying around with us?” Tina asked.
“To…test you.’ nd Come! …We do not… have much time.’nd’
“Test us? How?” Tina wanted to know.
But Lord Gauchy said nothing more. For a split second Ella saw the mysterious smile again. However the group was on the move and she followed it along to the promising warmth of the inside. Her nose was starting to turn purple and her fingers were going to be very happy with a serious temperature increase.
‘Young ladies, allow me to introduce you to Fairy Ani and Fairy Carmen’, Mr. Puppy broke the silence, gesturing towards them.
‘Are we dreaming now?’, Tina wanted to settle the matter once and for all. ‘Because only in a dream could there be so much beauty.”
Smiles bloomed on the faces of the two fairies. Their eyes, radiant with serenity, were lighting up the room. As they sat back on the emerald thrones, Ani’s suave voice broke the silence:
‘You’re not dreaming. I know you have many questions, but before we can answer them, you must be very hungry…’
Upon hearing the word ‘’hungry’’ more prosaic concerns made their presence sensed. For indeed, since their wondering through the White kingdom the little girls hadn’t eaten anything.
Carmen stood and made a delicate gesture. Just by looking at that, the girls had the impression that the fairies could dissolve into warm, scented vapors, if blown upon. Carmen’s hand pulled a small velvet tassel that hung close to the throne. Immediately, two yellow bunnies with sparkling ears brought forward two little jeweled chairs with red velvet cushions on top. The girls sat and the bunnies carried a small table, burdened with countless sweets. There was everything: beautifully adorned cubes of ginger bread, glazed apples, steamy pretzels, candy in all shapes and sizes, colorful lollypops, fruit cakes and chocolate cakes, and so many other goodies that caught the eye and tempted the White Kingdom’s visitors.
The girls started to eat the delicious treats with the determination of real people, after a real and long walk.
‘Now’, came Carmen’s calm voice, ‘it is time for you to learn why we summoned you to the White Kingdom. For it was us who brought you here.’
‘Hm, it would be very interesting to know how we got here. Especially since we’re not dreaming’, inquired Ella. Then, without waiting for any answer: ‘Are you toys too? You don’t seem to be…’
‘No. We are fairies. And we brought you here by magic. When you put the Dot-End, you let us know that someone in the Human World was ready to meet us. And so, we brought you to the White Kingdom’, followed the beautiful fairy.
‘What is… umm, that curtain, or whatever it is, on the side of the road?’, Tina caught the moment to ask, picking out small cubes of colored caramel.
‘That is the curtain that separates the White Kingdom from the Human World. The White Kingdom’, continued Carmen, ‘is the place where all the toys in the world come to, when nobody sees them. Mostly at night. And we are the fairies that make sure that they can get here whenever they want. We run the Kingdom.’
‘That means…’, Ella said slowly, as if speaking to herself, ‘it sort of means that the toys are kind of alive…!?!…’
‘Didn’t you ever surmise it?’, Ani asked smiling.
‘Well, yes, I guess. At the very least, I wished it.’
‘Let us show you’, Ani said and made a circle shape with her hand.
On that cue, a myriad of water droplets that hung in the air, without ever falling to the floor, aligned dutifully in front of the table.
‘Droplets, tell story!’, Ani commanded.
The droplets grew the size of balloons. In each of them, the image of a child with a toy emerged. Some children just hugged the toys, others spoke to them. Some slept with them. Little girls combed the hair of dolls or walked them in beautifully trimmed strollers. Many kids sat next to stuffed bears and dogs, fed imaginary food to ponies, or led brave little soldiers, in red uniforms, into battle. But they all had toys close by.
‘The life of the toys is simple. They all have souls and their souls are made entirely of kindness. Whenever a child feels lonely, or needs someone to sleep, or play with, the kindness of the toys that keep them company will make them happier.’
‘So, not only are they alive, but their duty is to make children happy with their kindness?’
‘Precisely. There are many children who talk to toys. Just as there are many, many children who have toy-friends. The kindness of their souls releases a warmth that is felt in the Human World by the children.’
‘There are children’, Carmen added, ‘who invite all of their toys to their birthday parties.’
‘That may well be’, Ella muttered. ‘I too, sometimes talk to my favorite doll. And I imagine that she answers me back.’
‘It is entirely possible that those answers aren’t only in your imagination.’
‘What? I… You mean…?’
‘There are times when the toys do talk to children. But, not even I, or Carmen, can tell which are their real answers and what is the child’s fancy. Only the toys know that. However, what is important for you to know, is that the toys are alive. And that they have a soul made of kindness. Now we can tell you why you are here.’
‘Somewhere, in a faraway land, there is a terribly wicked witch who can’t bear the kindness of the toys. So she cast a spell that traps their souls here, in the White Kingdom. Their souls are dying and causes them to be torn up in the Human World. They can no longer spread their wonderful warmth.’
‘Oh, this is terrible!’, said Ella, touched by the fairy’s words. ‘Just terrible!’
‘We must do something!’, Tina said in revolt. ‘We can’t let those noble toys just be torn up.’
‘We must, indeed. And only you can undo the spell that befell the toys, for we cannot leave the White Kingdom. We must always stay here. And the realm of the Witch-with-the-Water, for that is the name of the wicked one, is far from the White Kingdom.’
‘We will give you someone to help, watch over, and show you the way’, said Ani. ‘You must know, however, that the spell can only be broken by a little girl from the Human World. That is to say one of you two.’
Mr. Puppy, who had waited in silence by a column, disappeared through a side door and came back with a teddy bear. They called him „teddy” because of his unbelievable cuteness. In fact he was, at least, three times as tall and thick as the girls.
‘This is Giggle Teddy, Great Counselor of the White Kingdom’, said Ani.
‘Appropriate name’, Tina noticed. Indeed, the stuffed bear, entirely covered by yellowish fuzz, had a smile on his face so wide and honest that it made her want to smile just by looking at it. The round face, radiant with the serenity and the kindness that can only be found in toys, was completed by a pair of big, brown eyes, that seemed to behold everything around him in innocent amazement.
‘So, Great Counselor, what is our battle plan? I guess it can’t be easy to defeat the Witch-with-Water’, Tina’s practical sense prevailed again.
‘First, allow me to explain what we know so far’, came a thin voice. Every time he spoke, Giggle Teddy’s cheeks would flush, making him even more endearing. ‘Each of you will get a cube containing a charmed powder.’
The teddy bear paused, as the little girls had finished eating and the bunnies took away the table and brought a crystal tray. On it lay two crystal cubes that sparkled gorgeously in the twilight that spread over the White Kingdom.
‘This charmed powder is made from fairy tears and it will help you in your journey, as it can make happen anything that you want. But only for five seconds.’
‘Beware, the spell will last five seconds. No longer!’, Carmen insisted.
‘I will be going with you to show the way. The journey that awaits you is long. Ani and Carmen shall give you a magical balloon that will go wherever we tell it to go.’
‘A flying balloon at our disposal!’ Tina anticipated the excitement of the adventure.
‘Once we get to the witch’s castle, what you must do is break a certain potion bottle from the Chamber of Mirrors. It holds the spell and, if the bottle breaks, the spell is undone and the toys will stop being torn up.’
‘The Chamber of Mirrors?’, Ella asked.
‘Nobody knows what it looks like, as nobody has ever seen it. All we know is that it is a room in the castle of the Witch-with-Water. And it is fiercely guarded.’
‘We leave tomorrow morning’, added Giggle Teddy. ‘Until then, each of you will be given a room in the palace where you can rest.’
‘What happens with the toys that were already torn up? If we manage to break the spell?’, Ella asked.
‘It would be easy for us to bring them back to life. But our magic can’t undo that of the witch while the potion bottle is intact. Moreover, there is another condition: everything must be done by Christmas Eve.’
After that everything was cleared. Mr. Puppy explained the girls that time passes different in the White Kingdom than in their real world. So, their parents won’t notice they were gone missing, because for them, it would have just been a few hours.
Then, he led the little girls to their rooms, somewhere on an upper floor of the palace. Big, richly decorated beds, with velvet canopies that spread scented promises of a deep, dreamless sleep awaited to reward the girls hard work from over their adventurous and unusual day. Tina and Ella accepted that much needed rest on spot.
The following morning Tina and Ella were ready to leave no stone unturned to find the magic item. Literally no stone, as Ella was of the not-so-unrealistic opinion that stones are extremely old. Maybe they are magic items.
The girls met with the Invisible Man at the Christmas Market. Or, more accurately, Tina saw what appeared to be a small lantern form an alley entry, floating around. She calmly yanked it from the stubborn air and put it back as if nothing happened.
Luckily, besides her, nobody noticed. Christmas Market on a cold, foggy, winter day is a busy place, where people crossing left and right don’t have time to observe floating objects.
“What were you doing with the lantern?” she asked while still keeping her smile and composure.
“It looked old. I thought maybe it’s the magic item. So, there are 4 really old buildings in your town.” continued the Invisible Man
‘Good morning to you, too,’ Tina followed.
‘Oh, hello! I only have 6 days until I vanish completely. I really don’t have time…”
“So, what did you find out?”
‘Ughh…the lantern is not the magic item. Nothing happens when I hold it.”
“And stones don’t work either. Because we’re not actually searching old items, but magical items in old buildings.” Tina interrupted. “So, we can leave lanterns and other outside objects alone. Ok, people?”
‘Then, we should start with the museum!” Ella proposed.
“Ohhhhhhhhh! Riiiight! You are so right!” Tina went on enthused. “Why didn’t I think about it?”
“Wh…? What? Why? Why not the City Hall? It’s old too?…wha…?
“The museum is actually an old castle.” Ella explained. “Once upon a time a very rich family lived there. During their lives they gathered paintings, old chairs and chests, statues, lamps and old books. So many, in so many chambers that after they passed away, the building was turned into a museum. A lot of people from other places come to visit regularly.”
“Especially for the missing objects.” Tina went on. “It is said to happen occasionally. Paintings or mirrors moving from one chamber to another. It happens very rarely, though. Probably the reason so many people come to visit it daily. They hope to see these small mysteries. But, I think it’s something people taking care of the museum stage. To keep it interesting. I’ve never seen anything missing or misplaced.”
“Me neither. Although I visit it many times over. Maybe it was the Invisible Man…Hmmm? What do you think, Invisible Man?” Ella joked.
“It wasn’t me this time!”
“We’re wasting time. Let’s go the museum. We have plenty work to do.’ Tina, energetically, set them in motion. “And, we’re not allowed to touch anything inside, so we need to figure out how to search without touching. Lucky us to have and Invisible Man.”
The museum was, probably, declared castle due the thickness of the walls and the respectable age of the construction. Otherwise, it resembled more a two floors constructions, surrounded by a semicircle outside wall. A tower watch was the highest peak of the whole ensemble.
“There is a platform in that tower for visitors. It’s a circular, open space and you can see the city from there.” Ella explained to the Invisible Man while leading the way.
“How many rooms did you say it has?”
“42 in total. 21 rooms at each floor, plus the entry room before the tower platform. Plus the saloon. So… I guess, 44.” Tina answered.
“43 rooms…and only 6 days? We’ll never get it done!”
“Don’t worry Invisible Man, a better part of those rooms are small and serve as anti-chambers for the bigger, more important ones. We’ll get it done.” said Tina. Then she, forcefully, pushed the gate entrance open and let everybody pass.
The first chamber was stretching over the 2 floors height. It was extremely spacious and very well-lit. The ceiling was made of yellow glass, covering the whole room and the entrances to 4 set of stairs. 2 smaller ones, only with a few steps leading to the right and left ground floor wing. And, 2 bigger ones with a lot more steps leading to the right and left wing from the first floor. The chamber’s floor was covered in black and white mosaic. The walls were filled with paintings and statues. Vases, armchairs and coffee tables with manuscripts were, strategically, positioned amongst them.
And, in between, hiding from the icing cold of the December day, dozens of people were loudly chatting, pointing hands and deciding which point of attraction to start from.
“I don’t think anything secret should be hidden precisely in the first room of any building, but we need to make sure.” said Ella and stepped to the right of the door, along the wall. Tina and the Invisible Man followed. First thing on the order. An old papyrus with a beautiful quill and ink bottle sealed inside a glass box, over a cupboard.
The Invisible Man jumped the rope barrier and suddenly started to jiggle that furniture. Tina shouted “No!” and rushed to stop the Invisible Man. She hastily jumped the cord. But, she tripped and ended up hugging the whole furniture with both hands. Face down, pressed against the glass, she shouted through her teeth:
“What are you doing? People are watching!”
Ella noticed that people were indeed watching. Well, actually staring. Ella saw what they saw: a piece of furniture shaken down by a little girl, who, angrily, talked to a cabinet to stop.
“Who is she talking to? Little girl, who are you talking to?”
“Is she ok?” they were asking Ella.
“She’s fine.” Ella said with a forced smile, trying to hide the worry of other people becoming aware of the Invisible Man under a mask of embarrassment. “She really, really like papyruses. Any old writings, actually. She talks to them. Asks them how they are and how are they doing! She says she’s getting inspired to become a writer in doing so!” Ella hoped they were going to believe the far-fetched explanation. She herself was under the impression that she was listening to a stranger uttering words with her own mouth. Oh! the preposterous of the explanation. But, really good timing. People were starting to smile and look at Tina with a protective and amused understanding for the “kids plays” into becoming adults. Hiuh!
Tina was holding the cabinet with the back of her hands, fighting the Invisible Man’s jiggle. She wished she could yell at the Invisible Man to leave it alone, until it’s safe, but she did not want to see Ella inventing another “darling” reasoning for her erratic behavior. When the Invisible man let go, she set herself straight and stepped back over the cord, while keeping a sharp eye to the stillness of the glass.
“You really need to learn that you are invisible! And people panic if they see objects moving by themselves in closed spaces!” she whispered the Invisible Man after the crowd scattered.
“Listen! We’ll find it. And allow you to touch everything, but you need to do it without getting us thrown outside for bad bahaviour!” said Ella.
“Or the reputation of half-sanity, objects-talking-to, girls!” Tina concluded with a pout.
“Igh. Sorry! Agaaaain! I was overly-excited. Or overly-panicked. Or, maybe, both. Not sure.” Ella sensed the worry from his voice and changed the topic to a less-panicky endeavor.
“Let’s move to the paintings.”
The happening was, ultimately, useful, as it allowed the girls to devise a plan to cover the pieces that required moving or opening of stuff having no business moving. Ella was spotting the visitors. When she was sure none was watching (which, after the glass-cabinet episode was no small thing!) she made a little whistle. Tina, then, jumped in front of the object and stayed there until the Invisible Man announced, in a soft voice, that he was done. This little plan worked for the whole room without other incidents and they could safely move to other rooms.
The rest of the searching process was efficient and uneventful. Until they reached the watch tower.
‘Hello!??!’, made Ella from behind her sister. ‘Hello is no good for floating books. Why hello?’
‘Hey!’ the nothingness answered back.
The little girls stared at the door. Or at the book. They took another step back.
‘Hello!’, Ella tried, unconvinced.
‘Hey!’, the nothingness answered again.
‘Tina! The Book floats. And talks. Books don’t talk and float.”
‘I don’t think it’s the book talking. I felt….a sort of… person, when I touched before.’
‘You felt a person?’
‘Yes Ella. Tina felt a person.’, said the nothingness again.
‘Who are you?’, Tina took control.
‘How do you know our names?’
‘How did you get in?’, Tina went on.
‘How long have you been standing there?’
‘Why can’t we see anything? And why is our Book floating?’, Ella demanded.
‘Ookeey! One at the time. I can’t answer anything if you keep asking.’ said the voice.
‘Ok. Explain!’, Tina allowed condescendingly.
‘Ummm… I am the Invisible Man.’
‘No kidding!’, said Ella.
‘However funny, that is my name. I came from the Invisible Land. A few of us can live in both worlds. Yours’ and the Invisible Land. However, when we are in your world, we look like yourselves. We are completely opaque, and resemble normal people. Except me.’
‘What happened to you?’, Tina asked.
‘I got stuck in your world in invisible form. I cannot go back to Invisible Land, without my visibility. You have to help me!’
‘Why us?’ Ella wanted to know.
‘You have the magical touch. You visited the White Kingdom last year. You can pass magical portals to other worlds. In fact, I came to you because Ani and Carmen said you could help me.’
‘The fairies from the White Kingdom!’ Ella made.
‘How did you lose your visibility?’ Tina got back.
‘I visited the Magic Music Realm. Music has no shapes. One cannot go in with their visible form. So I entered. When I got back, it was gone.’
‘Did someone take it?’ Ella asked.
‘I don’t know. I don’t think so. Only I can use my visibility. Now, the only other places I can exist, is the White Kingdom, because of the fairies magic, your land and the Music Realm.’
‘How do you get it back, then?’ Tina pushed on to see what exactly she and her sister could do.
‘I need you to find the magic item. It will regain my visibility and I can go back.’
‘And what exactly is the magic item?’ Tina wanted to know.
‘Well, that’s the thing. I don’t know. I only know it’s in the Secret Chamber in a very old building in your realm.’
‘Huh..that’s not much to go….’ said Ella pensive.
‘And I’ve just arrived today, and tried to get your attention ever since.’ the Invisible Man went on.
‘Ooooh….so you messed up the cards?’ Tina asked.
‘Yep. And the scissors. And the mask.’
‘Aha! So, I did bring the scissors. I knew it’, Ella made with satisfaction. ‘So, why not come and ask nicely? Present yourself first and whatnot.”
‘Well, first off, I would have really scared you.’
‘Duh!’ Tina snorted.
‘Well, I would have scared you even more than I already did. And, I am forbidden to address the first word. I was to expect to first be addressed to. Magical restriction Ani and Carmen warned me about in the Real Realm. I had to make sure, you can really pass magical portals. And sense magical beings.’
‘How do you know that if we get the item, you will get your visibility back? You said you don’t know what happened to it?’ Ella asked.
‘Well, Tina, Ani and Carmen said that the magic item can summon my visibility back from wherever it is.’
‘Trust worthy. If you got it from them. So, how does it look?”
“The magical item? Is it small? Big? is it at least visible?” overcame the practicality in Tina, again.
“ I told you, I don’t know. We have to find an old building in your town.”
“Hey, Tina, do you think the old building is the City Hall? That’s pretty old.”
“I would say…I’m pretty tired.” she made with a big smile and an even bigger yawn. “Let’s revisit this tomorrow. Can you sleep down stairs on the sofa? Wait! Do invisible men sleep?”
“You don’t sleep?” asked Ella. “ Of course, he sleeps. I would be exhausted of so much trying to get the attention of people who can’t see me.”
“Emmm…actually, when I’m invisible I don’t need sleep. Nor food or water.”
“So, what, you’re just going to walk around the house all night? We still have our visible bodies, and we do need to sleep. In fact, by the yawning stretching around left and right, I would say, we need it very much!” said Tina.
“I’m going to take a walk into the city, check all the old buildings until you wake up. Don’t worry, tomorrow morning, you’ll find me sitting tight on your sofa.”
“Like we could tell if you’re sitting or standing.” Tina chuckled. “Come on, Ella. Let’s sleep. Tomorrow we need to find something indefinable in a unknown place for an invisible man.”
“Good night, Invisible Man”
“Good night, Ella. Nighty, night, Tina.”
“Hey, what happens if we can’t help you?” asked Tina while glancing towards the fluffiness of the pillows from the bed.
“I get stuck in your realm in invisible form.”
“Is that so bad? We can be friends!” Ella mumbled with sleepy eyes.
“If I stay for more than 7 days in your realm, my visibility will be lost forever. Then, I will vanish forever too.”
“All right! So we have until Christmas Day.” Tina said in a calm voice. Then she gently took her sister by the hand and slowly walked her to the bed.
Ella was sitting at her desk. She was lost in a dream world, looking at the frozen trees from outside. The afternoon snow made everything white and sparkling. Almost like the White Kingdom they visited last year.
‘Watch’ you doing?’, Tina asked following her sister’s gaze.
‘Being happy for the snow.’
Tina smiled. She knew Ella was enjoying more than weather.
‘So, do we start? Next week we have the festivity. And we have so much to finish until then. Costumes. Prop. Going over the script one more time.’ said Ella.
‘And, of course, the almighty curtain.’, Tina continued with a deep sigh.
‘Yeah. The trouble of every year. Think mommy could help?’
‘She could, for sure. If we could find the material. What did we use last year?’
‘We had a big, blue one borrowed from the City Hall. I don’t think we can get it again, though. The City Hall had it borrowed from somewhere else too.’, Ella recalled.
The little girls started to analyze the walls and the ceiling of the room as if they wanted to repaint them again. In hopes of discovering in their perfection a piece of the so-needed material for the show curtains.
‘Well, I guess, there is nothing we can do for now. Let’s finish the costumes. And go over the script again.’, said Tina and opened a cabinet doors from near the bed.
An avalanche of colorful and shiny little things, masks, hats and half-sewed costumes rushed out their imprisonment, covering Tina’s feet completely. Ella went to a big drawer and pulled out a large piece of cardboard and a bunch of colors and crayons. She fixed the huge sheet, on top, with two of her shoes and at the bottom with two of her sister’s. Then she started to pull out little circles, stars, rhombuses, colored rustling paper garlands and silver, red, blue, golden pieces of tinfoil. She piled everything on top of the huge cardboard. Then she moved to the table and started to gather scissors, glue and pins. She dropped them inside of a shoe, as to not lose any pins.
‘Can you hand me the script notebook?’, she asked without raising her glance.
Tina somehow managed to get untangled from her own pile and reach to a notebook the size of a brick. It contained all the program for the Christmas festivity. It was a tradition Tina and Ella kept every year. On the 24th of December they would hold a play, followed by carols and exchanging of small gifts. Around a beautifully lit Christmas tree, where all their small, little town would gather. For Ella and Tina, la piece de resistance, was the play. They usually worked on it for the better half of the year. Coming up with an original story every time. Then gather the cast, find costumes and fix all the other errands. They took care of everything needed for the show.
Tina took “the Book”, as they called it, from the bookshelf and dropped it at Ella’s feet.
‘Are you doing the placement cards? Or, should I?’, she asked.
‘No, you should. I have to finish the affiche. You’re better at it, anyway.’
And with that, Ella started to sort everything. 15 golden stars: right up corner. 25 blue dots: right up corner, near stars. 5 turquoise garlands: left up corner. All tinfoil: left up corner. Crayons and colored pencils: left available shoe. Scissors: up right shoe. And so on, until everything was easy to spot and use. When she finished, she took a dark pencil and started to sketch the outline of the affiche.
Tina gave it just a quick look. Her sister knew what she was doing. She had to take care of costumes. She took the Book back from Ella and opened it at the script’s first page. She left it opened on the floor and, bellow it, started to piece together all costumes, to see what’s missing. Wings and wig for the Angel. Missing: white robe. Black hat, mask, tucks for the Knight. Missing: cape. Blue dress, silver shoes for the Princes. Missing: tiara. Yellow cape for the Moon. Missing: light source. Turban, mustache, brown costume for the Special Guest. Missing: black glows.
Afterwards, she started to arrange the cards for the public seats. In 8 consecutive rows, with 8 columns. So she can write on each of them the placement numbers.
“Tina is so good at organizing”, Ella thought, while reaching for the shoe with the scissors. In her short interruption she assessed the damage. At this point, the whole floor was completely taken over. No little spot left uncovered by their assiduous work. Not even to drop a pin.
Ella grabbed the shoe. The shoe was empty. She looked around. No trace of scissors. Anywhere. She looked inside all shoes, again. Still nothing.
‘Did you take the scissors?’
‘Nope. Haven’t budged.’, Tina said. ‘See on the table. I think I saw them somewhere around.’
Ella stretched her neck to reach the surface of the table. A bit more. Just a little bit more. And…there they were. “That’s strange. I was sure, I brought them once.” With a sense of slight confusion she stood up and went to the table to retrieve them. This time she made sure she put them in a completely empty shoe, in plain sight. She needed them handy.
Tina watched her to see if she can help.
‘You’re too concerned with the drawing!’, she said, amused.
Ella smiled and retook her artistic preoccupation, grabbing a pencil and starting to measure distances and angles with it.
“Why is there a pencil measuring always involved in any drawing?” Tina thought while finishing up with the cards. The next item on her fixing list was the Knight’s mask. For now, it was only fashioned. It needed the straps attached. Tina tiptoed around the cards, to reach the costume section of the floor.
Safely there, she took all the pieces for a meticulous analysis. No mask. “Huh. I must have missed it. Let me see.” Still no mask. She took the Knight’s costume, item by item, and started to shake them. Then all of the other costumes.
‘You ok?’, Ella asked.
‘Can’t find the mask. I must have lost it.’
‘Oh, no!’, Ella made and quickly got up and join her sister. The mask was not there. She went to the cabinet and carefully opened it.
‘It’s here!’, she shouted with excitement. Tina came to convince for herself. She picked up the mask and studied it from all angles. With attention and determination.
‘Why did you run?’, she asked the mask with a funny, lisp voice. ‘Get back to your place!’
‘Hihi.’, Ella chuckled. ‘Good thing we found it. This is difficult to replace.’
‘I must have missed it the first time.’, Tina continued. ‘I see your part is coming along.’
‘Yeah. Come see!’, said Ella and dragged Tina, with the force of anticipation, to her part of the floor.
‘What do you think?’
Tina bended a little to have a better view. The poster was amazing. Her sister actually managed to make a Christmas tree over the cardboard. It had sparkling globes, stars and little bells. It even had snow on top of everything. The tree was made from green paper with tinfoil decorations. Tina could not identify the white dust Ella used for snow.
‘It’s beautiful. You haven’t spend so many hours for nothing, I see’, she said. ‘Still, I think the hour of the show should be bigger. Details about place and time have to be seen from afar.’
‘Do I have to make the date bigger as well?’
‘I don’t know. It’s not like the date changes each year. Yeah! Why not? Maybe you should.’
Ella started to erase the part with the date. Then she began to, lightly, draw the new, bigger letters.
Tina watched as she worked for a while longer, then returned to the cards to gather and store them. Only, the cards were now scattered all around. As if a strong wind blew them over. None was in its original place.
‘What ….happened…?’, she managed to ask with a fading voice.
Ella stood up and looked over the mess.
‘Heeey!’ she exclaimed. ‘When?…. “What?’
‘When I was looking over your work. Are there any windows opened?’
Both Tina and Ella looked at the door and the windows. Everything was closed and shut. No wind.
‘Maybe you disturbed them when you got to me’, Ella suggested, timidly. Although the possibility seemed distant, even for her.
‘No. I came from the cabinet. Remember? Just after we both found the mask’
‘Right! Then, what happened?’
Tina, with her characteristic pragmatism, went to each window and checked by hand if they were tightly closed. When it reached the door, she opened and closed it, a few times, with all the might she could master. The breeze caused by the door was barely able to lift, for a little, a few cards.
‘That’s strange!’, she amended.
‘So strange.’, Ella agreed.
‘Maybe there’s a cat in the room’, Tina joked.
Then she stared to gather all the cards. Good thing this happened after she finished them. She could easily order them now. Ella rushed to help. As they were collecting cards from under furniture, they also watched the door. Time to time, one of them stared at the windows to see if they were still closed.
However, the bedroom remained warm and cozy. The cold and the night from outside were staying where they were supposed to. Outside.
‘Can you help me. There are a few deep, under the bed. I think I need you to hold the bedding so I can see beneath.’, Tina said while she slowly disappeared under the bed.
Ella quickly rose all the bedding at the edge of the bed. Tina dropped on her knees and hands. She pulled the cards, one by one. Ella took them from her sister’s hand and, carefully, placed them on the bed. After the fifth one, Tina got out from under the bed.
‘Hiuh. I think we have all of them.’
‘We should put everything back, for now. We’ll work on the rest tomorrow.’, Tina said and looked around the room to see where to start the cleaning. Ella went to her affiche and rolled it tightly, ready to put it back in the drawer.
‘Hey, can you hand me the Book? I want to make sure I put it safely.’ she asked.
No answer came.
‘Tina?’, she insisted and turned over.
She saw Tina staring at the room door. There, the Book was floating in midair. Magically levitating and slowly moving. As if it made a discreet dance. Ella blinked a few times. The book was still afloat. She tightly closed her eyes for a few seconds. When she opened them back, the book was still there.
‘Ugghh…Tin…? ….the Bo… the Book it’s moving!’
‘Aaaa….’, Tina made. ‘So you see it too. I wasn’t… sure.’
‘The book … is moving!’, Ella went on with a slightly hoarse voice.
‘I’m going to grab it!’, bravely decided Tina.
‘No!’ Ella shouted.
But, before she could do anything, Tina put the palm of her hand right above the book. The hand stopped before it reached the wood of the door. Tina was pushing against a solid object. Her hand was not passing through air.
Tina woke up first. She looked around. Had their parents done something? Moved them while they were asleep? But where? None of their rooms looked anything like it.
‘Where are we?’, Ella asked, glancing around.
Tina opened her mouth to answer, but stopped, confused. Everywhere hills, valleys, mountains, trees, everything opened up in sight. Only, every stone on the road, the road itself, giant trunks of century-old trees, everything was white.
‘Is it snow?’, asked Tina reaching to what seemed to be a heavy curtain that hung on the side of the road. How come she wasn’t cold? She was wearing only a blue house gown.
Ella didn’t answer distracted by her own amazement. Her gaze pierced through the white branches of a white tree, towards the white sky sprinkled with white little clouds, tracing the white flight of a white bird into the bright light of a white sun. How is it that I can tell things apart when they are all white?
Tina placed her palm on the curtain. She withdrew it almost instantly. The whiteness around it was soft, fluffy and warm. It had taken the shape of her hand. As soon she withdrew it, the curtain regained its initial form.
‘Aaah… hmm! No snow! For sure.’, she mumbled.
‘Fragrant!’, Ella exclaimed. ‘Flowers and fruits! That’s the smell!’
‘Right so!’ confirmed her sister after experiencing herself.’
‘Ugh… pretty wired… So, where would we be right now?’
‘Umm… no idea. What do you think? Surprise from our parents?’
“Think no… I mean, I get the feeling that our parents had nothing to do with this.’
‘Yeah, me too. So what now?’ Tina went on.
Something of this new air told them they were not in danger. They could not explain why they weren’t at all afraid. But rather preoccupied with the mystery of the place. They watched the ghostly scenery again. As if by magic, the thought emerged at the same time: had to follow the road! The only way, if they were to find any answers. And on they stepped.
The surroundings were neither quiet, nor barren, and probably, not uninhabited either. All the sounds of a normal nature setting were present. Hiss of wind, flutter of wings, buzz of insects in the thick grass, whispers of leaves in the trees. The only unfamiliar thing was the strange curtain that meandered along the road. It made no sounds. Its height, though impossible to fathom, did not hide the horizon. And, of course, the whiteness, present in everything and anything. The only colored spots in the entire landscape were the little girls.
Soon, the road led them into a glade where the perfume of flowers was even more alluring. A garden! A garden full of flowers, of such richness as the girls had never seen before.
Ella left the road. She stepped curiously among them. Some were completely unknown to her, though she knew quite many types. She really loved flowers.
‘Wait. I’m coming too!’ Tina rushed.
But, in her haste, she tripped over a bush of bluebells. The fall took her by surprise. She didn’t have time to balance herself in any way. She landed, eyes closed, anticipating the shock. But, instead of the deaf thump she expected, Tina felt nothing. No noise, no pain, no injury. Just a soothing sensation of comfort.
‘Hey!’ she exclaimed.
‘Are you alright?’
‘Uhum! But you have to see for yourself. Fall into the grass!’
‘Sure! Think I’m gonna have your luck?!’
‘Nooo…it’s not luck. You’ll see, it won’t hurt! Ok, then, just sit on the grass.’
Ella sat next to her sister, as told. The flowers, the grass, the ground, molded after her body, forming a soft cradle.
‘Hmm’, muttered Tina, enlightened now as to why she hadn’t been hurt.
‘This place is very strange’, Ella declared.
‘Where do you think the flowers went?’, asked Tina. ‘There were flowers where we now sit.’
‘Well, as with many things around here, I have no idea’, Ella said getting up.
Beneath her the mystery unveiled. The flowers came back, just as they were before. None of them was touched in any way. No breaking or bending. Not one petal was out of place, as if nothing happened.
‘Uh…., do you think we’re dreaming?’, asked Tina, as she got up.
‘Could be… though… both of us the same dream?!’
‘Anyway, we’ll find the answer at the end of this road! It has to lead somewhere!’
‘Definitely!’, Tina smiled and restarted the game.
Not long after, amid the round winding of loops, a palace appeared. As they approached it, the girls could see rich crenels and fine adornments. White, petrified jewlery were guarding every tower.
They stepped on the alley that led to the main entrance. Each rising column was sustained by frozen, ivory figures. On either side of the alley were blossomed trees and rich lianas. At gentle breezes white petals searched the ground in whimsical dances.
The entrance rose threateningly before them. Two door knobs were hidden amidst ornaments. Tina, strongly, grabbed one and knocked. They held their breath as they waited in the sea of whiteness. It become eerily quiet. The door began to open. Ever so slowly, like a sleepy giant. And, if the white realm had been strange, what the girls were about to see was at least as surprising. If not, the most curious thing ever. A gray puppy, with eyes half shut, dressed in a pink overall, walking like people do, on his rear paws, was the one who opened the door.
The stares of the girls were becoming quite rude, but the creature was well worth being studied, for though, the size of an adult, it was merely a toy puppy.
‘Huh!’, managed Tina to exclaim.
‘Welcome, young ladies. Please come in, the fairies await you!’, came the hoarse, lazy voice of the puppy.
‘Huh!’, went Tina again. ‘He talks!’
Ella came to her senses first. Their lack of politeness was beyond any limit.
‘Nice to make your acquaintance, Mr. Puppy! If you could kindly explain who are your mistresses and what is this extremely odd place… ? And, more importantly, were are our parents? We’ve been calm and all, but really, we don’t know these surroundings!’
‘Your parents are very well. At home, where you left them. And you are perfectly safe in the White Kingdom. The fairies will explain everything. Please follow me.’
That said, Mr. Puppy led the way. He followed an intricate path through corridors, vast halls and slim columns. Among them, a motley population passed hastily in all directions. Black kitties with white boots and coddled gazes, pink, white or brown bunnies, yellow mice, penguins in elegant frocks, old men with long, white beards, dolls in dotted dresses, reindeer with red vests. And so many others that the little girls didn’t get to see. They kept close to their guide. And each and every one of them, though they were toys, moved and talked just like people do. Two dinosaurs, one dark blue, other light blue, with beautiful, gentle eyes crossed them. Mr. Puppy stopped, waiting with polite patience for the giant tails to pass.
‘If it’s a dream, it’s a beautiful one’, said Ella, her eyes following a spotted puppy, twice as big as her.
‘Do you see that this palace has colors? It’s not white like everything else outside.’
‘Sshhh!’, Ella cautioned her, though the noise around was loud enough to cover their conversation.
But, she stayed with her sister’s remark. The crowd in the palace was made of countless intertwined, colored spots: red and white, blue and yellow, pink and green, dark brown and light brown and purple. In the most fanciful shapes and combinations.
Almost unexpectedly they found themselves in the throne hall. Not very different from the rest of the palace, perhaps larger, it hosted the two emerald thrones.
‘Welcome to the White Kingdom!’ came a crystalline, welcoming voice.
Two fairies of unseen beauty rose from the emerald thrones and walked lightly towards the girls. One of them was dark haired, with deep blue eyes and fine, porcelain features. Her black hair fell in heavy weaves along a graceful body, wrapped in white veils. The other one had golden sparks in her hair. Eyes just as blue and deep. Marmoreal hands came out of the same kind of white veil dress.
The girls couldn’t take their eyes off the unearthly beauties in front of them. Especially those hypnotically, ravishingly blue, shadowed by long, dark lashes eyes.