2. This story may not be suitable for all readers. There is no sex or excessive swearing. However, it does deal with a potentially disturbing subject, namely, witch-burning. I would guess it deserves maybe a PG-13 rating.
3. I have nothing against Kansas. I have never been there, and I don't mind saying that I never plan on going there.
With that said...
I struggled to choke back a cough as the harsh fumes entered my throat. Blinking my eyes, I struggled to refocus; unfortunately, without my glasses, I was out of luck.
(in more ways than one)
I could, however, make out the separate figures surrounding me. More importantly, I could make out a figure that was approaching me. The torch in his hand made him really easy to spot.
* * * * *
It started with a question.
Our World Cultures class was reading through an introduction to the major religions of the world. So, we're sitting there, with our books open in front of us, and I'm running through the meager list.
(Christianity Judaism Islam)
I knew it was a mistake to raise my hand. Don't know how I knew, but I did. I almost lowered it before Mr. Southward noticed, but, in typical indignant fashion, I kept it up.
"Yes? What is it?" He looked at me, barely able to disguise his distaste. We weren't on very good terms, not since we had a huge argument, in class, in front of everyone, over whether evolution should be taught in school.
(you'd think i'd learned my lesson)
"Um..." Everyone was looking at me now. I hate when that happens. "Um... I was just wondering... why aren't any pagan religions listed in here?" I raised the book slightly.
He rolled his eyes.
(oh, yeah, that's professional)
"Because it's talking about the major religions." I could almost hear the 'stupid' on the end. Looking around, I was sure everybody else could, too. Some of them were sniggering.
"That's what I mean. I mean, what about Hinduism? Or Buddhism? What about Shamanism, or-" I stopped myself just in time. In this town, some things just aren't considered...right. I took a breath. "I just mean, some of those religions are considered to be pretty damn major, especially by the people who follow them, and-"
(why am i still talking?)
"-and, well, I was just, um, wondering." I finished lamely.
He looked at me calmly. That's never a good sign with Southward. "Did you just swear in my classroom?"
I blinked. "Huh?"
(damn you said damn pretty damn major)
He gestured gently towards the door. "Principal."
I got up from my desk and gathered my stuff before slouching off meekly to the sounds off increased sniggering. And that's when I heard it.
I took a chance and looked back. It was Brian and his gang of buddies, compadres; bunch of jerks if ever I knew some. I gathered my courage and stuck my tongue out at them, then hurried out my door to what was now outright laughter.
* * * * *
I scuffed my boots along the street, kicking up clouds of brightly colored dry leaves.
(stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid)
You know, you would think that after growing up in this town, I would have learned to keep my damn mouth shut. None of my relatives have ever had problems fitting in. My siblings, all eight of them, flew through school with flying colors. But here I am, getting sent home in the middle of the day just because I couldn't keep my fool mouth shut.
Do you know what it's like, to know everyone is watching you?
I can't remember when I started to be afraid of Christians. I don't just mean the ones who stand on a corner and yell at people, telling everybody around that they're going to go to Hell. I also mean the ones who are nicey-nice when you bring a cake to the annual cakewalk and then talk about you behind your back. The ones who show up at your door and won't go away. The neighbors who've visited and left soon after they've seen the willow broom hung over your door. The ones who whisper.
After awhile, you see them everywhere. You can feel eyes on your back, following you. Always following. Because the crazy ones are the only ones who'll confront you. The rest are happy to just stay back and whisper, to rumor, to tell their kids that throwing things is bad, unless it's at the girl who lives out by the lake. But most of all, the ones that make me both angry and sad, are the ones who make sure to tell you that they'll pray for you right before they stop talking to you.
They're doing it now. Mrs. Jones and that old Cotter woman. They're standing on Mrs. Jones' porch. It's not paranoia. Not when I can stop and watch them point at me, then make the sign of the cross at me. I retaliate, making the sign of the Goddess right back at them. I know I shouldn't, but it feels so good, like when you finally find the courage to talk back to the bully, even though you know you'll pay for it with a bloody nose soon enough after school. And goodness knows I have, too.
I continued my scuffling walk, pushing my glasses up on my nose, trying not to pay attention to the curtains drawing back in the windows of the houses.
* * * * *
"What are you waiting for?"
The torch had paused somewhere in front of me, how close, I couldn't be sure. The light from it was stinging my eyes nearly as much as the kerosene I was doused with. I couldn't place the voice of the person who had spoken, not that it mattered.
I licked my lip and tasted blood. It had split when a big guy punched me. He hadn't liked me laughing at him. But, honestly, who expects to see someone in full Klan regalia come riding up, on a moped no less, on a sunny day in Kansas?
* * * * *
I'd found the note pinned to the front door.
(gone for food see you later do your homework no tv)
I'd sighed as I realized that I hadn't brought my keys with me. No way was I looking forward to sitting on the porch all day.
That was when I saw Brian riding by.
(how'd he get out of school?)
He watched me as he rode by, going so far as to stop pedaling so that the moment would be drawn out longer. He stared at me, and I hadn't liked what I saw. He looked like one of them. But like one of the crazy ones. He finally passed on by.
A few minutes later, the guy on the moped showed up.
* * * * *
"Hurry it up." Someone whispered, a woman this time. I wasn't sure, but I thought that it might actually have been Ms. Cotter.
I was frantic now, beads of sweat forming on my upper lip. This was the part in the movie where some hero would show up and save the day. I could even see it- he would shoot the torch out of the guys hand, untie me, and then stop to give a stirring speech about the kind of people who would do such a thing. I even started a little as someone knocked something over- I actually thought that it was the X-Men or the Fantastic Four come to rescue me.
The torch was coming nearer. It started to dip down.
(oh my god they're going to do it they're going to burn me help me help me someone help me come on come on COME ON HELP ME)
I suddenly found my tongue again and started screaming, something I probably should have started to do earlier but I d been too scared and the torch was coming closer and dipping further down and this was it, someone was going to save me now, and then it touched my foot.
Have you ever been standing by the side of a highway when a semi went by? For a moment I thought that that was what was happening, that there was an eighteen-wheeler going by, and that that was the source of the rushing, roaring noise that suddenly filled my ears. Then my brain registered the fact that I was on fire, I was on fire, and I started to scream, but I had already been screaming, and abruptly I could feel it, like a living thing, wrapping around me, licking upwards, and then I could see as clearly as if I had my glasses on. I felt relief for only a second at my recovered sight, because that was how long it took me to realize that my face was on fire.
I closed my eyes.
* * * * *
The roaring went on for a long time, for eternity. Then there was a breeze, and then blessed, blessed coolness. It was a long time before I tried to open my eyes. My brain supplied me with plenty of images, of my tears boiling on my face, of my eyeballs popping from the heat, my skin crackling and pulling away from my skull. I finally couldn't keep them closed anymore, the images were too terrible, surely it would be better to die than to suffer them.
The first thing I noticed was light. But it was dim, and steady, and was a relief, because the second thing that I saw was a TV.
I watched the TV for a while before registering that it was Josie and the Pussycats. It was a few more minutes before I thought of moving my gaze to the side, where I could make out a tiny, blinking green light on a big machine. A card taped to it said 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men' on it, in scrolling script on top of a golden cross. I felt sick and I turned my gaze to the other side, but all I could see was an expanse of pale blue. It slowly dawned on me that I was looking at a privacy curtain.
(hospital you're in a hospital someone came someone rescued you you're okay you're in a hospital)
I watched the TV for a long time, long enough for several shows to come and go. At least, I think I watched it- it seems as if I must have slept, because when I next looked over to the side, there was a woman sitting there. I thought it was my mother, but couldn't be sure.
"Mom?" I asked. At least, I thought I asked. What came out was barely more than a whisper. Whatever it was, it must have been enough, because her eyes snapped up and held mine before she jumped up and started crying. I tried to tell her that I was okay, see, not broken too badly Mom, but I still couldn't manage to talk.
Mom put her hand over her mouth. "Oh, honey, you have no idea how glad I am that you're okay, and I'm sorry, but the doctor said I can't touch you because you have to stay sterile and...and..." And she broke down crying, sinking out of sight onto the floor.
Looking to the other side, I saw that the 'Peace on Earth' card had been removed and closed my eyes in thanks. * * * * *
Do you know, I sometimes used to wonder how people with amputated limbs could think that they still felt their toes. I mean, if you can't feel them when your foot falls asleep, how can you feel them when they're no longer there? I still wonder. I can't tell you what it's like, the days that you reach down to scratch at your knee and have to remind yourself that it's not there anymore. And do you know, those people were right, I can still feel my toes; I can even wiggle them if I concentrate hard enough. It's only when I look down that the illusion is replaced by reality.
I guess I don't have to say it right out, that I lost both legs. They were burned so badly that the doctors amputated them as soon as I was stabilized. I also lost most of my skin; I've avoided looking in a mirror after that first time.
I haven't gone back to school.
I haven't gone back to Circle, either. I want to, but I don't. Silly, I know. After all, they didn't do this to me. My family didn't do this to me. My Circle, my family, all they did was give me a love for the planet that birthed me, a connection to the seasons that spin around me, a constant source of friendship, of love, of trust.
(perfect love and perfect trust perfect love and perfect trust)
But I haven't gone back. It hurts too much.
And do you want to know what the funniest part is?
I'm a mutant. Oh, the doctor made sure to tell me that. Right before he told me that, quote, '"a bunch of muties showed up and saved the day."' The "muties" in question here would be the X-Men, of course. They had actually been interested in talking to me and had just happened to pick that day to show up. And show up they did, and pull me out of the fire they did, but not before I lost my legs and what dubious attractiveness I had.
Isn't that funny?
Isn't that just fucking hilarious?
And do you know, we lost our house? Yeah, it's amazing how much emergency care can cost when you don't have insurance. And nothing happened to them. To the people who did this to me.
It's just funny, you know?
I don't mean to sound bitter. Well, I do, but... well. It's just, it's not fair. I know that's a babyish thing to say, but it's true. It's just not fair.
So here I am. I've had graft after graft, and I'm starting to look more like a person. A really ugly person. It isn't helped by my attitude. I'm kind of sad that my good ol' timid self is gone. But the cruelty and the irony of life can do that to you.
Irony? Oh, I'm sorry, didn't I tell you?
When I finally got to meet my saviors, the mighty X-Men, righters of wrongs and all that, they were able to tell me something the doctor couldn't, something that I think I would have been happier not knowing, more peaceful, maybe, instead of seeing the world as some kind of cruel cosmic joke. Because of what I now know.
What I can do.
What? Do you want to see?
Come here, then. See here. Watch, watch the water in the fishbowl. Now watch, watch carefully. See how it flows, how it arcs, how it loves me, how it does my bidding. And look, now it's growing, it could be a flood if it wants to.
But it doesn't. Not right now. So I'll set it back into the bowl, where it'll stay until I call it again.
Isn't that funny?