By Riley Faust, TIWP Student
The chanting outside sent chills down my spine and put fear in my heart. I could hear men, women, even little kids, all combining their voices to say a single, hate-filled word.
I knew I should join them. I knew if I didn’t, I might be one of the many tortured souls which ended up dead by their cruel hands. Whether it was by hanging, fire, drowning, or any other myriad of twisted methods, they would kill me. But for some reason, my body wouldn’t move. I tried to get up, I tried to move to open that door and join them, but I couldn’t. Maybe it was because I knew, somehow, by some strange feeling, that they were innocent. Or maybe I just didn’t want to believe that these women I had known so well, that I had spent afternoons with, just sitting and drinking tea and talking, were evil, inhuman creatures meant only to harm.
First, there was Abigail, although I always called her Abby. She wasn’t the slimmest character by any means, but she was without a doubt the most loving, caring woman I had met. Her house was warm and filled with a lovely scent I could never quite put my finger on. The meals that she cooked, no matter what it was, brought satisfaction and some other strange, happy feeling to everyone that ate them. Her smile was one that, even in the most dire of situations, could convince you that everything was going to be alright. The only time it had failed to convince me was when she stood on that creaky, unstable wooden stool, rope around her neck, and smiled at me, one last time, before it was kicked out from under her. I remember her bright smile being extinguished in the blink of an eye, and replaced with pure fear and horror, but I held her gaze until the end.
How could I let a woman, who never left those who needed someone, who helped anyone and everyone, even if it was just with a smile, die alone?
Then there was Meredith. Every man in this town seemed to watch her when she walked by. A smile could leave them frozen in place, unable to do anything but blink. Despite her beauty, few men approached her, as her rejection would most certainly ruin the idea that they had any chance with her. And she would reject them, without any sort of sympathy. Her laugh was always a loud snort that made people stare, but anyone who truly listened could hear the joy in it. She was a horrible cook, to the point where anytime she tried something, it always ended up on fire. Somehow, no one ever got hurt by even the brightest embers. That was unlike when they tied her to the rough wooden stake, tears streaming down her face, and lit the fire. They all laughed, cheered even, while she screamed, but I stayed silent.
How could I let a woman, who even through her failures, was full of beauty in so many ways, scream while I cheered and laughed?
And lastly, there was Grace. She loved to go down to the river and just float with the gentle current, somehow knowing every time when the river decided it no longer wanted to be gentle. She saved countless people from being swept away in its lethal grip. The river often left leaves and branches and little bits of sand stuck in her hair, but she didn’t seem to mind. Animals seemed to be a bit too comfortable around her. Sometimes you could catch her talking with the silent black cat that snuck around town, the same one that many avoided and threw stones at. Although I doubt they could really communicate, I think they understood each other in a different way, as those who tend to stay out of sight find comfort in the shadows. I remember that same black cat lurking in the shadows of a nearby tree. It watched as they tied her up with rough rope and threw her into the very same river she had saved them from too many times. I locked eyes with the cat, hoping that I could distract it from the loss of its only friend. The others watched as she drifted, then was swept out of sight.
How could I let a woman, who saved those who didn’t deserve it and befriended the friendless, be washed away while I just watched?
A knock sounded at my door.
I didn’t bother opening it.
A mere second later, they broke it down, and two men grabbed my arms to pull me out of my chair. I didn’t struggle, but went along with them, letting them drag me to the square where so many had taken their final breaths. A couple of kids threw rough stones at me as I walked by. There, in the center of the square, stood the town’s pride and joy: the hanging tree. There was already a noose set up, as well as an unstable wooden stool, the same one which they always used, the one they used with Abby. The men led me to the stool, and before I stepped up on it, one flipped me around to face him.
“You’re gonna die just like your little witch friends.” I could smell his musty breath as he said it, but despite his unnerving smile, I didn’t break eye contact. He spat in my face in return before pushing me towards the stool. I stepped up, almost falling due to that one leg that was just a bit too short. The stool had two grooves in the top, feet-shaped grooves, worn into it by the many women who had stood where I was standing. They put the noose around my neck. I looked out into the crowd of people, the expectant and excited look on their faces a reminder of what this was to them. Entertainment. As if they weren’t killing real people, real women. The man next to me spoke again.
“Any last words before you go where you belong, witch?”
For the first time in a long while, I smiled. “Yes, actually,” I responded. “Just one thing.” As a familiar burning sensation crept from deep in my heart out to the tips of my fingers, and embers began to emerge, I said the last thing I wanted to say to the murderers of this town.
“Let me show you what a real witch looks like.”
By Riley Faust, TIWP Student