Recently I read over an old piece of writing that I gave up on. However, over the last couple of days I’ve been trying to write at least 1,000 words on it each day. It’s very satisfying.
It was a red morning. She had been travelling west-wards since late the previous night. Near exhaustion from sadness, tiredness and fear, she was so grateful to see the dawn. The sky slowly lightened from lilac to rose. She had let the horse stroll for about two hours, but with the lightening sky she pressed him onwards into a trot. The dense woods and thickets began to blur past her. Her black dress was high over her knees as it had risen up her legs from the riding. Her hair was undone. The loose plait spilled from its confinement.
It did not matter where she was going. It was away from there; away from that place. She would rather let the woods swallow her up, than stay there. Her only consolidation was that the heaving in her chest had passed. However, just then, it started to rain.
Mary remembered the previous days clearly. It had all started in their wooden church. It had just been finished. Betty sat in a chair at the front. She was fourteen. Mary knew her well; they were the same age. Her mother had helped deliver Betty all those years ago when she was with child too.
They wrapped ropes around Betty’s ankles, waist and the top parts of her arms. They gripped her forearms and held them before the crowd. They slid rusty needle-pins under her nails. The thick ones you use for wool. When she thrashed with the pain, the men surrounding her gripped her and shouted at her.
‘You must confess before God!’ The church father screamed in her ear. ‘Confess!’
‘Oh Lord! Save me!’ she shrieked.
The church father pulled back. He made the men stop twisting the needles that were under her nails. The audience fell utterly silent. Betty sobbed loudly. After a few moments, the church father sighed. ‘Dare you say the Lord’s name Witch?’ he asked mildly. ‘You have been trialled. You have been tested. And we have found out what you are. Shame on you for all your lies and silence.’ He nodded at Mary’s father, William beside him. ‘Show them.’
William nodded. A solemn and worried look crossed over his face as he stood before the girl in the chair. He gave a quick prayer to protect him from harm. William unlaced the girl’s dress, and then her chemise. He stepped back and her naked breasts were exposed to the crowd.
‘There! This mark here. This evil mark of the devil proves your nature.’ The father pointed to just under her left breast. There, where he pointed, was a large brown spot. Sarah had told Mary they were called moles. Mary had one too, and so did Sarah.
‘Witch,’ murmured a man from the crowd.
‘Witch,’ another man affirmed louder this time.
‘She’s a witch!’ a woman shrieked.
It was at this point that the church was in uproar. Fingers pointed. Everybody shouted. Sarah shouted and Mary copied. She let her face twist into a horrible expression like her mothers. She snarled. She gritted her teeth at Betty. The room was a frenzy and their voices pounded in her ears.
‘No!’ Betty cried, at last she had found her voice. ‘I swear that I am not a witch. If you condemn me then know it was Sarah that brought me as such into this world. It was Sarah! Sarah cursed me with that mark!’
Her shrill scream died as the room once again became pin-drop silent. The heads turned. Twenty eyes at least watched Sarah and Mary. Sarah gripped Mary’s hand discreetly.
‘She lies. I delivered her, but I did not bear her. That is her mother’s fault alone. You will find no such mark on Mary,’ Sarah said. Her voice wobbled slightly. ‘She is the witch.’
William turned a shade of ash grey. ‘She speaks true.’
‘You cannot vouch for your wife, William.’ The father said gravely. ‘This accusation must be tested. Sarah will be confined, trialled and tested. If these accusations are false, then the Lord will show it. Sarah, you will stand at this time in two days.’ The father then addressed the whole crowd. ‘The creature before you, we together have affirmed, is a witch. She will be hung until death.’
Sarah was stunned to silence. Mary could feel her body threatening to collapse. She wobbled precariously as Mary hugged her and murmured again and again that it was not so. Sarah stared in disbelief at Betty as she was carted from the room. William walked towards them. He frowned to hide his grief as he pulled Mary away from Sarah.
Ultimately, her mother was not spared. The Lord was not just, Mary screamed inside as the men cut down her mother’s swinging body. Betty’s remained strung and swung in the breeze. A reminder for all witches.