Witchery

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Ten women in a village are accused of being witches.

Submitted: July 21, 2016

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Submitted: July 21, 2016

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Witchery.

There were ten of them brought to the dunking chair. All were women of course, some not much more than girls just coming into their teens.
 
Was I the only one that could see the hopelessness of the whole thing? The dunking chair as a test for witchcraft -- survive and be damned. Strapped firmly in place, plunged under water: drown and you prove yourself to have been falsely accused. Your family will receive no compensation for your loss; their reward is not to have to exist with the stigma of evilness.

But if you should stay calm, not struggle, be able to hold your breath; no one could achieve such a talent without being in league with the devil. The fate that now becomes yours is to face a death of relentless flame, one of searing agony until you can stand no more.

For a woman accused of witchcraft there is just one choice to make. Would you prefer to meet death with water in your lungs or fire consuming your skin?

As they were led to the dunking chair the women walked silently. They were tied with thick rope binding them in a line, to meet their judgement. Their eyes were cast downwards, not wanting to see the scorn of their neighbours, the despair of their families. They knew that all would be in the gathering as attendance was compulsory, even for the sick and the dying.

The first woman was led to the chair. Even as she was secured to it, she kept her eyes averted from those of anyone else. The drop when it came was sudden, she had no time to draw in a breath but was instantly plunged into the icy cold water where she was unable to even struggle.

It would only have been under water for a minute or two, but to the onlookers it felt like an eternity. The chair was hauled back up onto dry ground, the woman clearly dead.

A loud voice rang out. “Hilda Forde. Innocent of witchcraft.”

That was the cue for her family to move forward, to claim her body for burial. They were now free to shed their tears. They could mourn for the passing of a daughter, a wife, a mother, without being accused of mourning for the passing of evil itself.

One body removed from the chair, another to take it's place. This time it is a slight figure, no more than thirteen years old and not yet fully grown. She does not have the same self-control but breaks down into tears. Her sobs ring out as she plunges backwards into the icy waters beneath her. Her panic will fill her lungs quickly, and her passing will be speedy.

“Agnes Thorpe. Innocent of witchcraft.”

A man and a woman, the parents of Agnes, move forward to collect her body. They both have tears streaming down their faces. The woman clearly wants to speak out, to make accusations, but the man does not want to lose his wife as well. He urges her to stay calm until they can be somewhere alone.

Similar scenes were to be seen in the aftermath of the dunking of the next three accused. The women all drowned, their families all summoned forward to remove their bodies.

The sixth woman was different. She did not cast her eyes downward but kept her stare level, defiant even. She was a tall, slim eighteen year old, unusually beautiful for one of the peasant folk. She sat straight and tall in the dunking chair. The instant the chair moved her eyes were closed and her breath was held.

Did the chair remain under water for the same amount of time? Some said it was withdrawn quicker, others maintained that it was under the water's surface for longer. Whatever the truth of it, the woman emerged to open her eyes.

The voice rang out with obvious contempt, “Bethany Long. Guilty of witchcraft.”

There were some gasps from the crowd but no one spoke up in denial. Her family found themselves standing in an isolated huddle, too shocked to know what to do.
Bethany herself was roughly removed from the chair, viciously bound and pushed to the ground while the remaining dunkings were to take place.

The crowd's interest was now restored. There were only so many drownings they could be forced to witness before their minds shut off from the horror of what they were seeing. But now, with a survivor, a declared witch, maybe there was some point to it all.

Another woman was pulled up from the water, all life washed away from her by the force of the icy water. Another body was removed for later burial.

The eighth and ninth of the accused, although both very different from each other both emerged from their dunkings alive. Elizabeth Palmer, a mother of four in her thirties, had long been a respected member of the community. Was it really possible that she was involved in devilry? Many doubted this, but fear stilled their tongues.
Mary Brewer, at eleven years of age, was the youngest of the accused. Obviously in shock she found herself tossed aside to await the outcome of the final submersion of the chair.

The tenth and final accused woman did not go quietly but was led to the chair kicking and screaming, protesting her innocence with every forward step. The dunking she underwent supported her claim as the chair brought her dead body up to the surface. Only her daughter and her mother went forward to claim her; the men had been shamed by her previous performance.

Once the final body had been removed the figure of the witch finder stepped forward. The three women were also pulled forward, bound around both ankle and wrist, to await sentencing.

“Bethany Long! Elizabeth Palmer! Mary Brewer! You have all been accused of consorting with the devil to carry out his work. The chair has declared that you are indeed witches and as such will be burnt at the stake at one hour past midday. Do you have anything to say?”

Mary Brewer sobbed hysterically. Elizabeth Palmer looked to be in a state of deep shock, not able to understand the words she had just been told. Only Bethany Long stared out at the crowd. Only Bethany Long turned towards the witch finder to launch a curse in his direction. And only I know that both she and I are capable of making this curse come true.

* * * * * * * * * *

Nobody has, or would ever, accuse me of witchcraft. I am the daughter of the Master. As such I am the second most powerful woman in the area, my mother being the first.
Bethany Long is my sister, unrecognised as such but we both know that we share the same father.

Nobody was aware that we had discovered the truth. We had become great friends over the last two years and in secret we had practised our magic skills. Bethany was good but I was stronger, able to call forth magic so powerful it would scare even me. But I had never used it for ill, and only once for good, to secure the life of our crops when a prolonged drought hit the local farmlands.

I watch from the window of my bedchamber as men erect three poles, sturdy enough to resist any amount of struggling from the three witches. Piles of wood and branches are brought to be placed around the bottoms of the poles. Even the village children are involved in the collection of sticks, too young to understand what is the real meaning of the cause to their excitement.

Bethany and I will make sure that the villagers pay for their actions today. She may burn but they will suffer for many years to come. We have made our plans; I know exactly what to do.

The villagers begin to gather at midday, some wanting to be sure of a good viewing position, others because on such a day there is little else to do. Before the women are brought forward and tied to their respective stakes, every member of the village is there.

The ritual now begins but not with the lighting of the wood. The women are first to be pelted and jeered at by their neighbours and the crowd is surveyed to make sure all  take part. Old fruit and vegetables, stones or small rocks, rotten eggs; anything is permitted so long as something is thrown.

Elizabeth is still in shock. She does not even blink as missiles begin to strike her. Poor young Mary is still in tears; where does she get them all from. She tries pointlessly to flinch away from the objects she finds showering her and she cries even harder. Bethany still has a look of total disdain on her face, as though the whole scene is not worthy of her attention. I can't help feeling proud of her as she fixes her gaze on to a rotten egg and directs it on a course straight towards the witch finder himself.

He draws the ritual pelting to a premature halt. He must be harbouring suspicions as he, himself, is going to light the kindling below my sister.

It takes a while for the fire to take hold. First there are little puffs of smoke that drift up from the woodpiles, tiny at first but becoming thicker by the second. Then comes the crackling, faint, then more pronounced. Minute flickers of flame begin to appear.

Elizabeth finally snaps out of her shock to scream and scream as the flames start to lick at her ankles. Mary wails like a trapped animal. Her consciousness will save her from the worst of the horror. I watch as her head slumps to the side, as she takes off to become a mere observer of her burning body. Bethany stares straight ahead still. It is almost as though a smile is touching her lips, even as the flames are reaching up towards her waist.

The sky darkens suddenly as a cloud of such deep blackness covers the spectators. The thunder is so loud the ground shakes and the lightning sizzles it's way through the surrounding sky. I am so accomplished at my magic skills that I can stand amidst the crowd and summon such forces without anyone being aware of what I am doing.

I make my curse silently. I make it with no guilt. I swear that every man here shall lose any woman that he loves in such a way. That he will be called upon to witness their suffering as I have done my sister. The curse is to remain until this persecution is brought to a stop. I believe there will be no female victims of my curse as the witch finder's family themselves are to be the first victims.

The only way for the curse to be broken is for me to be killed. I know that I am safe for nobody would ever dare to accuse me of witchcraft. I will see my sister's death avenged.


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