Part of The Fairy Tale of The Blue Shoe, where little Anton and Bella go on a quest to rescue their mother from the vaults of Melancholix the Dragon.
Did you miss the first part of the story?
It’s here: The Fairy Tale of The Blue Shoe (chapters 1 and 2).
Anton and Bella could not sleep that night. The next morning came with a rain-filled sky, so Father went out in a hurry to bring in the hay. The two children did not hesitate for one moment. They hastily picked up a few things, first of all Mother’s leftover Blue Shoe, and of course the black mystery pouch that the Good Witch had given them the evening before: to open only when they got into trouble. And the little mirror the Witch had said they should use when they had found Melancholix.
They sneaked out of the back door and ran through the fields, past the honey tree where Mother had gone the day when she disappeared, and bravely they entered the Forest.
In there, it was dusky and eerily quiet. Not a sound, except for the crunch of their footsteps and the twirping of a few invisible birds, high up in the treetops. It was like all those trees stood waiting for something.
“Bella,” Anton whispered, “what now?” Bella said: “First we must find the other Blue Shoe, the Witch told us, remember?” “Yes,” said Anton, “but how?” Bella shrugged. “We just do what the Witch said. We ask the squirrels to bring us to the Dwarf who can help us.” “But I see no squirrels!” cried Anton. Bella said: “Well, let’s go deeper into the Forest. We’ll just follow the path and look out for them, okay?”
And so they did. They walked and walked. The forest remained silent. They walked and walked and walked. The huge trees around them looked all the same, so it was like they walked without going forward, as if they kept returning to the very same place while walking and walking. But somehow, the more they walked, the more the air got filled with Fear. They could smell it. It smelt like a deep, dark, moist hole in the ground, even though there was no hole to be seen.
Anton was just going to tell Bella he was getting afraid, when something strange happened. Suddenly the Blue Shoe in Bella’s hand began to sing. It was Mother’s voice. It was like Mother was hidden deep down inside her own shoe, and now she had started singing to them. The children stood frozen, perplexed. They had not heard Mother singing since a long time, never heard her voice since she had disappeared:
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Anton got very wide eyes, and Bella stood blinking: she swallowed like she was going to cry. When the Shoe stopped singing, it was dead silent again. Anton found his voice back and asked: “Bella, what was she singing? I didn’t understand a word of it.” Bella swallowed again, and took a deep breath. “No, Anton, no, it must be some strange language. Maybe this Frolian from when Mother was a child herself, do you remember how she…” Anton nodded. Bella hesitated and said: “This must be a good sign, Anton. I think it means we’re on the right way.”
“Can we hear her again?” Anton asked. “Please, I want to hear her one more time. Maybe if we listen carefully, then…” Bella sighed. She looked at the Shoe. “I don’t know how.” She peered into the Shoe, but it looked empty. “I don’t know.”
The children walked on, looking up and down and left and right for squirrels, but there was nothing but the silence of the forest, with a slight rustling sound of a breeze high in the trees. Even the invisible birds had stopped twirping now: maybe Mother’s sudden Shoe-singing had chased them away?
After they had rounded a very big tree, a gray shape loomed before them. When they got closer, they saw what it was. It was the Petrified Man. They had never expected to see him with their own eyes, but there he was, like a statue.
Father had often told them the story of the Petrified Man, as a warning to not enter the Forest. Long ago, this Petrified Man had gone in the woods all by himself searching for mushrooms, and like Mother, he had never returned. But unlike Mother, he had not disappeared completely. A search party had found him standing, turned into stone.
Slowly, Bella stepped forward and with her fingertips she quickly touched one of his stone legs. The Petrified Man did not move; he kept staring into the distance over their heads. Now Anton dared to touch him, too. He felt cold. Very cold.
“Would Mother be like this, too?” Anton asked. “Do you remember how the Witch said that in the Vaults Of Horror down below the Towers Of Ness Depry, we would find…” Bella said: “Now for once do stop asking questions, Anton. How would I know?” She looked up at the stone face. “I wish we could make him talk. If we could get him talking, maybe he could help us. Maybe he can tell where the squirrels have gone, or where the Dwarf lives.” She looked up at the stone face again, and stood thinking. Wisely, Anton kept his mouth shut.
Finally, Bella took a step back and said in a loud voice: “Petrified Man? Petrified Man? Can you say something, please?”
(to be continued)