Sly was the cleverest and the cruellest of the three witches; her hair was as white as death, and her face was thin and full of cunning, and her eyes were black with malice.
She gazed upon Kay from under grey eyebrows, and said:
“I will ask my question, Kay, most lost of the Lost Women, who went out upon the Earth and across the Ocean to search for the Box of Tomorrow, and never returned; but remember this – if you do not answer it correctly, my three sisters and I will slice open your throat, and slice open your belly, and cut out your heart; and we will cook your flesh upon a roasting fire, and feast upon it; and when we are done we will boil your bones for soup. And the very trees around us will forget you existed; even the Earth itself will forget your name.”
And Kay nodded, and said:
“You may ask your question – and if I do not answer correctly, you may slice open my throat, and slice open my belly, and cut out my heart; and you may cook my flesh upon a roasting fire, and feast upon it; and when that is done you may boil my bones for soup. And the very trees will forget that I existed, and even the Earth itself will forget my name.”
“Very well,” said Sly. “Here is my question – I can roar, yet I have no lungs; feed, yet I have no stomach; die, yet be reborn again and again. What am I?”
Once more, the three witches looked longingly at Kay, for they were hungry, and she looked tasty, and it was almost dinner time.
Kay thought for a long time, and then finally she said:
“Fire! The answer’s fire.”
And the three witches groaned and spat in their fury, for that was indeed the right answer.
“Now you must let me pass,” said Kay, “for there is war between the Clouds and the Earth, and if they do not make peace we will all perish; and so I must see the Monkey Who Has Forgotten, and tell him what he must remember, for they will only listen to him.”
Sly narrowed her black eyes, and her mouth trembled; and she and the other witches shook with rage, and spittle flew from their mouths.
“Never!” they screeched. “Never will we let you pass. For no one has yet answered all our questions, and we will die if we do not eat soon – and you are the first person to cross our path in many a long age, and we are famished with hunger.”
And they lunged at Kay.
But just then, a voice came out of the wood, a voice like the cracking of stone, and it said:
“Who is this, that dares disturb my peace?”
And a great eye, large and green, appeared behind the witches. And it was followed by a great nose, soft and pink, that sniffed at the air; and the sound was like the waves crashing on the shingle. And the eye saw the witches; and it saw Kay; and the voice said:
“Who is this, that has come to see me? I am the Monkey Who Has Forgotten, and I must be told!”
“O Monkey Who Has Forgotten,” said Kay. “There is a war between the Clouds and the Earth, and if they do not make peace we will all surely perish. I have come to tell you what you must remember, for they will only listen to you. The three witches who guard this place have each asked me a question, and I have answered each one correctly; yet still they will not let me pass, and are threatening to kill me, and eat me.”
Then the Monkey Who Has Forgotten let out a great growl, and the sound was like the fire in the belly of a volcano. And he turned to the three witches, and said:
“Perfidious creatures! You think only of yourselves. Nevermore will you fill your stomachs with innocent flesh.”
And the three witches screamed in fear, and started to run; but the Monkey’s fist came down upon their heads – one, two, three – and he crushed each of their skulls between his fingers, and left only hair and bits of bone for the beasts of the forest to devour.
Then he turned to Kay, most lost of the Lost Women, who went out upon the Earth to find the Box of Tomorrow, and never returned, and said:
“Tell me, Kay, most lost of the Lost Women – tell me what it is I must remember.”
And he leaned his great head down as far as he could; and Kay stood up on her toes as far as she could; and she whispered in his ear…