Flames licked the edges of the wood piled around Patricia’s feet. It wasn’t the idea of burning alive that bothered her. It was the way she’d gotten here and the one who’d lead the mob to her door.
In her line of work, a good burning was one of the few perks. But she preferred it on her terms, not at the mercy of a fool who she’d protected and provided for. His profits had more than doubled since he brought her on, and no one had touched him or his property, not even once. She knew better than to expect it to go on forever, but a nod of professional courtesy would have been nice.
The mob continued its pointless chanting. She wondered who’d come up with that nonsense. Likely they read it in some book on the occult. Silly things like that always had a way of cropping up.
The smell of burning rubber stung her nose. It was a pity to burn these shoes. Leather didn’t stink nearly as much. If she’d had a few minutes warning she’d have had time to change into the leather ones.
Time to change.
Within the mob, heads tilted and faces drooped in confusion. Their chanting tapered off and died.
Oh, but the smell. She scrunched up her face, trying to block it and tested the ropes around her wrists. A splinter from the stake stabbed the side of her hand. This was a good knot. She’d not get her hands free until the flames gnawed down the ropes. She sighed. They always had to use a wooden stake—so cliché.
Her slacks caught, and the delicious sting started at her ankles. The man-made fibers melted in the flames, sticking to her skin. She let her head rest against the stake and embraced the pain. It validated the pain on the inside. No one understands the pain on the inside, not until you have a mark they can see on the outside.
The flames climbed.
The mob stared. Jaws were dropping. She scanned from one side of the group to the other. There were many faces, yet all one face, all with the same expressions, all with the same thoughts behind their judgmental eyes.
Why isn’t she screaming?
She loved the moment they collectively realized her strength. That moment when judgment and fear lost its power and higher reasoning started to trickle in.
You can’t kill what you don’t understand. You can hate it, fear it, judge it, but you can’t kill it.
Her flesh burned. There was an all over agony. It never got worse than this. Once it spreads over the midsection, the pain level stabilizes. A mind can only process so much.
The flames would soon catch her hair. It always made for a terrible smell. This meant it was time to turn inward, to leave the flames and the confused faces of the onlookers. Her thoughts convened on the point of inner light. The fire within burned bright and white. This was her true fire, her true form. Everything external, the pain, the mob, the stench, these all faded. Power coursed through her even as her body sizzled and died.
The incredible heat from inside her burst forth in a sudden flash the consumed it all. The woman, the stake and the mob’s fire. The stunned mob stared at the pile of ash they believed they had created.
“See there,” an old woman said. “God has judged her.”
With head nods and shoulder shrugs, the crowd agreed and dispersed. Murmurings of disappointment trickled among the young.
“I thought there’d be more screaming,” said one.
“She could have at least chanted or something, like a proper witch,” said another.
Patricia listened from among the ashes, letting her new form take shape. It would be a while yet till she could form wings, but when she did, she would burst forth from the ashes and rise on the currents of the wind.
“You cannot kill what you don’t understand,” she thought with great satisfaction. These people would not know her when they saw her again. They would all still be the same, but she would be new.