I must have fallen asleep. When I opened my eyes I was lying on my back, stretched out upon the ground. The moon, which had returned in all its fullness and now hung suspended just above the little grassy hill, caught my eye.
“I will follow you,” I said with determination. “I want so much to follow you now! I’ll go wherever you want me to go!”
“Then come along quickly!”
I was startled at the sound of a new voice, high-pitched, resonant, even musical, like a woodwind instrument, but also strangely mechanical in tone.
“Step lively if you’re coming!” the voice continued. “Don’t be such a lazybones!”
“Lazybones! Lazybones!” chimed in a number of similar voices. “Don’t be such a lazybones!”
A moment later I found myself surrounded by a troop of odd little men.
“She won’t!” I heard one of them laugh derisively. “She can’t!”
“No, no!” said another. “You’re absolutely right!”
“Certainly not! Definitely not!” agreed a third.
“A lazybones! A sluggard!” rejoined the chorus.
I thought of the eight-legged horse disappearing into the distance. A new pain, cold like cold steel, flashed through my heart. I rolled over onto my side.
“Get up! Get up!” shouted the first of the strange little imps. “You’ve got to! You know you’ve got to!”
Suddenly I felt unspeakably tired and weak. “I know,” I responded, “But I don’t have the strength.
“You must! You must!” chanted the others. “Come along quickly! Come now!”
At once they were all around me, tugging at my nightgown, pulling and pushing me this way and that. Ten pair of bony little hands laid hold of me and wrenched me upright, setting me on my feet. I looked down at their misshapen little faces as if in a dream.
“Go quickly!” shouted the chief imp, stomping as if in a fit of rage. “Go, go, go!”
“Step lively!” chanted the others. “Don’t be such a sluggard!”
I had no choice except to comply. Assuming that they wanted me to follow the eight-legged horse and its rider, I struggled against my own weakness and took a single step forward.
“Stop!” I heard some of them shout.
“Hold her down! Keep her down!” cried two or three others.
Immediately I was all but smothered beneath a pile of scrawny bodies as the imps leaped wildly upon me and began pummeling me with their fists.
“She won’t! She can’t!” they shouted. “A sluggard! A good-for-nothing!”
“Let me go!” I cried in pain and confusion, covering my head with my hands and pressing my face to the ground.
They jumped away at once, then drew back and stood regarding me from a distance.
“Please let me go,” I continued without getting up. “I want to follow the man on the eight-legged horse.”
“Yes, of course!” piped the chief. “What else? You must follow him!”
“You must! You must!” chanted the others.
“Well, then,” I said, getting to my feet, “I will, and I hope you will be so kind as to – ”
Instantly they threw themselves on top of me again, kicking, scratching, and beating me into the ground. I began to cry desperately.
“You must follow him! Yes! Yes! But you can’t!” Shouted one of the little men.
“You must but you can’t! You must but you can’t!” They all joined in, jeering and laughing with glee.
Again the steel-like pain cut me to the quick. I ceased struggling and lay limp on the ground, overwhelmed with despair.
* * * * * * * * * *