“We almost had her,” I stated in disappointment.
Not we. You.
“You did have her,” Stitch Mouth corrected the both of us. “The witch was dead.”
I still didn’t know how to feel about coming so close to what we had craved so desperately for so long. It felt more like failure, yet Stitch Mouth and Balloon Girl didn’t appear disappointed at all.
How did it feel?
“I don’t want to think about it.”
Tell me, Balloon Girl asked with anticipation.
I measured the multiple sensations running through my body. The drained feeling in my arms which proved how hard I had been squeezing. My tired hands. The way my fingers wouldn’t stop trembling. The sick feeling in my belly. The moment had been horribly personal. The witch in my hands. Her struggling efforts to stay alive. Her final twitch. The blankness in her eyes. It felt like something I was never meant to do.
“I hated it. It felt terrible. It felt wrong.”
Really? Balloon Girl sounded worse than disappointed.
“You make it sound like all of those feelings are wrong!”
It’s just – personally – I thought it would have felt wonderful.
“It didn’t. It felt nothing like wonderful.”
Are you sure? Balloon Girl asked, as though I may have been confused on what we were talking about or how I actually felt.
“Enough, Balloon Girl,” Stitch Mouth said. “Leave Sarah alone. Asking her repeatedly won’t change the fact that Sarah did not enjoy what she was forced to do.”
Well, it’s surprising, is all. I would have thought it felt much better than terrible and wrong.
“Sarah is not you.”
I know. And Sarah, I am not asking you to be sarcastic or to tease you. But after all the witch has done –
“I was just trying to get through it. I wasn’t thinking about anything that the witch had done. Not what she had done to the both of you or to Stitch Mouth’s brother.” I tensed.
Stitch Mouth’s eyes widened – her secret had been exposed. She turned on Balloon Girl. “You told her.”
Balloon Girl lowered her face. I had to.
Stitch Mouth looked too shocked to be angry or hurt. “You had no right.”
Forgive me. But Sarah had to know. Do not pretend that your brother’s death was yours alone to witness. I was there too. And it was the moment that sealed our deaths. It was when you left me, and I knew you’d never return. Sarah had to know.
“Why?” Stitch Mouth wanted an answer.
You love her as you love me. Such a secret must be known because Sarah loves you as well. Knowing what happened to your brother, to you, will empower her resolve to do what she must.
“I don’t know what to say,” Stitch Mouth said.
Say that you forgive me.
“There’s nothing to forgive.”
You’re not upset?
Before we could say anything more, the most amazing thing happened. A sunbeam traced the floor.
“The sun.” I pointed.
Stitch Mouth’s mouth opened in speechless awe.
It’s beautiful, Balloon Girl said in a whisper. Then she walked beyond us, stepping into the growing golden pool. It’s beautiful. Balloon Girl raised her hands out from her sides, taking in the fresh warmth of the newborn ray. And warm.
Dawn rose through the window as we stood and watched. Soon, the house was filled with the docile power of those beaming rays. Everything sparkled.
Rising to her toes, Balloon Girl danced elegantly between the windows, passing in and out of the glittering rays.
Stitch Mouth extended her arms before her, accepting the sun into her palms.
“Why is the sun rising?”
“Perhaps this world is rejoicing at how close the witch had come to death.”
You were close, Sarah. You can do this, because you already have. And this marvelous sun! What a night! What a day! I must dance. And she was off again.
Stitch Mouth stated, “The boy.”
“You don’t sound surprised,” I said.
Stitch Mouth took a moment to try and relay something she didn’t know how to say, or didn’t want to. “When I first saw the boy enter, it took me a moment to recognize him.”
“He lived in the house with you? Back when you were alive?”
“Yes. There was something different about the boy. He was the only child who never cried at night.”
“He liked it there?”
“Not necessarily. But the home he had come from was a place of beatings and other abuses, and so, while it may seem unthinkable, the witch had brought him to a house better than his own. The boy was always disturbed though. He enjoyed watching the beatings the witch gave to us. He’s as bad as she is.”
“But he’s a kid. Like us.”
If you think he is anything like us, then you are a fool.
“That is too harsh,” Stitch Mouth corrected.
“No, Balloon Girl is right. I need to know these things. But it makes me think – all the boy wanted was to not get killed, right, and that’s why he did it? Can we really blame him?”
“Yes. We can blame him.” This time it was Stitch Mouth who was upset.
“It means that he has taken on the witch’s tastes. Therefore, I am certain he has helped her in taking other children as well.”
“But maybe he only did it to live longer,” I reasoned. “Before you came to protect me, I was scared too. I was even willing to go with the witch just to get her to leave me alone. Which sounds stupid to say, but it’s true.”
Stitch Mouth turned on me, her red eyes blazing in the new sun. “I would choose death again and again before becoming anything like the witch! Are you saying that if Balloon Girl and I had not come to you, you would have become like the witch, just so you could live a little longer?”
Leave her be, Stitch Mouth. Now it was Balloon Girl who intervened.
“No. Sarah, if that boy chose to accept a life like that, then he chose no life at all!”
Enough, Stitch Mouth.
“But she’s so powerful, that’s all I was saying. And he was just a child.”
“We were children as well.”
“I know,” I said in shame. “I didn’t mean to make you so angry.”
“No, Sarah. I am not angry with you. I am disgusted by the power the witch has over children in far more ways than I ever wanted to imagine. And I want it to end.”
“We’ll probably only get one more chance,” I admitted.
Third times a charm. And we have a few chalk left and two balloons – enough to finish this. But we should try something new. I believe, after all this time, we need a completely different tactic, a different approach.
“And what is that?” Stitch Mouth asked.
We need to kill her with kindness.
“Here we go.”
Here me out. We need to consider the witch’s feelings. So, this is what we do. We invite her to a tea party. We get all dressed up. And we tell the witch we are willing to love her and appreciate her for who she is. I’ll pour her some tea for all of us. Then we shove puffed pastries down her throat until she dies.
“I don’t know if that is what people mean when they say, ‘kill them with kindness,’” I said with a smile.
Are you sure?
Stitch Mouth laughed. “I knew it was leading somewhere ridiculous.”
You don’t think it would work?
“I don’t think so.”
“Whatever we plan, we must consider the boy,” I said.
Stitch Mouth turned to me. “Yes.”
“I’m afraid,” I admitted.
“This would have been a lot easier if we had more chalk and balloons. But I took too long.”
“Maybe. But maybe not.”
“It would have been easier, and you know it.”
“Yes. I know.”
“But by using the chalk like we have been, we got to spend a lot of time together. That’s what I loved the most.”
“I have loved it as well. I have no regrets.”
I have loved it too. No regrets, Sarah. None at all.
“Do you know what I’m worried about the most?” I asked.
That the witch can breathe fire?
I laughed. “No. Something else.”
That would be bad though.
Uninterested in any more banter, Stitch Mouth’s red eyes shimmered with curiosity. They were beautiful. “What worries you the most, Sarah?”
My bottom lip trembled. “That when it’s all over, we won’t be able to spend time together.”
We can worry about that later. Shall we sing?
“No,” Stitch Mouth said. “Let us save our song for when the witch is dead.”
We don’t have much time. And we must prepare for the boy.
“Stitch mouth, exactly how many more chalk do you have left?”
She didn’t even need to look. “Three.”
“Oh, wow, you were almost out!”
She smirked. “Yes.”
“And Balloon Girl only has two balloons. But I don’t want you to use them.”
Sarah, this is no time to be a fool. I will use the balloons. And you will not refuse me.
No. They sacrifice willingly. And we will need them.
“Okay.” I gave in. “Tomorrow, I’ll think up a plan to beat her. I’ll be ready. But first, how many other children do you think the witch had with her that night when we were surrounded?”
There seemed to be three
Stitch Mouth agreed.
“Why don’t you think she’s brought them before?” I asked.
The witch has always enjoyed the chase. I believe we forced her to realize she could not defeat us on her own, especially after how close we came to killing her.
“We finish it. Tomorrow.” I shivered at the use of that simple ominous word the witch had once said to me.