Hello readers! We have officially made it past hump day, and are well on our way towards the weekend. And I have the perfect thing to get us through the rest of the week- Part 2 of my take on a classic fairy tale, inspired by a very special book subscription box. If you are unfamiliar with the Once Upon A Book Club Box subscription box, it is a monthly subscription box which contains a carefully chosen book and a series of wrapped gifts, each one marked with a specific page number. When you reach that number, you open the gift, and it will be tailored to that specific point in the book. It is a very immersive experience and I have enjoyed it immensely- the full review of the book and the box will be up next week. I felt inspired by this immersive experience, and posited the question: What would happen if the box LITERALLY immersed you in an adventure, and that each gift was your tools to survive? The first part was posted last week, and this is the final part of the story. I hope you like reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it! If you like the sound of the Once Upon a Book Club Box, you can get 10% off a subscription with my exclusive code MARIE10!! Happy reading….
The Magic Box
The woods began to darken slightly, shadows lengthening, branch like hands spreading across the forest floor. After a few minutes, she came to another clearing, almost a perfect circle formed by the gap in the trees. In the centre, stood a statue, twice the size of Ella, made of dark, grey stone. It was cracked in places, aged, ivy climbing it’s way up and twisting around the figure which stood tall and wide. It was a man, with broad shoulders and long hair. He wore some kind of uniform, and held a sword aloft. She stared at him a moment. He had a handsome face, and his eyes stared off into the distance at some unknown object.
She went to walk around it, and suddenly the sword dislodged and landed in front of her, mere feet from where she stood. She fell back in shock, scrambling away from the gigantic stone blade. Then it spoke, a deep voice, echoing through the trees. “Only the worthy shall pass.” She lay still a moment, feeling her heart beat, which had suddenly began to crash within her rib cage, begin to slow again along with her breathing, as the sword was slowly brought back into it’s original place, and the statue became still and lifeless once more.
Swallowing hard, she dragged herself to her feet, and approached the statues base, being careful not to walk beyond it. She noticed what appeared to be writing on the stone base, so slowly, and carefully, keeping one eye of the stone warrior, she pulled the ivy off, revealing the message beneath. “Only those who have worth of self shall pass beyond this point.” She read it out loud, hoping she could decipher some hidden message or discover the answer to a secret riddle, but no answer came. She continued, talking to herself, for she had resigned herself to the fact that she was going insane anyway, and thought she might as well go the entire way and seek her own counsel, “What does that mean?”
“It means what it says.”
She leapt back, expecting the sword to once more make it’s way towards the earth, and was surprised to find that, not only did it remain in place, but the stone face was now staring down at her.
“But what does it mean, ‘worthy’? What makes someone worthy or not?”
“You’re asking the wrong questions.”
“What is the right questions?”
“You’re asking the wrong questions.”
She began to find his deliberate vagueness irritating, impatience growing along with the darkness. She closed her eyes, exasperation succumbing to weariness. How long had she been in this place? For the first time since her Father had passed away, she found herself missing home.
She reached into her apron, and finding the small round parcel with gold spots, she tore the paper off with one swift movement, revealing the gift within. In her hand, she held a compact mirror. It was gold in colour, and on the front, there was the image of a rose, with maroon red petals and dark green leaves. She ran her finger along the smooth, enamelled surface. It reminded her of her mother, who always carried one. Ella opened it, so her own eyes stared back at her. Only those who have worth of self shall pass. Slowly, she began to understand.
“Who decides who is worthy?”
“Now, you are asking the right question.”
“I decide. That’s what it means isn’t it? I decide if I am worthy?”
“That is correct.”
It sounded so easy on the surface, to decide that about yourself, to give yourself credit, to believe in your own self worth, but reality is a different matter. Ella had spent most of her life being told she was a thorn in her families side, a pebble in their shoe. Her step mother had reiterated time and again what a burden she was on her. The sad truth is, that if people tell you you are worthless often enough, you yourself will start to believe it.
She thought of her mother, of how kind and beautiful she was, and of her father, such a clever and loving man. Tears began to fill her eyes. In an instant, she imagined a life where they had been able to watch her grow, a world where every day, they had told her how much they loved her, how perfect she was to them. Tears forced their way from her, snaking their way down her cheeks, and almost as quickly, tears of sadness became tears of anger. What right had her step mother to treat her the way she did? Not once had she given cause for such bile, never had she deserved such mistreatment. For years, she had cooked and cleaned after her and her two lazy, idiot daughters, and not once had she been told thank you.
“I am worthy…” It was spoken so softly, that the words were barely audible to Ella, but she realised, once they were spoken aloud, that they were words of truth. And so, she repeated them, louder, “I am worthy,” and then louder, “I am worthy,” until she was shouting at the stone knight, tears of anger rolling down her face, “I AM WORTHY.” It turned it’s face towards her, as if it had only just noticed her existence.
“I am worthy. I may not be the best of my kind, but I am a good person. I am kind and loving, in spite of the way I am treated by others. I am just as worthy as any other soul who may come by this place, and you shall let me pass. Do you hear me? You SHALL let me pass.”
Without waiting for a response, she walked around the base, passing the large gouge in the earth’s surface, marking the spot where his sword had fallen, passing the statue entirely. In fact, so determined was she to walk where she pleased, that before she realised it, she had walked so far, the statue was no longer visible amongst the trees. She stopped, leaning against a nearby tree, the bark rough beneath her hand. She withdrew the mirror, and with the small amount of light left, she looked at her own reflection and smiled. She decided there and then, that she would no longer take the insults and the cruel jabs. She was Ella. She was her Mother and Father’s daughter, and she was worthy.
Darkness had fallen on the forest. Ella tread slowly and carefully, moving from tree to tree. On more than one occasion, she felt eyes watching her from the black, following her, observing her. At one point, she thought she had seen something moving, but forced the idea from her mind, trying to hold on to what little strength and courage remained within her. She could not stop to rest; she had no provisions, no shelter, no food, and even if she did, the dangers of her surroundings were completely unknown to her, her environment totally alien. She had to keep going until the final task, she had to get home. As if to reassure herself, she touched the last parcel, turning it over and over, feeling it’s weight in her hand.
After walking for what felt like hours, she began to feel her eyes growing heavy, her feet weary of their trek. She began to fear she would never leave this place, when a light appeared in the distance, stark and bright in the enveloping darkness. She approached cautiously, glad she could once again see her way. As she neared, she realised it was several torches, the flames causing shadows to pulse and vibrate. Even from a distance, she could feel their heat emanating through the thick forest, and she suddenly realised how cold she had been.
The torches were staked into the ground. There were three in total, each in front of a tree, and each tree containing a door. She walked from tree to tree examining each door in turn. The first, made of a dark, mahogany wood, was carved with hundreds of faces, all of which were distorted in pain or twisted with fear. She shuddered at the sight of it, and quickly moved on to the next one, deciding a closer inspection of the first was unnecessary. The second was metal, silver in colour, with chains decorating it, some of which had shackles hanging from their ends. Moving quickly to the third, she found a dark stone door, engraved with thorns and skulls. Each door seemed as unappealing as the other, and Ella began to pray this was not her final task.
Suddenly, the flames of each torch grew, as if being encouraged by invisible bellows, and a booming voice came from nowhere, echoing all around her, making the source impossible to discover, “CHOOSE.” The flames remained tall, casting a heavy, smoky heat all around. She remained firmly planted to the spot, fear gripping her, as she made the impossible choice between whatever was there with her, in that terrible place, or to face whatever horrors awaited her behind each door. Shock had paralysed her, and growing in volume, and impatience, the voice sounded again, “CHOOSE.”
She swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry. She took a deep, slow breathe, and steadied herself against a nearby fallen tree, staring at each door in turn, none appealing to her in any way.
“Please, where do they lead?”
Laughter filled the air, not just from one voice or one person, but dozens of different creatures all laughing at once. It came from all around her and lasted several seconds before suddenly ceasing. Then, another voice came, this one higher in pitch, more feminine, with a sharp edge to it, each syllable leaving a mark.
“That’s the game. You choose, without knowing, because really, it doesn’t matter.”
“I don’t understand.”
There it was again, that laughter, those dozens of voices building quickly to a crescendo.
“Of course you don’t. You’re a weak and stupid child, I’m surprised you even made it this far.”
Anger began to build within her, “I am not weak.”
“You are weak and pathetic. This is the only time you have even ventured from your tiny little life. You hate your existence and yet you do nothing to change it, and that it why it doesn’t matter what lies beyond each door, because no matter what it is, no matter what challenges you will face, you will lose. Whichever door you pick, you won’t be strong enough. Whichever door you choose, the ending is the same.”
The laughter came again, this time lasting much longer. Sometimes, it would seem the invisible beings taunting her, were right beside her ear, and then in a split second they were somewhere else, further away. Each one felt like a stab to her heart, and angry tears began to fill her eyes. She closed her eyes, a memory burning bright behind her eyelids. Her step mother had found her crying in the barn after her step sisters had tripped her up in the mud and told her she should sleep with the pigs. She had a sly smile on her painted lips, and her eyes glinted with hatred, “I’m ashamed to call you step daughter. Such a weak and pathetic little creature, such a burden. If it wasn’t for the memory of your father, I would have cast you out years ago. But we all know what would happen if you left this place…you wouldn’t last a day in the world beyond this village. My daughter’s were wrong about one thing though, you are no pig, although you certainly look like one. Pigs at least have intelligence.” And with that, she had left her crying, alone in the dusty shadows of the barn.
But her step mother was wrong. She had faced creatures beyond the imagination of most, and survived. She had discovered courage and strength within herself, which she never knew existed. Ella proven herself worthy, and no band of disembodied brutes would convince her otherwise. She pulled the third package from it’s hiding placed, and tore the paper off. Inside was a heavy brass key, polished to a gleaming shine. The teeth of the key were more elaborate that any she had ever seen, and the elaborate knot at it’s other end was quite beautiful.
Every door seemed equally menacing, and so she decided on a whim to choose the middle door. She had no idea what she would find on the other side, and she would never know if this had been the right choice, but she had to make one, and whatever she faced, she knew in her heart, she could stand her ground. The laughter died off, and before any of the voices had the chance to speak again, she turned the key. The door opened of it’s own accord, and a bright, blinding light flooded into the black void of the forest, illuminating every knot in every tree, and every pine needle or spiders web within it’s reach. She closed her eyes, the brightness almost paining her, and she felt herself being pulled within. It felt like she was falling, air rushed around her head and her body became weightless. The light made it impossible to open her eyes, and so she continued to fall into the unknown, dreading the inevitable impact to come. And then, it stopped.
Slowly, she opened her eyes and found herself on the straw bed floor of the barn. Light was streaming through holes in the wooden ceiling, and particles of dust danced and tumbled in the beams. The familiar smell of hay and horse manure filled her nostrils, and she could feel the weight of her own body once more. Ella lay there for several minutes, wondering if it had all been a dream, until her hand found the three objects within her apron, tracing every part of them with her fingers: a box, a mirror and a key. She smiled. It had all been real. Magic was real, “You were right Father.”
“Who on earth are you talking to?” She jolted upright with a start, that familiar voice bringing her crashing back to the here and now. Her step mother stood at the door, the light behind her, casting her in an ominous shadow. It made her look even more evil than usual, “I asked you a question child. Who were you speaking to?”
“None of your business.”
Shock spread across her face, furrows and lines lengthening and shortening as the shock subsided into rage, “How dare you speak to me like that you insolent little brat.”
“No, how dare you! How dare you treat me like a servant! How dare you abuse me and treat me like dirt! How dare you step mother!”
Ella had never seen her step mother so enraged, and at one point she thought she saw her eye twitch. She stomped towards Ella, until her nose almost touched hers, spittle hitting Ella’s face as she yelled, “How many years have I put up with you burdening this family? How long have I put up with you out of charity? How long have I fed and clothed you out of the goodness of my heart?”
“You have no goodness in your heart.”
“Well, I never…”
Ella began to close the gap between them, her step mother moving backwards to increase it again, as bewilderment replaced anger.
“How long have I put up with you? How long have I cooked for you and cleaned for you? How long have you treated me like a servant, like an animal? How long have you degraded me and bullied me? Well no more. I am no longer your punching bag.”
Ella had forced her back so far, her step mother suddenly found herself forced to sit on bails of hay, almost toppling over them entirely. Ella didn’t wait for a response, she no longer cared what her step mother had no say to her. As she pulled the heavy door completely open, her two step sisters bolted upright, having been caught eavesdropping. They did not wait to feel the lash of Ella’s tongue, and both immediately turned and ran towards the house. Just as she was about to step outside, her step mother spoke once more, her voice transformed from a shrill and domineering tone, to that of a meek child, “You won’t make it out there. You aren’t strong enough.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I am strong, I am brave and I am worthy.”
And with that, she left. She walked away from the only home she had known her entire life, she walked away from her only family and she walked towards a new life. A life on her terms, a life worth living. She saw Jacob appear on the path, a bunch of wild flowers in his hand. She smiled to herself. She had no idea what awaited her out there, but she knew that whatever it was, she could handle it.