Photo credit: NASA. X-ray of Pleiades
Sally and her mother flew into the open window of Sally's bedroom. They landed smoothly The witch dismounted first, then the mother.
The witch's mother was a striking woman, with olive skin and long silky hair the color of the night sky. She wore a purple velvet dress, golden slippers, and a small crown which held one brilliant purple ruby suspended by a filament of gold, which dangled onto her forehead, covering her third eye. She stood regally, as if nobility was born of her, as if she had created pride itself. Her daughter, the witch, crumpled to the floor, sobbing.
"Mommy! Mommy," the witch sobbed. "Why does he hate me so! I don't understand! I've sacrificed my whole life for him. I've destroyed everything I ever loved, if he asked me to do it. I remained faithful, and this is how he repays me!?!" She looked up, revealing the large bruise starting to purple her cheek.
Her mother looked down with a sad smile. She reached a well-manicured hand down to her daughter. Their long, thin fingers intertwined and she pulled her daughter up off the floor.
'Now, darling, dry your tears," she said. "We've been over this before. It was your choice to sacrifice for him. You could have come to live with me, you know."
The witch sniffled and cast down her eyes. "But you renounced your powers" she mumbled. Unbidden pictures of the small wooden shack her mother lived in floated before her. She remembered as a child how she had hated it there. The dirt floor was cold, the space was crammed with books and herbs, there was nowhere to play, no-one to play with. She was so bored she had taken to folding shapes out of colored paper, naming them, and calling them her friends. Her mother had showed her how to fold them so they looked like birds or cats. She loved her friends, but as she got older, she longed for one who could at least talk to her, or answer her, or make any sort of sound. So one day, as she wandered along the river bank, she sat down in the chalky mud and fashioned a bird. She closed her eyes and with all her heart wished the bird could fly, and sing, and love her.
A burst of violet appeared behind her eyes, shimmering outwards like ink dropped in water. It morphed into a deep dark blue, then turned to gold. Warmth rushed through her body, and she opened her eyes. A gasp escaped her lips. The whole forest had been transformed into light. The trees seemed to breath, the flowers to sing, the water to vibrate with playful spirits. Each color of the rainbow moved towards her, expanding, retreating, ever-changing. It was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. It took her breath away. Looking down at her hands, she saw the aquamarine blood pulsing through her veins until it infused her entire body, and her skin began to change hue. Laughing, she picked up the bird, and wished it were blue as well. In a fit of joy, she kissed the bird, and blew the breath of life onto it. Then, much to the witch's amazement, a miracle occurred. The bird stirred. It absorbed to blue green color of her hand, chirped, whirred, and landed. The witch was enchanted. She swung around in a circle, looking into the birds eyes, so overflowing with love as they looked back into hers. She threw the bird into the air, and it fluttered it's wings and flew.
The witch's mother sighed. The witch looked at her, angry that her only happy memory had been interrupted. "Are you still stuck on Mr. J?" her mother asked quietly.
The witch folded her arms and pursed her lips. 'I wouldn't call it stuck, mother," she snarled. "I was in love!"
The witch was now in the grip of a darker flashback. one in which she returned home, ecstatic and proud, to show her mother what she had created. The bluebird followed her, taking wing on a breeze, but always landing back on her shoulder to sing in her ear. She had never been so happy, until she entered the blasted wooden shack and saw her mother's face: a mask of fear and disappointment.
"What have you done?" her mother asked, her face drained of color.
The witch had showed her mother the bird. Her mother's face crumpled. "You must never create life out of clay," her mother had told her, grabbing her by the wrist a little too hard. The witch was crushed, confused, and angry. Worst of all, the bird seemed to prefer the company of her mother, fluttering about her and eating out of her hand. In a fit of jealousy and rebellion, the witch had tied her meager belongings into a bundle, and during the dark of the night, she had run away from home.
Her mother spoke softly. "I'm sorry," she told the witch. "I made so many mistakes with you. i shouldn't have kept you all alone in the woods like that. I should have spent more time with you. I should have told you about your father. But you were my first child, and I didn't know what I was doing. Can you understand? Creating life is such an enormous responsibility. The consequences of creation are many. And it is a great responsibility. You were only a child. I feared for you." The mother came closer and held her daughter's face in her hands. "I hope you can forgive me," she whispered, and drew her daughter into her arms.
The witch trembled. She wanted to put up more of a fight but she was so tired of fighting, so tired of defending herself. She went loose in her mother's arms and surrendered.
Her mother drew back, smiling. "I think it's time you learned your name," she said.
The witch drew back in surprise. "But...Father told me animals don't deserve names. If they have them, they can overpower their creators." She swallowed hard. "You're not afraid of me?" she asked in a small voice.
Her mother smiled, a sad smile. "It's a chance I'm willing to take," she said firmly. "When you were born, your father and I chose your name together. We picked this name because we wanted to protect you. You were our first." She drew a piece of parchment from her robe and handed it to the witch.
The witch looked at it in awe. It was her birth certificate. Inscribed in pure gold, with long flowing letters, it listed her birthdate, her birthplace, and the time of her birth. There was a chart drawn of the position of the stars at the exact moment she had arrived. And just below that, in a deep red ink, was her name. Merope.
"Is it blood?" she asked her mother.
"Mine and your father's, mixed in equal measure, to seal the spell," her mother said.
"Merope," the witch repeated slowly, savoring the word. Then she furrowed her brow, remembering. "That is the seventh star in the Pleiades system, which in mythology is called the seven sisters. Merope, the least visible, is the seventh star. The invisible sister."
"That's right!" her mother said. "I see your father did not neglect your studies." With a wry grin she admitted, "I guess he is good for SOMEthing."
The witch was speechless. She was sick and tired of being invisible. She suddenly realized that that was what was wrong with her whole life. She felt as if she didn't really exist, didn't really have a right to BE. The power of her name flowed through her, but instead of relief, it filled her with rage.
"And now," her mother said, seeming oblivious to her daughter's dilemma, "It's high time I baked you a cake. A very large cake, for you have missed so very many birthdays."
Her mother then swished out of the room and into the kitchen, humming all the while. The witch sat heavily on the floor, repeating her name over and over, as if in some sort of trance.
Meanwhile, back at the lab, Sally and Lion shivered underneath the pages of the book. The wizard had brought Sally's clothes out and given them to the dog to sniff.
"How are we going to get pat that dog?" she asked Lion.
Lion smiled, and reached into his fur, pulling out a tiny glass vial. He handed it to Sally. It had a cap of gold on top, which was sprinkled with many tiny holes, small as pinpricks. A small amount of amber liquid swished in the bottom. A rubber bulb was attached to the lid, and a thin rubber hose hung down into the tube, just touching the liquid.
"What is this," Sally asked. She held it up and squeezed the bulb. "Ahhffff!" she said, as the bitter liquid sprayed into her face. She licked her lips and swallowed repeatedly, trying to get the awful taste out of her mouth.
Lion laughed. "You have to hold it sideways," he said, taking the vial. "Like this." He held the vial at an angle and sprayed himself all over, then sprayed Sally.
"What is it?" asked Sally, breathing in the scent. It was not sweet or aromatic. It defied description. It was making her feel so good.
"It's the wizard's perfume." said Lion. He calls it "Alpha." I don't know what's in it, but trust me. No animal will defy us while we smell this way.
Sally nodded, dizzy from the smell, and the safe, happy, confident feeling it brought. They crept out from under the pages of the book, jumped into the chair, and shimmied down it's leg. Hugging the wall, they ran towards the window. There, in the foyer, was the dog, sniffing furiously. They worked around him. Just as they approached their way to freedom, the dog began to growl. He loped towards the small figures. Wizard called from behind the wall, "What is it boy? Did you find them?"
Sally slowly held her hand out to the dog, shaking. 'It's OK", she whispered, moving closer. "Good boy."
The dog sniffed her, then blew out his jowels. He sniffed again, and then lay down on the floor with a short high whine. Sally ruffled his ear. He rolled over, legs wide.
The wizard walked in. Sally drew back quickly, curling into a ball. The wizard yelled, "What are you doing?! Get up!" The dog rolled back over, and stood. The wizard smacked him in the nose, hard, and the dog whimpered. "Worthless animal!" he cried, and dragged the dog back to the lab. Sally raised her head, her heart aching. She vowed that she would one day release all the creatures trapped in the wizard's perverse experiment. But now...
They climbed the rough stone wall and slipped out the window. Slowly, laboriously, they made their way up the side of castle. Sally's hands and feet bled, but she was numb to the pain. Finally, finally, they reached the witch's window, and dropped onto the floor, panting.
Just then the witch's mother burst in with a beautiful blue layer cake. The witch looked up. Lion's stomach growled. And then the mother turned. She walked right over to them and looked down. "Who are you?" she asked, scooping Sally and Lion up into her hand.
The witch walked over and peered down. "You!" she yelled when she recognized Sally.
"Oh, you know each other," the mother said, seeming oblivious to her daughter's anger. "Well, then. Let's all have some cake!" Singing a sweet song, she cut a piece for each of them, according to their size.
As they ate the delicious cake, the witch asked, "why are you two so small?"
"Is that not their normal size?" asked the mother. Everyone shook their heads, no. "Well, that's easy to fix," said the mother. She took Sally's piece of cake, closed her eyes, wiggled her fingers, and blew on it. Then she handed it back to Sally, who took a bite, curiously. It tasted the same, but a moment later, she felt funny. An ache in her bones, a buzzing in her head...and she began to grow. Up and up she went, until she stood, taller than the witch by a head.
"You ate too much," the witch said.
Lion looked down at the cake, and licked up the crumbs. He shook, fur vibrating, and ballooned into the size of a small dog. Sally laughed, and reached down to pet him, but he growled at her.
"Now," the mother said. "Let's find you some clothes. Then we'll have a proper party."