By Colleen Baksi (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)
Isabella sprinted aimlessly through the woods with her heart pounding a hundred miles an hour. She shoved her way through moss and sticker bushes, ignoring the sharp stabs she felt all over body. She let out a sigh of relief when she spotted her black labrador retriever ferociously barking at something while his tail whipped back and forth.
When Shadow saw her approaching, he immediately sat down and looked up at her with a whine, as if apologizing for his bad behavior from earlier. His cherry red leash had turned brown from being dragged along the ground. Isabella ignored him and slowly walked towards the mysterious object that he had been barking at.
It appeared to be a large wall of brightly colored green leaves and small twigs, but what was holding them up? Isabella started peeling off the leaves one by one at first, then started grabbing handfuls of sticky leaves and throwing them onto the ground. Her eyes bulged and her mouth dropped as she saw the result.
Behind all the leaves, dirt, dust, and twigs, there was a giant wooden door. But it was no ordinary looking door. It stood about only a foot higher than her and was rounded at the top, almost like it was half of an oval. It was made completely out of rotting, dust coated wood, except for the handle which was a small tree branch vertically attached to the right side of the door. But the odd part was that it wasn’t attached to a house or building or anything, it was just randomly standing upright in the middle of a forest.
Isabella’s first instinct was to try and open it, so she lightly tugged on the handle, afraid that if she pulled too hard the whole thing would collapse. The door did not budge. She dug her heels into the squishy mud and pulled as hard as she could, and fell backwards into the mud as the door swung open with an obnoxiously creaking noise.
Isabella took one quick glance inside and gasped. She blinked and rubbed her eyes, but still saw the same thing.
“How is that possible?” she murmured to herself.
Although it was a doorway unattached to anything, it somehow led to a giant open field with tall, greenish-yellow grass, a couple of trees off to the side and a cloudless blue sky. The light, cool breeze wafted the scent of freshly cut grass and pine needles. She absentmindedly floated towards the door. It was as if some sort of force was pulling her and Shadow inside. She slowly picked up Shadow’s leash, and stepped through the door.
As soon as she did so, the door slammed shut behind her. She stiffened and was about to run back, but looked around. She slowly started to relax as she looked around. Everything was so peaceful here. The grass was soft beneath her feet, and the scorching heat from the sun she felt on her face was canceled out by the cool breeze. She squeezed her eyes shut and breathed in the scent of the outdoors.
Her eyes flew open when she realized that she had no idea where she was, and she looked around. The large field that she was standing in was bordered by a forest of pine trees, and not far away there was a small, chestnut colored wooden bridge that went across a clear, blue creek. There was nobody in sight.
She slid her i-Phone out of her back pocket to check the time. It was already seven o’clock in the evening. She and Shadow had left the house for a short walk around the block three hours ago. Her mom was going to be worried.
She whirled around to open the door, but it wouldn’t budge. She tried again, pulling with everything she had, but it still would not open. She noticed that there was a keyhole right below the tree branch handle. There had been no keyhole on the other side of the door.
“You can’t open it without the key,” she heard a husky, deep voice say from behind her. She jumped and whirled around, her hands shaking.
Standing at about three feet high, was a little old man with a wrinkled face and a long white, scruffy beard. He wore a dark red pointy hat that covered most of his face. She immediately recognized him as a gnome. “Once you come in, you never go out.”
Isabella ignored what he said, still shocked. “Are you a gnome?” she blurted out. And then as the gnome’s words sunk in, she demanded, “Where do I find the key? I need to go home.”
“The wizard of our world has the key.” The gnome spat out the words, almost like it caused him pain to say them.
“Take me to the wizard!” Isabella pleaded. Her eyes started bubbling up with tears. Her voice quivered as she cried out, “I need to go home.”
“That’s not a good idea,” the gnome warned, his eyes narrowing.
Isabella didn’t even think to ask why, she just begged the gnome for a couple of minutes and eventually he gave in and started to lead the way.
Isabella and Shadow followed the gnome across the bridge which led into another giant field, but this one was not deserted. Her eyes widened as she looked around. The first thing she saw was a giant oak tree with tiny doors and windows and other things you would find outside of a house stuck all over it. It looked as if a child took apart their doll house and glued all the pieces to the trees. There were a bunch of creatures fluttering in and out of the doors and windows. Isabella first thought they were butterflies, but then realized that they were fairies.
She looked around at the rest of the open space and saw a tiny house, about as tall as her knee. It was circular and made out of twigs and sticks, but the cone-shaped roof was made out of grass. She heard a splash from beneath her, and saw the sparkling tail of a mermaid flopping through the water.
The gnome continued on, leaving no time for Isabella to gape at her surroundings. He walked surprisingly fast considering the size of his stubby legs. He led Isabella to yet another bridge and then froze. This sand-cored bridge was a lot bigger than the last and had a cracked roof, allowing the sun to peek through.
The gnome turned and stared up at Isabella, his eyebrows pulled together. “The wizard lives right across this bridge,” he mumbled, slowly. “I cannot go with you any further.”
“Why?” Isabella asked, curiously.
The gnome did not answer her question. He simply turned on his heel stalked away. “Good luck!” he called over his shoulder, and then vanished behind the trees.
Isabella’s could feel her heart pounding through her chest. She reached down to pat Shadow on the head, took a deep breath, and stepped onto the bridge. Isabella could barely hear the rattling of the bridge over the sound of her pounding heart and staggered breathing. As she neared the end of the bridge, she spotted a large log cabin. There were no windows, but there were two steps leading up to a mahogany colored door. Her stomach churned.
As she approached, Isabella wondered whether she should knock on the door or just walk in. But judging by the way the gnome had spoken of the wizard, he probably wasn’t the friendliest person. So she balled her hand into a tight fist and lightly knocked on the door.
The door opened slowly and a freakishly tall man with long, white, curly hair and a long, white, curly beard stared down at Isabella. He was wearing a long black cloak, which looked like something similar to what a nun would wear. His eyes were jet black and were glaring down at Isabella with disgust.
“Can I help you?” he grumbled, barely moving his mouth as he spoke.
Isabella could barely get the words out of her mouth. “May I come in? I need to ask you for a favor.”
The wizard said nothing, but shoved the door open wide enough for Isabella to enter. The room she entered had cabinets, and decorations hanging all over the walls. It was surprisingly bright despite the lack of windows. There was a large, black couch in the corner, and Isabella sat down.
The wizard sat down across from her, on a wooden chair. “What do you want?” he asked. His expression hadn’t changed at all, like his face was made of stone.
“I am a human,” Isabella began, her words slurring. “I just came here by accident from my world, and I need to get home. Could you maybe give me the key to the door? Or show me where it is?”
As she said the word “key”, she noticed the wizard’s dark eyes flicker across the room and then back to her. She quickly glanced over to see what the wizard had looked at, and noticed a large key hanging on the wall by a small silver hook.
“No,” he replied sternly. “Once you enter, nobody leaves. Now get out.” His black eyes looked like tiny pieces of coal.
Isabella’s heart dropped. Her hands started to shake again and she cried out, “But you don’t understand I have a family-”
“Leave!” the Wizard bellowed, in a voice that shook the whole cabin and possibly the whole forest.
Isabella jumped to her feet, and quickly started walking to the door with Shadow following her. But as she strode across the room, she swiftly snatched the key off the wall and took off running.
She lightly sprinted across the bridge, trying not to look back. She sprinted all the way to the tree trunk home of the fairies, when she and Shadow both stopped abruptly, mid-stride. All of the fairies turned with wide eyes to watch as Isabella and Shadow turned completely gray-colored, cold, and hard.
All of the creatures that were watching gasped, and then turned to stare as the Wizard slowly strode towards them. The Wizard lifted a finger and tapped Isabella’s head, making a soft pinging noise. He reached down and broke the key off of Isabella’s stone hand.
He shoved the key into his pocket, turned to face all of the fairies and gnomes and other creatures that were listening, and bellowed out with a thundering voice, “This is what happens if you try to leave! Someone, take them away!” The Wizard started back towards the bridge, as a bunch of gnomes ran up to carry away the statues of Isabella and Shadow.