Tenderly Turned to Dust

         Black cloaks broke free from the darkness, skimmed across the moonlit snow—darkness made corporeal. Through the silent night, they heard the singing. Each swearing in their hearts by all that was holy—and all that was not. The song was one they all knew, whispered over the heads of sleeping children to send them off safely into their dreams.
         Accusations of blasphemy fell from several lips, to mix with the scent of pitch. The single lantern was shuttered, protecting the small flame from darkness and the mob from discovery. The little cabin was dark except for the faint glow of firelight; it lit the snow outside crimson and orange and threw the shadows of those inside into leaping giants.
         “Hush, my darling one.” the young woman inside brushed the fair hair back from the red, scrunched face of the restless infant.
         She could hear the footsteps crunching through the coating of frost, the hammering of hate-filled hearts, the burning blood of misplaced vengeance. She knew they would come. The symbol scratched on her door, the whispers in the town streets where the black mud crept through the white frosting of pure snow like disease through healthy flesh. She began to hum again until the little one’s face smoothed and the feathery eyelashes floated down to rest on apple-round cheeks. The child did not rouse when she brushed a long finger over the soft forehead, the downy face.
         There was a thump and a hiss as the first torch flew through the air, a comet of ill will. It fizzled out in the snow, but was soon followed by a rain of flaming brands. One landed on the roof and found thatch. It kindled, caught. The hooded cloaks fell away from their faces, contorted in glee. Their eyes lit with the red blaze of fervor, mirroring the writhing flames. The thatch crackled and crisped, the homey sound of a hearth-fire on a snowy evening. The roof crumbled in a shower of sparks that rose and mingled with the cold stars, immovable witnesses. As the little house disappeared in the tongues of flame and blazed hot, the attackers drew back from the leaping fire, watching as everything within was consumed. They heard no more singing.
         The sun rose over the smoking ruin and brought with it a chill wind that blew the dead leaves and drifts of snow over the bare black bones of beams and walls. The men and women that observed the wreckage no longer wore their cloaks and the pale dawn sun bleached their faces bone white. The swirling eddies of snow curled around the smoldering embers, quieting them into coals. The light-fingered wind blew, and brushed away the footprints that led away into the silent, black woods.

8 thoughts on “Tenderly Turned to Dust

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