Stella’s Choice

Chapter 1

Chapter 1: Present days

The church's bell chimed twelve times as I sat at the edge of the cliff with my knees drawn to my chest. The cascading light from the full moon in the sky enlightened the sight of the forest that was spread in front of me. A gush of wind flew by, swaying the trees back and forth as the leaves rustled.

"A threat."

They spoke, repeatedly, as if I hadn't already heard enough of it.

I raised my hand, palm facing the glowing moon above. A gush of wind howled, erupting from nowhere, and carried off  bits of fallen leaves to the pitch black sky, to the endless forest.

My eyes fell onto my shivering hands. They looked normal, innocent even, if only one would know the disruption it could cause. I clenched it, and let it fall beside me. My heart was dull as I stared out at the woods. Dots of light glowed from afar, indicating a small town no more than a few miles from here. 

Four witch years had passed since the tragic debacle of my parents' death. I was left in the cruel world, to fend the darkness of it, and with effort, to control my growing power.

I buried my head in my arms and closed my eyes, quietly listening to the beating sound of my heart. The cool breeze swept past my jet black hair and the soft whispering of every creature grew as night crept in. I took my time, sinking in my thought before I briskly stood up and strode off to the small hut I called home.

***

I was racing back home from the market.

Yes, that morning was quite peculiar; the unusual smile that spread across Mother's lips, and Father's eyes that were constantly looking at the door. I just hoped that my feelings were wrong.

The grocery bag filled with the things my mother ordered me to buy jumped up and down as I ran. 

My feet stomped against the soil, cracking bits of fallen branches as my eyes caught smoke prowling out from where my house seemed to be located. Stretching my head up, my lungs felt like they were filled with a gallon of water.

When I finally broke to the clearing, my heart seemed to stop beating. Flickering red flames engulfed my house, burning it to ashes. Yet, it was not the worst part. I hitched a breath when my eyes flitted to nearby tree. Two corpses were dangling from the branch, both with a wooden stake pierced through their stomachs. Their hollow eyes were wide open, blood dripping from the corners of their lips.

With trembling legs, I approached the two bodies, oblivious to the scorching heat behind my back.

"No, it can't be. No," I thought.

Yet the other part in me knew better. I knew those familiar streaks of black hair. I knew those ghostly emerald eyes that belonged to my mother and father. My knees gave out, hitting the forest floor. Tears built up in my eyes and a gasp escaped from my parted lips. I wrapped my arms around myself as I rocked myself, back and forth, back and forth.

What have I done?

I jolted up with tears creeping out of the corner of my eyes, panting and covered in sweats. My blanket twisted into a mess beside me, a restless sleep as usual. The dream of my parents' murder kept coming to me every night.

I swallowed and rested my cold shivering hand on my forehead. Taking a deep breath, I pushed the covers aside and strolled into the bathroom where I peeled my night dress that clung to my skin to take a bath.

I whirled my fingers into the air and water came filling the empty tube but I flitted my eyes to the tube side and mentally cursed when I realised how small the soap bar had become.

I guess going to the market is the only option.

After freshening up, I dressed in plain trousers and linen shirt. Carefully covering my long silky black hair and half of my face with my hood, I opened the door and headed off to the village Pendle in Lancashire.

Leaves turned brown and flowers wilted as I swiftly walk passed the side road through the wood. It took me twice the time than it should've if I had taken the main road, but that's how I preferred it to be, away from humans' sight.

The village was crowded and busy as usual. Shops are set along two sides in rows, rugged rocks that set at the pathways wind throughout the village, providing direction. The old woman who sold weaved clothing was sitting casually against her stool as she bargained with the housewives on the cost of her cloth.

People surrounded the chandler, clapping and laughing as colorful candles were produced. Children played chase and ran across the street, earning themselves a few scoldings which they ignored nonetheless.

A small smile rose to my lips as I crossed the street, unable to contain myself from thinking about the possibility of living right here in this village, talking and making jokes with teenagers of my age, instead of hiding and keeping my distance from everyone.

"Three bars of soap please," I said when I stopped in front of a store, handing the old man some pennies after he handed me the soap bars. I had made earnings by selling animals that I caught in the forest during my hunt. I would usually exchange my food with anyone who'd pay me in return. I never wanted to start a business with a certain person — that would be risky.

I hurried out of the market. The corner of my eye caught something, but I ignored it.

I tried swallowing the uneasy feeling. I thought I had gotten used to it, seeing bodies hanging on the gibbets, those who were accused of being practicers. The pungent smell of the dead stung my nose and my eyes watered. I looked away and quickened my steps.

From somewhere, a man started shouting. I looked to see a horse groomer yelling to calm the frantic horse. The horse whined and pulled its head back, struggling to free himself from the leash that the groomer held tight in his hand. It lost its patience and jerked back, standing on his hooves, then kicked the groomer on the stomach. Yelping, the man pressed his hand on his abdomen and let the leash loose. The horse ran free towards my direction.

Colour drained from my face when I saw a child playing with pebbles on the ground. He was kneeling over, shoving pebbles into his pocket, clearly unaware of the surrounding situation.

I looked around, hoping to see if anyone else was aware of this, only to find none. They were too busy caring for their own stuff that they couldn't bother caring for others.

Seeing no choice at all, I immediately thrashed out my hand. Thick, black substance sprung out of my fingers, hushing and whispering as it encircled the horse to hold still. But as I was untrained, the magic that came out was weak and in seconds, the frightened horse raced forward.

Cursing, I lunged forward to the boy, wrapped him against me and dodged to the side of the road. We barely missed the animal but I already heard hooves stomping beside me. I hugged the boy's head to my chest as my back hit the hard cement. I hissed in pain, squeezing my eyes shut to let the pain ease. The boy squirmed in my hold. Realising I had tightened my hold, I loosened my grips and tried to smile down on him, but my blood ran cold as he stared at me with wide eyes.

A shadow cast over me and I looked up to see a middle-aged woman standing a few steps away from me. Her hands were clenched into shivering fists.

"Get away from my son, wi-witch,"  she stammered, casting worried looks at her son. I bitterly smiled. They must have seen my magic. I loosened my hold on the boy, who scrambled out and ran crying for his mother. Then I realized that everyone stood silent as they stared at me, though hoof marks were still printed in the dust. People whispered, turning their head to avoid eye contact with me.

"Didn't the witch hunter say they killed the last black witch living in this area?" The muscles on my jaw tightened when I heard this and I shot a glare at the two teenage girls, who eyed me with distaste.

"We should report her immediately to kill this one before trouble comes," another one whispered, unknowing of my supernatural hearing.

Clenching my hand hard, I stood and dusted my dirty clothes. The pain at my back throbbed from the hit but I ignored it. My mind was too much consumed by the desire to get out of here. I was afraid of every possible outcome if I wasn't able to control the magic that boiled in my veins. I didn't want to cause a scene. I had had enough trouble for one day.

I passed the street, earning stares. Some spit at my shoe while others parted as I walked by, not daring to provoke the black witch before them.  "Get out of here!" someone screeched, pebbles hitting the back of my head, but I just continued my walk.

After four years of peaceful hiding, I guess it was time for me to move.

It wasn't long when I was finally a few miles away from the village. I swallowed the lump from my throat, picking up my pace, soon dashing across the forest.  My foot got stuck onto a rock by a stream and I fell face forward into dirt.

I sat up. Dots of tears slipped on the dirt, blurring my vision. I crumbled onto the ground and clamped my mouth with my hand, muffling my voice. As I turned my head, I caught my own reflection on the water.

I picked up a small rock and splashed it onto my reflection.  I rubbed away tears with the back of my hand.

Silently scolding myself for forgetting the fact that...

I belonged to nowhere.

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Stella’s Choice