The Witch Must Burn
Page 1

 Danielle Paige

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Things have been pretty weird lately in Oz. I mean, if you’re not from around here, things are always a little weird in Oz. There’re the flying monkeys, sure, and the Road of Yellow Brick, which isn’t exactly the most reliable freeway in the world (it moves around). We have magic—more about that later—and animated soldiers that used to be toys, and a city made out of emeralds, and trees that talk. We have an enchanted palace—that’s where I work as a servant—and we have a Wizard with extra-special powers. We had a Wizard, anyway, until he disappeared. We have cornfields that grow pre-roasted corn on the cob and talking animals and a Cowardly Lion who’s actually not so cowardly and is becoming a little bit scary. (He talks, too.) But for us, all of that is no big deal. We’re used to it. The really weird thing about Oz these days?
Her name is Dorothy. And she’s my boss.
Technically, Ozma is my boss. She’s the rightful ruler of Oz, and when she was running the show, things were great for us here in the Emerald City. I don’t know anything about where I’m from—I was left on the doorstep of the Emerald Palace as a tiny baby. Ozma and I grew up together there. I knew she’d one day be the ruler of Oz, too, but she never acted like someone who was about to be a queen. She was just my friend, and the palace servants became my family. I’ve never known anything else.
Then Dorothy showed up—the first time—and everything changed. She killed the Wicked Witch of the East and with the help of the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion, the Wicked Witch of the West. She saved Oz. Then she vanished back to the Other Place—the world she came from, where magic doesn’t exist. Ozma took her rightful place on the throne, and things were basically perfect. Although I still didn’t know anything about my real family, I’d lived in the palace for my whole life and Ozma and the servants were the only family I needed. I loved my work in the palace, as strange as that may sound—it gave me a real sense of pride to do a good job keeping everything running. Nobody plans a banquet like I do. I can remember the names of every single dignitary of Oz—and their children, pets, favorite foods, preferred seating arrangements, wives, husbands, ex-wives, ex-husbands, and what room in the palace they most like to stay in when they visit. My detail-oriented nature is what makes me so good at my job, and it’s why Ozma ultimately promoted me to be the youngest head maid in the history of Oz. I wasn’t going to be a famous queen or a powerful sorceress, and I was fine with that. I was good at something that I loved, and I’d get to spend my life doing it.
And then Dorothy came back, and that’s when things got weird. She was different—she wasn’t the sweet, innocent girl we all adored who had saved Oz. Dorothy moved into the palace, and this time she was here to stay. And then, after a palace ball one night, suddenly Ozma wasn’t herself anymore; overnight she went from our vivacious, caring, generous queen to a vacant ghost of herself wandering the halls of the palace like the world’s creepiest talking doll. Sometimes she didn’t even recognize us. At first, Dorothy pretended she was helping out, ruling on Ozma’s behalf. She kept Ozma close by her side.
But then Dorothy dropped the pretense pretty quickly, and none of us knew how to stop her, or even if we could. Suddenly, our peaceful palace was full of soldiers. They looked like the Tin Woodman, but there was something about them that didn’t feel right. The Scarecrow left his own corncob mansion out in the hills of Oz and moved into the palace, where he shut himself up in his suite of rooms and began to work on something mysterious that Dorothy referred to as his “experiments.” The Scarecrow had always seemed so harmless before, just kind of dopey and pleasant despite his brain upgrade, but the maids who took him his meals came back from his rooms with stories about sinister equipment and cages covered in blankets, behind which they could hear rustling and faint, soft moans, like something crying out in pain. We’d see lights coming from his rooms at all hours, and hear crashing and banging in the middle of the night. Pretty soon I had to bribe my staff with extra time off in order to get them to so much as clean the hallway outside his room. And the stories of what they saw inside sent chills up my spine.
Dorothy acted as though nothing was wrong—as though whatever was happening was totally normal. If any of us asked her about it, she’d fly off the handle in one of her infamous tantrums. So we left it alone.
I also quickly realized that Dorothy doesn’t like me, but I am careful to keep myself useful. I want to figure out what’s going on in the palace, and with Ozma, and I can’t do that if Dorothy kicks me out. And I think even she realized that dismissing me out of hand would clue the rest of the servants in to the fact that something was really wrong. Ozma would never condone such a thing, and for all intents and purposes, Ozma is still the ruler of Oz. I make sure for the time being to keep everything the way Dorothy likes it. I make sure her rows and rows of dresses are hung neatly, organized by color, occasion, and material (and yes, of course, season). Her bacon is extra crispy, the floors are extra scrubbed. I know exactly what it takes to keep the palace running like clockwork, and Dorothy knows I know, and so for now we’re in kind of a standoff. She hates me, but she can’t get rid of me, and I intend to keep it that way.
She is the only one who’s allowed to use magic in the palace. She says there’s too much of a risk of disaster otherwise. But I think the real reason is that she doesn’t want anyone to have more power than she does.