They are close. I sense their hatred. Though I am prepared, I must force myself to be calm. I do not fear what comes although I know I will be dead soon. Running from this place now is not something I wish to do, nor do I care to fight anymore. I’m ready to seek out a new land, a new time, and to continue on to the next life I am cursed to begin.
My Pyrenees is at attention by my side, hackles raised. “It is time to go, my girl.” She whines and lowers her head, her big brown eyes pools of concern. “You go ahead,” I say with a smile. “I’ll be along soon.”
I hear the gallop of fast-moving horses and the shouts of agitated men as they approach my home. The sound of heavy boots bounding onto the porch makes my skin prickle. Torchlight fills the windows and I steel myself. The front door splinters when one of those heavy boots comes through it.
“I knew there was somethin’ not right about you.” The man in the lead is Morris Stiles, the town’s bully. I’m sure he took quick ownership of the lynching party so he could exercise his insatiable need to inflict pain and suffering without the threat of retribution. Not to mention the chance to snare himself a witch.
His face seethes with hostility. The men who crowd into the room behind him wear the same expression. The grin forming on his face as he looks me over is filled with decaying stubs that once passed for teeth. Many months ago, I offered to ease his pain, but was met with the back of his hand followed by a brown, revolting gob of spit aimed at my face.
Life in Calico has been filled with hardships. Each time I felt a modicum of acceptance, someone like Morris Stiles would speak against me. My goats and chickens were taken one by one, and the sheriff was not the least bit sympathetic or helpful in retrieving them. I am not one to back down so I held on, hoping for the relief of simply being ignored.
Now, yet another angry mob is at my doorstep. I know my lover has not had a direct hand in this. I am certain that due to the effects of much drink, his lips recounted events he should have kept hidden. I confessed to him this very morning that I am, in fact, a witch, and his reaction was what I had expected. I am unable to hide my true self for very long, and I am either revealed by my actions or by my simple confession. I will not deceive my lover with lies and trickery. I have told myself time and time again to stay away from love but the pangs and yearnings cannot be ignored, not even by one such as myself.
There is no fear on my face as I glare at the five men who have invaded my little home. Each one averts his eyes. As I inhale, my lungs fill with the thick, heavy air the men brought with them—full of sweat, dirt, whiskey, and anger.
I glower at the still grinning man. “Morris Stiles, you are a fool.” My voice resonates throughout the room. The sound makes the men jump and look around, wide-eyed.
Morris grunts and spits a brown mass onto the floor. “Them’s funny words coming from a whore a’ Satan!”
I scoff. “Tell me one thing, just one thing—any of you—that I have done to remotely reflect the work of the devil?” No one meets my eyes and nothing intelligible passes from their lips. Feeling the mood of his men shift, Morris lurches forward.
“Don’t matter! You do things no livin’ person should be doin’. Ain’t but God himself that can mend a broke back, or make Jenny’s fever break even after Doc said nuthin’ could be done. You got wrong in you, woman, and we gon’ fix that!” He lunges for me. Emboldened by Morris, three other men follow. I do not cry out as they grip my arms and shoulders with rough, dirty hands. Morris binds my hands in front of me. The smell of their breath and body odor stings my nose. I am ushered from my home with shouts and laughter. The night is fresh and crisp after the all-day rain. I welcome the clean air into my lungs.
“Why don’t she fight?” someone mutters behind me. “Why don’t she scream? Ain’t never known a woman not to go screamin’.”
“’Nother thing that ain’t natural ’bout her. Like them purple eyes!”
I am shoved up onto an old, work-worn mare. A timid voice comes from behind the rest.
“But she made Pa’s leg stop hurtin’. He’s able to get out in the fields again. Ma said it was a miracle and that God was workin’ through her.”
“Shut yer mouth, boy!” Morris slaps the young man hard on the back of the head. He grips the boy by his collar. “Yer Pa’s lucky she didn’t turn that leg into a cloven hoof!” He pushes the boy backward and turns to face me.
“We gonna show you what we do to witches!” He throws his head back and hoots maniacally. Several men follow suit; some punctuate their exuberance with gunshots into the air.
The horse underneath me snorts and pulls back from the man holding the reins, jerking her head from side to side. He yells obscenities at her and yanks her bridle. I run my hands along her taut neck and make her listen to my words in her mind. She calms to the song I sing to her.
I am paraded down the main street through town towards the cemetery where the gallows stands. Many outlaws have met their end in this manner, and it appears so will I.
The cemetery is unusually bright this evening with torches on every fence post. They cast a harsh yellow glow onto the weathered wood of the gallows. I am aware of the shouts, calls, and other verbal assaults around me, but I hear nothing except the steady beating of my heart. I focus on controlling my movements and breathing. I will not give them the satisfaction of seeing my fear. While I am not afraid of death itself as I have done it eleven times before, it is the act of dying I fear. But I am pleased by the method they have chosen, for it is a fast end if done properly.
I am shoved up the steps and I will my legs to keep up. I am jerked around into position in front of the freshly tied noose of new rope. Morris presents it and me to the crowd—the ringmaster to this circus.
“Lookie what we got here!” He shoves me forward as if they couldn’t already see me. “By her own confession to Roy Shackleford, she’s a gawd damn witch!” The crowd becomes deafening.
I catch the eye of the town preacher at the far end of the massive throng. His face is smug and his eyes dance with spiteful glee. Under my glare, his grin falters and he moves behind a large elderly woman who’s covered herself in a quilt and grasps a wooden cross tightly in her meaty fists.
Morris continues to speak random sentences describing my unnatural and ungodly ways, inciting the crowd further. I look upon their hateful faces, devoid of any resemblance to the humans they were earlier in the day. I pity them all for their small, feeble minds. I become aware that Morris is attempting to put the noose around my neck.
“I wish to speak!” I yank myself away from Morris’s grip. Much to his dismay, I am stronger than I have led him to believe.
I am booed and hissed at, and the crowd calls for my immediate death. I clench my teeth and hiss back at them. “Silence!” The force in my voice, the unearthly sound I make, strikes them dumb. “You will listen.”
“Almost half of you have benefited from my healing skill.” My gaze seeks those I readily find who have been under my care. Their eyes do not meet mine.
“I have caused no harm to any of you, nor your land, nor your property. I have done only good deeds. Refute that, anyone!” People shift their feet and hide their faces behind those in front of them. The people in the front look at the ground. In the silence, I hear the flapping of large wings and see the heavy flames of the torches dance in the air currents. I cannot see the creature but I know it. I have always known it. A sharp, angry cry from the bird peals out above the crowd. There are gasps and cries of fear; some crouch down as they stare into the black sky. I feel strangely calmed by the bird’s presence.
Morris steps forward to speak, and my thoughts close his windpipe. He grips his throat, his eyes widening. My eyes warn him not to proceed. I will be allowed to speak, Morris, but you no longer will.
“As I look at each of your faces, I know none of my words will make the slightest difference. Your minds are small and petty. The only danger here is you. You believe you are ridding the world of some great evil tonight. But all you are doing is worsening your own lives. Ponder that as you lay your heads on your pillows. The evil here is you, for there is none in me.”
I release Morris from where he stands still gasping for air. As he tries to recover himself, he waves several men forward to put me back into place. Coughing is all he can manage as he puts the noose over my head and jerks it tight. When he is close to my face, he spits at me. The smell of it would be nauseating if I could feel anything other than rage.
He shoves each man out of the way so he is the one to pull the lever that controls the trap door upon which I stand. He stumbles and is still sputtering to get words out, but he can only cough and spit. As my last act of defiance, I make those the only sounds that will ever come out of his mouth. My petty revenge makes me smile.
The movement of the well-worn mechanism opening the trap door is loud in my ears. It is all I hear though I’m certain the crowd has reached a frenzied state. For the length of a breath, I am suspended in midair. I look above the crowd as I plummet downward, seeing a flash of white wings in my periphery.
I relax my neck and let the noose perform its job without resistance. I want this over quickly, to have my neck snap immediately. The noose tightens as my weight pulls my body down. The pain is but a quick jolt and then the world is black and silent to me.