Issue No. 6, Autumn 2013

Sixteen Ninety-Two
Shannon Ralph

I will die today.

I know this to be true. Two days ago, I stood helpless and watched as my mother—hands and feet bound—was hanged on a barren hill for all to see.  Yesterday my sister suffered the same fate. Today, it is my turn.

They say I’m a witch, but I’m merely a girl. I do not harbor an evil soul nor a contemptuous heart. But I will hang for the sin of witchcraft nonetheless.

If I sound cold, it is simply because I have come to terms with my fate. I will not live to see a sixteenth year upon this land. Today, Gallows Hill will claim me.

“Alice Proctor.” The reflection of flames dances upon the wooden planks of my holding cell as a deep voice calls my name. The onslaught of hurried footsteps assaults the early morning silence.

He is coming for me. It is time.

A man enters my cell and stands before me. He glares at me with blue eyes of pious indignation. His voice booms.

“Alice Proctor, daughter of George and Rebecka Proctor, you have been found guilty of the heinous crime of witchcraft, by you practiced and committed upon several persons residing in Salem Village. Therefore, in their majesties’ names, William and Mary, now King and Queen over England, you have been sentenced to be hanged by the neck until you are dead.”

I stand and brush the hay from my gown with chained hands.

“Have you anything to say before your God?”

I look into his pale eyes. I want to spit in his ugly face, but I know that’s an unwise impulse. Hanging is quick. There are much worse ways to die in Salem.  Instead, I close my eyes and whisper. “I have no God.”

His hand is quick. My reflexes are slowed by hunger and thirst.  My head explodes and my vision blurs as his fist makes contact. I feel the weight of my body collide with the hard dirt and hay-covered ground as I spit dust and blood and the shattered remnants of teeth from my mouth.

“You would be wise to watch your tongue, witch,” he says.

Something washes over me, a feeling that is at once soothing and disturbing.  Suddenly, my tiny cell is awash in color. I can discern each individual granule of soil on the floor below me. I see the intricate weave of fibers in my persecutor’s leather boots.  The subtle smell of fear and excitement leaches from his pores. His breathing is rhythmic and strong.

As I lay perfectly still in the dirt, I wish with my entire soul that this man responsible for the deaths of my mother and sister pay for his crimes. That he face retribution for his misdeeds. My hatred seethes. This feeling is foreign to me. It is wild and feral. Resting on the razor-sharp edge of my control, it threatens to consume me. I push back against the strangling force of my anger, aiming it instead at my persecutor.

His breathing quickens. He takes a step backwards and inhales sharply.

I am intrigued. I adjust the flow of anger to hit him square in the chest. His breathing quickens again and his hands reach for his throat.

I don’t understand what is happening. I can manipulate his respirations. By merely commanding it to do so, I can push the air from his lungs. I can refuse its reentry. Once again I thrust my will against his heaving chest as he stares at me with pallid eyes. The piety slowly slips from his gaze, replaced by revulsion. And then fear. He has always been so confident in his own righteousness that the truth was of little consequence. Today, that truth will be his undoing.

I hear him gurgle and watch as he gasps for precious oxygen. As he falls to the ground, I stand with a new sense of purpose. I take a deep breath of the crisp air I so resolutely deprived my persecutor of and I shed my shackles. I am Alice Proctor, daughter of George and Rebecka Proctor. Sister to Sarah Proctor.

And I am a witch.

Shannon Ralph is a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, and some of the best Facebook posts around. She is currently working on her first full-length novel between short stories. She is a southern transplant living the dream in balmy Minneapolis, Minnesota with her partner and three children. When Shannon is not writing, she can be found hunkered over her laptop battling an ugly addiction to online shopping.