Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Little Match Girl: Thoughts and Facts (part 2)

Inspiration and publication

Hans Christian Andersen was given the opportunity to write a new fairy tale for the upcoming Danish People Calendar for 1846. This booklet was published annually for the general public. As well as creative writing, it would contain useful information such as dates and statistics.

The story was to be based on one of three illustrations sent to Andersen. It was Johan Thomas Lundbye’s drawing of a little beggar girl (with a bundle of matchsticks in her hand) that inspired him the most. I don’t know any Danish, so am unsure how reliable this source is, but here’s what looks to be a photograph of ‘The Little Match Girl’ as it appears in the Danish People Calendar for 1846, with the original Lundbye illustration that caught Andersen’s interest.

Andersen wrote ‘The Little Match Girl’ during his one-month stay with the Duke of Augustenborg. The fairy tale was published in December 1845.

Past and present

Working, homeless and beggar children were not unusual in the nineteenth century. Begging itself was a rising issue, so the response of most authorities was to make begging a criminal offence. Children on the streets would sell matches or newspapers to avoid getting arrested.

Since Andersen came from a poor background, it’s easy to see why he was so affected by Lundbye’s illustration. At the time of writing ‘The Little Match Girl’, he was a well-established writer with a number of successful publications. He had also been given an annual grant by the king of Denmark in 1838, allowing him to write whatever he wished. He was living in success that his parents had never known. Perhaps, in Lundbye’s illustration, Andersen saw his own family’s history of poverty.

According to Andersen himself, his fairy tale characters were based on real-life people. In the case of ‘The Little Match Girl’, the heart of the story came not only from Andersen’s own experiences, but also from his mother’s. He shares in his autobiography his mother’s childhood memories of begging on the streets. Whenever she went home empty-handed, her parents treated her cruelly. Sometimes, she would be too scared to go home and instead spent the night outside.

Even as a writer gaining international fame and recognition, Andersen never forgot his roots.

The ending

Does the little match girl really have to die?

Plenty of people think she shouldn’t, because ‘The Little Match Girl’ is first and foremost a children’s story. Allowing the lead character to freeze to death is cruel and distressing. How would a child respond to such an ending? For that matter, what are grown-ups supposed to get out of this fairy tale? Isn’t children’s literature supposed to distract us from the horrors of day-to-day living?

Unsurprisingly, there are versions of the story where the little girl survives and is granted a warm and loving home (Maria Tatar points to a 1944 American translation, which guarantees a “happily ever after”). Andersen, however, selected Lundbye’s illustration of a beggar girl for a reason.

One can easily turn a blind eye on the poor, but by confronting his own history of poverty and translating its reality into the form of a children’s story, Andersen was telling the people of the world to look. It’s a story about a child, for a child, based on very real childhood experiences. It’s arguably because of the tragic ending that ‘The Little Match Girl’ has managed to live on in people’s hearts.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Sunday, 13 December 2015

The Little Match Girl: Thoughts and Facts (part 1)

Once upon a time

I was daunted by the idea of choosing ‘The Little Match Girl’ as my second fairy tale. It didn’t matter what cute, funny and colourful things I drew for ‘Snow White and Rose Red’, but ‘The Little Match Girl’ has a special kind of magic. I had to figure out how to keep my art light-hearted without overlooking the soul of Hans Christian Andersen’s masterpiece.

I actually have no idea how I came to know the unforgettable tale, but this is a great opportunity to learn about its making. People all over the world have taken the story to their hearts, so there’s a lot to be said!

This first instalment of Thoughts and Facts will put the spotlight on Disney’s The Little Match Girl (2006).

Disney’s adaptation


‘The Little Match Girl’ has inspired countless works, but the one that comes to my mind is Disney’s short traditionally-animated film. It may shock you to hear that I was a little disappointed with the visual effects. I expected to be spellbound by the little girl’s visions as she gazed into the flame of the match, but although these scenes were beautifully painted, they just didn’t deliver the fairy dust I’m used to seeing from Walt Disney Studios.

You can, nonetheless, feel the love that went into making the piece, because if there’s one thing Disney can’t do wrong, it’s the art of storytelling. The animation for the little girl is engaging and authentic. The transitions from cold reality to warm dream are faultless. There’s expert use of colour and the choice of music couldn’t be better. Given how iconic ‘The Little Match Girl’ is, however, I wish they took the visual effects to premier level (think Disney Fantasia 2000: ‘Firebird Suite’). Extra investment would have sent the little girl’s dreams soaring, but to be fair, you do get the sense that the makers made every cent they had count.

Though I expected more, the adaptation is still a thoughtful one. It stayed with me and I was eager to watch it again the moment I decided to look at ‘The Little Match Girl’ fairy tale. I was thrilled to find such a gem on Disney’s The Little Mermaid DVD. It’s also part of a collection of short animated Disney films (alongside Frozen Fever and Tangled Ever After) that was released on DVD earlier this year.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Disney chose not to produce an accurate retelling of Andersen’s story. There isn’t a scene where the little girl loses her shoes and nothing suggests that she has a house or parents to go back to. What came as a pleasant surprise was the ending. Disney has a reputation for making everything end happily ever after, but in the case of ‘The Little Match Girl’, the makers wisely left the course of Andersen’s story unchanged. The closing scene is powerful and poignant, leaving no doubt that the heart of the short film is exactly the same as the heart of Andersen’s original narrative.

As a piece of animation, there’s nothing spectacular or ground-breaking to be seen, so unless you happen to want Disney’s The Little Mermaid or collection of short films on DVD, I wouldn’t recommend seeking to buy it. If you know someone who owns either DVD and you’re passionate about fairy tales, then I’d highly recommend borrowing it to see ‘The Little Match Girl’ as interpreted by Disney.

Monday, 7 December 2015

The Little Match Girl fairy tale

The following is my summary of the fairy tale 'The Little Match Girl' by Hans Christian Andersen.


It was mercilessly cold. Snow fell from the darkening sky and a poor, small girl wandered the streets. She wore nothing on her head and nothing on her feet. That morning, she had indeed left the house with a pair of slippers, but they belonged to her mother and were far too big.

The little girl lost the slippers when she crossed the road; she had to run to avoid two frightfully-fast carriages. One of the slippers fell completely out of sight. The other was snatched by a little boy, who said it would make a good cradle for a baby someday.

The icy ground had turned the little girl’s feet red and blue. In her hand was a bundle of unsold matches. Inside the pockets of her tired apron were more still. Nobody would buy from her that day, nor give her one skilling. The child was downtrodden, hungry and very cold.

Snowflakes dusted her angelic hair, which fell into curls around her shoulders. She didn’t have a care for how she looked. The windows around her shone with honey-coloured light. Out to the streets came the mouth-watering smell of roast goose. It was New Year’s Eve and the little girl couldn’t possibly think of anything else.

She found a spot where she could rest: a corner made by two houses, one of which had been built further into the street than the other. The little girl sat down and tucked her feet beneath her, but nothing could help the cold.

She would find no warmth at her parents’ house. If she went back empty-handed, her father would beat her. Their rickety roof, stopped up with bunches of straw and old rags, gave little protection from the biting wind.

One match might be enough to warm her frozen hands. She swiped the match across the wall, bringing forth a flame as bright as a little lantern. She held her hands over the light and for a wonderful moment, it was as if a great, hot, iron stove was burning in front of her. Eager to warm her toes, she stretched out her feet, but the fire died and left her with nothing more than the burnt-out match.

She struck another match against the wall, which started to fade in the light of the new flame. The little girl could see into the room on the other side, where there was a table laid with the whitest of cloths and the most beautiful, glittering porcelain. At the heart was a succulent roast goose that had generously been stuffed with apples and prunes.

The most marvellous sight of all was the goose abandoning its plate and jumping off the table. With a knife and a fork still stuck in its back, the goose crossed the floor to meet the little girl, but before it could reach her, the flame vanished and the empty face of the wall loomed once more.

She lit another match and found herself sitting before a magnificent Christmas tree. This tree was even grander than the one she saw through the glass doors of a merchant’s house. The leafy branches sparkled with the lights of a hundred candles and there were lovely miniature portraits, the kind displayed behind shop windows, and each one looked kindly upon the little girl. As the little girl held up her hand, the flame from the match gave out.

She watched as each candle from the Christmas tree floated away, flying higher and higher until they became shining stars in the black sky. One of the stars dropped out of the night and left a dazzling white trail in its wake.

The little girl remembered what her grandmother said about falling stars. It was a sign that someone was dying. Somewhere, there was a soul being delivered to heaven. Her grandmother had died and was the only one who ever showed her kindness.

When the little girl struck another match, she saw her blessed grandmother standing with her inside the glowing circle. In the lines of her grandmother’s gentle face was all the love she had ever known. Should the light go out, it would all be taken away and the little girl would again be alone.

Her little hands took up all the matches they could possibly hold and the most glorious light appeared when she set the matches ablaze. The fire was brilliant as day and radiant as sunshine. Bathed in heavenly rays, grandmother never looked more beautiful. She held the little girl safely in her arms and carried her to a place where suffering can never be.

In the dawn of the new day, they found the frozen child in the corner made by two houses. She had died on the last night of the year gone by, but her cheeks were rosy and her face was smiling. Charred stubs of burnt-out matches laid scattered around her.

People said she was trying to find some warmth. Nobody could imagine the wonders she had seen, nor the joy she had felt as she met the New Year with her grandmother.


Read the complete story by purchasing a collection of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales that has been professionally translated from the original Danish. The following books were consulted to write this summary:

Andersen, Hans Christian, Fairy Tales, ed. Jackie Wullschlager (London: Penguin Classics, 2005).

Andersen, Hans Christian, The Complete Fairy Tales, ed. Jean Hersholt (San Diego: Canterbury Classics, 2014).

Andersen, Hans Christian, The annotated Hans Christian Andersen, ed. Maria Tatar (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008).

Andersen, Hans Christian, Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, ed. Neil Philip (London: The Reader's Digest, 2006).

Tatar, Maria (ed.), The Classic Fairy Tales (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999).

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Snow White and Rose Red: Thoughts and Facts

Once upon a time

I had quite a few "first" fairy tales in mind. In the end, I settled on one that everyone ought to know. 'Snow White and Rose Red' is much loved by fairy tale enthusiasts. It's like the secret treasure of the fairy tale community, who take pride in knowing it exists at all (at least I feel a certain sense of childish superiority).

For whatever reason, 'Snow White and Rose Red' has rarely been seen in popular culture. The only reason I know the tale is because of this blog. Some fairy tale fanatics think it deserves the Disney treatment, but I would argue that the chance has already come and gone (then again, there's always Frozen 2).

I chose 'Snow White and Rose Red', because it was a welcome change. The mother isn't an evil step-mother and the sisters aren't rivals for the prince's hand.

Facts

The earliest known version of 'Snow White and Rose Red' is called 'The Ungrateful Dwarf', which was written by German writer Caroline Stahl and included in her 1818 publication of Fables, Fairy Tales and Stories for Children.

Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm published their first edition of Children's and Household Tales in 1812. The brothers credit Stahl as one of their sources for several tales. It wasn't until 1837 did Wilhelm Grimm introduce his adaptation of 'The Ungrateful Dwarf'. 'Snow White and Rose Red' appeared in the third edition of Children's and Household Tales and was also included in an 1850 mini collection.

When you read Stahl's original tale, there are telling differences:
  • It is mentioned that Snow White and Rose Red have many siblings
  • Snow White is alone when she first encounters and helps the dwarf
  • The bear features only as a wild animal who kills the dwarf
  • The happy ending sees the girls and their family live prosperously from the dwarf's treasure

 

Thoughts

Wilhelm Grimm reinvented Stahl's 'The Ungrateful Dwarf' as a story about two sisters, which is rare to see in traditional fairy tales. Many scholars (most notably Jack Zipes) believe that 'Snow White and Rose Red' is a reflection of the Grimm brothers' family ideals. Jacob and Wilhelm were the eldest of six children. They were academically gifted, worked well together and had an unbreakable bond. Tragically, their father died when Jacob was eleven and Wilhelm ten.

Their history seems to go a long way to explaining Wilhelm's creative decisions for 'Snow White and Rose Red'. The sisters in the tale are missing a father, but together, they work hard to support their poor mother and are never wanting of better lives. In the end, their generosity is rewarded: both transcend their low social standing and marry into royalty.

These are characters designed to lead a heavenly example of how truly good children should behave. With their unconditional love, tireless work ethic and ability to befriend any woodland animal, Snow White and Rose Red are typical, perfect, old-fashioned, classic Disney princesses. What's not to like about them?

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Snow White and Rose Red fairy tale

The following is my summary of the fairy tale 'Snow White and Rose Red', which was documented by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm in their fairy tale collections.
 

This is a story about two sisters, who lived in a cottage with their widowed mother. Though poor, they had a small garden with two rose bushes. One bloomed white roses and the other bloomed red roses. The mother adored these flowers, because they brought to mind her daughters. It was only natural to name the two girls Snow White and Rose Red.


Snow White was shy and sweet. She liked to spend time at home, where she could lend her mother a helping hand. Rose Red liked to run in the countryside, where she could chase butterflies and pick flowers. Together, they kept the cottage beautifully clean.

No harm ever came to the girls, who loved Mother Nature and were loved by Mother Nature in return. They walked hand-in-hand, picking wild berries and playing with woodland animals. Sometimes, they would make the mossy forest floor their bed for the night.

One morning after a night in the forest, the girls opened their eyes and saw a radiant child. The child looked upon them kindly and wandered away through the trees without saying a word. Before long, the girls realised that they had been sleeping on the edge of a cliff. Their mother later said that the child must have been a guardian angel.

On a snowy winter night, the family gathered around the fireplace. The sisters spun thread and their mother read to them. An urgent knock came at the door, which the mother asked Rose Red to answer immediately; she worried it was a traveller in desperate need of shelter. When, instead, the head of a great black bear appeared in the opening, the family were incredibly afraid.

The bear assured them that he meant no harm and was only looking for somewhere warm and dry to spend the night. The mother welcomed the bear and invited him to sit by the fire. She told her daughters there was nothing to fear.

Upon the bear’s request, the sisters brushed the snow off his fur. They played and joked with the bear, who soon became a dear friend. For the rest of winter, the bear returned to visit the family every evening.

When day grew longer than night, the bear told Snow White that he would not be able to visit again until summer had past. He explained that he must protect his treasure from thieving dwarves, who take advantage of the soft earth in warmer seasons. The bear walked away and a bit of his fur caught on the door latch. Snow White was not sure if she imagined it, but she thought she glimpsed shining gold beneath his pelt.

One day, the sisters were in the forest gathering brushwood for their mother. They came across a fallen tree and found an angry little dwarf, whose long beard was stuck in the trunk. He demanded help from the girls and complained that they were too nosy, dumb and ugly. Snow White freed the dwarf with her sewing scissors, but the dwarf was outraged to lose the tip of his beard. He ran away with his sack of gold.

When the girls were looking to catch some fish at the stream, they found the same dwarf. His beard had tangled with his fishing line and if the sisters did not help, the dwarf would get pulled into the water. They cut a little more of his beard off. The dwarf, fuming over the loss, ran away with his sack of pearls.

A few days later, the mother asked her daughters to run errands in town. On the way, the sisters saw a large bird of prey dive to the ground and pick something up in its talons. The sisters recognised the screaming, flailing creature as the dwarf and rushed to pull him from the bird’s grip. The dwarf was furious that his clothes had gotten torn in the struggle. He ran away with his sack of jewels.

That evening, the sisters were walking back from town, having purchased the ribbons and lace for their mother. They crossed paths with the dwarf and marvelled at the glittering jewels he had piled onto the ground. The dwarf lost his temper, but before he could toss more insults their way, the great black bear bounded between him and the girls.

The dwarf quailed before the bear. He pleaded for mercy and insisted that the girls would make a better meal. The sisters, however, had already ran away in fright. Without hesitation, the bear struck the dwarf down and killed him instantly.

No sooner had the bear found the two girls did he reveal who he truly was. As the thick fur coat fell away, the bear was replaced by a prince in golden clothing. The prince told the two sisters that the wicked dwarf had stolen his treasure and transformed him into a bear. Only the death of the dwarf could break the spell.

Snow White married the prince and Rose Red married the prince’s brother. They lived happily in the palace, which also became home to the sisters’ mother. All the treasure retrieved from the dwarf was shared and two beautiful additions were made to the royal garden: a white rosebush and a red rosebush.


Read the complete story by purchasing a collection of Brothers Grimm fairy tales that has been professionally translated from the original German. The following books were consulted to write this summary:

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Brothers Grimm: The Complete Fairy Tales, ed. Jack Zipes (London: Vintage, 2007).

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, ed. Lily Owens (New York: Gramercy Books, 2006).

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The annotated Brothers Grimm, ed. Maria Tatar (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012).
 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Fairy Bat Tales

Welcome to the Changeling Treehouse! My name's Aiyanne, I love fairy tales and this blog gives me a reason to read more about them!

If you've taken the time to read about Ashlyn, Curio and the Fairy Bats, then I'm very grateful. It's not necessary to read their story in order to understand this blog, but writing it and incorporating it makes things more fun for me! I hope to write more about my characters soon, but for now, I need to fill this space with fairy tales!


What's the point?

I want to put the spotlight on traditional fairy tales we've inherited, because I think they're interesting. I think it's interesting that Cinderella had originally been given fur slippers, not glass slippers. I think it's interesting that Rapunzel is named Rapunzel, because her parents stole lettuce from the witch's garden. I also think it's interesting there's a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a maiden with no hands and another on why dogs like to smell one another (haven't got my head around that one yet).

So, if any of that peaked your interest, then you won't be disappointed with this blog.


What will you post?

For every fairy tale I choose to research, I will:
  • Re-tell the story in my own words
  • Design and draw the tale's main character(s)
  • Gather interesting facts about the tale

What do you know?

Not a lot!

I'm not passing myself off as a fairy tale expert - I'm just a fan. If you're interested in using the information on this blog for study, be advised that I will not be held responsible for inaccuracies. I would like to direct the serious researcher to my Sources page, which lists many reliable books on the study of fairy tales and children's literature.

The only thing I can say in my favour is that I have a degree in English and Creative Writing. One of the modules I studied (for a few months) was Children's Literature, which involved looking at traditional fairy tales. I still have all the books I needed for the course, so might as well dust them and read them again!


What now?

Clearly, I've given myself too much to do, so better get started. If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments section below!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Ch 5: The legendary library

‘Where are we going?’ Curio asked.
His child-like voice was carrying a note of sadness. Following Ashlyn’s direction, he had opened a time door and the pair had leapt into another space. They had landed in the middle of windswept meadows and were now following the path of a river.
‘We have to find another offering for the tree,’ said Ashlyn.
She never expected that they would have to leave the Changeling Treehouse so quickly. It was a relief for her to feel the weight of her family’s book in her satchel again.
‘That was terrifying,’ she confessed. ‘I thought I lost the fairy tales forever.’
Curio moved to hover in front of Ashlyn and get her attention.
‘What is it?’ she asked.
‘You’re carrying the fairy tales, but they’re still lost,’ Curio said. ‘Right now, you’re borrowing them.’
Ashlyn frowned and stopped in her tracks.
‘They don’t belong to the tree,’ she said. ‘I never “sacrificed” them in the first place.’
She attempted to walk around Curio.
‘Besides, there’s nothing the tree can do if I decide to run away with MY book.’
‘Time sands are missing,’ said Curio, who insisted on fluttering in front of her face.
‘What do you mean?’ Ashlyn asked.
She took a step back and started to check her inventory.
Curio clarified, ‘The time sands of the fairy tales.’
Ashlyn’s brow wrinkled in confusion. Not knowing what to think, she removed her satchel and got out her family’s book. The cover was just as unremarkable as it had always been. She opened the book to see if anything was out of the ordinary. When she checked the first fairy tale, her face turned as pale as the blank page before her: the handwritten words she knew so well had disappeared.
‘What happened?’ she whispered.
She looked through the later pages of the book. Thankfully, the words of all the following tales had been left on the paper where they should be, but this surprised her.
‘I don’t understand,’ said Ashlyn. ‘Did they only steal one story?’
‘The words are flying away…’ Curio observed. ‘Page by page.’
Going back to the beginning of the book, Ashlyn saw that this was true. Little by little, the words were fading from the page and vanishing into thin air. Nothing but empty paper was left behind.
‘They’re flying back to the tree,’ said Curio, watching the phenomenon that Ashlyn couldn’t see. ‘The words and the time sands they carry.’
His time traveller slammed the book shut in a bid to make her family’s writing stay put.
‘It’s not that easy!’ she hissed.
‘I think it looks easy,’ said a fascinated Curio.
‘I meant taking the book,’ said Ashlyn.
One time leap later, the time traveller and the zeitgeist found themselves back at the bottom of the great dry lake. As soon as they stepped inside the Changeling Treehouse, the book’s missing words were instantly restored. There was nothing wrong with the look and feel of the book. It wasn’t as if the writing had developed an ancient, eerie glow. Everything was as old, wrinkly and tired as Ashlyn had left it, but there was something she was only just beginning to come to terms with: The book was no longer dominated by the time sands of the Espenschied family. Coursing through its pages now was the lifeblood of the tree.
The yellow fairy bat was more than happy to answer Ashlyn’s questions.
‘The longer you borrow a book, the more words will fly back to the tree,’ Yuen Yuen explained. ‘But I’m surprised the words flew so quickly. You left only a few minutes ago.’
It was Song Long who shed light on this anomaly.
‘She’s a time traveller. He’s a zeitgeist,’ she said. ‘They time travelled.’
The green fairy bat was studying a small collection of vials, each of which held small quantities of time sands.
‘My time sands!’ Ashlyn exclaimed, realising her pockets had been emptied. ‘How’d you get those?!’
‘I’m easy to miss when Tin Zan’s eating,’ said Song Long, pointing to the blue fairy bat in Ashlyn’s hair.
‘It’s fortunate you didn’t time travel far, Ashlyn,’ said Yuen Yuen. ‘The tree doesn’t accept empty books, you know.’
‘That book belongs to my family,’ Ashlyn said seriously. ‘All of the stories inside were handwritten by… very important people. I can’t just replace them, so tell me what I need to break a tree’s soul.’
‘Magic,’ said the fairy bats and the zeitgeist collectively.
‘I don’t do magic!’ shouted Ashlyn impatiently.
‘You can grow a new book,’ Ping Wo suggested from the top of her head. ‘Read your fairy tales aloud and you will grow a second edition that is worth its weight in time sands. Then you can trade it for your first edition.’
‘I just said I don’t do magic,’ said Ashlyn restlessly.
‘No need to worry about that,’ said Min Min. ‘Tell your fairy tales inside the tree and she will respond with her own magic. You’ll get what you want if you put the effort in.’
‘Do I really have to “grow” a new book?’ Ashlyn asked helplessly.
She didn’t try to hide how reluctant she was to see this suggestion through. It sounded long and boring. The thought of staying in one place for more than a day felt like a prison sentence.
‘How about I find another book?’ she offered eagerly. ‘I can trade that book for my original, can’t I?’
‘The tree will reject any book that isn’t as equally well-read,’ Yuen Yuen warned. ‘I viewed your book out of curiosity and am not surprised you want it back. It’s unique. It was penned by hand and hundreds of authors contributed to its making. It’s the product of more than a thousand time leaps. There are stories within stories, because each had been told and written under peculiar circumstances.’
His wife, Min Min, turned to Curio.
‘Zeitgeist,’ she summoned.
Curio looked down at her from his perch on Yuen Yuen’s head.
‘Do you remember seeing another book like that in all your time travels?’ Min Min questioned.
‘No,’ replied Curio.
The pink fairy bat turned to face Ashlyn.
‘You ask for the impossible. We ask for your time,’ she said. ‘Actually, it would be more accurate to say that we ask for story time.’
Ashlyn paused and wasn’t sure if she heard Min Min correctly.
‘Are you asking me to read you fairy bedtime stories?’ she said slowly.
The pink fairy bat ruffled her fur with displeasure.
‘Not me,’ she retorted. ‘The kids.’
Ashlyn glimpsed the blue fairy bat, who was still finding bugs in her hair. She looked at the green fairy bat, who stared back at her with low expectations. She couldn’t see the purple fairy bat, who had once again designated her head as his current high place. It was a strange deal. So strange that she had to take a minute to tell herself it wasn’t a bad deal. After all, Shahrazad had to tell her tales of one thousand and one nights between a lecherous king and an execution block.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Ch 4: The fairy bats

‘We’ve found the Changeling Treehouse… This is the end of our journey!’
Ashlyn didn’t know what to do with herself. She was giddy, excited, scared, faint and cautious all at the same time. The child in her hoped to find a secret passageway, hoped that a mystical guardian would appear in plain light, hoped that a single book of fairy tales would drop out and hit her on the head… Anything to tell her that after falling down so many wormholes, she had finally landed in the one that housed the legendary library.
‘This is not the end,’ said Curio. ‘Journeys will end nevermore… Stories will end nevermore… Memories will end nevermore…’
His time traveller interrupted him before he could drift further into his newfound narrative.
‘Q. Stop reading that raven and help find a way in. You do think this is the Changeling Treehouse, right?’
‘I don’t think. I read,’ Curio replied.
He watched as the raven flew away to perch on an overhanging branch. Ashlyn was too distracted to question whether or not it was some kind of omen.
‘Why don’t you read more of the tree to find a door?’ she suggested.
Curio had turned his attention to a patch of moss. He said, ‘The family book will be useful.’
Over the six years that Ashlyn and Curio had travelled together, they often referred to the book for direction and guidance. On its pages were handwritten fairy tales collected by the Espenschied family, which Ashlyn is part of. She had always known it to be the family’s most treasured heirloom, so at sixteen years of age, she decided it was the most important thing she could borrow (after Curio). Back then, it seemed to be the logical thing to do. The book held historical and geographical information, as well as generations’ worth of time sands.
Following Curio’s advice, Ashlyn took off the satchel that was strapped to her back and retrieved the book it contained. For the most part, she had taken acceptable care of it. All of the entries were legible, although some lines may require more patience than others. Whenever she observed the scuffed edges, mouldy blots and water damage, she would often picture her grandmother, who never seemed to like change of any sort.
Ashlyn opened the book and searched for ideas.
‘So, what do we have? Alice followed a white rabbit… Ali Baba spoke some magical words…’
She looked up, shouted, ‘Open sesame!’ and returned to the book when nothing happened.
‘You ought to take a seat,’ said Curio.
He gestured towards one of the many large tree roots that had grown above ground. As she moved to sit, Ashlyn spotted something of note on the book’s pages.
‘Ah. There was one where a bird had a key. Did you see where the raven went –?’
Her train of thought was broken when the tree disappeared beneath her. She rolled backwards and saw the leafy canopy flash past her eyes. Blackness enveloped her and the glow of Peter Pan green had gone. The book of fairy tales flew out of her hands. Something white danced around the corner of her vision, bringing to mind once again the little white rabbit who couldn’t keep time. She didn’t have the chance to see if there happened to be any miscellaneous memorabilia floating around, because the hole she was falling down wasn’t deep. Spongey moss softened her landing and, apart from feeling incredibly surprised, she was exactly the same as she had been outside of the tree.
She sat up. For a little while, she could only hear the sound of her own breathing. It was her first visit to an enchanted tree, so she wasn't sure what to expect. She thought, perhaps, that a disembodied voice would be there to greet her. Maybe there would be a riddle to test her intelligence. It was too dark for her to hazard a good guess. She remembered her family’s book and was about to call for Curio when she heard distinctive sounds of chewing and nibbling.
‘Lots of things are in your hair,’ said a young voice.
The voice didn’t belong to her zeitgeist. When she raked her hair with her fingers, she found something very soft and fluffy. It was about the size of an orange and just as round. Another voice flooded the shadows. It wasn’t the godly, disembodied voice she had hoped for, but it possessed a commanding authority that brought her grandmother to mind.
‘Who permitted you to chew the girl’s hair?!’ it barked.
A cosy light lit up the tree’s interior and allowed Ashlyn to see the creature that was munching on her braid. It was like a giant ball of cotton wool. Its heart-shaped ears and teardrop nose were blue in colour. Ashlyn couldn’t place the reason why, but there was something disconcerting about its black, smiling eyes.
‘I already found a beetle, an ant, a caterpillar and a baby spider,’ beamed the creature, who didn’t seem fazed by having been told off.
Two more of the same species fluttered down to the mossy floor. Seeing their little, leathery wings, Ashlyn realised that they were bats – very round, white bats. By appearance alone, they weren’t exactly awe-inspiring, threatening, all-knowing or even magical or legendary looking. Had Curio made a mistake? She was about to question where Curio had actually gone, when the bat with yellow ears and nose started to speak. His manner was light, friendly and fatherly.
‘Welcome to the Changeling Treehouse,’ he said in a voice much deeper than expected. ‘My name is Yuen Yuen.’
He flourished a wing towards the bat beside him, who had pink ears and nose.
‘This is my dear wife, Min Min. You will find my darling daughter, Tin Zan, dining in your hair, which is infested with her favourite insects. On behalf of the tree, we’d like to thank you for your generous –’
‘Fairy bat,’ said Curio.
Having investigated the circular, wooden room, Curio was now gently poking Yuen Yuen with his beak-like horn.
The yellow fairy bat seemed pleased with the interruption.
‘Ooh… Min Min. Look.’
He took hold of the beak-like horn, picked Curio up and swung him round to show the pink fairy bat what he found.
‘It’s a zeitgeist.’
Min Min replied, ‘Keep that thing away from me.’
Ashlyn recognised the pink fairy bat’s voice to be the same commanding voice she had heard earlier. She hadn’t pegged the bats to be well-read, but was encouraged to see that they knew what a zeitgeist was.
‘Is this really the legendary library?’ she asked apprehensively.
The room she had fallen into was airy and spacious. It had a natural carpet of moss and walls of tree bark. There was not a single book to be seen. For that matter, there wasn’t any furniture.
‘The tree is feeling shy, because you’ve never been here before,’ said a child’s voice from the top of her head.
‘I couldn’t have put it better myself,’ Yuen Yuen agreed. ‘That is my clever little boy, Ping Wo.’
Ashlyn found it difficult to memorise foreign names, and was silently repeating them to herself as she reached up to find the little fairy bat.
‘DON’T MOVE HIM!’ Min Min screeched.
‘WHY?’ Ashlyn cried, forgetting the names of all of the bats.
‘Forgive us,’ said Yuen Yuen. ‘If you move Ping Wo away from his designated high place, he will hyperventilate with excruciating anxiety, pass out and fall into a comatose state that is incredibly difficult to wake from.’
This explanation raised more questions than Ashlyn cared to say, so she asked, ‘What colour are his ears?’
‘Pale French mauve,’ Yuen Yuen replied.
In the silence that followed, Ashlyn realised she couldn’t be bothered to ascertain how a colour could have an ethnic origin, so she plucked from her hair the latest ball of fluff, which didn’t actually go short of breath.
‘Mauve is green!’ Ashlyn declared.
‘Mauve is purple,’ corrected Min Min.
‘You hold in your hand our first daughter,’ said Yuen Yuen. ‘She loves her little brother and little sister very much.’
The fairy bat with green ears and nose, despite regarding Ashlyn with a look of contempt, spoke in a very sweet and quiet voice.
‘I’m Song Long,’ she said. ‘I know you’ll forget my name, but my brother, whose name you’ll also forget, has said that I’m socially bound to introduce myself. Who are you?’
‘Ashlyn Espenschied,’ said Ashlyn, who was beginning to find Curio’s absence from her shoulder very disconcerting.
‘Ashlyn Espenschied, thank you for the book,’ said Song Long.
‘Wait,’ said Ashlyn. ‘What book? Y-you mean my family’s book?’
The green fairy bat nodded.
‘That wasn’t a gift. It slipped out of my hands when I fell. I’m gonna need that back,’ Ashlyn said firmly.
Song Long turned round to face her parents and spoke as if she were commenting on the weather.
‘I knew this would happen,’ she said, ‘but at least the tree is happy.’
She looked back at Ashlyn.
‘You will not be happy, but there’s nothing I can do about that.’
She flew away and Ashlyn became more agitated.
‘What is she talking about? Where is my book?’
‘It has become part of the tree,’ said Ping Wo from the top of Ashlyn’s head. ‘The tree has accepted the book as part of her soul.’
‘The tree ATE my book?!’ Ashlyn exclaimed with horrified eyes.
‘Access to the library is only granted to those who sacrifice a book as an offering,’ Yuen Yuen explained.
‘I wasn’t sacrificing my book! I can’t sacrifice my book!’ Ashlyn cried. She was getting very distressed. ‘I don’t care what magical powers you or this tree has! I want my book back!’
The sound of shifting earth reverberated throughout the tree’s interior. When the room started to shudder and rumble, Ashlyn was prepared to shout for Curio’s aid, but she stopped short when she saw her family’s book of fairy tales sprout miraculously from the green floor. Slender twigs with baby leaves held the book aloft and carried it straight to the time traveller’s hands.
‘You may borrow the book,’ said Min Min.
‘Are there other books you would like to check out?’ enquired Yuen Yuen. ‘We’re happy to oblige.’
Ashlyn didn’t know what to say.
‘Is it really that easy?!’ she thought.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Ch 3: The girl who ran

‘It’s smelly,’ said Curio.
He was resting inside one of Ashlyn’s many pockets, all the while getting jolted whenever Ashlyn tumbled over a windowsill. He was starting to feel as hot and sticky as she was, and he didn’t like it. Ashlyn on the other hand was too busy to notice.
‘Where are these fressers coming from?’ she panted.
They seemed to be lurking in every growing shadow and it was all she could do to distract them with time sands, step on them and shout profanities at them. It wasn’t long before she spotted another one in the treetops. What she called a time bomb was now a ball of rags, but it was nonetheless dusty with time sands, so she bowled the zeitfresser over with it anyway. Unable to spare anymore sands, she resigned herself to running indefinitely.
More than two packs of zeitfressers were in the area, which was unusual, because zeitfressers do not like to share. A small village can supply a day’s worth of sands for a single pack, but once the village has been stripped clean, the zeitfressers must continue their nomadic existence. Memories and stories need time to grow and develop into coveted time sands. For whatever reason, zeitfressers were gravitating toward cottage ruins that had already been laid bare by other zeitfressers – and were not leaving.
‘Time sands,’ Curio said next to Ashlyn’s ear.
The pocket in Ashlyn’s cape coat had become too uncomfortable to sit in, so he decided to perch upon Ashlyn’s shoulder instead.
‘I can’t use anymore!’ she gasped. ‘You have to hide!’
She made to grab him and stuff him back inside a pocket, but he slipped away and clung to her hair. She was about to scold him when she noticed several zeitfressers looming above. They sprung from the trees with claws that reached for her head – claws that in a blink of an eye would snatch Curio away and tear his little body to dust. Her hand clumsily searched and failed to reach a vial of sands. She was too late to do anything.
‘Q!’ she shrieked, terrified for his life.
‘Zeitfressers,’ she heard him say.
Before she knew it, the zeitfressers had flown away overhead, without landing a single paw on Curio or her tangled hair. She was still running.
‘Q?’ she huffed, a little confused.
‘I slowed down their time fields,’ said Curio. He yawned.
Ashlyn was relieved, but angry at the same time.
‘Get in a pocket before you fall!’ she snapped.
‘But Ash,’ said Curio. ‘Time sands are here.’
She took a moment to tell herself that he was not stating the obvious, but couldn’t see how he was talking about anything other than their own reserves.
‘How?’ she asked, utterly bewildered.
The land was overrun with zeitfressers. She evaded one on her right and flailed a fist at another one on her left. It was unthinkable that somewhere was a trove of time sands, completely untainted and vibrant enough to call Curio’s attention.
After a moment of quiet reflection, Curio replied, ‘Magic.’
Ashlyn groaned tiredly. She wasn’t amused, because magic was something she had never been able to get her head around. She knew there was such a thing as white magic and another thing called black magic, but in her time travels, she often witnessed other colours of magic, such as Briar Rose red or Peter Pan green. To put it simply, she had no way of telling whether a spell would heal the cracks in your soul or break every bone in your body.
The further she ran, the more grey foliage and crooked trees sank away behind her. She found herself fleeing the thinning woodland and the soles of her boots starting to hit parched stone and dirt. It was getting very dark.
‘Zeitfresser,’ said Curio suddenly.
‘Where?’ Ashlyn cried, tossing her head every which way.
She felt something furry crawling up her leg and then the shock of tiny claws digging into her flesh. She stumbled to a halt and thumped the creature with a balled up fist.
‘Ouch! Get off, you mangy demon!’ she shouted.
It released its hold, but once again, Curio said, ‘Zeitfresser.’
Another zeitfresser grabbed her arm. More climbed into her cape coat, scrambling for time sands and targeting the zeitgeist that was nestling in her hair. The light had gone and she couldn’t see. Horrified, she realised that she must have stumbled into the territory of another pack.
Something pulled her long braided hair and her tired legs gave way from under her. The drop was bigger than she first anticipated. She went head first, slamming into the thirsty ground and falling into a blur of painful rolls, flips and turns. The dirt cracked and crumbled as her body somersaulted, but eventually the slope started to level and she tumbled to a stop.
Her body was heavy with aches and pains. It took her a minute or two to notice something gently tugging her braided hair. She was confused and dizzy. She pictured a snapping zeitfresser and found enough hatred to raise her hand. Just when she was about to thrash the creature into oblivion, a familiar voice said, ‘Will you not thank me?’
She was too numb and stunned to answer immediately. Her zeitgeist was hopping about in front of her eyes, strangely content and animated.
‘Will you not thank me?’ he said again.
‘Your wings…’ Ashlyn said quietly.
She wasn’t one to cry so easily, but whether it was because of the awful chase, the shock of falling or simply because she was tired, the sight of Curio’s tattered wings made her vision blurry. The neat, delicate little feathers had been torn apart by zeitfresser teeth.
‘The zeitfressers…’ Ashlyn mumbled. ‘We need to…’
‘You will not be thanking me?’ said Curio, a little disappointed.
Carefully, Ashlyn lifted her head and moved to support herself on her forearms. She found it required less effort than she feared it would and rolled over to land uncomfortably on her back. Beneath her cape coat was her satchel, which felt reassuringly sturdy and hard. It meant that her family heirloom was still inside. She was relieved to feel its presence.
The night wasn’t as dark as she remembered it to be. She listened to the sleeping forest’s gentle hush and wished, for one brief moment, that she could slow down and walk at its pace. Letting the water dry in her eyes, she finally asked, ‘What did you do?’
Curio replied, ‘I took hold of your hair and pulled until you fell.’
Ashlyn forgot her weariness and sat up.
‘I thought that was a fresser,’ she said.
Curio tilted his head to one side and said, ‘A zeitfresser wouldn’t want you to be safe.’ He added, ‘You have new cuts on your face.’
Ashlyn had the sudden urge to shake him about like a ragdoll, but decided against it given the state of his wings.
‘Thank you,’ she said flatly.
Satisfied, Curio waddled away to explore.
‘Hold on,’ Ashlyn called. ‘Where did the fressers go?’
Curio stopped and looked back at her.
‘They didn’t go anywhere,’ he said. ‘We are inside the magic circle and they are outside the magic circle.’ He turned away. ‘This tree has many time sands.’
Ashlyn watched as he approached the mountain before them. He quietly investigated the rough surface with the horn on his forehead. The mountain was made of tree bark and the tree bark was glowing timidly. She thought the colour very much resembled Peter Pan green.
It took her a few moments to see what was really there. She rose to her feet and ignored the stiffness in her bones when she stepped clumsily backwards. Instead of knobbly, uneven stone, she saw thick tree trunks that had grown tightly intertwined together. The result was one enormous tree with a girth that stretched many metres across. It was so big, she couldn’t quite work out in her close proximity just what shape it had decided to assume. All she could see was that the base of the tree was very wide and that its broad canopy of leaves had taken the pattern of crawler lightning. It had been a long time since she saw something so wonderful.
‘I’m jealous, Q,’ said Ashlyn softly. ‘I wish I could read this tree’s memories.’
Curio didn’t say anything. As expected, he had made himself comfortable and was absorbed in reading the new stories he had found. With them came the healing energy he needed, and already, the little wings on his back were beginning to repair themselves.
Ashlyn was about to find a spot to rest and see to her cuts and scrapes, when Curio said, ‘I like this tree. You will like this tree too, Ash.’
‘I could use a nice bedtime story after the day we had,’ Ashlyn said with a sleepy smile.
With only the glow of the tree to see by, it was difficult to assess the terrain, but there appeared to be no other greenery. It was as if the land had been struck by a meteorite and she and Curio had fallen into the enormous crater left behind. She wondered at the sheer size of the tree. She wondered how it had come to be in such barren, unremarkable earth, completely flanked by zeitfressers.
‘Here was once a lake,’ Curio revealed. ‘Underneath is a cavern where the water flowed.’
Ashlyn placed a tentative hand on the tree’s warm surface. She rested an ear against the bark and thought she could hear the tree whisper. The seconds ticked by and standing still became the last thing she wanted to do.
‘Throughout is a lot of magic,’ Curio continued. ‘Inside is a library.’

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Ch 2: The time-waster

Ashlyn’s version of a time bomb was unreliable and impractical. It was counterproductive to prepare a batch in advance, because the time bombs she made were flimsy and liable to fall apart, which meant they were tricky to store and carry. To use them to their full potential, they had to be wrapped in a hurry, with sweaty fingers, in the presence of hungry zeitfressers.
Composed as always, Curio waited for his time traveller to finish her task. While he waited, he observed the walls of time sands they had frozen.
‘Everything is melting,’ he said.
‘Almost done,’ said Ashlyn as she tied a knot in place. ‘There! I’ve made three!’
‘That’s not enough,’ said Curio.
‘I can stop six fressers,’ Ashlyn proclaimed. ‘Seven if I’m lucky.’
‘Zeitfressers hunt in packs of sixty,’ Curio reminded her.
‘You can deal with the remaining fifty,’ said Ashlyn.
‘You don’t have the ability to stop ten,’ Curio assured her. ‘That time bomb is leaking.’
‘I’ll throw that one first,’ said Ashlyn.
‘Zeitfresser.’
‘What –?’
She turned and was alarmed to face a pair of cat-like eyes. Instinctively, she didn’t want her own eyes to get scratched out, so she lurched backwards by losing her balance. The time bomb in her hand was released, smacking the zeitfresser in the face like a water balloon and consuming the cottage in a fog of bright and pure time sands. Ashlyn was unable to see, but her fall was broken by what felt like a collection of small, furry cushions – cushions that seemed to have the odd sewing needle jutting out of them.
Ashlyn ignored the little claws and leapt to her feet, but didn’t try to find her way through the flying sands. If any part of her body touched a surface that had been frozen by a zeitgeist, it would glue fast and literally get stuck in time until the ice melted.
‘Zeitfressers are interesting up close,’ she heard Curio say.
‘Q!’ Ashlyn called. ‘How many are there?’
‘They hunt in packs of sixty –’
‘– inside. How many got inside?’
Curio carefully considered this and replied, ‘Eighty-two.’ He shortly added, ‘I am tired.’
The time sands settled and the dark forms surrounding the time traveller and the zeitgeist took shape. Zeitfressers are no bigger than guinea pigs. Those that had invaded the cottage were suspended in time and space, baring their teeth and claws. Some were lying on top of one another, squashed together on the floor by Ashlyn when she fell. When mealtime is imminent, they move in a frenzy, but for the next few minutes, they would hardly be able to match a runaway tortoise. Ashlyn was astounded.
‘Eighty-two,’ she said, turning the weight of the number over in her head. ‘I’ve nuked eighty-two!’ she squealed hysterically.
Curio watched as his time traveller fist-pumped zeitfressers into the walls and ceiling.
‘Ash. The glass in your hair,’ he said, ‘is flying into zeitfressers.’
‘Eighty-two’s like – one and a half packs! I have octupled all expectations of me!’ Ashlyn cheered.
Despite her whooping, Curio spoke calmly.
‘I don’t understand. The time bomb hasn’t done anything.’
His time traveller went as still as the zeitfressers. The recent drama had made her forget some fundamental facts.
‘My time bombs can’t slow time down, can they?’ she said quietly.
Curio shook his head.
‘You were the one who… stopped them,’ Ashlyn said with a weak wave of a hand.
Curio nodded.
‘I just wasted a time bomb, didn’t I?’ said Ashlyn.
Curio nodded sadly.
If Ashlyn had dropped the time bomb with good timing, it would have been like keeping a pack of wolves busy with only one lamb or one stack of pancakes or one leg of cured meat. But she didn’t have good timing, so Curio happened to cast his far more reliable, useful and powerful ability to manipulate time fields. He slowed the zeitfressers' time fields down, so Ashlyn had effectively launched a portion of pancakes at an army of statues. Hungry zeitfressers won’t heed the sands beneath their feet if there’s a bigger meal before their eyes – in this case, the sands in Ashlyn’s pockets and the sands that Curio is made of.
Ashlyn's hands flew to her head, which by now was free of broken glass.
‘Will I never show the world that I don’t need schooling?!’ she screamed.
It was only a matter of minutes before mayhem broke loose inside the cottage. Knocking aside floating zeitfressers, she hurried to the door and recoiled from the handle, which was still icy. She grabbed Curio from the air and scrambled out the window.
‘Right. Eighty-two inside… Packs of sixty… So there are thirty-eight outside – AH!’ she shrieked and threw another time bomb.
Ashlyn couldn’t see how many zeitfressers happened to get caught in the cloud, but much hissing and teeth gnashing could be heard from a furious scuffle. She darted away and ran into plain sight of more zeitfressers, who eyed the very last time bomb in the palm of her hand. That was the problem when she bagged time sands in miscellaneous rags: scraps of old cloth do nothing to inhibit a zeitfresser’s senses.
She couldn’t rely on Curio’s power to influence time fields. The zeitgeist remained out of sight beneath her cape coat and, in an effort to stay awake, was re-reading what was left of their time sands.
In the darkening light, she saw patches of weeds, wild flowers and grass, trails of dirt and tall, spindly trees. In between the shrubbery sat a jumble of cottages that varied in size and shape – all empty and crumbling with age. As the zeitfressers bounded closer, she spotted a gap and hurried straight toward another cottage. Leaving the door ajar, she shook the last time bomb, waving it around until puffs of sands flew into the air. When the catty snarling caught up with her, she fled to a window at the far end of the building, forced it open and jumped out.
Zeitfressers have incredibly time consuming habits and aren’t the cleverest of creatures when hungry. They would throw themselves at food, but fail to consider how much easier it would be if they opened the door to it first. A time traveller only really needs to know one thing about the zeitfresser: the fact that it is called a time-waster. Anything is capable of slowing down a time-waster. All Ashlyn had to do was hop from cottage to cottage and leave behind whiffs of time sands in her wake.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Ch 1: Once upon a leap through time

Once upon a leap through time, there fell a young woman and her zeitgeist in an abandoned cottage.
‘Can we stop?’ asked the zeitgeist.
‘We don’t have a choice,’ said the time traveller. ‘There are zeitfressers outside. Don’t let them get our stories.’
The zeitgeist was named Curio: he had wings on his back and was no bigger than a robin redbreast. The time traveller was named Ashlyn: she wore time-beaten goggles and a messy hair braid.
The air was humid and riddled with the sound of purring. Ashlyn produced an aerosol can from beneath her cape coat and used it to spray the walls with glistening white frost. It was typical that the spray should turn to spit before she could reach the last two walls – and one of the walls happened to have the door in it.
‘I brought this on myself,’ she grumbled.
She heard Curio say, ‘Zeitfresser.’ Then she shouted, ‘Don’t touch that!’ before booting out a cat-like creature and slamming the door shut again.
‘Zeitfressers are interesting up close,’ Curio said.
‘They want to eat your face!’ cried Ashlyn. ‘I’m out of zeitgeist breath,’ she added, chucking the empty can at a zeitfresser that was climbing in through the window.
Fortunately, Curio had taken less time than usual to break out of his reverie. The cottage interior, apart from the dusty floor, had already been treated with his icy breath. He was now sealing the broken window.
‘How long until it melts?’ Ashlyn asked as he secured the door.
‘Time sands are scarce,’ said Curio. ‘There wasn’t much to freeze.’
Zeitgeists find any means of measuring time difficult to understand, so his reply was characteristically vague. Ashlyn, however, was able to discern that they only had a few minutes.
‘Bloody fressers…’ she muttered.
Countless memories and stories would have settled inside the cottage over the years. Time travellers call this fine powder “time sands”. Each grain is like a crystal ball that holds a piece of the past. In Fairyland, there are only two creatures known to have the ability to look inside time sands and watch the memories that lie within. Whenever the greedy zeitfresser reads time sands, it gets hungry, because the sands happen to be its only food source. Whenever the docile zeitgeist reads time sands, it gets life energy, because it happens to like a good story. To travel through the time of Fairyland, one needs either a zeitfresser, a zeitgeist or a lot of time sands.
Outside, the rustling and scuffling had stopped. The zeitfressers were mewing at one another in puzzlement. They are, as a species, highly sensitive to the sounds, smells and visuals of a memory. By freezing the time sands that bordered the cottage, Ashlyn and Curio had muted the sounds, diluted the smells and frozen the visuals. It was a temporary barrier that confused the zeitfressers’ senses and dampened expectations of a fat meal.
Both the time traveller and the zeitgeist carried more than their fair share of time sands. Ashlyn collected and kept them in the many vials she had on her person, but it was the heirloom hidden in the satchel on her back that held the most sands. As for Curio, his entire little body was made of sands. For the time being, they were safe.
Taking care not to touch any of the ice, Ashlyn proceeded to scurry around on the floor like a hungry rat. Time sands collect on objects with great sentimental or historical worth, but whoever once lived in the cottage had left little behind. Worse still, the best of the crop would have already been harvested by the zeitfressers outside. Curio looked sleepy and was in desperate need of something new to read. Ashlyn placed anything that might be a hidden gem in front of him.
‘What do you see?’ she asked.
She held up her most promising find: a piece of chain that might once have been part of a necklace. Curio was having trouble keeping his eyes open, so she said what she could to keep his attention.
‘A white rabbit’s pocket watch could have hung on the end of this. Or it could have been paid to Rumpelstiltskin before he tore himself in two. Maybe it isn’t an accessory at all – or a chain, even. Maybe it’s a line of long-lost single men cursed to look like a chain by a princess –’
Curio yawned.
‘– who found rhyme and purpose in the magic of the Dark Lord –’
‘It plugged a bidet,’ said Curio, who regretted his decision to learn this.
Ashlyn discarded the chain.
‘Will you not apologise to me?’ the zeitgeist asked.
‘I can’t read time sands, so how was I supposed to know… I mean – sorry – that must have been graphic,’ admitted Ashlyn.
‘I am tired,’ said Curio.
‘But look at this junk! There must be plenty of good memories here!’
With bated breath, Ashlyn presented a piece of broken pottery. She lowered herself and her voice to the zeitgeist’s eye level.
‘This might have seen a lot of porridge.’
‘It’s a bedpan,’ said Curio.
Ashlyn bolted upright and discarded the pottery.
She continued, ‘Well, there is –’
‘Will you not apologise to me?’ Curio asked.
‘You read it, but you didn’t touch it,’ said Ashlyn, getting a little bit impatient.
‘I am bored,’ said Curio.
‘This is a brick. It must be a brick. Can you find good reading here?’
Curio looked at the brick. Then he looked at Ashlyn. He appeared to be losing interest, which was a worrying sign, but then he said to her, ‘Your hair has new things.’
Ashlyn reached up and almost cut herself. The time door they came through earlier had not dropped them inside the cottage; it had decided to open outside one of the windows, the remains of which were now in her hair. Stuff had a habit of sticking to her hair, which was dark and relied on rainy days to give it a rinse.
‘Glass!’ Ashlyn exclaimed.
She took out one big and dangerous piece and set it next to the brick.
‘Read this,’ she said excitedly.
Curio inspected the objects with the tip of his long and thin beak-like horn. After a patient moment of reading, he said with mild intrigue, ‘A librarian used to live here.’
Ashlyn leaned in and her chunky braid swung forward. Time sands aren’t only a source of energy, but also a source of knowledge. Up to now, the zeitfressers’ leftovers had been quite disappointing.
‘He was unhappy,’ said Curio.
He looked upon the other object with some solemnity.
‘A local hand had shaped this brick. The water used to shape this brick originated from a great lake not far from this cottage. The clay soil used to shape this brick –’
Ashlyn pushed the brick out of sight and replaced it with the glass shard. Curio said, ‘Through this glass, passers-by saw many books of forgotten lore.’
Feeling heartened, the time traveller asked, ‘What about the Changeling Treehouse? Did the librarian have a connection?’
Curio pondered over the glass. Finally, he said, ‘The view from this window was limited. He saw only the night’s Plutonian shore.’
Ashlyn’s heart sank. She asked, ‘You mean to say he was another victim of the ominous bird of yore?’
Curio confirmed, ‘For evermore.’
Ashlyn stood up. The glass wasn’t interesting after all.
‘At least we’ve found your bedtime reading,’ she said. ‘Even if it is about ravens and their mind games.’
‘Nevermore,’ said Curio.
‘Just read to yourself quietly,’ said Ashlyn gently. ‘I need to work out how to get past the zeitfressers.’
‘Shall we not pick the usual course?’ Curio asked. His eyes were already beginning to shine brighter. ‘Shall you not throw your defective time bombs as a means of distraction? Shall I not stop the zeitfressers’ time fields, nor quicken our own?’
‘Keep your head down and read,’ said Ashlyn, who never could be bothered to think of a Plan B.