A/N: This has got to be one of the funnest(not a word, I know, but I found it appropriate) stories that I've written. I really enjoy these fantasy pieces. Um, this one, you may find confusing, but if you give it time, it might be a good read. So, with that said, I hope you enjoy!


Jude

Chapter One

Old Jude had been out fishing the day summer had died into winter. His great, carefully woven net had just dipped into the water when the blue sky gave way to soft, gray clouds and large flakes of powdery snow began to fall. He looked around him, under bushy eyebrows, which were already coated in snow.

It was strange, yes, but new? Never. Old Jude pulled his net from the water and waited until the water froze over. It took a long time, until finally, a great shadow of ice fell over the Sharon River. He waited. Completely unaffected by the biting air, Old Jude gazed into the water, searching and seeking something familiar. It wasn't long before an ashen figure was seen floating below the ice, among the dozen of tiny, frozen blue fish.

The elderly man swiftly took an oar from the bottom of his boat and began to break the glacial barrier, making a long, oblong hole. The figure was approaching fast, much faster than his hands, that were worn from years of work, as he untangled the net he had hastily thrown into the boat. After undoing all the troublesome, complex knots, he slowly lowered the fishing tool into the opened ice. When the thing was caught, it took all his elderly strength to pull it up and into the boat.

Old Jude looked down at his prize. Uh huh. He knew it. A witch. Had the pointy ears and jewelry and everything. He shook his head. And it was such a pity.


His wife and children were waiting for him when he got home. Simmy and Jack were at the front room window, Daisy and Dawn were staring from their bedroom window, Liza and New Jude were nowhere to be seen, and Mrs. Old Jude was at the door, wailing.

"Quickly, Jude. The weather's getting worse--catch you any fish? My, what have you got on your back? Is that...is that a girl?" She stepped aside to let her husband through, then quickly shut the door and followed him into the kitchen.

He cleared away the three-violet centerpiece and laid the witch upon the table. Her long, deep golden hair, unaffected by the cold and water, hung gracefully over the sides of the table. The three beads of her necklace moved slightly. Behind him, his wife--Essie--gasped.

"A witch, she breathed. "I knew it. Children," she called aloud. "Children, come see! Your father has brought home a real witch."

The children came and crowded around the table, staring wide-eyed at the girl that rest on top of it.

"A witch? Is she really?"

"Of course she is, look at her ears, dimwit."

"Oh my! Is she dead, Old Jude?"

"Of course she is," answered the second child who had spoken. "It always turns dead winter when a witch dies."

"From June to January," agreed a new voice in the conversation. "How awful."

"So pretty, too."

"Pretty? You call that pretty? I think she's very ugly."

"Simmy!"

"What are you going to do with her, Father?"

"Give her a proper burial, that's what," Old Jude answered, somewhat steely.

"It's a shame the way they treat their own kind," said Essie, shaking her head. "But witches don't die often. I wonder why she passed, and so young."

"Maybe another witch got her," Simmy suggested excitedly.

"Or maybe a dragon," Dawn whispered, shivering.

"Witches don't battle dragons--elves do," Simmy corrected, irritated.

"Nuh uh, what about Windi-Jain the Third?" Daisy, who loved everything about the history of witches, asked matter-of-factly.

"Oh, she was a halfie--"

"So that still made her a witch."

"Has anyone seen New Jude today?" Old Jude asked suddenly, to prevent more fighting.

"He and Liza went to the city at dawn to sell Sosadd away," Jack spoke up, but barely. Sosadd was their old, black mare. Money was becoming so short in the Jude home that they had to start selling away certain things. Certain things like, an original painting by Essie's famous dead aunt painter, Daisy's book on literature, New Jude's willow-wood flute, Liza's pink crystal necklace, and of course, Sosadd, which was Old Jude's. Certain things of sentimental value.

"Oh that's right," the aging father replied calmly. "Ah well. Guess I'll move her to Jude's room on my own."

"Jude's room?" Essie gasped. "My dear, you can't be serious."

"That I am, blossom. Can't bury her right this minute, can I? I have to wait until the weather clears up."

"But where will he sleep?"

"He can squeeze in with Simmy and Jack."

"Oh darn," said Simmy. "That means no more bed time games."

"It means no more punches from you," Jack corrected cheerfully.

"Imagine," Daisy gleamed, "Jude's face when he finds a witch in his bed."

Turned out they didn't have to imagine. They saw for themselves. He thundered down the steps and stood towering inside the front room's doorway. Upon his face was a cold horror and not(to Daisy's fine disappointment) a hot anger.

"What's that thing doing in my room, Father?" he asked.

Old Jude rose from his rocking chair by the south window with a grunt.

"That thing," he said, standing tall, "is a dead girl and she's waiting for her burial."

"In my room?" Jude's disgusted voice was so high pitched that the children, and even Essie, covered their ears.

"It won't be long--one night at the extreme least, or until summer comes back."

"So, I suppose it's true." His voice was back to normal. "From June to January. Every time a witch dies. I though Mother Nature--"

"What's a witch doing in Jude's room?" Liza inquired, appearing beside her younger brother.

"What does it look like?" Simmy was clearly annoyed. "She's sleeping."

"I thought she was dead?" Dawn frowned, confused. Simmy put his head in his hands in frustration.

"Well, Father," Liza's voice was shrewd. "Why is there a witch in the house?"

"Because I want her here!" Old Jude exploded, his face very red.

"Oh my," Essie put her hand in her mouth, shocked at such an outburst from her husband. She expected such a cry from Ruth's mate, not hers.

"To think, I could have such children. Angered by witches. Tell me, what have they done to you?"

"They're sin, Father," Jude replied evenly. Liza nodded her head in consent.

" 'They're sin'," Old Jude mimicked. "Funny thing, sin is, my son. We are all sin."

"But we have salvation. They have damnation," Liza tried to reason by reciting a learned pious rhyme.

Old Jude looked to his wife.

"Oh my children. I wonder how they came to such thoughts."

Essie put up her palms. "Don't look at me, love. It's their new school teacher. What's his name, Daisy? Drily?"

"Kiley," the twelve-year-old answered, laughing. "Ryan Kiley. A complete nutcase, that one is."

"Why?" Jude asked sharply. "Because he's pious?"

"No," Daisy said. "Because I found a fairy novel in his drawer. How can you preach one thing and do another?"

"Ooh, that's called being a hierocrite," Essie nodded solemnly.

"Hypocrite, Mother," Daisy corrected and all the children laughed. Even Essie giggled.

"That means nothing," Jude retorted. "Sometimes you have to study the enemy to rebuke them."

"Believe what you want, New Jude," Daisy was just as relentless as he, "but I sill say he's mad."

"And say what you want," Jude shot back, "but I still believer he's a man of God."

At that moment, the front door swung open, followed by a long, deep wail. Everyone was silent, wide-eyed, spooked, and anxious. Jude spoke first.

"It doesn't pay to shelter a witch, now does it?"

Old Jude shrugged carelessly. "Just the wind"

Suddenly, all the windows in the house opened up, all on their own accord, and there came a pitchy shriek and a dreadful cold air. Everyone shivered. This was getting bizarre. Chills slid down all their spines and heartbeats skipped.

"She's doing this, I know it," Jude whispered loudly.

"But she's dead!" Dawn argued tearfully.

"Dead?" Jack was hysterical. "She's a terrible ghost and she's going to kill us all!"

And then, the fire died all at once. It was dark now, save the candles that Essie always kept lit in uncanny places. All was silent, except the consistent winter wind. Not even Jude uttered a word.

"Oh, Saaaraaah," cried a voice from upstairs. A voice full of despair.

Old Jude grabbed a small, think candle that burned underneath his rocking chair and made his way across the room, behind Jude and Liza, toward the stairs. He beckoned for the rest to follow. They went after him immediately with Essie dragging Jake along.

Jude's bedroom was the last room of the upper house. It was colder up there than downstairs, but not necessarily darker. A light was shining from Jude's room.

"It is her," Jude confirmed his own theory.

"Shh," hissed Simmy and they crept toward the eerie glow.

Old Jude halted when he got to the door. He put a finger to his mouth, telling them not to speak, then in one quick movement, threw open the door. The light didn't even shine in their faces as they had expected. Instead, the glow stayed inside the room as if frightened of the dark. But the sight was as ghastly as they had anticipated and despite themselves, they gasped.

The witch was sitting straight up in Jude's bed. The window was opened, but there was no wind. Yet, the girl's hair blew wildly about her. She was staring straight ahead of her with big eyes and a dropped jaw, screaming a silent cry. Her cheeks were wet and on the floor beside the bed was her necklace, broken, the beds scattered.

It was horrific to see a person in that state, a real nightmare. Anyone could tell the girl was going through some pain. So heartbreaking.

Old Jude stepped into the room. The response was immediate. The window closed, the girl fell backwards upon the bed, and the sun came out. And the all knew. The witch was not dead.