I could feel their eyes on me, all the eyes of the people we walked past. Our new neighbors were weird, just watching my Mama and me. No one back home would stare at us like this. I don't think that I'm that fun to look at. I asked Mama why so many people were staring at us, but she only told me to keep my voice down.
"I don't like it here, Mama, when are we going back home?" I pulled on her dress while she was doing something in the kitchen.
"This is our home, now go feed the chickens and let Mama do her work." She handed me a heavy bag and sent me out the door. I tried to ask her again after I feed the chickens, but all she did was give me another chore.
I don't want this to be my home. All of my friends are gone, and no one here wants to talk to me. I try and ask all the grown-ups what they are doing, but they just turn away and pretend they didn't hear me. The only adult who would talk to me was the man who wore long clothes and worked at the church. He just told me to listen to God, but I don't know who he is. I asked him to show me where he lived, but he just started saying things I didn't understand, so I just nodded and left.
"Why is this our new home, Mama?" I asked as I was being tucked into bed.
"We can live a better life in the Colony, now sleep my child." She kissed my forehead before blowing out the candle and crawling in next to me. I wanted to ask her more questions, but she looked too tired. I wanted her to sleep instead.
The next day Mama sent me out of the house and told me to make some friends. All the grown-ups looked at me weird again and still didn't answer any of my questions. The man from the church was walking towards me, so I ran the other way. Today I was tired of hearing things I didn't understand.
Over one of the hills was three kids, they were playing by a river that flowed into a forest with tall trees. I ran over to them, and they immediately let me join in on their games. We ran around and chased each other, seeing who could run the longest before falling over. The other girl got tired, so she called me over, and we started playing with the flowers that grew in the meadow and started weaving them together into crowns. A couple of minutes later, the boys came too, but instead just peeled petals off the flowers.
"Have you ever been into the forest before?" Jeremy asked. He was the boy with fluffy black hair.
"My Papa told me to stay away from the forest if I want to live," Mary snapped back, looking over at the trees with a face that twisted in weird lines. "I don't want the Black Witch to turn me into a soup and eat me."
"The Black Witch? Is she one of the Indians?" I asked Mary. She looked at me with wide eyes and a big smile.
"You haven't heard of the Black Witch?" I shook my head, confused about why she asked me when I already told her the answer.
"So, who is she?"
"She used to live here in the village, before any of us were born." Ernest butted in, pushing past Mary so he could be in the middle. "Everyone knew she was weird, always staying by herself in her house and making soups that had strange smells to them. At the same time, some kids were going missing, walking into the forest, and then never coming out."
"And then one day," Mary interrupted, taking back her spot. "She was walking through the forest, and a priest caught her talking with the devil in the river! He said that the devil was helping her catch children so she could make them into soup!"
"What did they do to her?" I could feel my fingers moving weird from the feelings the story gave me.
"They tied her up and lit the fire to burn the devil out of her," Jeremy said solemnly while the others nodded. "The ashes seeped into her skin, so it turned black. That's why she is called the Black Witch."
"But if she was burned and died, why would she be in the forest?"
"When they were burning her, a big wave of water came from the river and pulled her to the forest." Mary glanced one last time at the forest before going back to her flower crown. It was so pretty already. "They say the devil is hiding in that forest, so no one can go in."
"Now, when we get rid of the witches, we chain them up and send them down the river, so the devil doesn't leave the forest." Jeremy finished. I squinted my eyes and stared deep into the forest to see if I could spot any evil, but there were only overgrown trees.
"I'm tired of talking about the forest," Ernest complained as he rose from his spot. "Let's play another game, I know a perfect one." The rest of us followed, but not before Mary could place her yellow and orange flower crown on my head. With that, we continued on with our playing, with no more talk of the devil forest.
Somedays, I wished I never told my Mama about the rumors of the devil forest. I know eventually, the townsfolk would have told her after they got past their suspicions. I still wish I didn't because I would have had time to seek further into it. Often I pass the forest entrance when I grab water from the river for our washings. Every time I leave the house with the bucket in hand, she repeats the same warning.
"Don't stay too long near the forest, it's not safe for little girls."
I always want to tell her that I am no longer a little girl, I can stand taller than her shoulders now, but I already know what she would say. I cannot lie about going near the forest, for the river entrance is behind our garden. I can see her flowing dirt-covered dress from the base of the river. I can almost see the caring look in her eyes.
Over and over, I have heard the forest's warnings, but that doesn't stop me from venturing. Some days when I walk past the river, I can listen to a voice of silk. There are no words I can understand, but the sound that filled my ears is the sweetest fruit. I can only hear it when I stand in place while the sky is still, for it is the faintest beauty.
I would love nothing more than to bring my Mama and asked her if she could hear it as well, but I already know how that would turn out. She already asked me why I bother to stop and listen to nothing, so I tell her it is a bird's song.
I awoke this early morning to my only chance. Beside me was my mother, still asleep under the light of the moon. I stepped over each squeaky board with nothing more than my nightgown and left through the front door. There was nothing but silence as I walked across the field, feeling the damp earth beneath my feet.
Once I reached the bank of the river, I heard the voice. Though I still knew no words of the call, it was more apparent than ever. Walking along the edge towards the devil's forest entrance, my heart fluttered with excitement and fear. Never before had there been life spotted in this river, but right at the entrance was something.
It sparkled like a thousand suns within the water, a beauty my eyes had never seen before. There was nothing more I wanted than to reach out and touch the forbidden shine. As I got closer, a shape formed under the water. At first, it was nothing more than a blob of light under the water, but soon enough, I could see…the tail of a large fish…could it be?
"What are you doing?" A hand grabbed onto mine and pulled me away from the light. I turned to see Jeremy staring at me, his face painted with confusion. "Are you crazy, following the calls of the devil?" I looked back at the water, but it was nothing but black. Did I imagine the whole thing?
"I'm not sure what I was doing," I lowered my head, feeling shame pull me down. "Please don't tell. I wish not to get into trouble."
"It's okay," Jeremy started, letting go of my hand. "I won't tell anyone, but only if you promise not to do it again." I looked back out at the river again, my mind not knowing what to say.
"I promise," I sighed. I felt a weight come off my head, but the words still made my heart twinge.
"That's good, I don't know what I would do without you." Jeremy finally smiled before offering his hand up. "May I please walk you home?"
"Are you sure it is safe to do this?" I asked Jeremy, his eyes staring down beyond my skin.
"You worry too much. Trust me, everything shall be fine." He reached out for me and repeated the act he has done time and time before.
My mind is always plagued with fear when Jeremy approaches me in this fashion, behind the vows of his wife, Mary. With every beat of pleasure comes a wave of regret, the morning after as I chat with Mary as she tends to the animals.
Perhaps my guilt was too much for my poor body to handle, so it forced its way out to show my shame. The blood had stopped flowing, and my stomach could not take a night of sleep. I knew I could not keep it secret much longer. For now, my stomach lay flat, but soon it will present the child I'm carrying. The next night Jeremy came by, I broke and wept to him and told him the truth I had been hiding.
"Please, Darling, do not cry like this. I will fix this, I promise." Jeremy wiped my face before pulling me in close. I knew I could not release my worry; Jeremy was capable of no miracles. Once word was out that I had slept with a married man, I would lose everything.
I waited two months for Jeremy to fulfill his promise, but it seemed he had forgotten completely. Mary still spoke with me, but Jeremy avoids me like poison. The more time passed, the more I worried about my fate.
I went to Mama's resting place to seek her guidance. I spoke to her my sorrows and begged for help in any form that could be provided. It was only when I was silent, did I hear my answer. It was a soft voice, smooth as silk coming from beyond hill, by the river that entered the forest.
Years of silence from the beautiful song, and now it appears when I cry for it the most. I raised myself up and stepped forward towards the river, but a hand reached out for mine.
"They are calling everyone to the church, it's urgent that you come," Ernest told me, his eyes wavering with nervousness that wasn't well hidden. I turned back to the river, but the voice had gone silent. I followed behind Mark while promising myself I would return to the voice that night. Once I entered the church, three people rushed at me. In their hands were cold chains, wrapping them around my body.
"What are you doing! Chain me, please! I beg of you!" My chest started to hurt from the sheer weight of the chains. I could feel them already taking my breath.
"Quiet, Witch! We shall no longer be a victim to your power!" The priest shouted, gaining the support of the townsfolk behind him. All of their eyes fell on me, holding the same look of disgusted they did when I first came off the boat.
"Witch? I am no witch, I have no such powers! I beg of you to believe me!" I look around and see nothing but cold faces. Far in the corner was Mary and Jeremy. Mary had tears in her eyes, but Jeremy refused to look at me. "Jeremy, please, tell them I am no Witch!"
"You can not hide it anymore," Jeremy started, walking closer to me but still avoiding my gaze. "It is there for all to see, a child you are carrying with no husband or father to help you! Only a witch could bear a child on her own!"
More yells echoed from the crowd as they demanded my death, but I had no voice left in my throat to fight it. I could feel hands grab at the chains and pull me out the door, but I had nothing in me but more sorrowful tears. Towards the river, we went right to the spot I had cherished as a child.
"Tonight we shall send this witch back to the devil, we will no longer allow him to taint our souls!" I raised my head one last time to look at Jeremy, at he stared right at me. His eyes were hollow, and lost all love they held before when he was with me. It was the last thing I saw before being pushed into the river.
The cold water burned my skin, my chest stabbing with pain from the water's weight and the chains. The voices above were nothing but muffled, the lanterns above sparkles through the surface of the river. I was ready to give up and let the river consume me when I heard the voice again, that beautiful call now clearer than ever.
Coming from the forest river was the sparkle I had seen before, closer and closer it got, I could see the face of a woman and a fish's tail. I could do nothing but stare in awe as she grabbed the chains around me and pulled me deeper into the forest. I was so enchanted by this creature's beauty that I had forgotten my desperate need to breathe. Soon after she pulled me up from the water, I started puking up water while she undid the chains.
"Thank you," I hissed while my throat burned, doing my best to show my appreciation to this marvelous creature. She held herself above the water, allowing me to better see her under the swaying sun's light. Her skin was whiter than the snow in winter, her hair matching the same hue. Her tail was long and was white as well, except for a slight shimmer of blue.
I had so many questions to ask, both old and new, but the only thing I could seem to produce were weak thanks. After the chains were removed, she looked behind me and did a wave of her arms.
"What do you have here, Sova?" Said a voice from behind me before a hand reached down to my shoulder. Next to me was an older woman, with aged skin that wore a pattern of white and dark colors. It was etched together, creating a piece of art right on her skin.
"The Black Witch?" I whispered before I could even think about what I was saying, but luckily the woman laughed.
"Yes, that's what that village calls me. You can call me Mona." I nodded and repeated the name again, liking how it sounded. "How about we take you inside and make sure that child is taken care of?"
"Are you sure?" I hesitated. "This child was created from unholy actions."
"All children are holy in my eyes. Trust me, I have lots of experience raising children." She helped me to my feet and guided me along the river, bringing me to a place more magical than I had ever seen before. If only the other could accept such beauty.