Blood on the snow
Tears on the grass
Girl on fire
Run Witch Run
The darkness crept, twisting and curling around her pale fingertips like flames, if fire was made of shadows. A castle, blanketed in snow, frozen in ice and in time, sat, content to freeze in front of her. With a flick of her wrist, the snow rose, like a single being, and mimicked the shape of her hand, clearing the cobblestone path in one movement. Lights from the houses below stared accusingly at her as she drew her knife and made a thin cut on her palm, offering her blood to the wind.
Less than a mile away, a boy watched out of the window, eyes narrowed with suspicion, honed in on the girl dancing in the fading light, twirling amidst the stains in the snow.
"Henry! Get up!"
Henry dragged himself out of bed with a groan, and his little sister, Honora, jumped on his back.
"Come on come on come on! The girl came again last night!"
He knew that already, but he couldn't find the courage to tell his sister that he'd been watching the mysterious girl out of his window for the past month. She was a source of excitement for young children everywhere, like the thrill you get after hearing a ghost story around a campfire with your friends. To the adults she was just an annoyance, an enigma that they couldn't solve.
For some unknown reason, every few nights a shadowy figure would climb the hill towards the old castle, hair and dress flowing behind her, pick up the snow by some magical means, and then depart, skipping and dancing, full of joy. The elders had gone to try and catch her a few times, but she'd disappear into the trees that bordered the village. The only sign that she'd been there at all were the statues.
Different positions every night.
All comical and funny, the different statues made the kids laugh and the adults sigh.
Henry pulled on his jumper, trouser and his scarf, picked up his snow boots, still with Honora on his back, and ran down the stairs as she shrieked with laughter. Dropping to the floor in the kitchen, she skipped over to the window and climbed the wall pipe to see out of the grimy glass.
"Don't do that, Hon, you'll break the pipe!"
"But Henry, look, the statues, they look…scary…" She mumbled, and Henry frowned.
"Scary? What do you…?" He saw what she meant.
Twisted into horrible contortions, their faces were agonised and pleading, stone coated in snow.
"What is it?"
"Look at the statues!"
Henry's father came lumbering in from the garden. "What?"
"Right. I'll go get Garvie."
Garvie was a huge bear of man in charge of keeping the village safe, and the kids from having any fun.
"You going out, Henry?"
"I always go out, Dad."
"I'm not scared of no statues." Henry said boldly, sticking his chest out in what he thought was a manly way, and his mother clipped him around the back of his head proudly.
"Go on then, you little idiot."
Henry yanked on his boots, kissed his mother on the cheek, ruffled Honora's hair and ran out of the front door, jogging along the path up to the market.
"Got anything for me?"
"Nah, not today. Missy Graves just came and nicked all me bottles."
"Damn." Henry swore, and dropped a coin into the man's hat. "Save me some for tomorrow."
"Right you are, 'Enry."
"Oi, Graves! I wanted that!" He called out as he walked quickly past the older girl holding the bottles of ale, and then dodged her swipe at him.
"Yes ma'am!" He saluted, then took off before she could try to hit him again.
After buying some potatoes from the toothless woman at the stall near the baker's, he wrapped them up in his scarf and slung his bundle over his shoulder. Henry was only halfway up the road to the farm when someone dropped out of the tree next to him and straightened up, grinning.
"Jeez, Brookes! Almost gave me a heart attack!"
"Sorry boss." She laughed.
Kitty Brookes was a bright, brown haired girl a year younger than Henry with sharp grey eyes and cracked spectacles. She was, though Henry would never admit it, his best friend.
"I bet me mam would have a go at fixing 'em, if you asked her."
"Thanks, but I don't mind. I'll wait until I really break 'em to get 'em fixed."
Her clothes were all mismatched; her ragged pinafore had been badly mended too many times to count, her stockings were inside out and back to front, and her jacket was wind-beaten and covered with pockets, all full of bits and bobs. Her hair was half curly, half straight, wet from when she'd splashed it with water in an attempt to wash it that morning, and her face was small and sweet, but sort of dirty. The only smart part about her was her black boots, which Henry had got her for Winter Festival last year; she cherished them, and cleaned them lovingly every morning.
"Did you see 'em statues, Henry? Scary, aren't they?"
"Not really." He said pompously, and she scrabbled in his bundle for something to eat.
"What you got today?"
"Raw potatoes, so unless you want to get the plague I'd leave 'em."
"Aww…" She moaned, and let him go, then hooked her arm through his. "Come on, then, I found something!"
"Mum wanted me to get the bread and the eggs…" He protested weakly, and she held up a small loaf of bread, wrapped up in brown paper.
"I got that. Just let me have two slices, and we're even. You can get the eggs on the way back. Now, come on!"
He followed her up the road, past the farm, which he looked at longingly, and into the woods.
"And…here we are!"
She pointed at the small bubbling spring, and Henry kneeled down beside the flow, trying in vain to drink from it. "'Ere." She handed him a cup, and he took a grateful gulp, then handed her the cup so she could drink. "It's good, innit?"
"Hmm." He sighed, finishing off the cup, and then she put it back inside her little camp.
Her bed was a nest of blankets, with a small patchwork duvet, and he sat down on it as she stoked the weak little fire. "Damn." She hissed as it went out and snapped her fingers so that it started up again. When it was burning bright again, she filled a small metal kettle with water from the spring, added a few pine needles and let it boil.
Kitty was a Lamia, a magic user, and they were really rare, so rare that she was the only one in the whole of Nivalis. Henry was always secretly envious of her powers, but at least he had a mum, a dad, and a sister. Henry was the only family Kitty had.
He took the pine tea with a grin as she tore into one of her slices of bread hungrily.
"So, what d'you reckons going on with those statues?"
"I don't know."
"Thought you would, spying on her and all."
"How do you…? How did you…you spied on me!"
"Nope." She grinned. "I guessed, and you just proved it to me."
"Brat." He sighed.
"Why yes, yes I am. Speculo."
A glowing mirror appeared in front of her and she tapped it lightly with the middle finger of her left hand. Henry's face appeared in it, looking out of a window. "Knew it!"
"Oh shut it. Yes, you were right Kits, I was looking at her, now stop going on about it."
She winked at him and jumped to her feet, so he followed her outside. Shinning up a tree, Kitty climbed higher and higher until she could see the castle. Henry followed her up slowly and nervously; he was scared of heights, but he wasn't going to let her hurt herself. She often got too reckless.
"I'm gonna go there." She pointed at the castle, and Henry sighed.
"Really, Kits? I mean…it's supposed to be haunted-"
"I don't believe in 'em ghosts." Kitty grinned, and then jumped backwards off the branch.
He peered down through the leaves anxiously for her and she laughed.
"I'm magic, boss. I jump out of trees all the time!"
"I know that, but…" Henry climbed down the tree, and sighed happily as his feet touched solid ground. "You're still an idiot."
"I learnt from the best."
They ran back through the trees and down to the farm, where Mr Florian stood, sneering, leaning on the gate. "Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in."
"'Allo Mr Florian!" Henry nodded his head respectfully at the old man, walking past him into the gate, and Kitty went to follow him in. "Oh no, little lass, I'm afraid you can't."
Henry backpedalled swiftly. "Why not?"
"Too dirty, son."
"It's not my fault, mister. I don't have a mam nor father to get me new stuff." She pouted.
"All the same lass, you can't."
Kitty huffed and her dress caught fire.
"Kits!" Henry groaned, as the old farmer gasped and went for his hunting knife.
"I'm sorry, ever so sorry mister. I can't always…I'm not going to hurt you!"
Mr Florian brandished his knife at her, and she backed off quickly. The flames on her dress started to spread up from the hem as she began to panic, and Henry stepped in front of her protectively.
"Get out of here, you witch!" The farmer snarled, and Kitty ran off down the path.
"Stay away from her, son. She's a witch. Nothing good can come of being around someone like her."
Henry bit his tongue to stop himself retorting as he collected six eggs and paid for them.
"She wasn't going to hurt you, Mr Florian. She was just hungry."
"I don't care if she was on death's door. I'm not letting her anywhere near my house ever again!"
"Please, sir. Kitty won't hurt you, it's just when she gets stressed-"
"Kitty, you called her? Kitty? God-forsaken name. Just right for a witch. Stay away from her, boy. Your mother would say the same."
"No, she wouldn't." Henry argued, but he knew the man was right. His mother didn't know about Kitty, and he wasn't planning on telling her anytime soon.
"Get out of here, boy. Don't you have some playing to do?" Henry was about to demand that he was too old for things like playing, but a gong sounded from down in the village and he knew he had to get back. "Thank you, Mr Florian."
"Henry! Did you get those eggs?"
"And the bread, and some potatoes. Yes Mum."
"I will go outside and get some water from the well. Yes Mum. I will take Honora to the doctor's. Yes Mum. I will not get any rest today. No Mum."
She laughed and swatted him with the edge of her apron.
"Go on then, Henry, make yourself useful. And stop tracking mud in my house!"
Smiling, Henry went outside to the well, where Arthur Graves was hooking his bucket on the rope to get some water.
"Dead on me feet, Graves. You nearly done?"
"Just a mo." The shorter boy let the rope go so that the bucket hit the water and began to fill up. Henry climbed up to sit on the sturdy cover that kept snow and rainwater from falling into the water.
Arthur blushed as red as his hair.
He'd started courting Joyce Smyth three weeks ago, and gossip about them had spread like wildfire.
"She's great. Real great."
"Nice. She's alright, Joyce. Unlike your sister. What's 'er problem?"
"That time of the month, I reckon." Graves laughed and undid the knot tying his bucket to the rope. "See you later, eh, Alden?"
"Probably." Henry tied his bucket up as Arthur clomped off towards his house. When the bucket was full up, he undid the knot and lugged the full bucket back inside, slopping water all over his trousers.
Suddenly there was a loud, painful scream, echoing through the hills.
Henry placed the bucket on the ground and ran into the house, just to make sure.
"Mam, are you okay? Is everything alright?"
His mother looked up from the sink, and Honora looked up from peeling the potatoes.
"Did you hear that scream?"
"It sounded like it came from outside, Henry. Go see if everyone's alright, will you?"
Henry nodded and went outside, fishing in his pocket for his whistle. Blowing hard on it, the shrill sound of it loud enough to be heard throughout the village. He listened for a moment, but Kitty didn't whistle back. Henry began to run.
They'd agreed on the signal a few weeks back, as a way of communicating in an emergency. If she wasn't answering her whistle, then it was her who screamed.
"Kitty!" Henry shouted as he reached the outskirts of the forest, exhausted from his run up the hill. "Kitty? Are you okay?" He blew the whistle again, and a pained voice cried out nearby. "Henry?"
"Kits? Are you…what happened?"
She was sat on a log, crying, leg blistering and red.
"I went down to the market, tried to buy some soap. They were gettin' all shirty with me, and I panicked, and they got angry…they threw a bottle at me…"
"Can't you fix it?"
She shook her head. "It had Prohiber Water in it."
"Oh…?" Henry frowned, and she smiled weakly.
"It gets rid of me magic. Can't use it to fix the cut."
"Oh…what are ye going to do?"
"I don't know."
Snow then began to fall in earnest, and she shivered, burrowing herself deeper into her thin jacket. "'Ere." Henry took off his thick, woollen scarf and wrapped it around her neck the way he would to Honora.
She snuggled into it, smiling, and took her own thin scarf and wrapped it around her leg, wincing. "How's ye mam?"
"Bet she's nicer than that Florian."
"He wouldn't have hurt you, Kits."
"He might've." She muttered darkly, and held her hand out. "Auxilium."
A branch flew off the ground and hovered, just below her hand, ready for her to lean on, which she did, and stood up.
"How d'you do that?" Henry asked curiously.
"Do what? The magic?"
"How d'you remember the words to say?"
"I don't remember 'em. They just come naturally, like…I don't know…breathing. You don't think about breathing, do you?"
"No." Henry said begrudgingly. "You don't."
"It's just the same as that. Except no one attacks you for breathing."