The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns
By Chris Colfer
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Copyright © 2013 Chris Colfer
All rights reserved.
A TRAIN OF THOUGHTS
The subtle jerks of the train rocked Alex Bailey awake. She looked at the empty seats around her while she remembered where she was. A long sigh came out of the thirteen-year-old girl and she neatly fixed a strand of strawberry-blonde hair that had escaped her headband.
"Not again," she whispered to herself.
Alex hated dozing off in public places. She was a very smart and serious young woman and never wanted to give the wrong impression. Luckily for her, she was one of only a few people on the five o'clock train back into town, so her secret was safe.
Alex was an exceptionally bright student and always had been. In fact, she was so advanced she was part of an honors program that allowed her to take an additional class at the community college in the next town.
Since she was too young to drive and her mother worked the majority of the day at a children's hospital, every Thursday after school Alex would ride her bike to the train station and travel the short distance into the next town for her classes.
It was a questionable trip for a young girl to make by herself, and her mother had had reservations at first, but she knew Alex could handle it. This short journey was nothing compared to the things Alex had handled in the past.
Alex loved being a part of the honors program. For the first time, she was able to learn about art and history and other languages in an environment where everyone wanted to be there. When her professors asked questions, Alex was one of many people to raise her hand with the answer.
Another perk of the train ride was the downtime Alex got to herself. She would gaze out the window and let her thoughts wander while the train traveled. It was the most relaxing part of her day, and many times she'd find herself drifting off to sleep, but only on rare occasions like today would she accidentally drift off completely.
Normally, she would wake feeling embarrassed, but this time Alex's embarrassment was laced with annoyance. She had just been having a disheartening dream: a dream she had had many times in the last year.
She dreamed she was running barefoot in a beautiful forest with her twin brother, Conner.
"I'll race you to the cottage!" Conner said with a huge smile. He shared his sister's looks but, thanks to a recent growth spurt, was now a few inches taller than her.
"You're on!" Alex said with a laugh, and the race began.
They chased each other through trees and over grassy fields without a care in the world. There were no trolls or wolves or evil queens for them to worry about, because, wherever Alex and Conner were, they knew they were safe.
Eventually a small cottage came into view. The twins bolted toward it, putting all their energy into one final sprint.
"I win!" Alex declared when both of her open palms touched the front door a millisecond before her brother's.
"Not fair!" Conner said. "My feet are flatter than yours!"
Alex giggled and tried opening the door, but it was locked. She knocked, but no one answered.
"That's funny," Alex said. "Grandma knew we were coming to visit; I wonder why she locked the door."
She and her brother peered into the window. They could see their grandmother inside, sitting in a rocking chair near the fireplace. She seemed sad, and slowly rocked back and forth.
"Grandma, we're here!" Alex said and cheerfully tapped on the window. "Open the door!"
Her grandmother didn't move.
"Grandma?" Alex asked, tapping on the window harder. "Grandma, it's us! We want to visit you!"
Her grandma raised her head slightly and looked up at them through the window but remained seated.
"Let us in!" Alex said, tapping on the glass even harder.
Conner shook his head. "It's no use, Alex. We can't go in." He turned away and headed back in the direction they came from.
"Conner, don't walk away!" Alex said.
"Why bother?" he said, looking back at her. "Clearly she doesn't want us in there."
Alex began banging on the window as hard as possible without breaking it. "Grandma, please let us in! We want to come inside! Please!"
Grandma looked up at her with a blank stare.
"Grandma, I don't know what I did wrong, but whatever it is, I'm sorry! Please let me come back inside!" Alex said as tears began to spill down her face. "I want to come in! I want to come in!"
Grandma's plain expression turned into a frown and she shook her head. Alex realized she wasn't going to be let in, and every time she came to this realization in the dream, she would wake up.
It might not have been a pleasant dream, but it had felt so good to be back in a forest and to see her grandmother's face again.... It was obvious to her what the dream represented, and had been since the first time she had dreamed it.
However, Alex felt something different when she awoke this time. She couldn't help but feel as if someone had been watching her while she was asleep.
When she had first awoken, although she hadn't paid much attention to it at first, she could have sworn she saw her grandmother sitting across from her on the train.
Was this was an actual sighting or just her imagination getting the best of her? Alex couldn't deny the possibility that it had been real. Her grandmother was capable of many things....
It had been over a year since Alex and Conner Bailey had discovered their family's biggest secret. When they were given an old storybook from their grandmother, they'd never expected it would magically transport them into the fairy-tale world, and never in their wildest dreams had they expected that their grandmother and late father were from this world.
Traveling from kingdom to kingdom and befriending the characters they grew up reading about had been the adventure of their lives. But the biggest surprise of all was when the twins learned their own grandmother was Cinderella's Fairy Godmother.
Their grandmother eventually found them and took them back home to their anxious mother.
"I had to tell the school you both had chicken pox," Charlotte, the twins' mother, said. "I had to come up with a good excuse for why you had been gone for two weeks and thought 'traveling in another dimension' would probably raise a few eyebrows."
"Chicken pox?" Conner said. "Mom, you couldn't come up with anything cooler? Like a spider bite or food poisoning?"
"Did you know where we were the whole time?" Alex asked.
"It wasn't difficult to figure out," Charlotte said. "When I got home from work I went into your room and found the Land of Stories book on the floor. It was still glowing."
She looked over at the large emerald storybook held tightly in Grandma's hands.
"Were you worried?" Conner asked.
"Of course," Charlotte said. "Not necessarily for your safety, but for your sanity. I was worried the experience would overwhelm and frighten you, so I called your grandmother immediately. Luckily, she was still in this world, traveling with her friends. But after the second week of not knowing where you were ... well, let's just say I pray I never have to experience that again."
"So you knew about everything?" Alex asked.
"Yes," Charlotte said. "Your dad was going to tell you eventually; he just never got the chance."
"How did you find out?" Conner asked. "When did Dad tell you? Did you even believe him at first?"
Charlotte smiled at the memory. "From the minute I saw your father, I knew there was something different about him," she said. "I had just started my first week of nursing at the children's hospital when I saw your grandmother and her group of friends come to read stories to the patients. But I was completely smitten by the handsome man who was with them. He was so peculiar; he stared around in amazement at everything. I thought he was going to faint when he saw the television."
"It was John's first trip to this world," Grandma said with a smile.
"He asked me to give him a tour of the hospital, and I did," Charlotte continued. "He was so fascinated to learn about it: the surgeries we performed, the medicines we used, the patients we treated. He asked if we could meet again later after I was done working so I could tell him more. We ended up dating for two months and fell in love. But then, strangely, he disappeared without warning and I didn't see him again for three whole years."
The twins looked to their grandmother, knowing a bit of the story already.
"I made him go back to the fairy-tale world with me, and forbid him to return," Grandma said and slumped a tad. "I had my reasons, as you know, but I was very wrong."
"And that's when he discovered the Wishing Spell and started to collect the items like us, so he could find a way back to you," Alex said excitedly.
"And it really didn't take him that long; it just seemed like it because we hadn't been born yet, and there was still a time difference between the worlds," Conner added.
Charlotte and Grandma both nodded.
"I eventually saw him again at the hospital," Charlotte said. "He looked so frail and dirty, like he had been to war and back. He looked at me and said, 'You have no idea what I went through to get back to you.' We were married a month later and became parents a year after that. So to answer your question, no, it wasn't hard to accept that your dad was from another world, because somehow I had known all along."
Alex reached into her bag and pulled out the journal their father had kept while he was collecting the Wishing Spell items, the same journal they had followed while collecting the items themselves.
"Here, Mom," Alex said. "Now you can know exactly how much Dad loved you."
Charlotte looked down at the journal, almost afraid to take it. She flipped it open and her eyes watered as she saw her late husband's handwriting.
"Thank you, sweetheart," she said.
"Just to let you know," Conner said, "me and Alex did all the same stuff. We're pretty great ourselves. Just keep that in mind if you ever feel inspired to give us an allowance in the future."
Charlotte playfully glared at her son; they knew she couldn't afford to give them allowances. Since their dad died, she'd had a hard time supporting the family and paying off debts from his funeral. But that got Alex thinking: With all the connections their family had in the fairy-tale world, why exactly had their lives been so tough the last year?
"Mom," Alex said, "why have we been struggling so much when all this time Grandma could have just waved her wand and made everything better for us?"
Conner looked up at his mother, thinking the same question. Their grandmother went quiet; it wasn't her place to say.
"Because your father didn't want that," Charlotte said. "Your father loved this world so much; it's where we met, it's where we had you two, and it's where he wanted to raise you. He had come from a world of kings and queens and magic, a world of entitlement and undeserved luxury that he thought ruined people's character. He wanted you guys to grow up in a place you could get anything you wanted if you worked hard enough for it, and although there have been times a little magic would have gone a long way, I've tried to respect that."
Alex and Conner looked at each other; maybe their dad was right. Could they have managed what they had done in the last weeks if they hadn't been raised that way? Could they have collected all the Wishing Spell items or stood up to the Evil Queen if he hadn't taught them how to believe in themselves?
"So what happens now?" Conner asked.
"What do you mean, Conner?" Grandma said.
"Well, clearly our lives are going to be totally different now, right?" he said with a twinkle in his eye. "I mean, after two weeks of barely surviving encounters with trolls, wolves, goblins, witches, and evil queens, we can't be expected to go to school again. We're too mentally distraught, right, Alex?"
Charlotte and Grandma looked at each other and burst out laughing.
"So I'm guessing that means we still have to go to school?" Conner asked. The twinkle in his eye faded away.
"Nice try," Charlotte said. "Every family has its issues, but that doesn't mean you get to drop out of school because of it."
"Thank goodness," Alex said with a sigh. "I was afraid he was on to something for a minute."
Grandma looked up at the clock. "It's almost sunrise," she said. "We've been talking all night. I better get going now."
"When will we see you again?" Alex asked. "When can we go back to the Land of Stories?" Alex had wanted to ask that question since the moment they left. Grandma looked down at her feet and thought for a moment before responding.
"You've had an awfully big adventure, even by grown-up standards," Grandma said. "Right now you need to focus on being twelve-year-olds in this world. Be kids while you still can, children. But I'll take you back one day, I promise."
It wasn't the answer she wanted, but Alex nodded. There was one more question she had been meaning to ask all night.
"Will you ever teach us magic, Grandma?" Alex asked with wide eyes. "I mean, since Conner and I are part fairy, it would be nice to know a thing or two."
"I completely forgot about that!" Conner said, slapping an open palm to his forehead. "Please leave me out of this. I don't want to be a fairy—can't stress that enough."
Grandma went silent. She looked to Charlotte, who only shrugged.
"When the time is right, sweetheart, I would love nothing more," Grandma said. "But right now the Fairy Council and I are working some things out, things that are pretty time-consuming but that you don't need to worry yourselves about. As soon as we move past it, I would love to teach you magic."
Grandma hugged her grandchildren and kissed the tops of their heads.
"I think it might be best if I take this with me," Grandma said, referring to the Land of Stories book. "We don't want history repeating itself."
She headed toward the front door, but just as she reached for the doorknob, she stopped and looked back at them.
"I forgot, I didn't drive here," Grandma said with a smirk. "Looks like I'll have to leave the old-fashioned fairy way. Good-bye, children, I love you with all my heart."
And slowly, Grandma began to disappear, fading into soft, sparkling clouds.
"Okay, now that is something I'd like to learn how to do," Conner said. He waved his hands through the sparkles in the air. "Sign me up for that lesson."
Alex yawned contagiously and her brother followed.
"You kids must be exhausted," Charlotte said. "Why don't you go to bed? I'm taking tomorrow off so I can be here with you guys, in case you have any more questions. And because I've just missed you."
"In that case, I've got an important question," Conner said. "What's for breakfast? I'm starving."
Alex's train finally reached her station. She retrieved her bike from the bike rack and pedaled home, still thinking about her grandmother.
Alex had expected to live a dual-worldly life after discovering the fairy-tale world. She imagined spending summers and holidays with her brother in the Fairy Kingdom or Cinderella's Palace with their grandmother. She imagined a brand-new life of magic and adventure would begin immediately. Sadly, Alex's expectations weren't met.
More than a year had gone by since the night their grandmother disappeared. They hadn't received a single letter or phone call explaining why she had been gone. She missed every holiday and their birthday—days she never missed. And to make matters worse, the twins hadn't been back to the Land of Stories, either.
The twins couldn't help but be angry with their grandmother. How could she just disappear and never make contact again? How could she take them to a place they had been dreaming about since they were kids and then never let them return?
Their grandmother herself had even said it; a part of the Land of Stories lived inside them—so who was she to keep it from them?
"Your grandmother is a very busy woman," Charlotte would tell Alex whenever the subject came up. "She loves you very much. She probably just has her hands full at the moment. We'll hear from her soon enough."
This wasn't enough to put Alex at ease. As more time went by, she began worrying whether her grandmother was all right—sometimes wondering if she was even alive. Alex hoped nothing had happened to her and that she was okay. She missed her hugs more than anything.
Life without their dad had been the most difficult thing the twins had ever experienced. But life without their dad and grandmother was nearly impossible.
"What do you think is going on?" Alex asked Conner on one occasion. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer. Copyright © 2013 Chris Colfer. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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