She left her home on Sunday morning with a purpose. Nothing could get in the way of this drastic plan. Not after what she'd been through the previous night. Gravel crunched underneath her shoes as she marched down the road, unaware of the blossoming trees and bushes around her.
Finally, she arrived at the church. There the elderly minister stood, greeting everyone as they came in for morning service. And- there they were; Stephen Collins, a man in his early fifties, his long grey hair pulled into a ponytail; his raven-haired wife, Fiona; and their niece, Justine Schmidt, who was considered by many to be the most beautiful girl in Salem. They didn't suspect a thing, smiling and chatting away with other townspeople.
"Pastor Parris?" she asked.
The man she was looking for turned around at the sound of her voice. "Yes, miss…? I fear your name escapes me..."
"I am Ms. Lucinda Jones." She pointed to Stephen, Fiona, and Justine. "I have verifiable proof that these three individuals are experienced in the art of witchcraft!"
The trio fixed their gazes upon her, all of them stunned.
"From whence does this accusation come?" Fiona challenged.
Justine's eyes were wide with fear. "We are merely God-fearing folk, much like yourself."
Nearby listeners were intrigued, and they began to circle around.
"This woman speaks blasphemy!" Stephen declared. "If you wish to know who the true witch is here, let us examine some vital evidence." He pulled down Lucinda's coif, unraveling her elegant bun. "Her locks are red. 'Tis a sure sign of the devil!"
The audience gasped in unison.
"No!" Lucinda shouted, her hands shaking. "I shall take this opportunity to speak of my own bewitching. The persons aforementioned had threatened to drain the life out of me if I told what I am about to divulge, but with God as my witness, I must confess it… they set my dress on fire and it burned into my leg! I was simply doing my daily capers when it occurred. I can procure the evidence from my home if you do not believe me."
Justine fell to the ground instantly.
"See," Fiona argued. "Ms. Jones has attacked our niece, in front of your very eyes!"
Lucinda's eyes scanned the crowd with distress, hoping for someone to speak up in her defense. But nobody dared to question Stephen or Fiona Collins. They were well-liked among the locals, who paid weekly visits to the general store Stephen and Fiona owned. Whereas Lucinda simply stayed at home, keeping to herself. The town knew her as an eccentric recluse. Lucinda sensed doom hanging over her like a cloud.
"Once again, your abnormality is visible, woman," Stephen bellowed. "You are not of this world."
"Allow us to arrest her!" someone in the audience cried.
Lucinda frantically searched for the right words to use. She eyed Pastor Parris in desperation. "Will no one examine these three witches? They are not to be ignored, lest you would have them assault your children."
Nobody heard a word of her plea.
"Come no closer, you demon," the minister said, signing the cross over his chest.
Lucinda suppressed the urge to stomp her foot. "I am no such thing. Have I not always paid my dues to the Lord, faithfully practicing His law?"
"If so, you have done it with deceitful and wicked intentions." Parris faced the man standing beside him. "Mr. Hathorne, I believe you are in charge of overseeing the law enforcement?"
Mr. Hathorne bowed. "Aye, sir."
"See to it that Ms. Jones' sins are accounted for."
John Hathorne bound Lucinda's hands behind her back without another argument. She fought to break out of them, but the metal handcuffs cut into her wrists. Before too long, her blood began leaving a trail of red dots in her wake. She didn't stop attempting to escape until she drew closer to the prison.
They stopped by a rotting, empty cell. "In you go, witch." Hathorne shoved her inside as if she were an object that could be thrown around.
Lucinda curled up into a ball on the grassy floor, which served as her bed. A bucket lay in the corner. Her new bathroom. She could smell the rusting metal, feel the bitter coldness of the bars. How did she let things get so out of hand? How could the tables have turned in such a short amount of time? Then, she remembered what her father had always said: "Words are powerful tools. Once they are said, you cannot erase them. The damage they can inflict is unimaginable, everlasting. Take care that you use your words for good."
Well, she decided, this could not be more appropriate at the moment. Her own words had backfired.
I never should have spoken at all.
Innocence didn't matter once the masses had made up their minds. They would examine her, put her through a trial, and find her guilty, just like the other witches. Death was the final step.
Then let it come. I deserve it.
Lucinda let hot tears fall off her face, let the crying exhaust her until she lost consciousness.