So, my daughter has this cushy little government job where she tells folks just what they can do with their computers. In a way. She works for an IT contractor at a call-center help desk. Now that she’s moved to a later shift, the number of calls she fields in a day has been drastically reduced. What does any of this have to do with today’s post? In one of our many rambling email exchanges, we got to discussing flash fiction and prompts and what-have-you as a way to fill the long, empty, early morning hours. This is one of the results of that conversation.
The prompt in question for this first story of hers is a line from Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk – The Art of Asking. (An aside – DO watch the video. It’s excellent and amusing and insightful and just awesome.) During her speech, she discusses how she couch surfs through life, usually with her band, but there was that one time that she went alone. Just as she was about to knock on the door, she had the stray thought, “Is this how stupid people disappear? Is this how stupid people die?” That pair of sentences spawned the story below.
Amelia stood with her small group at the forests edge, staring into the darkness it held. For months, a wolf had been terrorizing their village. Or so they thought. The young brunette tugged on the rope binding her wrists behind her back. She’d seen the true culprit of the pig abductions as had her other friends. Unfortunately, her so-called friends had not been as gracious as she. They were the reason she was being taken to the forests edge as the people she’d known her whole life threw stones and rotten food at her. They were the reason she was now being tied to a post atop a pile of straw and kindling. Branded as a witch at the age of seventeen for being a decent human being, the young woman only now remembered that no good deed went unpunished.
The ropes tightened painfully around her wrists, securing her to the post as the crowd threw curses at her. And she was supposed to be the witch here? She held her head high against the onslaught, determined to keep as much of her dignity as the situation would allow. She would not repent her actions for she had done nothing wrong. Her only regret would be that these people would not learn from their mistakes. Her death would mean nothing and would teach them nothing. In their eyes, they were passing righteous judgment from their God. A witch who helped a demon could not be allowed to live.
Glancing at the man standing beside her post, the blacksmith she noted, she noticed the flaming torch in his hand. So her uncle would be her executioner? It seemed fitting; she did “defile” his property after all. She nodded to him with a small smile, earning herself a glare. Still her smile held, not allowing the pain show at his sudden switch in manner. He’d once doted on her as if she were his own daughter.
“Amelia, you are charged with heresy, witchcraft, and harboring a demon-“ The young woman leveled a calm, emotionless stair on the mayor as he approached her. She allowed his droning voice to pass through her unheard as he recited her crimes and her punishment. She didn’t need to be informed; what she was standing against was evidence enough of her fate.
“He is not a demon. He is a man whose only crime is having been created. I gave him shelter, food, clothing. I taught him to read and write so he could one day enter society and make something of himself. I helped someone less fortunate than myself. Is that not what God is meant to teach? I am comfortable with my place in the eyes of my God. Are you?” Her declaration was met with quiet murmurs from some; however, she could see that many still believed she spoke nothing but heresy. The mayor spat another curse in her direction before her uncle threw the torch into the straw at her feet. Tall flames immediately began to burst from the dried grasses.
Amelia held her head high and closed her eyes, feeling the heat already begin to travel up to her bare feet. She allowed her mind to take her away from the fire and the screams of the townspeople. She remembered meeting the man who had been her charge for these last eight months. Demon was the term they’d used for the man with the beast-like eyes and patch-work skin. She and her friends caught him at one’s farm. She remembered the screams from the girls around her as they watched him expertly catch a pig and snap its neck. She remembered the feral look in his beautiful eyes and the way he’d stared at them before running back into the forest with his catch. She’d taken off after him without thinking, ignoring the calls from her hysterical friends. That had been the end of her.
The heat and pain began in her feet and ankles as the hay and kindling beneath them began to burn with the rest. Smoke began to rise and thicken around her, making it hard to breathe, but Amelia just bit her lip and continued to remember. She remembered finding that beautiful man and offering him shelter in her barn. She smiled softly as she remembered her thoughts as she led him there. Is this how stupid people die?
She remembered his initial fear and distrust. He’d never known human kindness would be geared towards someone like him. If a created creature was discarded by its own maker, then surely it would not be accepted anywhere. She’d been determined to show him differently. She remembered taking care of him, teaching him, loving him. He’d shown her happiness in his open mannerisms, in his unending gentleness that was hidden by fierce strength and passion. He’d been brilliant in his lessons with her and equally brilliant at pleasuring a woman. They had been glorious.
Amelia allowed only one whimper as the fire scorched its way up her legs and abdomen. The bindings on her wrists and her own iron will were all that was left holding her upright against the searing pain. She could smell her burnt flesh as it fell from her bones but still she did not make a sound. She would not give these people that satisfaction no matter if the thick smoke was making her dizzy and short of breath. She held her breath as long as she could manage in cycles as she forced her mind to continue to focus on the past, what had led her to this point and why she did not regret it.
She remembered when they’d been caught. She’d known they would eventually. It had been her uncle that saw them first. The very man who had now condemned her to death, he had caught them curled together one morning in the aftermath of their passion. She’d forced her lover to leave the barn; told him to go into the woods and wait for her. She’d convinced him this was something she needed to discuss with her family even as she knew what would truly become of her. Her uncle’s shouts that she’d lain with a demon proved that.
The fire had reached her chest and the smoke had stolen what little breath she’d had left. Her mind was unable to focus now no matter how hard she tried. Pain and smoke inhalation finally over took her senses though she gladly allowed them their due. She was finished. Buried in her heart, she had everything she needed to take her smiling to the afterlife. With her fading consciousness she imagined she could see the silhouette of her love, her monster, hidden in the trees. As the flames stole her final breath, she whispered her last goodbyes.