Children piled kindling at my feet for most of the morning. I was bound by rope to a crucifix, piled into the ground my ten men and a mule. The giggling of the children as they merrily set about their tasks weighed heavily on my heart. Unmarried women cast looks of vile contempt my way. They acted as if I had somehow besmirched them with my actions. I was to blame for them not taking a husband. I knew this because they hungrily corralled the children and decried my “wicked” behavior.
Twilight was approaching and fires dotted the landscape. I could smell the cooking fires, but no one offered me food. After all, why waste food on a vile creature such as myself? They didn’t waste a moment without telling me these things.
The village had gathered in a tight circle around my crucifix. Dirty children looked on from behind their parents. They didn’t quite know what was happening, but the woman they had played with in the fields had been bound to her crucifix since sunup.
“Momma, will she hurt us?” The tiny children I had played with only days before would tug on their mother’s arm, garnering the attention they so desperately needed. Pleading for their elders to make sense of what they saw.
Each time I heard the children, my chest tightened. I forced myself not to cry, but was unsuccessful.
The vicar led a contingent through his frightened flock, a torch in his hand permeating the air with a smell bitter to my nostrils and an offense to my eyes. The smoke is thick and pungent, weighing heavier than my arms after waiting all day for them. The snapping and crackling of the torch barely drowns out the whispers from the crowd. I can feel their fear. It’s palpable… It’s pervasive… It’s sad.
The vicar held the torch aloft and and gestured to the crowd with his free hand. “By choosing to give their souls over to the devil,” he bellowed and the crowd fell silent. “These witches…” He spat at at the ground. “These witches flaunt their evil ways and defile our Christian society.”
“Defiler!” Echoed the crowd.
“This witch…” He pointed the torch at me. “She poisons the minds of our men!”
“She corrupts our children!”
“For her sins, an affront to our Lord, she will burn in hell for an eternity!”
“May God have mercy on her soul!”
The vicar threw the torch and it landed in the pile of kindling, igniting the whale oil splashed on the wood. The flames grew steadily and the heat was intense. I felt the edges of my gown singe and catch fire. I couldn’t weep for these feeble creatures – the smoke stung my eyes. I licked my cracked lips, preparing for the end. I lost feeling in my legs and smelled singed hair. The pain was unbearable. I felt heat from inside my body – my breaths came shallow and felt like a thousand rocks upon my chest. I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out.
I was a woman outside of time. I saw my body from above. My mangled legs were black and shriveled. My hair was aflame and I could see each strand smoke individually. My mouth, agape I saw my empty eyes – two dull stones staring up at me. I felt sorry for the woman dying below and a single tear streaked down my cheek. I reached to wipe it away, but was too late. The tear was loosed on the scene below.
Down the tear fell, landing on the charred remains if my earthly body before exploding. Millions of tears ricocheted from that explosion. Each collision generating light brighter than the crowd’s torches; heat stronger than the flame and noise louder than the crackling fire. The cacophony washed over the crowd as they witnessed pure, white light escape my mouth and eyes. I was drawn back to my body awash with light of indescribable incandescence. I felt a pair of wings erupt from my back – overlapping feathers of white, obliterating the crucifix.
The light extinguished the flames and restored my disfigured body. What was once peeling cracked ash was now smooth as a polished stone. I breathed deep the air so clean it was perfection. I walked toward the vicar and the children ran to me. Some tugged on my arm; some reached out to feel my wings. I smiled and patted them on their filthy heads.
The crowd stood in shocked silence. I opened my mouth to speak and realized it was unnecessary. I spoke directly to each person, assuring them I would protect them all. Turning to the vicar, I extended my wings to their full span before thrusting them toward the ground. I was propelled into the night sky. I felt flames of vengeance gather in the palms of my hands. The vicar scurried away. I was tempted to smite him as he did my earthly body, but I looked at my hands and willed the flames away. I would love these people. I would protect them – even from themselves.
I would continue to cherish the children I once played with. I would watch them grow and marry. I would protect their children and grandchildren. Generation after generation, I would watch over them. Freed by fire from my earthly form, my celestial mission as their guardian angel began that day in a valley next to a winding stream. I forgave them centuries ago. My joy unabated.