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The spring sky was the color of pumpkin. Raw and stretched across the horizon, torn into bits and pieces by the branches of the forest. Above the thin band of color stretched a mass of purple and gray, storm clouds threatening to soak me.
I sighed. “Stupid rain.” Above me, high up through the grasping branches of the trees, there were still places with no clouds. Deep blue gaps of night peered down at me, big and empty as an upside-down ocean.
On another day I would have loved a sunset like this. I would have welcomed the rain. But today I was pissed at Meeka, so the clouds just threatened to soak the herbs I had spent the last three hours collecting, making my mood even worse.
I ripped the last few leaves from the stem I was working on and stuffed them into my sack. I should have worried that I would bruise them or crush them, making them release some of their potency. But I wasn’t thinking about that. I wanted to smash them, so they would know I was angry. So something besides myself could suffer from my mood.
So Meeka wanted to stay in Creswell. I didn’t. She knew we couldn’t stay long anywhere, just living in town was a risk in itself. And how would we ever find mom if we went stagnant in some backwash settlement? Without thinking, I let my fist swing down on the herb bush. Stinging scratches leapt over the skin of my knuckles.
“Damn!” My voice was deadened by the forest, calm, swaying in the wind. I sat down in the damp and let my fears envelope me for a few moments. Fears of getting caught, of losing myself, of past, present. A picture of Heth floated in the black of my mind, catching there as I stared at the empty twigs of the herb bush. It was his fault she wanted to stay, and I hated him for it. Goddam ‘love’.
Heat blazed as I thought about him, flames growing and licking my hand. The sudden pain brought me back to the forest, jerking my arm back against my body. The bush was on fire. Little tongues of flame danced over every branch, filling my nose with the smell of char and something like rosemary, pungent and bitter.
“Shit shit shit!” I crawled backwards out of the way of the flames, the skin on my face feeling stretched and tight in the sudden heat. My stomach churning uneasily, I watched the flames slowly eat away the bush. Good thing I was mostly done with it anyway. The brightness of the fire made the forest seem so much darker, the night creeping in all around me, accusing me of crimes I couldn’t stop myself from committing.
I knew it was my fault that the bush had ignited. It happened the most when I was angry, and I had let myself get angry. Guilt rose inside, creeping along my spine and mixing with the fear that was already clenching down on the muscles in my stomach. Magic was a crime when it was used by someone not registered with the state, but what I could do was so much worse than the parlor tricks the mages played.
I shivered in the wind, but it wasn’t because of the cold. Deciding I had enough herbs for the day, I stood and tried to brush the dampness from my jeans. It clung there to the seat of my pants and the backs of my thighs, quickly growing stiff and cold in the wind. It would be fiercer out on the hillside, where there were no trees to tame the gusts,