Theta Waves Thursdays: Act 8

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theta waves dragon v3 copyTheta Waves Thursday

Where each Thursday, I post an act from my new and ongoing serial story: Theta Waves. It’s been a couple of months since Phoenix was released, so instead of starting there (anyone who enjoys a Thea read has already grabbed it up for free but if you didn’t, you can go over to just about any ebook retailer and download it for FREE), I’m going to begin with Dragon: Episode 2.

 So settle back, prepare yourself for a typical tale that has all the darkness you’ve come to expect from a Thea read, but with a little added steam.

 Looking for more freebie goodies? I’m amassing some over at Gimmesome. Go get some!

DRAGON ACT 8

At first she stared out ahead of her, aware that there were people beside her and behind her. Something of great importance was about to happen, but it took a few moments before she registered the sight and processed it into something cohesive. It was the faces that she examined first, sleek grubby faces, some of them clean and fresh. The women wore hats and jewelry and gowns that met the ground where they stood. The man had on doublets if they were well dressed, homespun cotton breeches if they were poor. A crowd of them, waiting with anxious expressions, some of them twisting rosaries through their fingers.

She was aware of sunlight and warmth on her face. Aware that an errant breeze lifted her skirts. She looked down to see she was covered from waist to toe in gray. Damask, her mind whispered and then noticed beneath that a kirtle of crimson as dark as blood. Someone was praying beside her. She knew it even as she noticed the block in front of her, the pile of straw and the wicker basket next to it. She knew she was about to be beheaded by the man she loved, bore children for, both living and dead. It was the dead ones that pained her the most. The ones that twisted her dreams in the night. She would be with them soon. Able to hold them like a mother should.

Even as she prepared herself for the blade, to stoop to the block and stretch her neck out, the scene evaporated and she was left kneeling in filthy straw in the gloom of some room that stank of urine and feces and wet stone. The sound of metal on metal caught her ear and she twisted her head to the left. Her jailer, come to bring her to the questioning chamber again.

“Please, sir, I’m innocent,” she said.

“That’s not for me to judge,” he said gruffly.

She couldn’t help the sob that escaped her throat. But she found her feet and stumbled backwards, grasping for the stone wall behind her. He wouldn’t take her. Not again. She’d dash her head against the very stones that housed her if he tried to take her again.

Despite her struggles, another guard barreled into the cell and grabbed her beneath the armpits. They yanked her forcefully forward, and she stumbled, her bare feet catching on the stones and knocking over the slop bucket. They brought her to the same wooden door she’d been forced through the day before. Oak, she thought, recognizing the grain, and realizing even as she considered such an inane thing, that it was the regular everyday sights that bound her to reality now. Everything was surreal, almost like walking through a nightmare. She had expected this morning to wake and find herself in her own bedroom, her children scampering around the kitchen table, begging for her to get up and make them some porridge. For a moment, her ears even deceived her when she opened her eyes. She could hear the tinkle of their laughter, but it turned out it was only the rattling of her chains as she moved.

And there, now entering, she noted the same high desk with Herr Schöneburg in the middle, flanked on either side by men of the parish. Her chest started to tighten at the sight of them.

Her jailers dragged her in front of the desk where the men peered down at her without pity.

“Frau Gerlinde,” Herr Schöneburgbegan. “You have been charged with witchcraft. What is your response to this accusation?”

“The same as yesterday my Lords.” The tightening of her chest now crept up to her throat. Her jaws felt as though they would break if she moved so much as her lips.

“Despite your denial, you must understand that these are serious charges. We had hoped a night of consideration might weaken the devil’s hold on your tongue.”

“The devil does not have hold of my tongue, Sirs.” She meant it to sound confident, but it squeaked out because the pain in her jaw had crept behind her ear lobes, and the quaking had taken over her limbs.

“Please recite the Lord’s prayer, Frau Gerlinde.”

The Lord’s prayer. She knew it, didn’t she? She’d recited it enough in her life; she should know it off by heart. It should come easily to her tongue; it should exit her mouth as though it was a mere breath. Even so, nothing relieved the emptiness of her mind. She saw them wait patiently and the more they waited, the less able she was to think of the first words. She just needed the first word. Only the one, and surely the rest would spill out. Dear sweet heaven, she’d said it enough. She’d taught it to her children.

“We’re waiting,” Herr Schöneburg said.

She heard nothing in the chamber but for the scribbling of one of the judges onto a parchment, that and the sound of the clacking of her teeth as she tried to control the trembling. Yesterday, she’d thought it was a mistake, a foolish prank played on her by her next-door neighbor. She’d made light of the charges, had stood confidently in front of the judges. Almost haughtily. They couldn’t charge her; she wasn’t a witch.

“Frau, we’re waiting.”

“The Lord… The Lord…” Her legs felt like water.

“See how she can’t get any further than the opening?” Herr Schöneburg said to the scribbler.

“I do know more, I do.”

“You had yesterday and all last night to reflect on your sins, Frau Gerlinde. You have brought us no more evidence than a declaration of innocence. It’s not sufficient. We must question you further.”

He nodded to the jailers, who grabbed her by the elbows and dragged her out of the room into another. At first it felt blissfully warm, the broad fireplace that greeted her burned hot, and the warmth caressed her damp muscles. For a moment she felt relief. Then her gaze fell on the benches beside it with various metal tools. Three men sat in chairs, one dressed as a high official, the other as some sort of scribe. The one on the far left almost felt like she knew him, as though she should know him. But her mind was so addled, she couldn’t think of anything more except the words she’d failed to say.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” she blurted. She wasn’t sure why that pleased her so, why her cheeks hurt so much from the smile of relief.

The official inclined his head towards her almost respectfully. “Welcome, Frau Gerlinde. I am the magistrate, appointed to investigate the heinous act of witchcraft in this community. My man next to me will record and keep the protocol. Do you understand this?”

She didn’t even have it in her to nod.

“I have been given permission to put you to the question. Do you understand this?”

She swallowed but despite the deep muscle action, no water went down. The man continued.

“Confess now to being a witch, Frau. And you won’t have to be put to the question.”

She shook her head vehemently. She was a simple housewife, she had three children. She had a husband who loved her, a couple of cows, a pig. Some chickens. Why, even just a fortnight ago, she was given a meager inheritance by her father’s sister who married well and was the last of the line. Her life was a promising one.

The magistrate pointed almost casually toward the back of the room and she managed to turn her attention to where a strange contraption hunkered in the corner. Nothing good ever happened in the corner, she said to herself. Nothing ever. Corners were for secrets and for privy pots, and now it seemed they were for large hooks with chains that appeared as though they could pull a person directly off their feet and suspend them, leaving them open for any kind of attack.

She thought she said a word, she thought she protested, but what came out was a sob.

“There waits the strappado. Confess and you don’t have to endure it.”

There were no words anymore. Her throat was so tight, her lungs so empty and wracked with such painful gasps that she couldn’t pull in enough air to relieve the burning. She was trembling in earnest now, and her legs would have gone out from underneath her if her jailers hadn’t grabbed her again. One held her stiffly upright as the other stripped the clothing from her, left her naked in her shame in front of these men. His fingers probed every inch of her body, poking into places that brought tears to her eyes and made her bite her lip.

“Does she have any charms hidden anywhere?” The official asked. And the jailer shook his head.

“Then shave her,” the magistrate said.

Without soap, without water, with only a razor that looked as though it was to shear sheep, they scraped the hair from her skull, bringing blood that ran into her eyes and leaked into her mouth. She couldn’t bring any sense to her mind, no words, no images, nothing. The only thing that screamed to her was terror. She had never been so frightened. As they bound her hands in front of her, and led her toward the strappado, her legs finally did go out from underneath her and she fell onto her nose. A scream of agony tore through her, finding an exit through a mouth that didn’t seem to close anymore.

“Only guilt could create such fear,” the magistrate said. “Begin the questioning.”

She was hauled forward like a sack of potatoes, hooked into the strappado by her bound hands. They tied heavy weights to her feet and the next she knew she was lifted high into the air and the only way that she could escape the terror, flee from the pain was to let the pain take her consciousness.

 

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Thea Atkinson is a writer of character driven fiction.

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