Hay in a Needlestack

Eloise creeped carefully down the hallway, her small feet filling the width of each board as she avoided the cracks. She could hear the thump, thump, thump of Lady Gladdis searching the halls. Frantically, Eloise ran into the library looking for a place to hide. In swift movement she ran and ducked behind the couch. But her foot caught the leg of the side table and her mother’s favorite vase teetered back in forth in slow motion before tumbling and shattering on the floor.

She froze. Silence. Lady Gladdis must be in another room. Eloise began picking up the shards of porcelain, unsure of what excuse she would be able to give to her mother. She’d used all her good ones. Eloise reached for some broken pieces that had disappeared beneath the couch. She crouched down low. In the dark and dusty underbelly of the furniture she saw a glimmer of gold. She reached out, fingers stretching till she got a hold of what seemed to be a book. With the bottoms of her feet on both sides of the couch she gave one sharp tug, almost toppling over as the book popped out.

It was unlike any book she had seen on her shelves. The binding was worn leather with ornate and fantastical pictures on the front, gilded in faded gold. Eloise peeked her head around the side of the couch. All clear. She could hear Lady Gladdis snoring a few doors down (the big oaf!).  Mother and Father were away at a fair for a public appearance. Time was on her side.

Eloise nuzzled into the back of the couch and opened the book. It was full of things she’d never heard before—strange-looking animals in vivid color, evil queens and strong men on horseback. Eloise turned the page to a story called “Sleeping Beauty.” The lady in the picture had long blonde hair and rosy lips. She lay still on a bed that looked an awful lot like mother’s. Come to think of it, the lady looked like mother too, but younger, and sad. But that’s silly, thought Eloise. Mother grew up in a cottage in the woods. She said she never lived in a castle till she met, Father. On and on Eloise read—about spindles and witches and towers and curses—each page looking more familiar than the last. Eloise peaked above the couch and looked out the window and saw the far tower, still there, and still forbidden. She looked at the book, and back and forth again. She swore they were the same. And what if they were? What if there was a spindle in her tower too? She had to find out.

Quietly, she picked up the book, shoved the rest of the broken porcelain vase below the rug. She tip-toed out of the library, past a snoring Lady Gladdis and then sprinted down the corridor. Eloise wove in and out of halls, deep into the west wing of her large mansion, conferring with the guide map in her hands. Finally, she found the small wooden door leading up to the tower. Timidly, she pushed it open.

The stairway was cold and grey. Eloise held the book close to her chest as she climbed up the spiral steps, winding ever closer. Finally, she came to a landing. Before her stood a green door with rusted handles, matching the one in her book. Eloise had to jiggle the handle until she heard a click. She opened the door slowly and peaked her head around the door. It opened to a small room and in the center, no spindle or witch, but only a pile of needles, glistening like jewels in a cave.

Eloise knelt down beside the pile and set her book beside her. Something gold caught her eye.  She leaned closer and reached out, picking up a single golden strand of hay. Ow! Blood dripped onto the golden strand. Eloise looked up and the room became fuzzy. Slowly, as if in a trance, she fell to the floor, her cheek touching the cold stone, and the single golden hay, lay dangling in her pricked finger.

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