Neopian Times Edition 312
Deep in the forest of Neopia Central, a house made of dark red bricks stood all on its own. In the darkness, the house looked even more lonely, though the people inside of it hardly were. Remy sat at the window to her bedroom, gazing out at the stars high over Neopia. It was easy for her to point out the constellation she favored the most, The Dancer, high in the summer sky. Remy wanted so much to dance that she absorbed all knowledge on the subject. “Remy, it is time for bed!” a voice called from an adjacent room. The young baby Kougra turned her gaze slowly towards the doorway as her sister stepped through. Remy smiled at the striped Lupe, but remained at her seat by the window.
“Can’t I just stay up a little bit longer?” Remy asked, her dark brown eyes pleading with her older sister. Teya walked in and put an arm around her younger sibling affectionately, doing her best to smile politely.
“You know you have to get up early tomorrow. How about a story before bed?” Teya offered, knowing full well that Remy would do anything to hear a story. As Teya had known, Remy smiled broadly and jumped down from her seat by the window, making her way to the bookshelf by her bed. It was much taller than she was, laden with all kinds of books for younger readers.
Teya couldn’t help but smile somewhat. She remembered most of those stories and books, for some of them had belonged to her when she was younger. Remy was quick to choose a particularly longer story and handed it to Teya eagerly. “This one!” Remy nearly yelped as she jumped onto her bed, hurrying to get comfortable underneath the bright pink covers.
The blanket on Remy’s bed had a pair of rather large ballet shoes on them. She smoothed it out, tracing the top of the shoes with her hand as Teya sat down next to her, opening to the first page of the book.
“The Dancer’s Tale,” Teya spoke, tilting her head slightly to one side and chuckling lightly. “Haven’t you heard this one enough yet?”
Remy looked up at her sister and shook her head fervently. “Never!”
The two sisters laughed some at her response as Teya turned the page. As she did, Remy began to quiet in her anticipation. “Are you ready?” Teya asked. Remy nodded her head slowly, her eyes fixated on the pictures in the story.
Teya smiled and began, “Once upon a time…”
* * *
…there lived a beautiful, young Aisha in a town not quite far from Meridell. She lived with her family on a farm that they worked each day. Every week they would go into town to sell the things they grew and Jula would entertain quite a few customers by dancing playfully. The young, blue Aisha was full of life and full of energy. She could dance all day and night and not be the least bit tired.
Jula often awoke early in the morning. She would spend the early hours of the day skipping through the crops as the sun rose in the sky over Meridell. Jula would run and twirl, but would always stop in her tracks at the end of their field. Next to her family lived a particularly lonely and mean Zafara that Jula had heard horrible stories about. Too horrible for her to feel the need to cross the line between her farm and the other.
“I bet you are too scared to go knock on her door and run away!” Hari, Jula’s best friend, taunted one afternoon. The two were sitting underneath a tall tree with broad leaves. Hari was picking apart the leaves that had fallen on the ground, his overly large Techo hands easily separating leaf from stem.
“You just want to start trouble,” Jula replied, standing on her tip-toes and twirling in a circle. A leaf fell from above and landed on top of the yellow Techo’s head and Jula laughed heartily as she plucked it from his top. “Just because Grenda is supposed to be a mean, old…”
“…woman, doesn’t mean that we have to pick on her,” Jula ended, shaking her head at the response she had received from her friend. They were just stories to her and she didn’t believe them. Well, she pretended not to, at least. A gust of wind passed them by and a few more leaves fell from the branches of the tree. Most were green, but others had flecks of red in them for the changing of the seasons.
Hari stood, his frame much taller than Jula’s. “Oh come on, you know that she does evil voodoo things in that house of hers. She hasn’t even had a visitor in a thousand years!”
“A thousand years?” Jula laughed, crossing her arms across her chest. “I am pretty sure she is not that old, Hari!” She brushed off the long, yellow skirt she was wearing as she completely disregarded what Hari had said. He was just believing in rumors that other kids had made up to scare them all. Jula wasn’t going to believe it. She would rather see it first, though she wasn’t sure she would be able to work up the courage to do so.
Hari crossed his own arms and glared somewhat at Jula. “If you don’t believe it, then prove it!”
Jula rolled her eyes and leaned back against the tree, trying her best not to let her gaze wander towards Grenda’s home. She knew that Hari was goading her and just wanted her to do something to relieve his own boredom. Jula wasn’t intimidated. “How would you like it if everyone told stories about you?”
Hari muttered something and Jula nodded her head, satisfied. She knew that her friend wouldn’t like it at all and neither would Jula. It was that reason that she tried her best not to believe the stories. Stories were just rumors in a way, weren’t they?
“Well, I still say she is a witch. No matter what you might think,” Hari ended, bidding his goodbye for the day. It was starting to get dark and Jula knew that her parents would be expecting her to return. Getting up early meant going to sleep as soon as the sun left the sky. Jula was glad that Hari had gone; she knew that the next day, he would forget about her going over to Grenda’s.
Jula began to walk back towards her house as the sky darkened even more. She heard a faint rumbling in the distance and frowned slightly. Her mother would be very displeased with her if she returned sopping wet. Especially in her new skirt. Jula started to walk a bit more quickly, but the rumbling began to grow louder and big plops of rain started to fall from the sky.
Instead of running through the fields and becoming soaked, Jula decided to retreat into the wooded area behind them. Without thinking, she crossed the invisible barrier that she had always stopped at before entering Grenda’s land.
As she stood amongst the shelter of the trees, she stopped. She was dry, but she was now slightly fearful. All of the stories she had heard in the past resurfaced as she began to wonder about their validity. What if they were true? Jula felt a tingle travel up her spine, but she suddenly had an awful urge to discover the truth.
Was Grenda really a witch?
Jula felt as if she were on a mission now. She wanted desperately to prove Hari, and everyone else, wrong. She took a tentative step forward and listened hard for sounds around her. When she heard nothing, she began to walk a bit more quickly through the wooded area.
She could see the house not far from her and the bad shape it was in. The shingles seemed dirty and loose and the roof had rough patches on it. Jula figured that a witch could have easily patched up her own home…
Despite the darkness, Jula could see around her because of the light coming from Grenda’s house. The second floor of the house was completely dark, but the downstairs was lighted and bright. Jula felt somewhat mesmerized by the light coming from the house and found herself moving a bit more quickly so that she could be near it.
As she left the wooded area, Jula didn’t notice that it wasn’t raining out in the open here. Her bright eyes were simply staring at the windows and the bright yellow light coming from them. Though, before she could get close enough, a voice boomed from around her.
“Jula! How dare you trespass on my property!”
“I… I… wa-was…” Jula stuttered, trying to get the words out that wouldn’t come. She desperately wanted to explain herself. To explain that she had simply come to disprove the rumors, not to poke fun or tease Grenda. Though, the striped Zafara did not give her time to explain her motives.
“Have you come to have a go at Grenda the Mad? Grenda the Old Woman? Grenda the Witch?” The voice was loud and it seemed to be coming from everywhere, though Jula could not see Grenda. “Well, Jula, now people will have a go at you! You will be the talk of the town rather than me!”
There was a bright flash and Jula shielded her eyes as she felt something warm engulf her. Before she could scream for help, she felt a tingling in her toes. Soon, it consumed her feet and her legs. A few seconds later, she was moving, by no will of her own.
“Dance, Jula!” Grenda cackled, the laughter filling the woods, but consumed by the echoing thunder. Jula’s eyes went wide as she realized what was going on. Her legs were moving and she was dancing, but she had no control over it. “At night you shall sleep, but during your waking hours, you shall dance instead!”
“Grenda, please! I didn’t come to-” Jula began to plead as she did a pirouette and then leapt through the air. Tears brimmed her eyelids as she tried to explain herself. She loved to dance, but being creative and having her own will about how she did it meant so much to her. Living her life dancing for eternity didn’t seem awful, but that didn’t make it right.
The voice was gone, though, and with its leaving came the rain pouring from the sky. The lights in the house vanished and even though Jula attempted to dance towards it, she could never get close enough for some reason. Her new skirt was soaked, as well as the rest of her clothes, and she woefully began to dance home.
As soon as she reached her house, she wanted to wake her parents and tell them what had transpired. But, the minute she stepped inside, she felt sleep take over and she couldn’t help but fall asleep almost immediately upon reaching her bedroom. And as she slept, she dreamed. And as she dreamed, she began to think that everything that had just happened had been an awful nightmare and never really happened.
The next morning Jula woke before the sun had a chance to peek over the horizon. She rubbed her eyes gently, the events of the day before slowly seeping back into the forefront of her mind, rather than laying dormant in her subconscious. She frowned slightly, wondering if it indeed had been a dream.
Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she began to believe she had been dreaming all along. She stood, slipping her feet into a pair of shoes she had kicked off the night before. As she did, she felt the tingling in her feet again and it began to creep up her legs, causing her to dance the same steps she had done the day before. The same routine. Again. Dancing to music that didn’t seem to be there, not even inside her head.
Tears nearly brimmed her eyes again as she twirled. Her brother, a dark brown Aisha, walked by her bedroom door, shuffling his feet in his slippers and rubbing his eyes tiredly. He saw her dancing and raised an eyebrow, “Isn’t it a little early, Jula?”
“I can’t stop! Help, Daren! You have to help!” She took a bow and started from the beginning as she attempted to explain to her brother what had happened. “Grenda did this. Grenda put a spell on me!”
Daren’s jaw dropped as what Jula had said went through his mind. He immediately turned to get their parents, who came rushing into Jula’s room as she was spinning in a circle, seemingly endlessly. Her father, a purple Aisha, darted forward and tried to hold her down to see if she would stop. Nothing helped and her feet kept moving regardless if anyone was holding them or not.
“We have to do something,” her father whispered to her mother, a yellow Aisha. Her mother was pacing back and forth, attempting to come up with a solution to their problem. The day wore on and no one did any of their normal chores, nor did they go into town to sell their crops.
Later in the evening, as Jula was beginning to tire, Daren offered, “Maybe I should go see if I can find Tolian, that Wizard that came through here a couple of years ago, remember him?”
“It’s worth a shot,” Jula’s father commented, deciding to let his son go on a journey to find the wizard to see if he could counter the spell that Grenda had placed on Jula. Daren was gone for weeks, traveling to find the weary grey Tonu that had passed through on his way to Altador. Jula had begun to give up hope when her brother returned with the wizard by his side.
He was brought immediately to Jula. He watched her dance silently for a few moments with his hand on his chin, seemingly taking in the situation. “Grenda did this?” he asked rhetorically. He could tell that it was her work; he could feel the mark of her spell. Raising his long, thin staff in the air, Tolian closed his eyes and muttered an incantation.
Jula’s family waited with bated breath for the results. When Jula continued to dance, they looked sorrowfully to Tolian, who only shook his head and said, “Unfortunately this is not a spell I can counter. Grenda cursed Jula and a curse such as this may only be broken by the caster.”
All hope seemed to drain from their eyes as Tolian bid them farewell. There was nothing he could do to help.
“What now?” Jula asked nervously. Her moving feet had become annoying and she was beginning to regret her love of dancing. She had never wanted to tire of it, but there was nothing she could do about it now. She loved it and now hated it at the same time. What she wanted desperately was her own will back. Jula wanted to dance when she wanted to and what she wanted to.
“I think it is time we called a town meeting,” Jula’s father decided, a very serious look on his face. “It is time we did something about Grenda. We cannot let this behavior continue.”
Jula stared at her father with apprehension on her face. She wasn’t sure she liked the idea of the entire town getting involved in her situation. What if they made it worse? She couldn’t bear to think of what else Grenda might do to her, or her family, because of this. Though, she could not convince her father to abandon the town meeting and once she had arrived and shown her fellow townspeople what she was cursed with, they rallied with her.
“Our children are scared of her with good reason! It’s time to end it! She can’t curse us all!” a voice shouted from the back.
“Let’s go!” another shouted from the side.
The townspeople marched towards Grenda’s home, angry and wanting a solution to the problem. Jula was at the front with her parents, dancing as she led the way. The last thing she wanted was something bad to happen and the more Jula thought about it, the more she decided that this could be an opportunity to prove what she had set out to prove that day Grenda had cursed her.
That there was good in Grenda too.
The mob of people reached her house and the striped Zafara came out, leaning on her staff as she approached them. She had a wicked look on her face and was nearly snarling with laughter. The people did not frighten her and she only cackled when she saw Jula at the forefront, dancing her eternal dance for them all to see.
“Enjoying the show?” Grenda smirked as the crowd seethed across from her. Though, no one dared step forward. No one, save Hari.
“You evil witch! Look what you have done to her! She defended you and you cursed her!” Hari shouted, moving closer and closer to Grenda. Grenda had not been expecting anyone to approach her and she stared at Hari in confusion.
“That girl came to tease me…” she retorted, more to make herself believe it than it being the truth.
Hari shook his head as he spoke again, “She was the only one that would have never teased you!”
“I was never a bad witch. You all made me a bad witch!”
“But Jula did not make you the way you are!” Hari replied, trying his best to make Grenda see reason, rather than be blinded by the past. “Jula wanted everyone to know that the stories were made up and false! You only proved them right!” He was seething with his own anger as he glanced at his best friend, doomed to dance steps that were not her own forever. “Show them that they are wrong! Undo this!”
Grenda glared at Hari and continued to stand there in front of nearly the entire town. Everyone was silent as they waited. Finally, Grenda raised her staff and tapped the ground twice. Jula collapsed on the ground and Hari rushed towards her.
“Thank you, Grenda,” Jula said, her legs weak from the countless hours of tapping and twirling. Hari helped her stand and her mother came to the other side of her. “I knew those stories weren’t true.”
Jula smiled to Grenda, though the witch did not smile in reply. She simply gave Jula a nod of her head and turned, retreating back into her house. Glad that the curse had been lifted, the townspeople and Jula left the wood and Grenda alone, though they never would have reason to visit her home again. She was never seen thereafter and never cursed anyone in the town again.
And the story of Jula and her encounter with Grenda passed on for generations to come.
* * *
“The end…” Teyla whispered as she closed the book in her lap. Turning her head slowly to the side she noticed that Remy was fast asleep, like she always was at the end of a story. Teyla wasn’t even sure that Remy had heard the end of this tale, despite it being her favorite.