Without spoiling anything I absolutely love this tale of times, of despair and bigotry because - you know what? - it makes me remember.
AJ's work consistently blows me away. It can only be a matter of time. While we wait for her to be snapped up let's enjoy...
UNDER A VEIL OF RED
Thick mud crawled up her aching calves as she ran through the mire. The darkness made it worse; she could barely see where she was heading. But she had to keep running, had to.
Voices behind her slewed through the storm, like echoes carried on raindrops.
They were getting closer, inching into her frayed senses minute by minute and igniting a fear so intense that it burned and raged in her chest. She had never known such disparate terror – the darkness and the cold and the braying horde seemed so far away from the ordinary life she knew, the only life she knew.
But now her legs were tired, solid, becoming heavy. Breath stalled in her clogged lungs. Every cell in her body had exhausted every ounce of energy, yet she somehow pushed through the pain that flooded her core and she forced herself forward through thicket and trees and dark recesses.
Thick branches scuffed her face and arms and she slumped – a momentary respite.
Her skin tingled from the cold, made her shiver. She grabbed onto a branch, got to her feet and half jogged, half stumbled into the encroaching darkness. She had been running for almost an hour, and no matter how much her mind willed it, her body couldn’t cope with the lactic acid filling her muscles with fiery spite and again she dropped to her knees, watery fingers pulling her deeper into the muddy mire.
Thoughts tumbled around her head, then melted the moment the light grazed her face.
She peered up through the squall, cold breath hanging in the air.
Somewhere up ahead, more lights scattered through the branches.
‘There she is!’
Her stomach bunched, then sank. She could run no more. The adrenaline in her veins turned to an icy flow.
They seemed to approach from all directions, moving in on her like ghoulish, hungry spectres, the light from their torches blinding her with flashes of white.
She held up her arm to shield her face, blinked against the flare.
The sound of the rain song against the leaves filled the void, all that she could hear from her rain soaked pit.
The men surrounded her, remained still. The glare from their torches shielded their granite faces from her.
The sound of movement made her turn and look up. A shape whose face she could not see and who sheltered beneath a wide brimmed hat, stared down at her.
His voice parted the darkness. ‘You can’t escape us.’
‘I’m innocent,’ she gasped. ‘I’ve done nothing wrong, I swear on my life.’
The figure leaned forward. ‘What about the Bible? Do you swear on the Bible?’
The rain masked her tears. ‘No, I...I don’t believe in God.’
‘Then you are a witch,’ he said, flat.
‘I’m not a witch! I’m just an ordinary wife and mother, I--’
‘You are the Devil’s consort,’ he cut in, blunt. ‘There is no place in this society for those who conduct maleficium.’
She took in a deep breath. ‘What are you talking about? I don’t know what that means.’
He stared at the wretch kneeling in the muddy pool, the light glinting from the rain-dappled surface, stared at her soiled face, her drenched, matted hair and torn clothes.
Disdain dribbled into empty spaces and filled the atmosphere with a stilted sense of detestation.
‘Godlessness is a crime. That you are most certainly guilty.’ His eyes lacked emotion. ‘Kill her.’
‘No! Please! I’ve done nothing wrong. Please...’
The first strike dug into her shoulder blades, but rather than pain, she felt a strange dullness, as though being numbed. The second one struck her across the side of her skull, the impact strong enough to throw her into the mud.
Cold dirty water sluiced down her throat, made her retch.
Any hint of pain seemed lost to jagged senses, until the slice of something sharp across her back brought her mind into sharp focus, then another slice and another, and she rolled in the mud, but saw that her legs had not moved, and then she saw the men hacking at her limbs in a strange, silent frenzy, their movements shuttered by the light.
She screamed then, but not from the pain.
Even through the relentless drone of the rain, she heard their swords whipping through the air, over and over, and then one hard slice severed half her hand from the wrist, spattering her contorted face with thick droplets and saturating her vision with a warm scarlet hue.
She fell back into the mud, felt the rainfall on her face, soft against her skin, almost soothing her, and she drowned beneath a veil of red.
* * *
He walked back through the woodland towards a group of men waiting by a main road.
A tall, slender figure gestured from beneath an umbrella. ‘A job well done, Mr. Treese.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
‘One less witch to threaten the laws of our land. Did she confess?’
‘Yes sir, she admitted to her godlessness.’
‘A crime against humanity if there ever was one,’ Edward Van de Gaard muttered. ‘But a crime nonetheless.’
Treese smiled; guile slithered beneath his sallow skin. ‘She isn’t the last one by any measure.’
Van de Gaard walked towards a car parked nearby. From across the river, the beguiling lights from New York City pulsed through the darkness. ‘I don’t doubt it, Mr. Treese.’
‘She has a child,’ Treese said. ‘And a husband.’
Van de Gaard turned, faced Treese. ‘I have every faith you’ll exterminate every last one of them. There will be no more ungodly heathens left to threaten our way of life. You’ll see to it, won’t you, Mr. Treese?’
Treese’s eyes blackened to glistening shards of coal. He smiled without humour. Rain trickled down his face, washed away the blood. Her blood. ‘Of course, Senator. Every last one...’
_________ The End _________
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