A TRAIN OF THOUGHTS
The subtle jerks of the train rocked Alex Bailey awake. She looked at the emptyseats around her while she remembered where she was. A long sigh came out of thethirteen-year-old girl and she neatly fixed a strand of strawberry-blonde hairthat had escaped her headband.
"Not again," she whispered to herself.
Alex hated dozing off in public places. She was a very smart and serious youngwoman and never wanted to give the wrong impression. Luckily for her, she wasone of only a few people on the five o'clock train back into town, so her secretwas safe.
Alex was an exceptionally bright student and always had been. In fact, she wasso advanced she was part of an honors program that allowed her to take anadditional class at the community college in the next town.
Since she was too young to drive and her mother worked the majority of the dayat a children's hospital, every Thursday after school Alex would ride her biketo the train station and travel the short distance into the next town for herclasses.
It was a questionable trip for a young girl to make by herself, and her motherhad had reservations at first, but she knew Alex could handle it. This shortjourney 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 ableto learn about art and history and other languages in an environment whereeveryone wanted to be there. When her professors asked questions, Alexwas 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 wouldgaze out the window and let her thoughts wander while the train traveled. It wasthe most relaxing part of her day, and many times she'd find herself driftingoff to sleep, but only on rare occasions like today would she accidentally driftoff completely.
Normally, she would wake feeling embarrassed, but this time Alex's embarrassmentwas laced with annoyance. She had just been having a disheartening dream: adream she had had many times in the last year.
She dreamed she was running barefoot in a beautiful forest with her twinbrother, Conner.
"I'll race you to the cottage!" Conner said with a huge smile. He shared hissister's looks but, thanks to a recent growth spurt, was now a few inches tallerthan 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 inthe world. There were no trolls or wolves or evil queens for them to worryabout, because, wherever Alex and Conner were, they knew they were safe.
Eventually a small cottage came into view. The twins bolted toward it, puttingall their energy into one final sprint.
"I win!" Alex declared when both of her open palms touched the front door amillisecond 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 noone answered.
"That's funny," Alex said. "Grandma knew we were coming to visit; I wonder whyshe locked the door."
She and her brother peered into the window. They could see their grandmotherinside, sitting in a rocking chair near the fireplace. She seemed sad, andslowly rocked back and forth.
"Grandma, we're here!" Alex said and cheerfully tapped on the window. "Open thedoor!"
Her grandmother didn't move.
"Grandma?" Alex asked, tapping on the window harder. "Grandma, it's us! We wantto visit you!"
Her grandma raised her head slightly and looked up at them through the windowbut 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 andheaded 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 inthere."
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! Pleaselet 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. Alexrealized she wasn't going to be let in, and every time she came to thisrealization 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 aforest and to see her grandmother's face again.... It was obvious to her whatthe 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'thelp 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 atfirst, she could have sworn she saw her grandmother sitting across from her onthe 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 wascapable of many things....
It had been over a year since Alex and Conner Bailey had discovered theirfamily's biggest secret. When they were given an old storybook from theirgrandmother, they'd never expected it would magically transport them into thefairy-tale world, and never in their wildest dreams had they expected that theirgrandmother and late father were from this world.
Traveling from kingdom to kingdom and befriending the characters they grew upreading about had been the adventure of their lives. But the biggest surprise ofall was when the twins learned their own grandmother was Cinderella's FairyGodmother.
Their grandmother eventually found them and took them back home to their anxiousmother.
"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 fortwo weeks and thought 'traveling in another dimension' would probably raise afew eyebrows."
"Chicken pox?" Conner said. "Mom, you couldn't come up with anythingcooler? 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 workI 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 yoursanity. I was worried the experience would overwhelm and frighten you, so Icalled your grandmother immediately. Luckily, she was still in this world,traveling with her friends. But after the second week of not knowing where youwere ... 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 nevergot the chance."
"How did you find out?" Conner asked. "When did Dad tell you? Did you evenbelieve him at first?"
Charlotte smiled at the memory. "From the minute I saw your father, I knew therewas something different about him," she said. "I had just started my first weekof nursing at the children's hospital when I saw your grandmother and her groupof friends come to read stories to the patients. But I was completely smitten bythe handsome man who was with them. He was so peculiar; he stared around inamazement at everything. I thought he was going to faint when he saw thetelevision."
"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," Charlottecontinued. "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 againlater after I was done working so I could tell him more. We ended up dating fortwo months and fell in love. But then, strangely, he disappeared without warningand 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 verywrong."
"And that's when he discovered the Wishing Spell and started to collect theitems 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 wehadn'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 sofrail 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 weremarried a month later and became parents a year after that. So to answer yourquestion, 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 whilehe was collecting the Wishing Spell items, the same journal they had followedwhile 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 itopen 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'repretty great ourselves. Just keep that in mind if you ever feel inspired to giveus an allowance in the future."
Charlotte playfully glared at her son; they knew she couldn't afford to givethem allowances. Since their dad died, she'd had a hard time supporting thefamily and paying off debts from his funeral. But that got Alex thinking: Withall the connections their family had in the fairy-tale world, why exactly hadtheir lives been so tough the last year?
"Mom," Alex said, "why have we been struggling so much when all this timeGrandma could have just waved her wand and made everything better for us?"
Conner looked up at his mother, thinking the same question. Their grandmotherwent quiet; it wasn't her place to say.
"Because your father didn't want that," Charlotte said. "Your father loved thisworld so much; it's where we met, it's where we had you two, and it's where hewanted to raise you. He had come from a world of kings and queens and magic, aworld of entitlement and undeserved luxury that he thought ruined people'scharacter. He wanted you guys to grow up in a place you could get anything youwanted if you worked hard enough for it, and although there have been times alittle 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 havemanaged what they had done in the last weeks if they hadn't been raised thatway? Could they have collected all the Wishing Spell items or stood up to theEvil 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 saidwith a twinkle in his eye. "I mean, after two weeks of barely survivingencounters with trolls, wolves, goblins, witches, and evil queens, we can't beexpected 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. Thetwinkle in his eye faded away.
"Nice try," Charlotte said. "Every family has its issues, but that doesn't meanyou get to drop out of school because of it."
"Thank goodness," Alex said with a sigh. "I was afraid he was on to somethingfor a minute."
Grandma looked up at the clock. "It's almost sunrise," she said. "We've beentalking all night. I better get going now."
"When will we see you again?" Alex asked. "When can we go back to the Land ofStories?" 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 kidswhile 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 questionshe 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 hisforehead. "Please leave me out of this. I don't want to be afairy—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 thatare pretty time-consuming but that you don't need to worry yourselves about. Assoon 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 tothe 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, shestopped and looked back at them.
"I forgot, I didn't drive here," Grandma said with a smirk. "Looks like I'llhave to leave the old-fashioned fairy way. Good-bye, children, I loveyou 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 thatlesson."
Alex yawned contagiously and her brother followed.
"You kids must be exhausted," Charlotte said. "Why don't you go to bed? I'mtaking tomorrow off so I can be here with you guys, in case you have any morequestions. And because I've just missed you."
"In that case, I've got an important question," Conner said. "What's forbreakfast? I'm starving."
Alex's train finally reached her station. She retrieved her bike from the bikerack and pedaled home, still thinking about her grandmother.
Alex had expected to live a dual-worldly life after discovering the fairy-taleworld. She imagined spending summers and holidays with her brother in the FairyKingdom or Cinderella's Palace with their grandmother. She imagined a brand-newlife of magic and adventure would begin immediately. Sadly, Alex's expectationsweren't met.
More than a year had gone by since the night their grandmother disappeared. Theyhadn'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 justdisappear and never make contact again? How could she take them to a place theyhad 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 livedinside them—so who was she to keep it from them?
"Your grandmother is a very busy woman," Charlotte would tell Alex whenever thesubject came up. "She loves you very much. She probably just has her hands fullat 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 worryingwhether her grandmother was all right—sometimes wondering if she was evenalive. Alex hoped nothing had happened to her and that she was okay. Shemissed her hugs more than anything.
Life without their dad had been the most difficult thing the twins had everexperienced. But life without their dad and grandmother was nearlyimpossible.
"What do you think is going on?" Alex asked Conner on one occasion.
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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