Hey guys! This is the prologue of a book I worked on during One Day. I hope you like it!
October 1st, 1726, Evergreen Forest, Rhode Island
JUST OUTSIDE OF Evergreen Forest, Rhode Island, three pure black horses cantered through the woods as fast as they could. There were two riders per horse, all girls except for a young woman in her mid-twenties.
The six riders had long, curly blonde hair, save the young woman, whose straight hair was a rich, nutmeg-red color. All had beautiful blue eyes that were nearly impossible to read at all times. They sparkled in the rare patches of moonlight through the forest canopy.
The horses raced through the forest at breakneck speed, seeming to move much more gracefully than they should have. They dodged pines, leapt fallen logs, and wove through the endless obstacle course called Evergreen Forest, the namesake of the nearby town.
Soon the riders came to a part of Evergreen where the trees thinned and the horses slowed to a gallop. They were approaching civilization, and they saw an orange-red light burning through the trees from the direction of the town. The horses began to slow even and then stopped on a road winding to the village. They were so close that if someone had bothered to look their way, the girls would have been easily seen.
But nobody was bothering to look their direction. As it was, the riders could have gone rampaging through the mayor’s own house and not a soul would have noticed or cared at all. There was nobody home in any of the homes; all the townspeople had all gathered near the center of town.
The riders stopped on the road. On a regular day in Evergreen Forest, there would be wagons rolling through the town and people bustling in the streets. But now it was empty; every man, woman, and child who was not on their death bed was now in the center of the square, around the source of the harsh light that was puncturing the otherwise dark night.
The source of the harsh glow was a fire burning in the center of Evergreen Forest – the town. People were yelling and shouting, their eyes burning with fury and spite. Some were throwing empty bottles or rubbish on the fire, egging it on, keeping it going.
Children watched with wide eyes filled with a wide range of emotions: from fear to hate. The older children and teenagers jeered with their parents. At first, you couldn’t understand what was going on. You might think it was some sort of odd festival – maybe a bonfire of some sort. Then, if you’d look closer, you would understand . . .
A girl was standing in the midst of the fire; tied to a pole and sent into the flames. There were multiple cuts over her arms and legs from the broken bottles. If the girl’s hands had been visible, you would have seen dislocated thumbs mottled with purple and green bruises. Torture. She had a fresh black eye and a bloody nose and lip.
Her beautiful hair that was once blonde and curly was now burned and mostly gone. Normally bright blue, her eyes were instead purple. If she hadn’t been in the middle of a fire, she’d have been crying. The girl’s skin was dark and blackened by now. Right before the riders had arrived, she’d gone fallen into unconsciousness. This was no bonfire.
This was a witch burning.
The riders dismounted and the woman clutched at the girl she had been riding with, too shocked to cry. The younger one just stared at her sister with a desolate expression, tears building up. Two other girls that had been riding together didn’t dismount but stared at the fire with horrified faces.
The smallest of the girls slid off her horse and fell on the ground, shaking uncontrollably. She burst into tears, crying so mournfully that the eldest girl started crying, too. Tears rolled silently down the woman’s cheeks and neck.
The little girl clutched the leg of the horse and wept even more, the others joining her. The black stallion bent his neck and nuzzled the girl’s hair as though he understood what was happening.
For a moment, the burning girl sought for one final attempt at life. She gasped for breath in her oblivion, but received no more than another lungful of smoke. And then, quickly, though to her sisters it seemed to be in slow motion, she fell back against the pole again, this time her body going limp in a much more permanent way.
Barbara Müller was killed that night by the people she protected, though they would never know. Near the bonfire, a little boy glanced up at the sky. Despite the smoke, the sky was still mostly clear. A shooting star shot through the sky, making the child gasp in delight.
The little girl continued sobbing against the horse. She looked behind her, toward comfort, but she was greeted only by faces set with sadness and pain.
“They will pay for this,” the woman promised, choking up. She knelt beside the little girl. “Do you hear me, Luella? They will pay for what they did to her, I promise you. They will pay. I promise . . .”
Luella’s attention, however, was brought back to the pyre. What she saw there would be burned in her memory forever. A young man stood next to the pyre, smiling in an ugly, self-satisfied way. His brown eyes gleamed in the firelight, along with his near-black skin. He was staring at Barbara, lips curled in disgust at the thought of the others. He knew that they were here, there were more. His name was Bryant Redford. And he was a witch hunter. It was his job to rid the world as best as he could of this evil vermin, this varmint that were called witches.
Then Bryant noticed where the Müller girls were standing. His eyes glinted brown in the light of the fire, and his eyes fixed on Luella. Was it possible that their entire family was a coven of witches? Even the young girl . . . what was her name? Lucy? They were all suspicious, especially that aunt, Agatha. She’d taken over the family after the accident the parents’ had. Bryant locked eyes with her.
“The witch hunter,” Agatha said. “It’s all his fault.” She turned to the oldest girl. “Helena, keep the little ones back.”
“Yes, Agatha,” she nodded, wiping tears off her cheeks. Helena turned and took one girl by the hand. “Come on, Gertrude.” She ushered to the others. “Eleanor, Margaret.” They quietly complied.
Luella was still standing by the horse, holding on for dear life. Helena left her alone, because she feared if she even touched Luella, she would crumble to the ground right there. Helena couldn’t understand why Agatha had brought the younger girls along to see this, especially Luella and Eleanor. Helena didn’t always understand Agatha.
Standing so she was facing down the road, Agatha looked toward the town. It seemed as though it was some sort of awful showdown between the witch and the fire – sadly not the first time something like that would have happened.
Agatha held her hands at a comfortable distance from her, elbows bent, palms facing the night sky. She took a deep breath, whispering, “Ecaep wonk reven yam uoy, ylimaf ruoy si desruc.”
Bryant watched, his eyes still burning with hate and . . . fear? His eyes remained locked on Agatha’s. For a moment his eyes started to turn purple before instead switching back to brown.
Agatha hissed softly, “A wolf. How . . . quaint.”
Luella stood there, stiff as a board, watching the man who murdered her sister and ripped her family apart. That face would stand in her memory forever, burned into the deep recesses of her mind and thoughts. It would become a part of her, her largest fear. She would never forget the one who was responsible for Barbara’s death. It was all because of him.
The witch hunter would pay.