“You must be kidding,” said Miss Eleanor. “No one brings apples for their teacher any more.” Yet there it was, right in the centre of her desk: green on one side and red on the other.
She was just about to pick it up when a glamorous, dark-haired woman stormed into the classroom. “It’s not yours,” she shrieked. “It’s for my step-daughter, to teach her a lesson.”
Miss Eleanor decided to be placatory. “I’m sure that you can find some very nice apples at the local store. It’s great that you want to get close to your husband’s child. As a teacher, I find that some step-parents …”
“Be quiet! Once she takes a bite of this apple, no one will ever call her the fairest of them all – not even my cursed mirror.” At that, the peculiar woman lunged for the apple but managed only to send it flying through the open door.
Miss Eleanor sprang after it but emerged not into the school corridor; instead she found herself standing in a murky forest. A blond-haired girl bent down, picked up the apple and ran off among the menacing trees. Miss Eleanor gave chase. “Greta, come back,” she shouted. She recognised the girl from school. More than likely she would be Greta’s teacher the following year.
The path opened up to reveal a small cinnamon-coloured cottage. “Curiouser and curiouser,” she mused. It even smells of cinnamon. I wonder what it tastes like?” The door lay open so Miss Eleanor stepped inside in search of the errant school-girl and her elusive apple. What she saw made her cry out in horror.
Greta’s brother Hans hung suspended from the ceiling inside a sturdy metal cage. Big sister was trying desperately to squeeze the apple through a narrow gap between the bars. “Eat this,” she hissed. “It’ll make you big and strong. Then you’ll be allowed to come out.” But no matter how hard she tried, short of being turned into a purée, the apple would not cooperate.
“I cannot believe my eyes,” exclaimed Miss Eleanor. She knew from discussions in the staffroom that the children’s father was a widower. But such behaviour was completely unacceptable. Social services would have to be involved and there would be no end to the paperwork. It would mean even more time away from what she loved best – connecting with tender young minds and opening up the world to them.
All of a sudden the apple slipped out of Greta’s hand and bounced across the floor. It rolled into the fireplace and came to a rest in a pile of cold ashes. Without thinking, Miss Eleanor rushed over and picked it up, scattering dust and cinders everywhere. Once the cloud had settled, she was very surprised to observe that the girl, her brother, and indeed the entire cottage had disappeared. In their place stood a plump woman with rollers in her hair.
“Miss Cinder Ella, I presume?”
“Er, it’s Eleanor actually, although I do seem to have got myself into a bit of a mess.”
“Never mind,” tut-tutted the old woman. “We haven’t got time to quibble. Prince Charming awaits and you shall go the ball!”
There was a flash of light. Eleanor looked around in complete astonishment. She was wearing an elaborate evening dress made of fine embroidered silk. “There is no way I could afford this on a teacher’s salary,” she exclaimed.
The apple had turned into an ornate coach and she gaily stepped inside. White stallions took to flight and at once the coach was hurtling towards her date with destiny and with Prince Charming.
“Don’t forget what time it is!”
Eleanor could hardly make out the words of warning. The soft call was almost lost amidst the stampeding hooves. “What time is what?” she pondered.
Suddenly a clock began to chime. The stallions vanished, the gown disappeared in a cloud of ash, and Eleanor was left holding on glumly to the disappointing apple. “But I’m not ready,” she cried out. “Prince Charming is waiting for me!”
There was a loud chorus of guffaws somewhere in the background. Eleanor opened one eye and looked up. Several of her fellow teachers were laughing hysterically. “I don’t know about Prince Charming,” chortled one of them, “but the bell has gone and your class is certainly waiting for you.”
A sleepy-headed Miss Eleanor dragged herself along the corridor to her classroom. The apple, uneaten residue of her lunch, lay abandoned on the staffroom floor.
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