Hang the Devil

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
After witnessing her own mother being trialled for witch craft, Dorcas Good, a four year old, finds herself facing accusations of her own. Set in the streets of Salem, this story follows the experiences of Dorcas’ trial and her time spent in jail. The Salem witch trials were an extremely influential historical event and it is believed that the story of Dorcas was what opened many minds to the immorality of what they were doing, and contributed to the end of the trials.

Submitted: September 14, 2013

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Submitted: September 14, 2013

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Hang the Devil!
 

Mother likes to tell stories. Stories about better places, where we don’t have to beg for our food or sleep under a ratty old blanket we found in an alley. She says they can take us away from the darkness of our lives. She’s telling me one now. Father said it might be the last story she ever tells me, that after she has the baby I won’t get to see her again. He won’t tell me why, but I know what mother is; I know she’s a witch.

 

Mother screams out in pain, breaking me from my thoughts. A frantic look falls over Father’s face as he grabs my hand and pulls me away. One last look towards Mother reveals her buckled over in pain, grasping her stomach. I wonder why she doesn’t make the pain go away; a witch should be able to do that, shouldn’t they? I try to pull away from Father, but he is clutching my arm with an iron grip and my feeble efforts seem to have no effect. I force myself to look away from the sorry sight of my mother and focus my gaze ahead of me.

 

We run for what seems like forever, through the winding streets of Salem, before finally, gasping for breath, Father stops and releases his grip on my arm. Abruptly he collapses onto the ground and breaks out in tears. Seeing him like that triggers tears of my own, I wonder why we had to run, why we couldn’t stay and help. I feel Father’s comforting arm fall around my shoulder and I breathe in the reassuring scent of the man who raised me.

 

“Father?” my voice wavers slightly as I lift my head to gaze up at him.

“What is it?”

“Why did we run?” the question triggers an almost imperceptible look of guilt and pain to shoot across his face, which he tries his best to hide before he answers.

“We aren’t going to see your mother again and I didn’t want that to be your last memory of her.” I don’t ask any more questions and we sit silently engaged in our own thoughts for quite a while before we get up and head home. Tonight I go to sleep not knowing the terror that tomorrow will hold.

 

Father wakes me up early the next day, he is telling me that it isn’t my fault, that I have to deny everything. I don’t understand what he’s talking about, but I nod in agreement anyway.  His eyes are frantically searching mine, for evidence that I understand, his whole body is tensed. It feels like decades before he breaks my gaze and pulls me close to him. My world is filled with the scent of him, wood and coals. The next thing I know we are walking hand in hand down the road. We pass people yelling insults at us.

“Witch!”

“The devil!”

I catch bits of whispered conversations, “She’s only four.”

“I always knew she was different.”

 

 

Father urges me to keep walking, whispers words of reassurance into my ear and holds my hand tight in his own. I try to drown out the harsh words that are being thrown at me by humming a song Mother used to sing to put me to sleep. It isn’t long until Father joins in and we are marching down the street to a glorious harmony. I have momentarily closed my eyes to the world around me, only to be harshly shoved into reality when I find myself standing at the front of a room of the people I have known my whole life. I can see my neighbours, family, friends, standing behind short wooden walls. I hear malicious threats coming out of mouths that have shown me such kindness in the past. I search the crowds for Father and a cold dread settles in my heart when I cannot find him anywhere. I try to run, but two strong arms come and hold my own. I can feel tears trickling down my face; my frightened eyes are frantically darting around the room.

 

“Welcome citizens to the trial of Dorcas Good!” The roaring voice pierces my ears and gains an enthusiastic uproar of insults in response. I shrink away from the harsh noise, but I can’t escape the firm grasp of the men holding me. I identify the voice as coming from an official looking man in a black coat standing at the front of the room, near me. “Today we will decide the fate of the young ‘child’ standing before me!” He spits out the word child like its poison.

 

 

“Today the trial will commence with statements from the witnesses, can I please have the first witness come to the front?”  I follow the scary man’s gaze to a line of people seated to the right of me and watch as a frail but determined old women stands up.

 

“I have seen the young devil partake in acts of evil far too horrific to be the works of any natural human being!” The woman’s voice wobbles with the effort of making her voice loud enough to be heard by everyone. I don’t understand what she is saying.

 

“Is this correct?” The man in the black coat maliciously barks the question at me and I am too scared to respond. The man becomes furious and approaches my paralysed body. With teeth clenched he speaks again, “I said is this correct!”

 

“No sir, well I don’t think so sir,” my whispered response causes the man’s face to turn red with anger and for a moment I am sure he is going to hit me. Instead of raising his fist, he straightens his body and begins to pace behind me. The tears are coming faster now, I cannot find Father anywhere and the scary man is getting angry.

 

“The child claims she has not committed such deeds, but she is not sure. This is the answer of a witch!” The man’s voice increases in intensity as he speaks, I notice his lip has begun to quiver and there is sweat dripping down his forehead. The crowd roars in approval and I try to hide my face, hiding from the threats of my friends. I can pick a few individual remarks from the crowd.

 

“Hang the devil!”

“Jail her!”

“She must be killed!”

 

When the people quieten the scary man invites the next witness to stand up. She speaks in a strong, convincing voice.  “Her Mother is a witch and therefore she must be too, I have played witness to her devil like behaviours and I have seen her hurt people. It was late at night and I had just put my brother to bed. Mother and Father were out late and I had been looking after him for the evening. I was in the room next door when his cries pierced the night. I ran to his side, but by the time I had arrived it was too late. I could see Dorcas standing in the corner of the room, smiling, and a bloody knife in her hands. In the blink of my eye, the devil disappeared and I was left cradling my dead brother in my hands, his cries now replaced by my own.”

 

“Dorcas, do you deny murdering this child!” The scary man’s gaze is brutally locked with my own as he awaits my response.

 

I numbly shake my head, “I do not hurt people,” I whisper to the ground. The man laughs at my response.

 

“Again she claims not to have hurt people! This girl is not just a witch but a liar!” he is looking down on me with a disgusted expression. It is all I can do to keep away the sobs that are threatening to overwhelm me.

 

Fear paralyses my body as the next witness stands. With every story being told I am being portrayed as a devil, a person who does not deserve to live. It is a middle aged man with a long brown beard that he strokes as he speaks. “This little devil has done worse deeds than what could be imagined by the craziest of minds. With my own eyes I have witnessed her lift a knife without her hands, plunging it into a young boy’s eyes, taking them out one. By. One.” The crowd gasps at the story, but the bearded man isn’t finished yet. “The sound of her giggle could be heard from miles away as she discarded of the knife in favour of her next weapon. She infused her evil powers with the snake that her mother had given her and she injected the poisonous venom into this innocent child, I watched that snake move from limb to limb, biting the child, poisoning him, killing him. This little devil,” the man thrusts his hand in my direction, “this little devil commanded the whole thing. Just when I thought she was finished I witnessed that boy writhing in pain, screaming out for his mother and this ‘child’ used her evil spirit to infiltrate the boys mind, leaving his last few moments of life to be left in pure insanity!” There was no uproar of agreement from the crowd this time. Not a single word was spoken. Everyone was sitting in an awed silence.

 

With a much weaker voice the scary man asked me “Is this story accurate?” All I could think is that I could never imagine such a horrendous story to be true. I would never commit such an act, but even now as I look towards the crowd, I know that these people have already decided I did.  I don’t answer the question this time and the scary man seems to take this as an agreement. “It seems we are beginning to crack the young witch, her lack of refusal tells me we have been asking the right questions. I will now call our final witness to tell their story.”

 

The last person sitting on the bench is a young woman, holding a little newborn in her slender hands. “Dorcas Good, a four year old child infused with the power of a devil, has destroyed my life. The Father of my child has come to be living in a state of insanity because of this child! He was on his way home from work when he came across her begging in the alleyway. Being the kind hearted man that he is; he offered her some of his money. The devil insisted he come with her so she could show him her little teddy bear that she got for Christmas. He agreed to come, thinking someone needed to show this girl a kindness. The moment she had gotten him away from the watching eyes of the people she started to attack. She twisted her little hand and he felt a tightening in his chest. Smiling the whole time, a murderous expression on her face she continued to twist until he was on the ground clutching his chest. He described it to me as feeling like his heart was being wound up and stabbed with a thousand knives. Just when he was on the brink of death she released her grip and moved her hand upwards. With a squeeze of her little hand his brain was attacked. It was like a thousand tiny men where in the midst of a war in his head. They shot at his memory, his eyesight, and his sanity. When the devil was finished with him she tossed him to the side and he watched, unable to move as she skipped, smiling, down the road and out of sight!” The room breaks out into pandemonium with people screaming their outrage left, right and centre. My mind is whirling; I do not understand why this woman thinks I am capable of such evil. I don’t understand why these people don’t question the truth of the story. I don’t understand what is going on and I don’t know what to do about it anymore, all I know is that I want this to end.

 

“Is this true Dorcas?” I can remember from Mother’s trial, she was asked these questions. It occurs to me that maybe if I say I did these things I will get to see her again. That thought is what compels me to answer the question the way I do.

 

“Yes, I hurt the man, and the little boy, I am a witch.” The crowd is mayhem, people yelling insults and condemning me to death. The scary man is shaking his head, a sneer on his face. I am nothing more than a rat to these people and they want me gone.

 

“Dorcas Good you have been found guilty of witchcraft, you will be jailed as your punishment, until the time when your father can afford to bail you out. It would be unjust to hang such a young child, but justice must be served!” These words seem to signal the end of the trial and the two muscled guards direct me to my cell.

 

...

 

I have been guarding the cell of the child witch for eight months now and with each passing day I can see her condition deteriorating.  The girl used to scream for her father, shout for her mother, but not anymore. Her voice used to haunt the cells, echoes bounced off the walls. That stopped after the first month. I think she must have realized they couldn’t hear her. What I can hear is her weeping. A hollow, painful sound and I can’t decide what is worse, those days of silence when I think she must be dead, or the hours of dry tears.

 

The girl is silent at the moment. I take this opportunity to peer through a small hole in her cell. She is lying in the corner, her body looks tiny and insignificant as she huddles in the same position she has been in for months. Her skin is pale and her arms have become as thin as sticks. She is a sickly sight and I feel guilty knowing I stood by and watched her become this way, knowing that if I was told, I would do it again.

 

When I heard the girl was coming I threw a piece of cloth into her cell. The rumours told me that she was a four year old, convicted of witchcraft after her mother had suffered the same fate. I don’t know why I did it, but even now, when she is awake I see her playing with it, moving only her fingers. I think it hurts too much for her to do anything more. She doesn’t reach for the food I bring her anymore. It is not much, but I have been spoon feeding her the scraps for many months now. The girl just sits, playing with the cloth and looking absently forward.

 

I can remember, many months ago now, when her mother had come to the very same cell. She was thirty eight and pregnant, but looked like a seventy year old woman. Sarah, I think her name was. Apparently she was only to be held in the cells until she had her baby and then she was to be hung. It was a dark day when that baby came. Her family had visited her once. They had run at her first contractions. I was ordered not to help her. Instead I stood and watched as Sarah had her baby, with no one around to help her, to hold her hand. I was relieved when I saw the tiny person in her arms, when I first heard the cries. I didn’t tell the other guards straight away. I wanted Sarah to have a moment with her child, before she was hung. It was only an hour before the sound of the baby’s cries was replaced by its mother’s. Today I wonder if it would have made a difference if I had helped with the birth. That maybe then the baby would still be alive. I couldn’t wait any longer after that. I called to the other guards and we arranged for her to be hung. I am haunted by the image of her neck snapping, her body hanging limp and her eyes staring ahead, unseeing.

 

Dorcas has been seeing things. I hear her muttering, deep into the night, words about monsters and horrors of a child’s imagination. She is traumatized beyond repair. I have started to doubt if her Father will ever return for her. I wonder if he agrees with the accusations. It seems unimaginable to convict your daughter to such a fate.

 

I would like to think of myself as an honest man, but if I am honest to myself I have been a terrible person. On occasion I have beaten the child, following orders to save myself. When I was asked I watched that baby die. I blame the condition of Dorcas on the people for accusing her, but when I am honest, I know I could have done so much more. I tell myself that I follow such orders in honour, honour of my vows to protect the people, but the truth is Dorcas is no different to any other four year old and she is the one who needs protecting. Nothing can change what I have done; I do not deserve to be forgiven.

 

“Sir?” the voice breaks me from my thought. A middle aged man is standing before me, his eyes are hollow and his voice pained. It looks as if he hasn’t slept in months.

 

“There are no visitors allowed back here,” I tell the man and he smiles weakly in response.

 

“I am here to pick up my daughter; I have paid her bail and was told you would be able to let me in.” It would be an understatement to say I am surprised to see Dorcas’ father.  I can’t help but be angry with the man for leaving her here with people like me for so long. I know it is none of my business, but I have to ask him why he did it.

 

“I have been working as a labourer, day and night, saving every cent I made. Unfortunately the job does not pay handsomely and I know it took me too long to make the money I needed. Dorcas is my daughter and believe me, had there been a way for me to get her out of here sooner, she would not be here today.” He is looking at me, a painful look of hope on his face, he is holding onto a belief that his sacrifices have been enough to save her. I cannot think of anything to say that will make the man feel better, I am no hero; I have not the courage to warn him about what is inside that cell. Instead I unlock the door and swing it open for him to recover what is left of Dorcas Good.

 

I watch as he tenderly lifts her frail body, holding her tiny frame close to his own. Despite his gentle efforts she cries out in pain at the slight movement. Her Father tries to hide his own pain as he walks past me and through gritted teeth he thanks me for watching over her. My heart lurches towards them, I am sure this is not the reunion either of them had imagined. Not every story has a fairy-tale ending and I imagine that this story is far from over.

 

For a four year old child to have gone through such suffering is beyond my comprehension. I myself will be forever haunted by the images of so many dead, so many love ones lost and all because of an unjustified fear of the unknown, an imagined demon. Dorcas Good will always be one that stands out to me, a symbol of the cruelty and horror that humans can cause. We should not be afraid of the devil’s evil touch, but of our own power and ignorance, because that is truly what killed, tortured and traumatized so many innocent people.

 

 


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