There is an evil murky bog that lurks in the middle of a novel. Reminiscent of the Swamp of Sadness in the wonderful Neverending Story, it sucks you down, dripping with despair. It's a dangerous time. A time when you can be Turned From The Path and distracted by the delightful curse of new ideas.
Particularly when indulging in the odd flash fiction challenge like the recent, wonderful, Divine Hell Blog Challenge. One such distraction came upon me after I wrote my 150 word flash fiction on Heresy. A kind of Medieval Inquisition meets Misfits type tale, whose main characters, like Athena, sprang fully formed from my head some time in the middle of a shower.
Instead of pursuing my novel (currently sitting at its NaNoWriMo Goal of just over 50,000 words) I wrote the first page of this other story. Working title: Blood Witch. This is it.
It was stifling hot, full of jagged shadows and darkness. Smelt like dust and droppings, dead things. Caetlen gripped herself, pinching her thin arms between fingers and thumbs. Holding herself together. She had always liked the darkness, the quiet times of the night. No one to stare if she drifted into one of her dream-talks. Just Hallie cuddled up against her, her warm body solid as a block, hair like spring grass; a tangle of chubby arms and soft snores. Hallie! Terror clutched at her then, as real as a vulture’s claws. She had lost Hallie. They had taken her away, somewhere within this black-stone labyrinth. Her rounded face had been blank with shock, not even tearful. She hadn’t understood that she was being taken, hadn’t understood what it meant being Caetlen’s sister. She would have been better off left a foundling on some convent doorstep than in Caetlen’s care.
Caetlen the witch-girl, Caetlen the heretic.
She knew what they did to witches’ families, even the little ones. They’d trick her into saying she had seen incubi rollicking in Caetlen’s virgin bed, watched Caetlen cast spells and summon demons. They’d find a way to do that. And if they didn’t, they’d torture her. Five years old. They’d torture her until she bore witness.
God, let her confess straightaway. Let her think it a story, a good joke. Let her think it a game. But she remembered the confusion in Hallie’s face, round circle of horror that her mouth made before she began to cry, and despair scraped at her, trapped her in a black pit that was worse, almost worse than the chamber.
“Think Caetlen, think,” she tried to whisper. A little whisper, a noise to drown out the rustling in the shadows, the drawn out silence of apprehension. “Think.”
But she had never been much of a thinker. Not a clever girl, not wise or savvy. No solutions presented themselves. She sat down on the floor, on an old piece of sacking and stared at the smoke-stained walls.
She was deep below the monastery hemmed in by four foot stone walls. Thick walls that would dampen sound, silence screaming. She had seen them before in one of her drifting, inconstant waking-dreams. Stepped into them, close enough to touch. Felt their heat, saw the machines. Heard screaming. It had been her own voice. She realised that when she came to and found herself outside the baker’s, clutching her throat. People stared at her in the street, crossed themselves. They thought she was possessed, and maybe she was. It had been just one week ago. She should’ve known that They would come.
And They did.
She looked up at the machinery. It was a cacophony of cogs, ropes and wheels, wood and metal, black-stained. Blood she supposed. Machinery to stretch and tear, machinery to cut and slice. Machinery to hurt, but not to kill. Not yet. Killings were public fare, entertainment. She’d watched them herself, betimes. Acrid smells, like burnt beef. Black smoke. Crowds stiff with anticipation, hungry to see devils exposed.
She heard them then; footsteps on the corridor growing nearer. Huddling, she gathered herself together. Knees pressed close against her thin chest, arms wrapped tight around her knees, the rough wool of her skirt scratchy against her skin. Chin lowered, hair tumbled, tangled across her shoulders. Invisible, that’s what she wanted to be. To disappear into the shadows, melting away like a moonbeam. If she was a witch, that’s what she’d do. If she was a witch, not just a stupid girl plagued by dream visions, shifting pictures of the future. But she wasn’t a witch, not so far as she knew. Didn’t know a demon from a damson. Could barely read, never mind write incantations. Not a witch. But she’d be burned as one anyway. No one was taken and then released. The Brotherhood didn’t do that.