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The Magic Princess Dress, страница 1


The Magic Princess Dress

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The Magic Princess Dress

  Illustrated by Jessie Eckel



















  It was Ava’s mum who had suggested Ava take her fairytale book with her when she went to stay with her dad. Ava’s mother had read to her from the book on many occasions and Ava always enjoyed listening to her animated voice bringing to life the entertaining – if unlikely – adventures of the various fairytale characters. Ava found the book extra-comforting now as she curled up on her bed at Dad’s house to read her favourite story, about Cinderella. With any luck she would manage to forget for a little while that her mum was so far away.

  Of all the storybook’s heroines, Ava loved Cinderella the best. She wasn’t sure why, but maybe it was because Cinderella seemed more believable at the start of her story than some of the other characters did at the starts of theirs. After all, in real life, nobody lived with seven dwarfs like Snow White – or lived in a witch’s tower, with hair as long as Rapunzel’s. But losing your mother and having her replaced with a cruel stepmother and two horrible stepsisters was something Ava could imagine happening in real life. And because of that she always felt more drawn to Cinderella than to any of the other fairytale princesses. Of course the whole story became completely fanciful as soon as Cinderella’s fairy godmother appeared and started waving her magic wand about, but by then Ava was always totally captivated. And time and time again she found herself being utterly charmed by Cinderella’s magical transformation into the beautiful fairytale princess.

  On this occasion, however, Ava found that she couldn’t escape into the world of Cinderella as completely as she usually did. She couldn’t seem to keep her mind on the story – and it wasn’t just because she was missing Mum. The thing that was really bothering her was that Cindy, her cat, whom she had brought with her to Dad’s house, had gone missing a few days earlier.

  If only I had a fairy godmother who could magic Cindy back again, Ava thought, as she put down the book halfway through the story.

  Her gaze fell on the little pile of CAT MISSING posters she had made using Dad’s computer. There was a description of Cindy printed on each one, together with Ava’s mobile-phone number and her dad’s address in case anyone found her. Ava had already put up several posters on lamp posts in the streets around Dad’s house.

  Perhaps now would be a good time to go and see if she could put some up in the windows of the local village shops, she thought. After all, in real life there was no such thing as magic to help you out when you had a problem – and that meant that the only thing to do was to try and solve the problem for yourself.

  She didn’t bother to ask her dad – who was working in his study – if it was OK for her to go to the high street. Instead she wrote him a short note saying that she had gone out to look for Cindy, which she left on the kitchen table. It was Dad who had absent-mindedly left the back door open, letting Cindy escape into the garden. To make matters worse, Cindy’s collar had fallen off – they had discovered it in the grass afterwards – so even if somebody had found her by now, they wouldn’t know where she belonged. It had happened the day after Ava had arrived, and even though her dad obviously hadn’t let Cindy out on purpose, Ava still felt angry with him. Both Ava and her mum had told him Cindy would have to be kept inside for the first few days to give her a chance to get used to her new environment – and he had promised he would be careful.

  The trouble with Dad was that he never really listened to what you told him, thought Ava, as she left the house and set off towards the main street in the village. He was always thinking about something else, usually something to do with the books he wrote – all about historical times.

  Just as Ava was stopping to peer over a wall into an overgrown front garden, which was just the sort of hiding place Cindy would like, her mobile phone started ringing.

  ‘Ava?’ It was Dad and he sounded worried. ‘Where are you?’

  ‘On that little side road that leads off yours – the one that goes towards the high street,’ Ava told him. ‘I thought I’d go and see if any of the shops in the village will put a poster of Cindy up in their windows. Oh!’ As she looked up she could see a small corner shop a little further along the road. ‘There’s a shop on this street as well. Maybe I can put one of my posters up in its window.’

  There was a sharp intake of breath at the other end.

  ‘Dad, are you still there?’

  ‘Yes. Listen. I want you to come home right now.’

  ‘No, Dad,’ Ava protested, ‘I need to stick these leaflets about Cindy in as many shop windows as I can.’

  ‘Ava, you are not to go into the shop on that street. Do you hear me?’

  ‘But why?’ Ava was surprised. Generally her father didn’t seem to care what she did as long as she kept out of his way when he was busy working.

  ‘Never mind why.’ Dad’s voice sounded unusually heated now. ‘Just do as I say. Come home now and I’ll help you with those leaflets later.’

  ‘OK, OK . . .’ she grumbled, nearly adding, ‘Keep your hair on!’ which was what she often said to Mum when she got into a flap unnecessarily about something. But she stopped herself because she wasn’t sure how her dad would react if she were to tease him like that. She knew her mum so much better than her dad. After all, until this summer she had spent the whole nine years of her life living with Mum, only seeing her father two or three times a year for the occasional weekend. As she had pointed out to Mum on the way here in the car, Dad felt more like a distant relative than a father.

  ‘Which is why it’s great that you’re going to stay with him this summer,’ her mother had replied.

  ‘I still wish you weren’t going away for a whole six weeks,’ Ava had said, frowning. ‘I’m really going to miss you.’

  ‘And I’ll miss you, darling, but this sailing trip is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. And your dad misses you too, you know. He wants to spend this time with you.’

  ‘No he doesn’t,’ Ava had said crossly. ‘All he has time for are those stupid history books he writes.’

  ‘Ava, that’s not true,’ Mum had replied gently.

  But Ava hadn’t been sure if she believed her.

  Now, as she slipped the phone back into her pocket, Ava couldn’t understand why her father was making such a fuss. She had kept walking as she talked to him and she was already right outside the little corner shop – which looked like it sold second-hand clothes.

  On the wooden board above the window the name of the shop – MARIETTA’S – was painted in large curly lettering, and the window display consisted of a solitary mannequin wearing a fuzzy blonde wig and an extremely faded, hideously unfashionable blue sequinned dress. From what Ava could see through the dirty windowpane, the clothing inside wasn’t much better.

  Ava was about to leave when she spotted a little card taped to the glass door just below the ‘open’ sign.

  Printed on the card in large clear lettering were the words: FEMALE TABBY CAT FOUND. ENQUIRE WITHIN.

  ‘Cindy!’ Ava gasped, and totally forgetting everything else, she tried the door handle. The door opened at once setting off a little bell inside the shop.

  Suddenly feeling sick in case the cat that had been found wasn’t Cindy, Ava tried to stay calm as she looked around. She was standing in the small front section of the shop, which had a round clothes rack in the centre, full of the sort of second-hand clothes typically found in c
harity shops. Along one wall another rack was partly filled with dusty-looking old coats and jackets. The shop was half empty of stock, and what there was looked like it had been there for a very long time.

  Oh, please let Cindy be here, Ava thought desperately.

  In the centre of the back wall was a small archway, which presumably led through to the next room, but Ava wasn’t sure if that room was also part of the shop or whether it was private. A multicoloured beaded curtain hung in the arch, preventing Ava from seeing through.

  Ava was just wondering whether to call out to let whoever ran the shop know that she was there, when the curtain moved and a smiling young woman appeared.

  The woman was slim with pale skin, green eyes and long, wavy, copper-coloured hair that fell to her waist. She looked ten years or so younger than Ava’s parents – in her late twenties maybe – and she wore a long flowing orange dress with big red flowers on it. Her sandals were also orange and she had a stunning necklace made of amber-coloured beads.

  ‘Welcome,’ the woman said, smiling at Ava cheerfully. ‘I am Marietta. How can I help you?’

  ‘I just read the notice in your window,’ Ava mumbled shyly. ‘I’ve lost my cat and I think you might have found her.’

  ‘Really?’ The young woman was beaming now. ‘What’s your name?’


  ‘Ava! Such a pretty name! How long ago did you lose your cat, Ava?’

  ‘It’s been four days. My dad accidently let her out into the garden. I only just came to stay with him and I think she must have got lost. She’s a tabby cat with a white bit on her front paw. Does the one you found have a white bit on her front paw?’

  ‘Yes, I think she does.’ And Marietta turned and disappeared through the beaded curtain without saying whether Ava should follow her or not.

  Feeling curious, Ava followed as far as the archway before hesitating. She could hear Marietta calling, ‘Come here, puss! Oh . . . where are you? You were here a minute ago!’

  ‘Maybe she’ll come if I call her!’ Ava suggested through the curtain.

  ‘Of course! Come and help me look! I know she’s here somewhere.’

  So Ava pushed through the beaded partition and found herself in a very different room indeed.

  ‘Wow!’ she burst out, hardly able to believe that she was still in the same shop.

  Marietta laughed. ‘Do you like it?’ she said. As Ava nodded enthusiastically Marietta added, ‘I only let special customers get to see my real shop! First let’s find your cat – then I’ll show you round!’


  The room Ava had stepped into seemed like it belonged in another shop entirely. Right in the centre there was a small gold spiral staircase that led both upwards and downwards. Another door – which was closed – looked like it led even further back inside the shop, and in one corner there was a small changing cubicle with a gold sparkly curtain pulled across the front.

  The walls were beautifully painted with scenes from fairytales – Rapunzel in her white tower with her long gold plait hanging down, a red-lipped Sleeping Beauty lying on a massive four-poster bed, waiting for her prince to come and wake her up, and Prince Charming on a white horse holding a glass slipper on his way to find Cinderella.

  Along one wall was a rail filled with exquisite-looking full-length dresses of every fabric, colour and design imaginable. Ava couldn’t help staring at them in awe because each one looked fit for a princess to wear. A second wall had shelves from floor to ceiling, each shelf holding a different piece of fairytale costume. The top shelf had velvet hats trimmed with fur and cone-shaped hats with fancy ribbons or flowing scarves attached to the peaks. The shelf below had beautiful bonnets and pretty straw hats trimmed with ribbon. The next shelf down was stacked with different gold, bejewelled crowns and tiaras. Then came a shelf filled with brightly coloured scarves and another piled high with pairs of gloves – black lacy ones, long white ones and colourful silk ones. The two bottom shelves contained nothing but footwear. There were brightly coloured dancing shoes decorated at the front with bows or silk flowers or miniature fans, soft slippers with embroidery around the edge, little pointy-toed ankle boots made of shiny red leather, knee-length boots with fur trimming round the top, rainbow-coloured sandals that had little jewels set into the straps, and there was even a pair of solid gold flip-flops (which didn’t look very floppy!).

  Ava’s gaze fell on Marietta, who was crawling on her hands and knees on the floor searching under the skirts of all the dresses, calling, ‘Here, kitty!’

  ‘Her name’s Cindy,’ Ava said, squatting down to help look. ‘Are you sure she’s in this room?’

  ‘This was the last place I saw her, but I suppose she could have taken herself off into one of the other rooms by now.’

  ‘How many other rooms have you got?’ Ava asked in surprise, since the shop really didn’t look all that big.

  ‘Oh – I’ve lost count,’ Marietta replied vaguely. ‘It’s a bit like a Tardis, this shop – much bigger on the inside than it seems from the outside.’ She gave a strange sort of smile. ‘Now . . . where can your little cat have gone? I haven’t had any of the doors or windows open so she can’t have escaped that way. Of course she might be hiding because she’s trying to catch a mouse. There are an awful lot of mice in this building.’

  Ava looked quickly around the floor, remembering what her mother had told her when she’d once asked how you could tell if a house had mice. ‘I don’t see any droppings anywhere,’ she pointed out.

  ‘Oh, the mice wouldn’t come in here! This is my fairytale room – they’d be afraid they might get turned into white horses or something!’ When Ava looked puzzled she added, ‘You know – like in the story of Cinderella where the fairy godmother turns the pumpkin into a golden carriage and the mice into four white horses.’

  Ava didn’t know what to say to that, until Marietta smiled to show she had been joking. Ava smiled too then and said, ‘It’s an amazing shop. Where did you get all these beautiful clothes?’

  ‘Oh, different places.’ Marietta got to her feet and started to pull out some of the dresses to show Ava. ‘I made these ones,’ she said, showing Ava two dresses that were identical apart from one being pink and the other blue. They both had fitted bodices with high waists and long full skirts with underskirts beneath, and wide sleeves trimmed with gold braid at the cuffs.

  ‘You must be very clever,’ Ava said. ‘My mum can’t sew to save her life, and she says she really envies people who can.’

  ‘I use a special type of thread,’ Marietta said. ‘That helps a lot.’

  ‘Really?’ Ava waited to see if she was going to elaborate, but Marietta seemed to be finished with her explanation.

  ‘Even my Barbie doll hasn’t got dresses as beautiful as these,’ Ava said as a particularly stunning gold dress with gold beads sewn into the skirt caught her eye. ‘And she’s a Barbie princess, so her clothes are really gorgeous!’

  Marietta laughed.

  Ava was just going to ask her who actually bought these dresses when they heard a faint miaow coming from above their heads.

  ‘Cindy!’ Ava gasped.

  ‘Come on,’ Marietta instructed, leading the way up the gold spiral staircase. ‘She must have gone up to my fairytale-wedding section.’

  ‘Fairytale wedding?’ Ava queried.

  ‘Yes. You aren’t planning to be a bridesmaid any time soon, are you? If so then I’ve got just the right dress for you.’

  Ava shook her head. ‘I’ve never been to a wedding,’ she said. ‘Except my mum and dad’s, but that was when I was a baby so I don’t remember it. Mum says it was just a small wedding, which was just as well because they split up a year later.’

  Marietta paused on her way up the stairs. ‘It is very sad that your parents split up so soon. Do you still see both of them?’

  ‘I live with my mum,’ Ava explained, ‘and I don’t see Dad that often usually, but Mum’s just gone away and left me with him for t
he whole of the school holidays.’ She paused and added in a quieter voice, ‘This will be the longest time Mum and I have ever been apart.’

  ‘Are you missing her?’ Marietta asked sympathetically.

  Ava nodded, biting her lip.

  ‘But now you and your father have the opportunity to get to know each other better,’ Marietta continued brightly. ‘That’s a good thing, isn’t it?’

  ‘Maybe,’ Ava said. Something about Marietta made Ava want to tell her more, and for a few seconds she totally forgot Cindy as she gushed, ‘Though I’m not sure he wants to get to know me better. Mum’s tried to arrange for me to stay with him for longer before, but he’s always been too busy. He spends half his time going off on long expeditions to places where he can do research for his books, and the rest of his time writing the books. Only I don’t reckon any of them can be any good, because none of them are ever for sale in the shops whenever I go with Mum to have a look.’

  Marietta looked thoughtful. ‘What about you, Ava? Would you like to get to know him better?’

  Ava frowned, thinking about her father, who always seemed so different from her friends’ dads, and much more distant.

  ‘Well . . . yes . . .’ she admitted. ‘The problem is, I’m just not sure how.’

  ‘Oh, you’ll find a way – don’t worry about that,’ Marietta said, smiling at Ava before continuing up the spiral stairs to the room above. ‘Oh, gosh,’ she blurted as she reached the top.

  ‘Wow!’ Ava gasped.

  There were even more beautiful dresses in this room than there had been in the one below, but what really shocked Ava was the strange golden light bathing the room. It was as if a multitude of sunbeams were coming in from all different directions.

  ‘What is it?’ Ava whispered.

  ‘It’s a . . . well . . . a . . . a thing that happens here sometimes,’ Marietta murmured, ‘but I don’t know how it can have –’ She suddenly broke off as she noticed that one of the dresses on a nearby rack had slipped from its hanger on to the floor. She bent down to pick up the dress, which was a child-sized emerald-and-gold-coloured bridesmaid’s dress with a pretty beaded bodice and a full skirt decorated with big floppy gold bows. ‘Look. One of the bows has been pulled off,’ she said, pointing at a piece of loose gold thread on the skirt.

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