The Lorelei Signal
Written by Chrissie Rohrman / Artwork by Lee Ann Barlow
Where is it?
I tear books from shelves, muttering a string of disconnected curses to myself as the tomes knock to the floorboards amid puffs of dust. There is nothing behind them but the shriveled husk of a long dead beetle. His hollow eye sockets seem to mock me.
Leaving the books strewn across the floor, I dash between the cramped rooms of my home. I ignore the growing flames that lick at my periphery, but can’t deny their heat, nor the creeping dread from finding each of my hiding places vacant. The bottom of the icebox. The sitting room bookcase. The loose floorboard at the edge of the porch out back. All empty.
“Where is it!” I cry as I wrench open the medicine cabinet, nearly tearing the wooden door from its hinges in my haste. Bottles crash from the narrow shelves, scattering shards of green and brown glass, dried herbs, and fragrant potions across the basin and floor.
I bite back another scream and slam the cabinet door closed so hard the mirror rattles in its frame. Now I stand faced with my reflection. And with my situation.
Mere moments ago, I met them at the door. So old-fashioned, these men, wielding torches and misplaced rage.
“Come out, witch!” they called, without any true understanding of what they had called me.
“Set fire to this house,” I taunted from the porch, my chin up, without a hint of fear beneath my breast. “Set fire to me. But it will be for naught. I promise to return even more powerful. And this time, I shall not use my magic for kindnesses.”
They spat at my feet.
Then they tossed the first torch.
And what did I do to deserve such a raid?
I kept to myself in my abode at the edge of town for years, practicing the art as my mother taught it to me, keeping it a private affair. I wanted nothing more, no one more. One day a young girl stumbled into my yard, half-crazed with sickness. I helped her, saved her, and she told the tale. For two years I have been depended upon to cure their ailments with my talismans and herbs. I have taught harmless tricks to some of the children. But the little McCabe boy, gripped by a raging fever, could not be saved.
That’s how quickly one can go from savior to murderess.
This wasn’t my first town, my first attempt at living among others. I should have learned my lesson by now.
The heat of the fire breaches the washroom, promising a slow, then all-too-fast end. It reminds me of the feel of the boy’s forehead.
I do most of my casting in the attic—perhaps I stashed the amulet there amid the rising tensions, in preparation for another final, swift exit. Yes, I think, backing away from the basin, the mirror, the woman with the crazed eyes reflected in the glass.
I must find the amulet. There will be no making good on my vow to return, no razing this town in retribution, without it. I am through with kindnesses, with saving their children. They will burn the same way they wish to burn me, and then I will retire to a solitary wood.
Tendrils of smoke follow me up the staircase. Outside the warped glass of the porthole window, I see it isn’t just the men gathered to watch me burn. In the growing crowd is sweet little Adelaide.
I took an unexpected shine to the girl, her openness, her curiosity. The village children have come to my home to see small plays at magic but largely keep their distance. None will stay on their own, or past sundown. None but Adelaide.
The girl visits me every few days, when the sun dips below the tree line and her father gives into the drink. She is brilliant, full of quirks and queries, her young mind open to all possibilities. Last week, she rifled through a chest of my old trinkets, unaware—or uncaring—of the dangers they carry. She has never once flinched with fear within these walls.
“Take something,” I told her, my damaged, weary heart warmed by her boldness. Her sweetness. Thinking to myself, perhaps she will learn the art. Perhaps a witch might grow from an angel.
But that was before the town turned.
Now, out there in the crowd, Adelaide is watching the fire build with wide, frightened eyes, her hands clutched together as though in prayer. In her fists is my resurrection amulet.
Looking down on her, my chest tightens with pride. Or maybe with smoke.
A pop of wood and plume of choking dark smoke—the fire has breached the attic. There is nowhere left for me to go. Still, I can’t help but smile.
I may not return from this death, but looking at Adelaide, I know I will live on.
Chrissie Rohrman is a training supervisor who lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with her husband and herd of fur babies. An addict of writing competitions, her short stories have been published in various online and print magazines. She is currently drafting the first book of a fantasy trilogy. Follow on Twitter @ChrissieRawrman or 'like' Chrissie Rohrman Writes Things on Facebook.