I watched my brother burn at the stake two months ago. Every time I think of it, it makes me physically ill. The sounds that came from him as the fire lapped at his flesh was unlike anything I'd ever heard before. It was as if his logical mind had gone out the window and the only thing left was animalistic instinct. That's why I didn't cry while I watched. After the first few moments, it wasn't Nathan anymore. It was just the creature that remained once the human soul had left. And that creature was darkness.
Nathan was a Strega. It sounds fancy, but it really doesn't mean anything too outrageous. Strega is the Italian term for witch. Apparently, since Nathan and I were Italian-born, we belonged to the bloodline of one of the most powerful and influential lines of witches in the world's history. He was seventeen when his powers began to show.
It wasn't even like he was abusing his powers in a way that warranted his execution. He didn't want the magic. It scared him. He didn't know how to control himself. Which is why it was only in a time of grave emergency that I'd ever even seen him use his powers to begin with.
Lincolnsville, Kansas was a small church town through and through. There was one massive church in the center of town that everybody attended. It was the meeting spot for the town council, the shelter during storms, and even a courthouse once in a blue moon.
During this one particularly brutal storm, we all took cover in the church's basement. This is when Nathan's gift became a public knowledge. A tree came through the roof in the thick of the storm, landing one of my classmates and crushing her to death. While townsmen panicked and her mother grieved, my brother sat by her side, running fingers through her hair. It was entirely out of character for Nathan, but I thought him in shock and didn't really think anything of it – until the dead girl took a gasping breath, jolting upright.
Some of the town council saw it as an act of God. They thought he was showing himself through this miracle. Others, along with members of the church, believed it to be an act of heresy. They thought Nathan was trying to play God. The sheriff was the one who chained him down, tied him to a column in the center of the room. My father held me back as Mom cried, but nobody would come to his rescue. All I could do was stare in shock, tears in my eyes. It'll be okay. It'll all be over soon.
After the storm, those who felt so obligated, followed as the town council led my brother to the top of the great hill, behind the church. From what debris was left on the ground, a cross was erected, and my brother bound to it. The sheriff brought a gasoline tank from the back of his patrol car. Nathan was doused and within moments a match had been thrown and the cross had been set ablaze. The priest's chanting could be heard over top of the crackle of the fire.
My parents were stone-faced as they watched their only son go up in flames. Neither one of them jumped to his defense. They even held me back as I tried to. You'll be burned along with him. Hell, I didn't care if they burned me in his place, but my poor, sweet brother, who'd never done anything wrong in his life – why him? Of all the people in this god-forsaken hick town, why did it have to be him?
About two months after that storm, once the town was more or less back to its natural order, I began exuding powers of my own. It was nothing like Nathan's affinity for resurgence, but when I began to hear the thoughts of the people around me, I knew something was wrong. I prayed that nothing would ever come of this ability – that I could just tuck it away in the back of my mind and pretend it didn't exist. But everyday while I was walking to work, I would get the running dialogue in my head.
There's the little witch girl.
I must remember to pray for her family.
The worst part isn't even that they thought these things. The worst part is that their heads are preaching at me, putting me in my place. All the while, they'll be smiling at me as I walk down the street, waving occasionally, probably hoping that I didn't pull out some insane Satan-worthy powers to use on them out of spite. Because my brother gave life back to somebody who didn't deserve to die.
I began to feel new strength. Of course the abilities didn't stop with the mind-reading. In a month or so it got to the point that I could manipulate what people were thinking. And it made me feel strong. I wanted to use it to my advantage, make people hurt for what they did to my brother, but I held my peace.
It wasn't until months after my first encounter with magic that I finally managed to sleep easy. That is, until the window flew open in the middle of the night and a person dove onto my bed, shaking me awake, “Lucy, wake up!” a timid voice murmured.
“What are you doing here?” I gasped, realizing that it was Caroline, the dead girl, who had jumped in through my window, “You have to get out of here before your parents think - ”
“I'll get home before they notice I'm gone. You've got to get out of this town. The church was burned to the ground tonight.” she whispered, yanking my coat from the peg on the back of my bedroom door, “They're coming after the other witch.” she fed my arms through the holes in the coat, standing me up straight as she went, “Listen, I've got a cab waiting for you at the town line. Get in and tell him that you want to get on 135 South toward Wichita. He'll take you to the city boundary and there will be someone there to take you somewhere safe.”
She pulled my backpack out from underneath of my bed and ran to my dresser, cramming as much clothing as she could into it, “We've got to hurry. They're rounding up the sheriff and then they're on their way here.”
“Caroline, I don't understand-”
“For God's sake, Lucy. I know what you are.” she snapped, tossing me my backpack, “I know you're a Strega.”
“How do you know?” I whispered, “If you know, why don't you turn me in?”
“I'm not going to turn you in, because I'm one, too.” she said, leaping from the window and extending her arms to help me onto the ground as well, “When your brother brought me back to life, his powers passed on to me. That's the way this works. So, apparently now, until I figure out a way to bring someone back from the dead, it looks like I'm strapped with Nathan's powers. At least some of them.”
We took off down an alleyway, headed directly for the town line, “If you're a Strega, too, then why aren't you coming with me? Where are you sending me?”
“There's a place in Wichita where people like us can go and learn to manage our abilities effectively. That's where you're going. And I can't come with you because it would draw too much attention. They think I'm some kind of a miracle here. I have to stay here and be their miracle. Right now, I can maintain the powers I have, but yours are stronger. You need help. And these people know how to help people like us. There it is.” she pointed to a taxi, which was positioned in the bushes. Out of the way of prying eyes, “Here you go,” she mumbled, slipping my backpack onto my shoulder, “And take these.”
I gasped, slapping a hand over my mouth as she pulled a roast beef sandwich and a pistol from her purse, “Jesus Christ, Caroline. Where the hell did you get that?” I choked, taking both in utter shock.
“My dad has his guns stashed away in the barn. He won't even realize it's missing. Now, go. Don't forget – 135 South. All the way to Wichita.” she called, retreating back into the alleyway.
“You heard the girl.” I snapped at the driver, “135 to Wichita.”