By Lily Fiedler, age 11
Copyright 2016 by Lily Fiedler
Cassy added the last two words of her letter, hoping that writing them on paper would help raise her confidence. In her part of town, a small area consisting of poorer families and kids with no parents due to the Burning, you were considered a celebrity to have a family member declared as a witch. Cassy had lived here all her life with her mother, a quiet and well regarded woman, until about a month ago when the government had declared her a witch. Before her trial, however, her mother had escaped just before her death sentence (Which was to have been a public execution by burning on the stake).
Cassy also had a little sister named Ginger and two caretakers, both middle-aged women by the names of Gwendolyn and Marcia, who prefered they be called Thatch and Widow. They worked at a local foodstuffs place, giving out ancient canned goods to the residents. More often than not the townsfolk found themselves facing starvation before the two ladies found buried stacks of cans or donations from the Government, who didn’t want any other cities complaining about how they treated their people.
Cassy found it hard to believe she had lived before the Witch Slaughter. Only five years ago the Burning had been a period of time lost to their memory with little chance of repeating itself. Cassy could hardly remember a moment she wasn’t living in fear of her Government.
Cassy slipped the folded up piece of paper in a tattered old envelope and wrote in rather big, sloppy letters;
To Tillie Morkins, you-know-where
The local delivery person, Mr. Ryan, knew all about the Witch’s Underground, a group for runaway people who had been declared witches by the government, where Cassy had recently received news of her mother hiding. The Government frequently tried to hunt Mr. Ryan down, having him not being the legal delivery person, but they never managed to find him. Therefore, Cassy felt safe including her mother’s name on the letter.
Cassy licked her finger, running it along the letter’s flap and pressing it to the opposite side of the envelope. She heard Widow asking Ginger if she required assistance in the other room, earning a sharp hiss from the “independant” 6 year old. Unlike her mother, Widow and Thatch never scolded Ginger for talking back to them, giving Ginger the freedom of bossing adults around without penalty. Cassy sometimes agreed silently with herself she should probably step in, but hearing Ginger talking in a snide tone always resulted in Cassy on the floor, curled up and bursting with laughter.
Cassy stood, pushing the chair out from under her. She could see Mr. Ryan peering through a hole in the old, weathered oak wood door.
“Oui, Cassy!” The rough voice of Mr. Ryan came in through the crack in the doorway. “You got a letter?”
She nodded, clenching the letter tightly in her palm. She jogged up to the door, slipping it through the gap, where Mr. Ryan clenched it in his fingers. “Thanks, ma’am.” He reached in and ruffled her cocoa brown hair.
His shadow fell away as he disappeared from view. Cassy ran into the room were Widow was trying to persuade Ginger to eat something while Ginger continued to shout, “I don’t want peas tonight!”
Interjecting, Cassy exclaimed “I sent the letter!” An excited squeal escaped from Ginger’s mouth. Relief spread across Widow’s face as Ginger ran up to hug her sister, forgetting about the argument.
“When d’you think Mum’ll write back?” Ginger spoke in the accent she had picked up from Thatch. “Maybe she’ll send us a soo-ven-eyre!”
“What kind of souvenir would she give us?” I asked, watching Ginger’s face go red.
“Ummmm…” Ginger took a moment to think.
“I hope Tillie’s alright,” Widow piped up. Her voice had cracked only slightly, the end of her last words turning into a whisper. They stood in silence, thinking about the poor woman.
A knock on the door shattered the silence. Cassy jumped, quickly running over to answer the door, ideas filling her mind and hope her gut…
Two icy cold blue eyes bored down into Cassy’s. Her heart sank immediately as she realized it was Morg, a local government official. She opened the door all the way to reveal a tall, skinny man wearing a rather neat gray suit with black lines crisscrossing the front. A blood red tie hung over his chest, giving the appearance of a hawk. His black hair, streaked with white, was combed back so you could see his creased brow and high forehead. He was painfully thin with long, twig-like legs.
“You are miss Cassandra Leanne Morkins, I presume? Of hut number 20452?” His eyes travelled down her front, mouth twisting into a frown at her greasy rags and matted hair. His icy gaze forced her to look away.
“Yes…” She swallowed her fear, straightening herself. He cleared his throat, parched lips indicating he had a busy morning and it had been a while since he had a drink of water.
“Ahh, well, our sources indicate that you have shown particularly… ahem… interesting behavior recently.” Cassy’s heart seemed to cease its amazingly loud pounding for a moment. “And knowing your family’s history, it only seemed safe that we would… check.”
“Oh shut up with that ol’ nonsense, Morg,” Thatch said coldly from behind Cassy. Thatch was a rather plump, short woman with short straw blonde hair and a normally friendly expression. “You know yourself all this witch stuff is stupid. Why don’t you shove off?”
Morg winced, his right cheek twitching, but he continued on without changing his expression. “Therefore, the Government requires your attendance to the next Witch Trial in the City Hall.”
Cassy’s heart began to race. The Witch Trial was really more of a slaughter and it was a miracle you escaped or were put off beforehand.
“That’s tonight!” Thatch gasped. Cassy looked back to see the woman’s eyes wide and swimming with fury. “She’s just a girl, Morg! Sure, some of those witch suspects were a little odd, but this is ridiculous. What is this “Government” planning?”
Morg said nothing and turned away in silence, but did end up slamming the door rather hard. The hole at the top of the door suddenly seemed much larger to Cassy.
* * *
Widow grimly fixed Cassy in her best rags, flowery yellow ones, while Thatch continued to repeat that they should just ignore them and run away, but Widow continued to mutter “no”s under her breath. Ginger had been devastated and could be found pacing in the kitchen, silent tears streaming down her cheeks. Every once in a while she would start to sob hysterically, screaming down into the table between muffled cries.
“It’s insanity!” Thatch muttered, eyes crossed angrily. “They have to see it’s preposterous to accuse a ten year old of witchcraft! Honestly…”
Cassy’s eyes were fixed on the floor ahead of her, watering with stinging tears. She raised a sleeve and swiped it across her eyes before Widow pulled back, her own eyes also red. “Don’t worry, Cassandra darling.” She whispered this to her, “Thatch’s right. They wouldn’t think of burning you, that’s ridiculous!”
Cassy nodded, feeling a pool of dread collecting in her stomach. Without another word Cassy was led to the door, Ginger’s sobs louder than ever. The door opened and Cassy couldn’t help but cast one last glance at the large tear in the wood, wishing she didn’t have to see the outside world any way that wasn’t through a drafty hole.
The walk to Town Hall was much quicker than Cassy had wished. She stood at the foot of a large fountain topped with a smiling and handsome man who was spitting water through a mouth shaped in a miniature O. The plaque beneath it read Sir Reginald La’hoory, founder of the New Government. “Practice makes Progress. Act now.” Cassy had the strong desire to kick the fountain.
“Ah!” A voice sounded from somewhere near. Both Widow and Cassy’s heads rose to meet the eyes of an older man with rather large dark circles hanging under his eyes. “You must be Cassandra Morkins, our youngest witch!” He clapped his hands together like he was announcing his birthday present.
“Witch my shoe,” Widow muttered under her breath.
The man took Cassy’s arm, shaking it briefly before pulling her into the door of the City Hall. He didn’t bother to introduce himself, but the words stitched across his chest in gold read Moony Jones, executive head of trial.
Cassy was reading the last few words sewn onto his cloak, wondering why any parentwould give her son such a name, when she had to shield her eyes as they entered a startlingly bright room. It was topped with an arched ceiling glittering with lights that swiveled in all different directions. The walls seemed to be made of large, pearly white pillars pressed tightly together. The floor was so smooth Cassy almost slipped and fell on her face. The room had a long podium where a judge would stand, like that of a court. Rows and rows of women sat along the floor, hands tied behind their backs and heads lowered. Several of them let out choked sobs.
“Come on, come on,” Moony warbled. Cassy was quite reluctant to join the crouching woman but did what she was told anyway, hunching down so her nose touched the floor, allowing Moony to tie her hands behind her back. Another man she saw, looking much sterner than Moony, seemed to glide across the floor, a sharp stick cracking against the backs of the sobbing women. Cassy had a sinking feeling in her chest as she realized there was little chance these people would listen to reason.
“Witches,” came a voice from up on the podium. It had a distinct sneer to it. “What filth. What do you think we’ll do, burn ‘em?”
A chorus of agreement came from up in front of them. Cassy’s spine straightened a little.
“Erm, Rupert?” A man’s voice that Cassy recognized as Moony’s came up from the crowd. “The girl’s here… Morkin’s daughter…”
The man called Rupert let out a harsh laugh. “Alright, then! I don’t see nothin’ wrong with burning ‘em all now, then! Filthy Morkins…”
She heard Moony let out a grunt of protest, but quickly silenced himself.
Crack! Cassy let out a wail as the stick met her spine. Tears gathered in her eyes. She looked up, blinking, to see the men standing before her wince in unison. Although she tried her best to imagine them so, none of the men seemed very menacing or evil looking at all. They all had the same wide, frightened eyes, busy hands working their way around the closest object they could find.
“Alright.” Rupert’s voice floated down, his owl-wide eyes meeting Cassy’s for a fleeting moment. “All who find the following women guilty of suspicious witch-like acts and in need of a trial, say aye.”
A list of women’s names followed, greeted by a hasty chorus of the word “aye.”
Cassy’s heart plunged.
* * *
However, that evening, things changed.
The trial was to be by burning, based upon popular demand. Of the entire council of eleven, six voted burning, three drowning, and two guillotine.
The town hall looked rather different as the sun set over the mountains, bathed in bloodred light. Around back of the magnificent building was a cobble path, and if you followed the cobble path straight ahead where no moss creeped through the cracks you would meet a rather large wooden stake that extended 15 feet high, hard as stone, surrounded by blackened hay and dry leaves. To make this scene more gruesome plastic folding chairs had been scattered in a ring around the stake for townspeople to watch.
Cassy was first in line, her arms heavily bound behind her back. While many of the women standing beside her being led to their dooms looked equally pitiful and innocent, it was obvious the attention was on Cassy… she being one of the youngest claimed witches many of the people here had seen. To her dismay Thatch, Widow and Ginger seemed to be the only people she couldn’t find in the crowd, although she thought it a great relief her younger sister wouldn’t have to witness the burning.
Cassy was terrified. The sea of eyes all fixated on her was almost scarier than the thought of a terrible death. She wanted more than anything to be brave and courageously escape, like her mother had, but it was too late, for as she finally became brave enough to attempt escape she was standing right beside the stake. A large man, heavily clothed with a black mask pulled over his face, gripped her by the shoulders and hoisted her atop the surprisingly hard pile of hay, and she hardly noticed as a fresh rope bound her stomach to the pole.
Shouts of protests rang out among the crowd as another man with a torch came forward. A few stood up in their seats.
Cassy… A strange voice rang in her ears, pleasant and thick like honey.
Cassy’s head lifted as she looked around for the source of the voice. Everything else had become quiet and still.
Someone in the crowd had run up to the man with the torch and was wrestling him for it. Was that a flame licking the base of Cassy’s leg?
This isn’t what you wanted…
“No, it’s not!” Cassy tried to call back, but her voice was stuck.
She had become completely engulfed in flames… Shouts rang out…
Cassy… Cassy… Cassy…
The flames died down. There was a gasp from the crowd as the world came back into focus.
Cassy looked down. The flames retreated into the ground. Her clothes, her hands, her face, all were intact…
The entire crowd had stood. Everyone had broken into a run, going berserk, knocking down anyone to stand in their way.
What exactly did this mean? Cassy wondered.
The only explanation for that would be…
She swallowed, slipping her hands through the charred rope that bound her.