Burn the Witch

The roiling liquid in the pot fought against my stirring. Its angry boil launched specks of burning lard onto my face and arms, leaving red marks that left me speckled like a toad. I knew I wasn’t beautiful to begin with, and one more burn on my face would just be a drop in the bucket. The concoction itself was light pink with rose petals and smelled of jealously. My heart ached from prayers for success and hatred. It was she who turned me into this. She was jealous. She saw the two of us together, so she cried witch.

I remember that day, when there was the sound of a hundred horses. My chair shuddered from the force of hooves beating my garden into the ground, and their riders crashed through my door, forcing the wood to shatter into a shower of splinters that sparkled almost gold against the empty door frame. They grabbed me and my embroidery hoop flew out of my reach, bouncing against one of them in a futile protest as I was dragged, scuffing my boots until they were more grey than black. My skirts ripped and tore against the rough floor, and then turned up rocks in my garden. At that point, garden was a generous word. The careful rows had devolved into chaos, roots upturned where stems and leaves should be. My bonnet fell into one of the flowerbeds, and the starched white took up the mud, staining something so clean. Still, the men dragged me out into the world, calling me a witch, saying they would burn me. Their arms held me so tight that bruises in the shapes of fingers formed, dotting my skin.

One of them dragged me onto the back of his horse and called me “witch.” That was when I knew that our town had been infected by the disease. For so long we had held out, ignored the rumors of witchcraft that spread across the country like the plague, but we were now guilty of the same thing the rest were. Fear simmered beneath the surface of our town, hidden deep in our hearts. It lived beneath the whimsy of our daily lives, a summer’s day trip to the market, a finished dress, a tip of the hat to a neighbor, all tainted by distrust. Behind all of those motions was the same corruption that had warped all of the towns around us. Salem, Griswold, and Newport had all fallen to this disease, burning their girls alive and drowning them where they used to bathe. Suddenly, we had been infected in the same way. I went limp with the knowledge of what would happen to me.

The horse rocked me up and down, bouncing me along like a rag doll. My hair slowly slipped out of its bun and billowed in front of my eyes. I didn’t have to see where we were going. I knew every pothole in these roads, every twist and turn. I knew every inhabitant of every house. The red door belonged to the Millers, the green to the Smiths. And today, both families would watch me burn, the eyes that smiled as I walked past were now greedy for my burning.

I heard the crowd from three minutes away. They roared like a pit of hungry lions. The smell of their eager sweat left salt crusting in my mouth. The horse jerked to a stop, spooking and sliding a few inches from the combined weight of a thousand ill intentions. They dragged me off and bound me. The ropes burned my skin as they pulled tight against my wrists. I was blindfolded. Their hands grabbed at the rope instead of my skin, as though touching me would turn the contagious hatred onto them. My knees dragged on the ground as I was pulled forward by the ropes.

My feet swung from the ground as I was hoisted up onto the platform in the middle of the square. My heel clacked against the edge of the wood, stinging my bones. The crowd cheered with anticipation, cheered to cauterize the wound to their society, cheered for my burning. They attached the ropes around my wrists to ropes around my waist and pulled them so tight that I slammed against the pole and almost vomited. Every movement put splinters from the rough wood into my back. And then I smelled the hay burning. And I felt the heat move closer, closer. My grey boots were turning black again. My skirts grew shorter.

When the flames touched my skin, there was not an ounce of humanity left in my soul. I screamed with the sound of a thousand animals, until my pain overtook the crowd and they fell silent. I screamed and screamed and screamed. All I could hear was the sound of the pain ringing in my ears and my own screams surrounding me like a cocoon, helpless against the heat of the flames. Until I heard the confession of a liar.

Suddenly, I fell, still blindfolded, to the cobblestones. My shoulder cracked against the bottom of the town square. I could still hear the crackling of the fire behind me, the beams of the platform slowly collapsing into ash, without my weight to aid their fall. My hands were still lashed behind my back, and the stones felt cool against my skin. Someone pulled off my blindfold, and half of my melted face with it. My hair fell back in front of me, but most of it was gone now, either bonded with my skin or fallen to ash. Despite the pain in my shoulder, I pushed myself into sitting. Slowly, I looked out on the crowd and a miasma of dread fell upon us as we realized what had happened to our town. I felt the drag of my skin oozing off of my face as it fell to the ground, but I had no screams left. My shoulders slumped, and I fell the rest of the way to the ground as the crowd dispersed, silent, ashamed of their disease. All that was left was another girl on the ground with me, crying. The sobs racked her body, vibrated her skirts, and soaked the pavement beneath her.

“I’m sorry,” she cried, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…I saw you and he, and I—I…” She fell back into her tears. I said nothing back to her. She didn’t deserve it. She didn’t deserve the solace of knowing she had “saved” me after throwing me to the wolves in the first place. The hatred had infected her first. I had nothing to say to her.

We laid like that for hours. She cried, and I tried not to move my fused limbs. Eventually, she helped me up, and we hobbled back to my cottage on the edge of town. My flowerbeds were gone. They looked just like me now. We limped through the empty door frame, me dragging my feet, her half carrying me to the chair. I slumped down into the soft cushions, and she stayed for a while but eventually had something better to do.

I recovered in that chair. Day in and day out. My hands were too damaged even to pick up my hoop, so it stayed on the floor until someone else picked it up. Lots of townspeople came in and out, but I was stuck in that chair. They all came to say they were sorry, they knew now I wasn’t a witch. Once I could walk and take care of myself, they stopped coming to see me. So, one day, I decided to take away something far worse than what she had taken away from me. Beauty comes and goes, but love should last forever. Occasionally, it fails, and a little rose petal potion can help that along. It’s impossible to trace, so they’ll never know they were not wrong.

Katie Krantz

Katie Krantz

Katie Krantz is a freelance writer, journalist, and student. She intends to one day have a career in writing. Katie loves extreme hyperbole, cats, and peppermint. Katie lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and is currently attempting to visit every vintage shop in the city.
Katie Krantz

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