Evil begets Evil - Weird Tales Winner
But even shock and shame were beginning to fade beneath the sound of her rapid breaths, and the sheer rising terror. This was real. She was going to die - they were going to kill her. Everyone she'd loved. Even the sense of betrayal slid like the sands of time. How much life did she have, an hour? Half that? To be followed by an eternity of hell, they assured her, if she did not repent.
"Please!" she screamed at the dull roar of the crowd, at the callous movements of the pastors. "I am innocent!"
The tall one, Pastor Bryant, stirred. She continued to call out, fear and shock adding thick tears to her cries. He plodded her way slowly, in conversation with the deacon. He wouldn't listen, wouldn't dare, but she had no choice!
The red hood was lowered. In another time and place, the man with the gravelly eyes and thin salt-and-pepper hair would be a comfort. He shook his head. "Sarah, confess your sins and give yourself to the Lord. Even now he will make a place for you in his house. And for the sake of his people, tell me, where did you get the book?"
"The book? The diary? I don't know!" Sarah answered, voice shaking with wronged grief. "Is that what this is about? I just found it there, under my bed. But I repent! Whatever you want me to say! Anything."
It had seemed a harmless thing, a naughty little indiscretion, to read the small bound pages. There were stories in it, salacious stories, of a woman who used potions to make playthings of men, and of the delicious and forbidden things she had made them do. The descriptions, so intimate and base, had been titillating for an obedient girl whose days had been spent swathed in stifling white. They had haunted her dreams, made sweat-filled glories of her nights. But they were just stories, and the recipes after surely false - she mean nothing by them. Maybe a friend had left it, not wanting to admit owning it, for fear of getting caught. She had thought, lately, of burning it, for the effect it had on her dreams. If she only knew who that "friend" was now.
"Still you lie. Satan will not reward you for it," the pastor said, with a pious grimace. Sarah wanted to rip it from his face, as he walked away.
The deacon remained, face still hooded. "Did you say anything? Do you swear?"
"Anything!" Sarah repeated, face hot, sweat running in rivulets down her exposed skin.
"Give yourself to him, then, and he will save you," the deacon whispered insistently, breath hot in her ear. "Be the Devil's Bride. God will no longer have you, but Satan already does. Embrace him, and feel his power."
Sarah's eyes open wide, as she examined the dark shadows, the anger and hatred arrayed in the crowd. Her fiance was there, his own mouth twisted in profanities. He had refused to speak to her. In that moment fear left her, swallowed by the sheer unfair insanity of it all. "His only bride?"
The thin deacon chuckled. "Only? A little greed is a good thing, but you're in no position to bargain. Answer now: yes or no?"
The torches were lit as the mob began to crowd closer. The pastor was speaking to them. It was nearly time. "Yes, oh yes, I will," she answered.
The deacon only nodded, and began to withdraw. It was a trick, a trap. Fury filled her, pure red rage, and Sarah shrieked to the cold barren heavens her defiance. In that instant, she started to change. Her breasts swelled, her thin musician's hands began to curl into talons. The curves of her body began to harden into scales and fur, and she grew - and grew, wings sprouting from her shoulders. The many coils that held her snapped like twine, and she was free. Her once-lovely mouth became a rictus of hate, her wail a fiery lash that stripped to the soul. The men began to scatter, and she reveled in their pathetic fear, her sweet revenge. She flew high into the air, considering a target to swoop upon, and devour. Perhaps her one-time sweetheart, the faithless wretch.
Still, the men were many, and the whistle of an arrow by her thigh taught her caution. She would have them, have them all! Not yet, not when they were ready. But they would learn to dread any fall of the sun. With that sweet thought, she rose higher and higher into the air, and fled, for now. Each man here would have a death of lust and pain. All her dark and twisted dreams would come true. Soon.
Deacon Jude watched the harpy escape, mien inscrutable. "Pastor, the power of the Dark One is great. We will have to redouble our efforts."
"Yes," Pastor Bryant replied sadly. "Thank the Lord we found her before she spread her filth, and did not listen to her. I had begun to doubt. After all, such a thing can hardly be believed. Who knows what the witch might have wrought if we had been soft?"
"Yes," the deacon answered, smiling under his hood. "Who knows?"