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Igms issue 3, p.15

IGMS Issue 3, page 15


IGMS Issue 3

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  He had spotted his sister down in the middle of an aisle. He wasn't sure how much time had passed but he guessed it had been close to an hour. If he didn't do something quick he'd lose both Fran and Beck. But what if he lost? How could he do that to Lou?

  "Do it," Lou whispered on his ear and gave him a kiss on the cheek. A blast of energy shot through his body. He imagined it was the same type of energy that makes people jump out of planes.

  "I'll do it," he said.

  "Go," the witch said.

  Herb ran over to where his sister was. She didn't look at him. In fact she didn't look at what she was doing either. Whenever a candy passed, her arm would automatically grab it and put in a box.

  "Fran, we need to go," he said. He grabbed her arm and started pulling her. She wouldn't budge. Lou ran over to where he was and the two of them tried to pull her. She didn't move an inch.

  "Fran. Mom is waiting for us at home. Please, come with me," Herb said.

  "Yeah, it's nice in your home," Lou said.

  But it was really hard to tell if Fran was even listening.

  "Give up?" the witch said.

  "Fran. You are the best cheerleader in the world. How does that new cheer go? Why don't you show me at home."

  Nothing. Fran kept putting candies inside the box.

  "You're looking really thin," Herb said.

  "Don't lie," Lou said.

  "Shh." Then it came to him. The thing that broke the trance for the family that had been living at his house -- a strong emotion. "Fran. I know I don't say this much…"

  "C'mon, I'm not going to let you go on all night," the witch said.

  "I love you Fran. I love you as much as I love Beck," he said. Fran lowered her arms. Candy passed by the belt, but she ignored it. Herb continued, "When they took you, and Beck, I wanted to get Beck. But then I thought you might get eaten. I didn't want you to get eaten. Would you forgive me for having favorites?"

  Fran turned her head. "You're so embarrassing," she said. "Let's go."

  "What!" the witch said. "How?"

  "You wouldn't understand," Lou said.

  Herb grabbed his older sister's hand and started walking towards the door.

  "This is not over. Your little sister doesn't even know your name by now. See you in school tomorrow, you two." The witch walked passed them and walked towards the door.

  A strong emotion is what it took to wake up his sister. There were thousands here. How could he rescue them all? He couldn't make them feel love like he had done for his sister, but maybe…

  "Double or nothing," Herb shouted.

  The witch turned around and smiled. She adjusted her bra strap and said, "You're on."

  Herb whispered something in Fran's ear. Fran shook her head.

  "You can do it," Herb said. "I know you can."

  "What are we doing?" Lou asked.

  Fran scanned the room.

  "What's going on?" the witch asked. "C'mon, get on with it."

  Herb saw what Fran had locked her eyes on. Perfect. Ahead of them, there was a platform. A microphone hung from the ceiling.

  "You can do it," Herb repeated.

  Fran took a deep breath and started running towards the stage. Her chin raised high. Her arms made into fists in front of her, holding invisible pom-poms. The same invisible pom-poms Herb had seen her practice with time and time again at home. When she got up on stage she kicked her right leg up high. Not as high as Herb had seen her do it when she was thinner but with a lot more umph than he'd ever seen. If the witch had been standing right in front of her, she would have definitely felt it.

  "Yeah! C'mon, everybody," Fran yelled. She put her invisible pom-poms down and did a back flip. The stage shook.

  "The microphone," Herb yelled and pointed at his ear. "We can't hear you."

  Fran found the switch on the microphone and turned it on. Then she bent down and picked up her invisible pom-poms again.

  "Okay, everybody," she said. "This is a new cheer I have been working on all summer. Well…I can't really do that one. I wrote it before I knew the whole witch town thing. Okay, here's a cheer I'm going to make up as I go along. Ready?"

  No response from the crowd. Lou took a few steps forward. "Yeah," she said and motioned for Herb to do the same. Herb clapped a couple of times.

  "This ought to be good," the witch said. "After she's done, they're going to beg me to give them more candy. 'Please Mrs. Blair, give us more candy. We can't possibly go another night with the nightmare of seeing that much mass jumping up and down on stage'. Pitiful."

  Herb didn't answer. Lou took Herb's hand and squeezed it. Fran began her cheer.

  "Working without pay is lame.

  "Eating candy every day.

  "Not caring about life, or… or…, something, something that rhymes with Blair… hair. Not caring about life or hair.

  "We all hate Blair."

  Fran paused. Silence, except for the machinery, and the witch -- she was bent forward, holding her stomach, as if she were vomiting, except the only thing spewing out of her mouth was laughter. "Great strategy," she said. "Make me laugh to death. I haven't laughed this hard since Edmund fell for the Turkish Delight in the Narnia books."

  "C'mon Fran. You can do it. Don't listen to her," Herb said.

  Fran arched her back and raised her chin even higher. "Life or hair, we hate Blair," she repeated into the microphone.

  A few kids stopped working and turned towards Fran. She repeated the last part of the cheer again, "Life or hair, we hate Blair." More people turned to face Fran.

  A piece of candy flew out of nowhere.

  "Ouch," the witch yelped. The candy had struck the back of her head.

  Herb and Lou turned around. Another piece of candy was making its way towards the witch. A tall boy with a big blond Afro said, "I used to care about my hair. We hate Blair," and threw another piece of candy at the witch.

  A girl with straight black hair standing nearby said, "Well, I've never liked my hair. I can never get it to do anything; it just stays flat. But I hate Blair too."

  More people started feeling their hair and chanting, "We hate Blair."

  "Stop," the witch yelled and ran towards the stage. Herb and Lou ran after her. The witch reached for Fran, but Fran did a cartwheel, forgetting all about the invisible pom-poms. The place erupted in cheers.

  "We hate Blair. We hate Blair," the whole factory was chanting.

  The witch looked at Herb and Lou and then looked around the room. It looked as if she were trying to find a way out. But every door was blocked by people.

  The boy with the blond Afro jumped on stage, grabbed the microphone, and shouted, "Let's get her."

  It was like watching people in a football game rushing the field after their favorite team had won. Twenty or more people grabbed the witch and held her up on her back like a rock star that had plunged from stage onto the crowd of fans.

  "What should we do with her?" Afro kid asked Fran. Fran looked at Herb. The room became silent. They were all looking at Herb.

  He'd been thinking about this since he figured out that fire and water wouldn't work. "How about cold?" he asked Lou.

  Lou shrugged. "Nothing I've read says witches die with cold, but we should try everything."

  There were a few murmurs from the crowd. Some were debating whether cold would be the right approach and others were just wondering what was taking so long -- they should stuff her in a freezer and be done with her.

  Herb was wondering why the witch looked so calm. She hadn't flinched when he'd mentioned the cold. In fact she had stopped squirming and looked almost peaceful. Was she patiently waiting for her death? Herb didn't think so.

  A kid rushed to a panel with hooks on the wall. He grabbed some keys from one of the hooks and said, "The trucks are refrigerated. Let's put her in truck twelve, and see what happens."

  There were many cheers. The crowd started carrying the witch towards the exit with the trucks.

  The witch was
still calm. Herb ran in front of them and put a hand up to stop them. "Wait," he said.

  The crowd stopped.

  Cold wasn't going to work. It was all about emotions. The trance was broken with strong emotions. Love had done it for his sister, and hate had done it for the rest of them. Cold was just like heat and water, it was a physical thing. It wouldn't work.

  Suddenly, the witch was back on her feet. On the floor next to her were two gingerbread cookies. The rest of the people who had been holding her tumbled backwards. The witch dashed over to Lou and grabbed her.

  "Anyone touches me, and she's dead dough," the witch said. She had her left arm around Lou's neck. With her right hand she formed a pretend gun out of her index finger and thumb and pointed it directly at Lou's heart.

  If Herb had been in a trance, this would have set him free for sure. In one night he'd let three people he cared about get captured -- first Fran, then Beck, and now Lou. He had to figure out a way to get rid of this witch.

  Everyone held still except for a girl who bent forward and picked up the cookies before anyone stepped on them.

  "In case you're wondering, cold can't kill me either," the witch said. "Nothing can. But if you think I'm going to spend another hundred years locked up, then there's no emotion strong enough to cure your stupidity. So just back up."

  Herb took a step back. Everyone standing next to him did the same.

  "Don't worry about me," Lou said. "Think of saving Beck."

  The witch's eyes flashed red for a second. "Shut up," she said.

  For the first time, Herb noticed a strand of gray in the witch's hair. And the witch's face, which he'd thought of as perfectly smooth, had wrinkles. Had he just not noticed them before?

  The witch took a few more steps. Around her, people parted to let her through.

  "I'll take those keys," she said, looking at the kid with the keys for truck twelve. The kid sighed, then threw the keys at her. She pocketed the keys and moved her finger quickly back over Lou's heart.

  Then Herb remembered something Lou had told him back in the park.

  He rushed forward towards the witch. The witch looked surprised at first, but then she smiled and tapped her index finger on Lou's chest.

  Nothing happened.

  The witch tapped Lou's chest again. And a third time. Still nothing happened.

  "She can't hurt you if you care about someone else and not yourself," Herb said.

  A wart appeared on the witch's left cheek. She pushed Lou back into the crowd and aimed her index finger directly at Herb's heart.

  "Hold it," the witch said to Herb. "Have you thought about what getting rid of me will mean for you? What will happen when they stop eating the candy?"

  A few people closed in around the witch and held their ground.

  "Who's going to care about you?" the witch continued. "If I'm gone, your sister will get thin again. The only reason she loves you now is because she looks as bad as you do. But what about when she's pretty? Your mom will get thin too. How was that working for you before? In fact, most of the people here will get thin. You know they're only listening to you now because you look like them. It's not going to be easy when you're the last one around the track in gym. I'm even willing to bet your girlfriend here will get thin. Sure, she'll pretend she doesn't care about being fat at first, but wait until it's time for homecoming. She'll lose weight for the pictures, there's no question about that…And do you think she'll want you standing next to her looking like that?"

  "Don't listen to her," Lou said.

  Herb paused. He was trying not to listen to the witch, but it was true that Fran would get thin again. Within a month she'd be giving him advice on how not to embarrass her. His mom would get back in shape too, and if that happened then she'd never get back together with his dad. There was a chance even Lou would get thin. After all, she'd been eating vegetables for the last year. The only reason she was overweight now was to protect herself from the witch. But with the witch gone…

  "Your dad abandoned you, and your little sister doesn't remember you by now. Are you sure this is what you want?" the witch asked. She closed one eye for a better aim and adjusted her finger.

  Herb looked at his sister, who was still on stage and said, "I don't care if you hate me again because you're thin and I'm not. I still want to help you." He then turned to Afro kid and said, "And I don't care if you forget that I was the one who came to kill the witch and you begin to pick on me at school. I want to help you too."

  The wart on the witch's cheek burst open and a worm crawled out of it. She grabbed the worm, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it. She stopped aiming her finger at Herb and used her hand to cover the hole.

  Herb walked a few more steps forward. Lou followed him. "I don't care what happens to me. I just want everyone to be safe."

  "Fine," the witch said. "Take me to the freezer. As long as I don't have to hear this mushy babble." She waited, but no one picked her up.

  Lou looked at the witch and then at Herb and smiled. "Who cares about homecoming pictures? I want you to have a good time, whether you ask me or not."

  "Enough," the witch yelled. One of her teeth fell to the ground.

  "Dude," Afro kid said. He was still up on stage behind the microphone. "I would personally cut my hair off if it would stop people from picking on you at school." Herb wasn't sure how cutting hair equaled not getting picked on at school, but it didn't matter -- it had worked. The witch's skin began to peel.

  Others noticed what was happening and joined in. One by one they began to say things they would do for other people even if it meant giving up something they liked. With each word the witch's hair turned whiter.

  More of the witch's teeth fell out. She tried to hold them back with her forearm, while plugging the hole in her cheek, but there were too many to contain.

  Fran jumped off the stage and ran over to where the witch was standing. When she reached the witch she stopped and faced Herb. "Oh, okay. You know what I'd do?" she asked and paused. "I would stay fat. If it's the only way you and I can hang out without hating each other, I'd do it. There. I've said it. I'd stay fat. Even though I'm not as good of a cheerleader fat."

  The witch exploded into a cloud of dust. The dust filled the entire warehouse for an instant and then vanished, scattered by the warehouse's fans. Pieces of the witch's clothes flew in every direction. One of the pieces fell on Fran's head.

  "Gross," Fran said and shook it off. Others grabbed the rags and suggested burning them, or putting them in the freezer, just to make sure the witch was all gone.

  The crowd began to cheer and to congratulate Herb and one another. Some got up on stage and began bouncing and dancing. A few of the girls walked up to Fran and asked her if she could teach them some of her moves.

  Fran ignored them and walked towards Herb. When she reached him she said, "Go already. Go get Beck."

  Lou nodded. "Go. We have to get rid of the candy."

  Herb pushed his way through pats on the back, congratulations, and more comments about how they'd consider staying fat too, maybe.

  He ran home until he was completely out of breath, then he walked as fast as he could. The witch was dead, but did that mean that everything would go back to normal? Maybe that only happened in movies. He hadn't waited long enough to see if the gingerbread cookies had turned back to people. And besides, Mrs. Lenheart was flesh and bone, as far as he knew. What if she refused to let Beck go? He could get the police but would they be happy that he'd killed the candy maker, the principal, and the mayor?

  He rushed inside the house. "Mom. I need to know where Mrs. Lenheart…"

  At first he couldn't make sense of what he was seeing. Mrs. Lenheart was there, in the living room, standing over his mom. His mom was on the floor in front of the couch clutching his sister. Beck. Beck was here.

  Herb dashed into the room. He put himself between Mrs. Lenheart and Mom and Beck and glared at Mrs. Lenheart. "What have you done to her?"

>   Mrs. Lenheart looked scared. She put two hands up to protect herself and took a step back. "I couldn't do it. I'm sorry. Bill and I wanted a little girl so badly."

  Herb bent down and reached for his sister. Beck looked up. Her eyes were still teary. "Herbie," she said. She still remembered him. But how?

  "After an hour had passed she was still crying," Mrs. Lenheart said. "She wanted to see her mom. She was never going to be ours -- she'd never gone under the trance. We didn't want a daughter that way. We didn't care if we got turned into gingerbread cookies or not."

  "We didn't care either," Herb heard a man's voice say. He looked up and saw two people standing by the kitchen door. They were the people from the photo -- the Thompsons. Mr. Thompson was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and Mrs. Thompson was wearing a dress with flowers and around her neck was a necklace. The same heart shaped necklace he'd seen on the gingerbread cookie. Mrs. Thompson looked at Mr. Thompson and flicked off some cookie crumbs from his shirt.

  Mrs. Lenheart took a step back. "How?" she asked and looked at Herb.

  "I'd say that something must have happened to the witch," Mr. Thompson said.

  Herb nodded.

  "It's not easy being a cookie, wondering if someone is going to eat you, feeling like you're dead but still being afraid of dying…" Mr. Thompson said.

  "Let's go find our children," Mrs. Thompson said, urging Mr. Thompson forward.

  "…but we'd do it again if we had to," Mr. Thompson said.

  The Thompsons walked towards the front door. "I guess we're going to have to find a new place to live too, seeing how you folks are here now," Mr. Thompson said. He smiled at Herb and patted him on the shoulder.

  Herb waved them goodbye.

  Outside, families were walking. Two kids on bicycles passed by. Across the street, and two houses over, a dad and his son were playing basketball. They weren't moving very fast because of their weight, but they would get thin again, just like the witch had said. And what about him? Would he get thin? Maybe, or maybe not. One thing was for sure -- this time he was going to choose his weight for himself. He wasn't going to be fat because he resented his mom and sister, and he wasn't going to be thin to fit in. He was going to be whatever he wanted just for himself. And that thought made him feel lighter already.

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