The smell of smoke filled my nostrils; the gray cloud burned my eyes. My eyes were filled with tears as I watched the scene unfold before me, the orangey flames licking at my father as he cried out in agony, being burned for a crime he didn’t commit.
The crowd surrounding the pit was dead silent, silent enough to hear a pin drop. Everyone knew my father; most of them had either been taught by him, or had children or grandchildren who had been taught by him. The very idea that he might be a warlock was absolutely ludicrous, at least to those who knew him best. On what grounds the government had to accuse, try, and execute him, none of us knew. But we also all knew better than to question this judgment, for to question the government was to forfeit your life.
I wasn’t sure how to feel about this. On the one hand, my fate was going to be tied to the government for the rest of my life – it would be my livelihood, and it would benefit both myself and my family as it was a very high-status position that I’d attained.
On the other hand – this was my father who was being burned, right before my very eyes, while I was being forced to watch. And there was absolutely nothing our precious government could do to take that away from me.
My mother stood next to me, head held high, her stiffness the only sign that she was trying to hold back tears. My eyes scanned the crowd, locking on the official who stood in the crisp uniform associated with the administration, watching my family for signs of weakness to report back to the Council later.
I imagined the Council as a bunch of stuffy old men who took pleasure in the pain of others, a bunch of sadists whose only pleasure in life was making their people – the people they claimed to protect – suffer. After all, why else would they tear families apart? I knew they were probably sitting around in whatever fancy room in the Administration Building they convened in, watching the smoke and waiting for it to recede, waiting for it to signal that the latest threat had been eliminated and that they could breathe easily again.
My family would never breathe easily again. We’d have to live our lives in our small farming community with whispers following us, rumors being spread behind our backs, black marks on our reputations while people believed terrible things about a good man without cause. They may have been shocked, yes. They may not have wanted to believe what they were being told. But believe it they would.
They always did in the end, if the government willed it to be so.
It seemed like an eternity, but my father’s screams finally died away, replaced by silence, save for the crackling of the flames, the whistling of the wind through the trees, the harsh in and out of my carefully modulated breaths.
I was numb. There was no other word to describe what I was feeling, because what I was feeling was nothing. Absolutely nothing.
What I needed to do was run. Run as fast and as far as I could, to the mountains, over the mountains, beyond the mountains. I needed to run, as fast and as far as I could, and never, ever look back.
I needed to escape.
Currently Reading: The Golden Prince by Rebecca Dean