The thick putrid smell of flesh skimming under a hot flame was so rich that I tasted it and so nauseating in a way that you truly couldn't escape. But perhaps, that was insensitive of me considering I could decide to leave whenever I so pleased; the same couldn't be said about the former woman in her late teens withering into an unrecognizable mess of bone and ash as the crowd of eager on-lookers cheered for her demise. Hanging her was not enough, apparently; her body had to be burned to circumvent any possible resurrection. Beyond her remains was a queue of similarly damned witches bonded by shackles, all donning matching looks of despair and anguish.
A dense cloud of fog hung in the sky, touching the heads of all the monstrous elm trees surrounding the clearing in the center of town made specifically for this chilly February night. The darkness was nothing new to me, I preferred it actually, but it was definitely new to the commoners of Salem who clutched onto their dear lanterns so tightly as if they were afraid they might fall.
It wasn't in my intention to attend the public executions, but the town had recently erupted into a contagious fever over the presence of witches in our ever-so-small community. Accusation flew here and there over deeds that were so trivial that it was almost comedic.
Because witches didn't exist.
In my 300 years of life, I had never seen nor heard of any such thing.
Regardless, Salem was convinced of the devil walking among them with no regard to the real monsters that nightmares were made of.
Aside from the clamor that surrounded the questioned holiness of the village's women, Salem wasn't particularly exciting. It was, however, the perfect place to lay low for the moment's being while on my journey to uncover what was so spectacular about this new land. The land that man killed for.
I didn't know what drew me here. It couldn't have been for the power since for as long as I could remember, I had always detested man's hunger for things that didn't belong to them. Things they didn't need. Things they couldn't have.
It shortly dawned on me that I didn't have a reason, nor did I need one. I had nothing to lose and nothing to gain by being in this stolen land. All I had to do was simply exist and keep moving for as long as possible because the moment I started to feel happiness was when desolation came.
I was no longer happy, no longer sad, no longer anything because my experiences taught me better. I knew how to survive because I was not foolish enough to let my emotions drive me.
At least, not anymore.
Deciding now was the perfect time to feed, I slipped out of the crowd without any resistance. People didn't notice me unless I wanted them to which was what allowed me to peacefully co-exist among them as I fed from them.
I needed to drink blood in the same way that humans needed to eat food to survive; although, it was an activity that I tried to prolong for as long as possible—not that I cared for my victims, but more so because I didn't want to draw attention to myself. Otherwise, it'd be me burning at the stake instead of those innocent girls.
All of the buildings in Salem were made of a rotted wood that would take only moments to collapse if a treacherous storm were to pass through. The streets were carved out of a sandy dirt—though it didn't stop patches of unpatterned grass from growing—which ran through the center of the village, connecting the top of the hill to the stream down below. Most of the houses were relatively vacant save for a few persons who weren't interested in the executions, namely the companions and kin of the soon-to-be deceased whom I had already decided would be my dinner. Perhaps, I would be doing them a service by sparing them from the feeling of loss.
Technically, I didn't have to kill my victims, but a bite often resulted in a slow and miserable death. The symptoms were usually the same: fever, headache, chills and general malaise, and while I wasn't typically bothered by my victims' death, I wasn't entirely evil enough to have them suffer on their way there—no, they died a quick and soundless death, I was certain.
The quaint house perched at the bottom of the hill was dimly lit and its square windows had steamed up with condensation, not allowing a clear view of the persons inside. A slew of profanities fell from my tongue as I crept around the house to get a better view. In the midst of the room was a sphere of fire which seemed to be sustaining itself without the need of wood, and surrounding it were three individuals huddled in a circle with their hands interlocked and their heads bowed. They muttered incoherent words amongst themselves, none of which I could decipher, but the chanting seemed to result in bursts of white light from their joint hands.
In my stupor, I stepped back from the window, making the grave mistake of breaking a loose twig.
The chanting ceased.
One of the voices from inside called out, "who's there?"
My senses told me to flee, but I was frozen in place by an unknown force. Every effort I made to move was denied by my own body. I didn't know how to explain it, but somehow, I knew it had something to do with the persons inside the house.
A man approached my side, wearing a dark cloak fastened by the neck and a hood that concealed the shadows of his face. I noticed the outlines of two women lurking behind him. "Who are you?" he grunted.
I wanted to kill them—it was the only way to stop them from discovering my identity and telling the villagers—but for the first time in a long time, I was completely helpless.
The man raised his hand but kept his dark eyes on me. "Release her," he instructed. I watched as one of the women waved her hand, instantly freeing me from my invisible shackles and sending me to my knees.
This was impossible.
"Who are you?" I questioned, my voice trembling with an emotion that I hadn't felt in a while. "What are you?"
The man reached up to remove his hood, allowing me to see the clear outlines of his face. He was well distinguished with all of the angled lines coming together to form his canvas, but the line that intrigued me the most was the long, jagged scar down his eyelid. "I believe the real question is what are you? The energy that I smell on you is certainly not human."
"I'll kill you," I snarled.
That didn't do much to alter the smug expression on his face. There was very little in this world that had the power of scaring me, but this man came very close. "Very well, vampire." As soon as he spoke the words, his lips stretched into an unsettling grin. "And to think it is our sisters and brothers that are accused of working with the devil when there is a true devil that walks among us."
It was the only way to make sense of their power over my will. I possessed the strength of ten men and the reflexes of all cats and yet this man before me was able to exercise his control over me—a thought I wasn't quite fond of.
"Lazarus," one of the women spoke with a sense of urgency in her voice. "We do not have time. We must complete the ritual."
Lazarus blinked rapidly to break himself out of his smug demeanor and returned his attention to the women. "Right," he agreed. "We shall continue before it is too late."
Completely disregarding my presence, Lazarus joined hands with the women, and they resumed their chanting, only now I was able to hear them more clearly to recognize the language as Latin. The ball of fire reemerged between them and with it came the blinding white light from before, forming where their hands used to be.
It was difficult for my mind to piece together what was occurring before my eyes, but rather than fleeing like every instinct inside my bones instructed me to do, I sat there, bewildered, as the chants grew in volume.
In a matter of seconds, the light joining their hands expanded to create a white flash that momentarily blinded me. Once my vision returned, my eyes settled on a group of women who had suddenly appeared alongside the sorcerers. I took in the sight of each and every one of them, not being able to comprehend what had just took place, but when my gaze landed on a peculiar woman with deep brown skin, I knew.
There, standing in front of me and breathing normally, was the woman I had just watched burn at the stake.
In all of my confusion and dare-I-call-it fear, I stood to my feet urgently and took off into the forest, not daring to look back. A myriad of thoughts flooded my mind about what I witnessed, and I was forced to come to the only conclusion that made sense.
Witches were real.
And they knew how to bring someone back to life.