“Girlie, wake up.”
I open my eyes again. This time it’s dark, but from the moonlight streaming through the window, I sense that I’m still in this strange historic-setting room. The candelabra next to my bed has been snuffed out. The fire in the hearth has gone out, but the embers are still glowing.
Then I discover something more shocking than the weird room I’m in.
A semi-transparent being is hovering in thin air, right above the bed. It’s quite ugly—its eyes and nose look squashed together, and it has a stumpy body with arms and legs that look alarmingly short in proportion to the torso.
I am so shocked that I just stare with my mouth wide open. Is that ghost going to eat me up?
“Awake now, are we?” the ghost speaks. His voice is kind of high-pitched with a note of playfulness in it.
Oh no, not again. I pinch my arm again, really hard this time, and yelp in pain. My fingernails have drawn blood.
The ghost starts to laugh. “Two hundred years later and humans are still as dumb as before.”
I am beginning to feel crazy. Here I am in a strange room, with an ugly ghost, and no matter what I do I can’t wake up.
Maybe I’m dead. Maybe when I fell down the stairs I got hit with something really sharp and bled to death. Ouch. I feel over my head, but it seems all I’ve got is a sore spot that feels more like a bruise than a gaping wound. Besides, this room seems a far cry from hell.
“Hey you,” I call to the ghost. “I’m dead, aren’t I? Is this a place I go to before I go to heaven?”
The ghost throws his head back and laughs—a high, raucous sound. I’m surprised that no one hears him—either they can’t hear him or are too deeply asleep. “She thinks this is heaven! Wait till I tell His Majesty…”
What the hell is going on? “Aren’t you a ghost?”
That only makes him laugh harder. He clutches his sides, wheezing, like I’m the greatest comedian in the world.
“You…thick-headed, pea-brained human,” he gasps, wiping his eyes. “Haven’t you seen this room before?”
“In the downtown museum?”
“No, silly, a book.”
Moonlight streams in through the window. Several framed paintings hang on the walls—the biggest one depicts a beautiful garden. The scene does seem familiar; all it lacks is a maid kneeling in front of the fireplace.
“Cinderella?” I gasp. This is the room that’s illustrated on the first page. “Why am I seeing it in a dream?”
“She still thinks it’s a dream…” the ghost mutters, shaking his head. “Look, don’t you remember what happened to the book?”
I rub my temples. “It…fell apart?”
He nods. “When you ripped up the book our king created, a curse is triggered for tampering with his magic. So as punishment, you’re transported into the story itself.”
“Your king?” This is getting simply ridiculous. “Who is this king, and who are you?”
The ghost settles on the foot of my bed. “Might as well tell you or you’ll never get it—I’m Krev. I’m in service of His Majesty Barthelius, the Goblin King.”
“Goblins?” I fall back on the pillow, narrowing missing the headboard. “Please tell me I’m hallucinating, or I got a concussion.”
“We’re from another dimension, but our king has always been interested in human stories. That’s why he created his own books hundreds of years ago. He left a few copies in your world, but never expected that they’d disintegrate.”
“Oh god,” I sink down further into the blankets. There has to be some mistake.
“You’ll find out soon enough. Or you can just go back to pinching your arm.” He rises in the air—now I notice he has a pair of tiny wings. “Bye.”
“Hang on,” I blurt, and sit up. “Okay, suppose I believe you. How am I going to get back?”
Krev grins, showing a row of pointy teeth. “Now you’re listening. All you have to do is put the story back together again.”
“Finish the story to the very end, where they live happily-ever-after.”
Damn. I’m in a role-playing game. Not that I’ve played any, but it just seems that way to me.
Speaking of role-playing…
“That woman Martha called me Katriona. She said I lost my memory, so I’m not a newcomer in this world. So who am I?”
His bulging, toad-like eyes gleam. “Guess.”
I scowl at him. Well, obviously I’m not Cinderella, given the silken nightdress I’m wearing. And obviously I’m not the evil stepmother either. In the mirror I look just as I am, not some middle-aged woman.
“Am I one of the ugly stepsisters?”
His grin grows wider.
Damn. “If I have to be in the story, why aren’t I Cinderella?”
The goblin suddenly goes off in a peal of laughter. “Cinderella! She thinks she’s pretty enough to be Cinderella!” And he rolls over and over in the air until I feel dizzy and embarrassed. “Don’t you know how the spell works? You assume the role of the person you resemble most.”
Yeah, thanks for pointing out the impossibility of me being the protagonist. I suppose if Paige is the one who dropped the book, she’d become Cinderella.
And even though I still find the whole thing ridiculous, I’m kind of intrigued as well.
“So all I have to do is get Cinderella to the ball, the prince falls in love with her, and then the curse is broken and I can return?”
He waggles a crooked finger at me.
“Not yet. You can’t stop at the ball, when she runs out and leaves her slipper behind. You must follow it all the way to the end. The story is only finished when they’re married with wedding bells pealing and white doves soaring.”
“So when is the ball?”
“Where’s the fairy godmother?”
I drop my jaw. “Hello? Are you telling me that I have to find everything on my own while you just hover there and do nothing?”
He shrugs. “That’s because you ripped everything off except the first page. The curse starts where you leave off.”
“And if I do nothing? What if the prince won’t hold the ball? What if I can’t find the godmother?”
Krev lets out an evil chuckle. I have an ominous feeling of impending doom.
“Then you will remain in this book. Forever.”