How It All Began

It began quite unexpectedly. Debby, as usual when there was nothing at home to keep her busy, let her imagination run wild. First she began building a new village on the little table, round the jug full of pastels and paint brushes. Crooked streets spilled from her scissors (house after house, tree after tree) like frogs from a stork’s beak. Using her pastels, Debby opened the doors and windows of the houses – let’s air the rooms, after all it’s a warm Indian summer outside – she showered the trees with colourful leaves – autumn has already begun – and she hung ripe fruit from the branches, bees and wasps buzzed around, and here and there she added the cut-out wings of late swallows. Under the houses, instead of foundations, and under the trees, instead of roots, she squeezed glue onto the grey cardboard covered with pastel grass.

“It’s terribly dry here,” she sighed, “nothing but crayons and pastels… It needs something cool, watery, refreshing…”

            So she opened her box of water paints and dipped a brush into a little bowl of clean water, letting it drink until it was as plump as a pig, then she mixed  blue with emerald green and soon a cool September stream was flowing across the cardboard.

            “I’ll put some Dalmatians there, too,” she mumbled to herself, as if she were two people and not just one. Among the houses and trees on both sides of the river she stuck whole hordes of Dalmatians. It looked as if a flock of strange spotted sheep was scattered through the village.

            “Make a durt!” little Jonathan suddenly spoke up. He had been hanging around near the table all this time, standing on tiptoe, trying to see what Debby was doing.

            “Don’t be silly!” Debby tapped her finger on her forehead. “We don’t want dirt in the village.”

            “I want a durtch!” Jonathan stamped his little foot crossly.

            “Aha… a church…”  Debby exclaimed, realising what he meant, and she put on an indulgent motherly face. She was soon sticking a big white church with a red roof in the middle of the village.

            That is how the village of Pastelton on Paintbrook came to be founded. Tired from so much work, she lay down under the first free apple tree (of course there were Dalmatians  under all the others)  and fell asleep. She was woken only by Jonathan’s clumsy attempt to pull the crumpled village from beneath her head, which really was a bit big for it.

            “You’ll wake up the Dalmatians!” sleepy Debby cried and  straightened out the creased houses.

            The village was complete. Once again, there was nothing to do. This time Debby invented a game. First of all, she gave it a name. “It will be called Chintet,” she decided, and as there was no one around just at that moment (Jonathan was sitting on his pot), no one had any objections to the name. But what should a game with such a strange name be like?

            “Chintet… Chintet… Chin… aha, it sounds like quintet.”

            She could see in her mind’s eye the group of five musicians who had come to perform for them at school. She took a piece of paper and drew some  musicians – a horse with a violin, a cat sitting at a piano, a mouse playing a flute, a dog with a French horn and a flamingo with a kettledrum and cymbals.

            “But Chintet isn’t the same as quintet,” she reminded herself.  A while later she drew in the middle of the paper a floating tree. The tree was sitting in a boat, its roots spread comfortably over the rower’s bench and red apples hanging from its well-shaped crown.

            “No doubt they’re poisoned,” Debby concluded, giving them pigs’ faces. Now the crown of the floating tree looked like the pigsty of a rich farmer.

            “What a muddle,” Debby suddenly looked at it doubtfully. It was becoming more and more of a mystery to her what this game she was inventing was all about.

            “What does it matter?!” said the strict voice inside her, making fun of her. She began to draw a narrow, winding path between the floating tree, the horse, the cat, the mouse, the dog and the flamingo. The path wound along, more and more like a snake, becoming more and more entangled, until it was such a tangle that even Debby couldn’t tell where was the beginning and where the end.

            “And now I must get out of this somehow,” she sighed and she drew a large red gate in the middle of the tangled paths.

            “Lunch is ready!” her mother’s voice came from the kitchen. Debby’s favourite poppy-seed buns were waiting for her on the table, and this time there was something to get her teeth into.

*  *  *

After lunch Philip and Dora arrived to play with Debby and Jonathan.

            “We’ll play Chintet,” Debby announced.

            “What’s that?” exclaimed Philip and Dora.

            “Chintet,” Debby replied calmly.

            “Some new computer game?” asked Philip.

            “Nothing of the kind,” Debby shook her head and showed them the paper with the floating tree, the five musicians, the tangle of paths and the red gate in the middle.

            “Actually, it is a new game,” she explained, “but not a computer one.”

            “How do you play it?” Dora wanted to know.

            “We’ll find that out when we get there,” Debby said mysteriously.

            “Get where?” Philip asked, mystified.

            “To the land of Chintet, of course.”

            “It’s a country?” Dora asked in astonishment.

            “Not a normal one. An invented one… We must make ourselves smaller, of course,” Debby developed her idea further, although at that moment she hadn’t a clue where that idea would lead her.

            “Don’t be silly!” Philip declared. “People can’t grow smaller.”

            “We must find a little bottle of  some kind,” Debby went on thinking out loud, as if she hadn’t heard him. “Alice in Wonderland got bigger and smaller with the help of a little bottle.”

            When they had tried all the little bottles they could find in the flat, Philip began to lose interest.

            “Let’s play with the Lego,” he said, but then several things began to happen all at once. Debby let out a deep sigh and the light, which until that moment had hung motionless, swayed and disappeared. Blown away by Debby’s sigh, the Chintet game flew into the air and began to grow flimsier, dissipating until it had turned into a thick white mist, in which the walls of the room, the shelves, beds and the table all vanished. When the mist cleared, the children found they were standing in the middle of a large grassy area, criss-crossed with unbelievably tangled sandy paths. A man in a dinner jacket was standing a little way off. He looked quite normal, yet just one thing seemed strange to the children – the man had the head of a horse and he was holding a child’s violin between his teeth.

Translated by Heather Trebatická