If I’m not hung for being wiccan, I’ll probably be hung for this.
‘What if we get caught?’ I move my lips closer to Asta’s. ‘What if Anticus finds out?’
An owl hoots from a branch lined with evening frost. The forest is the perfect place for secrets. Only the old church and the rotting hanging dais sit out here, well away from the village.
‘Shut up and kiss me.’
My head edges towards hers. Our lips slowly part. Her head tilts. My eyes close.
Asta’s lips are soft. Much softer than a boy’s. As she brushes them against mine, she strokes my cheek. A small drop of melted snow splashes on my nose. I tremble and pull my furs tighter around me.
‘Wow.’ I pull gently away from her. But not too far. ‘How…how was it?’
‘Fine.’ Her eyes scan the forest. ‘Want to do it again? Longer?’
I nod and close my eyes.
Asta’s lips are harder this time. Her hot breathe ignites a raging furnace of desire. It scorches my body, from the tip of my tongue to my frozen toes.
She pauses for a second. ‘I do love your hair.’ She runs her hand through it. ‘As white as snow. It’s beautiful.’
Something touches my shoulder and I tense, slowly turning. The mossy rope from the hanging platform swings like a scythe with the winter wind. Nobody has been hung in our village in years. I relax my shoulders and turn back to Asta.
We kiss again.
I lose track of time. Long enough for small flakes of snow to build up on my forehead. Each one melts against my skin.
Her shivering hands move across my body. I edge closer. The owl hoots louder this time.
Then her hand moves down. I grab it instinctively.
She stares at me, her eyes narrowed. ‘What’s wrong with you, Corena?’
‘Nothing. Just…please don’t.’ I release her hand. Nobody can know what I’m hiding. No-one could love me, once they know what I am.
‘Sinners!’ A gritty, shallow voice reaps through the forest.
Asta jumps back, pushing me away.
Klerik Anticus limps into sight, lighting the surrounding trees with his small gas-lamp.
The owl takes flight, screeching as it flies into the night.
I knew we shouldn’t have come anywhere near the church. Even though part of me loved the fact we were getting away with it so close.
‘In the name of the Ten, stop that unnatural behaviour right now.’
‘She forced me to do it, Klerik. I didn’t want to. She made me.’ Asta moves away and stands beside him.
What’s she talking about? She kissed me back. It was her idea…wait…
‘You set me up?’ A frost forms inside me where moments before there was fire. A large lump of snow crashes to the ground behind the Klerik. I dig my nails into my palms. I can’t lose control. The Kurikon can’t know about my powers.
Asta turns to Anticus. ‘It was awful, Klerik. So disgusting. So unnatural. Will the Gods ever forgive me?’
He pats her on the back. ‘Yes, Asta, my child. They will forgive you. But you must pray.’
His eyes fix me, his words making him appear taller, the way he does at his sermons. The snow illuminates him against the darkness of the forest behind.
‘Corena Storm. You’ve sinned once again. Come inside and pray to the Ten for forgiveness. You can’t continue to behave like you do. The Gods lose patience.’
‘Screw the Gods! They’ve never done a thing for me. Can’t you see she’s tricking you?’ I hold my arms up to the Gods I’m sure aren’t there. If they were, they’d never let something as abnormal as me live in their perfectly ordered world.
‘The only trick here is you deceiving your nature. The Gods state woman shall love man. You defy Mama Killa herself. It’s unnatural for a woman to love a woman.’
‘I hardly love her.’
She returns a sarcastic smile, just out of Anticus’ view. Damn, I like that smile.
‘And even if I did, why is it unnatural?’ I ask the Klerik.
‘Because the Gods say so. They’re beyond question.’ He looks to Asta, who switches quickly from a grin to a pout. ‘You go home, Asta, and let your parents know what happened. I’ll take Corena and deal with her.’
‘Thank you, Klerik.’ She skips off, giving me a last, triumphant smile.
I can’t believe I thought she liked me.
‘Given your previous…mishaps, Corena, I’m going to have to report this to the Kurikon…and to your parents.’ The Klerik shakes his head, looking to the dark sky. ‘You behave like neither boy nor girl. And your unnaturalness…you have no place in this world. If it’s the wrath of the Gods you want from this life, then you have it.’
‘I want to be myself and not receive self-righteous lectures from intolerants.’ I know it’s too much the second I speak. But I’ve been bursting to say it for so many years.
Klerik Anticus squints his lined face and points his arthritic index finger at me. ‘You’ve crossed the line, Corena. Your mother will be ashamed and your penance will come. And sooner than you may think.’
I stomp through the village, the hour-long lecture from Klerik Anticus fuelling my strides.
Apparently, I’ll burn at Ka-Ferno’s Gate.
Apparently, none of the Gods, not even the trickster Susanoo-no-Mikoto, will let me ascend.
Asta strides towards me.
I ignore her. I don’t want to lose control in sight of people, but she grabs my arm.
‘We’re done. I can’t believe I actually liked you, even a little bit.’
‘But I had to, Corena. You know what it’s like, we’d both be sent off to be reformed.’
‘So better me than you, huh? Coward.’ I try to give her my evil stare, but those goddam perfect curls and cheekbones just make me realise how much I did like her.