Deep in the forest amongst the tall oak trees, is a log cabin where a family once made a home. There is also a little play house at the edge of the clearing, where a little girl named Tess once played. Nearby you could hear the bees buzzing, as they gathered pollen. The family moved away long ago and now the cabin stands vacant. The only witnesses, to the life that once existed there are locked inside an old chest. They were placed there by Tess for safe keeping.
Tess was the middle child of five siblings and soon would celebrate her twelfth birthday. It was hard for Tess to relate to her family, because she had many dreams, while her family remained content with what they had. Each day she would go off by herself and pretend to be royalty or someone famous anyone, but herself. Not a day went by that her parents didn’t have to go search for her, as she strolled through the woods in her own little world.
It was on one of her adventurous days, as she played near a beautiful waterfall not far from the cabin, that something special happened. Little did Tess realize how the events unfolding would impact her life forever. No longer totally absorbed in her own little world and awaiting to be transformed.
When Tess awoke that morning, it was no different from any other day. Although it was the first day of summer and unusually hot. After breakfast she snuck away to walk in the woods and daydream, as usual. The waterfall was so beautiful today. The water sparkled, as it gushed its way into billows of misty waves, before slowly settling into a huge pool of water where she swam. Tess could see a flock of birds dancing about the trees above. She imagined for a moment, that she too could fly. Suddenly, her thoughts were interrupted by a strange noise. She was surprised to see a rabbit busily chewing on clover. “Oh! you noisy rabbit!, Tess exclaimed. “I’ll get you.” Tess pulled herself to the far bank. As she approached the rabbit, it sat up straight and looked from side to side in a comical manner. This amused Tess. She laughed out loud sending the rabbit scurrying into the brush. She followed in hot pursuit only to have the little creature vanish. Kneeling at the edge of the brush Tess pulled back the weeds with her hands, hoping to get a look at the little intruder. Imagine her surprise, when she found a large opening, that looked like it might be the entrance to an old cave.
Her excitement immediately sparked a daydream. She imagined selling tickets to her new discovery. How rich she would be! At that moment the rabbit scurried into view, but this time Tess wasn’t so interested in chasing it. Instead her only interest was to explore the cave. She would need a light though, because the cave was very dark! Remembering that her father kept his flashlight tucked safely away in his toolbox, Tess went home to get it and then began quietly sneaking around searching for it.
Tess hoped to go unnoticed by her family. If they saw her she’d probably have to stay at home and do her chores. Chores were not high on her list of priorities today. She could see her mother and sisters hanging the laundry out to dry and hear her father and brothers chopping wood. She’d have to be careful.
Once she found the flashlight, she snuck into the bedroom she shared with her two younger sisters. There she emptied the toys out of her red wagon. After all she’d need something to cart back all the riches she’d uncover. What if she found a gold mine or diamonds! She would be the richest girl in the world! Tess laughed with delight at the thought.
Soon Tess found herself kneeling before the opening of the cave once more. Shining the light into the opening she was disappointed to discover that the cave wasn’t as big as she thought. In fact, it was little more than a big hole. Suddenly the beam from the flashlight uncovered a peculiar box. “What have we here?” Tess whispered out loud. Through a covering of dust and cobwebs Tess could see that the box was intricately carved with foliage design and had a large gold handle on each side. It appeared quite old. “maybe an antique” she thought, as her excitement grew once more. Tess carefully stretched her hand into the opening and grabbing the chest by one handle pulled it through the opening. Once again she was disappointed, because the box felt light. “a treasure chest full of gold and jewels should be much heavier than this”, she said mumbled to herself then added, “But maybe there’s a treasure map inside!” she knew she had to get her discovery back to play house for closer inspection right away.
As Tess approached the playhouse she was careful not to be seen or heard by her brothers or sisters. She quietly pulled the wagon through the back entrance. Then carefully lifting the box out of the wagon, lowered it to the floor and sat looking at her next roadblock. A heavy lock hung from the clasp securing the box and preventing it from being opened. “Whoever had taken the time to hide this box and place this strong lock on it must be hiding something very special.” The suspense caused goose bumps to rise on her arms and sudden chills run down her spine. She was sure the lock wouldn’t be too difficult to remove. She would simply saw it off.
Three days passed and Tess had not been able to remove the lock from the box. Her secret still remained in her play house and each day she would saw a little more. As she sat at the breakfast table this dark and dreary morning her parents began discussing an upcoming trip to the city. The family only made the long trip into the city for special needs like food, clothing or doctor visits. No one was sick, so Tess assumed this would be a shopping trip. As her brothers began begging for the new radio they wanted and her younger sisters sat oblivious to the conversation, Tess noticed her father remained rather quiet. Father normally spoke up and set the rules for when luxuries such as radios or toys could or could not be purchased on the trips to the city. Today, however, he sat quietly with his head down while mother handled the details.
But, soon she was distracted by her thoughts of her treasure and she quickly excused herself and returned to her play house. “One more try” Tess said out loud. Although her hands were sore and blistered, she’d try to saw this darn lock off one more time. She had to see what was in this box! Taking a deep breath, she picked up the saw and began to move it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth against the lock. Suddenly, the saw broke through the lock causing Tess, and the saw, to drop to the ground.
The moment of truth was here. “Treasure or treasure map?” Tess whispered, “Just let it be something valuable!” Nervously. she removed the remaining lock and carefully lifted the lid of the chest. A horrible musty smell, worse than her brothers dirty old socks, drifted out of the chest causing her to gasp and turn her head away. “Yuk!” Tess exclaimed. Forcing herself to peer into the chest, she discovered a large book with a wooden cover adorned with the same intricate pattern on the box. Carefully lifting the book out of the chest, she began to dust it off. As she opened the cover of the book a little cough came out of the book blowing dust into her face. Startled, she jumped up and gasping, brushed the dirt from her eyes. Tess stood frozen in disbelief, looking down at the book that now lay at her feet. There sitting in the book and still coughing from the dust, was a paper doll dressed in old fashioned clothing. Tess began to slowly back away from her discovery, which now frightened her. When her back hit the wall of the play house and she couldn’t move back any further, she slid down the wall until she found herself sitting on the floor and staring in awe at this living creature.
“You’re alive!” she heard herself say. As she slowly mustered up the courage, she crawled back to the book in time to hear, “If living is as this, no, I’m NOT alive.” At that moment the little paper doll looked up at Tess and little paper tears began falling from her sad blue eyes. Suddenly, Tess’s feelings of fear were replaced with overwhelming empathy and compassion. These feelings were new to Tess. Until now, she only worried about herself. What did Tess want? What did Tess need? But now she thought only of this poor creature. The hopelessness she felt from the little paper doll quickly brought tears to Tess’s eyes.
Tess was struck by the beauty of the little paper lady. Her cream colored, old fashioned dress was long and flowing. She wore her dark hair in a bun, which she neatly tucked under her matching hat. A pale blue flower hung from the hat, adding a bit of grace and sophistication. She was lovely. “Who are you?” Tess asked. A soft voice answered, “I am Princess, the daughter of a lumberjack who cuts wood here in this forest.” the little doll began. “Long ago I fell in love with the son of the forest witch. When the witch found out, she put a spell on me turning me into a paper doll and cursed me to a life in this book. When my true love heard he was so saddened that he ran out of the forest vowing never to return. This enraged the witch. To punish me further, she turned my entire family into paper dolls too and placed them in this book filled with evil paper dolls Please help us!” begged Princess.
Tess ran to find a pair of scissors and quickly, but carefully returned to the play house and began cutting the paper dolls from the pages one by one. Soon Princess and her family were free from the pages that bound them. The paper dolls stretched their paper bodies and dance around the playhouse celebrating their freedom from the witch’s book.
In the next few weeks, Tess spent a lot of time talking to her new friends. They tried to think of ways to break the witch’s spell, but no idea they came up with would work. Soon the day came for the family’s trip to the big city. Tess explained to her new friends that it was a short trip, but she would return to help them. They understood and wished her a safe trip.
Once they arrived in the city, Tess’s mother explained that they would not be returning to their little home in the woods. Their mother would need to take a job in the city and their father would need to stay close to the doctors, so they could help him. Tess’s mother announced that she and the boys would return to the cabin to pack up their belongings, while the girls remained in the city with their father. “No,” Tess thought, “my friends need me. I have to return to the woods and help them break the witch’s evil spell!” Tess begged her mother to let her accompany her on the trip back to the woods. Finally, her mother agreed to let Tess come along.
Once back in the woods, Tess hurried to her friends to tell them the horrible news. Explaining she could not take them with, because someone would find them and they may get hurt. They cried paper tears, which landed on the floor and looked so much like confetti. Tess promised she’d return to them as soon as possible to help them break the evil spell. “I promise we’ll break this spell and someday you’ll be real again.” She gently lowered each sad paper doll into the box and with a last sad, tearful “goodbye”, carefully closed the lid. Then pulling up the floor boards, she lowered the box into the hole. “You’ll be safe here. The witch will never find you” Tess reassured them. She carefully replaced the floor boards and placed a rug over the hiding place. As she was leaving the play house she spied the wooden book that still contained the evil paper dolls. Picking it up, she wrapped it in an old blanket and tucked it under her arms. She would carry the book with her, so that the evil dolls would not escape and hurt her friends.
The years passed, but Tess never forgot about the paper doll in the box hidden beneath the floor boards of her play house in the woods. It saddened her to think of them there all alone and feeling she’d forgotten them. That wasn’t the case at all. Many times she attempted to return, but she’d stand at the edge of the woods, staring through the thick dark brush, unable to remember how to get to the old homestead.
Time passed and soon Tess grew into a woman. She eventually married and had a child of her own, a boy she named Prince. Tess’s mother was always quick to point out how much Prince was like Tess as a child, although Tess was unable to see the similarities. Each evening she would tell Prince stories she’d make up as she went along. Her favorite was the story of the paper doll princess. However, she could never let her son know this was a true story. A story with no ending. So, each time she’d tell this particular story, she’d invent a new happy ending.
Before she knew it Tess found herself a widow with a grown son. After her husband passed away, Tess’s thoughts began to return to the woods and how she longed to go back to her old home. She thought of her paper doll friends and how long they waited for that promise made by a little girl, so many years ago, to come true. Her son, although still a day dreamer like his mother, was not as open-minded as Tess had been.
One night Tess became ill. As her illness progressed and she took to her bed, she began to fear that she might die without ever having rescued her little friends. She sent for Prince and explained that she had something very important to tell him. As the young man sat in the chair holding his mother’s hand in his she began, “Prince, what I am about to tell you is the truth, so listen carefully” She continued, “Remember the story I told you as a child about a paper doll princess?” “Yes mother,” he acknowledged, “I remember the story well. Every time I heard it I would have nightmares.” Tess then explained that except for the happy endings the story was true. A paper doll princess did exist, and Tess was the little girl in the story.
Prince looked sadly at his mother and lowered his eyes to the floor. He was sure she was becoming senile. Tess could tell by the look on her sons face that he did not believe her. “Prince, please believe me. What I’m saying is true, as true as the color of your brown shirt and there will be no happy ending until the paper doll and her family are free. There has to be a way to break the witch’s spell! But, I’ve grown too old now, it’s up to you.” Prince still did not believe his mother, but decided to go along with this outrageous story non the less, to appease her and keep her happy. “Mother, what will you have me do?”
Tess knew she’d have to convince her son that this was real before she could expect him to go into the woods. She sent him to the attic to fetch the witch’s book. The one she wrapped in a blanket, tucked under her arm and carried out of the woods as a young girl. “In the attic there’s an old cedar chest. Open it and you’ll find an old wooden book wrapped in a blanket. Remove it from the chest and look inside. But, be careful not to remove any of the paper dolls still inside. They are evil.” Prince was very skeptical, but headed up to the attic anyways.
Once in the attic, he spotted the cedar chest almost immediately. It was under a stack of boxes. After taking everything off the top of the chest, he opened the lid. There he saw an old blanket. Removing the blanket, he unwrapped the intricately carved wooden book his mother just told him about. As he slowly opened the book he discovered empty spaces where the paper dolls once were. The figures had been carefully cut out of the pages.
Suddenly he turned a page and found a paper doll still intact. It was a crotchety old man in dirty tattered clothes. As he looked at the doll he thought he saw it wink. “How absurd!” he thought and he blinked to clear his vision. The old paper doll blinked again, wrinkling his nose a bit. This time Prince knew what he saw! He dropped the book and ran from the attic, his heart pounding. He stood in the hallway outside the attic trying to catch his breath. Could this be true?” he thought out loud. He began to realize that the story he’d been told as a child was actually his mother’s utterly fantastic, but unbelievable, deep, dark secret.
Prince took a few moments to catch his breath. After he calmed down a bit he got up his courage and returned to the attic and retrieved the book. He carefully carried the book back to his mother’s room., being certain not to accidentally let it fall from his grasp. As he returned to her bedside he said. “Mother, I believe you now. I’ve seen the proof. What do you want me to do?”
Tess spent the next few hours explaining to her son every detail of what happened to her that strange and fateful day. He’d need to know the whole truth if he was going to help. Prince listened closely, to his mother’s story. The sadness in her eyes was all that Prince needed to understand the torment she felt and how important it was, that he help the paper dolls. He realized that the curse the witch placed on the poor souls was a powerful one. He shared in his mother’s grief and feeling of desperation. He would search for the paper dolls and fulfill his mother’s promise to them.
As he rose to his feet, he kissed his mother on the forehead and assured her, “It will be done soon mother. You will live to see the day the spell is broken.” The thought of the paper dolls being set free at last warmed Tess’s heart. She smiled warmly at her son and the stress left her face, as if the world had lifted from her shoulder’s.
The next morning Prince began studying anything he could find, that had to do with witchcraft, spells or curses. He spent hours in the library reading the many books they had, but found nothing about spells or curses involving paper dolls. He just couldn’t let his mother down. “Somehow I’ll find the answer.” He thought, remembering the calm look on his mother’s face when he made his promise to her.
Prince returned home to fill his mother in on his plans. Feeling much better now, she helped him pack some supplies. He loaded the supplies into his truck and summoned his best friend, his German Sheppard, “Knothead” to accompany him. Prince didn’t know how long he;d be gone or exactly where he was going. But, Knothead was well trained. Together they’d find the old homestead and the paper dolls. Tess stood by the truck saying her last good-byes to Prince and Knothead. She was very concerned for their safety. “Be careful,” she warned as they drove off, “The witch might still be in the woods.”
At dusk Prince finally arrived at the edge of the forest. He stopped his truck and stared into the thick woods. He reached down and touched the wooden book that lie on the seat next to him, a constant reminder of how real this fairy tale had become. Prince slowly drove his truck through the woods until he came to a clearing. “A perfect place to set up camp for the night.” he said to Knothead. Prince pulled into the clearing, hopped out of his truck and began unloading the supllies he needed that night. “Too bad you can’t help.” he said to his best friend. But, Knothead was too busy chasing a squirrel up a nearby tree. Prince gathered enough wood to start a fire and cooked some dinner for the two. Once dinner was over, he settled back in the orange glow of the campfire and tried to get some rest. He fell asleep thinking of those poor souls, somewhere out there, still under the evil witch’s spell.
Prince woke up the next morning to find Knothead standing over him. Whenthe dog saw his friends eyes open he ran over and began pawing the cooler. “Hungry boy?” Prince said struggling to his feet and taking a long morning strecth. Still half asleep he staggered over and made breakfast. As he and Knothead ate, Prince planned his next step.
Deciding to leave his truck in the clearing, he packed enough supplies for three days in his back pack. Then he set off into the woods with Knothead at his side. Knothead led the way, occasionally stopping to sniff the trail of a rabbit or squirrel. “Hopefully he’ll pick up a scent that will lead us to the cabin.” Prince thought aloud.
Hours into the woods Prince grew very tired. He spotted an old oak tree that had fallen. Judging by the thick moss covering its bark the tree must have been lying there a long time. This would be a great place to rest. Prince nestled on the ground and resting his head on the tree he soon fell asleep. Some time later Prince’s eyes popped open. He looked around and realized Knothead was no where to be found. Scurrying to his feet he began calling the dog. As he called out he had the eerie feeling that he was not alone. The sense that he was being watched made the hair on the back of his head stand up. He turned just as Knothead appeared in the clearing and began to shake himself off from head to toe,sending a spray of water all over Prince. “Knothead!” yelled Prince laughing, You’re getting me all wet!” Just then, he remembered his mother telling him about the waterfall that emptied into a babbling brook not far from the cabin. He listened closely, then ran in the direction of the sound of water falling over the rocks.
As he approached the waterfall excitement burned inside him. If this was the waterfall his mother spoke of then the cabin wasn’t far away. There he’d find the playhouse and the paper dolls.
Prince could see the falls now. As the water fell it cascaded into white foamy bubbles, spraying the rocks and falling in ripples of icy blue. Elated, he threw off his clothes, shoes and dove into the cool, refreshing water. As Prince enjoyed his swim, he was unaware of the danger close by. High above the waterfall, hidden in the thick foliage, the witch stared down at Prince and his dog playfully splashing in the water. Her powers were so keen that she instinctively knew that this must be the son of that little girl who interfered with her spell so many years ago. “He’ll lead me right to those paper dolls,” she cackled to herself, “Once he’s served his purpose, I’ll add him to my book too!”
Knothead jerked his head up and looked into the trees sniffing frantically in the witch’s direction. Seeing the dog’s reaction brought that eerie feeling back to Prince. He looked up, but he saw nothing. Uneasy, he climbed out of the water and grabbing his clothing ran further into the woods to get dressed. The witch looked down at the dog that had almost given her away and snarled, “That dog will look cute in paper too.”
Unaware that he was being followed Prince headed even deeper into the woods. Soon he saw the cabin. There, right behind the cabin, was the playhouse his mother had described. He hesitated and took a deep breath. Mustering up the courage to face this strange part of his mother’s past would be harder than he thought.
Under the floorboards of the playhouse Princesss sat in the musty box staring into darkness. No-one in the box had spoken a word in years. The paper tears were all used up long ago and now even their souls were reduced to paper. She dreamed of the days when she was a young girl in love. She barely remembered what life was like as a real girl, running free in the fields under the bright blue skies. Each day she listened hopefully for the sound of Tess’s return. But, the only sounds she ever heard year after year after year was the occasional sound of rain falling and the buzzing of bees in a hive not far from the box, that had become her prison.
Suddenly she was startled by a noise that sounded like thunder above her floorboards. “What’s that?” her mother exclaimed. But, it wasn’t a storm. It was the sound of footsteps. Had Tess finally come to save them? The footsteps stopped as suddenly as they began. Princess plopped her little paper body down on the floor of the box once again, resting her chin with her hands. Then, there came that sound again. The sound of footsteps returning, but this time it was different somehow. Was that two sets of footsteps she heard? The paper dolls huddled together in fear as someone slid the rug aside and began prying up the floorboards above them. Before they knew it light streamed into the box flooding the darkness with its brilliant rays. The paper dolls threw their hands up to protect their eyes from the unfamiliar, harsh light. Blinded by the glare, Princess was unaware of the large hand reaching down to lift her from the box. As she felt the hand wrap around her she screamed with fear. A warm, reassuring voice promised, “I won’t hurt you, Please don’t be frightened. I’ve come to help.” She now could see the handsome rescuer who held her gently in his hand. “I am Prince,” he continued, “Tess’s son.” Princess looked at him in disbelief and repeated aloud, “Tess’s son!”
Prince lifted the other paper dolls out of the box. Then he and Princess sat and talked for a long time. She introduced her family to him one by one. Prince couldn’t help thinking how beautiful the paper doll princess was. Even more beautiful than his mother had described. He really liked her. How strange. Just a few short days ago he would have never believed such a thing could exist. Now, he found himself blushing as she told him how handsome he was.
His thoughts were interrupted by the look of horror that came over the princess’s face. Remembering the first set of footsteps she heard, she looked around the playhouse and exclaimed, “High heels! The sound of high heels is what I heard.” Prince looked at her puzzled not knowing what she meant. Princess cried out, “She’s here! The witch is here!”
With that, Prince turned his head just in time to see a chair in the corner of the playhouse transform back into the wicked witch. The witch grabbed an old axe that was proped against the play house wall. Swinging the axe wildly above her head she ran toward Prince. Knothead’s jowls curled, showing his fangs as he lunged toward the witch. He knocked her to the ground, before she could hit Prince with the axe. The dog yelped in pain as the witch buried her teeth into his hide. He flinched and jerked his body frantically sending the witch flying through the air. In an instant, she landed squarely on the axe and lay motionless on the floor of the play house. She was dead.
“Good job boy!” Prince said, gratefully hugging his best friend. As he turned to look down at the paper doll princess he found himself staring at the delicate feet of a beautiful young woman. There she stood with her entire life size family. The spell had been broken. Cries of laughter rang out as they began to dance around the play house and sing, “Free. free, free at last!”
Tess wandered around the house worrying about her son’s fate. Had she sent her only child into the clutches of the witch? It had been days since he left. What had she done? Would she ever see him again? All at once Tess heard the familiar sound of Knothead barking. What was that other sound? Why, it, it was the sound of laughter! As she turned and looked out the door she saw Prince approaching the house and, “Paper dolls!” she screamed.
Flinging open the door, Tess ran toward them with more gusto than a woman half her age. “You did it!” she cried gleefully, throwing her arms around her son and giving him a big hug. She turned to her friend Princess. They looked in each other’s eyes for a long time. Then tears began streaming down their cheeks. Not paper tears. Not tears of sadness. This time they both cried wet, salty, human tears. Tears of happiness. As they embraced, they both knew the suffering was over, a promise went unbroken and, as in all happy endings, “The Prince and Princess lived happily ever after.”