So there I was, dangling by my toes from the ceiling of an elaborate and yet totally horrifying palace. I was bound at the wrists and ankles, staring into the face of none other than the evil Queen.
"Welcome, child, to my humble home," said the Queen. She walked in a circle around me, taking slow, deliberate steps and never breaking her gaze. She wore a flowing dress of the most unusual kind. Its color was deep purple, but the fabric itself was covered in hundreds of thousands of words. The words slithered around on the dress, changing in size and seeming to speak out loud, whispering to me. I tried not to listen. I would rather focus on the pain in my ankles, left to support all of my body weight on their own while I hung upside down. But the voices permeated my concentration anyway.
"Did you hear? Kathryn and Dan are dating!"
"Hannah's shirt is so ugly."
"When is Spencer going to figure out that gelling back his hair doesn't make him cool?"
If my wrists weren't tied behind my back, I would have covered my ears. I didn't know those names, and yet the voices seemed to gnaw at my very existence, separating my thoughts and my movements so that my mind and body were never fully synchronized.
In an effort to clear my head, I looked up toward my ankles, only to see that there were thousands of small glass shards dangling from the ceiling. They reflected what little light shone in the room, which would have been beautiful if not for the terror induced by everything else. I closed my eyes, trying to shut out the voices that continued to fill my consciousness.
The Queen laughed, throwing her silver hair over one shoulder. "Do the voices bother you, dear?"
Her face seemed to flicker every time she moved. One moment, she looked like my bus driver, Kathy, with her close-cropped hair and dark sunglasses, and the next second, she was my teammate Michele in her soccer uniform. I blinked, and suddenly she resembled the man on that talk show, The Insider.
With every movement of my eyes, her form continued to the change, getting to the point where I could no longer look at her without growing dizzy.
"Let me go," I said. I had intended it to sound commanding. Instead, it came out as a weak, terrified plea.
Again, she laughed, taking the form of one of my classmates. "You really don't want to leave. I've been watching you for quite some time."
"Watching me?" I asked. "What do you mean you've been watching me? I think I would know if some word-goddess was stalking me all the time, don't you?"
The Queen held up her hand to silence me. When she spoke, her voice was low but articulate, and I shivered as it resonated through the cavernous room.
"That's the beauty of it. You didn't know. No one knows when I am watching. No one knows," she said, her lips curving into a smile, "that I am coming for them."
The temperature in the room seemed to drop ten degrees.
"So, my dear," said the Queen. "Will you be my apprentice?"
I squinted my eyes at her. "What do you mean?"
"You know perfectly well what I mean. Talk to me, child. How is school?"
I blinked several times, unsure if she was being serious. "School... School's fine."
"How are your friends?"
I was about to answer with a quick "fine" but bit it back. "Well..."
"Yes?" she said, egging me on. It couldn't hurt to tell her, I decided. She was going to kill me anyway.
"Well, Olivia and I aren't really friends anymore, after she lied about not being able to come to my party, when really she just didn't want to come…but it wasn't my fault that Erin accidentally found out about-"
I stopped in mid sentence. Why was I telling her all this? I bit my lip, watching the colors from the ceiling glass pieces dance across the Queen’s face.
"Yes, child? You were saying?"
"Um..." I hesitated. I couldn't help but tell her the rest now that I’d started. "Well, I told Erin that Olivia liked Nate, but I know that she wouldn't tell anyone, so there really wasn't any harm. Erin isn't popular so she has no one to tell anyway. But Olivia found out that I told and she’s mad."
"Hmm. I see," said the Queen. I looked at her and cocked my head, trying to decide if my eyes were deceiving me. She looked different.
"Did you just get...taller?"
"Nonsense, dear. Continue."
I shook my head, certain that something strange was taking place here.
"Anyway..." I tried to shake away the growing feeling that something else was going on here. Something new was amiss. "She wants me to apologize for being such a gossip, but it really wasn't gossiping if I was talking to someone I trust, right? So I told her that. And she said that if I trusted Erin so much, I should just go be best friends with her and that trusting me was a mistake. So we aren't best friends anymore..."
My voice trailed off. This time, I was sure that something about the Queen was different. She was taller.
"How about your other friends?"
"Um, well I've started hanging out with Tara and Ben lately, but they aren't the best people to be with if you aren't looking for trouble. I heard that they graffitied the fast food restaurant near school and weren't caught by the police, at least not yet..."
The Queen was nodding. "Interesting.... Yes, good."
It had gotten to the point where I could no longer see her face, it was so far away. "You are getting taller!" I exclaimed. "You're three times my height!"
The Queen cackled. "Yes, but it isn't I who is getting taller," she said. "You are getting smaller."
I gasped and looked to my ankles again, but suddenly, I noticed the most frightening thing of all. The glass shards on the ceiling weren't shards at all - they were people. Victims of the Queen, shrunken down until they were useful only for decoration.
I looked at the Queen in horror. "W-Who are you?"
For just a moment, her form solidified, and I saw her for what she truly was - a monster.
"I," she said, her voices suddenly louder to my small ears, "am the Gossip Queen. And you are the latest addition to my collection."
She cackled. How had I allowed this to happen? I had hung here gossiping for heaven knows how long, all the while failing to notice that she was using my greatest weakness to her advantage. I glanced sideways at the faces of my fellow victims. They were literally frozen in fear, like I would soon be.
I needed a plan, and quickly, before she froze me in glass like the others, left to reflect light for all eternity. But what is the weakness of a Gossip Queen? She absorbs all negativity, using it to make herself stronger. How could I defeat someone if I couldn't hurt her using some form of negativity, some form of evil?
What is the opposite of evil? I asked myself.
"Love," I whispered. It may have been only my imagination, but I swore I saw the frozen victims stir.
"Gossip Queen!" I called down to her. Her face flicked and took the form of Erin.
"Olivia is a wonderful best friend. I was wrong to betray her."
She laughed. "You don't really believe that."
But I did. I sensed myself growing.
"And those are only rumors about Tara and Ben. None of them are true. They’re good people."
This time, I was certain I was growing. I was returning to my normal size.
"It doesn't matter if Erin is popular or not, she has true friends, and one of them is me."
"Stop!" cried the Queen. The room shook, and I felt the bonds on my ankles break. I fell a short distance to the floor and stood.
"Gossiping is wrong. Rumors get started, feelings get hurt, and friendships are broken." I backed the Gossip Queen into a wall. She had shrunken with every word, and was now only about two feet tall. The voices seemed to have fallen silent, as though the victims were listening too.
"I renounce you," I said. "Forever."
With that, all of the frozen victims fell from the ceiling, returning to normal size. Free.
For now, the Gossip Queen is defeated, but she will never be fully silenced. In order to defeat the Gossip Queen, once and for all, we must all renounce her. In order to rise to our true height, we must stop belittling others, because in doing so, we belittle ourselves.
So now, it's your turn. Do you renounce the Gossip Queen?