Mercy lay on the straw peering out through a crack in the barn door. Tears were running down her face, the debris of what had happened. She was waiting to be sure that himself was finally asleep stewing in the juices of the whiskey he’d drunk. When he was, she’d be able to wash the filth of tonight away. She had been intending to bath in the river when he had caught her unawares, now she needed to feel clean again even more than before.
This was not the first time he had come like this to her, no man of the Lord like he told all that he was, but a ravening animal! But this was certainly the worst she mused as she put her shaking hand to her swollen lips where he had ground the stubble of his mouth against hers. She tried not to think of the flower between her legs which was also puffed and swollen where he had pressed his evil against her, taking what should have been a husband’s right.
Mercy blamed herself, she had known the man of God had been drinking hard that night, celebrating the sale of the surplus crop they’d had this year. She could have risked the wrath of her mother during the morning while he snored away the vapors of what he had been drinking. But, had been a hard day, and she was overdue to bathe anyway, and she had thought maybe she could see young Jacob going into town tomorrow she had to admit.
Her eyes traveled down her own pale form. It wasn’t all pale anymore, there were blossoming bruises on her young breasts where the hand of God had touched her before he had passed out drunk. The more Mercy looked, the angrier she got. She knew she could tell no-one, just pretend it didn’t happen lest her Mother beat her and call her a whore for making himself do this to her. She could only pray his seed had not taken root in her womb. All Mercy could do was suffer in silence and pray to a god that let that old fiend speak for him on Sundays and do this to her on Friday nights.
Or, maybe not.
Mercy had heard the whispers of the old women in town. Mercy had pretended she was just another one of the idiot children when it was time for harvest picking in the rows, or knitting by the fire so that they would speak without considering her. Maybe, maybe if God would do this to her, let her be hurt like this, maybe there was another one she should be speaking to now. She had heard the will and the way of it, surely the old biddies thought she hadn’t, but she had. They were discussing old Hazel who had died last year, oh but the secret envy that hid in those fiery denunciations of the departed.
If God wasn’t interested in her tears and her prayers, maybe Old Scratch would be? If the stories were true, the cost was the same, she had suffered once for the reward of nothing but pain. To suffer it again for power, real power, and the only kind a woman could hope for, well how much pain could it really be?
No one stirred in the house, both himself and herself were well asleep. She was all alone in the moonlit night. She walked over across the barn, ignoring the plow horses and the cow as she stepped careful, not to make a sound. She unlatched one gate and called inside softly, “Come on out Cleo, I know you know how to contact your master. I’m willing and I wait for him.”
She turned away and walked back to a part of the barn floor that stood clear of all debris, bathed in the light of this full moon. She sank down to her knees on the floor and glanced up at the moon through the window letting it wash over her in its luminescence. She heard the clop of the goat’s feet as it came out of its pen behind her. Her face was already planted firmly on the cold dirt floor when the sound behind her changed from four hooves to two, and from two hooves to the padding of feet.
Virginia Gist did the rounds. She usually did them anymore more. Old Mother Morgan would only see people at her own house these days, complaining of the infirmities of her advanced years keeping her from going out as often as she had once. She had certainly gone out more before Ginny Gist had become her pupil. Ginny was smart enough to notice, the more Ginny could do, the worse Mother Morgan’s “pains” troubled her. She had no illusions about Old Mother Morgan using her. But it was instructive in the ways of medicine, so she was getting paid in a way. She found herself learning first and foremost that the most important thing was the patient’s mind if they believed they were going to get well as often as not they would. And the people of Morganville believed in Old Mother Morgan, daughter of the preacher who had founded the town.
Of course, that wasn’t why they believed in Old Mother Morgan. Ginny had no illusions about that either, everyone knew the old woman was a witch. But a witch who cures your ills and makes it so the Shawnee have no interest in this bustling frontier town was no witch at all, was she? Ginny had no interest in those “other things” she could learn from the wrinkled old witch. Ginny was a good god fearing girl, but Jesus said to minister to the sick, and the elderly woman with the evil eyes was the best teacher on the entire mountain range.
Ginny was humming a little bit of a hymn as she went down the lane to the Van Elgin’s house, they had the grippe.
Old Mother Morgan sat in the rocking chair Ambrose Allen had made for her years ago. She was deep in thought. She had much to think about. Mercy Morgan made no bones about what she was, never had, and the town of Morganville owed her much. Her powers, the ones that made them fear her some, those were mostly gone now. Hisself Ol’ Scratch hadn’t come to her in many a year, and without those lusty encounters, her powers had waned. She had other skills the town needed just as much though. She brought every babe into this world, made sure their mother’s recovered from the birthing, and laid almost every soul out when it was time for them to go to whatever reward they had earned. Her reputation kept the Shawnee and the Tsa La Gi from raiding Morganville while other towns nearby would sometimes burn right down to the dirty itself. The town of Morganville owed her their very lives.
The cause for her reputation was mostly in the past now, and that high-minded little Ginny Gist did her medicine rounds these days. But the reputation remained, and no-one wanted to find out how much of the powers that had earned that fearsome regard was still left. In fact, since no-one had the nerve to test it, all assumed that any strange thing that happened anywhere near about was caused by the Witch Of Morganville against one who had wronged her somehow. She hadn’t done a real magik of any serious strength in more than a few years, but if a calf came out with two heads anywhere in talking distance, it was the Witch. If you had wronged the witch, was stingy in your loaves of bread as a gift to her, cut her off in her walks down the main street, you’d best make good soon, lest you find your wife dying of consumption or your horse turn up lame.
But the reality was, Old Scratch never came to her these nights. Maybe the dark prince felt he didn’t need to, knowing that no many how many churches were built all the locals bowed at his altar in the secret parts of their heart. Mercy suspected another reason, he no longer wanted to get himself on her wrinkled form. He might want to get himself on that god fearing virgin bitch Ginny, whose Daddy didn’t have straying hands, but he’d only used old Mercy for as long as he needed to to get his claws into Morganville. Then he’d tossed her aside like the tainted fruit she’d always been. Little Miss Too Good would never do that of course, not for any of the local boys who lusted after her, certainly not to the Devil his own self, no matter how many times Mercy might suggest it. That’s what Mercy thought at least, in the dark spots of her own soul.
Well, now she had a bigger problem than her own petty jealousies no matter how well-founded they might be. She’d found it out from the Mayor who had spit it out finally in an embarrassed stutter. Someone in the local towns nearby, most likely jealous of Morganville’s good fortunes, had let the government know the town’s secret. Let them know that Morganville was under the cloud of a witch. It didn’t matter whose authority it was, the King or the Colonials, it was still authority. They were sending out to Morganville, the town Mercy Morgan had protected for the last 60 years, they were sending a witch finder. One of those crazed men of God, who would not rest until it ended in fire, or hemp, or both.
But she had an idea in her head, a way that it wouldn’t be her that got the opportunity to dance an inch above the ground.
Righteousness Smith rode down the lone street of Morganville riding a strawberry roan horse, followed by two donkeys. The horse by its coloration one would have guessed had had some worth at some time. Time had done its work, and now the gelding was worn down, as tired a looking a nag as one wanted to hope to not own. The two pack animals, one carried Smith’s camp on it’s back, the other a young man in the shadows between youth and adulthood, where it is neither nor. Pale faced and oddly voluptuous for a boy, he rode with his face forward but his eyes perpetually down.
Righteousness was a different story, the thin man’s face was a collection of hard lines and sharp angles, and his eyes flickered and weighed everything they saw. His face flushed at the slightest of emotions, which meant it was often red. The man bubbled constantly near the point of outrage. This was the bearing and carriage of a man who saw sin everywhere, and all of it a personal affront to him, even the trees. They could possibly contain birds fornicating after all.
The pair needed first to present themselves and their papers to the town’s Mayor, Ambrose Freeman. Ambrose had the job of Mayor for the simple reason that the town could think of no honest work that the man was capable of. It was assumed by all, that doing nothing but filling out reports in his flowing script would keep the old man out of mischief. No-one complained at least, which in some quarters counts as a ringing endorsement.
Righteousness banged on the door to what passed for a town hall in Morganville. It was truthfully an old house of the Morgan family that had been donated as an ad hoc courtroom and Mayor’s residence. There was a small jailhouse on the grounds in the back, but since it rarely held more than the occasional imbiber of whiskey who needed a safe place to sleep it off most of the residents of the town often forgot about it completely. The door to the house creaked open eventually, and the fair hair and face of a boy barely a teen popped out to see who it was. It was John Freeman, the mayor’s own grandson, who when company was expected did double duty as a doorman. “Yes? Who are ye and what’s your business?” the young face demanded.
Righteousness’s face flared red, either at the affront or for some other reason, his voice was tight as he declared, “My name is Righteousness Smith young man, I was told to present myself to the mayor upon my arrival. Since I doubt myself that a young lad such as yourself is he, could you please announce my presence?”
The boy’s face wrinkled up for a moment before he replied, “You must be wanting Granddad then, he’s got company, but I think he mentioned something about you. I’ll take you to see him shall I?”
“If you would be so kind,” Righteousness said tightly. The boy’s thickheadedness annoyed him deeply, but it spoke of a yokel mentality to the town that would serve him well. The ignorant rarely argue with people in his line of work, if anything, they would go out of their way to aid him in their fears of the unknown and the evil. The house was well apportioned, which surprised Smith. For a town that let an idiot child open the mayor’s door to visitors, the Mayor’s own house had luxurious trappings and fine furniture to show for itself. The boy led him through the main hall to an office in the back where he knocked.
An older male voiced called out, “Yes? Who is it?”
“Is me John Grandad, the man who was supposed to come is here.”
There was a long pause before, “Well show him in already!”
The boy opened the door and pointed inside, “There, he’s been shown.” It was unsure who this was directed towards, but he turned away duty done and walked off down the hall. Smith suspected he could see the boy picking his nose as he went.
With no option left to him, Righteousness strode into the room on his own erect and firm in manner, leaving his young assistant to trail in on his wake. He glanced around the room quickly to assess it. As it had been with the rest of the building the furniture was well made, most likely from Richmond or maybe even beyond. The walls were lined with bookshelves, full to the brim with books. Smith had his doubts about how many were for show, and how many for reading and how many were for guests to see. One of the occupants he had a harder time reading. The man looked like a typical country lawyer, dressed in the height of fashion from maybe ten years ago, his face placed him to be in about his fifties, but hard worn by a frontier life. The woman, on the other hand, looked ancient, yet well dressed and neat with her hands folded in her lap in a stuffed chair next to the mayor’s desk.
Smith walked across the room and to the Mayor’s desk purposefully and stiffly, but this was how he always walked. He handed a sealed envelope over to the now standing man, “I present to you my papers containing my writ. I was told that you would expect me.”
“Ummm yes, yes of course. Ambrose Freeman at your service. Also, may I present our town’s esteemed oldest citizen, Mercy Morgan,” the flustered man replied taking the envelope.
“Righteousness Smith, at your service as well, I’m sure,” Smith nodded to them both.”I should also present myself to the town vicar, so I shan’t keep you for very long.”
“I can’t say I know why you’re here at all if you don’t mind me saying. A witch is the kind of thing you’d think we’d notice,” the Mayor said with a wide grin, which died on his face as he saw the stern expression that remained on Smith’s face.
“The residents of Eden were quite adamant about it, I assure you. They swore that there was a witch practicing in this vicinity. No fault presents itself to you, of course, a witch being a creature of Satan is welcome and happy in the land of deceit. No doubt you just did not see it for what it was, but I shall,” Smith replied, his eyes taking on a fiery gleam as he spoke.
Mercy cursed to herself, the damned Pennsylvanians in Eden they hadn’t been here long, and clearly didn’t have the sense to keep their mouths shut. She regretted her soft heart for not letting the Shawnee just burn the damned place to the ground years ago. Aloud though, she replied as she smiled broadly, “Please Mr. Smith. I happen to be heading in the same direction as the church, allow me to escort you to Pastor Jefferson’s house.”
“Why thank you, umm Mistress Morgan. You are too kind,” Smith gave her a tight smile.
“Alistair, if you’d excuse us. I’ll take Mr. Smith to Pastor Jefferson’s, the sooner he’s presented himself, the sooner he can settle in to rest from his ride,” Mercy said smiling and the Mayor.
“Yes, of course, Mistress Morgan. I’d appreciate the time to get back to my duties anyway. Pleased to have made your acquaintance Mister Smith.”
Once they were outside Smith cut right to the chase with the old woman, “So Mistress Morgan. What do you make of the rumors that I am here to investigate?”
“Oh, I don’t know anything about things like that. I leave that to the Priests and Parsons. But I would have my doubts about it all of that,” she said with a shrug.
“Do you know, I have studied the death records of your town. Did you know that the plagues of frontier living rarely visit Morganville?” he replied.
“Good living I suppose,”Mercy replied with another shrug.
“In my experience when I see the illnesses sent by the Lord to send us home thwarted so often, I find myself suspecting a witch,” the man replied tightly. “Tell me who handles medicine in this town?”
“That would be young Ginny Gist, but she’s just a slip of a gel. Far too young to be involved in anything like that, I’m sure,” Mercy said with a smile as if to say it was a foolish question.
“Precocious is she?”
“I suppose you could say that, or you could say diligence. Well here we are at Pastor Jefferson’s, he should be in now. But if you’ll excuse me, I have some chores of my own I need to be getting on with,” Mercy said with a slight bow.
“Well met Mistress Morgan,” Righteousness said with a bow of his own.
“Well met as well Mister Smith,” Mercy said with a knowing smile. What chores she had at home were inconsequential she had performed her most important one already, a plant was growing she might need to shade her later.
In the coming weeks, Righteousness Smith knew nothing but frustration and anger. In his experience, and in all the memoirs of others in his trade, there was never a problem finding one neighbor willing to damn another. Often wrongly he suspected in the depths of his heart. But not here in Morganville. No, here in these mountain heights, none would even admit TO a witch, let alone give him a name to present to the Governor once the Lord’s justice had been delivered at the stake or on the scaffold.
This was his mindset as he wandered down a wooded lane alone. Francis his young man was back at the rooms that served as their offices and lodging, complaining of exhaustion and soreness. Francis often did, this was no new malady for the lad, Smith was sure he would complain of it to none though. The boy worried constantly over being left by Righteousness, he had little skills and was too old now to be rescued from an orphanage like he had been by Smith in Baltimore.
He had hoped that the walk would clear his mind, but it came back to the same stone wall every time he ran through it. He had a suspect, the surprisingly good young Doctor of the town Ginny Gist. A girl not even wed yet with a man to temper her unpredictable womanly nature, yet a physician so good almost all of her patients survived and thrived, Righteousness doubted that it was just earthly talents that gave her so many successes. But with no witnesses and none to testify, none to even admit to a witch, what could he do? Nothing at all was all he could do. He feared what the cost of this expedition, only to come away with naught would do to his reputation with not only this Governor but to all, once word spread. But he had to consider that soon he must move on, it was one thing to present his receipts with a promise that it was an unfounded tale, it was another to present HUGE receipts with the same result.
As he went he spied two women of the town walking towards him along the lane. One was an older widow he had noticed before, he did not know the other. As a gentleman, he stood aside to allow them the lane to themselves to pass. This caused him impatience as he was forced to wait along his own way and thoughts until they passed, but a good reputation always goes far when one needs information.
When the women pulled abreast to him, they stopped. Not to be seen as anything less than courteous he bowed, “Good day to you good women.”
The older of them looked both ways down the path, before stepping towards him and speaking in a hushed tone, “Witchfinder Smith, I need to have words with thee quickly here and now.”
This surprised the man, but he rallied quickly, “If I have caused any offense to you…”
The woman looked both ways again before speaking quickly, “I know who is the one of which you seek.”
Righteousness felt his heart soar at the mere thought of it! Finally a chance to complete his task successfully! “Good woman, if you will but provide a name….” he said unable to conceal his broad smile.
“Nay, we will neither write it or say her name. She’s rumored to be able to tell if any are speaking ill of her,” the woman looked aghast at the thought. She could see his face fall at what he had heard, but leaned in quickly, “But witchfinder, if we see her under your lock and key, we’ll sign anything you need signed by way of testimony so it will stand up in court. That we will do for ye!”
“Be ready then!” he said with enthusiasm. The women quickly scuttled off through the woods, leaving Righteousness Smith triumphant! What was going to be a colossal failure needed only for him to seize the girl, and present her to these women! Finally, he would have the Lord’s justice, a witch sent to blazes! He returned to his walk to savor his joy and solitude at this change of fortune. Virginia Gist would make a pretty blaze within a day or two, he could afford to wait a bit to savor it.
Another day, another series of maladies to cure. Ginny didn’t mind, in reality, she was happy to do it. Her mind was sharper and her fingers more nimble than old Mercy. It kept the old woman from having to work the rounds and provided Ginny with a purpose she’d have long after the old girl had gone to wind and dust. She was not sure she wanted herself a husband and children just yet, and people always got sick after all.
She was walking through outskirts of town, her intent was to visit the Lewis’, they had a bad fever in their youngest Alexander that needed looking after. She was sure the babe would be fine, but it needed a constant lookout all the same lest it go the other way. She was passing the part of town that were mainly given over to barns and pens. This kept them under the town’s watchful protection, and kept places for horses and livestock close, but saved the main street from some of the more noticeable aromas and mainly downwind of the houses themselves. It had been an idea of Mercy’s own father, and Ginny approved of it for matters of hygiene.
She wasn’t looking into any of the open doors she passed, she had been raised with manners after all. Her lack of attention is why she didn’t see the hands that reached out of the side door of the Westfall barn! She had barely begun to make a sound as a hand clasped roughly over her mouth as she was dragged inside the dark barn! She was turned and found herself staring into the burning eyes of the Witchfinder Righteousness Smith. Her mind swirled, he must be thinking to pressure her about Mercy was all she could think. But that was foolishness, the old woman didn’t even have an ounce of power anymore!
Before she could say a word, the man snarled at her, “We’ve got you now witch! We have witnesses who will testify! The barn has been prepared and locked up nice and tight and away from prying eyes, so think not of escape daughter of Satan!”
Ginny was stunned for a long moment staring up into those mad eyes. Her? She was no witch! She had not even stepped out with a boy, she went to church regular, said her prayers morning noon and night! A witch? What was this madman thinking!
She was about to say as such when the crazed man threw her down on to the straw laden dirty floor, “As I’ve said, I have witnesses, and I must prepare their testimony. You can’t wait here in the animal filth while I do! Don’t think of escape, I’ve prepared the barn, there is no way out of it, all locked and tight!”
With that the fiend took his crazed eyes from her and strode stiffly out the door he had so recently drug her through. The barn went dark as the door slammed shut. She heard the bolt slam home outside, and worse yet, she heard the metallic clinks and clicks of a padlock being secured onto the outside of the door! She was accused, and trapped by a lunatic!
Ginny lay on the ground, well it wasn’t even really ground, a barn floor is mostly a substance that will be ground one day, but is slightly more aromatic at the moment. There might be boards under there, but years of transporting manure had made them vanish into a dim memory. She began to cry at how unfair the whole thing was! She had known the power she had turned down all these years, Mercy had told her how to do it often enough! What good had it done her?
Shortly though, her tears subsided, and she felt childish for having wept at all. Here Ginny was, almost a woman, well actually fully a woman, and yet she cried like a babe here in this barn! Thank God Almighty Mercy wasn’t here to see it, the old woman was unmerciful when Ginny had cried in frustration as she learned from the old woman. The question now, was not how unfair it was, but what could she do about it all? She had no desire to burn at the stake for something she’d never done.
The thing was, she couldn’t think of what to do. She just sat there, listening to the animals in their pens. Smith must have brought them in from their paddock early to make sure there would be no accidental unlocking of a door and freeing her. The man was crazed, but she had to give him credit for being methodical. The sounds of the horse’s nickers were almost soothing, she began to calm herself and her thinking began to flow more freely again.
Ginny’s calm was rent in an instant by the bleat of the Westfall’s billy goat at the gate to his pen.
The Westfall’s billy goat.
She did have a way out after all! As if in a fog she got to her feet and began to walk slowly over to its pen. As she walked her fingers dreamily plucked loose the fastenings on her working clothes, letting them fall to the floor of the barn. As she clicked open the latch to the pen, Ginny said languidly, “Nothing for it I suppose, in for a penny, in for a pound.”
Smith was exultant when he and Francis returned to his offices. He had his witch! He had her under lock and key, and he had witnesses! He only needed to get out the partially drawn up affidavits he kept in his desk, fill in a few details, get them signed, and finish this accursed mess! His wide smile fell when he opened the door to his office though. Seated there was the town’s resident old baggage, Mercy Morgan. The woman had made almost a pest of herself, checking on how his search went. Well maybe now that he had news, Righteousness would finally see the end of her as well.
“Ahh Master Smith!” she said with a grin getting up to greet him, “how goes thy search?”
“Success my good woman! I have the witch, and I have her under lock and key,” Smith exulted as he paced to his desk.
The woman looked shocked for a moment, but then if anything her grin broadened, “Finally! Saints be praised for our deliverance! Who did this daughter of the cursed one turn out to be?”
“None other than Virginia Gist, the girl doctor. I suspected her all along, but now I have witnesses that will name her a witch! As soon I have their sworn testimony in hand, the girl will burn in the town square!”
“Ginny Gist? Are you sure?” now the old woman looked legitimately surprised, if not for the reasons Smith assumed. She had been dropping enough hints to make the man suspect Little Miss Perfect all along, but witnesses?
“Aye Mistress, there was never really any other suspect to me. I only needed testimony to name her as such,” Righteousness replied with a vicious grin. “Francis go to the other room and get me some fresh ink please, I’ve much to write and doubt me there’s enough ink in this well to do it.”
“At once Master,” the young man bowed his head as he left the room.
Once they were alone, the old woman seemed to have composed herself for a moment before asking, “So where does she bide her time until you put her to trial?”
“I have her locked up in the Westfall’s barn,” Smith replied as he began to dig through his drawers.
Mercy leapt to her feet, and flew across the room at him with a vigor that shocked the man, “You fool! It was in a barn that I became a witch!”
The words hung there, Mercy found herself staring cross-eyed looking at her own nose as if she herself could not believe the words that had come out of her mouth. She could not believe the words because she had not formed them, she had not thought them, but say them she had. She felt an unseen hand taking her over, and she was powerless to stop it. She surely knew it for what it was, for it was the very hand that all of her own powers had ever come from! The clever little minx! Mercy knew that she was doomed now, and she knew that fighting it would only cause pain to herself. Besides, Mercy was curious to see how Old Scratch would play this now that she had been thrown to the wolves like this. It was only fair she supposed, she’d tried hard enough to get the girl in this very same fix.
Righteousness thrust back his chair from his desk in shock at what he had heard. “You?” he gasped stunned by the admission of guilt.
Mercy was upon him in an instant. She yanked violently at the front of her blouse as she rushed to where he sat! It sprung open at her pulling hands releasing her wrinkled and liver spotted dugs to the open air, “Oh aye Witch Finder! If I had not misspoken just now you’d have burned an innocent slip of a girl for it too! But would ye not like to spare my life? I know all of you wretched fools wank yourselves to the thought of what you could do that was REALLY hot with a witch! I’ll let you feel it if you let me free!”
Righteousness could only gape at the old hag, dumbfounded, as she thrust herself at him. Her dress was the next thing that she pulled so that she could straddle him with a speed that astounded him! Smith felt her begin to grind against him, God Almighty he could feel her heat! He felt something hot and wet now slowly soaking through the front of his homespun breeches, something he would never have expected from a woman of his advanced years! To make it all worse, God help him, he could feel his manhood responding to her hideous ministrations!
When all felt lost to him, he could hear Francis’ footsteps returning! His mind and his might came back to him and he thrust the old baggage off of him! She fell loudly against the floor the laughing at him. The stretched areolas of her sagging breasts scraping back and forth as she lay there cackling on her elbows.
Francis’ dropped the inkwell with a clatter as he stepped into the room and took in the scene before him, “Master, I….”
Righteousness, his face beet red let out a bellow, “Francis! Thank God! Go now and get the constable! Immediately! He has no business more vital than this!” He pointed a quivering finger at the wrinkled half nude old woman on the floor as she shook with laughter, “There is our witch!”
“Go now, boy!”
The boy fled.
Smith took a few deep shuddering breaths to compose himself. He looked down to see the stain on the front of his breeches, he feared that not all of it was the hell spawn on the floor. Taking his handkerchief out he began to rub it out, taking care to pull the cloth of his breeches away from any exposed skin, lest he make matters worse. Sure of his appearance at least, he went over to the old woman and yanked her to her feet. “Cover yourself witch!” he demanded.
“Or what? You’ll stone me as a witch?” the mad thing cackled. “Will ye set me free if I cover up what the good Lord gave me will you?” This set off another mad bought of laughter from the woman that stood before him, mocking him!
It was only the arrival of a red-faced Francis and the town Constable that stayed his hand. They both turned to face the new entrants, her in front of him like lover’s caught in a tryst. “Constable, we have our witch! By her own words, and by two witnesses. Take her to the town jail! Since she has confessed it herself to me, there is no need for a trial, she burns tomorrow eve!” Smith bellowed over loud for the small room.
The old woman shrugged as the jailer walked timidly towards the woman he had known his whole life. He knew her for what she was, but he couldn’t see as he had a choice in it. Just as he thrust out his arm stiffly for her arm, she reached back with her hand and slowly caressed the front of Smith’s breeches, “It’s a shame Smith, if you had not been such a fool, I could have shown you real righteousness, oh yes I could have!”
With the woman now the jailer’s problem and not his finally, Smith stared hard at the gaping boy Francis before speaking again, “Take this daughter of Satan to the cell. Do not come back here, and spread word that I am not to be disturbed for any reason. Francis and I need to pray very hard on today’s events.”
“As you wish sir!”
The door to the barn opened and Righteousness Smith stepped in. Ginny looked up to see him, and that manservant of his, the one who often walked bowlegged, step in. She could barely make them out in the dim light. She said nothing but stared in the gloom of dusk at the pair of them almost as if demanding they speak first. Her face shining in the gloom from where she was, kneeling with her hands propped up on an old anvil.
“Praying I see, “Smith said with a tight smile on his face. “Would that more of the wayward youth of this world did it more often. I have come to beg your pardon, and release you. I can only say that I was led astray by vicious lies planted by the Devil his own self.”
He looked down at her red flushed face, most likely from tears and anger at her unfair treatment, and now felt himself the cad for what he had done to this poor sweet girl. But the matter was being put right. Her eyes were penetrating in the gloom as she demanded, “So have you found the real witch?”
“Yes…uh, it turned out to be Mercy Morgan, she confessed it herself,” Smith replied shamefaced.
“So what is to become of me?” the girl asked quietly, her eyes still gleaming at him.
“Why..um nothing, of course, I was just coming to tell you,” Smith stammered.
“And my reputation?” she demanded.
“Spotless, of course, none shall think otherwise, I shall make sure of it personally,” Righteousness replied feeling he had quite lost the initiative here.
“Very well, I suppose,” the girl said getting to her feet, “when is the old woman to be tried?”
“There shall be no trial,” Smith shrugged,” she confessed to a duly empowered Witchfinder. She burns tomorrow eve.”
Righteousness Smith was worried. The mood of the crowd wasn’t right at all. Anger was normal. Celebration was normal. That was how people who are about to burn a witch are supposed to act. Not the people of Morganville, who acted like a group of people being forced into something they knew they had to do, but wished they could be anywhere else tonight. Reluctance and a shuffling of feet were not normal.
Except for his witnesses, Adeline Cabell, and her daughter Cleda. Adeline, in particular, looked triumphant in her demeanor this night. She had a personal grudge with the old woman it was obvious and had happily signed the papers he needed once Mercy was secure in the town jail cell. The daughter looked less ecstatic, but he could see her glancing towards her mother and smiling as the sunset and the hour drew near.
A murmur rolled through the crowd, and eyes began to swivel towards the direction of the Mayor’s house. They were bringing her. Instead of the roar of satisfaction that normally attended these matters, there was only whispering, and he swore a few sobs in the midst of it. No mistake, this town would bear watching in the future, he would be sure to write that into his report.
He stood by the stake, and the stacked up faggots of wood that would be the witches pyre, waiting for the assemblage of jailers to drag the old hag to her doom. He could trace their movement towards him by the way the faces in the crowd turned and moved back clearing a path. That was until it stopped, right in from of Adeline Cabell.
The crowd fell silent as the two women faced off. Mercy Morgan broke the silence, “Adeline. I should have known ye would be here on the kill.”
“I will sleep better knowing ye and your witchcraft is gone old hag!” the woman snarled.
“If ye had gotten off yer knees with yer foolish praying for a miracle, and had gotten one who knew medicine your Thomas might be still alive you silly woman!” Mercy sneered at her.
Adeline Cabell looked as if she had been slapped for a moment, but she recovered herself, “At last, I’ll rest easy knowing he’ll not be where you’re going tonight witch!”
At that Mercy cackled with laughter as she was drug away, which Righteousness could see only infuriated the widow more. He thought that was probably the intent of it. This was all going wrong! The woman was not angry, she was not defiant, and she was not terrified by her fate, she was laughing at the whole thing. The men brought her to the stake, up the steps and tied her fast to the stake itself, yet still, she chuckled. The man who tied her looked wild-eyed and like to bolt, sure that the old witch had some last great magic to unleash and wishing he wasn’t so close to its source.
He needed to regain control of things, once she had been securely tied and the men had backed away Smith bellowed into the night, “MISTRESS MERCY MORGAN YE STAND ACCUSED….”
“Yes yes, I think we all know why we’re here ye boy buggering fraud! Get on with it,” Mercy called back. Righteousness was horrified to hear a few chuckles towards the back of the crowd.
No, this could not be! He rallied, “ACCUSED OF WITCHCRAFT! HOW DO YE PLEAD?”
“I said it before ye foolish man if I said ‘nay’, would ye say, ‘Oh I’m sorry off ye go, my mistake?’, would you say that?” she demanded leaning in as much as her bonds let her.
There was more laughter in the crowd now. Righteousness now only wanted this over with, he could stand it no more! “Is that your final word on the matter Mercy Morgan?”
The old woman’s head snapped up, and her chin thrust out proudly now, “Nay, I will say this. I did all I done for the good of this little town. If any should follow my path thinking to help others themselves, I would tell them to find themselves a place away from people. Make them come to you! If they have to lay eyes on ye every day of their lives, they will not respect ye any longer, and one day they will sell ye out to the likes of them before me!”
She seemed to be staring out into the crowd at one individual particularly, her eyes never shifted as she spoke. Righteousness tried to follow her gaze but could see no-one of interest in the glare of the torches. With his eyes elsewhere, he never saw Adeline Cabell or saw her thrust her own torch into the wood below the stake.
The kindling caught at once, Mercy saw it and laughed, an enormous birth of mirth that seemed to shock the entire assemblage into silence. As the flames began to grow she cackled, “And I’ll be seeing you again soon enough Righteousness Smith, mayhap we can finish what we started!”
A moment later, those logs of wood that had been soaked in corn liquor caught, and the entire pile blazed up to the sky. All would always remember that the witch never stopped laughing until the moment she breathed no more.
The body of Righteousness Smith was found in the woods near the town of Eden months later, Eden itself had suddenly begun to suffer from Shawnee raids, and it was just assumed that he had been killed in one of them. Of the boy Francis, nothing could be found. Though it should be noted that soon after there appeared a white Shawnee brave who developed a reputation for ferocity when dealing with captured priests.
Adeline and Cleda Cabell were both dead within the year of what was described as “consumption” because nobody likes a snitch.
Ginny Gist married a year later. Her husband Thomas purchased a stretch of land on a nearby mountain. She had a bevy of children and then grandchildren later. She rarely went into town, but she taught some girls who came for learning to Granny Gist, and to some, she taught more than medicine.
No-one is sure when she finally passed away from this earth. But one thing all of the people of the region remembered is sometimes there’s a sick that goes beyond Doctors or a wrong that needs a special touch, then, you climb up a hill somewhere and find yourself a Granny Witch.
Before deciding to take writing seriously, Paul Lubaczewski did many things: printer, caving, the SCA, Brew-master, punk singer, music critic, etc. Since then he has appeared in numerous science fiction and horror magazines, as well as anthologies. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he moved to Appalachia in his 30s for the peace and adventure that can be found there. He has three children, two who live in his native Pennsylvania, and one interrupting his writing constantly at home. Married to his lovely wife Leslie for twenty years, they live in a fairy tale town in nestled in a valley by a river.