This is a piece I wrote back in April, but due to exams and the like, I’ve only just got the chance to go through and edit it. This is another of my unplanned pieces- as in, I sat and just wrote without a plan of how it was going to turn out, and I was quite surprised at the result really. I’d love to know what you think! Thank you for reading =)
She was dragged, rather unceremoniously, her bare feet scuffing the streets which villagers were lining in frightened awe.
Some of them stared silently, with the eyes of a frightened doe, some growled in their throats like animals and spat on the ground as she passed, but not one face seemed to show even a hint of sympathy.
To her, it seemed to be that they enjoyed her humiliation, as if it was some new form of amusing sport that they could be mere spectators to.
She was tempted to play along to their expectations, to crumple like a bird shot with an arrow, to weep uncontrollably, but somehow her dignity prevailed.
She dug her nails into her palms, slick with sweat, thrust her chin high in the sky, and hoped desperately that no one would notice her lips tremble as she attempted frantically to keep the tears which brimmed in her eyes, in her eyes.
She has always been the outsider, the mocked one, so she should be used to it. Kei, the stranger, with the large eyes full of wisdom from her birth, the birth which killed her mother, leading her father to pine away for his wife. Wasted away to a thin slip of a man, he had succumbed to a cold and died the shortly after, when his daughter was barely a year old.
Kei had been taken in for a while, but as she was considered a bad omen for causing her mother to die, on her eleventh birthday was given a small hut of her own, and told to get on with it- which she had done, and remarkably well.
However, this had only lead to her downfall, as her success in making a home, her splendorous garden, which consistently produced the largest vegetables, began to make others suspect her. Rumours circulated that she used the help of witchcraft, and the suspicion swelled, coupled with slander and gossip, until she found herself the village scapegoat. Every mishap was somehow attributed to her, every death she was believed to have caused. Religious signs were made over any place she passed over, and her hut was frequently painted with graffiti, evil marks, biting words.
Had she been a weaker person, she would have run away long ago, but somehow her pride kept her there, and she learnt to ignore or block out every little malicious comment, every scared look which the villagers shot at her.
But now it seemed that she had faltered. Every splat of saliva hitting the ground, every hatred filled glare stung at her, like salt rubbed into an open wound.
Block it out.
Pushing that one thought to the front of her mind strengthened her resolve. They aren’t there.
They stopped. The group of them were stood by the dark building that served as a prison. This was it.
Kei glanced up at the sky, shivering as the wind bit through her thin clothing. The sky had clouded over, and was now streaked black and grey and threatening. These weren’t just wispy little balls of fluff, these were proper, heavy clouds, thickly pregnant with rain and darkly tormenting.
She was suddenly very afraid, and the scarred sky seemed to be frightened too, echoing her emotion.
Her heartbeat was pounding in her ears, and her mind was foggy with hazy thoughts. A strange lilt in her middle seemed to tell her that this was all a nightmare, one from which she would soon awake, rub her eyes, and then get on with her life.
But the whistling wind chilling her bones told her the terrifying truth. This was real.
You could have shattered the silence by dropping a feather. Kei hoped it wasn’t obvious that she was quaking, that her knees were knocking together, as now every eye had turned to look at her.
“We hereby arrest this…” some pompous man, his stomach swelling out as if he was with child, looked snootily down at her, as he announced what was happening in unnecessarily loud tones. He seemed to struggle to find a word to describe the person before him, but finally continued, “…girl, on suspicion of having the Magic.”
Everyone waited for her punishment to be proclaimed, their eyes eager, their fists clenched in nervous anticipation.
“At the crack of dawn tomorrow, I hereby declare that she will be hung for this crime, hung until dead.”
Her sarcasm was the first to react, bizarrely, and she felt like laughing at the pig like man, so full of himself. Hung until dead? Not just hung until asleep then?
Then his words fully took impact, as applause broke out, along with shouts of no doubt unkind words, which Kei couldn’t quite catch. Her head was spinning, and her ears were filled with a strange buzzing noise, which seemed to drown out all of her crazed thoughts.
She had known all along that they would hang her, but to hear it made it seem so much more real. She gulped down tears, choking a little on the air she had not much longer left to breathe.
Everything seemed to blur before her, as she was taken into the damp prison, thrown into a cell, drops of unknown liquid trickling from the ceiling, and locked firmly in with a rusty key, her hands gripping the rough bars before her, which cut into her skin.
Then they left her. The buzzing stopped, her body slumped.
The darkness overwhelmed her. She felt as if she had already died, and fallen into an early grave, for the pitch black which had enveloped her was terrible and thick.
As she lay there, the cold seeping through her body like hundreds of small creatures creeping over her, her mind ran back over what had happened. The injustice felt like a heavy weight in her chest, as if she had swallowed a stone, and she rubbed her stomach absently.
It had begun like any other day. Rising at dawn, she had washed her face, cooked her porridge, and gone to tend her garden.
If only I hadn’t,
she thought fiercely. If only I had lingered over my porridge, taken longer with the washing up.
But she had, and there was nothing she could do about it now. Glancing over the fence, looking past her beautiful clusters of lettuce, and bushes heavy with soft fruits, she had been puzzled to see smoke rising from the next door neighbour’s house. It wasn’t late enough for the rest of the village to be up, she was an early riser herself, something no one else she had met was.
The smell of burning floated to her nostrils, alerting her senses. It seemed to clash with the peaceful, still surrounding air, and she had immediately dropped her basket of carrots and gasped.
Kei let herself slip back into the past, closing her eyes, though keeping them open wouldn’t have made a difference, as it was so dark.
Her body sprang into action, and she raced over to the house, her heart pounding in her body like a drum. It was deathly quiet as she burst through the front door, her eyes wide with horror as she saw what lay before her.
Fire. It snaked around the room, smoky thickness smothering four sleeping bodies. Her mouth opened in a scream, smoke pouring into her lungs.
Someone stirred, and she raced into their midst, shaking their shoulders, shouting.
The man she shook woke suddenly, springing from his bed as his body overcame the doziness that the smoke had wrapped around him. Pulling his wife from the blankets, he stood and watched as Kei thumped the fire with any piece of thick material she could find.
It was doing little.
“Run!” she shouted, over the crackling noise of the fire consuming the house. “Grab the children and run!”
The mother hauled a young son from his bed, and ducked out of the doorway, the father taking another child in his arms, who stirred sleepily, unaware of the danger around her.
Kei scanned the house before she left, and turned to go… when another lump of blankets caught her attention. Another child!
She sprang to the bedside, hearing a mournful cry as the infant awoke. It was a young baby, only a few weeks old. Gathering the girl to her, she ducked as a flaming rafter fell, blocking her exit.
She was trapped, with the baby in her arms, who was thrashing in her sleep.
Panic tumbled around in her mind, crashing around her thoughts. The baby could be pushed through one of the gaps, but she would die in the flames beyond.
There was only one option. She would have to Change.
Changing had been a large part of her life, ever since the fateful day when she was only four. She had been wandering in the forest, when she had suddenly become overcome with a powerful desire to run, run as fast as she could.
And so she did. Arms pumping, little legs scampering, she threw her head back… and felt a tingle consume her. Before she could comprehend what was happening, she had dropped on all fours, and Changed into a cheetah, fur sprouting from her back, her legs lengthening, becoming hard with sinews and well muscled.
Startled, she stopped. As fast as it had come upon her, it ceased, and she returned to her usual form.
Over the next few years, she experimented, and being sensible, mentioned it to no one. From stories heard about her mother, she deduced that she had inherited it from her, and kept it a secret.
In full view of the anxious parents outside, she Changed into a small monkey, not the ones with silky fur that were pretty and large eyed, but a nimble, fast climbing one, with long, strong fingers.
Scooping the child into her now rather more hairy arms, she sprung through the largest gap in the fallen, flaming piece of wood, and darted her way to safety. Right then, she didn’t think about the repercussions, she was more concerned about the baby.
Breathlessly, she broke through the door, transforming into her usual form as she did, in full view of almost the whole village, who had come to see what all of the noise was about.
The father stepped forward, angrily ripping the baby out of her arms.
Faces were upturned to look at her, some rigid with shock, others decidedly more angry.
Run, she told herself. Run, now! They don’t look happy.
But somehow, she remained rooted to the spot, frozen like the thick icicles that outnumbered the villagers during the winter. Her breathing rate was still ragged and uneven from all the smoke in her lungs, and she coughed painfully.
They all watched.
The fire was still burning, hungrily devouring all it could, lighting every persons face in a warm orange glow.
Kei swung up a bucket, running to the well, expecting to hear footsteps pattering behind her as she ran… but it was silent.
Back and forth she went with the bucket, silently thanking the gods that the well was close to the house. The villagers simply stared.
“Aren’t you going to help me?” she cried, after her fifth bucket, her battered throat croaking as she tried to speak.
Blank looks met her searching gaze. Then came the fatal accusation.
It was the father who had spoken. Kei felt tempted to punch him in the face for all of his ingratitude, but she refrained, deciding to go for the civil approach.
The fire had quietened down now, to a mere whisper of smoke, and Kei sighed with relief as someone helpfully smothered it to ashes with a thick blanket.
Her gaze fell on the others.
“She has the Magic.”
Whispers passed around, disbelief flickering on the faces of those who had been too small to see her transformation.
Kei sighed. She had no idea how she was going to get out of this one, and whilst every instinct told her to Change into a cheetah, and run for her life, she held her ground.
For once, I will not run, she told herself, feeling stronger as she said it. For once, I will be the better one. I will stand my ground.
Her faith buoyed her up and she let her defensive stance relax a little, hoping she looked more calm and serene. This did her no favours.
“Look at her.” Whispers reached her ears, and she flinched at them. “She can’t be human. She should be trembling.”
Kei wondered if she could do anything right in their eyes.
“Look.” The loudness of her voice startled even herself, and she saw the villagers bristle with indignation at her tone. “ I’m not any less human than you are. And if you hadn’t noticed, I actually just saved quite a few lives while the rest of you were sleeping.”
As soon as she spoke, her mind reprimanded her.
Her mind was right- the villagers were glaring at her.
The father whose life she had saved spoke up. “What you did is of no importance. You have the Magic, and for that, we must rid our village of you.”
His words chilled the atmosphere, coupled with a light wind which suddenly curled around the group of them.
Kei frowned. “But… why is having the Magic such a blemish on the village? I only use it to help!” She had a feeling her cheeks were flushing red, and her voice had already squeaked up to several pitches higher than her normal level.
“What about those lettuces and carrots you grow?” the wife, whose life, coincidentally, she had also saved, spat. “I can’t believe you could’ve grown them without any help.”
Her head was pounding, and she found breathing difficult. Her anger was rising up through her outward stance of indifference, and her fists were clenching together.
Don’t blame them, Kei. You’ll only make them more angry, it sighed.
Ungrateful brats, she thought, fiercely. Ungrateful, unjust idiots.
Someone grabbed her hands from behind her, and she thrashed in their grasp. It was a muscular man, however, and she had no chance. She tried to change, but the pain from the burns on her legs, and the uncomfortable position she was in rendered it impossible.
She drooped like a wilting plant, and let the noises and shouts swoop in and envelope her.
Kei opened her eyes. The darkness bit at her, and she gulped. She had always been afraid of the dark, strangely. Even when she had Changed into an owl, with night vision far superior to any other creature, she had still feared the dark shapes that the night transformed from ordinary things, into secretive, looming mysteries.
She considered changing now, but her wearied body, weak from a lack of food and water, knew it was impossible. She felt, for the first time, a heavy chain rubbing against her wrists.
She wondered how long she had been thinking for, and, leaning her stiff bones back against the slimy wall she had previously been steadfastly avoiding, she attempted to sleep.
It was never going to happen. Her mind was numb with fear of death, and her eyes refused to shut, knowing that they would soon be shut forever. A taut feeling in her middle seemed to fill her with a blunt, deep sadness. She could not comprehend death, not now. Did every prisoner that had been unfortunate enough to spend their last night here feel this way? This state of half dreaming, half wanting to scream and cry and beg to be let out?
Her eyes closed, more from weariness than anything else, and she felt the damp sliminess of the wall seep through her clothes as she slumped into a fitful sleep.
She awoke to the door clanging open, dim morning light shining through.
Her fuzzy sight showed her three large men, who were making far too much noise, it hurt her ears.
They opened the door, hauling her up by the wrists, dragging her out of the cell, into the morning light.
She couldn’t think straight, but one thought darted into her mind- why were her last moments going to be so traumatic? Could they not at least let her have a little joy at her last rising sun, or let her stop to smell her last scent of perfume filled flowers?
No. She was towed ruthlessly, as if she was a sack of potatoes.
A podium was set up for her, a long slender rope hanging, with an ominous looking noose.
Villagers were waiting to watch her die, and she felt sickened at the thought. Was it a sport to them, or did they actually realise that a life was going to end?
She stepped up to the podium (or was hauled, rather), but she felt nothing, it was as if she was walking in some bizarre dream, her thoughts clogged up into a hazy mess.
The pompous man she had seen before was speaking, but she could not hear him properly. She thought about her mother, and thought of how sorrowful her mother would have been if she had known.
The man turned to her. She saw his lips form the words ‘last few words’ and she nodded.
She had no idea what to say, but the buzzing in her ears stopped, and she looked out, her chin held high.
“I can say nothing, really,” she began, her voice ringing clear in the still air. “For, if you will kill me for being born with a tinge of magic coursing through my veins, which I use to help others, what can I do? If you are unjust, there is nothing I can do. I hope that the lives I saved will not be as wasted has mine has been. That is all.”
Her voice cracked on the last line, and she choked over the last word.
The noose was hung over her neck, raising goose bumps where it fell.
If this had been a story, a fairytale, someone would have rescued her, stopped the trap door from falling with an unbelievably coincidental series of actions.
But no. With a swish, the door fell, and Kei tumbled down, the rope squeezing her neck so tightly that she could barely think, let alone breathe.
The villagers cheered. She wanted to be sick. This was happening. She had hoped that something would delay it, that someone would feel remorse for her, but no, not her. She was going to die.
The pain bit at her, the rope squeezing her neck. Closing her eyes, she fell into unconsciousness, blocking out the pain. She had no idea how long she swung there, feeling nothing but the dull throb of pain, but a gasp made her open her eyes.
The villagers were staring in amazement, as a delicate white dove swooped down from the sky, and hovered before her. Her vision was fading, her heart beat throbbing in her chest, unbelievably slow.
Suddenly, she knew exactly what the bird was.
“Mother,” she murmured hoarsely. “I knew you’d come for me.”
The dove cooed.
Her body slumped as her last breath left her, clouding in the cold air. As it blew, a shape began to form itself from the wispy air. The villagers gaped in stunned silence as they slowly beheld a white dove forming from Kei’s final breath, delicate wings, large eyes. It fluttered to the first dove, on unsteady, wobbling wings. The dove seemed to smile, and the two birds flew together up into the sky.
The stunned silence didn’t last long.
“Did she Change?” Accusatory cries rang through the air. In a pandemonium, guards shot at the birds, as they flew together, but every arrow passed cleanly through the birds, as if they were not there.
Fluttering into the bright rising sun, ivory wings fluttering against the pink flushed sky, Kei joined her mother in their last, final flight.
her mind ran out of words to describe the villagers. They had tied an iron chain around her wrists, to stop her from using the Magic. How had they known that that stopped her from Changing?
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Book / Fantasy
Book / Fantasy
Short Story / Fantasy
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