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“Sometimes I have believed in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Matilda was reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and she was enjoying it immensely. She had been impressed by the way Alice could shut up like a telescope and regrow simply by drinking from a bottle or taking a bite from a cake. She couldn’t help wondering why such adventures did not happen to her or to any of the other children who lived in her colony. All of them were ordinary, somewhat commonplace children, and this often frustrated Matilda. Because no one shared her imagination—imagination gained by reading books people wouldn’t have thought a child of five capable of reading.
But now she was suddenly becoming drowsy. Like all avid book readers, she kept on reading regardless of her drowsiness, until she suddenly fell asleep with her book placed on her nose.
And she dreamt.
She was falling through a deep tunnel in the ground, much like the rabbit’s hole Alice had fallen through. The tunnel went straight down, then suddenly curved, causing her to bump against the hard rocky ground (which she didn’t like one wee little bit). It went on like this for a while, and then ended so suddenly that she almost fell out.
She clambered out of the tunnel, finding herself standing on the softest ground she had ever stood on, and peered about. There was a dim luminescence, coming, as in the books, from nowhere. She sighed, a very un-childlike thing to do. In front of her was a wooden door, half closed, and there was a nice smell of dry-cleaned coats coming from the other side. She tried to open the door further, but it wouldn’t budge. So she just squeezed through (managing it without breaking any buttons), to find herself in a kind of wardrobe—in fact, a typical British wardrobe—which was unique in only one matter—there was a clearing in the center which went as a path backwards (or was it forwards? She was doubtful) to whatever lay beyond the wardrobe.
As soon as she noticed it, she felt a strange kind of excitement. It seemed like exactly the same kind of wardrobe that had transported Lucy to Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, a book she had read two weeks back. She wondered what world lay beyond this wardrobe; whether it would be all cold and frosty; and whether it would have a faun and a white queen (she wished against it; somehow the queen gave her the creeps. The faun was fine, though). There being no choice but to move forward, since the wardrobe door had clamped shut after she had come in, she started walking down the path, which now appeared to be winding. Finally she came to a bifurcation, with two paths sprouting up from the original one, one going right and upwards, and the other left and downwards.
She stood there thinking, and then decided to take the right path; since she figured out she’d be better up than down, where there possible might be a clammy dungeon with the bones of prisoners bound by manacles and shackles. And besides, it would be warmer upstairs compared to any dungeon. For downstairs always meant dungeons and basements full of people who had done something wrong or had been wronged. Just then, she had no desire to meet either.
She started climbing upstairs, her tiny feet trying to find secure footing so she wouldn’t fall. For the staircase was tricky; the steps were steep and short, and the ground was full of ridges and grooves that made stable-standing difficult. So she trudged laboriously upwards, imagining more (and even more) what the world would be like once she got out.
She climbed the last step, taking deep breaths to calm here heartbeat, and then stepped out. Instantly she was dazed by the bright, flamboyant colors that seemed to be everywhere. All around people were laughing merrily. Oh and what funny people! There was a kid trying to drop orange pips in his car’s hooter one at a time, and they were all spilling out; there was a man with a face wounded like the moon; there was a woman who had the most golden hair she had ever seen, all arranged in neat little braids and plaits, looking very pretty; there was a girl stuffing chocolate cake and scones in her mouth at the same time, and there numerous other people, all of whom were doing the oddest things she could have thought possible. It looked so familiar; she felt sure she had come to fairyland, about which she had been reading in one of Enid Blyton’s books some days back.
This world consisted of a seemingly never-ending garden, and right in the center of the garden was an emblazoned gate, looking very out-of-place in the garden. Matilda walked up to it, and the gate swung automatically on its hinges, revealing darkness beyond it.
Matilda didn’t wait. After all the weird things that had been happening to her today, she couldn’t just stand there and be afraid. She stepped in the darkness, and was suddenly blinded by a gleaming green light that was just everywhere.
“Welcome,” a voice said “to the Emerald City. You are in the Land of Oz.”
Matilda stood dazed, taking in everything, her eyes getting bigger and bigger as they beheld the glories of that wonderful city. She walked a few steps, and came to a sort of cabin where a man sat on an emerald chair, reading a paper. She could just make out the title “Emerald nouvelles”, and knowing a little French she could understand that it meant Emerald news.
The man peered from the top of his paper, saw Matilda and got up, saying “Ah Mademoiselle, delighted to have you here. Allow me to fit on your eyes the spectacles we all wear here, so that your eyes don’t get blinded with the……” He suddenly stopped, as there came from the heavens a distant rumbling roar that seemed to be everywhere.
“Good gracious, it’s the dragon! The hour has struck!” he positively shouted, shaking all the while like a mulberry leaf. All of a sudden, he looked down, saw Matilda, and a hoarse sound escaped his lips, “But if so, then you must be the one. The one who will deliver us from the dragon. The chosen one.”
Matilda did not know what he was talking about. But he jumped to his feet, took her arm and started running pell-mell towards a palace-like edifice that stood majestically in the center of the Emerald city. The building loomed nearer and nearer, and Matilda saw on the top of the doom a bird with bright red plumage roosting. It was a phoenix.
They reached the castle, and the doors opened as if by magic. The man stumbled in, dragging Matilda along with him (quite gently, though) and made for the hallway. Once they reached the hallway, he didn’t stop, but went straight on, until they entered an antechamber. Here the man finally stopped, gasping for breath, and said, “You must go in alone now The King will be there, waiting for you. Tell him that the hour is struck, and that it has produced the man. Go now! You are our last hope.”
Matilda entered the room beyond the antechamber, not knowing what to make of it. On a chair facing away from her sat a man whose face she obviously couldn’t see. His shadow, magnified by the light, was big enough to cover the opposite wall.
She walked up to him, and stopped behind his chair. She asked timidly, “Er, sir I think…”
“Stop!” boomed a voice, quite taking her in (from fright). “I know with what purpose come you, and what must be done. Come not closer, you will not see my face. You must be the warrior we have waiting for. You must be our last hope. I’ll see to that! And now!”
He blew a sharp whistle, and a man entered the room, the same man who had brought here there.
“Muchacho! Garb here in the knight’s armor, and give here the Vorpal sword. The hour has struck!”
The man nodded, and led Matilda to a different room, where he laid out the accoutrements, and helped Matilda into it. The armor fit her perfectly as if it had been made for her.
After that, he led her to another room, smaller than the last, in which there was nothing save a gold chest. Towards this he walked, and reaching it, he said, in a voice unlike the meek one Matilda had expected him to use; he positively boomed: “The hour has struck! The Vorpal sword must be delivered now, to its rightful owner, who will destroy the evil dragon Smaug with it!”
As if on cue, the chest-lid opened. A faint glow emanated from the most majestic and magnificent sword Matilda had ever seen in her life. He took it from its place of repose, and handed it to Matilda, who well-nigh staggered with the weight.
“Come! We have no time to lose!” the man said, and started towards the main door of the castle, Matilda at his heels looking very strange in her armor.
They reached the door, and the man, opening it, pushed Matilda outside. “This is your war, you know,” he whispered, “and we won’t partake in it.”
Matilda stepped out feeling a little at a loss. But what she immediately saw coming towards her, drove everything else from her mind.
It was a dragon, a wicked-looking beast flying towards her, his enormous wings buffeting the air. He roared as he saw her standing there with the Vorpal sword, ejected a stream of liquid fire that dissolved in the air, and dived towards her, his fiery eyes filled with rage.
Matilda suddenly knew what to do. She waited till the dragon came too close for comfort, then leaped aside (or managed to just in time) and struck with the sword.
Afterwards, she always said that it was the sword which acted on its own accord, as it sliced through the air, and slashed the head of the dragon off. A horrible gurgling sound filled the air, and then it was gone. The dragon’s body crashed to the ground in front of the castle, twitched for a moment and then became still.
All of a sudden, as if the dragon’s death had been a signal, people rushed out from everywhere, celebrating the whole event by singing dancing, shoving bounties and toffees down each other’s throats. The dragon’s body disappeared as if it had been vaporized. Some of the little people made a circle around Matilda and started dancing, cheering all the while. Soon the crowd thickened. Everyone was happy and full of joy; some Munchkins started to waltz.
Then they all silenced. For something had started to sing in a voice so lilting, so beautiful, so eerie that even Matilda was caught in its charm (she realized later that the song had been meant for her). Here is what the voice sang:
“Today you are you
That’s truer than true
There’s no one alive
Who is youer than you!”
And so it went one, telling the world how Matilda had much of muchness, and was more muchier than anyone else in the world. And then she saw who was doing the singing. It was the Phoenix! There was a bang and the Phoenix vanished in a pile of ash that started to wriggle about.
And then, suddenly she heard a voice calling out her name. “Matilda! Matilda! Now I wonder where that girl has gone to.” She opened her eyes, just as her mother, a big bumbling blonde came into the room. “Here you are! I have been looking for you all over the place. I am going to play Bingo, Dad’s out, and Mike’s out with his friends. Don’t mess with anything!” Saying that she went out.
Matilda still lay on her back, wondering about everything she’d seen. Had it been only a dream? She wasn’t so sure. She would ask Miss Honey.