Skip to content

The Witch’s Dilemma

Note: This story hasn’t been professionally edited. It’s free for your enjoyment.

Read the next part of the story here: The Witch’s Trial – (markpjnadon.ca)

Story Length: 1800 words.

Amber’s stomach growled. She picked at the ten-day-old bruised and rotting potato with a wood fork. Her dinner menu had become sparse. The town’s crops had yielded little. Farmers and lords hoarded most of it for themselves and charged high rates to the people. Many would starve to death.

A hard knock on the door echoed in her small cabin. Before she stood, the knocking turned frantic. Boom. Boom. Boom-boom-boom-boom. City guards? She’d done nothing wrong. They could leave her with her potato and come back in the spring and collect her bones. She picked up her chopping knife, in case another accuser of witchcraft had come to burn her house down, opened the door and peaked into the darkness.

“Amber? Amber, I need you. Please,” Natasha said, her face covered in shadow, but the terror was unmistakable in her fiery eyes.

“Come in. What’s wrong?”

Freddie’s tiny frame lay in Natasha’s arms, his eyes closed, his face as white as the coming snow. “He’s dying,” Natasha said.

He looks like he’s already dead. Amber glanced at her bed tucked away in the corner, little more than a small pile of straw on the floor. She pointed at the table and rushed to clear her dinner, tossing it aside like scraps, rather than two days of rations. “Have you taken him to the doctor?”

Natasha’s face soured. “My God, Amber, of course I have. They couldn’t help him. They’re going to let my son die.” She placed Freddie on the wooden table.

“What do you think I can do?”

Natasha covered her eyes and cried. “I know I haven’t been nice to you. I’ve been awful. The town has treated you terribly. But you are the only one left that can help him.”

Amber sighed. “He barely has a pulse. I’m sorry, Natasha, but—”

“You’re a witch, aren’t you? That’s what everyone says. That’s why people come to you.”

People stopped coming to Amber thanks to Natasha’s rumours about casting spells. Natasha convinced all Amber’s clients that her heartburn medication serum was a concoction designed to give them pain so they could pay Amber to heal them. Amber had Natasha to thank for dinner. I can’t tell her how my magic works. If Natasha’s son died, she’d come for Amber with a mob. I can’t let the kid die, either.Freddie was a good kid. Laughed a lot, loved witty banter, and always smiled and said hello to her like she was a human being and not a scary witch.

Screw it. “The magic doesn’t work the way you think it does,” she said. “In order for me to use it, I need to draw the energy from something living.”

Natasha’s mouth dropped in horror. “You kill things?”

“The amount of energy I need depends on what is being asked. Healing cuts isn’t the same as healing someone who’s dying. I can’t even tell you what’s wrong with him. Natasha, There’s always a price for magic. Usually I pay that price for people, in little doses. This would kill me.”

“You want money?” Natasha boiled, her face as red as her hair.

“The price isn’t money, it’s energy. But if I help, I need food to survive the coming months.” Amber hated herself for asking for something in return for a gift she’d been given at birth. If Natasha hadn’t ruined her by spreading those lies…

“Save my son and you’ll gain ten pounds this winter,” she said. “I swear it.”

“I still need energy just to find out what’s happening inside him.”

Natasha sat back. “Use me.”

“You understand you’ll be exhausted for weeks? You’ll feel sick? But you won’t have symptoms.”

Natasha squeezed Amber’s arm. “Do it. Save him.”

I’m going to regret this. Amber called on her magic, taking as little energy from her essence as she could. She scanned Freddie’s body, beginning with his legs and working her way up. Her magic let her travel through his body, touching on organs, muscles and tissues. She quickly passed everything she knew to be functioning properly, rarely pausing to consider it further. She reached his chest and came to a grinding halt—a mass had developed on his lungs. The mutated cells reached out for oxygen like tiny suction cups latching on to other cells, forcing itself to expand. Cells had already made their way to his heart. “Natasha, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for him. There’s a disease growing in his lungs, infecting him. It’s too big. The disease touched his heart.”

“No,” Natasha cried. “No, it isn’t true. The doctor would have known.”

“It’s eating him from the inside. I’ve seen it once before. He wouldn’t know it until it was too late. It hides inside bodies, waiting to strike. There’s only one way doctors can find it—after they die—and there’s no cure.” Amber tasted ash in her mouth.

“But you can heal him,” she shouted. “Heal him. Use me if you have to.” Natasha’s eyes widened in desperation.

“I could kill you. You’re older. I don’t think it will be enough.” Amber felt Freddie’s pulse. “You should comfort him in his last moments.” Amber took Natasha’s hand and placed it on Freddie’s chest.

Natasha pulled away. “I don’t accept this. Try. Try to save him.”

“Where is David? He should be here.”

“Amber. If I don’t do everything I can to save him, I could never look his father in the eyes again. I don’t want to see him. Not before it’s done. If Freddie dies…”

Amber stared at the floor.

“Please,” Natasha touched her hand. It felt cold. “Try.”

If they were going to try, they had to do it now. Freddie had very little time to live—Maybe minutes. “I’ll try,” Amber said.

“Thank you. If I can’t save him…I’d rather die.”

Natasha’s desperation to save her son was more powerful than Amber would have given her credit for. She’d seemed so cold and authoritarian; more like an army commander than a mother. And coming to Amber was against her religion. All the preaching Natasha had done condemning Amber for ‘devil’s work’? Smoke and mirrors when it mattered most.

A knock at the door broke her thoughts. Thank goodness, it’s David. He’ll stop this. Amber rushed to the door, feeling the fatigue in her legs from having scanned Freddie.

“Is it true?” Jessica poked her head through the sliver of opening in the door. “Did she really come here? She brought Freddie?”

“He’s here,” Amber said, pointing at Freddie on the table.

“What have you done?” Jessica said, looking at Natasha.

“I’ll do what needs to be done to save my son,” Natasha said. “Close the door,” she said to Amber. “She’s not leaving.”

Jessica frowned. “I’ve known you for twenty years, Natasha. Why would I leave?”

Amber quickly told Jessica what was happening. Jessica’s hand hovered over her open mouth like she was about to cough. “No. It’s too risky. You can’t do this. Amber, you can’t let this happen.”

Amber believed people’s lives were their own to choose. The boy would die if she didn’t try. He wasn’t capable of making his own decision. Natasha knew the consequences.

“Jessica, you’ll swear that no matter what happens, this is what I wanted. David will believe you. He knows how much I love our son.”

“This is insane,” Jessica said.

“We’re out of time.” Amber felt the boy’s pulse weaken to a beat every few seconds.

Natasha lay beside her son on the table and took his hand in hers. She closed her eyes and nodded. “Swear it Jessica.”

“God, forgive them for resorting to witchcraft. Their hearts are in the right place.” Jessica flopped into a chair. “I swear.”

Amber called her magic, draining Natasha’s life as much as she dared. She sent her magic into the boy, fighting the disease in him. Millions of infected cells vaporized, her magical army far more powerful than the disease. Sweat dripped from her brow and she ground her teeth, trying to combat an army of sickness with a band of soldiers. Slow. Careful. Steady. It was too much. The energy dissipated. Amber had never lost a child before. She risked pulling a bit more from Natasha, but there was little to take without risking her life further. Millions of cells died, but many more millions stood sentry.

No. No. No. Natasha had felt so strong, so full of energy and stubbornness. Amber felt Natasha’s energy suddenly dissolve. This can’t be happening. Amber pulled energy from her own body to give to Natasha, fearing she’d taken too much. There’s no energy left. Her eyelids weighed a hundred pounds each.

“Jessica?” Amber thought she called out but couldn’t be sure. “Can I…”

 Natasha’s heart stopped.

Jessica leaped to her feet. “Natasha,” she screamed, shaking her body.

The energy was gone. She’d gotten the infection out of his heart, but needed more energy to remove it from his lungs. The boy’s hand squeezed his mother’s. The rhythm slowed. Slower. Slower. His heart stopped.

“He’s dead? They’re both dead? Oh my God, Amber, what did you do?”

Amber collapsed onto the floor. “It was too much,” she mumbled to herself. She’d never failed to heal someone. I killed them both?

The front door exploded inward, splinters of wood hitting Amber. David’s face burned with rage. His gaze fell upon his wife and son. “What’s happened?” his voice boomed in the cabin, bouncing wall to wall and piercing her eardrums. He marched to the table and shook them. “You did this?” he tightened his grip on Amber’s shirt, shaking her like a doll. Then his eyes shifted to Jessica. “You helped her do this?”

“No. No, I was only a witness.” Jessica stepped back slowly several times, as if she’d come upon an angry lion and didn’t want to startle it. “Natasha wanted you to know she gave her life for her son.”

“You witches killed them,” his voice deepened, a snarl growing on his lips. His quiet was far scarier than his shouts.

Amber barely had the energy to process what had happened. Her mind reeled. They couldn’t burn her at the stake. It was illegal now. But they could hang her. They would hang her. The fury burning in David’s eyes made it clear he wouldn’t care about Jessica’s promise.

She saw the potato resting on the floor a few feet away. Not an hour ago, the worst thing she could think of was forcing the dry starch down her throat. The room seemed somehow darker, the straw bed flatter, the wooden table where Freddie rested warped. Funny how much I’d like to go back to that moment, ignore the door, and face nothing more daunting than eating that damn potato.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *