HOW THE WORLD ENDED • by Stephen Ornes

Once there was a witch who lived in a small house on a wide prairie and executed her natural apportionment of mischief far from home. After a long day of hellfire and curses, she appreciated the enduring peace of the prairie.

“Don’t witch where you eat,” her mother used to counsel. The witch followed that advice until the day she decided to do something about Iris.

The witch had many friends, including the flying archivia, sixteen dust lemurs, a family of amber onlookers, and Edith and Randy. She shared a garden with an agreeable colony of whispering fervorites who haunted a rotten cabbage. The witch could not abide the sound of chewing, and all her friends either ate silently or never chewed at all.

She and Iris were not friends. Iris the lumbering colossus lived in a mephitic swamp near the coast. One day, Iris carelessly crushed the witch’s house underfoot without so much as an “excuse me” or an apology. Another time, Iris crushed the witch, who had to find a spell to restore her third spatial dimension.

Iris’s shadow suffocated the singing fescue. Once, Iris jumped in the sea, launching a wave that carried away the village of Mollusc. When Iris chewed, the sound reminded the witch of a tornado made of mucus.

The witch tried talking to Iris; she was batted away like a fly. The witch sent notes; Iris didn’t read. The witch cast a sleeping spell; Iris yawned. The witch tried to turn Iris to stone; a small pilomatricoma bloomed under one toenail, near a raging fungal infection.

The witch schemed. She poured the entirety of her heart and soul and malice and cleverness into the Iris project. After a month of maleficence she produced a single chocolate chip endowed with three attributes: somnolence, irresistibility, and contagiousness. She baked the chip into a cookie and, wearing a gas mask and heavy gloves, carried it to a distant quarter of the prairie and left it there. As she walked back to her lovely house, she looked up and noticed the moon, visible in the daylight.

Oliver Tolliver Sylvester French, Randy’s nephew, found the cookie. The witch, who watched through enchanted binoculars and listened through enchanted earbuds, could hear his thoughts.

“Cookie!” he thought. He bent down, and without another thought took a bite.

The witch removed the earbuds when Oliver began to chew. He chewed and chewed. He fell down, asleep. The witch lowered her binoculars. She bit a nail and spit it out. He’d been a good kid. As he slept, the magic from the chip, which had spread throughout the cookie, was now spreading throughout Oliver’s body. The rambunctious boy was becoming succulent.

A fire-belching half-bor, probably on its way to the luminescent caves, next happened upon the scene. It gobbled up Oliver and fell asleep, its tail turning circles for a full minute before it stilled. The witch hid her face in her hands. She’d have to apologize to Randy about Oliver.

Soon thereafter, a hole opened in the ground next to the sleeping half-bor, through which the magic was now spreading, and a leathery horphin hydra emerged. It burrowed into the half-bor’s navel and ate the beast from the inside out. Then the hydra fell asleep, head by head as the magic spread. The hydra became delicious.

Finally came Iris, who picked up the hydra by its tail, tossed it lightly into the air, and swallowed the beast whole. The ground shook when Iris fell down, asleep, and light aftershocks followed when the colossus snored.

The witch clapped. She put down her earbuds and binoculars, cast a spell to prevent herself from tasting Iris, and raced across the prairie. Iris was so tall that it took the witch a full hour to walk from head to feet. But she did, and then she set about transmuting the sleeping colossus into dust. The spell required a full year of intensive cursing, so the witch put up a protective cloak over Iris. She pitched a tent, propped up her wand, and stayed. She could hear Randy wailing every night, his haunting cries flowing over the prairie without obstruction.

Seasons passed. One morning, the slumbering colossus finally turned to dust, which the wind carried away and scattered across the prairie, and beyond. The irresistible dust settled into the ground and made the ground irresistible, too. The fervorites brought Prosecco. The witch noted that the moon, again, was visible in the daylight. She looked at the ground and suddenly felt hungry. She picked up a scoop of dirt and took a lick. It was better than she could have dreamed.

But the festival was short-lived. That afternoon, a shadow fell on the prairie. The witch scanned the sky with her enchanted binoculars. She spotted a six-headed, planet-eating Fuzzy Grudge with its mouths open and tongues dancing. It looked to be near the moon, or, as she realized in horror, where the moon used to be. She’d never seen a Fuzzy Grudge. She knew — as we all know — that if one has the misfortune to see any type of Grudge, then everything’s over. She imagined that, from the Grudge’s point of view, the planet must have looked delectable.

“Oh no,” she mumbled. She bit her bottom lip, and mud spilled out onto her chin. “I’m so sorry.”

“Come again?” whispered a fervorite, who then tossed a mudball into the air and gobbled it up.

Stephen Ornes writes from a converted shed in his backyard in Nashville.

This story is sponsored by
Planet Oz: The Novel — Lost on a planet with only her laser rifle and T.O.W.T.O.H., Dorothy must fight false rulers and her own self-doubt before she can escape from Planet Oz.

Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this