The day that the snow melted was the day I let Loki burst out the door freely. It was the day I removed my coat and boots and instead wore normal clothes. It was the day I had received a visitor. As I began to string a single, thick line of string between the house and one of the trees, I noticed a square figure growing taller as it crested over the hill. My interest was piqued as I stopped what I was doing and looked over. As the square grew, a face became visible, along with the rest of his top hat and a crisp suit. He almost looked like an American Rockefeller with his clean appearance, and sure enough, he truly spoke English in asking, “Madame…” He took off his top hat graciously, and I thought to do nothing more than to curtesy, as I was unsure as to whether or not he was royalty.
“Are you the owner of this house?” He asked, and I apologized and said that it was under my father’s name. “May I ask where he is?” I fell silent for a moment before answering, “He’s been missing for a while now…” “Oh…” He responded. “I’m sorry to hear that.” I smiled and was about to thank him before he shoved several stacks of papers into my arms. “Well, the house is yours now. You have until the end of this year.” I stuttered out, “W-What?”, however the man was already a square in the distance. After hanging up my wet clothes, I walked inside and plopped the papers down on my father’s desk in his study.
As my eyes scanned over the thousands of numbers and letters, my stomach started to drop before it fully plummeted upon looking at the final number. “15,ooo euros…?!” I exclaimed out loud, my voice exasperated and my stomach churning. I looked down at Loki, who was wagging his tail, unaware as to what was going on. I showed him the sheet of paper and explained, “HE’S THOUSANDS OF EUROS IN DEBT!” I could feel my face turning white as I thought of how I was going to pay it all off. Not only would it be practically impossible to pay it off, but I also doubt people would ever buy anything from me, thinking that everything I make is cursed. I plopped down into the large chair, causing a loud skidding noise to ring out loudly as the chair shifted in it’s place. Loki whipped his head over to me in surprise, and I let out a loud sigh. Noticing my stress, Loki stopped scratching himself and walked over to me before resting his head on my knee. I pet his head, and he closed his eyes with contentment. I smiled softly and drew figures on his head with my finger. I looked at the paper detailing how he had spent as much as he did. “Ale, clothes, hunting gear, dinner, p– ‘the company of other women’, food, haircut, tips for music…” I read aloud before scowling. “He’s been out wasting his money on garbage…” I looked back at Loki, who was wagging his tail, and I instantly smelled something revolting.
I winced, and after a brief search, I found out it was the dog. “Why do you smell so bad?” I asked him as his tail stopped wagging. With everything going on, the last thing I needed was a flea infestation. After wrestling with Loki for about an hour, I finally got the leash around him, and he spent the entire time I had gone around the house, gathering things to wash him gnawing on the rope, hoping to get free. He didn’t stop, even as I dragged him from the house and into the forest. However, the amount of time it took to get to the river was much longer, because I always based it off the sound, and by the time I finally got to it, I knew exactly why.
The village decided to build a dam up the hill, stopping the water flow and causing the river to become silent. Now, it was more like a brook or bog with the now still water and the algae blooms. The once clear and sparkling water became a deep teal color. I frowned and knew that I wouldn’t be able to live off of the disgusting water, but I had two choices: sneak up the hill and steal some of the clean water or just work with the muddy water now. It was obvious, so I proceeded to tie the leash around one of the tree branches. Loki let out a low whimper in fear, and I pet him lightly. “It’ll be okay…” I cooed to him as he shook. He was never a fan of water, even for a dog. It was as though he had the level of fear a hydrophobic man had, willing to do anything to avoid it.
I proceeded up the hill, and I could hear things I rarely ever hear. Men and women speaking joyously. Laughter. Children playing. Approaching the dam, I realized just how large it was. It wasn’t taller than the trees, but it was wide with threatening looking, spiked logs. I got down low onto the ground with my bucket in hand and peered around the corner of the dam. On the other side were a few dozen people, all of which looked relatively happy for what they were doing. The women with their fancy bonnets and colored dresses spoke to one another about their housework and how amazing their children were doing in school. The men were digging along the other side of the hill towards the town. There was even a man playing the lute; he was a scrawny man with curly brown hair about as short as a child’s. He looked as though he wouldn’t be fit to dig either way. The children scurried about, chasing one another with sticks as though they were sword fighting. There were two little girls, maybe about five or six, who were sitting beside an old woman. She was showing them how to sew, and even for simply teaching them, the fabric was so much nicer than anything I ever used.
I swept my bucket into the water, and as the low plunk rang out, I whipped it out by the handle and held it close to my chest. Within the brief second of my dirty hand in the cool water, it felt as though I were touching heaven. Cleansing, relaxing, and a wonderful sign of hope in my life. I had begun to slide back out of sight when I felt a sharp poking on the back of my shoulder. My heart stopped, and realizing that I best not put off the inevitable, I looked over and saw three little boys, who all let out gasps in sync. I felt my face grow pale, and I began to shush them in a panic. “WITCH!” One of them screamed, pointing at me, and I scrambled to my feet. I quickly began to run with the bucket in my arms, only for me to be choked as someone grabbed the neck of my dress. I nearly dropped the bucket, and I clenched it tighter as I was forced to look over at an extremely tall man. He adjusted his hand so that his muscular fingers were digging into the back of my neck.
I winced as I felt my skin bruise, and he looked me up and down with his dark brown eyes. He began to drag me towards the groups of people, and I cried out for him to let me go. He ripped the bucket out of my arms and threw it to the side, water spilling into the vibrant green grass. “You want water?” He asked before throwing me forward and onto the now wet ground. “Here!” I looked back up at him, and he demanded that I lap up the water off the muddy ground. I felt my lower lip start to quiver, as much as I wanted to shout back, and he snapped at me again. Normally, if it were other women trying to do this, I would fight back. But this was a man! Not only would that be impossible, but it also wouldn’t result in anything good. If I were a woman able to stand up to a man, not only would I most definitely burned at a cross, but not even God would forgive me. Then again, he wouldn’t forgive me for the sinful thoughts I had of murder. I then thought: “Why not? I’m going to hell anyways…” I rolled off my knees and onto my back before kicking him with my heel, but he managed to block where I was aiming with my knees. He then grabbed my hair and slammed my face into the mud once more as though I were a dog.
I flailed my arms behind my head, trying to pull his hand away from me. It was hard to breathe, and as my arms started to slow, he ripped my head back up. My face was caked so heavily in mud that I couldn’t see. “Repent!” He screamed, and just as he was about to shove my face in the mud again, I felt him release my hand. I stumbled up onto my feet and took no time in running away. I scooped up the bucket and bolted as fast as I could down the hill. My vision was still blinded by the mud, and as I tried to wipe it away, I felt myself crash into a tree. I stumbled away, only for me to trip on one of the roots. I fell onto my side and proceeded to roll down the hill as though I were a jester simply running into all kinds of misfortunate events. By the time I finally stopped, my face was once again in the dirt, and I sighed before waiting for my dazed mind to slow down. My knees were still shaking as I got up. I spat out a bit of grass and looked over at Loki, who was a good several yards away. He was staring ahead towards the heavy woods on the other side of the brook, letting out low growls.
I dipped my hand in the water and washed the mud off as I walked back over to Loki. “Be careful.” I told him. “I already encountered a bear just now. Don’t want to see another one…” While I gave myself a slight chuckle, he only continued staring ahead in a way in which he does when he’s hunting and found an animal. I pet his head, but he didn’t acknowledge me. He then began to bear his teeth and snarl loudly, still staring in the same place. I looked over in the same direction to see only nothing. I frowned and thought that maybe I shouldn’t brush it off. I gathered the rest of my stuff and untied him from the leash. Before I could even grab it, he bolted off, and I panicked, dropping everything to dive for the leash. I only wrapped my index finger around it, so he was able to break free easily. I tried to dart after him again, and this time, I managed to wrap my arms around his waist. He jumped out of my arms and kicked me in the face with his hind legs as he jumped into the water.
I stood up and screamed for him to get back here. “LOKI!” I shrieked as I felt droplets of blood trickling down my face. I called him a bad dog as he climbed up onto one of the rocks in the middle of the water. It was too far for me to jump, so all I could do was hope the leash would float close enough for me to grab on. “GET BACK HERE!” I commanded, but he didn’t respond. He barked loudly at the water, which caused me to pause for a moment. He was snarling intensely as though there were something dangerous in the water. My heart started to beat faster as I thought of what might be under the surface. I then noticed the leash drifting towards me in the water. I snatched it up and yanked him towards me, causing him to fall into the water. I pulled at him as fast as I could, and the second he was close to me, I ripped him out of the brook, falling onto my back. His fur, damp from swimming, soaked my clothes deeply as I gripped him tightly from behind.
He began screaming, but instead of running back in the water, he was standing over me, almost protectively. When I managed to look past him, I saw a figure standing in front of me. It was covered head to toe in algae and roots. The only visible thing was the creatures eyes, which glowed a bright white. I shrieked loudly and scooped up Loki as fast as I could before bolting for the trees. He kept his head over my shoulder, snarling at the creature as I ran. My bare feet were stabbed by stickers, thorns, roots, and bark that had been shed by trees. My chest started to hurt, but I forced myself to keep running. I nearly slipped on an ant pile, covering my entire left foot in dirt and tiny red dots that wriggled around on my leg. Thousands of bites ran up my leg, but all I could think of was getting away from whatever I had just seen. Loki stopped making my ears ring with his barking, so my body used this as an excuse to slow down. The moment my feet stopped moving at the same pace, I collapsed into the grass. I panted heavily, my heart banging at my ribcage as though it were a cell it was trying desperately to get out of. Leaves stuck to my face with sweat acting as the adhesive, and as I gasped as though I were a fish out of water, I looked over at Loki, who was now standing straight up, staring back where we had come from to make sure whatever was there wasn’t following us.
After a moment, he looked over and sniffed at my face. He licked my cheek, and I smiled, petting his head. “T-thank you…” I managed to force out of my lungs. I sat up and dusted off the ants from my leg before the bites became too overwhelming. I stared back through the trees and thought for a moment. “H-hey…” I said, and Loki looked up at me with perked up ears. “Maybe it’ll go up the hill and kill the villagers…” I remarked. I then stood up, using a tree for support, and thought, “But seriously, that thing could be dangerous…” I looked down at Loki, who was wagging his tail lightly as though nothing had happened prior.
I’ve always told myself that I would never kill, as much as I think of it. But in my case, I have no real choice; I’ve lived in an abusive household for almost 18 years, lived through discrimination, and for all I know, it’s worldwide. And with whatever this thing is, thousands of ideas are popping into my head. Firstly: “What is it?”; secondly: “What will it do to people?”. And as I stare at the bow and arrow mounted on the wall, my mind races. If it were dangerous, which is most likely, then I showed I killed it, would people consider me a hero? Would I finally be free of oppression for being accused of being a witch? I grabbed the bow off the mantle and thought of how my father held it. He always had his feet shoulder-width apart, and the arrow was “knocked”, as he called it. I knew how he shot it, so there probably was no real difference between how I imagine it would be done and how it actually is.
The quiver was always by the fireplace, filled with several arrows, and I would sometimes stare at it on nights where I was so bruised I couldn’t move. I would imagine what it would be like to stab an arrow into his head as he slept. I would be arrested for murder, then burned on a cross. I would shudder and just go back to writhing in pain. As I threw the quiver over my shoulder, I found myself looking in the cracked mirror. Standing in the center was an emaciated woman dressed in much too baggy clothes. Her extremely long black hair reached down to the tops of her hips while her deep brown eyes looked stressed and tired. But that was okay. She was a woman. I scowled deeply at her. There was no way that a woman was going to be able to change people’s minds.
I threw the bow and quiver to the ground before stepping into the kitchen. I reached into a drawer and grabbed one of the larger knives. Not only would I kill the beast, but Anna would disappear entirely. I used my left hand to grab my hair and my right to hold the knife. I sliced off all of my hair as much as I could. 18 years worth of hair fell to the ground softly as though it belonged to an angel. I placed the knife down and looked at myself in the mirror. My face was dusted with red, highlighting my six freckles on my cheeks. They all resided between my eyes and my high cheekbones, watching as I tore off my dress and dragged out my father’s clothing. I pulled his armored clothes on, and within a few moments, I was no longer Anna Heino, but Joan of Arc. I stared at the nearly featureless man that stood before the mirror. His short, ragged hair lightly caressed his face, and his soft brown eyes scanned across the clothes he wore. It looked to have once belonged to a soldier who had fallen long ago.
Smiling softly, I grabbed the bow and told myself the game plan: kill the beast, enter town under a new name, and live this way with no debt and live as a soldier. Within my thoughts, I nearly slapped myself for not coming up with a name or story for myself. “My name…” I looked down at Loki, who would become my faithful hunting dog, and he only sniffed at my clothes on the ground, as though he were begging me to stop with my mental breakdown and just go back to dressing as I had before. “Lawrence…” I said to myself. “Lawrence Valentine…” I smiled softly as I began piecing together a story. “I used to live in America, but I ran away from home at a young age to become a mercenary, rather than a farmer. I come seeking fortunes.” I smirked and picked up the bow and quiver from off the ground and swung it over my shoulder. I untied Loki of the leash and stared out at the evening forest.
The moment I stepped out, I made a realization now. I am a man, now. I began to walk towards the brook, Loki trailing behind me. I pulled out the bow and kept it hanging by my side. “Loki,” I said to him. “We need to be quiet, okay…?” He didn’t respond, as expected, and I started thinking about if I should try doing anything with my voice. I have a naturally deep voice, but to men, it may seem a bit high pitched. I nearly bumped into a tree. Once I refocused myself, I realized just how loud the armor was jangling about. I frowned, but there was no turning back at this point. As I grew closer to the brook, I knocked an arrow and stopped at one of the trees. I kept myself hidden as I stared at the river that was dosed in a dim light from the sun that was barely peeking over the horizon. This made all of the trees in front of me appear black and the light to sparkle on the armor. I moved a bit so that I wouldn’t be as noticeable, and as I stared at the brook, I thought about the clothes I was wearing.
Father used to be a soldier, just like many of his friends, however he was terrible at his job. He would always skip out on work in order to flirt with women. That was how he met my mother, according to him. He was out one day behind one of the walls, and he noticed a woman with black hair and green eyes. He, of course, decided to flirt with her, asking if a little kitten lost their way home. He walked her to her house, and you can imagine what happened afterwards. When my mother realized she was pregnant, she told the soldier she had met with. According to him, she needed his financial help, so he agreed to marry her. However, that was the last week he was working. Soon, he was drifting from job to job, lazing about on every single one of them. They began arguing much more often, and it was a miracle I was born; however, he considered it a curse. He never said it sober, but he always said it every other time whenever he could.
Just then, I noticed a figure slowly crawling out of the water. I snapped out of my reflections and readied my bow. As it slunk up one of the rocks, I noticed that it was fiddling with something. I listened to the stretching of the bow as I steadied myself. I released the arrow, and it soared through the air, right into the grass two feet in front of me. Well, at least if I die, it’ll look like a put up some kind of a fight. I hid behind the tree and screamed at myself that I was so stupid. Loki took no time in jumping forward and running after the creature. I cried out: “NO!”, and I watched as the creature snapped its head towards us and crawl into the water with its tangled hair trailing behind it. I was frozen for what felt like hours as Loki barked at the water, then proceeded to approach me and lick my hand for reassurance. I finally glanced down at him and said in a weak voice: “…Loki…” He tilted his head, and I knew I didn’t have the heart to yell at him. All I did was say through gritted teeth: “We’ve been waiting here for two hours for the creature… And when it did show up… you scared it off…” I inhaled deeply and said that we were going home. “If I’m going to… do this… I need to get some kind of pack ready.”
Loki walked beside me as I approached our home, and I thought about what I was doing as I packed. Was I really going to do this? Abandon my identity for a possibly better life? I mean, it’s not like I have anyone who would care. Maybe Vera might, but it’s not like she would care if I die. It would be easier on her, not having to care for me all the time. Besides, she’ll fill the void with other friends she has. Not even the other women considered witches would really care. I sighed as I shoved the last thing into my knapsack and flipped it closed. As I threw my back over my shoulder, I noticed a single dresser drawer that caught my eye. It was barely touched, and looked almost brand new. I walked over to it and pulled open the drawer to reveal a single book. I lifted it up and pulled out a drawing my mother had made while she was pregnant with me. It was a drawing of her with my father in a field of flowers. He had said she loved lily-of-the-valley flowers, and was originally planning on naming me Lily. While they stood, smiling, I frowned. I readied my hands to tear my father out of it, but it was as though it were made of iron. I couldn’t bring myself to tear up my mother’s image of him. According to my father, she thought of him as a wonderful man, and while it may not be true, since it’s not from the most trustworthy source, I wasn’t going to chance it.
I put the picture back in the drawer and decided it would be best to just leave. Loki trailed behind me in the now dark house as I blew out all of the candles and stepped out into the night. I closed the door with a resounding click and looked out at Cullfield. Loki nudged my leg, and I sighed. I petted him and said to him: “No going now…” I looked down at him and asked, “How about we start our new life now?” He barked in response, and I looked back at the village. “Yeah, I think I’ll die too…”