Isabelle didn't go to school that day. With her parents'permission, she went to Frederic's house. He was a very cheerful and funny baby. More than that, his mother made excellent pancakes. Besides, when you have three older brothers like Isabelle did, once in a while, it's nice to be able to be in the role of the older sister.
She rang the doorbell and the boy's mother came to the door.
"Hello. Can I play with Frederic?"
"What a good idea! He'll be very happy. He really adores you."
Frederic's mother looked outside. It was beautiful.
"Why don't you take him for a walk? I'll put him in his stroller and you two can go out for a bit. I know you're a very careful five and a half year old."
"Oh, yes," said the girl. You can really have faith in me. I'll take care of him like I was his big sister. I'll watch him all the time and bring him back to you after a bit."
"Okay," said Frederic's mother, smiling.
The baby was wearing a red sleeper. She put him in his stroller.
Isabelle wore her yellow overalls, blue T-shirt, and blue canvas sandals. Her long blond hair ran down her face in two braids that danced on her shoulders.
"Just don't go into the forest with my little Frederic," said his mother.
Our friend promised not to.
As soon as the little fellow was settled in his stroller, she walked away from the house and followed the little path that ran along the wall of the cemetery and across the fields. She had promised Frederic's mother not to take him into the forest so she was going to turn back before they got to the little wooden bridge that went over the river.
They went along the road at the side of the meadows full of flowers. There, she saw a beautiful blue butterfly fluttering nearby. She'd never seen such a pretty one.
The butterfly flew over a small path that ran along the back of the gardens and led to the lower area of the village. Isabelle turned the stroller around and followed it. The path was narrow but it was just wide enough for the stroller.
Soon high hedges bordered the narrow path. Towards the left, there were fields planted with crops as far as the river. To the right, there were flowering orchards and the backyards of the villagers'houses.
The path was squeezed between the hedges. It veered to the left and then went straight for a while, for over a thousand feet.
When she was part way along, she saw a big black dog. Growling and drooling, it watched our friend. It threatened her with its teeth. A scary animal. Right away, she was afraid.
Isabelle wanted to turn back with the stroller, but the path was so narrow between the two hedges that she could only go forwards or backwards. She tried to take a step or two backwards. The dog approached slowly. He growled fiercely and, as he barked, more and more drool dripped down.
She feared for herself and Frederic. The dog might bite Frederic. That would be terrible. Poor little guy. And she didn't want to get bitten herself. Then the dog started running towards her. What was she going to do to escape?
Just then, the blue butterfly landed on our friend's ear.
"Listen to me, little girl. You see the berries there, the blue ones along the hedge? Take one. Eat it fast. Give one to the baby. You'll both become butterflies. The big brute won't be able to bite you because you can just fly away ..."
The girl didn't hesitate. She picked one of the small berries and put it in her mouth. She bit down on it. What a terrible taste, sour, really acidic! But she swallowed it.
She gave half of another one to Frederic. He spit some of it out onto his red sleeper.
The dog came running up.
Isabelle and Frederic were changing but slowly. Our friend became a yellow butterfly, perhaps because of her yellow overalls. Frederic changed into a red butterfly probably because he was wearing red.
They both flew after the pretty blue butterfly, escaping from the dog as it jumped up at them. It couldn't catch them.
In revenge, the terrible creature bit the wheels of the stroller a few times. Then it went away and disappeared into the woods.
"Oh," Isabelle whispered. "Thank you, Blue Butterfly. You saved us. That dog was really mean. He would've bitten Frederic. Thanks. Now you can turn us back into a baby and a little girl."
The blue butterfly didn't answer.
"What do we have to do to become children again?" the girl repeated.
"I don't know," whispered the butterfly.
"How can you not know!" our friend said, freaking out. "I don't want to be a butterfly for the rest of my life."
"I don't know," repeated the blue butterfly.
"What's going to happen to me? And I have to bring the baby back home. I can't bring him back to his mom as a butterfly. Oh my goodness," Isabelle said, starting to cry. "What are we going to do?"
As she fluttered left and right, she turned herself around. She spotted her house.
"I'm going to go ask Mommy for advice."
Three butterflies flew over the hedges, now in flower. A yellow one, Isabelle. A red one, little Frédéric. And a real, blue one. They flew above our friend's garden.
"Wait for me on the gate," she said. "I'll be right back."
The yellow butterfly entered the kitchen. Mommy was making dinner. Oh, it smelled so good!
The little girl fluttered around her mother's head, calling out to her. But her mother wasn't listening for butterflies. On the contrary, she shooed her away.
"I think you're a very pretty shade of yellow, but outside with you ... I don't want you in my kitchen."
She shooed her out and closed the door.
Isabelle was very sad about this but realized her mother hadn't recognized her.
With the help of the breeze, she flew to her window. She was hoping to get into her room, but the window was closed.
She saw her brother, Benjamin, through the window. He had opened a drawer of his little sister's desk. He had four caramels in his hand and was chewing on a fifth one.
"Thief," our friend thought, at the same time indignant and furious. "Just wait till I'm a girl again. I'll get even. Taking advantage of me being away to steal my candy!"
She flew back to the blue butterfly and the baby red one.
"Let's go to your house, Frederic. Maybe we can get through to your mommy."
The three butterflies flew over the hedges around the houses. The baby red one, the yellow Isabelle, and the real blue one.
Frederic's mother was hanging laundry in the backyard. The red butterfly gently landed on his mother's head. He called to her. But she too gently shooed him away with a wave of her hand.
"Please, not in my hair, little butterfly ..."
Baby Frederic returned to our friend in tears.
"Mommy said I couldn't touch her hair ... She wouldn't listen to me ..."
"She doesn't know that you've become a red butterfly," Isabelle explained.
"Blue Butterfly," our friend pleaded, "you really have no idea how to turn us back? It's getting cloudy. What'll we do if it rains?"
"When there's a storm," the blue one explained, "we can take shelter under a leaf or against the trunk of a tree."
I don't feel like living off of flowers all my life, our friend thought. I want to go back to my parents.
"Perhaps Pimpanica, our king, could do something for you," the blue butterfly suggested.
"Where does he live?" Isabelle asked.
"In the forest."
"I'm not allowed to go into the woods with the baby."
"Yes, but the king won't come all the way here," said the blue butterfly.
"Then I'll have to go," the girl decided.
Three butterflies flew towards the woods. The real blue one, the yellow Isabelle, and the red Frederic.
At the foot of a large pine tree, perched on some pretty green moss, was a black and yellow butterfly. Gorgeous!
The blue butterfly bowed to his king. The monarch looked at him and greeted him. Then he looked at the yellow and the red butterflies.
"You're not really insects," said King Pimpanica.
"No, I'm a little girl," explained Isabelle. "I'm five and a half years old and he," she added, pointing to the red butterfly, "is a baby. We became butterflies to escape a bad dog. But our blue friend doesn't know how to make us children again."
"Are you sure you don't want to stay butterflies?" asked the king.
"No, we don't want to," confirmed our friend.
"Okay," said the king. "It can be done. But, in order to do it, first you both have to pass a test."
"What does that mean?" Isabelle asked.
"That means I'm going to ask you to do a task. If you succeed, then you can go back to being a little girl and he can go back to being a baby."
"But," begged Isabelle, "he won't be able to do any task. He's just a baby. He's too little."
"So," said the monarch, "I'll turn you back into a little girl, and he'll stay a butterfly."
"That's not possible!" cried our friend. "I have to take Frederic back home to his mommy. I promised her I would protect him. I can't bring a butterfly to his mommy instead of her baby. Butterfly King, if you want, maybe I can pass both tests. But don't ask me anything too difficult. I'm just a little kid."
"Agreed," the monarch said. "All right, then. I like your spirit. Here's your first task. You're going to go get my dinner. See that big pine?"
"Yes, I see it."
"Right at the top, you'll find fresh pine cones, still soft. They've just opened. These pine cones have very small strands of fibre between their scales. Bring me back three of them."
"Okay," Isabelle said, accepting the task.
"It'll be easy," she said to herself as she flew away. "If I were a little girl, obviously, I wouldn't be able to climb to the very top of the tree. But, as a butterfly, I can fly. It'll be quick."
The blue one flew up to her.
"Be careful up there. If a crow sees you, it could eat you in one gulp."
"Oh my goodness," our friend said, worried. "Crows scare me ... I pray he doesn't come."
She flapped her wings and flew higher and higher. Then, as she approached the top of the tree, she heard a sinister cawing sound.
A crow was sitting there, on the next tree over.
Isabelle was deathly afraid. She hid behind a branch, closed her yellow wings together so the yellow was less visible. She didn't move.
The black bird took flight and ... landed on the exact branch Isabelle was hiding under! She thought she was going to be eaten alive.
Then a second crow came and perched right next to the first. They started chatting, back and forth with a series of caws.
"Caw," said the first one.
"Caw," the second one answered.
A moment later, the two crows flew away into the distance. Our friend couldn't hear them anymore.
She came out of her hiding place and flew to the very top of the tree. There, she took three small yellow strands between her front feet, as requested by the king. Then she flew down as quickly as possible to the beautiful king.
"Here," Isabelle said presenting what she'd found.
He ate the three little strands and found them delicious.
"Now the task for the red butterfly. You will bring me my dessert."
"What do you want?"
"Go up the river to the millpond."
"Oh, yes! I know it. I often go there to see the blue dragonflies. I really like them."
"Perfect. That's where you're going to go. Almost certainly, there'll be some dead leaves you'll see floating on the pond. They fall from the trees growing around the pond and float on the surface. On some of the leaves, you'll find some red or yellowish mould. Bring me back three strands of this mould. That will be my dessert."
Isabelle flew off on her last mission as a butterfly, with the real blue butterfly and Frederic, still in the form of a red butterfly. The three of them landed on some reeds that grew near the shore of the pond.
She looked out onto the surface of the water and spotted a leaf that appeared to have filaments of red mould on it.
"This'll be easy enough," our friend said, happily. "I can simply land on the leaf. I'm a butterfly after all. I'll pick three strands of mould and bring them back to the king. If I were still a little girl, I'd have to wade into the dirty, muddy water. It would be a lot less fun."
"Be careful," the blue butterfly warned her. "Frogs and toads are very fond of butterflies. They'll eat you right up."
"I hadn't thought about that," sighed the girl. "I don't want to be a butterfly anymore. We're always about to get eaten."
The frogs were croaking.
"I hear them," she said to herself. "How am I going to do this?"
A blue dragonfly landed right next to our friend.
"Hello," said the dragonfly.
"Hello," Isabelle said quietly.
"What a funny little voice you have. Are you a real butterfly?"
"No, I'm a little girl."
"You're the little girl ... you're usually in something yellow or blue ... and you come and give us breadcrumbs ..."
"Yes! That's me!"
"Thank you for that. What are you doing here?"
"I have to get some mould from the leaves floating there on the water, but I'm afraid of the frogs."
"I'll go for you. We dragonflies are the fastest! Frogs, ha! They can only try to catch me. Wait here. I'll go get the mould for you. Whatever you do, don't move."
And it left. It landed on a leaf and took three filaments of red mould. As it was about to bring them back to Isabelle, the dragonfly saw a big frog that had been watching the whole thing. Just at the moment when the dragonfly took off from the leaf, the frog leaped from its water lily ... and the frog plunged into the water right where the dragonfly had been.
"Here are the strands of mould."
"Thank you," our friend said, smiling. "When I become a little girl again, I'll bring you breadcrumbs and other little treats."
She returned before the great and beautiful black and yellow monarch.
With her were the blue butterfly and Frederic.
"Here," said Isabelle, "here's your dessert."
He ate the three strands of mould and found them to be delicious.
"Well," concluded the king. "You accomplished both tasks. I will now turn you back into a little girl and him back into a baby. You, Blue Butterfly, you have to go now, because you cannot come with us where we're going."
Isabelle said goodbye to the blue butterfly, and again thanked him for saving them from the jaws of that big dog. He fluttered off.
The two children, who were still butterflies for now, followed the monarch. He led them upriver. They arrived at the foot of a waterfall in the middle of the woods.
"There. We are going to slip behind that waterfall."
"What do you mean?" Isabelle said, worried.
"We can go behind the water, between it and the rock," said Pimpanica the king of the butterflies. "Follow me and be very careful. Droplets of water splash everywhere. If one of them were to land on you, you could be dragged into the current and drown."
Our friend was very careful and protected Frederic (still a red butterfly!) as best she could. Luckily enough, where she slipped behind the waterfall happened to be at the entrance of a rather dark cave. Once there, she discovered water pooled into little puddles of all colours.
"You have to drink a drop from each of these puddles. I will tell you the order you need to drink them. Listen carefully: white, red, orange, green, blue, yellow, white."
Our friends drank. The king continued his explanations.
"That's it, you're going to be kids again. Stay here until all the red on the baby and all the yellow on you, Isabelle, fades away. Otherwise, the colour will stick to your skin forever. Once it's truly gone, quickly run under the waterfall. Goodbye."
"Goodbye Butterfly King and thank you," cried Isabelle, so very, very happy to find herself already transformed back into a little girl.
She grabbed Frederic, once more a human baby, and went to go under the waterfall. The water was cold. Frederic was soaking wet and crying. He was cold. She held him under the sheet of water until there was no more trace of the red.
She also carefully inspected her own skin. When she changed back, she found she was still wearing her yellow overalls, her blue T-shirt, and her blue canvas sandals. She'd been wearing them the whole time! There was no trace of colour left on her or the baby boy.
She left the waterfall and, carrying the baby in her arms, she ran as fast as she could towards the village. But even though he was a baby, he was still heavy. And the path was long. Finally, she made it out of the woods.
She thought about getting the stroller from where she'd left it. The dog would have been long gone by now. But when she got back to the hedges on each side of the path, it was gone. Gathering her strength, she kept going with the baby.
Isabelle finally made it back to Frederic's parents' house.
Frederick's mother and father opened the door and welcomed her in but she could see the worry on their faces. Inside, she found her parents and also her brother Benjamin. There was also a policeman standing silently, watching our friend.
"Isabelle!" Frederic's mother cried out. "You promised me you'd take good care of my baby and now you've brought him back hours late and all wet. Were you playing in the river with him?"
"No, ma'am. I've protected him very well. I did everything I could for him. A big dog was threatening us. We got scared. Then a little blue butterfly told me we could turn into butterflies if we ate some blue berries. We turned into butterflies. After that, we couldn't turn back so we went to King Pimpanica's palace. I had to do two tasks for us to get changed back, one for me and one for Frederic. I was almost eaten by a crow, then by a frog. And finally we had to go under a waterfall to wash our colours off."
Her mother went up to her.
"My dear, you're very inventive and you've made up a great story ..."
"But it's all true! If you don't believe me how would I know that this afternoon, in the kitchen, a yellow butterfly circled around your head?"
"Yes, I remember," said her mother.
"You shooed me away because you didn't recognize me."
"Was that you? I'm sorry my darling. I had no idea ..."
"And, ma'am," continued Isabelle, turning to Frederic's mother, "Do you remember that this afternoon you had a red butterfly in your hair when you were hanging laundry in the backyard?"
"I do remember that. That was my little baby?"
She kissed Frederic.
"It was you, my little love bug, and Mommy didn't recognize you. No, she didn't! You poor little thing!"
"Okay," interrupted the police officer. "I think everything's worked out for the best. I'll go back to the station."
"Wait, sir," said our friend. "You can take my brother Benjamin with you. He stole candy from me. He took them out of my drawer when he thought I wasn't there. When I was a little yellow butterfly, I was looking through my bedroom window and I saw him."
"My boy," said the policeman, "shall I take you with me and put you in jail?"
"No, sir," replied Isabelle's big brother. "I won't do it again. I promise you."
"All right. I trust you. Just don't do it again."
"Promise," Benjamin said quietly.
When they returned home, he looked at Isabelle with a new respect. He thought that, even when they have been turned into butterflies, little sisters know everything about their big brothers. You really can't hide anything from them ...
Translation : Andrew Gordon Middleton