Aabraham didn’t come back to town. The moment he went up the mountain, he didn’t come back. But he did decide to make a ruckus before he disappeared, calling out to everyone that the witch on the mountain was the one who was taking people. “She’ll come after your children next!” He shouted at the women. “She’ll burn down your houses!” He cried out to the men. I stood by as they all began speaking to one another with empty promises, like “Let’s form a mob and burn her house down!” or “We should tie her to a cross and burn her!” A lot to do with fire. Some people even came to me, telling me to go with him to help, but I simply said that he wished to do it alone. He wouldn’t want to see me after what I’ve done.
Now that he’s been gone for several days, panicked people have tried coming to me to find him. I would only ask for how much, and they would curse at me, claiming that we were friends. With each passing day, people continued going missing. I no longer spoke to any of the people in town. Instead of a hero, I was right back where I began. People throwing rocks at me as I pass and crying out for me to leave town. I finally looked at Loki, who was no longer as energetic as he had been before. He’s starting to get old, and it makes me think about how long I’ve been here. Maybe I should leave…
I began having a hard time sleeping. I keep feeling as though someone were always around, waiting for me to close my eyes. One morning, as I laid with Loki on my stomach, I thought to myself that I really do need to solve whatever was going on. It would solve some of my issues with the people around me, and I may be able to sleep again. I may not be able to stop prejudice afterwards, but I need to do at least something. I pushed a sleepy Loki off of me and I thought of what I should do.
For the first time in days, I stepped outside of the house. It was especially hot and sunny this day, and as the light beat down onto me, I was about ready to explode. I finally made it to a tiny hut on the edge of town, partially hidden by the trees. “The Witch Hut” read the sign; the owner always thought the whole mccarthyism was stupid, and decided to make fun of it. That’s why I liked him. The old man had a sense of humor during these times. I stepped in to the hut, and he was sitting at the counter, reading a book. “Ah, Lawrence…” He said, resting a bookmark between the pages and cushioning it as the cover closed. “How are you doing?” He asked, and I shrugged. “A bit stressed.” “Understandably.” He claimed, pulling off and cleaning his glasses on his apron. “The town’s in a bit of a huff over you not being their slave.” He joked. I gave a small laugh and said, “Yeah… Loki is starting to get a bit old, so I’m a bit worried about him.” “Ah, well the old dog did a lot for ya.” He said, putting his glasses back on.
I nodded and said, “Yeah, but I really think I should try figuring out how people are disappearing. Hopefully, that’ll prevent angry mobs from chasing me down.” He laughed and put a hand on my shoulder. “Well, I don’t know how I’ll be able to help.” I looked over at his medicines, and before I could say anything, I heard the door open behind me. I looked over and saw Vera, who was a bit taken aback as she saw me. “O-Oh…” She mumbled, and I gave her a small smile. “Hello, madam?” The old man greeted, asking if she needed anything. He took his hand off my shoulder, and I stepped aside as he helped her. I simply stood by, looking at the many bottles of different liquids. They were whispering to one another when the old man called out, “Lawrence?”
Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the two of them now looking at me. “This woman is wanting to find her family. Maybe it’s the same person?” I then looked at Vera, who avoided my gaze. “So we should work together?” I asked, and he nodded. “I think it would be nice to not be alone.” He responded. I looked back at Vera and said that it would be nice. “You have more of a connection with others.” I said, and she only fiddled with her hands. “O-okay…” She mumbled. “Because you helped me…” I then smiled and nodded. “Alright, let’s go.” I say, walking over to the door. I held the door open for her, and she walked out. “I’m looking for my husband and son…” She said, and I said that I had heard when I helped her at the church. She then seemed a bit closer as we began walking through town. “You have any theories?” I asked her.
She shook her head and said, “No, but I know a few things for sure.” She then looked up at me and said, “When it first began, it was mostly not well liked people.” She looked forward as she walked, claiming, “First, it was that Sofia wench, then–” “Actually,” I looked over at her. “There was a man before her. He lived in the mountains, I think.” She then proceeded, “Ok, so him, her, then after the tavern incident, more people like that Lucia woman and Aabraham have gone missing. But those last two…” She brought her hand up to her face as she played with her lip. “They were actually well liked. And that bard at the tavern went missing…” “He went to visit his family.” I explained. “The others, I’m on the same level as you.” She then sighed and looked over at me. “It’s not any of the witches, if that’s what your thinking.” I scowled and said that I didn’t believe in any of that. “I know it’s not any of them.” She only stared at me before saying, “Fine…” She kept walking before saying that she would ask around if there were witnesses. “You may want to stay out here.” She insisted. “They’re kinda scared of you, so…” I sighed, but begrudgingly agreed with her.
I plopped down by the alley and stared out into the forest. She eventually came back out and retold me everything she learned. “Late at night…” She began. “Some of the women said that they would usually see the people who went missing walking outside. They were acting extremely weird, they said.” “Weird, how?” I asked. “Like they’re sleepwalking.” I gave an odd look and asked what else they had said. “Nothing else as solid. Some say they see someone with them, others say they were alone, a couple said after the tavern burned down, they saw dozens of people walking in a compacted crowd. Just crazy stuff…” I then frowned and asked if they had any ideas why they were disappearing. “Some say it’s karma or a punishment. They don’t know for what, but most of them hope its because of how they were treated. ‘It’s an act of God’ some say.” I raised my brows and said, “So nothing solid.” I then thought for a brief moment, and I even felt bad for a moment, but I quickly denied it as I thought it was for everyone else. “Um… Vera?” I asked.
“What would you do if I said that you should be bait?” “…I would kill you…” “No, seriously. You recreate everything they had done, and if it was karma, it may lead to something similar happening.” “So sacrifice? Yeah, I would still kill you.” “No, I’ll be watching, and I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you.” She stared at me for the longest time. “Promise?” “Promise.” She then gave a small nervous smile before muttering, “I’m gonna die…” I smiled in response and said that she would be fine. “Alright, well I have to write my will before I do that…” She joked. “In all reality, I’ll see if I can find anything else about the people.” I nodded and said that would be helpful. “We’ll try it tomorrow night, yeah?” I asked, and she agreed. “Sure…” She then went into the alley, and I began walking home.
As I cooked, occasional glops of batter or vegetables would drop to the ground, and Loki would scurry over and eat it. “You fatty…” I joked, nudging him with my foot. He rolled onto his side, and I pet his belly with my foot as I continued cooking. I kept moving around until eventually collapsing in the kitchen chair with food in front of me. Loki came over and stood on his hind legs before placing his front paws on the table. “Loki…” I began, and he snapped up a meat pie. “LOKI!” I shouted as he ran off, and I quickly chased after him. After rounding the corner, I saw him climbing in a hole in the wall I had never noticed before. I got onto my knees and crawled after him, asking where he was going. It was pitch dark, and I was worried as I moved blindly through. Eventually, I felt my hands on his fur, but he growled deeply and snapped at me.
I pulled away and snapped back, “What is wrong with you?!” Just then, as I brought my hand away, I felt something small and furry. At that moment, my heart stopped at the sound of a soft yipping noise. “L-Loki…” I whispered to him… “What have you done while I was out??” He didn’t respond, and as I reached for one of the fluff balls, he no longer protested. I began to crawl backwards out of what felt like a tiny tunnel until eventually I was free. I held up my hand, and in my palm was a small puppy with brown eyes much too large for its head. It was not a pure elkhound, but instead was a mix between his breed and what looked to be a malamute. There was only one malamute dog in Cullfield that was a stray, and it was a female. “Loki…” I said in a low voice, and he came crawling out. I could smell the meat pie off the puppy as I asked him how old they were. They looked to be only about a month or two old.
I sighed and told him that we have to sell or give them away. “I can’t take care of all of you…” He gave a low whimper as I sat the puppy down. It gnawed at my pinkie as I peeked back inside of the hole. With the light, I could see it does in fact go deeper than where I had gone. “What is in there?” I asked him, and Loki only gave a little sneeze. I glanced back in and said that I didn’t feel safe going in there. “Should I just board it up?” I asked him, and sure enough, he walked back into the hole and began setting his puppies back out of the hole. I improvised with firewood for the oven as I boarded up the hole as best as I could. “Why was it there?” I asked myself. “Do we have badgers in here?” I asked him, and he only stared at me with tired eyes. I sighed and responded, “Yeah, we better sleep…” I scooped up the puppies and carried them to my room.
I plopped all six of them on the bed and crawled under the sheets. The tiny pups walked about, curious of their new surroundings. I turned off the lantern and rolled over, trying not to crush any of the dogs. They eventually rested around me, making me constantly worried I would roll over and crush them. I was still struggling with sleep, and in addition to this stress, it didn’t make it any easier. I finally fell asleep, but it was only for about four hours before I woke up to terrible smells.
After cleaning up the dogs, I plopped them back on to the bed when I heard something outside. I paused and tuned in as best as I could, but I had to go to the window to see what it was. I could see Vera out, walking across the street. I was about to dismiss it as nothing when I saw just how oddly she was moving. It looked extremely forced and almost as though she didn’t want to move whatsoever. I scowled as I thought of her words as they echoed through my head. I then ran outside into the warm moonlight, and I saw her moving further down the street. I began to run towards her, and as I got closer, I reached out to grab her when a sudden black figure came out and smacked me across the face, knocking me out.
I woke up to the feeling of blood trickling out of my nose, and I sat up, wiping the liquid off as best I could. As I felt my nose, I quickly realized it was broken. I began to panic as I looked around, hoping no one saw me. Disoriented, I tried to bolt to the house, but I instead dove for the tree line. I nearly hit myself as I realized my mistake and watched as people walked by. I sighed in frustration, and as a clicking noise was heard in my head, I thought about what I saw last night. My heart sank as the worst thoughts popped up into my head. By the time the road was empty, which didn’t take too long, I practically dove into the house, got dressed, and bandaged my nose. I stepped back out and closed the door behind me. I could hear Loki scratching at the door, but I kept running. I bolted as fast as I could to Vera’s home, and after trying the door, kicked the door in. “VERA?!” I called out loud enough for anyone to hear. It was silent, and my heart panicked.
I sprinted up the stairs, calling out to my friend until my voice became hoarse, and even then, I didn’t stop looking for her until I collapsed down onto her couch. I could hear her voice echoing in my head: “Promise?” “Promise.” I could feel my heart shaking as I struggled to not cry. I pushed myself off the cushion and walked out, thinking that I needed to find her. “I honestly didn’t really care about the others…” I thought. “But Vera was there before…” I walked back to where I saw her last night, and I looked at the dried blood that was stuck between the crevices of the cobblestone road. I looked where she was standing, and I was about to tell myself that there was nothing when I noticed tiny dots of blood. I stood up and walked over to the tiny trail, which moved over to a bunch of bushes by the trees. I looked in and noticed a large shovel, the back of it having blood dried on it. I frowned and noticed more of a trail going further into the forest. I followed as best as I could, paying attention to all of the leaves around me to see if there was another trail. It eventually became more faint and spread out until it completely stopped, leaving me in between the trees.
I kept looking around, trying to find one I had missed, but it was all gone. I sighed deeply and thought that it must’ve been from the person that had knocked me out. I felt my nose, and the moment my fingertips touched the bridge, I recoiled in pain. It felt like a thousand tiny knives stabbing into me. The pain did not fade away quickly, so I decided I may not be in the position to find this person, as much as I want to. Besides, the mosquitoes keep trying to bite me, no matter how much I kicked at their nests that lined the trees. I swatted them all away as I walked home, defeated and scared for Vera and where she might be. After letting the puppies out, I thought about whether or not the alchemist had anything he could do to help me with my broken bone. I had to force the puppies away from each other practically every time they started playing instead of going to the bathroom, as much as I loved listening to them yip at one another. I eventually let them back into the house, and they all began playing again, running around and nibbling things. I sat down onto the ground and pet them all, smiling so much it hurt my nose, but I couldn’t help but think about Vera and what she may be going through.