With the help of a little magic, fairy tales were made real, manifesting all over the world. Charming princes. Gold-hunting dwarfs. Terrible step-mothers. Heroic animals.
To find out more about The Grimm Chronicles: Volume 1, check out my post here.
It was the living room. The one with the old dark drapes and the old couch. There was a bearskin run sitting on the floor in front of the couch—I hadn’t noticed it before but now I found myself stepping sideways to put space between myself and the bear’s terrifying head, frozen in a look of absolute hunger.
My socks. Last night, I’d taken off my socks before going to sleep. Tonight, I was wearing socks. Whatever ghostly creature I was, I was probably wearing exactly what I wore to bed.
Which meant the ghost standing before Alex was wearing an old teddy bear t-shirt and Hunger Games pajama bottoms. Oy. Some savior.
Thankfully, he didn’t look too disappointed. He was crouched over, his fingers clutching the couch so tightly his little knuckles had turned white. Above us, the ceiling creaked. A door opened, then slammed shut.
“She’ll come back down,” he said in a low voice. “I can’t fight back. I’m so tired. I think they put something in the porridge.”
Carbs, I thought. They loaded it with carbohydrates so the kids got a quick sugar rush. Then the rush wears off and they crash and go to bed. They start it all over again the next day. No protein or fat in their diets would make them groggy and unable to gain much strength to fight back.
Thank you, health class.
“Are you a ghost?”
I shook my head. I tried to talk again, but my voice was silent.
“Here,” he said, reaching into the pocket of his overalls. He pulled out a small chunk of coal. “Can you grab this?”
I could try. I reached out, but nothing happened.
Think about grabbing it, Alice!
I reached out again, imagining my invisible hand grabbing the coal. It floated in mid-air; the boy smiled.
I moved the coal to the floor, writing a simple message:
What’s in the basement?
The boy nodded, understanding. “They have us digging for something. Well, they have us and something else digging for something. Some of us sew clothes, too, and the mistresses sell the clothes for money to keep buying more coal. Some of us have to keep the furnaces going. It’s really hot.”
“Why?” I wrote.
The boy shrugged. “Because the creature likes it hot.” He swallowed, taking a shaky breath. “The younger one is named Marleen.”
Marleen! Of course. It made sense: Marleen was the daughter in “The Juniper Tree.”
The sound of heavy shoes pounding on the stairs caused us both to flinch. I dropped the coal. The boy quickly used his hand to wipe away the words, putting the lump of coal back in his pocket.
“Will you save us?” he asked.
“Are you going to do it wearing pajamas?”
I smiled and shook my head.
A look of relief spread across his little face. “The creature …” he started to say, but then his big doe eyes glanced over the couch and a look of terror spread across his face. A pair of long, slender hands reached over and grabbed him by his overalls, pulling him over the couch.
“Come along now, my little darling,” said the sweet-sounding Marleen, tucking him under her arm as if he was a football. I tried to follow and felt my feet lift off the ground. I reached out, trying to grab Alex’s hand. But I was floating now, unable to control myself.
“Let go!” Alex shouted, pounding on her back.
Marleen laughed. “Such a strong little boy! Why, two extra hours shoveling coal will be a walk in the park! And if you collapse, all the better! I’m starving and I haven’t had a good leg of child in years.”
The boy screamed louder. I was falling behind, trailing them in the dim hallway.
“Oh, hush,” said Marleen. “I would never, never do such a thing to you. You remind me too much of my dear brother. It was all my fault, you know. I killed him. From that moment on, it was only a matter of time before Death returned to claim him.” She stifled a sob, reaching for the heavy door near the kitchen. “Oh my dear, dear brother. The guilt tears at me so. I fear it will consume me if we don’t find him again!”
I planted my invisible feet on the carpet and stepped quickly, losing my footing again and again. By the time I reached the door to the basement, it was already shut.
“But I’m a ghost,” I said in a mute voice. I thought about moving through the door, closing my eyes as I drifted closer. When I opened them again, I found myself in a dark staircase leading down.
Behind me, the door was still shut.
From farther below came the unmistakable sound of Alex’s cries. I willed my feet to touch the steps and take them two at a time, down one landing and then another, where the wooden steps gave way to stones and the wooden walls of the staircase turned to rock. There was no basement, only another winding staircase leading deeper. The air cooled. The noxious scent of burning coal entered my nostrils.
Alex screamed again. I fought to catch up, tripping on the stone steps in the near-darkness. The only sources of light were three small lanterns hanging from the stone walls, and as I passed the last one I found myself surrounded by darkness, carefully plotting my footsteps on the wet stone floor as my invisible fingers followed the rocky wall. I turned right and suddenly, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
More kids sat at tables spread out near the entrance to the tunnel, hunched over stacks of jeans, sewing as furiously as their little fingers would allow. Boys, girls, all of them incredibly young, all of them dirty and disheveled and tired-looking. Their eyes blinked furiously in the hot, dry air. On every pair of jeans was a gold “B.”
But for what? I thought. Was it to build the furnaces? How long had it taken to build each one? Why were there so few farther down the cavern?
Five of the boys farther down the cavern, tossing another load of coal into the hot furnaces, and the entire cavern brightened.
About the Authors…
Isabella Fontaine owns a farm in Wisconsin and enjoys reading weird books like House of Leaves. This is her first Young Adult series.