THE GINGERBREAD WITCH
Missy sat in the living room of her gingerbread home watching her son sink his fangs into a toy truck. She had never had this problem with her daughters. Then again, their father had been a sorcerer, not a scientist. Her current husband was a good man and a brilliant scientist. However, she wished he’d mentioned his family’s genetic “quirk” before they’d had a child together. The oddity had missed her husband entirely and hit her son full force.
Puberty was not going to be fun.
She sighed as her little boy swallowed the rest of his masticated tinker toy. No matter how much she fed him, he never seemed satisfied. The kid was no bigger than a dwarf, but could somehow manage to eat an entire roast duck and still have room for dessert. At least living in a house made of gingerbread provided her with extra food.
Missy sat back and cackled unexpectedly. Irritated, she put her fingers to her temples. Missy had had this awkward version of Tourette’s since she could remember, yet it never ceased to aggravate her. However, annoyance and frustration were feelings she was all too familiar with lately. She groaned as she thought back on the last year of her life. It hadn’t been good. Her husband was off researching some experiment, her daughter was away on the school extension trip, and her experiments to correct her Tourette’s consistently resulted in altering her skin color. Today she was a dark lime—though she had to admit, it was a far sight better than the canary yellow of the day before.
The throbbing in Missy’s temples had just begun to subside when the door chimes interrupted her calm.
“What now?” Missy grumbled, then cackled, and got up to answer the door.
She really needed to check her crystal ball more often; Missy was not in the mood for visitors. Looking through the small sugar-‐‑glass window, she was surprised to find Genevieve Goose standing on her apple-‐‑red, hard-‐‑candy porch. When she opened the door, the pleasantly rounded woman looked up through little circular bifocals and smiled tentatively with round, rosy cheeks.
“Hello, Miss Wicked. I need to speak with you, if you have a moment.” Genevieve’s greeting was politely formal.
“What a pleasant surprise. By all means, come in.”
Missy let out a sigh as they settled onto her couch. This wasn’t a wholly unexpected visit, and from the look on Genevieve’s face, she was not the bearer of good news.
“I think you know why I’m here, Miss Wicked.”
“Missy,” she corrected, letting out a loud cackle. Genevieve jumped slightly but continued. It wasnʹt her first trip to Missy’s house. “Iʹm here on government business. I think it will be easier if we keep this formal.”
“If you insist, Ms. Goose.”
“Thank you.” She nodded and took a deep breath. “It’s about those children you sent away a few months back. They’ve been making some rather... wild claims about you.”
“Yes, the rumor mill has trickled back to me.”
“Then you are aware of their accusations?”
“Yes. They’re ridiculous! I would never eat a child.”
“I know that, Miss Wicked.”
“You know their background. The children were raised as con artists. Their parents had them begging on the streets before abandoning them. Terrible people!” In her disgust, Missy cackled abruptly.
“Well, the children will be fostered by their uncle in the Industrial Domain.”
“Good. Get those two cretins as far away from me as possible. They nearly ate me out of house and home, then blamed me for how fat they got!”
“So, they did accuse you of fattening them up?”
“Yes, they got mad when I asked them to do their chores. Which you know I ask of all my tenants since they’re staying and eating for free. They are the two laziest children I’ve ever seen. The little monsters even attacked me when I caught them stealing from my pantry! They nearly shoved me into the oven, which as you know, is huge—I can cook a horse in that thing. Had I actually gone in, I would have been flambéed! That was the last I saw of them and good riddance.”
“Yes, well.” Genevieve gave a little cough. “They said you threatened to ‘serve them up for dinner.’”
Missy’s anger burst out unchecked. “One little joke about them being fatter than the turkey we were having for dinner and suddenly I’m a cannibal?”
Genevieve cleared her throat and pushed her glasses farther up the bridge of her nose. “I believe you said,” she pulled out a small file and read, “‘you two are so round I should serve you up for supper. We would have meat for weeks.’”
Missy let out a high-pitched laugh. The cackles were always worse when she was stressed. “In hindsight, that might not have been the best thing to say, but honestly, Genevieve! I have three children of my own. Why would I want to eat those two?”
“I’m sorry about all of this.” Genevieve sounded tired. “We thought setting you up out here to help travelers was a wonderful idea. The number of people lost to the Black Woods has seen a substantial decrease in the few years you’ve been here. Building your house out of sweets to help people find their way was truly a brilliant idea.”
“Well, it’s just easier for me to maintain,” Missy replied modestly.
“I’m terrible with thatch and wood, but give me an oven and some sugar and I can produce miracles.”
“It was all working out so nicely.”
“Was? How bad is it, Genevieve?”
Genevieve Goose shifted uncomfortably. “Well... I mean the Cinderella rumors just blew over.”
“Oh, not that.” Missy groaned. “None of that is true! You can go ask her, or any of my children! I treated her as one of my own. You know what a clean person Cindy is—can’t stand to leave a dish unwashed or a floor unswept. She was happy as a clam in my home. But when she told that dullard husband of hers how she spent her time, he took it and ran with it! You know how the Charmings are about my family. They’ve hated us since grade school.”
“I know, but it’s the rumors,” Genevieve sighed. “Get enough people talking and they can make a saint a sinner. It’s all gossip, but that spreads like wildfire in town.”
“One of the many reasons I was happy to move out here in the first place.”
Missy took a deep breath, barely able to restrain a nervous cackle. This was it, the really bad news.
“You’re going to have to close down the program.”
“No!” Missy was stunned. Cutting back her funding or salary she could handle, but being let go all together? “You’re firing me? How am I supposed to support my children? My son is only two, his father’s always off on some wild goose chase... no joke intended. The Extension Program cost an arm and a leg! This is practically my entire income.”
“I’m sorry, Missy. I’ll do what I can, but we’ve been told to disband the project.” Genevieve placed a sympathetic hand on Missy's shoulder. The two had been friends in grade school. “You also have to remove the ‘Lost and Found'ʹ spell you created to guide people here.”
“That was a strong piece of magic. It won’t be undone easily,” Missy groaned.
“You have to, Dear. It’s this new government. You know it wouldn’t be like this if they had kept the monarchy. Then again, our little program might not even exist if King Richard hadn’t stepped down.”
No matter how kind Genevieve was, there was no comfort for Missy.
“And...” Genevieve sighed.
“The higher ups have requested you lay low until the brunt of the rumors stop circulating.”
“What?!” Missy’s cackle was almost a scream. “I’m under House Arrest?”
“Not as bad as all that, but essentially. It shouldn’t be too difficult. Amanda is away and there should be more than enough time between now and when your son starts school for this to disappear...You know I would help if I could, but I’m not going to be here much longer. This job is getting to me. I don’t think Iʹll be working for the government anymore.”
“No! What are you going to do?” Distressed as she might be, Missy knew how taxing it would be for Genevieve to leave the security of her position.
Genevieve thought a moment and gave a little shrug. “Not sure. I have a teaching degree. I may apply for a position at Legends Primary.”
“Well, they would be lucky to have you.”
“Thank you, Missy.” Genevieve smiled sadly. “Please try not to worry about all this. There’s a decent severance package and I’m trying to find another job you can fill in the meantime. You still have your home. You’re a very resourceful woman—I know you’ll bounce back. You always do.”
“Thanks,” Missy replied unenthusiastically as she stood to walk her rotund little friend to the door.
“I really am sorry,” Genevieve apologized again as she descended the candy steps. Turning back, she flashed Missy a smile. “By the way, that shade of green is lovely on you.”
“Thank you.” Missy chuckled. “Let’s get together for tea sometime soon.”
“Only if you make those blueberry crumpets you do so well.”
“It’s a deal.”
Missy waved and watched as Genevieve disappeared from her yard in a gust of magic.
“Great.” Missy’s forehead hit the door with a soft thunk, causing the sugar glass to creak in response. “I really need to start checking my crystal ball.” She turned to find her son eating his way through the fruitcake fireplace. “I suppose I could start a candy store.” She laughed as she scooped him off the floor. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
The robust toddler let out a resonating belch of agreement.
The small candy puddle shrank until naught remained but a pinkish-white stain on the table before Patrick. This last remnant faded quickly, as did the luminescent mist which had enveloped his eyes.
“An interesting account of life’s hardships.”
“Not everything has to be death and destruction,” Patrick replied. “I find everyday plights just as relevant as the extraordinary.”
“The great oak seems appeased.”
“I believe it is now your turn.”
“I think we should let our brother go first,” Angus replied, leaning back into the frame of his high-‐‑backed chair.
Patrick listened. He could faintly hear footsteps coming down the hall.
“Killian,” he muttered as the resonant thudding of the steps grew louder. “I’m sure he will have a good offering. He always does.”
“His land is awash with ancient stories.” There was a knock on the chamber door then. “Enter,” Angus called and the great door slowly swung open.
“Sorry I am late, brothers,” Killian called, closing the door behind him.
A gust of air rushing to escape the room tossed his gold-brown hair over his shoulder as he headed to the table. Killian was tall and well-built with skin nearly the same golden brown as his eyes and hair, giving him the look of a bronzed statue. He wore a long, flowing jacket the color of storm clouds and a simple dark blue suit beneath, a perfect liaison to the Olympians and ancient creatures of Godsʹ Grace.
“Have we already begun?” He took the seat to Patrick’s right.
“Only just,” Angus replied. “Patrick just finished his first.”
Killian glanced around at the empty chairs. “I see I am not the only late comer.”
“With all that’s going on back in the Lands, many of our brothers are held up,” Angus said.
“I understand—barely managed to get away myself. Of course, in my land, a little loss of magic is no big issue. However, you know how the inhabitants of Gods' Grace can be. A lot of ancient toddlers, if you ask me. Anyway, I am late due to my accidental transition from the gateway into the king’s house. That place is an absolute labyrinth! Ferdinand says ‘hello’ by the way.”
“How is the Minotaur?” Angus asked.
“Living in luxury. The king is hardly ever there and the occasional burglar keeps him plenty entertained.”
Angus let out a bark of laughter. “Been meaning to stop by, but time’s always slipping away from me.”
“It does that to us all,” Patrick replied.
“Are you ready, or would you like time to get settled?” Angus asked Killian.
“Always one to get right to it.” Killian smirked, earning a chuckle from Patrick. “I suppose there is no reason to delay. I have an old tale as offering, a sad yarn told to me by the Sea God himself.”
They all bowed their heads momentarily.
Killian looked to the crystal ball, his gold-brown eyes were now cloudy. “I offer this ancient story, passed on to me by a creature of Godsʹ Grace: a tale of a monster whose love is vast and true, but stifled by a forbidden curse. I sacrifice this water lily, a relic from the fountain of the once magnificent temple of Athena.”
He set the flower before the great crystalline ball where it curled into itself as it began to brown and wilt.