Today my doll is sick. I didn’t go to school – mom said I could stay at home to keep my doll company. I am a little bit sick too, but not too much.
The doctor said I will be fine in a few days. He also checked my doll when I told him that she is not well; this doctor is very nice! He told me that my doll had fever and we both had to stay in bed and take the pills mom would give us. I don’t like to stay in bed all day, but I cannot leave my doll alone. Mom said that sleeping is good for sick little girls and dolls, but my doll doesn’t want to sleep right now. I will tell her a fairy tale like grandma does when I cannot sleep. Only I cannot tell them as good as grandma does. Never mind; I’ll say what I remember… Here we go.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl that lived in a small village with her family. They were very poor; they only ate bread and cheese every day. Which is not that bad – I love bread and cheese – only the bread was dry and it did not taste nice at all. The little girl had two older sisters. They always had fun, they played out with their friends and the little girl had to do all the boring stuff at home: taking the newspaper to her dad, helping mom to clean the kitchen, putting cheese on bread without eating even a little bit or mom would get angry and many other things she did not like.
One day her mom gave her cake and a bottle of milk in a lovely basket. She had to take those things to her grandma who was sick. Not very sick, you know. She had fever and she had to stay in bed and take cough syrup. The little girl was happy to go and see her grandma; she loved her very much and now that she was in bed, grandma would be happy to see her too. Maybe she would tell her fairy tales. Grandma said lovely fairy tales, but as she was sick the little girl thought that maybe this time she would tell grandma a fairy tale. Also, the little girl wore the beautiful red velvet cap granny had made for her and she looked very pretty in it. She walked into the woods (her granny lived in the woods) and she looked at lovely butterflies and she listened to the beautiful songs of the birds and she also picked some flowers, but she was very careful not to dirty her cap with mud or mommy would be unhappy as the cap was not easy to clean.
She was going to pick a few poppies – they were granny’s favourite flowers – when she saw the baby wolf. It was a poor little thing – so thin and weak!! It opened its mouth and it howled and whined, but its voice was so weak one could almost not hear it. The little girl took pity on the baby wolf. She opened the bottle of milk and gave the little wolf all the milk that was in it. Then she covered the baby with the cloth of the basket and with a few branches and flowers to keep it warm and she walked to grandma’s house. When she arrived she told granny that she was sorry, but she was hungry and she had drunk the milk on road. Granny was not angry. She only kissed her and she said that little girls need more milk than old women anyway. And when the little girl left, granny gave her a bottle of milk and told her that she could drink it as she walked back at home. The little girl gave this milk to little wolf.
The next days, she did the same thing so baby wolf could have two bottles of milk. The little girl was happy to see that little wolf grew stronger. And he was happy to see her too. But one day, she went to feed her little friend and he was not there. Only a poppy was left at the place where he usually lay; all the other flowers she had covered him with were gone and so was little wolf. The little girl looked everywhere, but she could not find him. In the end, she told her grandma the whole story. The little girl was very sad. Grandma took her in her arms. “Don’t worry, my love,” she said. “Your little friend grew up and now he can find his own food. He left the flower there to thank you and to let you know that he is fine. Wolves know how to take care of themselves.” And the little girl kissed her grandma and she knew that she was right. She often thought of little wolf and she always hoped that she would see him again some day. She also kept the poppy that he left for her. It was strange – the flower never wilted.
One night, the girl dreamed that she was with her grandfather in a lovely, warm room. Her grandfather had died a few years back and everybody had cried a lot. When grandpa died last year everybody cried a lot too. I was very sad and I cried all the time. So grandma took me in her arms and she told me that grandpa would not be happy to see me cry so much. I said that I was not happy either; I would never see him again. And she told me that if I need him, he would come in my dreams. She was right; I dream of grandpa very often. The little girl dreamed of her grandpa too. He took her hand in his and looked at her with loving eyes. “Don’t worry, darling. Wolves know how to take care of themselves,” he said. The little girl was very happy; she wanted to stay with her grandpa in the warm room and have some hot chocolate with him as they used to do when he was alive, but she woke up. Her room was cold – the fire had gone off. But two green eyes were staring at her in the darkness and there was something warm on her hand. For a while, she thought that her grandpa was there and he had brought hot chocolate for her. Then she understood that an animal had entered her room. A grey wolf stood beside her bed and licked her hand. She was very happy because she had recognized her old friend, little wolf. How strong and handsome he had become!
The wolf had bought something for her: a pair of shoes. They were so beautiful! Red and made out of silk, they were like the shoes of a princess. Her parents would never have enough money to buy her such lovely shoes. She clasped her hands in joy and she caressed the wolf and she thanked him. She put on the shoes immediately so her friend could see them on her feet. They looked lovely on her and it was as if they had been made for her. She made a few dancing steps and then she laughed and bowed to the wolf. Then she spun round and did a pirouette – a difficult thing to do, you know? In my dance class, only one girl can do beautiful pirouettes. Mine are not bad, but I have to train to make them better, says the dance teacher.
Now, the little girl in the story was surprised to do a pirouette so easily for she had never taken dance lessons. She understood that the shoes were magic. She turned to thank the wolf, but he was gone. If it was not for the shoes she had still on her feet, she would think that the wolf had been but a dream like her grandpa. How had he vanished? She had no time to think about this. The shoes made her feet dance and she could do nothing to stop them. Always dancing and spinning round, the girl left the house and soon she was in the woods. The night was chilly and she had only her light red night gown on, but she was not cold at all. She kept dancing, with her untied long dark hair and her dress floating in the air. So swiftly and graciously danced her feet in the magic red shoes that for a while she thought that she was flying; it was as if she had become a butterfly or a night bird.
The shoes carried her deep into the wood. With fireflies and butterflies made out of light dancing around her, she arrived at a clearing. Huge trees surrounded a lake where a few swans swam graciously. At the shore of the lake, some people had a feast and danced. At first, the girl thought that they were evil spirits. But when she came closer, she saw that all of them were so beautiful that she had never seen the like of them. They all wore awesome clothes and as they danced, light came out of them and they were like twinkling stars. She understood that the creatures were fairies and as she saw how perfect their dance was and how much fun they had she joined in and danced with them. It was wonderful!!! Dancing with the fairies was like walking on beautiful clouds on sunset like those we watched on the beach in the summer. She was so happy and so taken into her dance that she did not notice when everybody else stopped dancing. “Hail to the Poppy Queen!! Hail to the gem of red dancers!!!”
The girl heard the fairies shouting those things and she stopped dancing. “Oh, my,” she thought, “some important fairy just arrived. Everybody pays respects to her and I am dancing. What will she think of me?” Embarrassed, she looked around her, but she saw no new fairy. Then she understood that it was her that fairies were cheering and greeting in such a respectful way. She was surprised and pleased at the same time. Of course, she could not understand why she was so important.
“You have great powers, child,” said a young male fairy. He was very handsome and he wore a crown made of flowers on his blue hair. He must be the fairy king, thought the girl. “Yes, I am the fairy king. I can read your thoughts and I can help you use your powers if you stay with us.”
“Oh, yes, please stay with us,” said the other fairies. “We’ll dance together under the moonlight. In a few days there is a big feast in the kingdom of the mermaids. We are invited and you will come with us. And we will dance in the dreams of the children and we will protect them from nightmares. Just stay with us!!”
The girl was very excited. How wonderful it would be to dance at the feast of the mermaids! How fantastic it would be to enter the dreams of children! On the other hand—
She sighed and lowered her eyes. “I cannot come with you,” she said. “I have to go back home or my parents will be very sad. They will wonder what happened to me and they will be worried. And my sisters – they will be sad too. They let me do all the boring stuff, but they love me; I know they do. I have to go back home. Please forgive me – I would love to come with you, but I cannot.”
The fairy king nodded. “As you wish, child,” he said. “But you must know that you will not see us again. We cannot mingle with humans. But if you ever change your mind, you can join us.”
The little girl nodded and she close her eyes for suddenly, everything was whirling around her as if the world had become a giant spinning top and she was inside it. When she opened her eyes, she was back in her bedroom with the red shoes on her feet.
She was sad – she did not even have time to say properly good bye to the fairies. She hid the shoes in her closet and she decided that from that moment on, she would call herself Poppy. This was not her name, but this would remind her of all the wonderful things she had lived that night.
Time passed. Poppy was now a beautiful young girl. She had long dark hair and she often wore red dresses and a red velvet cap (not the one she had when she was a little girl – that one was too small now so she had made a new one) or she would put lovely red flowers in her hair and people always said how pretty she was. She went to the woods and spent her time gazing at butterflies and day-dreaming or dancing. She helped her mother at home too, but there was less to do as both her sisters were married now. The oldest sister married the milkman and she brought milk at home every day. Her other sister was married to the baker; she sent her family bread every day and she brought cakes every time she came to visit. Now Poppy and her parents did not have to eat only bread and cheese every day and the bread they had was tasty and warm – nothing like the stale one they used to have when she was a child.
One day, her parents called Poppy. They said they had something important to tell her. Her mother was the one to speak – her father just sat at his chair and smoked his pipe.
“My child,” her mother said, “your sisters are both married. Your father and I think that time has come for you to marry as well.”
Poppy was quite surprised when she heard this. “But, mother,” she said, “my sisters met their husbands; they fell in love and married them. I am not in love – I cannot even think of anyone I would like to marry. How will I do this then?”
Her parents exchanged a glance. Then her mother spoke again. “You can think of nobody, dear, but somebody is in love with you. He loves you so much that he came to us to ask our permission to marry you. My dear child, you cannot imagine how fortunate you are!!! It was the prince that came to ask for your hand.”
“The— The prince wants to marry me?” Poppy was so confused that for a while she was speechless.
“Yes, dear. The prince – the heir to the throne – wants you to be his wife. He saw you in the woods while he was hunting and he fell in love with you…”
He could have talked to me, thought Poppy. But he did not. Why didn’t he ask me if I want to marry him?
“My child, do you realize how lucky you are? If you marry the prince, you will live in the palace. You will not have to work – you will have servants to do everything for you. And your husband will offer you the most beautiful clothes and the most expensive jewels. And one day you will be a queen and everybody will obey you.”
“Of course, mother. But, why did the prince come directly to you? Why didn’t he talk to me when he saw me?”
“Why, talking to us was the right thing to do, my child! Do you think that walking in the forest with the prince would be good for you? People would gossip about this!” Her mother also said that they would be very proud to have a daughter who is a queen and she kept talking about the lovely dress and the jewels she would wear on the wedding, but Poppy looked down and said nothing. Her father had not talked until then – he kept smoking his pipe. When he saw how worried Poppy was, he took his pipe off his mouth. “My child, I know that this proposal comes as a surprise to you. We were surprised too. But you do understand that we cannot refuse, right? We are poor, we are not important. How could we refuse the demand of a prince? He could be offended and we would all pay this with our lives.”
When she heard this, Poppy knew that her parents were in a difficult situation; she would not make things worse for them. She forced a smile, kissed both her parents and said that she was fine – it was just sudden and she was surprised. She just needed to rest and tomorrow all would be as good as ever. She wished her parents good night and went to her bedroom.
She sat on her bed, hid her face behind her knees and cried. Poppy could not understand why she was so sad. After all, her parents were right: she would be a prince’s wife. Most girls in the village would be jealous of her and they would love to be at her place. But she was not happy and there was nothing she could do to change this. With all those thoughts in her mind and as she had cried so much, she was soon asleep and had a weird dream.
In her dream, she wore the red shoes and she was in the palace. She had never visited the place, but it seemed that the shoes had brought her there and they would take her into the palace too. She walked through large halls and dark corridors; she could see and hear everybody, but she was invisible. Somehow, she knew that the shoes gave her this amazing power. Walking like a shadow, she arrived into a room where everything was in gold and silver. A beautiful woman with long dark hair was sitting in front of a mirror and tried on various jewels that a lady standing behind her gave her after she had taken them out of a box adorned with gems. Poppy knew that the woman that sat in front of the mirror was the queen – the mother of the prince that asked her hand. Nobody told Poppy that this woman was the queen – she just knew. And the lady who handled the jewels was her lady of honor. Poppy stood in a dark corner and watched them.
“My son is going to marry a peasant girl,” said the queen as she tried on a diamond necklace. “What a shame!! He refused to marry any king’s daughter; he says he wants no alliances with other countries – he will invade all of them and enslave their subjects. So he does not need to marry a princess. Very well. But why does he have to marry this peasant girl? You cannot imagine how sad I am!!”
The lady of honor muttered a few words of comfort and handled the queen the diamond earrings that matched with the necklace.
“Thank you, my dear. I hear that this girl has no education. She always wears red – this is most improper for a prince’s wife. I will not allow her to wear this color in the palace! All her dresses will be in decent colors: green, grey, dark blue or white. I have also heard that she walks in the woods like some wild creature. I will forbid her to leave the palace! She can walk in the garden if she wants. Or she will stay with me and read or do some embroidery. She will not have any choice but to obey me- it cannot be otherwise! Now, my dear, I believe that those earrings suit perfectly the dress I’ll wear for diner. What do you think?”
Poppy pursed her lips – she had heard enough. She walked into a long corridor and soon she was in another room. A blond young man was sleeping in a sumptuous bed. Poppy knew at once that this was the prince that wanted to marry her. Poppy stared at him – he was so handsome! For a while, Poppy thought that maybe marrying him would not be that bad. Then something strange happened. Everything around her was blurred as though it was covered in mist. When the grey mist disappeared, Poppy had left the palace; she was now in a completely different place. There were corpses everywhere; none of them was whole. Cut arms, legs and headless bodies were floating on a river of blood. Crows were flying above them. And there was a weird tree – on his leafless branches hung cut heads instead of fruits. From some distance, came crying voices of women and children. Poppy’s heart was pounding in her chest; she wanted to leave this place immediately! She saw a cloaked figure walking among the corpses; she followed it – whoever this was, he would help her leave this horrible place of massacre. Slowly like a shadow, the figure walked to a dark house into the woods. In the house, an old man was sitting in front of a table filled with bottles. He was so scary!! The cloaked figure stepped toward the scary old man and handed him a bottle filled with red liquid. Poppy stood in a corner and observed. She was invisible to them.
“Take this and turn the blood inside the bottle into a huge ruby,” said the cloaked figure. “It is a present for my love, my dear wife. She loves red, but my mother does not allow her to wear this color. But even my mother will not object to my wife wearing the most beautiful ruby in the world.” And the man took off his hood and Poppy could see that this was the prince. She brought her hands to her mouth and was about to faint—
Then she woke up.
She was very scared, like I was when I had this nightmare where I was followed by a horned shadow that wanted to take me away from mom. Her heart beat fast and she was sweating. This dream had seemed so real!! Sitting in the darkness, Poppy thought that the floor of her bedroom was filled with headless corpses. She lit a candle – she did not want to wake up her parents. In the light, everything seemed still. It was but a dream, she thought. It is over – I must not be so upset. But deep inside, she knew that she had seen this dream for a reason. There was something wrong with her hand. She looked at it and saw that she was wearing a ring with a huge ruby glittering in the candlelight. Poppy was so scared that she had to try very hard not to scream. Don’t be afraid, said a voice that seemed to speak into her mind. This was only a warning. Nothing of this really happened. But this is the life you will live if you marry the prince. The ring is only there to prove that the warning is serious.
Poppy knew that all the voice said was true. This must be some power hidden inside her that tried to prevent her from this gloomy future. Hadn’t the fairy king told her that she had huge powers? That was probably one of them, only she did not know that she had it. She left her bed and walked to the closet. She would listen to the voice inside her. She would not marry the prince. As soon as she thought this, the ring with the ruby vanished from her finger. Poppy drew a deep breath – she was relieved!
She took the red shoes and put them on her feet. They were exactly her size – as if they had grown with her. And now what, she thought. She wanted to leave; she was going to join the fairies. But how would she find them? When she had danced with them, she had not asked them what she should do if she wanted to go back to them. What a silly child she had been! She waited; she thought that her feet might start dancing again like on that magic night when she wore the shoes for the first time, but nothing happened. She walked noiselessly to the door. She had to leave – never mind what would happen. She heard a soft sound behind the door, as if someone was scratching on it. She opened the door—
Her old friend, the wolf was there. He stared at her as if he wanted to tell her something. She mounted him and after a while, they were running in the woods so fast that she thought they were flying.
Poppy joined the fairies that night and nobody saw her again. Her parents were too scared to say she had left, so they told the prince that their daughter had died. But they knew that she was alive. Sometimes, on lovely spring nights with a full moon, she would come and visit them in their dreams. Light like a shadow, she danced under the moonlight and kissed her mother’s cheek softly as if she were a moonbeam.
Sometimes Poppy remembers the horrible dream she had that night. Then she is sad; she enters dreams, dances to a macabre music and turns them into horrible nightmares. But she only does this to evil people who harm others. She never gives children nightmares; when she dances in their dreams, children always have dreams as beautiful as the rainbow.
I think that I have not told the story as good as grandma does. Never mind – she will be here this evening and she will tell it properly. She tells it to me as often as I want – sometimes I ask her to tell the story three or four times and she always does. But mommy becomes angry and tells her to stop or I’ll be spoiled. Grandma laughs – she says it does not matter. She kisses me and says that when I grow up I have to do what I like best. I tell her that I want to be a dancer like Poppy. Grandma also wanted to be a dancer when she was young, but her parents did not let her. It was not decent for a young girl to be a dancer, they said. She had to marry. I promise grandma that I will not let anybody force me to marry. I will do like Poppy and I will be a great dancer. Grandma told me that I should do whatever makes me happy; being great in it is not that important. But I will be a great dancer – I just know this.
For the moment, I only want to sleep, though. My doll sleeps already and my own eyes are closing. Before I sleep, I smile and send Poppy a thought asking her to come and dance in my dreams. She has probably heard me. Bright-colored lights dance already behind my closed eyelids and I know that soon she will be here too.