The Witch Must Burn
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“Me?” I asked uncertainly, and Glinda laughed.
“My dear Jellia!” she burbled merrily. “You don’t think I’ve forgotten about how eager you were to do your duty for Oz, do you? We’ve been working nonstop all week to perfect the machine I designed that will siphon Oz’s leftover magic to where it’s needed most.”
My eyes widened in terror and I took an involuntary step backward. “I thought the machine didn’t work, Your Eminence,” I whispered. Her brow furrowed with displeasure.
“Jellia, that skeptical attitude is simply hateful, and I won’t tolerate it. Of course my machine works. It simply needed some—adjustments.” She smiled at the Scarecrow. “Now, are you ready?”
Before I could open my mouth to answer, everything went blurry, and I felt as though I was being pulled through a tub of molasses while trying to cross a stormy sea in a rowboat. When the world solidified around me again, Glinda, the Scarecrow, and I had been transported to a meadow of pale yellow grass, dotted here and there with bright red flowers that grew more thickly at the meadow’s center. The air had the faint, ozoney crackle of magic. A handful of Munchkins were busy setting up what I recognized with a sinking heart as a simpler and more compact version of the mechanical apparatus she’d used on me on the journey to her palace.
“You know what they say, Jellia,” Glinda said, smiling at my stricken expression. “If at first you don’t succeed—try, try again.” She seized my arm and dragged me, struggling, toward the machine, the Scarecrow following after us. “You should be very honored, Jellia,” Glinda added. “Even though he’s terribly busy, the Scarecrow agreed to come out and help me make a few adjustments to my magic drill. Isn’t that generous of him? He knows how important the well-being of Oz is, and how much this magic will help keep Oz the wonderful place it is.”
As Glinda dragged me closer the Scarecrow turned to look at us, his awful button eyes glinting as he examined me like I was one of his science experiments. “This is the fairy?” he grated.
“Only part,” Glinda said, “but she’ll have to do.” My mind reeled. Part fairy? Me? But that was impossible.
“It may not be enough. I’ve already told you, Munchkin labor—”
“Is inefficient,” Glinda interrupted sharply.
“Perhaps. But it may be the only way to operate the machine.”
“I didn’t bring you all the way out here to give me excuses,” Glinda said brightly. “There’s no excuse for this negativity when it comes to serving Oz.”
The Scarecrow shrugged. “I made the adjustments you specified, but I haven’t had enough time to experiment. Another few weeks in my laboratory, and I might have something for you. But I can’t guarantee this machine will work.”
“We don’t have another few weeks. Dorothy wants the girl back now,” Glinda said, shoving me forward into the Scarecrow’s arms. “And we wouldn’t want to disobey the illustrious ruler of Oz, would we? Start the machine.”
His fingers closed around my arms, and I shuddered with revulsion. It was almost impossible to believe this monster was the same lovable buffoon who’d once—briefly—governed Oz before Ozma took her rightful place on the throne. His fingers dug into my flesh as he strapped me to a smaller, more compact version of the platform Glinda had harnessed me to before and fastened a metal collar around my neck. Metal pieces curved upward from the collar and ended in rods that he inserted in my eardrums. I couldn’t move my head without impaling myself, and so I gave up struggling and held myself as still as possible. His eerie, dead eyes didn’t even register me as he worked. He tightened the straps that crossed my chest and stepped away from me. “It’s ready,” he said to Glinda, and she smiled.
“Let’s begin, Jellia,” she said sweetly. “Try not to let me down this time, my dear.”
I braced myself but there was no preparing for the agony that followed. Excruciating waves tore through me, each one worse than the last; the metal pieces in my ears were like red-hot pokers driving into my brain. Glinda and the Scarecrow watched dispassionately as I sobbed in despair.
“She’s too weak,” I heard the Scarecrow say as my vision began to go dark. “I told you, it’s not going to work.”
“Then both of you are terrible disappointments,” Glinda said coldly. “But I’m done wasting my time here. If she survives, the Munchkins can take her back to Dorothy. I have no more use for her.”
The pain overwhelmed me, and then I didn’t feel anything at all.
When I opened my eyes again the darkness around me was so thick there was no difference from when I’d had them closed. I was lying on my back on something hard. When I shifted cautiously, the pain shooting through my body was so awful that I gasped aloud.
“Ah, she’s awake,” said a gentle voice nearby, and the darkness was suffused with a cool white glow that gradually brightened until I could make out what surrounded me.
I was lying next to a clear pool in the middle of a huge cavern whose ceiling was lost somewhere in the darkness overhead. The cavern’s purplish stone floor was polished smooth, as though by generations of feet, and its walls glowed with a gentle, phosphorescent light that eased the darkness around me and illuminated the person who had spoken.