Reaching the end of the sofa was only half the problem. After the exhausting trek, Polly couldn’t see how she could possibly continue with this wild goose chase. Luckily, Brandi, whose face was also glowing with sweat, smiled and sat beside her new friend.
“We could stop now…but you might never get home.”
“How much further Brandi? I feel full of aches. Where are we headed?”
Brandi shook her head.
“It’s somewhere special,” she said, “but I can’t tell you yet. There are tales that the people we seek will vanish into thin air at the sound of their name spoken by others who are not nearby. As to how much further: well, we need to climb the stairs.”
Polly cast her eyes upwards to the ledges that hung there. They were walls that reached to just above her head and showed a huge drop if she were to fall. Polly looked back and saw Arielle busy creating hairclips and other vanity items for the two of them. Sorrow arose and Polly took a deep breath.
“Okay. Let’s go.”
Every step, not quite short enough to clamber onto with one jump, but too short to make every effort worthwhile, was a different task. Each one held a challenge as Polly, a few feet behind Brandi, pulled herself up onto the slippery wooden ledges, only to walk a metre and do the whole thing again. As Brandi had explained it, it sounded simple, but, as words were put into actions, it was far more difficult than it looked.
Eventually, the landing was in sight, carpeted once more. Polly felt her muscles cry out in pain, but she concentrated on the final two pushes, as much like a trial as they were.
“This will help me go home…” she murmured to herself.
Brandi helped Polly up, and then turned and continued making her hasty journey.
“Where are we going?” the latter asked Brandi once again, as she marvelled at the size of her home once she was reduced to a mere cardboard cutout.
Brandi’s reply was the same as ever: “You’ll see.”
Together they pushed open a large wooden door. Polly was sure that it must be what pushing a flock of cows would feel like. She tried to piece together a map of her home in her head, but being tiny had fuzzed her mind; everything looked so different.
Zing! The door, having been finally forced open by the girls’ combined strength, slammed against something big and metallic. That something, with its shining grey exterior and long cylindrical body, was a rubbish bin.
“We’re in the bathroom,” Polly noticed, looking around puzzled.
“Come on, into the bath,” was all Brandi replied.
The big white spaceship seemed to grow out of the bathroom floor, winding linoleum merging into the white plastic that ballooned outwards and concealed anything it in like a fortress. A stool fronted it and in front of that was a weighing scale. Like the stairs had been, each obstacle was unique with its challenges, but Brandi managed to outmanoeuvre them all, and she had vanished beyond the curve of the bath before Polly had even reached the stool.
She was having trouble. The gap between the top of the stool and the lowest point of the bath was just too great, and, in her semi-exhausted state, Polly could not jump high enough to grab the rim. Maybe even five times she tried, but five times she did not succeed to get to the next level. And now Brandi was off finding the magic cure without her…
Polly collapsed by the side of the bath and began to sob quietly. A few seconds later and the light tred of footsteps began to be known to her ears. Polly looked up to see one girl, then another, identical, staring at her with their watermelon eyes.
Polly’s eyes widened when she saw the bodies of the girls. They were mermaids! Their pretty white-blonde hair had been tied back, on opposite sides to distinguish them, and fell past their faces in a muddle, right down to the tops of their baby-pink tails where a glorious red summer flower was attached to each like a hair clip might to Polly’s hair.
How they were standing there without falling, Polly did not know, but she noticed that they did seem to lean on each other or the stool when the other was not near. Each carried a multi-coloured pouch and it was from these that they each removed a gritty crimson disk about the size of their hands.
“Don’t worry,” said one, her voice a hushed melody, when she saw Polly’s anguished face, “We only want to help you. I’m Sunflower, and this is my sister, Buttercup.”
“Nibble these,” Buttercup said, “They’ll give you strength and, if that doesn’t work, just wish and you’ll become bigger, but only big enough to conquer this obstacle. So eat wisely!”
“Thank you,” Polly whispered, taking the two disks from both Buttercup and Sunflower. The objects felt rubbery, yet were jellylike in consistency, and tasted of delightful fresh cherries. Now, this was the type of magic that Polly enjoyed!
“If you wander this way again, we’ll see you,” said Sunflower, “But until then, goodbye weary traveller. We hope your journey is fruitful and safe.”
“Goodbye,” Polly waved as the two mermaids turned away, gliding instead of hopping like she was. Finishing the first cherry-circle, Polly already felt renewed, so she tucked the other away, finding pockets even though her doll-dress was minimal.
This time when she jumped, Polly was able to hook her nails tightly into a groove at the lowest point of the smooth bath edge. Hauling herself up, she finally saw where Brandi had been leading her. The Mermaid Palace!