A year, now. It has been a full year since the phony election that put El Presidente in the Golden Office. A year since people began leaving the capital and the nation’s other large cities. While some of the refugees emigrated to quasi-democratic nations, most of them settled in the small towns and on the farms across the countryside, where they began building new, rural lives. A year ago, it was a flood of refugees. Now fewer people are able to escape.
A year, now, and even though she has studied and practiced, the wicked witch is no wickeder than she ever was. Nowadays she even forgets to put on the wicked-witch mask that she used to think scared people. But it’s easy for everyone to see that, masked or not, she’s just an ordinary woman practicing an old-time religion. She’s never fooled anyone, not the sixty or so refugees who now live on her farm, especially not the various ravens who drop by regularly for snacks in exchange for gossip.
A new refuge has arrived, a cheerful woman in a long, faded blue dress and carrying a covered basket. “Oh,” she says, “’tis bad, ’tis bad in the capital. Everyone is spying on everyone else, the marketplace is silent, and if you dare to say, ‘Bibbity-bobbity,’” here she stands straighter, “you’re under arrest before you get to the ‘boo.’ Why, just look at me. I’m half the fairy godmother I once was.”
Kahlil the prophetic raven looks at her and cocks his head. “There’s good food here, milady. We can fatten you up again. And then you can return to yer profession,” “If not your old home,” says Domina, another raven, as she pulls another white wiggly worm out of the bowl of ramen noodles on the table.
Mrs. Janedoe, sitting halfway down the long table the men had built after the cold winter when they’d burned the witch’s “good” table for heat, also looks at the new refugee. “Mrs. Godmother,” she begins, “what about—”
“That’s Mrs. Fairy,” the new refugee says. “Mrs. Fairy. And you’re asking about that girl, that Ella? Well, I’ll tell you what happened. That prince she married? He turned out to be a rotter. And a rutter, too—handsome and charming, indeed, him, he started chasing after little girls and stealing their shoes and smearing pitch on the sidewalks so they couldn’t run away from him…and, and the things he did to those girls…I can’t tell you. Maybe you can guess.” The people sitting around the table nod. “And now he’s one of the president’s men! In and out of the Golden Office all day.”
“And Miss Ella?” the witch asks.
“Locked up.” Mrs. Fairy looks at one of the other refugees. “Mrs. Worthington, you were part of that set. I remember you at the balls and festivals. You know how the girls were treated.”
When Mrs. Worthington can only nod, Domina plucks a stalk of asparagus off a platter and walks down the middle of the table with it, then drops it on her plate. “This’ll make ya feel better,” she says, wondering if asparagus has any restorative powers.
The witch clears her throat. “Well, my friends, what we can do to help Mrs. Prince? Can we help get her out of that prison—I mean, mansion? And her children? Mrs. Fairy, do you still have any of your powers?”
“I had to leave nearly everything behind when I escaped.” She reaches down under her chair, lifts the basket, mutters something under her breath, reaches in, and pulls out an ivory stick that is longer than the basket. As she raises the stick, the people can see a tiny sparkle at the end and tinier sparkles along its length. “I did manage to keep my wand. Though I had to turn the power down to get past the guards.” She gives it an experimental wave. Two or three weak sparks spark. “I’ll have to dial it back up.”
Domina, sitting on the back of the witch’s chair, flaps her wings (which messes up the witch’s hair, not very tidy to begin with). “That’s our next project! Get Mrs. Fairy’s juice back up ’n’ runnin’ again. And do some good magic ta help that Missus Prince stuck there in the capital.”
“Yeah,” says Kahlil as he plucks another grape off the fruit platter. “What we need is a, like, rescue remedy. We gonna need another scarecrow?”
The witch is thinking, but before she can speak, Mrs. Worthington reaches for a platter and holds up a big, fat sausage. “I remember some things that happened to me when I was younger,” and the words me, too echo around the table. “Let’s start with some work on that prince and men like him. Then we can work to rescue Ella and other young women. Girls, let’s get to work!”
As the women begin an energetic magical humming, Mrs. Worthington lays the sausage on a clean plate. She looks at Mrs. Fairy, who reaches into her basket and pulls out a piece of red string, which she loops around the sausage and ties (really tight) with a fancy bow. The magical humming continues. Another woman pulls her lipstick out of her pocket and draws a circle on the sausage next to the ribbon. Still humming, Mrs. Janedoe smears the sausage with peanut butter and carves the word PRINCE into it with a toothpick one of the ravens hands her. Finally, with a mighty blow, Mrs. Worthington chops the sausage in half. “So must it be!” the women all shout. “So mote it be!”
As the sundered sausage splashes down on the table, there is a mighty ironic cawing. Then, “Good night, sweet prince!”
The ravens look around the room. The air seems to be sparkling. “Girls, ya done good here,” Kahlil says. “Put these pieces in a baggie and I’ll fly it to the capital and drop it in the Golden Office. Give them guys somethin’ ta think about. And now youse girls cn go to work saving Missus Prince.”
To be continued…
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an