Laura only needed to wait a day after that, for the priest was as good as his word (whatever that might be worth.) The pyre was set up the next day, although Laura could see from her window that it was a sad pyre indeed. A lone, skinny stake rose from the ground, and a few sorry faggots lay around it. Laura hoped the small means of her execution wouldn't serve to discredit the miracle at all; should anyone accuse her escape of being too easy, Laura didn't know how she'd respond.
She wore a simple white shift. Uncertain as to whether her clothing would survive the flames, Laura saw no point in destroying a perfectly good dress. When dawn's first seeking rays painted the town blue, the priest led her out to her fate.
Even so early in the morning, when animals howled to be fed and cows mooed to be milked, a large crowd had turned out for an event. Laura supposed a great many of them hoped to witness a miracle. She supposed there was little point in skipping the event, even for those who didn't believe her words. No witch had been burnt in the village in recent memory, and even if Laura proved false, the story of the burning of a wicked woman would scare children and entertain drunk friends on any night.
Laura kept her head held high as she crossed through the crowd. As she walked, she muttered prayers under her breath. These weren't the prayers she'd said with the priest; now was hardly the time for an easy discussion with God. Surely He wanted to hear none of that when He was about to work a truly miraculous work. Instead, Laura recited the few, short prayers she knew. They weren't long, and so she repeated them many times in order to fill the walk.
Laura reached the stake, and turned to face the whole crowd assembled before her. The priest read the charges with a shaking voice. She knew he still felt wrong about what he was going to do. Laura longed to give him a word of comfort or strength, but she knew she couldn't do such a thing when all the people were assembled. It was a strange thought, for she didn't mean to hide anything, but she just knew it would be wrong to reassure the priest.
In another moment, everyone stared at her, and Laura knew they were waiting for a speech. She didn't know what to say, so she just said, "Do what you must."
The priest nodded, and lifted a burning faggot. Laura hadn't seen him light it, but she gasped with the same surprise and fear that was echoed by all those assembled. A moment later, the priest touched the flame to her faggots, and Laura looked up, waiting.
The fire spread more quickly than Laura had ever seen it spread in her own fireplace, and she felt the heat against her face, although it still smoldered underneath her feet, worming its way around the pole but still staying far back from her skin.
Another glance up, and Laura waited for the skies to part, and for the angels to descend. Piorch had promised her salvation. She stared at the clouds, and as the fire started to tickle her feet, she started to be afraid. The heat hadn't yet reached the pain level, but she tensed in anticipation of what was sure to come.
After all, she knew she'd survive, but she didn't know it would be painless.
The clouds came apart, and a shaft of light fell upon the crowd. At first, Laura thought it might just be the sun's light, but as a roar rose from the crowd, she realized it was something more. Laura looked up, and saw that Hiendon's ship was lowering.
Laura smiled, and smoke roiled around her, black and billowy. She sweat, but the beads of water evaporated before they could cool her. Any moment, though, and she'd ascend to the space ship, and everything would be right.
"No!" her mother wailed, perhaps as she realized that her deceptions had all been for naught. "No!" she repeated. "Stop this!"
Ma pushed her way to the front of the crowd. Doris was a step behind her. Laura saw them come, but paid them little attention. Instead, she kept her gaze upward, and her heart set on God. Any moment now, and she'd be free.
Still the crowd stirred and roiled. Laura saw her Pa, but she couldn't make out his facial expression, because the air itself seemed to melt in front of her. She hoped he beamed with pride, but her hopes faded as she heard his voice raised with the others. "Let her go! This is wrong!" he cried.
Laura opened her mouth to tell them not to worry. She was certain that God would guide her words, ad maybe a hopeful Bible verse or story would rise to mind. When she tried to take a breath and speak, however, she choked on the dryness of her throat, and began to cough.
It was then that everything became truly strange. The world spun around her in a dizzying and disconcerting way, and to Laura, nothing really seemed important any more. She realized that she'd been standing stiffly against the stake in a way that made her back ache, so she relaxed and slumped, loosing herself in the black smoke that roiled around her in such a way, even the flames below were obscured.
A moment later, her bindings fell away, and Laura recognized that this was the miracle she'd been hoping for. She tried to take a step forward and show her freedom to all assembled, but instead of taking a step, she drifted away. Her body was light as air, and not heavy enough to hold her down on earth any longer.
As Laura drifted up toward the spaceship, she saw that the stake was now entirely engulfed in fire. To those who watched, it probably looked like she'd been burned alive. What a ridiculous assumption, but Laura couldn't change anyone's mind, now. She was on her way to Hiendon's ship, and for some reason, nobody could see it but her.
While Laura drifted away, she saw that Ma and Pa were crying. They'd found one another from opposite sides of the crowd, and they held each other now, sobbing into one another's shoulders and leaning against one another. Somehow, when each had entirely lost all the strength in their bodies, they still managed to support each other.
Doris lay on her knees at the back of the crowd, pounding the mud in her panic and desperation. Her long, curly hair hung around her face as she choked back sobs. Laura felt strangely disconnected as she floated away. She didn't want to comfort Doris any more, but she noted that if she could still feel as she once had, her sister's grief would surely break her heart.
Later, when the flames had died to embers, Laura's friends and family would pick through the ashy remains. There would be no bones or skin, or even scrap of cloth. General consensus would agree that every last bit of her had burned away in the fire. While some villagers would cling to their faith, most would dismiss Laura's claims as no more than wild claims of a liar, or a woman unable to discern reality from her own imagination.
That was the true shame, that Laura might hurt other's faith, and they wouldn't even see that all she'd said was true.
Laura took a deep breath of air, the last she'd ever take. The heat, for a moment, was unbearable, but then it cooled to the warm kiss of the sun. She heard the crowd speaking, but couldn't make out words any more. Everything was swallowed up by the smoke, and Laura was too far above it all, floating on a breeze toward her waiting fate.
In another moment, Laura was inside the ship. While she couldn't say how she'd gotten there, she knew that this was how it was meant to be, and didn't worry any more about the logistics. God was in control, and that was all that mattered.
Hiendon was there, waiting in the ship, as were Piorch and Zirtha. They all smiled when Laura appeared before them, and she felt as if she was home, more so than she'd ever been back in her other home, on earth.
"We were wondering when you would arrive," Hiendon noted, rising to give Laura a hug. Behind, Piorch and Zirtha nodded. Even Zirtha looked pleased to see Laura there, a complete turnaround after his complaints about her appearance a week before.
"It took me a good long while," Laura replied. She pulled away from her embrace, and gave one to each of the other two. "I needed to convince a lot of people of a lot of things."
"It's no matter," Hiendon assured her. She turned away from Laura and toward the blinking lights that comprised her wall. Laura wouldn't have known it before her miracle at the stake, but now she recognized what Hiendon was doing. She was entering controls on her panel, direction the spaceship as to how to leave earth and where to go next.
Laura looked at the walls around her, wishing she could watch the earth fall away. But that was no matter, either. Nothing was of any matter, not any more, because now, Laura was free of all that had held her back. She'd do what she needed to do with the confidence that she now had the guidance to do what was right in every situation.
"Congratulations," Zirtha said from his own post, entering directional commands on his own nodes. "You've been tested in the hottest fires, and you've come out stronger, like true steel."
"Yes, I have."
"You've found your reward," Hiendon added. "You can spend the rest of eternity exploring the Heavens, with us.
"That sounds like a welcome end, indeed," Laura said. With those words, she and the angels lifted away, and drifted through the clouds. Although Laura now had a sense of holy dispassion that prevented her from emotional outbursts, for a moment, the glory of all she'd experienced was too much to hold in. First she smiled, and the smile became an open mouth.
The clear tones of a hymn filled the space ship.