We had gone back to Dirk’s office to work on the mystery.
‘Polly, I hope you don’t mind me asking if you can prove to me that you’re really from this ‘real world’. Just to be sure off course.’
‘I wouldn’t mind at all. But there is one problem. I can’t take you out of your book into the real world. You won’t be able to return.’
‘Strange. How does that work?’ While saying this he looked at Cedric and back at me.
‘I can’t return to a book once I’ve been there. When I was younger I could, but after I did something wrong I couldn’t do it anymore. And this also means Cedric isn’t able to return either. But we worked that part out in his story. They won’t notice he’s gone.’
‘Tell me about what you did wrong.’
‘I tried to save Little Red Riding Hood, the Little Match Girl, Humpty Dumpty and every other creature or person that had something bad happen to them in their stories. I even tried saving Jesus after a Christmas celebration at school. I was seven years old. I thought I was doing the right thing. But most of the characters didn’t listen to me. The only one that did was Sleeping Beauty. But it still didn’t go according to plan. When I finally convinced her to not touch the spindle and left, she did it anyways. I was determined to make this one work, so I went back to try again. I had to explain to her over and over to not touch the spindle, but every time I let her out of my sight she did the same thing. To be sure she wouldn’t touch it I stayed with her throughout the entire story. When I finally succeeded, things went sour. After we scared the wicked fairy away I thought they would live happily ever after. But not even a day later she returned and pushed Sleeping Beauty out of her tower window. She died and there was no bright future or happy prince. They chased me out of the castle into the forest. Without doing it myself, I was thrown back into the real world. I tried to go back to save the fairy tale once more, but found I was unable to go in. I’ve tried many times after that, but it never worked anymore. This was the same for all the other stories I visited before and after the incident. I can visit everything once, no more.’
Cedric gave me strange look. I hadn’t told him anything about my past.
‘That sounds very interesting. I think it will help a great deal with my investigation. But I still don’t know if you’re telling me the truth…’
‘I can help with that.’ Cedric said. He took out his wand and he summoned a pack of cigarettes from Dirk’s pocket.
‘Very impressive. But it can always be some kind of trick.’ He thought about this for a while, staring at me and Cedric while he was doing this. ‘I have decided to believe you Polly. You tell an elaborate story. That conjuring trick was also very impressive. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before, and I’ve seen my share of tricks.’ He smiled at this and sat down at his desk. He took out a piece of paper and started drawing a timeline.
‘Polly. When did you find out you could visit these books?’
‘I was six. My dad read me the story of Peter Pan. I wanted to learn to fly after that and as soon as my dad left the room I found myself flying next to Peter and Wendy.’
‘So at six you’ve visited a book for the first time. At seven you were banned from visiting a book more than once and now you’re eighteen. You took a boy from a book into the real world and came to me with all your questions. Did something important happen in the meantime?’
‘Not really… I think I kept to the rules, because I can still visit books and haven’t found any new restrictions.’
‘Interesting. I have to think about this some more. I suggest a bracing stroll along the canal!’
‘As long as you don’t make me jump in it as you did with Richard…’
Dirk laughed at this and put on his hat.
Cedric and I stayed a bit behind while Dirk was thinking out loud.
‘I still don’t get how this guy’s going to help you. He doesn’t seem sane.’
‘I know, but he solved crazier mysteries than mine. He’s the only one who can help me with these questions.’
‘How come you didn’t tell me about what happened to you in Sleeping Beauty?’ Cedric seemed a bit insulted.
‘I’m sorry. It didn’t seem very important at the time. We haven’t had a lot of time together. I promise you I’ll tell you everything about myself when we’re done here.’
‘Ok. And even though I think we could have figured out your mystery by ourselves, I’ll give this whole thing a try.’
‘Thank you.’ I smiled at him and grabbed his hand. We walked in silence along the canal for a little while. Suddenly Dirk called us over.
‘Polly, Cedric, I just figured something out. And I have a bad feeling…’
‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘You were punished for trying to change the fairy tales, right?’
‘Well, that means your little visits to books are governed by someone or something.’
‘That was sort of obvious wasn’t it?’ Cedric remarked.
‘Off course it was. But the real question is why you’re not punished for bringing Cedric in to the real world.’
‘I don’t know… We didn’t change the story. There was a dead body and everyone thought it was Cedric.’
‘That might be true. But you didn’t really change Sleeping Beauty either. The story everyone knows, is still the same story you entered. Nothing has changed, but you were still punished. So whatever or whoever governs your powers doesn’t care about the plotlines or how you change fiction or reality. It’s about you obeying the rules. But you don’t even know the rules…’ Here Dirk went off muttering to himself again. Cedric looked at me with surprise.
‘So what does that mean?’ He asked Dirk.
‘It means, my dear boy, you are not meant to be. Not here or in the real world. You are supposed to be dead. Polly broke the rules.’
‘But she doesn’t even know the rules. You just said that!’
‘I know. But that doesn’t seem to matter.’
‘What will happen?’ I finally asked. As soon as Dirk said I had broken the rules I knew he was right. I had made a big mistake.
‘I don’t know. But I don’t think it will be long before we find out. To be honest, it surprises me he’s still here.’ And Dirk had barely finished his sentence or something strange happened. Cedric had been walking next to me, but suddenly pushed me away.
‘Polly. What’s happening?’ Cedric couldn’t stop walking away from me and Dirk. He walked into an alley screaming at us.
‘Cedric!’ I tried to run after him but Dirk and I were being held by an invisible power next to the canal. Cedric disappeared into the alley and was soon followed by a green flash. I knew what that flash meant, I had read his story enough to know the spell. Dirk ran into the alley as soon as we could move again, but I stayed where I was. I didn’t need to go there to know what happened. Dirk came back for me and took me to see him anyways.
‘What happened to him?’
‘He was killed the way he was supposed to. He dies like this in his story. It’s the only spell that kills in an instant.’
‘Do you think his murderer was here? Should we be careful?’
‘No. He wasn’t here. If he was, we wouldn’t be alive anymore.’ I couldn’t look at Cedric or Dirk.
‘I’ll leave you alone for a second. I think we should call the police after that.’
I just nodded and Dirk walked out of the alley, waiting in front of it like a guard. I looked at Cedric for the first time. He didn’t look scared or in pain. While grabbing his hand, I started crying. Tears just flowed over my cheeks onto his face. I kissed him once more and squeezed his hand. Through my tears I noticed Cedric getting lighter. His whole body and face seemed more and more transparent until he completely disappeared. I still felt his hand in mine, but as soon as I thought of it the feeling disappeared. I got up and walked towards Dirk.
‘We should go.’
‘What about Cedric?’
‘He’s gone. He went back to his book.’
‘How…’ Dirk looked behind me and saw nothing. ‘This gets more curious by the second. I’m very sorry Polly.’
‘It’s ok. I broke the rules.’
‘Still, I could see you really liked him. I get it if you want to stop the investigation.’
‘I’m not quitting now.’
I asked Dirk if he could give me some time alone for the afternoon and he went back to his office. It was almost dark outside when I returned. Miss Pearce had already left, but I could smell cigarette smoke coming from his office. I opened the door and waited in the doorway. ‘Are we solving this mystery or what?’ I took off a hat of my own and put it down on the table.