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Fall, 2002
24-Hour Short Story Contest
1st Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
"Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble." That was how witches did it, according to Shakespeare. But now she was investigating modern witchcraft and had found a woman who agreed to take her to a secret meeting of a real coven nearby. "This should be a hoot!" she whispered to herself. "What to wear, what to wear?"



WHICH IS THE WITCH
By Liza Perrat , France

"Wear? Nothing, silly." Elizabeth smirks. "Nobody wears clothes at the coven."

Throwing my cape around me, we hasten through darkness, stumbling on cobblestones, for we dare not light our torch of reeds. Nobody could see us.

Elizabeth glances left, right. A door creaks. I don't see them straightaway. Then in smouldering candlelight, figures are nude - contorted in grotesque poses. They fling their arms up. I jump.

"This is Sarah. She is one of us." Elizabeth smiles, pushes, urging me to join the macabre gymnastics. Mercy and Rachel rise and dress. They greet me - supple now.

This is not what I'd expected when Elizabeth had promised to bring me to her witch's meeting. As quick as the plague, rumours had traversed the village; under horse's hooves, in potter's dishes, woven into fine linen. Everybody knew of the modern witches - Devil's servants, hands joined, dancing and chanting to raise the power. Witchcraft had evolved from Shakespeare's Macbeth, nearly a hundred years ago so I hardly expected steaming cauldrons in dank caverns. But this? This is more like a bored teenager's dance routine. Eyebrows raised, I look at Elizabeth.

"You are not witches, you have tricked me here. For what reason, I know not."

Amber glimmer in Elizabeth's eyes and her cheeks are pink - euphoric.

"Witches? Of course we are not. Do you believe such a thing? Then you are as stupid as this whole village."

My stomach churns, my corset squeezes - hard to breathe. I search, seeing only mocking faces.

"We are the real witches. We have the only power," continues Elizabeth, "We choose who dies. Remember Goodwife Clarice? A wicked woman who shunned Rachel's family."

During a hymn Rachel had screamed.

"Look how Goodwife Clarice suckles a wolf cub." Rachel dropping to the church floor, limbs useless extensions on a convulsing body.

A mass had gathered on Gallows Hill for the hanging of the breastfeeding witch. Like all great spectacles, peasants had ceased harvesting, joiner's wood lay quiet.

"She hollered until that rope broke her neck." Elizabeth, Rachel and Mercy cackle, petticoats peeping from skirts.

"Now you are here, Sarah, you must do as us. If not, it is you who will hang." Elizabeth's eyes are wide, her body rocks with mirth. My temples throb and in the fever of suspicion gripping my village, I am powerless to halt their black magic.

***

The square buzzes. Women chat, cradling baskets of cheese and bread. Aprons waltz on a warm wind and dust hugs men's breeches. We begin - our act well rehearsed, falling to the earth at twisted angles, pointing at Goodwife Hobson, a beggar and obvious prey for our supposed afflictions. Shrieks as imaginary pinches sear our skin. We are convincing because artisans talk of smashed pottery and butter going bad - Goodwife Hobson's magic. I feel the Devil close and paranoia rakes away reason.

Soon, Goodwife Hobson swings, feet flaccid, head frozen in death at a bizarre angle. The crowd surges, eager.

We target the minister, unaware this would herald our downfall.

"He flew me to the top of a mountain," claims Rachel, young voice clear as church bells, "and promised me all the kingdoms." The minister follows the path of doom up Gallows Hill, proclaiming his innocence. Onlookers gasp as he recites the Lord's prayer - something witches are incapable of. An unease stirs and the first seeds of doubt are sown.

At the 'coven' the girls are giggling, relishing the man's demise. Elizabeth laughs about her helpful neighbour.

"Made a cake with my pee and fed it to a dog." Hooting now.

"What?" I ask.

"Sarah, you know nothing. Witches use dogs to carry out their commands. If a dog eats the cake it will counteract the spells on us." She throws her head back, mirth melting with candle wax. My heart races, a headache grips. I am trapped, no choice but to continue their murderous game.

Mercy speaks of another.

"Her spectre stole our eggs and a goat was born with three legs. Then she became a cat and bit my sister."

When I slip inside under the full moon, father hangs his head, beating his brow with clenched fists.

"Sarah, they've taken her away. She bites children." The truth is too terrible. Mercy has accused mother, and now she will hang! What to do? I must not speak. I don't want to die but mother cannot die either.

***

Mother has no legal counsel, no witnesses to testify her innocence. Oil lamps cast eerie courtroom light, feather quills stroke learned beards.

"Goodwife Houghton, are you a witch? "

"No."

"Have you seen the Devil?"

"No."

"She has the witch's mark," somebody yells.

The judge tells mother to undress. He searches for moles, warts, birthmarks - any witch's mark. They search her vagina. I cringe as mother is exposed.

Elizabeth glares, "Say nothing." Oh how I want to. I cannot.

"Goodwife Houghton is an enemy to all good. Death by hanging!"

My scream is primal, desperate.

"No, stop! There are no witches." My allies draw daggers, but I am strong. I tell the judge of our pranks and selected victims. No one speaks.

I don't know if it was simply my admission that saved mother from the noose. But with the minister's Lord's Prayer and letters to the court denouncing spectral evidence, the tide of hysteria ebbed and Salem village was freed from the witch-hunt curse.


What Liza won:

$300 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)


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