Chapter 7

How Elfrida found the Magic Bottle

 

 

Suddenly Elfrida remembered everything clearly. It was one of those days when you wake up and think the world is yours. The sun was shining brightly from the blue sky and the whole day just waited for new adventures. It was the first day of summer vacations and today she was going to meet with her new girlfriends. Daisy Peterson, whom she had already known in the preschool, had said something about a “Magic Forest” and Elfrida and her best friend Jenny Rymers did not want to miss that. Of late Jenny had been quite annoying. Only yesterday she had told Elfrida how daft it was to have a little sister.

 

You know”, she said, “a little sister really is a pest! All the time she tails after you. Okay, my mother says, little Julia only does that because she thinks her big sister super-duper. But she apes me in everything! She even tries to put on my dresses and shoes. And I always get the blame, because she is so small and such a dear – and she is good for nothing!”

 

Elfrida was glad to have a little brother. Bruno did not trail after her at all. He also did not put on her gear. He actually did nothing. He only slobbered, but he could do that for hours.

 

Well, he had to be thoroughly trained. Last week he had already shown a fine trend when during a boring family meeting he had crawled under the tabled and knotted the shoelaces of all visitors together. He was really good at that. Elfrida grinned when she remembered the moment everybody wanted to get up to go home. She never had seen such a lot of crashed dishes in one place. Aunt Odilia of course had blamed Daddy Bobble, but he had really been unlucky to get into the hot coffee with his trunk. Odilia’s dress with the pink frills and the embroidered roses had been completely ruined and when she blamed Bobble he took a slice of custard pie and wanted to throw it at Aunt Odilia. Bad luck that he slipped on some apple tart and hit Granny Elsie. It had taken quite some time to find Granny’s false teeth. As mentioned before, Bruno had talents.

 

Well, there you are at last”, Daisy grumbled when Elfrida and Jenny reached the bus stop near Crow Forest. “I’ve already got a cramp in my feet.”

 

Oh, we just slugged about our little brothers and sisters”, Jenny laughed. “Sometimes they’re really daft, you know.”

 

You tell me! Little brothers and sisters are no problem, but sod a big brother!” Daisy nodded and they slowly walked into the forest.

 

Why that? It must be great to have an older brother. He keeps you out of trouble.” Elfrida had her own ideas about that, but Daisy by no means agreed.

 

Great? Don’t you believe that. He for ever will be the big boss and in the right. For ever he tells me horror stories and if I’m frightened, he laughs at me.”

 

By now they had walked deeper into the forest and were on paths they had never walked before. The trees were like giants and every now and then something cracked in the shrubs. The sun had hidden behind some clouds so that all around them it was rather dark. “Quite spooky”, Jenny said. “Some people also call this the Magic Forest.”

 

Silently they walked on, but when they passed some fir trees Jenny was the first one to notice something.

 

Do you hear that? I mean, do you hear it not? The birds are no longer singing!”

 

Let’s better go back”, Daisy proposed.

 

The others agreed, but which was the way back? It was the first time that they had walked so deep into the forest. Even Daisy did not longer know where they were.

 

Shsh, just stay where you are and be quiet”, Jenny suddenly said, “I can hear some birds.”

 

They craned their necks and listened to the birds.

 

They say that they are afraid and want to leave the forest. Now they’ve flown away.”

 

Daisy’s eyes became bigger and bigger.

 

You understand the bird-language?”

 

Yes, when I was a baby I often was in the pram in my parent’s garden. First I only understood a little, but later I could talk with the birds. Only crows are difficult. They’re talking so fast and they mumble.”

 

But what shall we do now?” Elfrida was back at their problem. “We don’t know the way. Over there seems to be a much walked path. Shall we try it?”

 

The others did not object and so they followed the path because even a narrow path has to lead somewhere. So they struggled through thorny bushes and rough terrain until they reached a clearance. On this clearance a small house with a garden stood. The garden was quite a wilderness and on the roof some tiles were missing. The windows had not been cleaned for a long time, but somebody must be living there because smoke came out of the chimney.

 

That’s it!” Daisy cheered. “We are rescued!”

 

Or we aren’t”, Elfrida objected. “Somehow I don’t like this.”

 

A crow was croaking nearby. Daisy and Elfrida looked at Jenny.

 

Jenny shrugged. “As I said, crows talk fast and mumble, but I think she only laughed.”

 

 While the three friends were still standing undecidedly on the clearance, the front door of the house opened. An old woman came out. She wore a long, dark dress, her grey hairs looked unkempt and some of her teeth were missing. The girls were paralysed with shock, but the old woman welcomed them in a friendly voice: “Ah, visitors, that is nice. Come in for a cup of cocoa! Do come in, I do not bite, he he!”

 

Daisy went first, then Jenny, and Elfrida was the last one. They really did not feel all the thing, but the old woman appeared to be harmless. Moreover hot cocoa was exactly what they needed for it was rather cold by now. So the girls had not to be further invited but as far as possible made themselves comfortable in the small kitchen. The chairs certainly had seen better days. When drinking the cocoa Elfrida felt that the chair would collapse any moment. She was not very surprised when it really did. That is, when she collapsed from the chair. She did not see that Daisy and Jenny collapsed as well.

 

When they woke up, it was dark. Elfrida tried to remember what had happened. The cocoa! The old woman must needs have mixed something into it. But why? Elfrida rubbed her aching head and tried to think. Why should that kind old woman want to poison them, except she was a… Elfrida swallowed and was wide awake. Yes, a witch, but that was impossible. Witches only existed in fairy tales.

 

A witch”, she whispered.

 

What did you say? A fridge? Where is it?”

 

Jenny was also awake now and Daisy moved.

 

Witch, I said, and moreover we are trapped.”

 

Suddenly also her two friends were wide awake and looked about them. They were lying on a wooden floor where obviously woodworms were living. It was full of small holes and in several places rotten. Behind them was a timber wall. High above them was a small window which let in only very little light. The other three sides of their prison consisted of thick iron rods. They were imprisoned in a cage.

 

What were they to do now? Elfrida discovered that she did not bring along her doll Dolly. Terrible, to whom should she hold now?

 

We somehow have to get out here.” Elfrida suddenly was very determined. “Let’s take a close look at this cage.”

 

After a while they gave up and sat down on the floor side by side. Jenny was the first to break the silence.

 

The iron bars don’t give way and the wall is too thick. And forget the window. It’s too small and we don’t reach it.”

 

What about the floor, can’t we prise the wood?”

 

That’s a possibility, Elfrida. Come on, let’s try it before the old witch comes back.”

 

Jenny tried to loosen the floor planks, but even when they all worked at it, they did not succeed.

 

No way, we need a lever or something.”

 

Daisy looked around. Beside the stove were a few long knives.

 

Pity we can’t get at the knives.”

 

Elfrida thought a moment, then she got up and took the leather belt from her trousers.

 

Let’s see”, she said, “if I can do it with my lasso trick.”

 

She took the belt and made a sling. Then she walked to the bars, held her belt at one end and whirled the sling towards the knives. The first time some cutlery rattled to the floor. Frightened, they all fled to a corner of their cage. But no witch came into the room.

 

Elfrida tried again and after a few throws she succeeded in drawing a long knife towards her. Exhaustedly, she handed the knife to Jenny. It took a few minutes and Jenny had loosened the first plank. Two more planks followed, then the opening in the floor was big enough to slip through. Now they had to dig a tunnel under the wall. Each of them digged as long as she could and then passed the knife to the next one. So they finally got out and thought they were safe. But when they reached the other side of the wall, their blood froze: A big wolf with two heads stood there. Both heads bared their teeth and gnarled horribly. The witch stood beside him and laughed. Quickly Daisy, Elfrida, and Jenny crawled back into the safe cage. The trembled of fright when the witch came into the room.

 

I haven’t had such fun for a long time. Forget that exit, I closed it with a rock.” She laughed and laughed and could not stop.

 

Your daft laughter will soon be over”, Elfrida shouted.

 

What was that?” The witch came closer and Elfrida could smell the stinking breath. “Who are you?”

 

My name is Elfrida.”

 

I don’t need to remember that name because you soon will boil in my pot.”

 

The witch wanted to laugh again, but Elfrida replied: “I don’t believe that, you seedy old witch.”

 

How dare you…”, the witch began, but then something came to her mind. “You’re lucky, there’s somebody else on my menu. Wait till I return!”

 

And she disappeared through the door. Daisy and Jenny looked at their friend in admiration.

 

You’ve got the guts”, Daisy said.

 

If that old hag wants to eat me, she shall not think that I’m afraid. Perhaps I can unsettle her and she makes a mistake. You know people make mistakes when they are furious.”

 

Now they lay down on the floor and tried to sleep. Perhaps it would be important to be fit.

 

They did now know how long they had slept, when the door of their prison opened and a little old men was thrown in. Again the witch laughed loudly when she shut the door of the cage. “It’s my lucky day, isn’t it, Alberich? Who would have thought that you’re out in the wood and feeding animals without your magic hat? Anyhow, I thank you, for I will eat all them fat animals.”

 

Her loud, ugly laughter again. Then she went to the kitchen corner and cleaned away the fallen dishes. After she had fetched a few big pots she began to peel potatoes.

 

You’re peeling them much too thick, you have no idea how to work properly.”

 

O Elfrida, they will be all right for you.”

 

With your rotten teeth you’d better eat vegetable broth without meat.”

 

Take care or I turn you into a frog.”

 

Silly witch, then I’ll hop through the iron bars. You are really daft.”

 

You mean little…” The witch searched for words, stood up and the freshly peeled potatoes fell to the ground.

 

Well, you can throw away those potatoes, only pigs eat from a dirty floor.” Elfrida began to have fun with the matter.

 

I will cast a spell on you, I will…”

 

Spell - you?” The little old man stood up and looked at the witch tauntingly. “You nicked all your charms, already in the magician’s school you cribbed.”

 

The witch snarled dangerously, but did not say anything. She began to pick up the potatoes and put them into the pot. Again and again she glanced at Elfrida and the little old man wispily. Finally she sat down on one of the four kitchen chairs and said: “I take a little rest, but then I’ll do you in.” Only a few minutes later loud snoring was to be heard from the witch.

 

The old man looked kindly at the girls. “Sorry, ladies, I did not tell you who I am. My name is Alberich, my job is being King of the Dwarfs. My empire is on the other side of the river. Old Carla and I have known each other since old. As matter of fact, she already annoyed everyone in the magicians’ school and later on she only did wicked things. Well, well, I did not think that she would dupe me.”

 

Now the three girls told him who they were and how they had come into the power of the witch. They also told him about their attempt to escape and the wolf with two heads.

 

 

 

 

An old trick”, Alberich said. “It’s easy to conjure up monsters.”

 

But they are dangerous”, Elfrida said.

 

Fiddlesticks”, Alberich smiled. “Monsters are only dangerous if you believe in them. Most of them vanish if you laugh at them. There are some with whom that does not work, but ghosts and monsters do only exist in your imagination, if you know what I mean.”

 

Elfrida thought that over. “So ghosts and monsters are not really real?”

 

Exactly.”

 

So when I’m afraid I only think that there are monsters and ghosts?”

 

So it is.”

 

If I had not regarded the wolf, we would have been free now?”

 

Exactly so.”

 

Elfrida sat in a corner for a long time and turned this over in her mind. Just now she had learned something which would be important for the rest of her life. Finally she stood up, pointed at the witch and said: “Time to go home, who’s joining me?”

 

They all looked at her in astonishment. She took the knife, which the careless witch had not taken from them, and started to cut a long slat from one of the floor planks. Elfrida had seen that the witch had put her keys beside her on a chair. Now Elfrida took the long slat and tried to get at the keys with it. It was not easy to get the slat into the big key ring but Elfrida did not give up. Finally she succeeded. She carefully lifted the slat so the keys would slide towards her. The keys jangled and for a moment the witch awoke. They all kept their breath, but after a short time the witch snored again. Quickly Elfrida unlocked the cage door and walked out. When they stood in front of the witch house they sighed in relief and Alberich the King of Dwarfs said:

 

This way, we’ll take the road to my kingdom. We have to make ourselves safe from her magic.”

 

But that old hag is much too slow, she’ll never get us”, Daisy objected.

 

Don’t forget that she is a witch, hurry up.”

 

They ran as fast as they could. Alberich of course was not as fast as the three girls and so he was a few steps behind them. If you’ve ever run through a forest, you will know how dangerous the roots of trees can be. The King of Dwarfs had to learn that. He cried out in pain and fell down. Terrified, Elfrida, Daisy and Jenny saw that the witch was just behind him, laughing. She lifted a hand and out of nothing two black monsters appeared. They looked like giant potato beetles. Shrieking, Daisy and Jenny ran on, only Elfrida stayed were she was. The two monsters approached slowly and from their ugly muzzles green slime was dripping.

 

Munch her!” The witch laughed her horrible laugh when the black monsters approached Elfrida. But she did not run away. The witch swore, and suddenly a dragon came down the path with a loud roar. Elfrida took a deep breath, ran between the monsters, gripped the arm of Alberich the King of Dwarfs and dragged him along. The evil old witch was absolutely flabbergasted and watched Elfrida and Alberich disappearing in the forest. Her furious howling was to be heard for a long time.

 

Later on Alberich the King of Dwarfs, Elfrida, Daisy, and Jenny sat together and were glad that their adventure found such a happy ending. In future, Alberich would never walk through the wood without his magic hat. However, he told the girls many interesting things about witches, monsters and suchlike. Before they all went home, Alberich grabbed into the air and suddenly held something in his hand.

 

Little magic trick”, he grinned. “But I think you can make use of this. As you don’t know all the paths in the Magic Forest, I’ll give you this map. It shows the most important paths and I’ve drawn in the most important spots. Be cautious if you leave these paths.”

 

 

Map of the Magic Forest

 

Meaning:

 

  1. Territory of the Fairy of the Pond

  2. Witch house

  3. Empire of the King of Dwarfs

 

 

 

 

 

For you, Elfrida, I have something very special.” He handed a small bottle to her. “It is empty, but you certainly will find out what it is good for. It came from a far away country.”

 

The girls now said good-bye and promised the King of Dwarfs to visit him again soon. Then they went home.

 

Elfrida rubbed her eyes and slowly her thoughts returned to the presence. She saw the steel walls of the space ship and heard the even breathing of her friends. Bertha, Rosie, and the professor were snoring. Elfrida envied them their sleep because she was wide awake and her thoughts were in the Magic Forest. What might the witch be doing now? Did she miss the girls?

 

She thought about all this and to distract herself she stood up and looked through the window into the dark night. The monster alarm was activated and normally nothing should be out there. Anyhow, she looked into the darkness for a long time. Silently she crept to Bernie and woke him up.

 

“Come to the window. There is something there.”

 

“I want to sleep.”

 

“Bernie, there is something, really. We’ve got to take a look.”

 

“Okay, I’m coming.”

 

Yawning, Bernie got up and trotted to the window. It took some time before his eyes became used to the darkness. Then he nodded and walked to the control room. Elfrida followed him. Bernie switched on the radar and now they could see that the radio waves from the radar were reflected by something. Five or six points seemed to be out there which approached slowly.

 

“Why doesn’t the pig… ehm, the monster alarm go off?”

 

Bernie was wide awake now. It was time to alert the others. They woke up their sleepy friends and dragged the professor in his nightshirt to the radar screen.

 

“You see that?” Elfrida asked.

 

The professor shook his head. “I d-don’t see anything, the monitor is completely blurred.”

 

“How about putting on your glasses?”

 

“O y-yes, thank you.” Now Prof. Hasty could see the danger. He immediately checked all the switches, turned to Bernie and the others and explained: “Without doubt there is something inorganic. It is approaching us s-slowly.”

 

“Why is there something in a panic?” Bertha asked and they all stared at her in surprise.

 

“W-why in a p-panic?”

 

“Well, you talked about something in a panic approaching us.”

 

“I-inorganic, Bertha, the w-word is inorganic. Plants are organic, metal for instance is inorganic, not herbal.”

 

Bertha reddened and Rosie grinned.

 

“But then it cannot be the monsters, for they are living beings.” Mona was the first one to understand.

 

“Exactly. That’s w-why the alarm did not go off, only the radar.”

 

In the meantime Jenny had taken a telescope and watched the curious beings.

 

“Looks like big robots”, she remarked.

 

“We should be off quickly, Professor, I want to go home. Start the motor!”

 

“We cannot do that, Rosie, the engines have to warm up first.”

 

By now Jenny and Bernie had gone into the control room and activated the big telescope.

 

Six big robots could clearly be made out. Now and then one of them stopped, stooped and took something up from the ground.

 

“They are collecting something, Mona, what can that be?” Bernie looked excitedly at Mona and Moyo.

 

“In the desert there is only Lambos, a kind of grass. And some small lizards are living here.”

 

“What do the monsters eat?”

 

“Exactly that, there is nothing else”, Moyo said.

 

Elfrida stepped forward. “Than the matter is clear. The robots are collecting food for the monsters, and if they get us, they’ll collect us, too.”

 

The professor scratched his head nervously. He did not come up with any idea, but Elfrida already had a plan.

 

“Professor, if we switch off all lights and stay in the space ship – will the robots notice us at all?”

 

“P-perhaps we are screened by the walls of the space ship. They c-certainly have sensors by which they can track organic m-material. If we gather in the c-centre of the ship, we perhaps cannot be located by their sensors.”

 

“What can’t we do? Will we go mad?”

 

“Why should we go mad, R-rosie?”

 

“Well, if we lose all our senses?”

 

Professor Hasty swallowed nervously and answered: “Located by sensors, I s-said. Sensors are small electronic units which notice if something approaches. That is called locating. The farther off something is from the sensor, the harder it can be noticed.”

 

While Bertha said that everybody certainly knew that, they all assembled in the centre of the space ship and waited. By now the noises which the robots made could be clearly heard. It sounded like dragging a heavy sack of metal rods over the ground. When the metal-monsters reached the space ship, they paused. Within the ship it was dark and the friends were very quiet.

 

The robots seemed to consider. To the friends it seemed to be ages. Slowly the robots moved away from the space ship. Now there was a real problem. They discussed how to proceed because now not only the black monsters were their enemies but also the metallic giants who supplied the monsters with nourishment. They could not win against both of them at the same time, that much was evident. But think as they might, they did find not solution.

 

“We should travel home. Mona and Moyo may come with us”, Bertha proposed.

 

“Would you like it if we were not willing to help you?” Rosie protested.

 

“I for my part would not want to live in a dusty desert.”

 

“And if that desert were home to you?”

 

“I would not stand such a lot of dust, dearest Rosie, as you well know.”

 

“Certainly, Miss Bertha would clean the desert bit by bit and moreover…”

 

“That’s enough”, Elfrida scolded. “You shut up!”

 

She thought a moment und then looked at Rosie.

 

“Did you say bit by bit?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“That’s the solution! We can’t win against them if we fight them at the same time, so we fight them bit by bit – one after the other!”

 

Elfrida explained her plan. First they had to get rid of the robots. This seemed to be the easiest way because robots are quite stupid. Without the robots the black monsters had nothing to eat. They split in three groups. Jenny, Bernie, Susie, Mary formed one group, Elfrida, Daisy, Rosie, and Bertha the other one. The third group consisted of Mona and Moyo. Professor Hasty would stay in the space ship’s control room in case anything went wrong. Both groups wrapped up in aluminium foil so that the robots would not know them as living beings. The professor explained to them that the sensor rays would be reflected from the aluminium.

 

“S-so the metal-monsters will be sensor-blind and cannot s-see you”, he said.

 

Then each of them was handed a big water bottle in which a handful of salt was poured.

 

“You have to f-fill the salt water into the robots. Salt water is poison to metal and they will start to rust.”