I could hear it. It was like twigs snapping underneath the leather sole of a boot, only this noise was louder. The scream following the snaps and cracks was earsplitting. The screech could easily shatter a child’s eardrum. It was a wail full of heartache. It was a wail that brought men to his knees with pain.
It’s the song of the banshee.
A woman long dead, her body already gone and turned into dust in an unmarked grave, but it’s her sorrow that keeps her bound to the soil. A sorrow caused by love. Only love can cause a soul to keep from passing on into the next realm.
A large volume is held in the Town Hall of Norsehul. A volume bound in leather and tied with twine, a volume that holds all the sightings of spirits in the woods, walking across the town square, in homes, anywhere. The only ghost that is seen the most is the spirit of Elvie. A woman who roams the woods with her black hair loosely tied at the nape of her neck and flowing down in ebony waves. It’s said her eyes are as black as stones, but there have also been other reports of her eyes resembling the stars. As if two stars fell into her eye sockets and shone bright in the night as they lit up the forest in a blinding light. Her spirit is pale and thin. Her cheeks lost their rosy plump and her hands gnarled like an oak’s roots.
She is only seen in the forest. It’s as if her spirit is confined within the border of trees. She is seen floating above the ground calling out for “Felipe”. Mothers and wives warn their sons and husbands to stay away from the trees as the sun sets because it is said that if a man sees Elvie, he would never return to his home. And there is always the one with a curiosity that cannot be sedated unless the act is done and those are the ones that go into the forest and never come back out.
The water pump was hard to handle especially on the days after heavy snowfall, it was more stubborn than a mule and resisted with as much force as an ox.
It was one of those days.
I was on the verge of giving up and going back home with an empty pail when he came along. Felipe. The blue eyed boy who stole my heart. He was whistling a slow song as he came striding down the lane, “Good morning lass. I see the pump is causing you some trouble today.” His smile glittered as the winter sun hit his face. My breath stopped short in my lungs and a lump formed in my throat. His very voice, rough and masculine set my brain into a cloud of mist. I didn’t know what to say, what to do except smile a silly little grin. Without a grunt of effort, Felipe had the water pump’s handle moving with ease. Even through his thick wool jacket, I can see his muscles working underneath and his callused hands roughed from farm work, pumping water into my pail. “There ye go.” With a nod, I turned away with my pail filled with murky water to walk past the dead flowers covered in a white blanket and down the cobblestone slick with ice and up the hill to a little cottage warmed with a small fire, but before I could lift another foot to begin my journey home, Felipe’s rough hand wrapped aroundmine and pulled me back. My heart quickened a few beats and beat against my chest like a hammer. “Elvie, why is it that you were the lass who had the most to say and now have not a word to say? Especially to me Elvie! Remember the days where we would lay in the daffodils and watch the clouds move above us as we neglected our work to spend precious minutes together. Does none of that no longer matter? Elvie.” I stood there dumbfounded. It’s the most he has spoken to me since his father hung my mother for suspicion to be a witch, but here he was, the man of my past, the one who haunted my dreams like a ghost tied to my soul. Here he was holding my hand and begging for a response, but not a single word came from my parted lips. If only he knew how much I wanted to tell him, how much I wanted to lie in his arms and let my sorrows spill onto his chest. His blue eyes searched mine. Eyes as blue as the sky on a clear day where the wind is just right and the sun isn’t beating down on those below. The eyes that held so much light and warmth that only looking into them melted away the coldness of my world. I stuttered over incoherent words and his eyes hardened. The warmth left his eyes and hardened into an icy cold and his sandy eyebrows furrowed into a discouraged line, “is it because my father is a witch hunter?”
My hand went limp and lost all energy to continue holding his. I had thought about it countless times before and knew that fear was a perfect motivation to stay away from those you love but who can potentially hurt you. Is that the reason why I avoided him? Or was it because his father personally came and told me to stay away? Fingering the scar that crawled from my shoulder to my ear, I shivered but not from the burst of cold wind but from the memory of Felipe’s father coming at me with a wicked smile reflecting off his knife. I peered down at my red stained boots, peeking out from underneath my skirts, the sign of a witch. “I don’t care Elvie” he whispered as I hid my boots beneath my dress. Those blue eyes of his spoke truth as I melted into that sea of blue and with every ounce of my being, I believed him. A gentle tug pulled me close to him until I could feel his hot breath against my skin.
“Meet me tonight, midnight. At the weeping willow, the one with a heart carved into its trunk.” On tip toe, I left a kiss on the corner of his lips.
The sound of horse’s hooves beating against the ground had me fleeing from him like the devil was on my heels. Past the dead flowers, across the cobblestoned road, and up the hill I ran until reaching the wooden door leading me into the warmth and comfort of home. My heart was pounding against my chest as if a thousand butterflies fluttered inside, anxious.
Tonight. Tonight was the night of the full moon, a moon plump with blood; a harvest moon as we call it. And a harvest moon only calls for a celebration that does not only celebrate the plentiful harvest but to strike fear into witches. Does Felipe really not care if I were a witch? But the question only brought confusion and pain. Pushing it aside, I busied my mind in cleaning myself because pessimist thoughts are never good for the soul.
The day wore on with no events. No visitors came by to offer tea and cakes to, only the farm animals came looking for attention. Six cows that produced the sweetest milk, and two goats that made the finest wool in all of Salem, but hardly a dime did I make after accused of dawdling in black magic. “Herbs for healing does not make one a witch, it makes one a doctor.” I told the council as they dragged my mother off to the gallows. People are fickle beings clouded with religious nonsense. The church claims God said this and God said that, but God didn’t. It was how the clergymen interpreted His word. But who am I to say anything? For I’m a witch and belong on the stake engulfed by flames.
Dusk came as soon as the embers of the fire no longer gave warmth. Night came quickly and the moon rose plump and tinged with red as it filled the black sky dotted with sparkling stars.
A black cloak hid me well as I snuck through the shadows and past the festivities filled with laughter and talk, past the fires alight with hunger for flesh. Fear gripped me and I dashed into the woods to escape the people surrounding the fires. I hurried as I saw the weeping willow’s leaves come into view. I wasn’t alone, I could feel it in my bones, but as I looked around all I saw was the yellow eyes of an owl and the nervous shuffle of leaves caused by shy deer. The wind blew gently through the trees creating music of ruffled leaves and the scattering of startled birds and the moon pathed my way in a crimson light.
Standing in front of the old tree that held so many memories, I took one deep breath. Letting my lungs fill with the cold air and my hands trembled as they parted the flowers of the willow as they draped down like a curtain. He sat there against the trunk with a small smile painted on his face. His smile grew and his visage brightened as he leapt to his feet and pulled me into his arms. I only caught a glimpse of his eyes before eager lips pressed against mine and my eyes fluttered close and I was lost in him. We were both eager. Our bodies craved this, our hearts craved this very moment. We knew from the start that I was his and he was mine, but our time was limited like the hour glass, quickly spilling sand to the bottom.
“Elvie.” His hands burned as they cupped my face and his heart beat like a drum against mine.
“Yes?” I could barely speak. I was out of breath and I was breathing deep and hard.
“Elvie. Oh Elvie. What have you done to me? You captured my heart with one glance and I was casted under your spell. Witch or not, I like this. I want this, Elvie. Marry me. Leave with me tonight and we can start our lives off somewhere, somewhere fresh where no one knows who we are. We can be free, Elvie. Free to be together.” He was talking fast as if he had to get this all out in one breath, but then he stopped and inhaled one deep breath. Exhaling into the cold air, he opened his beautiful eyes. “I love you Elvie.”
My lips curved into a smile and my heart beat a quicker rhythm caused by the only feeling that can truly make someone’s heart beat that way: love. “I love you Felipe.” And as soon as the wind carried off the last of my whisper, he took me. He took me into his arms and held me close. His eyes melted into my soul and I could feel myself losing touch of reality as I felt him move inside me. His blue eyes were tense and sweet, his eyebrows furrowed and his lips parted just a touch as soft moans escaped from his throat. Our sounds of love and the rustle of leaves were the music of our night. The chirps from birds and the hoot of owls only fit themselves in our musical, our musical of love.
As the night grew to a close and the first rays of the sun peaked over the horizon, I looked at him. How the light played over the sharp angles of his face and the chiseled muscles of his body. My fingers daintily fingered their way through his straw hair. The short hairs stood on end as the dew of the early morning gathered in droplets on top of his head. His chest gently lifted as he breathed in and fell as he let out each breath. As I laid there in his arms I felt something lock inside me. Like a lock finding its key and with a click, it turned and happiness filled me, mixing into my blood. And pumping from my heart, it filtered through my veins to reach the furthest extremities of my body.
“Felipe.” I breathed and as I leaned up to get a good look at him, something incredible happened… I saw what he was made of. It was as if the night sky was captured inside his body. Stars glowed bright from inside him and galaxies twirled in spirals.
“Elvie, my love what is it?” His lips kissed the tips of my fingers and his eyes smiled and I smiled too. He was made of the universe and he had no clue. He was beautiful. He was something extravagantly different and the best of all, he was mine.
“Nothing.” Pressing my lips to his chin, “I’m happy, that is all.”
His lips pressed against my forehead and he mumbled against my skin, “As am I.”
I listened to his heart beat like a melody to my favorite song and I felt the warmth of the sun as it came over the horizon in full and melted away the ice dripping from the trees’ boughs.
The sun was high in the sky when we parted ways. “Meet me here, tonight, at the willow and we’ll begin our lives, together.” He left me at the line of trees, parting wilderness from civilization. He kissed me with a passion that burned through me and he held me close, whispering into my ear the lines from Shakespeare. “Love looks not with eyes, but with the mind; and therefore winged Cupid painted blind. Nor hath love’s mind of any judgment taste; wings and no eyes, figure unheedy haste; and therefore love is said to be a child, because in choice he is so oft beguiled. I love you Elvie,” and he kissed each of my knuckles only to plant his last kiss in the center of my palm and curled my fingers over the kiss, “until tonight” and he left with a kiss as sweet as honey lingering on my lips.
I nearly skipped home. My heart swollen with love, I was dizzy with the feeling. My feet were light and the feeling was like I was walking on clouds and I was high with happiness. My mood didn’t waver as I climbed the hill until the acrid smell of smoke singed my nostrils and as I looked ahead of me, I saw bellows of black clouds hovering over the dwelling I called home. My home was up in flames. Screeching, I ran forward. “NO!” Men stood around and laughed as my home burned down in ashes, as my cows with the sweetest milk were slaughtered and their black eyes stared up into the sky searching for hope and my goats with the finest wool were pulled in the pond and drowned like criminals. “NO!” It was the only word I knew. The only word I knew how to say at the moment. Everything was stripped from me. Everything. No…not everything. Felipe, I still have Felipe.
“The witch! Get her!” I saw the men, drunk with adrenaline lurch at me, but I was small and fast and fled the scene. I ran down the hill, past the flowers covered in snow and all the while I screamed Felipe’s name. I ran down the cobblestone streets and past the pump that gave trouble after a snowy day. I ran straight into the woods, weaving in and out of the trees trying to lose my persistent pursuers. I ran to our tree, the one with its leaves draping down like a curtain. Throwing myself at the trunk of the tree, I wept into the bark and my tears stained the heart carved into the wood. “Hang her from the limbs!” A man yelled. A noose quickly encircled my neck and I was dragged to my feet. “Any last words witch?”
“You will regret this. My death will not be forgotten. Your children’s children will know me and will fear me as I stalk the woods at night looking for him. My death won’t end my love. My love, his love will thrive until the end of time. You will regret this, mark my words, you will regret.”
And she was dropped. Her body was left there as Felipe’s body was thrown into the lake, tied down with stones. Her body was a warning for the other witches in town and the bubbles that rose from Felipe’s drowned body were a reminder to those that nothing will be tolerated.
Love is strong. Stronger than a score of horses, stronger than a man who can lift a thousand pounds. Love is strong and true love never ends. True love will never die and the love that Elvie and Felipe had shared has doomed them to roam the earth for the rest of their lives looking for each other, looking for the one that their dead hearts long for.