Friday 24 August 2012

#FridayFlash - Shadowburn

sunset The red-haired woman opened her eyes and screamed. Thick rope looped around her body, binding her to a stake on the village green. Her scream grew louder as consciousness returned.

“Ah, it’s awake.”

The village elders sat on large chairs beneath the shade of a marquee. Villagers crammed behind them, jostling for the best position from which to watch the execution.

“Let me go!”

A ripple of laughter rolled around the villagers. Paxton Carmichael, the Chief Elder, pursued his lips to avoid a smirk.

“I’m afraid we cannot do that.”

The woman threw panicked looks in all directions, searching for assistance. She caught sight of the setting sun, just visible above the village rooftops, and howled again.

“You don’t need to do this! Let me go, and you’ll never see me again! I’ll head south.”

“Yet we can leave you where you are and still, we shall never see you again. I am sure you can see my dilemma.” Elder Carmichael mimed a set of scales with his hands.

“Please, not like this!”

The assembled crowd cheered, their baying provoking smiles from their elders. They booed every time Elspeth struggled, and guffawed when her struggles did nothing. Children at the feet of the Elders clapped and laughed to watch her fight the rope around her waist.

“If I were you, I would accept my fate and retain some dignity. This pleading…well, really, it is beneath you. Although it is what I might expect from one of your kind.”

The woman screamed, her cries for help falling on deaf ears.

“Elspeth Proctor, you have been condemned to death, on the grounds that you are an abomination of nature. And I will not allow such abominations within this village, or our wider lands.”

“No! I’m not an abomination – you are! You’ll be found out, you know, there are already rumours –”

“Please, you embarrass yourself.”

Elspeth looked back towards the setting sun. It slipped behind a rooftop, and the shadow of the Council Hall fell across the village green. Elspeth screamed again as the deep purple shade touched her. Her skin smoked and sizzled where it came into contact with the darkness.

“Excellent. Right on time. Perkins, remind me to commend Sissy on her dusk prediction,” said Elder Carmichael. The Elder to his right nodded.

Black wraiths of smoke and shadow danced around the stake, and the scent of burning flesh filled the cooling air. The darkness deepened as the sun slid further towards the horizon, and more wraiths snaked towards Elspeth from the inky pools nearest the Council Hall. The villagers roared and cheered their approval.

Dark blue flames burst into life on Elspeth’s exposed skin, racing to ignite her clothes. She continued to scream as she disintegrated, sparks and cinders flying in all directions. The villagers burst free from the marquee, spilling into the shadows of the village. Some of them ducked into a barn near the green, returning with tables and benches to be set up by the marquee. Women came running with vast platters of rancid meat and old carcasses, and a farmer arrived bearing kegs of home-brewed blood wine. The children set off firecrackers as the flames burned away what was left of Elspeth.

“Hm, that took less time than usual, did it not?” asked Elder Carmichael, consulting the clock outside the Council Hall.

“She was paler than the others,” replied Elder Perkins.

“Indeed. Joseph, dispose of that,” said Elder Carmichael.

He turned to a tall youth standing nearby, and pointed towards the stake. Bones wrapped in charred fabric hung from the rope. The wraiths dissipated under the weight of Elder Carmichael’s stare.

Joseph loped across the green, avoiding the revelry as the blood wine flowed and the meat disappeared. He liberated the bones, dropped them into his sack, and strode off in the direction of the bone pit. The Elders watched, unmoved by the events and disinclined to join the festivities.

“Well, my friends. That is another one down, but many more remain. It will take some time to purge the daywalkers.”

Image by wonderferret.


Helen A. Howell said...

Poor Elspeth, but I am left wondering who is/was the abomination, were the villagers the one's not human? or was it indeed Elspeth, me thinks not.
I read it through twice, and at first I thought Elspeth to be a vampire or werewolf, but now I'm not so sure, I think those villiagers are not what they seem. ;)

Unknown said...

Loved this weeKs story very Creepy great

John Wiswell said...

I wondered if it wasn't a darker Gulliver's Travel at first, but no, just an awful situation for one Elspeth. I didn't think it was a story of inhumans rather than one about dehumanization.

Tony Noland said...

Cool inversion!

Anonymous said...

Creepy indeed! Fantastic atmosphere in this one Icy, and I love that we're left wondering if Elspeth is the evil one or is it the other way around...

Unknown said...

What an intriguing world you have captured here even if I was led into caring about Elspeth. I like how she captures my sympathy even though she may deserve with the villagers due to her.

Peter Newman said...

I quite like the evil elder. He just seemed to be having such a good time!

I also found this easy to visualise and I enjoyed the dark tone. Nice one!

Sulci Collective said...

yeah too right, Janet Street-Porter and her Rambling Society, deserve everything they got coming tromping over farmland...

This was excellent Icy. Was the name Elspeth proctor a nod back to Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"?

marc nash

Steve Green said...

A frightening, and unusual world you have created here Icy, poor Elspeth does attract sympathy, for like others, I too believe the villagers are more than they appear to be.

Anonymous said...

Richard Matheson's I Am Legend is my all time favorite short story and your piece feels, in some regards, like that world. Awesome job!

Cindy Vaskova said...

That's a cool twist you did there Icy! I liked the tone of this piece and especially the idea of these daywalkers and the mystery surrounding them.

Village Elders are always creepy aren't they? :D

Great stuff this week.

Larry Kollar said...

Nicely done, loved the inversion. The village is undead, aren't they? Ghouls, perhaps, eating rancid meat and drinking blood wine?

I was hoping that nightfall would turn Elspeth into something that would strike vengeance on the evil Elders.

Katherine Hajer said...

Wonderfully vivid, and a nice twist. It also made me wonder what daywalkers did when they weren't being burned to death by shadows.

Tim VanSant Writes said...

Cool inversion. I had a lot of sympathy for Elspeth. Not so much for the elders or town folk.

Stephen said...

Hi there Icy -- a nice turn about -- interesting idea to explore: how witches work in reverse. Platters of rancid meat for a midnight fair, bone pits and wraiths definitely seem like the answer. :) St.

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