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New Fearful Heights
This story was written during a short story assassinment.
The town was quiet, it was disturbingly quiet. The lack of sound made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It reminded me of the feelings I got when I was little and was scared of shadows. It made me feel like a kid again, a scared kid again.
The town used to be so lively, we weren't ever a big place. The population was not even reaching more than a handful of people. Everybody here knew each other in such a way that could only come from such a close environment.
All of that was gone now, what replaced it made my heart thunder.
My steps were loud, echoing throughout the town as I walked, carrying a handmade dried meal in my hands. A little extra meat from my helping job as the butcher, a messy job that I was okay doing.
So many people were so scared to even leave their homes now, people who would have been moving about. Going on with their lives now just hiding away in their homes hoping that they won’t be the next one. Hoping that they won’t be accused. My breaths were silent, puffs of cold air leaving my mouth as I finally arrived at my destination. The house of the apothecary, she helped me with an infection and I’ve always been meaning to go repair her for her kindness.
She was nice and it was unfortunate that a lot of people just could see that. Knocking on the door I only had to wait for a few moments before it opened. The slow creaking sound of the door sounding through the town, it was loud. It was nice to hear.
I like talking with others, being with other people. I liked my job a lot just because of the fact that I met so many people on such a regular basis. I got the chance to be a part of so many different lives.
Everybody isn’t leaving their homes anymore and any conversation that I do have is so short, so clipped of joy or any emotion beside fear. It makes me wish that things could have gone back to the old ways, before they came.
Even if they are trying to help us.
Gray hair poked out, a wrinkled face with eyes that were slightly blurring. Teeth falling out and a smile that seemed to not be fully working. Most people ignored her, she was just like me in that way.
They didn’t understand how lonely it could be to just be by themselves with no others, no one to rely on. I have no wife to go home to, no father or mother to whisper to during late nights over a roaring fire. No siblings to snipe at, to know that they’d help me. I was all alone.
“Hey Mary, I got you some food.” I smiled, though Mary probably couldn’t see it.
“Jerkico?” I gave a quick yes and she motioned me inside.
“Please, set it on the table. It’s jerky right hun? Meat keeps nice for a long time from what I remember.”
“Yes ma'am, deer jerky. I got it from a fresh stag kill this morning.”
“Did you give it proper rights?”
“You know we can’t be doing that type of thing anymore.”
The look of disappointment she gave me was crawling, I didn’t like making other people sad. Less so her, the only person who stuck with me after everything here started going wrong but she should understand why we can’t do this stuff.
It’s a tradition, something that I was raised in, something that she taught me. Giving animals some sort of respect after they die. It doesn’t really have any big point, at least I don't think it has any point.
I don’t know a lot of things though so maybe it does.
With a tired sigh I began portioning out the meal, trying to make some painful attempts at talking with Mary. She was still treating me coldly but she had to understand, if I did that stuff I’d be in trouble.
It isn’t normal, it’s something that only we did. Something that she taught my dad and who taught me. If someone found out, maybe I’d be fine but she would most deftly wouldn’t. She’d be hanging, dunked or even burnt. I’ve heard so many stories about what happens to them. I just don’t want it to happen to her, to the person who is sticking to me through all of this.
Some part of me wonders if there’re any witches here, if all of this was just fear and terror running through the town.
Letting out a sigh I just focused on the moment.
“Let me clean up Ma’am.”
--- New Fearful Heights ---
A person died today, her death wasn’t public but she died. And her death rippled through the town with a fever. Her death was gut retching, from what I’ve heard she died coughing up blood, black blood.
She was probably poisoned parts of me thinks, she was always sick and maybe she just got overwhelmed this time. It’s sad and would have been a mournful tragedy but right now, now a mania was spreading through the town as they came up with their own theories over what happened.
They think curses, they think that someone cursed her and killed her. People, I could already hear them pointing fingers at each other. Parents checking others, kids whispering in low voices about who they think it was. It was damning to see everyone one moment away from attacking each other, one moment away from pointing fingers and calling out a suspected witch, it was gut wrenching to see them so ready to have someone killed.
That’s horrible right? If so then why is everybody so ready to do it then!?
“Such a horrible tragedy, right?”
“It must have been ***. She’s always had a thing out for her.”
“No, it was ***. Now that is a person with a motive to kill someone. Hel-”
I took a deep breath and calmed myself. The town meeting was loud and chaotic. The church wasn't pleasant to be at one bit, it was just so freaking cold. There was no warmth in it like at home, not warmth of the fire or the scent of herbs and drying meat. It was cold stone and glass. I wanted to get out of here but leaving, that isn’t an option right now.
Not when the main subject of the conference was Mary, that she was one of the targeted people. The people who the town would kill just because they think that she might be a witch. The town meeting was tense, even more so with people throwing blind aquazations. Statements that were filled with emotion, filled with fear and hate. It made the room feel heavy, like the air was solid and pressing down on everyone.
“It was obviously her.”
I frowned, I recognized that voice. It was someone who was probably the only person in town who I didn’t like, everyone else I was friendly with. He not so much.
They were the person who started all of this, the voice of a person who I utterly despised because they ruined the tranquility and peace of the town. A voice that I wish I didn’t have to hear. They were the witch hunter, a person who came rolling into town and upended it. A person who was tracking a witch and started the hunts here.
He was an utter bastard.
“We all know you bias Hunter.” My voice, this was the first time I’ve spoken this whole event. It made my blood run cold, my heart hammer in my chest. The small amount of courage I had went away like a spark in winter after that final word.
“Like you can be trusted, with how close you were to that coffin dodger” I heard someone mutter, just loud enough to be heard by everyone. A few giggles appeared after that. I hated how weak I was, how I couldn't bring myself to respond against that jab.
I wanted to speak, to fight back against that insult but I couldn’t bring myself to. I was weak, I was pathetic, I felt like I was just a little kid again. Like when I was scared of the dark and Mom had to sing me lullabies to calm me down, like when I could barely work at the butcher because of how gross it was. These people, they are reminding me of the animals I kill. They look thirsty for blood, for the blood to repriseal on some kill, on some sin.
“That silence is pretty telling Jerry.” I heard the hunter say, almost mocking in tone. A purposeful wrong saying of name, a childish version of my name, should have brought my hackles up, made me respond in anger, all I felt was empty and fearful though.
I opened my mouth before closing it, my voice just not coming out even when I wanted it too. I just wasn’t strong enough to try and defend myself, to try and defend mary. I really was pathetic, so freaking pathetic.
The person next to me was the Baker. I haven’t seen him in a while. Really I never talked to him that much in the first place, our niches in the community didn’t cross paths that often but I remember liking him a lot. He was nice and would offer extra loads before all of this started. Right now all I could feel was the pitying stares he was giving me.
“You okay Jeriko?” The voice came from him, from someone who I remember knowing before all of this but for the life of me couldn’t remember the name of, was comforting.
I wanted to respond, respond to him. He was reaching out to me, he was doing what I’ve always wanted for others to do and I could do anything. I couldn’t reach out to them and take some sort of comfort. I was all by myself, either by my own stupid choice or locked by the terror of others.
“It’s okay bud, we all know you're going through a rough time.” His voice was warm, a hint of the thing I wanted. The isolation, the lack of company, this is what I wanted all this time. It just sucks that it comes at the cost of Mary. “What she's done to you is despicable.”
And then all of it came crashing down, every build up, every hint of warmth, all of it gone as I’m reminded why everything is like it is. Why I’ve been pushed into this cold isolation, why I’ve come so reliant on Mary for company. The manian of my peers, of insanity to judge and say another person is worthy of death. The will to say that someone is a witch and needs to be burnt.
This was just another insane person, another person vying for blood.
Suddenly the comfort he was giving me felt wrong, it felt dirty. Even then I didn’t have the courage to deny it, to push him away. All I did was sit still, silent and staring ahead like the coward I was. As the town meeting came to an end, as the town leader came to a decision I could hear people holding in their breaths. Waiting, wanting to know who they chose, who they decided was a witch and was going to die. Who was going to be tied to a stake and burnt alive.
When they spoke, it made me feel even worse. It had my heart crushed, it made my eyes water, it made me feel everything that I’ve been fearing all in one instant. “The Witch Mary is to be sent to be burnt.” A slam of a fist on an old wooden table, chatter exploding as people talked as people agreed with the choice. They all seemed so okay with it, so accepting the choice to kill someone who was innocent.
Even worse, some of them were side eyeing me, giving me pitying glances, and muttering about the poor kid who defended a witch. He was probably hex or something, no one sane could ever like one of them.
The small important friendship that we had, the only one I was able to maintain during these horrifying times. Reduced to the mutters and whispers of a curse, that she had to bewitch me to like her when it was me who maintained it.
Me who started it because everyone else i tried to talk to were acting like murderous psycho paths. My heart grew cold, blood thumping in my ears as people left.
I really am a failure.
--- New Fearful Heights ---
Mary died cursing, not giving a damn about the people cheering and damning her for her sin of being a witch. She died screaming and I didn’t even have the courage to watch, I didn’t have the good will to give her the respect of watching her as she burnt. I was a coward, a weak fool with no spine who couldn’t even defend her when it was needed.
She didn’t deserve me.
I didn’t deserve her.
Standing in front of an Inn all I could feel was cold, the sun had just set and night was coming true. Stars hanging in the skys, a sky that fascinated me so much. Mary would talk about them, whisper about their meanings and what they represented.
She would tell me so many things, she knew so much. She could identify a plant just by sight and touch, she knew every single name in town, she understood what it meant for many people to work.
She was great and now everything she knew was lost, she’s dead now.
Animal fat, dired oily animal fat surrounded the building. Collected from days of work, usually I would give it to the waxmaker so they could create some candles. I get part of the profit for doing so and they liked it. They haven’t talked to me once after all of this started, nobody did. I’m so alone and now, because of my own cowardice I was even more so.
Steel and flint stood in my hands, what I was about to do. It was criminal, something that I would have never done before all of this. I tried to be so friendly with everyone, to be nice with every person in town.
I was raised here, I grew up here, I went to some of these peoples weddings and now I’ve seen just how easy it is for them to turn on each other.
I’m done, I’m done being here. I’m done feeling a sinking feeling in my stomach every time I pass by a closed door, a sinking feeling every time people send each other a second glance of fear. How some would whisper about each other behind each other’s backs. The pitying glances of others because of my friendship with Mary.
“I’m done.” I said, hands moving. A quick clash, the sound echoing through the dark town. The sight of sparks spreading and then, then fire appeared. Animal fat igniting, every bit of collected material over these past few dreadful weeks being used. Now though, now it was all being used on one final hail mary. One chance at trying to redeem myself for what I didn’t do, for what I was too scared to do.
Flames, bright orange flames that glowed and lit up the night sky. They were beautiful in a way, I never saw them like this, seen so out of control and hungry for fuel, seen them envelope and building and just spread. They were probably going to take down a good chunk of the town, I couldn’t bring myself to care all that much.
I was done.
I just want some sort of closure, some way to south the wound that is in my head. If that means taking my petty revenge on the people who started all of this, the witch hunters who started the killing. The people who got Mary killed.
If I get hanged for this, if I get killed before I make it out of town to safely away from the nightmare that this town has become. Away from the fearful gazes and whispers that haunt me at night in my dreams and thoughts. Then I can be happy with this ending.
I guess I’m just as insane as everyone else.