I sat on a couch in the front parlor, looking out the vast window to the courtyard beyond. A number of homes surrounded this particular yard, their front doors and windows all opening out in to it, but there was no activity outside. No children playing, no families outside. I was disconcerted.
“Hey, baby,” the beautiful woman between me and the window addressed me. I looked down at her, my eyes adjusting to the darker room and the backlight on her. “You’re welcome to look, but you have to pay. House rules.”
“Yes, thanks, sorry” I said, stammering a bit. “I’ll, um, just go in there.” I motioned to the room off to the side, and made my way there. Hospitality was hard to find in this particular town, and only the madam of this particular… establishment had welcomed us. The room off to the side of the front parlor, well hidden behind a single door, had a couple beds and a couple couches. There were piles of things present on the few counters in the room, and my bag and another next to the two couches. Apparently the house had a cook with a son, and he lived in the room, as well. But we hadn’t seen him. Yet.
I kicked back on the couch, my feet up on the end table, and pulled out a book. I started flipping through it, but couldn’t find my place and knew I had already read the section before me. I could read it just fine, but it all became jumbled in my head. Confused.
The boy walked in, then, no doubt alerted to our presence by his mother.
“What’s it like, outside?” I asked. He looked at me, not quite understanding. “I mean, how did you feel outside? Normal? Warm? Cold? Disturbed? Did the hairs on your neck stand up?”
“Um… well, now that you mention it, I did feel a bit sick. Nauseous, maybe?”
I nodded my head, and heard some noise. I looked out the small window and saw that there was a family walking out into the square, crossing it to another home. A second group of people was out in one corner of the square, chatting and playing.
“What changed?” I said out loud, scanning. “Ah, yes,” I said, as I saw Jason now standing on the porch looking out on the courtyard. He was still wearing his parka, the furred hood drawn up over his head. I hopped up from the couch and went through the parlor – the woman on the couch watching me as I passed – and out the front door. I stepped up directly beside Jason, who was more learned than I.
“What am I seeing?” I asked, nodding toward the courtyard. Jason didn’t turn his head, but looked at me sideways and nodded. Then, looking forward, he drew a square in front of him. I knew, from his perspective, he had just drawn a line around the courtyard before us; a simple conjuration, to provide clarity of sight.
I watched, and as I did so a group began to materialize walking at an angle across the yard, bisecting it into two triangles. Two youngish women led what was a large group, at least eight people wide and many, many long. As they became more clear, I realized that beyond the two young women at the lead, they were all children; different ages and different heights, but all children.
The families that had been on the square rushed off, and I heard doors slamming. I don’t know that they could also see what Jason and I now saw before us, but they no doubt stopped feeling the courage Jason’s presence had provided and bolted.
I set the book that was still in my hands down on the porch, and stepped forward. The crowd of children wasn’t looking at us, just ahead as they slowly walked across the courtyard. I grinned, and snapped my fingers loudly. The children’s heads all turned toward us.
“Now you’ve done it,” Jason said beside me.
We both stepped down off the porch, and began to walk toward the group of children. I headed toward the girls at the lead, at first, but noticed that Jason hadn’t. He was moving more toward the back of the bulk of children before us, so I adjusted and moved toward the front but not the young women at the lead. Things were never as easy as they seemed, even with clearer sight, so I realized that the women were likely not the cause of this situation.
“Good morning, children!” I called out as I walked toward, and then among, them. They circled around me, crowding me. “Hello, there! Good to see you! It’s a holiday, today, you know?”
I kept calling out jovially, without making any clear declaration of what I was doing. But I was scanning the children. Finally, thinking I saw what I was looking for, I moved in that direction. I continued to cry out jovially, hoping to also catch Jason’s attention, “Well, children, there’s some one I’m looking for. She would be about this high,” I held my hand next to a child beside me, up to her hairline and about the lower part of my chest. “But, she’d be older than all of you. Yes, someone like…”
I scooped up the short, old woman before me. “You!” I cried, grasping her tightly around the waist. She wore a kerchief over her head, but her aged, wrinkled face betrayed her age. As did her right leg, which was an old, moldy branch of wood to just above her knee. She struggled, but I had surprised her and held her fast.
I heard Jason’s voice come from across the children, the sound of a smile in it as he affected an English accent. “We’ve found a witch! May we burn her?”
“Burn her?” I replied, also affecting a (bad) accent. “How do you know she’s a witch?”
“She’s made of wood!” he replied, and fell to laughing at his own wit. He snapped his fingers, and I saw off to the corner of the courtyard a wood pile that suddenly caught fire.
I would have laughed, too, but realized that the children had all turned to face me. And they weren’t laughing. Indeed, some of them had their eyes narrowed in anger. I pulled the witch close to my side, but perpendicular; it reminded me of carrying a log, or an extra long football.
The children rushed toward me. I dodged and weaved, like a quarterback breaking free of an oncoming rush of… not-quarterbacks. (Yes, I know that’s now what they would be called; but sports were never my strong point, even before I took up wizardry.) The old hag’s face looked up at me as I ran, and scowled at me, revealing sharp fangs. “Ewww,” I said, knocking an overanxious small boy to his bottom and breaking free of the crowd.
Just ahead of them, I dashed toward the fire. The hag began to let out a high-pitched cry that made the hairs on my neck stand up. Oddly, while they were still charging behind me, the children never made a sound.
I neared the now-raging bonfire, and tossed the witch into it, the momentum of my run helping hurl her into the flames. She caught on fire, instantly, flames engulfing her and then exploding out of her in a bright blue fireball.
I weaved to the side of the fire and turned to face the children I thought were still behind me. But I saw they were all standing still, and many of them were fading away. Half a dozen children, some seemingly well and some famished and emaciated, stood in the courtyard.
There were gasps and cries all around, and doors swung open, hitting stops. We watched as women and men rushed out into the courtyard, wrapping some of the children in enormous, weepy hugs. Others kneeling down beside them, taking their hands, nodding and trying to lead them elsewhere.
Jason strolled through the happy reunions toward me, his eyes on the fire. When he neared me, he nodded. We then walked back toward the whorehouse we were calling home for the night.
(both a _quick_ free-write, and a recap of the last dream I had last night)