For days Marley and her friends looked forward to Sleeping Beauty’s sequel, Twins and Trouble. Her parents promised to take her, but not to the movie’s premier opening on Saturday; a day later on Sunday afternoon. A small disappointment that she endured with no spoken complaint and very little drama, just a loud sigh every time the movie’s TV ad appeared.
On the morning of premier Saturday, Marley walked down the block – four houses – to watch cartoons with her friend. After knocking on the door and being invited inside by Mr. Smith, her friend rushed over to say, “Guess where we’re going! The new Sleeping Beauty movie!”
Marley hid the joy she felt for her friend very well. Even so, her friend hurried to add, “And Mom told me I could invite you.”
“You just need to go home and tell your parents,” said Mr. Smith. “We’ll pick you up outside your house.”
Telling her parents was, in a way, impossible, she thought to herself as she ran down the street. Her mother was visiting Marley’s grandmother. But telling one parent would be just as good, so she raced through the house and to the backyard where her father stood in a deep hole. This is not unusual for a man who is supervising the construction of a swimming pool. The hole had been dug and was almost ready for the pouring of the concrete, but the foreman wanted her father to inspect the pool’s drain first. Also waiting impatiently for these two men was a cement mixer truck loudly churning concrete. Workmen had to shout to one another.
Marley waved her arms overhead and shouted as loud as she could, “Dad! May I go to the movies with Cathy?”
Her father looked up, saw her, and then held up five fingers which Marley knew was meant to say, “Wait five minutes and I’ll get to you” but also knew that five often turned into fifteen. She ran back to the front door. Mr. Smith’s car waited in the street. She quickly returned to the backdoor. Her father was still in the hole. Then she had a brilliant idea.
Her parents left notes for one another on the table by the front door. These notes usually said things like, “Went to market. Back soon” or “Marley and I at park.” Marley scribbled on the notepad, “I’m with Cathy’s parents at…”
A car horn in the street honked. Marley felt a rising panic. She wanted to finish the note by writing the name of the movie theatre, but she didn’t know how to spell, “Arlington Theatre” and so when she heard the second honk, she figured “Cathy’s parents” should be enough information. She ran out the door.
The movie left Marley and Cathy giddy with enchanted delight. They excitedly talked about it all the way home. But the moment she opened the front door and faced her mother and her father, the enchantment vanished.
“Marley, can you imagine the fright we had when I went over to Cathy’s parent’s house and didn’t find anyone at home? We didn’t have a clue as to where you were.”
“Well,” said Marley’s father. “We did kind of figured you’d gone with the Smiths to see that movie you’ve been wanting to see.”
Marley stared down at the floor and couldn’t see the look her mother gave her father who quickly added, “But even so, what you did wasn’t the right thing to do.”
“Two things, Marley,” said her mother. “First of all, though leaving a note is better than nothing, you still need our permission. And two, we really need to know where you’re going, not just who you’re going with.”
After a quiet dinner – quieter still because Marley really wanted to tell her parents how wonderful the movie had been – Marley slow walked to her room and shut the door. Forbidden to watch television that night, she would sit in her room and read. From the bookshelf she picked out her large and illustrated Sleeping Beauty book. She leafed through the pages looking at the colorful illustrations until she reached the page marked with “The End”. Startled she noticed that the book had many more pages left. Turning from the ending of the first story, she was faced with a title page reading, “The Adventures of Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters”.
Curious, but not greatly surprised by this mysterious book growth, she began reading the next story entitled, “Sleeping Beauty’s Textile Mill”:
Sleeping Beauty, crowned as Queen Aurora, ascended to the throne of her kingdom. A day later she married her handsome prince who became the Prince Consort, not the king. Born to them were twin daughters, Princess Rouge and Princess Avec du Lait. They were a happy family – until twelve years later, Queen Aurora suffered an awful nightmare. Out of the darkest depths of her almost forgotten memories, she dreamt that one of her daughters would stab her finger on a spinning wheel’s spindle. Then the poor princess would fall into a deep sleep until every last person in the kingdom was absolutely as happy as clams – an impossibility to be sure.
Upon waking from the nightmare, the queen screamed. The Prince Consort came running and asked why for such alarm.
“We must burn all the spinning wheels in the kingdom,” she murmured.
“Yes, of course, my dear. I’ll get right on it.” The prince always obeyed his wife without question and hurried off to find matches and organize the bonfire – which promised to be huge.
That night Queen Aurora happened to look out a castle window, saw the fire, and said, “Oh, how pretty. What’s the occasion for this celebration?”
“It’s what you ordered, my dear,” replied the prince, “the burning of all the spinning wheels in the kingdom.”
“Oh. Hmm, I wonder if that’s going to cause any problems.”
It very much did. The next morning the queen went out on the balcony and greeting her were the angry glares of almost every peasant woman.
“Are they upset or something?” she asked. “They look somewhat discontent.”
“Perhaps they are, my dear,” replied the prince. “I’ve been informed they used to make a little spare money at home by producing yarn. But now that their spinning wheels have been destroyed…”
“Oh, so that’s where yarn came from. Tell me, is yarn very important?”
“Fabric and clothes are made from it, my dear.”
“That is important.”
But the queen being an intelligent person and a quick learner soon knew all there was to know about the making of yarn and fabric and especially fashionable clothes. She had a textile mill built and then hired the peasant women to work the looms. After receiving their first paycheck the peasant women were once again making a little extra money for luxuries like food and medicine. And that would be the happy ending except that the queen, being so busy running the kingdom and her designer label business, had no time to supervise a factory. So, she hired a factory manager, a man by the name of Stromboli.
None of the factory workers liked the man. And, in fact, no one in the palace did either. But as long he kept the textile mill producing bolts of cloth from which fashionable dresses could be made, the queen and Princess Avec du Lait were quite content. The Prince Consort knowing that those two were content was himself content, though he was a bit concerned about his other daughter, Princess Rouge.
After a visit to the mill and observing Stromboli’s cruel treatment of the working women, Princess Rouge stopped wearing her customary ruby red gown and her diamond tiara, and took to wearing a dark reddish-brown pants suit with a matching plain cap decorated with a single red star. At breakfasts she began to read from a little red book, “One Big Way to Improve the Lives of the Way Less Fortunate Than You”. One morning she pointed to a word in the book and asked her father, “How do you pronounce this?”
“Let’s see.” He stared down at the unfamiliar word and then said, “Bouge rhymes with your name, Rouge, so I guess it’s pronounced bouge-wa-zi.”
“Who are they?”
“Not entirely sure, but I think they’re the people who aren’t quite as rich as we royals.”
“Or as well-dressed,” said Princess Avec du Lait. “Right, Mother?”
“While that is certainly true, my daring, we should not let them feel too inferior about their lack of good taste.” She sighed. “If only we could do something to increase their fashion awareness then maybe I’d make more money from my designer label business.”
“Even with greater fashion awareness, my dear,” said the prince, “I doubt if they could afford your gorgeous gowns.”
“I know, Mother,” said Princess Avec du Lait. “We could introduce a knock off line of clothing using cheap material and price it at their inferior level.”
“Excellent idea, my daring. Have your tutor write up a pro forma business plan and we’ll take to Stromboli.”
Princess Rouge frowned and went back to reading her book.
One day, after dinner, she snuck out of the palace and during the evening went about the town putting up posters. They read, “Textile workers of the kingdom, Unite! Come to a meeting Friday night and join the union. After that we can begin the strike.”
The day of the planned meeting she rented a barn big enough for all the workers. She needn’t have bothered. Only two women showed up. Not discouraged, she signed up the two and sent them out in the streets with marker pens. They crossed out Friday on the posters and wrote Saturday and then added, “Free dodonuts and hot cocoa for all who join.”
That Saturday most all the factory women attended the meeting. As they munched on dodonuts and sipped their hot cocoa, Princess Rouge gave a rousing speech. All the women cheered each declaration of her plan for bettering the workers’ lives, until she announced the creation of a strike fund which each union member was expected to pay into. The women became silent and looked doubtful.
“Don’t you see,” said the princess, “if all of you pay just a little each week, we’ll soon have enough to hand out to the strikers for long as the strike lasts.”
“How long will the strike last?” asked someone in the crowd.
“I’m not sure.”
“Then how will you know when we’ll have enough to go on strike?” asked a second woman.
That stumped Princess Rouge. Standing in front of the silent and waiting crowd, she frowned and thought as hard as she could, then her face brightened. “I know! We’ll get the bouge-wa-zi to pay for the fund.”
“Who are they?” asked the first woman.
“They’re the ones with money to spare.”
“Like your parents?” asked the second woman.
“Well, no. My parents have way more money than just spare money.”
“Where do we find these bouge-wa-zi?” asked the first woman. “They sound like they belong in a storybook, because I’ve sure haven’t seen anyone around here with money to spare.”
“That’s it!” Princess Rouge shouted. “I’ll go to Storybook Land and collect money from the bouge-wa-zi who live there.”
All the women cheered and clapped and helped themselves to more hot cocoa.
Marley paused in her reading. She thought to herself that this was oddest fairy tale she’d ever read, and now, one of the characters is off to Storybook Land. She wondered if Princess Rouge would run into any of her Storybook friends. She wasn’t too surprised when she turned the page and saw in full color an illustration of her guardian Dodo bird, Chuck. He leaned out of the page and said, “Marley, we need your help.”
He reached out his hand – at the end of one of his feathered arms – and pulled her into the book and therefore into Storybook Land. Across the broad green lawn and side by side they walked up the path toward Toad Manor. Up ahead Marley could see at the manor’s front door, Mr. Mole talking to Princess Rouge whose reddish-brown pant suit she recognized.
“Marley,” Chuck said, “you’re up to date with everything because I know you’ve read the story.”
She wondered how she could be up to date if she’d been reading a story printed in a book published months or even years ago. But she told herself, there’s no sense in asking yourself the how and why of things in Storybook Land.
Chuck continued, “But I’ve a feeling that things are going to get a wee bit complicated.”
“For Mr. Toad?”
“Hmm, probably for him too, but it’s Mole I’m worried about at the present moment.”
By the time they reached the front door, Mole had ducked inside. He returned wearing his cap and carrying his walking cane. Of course, he noticed who’d just arrived.
“Marley! Such a joy to see you again. You’ve caught me just in time. I’m about to leave with this young lady to help the unfortunate striking textile workers.”
Marley was about to ask him how he planned on helping them when a girl’s voice from behind her said, “There’s not going to be any strike.”
Marley turned around to see a girl, the twin of the one Mole had been talking to but dressed in clothes far more fashionable than girls her age normally wore.
“Oh, really. And what makes you think you can stop us?” asked Rouge.
“Because we closed the mill in Fantasyland and moved all production to Tomorrowland, to an automated factory. We don’t need workers anymore, we have robots,” said du Lait.
For a silent moment Mole regarded the crestfallen Rouge, and then quietly left to put back his cap and walking cane. Marley felt bad for Rouge but hadn’t quite settled in her mind what this new development meant for any of the present company. Except for the smug du Lait, the present company felt awkward and helpless. Uncomfortable silence reigned until Rouge had a thought.
“Hey! Does Mom and Dad know where you are? Did you get their permission to come here?”
“I left them a note.” Rouge said this confident in having done the right thing.
“Do you mean the note on the table by the fireplace where any gust of wind could’ve blown it into the burning embers?”
Rouge’s eyes went wide at hearing this. She screamed, “You smug little oppressor of the working class!”
“Watch your language, please,” said Chuck. Marley knew the offensive word to be ‘little’.
But du Lait hadn’t taken her narrowed eyes off her sister. Speaking clearly and loudly she said, “And you’re nothing but a phony little rich girl playing at being poor.”
“Girls, girls, girls,” said Chuck, “Let’s all take a deep breath and say nothing more until we’ve sat by the fireplace where we’ll all enjoy a lovely cup of hot cocoa and some dodonuts.”
Though they glared at each other the sisters followed Chuck, Mole, and Marley into Toad Manor and into the parlor where comfy chairs awaited them. Quietly Mole said to Marley, “It probably wasn’t a very good idea for Rouge to just leave a note for her parents. She should’ve told them face to face, or not gone out at all.”
“Mole, my dear fellow,” said Chuck, “I was going to say that, but much later. Nevertheless, it is good advice no matter when it is expressed. Right, Marley?”
Marley nodded her head in agreement, but her mind was pre-occupied with questions regarding the two sisters. Would they make up and become friends again? Were they ever friends? Why had du Lait come to Storybook Land in the first place? And, did she have her parents’ permission?
While Chuck prepared the treats in the kitchen, Mole, to break the uncomfortable silence, talked to Marley about the latest Bubble-ball match between the pixies and fairies. Marley listened politely, but was relieved to see Toad enter the room.
“Miss du Lait,” said Toad gaily, “So glad you made it. Is Chuck seeing to our snacks? Good. Now, I want you to tell me all about this business venture of yours. It sounds fascinating.”
Du Lait immediately came to life – to business life, that is. She sat up, looked Toad straight in the eye and began her sales pitch.
“Mr. Toad, esquire, what I will propose to you is the chance of a lifetime. Your real estate holdings combined with my vision and contacts in the highly profitable world of high fashion will add up to immense earnings. Or in more technical terms, oodles of moolah.”
“Oodles of moolah, did you say? Well, now, that does sound interesting. And perhaps you’ve noticed, I’m very fond of fashion.”
“Mr. Toad, of course, I’ve noticed your heightened sense of fashion. You cut, if I may say so, quite the dashing figure.”
“So kind of you to have noticed.” Toad leaned against the fireplace mantel with one hand artfully placed upon his coat lapel, pulling it back a little as if to emphasize his yellow and brown tweed vest.
This turn of events so intrigued Marley and Mole that they forgot to thank Chuck as he handed them their cups of hot cocoa. But Chuck didn’t seem to notice as he himself was also curious as to where du Lait’s sales pitch would lead.
“Excuse me, Miss du Lait,” said Mole, “but what is it exactly that you require of Toad? If it is money to invest, you had best speak to Badger for he controls all of Toad’s finances.”
“Not quite all of my money,” said Toad in a small and contrite voice.
“No cash up front. Just a lease on your land; your front lawn to be precise.”
“My front lawn?” asked a puzzled Toad.
“Here, let me show you what I mean.”
Du Lait hurried off her chair, picked up her briefcase, and set it on a table. After popping open the case – revealing a projector – she went to a wall where a painting of Toad Manor hung. This she removed from the wall. She plugged in the projector and switched it on. The first image was a mall like line of stores facing the canal.
“Here you see not just a line of stores, but a line of outlet stores each of which offer at affordable prices simply the best and most well-known brand names from the world of high fashion. And here…”. Another slide popped into view. “you see the line of canal boats bringing in eager shoppers from far and wide. And what’s more, here you see in this slide another immense source of cash flow – an international food court. Mr. Toad, with all these stores hauling in bags and bags of money, how can you lose?”
“It all sounds so wonderful!” shouted Toad. “I can’t wait until it’s built. Ooh, I’d love to shop there right this very moment.”
Du Lait came over to Toad and intoned in a silky voice, “How about if we go across the river…”
“It’s a canal,” murmured Marley, Mole, and Chuck.
“…and do a little shopping at Collodi’s House of Haut Couture. You’ll see in person what a powerful effect beautiful clothes have on the average buyer.”
“Could we? Oo, that sounds absolutely smashing.”
Toad rowed du Lait across the canal in one boat, while Marley, Mole, Chuck, and Rouge went across in another. Chuck munched on a dodonut looking thoughtful. Marley and Chuck rowed. Rouge sulked in the bow. Suddenly she cried out, “What about the workers? Are they to be cast out into the street, penniless? Without even an ‘A’ ticket to their name?”
Her words traveled across the water, but the misery expressed remained in the boat until Marley had a thought. “Maybe they could get jobs in the outlet mall?”
“Retail jobs?” Rouge’s tone was dismissive. “Bah, those jobs won’t pay much knowing my sister.”
“You know,” said Chuck, “It’s a funny thing – and informative, too – but your sister went to the future in Tomorrowland and found a solution to whatever problem she thought she’d had. I wonder, if for you, Rouge, there’s a solution there, as well.”
“The future stinks,” Rouge replied. “That’s how all the workers got thrown out of their jobs.”
“Well, your sister still has hers,” said Mole.
Rouge thought about this for a moment. “I wonder if there’s something in the future that will get her thrown out of her miserable job.”
When they’d reached the other side of the canal and arrived at the Italian village where Pinocchio, Geppetto, and Collodi lived and worked, Rouge remained in the boat.
“Aren’t you coming along?” asked Marley.
“No, I think I might row back to Fantasyland and maybe go over to Tomorrowland.”
“Hang on a minute,” said Mole, “here comes some fairies. Maybe they’ll make you a fairy dust balloon.”
And they did, but first they had to put down their bags of fashionable clothes they’d just bought at Collodi’s. As Rouge began to drift homeward, she waved good-bye.
“I wonder what she’ll find in the future?” asked Marley.
“I’m wondering what fresh foolishness Toad is getting into,” asked Mole.
The main street of the Italianate village – Tyrolian, to be precise – at first glance seemed as quaint and pretty as it had when Marley first walked up its cobble stoned street. All the little shops were just as they’d always been – until they stood in front of Collodi’s shop, now called Collodi’s Boutique of Exquisite Fashion. Marley and Mole stared at the sign and the well-dressed manikins in the storefront window. Chuck broke their mesmerized stare by saying, “Uh-hem, there’s a familiar figure across the street.”
Stromboli leaned cross-armed against an open door set in a shop. The sign above him read in large letters, “Stromboli’s” and underneath in smaller letters, “Where fashion goes faster than it comes”. In the storefront window signs announced, “Huge Sale!!! Everything must go! All clothes even cheaper than 100% off!”
“Hello, my friends,” he called out. “Come to Stromboli’s grand opening of his going out of business sale.”
Marley walked across the street. “Are you really going out of business?”
He shrugged. “Someday.”
“I thought you were the manager of the Sleeping Beauty textile mill.”
“Meh, I got laid off. Hey, you come inside. I got everything you need, and even better, lots of stuff you don’t need.”
“Maybe, later. First, we have to go to Collodi’s and make sure Mr. Toad doesn’t get into trouble.”
“Sure, you do that. And if you don’t drop down dead from the prices you see, come to Stromboli’s where everybody saves lotsa money by spending money they don’t have.”
Marley walked back across the street and followed Mole and Chuck into the shop. Once inside they immediately froze in their tracks. By far, it was the most beautiful clothing store interior they’d ever seen. And Marley had seen quite a few at the local malls, though her mother always pulled her quickly out of the really expensive ones.
“Oh my,” said Mole, “I’ve never before seen such beautiful gowns and suits. I wonder if they’re a bit pricy.”
“Can’t really say, old bean. They don’t seem to have price tags,” said Chuck.
“That’s because,” said Collodi’s voice from behind them, “if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford to buy them.”
Marley’s face scrunched up as she thought about this but after letting it go she asked, “I don’t suppose Mr. Toad was in here asking about prices.”
“If you were to make that supposition, you would be incorrect. While he is here – in that dressing room as a matter of fact – he has yet to ask the prices of the clothes he wishes to buy.”
“Oh dear,” said Mole. “Will his bill be very much? More than a pretty penny?”
“The beauty of his coins is not of my concern. However, I promise you this: My merchandise will not leave the shop until it is paid for.”
“Good,” said all three in unison knowing full well Toad had no money with which to pay the bill.
“Have you seen the Princess Avec du Lait?” asked Chuck. “I believe she’d accompanied Toad into this fine establishment.”
“That she did. The Princess is over at the shop’s expresso bar.” Collodi pointed to it, a counter fronted with high stools and backed by a shiny brass expresso machine. At the counter they could see the back of du Lait. She was yelling loudly into a cell phone. After finishing her conversation, she turned around to see the three standing nearby.
“Oh, hello. The cellphone reception is terrible in this town. They really need to modernize. Oh, well, that won’t matter after my outlet mall puts all these little shopkeepers out of business.”
“Language, please,” said Chuck.
“That’s not very nice,” said Marley in reference to du Lait’s mean-spirited disregard for the independent shopkeepers of main street, and not her use of Storybook Land’s forbidden word.
“Meh, it’s the march of the future. Get with it or get out of the way. Anyway, let’s round up Mr. Toad, have him sign some papers and get a move on.”
“I think he’s running up a rather large bill,” said Marley.
“Is he now?” asked du Lait in such a way that it really wasn’t a question. “Maybe I can use that as a bargaining chip in the land lease negotiations.”
Across the room Toad, his face crestfallen, stared at the bill signor Collodi had handed him.
“Cash did you say?” asked Toad in his meekest voice.
“For you, nothing else will do. Your reputation proceeds you.”
“Signor Collodi, put it on my tab,” said du Lait. “Mr. Toad, you can owe me.”
“I can?” Toad’s face began to light up and then beam with delight.
“Certainly, just sign this IOU and now sign this lease agreement. Don’t bother reading it. Only the lawyers know what’s in it. Anyway, such a fine gentletoad as yourself, can’t be bothered with such details.”
“Of course not,” replied Toad as he finished signing the multipage document. “But, if I might dare to ask, when will I receive the first lease payment.”
“Soon, very soon. In fact, the construction workers are arriving now at your property and will begin work even before we can row across the canal.”
At the village dock they looked across the water where on Toad Manor’s spacious front lawn a crowd of construction workers stood. They were all women.
As they rowed across the canal, du Lait explained, “You see, I’m not so heartless. I hired all the laid off textile workers to build the outlet stores. With the money they’ll earn they can buy outlet franchises.”
After they’d docked their boat, and everyone clambered ashore grateful to be off the rather crowded rowboat, they followed du Lait as she walked up to her construction workers. They stared at her and she at them.
“Well, what’s everyone just standing around for?” du Lait asked. “The outlet won’t build itself.”
“We’re waiting for the construction materials to arrive,” said one of the workers.
“Oh. Well, in that case, you can begin clearing the ground for the foundations. Come on, get to it. Let’s see some hustle in those bustles.”
Marley had some misgivings about the workers tearing out the shrubbery and digging up the green lawn.
“It was such a pretty lawn,” she said. Mole shook his head sadly.
Hearing Badger’s shouted voice coming from the front doorway of the manor, they all turned their heads to see him waving his walking stick and indicating that they should come to him. This everyone did, including all the work women.
“You must cast your eyes on this marvelous new invention,” he told them after they’d all crowded around the front door. He led the way in, though not all the work women could fit into the parlor so they just huddled around its window. But the others gathered around Badger as he sat down in front of a television screen and a keyboard.
“This bonny thing is called a computer,” he said as he began typing. “And I can type instructions and be taken to something called a website. Best of all, on this website, I can buy anything I would ever need or want. And they’ll deliver it right to my doorstep. Don’t you see? I won’t ever have to go out shopping again.”
Most of the crowd gasped in amazement, though not du Lait and Toad who just looked concerned, very concerned.
“Here, I just ordered some jars of haggis,” said Badger. “And look, they promise immediate delivery.”
Indeed, if not immediately thereafter, the delivery did arrive astoundingly soon. Everyone’s head turned when they heard the doorbell rang. Wearing a delivery person’s uniform Princess Rouge entered the room.
“Here’s your haggis, Mr. Badger.”
“Rouge! What are you doing here?” shouted du Lait.
“Just following your advice. I’ve invited Tomorrowland to help me and the peasants. We’ve advanced into the future. In fact, we’ve leapfrogged into the future. Your mall is now an ancient relic.”
“You can’t do that! I’m going to tell Mom and Dad.”
“Go ahead. I’m sure they’ll want to be part of my brilliant future and not your pathetic past.”
One of work women who’d managed to find space in the crowded parlor spoke up, “Speaking of the brilliant future: what about us? First, our spinning wheels were destroyed because of some silly dream, then we were laid off from our necessary though boring textile mill jobs, and now it looks like there’s no future in us owning outlet franchises.”
Marley and everyone else turned to Rouge wondering what her answer would be.
“You can all come and work for me – as delivery drivers and order takers. Come on back to your nameless village by Mom and Dad’s castle and I’ll get you started.”
All the work women filed out of the parlor and followed Rouge down to the canal to board boats taking them back to their nameless village. Rouge didn’t board a boat, though. She hitched a ride with the flying drone that had delivered Badger’s online order.
In the now mostly empty parlor, Marley looked to her friends who didn’t quite know what to say.
“Can we tag along with them? I have a feeling that this isn’t over yet.”
“I fear you are quite right,” said Chuck. “Who’s coming with us?”
Not Toad, because he was greedily typing in requests for all the things he’d ever wanted to buy. Badger stood next him every so often reaching down and hitting the delete button.
“I guess it’s just us,” said Mole. “Maybe the fairies will make us a fairy dust balloon.”
They didn’t. They and the pixies were too busy shopping online. So, our heroes had to row all the way to the Sleeping Beauty Castle. When they’d finally arrived, each with a set of tired arms from all that rowing, they found all of the former construction workers standing in the courtyard.
“Why aren’t you at work delivering packages?” Marley asked one of the women.
“We’ve been replaced by automated drones.”
“What about the order-taking jobs?” asked Mole.
“Automated,” said another woman.
“Don’t they need workers to put the stuff into boxes for shipment?” asked Marley not really expecting to hear any good news in reply.
“Tomorrowland sent robots,” replied the first woman.
Mole quietly said to Marley and Chuck, “It sounds like we missed tomorrow by not arriving yesterday instead of today.”
Marley and Chuck thought about this by staring blankly at their friend who mumbled, “…or something like that.”
Surrounded by all the women in the village in the confines of the courtyard motivated Marley to move on from Mole’s confusing observation to the question of what was up. Marley was about to ask one of the women why they were gathered in the courtyard of the palace when Queen Aurora and the Prince Consort came out onto the balcony. The excited murmur of the crowd hushed as the queen raised her arms.
“We’ve just had a long talk with our girls and have become fully aware of recent developments and the unfortunate situation you find yourselves in.”
“Right,” said the Prince who added, “and we were very firm in telling them that just leaving us a note before running off to Storybook Land wasn’t good enough.”
Mole and Chuck turned to Marley and nodded their heads in agreement. Queen Aurora, about to say something, halted when she saw entering the courtyard the men of the village. Everyone turned to look at the newcomers all of whom looked dejected and deeply unhappy.
After staring at them for a moment Queen Aurora asked, “Why aren’t you men out working in the fields or in your shops?”
“We’ve been replaced by robots!” shouted several of the men. Other men began to shout questions like, “How are to earn a living? Who’s going to pay our bills? What are we going to do all day?”
Because the shouting was growing louder and sounding angrier, Chuck decided to take his ward, Marley, to a safer place. The only escape route appeared to be a doorway leading into the castle. As the three entered and began climbing stairs they were met by a file of grumbling soldiers coming down.
“Oh dear,” said Mole, “I hope they’re not going to sic the army on those poor people.”
“I rather think not, dear bean,” said Chuck. “None of them were armed.”
The stairs led to the very same balcony occupied by the queen and the prince consort. Marley, Mole, and Chuck quietly entered the balcony and, though not really meaning to, overheard the Queen and Prince talking.
“They’re all unemployed and angry,” said the Queen. “What if they start thinking about revolting?”
“We still have the army, my dear,” said the Prince. He turned around expecting to see the general of the royal army but was greatly surprised by what he did see.
“My word, General. You’re looking particularly metallic these days.” He turned back to his queen and said, “It appears that our army has been replaced by robots.”
“Yes, I can see that. All of our former soldiers are down in the courtyard glaring up at us.”
“That’s not good,” said the Prince. “Together with the unemployed peasants they outnumber our robot army.”
“Whatever shall we do?” asked Queen Aurora. Her two daughters had come out onto the balcony. She searched their faces for an answer, but it was Marley who spoke up.
“How about if you made all the robots the servants of the peasants?”
“Excuse me? How’s that going to work?” asked du Lait.
“Well, say Mr. Farmer has a robot worker who does all the work, but the farmer keeps all the money earned from the farm.”
“Brilliant!” said Chuck. “And Mr. Wheeler can have a robot servant that makes the wagon wheels while Mr. Wheeler keeps the profits.”
“And Mr. Baker can have a robot that bakes the bread,” added Mole.
“And Mr. Grocery can have a robot that… um…” The Prince Consort couldn’t think of how to finish his thought but went on to exclaim, “I say! That is brilliant. The peasants should be quite content with that.”
“Finally,” said Rouge, “the workers will own and control the means of production.”
Mole murmured, “It was a medieval village. They pretty much controlled that before the robots arrived.”
Marley, Mole, and Chuck were invited to supper in the royal dining room. This time all the food was prepared and served by robots. The human cooks and servers remained downstairs in the kitchen, eating, drinking and gossiping which is pretty much what they did before being automated out of their jobs.
At the end of supper – a delicious meal, by the way, with only a hint of machine oil in the salad dressing – the robotic general entered the room to announce, “They’re back.”
Everyone at the dining table put down their dessert spoons and hurried to the balcony. Again, gathered in the courtyard the villagers glared upward at where they wanted their kingdom’s leaders to appear. Queen Aurora put her hands on the railing and shouted downward, “What is it now?”
“We’re bored!” shouted the peasants.
“That didn’t take long,” said Marley.
“Storybook time,” said Chuck. “It’s not like yours back home.” From her previous adventures in these lands of the Storybook folk, Marley knew this to be very true.
The Queen heaved a sigh and turned to the others. The Prince Consort stroked his chin looking thoughtful. The Princesses looked blank faced as did Mole and Chuck. Marley, though, had an idea.
“Maybe they could take up sports and hobbies,” she said hopefully.
“Excellent idea!” exclaimed the Prince. “I’ll let them join our country club and they can play golf.”
“And tennis,” added the Queen.
“I’ll teach art appreciation classes,” said du Lait.
“And I’ll teach a class in…” Rouge paused and then said, “Economic fairness in the age of total automation!”
“Do you know anything about economics?” asked du Lait.
“Meh, I’ll take an online course tonight.”
While the others returned to the dining room to finish their ice cream and cake, the Prince took a sheaf of country club membership forms down to the peasants. Each one had been pre-stamped in bold red letters, “Accepted!”.
Du Lait and Rouge invited Marley to a sleep-over (Chuck and Mole bunked in the now empty army barracks). That night Marley dreamed of being back home, sitting on her bed reading the Sleeping Beauty book and then her door opened a little and her mother peeked in. In the morning she recalled the dream which had seemed so real. This struck her as odd in a funny sort of way because upon waking from a seemingly real world she felt as though she’d woken up in a very unreal world, a world she might’ve dreamed.
After breakfast, everyone in the palace began preparations for filling up the leisure time of the peasants with pleasant activities. By lunchtime everyone in the village had begun their new life of play and self-improving education. That night, in the palace and around the dinner table the royals and their three guests happily recounted how successful the day had progressed. If our story were to end here, it could be finished with the words, “…and they lived happily ever after. THE END”, and Marley would be on her way home. Instead, she was looking across the table at Chuck who didn’t appear to have anything to say to her. A nagging feeling of unknown trouble brewing began to bother her. And when she was invited to another sleep-over, she definitely knew some problem or other would soon appear.
That night she had the same dream as before. Only this time her father peeked in to see her reading in bed by the light of her nightstand lamp. It was as if in her dream the real world wasn’t moving much in time, and in this fantasy world time was flying by.
The next morning all activities proceeded along smoothly. Men and women golfed, played tennis, took classes, and filled their leisure time with other not very important pastimes. However, it didn’t surprise Marley when at supper, the Prince remarked, “I say, but it’s the oddest thing: This afternoon the golf course was nearly empty, and I didn’t see anyone on the tennis courts, either.”
“And only one person showed up for my art appreciation class,” said du Lait.
Chuck cleared his throat as if by doing so he were asking permission to speak except when a Dodo bird clears its throat it sounds more like a squawk. In any case, it got everyone’s attention. “Excuse me, but I’d like to pass on an observation that you might find helpful. While I was strolling through the village this afternoon, I noticed quite a few of the men and women just sitting on their front stoops looking listless. I dared to ask a few what was troubling them.”
“What did they tell you?” asked Rouge.
“Well, they all said that they felt useless and that their lives lacked purpose and meaning.”
“Did they now?” Queen Aurora asked this disdainfully. “That’s it! I’m finished dealing with their moody behavior. From now on, they’ll just have to solve their own problems. Afterall, I have a kingdom to run.”
“Quite right, my dear,” said the Prince who then turned to a robotic servant trying to get his attention. “Mr. Robot, are you trying to tell me something?”
“Your replacements have arrived, sir.”
“Replacements?” He turned to the Queen. “Dearest, have you ordered replacements for anything?”
The Queen, clearly as mystified as the Prince, had been poised to say or ask something, when at the dining room entrance all mysteries were revealed by the sudden appearance of two robots. Each robot wore a robe and a crown.
“Goodness gracious,” said the Prince who resorted to strong language when surprised and shocked, “Are we to be automated out of our jobs, as well?”
Queen Aurora looked at Marley who sank down her chair a bit under the royal withering glare. The Queen stood up from the table (and so did everyone else because it’s the law in that kingdom).
“Not if I can help it. I’m fed up with these robots. It’s time for them to return to the future. It’s time for drastic measures.”
The Queen left the room. The Queen robot sat in her place. The King robot came over to the Prince and nudged him. The Prince quickly surrendered his place at the table. Everyone else sat in silence until the Queen returned carrying a large skyrocket. She walked straight through the dining room and toward the balcony. Except for the robots, everyone at the table looked at each other wondering what to do.
“Do you think we need their permission,” Marley indicated with her head the robot royalty, “to leave the table?”
“Let’s take a chance,” said Chuck as he stood from the table and hurried after the queen. All the flesh and blood creatures followed him.
On the balcony Queen Aurora had set the skyrocket against the railing, pointing at the dark blue sky above. The Prince Consort lit a match and put it to the fuse. Everyone stood back a little. Sparks flew out and the rocket shot into the sky where it burst into many colors forming an outline of a winged fairy wearing a tiara.
“Oh my,” said Mole. “That’s the Fantasyland signal used to summon Queen Mab.”
The Queen Mab sparkling outline broke up as the colored sparks drifted down. Then the kingdom became quiet again. The village seemed lifeless and those on the balcony remained motionless as they waited for whatever was to come next. After a few still and silent moments, two pinpoints of bright light appeared in the distance. They drifted over the roofs of the village. When they arrived at the palace balcony, in a flash of light they became a full-sized man and an astoundingly beautiful gossamer winged woman.
“Hello, you non-magical creatures,” said Queen Mab who then directly addressed Queen Aurora. “You summoned me, so I assume you wish to make a deal for my assistance.”
“Yes,” said Queen Aurora firmly. “Yes, I do. Whatever it takes I want all these robots returned to Tomorrowland. I want our old way of life back.”
“Would you pay any price?”
“Do you want my next born son?” replied Queen Aurora.
“Perish the thought. As much as I adore children – which is about as much as any other ravishingly beautiful woman in a position of supreme authority – I would never deprive you of that particular pleasure. No, what I want is something rather different.” Queen Mab turned to the man. “Allow me to introduce my palace poet, Mercutio. He needs a day job. What I’d like you to do is to hire him as a tutor for your children.”
“What are his qualifications?” asked the Prince Consort, “his areas of expertise?”
“Poetry, of course. And also, witty banter and sword fighting.”
Du Lait and Rouge, each already enchanted by the handsome young man, eagerly looked to their mother with pleading eyes. She nodded yes to them.
“Good, it’s a deal,” said Queen Mab who then faced the village with outspread arms in preparation of ordering all robots away from the Sleeping Beauty kingdom. “Hear me, you tin men of Tomorrowland. Return to your maker and your place of origin.” She then addressed the village. “Medieval you were. Medieval you’ll be. Medieval is good enough for thee.”
Mole whispered to Marley and Chuck, “Evidently Mercutio didn’t teach her much in the way of poetry.”
But Marley had noticed something high in the dark blue sky and she pointed upward, “Look up there! Those look like spinning wheels.”
They were. And as robots emerged from all the homes and shops in the village and began the long march back to Tomorrowland, the spinning wheels softly landed on the roofs. Then, like ghosts passing through a solid wall, they disappeared into each home.
Before drifting back to the magical regions, Queen Mab did Marley, Mole, and Chuck the favor of conjuring a fairy dust balloon. In the twilight, the three friends floated above the castle and the village. In the near distance, they could see the charming homes of Storybook Land. Chuck looked at Marley’s quizzical expression and asked, “What is it? Is there something troubling your mind?”
“Oh, I was just kind of wondering about robots. I suppose back in my real world, we’ll someday have robots doing everything for us and then we’ll run into the same problems the Sleeping Beauty folk did.”
“Well, it’s a fact,” said Chuck, “the future does bring its own set of problems as well as improvements.”
“Yes, but you see, they fixed their problem with all that future stuff by using Queen Mab’s magic, and back in the real world we don’t have magic.”
Marley waited for an answer, fully expecting Chuck to say something wise and wonderful, but Mole and he just smiled pleasantly at her. Marley, giving up on receiving an answer, sighed and said, “I suppose I’ll just have to figure out my own solution.”
“I’m sure you’ll come up with a brilliant one,” said Chuck. “In any case, don’t worry about it. Some tomorrows are a long way off. The important lesson to be learned from this adventure, is to always tell your parents when you’re going out.”
Mole stared at Chuck. “May I remind you that I’ve already stated that moral lesson.”
“If it’s worth saying once,” replied Chuck, “it’s worth saying twice.”
“You’re right. If it’s worth saying once, it’s worth saying twice.”
“I just said that.”
“I know. I’m just following your advice.”