This story is by Emma Kukuk and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The first stone struck her shoulder. The second, right above her ear. She turned just in time for a third to clip her temple.
The village children were throwing rocks again. She dodged their crude ammunition easily, but she couldn’t drown out their words.
“Monster!” one screeched.
Anger rose within her, hot and heady, followed closely by the thrum of magic. She took a deep breath, cutting off those feelings—gripping her magic like a vice, shoving it back down. Papa would be upset if she lashed out at them.
The children were still shouting, a safe distance away. They never took a step past the gate, never dared to walk the sun-dappled lane to her home. She supposed that was better than the alternative.
“Go back to where you came from, before you call the rapture down on us!”
Irritation got the better of her. She raised one finger, pointing with unbridled force at the tallest of the children.
He cried out and fell, his eyes wide. “She cursed me! She cursed me!” He blubbered, scrambling backwards toward the village.
“She’s gonna kill us!” The other children bolted with shrieks of terror. She watched dispassionately as they fled.
“Una!” her father’s voice called, drifting through the trees that sheltered their little paradise. Her gaze flew to the clock tower at the village center, visible even at the outskirts. She had taken too long returning home, the flowers clutched in her palm now seeming like a foolish idea. Papa got worried when she came home late.
She turned and raced up the hill. Papa was standing in the doorway of their little barn-turned-cottage, his brown hair tousled by the wind. His warm brown eyes brightened when he saw her.
“There’s my one and only!” he laughed, scooping her up into his arms. “How was school toda—you’re hurt!”
Immediately, the joy was extinguished from his face.
“It’s not that bad,” was her soft reply. She held out her clutch of flowers. “For you.”
A small, sad smile twitched on his lips before vanishing. Papa’s tender fingers grazed the gash on her temple with a gentleness that belied the growing wrath in his eyes. He swept Una inside, setting her on the kitchen counter. Anger simmered in every line of his body, and Una jerked as he dabbed a wet cloth against the cut.
Papa flinched, blinking. With a sigh, he set the cloth down. “I’m sorry, Una. I’m not mad at you. You know that, right?”
They fell into silence, each lost to their own thoughts.
“Yes, my one and only?”
“Am I really a monster?”
Papa eyes snapped to hers, reading the pain there. “No,” he answered fervently. “No, you are not.”
“Then why do they call me that?”
Papa sighed and started cleaning her wound again.
“Because you are different. Because they don’t understand you. That scares them.”
“Fear is not a rational thing, my love. Those villagers…they choose to see what they want to see.” Papa brushed a strand of hair from her face. “Monsters are not born, Una. They are made. They are created when people let fear or anger rule their hearts.
“You, though. You were born of love.” Papa tugged the silver locket from her collar, holding a steady hand over it. “Your mother and I love you so much. You are our treasure. Never forget that.”
Una nodded, not trusting her voice. Papa reached up, tugging free the pins that held her pigtail buns in place. Her dark, silken hair unraveled—revealing the two little red horns peeking out of her scalp. Papa scratched behind one, and Una swatted his hand away, laughing.
“Papa, that tickles!”
“There’s that smile. Go and gather some mushrooms for dinner, my little ruby,” Papa said with a grin. “I’ll make your favorite tonight.” He took the flowers from her hand, placing them in a vase on the kitchen table.
With a delighted giggle, Una raced from the house, dashing into the forest that surrounded them like a barricade. As she ran, she relished in the feeling of freedom it gave her—and of safety. It was just her and Papa out here. No villagers to whisper about her, no children to throw rocks at her. Una laughed as she ran, the silver locket bouncing against her chest as she scoured the forest floor.
She finished her hunt quickly, returning home with her bounty. She and Papa ate dinner, finding ways to laugh and smile despite the day’s events. Papa retired early as usual, but Una sat in her hayloft-turned-bedroom, watching the moon rise through her single window.
At its zenith, she eased the window open on well-oiled hinges. Papa’s snores drifted through the air as she stepped onto the sill. A 10-foot drop later and she was off, skipping over fallen trees and stones with preternatural ease.
When she came to the river, she found her favorite stone and sat, basking in the sounds of midnight. The full moon bathed her in an unearthly glow as Una opened the silver locket around her neck.
She ran light fingers over the portrait of her mother, her visage gazing out with wicked humor. Even with her bloodred skin and gold eyes, she was beautiful.
Una didn’t think anyone would call her a monster.
Una had never known her; Papa never said what happened, just that she was gone. Part of her wanted to believe that she was out there still, watching over her, protecting her.
So, as she always did on the night of the full moon, Una began whispering to her mother—half a confession, half a prayer. Her thoughts, her hopes, her dreams. The things she couldn’t tell Papa. The things Papa wouldn’t understand.
When the moon began to set, Una closed the locket and started for home. She was almost to the tree line when she heard the shouting. Instantly, her pace quickened. Was the village in trouble?
No, it was too close—but the villagers never came this far—
Una cleared the forest and stopped dead.
Her house was on fire.
The villagers surrounded it, their grim faces made grotesque in the light of the torches they carried, a masquerade of horrors.
Una scanned them, frantically searching for Papa, but—they’d blocked the doors.
In a moment, it all clicked. They’d blocked the doors. They’d come with torches and hate in their hearts.
There was nothing human in their faces.
With a feral scream, Una raced forward, calling her magic to her, lashing out at the townspeople with a dark wind, blowing them back from her home. She sliced through the door, barreling into the engulfed house. In an instant, she choked the flames to dying embers as she raced from room to room, shouting for her father.
She found him at the base of the ladder that led to her loft.
She fell to her knees, ignoring the embers that scorched her skin. The smell of smoke and burnt flesh stuffed up her nose.
“Papa?” she whispered through trembling lips, reaching a quavering hand toward him. She hesitantly shook his shoulder. “Papa, wake up.”
He didn’t. He lay unmoving, almost as if he were sleeping. She smoothed his charred hair from his face and flinched back, gasping.
Unseeing eyes gazed up at her. Looking through her. Accusing her.
This wouldn’t have happened if she’d been here. She’d left him alone. She should have protected him. This was her fault her fault her fault her fault—
They did this.
Una rose on unsteady feet, stumbling out of the ruin of her home. She stood in the threshold, watching the villagers rally through distant eyes. There was no one watching over her. There was no one left to save her. To love her. The one bright spark of joy in her life was gone.
She was utterly alone.
“The monster lives!” cried one of the villagers—Una recognized him as the mayor. Instantly, all attention was focused on her. Some villagers raised their makeshift weapons, their shouts filling the air. Others glanced nervously between her and the road—the road that would take them to safety. They were afraid of her.
As they should be.
Una raised her hands, feeling the intoxicating thrum of magic rising in her veins. Some of the villagers rushed her, weapons drawn. Una brought her hands together with a clap, and the villagers fell, torn apart by a vicious cutting wind.
Screams filled the air, shrieks of horror as the villagers watched their neighbors fall.
She knew she should stop. She knew there was no coming back from this, and Papa would be upset—
Papa wasn’t here anymore. They had taken him from her.
Una locked what was left of her heart away and raised her hands once more.
A monster, they called her. She would show them the monster they had made of her.