Erol and I were working in the pasture when a giant beast cast a shadow over our heads. I had never seen anything like it before. It looked like some kind of bird except the wings didn’t flap. The unnatural thing twisted and jerked in the air and touched down onto the ground a far distance down the hilltop where we were standing.
“It’s the Black Bird Witch! She’s returned!” My ignorant younger brother Erol said. “We need to tell mom and dad!”
“It is not,” I said to him. It was just a legend. A hundred years ago, a giant black bird flew into town. With a flash of lightning and clap of thunder, it revealed itself to be a witch. She asked for refuge and in return she would perform magical acts for the town. They took her in, and she stayed true to her word with one exception: as a monstrous bird, she needed to feed. In the dead of night, she stole children from their bedrooms and gobbled them up. The village watch caught the witch and burnt her at the stake. She swore revenge upon the villagers.
I dashed through the trees into the open field where the thing sat; My brother screamed for me to stop. Alicia, the self-proclaimed pilot of the “airplane” (that is her word for the machine), descended down a small step ladder from its head. We talked and I found her articulate, well-learned, and well-traveled. I brought her back to my house and asked my parents to give her a room. We conversed long into the evening about the things she had seen on her travels. I told her, despite being fifteen years of age, I had never been any further than confines of the farm except for one trip to town when I was very young.
“Why did you come here?” I asked her.
“I need to rest for my long journey ahead,” Alicia said. My mother interrupted us and sent me off to bed before I could ask where she was going.
That night Erol woke me from my sleep and bade me to come with him to the plane. By the fire light of our little lantern we trekked through the fields back to the mechanical bird. He was always spying on people and their private property. He showed me the body of a young boy lying in the back of the airplane.
“She’s the Black Bird Witch!” Erol said. “I’m going to get the constable and arrest her.” His eyes were burning even fiercer than the lamp light. Erol left me in the dark by the airplane, but I ran for the house. I crept up the stairs and tip-toed to our guest room. The old wooden floor creaked and betrayed my every silent step. Once I was at Alicia’s door I knocked. No answer. I opened the door and stepped into her room. The rim of a cold tube of steel touched my head. The hammer of a gun clicked into place. “I mean you no harm,” I said.
“I saw both you and your brother go down to my plane,” Alicia said. “I take it you saw what I was carrying.”
“Did you kill that boy?”
“No. I’m going to fix him.” She put her weapon away and picked up a duffel back from the bed. “Thank you for letting me stay the night.” She passed me by and hurried down the stairs. I went after her but once we stepped out the front door, the constable and his deputies had us surrounded. He approached us first. “Black Bird Witch,” he said. “If you try any of your tricks my men will kill you.” Half his square face was in shadow the other half was lit red and yellow by the flame of his torch. His faceless deputies stood behind him shielded by the darkness, but I saw their guns gleaming in the moonlight.
Alicia raised her hands.
“Arrest her, and take the girl too.”
“What!” Erol said. “No! Lily’s no witch!”
“She certainly is. She’s one of the demon bird’s spawn.”
The next day, the constable and mayor proclaimed that the curse of the town would be lifted because they had caught the Black Bird Witch and me. We would both be purified by the priest and burnt at the stake. Alicia and I sat together in the jail cell.
“What did he mean that you were the ‘demon bird’s spawn?’” Alicia asked me.
I raised my hand. “Watch.” A flame like one at the end of a candle flickered to life over my index finger. The flame bounced from fingertip to fingertip and then my entire palm lit on fire.
“Astonishing! I didn’t think magic still existed in the world,” Alicia said.
I closed my fist to put the flame out. “A maiden born of ever generation will inherit the dark arts of the Black Bird Witch and hunger for the flesh of the innocent.” I opened my hand. It was red and raw looking and smoke smoldered from my palm, but otherwise I was fine.
“Thank the King, I’m far from innocent these days.”
Once night blanketed the sky, I could see the stars shine over a large pile of wood and tinder. To the side, a man dressed in clerical robes stood with his holy book and a torch. Children were dressed in witch hats and black cloaks and ran around with faux black wings. They pelted us with rotten vegetables and curses as we were led to our pyre. The people were ready to celebrate our demise. Alicia and I were lashed to a pole on top of a pile of layered logs. The town priest gave us our purifying prayers and once he finished, he dropped his torch in a bundle of tinder under the logs. The villagers cheered and chanted and the fire licked at our feet.
I chanted too. Incantations from old passed down from my true mother.
Clouds formed overhead but not a soul standing in this barbaric mob noticed. Flashes of lightning and claps of thunder broke their chanting. I envisioned every drop striking down each one of them. I grew the thunder to a deafening roar and the lightning struck nearby houses. The rain washed the fire away from our feet, flooded the streets, and drenched the townspeople. Alicia broke her bonds with a razor she had tucked under her sleeve and she cut me loose too. “Let’s leave this place!”
Houses and stores burned because my lightning bolts. People scurried and ran like rats and no one gave us a hint of trouble as we raced through the streets. The constable and his deputies busied themselves with fire fighting and didn’t notice our escape. We returned to Alicia’s plane. She opened the back hatch where I saw the machine boy. “Quick get in!”
“Lily!” It was Erol. “Stop where you are! Both of you!”
“Erol. Please.” He had an arrow in his bow and aimed it for me.
“I know mom and dad lied to me now! The constable told me everything about you! You’re not my sister. You’re just a monster!” Tears streamed down his face. “And I have to kill you to save everyone!”
“Killing her will do nothing!” Alicia exclaimed.
“It will! You’ll see!” Erol retorted.
“Erol! Do what you must!” I closed my eyes but a loud bang from behind startled them open again. “Erol!” He was on the ground. His bow splintered into pieces.
Alicia holstered her smoking gun. “He’ll be alright.” Sure enough, I could hear Erol whimpering and shaking. I wanted to hold him. At least a final hug, but I turned my back on him.
“Goodbye brother.” I wiped a tear and got into the plane.
“If you don’t mind, there’s one place I need to stop before you can disembark,” Alicia said. “And I could definitely use your help there.”
“Where is that?” I asked.
“The Forest of the Watchmaker.”