The first strange thing to happen was that Miranda's tightly bound wrists were suddenly free.
Moments before this odd occurance, the lying, black-hearted Christine, standing as close as possible to the action, had taken up a chant of "Burn the witch!! Yeah!! Burn her...BURN HER!!", with a joyous zeal, spurring several others to join in. It was unfortunate for her that she captured Miranda's attention in such a garish way. She'd been gazing toward the horizon again, gathering all the powers available to her when her head darted toward Christine's direction, her eyes blazing as she observed the wicked little trollop.
Only a few saw the ropes around her wrists shudder, twitch, then slither to the as yet unburned wood with a soft thump, but everyone saw her hands move from behind the stake to her sides. Her lower arms rose as high as the rope still binding her at the elbows allowed, her palms down, the fingers splayed. A few moments later the rope around her neck joined the ones that had bound her wrists.
Miranda's fiery eyes stared straight at Christina's laughing face as she remembered how poor Laura had suffered and died this way because of a jealous whim and a pack of lies. She knew that Christina had laughed and jeered at Laura the same way, while knowing the whole time that it was her lies that had sent her to her death. Watching her now, a rage and hatred welled up in her so strong that the evil she'd borrowed the night before began to swirl madly within her, demanding to be unleashed.
In the meantime, Samuel could hardly believe his own eyes. He'd tied her wrists very tightly....he KNEW he had! He hadn't noticed any struggle on her part, so how could the ropes have just loosened like that?? The length he'd tied around her neck hadn't been quite as tight, true, but still it shouldn't have just fallen off either. Feeling embarrassed and downright humiliated, Samuel cursed then found an area of the pyre that hadn't ignited yet and climbed it in a rage, determined to re-tie her so tight this time that she would scream.
The next strange thing the gathered villagers observed was the behavior of the Lord High Executioner after he'd grasped one of the witch's wrists to re-tie it. When he reached the top of the pyre he was even more dismayed to see her smiling at him again. When his hand closed on her wrist she spoke to him sweetly.
"Samuel....remember last night? How you put yourself inside me....over and over...everywhere?"
"And a fine time I had doing so, witch-slut!", he growled thru clenched teeth while fishing around in his jerkin for another length of rope.
"Well....I left you a little something...."
Samuel didn't even have time to wonder what she meant; at that moment he gasped loudly and dropped her wrist as if burned by it, both his hands involuntarily flying to his groin. He was burning all right, but not by her wrist. A sudden searing agony had settled upon his pride and joy as well as his testicles. It was as if someone were holding a lit torch to his manhood. Before the pain took his mind completely, he saw Miranda's eyes blaze bright red and her lips curl into the snarl of a demon. He was trying hard not to scream. Showman that he was, he didn't want to be the main attraction, but he couldn't hide this blinding pain for long. He was bent over, unable to take his hands from his crotch (although having them there did him no good), breathing harshly through his clenched teeth, sweat standing out on his face which was turning red, then purple.
Miranda spoke to him then, in a voice meant only for his ears, her voice so low that he shouldn't have been able to hear her between the noises of the crowd and his own harsh gasps and moans, but she meant for him to hear her and it was as if her lips were directly at his ear...or in his head, so he heard every word.
"That's for Laura....and Susan....and Emily....for Nelly....for all of them", she giggled then....."Oh and for me too...you foul, slimy whore's son"
Samuel then gaped at her, and for a moment the pain on his face reflected a long-buried pain in his heart. His mother had been a whore. This witch exposed the terrible secret he'd not allowed himself to think about for many years.
Enraged, Samuel tried to gain his footing. Nevermind the fire that would burn her soon enough....nevermind the crowd, and nevermind his horrible pain. He was determined to choke the life from this witch who had begun to laugh at him. Then perhaps the pain in his groin (and the pain in his heart) would end.
He only managed a few shambling steps toward her before the unbearable pain in his manhood obliterated all rational thought. Ultimately it was too much to bear. Samuel screamed his agony as heartily as any of his victims ever had. Inevitably he lost his footing on the pile of wood and tumbled to the bottom of the pyre where his clothes promptly caught fire. He writhed and twisted on the platform where he'd landed, his feet kicking the boards with a thunderous noise that nearly rivalled his screams and howls.
The next sequence of events happened so quickly that many of the assembled villagers didn't realize just how wrong things had gone until it was too late. The ones who did know were too shocked to do much more than gape--then later, scream. Later, there was a lot of screaming.
The wench Christina had kept up her screechy cruel chant through most of Ruark and Miranda's final drama, pausing only to cackle wild laughter at the sight of Samuel tumbling down the pyre. Several joined in her laughter....until everything went to Hell.
Samuel's assistants had sprung into action immediately, beating his burning clothes with cloaks, but for some reason the fire refused to extinguish. Later....after much suffering....Samuel died with the sound of Miranda's laughter in his ears.
Christina stopped laughing long enough to point at Miranda, still bound except for her hands which were once more spread at her sides, a wicked smile playing about her lips which were moving wordlessly.
"It's HER!!!", she shrieked, "The witch did it!! Look!! She's speaking curses and blasphemies!! Somebody gag her!!!"
No one having witnessed what happened to the executioner was willing to get close enough to the bound witch to do as she suggested, although many were thinking the same thing.
As Christina continued to yell, a section of the fire inside the burning pyre suddenly flashed brighter than the rest of the flames, roaring and crackling with the sound of a much bigger fire. A few onlookers saw this bit of flame form itself into a ball which rotated for a few moments then seemed to quiver before hurtling itself from the wood straight at Christina. The fireball hit its mark with dead-on accuracy, and Christina's taunts and tirade was replaced with hysterical screams of terror, then pain as her dress burst into flame.
Tom, Christina's fiance' with the roving eye immediately leaped forward to save her, beating at her flaming dress with his cloak, as futilely as Samuel's assistants had done for him. Tom didn't see the new fireball whizzing toward him and didn't realize he was hit till his hair caught fire. No one else who was nearby dared tried to help the doomed couple, and when they fell together in a writhing, bawling heap, the shocked screams of the crowd grew louder as the nearest ones first backed away, then tried to flee.
As the flames rose closer to Miranda, more fireballs began forming. They shot from the pyre one by one, hitting people, houses, trees, then quickly and greedily consumed whoever or whatever was unlucky enough to be in their path.
The terrified onlookers, realizing what was happening tried to run of course, and a few did manage to get far away. Others were hindered by the throng of crowd toward the back who were still as yet unaware of how terribly a simple witch-burning had gotten out of hand....it had all happened so quickly, within seconds. However the panic quickly spread, but when the crowd as a whole tried to run from the square they ran headlong into....nothing at all....or so it seemed. An invisible wall had erected itself from thin air, its perimeters surrounding most of the crowd who hadn't been fast enough to flee at the first signs of trouble. The strongest of men flung themselves against this unseen obstruction with all their strength only to bounce backwards. A few, determined to stay calm, slowly felt their way along the invisible wall looking for an opening, their panic rising steadily when they found none, their horror made complete by seeing freedom and escape only inches away but unreachable. Meanwhile the fireballs kept flying. Some of them bounced off the barrier, landing on whoever was in the way.
The frantic screams grew louder. Pandemonium ruled as these villagers who had turned out so early, so eager to see a good burning, found themselves trapped in their own town square, unable to escape the fate they'd enjoyed watching so many others suffer.
At one point, a little girl, no older than seven or eight was pounding against the obstruction, crying hysterically to be let out. As she beat her small fists against the wall she suddenly found she was beating air when the invisible wall opened for her. She quickly ran through and was followed by a few very lucky adults who happened to be near enough to see her escape, then just as quickly the small opening snapped shut again, the people who were running for this escape hatch screamed with renewed terror when they slammed into solid unseen wall once again.
The handful of people lucky enough to be on the outside were screaming as loudly as the ones still trapped inside. Many were pounding on the obstruction from the outside, calling to friends and loved ones they were helpless to reach although they were only inches away and pounding from the inside. Some who had made it out simply ran...as fast and hard and as far as they could go.
The flames from the fireballs, burning bodies and the pyre itself were making the perimeters of the mysteriously enclosed area around the stake as hot as a furnace. Many succumbed to this suffocating heat; some were overcome with smoke. Those unfortunates unable to stay on their feet were soon trampled.
Above the screams of the terrified and dying, above the roar of the ever-growing fires, a woman's laughter rang clearly and was heard by those both inside and outside the deadly circle. The laughter was rich and melodious and unmistakably insane. No one needed to look up at the woman still bound to the stake to know where the laughter was coming from. Most of the doomed villagers had long ago lost interest in the woman they'd come to see burn in their desperate attempts to escape her wrath. A few did look, and fell to their knees, begging her loudly to spare them her fury. Those were, of course trampled as well.
Miranda, her body gleaming with sweat, her tattered red dress now clinging to her body in a way that the recently-deceased Samuel Ruark would have appreciated, was barely aware of her laughter, so carried away on the waves of evil she'd nurtured all night....the unleashing of that evil was like a constant jolt of adrenaline and joy. After releasing the first few fireballs she was scarcely aware of anything. She hadn't been touched by the fire yet--the launching of the fireballs had kept it from growing very fast, although it was now nearly to her feet.
When the screams of the dying began to taper off, something inside Miranda shifted and quite suddenly her laughter ceased. She looked around her, blinking as if coming out of a trance (which, in a way she was). She gazed at the heaps of smoldering bodies, heard the choking sobs of the few who'd managed to avoid the fireballs and the trampling feet...saw them huddling against the unseen barrier....
What happened next was something the few survivors only discussed among themselves once, then agreed to never speak of again, along with the rest of that day's horrific events, for surely no one would ever believe them.
The woman at the stake seemed to be looking at the destruction around her as if seeing it for the first time. She was no longer laughing--indeed her lips were trembling and contorting as if she were sobbing, her face a mask of misery. Suddenly she threw her head back, striking the stake behind her repeatedly as she released a long loud wail of utter despair and remorse.
At the same time, those still trapped inside her Hell, huddling against the wall no one could see nor escape from were hit by cool air as the wall they were leaning against disappeared, causing them to fall over. Those still plastered against the barrier from outside stumbled forward into the escaping heat when the wall vanished, and with joyous yet still terrified cries they helped the few who were still alive outside the perimeter of where the wall had been before it could close again.
Once again, some ran without looking back while others stood transfixed to the spot, unable to tear their gaze from the woman who was now screaming and writhing in her bonds with an agony that had nothing to do with the rising flames. Her previously outstretched hands now curled themselves into fists, clenched so hard that blood began to trickle from them as her fingernails sank into the flesh of her palms.
Miranda was indeed in an agony of horror and self-loathing over what she had wrought. How ironic that her great affection for humanity is what drove her to inflict this evil upon them. Nothing made sense to her anymore. The next step of her plan had been to make the rest of her ropes undo themselves, then she'd intended to simply jump from her perch and walk away.....she knew the few remaining mortals wouldn't dare try to stop her. But where would she walk to? How could she live with what she'd done? She thought of the outraged anger she would face from the Elders. She'd be banished for sure, at the very least....then what? Her despair and shame and grief was just too much. As the astonished survivors looked on she dropped her head, then put her bloodied hands behind her, behind the stake. Soon the rope that had bound them before, still whole, although tiny bits of flame were clinging to it, rose from where it had dropped earlier and wound itself around and around her wrists once more, in the same figure-eight pattern.
The witnesses saw Miranda raise her tear-streaked face once, then they stumbled backwards, startled when the flames from the pyre unexpectedly leaped up with an audible whoosh and eagerly enveloped the tragic figure of the lovely sobbing murderess till she could no longer be seen through the inferno.
The fire, brighter and more intense than any of them had ever seen, roared and blazed for several minutes with a fearsome fury until the woman's screams faded away with a haunting echo....then just as quickly it dropped back down to the level it had been burning at...right below where her feet had been. Mysteriously, there was no charred body or even a skeleton where she'd been standing. Later, when the fire had burned itself out, not a trace of the woman known as Miranda could be found.
When the group of survivors later discussed what they had seen, before they swore to never speak of it again, all were in agreement. There was no one who had witnessed the burning of Miranda who doubted for a moment that it was a suicide.
The village was of course, abandoned.....the bodies still left were carried away by wild animals who now roamed freely through the unpopulated wasteland. When new settlers arrived eventually, they knew nothing of the horror that had taken place....only a few gutted dwellings, scorched trees and a blackened stake on a platform indicated that anything out of the ordinary had occurred.
Brian Decker was by all accounts, a nice guy. He had many friends, a good job and plenty of interests. He was handsome, single, and enjoyed the company of several women who thought very highly of him. He was into sports, was fascinated with computers and enjoyed a good book or movie on occasion.
One thing Brian was not into was geneaology, and it was very fortunate for him that he wasn't. For Brian really was a nice guy and would have been horrified if he'd known that one of his ancestors was a vile, cruel wretch of a man named Samuel Ruark. Brian would have been very disturbed to know that nearly four hundred years ago this ancestor took extreme sadistic pleasure in his job of Lord High Executioner, raping then burning a series of lovely but unfortunate young women convicted of witchcraft, until mysteriously dying in a fire himself. Brian Decker, young and relatively carefree, remained blissfully ignorant of the horror that was Samuel Ruark....at least most of him was unaware.
One night, attending a party at the house of a co-worker, Brian experienced something that was alien to him....desire mixed with a gut-wrenching terror he couldn't understand. He'd been talking, laughing, and drinking with several friends when he saw a woman gliding through the party, moving with an easy grace, pausing to speak to a few people that seemed to know her. Her hair was long and black, almost raven black, and hung in loose waves that reached her waist. She was of medium height, although her frame was small, and the red dress she wore clung to the lovliest curves Brian had ever seen.
She was standing a few feet away, her back to him, when he nudged a friend of his who passed by, and asked if he knew who she was.
The friend, a good-natured (and presently tipsy) fellow named Mark looked at the dark-haired woman, shrugged and replied,
"Oh...her. I dunno, I think her name's Amanda, or Miranda...something like that. Hot, isn't she?" he leered.
Brian nodded absently, but his stomach clenched at Mark's answer. Seemingly, at the sound of her name (whichever one it was--although Brian knew without a doubt for some reason that it was Miranda), the woman's long curtain of dark hair rippled as she turned her head, saw Brian watching her, then smiled at him sweetly.
Brian felt a stirring of desire stronger than any he'd ever known; simultaneously he felt a terror and panic as strong and as unreasonable as when he was a child, racing then vaulting into his bed in the middle of the night after a trip to the bathroom...certain beyond all reason that his leaping vault was necessary to avoid the claws or tentacles of whatever was under his bed, just waiting for its chance to grab his ankles and pull him under if he got too close.... And now, here...all grown up, at a bitchin party surrounded by his friends...Brian felt that same unreasonable terror again....a panic that told him to leap or be devoured.
"Dude...what's wrong?", Mark asked with some alarm when he saw his friend visibly pale before his eyes.
"I....uh.....I gotta go", Brian replied, then hurriedly setting his drink down on the nearest table he nearly ran from the house, not stopping to say goodbye to anyone, a nameless and nearly primitive panic spurring him on.
That night he dreamed of fire.....