Meredith’s Fairy Tale

Posted on August 28, 2004 by Jenna

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On Tuesday, Meredith goes from house to house. She knocks at the kitchen door of Old Manor.

“Please, ma’am, ” she says, to Irma the cook. “Do you have any scraps, or used tea leaves?”

“You’re a well-favored girl,” says Irma. “Why do you beg?”

Meredith shrugs, a little. We make do as we can, the gesture says. So Irma gives her some scraps and some tea leaves, and Meredith is off to the next house.

“Who was that?” asks the cook’s assistant, Jordan.

“A beggar girl,” Irma says, dismissively. Then she looks out the kitchen window. “It looks like she’s hitting the Minister’s house next.”

“Oh, my,” Jordan says.

On Wednesday, it’s the tradition of the Minister of Terrors to tidy up her affairs and make proper disposal of the remains of the week. She rings a bell and summons her servants. “I paid you early,” she says, “but money on Sunday is worth more than money on Wednesday. So I need a shaving, just a scrap, from the coins I gave each of you.”

The servants don’t look happy. But they take out their coins, and she scrapes a bit from the edge of each. She piles up the scraps, adds some sulfur to the mix, and blows on it; a cloud of foul-smelling smoke rises to the ceiling. “That closes my accounts,” she says, “for the week. Then there are the outstanding debts.”

She rubs under her nose with one finger and thinks. “Simon,” she says. “You spent hours hunting down the best tea at the market. I’m grateful for that, but I can’t go around owing people favors. So I’m going to repay you now, with a glimpse at any Terror you please.”

Simon hesitates. “I hear that one of them is beautiful,” he says, hesitantly.

The Minister shakes her head. “It’d kill you to look at her,” she says.

“Um,” Simon says. “Then, maybe, one with historical interest?”

The Minister passes a hand before Simon’s eyes. He sees the 1880 Terror. He springs backwards, strangling a shout, and falling into the wall. When his eyes clear, he smiles uneasily. “Thank you, Minister.”

The Minister turns to look at her bodyservant. “Melanie,” she says, “you put too much scent in the water. I was practically reeking at the meeting of government. It was terribly embarrassing, so you’ll have to have a cat’s tail for three weeks.”

Melanie sighs sadly. Then she yelps as it grows from her back.

“There,” the Minister says. “Karma all balanced.”

She turns to her cook, Morgan. “Please,” she says, “bring me the used tea leaves from the week.”

Morgan pales. He does not move.

“Hm?” asks the Minister.

Morgan is a new hire.

“I did not know,” he says, “that you would be needing them again, Minister.”

“I do divinations in my tea!” she exclaims. “And incantations with it, to boot. I need to disinfect the leaves so that no one can use them against me.”

“Ah,” Morgan says. “You see, that is an even more specific description of that thing I did not know.”

“Well, then,” the Minister says. “I am glad that I have corrected your ignorance.”

“It is just,” says Morgan, “that I gave the tea leaves to the beggar lass who comes to the kitchen door.”

The Minister raises her eyebrow.

“She was very pleased,” Morgan says. “She said, ‘Wow! I always ask, but I’ve never gotten this house’s tea leaves before. That old cook—he was too stern about them! Not like you, sir.'”

“Bah!” declares the Minister, stormily. She gestures, and Morgan becomes a monstrous cat-bodied gargoyle. He yowls. Then, not even delaying for a letter of recommendation, Morgan darts out the door to seek a new position elsewhere. The Minister frowns at his wake. She gestures towards the wall and a surprised silverfish assumes human form.

“You are now my cook,” she says. “I like my toast cold and my eggs runny: take heed!”

“Yes, ma’am,” says the silverfish, bowing furiously. He signals, behind his back, to the other silverfish in the wall: Someone! Help! But there is nothing that his family can do.

The Minister thinks. “I must also obtain revenge upon this girl,” she says. “So I will give out the scraps at the kitchen door myself, henceforth.”

On Thursday, Meredith returns. She knocks on the kitchen door of the Minister’s house.

“Please, sir,” she says, to Silverfish the cook. “Do you have any scraps, or used tea leaves?”

“One moment,” says the cook, quite properly, and closes the door. He fetches the Minister. The Minister opens the door and smiles falsely at Meredith.

“Oh!” Meredith exclaims. “A witch! I can tell by the nose.”

“Good evening, child,” says the Minister. “I wish to personally offer you these scraps and tea leaves, which are in no fashion cursed.”

“Oh, thank you!” says Meredith. She takes the scraps and tea leaves away.

“Good, good,” says the Minister. She rubs her hands together. “When she eats those scraps, she’ll turn into a horrible long-toothed ogre. That’ll serve her right!”

On Saturday, Meredith returns. She knocks on the kitchen door of the Minister’s house.

“Please, sir,” she says, to Silverfish the cook. “Do you have any scraps, or used tea leaves?”

Silverfish frowns at her. He places his hand on top of her head, and then moves it back to verify that it is level with his chest. He peels back her upper lip to look at her teeth, which are short. He runs his hand around in her hair, looking for the horns. There are no ogre horns.

“Pardon, ma’am,” he says. “But you seem to be a beggar girl.”

“Ah!” Meredith says. “Yes. I had planned to be a hot air balloon, but that strange and mysterious agency that assigns souls to bodies chose otherwise.”

“Ah,” says the cook. “One moment.”

He closes the door. After a moment, the Minister opens it. She peeks out at Meredith.

“Oh!” exclaims Meredith. “A witch! I can tell by the hair.”

“Yes, yes,” says the Minister of Terrors. “I’m a very important witch. But I always have time for the little people!”

She carefully packs some scraps and tea leaves in a fancy box. Then she hands the box to Meredith.

“Like the previous gift,” the Minister says, “these are in no way cursed.”

“Hurray!” says Meredith. She skips off.

“She must have dropped the previous scraps,” says the Minister. “Perhaps she threw them in the gutter, saying, ‘I only eat scraps from a fancy box. To think that that old witch gave them to me in a greasy bag!'”

The Minister tears at her hair, expressing her deep frustration with the insolence of youth.

“In any event, when she eats these scraps, she’ll turn into a mouse. That will fix her!”

On Tuesday, Meredith returns. She knocks on the kitchen door of the Minister’s house.

“Please, sir,” she says, to Silverfish the cook. “Do you have any scraps, or used tea leaves?”

Silverfish narrows his eyes. “You’re a resilient child,” he says.

“I like dancing!” Meredith exclaims.

“One moment,” Silverfish says. He closes the door. There are sounds of consternation from within the house, and at least one explosion.

After five long minutes, the Minister opens the door. She stares at Meredith through narrow, unhappy eyes.

“Oh no!” Meredith says. “A horrible witch!”

A muscle at the side of the Minister’s face twitches. “Very well,” she says. “I am going to take time out of my busy schedule to personally prepare you a collection of delicious finger sandwiches. And fresh tea.”

Meredith frowns. “Are they going to turn me into something?” she asks.

“I doubt it,” grumbles the Minister. She chops up watercress and puts it on a sandwich with butter. She slices cheddar cheese thinly and adds cucumber. She mixes smoked salmon and horseradish. Soon she has a widely-varied collection of delicious finger sandwiches to offer Meredith. Then she curses them and hands them to Meredith on a platter. “Please,” she says. “Eat one.”

“Oh no!” Meredith says. “I can’t eat them here!”

The Minister frowns. “You can’t?”

“No,” Meredith says. She shakes her head so vigorously that her ponytail makes a cracking noise—just like a whip!

“Hm,” says the Minister. She dismisses the girl. She sips at her tea. Then she looks at the tea leaves. “Will she die?” she asks them.

The tea leaves gather themselves sulkily. In the ancient language of their kind, they answer, Not today, you old harridan, or any time soon.

“Bah!” the Minister snaps. She throws her teacup into the wall. It cracks. The tea leaves spill down the wall, wailing, Tragedy! Disaster! Disorder is upon us!

“I cursed her to lose her heart to someone who will never love her,” says the Minister, “and wither away in despair. If she’s not going to do it, that curse is no good!”

“I’m sorry,” says the cook.

“It’s not your fault,” says the Minister. “I made those sandwiches myself.” She thinks. Then she frowns. “I’m going to follow her and find out why she wouldn’t eat here and why my curses didn’t work. Then I’ll tear her heart out with my fingernails, just like on Geraldo.”

The Minister of Terrors turns into a raven. She flies out of the house. She follows Meredith. Meredith stops at several other houses and collects scraps. Then she goes to her tiny little apartment. There’s a sign on the door. It had previously read, “Meredith is OUT.” But now it reads “Meredith is IN.”

The Minister sits on a sconce in the hallway and fluffs her wings. She watches. One by one, beggars come to Meredith’s door. They knock.

“Please, ma’am,” they say. “Do you have any scraps, or used tea leaves?”

“Of course!” she says.

“Bah,” mutters the Minister to herself. “These people are so ill-favored! Look at that one. He’s got pox all over his face! And that one—she stinks! What kind of insensible dolt gives these fools scraps and tea leaves?”

The last man to come by is John. He’s mute, so he doesn’t say anything. He’d use sign language, but no one in this neighborhood knows ASL. So he just smiles at her.

“John!” she says. She hugs him. “Come in. I have finger sandwiches! I saved them for you!”

The door closes.

“Aha!” screams the Minister. She fluffs her wings furiously. “She’s a scrap reseller!

Meredith, puzzled, opens the door. But at just that moment, a long-toothed ogre springs out from around the corner and grabs the Minister.

“Yum!” he declares. “Talking raven!”

The Minister resumes her normal form. She’s suddenly a witch! “You!” she says, pointing a finger at Meredith. “This is your fault!”

“Yum!” declares the ogre. “Witch!” He eats the Minister and tromps off.

“Wow,” Meredith says. “Life is exciting.”

John nods.

On Wednesday, Meredith checks the morning paper. “MINISTER OF TERRORS MISSING,” declares the headline. She brings it into her house. She reads the article. She turns to John, who has stayed over.

“The Minister of Terrors is missing,” she says.

John raises an eyebrow.

“Evidently, the prime minister is desperate. He’s looking for someone magical enough to replace her before all the Terrors get loose. But there just aren’t that many witches these days!”

Meredith pauses. She thinks. “Wait,” she says.

John puts his hand on his forehead. Thump!

“That is a very fancy house where she lives,” Meredith admits. “And she did say she was a very important witch. But I thought that was just hyperbole. I mean, she has enough free time to make finger sandwiches for beggars!”

She sits down and sulks. “This is all my fault,” she says.

John sits down beside her. He puts his arm around her shoulders. Then he pauses, blinks, looks at her, and shakes his head.

“No,” she says. “It is. She said so, and that makes it true.”

John’s face falls. Meredith springs to her feet.

“We have to rescue her!” she declares.

John makes hand signs indicating that she should talk to the police, but Meredith does not know sign language. She nods and pretends to understand, but she doesn’t!

“I’d best fetch Broderick,” she says. She goes to her dresser. She opens the top drawer. She takes Broderick out. Broderick was her friend, but now he is a mouse. She puts Broderick in her purse. Broderick squeaks protestingly, but Meredith shakes her finger at him sternly. “It’s your own fault for turning into a mouse,” she says. “That’s your indignity!”

Broderick crosses his paws and sulks. It’s a curse, he squeaks.

“Weirdest guy I ever knew,” she says. “Turned into a mouse! Just a few days ago! In the middle of dinner!”

John rolls his eyes. Then he follows Meredith out the door.

“How will we find the ogre’s castle?” Meredith asks.

John points at the footprints sunk deep into the hallway floor. Then he points out the window at the line of footprints sunk into the cement of the sidewalk.

“Good spotting!” Meredith says. They follow the footprints to a miniature golf course. There’s a castle at its center. She rushes to its door.


There’s a terrible yowling. A monstrous cat-gargoyle detaches from the castle’s roof and flutters ponderously downwards at them.

“It’s the castle guardian!” Meredith exclaims.

“Rowr,” declares the cat-gargoyle. He lands and slinks towards them on padded feet. He yawns widely, showing great teeth. John hides behind Meredith.

“Every heroine must make moral compromises,” Meredith decides. She fishes Broderick out of her purse. She throws the mouse underhand. It flies past the cat-gargoyle’s face and lands, stunned, nearby. The cat-gargoyle turns, lithely. It prods the mouse with one paw. It hesitates. In that moment, Meredith and John rush by.

In the center of the castle, the ogre sleeps.

Do we challenge it? John asks. Wake him and fight him in honorable combat? It’s two against one, but he has a weight advantage.

“Agreed,” Meredith says, although she doesn’t understand sign language. She takes a sword from the wall and cuts the ogre open, up and down. The Minister tumbles out of the ogre’s stomach and rests, panting weakly, on the floor.

“That was unpleasant,” the Minister says.

“I’m sorry,” Meredith says.

The Minister shakes her head. “You’re a brave girl,” she says. “I’ll give you anything you ask for, in exchange for freeing me from the ogre’s stomach.”

Then she stands up, weakly, tears Meredith’s heart out with her fingernails, and hobbles away.

That’s horrible! signs John. He looks at Meredith’s dying body. How is she supposed to ask for anything like this?

Meredith bleeds.

Ah, well, John says. I don’t think she could have really loved me anyway.

He tears out his own heart. He dips it in the ogre’s blood, because ogre’s blood is potent magic. He presses his heart into her chest. He smooths her chest awkwardly together over the heart.

I hope it works, he says. He watches. But the heart does not beat, and John withers away in despair. Only when he is dust does the heart pound, once, in Meredith’s chest, and her eyes roll open again.

On Thursday, Meredith knocks on the kitchen door of the Minister’s house.

“Please, sir,” she says, to Silverfish the cook. “Do you have any scraps, or used tea leaves?”

“I’m actually a silverfish, you know,” he says. “I’m not cut out for this kind of stress.”

He closes the door in her face. After a few minutes, the Minister opens it.

“Oh!” says Meredith. “A witch! I can tell, by virtue of our long acquaintanceship.”

“What do you want?”

“Scraps and used tea leaves,” Meredith says. “Only, not cursed this time!”

“That’s fair,” the Minister agrees.