Once upon a nightmare, in the dining hall of the castle of Salazen Grum, Wonderland, Drizella is doing a few final edits to her speech. She scribbles over neat handwriting with her illegible preschooler capital letters with the light that strikes through the narrow lancet windows. The floor is a card-deck pattern, and Drizella notices she’s standing on the black Ace of Clubs. This helps her ignore her sizzling post-supper tea. Although she’s perched at the head of the heart-shaped table, no one else seems to pay her any attention. They’re too busy scooping red-and-white-themed puddings and marzipan cakes onto their plates and into their mouths, chatting about how many children they’ve eaten or how many princes they’ve cursed to frogs.
Finally, when the chatter simmers down at around nine o’clock, Drizella stands gracefully and taps the blade of a butter knife against her champagne glass. It takes a few shrill dings before the ladies set their beady eyes on her and only the pitter-patter of the rats who haunt the walls can be heard.
Drizella faces a room full of villains but courage keeps her spine straight. “Ladies, ladies. Decorum, please. Thank you so much for coming.” A trickle of applause follows. “I’d especially like us to thank Iracebeth, our dazzlingly murderous Queen of Hearts, for lending us her castle dining room for the meeting tonight.” This grants a few hoots (and a narcissistic response from Iracebeth herself: “You’re welcome, yes, you’re all very welcome”). “Now that supper is over,” Drizella continues, “it’s time for business.”
No applause or cheering after that—just the rats and a random handkerchief-concealed cough.
“Why are we here?” Black Murphy calls, slamming her fists on the table. This causes her eye patch to slide down her face and leave a swollen, oozing wound where her left eye should be. She’s one of Captain Hook’s crew and rumor has it he took her eye with his hook, but others claim she jumped in front of Tick Tock the crocodile for him. No one’s really sure.
A few others become vocal after Black Murphy, listing questions and concerns. There’s a scroll questionnaire for this sort of thing, Drizella thinks as she tries to calm everyone down.
Lady Tremaine comes to the rescue. “Shut your traps!” she snaps, smashing her champagne glass on the ground. It shatters into a pool of shimmering glass fragments that reflect Lady Tremaine’s vexed expression. (Iracebeth is horrified about her handmade now-broken glass, across the blur of three-tier cakes and dirty dishes.) “My daughter has worked very hard on what she’s about to say tonight. I suggest you choke on your pies for the rest of the night and be silent or face my wrath.”
Most ladies roll their eyes and mutter something along the lines of, “Yeah, right, old woman. You couldn’t inflict your wrath on a mouse.” Lady Tremaine glowers but Drizella skillfully cuts in—
“As most of you know, we’ve been working hard lately. Doubletime, overtime, whatever you want to call it. And . . .” she glanced at her notecards, “we’re not being paid fairly. Not as much as our male counterparts. Would anyone like to share anything they’ve experienced? This is an open forum.” She waves her hands like she wants them to converse in surface-level how-are-yous and never actually reach the deep, mental struggle of their daily lives. Like having Ursula drag you past Ariel’s twenty thingamabobs and into a dark, gloomy cave where you can’t escape . . .
Rosina flicks the tines of her fork and pipes up in her hoarse cackle, “I, for one, have had a rough week. I tortured Hansel and Gretel for more than six hours a day—you know, fattening them up and putting them on The Twsiter to make sure they’re all tender—and all I got paid was a few bronze coins. Afterwards, I didn’t even have enough time for my knitting marathon.”
Drizella nods, making a little note on the corner of her paper.
“Yes!” Mother Gothel agrees, “I swear to God, I sang Rapunzel the “Mother Knows Best” song three times and she still wants to see the damn lights. My throat is sore and all I received from the mail-carriage is one silver coin. One! Do you know how long it took me to choreograph the dance steps for that song? Three months, all for one stupid silver coin.” She combs her hands through the birdsnest of raven curls atop her head and nervously plucks her thickened eyebrows. Drizella jots more.
To this, Maleficent rises and cracks the head of her staff onto the table. It’s a small globe that fits into the palm of her hand and is the rapid yellow of a beetle’s eye. Before speaking, she ruffles the spider-black cape with the interior sheep’s fur that grasps at her shoulders. “I am being paid three silver coins—probably the highest amount of anyone here. This is only because I have a more demanding task each day: turning into a fire-spitting dragon.”
Ladies erupt in a fit of disagreements. Surely their jobs are the most demanding. One shouts, “Turning into a dragon is easy, you old fool!” The delicate walls tremble.
Maleficent snaps her staff onto the table again and it starts beating like a heartbeat, or a dim, buttery streetlamp. Wafts of smoke practically seep from her nostrils, and she clears her throat. She begins again with a booming voice, “Shifting into a dragon hurts my shoulders and strains my upper back. This job is getting in the way of my poetry habits and layering this invisible stress onto me. What if I don’t perform well and the Mouse pays me less than last week? I need the money and so do you all. We need a solution, and quickly.”
Drizella licks her lips and lightly applauses, silently thanking their unofficial leader for a supportive monologue. She confidently drops her notecards onto her itty-bitty dessert plate and reaches for her tea. She deserves it. “Anyone—”
Tap, tap. Two knocks on the door. Drizella freezes in place. The pulse in her own neck is all she can hear, and in that spot her skin feels like ripping open. Two quick knocks on the door is not the negotiated secret code, so it must be an intruder. Her hand squeezes the tea cup, and it’s still lukewarm, just halfway to her lips.
“Let ’em in,” Iracebeth calls nonchalantly from her place in the tallest chair with the most embedded rubies. She needs to look tall and therefore equal compared to all the other villains in the room. Everyone gives her a stupid, gawking look. What is she doing?
The golden door knob twists on the two grand scarlet doors and in bounds Mama Odie. She’s swaying her hips and dancing around in a lopsided circle, her hands flapping in the air. Her own infamous song bubbles hysterically out of her lips. The ladies are speechless, all except Drizella.
“Odie!” Drizella exclaims, opening her arms wide like the wingspan of a cassowary bird, but not actually stepping forward into a hug. “So glad you came.”
Mama Odie snaps her thumb and middle finger together, her smile distant like the Cheshire Cat’s. “Drizzie, little hell-nymph, are you torturing Cinderella as I advised you?”
“Oh yes,” she answered graciously, “it’s definitely more efficient than making her clean out the fireplace.”
A low growl came from the back end of the table. It hummed in the wooden veins of the table and reached Drizella in an instant. “What is she doing here? Isn’t she a supporting character—a good character?” Zekia asked, her wolfish slits eyeing Mama Odie’s jingling twirls and her big ears twitching whenever the old swamp woman hit a high note. Zekia had only dealt with three little pigs in her career, nothing as annoying as this crazy human granny.
Mama Odie slipped into the only vacant seat beside Iracebeth, who observed her carefully. She had mammoth gold-plated hoop earrings the size of saucers and a shiny sapphire that balanced on her ring finger.
Drizella tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear and faced Zekia, “Mame Odie saved my bottom end the other day, so I invited her to join us. I was being followed by Dr. Facilier’s friends from the Other Side and this old blind woman sniffed them out and warned me before they trapped me. It was all because of an old bar fight but that’s not very relevant. Anyways, Odie here told me she’d been friends with those on the Other Side for some time now and is—ahem—transitioning into another career path, isn’t that right?” Mama Odie cackles mysteriously and fixes the black glasses that cover her eyes. “Also, as a supporting good character, she doesn’t get fair earnings either.”
The Evil Queen, Grimhilde, taps her long, glittering nails on the table to get everyone’s attention. “Before this old hag came bursting into the castle, I was about to jump in and speak for both Lady Tremaine and I about the rubbish we’re experiencing. Being a stepmother is tiring work and my Mirror On The Wall isn’t necessarily very nice to me nowadays. By the way, I am fairest, can we not all agree?” This cues a few hee-haw agreements from the villains. They all know she is not the fairest. “Snow White is an ungrateful brat. She’s only fourteen and trying to marry off to who-knows-who. And marketing a poison apple isn’t my dream job either. I’m still auditioning for local theater performances with school children but all artists must have a sad backstory, I guess. It makes me uncomfortable showing up for work, knowing I’m being monitored and treated lesser than others.” She pauses for dramatic effect like she was probably taught to, “Tremaine, darling, you want to add anything else?”
Lady Tremaine scoots her chair farther away from the table and purses her lips. “You pretty much summarized it—Cinderella is the same way. And I heard Jafar is being paid triple the amount: one to two gold coins!”
Some gasp, clutching their ribs, while Drizella sweeps her gaze across every lady’s face. They’re shadowed in a garnet-red glow from all the warm colors in the dining hall and the poorly lit candles that wiggle like they’re being stricken with a whip on the table. “We are all going through the same difficult drag of our everyday life and not being paid fairly for it. I say we organize a rebellion to express our concern with this inequity.”
“A . . . rebellion?” Ursula asks, using her violet tentacles to mold her graying hair into a mohawk. “No offense, but that seems a bit much.”
“I agree,” Maleficent adds.
The villains bob their heads up and down, some faces still outlined with cherry frosting or pudding residue. They don’t know how silly they look.
Drizella clasps her hands in front of stomach and puts her mouth into a firm line. “I understand, but I want you all to imagine that little girl, laying in her bed right now, thinking that she wants to become a villain when she grows up. Do you want her to step into this same environment we currently have to work in? Don’t you want her to have fun being a bully and scaring others?” She shakes her head. “I’m getting ahead of myself—we will first approach the male villains and the Mouse with a treaty, but if they do not sign it, a little chaos is the only option. Don’t you gals love chaos?”
Mama Odie giggles and shoves her spoon into her mouth. “I just wish my snake Juju was here to witness this. Why aren’t y’all allowing pets again?”
“Health hazard,” Iracebeth cuts in sharply. “Also I have a fear of smart animals.”
“Anyways,” Drizella interrupts, trying to get the villains back on track. It is always surprisingly hard to do so. “I have a treaty here, and I’d love you to all pass it around and sign with your best penmanship. If you don’t want to sign, we understand. However, we would like you to leave immediately. The door is that way.” She gestures carelessly at the two long doors and ruffles through her purse to find the scroll.
Nobody stands or exits. The ladies stay glued to their chairs, gulping tea and secretly want to lick the traces of dessert off their plates. They need, under their mirages of evil, to be a hero for someone, even if that person is a young little devil, just waiting to blossom.
Drizella clears her table mat and smooths the scroll onto it, taking a quill and ink pot from a pocket in her purse. The quill has the feather of a salt-and-pepper speckled snowy owl for a comfortable grip. Drizella dutifully traces her name onto the first line, being careful to dot her i’s and finish the curl of her l’s. Drizella Tremaine. What a beautiful name.
She passes it to her mother on the right side, winking softly and watching as she scribbles a familiar name. Next is Anastasia, her sister, who shoves aside a towering plate of macarons, pie slices, and sweetened fruit. She draws a little birdie beside her name, and Drizella doesn’t comment that it looks like a bush with eyes.
Anastasia hands it over to Black Murphy, who squints at her, then the treaty, and grumbles, “Never thought I’d be allying with any of you.” After signing, she wipes her nose on her dinner napkin and adjusts her eye patch. Drizella thinks her British-pirate accent is soothing, but chuckles nervously at her remark. Afterwards is Mother Gothel, who grins and hums her very well-known theme song. When Ursula receives the scroll, she wipes extra eyeliner off her cheek.
Ursula writes her name quickly without glancing at it. When she sees others peering at her, she smiles with her big lips and whispers, “Poor unfortunate souls, they don’t know what’s coming.”
Iracebeth continues, “And off with their heads!” She writes her name in cursive like she was taught early on, making her Q a heart, with other little hearts that float aimlessly around her perfect handwriting. Mama Odie takes the scroll and almost spills the ink onto her lap, causing other ladies to inhale acutely. When she signs her name, it’s a big stormy mess with a long reptile that slithers through it.
Rosina tries to make sense of the signature, but she can’t. After dragging the quill across the yellowing paper, she says, “Are you going to sing your song or something?”
Mama Odie groans, “No. I dislike it. What about you? I’d love to hear you sing.”
“Can’t, don’t have a song.” Rosina complains, trying to keep her tone light.
Next is Maleficent. She looks regal as she skims through the terms and conditions, her widow’s peak defined and aggressive with her chestnut hair pulled into a neat ballerina bun. This is the first time Drizella has seen her whole head—usually she’s wearing the onyx headpiece with curling horns. There’s something vulnerable about it. When she speaks, her crimson painted lips barely move, “I hope this doesn’t have any repercussions.” Maleficent writes her name elegantly and doesn’t look at the paper any more.
Drizella wants to erupt in laughter. “No, no. Of course not.” She manages to keep a straight face.
Zekia has a hard time holding the quill with her paws. Drizella always aimed to be animal-inclusive, so she encourages her to dip her paw in the ink and make a nice print, which Zekia executes without a twinge of embarrassment. She wipes the excess ink on the heart-speckled tablecloth when Iracebeth isn’t looking. A low grumble comes from her throat when she passes it along.
Last but not certainly not least, it’s Grimhilde. “This is for you, ugly little dwarves,” she toasts, and produces the final signature. Afterwards she touches the golden crown atop her head to make sure it didn’t fall out of place.
Drizella can’t help but smile. “We’ll present it in two day’s time,” she announces. “Bring torches, bring friends, bring pets. We’ll need all the allies we can get. No more hiding from fear—it’s time to be loud.”
“And get our deserved golden coins,” Iracebeth reminds everyone.
“Yes,” Drizella agrees. “This meeting has officially ended. I’ll see you all back here, dressed to fight, in two days.”
There is a smattering of applause and a few “Yeehaw”s and “Woohoo”s. Drizella feels energy zipping through her veins and into her head, making her almost fall over when getting out of her seat. The ladies begin chatting and gathering their cloaks, some mentioning forms of easy torture and others, the best way to eat a child: toasted, smoked, or sautéed. To no one, Drizella huffs, “I need . . . some air.”
She breaks through the crowd, running across different card designs from a deck, and pushes the doors aside. There are three more rooms before she stumbles onto a balcony, many feet in the air, above Iracebeth’s personal gardens. They are spirals with different colored roses that she can barely make out in the blueing hour. The stars are just peeking out from their daffodil-spun chrysalises and winking at Drizella from many miles away. She, gasping for air, and not yet completely out of control, thinks about the meeting she just fled from. It’s okay, she thinks, it’ll be okay.
Drizella Tremaine, from a balcony in Wonderland, raises her face to the sky and hopes for change, because being a female villain is an honor. For the first time, she wishes on a star.