“Quit daydreaming!” A large crack sounded as pain registered across Heather’s back.
“Sorry, Master.” Heather bowed despite the pain and hurriedly lifted another crate of canned goods onto the wagon. And then another and another until all the vegetables were loaded for market. Taking a deep breath, she added the final two crates of fresh goods. Fear and an intense need to please the master had her finishing in no time.
“Loaded and secured, Master.” She knelt at his feet.
“About time.” He jumped into the seat and grabbed the reins. “I’ve left a list of chores to keep your idle hands busy. The most important is the wedding dress. Finish it. Mr. Humphries paid a handsome price for your lazy hide, so make sure you’re ready.”
“I will, Master.”
“You will or you’ll marry naked. Make sure your room is cleared and ready for your replacement. She’ll return with me.”
“Thank you, Master.” She bowed and kissed the dirty hem of his robe. “Please have a safe trip.”
He snapped his whip. Heather flinched at the sound but watched his departure until he was out of sight and the dust cloud created by thundering hooves dissipated.
Joy radiated from her toes to her fingertips as the Master’s distance grew. Bliss filled her soul. Her body swayed, and a song rose from her throat. Heather sang and danced until breathless, then sank to the ground and lay among the forget-me-nots.
“Have you decided?” a tiny voice asked. It came from a small body. Transparent wings vibrated faster than a hummingbird. The nymph flitted from flower to flower before settling on Heather’s knee as she sat up.
“I’m not sure,” she told him.
“What’? Are you daft? Either you cross the bridge to freedom or marry old man Humphrey and slop his swine until he decides to kill you.
“Ethan, don’t be so dramatic.”
“My best friend Bertrand saw it. He tried to intervene and lost both his legs because of it. I wouldn't lie to you.”
“Nymphs are bewitchers – little devils.” She gazed at him through her eyelashes, embarrassment reddening her cheeks.
“Master told you that?” The small nymph stood on her knee his hands on his hips, his wings still and glistening in the sunshine.
Heather nodded. She found the creatures’ bright blue eyes mesmerizing despite his ugliness and spindly limbs. He looked like a twisted twig, only his eyes and perfect white teeth were human in nature.
“Have I not healed the many wounds he’s inflicted or aided you when the chores became too much? Why do you question me?” He sat down in the lotus position on her knee cap. His arms crossed and his eyes wide and questioning.
She giggled. “You’re always so serious. The horrors you describe just can’t exist. The world is too beautiful.” She threw her arms open to the heavens.
“You would be concerned too if Master didn’t have you enthralled with black magic. Do you remember how you got here?”
“I’ve tried, but no. My only memories are of Master’s love for me.”
“Love? You call daily beatings love?”
“He says I’m a silly girl given to a restless mind. He’s right. I have daydreams. He took me in when I was homeless, and he’s given me everything.”
“The Master lies!” Ethan flew up from her knee in a huff and sprinkled her in sparkling dust. “REMEMBER!” He flew off in a blur.
Glittering remnants of the dust settled onto her exposed skin and then disappeared. Memories began flooding her mind. Recollections of another life, another place and time. A family. The mother she resembled, her adoring father, the sister who looked up to her. Even the wedding she’d planned to a handsome young man named Cody. But most surprising was her name – Logan Marshall, not Heather.
Her scream brought Ethan back. “Now do you see?”
“Where am I?” She looked at the world differently.
“That doesn't matter, but if you follow me, I’ll show you how to get back to your life.”
Ethan flew toward the forest, and Logan followed. The plowed fields were densely packed but easy to traverse. She stopped right before entering the dark forest.
“Why do you hesitate?”
“I’ve heard screams. Master says wild man-eating beasts live here.”
“Peacocks. This is my home. There’s nothing to fear!”
Logan looked back at the log cabin, the farm that had been her home, but memories of a family tugged at her. Hesitation vanished. She joined Ethan who waited just inside the foliage. He led the way to a clearing. The gorge opening yawned wide before them. The end of the road.
“Where’s the bridge?”
Ethan whistled and threw out more glittering dust. A bridge of fire appeared. “See, salvation.”
“Fire? No way!” She backed away.
“Blue flame is magic, cool.” Ethen flew through it. “See, move closer, you’ll feel no heat. You’re pure of heart. An innocent. Strip first, you have to leave everything from this world behind to make the journey.”
Logan stepped forward, and a mixture of blue, green and purple flames formed a solid looking bridge with massive girders. Instead of crackling the fire sounded like the flutter of hundreds of nymph’s wings. Ethan was right, she felt no heat.
She kicked off her shoes, removed her smock and underclothes, but hesitated.
“Go on, your family is waiting.”
She smiled and took the first step forward. “Thank you.”
“No problem, saving virgins is my calling.”
Logan’s eyes grew wide. “But I’m not . . .
Logan screamed as the flames consumed her.
“I know. But each sacrifice brings me closer and closer to becoming a full demon and owning a kingdom of slave maidens of my own.” His skin turned red and horns popped out on his bald head.
© Yolanda Renée 2017
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