The witch called upon the mist to wrap its arms tightly around the beachgoers, providing the shelter she needed to slip unseen along the wharf and onto the princess’ ship.
She had, at this very moment, but one thought on her mind: Soon the princess would burn.
In all fairness, it wasn’t the princess’ fault. Liesel was a creature of carelessness, beautiful without question but lacking the kind of thoughtful integrity a girl of nineteen ought to acquire. And whenever foolishness trumped caution, dark beings of the night – gremlins, wildebeests and yes, even witches – preyed. It wasn’t a normal day in Espieffe unless the front page of the Daily Crier was covered with news about an attempt on Princess Liesel’s life.
But today, someone – or something – might succeed.
The witch looked back, a final glance toward the misty beach. Her spell had worked as well as it could; gloppy fog hid whatever scuttled between sand and sea. Just a simple “cover of the sky, descend from your high,” and the witch was no longer able to see the timid waves lapping at a sand-castled shore. She thought about the absolute power of these ancient words – to think those sugar-fattened fairies called her spells gibberish! – and it made the witch smile.
Mist, waves, sky … The world before her was now held captive by spellbound, low-hanging clouds, exactly as it should be. Magic at its best was a tricky kind of craft to make shadows fall on things once pure and bright. She reveled in the delicious obscurity of what the witch alone had created.
In minutes, her fog would clear and those who bumbled along the beach like frenetic ants searching for an abandoned picnic basket would return to their boring, sunburned lives. They’d probably forget the few moments when they saw nothing but mist.
The witch wouldn’t forget though because this next second and the one arriving after that would quickly unfold into one of two truths: Either the princess would live, just as cherry-gumdrop blissful and carefree as always, or she would burn, charring unaware while day melted to night.
As her bare toes found the lacquered wood of the S.S. Solstice, the witch paused, listening to the princess’ familiar, twinkly laugh.
“Liesel?” The witch followed the sound of lighthearted giggles through an empty hallway lined by faded photographs of kings and queens lounging aboard the ship. Their eerie, royal stiffness struck a discordant note against honey-stained walls.
A thought about the stupidity of crowned rulers sat half-formed inside the witch’s mind when she heard the laughter again. “Liesel is that you?”
The hallway curled to the left and the witch finally saw the princess’ slender form. Liesel turned, her cherubic, little face twisting in surprise. “Aunt Buxima! What are you doing here?”
This was it. The final moment. The fog would lift and any second, life would peel back to normalcy. She must act now or else prepare for the worst. “I have something for you,” said the witch. “Here.”
The witch shoved a small bottle inside her niece’s delicate hands. She sucked in her breath, waiting. Time dissolved into a creature fat and foreboding. What would the princess do?
“Thank you,” Liesel said and the witch let out a heavy sigh; everything was as it should be in Espieffe today. Liesel held tight to the bottle of SPF 45 she had just been given and the witch returned to a mistless beach, happy the princess wouldn’t burn after all.
[This story was inspired by a photo from Simon 451, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.]