The Witch Must Burn
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Glinda’s personal chambers looked as though a pink marshmallow had gotten into a losing fight with a cotton candy machine. The walls were a lighter version of the ever-present shade of the palace, and the floors were carpeted with thick patterned rugs piled on top of each other, in some places inches thick. Heavy pink velvet drapes hung on either side of the big picture windows, which let in a view of the surrounding countryside through rose-tinted glass. A huge, pink-canopied bed dominated one corner of the room, where Glinda lounged against a raft of immense, ruffled pink pillows. She had let her hair down and her soft curls framed her heart-shaped face. She looked almost vulnerable, and surprisingly young—despite what she had put me through, I found myself wondering what she was really like when she wasn’t busy being a manipulative, magic-stealing monster. She had to be pretty desperate for friends, if Dorothy was the closest thing she had to someone to hang out with.
“That took you long enough, Jellia,” she said sweetly. “You may bring the tray over here.”
“Yes, Your Eminence,” I said, trying not to trip on the carpets as I crossed the room.
“How are you finding the palace, Jellia?” she asked as she took the tray from me and settled it on her lap. Was she serious? I looked at her out of the corner of my eye. Her face was serene. She was serious.
“It’s as lovely as you are, Your Eminence,” I said cautiously.
She smiled. “You are very clever, aren’t you, Jellia? Tell me honestly—were you happy working for Dorothy?”
I kept my eyes on the floor. We were definitely on thin ice. What did she want from me?
“I’m always happy,” I said, and she actually laughed.
“Look at me, Jellia.” Cautiously, I looked up. She was still laughing, holding her bowl of ice cream so carelessly that it was in danger of spilling over onto her dress. “Jellia, I know you’re not stupid. And I know you’re not happy. Dorothy is . . .” She paused. “Dorothy can be quite difficult,” she said, although I didn’t think that was what she had meant to say originally. “But you have run her palace very well, and remained very modest—admirable qualities, in someone with your power.”
Was this about her machine? Or the magic she was mining? I had plenty of practice keeping my expression blank after all the time I’d worked for Dorothy, but something told me Glinda was going to be a lot harder to fool. “Perhaps you can be of more use to me than I thought,” she mused. She looked down at her ice cream and a sudden frown marred her perfect features. “But this ice cream has melted, Jellia, because you took so long to bring it to me.”
“But Your Eminence, we’ve been talking—”
Her frown deepened. “Now, Jellia, I don’t want to hear your excuses. I want you to do better next time. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Your Eminence. It won’t happen again,” I said. Next time I would have to use a spell on her sundae to keep it cold. No one had said anything about a ban on using magic in Glinda’s palace.
Glinda studied me and sighed deeply—a sigh that seemed to come all the way from where her puffy, feathered, pink high-heeled slippers dangled from her perfectly manicured pink-glitter-coated toes. “Tell me, Jellia. Do you enjoy your job?”
I blinked. “Enjoy, Your Eminence?”
“I mean, do you take real satisfaction in your work? At the end of the day, do you feel pride in what you’ve accomplished? Is it meaningful for you to be here?”
I had no idea how to respond to this. “I’m sorry, Your Eminence, I don’t mean to be disrespectful—it’s just that it’s my first day, and I—”
“Because the thing is, Jellia, I get the sense from you that you just don’t care,” Glinda interrupted, her fructose-sweet voice tinted with genuine sadness. “It’s as though you’re just going through the motions—you’re clearly very smart, and very efficient, but I need you to understand that we’re all at the palace because we want to be here. Because our work is meaningful to us. I give my heart every day to magic, Jellia”—at this, Glinda laid her beautifully manicured hands over the bony area of her sternum that I imagined housed this, also doubtless pink, organ—“I show up for my work with joy, Jellia, because there simply isn’t anything I’d rather do than be Glinda the Good Witch. But you—I think you’d almost rather be anywhere else. Mistakes like this”—she indicated the bowl of melted ice cream with a gentle, regal nod of her golden head—“tell me that you think you’re too good to be here with us. Don’t get me wrong, you’re very competent. But I need to feel that you care, Jellia. I need to see caring from you. Can you do that for me?”
“I—I think so, Your Eminence,” I said, utterly confused.
“I’m sure things were different when you worked for Dorothy,” Glinda said, her voice losing none of its gentle sweetness. “But here, we don’t make mistakes.” In her hands, the sundae bowl began to glow red-hot, and the ice cream melted into a steaming swirl. Without changing her expression, Glinda threw the bowl directly at me.
I flung up my arms without thinking, as if to protect myself—and felt a strange buzzing surge through me. The air around me shimmered, and to my astonishment, the bowl shattered in mid-flight, as though it had hit an invisible brick wall. With a series of little pops, the fragments vanished before they even hit the floor. A few blobs of pink ice cream hung forlornly in the air before they, too, disappeared with a faint, sticky noise. I stared in disbelief, but Glinda was smiling.