OK, as promised, I’m going to post the modern retelling of the Grimm’s fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, here for all to see. Big thanks to everyone for their feedback, support, and constructive criticism when I posted a segment of this story a little over a week ago.
Please note that this is NOT a finished product by any means, but it’s [hopefully] the start of a piece I might look to extend into a short novel for a young [7-12 years old] audience.
Any and all criticism, suggestions, and feedback is welcome!
Andrew and The Mystery of the Twelve Sleepy Daughters
[a reimagination of the original: The Twelve Dancing Princesses]
by: Victoria Webster-Perez
Andrew M. DeCannon was a peculiar boy. Unlike the other sixth graders in his class, he was not beginning to take an interest in the female population of Eagle Run Middle School. He still clung to the principle belief that girls were unpleasant, unbearable, and often downright icky. In fact, Andrew wasn’t sure what switch in his classmates’ minds had flipped over summer break, but he sure hoped he’d buried his deep. The last thing he needed was to spend his days drooling over a bunch of giggling girls like a weirdo or something.
“Did you smell her hair today?” moaned Chris Baumin. Andrew’s best friend. “She smelled like strawberries.” He sighed, stirring the congealed gravy on his lunch tray while Andrew picked gingerly at his peas, attempting to tune him out.
The lunch lady, a woman of some mysterious European origin, always gave him double the necessary vegetables, citing his scrawny arms as the motivation behind her heavy-handed delivery of the hated fare.
“You need to eat more greens, son,” she would bellow in her thick accent, her double chins jiggling like pudding wrapped in cheesecloth, “so you can grow big and strong!”
He’d nod plaintively, accepting the extra helping of soggy pearls with a grimace and staring longingly at the brownies reserved for the students with pocket money. His parents never gave him extra lunch money to buy desserts – only enough for the hot lunch special, whereas all of the eighth graders always seemed to have ten on their tray. Andrew wondered if money rained from the sky when you got to your final year at Eagle Run Middle or if other parents were just more generous when it came to the procurement of gooey baked goods for their children.
“Hello? Earth to Andrew!” Chris waved a hand in front of his friend’s face. “Did you hear me?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah.” Andrew had been daydreaming about chocolate cake so intently he could almost taste it. The saliva pooled in his mouth like the Nile, ready to flood over his lips and send the whole cafeteria out the doors on a tidal wave of spit. “Yeah, Katie’s hair smelled good, I guess.”
“Dude, are you listening? I said did you notice the McCrinley girls today?”
The McCrinleys were sisters, twelve in total, and the daughters of Principal McCrinley, the sternest and most serious principal to ever walk the halls of Eagle Run Middle School. Somehow, Principal McCrinley and his wife had managed to have three sets of quadruplets, just one year between each. It was often rumored that Principal McCringley had hoped for a boy but was forced by his exhausted wife to give up the dream after the third set of quadruplets joined the world.
There were four daughters in each grade level, giving them an automatic reputation of untouchability among the student body, as it was often felt that McCrinley had implanted cameras on his children’s book bags as a means of spying on the rest of the school. With fear and respect on their side, the eldest four daughters, eighth graders on the verge of middle-age wisdom, strolled the halls with a level of confidence that could only be rivaled by dignitaries and celebrities. Even then, it would be a close call.
“What about them?” Andrew had lost interest in the McCrinley girls shortly after he started at Eagle Run. They only talked with one another and he didn’t really see the appeal that the other boys found in them. Sure, maybe one of the youngest daughters was sort of pretty, but Andrew didn’t really notice things like that. At least, he wasn’t prepared to admit it to himself yet.
Chris chewed his roll thoughtfully. “They look exhausted.” He waved his hand in their direction. They were such a big family; they took up an entire lunchroom table on their own. “Like they haven’t slept in days or somethin’.”
Andrew turned to look at the daughters. It was true. All twelve girls looked nothing short of exhausted, their eyelids drooping heavily as they struggled to lift their forks to their lips. In fact, two of the sixth graders had actually fallen asleep at the table, their long hair dangerously close to the murky brown gravy on their trays.
Chris began to steal peas off of Andrew’s tray with his hands, licking his fingers with each redip as he continued. “I wonder why they’re so tired and all.”
“No idea,” Andrew remarked as his eyes moved across the crowded lunchroom and landed on an imposing figure in the recesses of the cafeteria, “but I’m betting their dad wasn’t too happy about it.”
Principal McCrinley stared at his daughters’ lunch table, anger and worry etched on his intimidating face. Chris flipped in his seat to stare at the principal excitedly, then turned back to Andrew.
“I wonder what they did?” The bell, signaling the end of their lunch period, drowned his outburst to a respectable shout.
Andrew shrugged his shoulders while simultaneously collecting his tray, book bag, and notepad. One thing middle school had taught him quickly was how to multitask, which he now practiced like an art form. “Guess we’ll have to find out.”
Chris and Andrew didn’t have to wait long for the mystery of the McCrinley daughters to spread around Eagle Run Middle School like wildfire. After two more days of the girls looking increasingly exhausted, their unexplained fatigue was the only conversation to be heard in the halls. Even the oldest sisters were falling asleep in their classes, much to the dismay of their father. Andrew shared a class with Emily, one of the younger McCrinley daughters, and found himself poking her awake through most of their history lesson.
Curiosity taking the best of him, he wrote a quick note and slipped it to her before her eyes could close for the seventieth time that period. Emily unwrapped the note and stared uncomprehendingly at the words for a few moments, then quickly scribbled a reply and passed it back.
Andrew unfolded the note and read it silently.
Why are you so tired?
I’m not going to bed until after two in the morning.
Andrew faced Emily and mouthed the word “why?” before their teacher, Mr. Sawton, could spot them passing notes. She gave him a big smile and turned her eyes to the chalkboard, pretending to listen to the lesson on the War of 1812 for the first time all period. Andrew tried to get her attention again, but she ignored him, the corners of her mouth still pulled into a mischievous grin.
That’s it, thought Andrew. I’m going to figure out what the sisters are doing every night.
That Friday, while Andrew and Chris sat during lunch period picking at their cardboard pizza squares and ruminating on what the McCrinley sisters did at night, Principal McCrinley did a very surprising thing.
All twelve of his daughters were at their normal table, all fast asleep and snoring loudly, uncaring of the bits of tomato and pepperoni that clung to their hair and faces. It appeared they had all fallen asleep simultaneously, the gelatinous cheese of the school pizza bracing their falls as their heads hit the table with one loud, echoing thunk.
It appeared that Principal McCrinley had finally snapped, as he was putting posters up all over the cafeteria in a manic, agitated way. He kept mumbling to himself as he glued them to the walls, covering the school bulletin board and lunch menu for the month in his haste. Andrew watched as several seventh grade boys approached one of the posters cautiously, and then exploded in a series of loud, boisterous high-fives.
Several more boys followed suit, running up to the posters in avid curiosity, celebrating their findings, and then turning to watch the sleeping McCrinley daughters at the table, their eyes searching for information. Emily snorted and turned in her sleep, a shiny spot of grease exposed on her cheek from her squashy pizza pillow. Nearly the entire male population had begun to stare at the girls, whispering among themselves. Even Jonathan Craigson, the coolest kid in all of Eagle Run Middle School, read a poster near the trashcans and began to silently watch the dozing dozen in the center of the lunchroom.
Andrew jumped to his feet and scurried to one of the few non-crowded posters, Chris right at his heels. They both gasped, a combination of shock and excitement, as they read the words scribbled by the principal.
To the boy who solves the mystery of the sleepy McCrinley daughters:
An unlimited supply of desserts AND one year of excused tardy passes.
Immediate expulsion for any boy who fails after three attempts.
Come to my office for more details.
– Principal McCrinley
Chris and Andrew stared at one another, their jaws practically unhinged. An unlimited supply of desserts and one year of excused tardy passes? Principal McCrinley had basically offered the kingdom of Eagle Run Middle School to whomever could figure out what his daughters were up to. And, based on the increasing mumbling in the cafeteria, every boy with a brain was looking to claim the prize. Andrew’s mind danced with the thought of unlimited cake, cookies, and cream puffs while Chris’s eyes had glazed over at the thought of never having to be on time for class again, not that he ever had been before. He was constantly getting demerits for his tardiness; this was sure to get his mom off of his case this time.
When the bell rang to signal the end of another lunch period, the McCrinley daughters startled awake, quickly scrubbing the crusted cheese and tomato paste off of their faces before running to their respective classes. In their hurry, none of the sisters seemed to notice the posters or the parade of boys jogging behind them. Andrew watched as his best friend joined the spectators, leaving him to stand alone and contemplate his own plan of action.
A week passed and six boys had already been expelled from Eagle Run Middle School. The McCrinley daughters were now sleeping through almost all of their classes, their teachers sending notes to the principal in constant complaint throughout the day. Principal McCrinley’s office was fit to bursting with the notes, with every cabinet jammed full and the cupboards spilling the little yellow demerits in a river across the linoleum floor.
The boys of the school stalked the sisters through every period, yet the daughters seemed no more concerned by their presence than they were of the red-faced, foaming, exasperated company of their father. Whatever their secret was, they were keeping it well.
Andrew ate lunch alone that day, as Principal McCrinley had expelled Chris that very morning. He wasn’t sure what method his best friend had used to track the girls, but it had obviously failed miserably. Andrew stared at the empty spot on his plate, wishing a pastry would magically appear.
At that moment, Jonathan Craigson walked nonchalantly up to the McCrinley sisters’ table, his long stride reminiscent of a famous celebrity. One of the eldest daughters, Michelle, woke from her nap in her fruit salad to welcome him to the table. She giggled as he questioned her intently. Andrew tried to listen, but the roar in the lunchroom was too loud for him to hear their whispered conversation.
Three days later and Jonathan Craigson was expelled.
By the end of the month, only four boys remained at Eagle Run Middle School, Andrew included. Principal McCrinley had turned a permanent shade of fiery purple and gone completely bald, while his daughters had remained exhausted and equally happy. The principal was unable to return to his office, as the slightest crack of his door would result in a flood of demerit slips four feet deep escaping into the hallway.
Andrew had pretty much given up the thought of solving the McCrinley daughters’ mystery, figuring that his parents would never forgive him if he were expelled. He still dreamt of brownies while forcing himself to eat the triple serving of creamed spinach the old lunch lady had lovingly spooned on his tray, beaming at him through crooked teeth.
When the bell rang, he gathered his possessions and stared longingly at the McCrinleys, watching as they woke up and hurriedly cleaned the tapioca pudding off of their faces. Emily gave him a faint smile and waved as they left the lunchroom.
Andrew was just exiting the vacant cafeteria, which could empty surprisingly fast when three hundred boys had been expelled, when he heard someone whisper his name. He looked around, curious, and saw the friendly lunch lady gesturing to him from behind the kitchen. He approached cautiously, unsure if he could handle a doggie bag of green vegetables to take with him into his fifth period science class.
“Do you want to know how to solve the mystery of the sleepy McCrinley sisters?” The old woman smiled, as Andrew’s eyes grew wide in shock. “I can give you some tips.”
He nodded eagerly, his head bobbing like a yo-yo on his neck.
“When you go to their house, do not accept any of the snacks the girls offer you,” the lunch lady said seriously, “and do not drink the soda or fruit juice they try to give you before bed.”
Andrew pulled his notepad out of his pocket and wrote her instructions down as quickly as she could speak them.
“Pretend to eat and drink everything, of course, and then you’ll need to act very sleepy and lay down. Once they think you are fast asleep, you can use this to follow them.”
She pulled an ugly, old baker’s coat out of her bag. It was long and Andrew realized it would touch the floor if he put it on. He looked at her quizzically.
“This was my father’s. It’s an invisibility coat. When you put it on, no one will be able to see you. Use this to follow the daughters wherever they go.”
He accepted the coat gingerly, folding it up and squeezing in into his stuffed book bag. It smelled like Brussels sprouts and moldy cheese. “Thank you, Misses…?”
“It’s Miss Krindelstaf,” she patted him on the head. “And you’re welcome. You’ve always been so good about eating your vegetables; I think it’s high time you earned some desserts, don’t you agree?”
That afternoon, Andrew approached Principal McCrinley’s office after the end of seventh period with all of the bravery he could muster. He knocked on the door and could hear the grunting and mumbling as the principal swam through the thick blanket of demerits to greet him. A wave of yellow paper filled every open crevice as the wooden door opened, Principal McCrinley practically riding the crest like a professional surfer.
He greeted Andrew with a curt nod, handing him a card with his home address and the instruction to be at his home by seven in the evening with supplies for a sleep over. Andrew gulped in fear as the agitated principal returned to his office, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t be expelled before he could return the coat to the nice lunch lady.
Principal McCrinley had a large home just half a mile from the school; inside the looming house was every luxury a kid could ever want. Giant television, big backyard, and a fridge full of delicious foods, Andrew was convinced he had somehow died and stumbled his way into heaven. The McCrinley daughters welcomed him graciously into their home, giving him a tour and finally bringing him to their bedroom.
The twelve sisters shared one giant bedroom, with six beds lined up against both the east and west walls. Principal McCrinley chaperoned the tour of their room, gesturing to a small cot that had been set up directly outside of the door and reminding him that he would be expelled if he did not solve the mystery of their fatigue within three days time. Michelle, the eldest daughter by three minutes, giggled disdainfully as Andrew assured the principal he would figure out the answer and report it to him by the end of the third day.
Just as the lunch lady had warned him, the sisters doted on Andrew until bedtime, bringing him nearly irresistible pastries, cookies, and cake and offering him unlimited options of juices and milk to tempt his palate. He pretended to eat and drink everything, dumping the contests of the drinks into a potted plant and slipping the pastries into his book bag so they wouldn’t see he hadn’t eaten it. An act of true self-restraint, Andrew didn’t eat a single crumb – despite the delicious smells that attacked his nostrils like kung-fu masters.
The girls watched him expectantly, so he stretched his arms and yawned loudly, suggesting that he was growing very tired. After a few minutes, Andrew stretched out on the cot set up for him and pretended to fall fast asleep, throwing in a few snores for good measure. The girls watched him closely and Michelle, the appointed speaker for the family, announced to her sisters, “He’s out! Let’s go.”
Emily was a bit hesitant, watching the rhythmic rise and fall of Andrew’s chest with concern. “Are you sure? Perhaps we should wait another minute or two?”
“Don’t be silly!” cried Michelle, already slipping into her soccer cleats and pulling her hair into a ponytail. “He’s practically unconscious!”
Andrew gave a little snort and allowed himself to drool a bit on the blanket, further assuring the sisters of his deep sleep. The girls quickly changed into their uniforms, tying their shoelaces and pulling their hair up and out of their face. Michelle approached her bed, furthest from the entrance, and clapped twice while Andrew peeped through his nearly closed eyelids at the doorway. To his shock, the bed slowly lowered into the ground, revealing a shadowy staircase. The sisters hurried down into the dark and Andrew jumped quickly and pulled the invisibility coat from his book bag, donning it as he raced to follow them.
Sure enough, he was completely invisible as he joined the dozen sisters on the stairs, grabbing hold of Emily’s shirt to keep up.
“Hey! Someone’s grabbed me!” Emily shouted to her siblings, fear growing in her voice.
“Don’t be so silly, Em,” called Michelle, “you’ve probably just caught your shirt on a nail. Hurry up!”
The sisters hurried down the staircase through their basement, finally opening up to a forest made of solid silver trees. Andrew had never seen anything like it and realized he should bring back evidence for Principal McCrinley, so he broke a small branch off of the tree nearest to Emily.
“Did you hear that?” Emily called in fright. “I just heard a branch break!”
Andrew shoved the branch into the pockets of his coat as the other sisters teased Emily for her paranoia. “Now you’re hearing things, little sis,” called one of the older quadruplets. “Are you scared you’re going to lose tonight and trying to find a way out of the game?”
Upset by their mocking, Emily ran ahead of her sisters through the woods. They followed closely behind, laughing and straightening their soccer jerseys. Soon, they came upon a wood of solid gold and, immediately after, a forest made of diamonds. Andrew stole a branch from each, Emily noting the sound but refusing to bring it up again lest she be further teased by her sisters.
At last, they came upon a giant lake, where twelve canoes with twelve boys in corresponding soccer uniforms waited for them. The dozen daughters raced to meet their partners, hoping into the canoes and greeting their boys with a kiss on the cheek. Andrew hoped in the boat with Emily and her companion just before all of the boats broke away from the shore.
“Boy, the canoe sure feels heavy today,” remarked the young kicker, struggling to paddle the boat.
Emily blushed. “Sorry. I must’ve had a big dinner or something.”
Andrew withheld a laugh as the canoes continued to make their way across the lake. After a few minutes, a giant soccer field came into their line of sight, illuminated with giant stadium lights and an auditorium full of fans. The sisters and their companions disembarked quickly on the opposite shore, running for the arena with excitement and newfound energy.
The girls played for hours, winning five games out of eight against the boys, the audience cheering their goals more loudly with the passing of time. The sisters took turns on the bench and would pour themselves a drink to cool down, only to find that it had been slurped away before they could bring it to their lips. Andrew enjoyed the game, guzzling all of their beverages and eating their snacks right under their noses. Finally, once all of the principal’s daughters were too exhausted to make another kick, the boys rowed them back across the lake and they resumed their trek back through the forests of diamond, gold, and silver.
Andrew ran ahead of them, sprinting up the staircase, removing his invisibility coat, and hopping back into his cot before the eldest sister returned to the bedroom. The daughters, too tired to notice the extra set of muddy foot prints on the floor, quickly wiped the mud from their faces, changed into their pajamas, and dropped into their beds where they fell asleep immediately.
Instead of telling Principal McCrinley about the sisters’ secret the next morning, Andrew decided to follow them two more nights. An avid soccer fan, he couldn’t resist the temptation to watch their very exciting games. He kept silent during school, even when Emily tried to ask him between her yawns how he had slept. On the third night on the soccer field, he stole one of the balls from after everyone had finished their games, hiding it under his coat before running ahead of them to resume his pretend sleep in his cot.
When the twelve daughters resurfaced from the staircase, they gathered around Andrew’s bed and watched him with interest.
“Shame about him being expelled,” Michelle noted as she scrubbed the mud from her hands. “He seemed nice.”
All but Emily giggled at the eldest sister’s wit, returning to their beds to catch an hour of sleep before they had to get up for school. Emily watched Andrew another minute longer, feeling sorry for him but unsure what she could do to prevent him from being expelled in the morning. She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and followed her siblings back into the bedroom, where their soft snores were already echoing into the hall. It was fortunate for Andrew that the lights were off; otherwise Emily might have noticed how his cheeks burned bright red after she turned away.
In the morning, Principal McCrinley sat across from Andrew in his sprawling dining room, the table set for fourteen although the daughters had not yet crawled out of their beds to join them. The principal sipped his coffee through gritted teeth while Andrew happily chewed his cereal with gusto. This went on for several minutes before Principal McCrinley finally slammed his fist onto the table.
“Well?” he asked, his face returning the putrid purple of before. “Do you know why my daughters or so tired or not?”
Andrew slurped the last drops of milk from his bowl and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Yes, I do.”
The principal stared daggers at him. “And?”
“Your daughters go to an underground soccer field every night,” Andrew replied confidently, “and they play against a team of a dozen boys. They are actually quite good. They win almost every game.”
The principal stared at Andrew incredulously. “How do you know this?”
Andrew stood up and produced the branches and the soccer ball from his book bag. “Michelle claps her hands twice and her bed sinks into the floor. The girls go down this long staircase and then cross through a forest of silver, a forest of gold, and a forest of diamonds.” He gestured to the branches on the table. “Then, when they get to the lake, twelve boys in soccer uniforms wait for them in twelve canoes. They row they across the lake to a giant field where an audience watches them play soccer until very late in the night. They don’t return home until they are all too tired to kick.” Andrew pointed to the soccer ball. “That’s why they are so exhausted in school every day, Principal McCrinley.”
The principal took a long sip of coffee and thought about what Andrew said. After a moment, he called very loudly for his daughters to join them in the dining room. The twelve girls staggered in, still in their pajamas, rubbing the sleep from their eyes as Andrew calmly refilled his cereal bowl.
Principal McCrinley repeated Andrew’s story back to his daughters, who quickly became wide-awake and alert, their secret finally revealed. Eleven of the daughters denied the story, claiming that any rational person would realize that it was a lie, but Emily jumped to Andrew’s defense.
“It’s all true, daddy,” she admitted. “Every word of it. Michelle discovered the underground soccer field and we’ve been going every night for the past month.” She smiled at Andrew who grinned back, surprised at the support, the milk leaking out of his full mouth.
“Well, that settles it! Andrew, congratulations.” Principal McCrinley scratched his baldhead, his face returning to a more natural shade of pink for the first time in weeks. “You have unlimited desserts from the lunchroom and can have a years worth of tardy passes.” He looked at his daughters, all of who realized they were likely in big trouble for their lies. “As for you, young ladies, we need to talk.”
Andrew swallowed his cereal noisily. “Um, Principal McCrinley?”
“Yes, my boy?”
“Would it be possible I could give my late passes to your daughters? That way they could still play soccer at night, sleep in, and not get in trouble for arriving late to school?”
Thirteen heads in the room turned quickly to face Andrew, the flash of their synchronous movement creating a breeze in the air.
“That’s a mighty generous gift, Andrew.” Principal McCrinley offered softly. “Are you sure you want to give that away to these girls who would have had you expelled?”
“Sure. They just wanted to play soccer, after all.” He grinned at Emily, who beamed back at him, gratefulness practically radiating from every pore. “And, really, I just wanted some chocolate cake with lunch. I don’t need the late passes.”
“Well, then. I guess that settles it.” The principal looked at his daughters, who breathed deep sighs of relief. “Your absences will be excused for the year but, after that, we’ll need to figure out a more, eh, practical time frame for you to play soccer, ok?”
Twelve heads nodded in unanimous agreement. Andrew, with the promise of unlimited desserts for the next three years, decided that his middle school career would most certainly be happily ever after. And, perhaps, he might be inclined to share some with Emily one day.
Optimistic it’s going to be a beautiful holiday break,
~ Victoria Elizabeth Ann