Runner-up, KidPub September 2012 Wriing Contest
Author's Note: No offense is intended toward Puritans, and no offense is meant by use of the Lord's Prayer.
“I’m no witch,” she said coolly, leveling her stormy grey eyes at him. “You know it. You know this is nonsensical.”
“I am doing the Lord’s work,” he said, tipping his chin to gaze down at her.
“It is not within a mortal’s right to decide who lives and who dies!” she shouted, a fire springing up in her eyes. “You are murdering innocent people, people who have been nothing but faithful servants of God! You have imprisoned children! And for what? Demons that don’t exist! It’s a game! These girls, they’re toying with all of Salem, all the world! They have you in the palm of their hands!”
A howl of wind rustled through the trees, whistling past auburn leaves. It sounded like the whispering of those voices that had left the world at the end of a rope. The man lifted his hat in farewell, frowning, and hurried away with his hands deep in his pockets.
“Felicity!” said Elizabeth Howe’s daughter in her timid voice, once Felicity had returned to their ramshackle cabin in the woods. She was so meek and quiet, especially after the death of her mother, that she’d never shared her name and so she remained Elizabeth Howe’s daughter. “You came back.”
“Of course I came back,” said Felicity briskly, sweeping off her pale red cloak, the same color as her hair. “As I continue to tell you, we are in no danger if we lower our heads as good little girls and do not offend Betty Parris and Abigail Williams and all their horrid friends.”
“Because there is no such thing as a witch.” Margaret stepped forward, plucking up Felicity’s cloak and folding it neatly. She laid it on a rickety old table she’d taken from Bridget Bishop’s home when all this began. “It’s all just play and their own uppity pride. Besides, she was concerned about more than your well-being.”
“If that’s so—”
“Not that we aren’t happy you are safe,” Margaret added at Felicity’s playful tone. She had no mind for play at the moment. “While you were away, something—happened. Very odd.”
“Something odd? Would that explain the absence of Dorcas?”
“You miss nothing, do you? She has spent all her time in the other room with…well, you should see. We do not fully understand.”
Felicity followed Margaret to the “other room,” really just another half of the cottage, separated by a threadbare sheet. They kept only one candle burning at night, so it was too dark to see Dorcas’s silhouette against the once-white fabric. Felicity balanced the candleholder between her fingers, wishing once more that they could afford a gas lamp.
The faint light revealed not only little Dorcas, green eyes bright, curls disheveled, but another girl as well. Felicity was so taken aback by this that Margaret had to grab her hand to keep her from dropping the candle.
“Another? But—” Felicity’s voice was hoarse and she swallowed. “It’s only the fourth of August, no one has been condemned. Did I—?”
“No,” said Dorcas excitedly. “She ith different.” Her toddler lisp affected the words, but Felicity understood well enough.
“She isn’t from here. She tells us she is from another time,” Margaret said quickly.
Dorcas shot a hateful glare at Margaret, resenting her for stealing the moment’s glory. Felicity had the presence of mind to set the candle on a stool before her knees gave out and she sank to the floor, pressing her hand to her forehead. She had only been gone a few hours…what deviltry were the girls up to, telling such jokes when there were witch hunters crawling every inch of Salem? This went against everything their homely little cottage stood for!
“You are…insane…” she muttered, pressing down the folds in her dress. “Do you want to hang on Gallows Hill for such lies?”
Margaret frowned, and Dorcas looked as though she’d been struck.
“But Felicity, it ith true!” she cried, flying off her chair. “She came frew the warbbrobe!”
Felicity spared the stranger a glance now. She was tall, with rounded features and soft flesh that spoke of wealth. Her lank brown hair hung in two ropes down her back, masking her sallow face. She had warm eyes behind thick squares of glass, and she looked terrified. Not of the yammering girl beside her, or the stern, maternal one standing beside the cloth partition, and most certainly she wasn’t scared of Felicity.
The way her eyes darted around the room, how she jumped when Elizabeth Howe’s daughter poked her head in, the flutter of her limbs. Felicity knew what terrified her so, for it was the selfsame thing that kept sleep at bay, kept her pacing and praying and afraid. This girl, whoever she was, knew where she was. She knew what was going on.
“Your name?” asked Felicity feebly.
“Hannah,” said the girl, just as quietly. “Dorcas isn’t lying, I’m from…this sounds like a bad sci-fi movie…the future. Like, three or four hundred years from now.”
Her words and phrasing were quite strange, and Felicity took in her clothing as well, just as strange. She was wearing men’s trousers made from a thick blue material and a sagging blue-and-white shirt with oddly spelled words across it.
“P-atree-ots? Pat…triots. Patriots,” Felicity said, trying to fit her mouth to the word. Hannah blushed and tried to hide the blocky white letters within a fold.
“I don’t know if, like maybe if you see that it’ll change something? That happens a lot in sci-fi so I should be careful. Yeah.”
“Are you really from the future?” asked Elizabeth Howe’s daughter quietly, raising her eyes to Hannah’s. “Did God send you to keep the wicked people from destroying us?”
“I don’t know. Sorry.” Hannah folded her arms and held them close to her body, perched on the very edge of her chair. “I was only looking around the closet with my little sister, I’d been reading Narnia to her and she just wanted to check…and then I was here. And I can’t get back.”
She looked like she was going to cry. Although she couldn’t be terribly younger than Felicity’s eighteen years, the slump of her shoulders and catch in her voice bespoke a soul much younger. Felicity rose shakily to her feet and put a hand on Hannah’s shoulder. Her eyes darted toward it but she was too dejected to shake it off.
“The…future? This is not the world’s end?”
Hannah shook her head.
“Tell me, Han—Hannah, do you know what becomes of us?” she asked.
Hannah looked at her with glassy eyes. “What’s the date?”
“August fourth, sixteen-ninety-two,” Margaret said immediately. Felicity glanced at her beseechingly and she nodded. “Come, Dorcas, we should play that game you spoke of.”
She took Dorcas’s hand and the two, trailed by Elizabeth Howe’s daughter, slipped through the partition, leaving Felicity and Hannah alone.
“I can’t say anything,” Hannah told her, picking at the knee of her trousers. “It could mess up everything and…I don’t know, but it’s a bad idea.”
Felicity shook her head, only half-believing the girl’s story and still puzzling over what a Narnia was. Reason told her this was ridiculous—quite as ridiculous as Betty Parris had seemed the night she and her friends plotted their game. Look where we are now. Perhaps there was truth to the girl’s story after all.
“I need only know that it ends. Please.” She heard the desperation in her own voice and cringed.
A great weight fell from Felicity’s shoulders. She sighed, then smiled, and actually laughed for the first time in weeks. But at this display of gaiety, Hannah shot her such an angry, frightened glare that she desisted.
Of course it would end. To doubt God’s mercy was heresy, but still she could not dispel her fear. Bridget Bishop’s blue-tinged face, Margaret’s bitter hatred, Dorcas’s terrible nightmares, and Elizabeth Howe’s orphaned daughter…
Hannah’s sob broke through these nightmarish thoughts. Felicity stood up and hesitantly wrapped an arm around her. She was so familiar with the action that she could hardly help it—Hannah seemed hardly different from any of the girls Felicity protected so fiercely.
“I’m—fine,” Hannah stuttered, rubbing her eyes under her glasses. “I just d-don’t want to l-live through the—next three h-hundred—years.” She choked out a laugh.
Felicity stiffened at the sound of boots outside, faint but distinct. Hannah looked concernedly up at her, but Felicity couldn’t move her lips to explain. The steps continued, too quiet to be more than a single person. The shouting and prayers were absent as well. Someone coming, alone, after dark. But all the girls were gathered in their refuge now. Perhaps it was John Alden, stealing away from New York to see if they were alright? No, he would never risk it. One of the recently accused?
The door banged open and Elizabeth Howe’s daughter screamed. A man laughed roughly and something clattered to the floor.
Hannah was petrified, but Felicity had imagined this moment many times before. She grabbed Hannah’s arm and flung her toward the wardrobe.
“Hide!” she hissed, then picked up the candle as the other girl clambered inside.
Felicity slipped past the curtain into the other room, holding the candle aloft, and paled at the sight before her. The man she had spoken to at dusk was inside the cottage, kicking an iron candlestick away from himself. Dorcas yelled at him when it hit her foot, but he chuckled at her protests.
“I am looking for a Felicity Freeman.” Felicity stopped where she stood, moving the candle behind her back. “She has been charged with tormenting Ann Putnam in her spectral form and setting forest animals against her.”
“She isn’t here!” Elizabeth Howe’s daughter squeaked, looking terrified.
“You are lying to me, child. The afflicted girl discovered from the specter where to find her tormenter. She is here.”
Margaret stood in the corner, eyes wide and face white. Her hands were fists at her sides and Felicity knew she dare not speak, to condemn or to protect. Felicity could not ask it of her—she knew what the girl had been through.
“I am here,” said Felicity, setting the candle delicately on the floor. “Do not punish these girls for my sins.”
Dorcas cried out and ran to her, wrapping her arms around Felicity’s legs. Felicity patted her head, smoothing out her wild curls.
“It will be alright, sweetest. There is no danger, remember?”
“Becauth there ith no such thing as a witch. It’th all just play.” She repeated the familiar words.
“Correct. I will be seeing you soon, alright?”
Dorcas nodded, clasping Felicity’s hand for a moment. Elizabeth Howe’s daughter came forward and touched her other hand, tears on her cheeks. Of course, Felicity couldn’t convince everyone.
“Take care of them,” she said, fixing her eyes on Margaret’s as the man bound her hands. Margaret, still motionless, couldn’t form a reply. Hannah, hidden in the wardrobe, listened as the footsteps grew faint.
Felicity now understood the stricken expressions of those who climbed Gallows Hill. She knew their terror, despair, and she knew their hatred. She would not let her shoulders stoop or her head hang, not one as proud as she. Felicity stood straight and stiff, head high, fire in her eyes. She could not hold to her Puritan values if they could be so easily corrupted by the fantasies of children.
It was uncharacteristically cool August morning. Wind swirled through her hair, throwing it out in a proud red banner. Her feet were bare, brushed by chill grass, and now she could see that bare and lonesome tree at the hill’s crest. It had long since died, bereft of leaves even in the summer season.
Birds quieted their songs as the procession neared the pale tree. Crickets continued to chirp, a melody as dull as the sun filtering through clouds this morning. George Corwin was standing in a cart wheeled up the day of Bridget Bishop’s execution, eyes cold and hard. William Stoughton stood on the ground with a hand on the cart’s side. They were a pair, the High Sheriff and Chief Judge. One would be useless without the other.
The people behind her shouted bitter taunts at Felicity as she climbed into the cart, the edge of her dress flapping around her feet. Ann Putnam crowed, her black hair whipping across her face. What had Felicity done to her, for the girl to be so vicious?
“Felicity Freeman, you have pled guilty under accusations of witchcraft,” said William Stoughton in a neat, neutral voice. “You have tormented the children of Salem Village and cavorted with the devil. For these sins, you have been sentenced to death by hanging. Do you deny these charges.”
“No.” Felicity struggled to keep her voice from trembling. She swallowed, closed her eyes, and forced strength into her words. “There is no way to argue myth and fantasy. The proof against me is imagined, and thus I cannot defend myself. This is not God’s will.”
It was quiet for several seconds, and then Ann Putnam shrieked, long and high. She beat the air around her, eyes wild with terror. Betty Parris screamed as well, throwing her arms around her younger friend.
“She is under Felicity’s influence!” Betty sobbed. “She—”
“Oh, shut the hell up!”
The silence was absolute. Every head turned to a girl at the very back of the crowd, a girl in blue shirt far too big for her, eyes fierce behind her glasses. She stalked past the stunned people, towering over Ann Putnam and Betty Parris. Ann looked as though the Devil himself was before her, and she clutched so hard at Betty that her knuckles were white.
“You’re pathetic. All this power going to your head, huh? Think just ‘cause someone believes you, you’re queen or something? I know girls like you. I know lots. And you’re nothing special.”
Ann was too startled to say anything, but Betty, never deterred, spared Hannah a withering glare and slapped her across the face.
Hannah did not like that. Betty’s hand left a deep red mark across her face, her mouth open, and she turned to look at the smaller girl with such hatred that Betty finally faltered. Hannah snarled, and Felicity knew what would happened half an instant before it did. The girl’s hand curled into a fist and she punched Betty Parris in her smug, smiling mouth.
Ann screamed, catching Betty’s arm as she reeled back. Hannah laughed, separating from the crowd before their reaching arms could catch her. She readjusted her glasses, glancing at Felicity, suddenly nervous.
Felicity smiled at her, happy to see the girls she so despised knocked down a little. She was, however, afraid for this bold, futuristic girl who was such a far-cry from Puritan acceptability.
“I—I stand witness to this girl’s in-nocence. She is good and n-not a witch.”
Felicity drew a tight breath, feeling equally grateful and forlorn. She was beyond human grace now. She must depend on God’s mercy.
And a thought came to her, so sudden and bright it seemed born on the wind. Why had Hannah come through from her time so precisely before Felicity’s arrest? What else could be the purpose than this? And somehow in her despair she remembered that the Devil would not permit his followers to speak the Lord’s Prayer. The familiar words fit in her mouth easily.
“Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name.”
Hannah looked up, wide-eyed, and joined her.
“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us.” Her gaze swept the crowd. “And lead us not into temptation…” She faltered, panic seizing her, but Hannah filled the gap and Felicity caught up. “But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom. The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen.”
No one spoke. Then Ann scream, her face twisted in a devilish mask. Betty cried out and wrapped her arms around her friend.
“Felicity!” she screeched. “Leave her be! She has done nothing to you!”
And so it was decided. George Corwin caught the rope and slipped it over her head. It was coarse enough that Felicity felt it rubbing her skin raw, but would that matter so much in the following moments? She breathed in deep, the clean scent of grass and earth, rising sun.
“You don’t die!” Hannah screamed. “You’re nowhere on the death warrants!”
Felicity opened her eyes. Hannah was running forward, shoving William Stoughton out of her way. He threw up his hands in defense, only managing to shatter her glasses with his elbow. She threw them aside in disgust.
George Corwin growled and shoved Felicity so violently she lost her footing on the cart’s edge, the noose tightening around her throat. She dangled helplessly in the air for a long, black moment, hearing a loud, screaming silence, and then Hannah’s shoulders were under her feet and she could breath.
Hannah aimed her foot backward and kicked the cart hard enough to knock George Corwin to his knees. He shouted profanities at her, but Hannah ignored him entirely.
“Pull it off!” she yelled, and Felicity pulled at the rope around her neck.
The moment she raised her arms she tilted wildly on Hannah’s shoulders, and the other girl wrapped her arms around Felicity’s legs. As soon as she’d removed the rope, Hannah lurched forward and Felicity tumbled to the ground, but Hannah grabbed her arm and pulled her up.
They ran, leaving behind the enraged people, stunned girls, and affronted High Sheriff and Chief Judge. Felicity stopped just long enough to retrieve Hannah’s glasses.
“Guys, guys!” Hannah shouted, and Felicity startled awake. “I—It’s—the door—”
Felicity stumbled into the other room, rubbing her neck, trailed by Dorcas and Elizabeth Howe’s daughter. Margaret remained curled in the corner around a cushion, staring at the opposite wall.
“What has you screaming so early? Anyone might hear you,” said Felicity reproachfully.
Hannah was too excited to articulate her joy. She was hopping up and down, in danger of running into the wall what with her broken glasses. Dorcas tugged on her hand, looking alarmed, and Hannah just pointed to the wardrobe.
“I—can get—it’s—” She gasped, laughing, and pressed her hand to the back, past the faded dresses and cloaks. It went right through the wood.
Elizabeth Howe’s daughter screamed, but Dorcas cheered, hugging Hannah’s knees.
“You can go back?” asked Felicity quietly, and Hannah nodded.
She pulled her hand back, her calm returning with it, and met Felicity’s gaze. Fear had gone from her soft brown eyes, replaced with a wistful glint.
“I’ve got to go back. I don’t know what happened or if it’ll open again or anything, and I just can’t risk it.”
Felicity nodded. “I know.” She held out her hand, but Hannah stepped forward and hugged her tight for a second. She was hesitant but fierce.
“I am forever thankful to you,” Felicity whispered.
“Yeah, you are.” Hannah laughed. “But I wasn’t gonna let you die. ‘Course not.”
“You had only known me a few minutes.”
“But you protected me. And these girls…” Hannah stepped back, smiling. “They need you.”
“Do you know what becomes of them?” Felicity muttered.
“Don’t worry. You’ll all be okay.” She glanced back at the wardrobe worriedly. “I’d better go.”
Felicity nodded, taking Hannah’s hand and giving it a squeeze. “God bless you.”
“You too,” she replied, rather reluctantly.
“Thank you for thaving Felicity!” Dorcas piped up, taking Hannah’s other hand. “I hope you find Naria.”
Hannah laughed, patting Dorcas’s head. “I hope so too. You’ll be good?”
Felicity smiled, kneeling beside Dorcas and prompting her to release Hannah. “Come, she has to return home now.”
Dorcas let go and Hannah laughed, tears evident on her cheeks. Felicity smiled at her ruefully, watching as she set one foot through and then the other. She was halfway through, casting one quick glance back at them, a smile on her face, and then she was gone.
A little voice came through the wardrobe.
“Hannah, what happened to your glasses?”