An image floated before my eyes, misty and unclear. I recognized Tom Clark, lying in a bed. Wires ran from his body to machines and a slow, steady beep filled the silence. Kyra sat next to him, holding his hand while tears slipped down her cheeks. I tried to reach out to her, but there was more than distance between us. Tom's eyes fluttered open and a sense of serenity washed over me. At least he would be alright, they would be alright. She loved him as he had always loved her and as I loved him as well.
The image faded into black and I opened my eyes once more. Turning my head in the darkness I watched as a glimmer of light grew from the staff still gripped in my hand. I was engulfed in a kaleidescope of color, falling still, but the water was gone, replaced by wisps of swirling wind. There were voices everywhere, whispering and shouting, laughing and crying, loving and hating. I gasped for breath and reached out for help, but there was only the blur of spinning, flickering lights and the rush of cold wind. It was but a second of eternity before it was over and I came crashing down onto solid ground.
The flickering colors of light all turned orange. Sparks of flamed kissed the night sky and logs of burning wood crackled in the heat. The warmth lured me closer, washing away the cold of a winter's night that had settled on my skin. I breathed air once more and watched as the frosty bits of my breath floated away, passed the flame of fire. Bright stars above, winked at me.
Through the crackle of flame, a girl's finger pointed at me and her voice screamed, "Witch! Witch!"
I rose up on my knees thinking to calm the terrified child, only to realize we were not alone. In the darkness I saw their faces like masks at a masquerade. White eyes in the black of night, stared at me. Men's eyes, greedy eyes, lustful eyes, all of them surrounded me. It was only then I realized I was naked."Arrest her," A man said and hands grabbed my shoulders from behind.
I pulled away. Every reflex told me to run and so I tried. I nearly made it to me feet, but before I could gain any traction hands were grabbing once more. The fire laughed at my futile attempt at escape. A proud little girl smirked at me. My head rocked with the blow of a blunt object and everything swirled away to emptiness.
The world continued to spin when I opened my eyes once again. Warmth had abandoned me and my skin prickled beneath rough material. I pushed myself upward from proneness and wished the world to remain steady and still. It was a nice, but futile thought. Unwisely, I shook my head to clear it.
"It's best to lie still for a bit," A kind woman said, gently pushing me back down.
"Where am I?" I asked.
"Jail, my dear," The woman replied.
"What happened?" I asked.
"They found you in the woods," She said. "Dancing naked by a fire or so I hear."
"I wasn't dancing," I said.
She smiled and said, "But you were naked?"
Ruefully, I nodded and said, "Unfortunately. I don't know how I got there, here."
"The Proctor's daughter, no doubt," She said.
"Who?" I asked.
"It doesn't matter," She said, sitting down beside me. "My name is Hester."
I hesitated a moment, considering the unfamiliarity of my situation and the choice of names I could give. In the end it was instinct rather than planning which ruled my decision. I said, "Virginia," and offered her my hand in friendship.
She grasped my hand and said, "I don't recall seeing you around before."
"That's because I haven't been here before," I said.
"A new arrival? It's a pity this is what we've become," She said, turning away from me and staring at the heavy, wood door beyond the bars. "We used to have such a nice town, welcoming any and all. I'm sorry you've been pulled into all this."
"I don't understand," I said. "What's happening here?"
"They'll come for our confessions in the morning," She said.
"Confessions? What are we accused of?" I asked.
"We're witches my dear," She said.
I blinked. I said, "That's preposterous."
"Of course it is, but there is no going back now," She said.
"But I'm not a witch," I said.
"Nor am I," She said, "but when the inquisitor comes in the morning I will confess, as should you."
"I won't confess," I said. "I'm not a witch."
"You can give your confession freely or they will beat it out of you," She said. "Either way, you will confess. It's best to save yourself what pain you can."
"How can you say that?" I asked.
"If you confess quickly, they are more likely to be merciful and merely hang you, but if you resist," She said, laying a sympathetic hand on my shoulder, "they will burn you at the stake."
"This can't be happening," I said.
Hester laughed without humor and said, "Welcome to Salem."