Content warning: this story contains references to sexual assault, self-harm, and witchcraft.

Cold. Ice. Freezing. Yet Fiona, wandering alone through tundra, felt none of it. She had awoken two days before in the middle of a vast frozen wasteland, alone and with gaps in her memory. Naturally, her first reaction had been panic. Her own name she could remember, but where she came from and how she ended up in the middle of nowhere were blank spaces. Eventually, her panic faded to simple resolve to stay alive, and she began walking. As she trekked through the frigid landscape, the scenery began to stick out as unusual for the current climate.

There was evidence that trees full of summer leaves had dotted the land not long before, but now there were only scattered slivers of wood and sparse piles of frosted leaves. The farther Fiona walked, the more of those sights she spotted, and closer together. She thought that somehow, not long ago, the area had been a forest. Either that or a storm had ripped down a forest and dropped the debris there.

The other oddity that occupied Fiona’s mind was the crinkled piece of parchment that had been in the pocket of her trousers. The writing felt familiar, yet she could make neither heads nor tales of the meaning. Something about storms and memories, but she wasn’t sure what it could be referencing.

Near sunset of her second day in the frozen desert, Fiona finally spotted a settlement. The flat, devastated land gave way to a small cluster of wooden buildings with thatched roofs. Despite her exhaustion from days of walking, she managed a run covering the distance to the village. Darkness was beginning to set in as she reached the edge of the huts and houses. She could see hearth fires burning through little windows. Not a soul stirred in the village green, where Fiona guessed people should have been gathering to talk and socialize. Seeing the stillness of the little town, she slowed to a cautious walk. Something about the village felt familiar to her. And dangerous.

A door to her left slammed against the outside of a house as its occupant bolted outside. The middle-aged man with the thinning hair pricked the back of her memory as well. He also felt unsafe to her foggy mind, and not just because he was brandishing a torch like a weapon.

“The witch has returned!” the balding man shrieked, “The witch has come back to finish us off!”

Doors all around the town whipped open as the villagers came to investigate. Soon a small crowd had gathered around her in the village green, angry faces paired with crackling torches. The flicker of firelight in the growing dark made the mob seem even larger and more ominous to Fiona, and she whipped her head around to look for a way out. But the villagers continued to pen her in, leaving her no escape.

A large woman with a kerchief wrapped around her gray hair pushed forward through the crowd to stand nose to nose with Fiona. Which was quite an achievement considering how tall Fiona was for a woman. The woman jabbed a wrinkly finger in Fiona’s face and blurted out, “You caused this deadly winter! And you’ve come to finish us for good now, have you? Well, we’ll see about that.”

Without warning, burly men from behind her in the mob were holding tight to Fiona’s arms. Shouts and accusations came from all sides as Fiona struggled to keep on her own two feet. She heard cries of “whore” and “witch” mixed with claims that she had seduced some man or coerced a girl into her devilish ways. Slowly, as the men dragged her to a tiny wood shed where she would most likely be flogged and then tied up to await trial, memories trickled in.

Fiona remembered the village mayor cornering her, telling her how pretty she was, and striking her when she tried to pull away from his touch. She recalled boys in the town claiming to have had their way with her, and girls telling everyone who would listen that she was “easy.” Memories now flooded in of how she had been mistreated and lied about after she came to the village. She knew now she was the orphan of a lovely couple who had died in a blizzard, pawned off on a distant relative who had taken ill and likewise died. The village had seen her beauty, seen how alone she was, and they had taken full advantage.

Finally, she remembered the creature in the woods. She had fled to the forest to escape, one way or another, from the wicked villagers. Then she had met… something. Its ineffable form had made her want to cry, scream, and be sick, yet it had given her a gift. The monster told her with unspoken words that the village had long been a bed of evil, and it had watched her plight and taken mercy. Mercy for her. Judgment for the town. It had given her the words to write and taught her how to turn them into a power beyond her understanding. The crumpled piece of parchment suddenly made sense. The familiar scribbling was her own, and the words were like a verdict crying out against the villagers.

“Memories of evils long-hidden turn to storms unrelenting. Let the root of my pain know the chill of my heart.”

Fiona closed her eyes as the bulky, wicked men threw her to the floor of the woodshed. She clutched the note tightly and began to repeat the words inscribed on it. Alone now, she felt a familiar surge of energy flowing from her, and for the second time that week, the world went dark. And cold.

Originally posted in response to a writing prompt on Reddit.