A long time ago, when people fancied not money, but what it is now used to buy. And when the most desired possession of all was food and shelter, where there were only farms and rural land. There lived a young girl. She had fair black hair and deep brown eyes that didn't quite fit into her youthful persona. For her entire life, so far, she did not give a care about what she looked like. This girl lived in a cottage by a big lake with her dad. They were poor for their only income was the fish they caught and sold to the farmers at the market. Yet, they had each other and it was enough for them both. Oh, and her name was Gracie. Gracie Smith.
Every morning, Gracie would wake up two hours earlier than the golden sunrise, and go fishing so that her dad could rest longer. She knew her dad didn't approve of her early rising but it was no secret that they had no money to spare and every fish was needed for the market. Gracie slipped on her worn-out blue jeans and her dad's old shirt (that was certainly too big, for she had to tie it in the back). And as always she tied her light blue bandana, letting her two braids fall to her shoulders.
And this July morning was like every other morning, she did just that, except she felt somehow different. She drank some milk right from the jug and made herself a hurried sandwich. Grace ran up to the storage and grabbed her favorite fishing rod and rowboat and hurried on to the bridges. There were three in all: the East Bridge, North Bridge, and the West Bridge. Almost all the time she would go to the East Bridge.
As Gracie headed in the East direction, she noticed the chilliness of the day. The unexpected wind rustled the leaves on the birch trees growing by the pier. The moon still faintly showed and there were eerie shadows on the planks of the bridge. It was all dark even though it was summer and the sun usually rose early.
“What time was it?” Grace wondered. “Did I oversleep? Or maybe I rose too early?”
But that matter was soon resolved, for the sun peeked over the horizon and the day instantly warmed up. Grace climbed into her small vessel and started rowing along the bank. It wasn't easy to look into the water for signs of fish and row at the same time and required all of her concentration. The water seemed to be sparkling more than usual that morning or maybe it was just the sun gleaming on the water.
Before Gracie saw a single fish there was a glimmer of light some way off. Grace paddled to that spot and peered into the water. There on the bottom, was a faint outline of a glass bottle. She reached to grab it but then slipped and SPLASH!!! fell into the water. The water was colder than it seemed and she scrambled out as fast as she could onto the boat. Yet, she managed to grasp the bottle.
Grace managed to slightly dry off, but even the sun couldn't manage to dry her soaked clothes until noon.
“Ugh! I'm so dumb! Why did I ever go here, following a shimmer in the water. It could have been a whirlpool!!! And now I've fallen in the icy cold water for a stupid bottle and am all wet. What will I tell my dad?! Now I scared away all the fish!!!”
She paddled away frustrated and angry at her foolish actions, yet the water seemed to sparkle yet, even brighter, now everywhere. Grace took the bottle ready to throw it into the water, when she noticed something inside the bottle.
Grace uncorked the glass bottle and squeezed her fingers through the slim opening. The paper she took out was yellow and hard from age and water leaking in. Gracie unfolded the paper and stared in amazement. It was no ordinary paper either, it was a hand drawn map. There were details even the most skilled artist was incapable to replicate. It was magnificent and not a single spot on the map was blank. The map showed forests and towns, villages and farms, lakes and rivers. Gracie had never seen anything as wonderful.
Yet, Gracie noticed right away, and was astonished by the thought, that the map had a red arrow to Gracie's exact location and there was a rowboat there too. Who would draw a map, knowing the exact location of Gracie and put it in a bottle? Even if the map was dropped here and was meant for a fisherman, how would they know that the bottle wouldn't be swept away by the tide? Grace also noticed there was a red dot on the South Bridge. This was just as peculiar and Gracie was filled with wonder.
Gracie couldn't stop herself and she rowed back to the East Bridge. Maybe there would be a free market where she could buy her dad food for free and they would be the richest people of the village! That was her only hope, because if this was all a prank, her dad would be devastated. There would be less fish, meaning less food for the two of them. Gracie decided to check it out and come back right away, so that her dad wouldn't notice. Grace got out of the rowboat and tied it to the pier. Looking at the map, she checked where to go, and started running, slowly at first, but then gradually faster.
The dark brown wooden boards of the pier thumped as Grace ran faster and faster, curiosity took over and all Gracie felt was the eagerness to find out what was under that red dot and what it was hiding. Finally, she reached the intersection of the bridges and dashed onto the South Bridge. The boards here were older and obviously used a lot, because there was gum everywhere and it was quite weather worn.
The map led on and soon there were great big buildings and cafes and a whole lot of people. Grace had never been to a city, and she stopped running now. She watched all of the people and stared with wonder at the stores. People had fancy dresses on, and were wearing makeup. Gracie felt somehow out of place and started running again.
Looking at the map, she was only a store or two away, and she slowed down her pace, looking carefully at the signs on stores. The map showed the title of the particular store but half of it was erased. Grace saw that the store on the map was small and red but it took her a half an hour to figure out the right shop. She came to a shabby little hut with the sign: Book Addict. Gracie checked the map a hundred times yet everything matched up. The map had brought her to a bookstore. What if this was a meet up place for somebody a thousand years ago and she accidentally found the useless map? There was nothing here, it was obvious. She was frustrated beyond description by that time and felt horrible for leaving the pier and not helping her dad. A thought streaked by in her head: What if her dad comes and she's not there? What would he think? What would he do? Gracie was lost in decision. It would be right to go back to the bridges, but something was drawing her to the store.
She decided to lose no more time and head back, it was the right choice. Yet, as she turned away, something extraordinary happened. Her legs wouldn't move and then Grace subconsciously walked into the store. She came to herself, and almost collapsed in astonishment. How was she in the store? What had happened? Yet maybe she was so deep in thought and didn't notice, that wasn't the cause of the eerie feeling she had now. Everything was dark, and it seemed that there was no other world except this dark, creepy store. Grace looked around herself, there were ancient bookshelves casting long shadows. Something was different, though, in a dark corner to Grace's right. There was a bookshelf which looked the same as all the others. Though, the books on the shelf, they were different, somehow.
Gracie looked at the other shelves and realized that there were no titles on any of the books on that shelf. She slowly walked up to the shelf as to not wake anything up in the bookshop. Grace was filled with wonder, how come no book from that shelf had a title on it's spine? She carefully pulled out a book from the top shelf. It was dusty and very heavy. Gracie was pulling gently, but the book wouldn't come out. She pulled harder now, but the book didn't come out no matter how hard she tried. Gracie didn't like how everything was going.
It was dark, the book wouldn’t come out of the shelf, the shop was scary, and she had just disturbed something. Grace stepped away turning to run back when- Bshhhhhhhhhhhhhhp Bshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhp! The historic shelf seemed to come to life and it opened with a sound of a lion roaring in it's cage. The store was instantly illuminated by golden light as though the sun was hiding behind the shelf. Gracie's was blinded and her eyes burned like they do when you go outside after a long day indoors. When she opened her eyes, she saw an opening in the wall where the bookshelf had been. There was a great stony winding staircase and even though it was stony it was warm. Gracie now gladly went on. She was fearless and was eager to see all that was ahead.
Meanwhile, her father had woken up and was dressing to go to the pier. He didn't suspect that his daughter wasn't fishing. And neither of them knew that Gracie had just stepped over the threshold to another dimension and world.
The stairs were steep and Grace took her time going up, up, up, to make sure she didn't trip and fall. Gracie counted the steps out loud as she went, first bravely, then softer for she was very tired. 1, 2, 3,...45, 46, 47, 48, 49,...102, 103, ...180, 181,...249,...340, Finally she reached the top and collapsed. Then she jumped back up thinking maybe this was a test to the market. If you could make it past the obstacles, you got the reward of a lifetime.
In front of her, she saw a weird shaped monkey. It had a triangle head, with blue dots as eyes and a red chin and mouth like a baboon. It's body was small yet seemed as tough as a gorilla's. It was red as well with blue stripes.
“Hellow!” said the monkey with a weird kind of accent. “Houw did yoo get heer? It said smirking.
“I, uh, opened the bookshelf and walked up the stairs,” Grace said breathing heavily.
“Right ansver. Pleez choose vun object yoo vood like, yoo have sree minnets,” answered the monkey.
Grace looked around and saw that there were three giant glass pillars. Each had something inside on a round table. Gracie walked up to the columns and saw that they each had a tablet on which three words were written: I WANT THIS. In the first pillar, there were mounds of gold and gems of all sorts. This would make her family rich for many years to come. But that would also mean there would be no point for fishing with her dad. No, that wasn't the right choice. The second column had dresses of all sorts. Looking down at her attire, Gracie was embarrassed. She had no pretty clothes, at home. Only old clothes from her father. She almost touched the tablet when the monkey said-
“Be troo to yorself,” smiling broadly.
Gracie looked at the dresses. The monkey was right. This choice shouldn't change her life. It should enhance her prior life.
BAAAAAAAAM!!! BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM!!! Somewhere an alarm went off.
“Yor tiem iz up!” Said the monkey.
Gracie ran to the last pillar and without looking at what was inside, slammed the tablet with the palm of her hand. Yet, the alarm didn't stop and now the monkey fiercely charged at Gracie. Suddenly, blaring red words appeared on the pillar: STEP INSIDE. Gracie plunged into the glass expecting to run straight into a solid surface, but there was no impact only a little wind. The pillar extended forming a large dome around Gracie. She turned around and saw that the monkey was making the noise of the alarm. It's eyes were now red and evil.
Grace couldn't stop staring. But then she saw the evil monkey shrink into a tiny, barely visible dot. The dome was moving faster and faster away from that place and Grace realized she was floating on something like a glass jet. The feeling was amazing. Pink and orange fields passed underneath Gracie and she could see weird animals in a forest. In the center of the dome, there still stood the table with the object Gracie had chosen without a single thought.
On the table was a locket. It had rusty metal that formed some sort of design on top of a dark purple velvety fabric. It seemed antique and majestic. Though Gracie was starting to weep. How could she have chosen something so lame. She could have chosen the money and made her dad proud. They would have had enough money to pay for their food. What would she tell her dad? That she chose this thing over being rich?! She would never where it anyway. Why not a golden fishing pole? It had to be that stupid locket! Grace chucked the locket at the glass. It crashed and the glass shattered. The dome split into a million pieces and black smoke started to seep into the dome. The dome was falling and with a loud BANG! It disappeared into the air.
Gracie was falling straight down. With nothing but the air to hold her back. She heard the air whistle in her ears and she closed her eyes ready for the impact. She was a foot from the ground when suddenly the ground let go a powerful whoosh like an untied balloon and Gracie was surprisingly caught by that let-go of air and safely was lowered to the ground. He was confused for a moment but then-
“Whoa!!! That was awesome!” She yelled into the atmosphere.
Lying next to her was the locket; still tightly shut. Grace gently picked it up, and looked for any signs of damage. But she found not a single dent in the delicate masterpiece. However, turning it over in her hands, Gracie found a keyhole. With the inscription- You have always had the answer to my questions- above it.
“I have an answer to this person's questions?” muttered Gracie, “What?”
She fingered at the necklace her grandmother gave her when she was little. Grace wondered what answer she could have; and even if she did have an answer, what was the question? She looked at the keyhole and her thought trailed off. A keyhole always reminded her of a mystery that must be solved. And as though somebody had slapped her across the face, Gracie knew the answer. If the keyhole was a mystery, it was like a question. Yet, what answer did she have?
“The necklace!!!” Grace screamed with excitement! The necklace from her grandmother was the answer.
When Gracie was 6, her grandmother had given her a necklace and said it was important and would come in handy one day or another. Grace did have the answer. Burning with excitement she took the necklace off and fit it into the keyhole.
Something clicked inside the locket and it opened. Grace was overjoyed and full of confusion. How had this person known about the key necklace from her grandmother? But she pushed that thought out of her mind, for now. Inside the locket, there was a tiny stem growing out of the bottom and growing on the stem like a flower, was an orange gem. The stem seemed alive and Gracie touched the gem.
Suddenly, everything went black. A faint light appeared in the distance. It grew until all around Gracie was illuminated. She was back at the pier where she had found the map in the first place but her grandma was standing next to her.
“Gracie,” she said lovingly, “the next time you touch that gem, something incredible will happen.”
“What?” asked Grace.
“You will go into a place where you can do whatever you want,” said Grace's grandmother, “I know that you have found your true self because you picked the right pillar.”
“But it was an accident, I didn't even see what was inside!” argued Gracie dumbfounded.
“No! You did not pick the wrong ones, because you knew who you were on the inside, and that is the bottom line,” she said.
“A place where I can do and be anything I want, just from touching the gem?” asked Gracie still not believing what she heard.
“Yes, now listen, any other person would go insane if they had the ability to travel to that place. They would try to take what they have gained there with them into this world. Only a person like you who has found their true self can enjoy a privilege of the such sort, ” she answered grinning, “I'm proud of you!”
Gracie went to that mysterious land many times after that encounter. She could wear the prettiest dresses and own the most riches in the entire world. But when she returned home, she was her one and only self.