1 – THE CRUMBLING BRICKS
“Ella, is your room clean?” called the worn, tired voice from the bottom of the stairs.
“Yes, Grandma.” Ella’s voice rose as if she were yelling through a megaphone, hoping her grandmother would hear and leave her alone. School was bad enough, but summer vacation was even worse. To be twelve and have nothing to do but clean her room seemed unbearable.
Ella and her mother lived in the city in her grandmother’s house, so things had to be done Grandma’s way. Since her mother spent all day at work, it was up to Ella to do Grandma’s bidding.
Ella kicked the big stuffed bear that sat at the foot of her bed. Sometimes she missed the days when she could hug him and find company in his worn brown fur. He was no comfort today and even made her angry for looking so satisfied when she felt glum.
The rain pounded the window as Ella pressed her nose against the glass. The traffic on the street was thick as usual, but the water muffled the engine noise. She sighed as she turned to look around her room, staring at a poster on her wall portraying a unicorn drinking from a brook, his long mane brushing the water. Behind him loomed a huge castle, as grand as any in real or fairytale life. As she gazed at the picture, Ella’s heart ached with a great longing that she didn’t understand. Why did beautiful things hurt as much as they caused pleasure?
She plodded down the stairs to see what Grandma was up to. She peeked in the kitchen and noticed her dealing the cards out into a game of solitaire. “Come sit down and play some cards with me.”
“No thanks, Grandma,” she tried to answer cheerfully. She thought that if she had to play one more game of rummy, she’d scream.
“Suit yourself. You’d better start on the cellar, then, or your mother will have a word or two for you when she gets home.”
“I hate that place. It’s dark and damp and smells like something died down there.”
Grandma laughed. “I suppose that’s why it needs cleaning—sooner started, sooner done.”
Ella knew better than to argue with Grandma. She was easy to get along with unless she was defied—and then she got that snap in her eyes that made you wish you were invisible. Ella marched down the basement stairs to the rhythm of Grandma shuffling the cards, the tap of her shoes, and the drum of the rain.
As she brushed cobwebs out of her path, she decided to start with the far corner. It was the only place that wasn’t damp from the rain. She leaned over, bracing her foot against the wall to pull out the huge trunk in front of it. Upon giving a great heave, the trunk budged a fraction of an inch and Ella heard the old brick behind it crumble. Pretty soon the whole place would come down around their ears, she thought. Another tug brought the trunk closer. Ella gasped and let go, her momentum throwing her backward onto the hard, muddy floor. Bright sunlight poured from behind the trunk.
What in the world? How can there be sunlight coming through that wall? There’s only mud behind it! Ella’s strength increased as her curiosity soared. With a powerful jerk, the trunk came sliding across the floor. She could now see that the brilliant light was shining through a disintegrating brick. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a hammer hanging on the wall. Grabbing it, she began pounding at the old bricks as sunlight beamed on her through the hole.
At last the hole was big enough to look through. Ella’s heart fluttered as she saw green waxy leaves all around and smelled lilacs and apple blossoms. She dropped the hammer and pulled the crumbling bricks apart with her hands, widening the space so she could squeeze through it.
Stepping out onto a grassy area with the green waxy leaves surrounding her, she realized that she was behind a clump of bushes. Whirling to gaze at the place from which she had just come, she found it comforting to see the chipped bricks lying about and the huge trunk sitting sideways in the old cellar. After brushing all the dust and dirt off of herself, she crept to a gap in the bushes to peer out. What she saw caused her to suck in her breath as if she’d caught her teacher kissing the mailman. A unicorn drank from a brook, his long mane delicately touching the water. In the distance a great castle loomed above the trees, its spires glittering like rubies against the bright blue sky. Ella wanted to run out into this glorious land but she could not trust her senses. She turned again to see the reassuring brick of the cellar. How could this be? Even though questions rolled around in her head, she felt nothing but gladness to have discovered something so wonderful in her dingy basement on this rainy day.
The unicorn jerked his head up and glanced her way, then bounded into the woods.
“Don’t go,” Ella found herself calling.
“You’ll never get a unicorn to stay around that way!”
Ella jumped at the sound of a small voice next to her. She turned to see a little man about a foot tall. His snow‐white beard reached his knees; it was neatly braided into three separate braids that contrasted with his bright red hair—not red as we know red hair, but red as a candied cherry—that stuck out in all directions from underneath his brown cap. His huge mouth, at least twice the size of a human mouth, startled Ella the most. His perfectly round nose and purple eyes made her feel like laughing.
“What kind of creature are you?” asked the little man with his forehead wrinkled and his mouth looking like it could swallow an apple whole.
“I’m a girl,” Ella answered, offended at having to explain something so obvious. Her anger flared even more as the wee man burst into laughter.
“Who ever saw a girl in old, faded pants and a man’s shirt? Surely you can think of a better story to tell me than that if you don’t want me to know the truth.”
“But I am telling the truth,” Ella said in a voice that sounded just like it did when she had to defend herself against a teacher who accused her of cheating. “In my world, girls dress this way.”
The little one stopped laughing at once and stared at Ella. “You come from another world?” His purple eyes grew large with wonder and fear.
“Yes, I do!” Ella declared as she pointed. “My world is right through that wall . . .” She stopped mid‐sentence in panic as she turned and saw that the hole was gone. The panic strangely turned to peace a moment later for no logical reason, though wonder still pervaded her thoughts.
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Genre – Fairy tale, Fantasy
Rating – G