Cast of Wonders 536: Little Wonders 38 – Advice
A Letter to A Bully’s Mother
by Priya Sridhar
Dear Opal’s Mom:
This is Jem, Opal’s classmate. Last week, you asked my Magical Cupcake club to make two hundred cupcakes for Opal’s birthday–chocolate chip and peanut butter. Even though you pay well, I would have refused on behalf of the Magical Cupcake Bakers. The girls outvoted me since we need the money for new cooking equipment. My friends made all the cupcakes in the school kitchens and used my mom’s bakery ovens when we ran out of room in the ones used for cooking classes. That explains the taste you complained about on BakeHub this morning. As you wrote in your post, it was my special touch you were paying for–and that was missing.
Enclosed are a few extra cupcakes for you and Opal’s dad. These I did make, cardamom vanilla, with some hints of ginger from infused milk. This proves that I haven’t “lost it”, as you posted, my Jersey family baking touch.
Mom says that food brings people together. I don’t want to be closer to you, no offense, but I do want you to keep reading. The ginger spice is Grandma’s old recipe.
Your second Bakehub complaint was that I wouldn’t deliver the cupcakes and asked my friends to do it. Well, last night was almost a full moon and Opal may have threatened me again. She takes issue with me being a were-animal. I’m not the only one in the class, but I’m the smallest. While I’ve never changed during the day, she sometimes clucks behind my back. The teachers say they can’t do anything unless Opal leaves visible signs of damage and because you have more than enough money to “quell complaints”.
There was one moment that came close to getting her in trouble: she filled a plastic Ziploc bag with barbecue sauce and left it on my chair in homeroom. I fortunately felt it and got up in time, without exploding it, but then someone stole it from the teacher’s desk during lunch, poked holes in the bag, and let it leak all over my desk. I know it was Opal, but no one saw her. The janitor had to clean it off my chair after class was let out. That desk still smells like barbecue sauce.
To make it clear, I’m not a werewolf. I’m a were-chicken. When I change, my parents put me in a room with a lot of fabric scraps and stimulating toys. They say many were-kids just need the space to act out, and chickens are manageable. The trick is to not eat the eggs, cooked or raw, or the person sprouts feathers and a beak during the full moon. Mom promises me I don’t lay eggs, and she doesn’t use them in her cakes. I know she’s lying about the first part. I may not be conscious when I’m in chicken form, but I’ve found shell fragments around the house.
Sometimes Opal jokes that one day my parents are going to break my neck, pull off all my feathers, and put me on a roasting pan. Mom has told me that’s not true; we’re vegetarians apart from the occasional worm.
It seems barmy that you are fine with your daughter being like this, and then you come to ask me to make two hundred cupcakes for her. I refused to make any of them on principle. The most I would do is check the ovens and clean up the pans. My friends were disappointed, but they understood why.
And then you wrote your BakeHub post because you really wanted my cupcakes. And you tagged everyone in the school. Part of me hopes that you’ll do something about what I’ve told you, and Opal’s birthday will be miserable. It’s more than what she deserves for threatening to eat me. But I also heard that you like to invite were-kids to parties, wait for them to transform, then bring out the barbecue sauce. Mom mentioned it under her breath. That’s how I know it’s true.
Instead, the other part of me hopes you enjoy my cupcakes.
Grandma’s recipe is all about making you want to eat them. Before you know it, the ginger spice is gone in one gulp. You have no regrets, only the desire for more. In fact, you ate them before you read this message, and you have no desire to tell anyone about it. In fact, you’ll put this letter in the paper shredder and put the cupcake tin in the garbage.
To be honest here, I do not wish Opal a happy birthday. But I wish you good luck. It’s difficult being me. But at least life has cupcakes.
PS. My eggs are small and runny; they melted straight into the cupcake batter. This batch definitely has my special touch, since that’s what you requested.
PPS. It’s a full moon tonight. Try to stay away from Opal. She likes chicken.
A Word to the Wise
by Risa T H Wolf
This summoning recipe requires a moonlit night and a secluded location. Read this recipe thoroughly before you attempt it. Burn immediately after completion.
Gather your ingredients:
2 oz of water, steeped in the light of a full moon.
1 oz lavender tea, to ease the pain.
1 oz pear brandy, to represent your hope this spell will last.
1 tbsp pheasant broth, to represent winged things.
1 small rosemary sprig, to represent memory.
A lighter or matches
Once you have acquired all your ingredients, draw your casting circle per your tradition.
Place your liquids at the four cardinal points. You do not need to match the liquids to any one direction.
Cast your preferred summoning upon this recipe. If your tradition demands you name the summoned, call for the Plucked Wings.
Once the summoned being is fully present in your circle, press the rosemary sprig against their forehead, then set the sprig alight, let it burn for two blinks, and douse the flame in the lavender tea. This will extinguish their memory.
Collect the liquids from the four cardinal points, moving counterclockwise from South, and pour into a chilled silver shaker.
Shake for a count of 20 heartbeats, maintaining eye contact with the subject throughout. Do not blink.
Decant into a blessed chalice or other container sacred to your tradition.
Dip a thumb into the liquid, and touch it to your subject’s left shoulder, right shoulder, lips, and forehead.
Touch the same thumb to the hollow of your clavicle.
Drink all the liquid before the moon sets.
Burn this recipe.
Once the liquid is consumed, the wings borne by your summoned being will be transferred to you and the being will be bound to you and must help you in your magicks. The wings will hurt when they emerge from your body. Do not let that pain deter you from burning the recipe and completing the spell.
Do not test your wings before burning the recipe. Do not speak to the summoned being. Do not even set down the container from which you drank.
Do any of these, and this recipe will vanish and write itself into another spellcaster’s grimoire, the same way it appeared within your own. When the next mage casts this spell, it will be you in that circle, summoned and bound.
So far, no one has followed this recipe to the letter. You would be wise to be the first.
Wiser, not to try.
This piece starts out fairly lighthearted, but there’s nothing light about the bullying that Jem is subjected to.
Revenge narratives are often a hard sell for us at Cast of Wonders – so what makes this piece different? It recognises that the behaviour of children owes a lot to how their parents raise and socialise them. It holds Opal’s mum to account for her own actions, as well as those of her daughter. And, the consequences of her actions come about because of the choices she has made, and continues to make. Opal and her mother both have multiple opportunities to be decent human beings, but choose not to. What comes next…well, Jem had the power to turn the tables. To create a world where she’s not the one who has to fear the people around her – they are. This is less an act of revenge, and more one of leveling the playing field, and owning one’s own strength and agency.
Two pieces of text, two pieces of advice that… probably won’t be followed by their recipients. This piece reminds us that having power can often come at a high price if we choose to abuse it. We all have power over others – some of us more so than others – but what lengths should we go to in order to right wrongs, or to acquire what we need, or desire? “Don’t punch down” is a phrase that’s often used, and as far as stereotypical hierarchies go, it’s usually obvious which way it’s intended… except life isn’t that simple, and nor are our societies. The intersectionality of power – who holds it, who does not, where the overlaps are for different areas of our lives – can create environments where bullying and microaggressions can become complex to untangle. A story like this asks us to consider the consequences of our choices, and whether our actions are limited to the things we consciously choose. Power may be there for the taking… but we need to be sure we know the price.
About the Authors
Risa T H Wolf
Risa Wolf is a multi-gendered water elemental disguised as an ink-stained lycanthrope. (Don’t tell their spouse or their dogs; the disguise is working.) Their writing can be found in Apex, Cossmass Infinities, and upcoming in Kaleidotrope. Visit them at killerpuppytails.com or on Mastodon at @killerpuppytails.
A 2016 MBA graduate and published author, Priya Sridhar has been writing fantasy and science fiction for fifteen years, and counting. Capstone published the Powered series, and Alban Lake published her works Carousel and Neo-Mecha Mayhem. Priya lives in Miami, Florida with her family.
About the Narrators
Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches atop a hill in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She is an Endeavour, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee. Her 2018 works include Hearts of Tabat (novel, WordFire Press), Moving From Idea to Finished Draft (nonfiction, Plunkett Press) and the updated 3rd edition ofCreating an Online Presence for Writers (nonfiction, Plunkett Press). For more about her, as well as links to her fiction and her popular online school, The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, see her website kittywumpus.net
S.B. Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. Her novella ‘Runtime,’ is a Nebula Award finalist, and her short stories have been published at various magazines including Apex, Uncanny, and Tor.com. She co-edits the Hugo Award-nominated podcast, Escape Pod, with Mur Lafferty. You can find her on Twitter @divyastweets or the web at www.eff-words.com.