Flash Fiction Challenge: That Poor, Poor Protagonist

I’ve recently discovered Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds, and his weekly flash fiction challenges. This week the challenge was to subject your protagonist to some manner of torment, torture, etc. I was inspired to write about witch trials, which historically included some extremely gruesome torture. Actually the stuff I wrote here is child’s play compared to the real thing.

The Witches’ Mark

Gail hummed to herself as she chopped the carrots for the soup, a small smile playing on her lips. She couldn’t help herself – she kept thinking about last night and the romantic proposal from Stephen, the blacksmith’s son. Her mother was thrilled – a blacksmith’s wife would never be hungry. But Gail was thrilled for other reasons. Stephen was charming, handsome – the most eligible bachelor in the village and of all the girls, he’d chosen her. She felt a shiver of pride run up her spine as she thought about it.

Gail finished with the carrots and gathered them up and turned to add them to the soup, but just as she was about to toss them into the pot over the fire, she stumbled and fell against the hearth. She put out her hand to catch herself but touched a hot coal. She cried out as the searing pain burned into her hand and she pulled back, fumbling frantically for water. She reached the almost empty bucked by the door just as their neighbor, Mrs. Glen, walked uninvited into the kitchen, followed closely by her daughter, Rosalyn.

“Oh, my dear,” exclaimed Mrs. Glen when she saw the tears on Gail’s cheeks. “We just came to congratulate you on your wonderful news but it seems you’ve been hit with a bit of bad luck, now haven’t you?”

Gail looked up at Mrs. Glen and Rosalyn’s faces and saw matching expressions of what was supposed to look like innocence. “What are you talking about?” she asked warily.

“Oh, nothing dear, just an old woman’s babble,” Mrs. Glen said in a way that was meant to be reassuring, but which only sounded eager. “Now, let’s see that hand.” She grabbed Gail’s injured hand before she protest and pulled it out of the water. “Ah, yes, just as I suspected,” she crooned, a slow, sinister smile spreading across her face. “The Witches’ Mark.” She held up Gail’s hand to show her and Gail saw what she meant – the searing red mark on her hand looked suspiciously like the feverishly hunted pentagram.

Gail looked in horror at Mrs. Glen and Rosalyn. “But Mr. Glen…,” she whispered in terror.

“Is the most celebrated witch hunter in New England?” Mrs. Glen began cheerfully. “Oh, yes, he’s quite good,” she sneered, standing and looking down at Gail with an evil smile. “Fortunately he’s so busy going out and looking for witchcraft that he hasn’t seen any of it in his own home.”

“Why are you doing this?” Gail asked, cradling her burning hand.

They didn’t answer, but instead just exchanged smug glances. “Well, we really did come to congratulate you on your good news. It’s just too bad that I’m going to have to turn you in. It’s for your own good, you know. Mr. Glen cares about your immortal soul – he’ll make sure you go through quite the purification ritual before they execute you.”

“Oh, and don’t worry about Stephen,” Rosalyn chimed in. “I’ll make sure he has a shoulder to cry on in his grief.” She smiled a smile as evil as her mother’s and Gail felt a wave of anger and hatred rush over her. She stood up, but Mrs. Glen simply waved her hand casually, as if swatting away a fly, and Gail flew back, slamming her head against the wall and crumpling to the ground. The last thing she saw before darkness overcame her was the satisfied smirk on Rosalyn’s face.  

*

Gail woke in a dark room that stank of excrement and the coppery smell of blood. A chill swept across her and she realized with a start that she had been stripped completely naked. She tried to sit up but her arms and legs were spread and bound. She pulled at them frantically, hysteria making her heart race and her breath come in short, painful gasps.

“Don’t bother,” a cold voice ordered her and she looked up to see Mr. Glen glaring down at her hatefully.

“Mr. Glen,” Gail gasped, tears spilling down her cheeks. “What’s going on?”

Mr. Glen continued to glare at her, his lip curling back in revulsion. “Of all the people in our village, I never suspected you. I watched you grow up alongside my precious Rosalyn. May God forgive me for letting her befriend the devil’s whore.”

“No, Mr. Glen, there’s been a mistake,” Gail pleaded.  “I’m not a witch. It’s your wife, she’s the witch, she did this to me!”

Mr. Glen’s eyes bulged and his face flamed red with fury. “You dare to accuse my wife?” he shouted. “It is you who blatantly carry the mark of the witch! You have made a deal with the devil and he has sealed you into his service by branding his mark into your flesh! We need no trial – you have passed your own verdict! You shall be purified by pain and then executed before the entire village tonight! Let your death be a lesson to the rest of them that they may repent and be saved!”

With that, Mr. Glen turned to a table behind him and picked up a small pot and turning back to Gail he poured hot oil onto her body – her stomach, her thighs, her breasts, her face. Gail screamed, shrieks that sounded inhuman in their agony. The last place he poured it was her vagina. “To purge the devil’s seed,” Mr. Glen whispered, his lips close to her ear and his voice heavy with lust.

After, Gail lay whimpering, the only sound she had strength left for. Mr. Glen had left and a few moments later, two men came in and unbound her, hauling her roughly from the table. They dragged her outside, where the bright sunshine mocked her with its ignorant cheer.  The men carried her through a crowd – the whole village was here, just as Mr. Glen had promised. People she’d known her whole life were now jeering at her, thirsty for her blood. Even her own mother and father were here, their eyes downcast, too afraid to come to their daughter’s aid.

The men strapped Gail to a stake mounted in the midst of a mountain of dry wood. Mr. Glen lit the kindling at the bottom without ceremony and the flames caught quickly, the cool breeze blowing the smoke into Gail’s face, burning her eyes and scratching her throat. She coughed and blinked away the tears and searched the crowd for another face. She saw Stephen as the flames began to lick her feet and he stared back at her with sorrow – his arm wrapped around Rosalyn for comfort. Rosalyn smiled sweetly as the flames began to crawl up Gail’s calves. Gail raised her face to the innocent sun and cried out in defeat.

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Coming Out of the Writing Closet

I kind of feel like I’m coming out of the closet or something. I’ve been writing for several years now, and can count on one hand the number of people I’ve told. And I probably don’t need all the fingers. I don’t know why. I think it’s partly because it kind of feels like a birthday wish – if I tell people I’m writing a novel and trying to get it published, it won’t happen. But I’m realizing that novels are like children – it takes a village to raise them.

I just went to my first Creative Writing group on Friday. A friend of a friend was hosting and she graciously invited me to come. It was wonderful and terrifying at the same time. I felt ridiculously out of place – the only suburbanite, the only SAHM, the only one who brought food that was decidedly suburbanite SAHM fare (there was blueberry vanilla goat cheese, for pete’s sake…and then my mini cupcakes), the only one who wasn’t into yoga, and the only one who writes novels…young adult fantasy novels, at that. I listened as the rest of the group started to read their beautiful short stories and inspiring poetry, and felt very silly by the time all the eyes turned to me. I’d brought my current project in its incredibly imperfect state, and it was long – at least 50 pages – and I hadn’t picked something to read. 

It would have been terribly easy to declare mself unprepared and then just sit back and listen to everyone else, thank my hostess for a lovely night, and leave still feeling comfortable, if maybe slightly disappointed in myself.  But I reminded myself that I’m turning over a new, braver leaf. So I decided to just start at the beginning and read the prologue of my story. I started off by very poorly explaining how I’d come up with the idea for my story and what my heroine was experiencing. The politely blank/slightly confused smiles were not encouraging. I gave up on explaining, took a deep breath, and started reading.  

The response was wonderful – there was no gushing about my wonderful writing or declarations about its inevitable success. Instead, there was assurance that the intense effect I was hoping for was definitely present, and that my heroine’s voice was very real. All things a writer wants to hear. 

It made me regret not coming out of the writing closet years ago. I’m sure not all the responses I get from my writing will be as encouraging as that, but I’m realizing that this is one birthday wish that’s not going to come true if I keep it to myself.