Disclaimer: Not mine. Title is also not mine. It comes from the poem "The Broomstick Train" by Oliver Wendall Holmes.
A/N: I'm not going to be posting this regularly like I am my other story, In the Pines. That's my priorty. But, if you've read In the Pines, you know that I had a maybe-concussion. That turned into a real concussion with orders not to do anything computer related for a week. Hence the lack of thank yous in that story. This was already typed and ready to go, so I'm basically going to use it as a filler until In the Pines is completed. Then I'll concentrate on this. Thanks so much for reading my babel. As always, you all rock.
A/N2: Historical context (sorta). This is set on the East Coast, because the West Coast wasn't settled early enough (by the European and British colonists, I'm aware that people have lived on the West Coast for a very, very long time) to join in on the hysteria of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Also, I know that Wicca is a real religion and that you don't harm anyone and that the term witch has been used to denigrate perfectly innocent women. Moreover, I know that women and men were slaughtered in the name of witchcraft throughout history. That said, throwing all that out the window for this.
Not too far from the road, just a short walk through the brambles and winter-deadened blueberry bushes, is a small clearing. It's not too strange. The woods are pock-marked with them – spots where an acorn or a pine cone has yet to fall. But nothing grows in this clearing. The trees that surround it grow outwards and twisted as they bend to avoid it. The tangle of wild blueberry bushes skirts its edges and the mountain laurel has yet to overtake it.
It's a dare: this clearing. A rite of passage for daring little boys and intrepid little girls. They poke and they prod, sending each other spilling on the lifeless soil. The loser, the dared, must remain in the clearing for five minutes – it's rumored that the person who lingers longer stays forever – and although they are brave, no one wants to be responsible for the capture of their friends.
It's been defiled with beer bottles and empty cups. Detritus from teenagers who party on its borders. Leaves have blown past it. Twigs have settled on it. But children who saw it when they were eight would recognize it at eighteen as unchanged when the rest of the world had changed so much. Maps have evolved, countries collapsed. While cartographers rush to the capture the new world in solid blocks of color, the clearing remains untouched.
The whispers, the stories told in the dark, say that this where they buried her. The whispers say she told them to bury her deep because she wouldn't lie still. And in the flicker of the firelight, the glow of the dying flashlight, the whispers wonder how deep is the grave? How strong is the protection of a layer of sand?
It began as these things always begin – a whisper, a rumor, a finger pointed by a jealous wife. "Witch" the word simmered in the air. "Witch" someone said a little louder. "No," someone said, but quietly, not wanting to draw the ire of the crowd. "Witch," someone yelled and the word swelled and grew. "Witch!" it was a clamor and a fear. There was fire and there was fury, but those who acted, acted at night. In the dark, armed with Bibles and God's own directive, "Suffer not a witch to live," they approached the small house. Candlelight flickered in its windows; smoke curled in wisps out of its chimney. Years later, when they would tell the story to their confessors, repenting their sins and dying, they would say the woods were silent. No night bugs, no animals moving through the underbrush. The wild turkeys did not trespass. The deer did not graze there.
They didn't knock. They circled the house, scattering salt and carrying rifles. They prayed to God and His Son for guidance as they prepared to rid their tiny farm community of the blight wrought upon it. God would see them through this they promised each other as they moved to the doors. She was just a woman – a woman who consorted with the devil.
She was asleep, they said. Propped up in a rocking chair, sewing in her lap. They tied her up quickly, ignoring her screams of terror, then fury, and then terror again as she realized her time upon the planet was almost at its end. The rope was tossed over a tree branch that looked thick and sturdy. Candles were tipped over and their flames licked at the floorboards and curtains. They lapped at the little bed tucked in its corner and the half-finished cradle by its side.
There would be no trial, no record of the event in the town's history. The shouts lowered to whispers to rumors to folk lore. But who was to say it was untrue? Who could point to something that said the little house never stood there? That the cradle was just a piece of melodrama designed to make a spooky story just a little worse? Although it was years after Salem and the horrors that unfolded there – manmade, hysteria born – the men in that clearing knew as they watched the evidence burn. "Witch," they whispered, "witch." Who's to say that they were wrong?