A Paranormal Romance Flash Fiction
by Linda Mooney
“Burn her! Burn the witch!”
Peg screamed as she struggled to free herself from the men’s grasp, but they were stronger than her. Stronger and bigger, and hurtful.
It didn’t matter that she swore she had nothing to do with the crops failing this year. They needed a scapegoat. Someone they could pin the blame on. Someone they could offer in sacrifice in order to appease the gods, who’d then bless them with an abundance the following year, and end months of near starvation.
She scanned the square where they were dragging her, hoping to spot the face of the one person who’d come to mean so much to her. Sadly, he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Maybe because he’d been chased off by the guards after they discovered him coming around to the tiny barred window of her dungeon cell.
Hanging her head, she ceased resisting. It would do her no good, and only end up causing her more pain than she’d already endured. The guards delighted in hearing her protest. Sometimes they made bets to see who could make her beg for mercy the quickest.
They paused in front of a set of steps that led up to a stake. Dry brush already surrounded the length of wood. The scene was set and was waiting for her.
As she waited for them to take her up to where they’d tie her to the pole, she closed her eyes. All she had left to give her comfort was the sound of Alim’s voice in her mind as he spoke to her. Although she’d never been able to see his face, she would never forget his words of encouragement where no hope was left.
“Why have you sought me out?” she asked. “Don’t you know that if you’re caught speaking to me, you could condemn yourself to my fate?”
“The guards do not frighten me.”
“They should. It would tear at my heart if anything should happen to you because of me,” she admitted.
“You’ll make it out of there. Trust me on this!”
How? She wanted to ask, when she realized he was right. Giving a soft laugh, she responded, “Yes, I’ll be taken out of here…on the day they fulfill my sentencing.”
“No, Peg. You’re wrong. I know you’re not a witch. There are many who believe you’ve been unfairly targeted by the burgomaster.”
“Why? What have I done to him?” she demanded hotly through her many tears.
“You’ve done nothing,” Alim assured her. “Nothing but be beautiful and be guilty of brushing off his advances.”
The young man was right. The burgomaster had been trying to seduce her for the past few months, ever since her and her father moved to this borough. The man had even suggested a few private trysts, to no avail. She knew that the longer she continued to keep the man at bay, the angrier he got.
And it was never wise to anger the most powerful man in the village.
Three times Alim had come to her in the dead of night, to spend hours talking to her through that little window. To keep her company. To let her know her life mattered to him, if to no one else. He never told her why he risked coming to see her, or even why he’d sought her out in the first place. After a while, she stopped asking and accepted the fact that he was determined to keep her spirits up, regardless of the outcome they both knew was inevitable.
A loud howl came from outside the walls that buttressed the township. For a few seconds the populace silenced to listen before resuming their screeching and yelling. Peg was aware of someone in uniform coming toward the phalanx of guards surrounding her. The man made no attempt to prevent her from overhearing when he addressed the men.
“We cannot burn the witch today.”
The soldiers made it clear they were not happy with the news. “We’ve been ordered to see to her execution,” one man argued.
“The burgomaster was informed that the forests are too dry. Any attempt to burn her at the stake could result in stray sparks catching aflame outside our walls. If the forest burns, all game will be chased away. And, worse, the outer walls, including our homes and shops, could also catch fire.”
“Then what are we to do?” the lead soldier demanded. “If we don’t follow through with our orders, our necks could be next.”
Another howl, this one closer and louder, resounded through the air. It sounded both plaintive and dangerous.
“Sir, we could have an executioner appointed to cut off her head,” another soldier suggested.
The commander shot that down. “It would end her life too quickly. The burgomaster decreed she must suffer in the greatest way.”
Peg glanced up in time to see a smile cross the man’s face. A smile that left her sick to her stomach. The lead soldier seemed to get the same idea. “What if we feed her to the wolves?”
“I think that’s an excellent idea,” the commander replied. “I will go tell the burgomaster our decision. If he agrees to it, we’ll put her outside the gates. While I’m away, bind her tightly. We don’t want her to make any attempt to run away. We must witness her death for ourselves, to make sure the burgomaster’s wishes have been fulfilled.”
The commander hurried away. In the interim, Peg’s arms were bound behind her back. They pushed her onto the ground to do the same with her legs and ankles, before drawing the rope from her arms through those knots the way a hog was tied to a spit.
She rested her cheek to the bare ground. The dirt was cold. The weather was freezing. The wind was unbearably icy. She had just her shift to keep her warm, but it wasn’t enough. If she was lucky, she would freeze to death before the wolves got to her.
As if on cue, two more howls came over the walls. Although she couldn’t be certain, she would swear each cry had come from a different throat.
The crowd shifted, moving aside to allow the commander to come back through. Stopping in front of the soldiers, the man never glanced at her as he delivered the news. “The burgomaster is agreeable to letting the witch meet her fate with the wolves.” Turning to the crowd, the man raised his voice. “The burgomaster has declared that if the wolves leave the witch be, then she is proven to truly be a vessel of the devil. But if they set upon her, then she can be declared innocent of all charges.”
The proclamation, approved by resounding cheers, almost drowned out another howl that seemed to come directly outside the front gates. The people surged toward the big double doors, ahead of the soldiers who picked her up under her arms and half-dragged, half-carried her to her fate.
Someone opened one of the doors wide enough for two men to haul her outside. They dumped her less than a dozen meters away before quickly retreating back inside the safety of the walls. Peg was aware of more people climbing up to the parapets to stare down at her, watching and waiting to see what would happen.
Beyond the barricade, the winds were bitterly cold. The sun had disappeared behind dark gray clouds, and there was the unmistakable smell that appeared whenever it was due to snow.
Someone above her yelled. She couldn’t make out what they were saying, but she didn’t need to. A howl came from in front of her, from amid the forest. Closing her eyes, Peg prayed her end would be swift.
It happened too quickly for her to react. A pack of wolves descended upon her, surrounding her, growling, barking, and snapping at her all at once. She steeled herself as teeth bit down on the ropes. Their fangs scraped her skin but didn’t pierce it as they chewed on the fibers. The animals continued to prowl around her, alternating between sniffing her and biting at the ropes.
Without warning, several chomped on her bindings and began dragging her into the woods. Peg tried to fight them off, but she knew it was futile.
At the edge of the tree line, the wolves stopped, and she’d swear other wolves took their place. One shoved its muzzle against her cheek, and a low voice whispered, “Scream.”
She gasped. “What?”
That voice. She knew immediately who it was.
Taking a deep breath, she screamed.
The pack continued to pull her into the cover of the forest. Once they were out of sight of the town, several animals bent over her to concentrate on the ropes. Within seconds, she felt the cords give way. Painfully, she managed to get her arms underneath her as the wolves who’d freed her now crowded around her. It was then she realized they were sharing their warmth with her, as well as protecting her. The beast on her left gave her a strange look. “You’re not afraid of me?”
She answered with a smile. “No, Alim. I’m grateful, not afraid.”
“Can you walk?”
“I can try.”
“Good. If you find yourself growing tired, we can stop to rest. It’s going take us a while to reach our den.”
Peg started to reply, when she heard screaming coming from the direction of the village. The shrieks were punctuated with growls and barking. She turned to Alim and asked him an unspoken question. He sighed. “A few soldiers attempted to retrieve your body and take you back. We took care of them. You do not have to worry about them coming after you or finding you.”
Wearily, she leaned against the animal, who nuzzled her cheek with his wet nose.
“You have nothing to worry about anymore,” he answered. “I’ll take care of you. I’ll keep you safe.”
“How can I repay you? How can I thank you?”
“You already have, Peg,” he told her. “You’ve accepted me as I am.”
As she stared into his eyes, his face changed, melted, and reformed, until she was looking at a man’s visage. A man whose emotions lay raw across his countenance.
“Thank you,” she murmured. She didn’t object when he leaned forward and kissed the side of her mouth.
“Are you ready to go?”
She nodded, wishing he would kiss her on the mouth, but that would come later. She knew it, and he knew it. They were still strangers who’d bonded through a tiny barred window in her dungeon cell. But now they had all the time in the world to get to know each other better.
Alim returned to his wolf form. Grabbing the back of his ruff, Peg got to her feet and allowed him to lead her deeper into the woods.
She never looked back to see what the other wolves had done to protect her. From that moment on, these creatures were her family, and she knew it was a decision she’d never regret.
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X MY HEART
Dark Sci-Fi Romance
Word Count: 58.7K
Lieutenant Gretchen Twoey and her squad are quickly losing hope. Supplies are limited, soldiers are becoming even more so, but the alien mechanoids are never ending. Despite the military’s best efforts, nothing is being learned of the extraterrestrials. The mechs they do manage to kill disintegrate before they can even be studied. If the tides don’t turn soon, the world will be defeated.
When Sergeant Leif Stoddard and his men are reassigned to the 181st with Gretchen, things seem to finally be going in their favor. They were set to marry four years ago, but then the first Medusa struck and they were both called to arms, and it’s been an uphill battle since. Finally, they can be together…or will the war tear them apart yet again, once and for all?
The world has a choice—lie low, stay invisible, and hope the aliens leave, or stage one last battle where the winner takes all.
Warning! Contains living spaceships, spare uniforms, love letters, dissolving weapons, bladders, black blood, and proof that love doesn't care what you look like because it's the heart that matters.Excerpt and Buy Links