Mass hysteria spread through the world Alice was fleeing. Innocent men, women, and children sentenced to death for practicing the Devil’s magic. Tried, tortured, and executed in the name of God and justice. No one was safe from the inhumanity.
Punishment was harsh for a woman that gave birth out of wedlock. With no man to name as the father, the magistrates labeled Alice a witch and the Devil's consort. They condemned her to death. And she was certain they would not allow a child born of evil to live. She escaped the village before they imprisoned her.
Alice fled into the black woods.
Her heart hammered against her chest.
Pale moonlight shimmered on the frozen trees.
Thick brush ripped at her clothes.
Thorns bit into her flesh.
The frigid air stung her skin.
It filled her lungs with fire.
A group of men gave chase; they were relentless. The hunters would not stop until Alice swung from the gallows.
Fear clawed up Alice’s throat.
Warm tears mingled with sweat streamed down her face, blurring her vision.
Alice’s legs trembled.
She stumbled on dense underbrush.
Alice cradled her infant daughter and prayed.
My body aches. I can’t go any farther. Run. They will kill me and the child. Don’t let them catch me. Hide. Find a place to hide. No, they will find me. My head is numb. I can’t think. Run faster.
She wanted to surrender to the icy death, but she could not stop running. The newborn clutched tight to her breast gave her the strength to press forward.
“Circle toward the creek,” yelled a man with a gravelly voice.
“Spread out,” shouted another man, “and set the dogs loose.”
“The witch won’t get far,” said the man with the gruff voice, “she’ll be dead by morning.”
Were the hunters moving away? Their voices sounded muffled.
Alice pressed on into the dark, heading deeper into the forest. She had to put distance between herself and her pursuers.
Her blood pumped hard.
Her heartbeat pounded in her ears.
Pain tore through her ribs like a knife.
I have to rest. So dizzy. I can’t fall. How close are the hunters? Dear God, please don’t let them kill us.
Alice crouched behind a tree. Her heavy breath floated, silent, in the frosty air. She rocked the baby to keep it quiet. Peace swept over her for a moment. She wanted to sleep, but sleep meant death.
I’m not a witch. My only crime was to love a coward. For this, my sinless child has to pay?
Startled back to reality by the baying hounds, Alice bolted to her feet and ran. They were back on her trail—fueled by blind terror; she continued to run.
She floundered in the darkness.
The wind howled eerily through the bare trees. Swaying branches cast sinister shapes on the fresh snow. Limbs creaked and snapped under the weight of the ice. Even though she was freezing, a chill shot up Alice’s spine.
There’s no escape. No place to hide. I have to find shelter.
Alice wanted to scream out in pain and anger. If it had not been for the infant in her arms, she would have embraced her certain death.
Suddenly, the rich, mellow smell of wood smoke filled the air.
Could the hunters have started a fire? Is my mind playing tricks?
Alice wanted to rush towards the smell, but she hesitated. There was too much at risk if it wasn’t the sanctuary she sought.
She walked with slow, deliberate steps; careful not to make any noise. If it was the hunters, she wanted to make a fast retreat.
A faint light flickered in the distance. Alice crept closer. By the dim light of the moon, she could make out the silhouette of a cabin.
With renewed vigor, she pushed through the deep snow.
Alice heard the hounds as the hunters neared the cabin. She forced her way through the cabin door. Shadows bounced around the room as the wind whipped the candle flame. The door slammed shut with an ominous bang.
An old woman with jet black hair and snow-white skin stepped into the light. The lines of a thousand lifetimes creased her haggard face.
“Please, help me,” said Alice, her voice quivered from the cold and fear, “don’t let them kill my baby.”
“Why are they chasing you, child?” said the old woman.
“I’m innocent, I’m not a witch, please save my baby,” Alice was shaking, “please take her, take my baby.” Her words were incoherent and scattered.
“Calm down child, I won’t let them take the baby.”
“Hurry, take her, hide her, please.” Alice could hear the hounds getting louder. The men were closing in fast.
What if the old crone was stalling her? Would she let the hunters take them? Alice was ready to run.
“Give me the baby.” The old woman held out her arms. “I will take the child to safety.”
The shouts of the hunters grew closer.
Alice had to trust the old woman or face the hunters.
“Give me the little one,” said the old woman, “I can save her.”
Alice removed the heavy blanket that shrouded the baby.
She looked into the face of her daughter. She kissed her and breathed in the sweet smell of her only child. The baby had survived the perilous night.
Alice swaddled the infant and tenderly placed her in the old woman's arms.
“Please, don’t let anyone hurt her,” Alice said, tears spilling down her cheeks.
“Your daughter will be safe,” said the old woman, “no harm will come to her.”
“The hunters are here,” cried Alice, “you have to leave, please hide.”
“There’s no need to hide.”
“Please old woman, go now,” begged Alice, “I will follow you.”
“I’m sorry child, you cannot follow where I am going,” said the old woman.
Alice gasped and grabbed at her daughter.
The hunters busted through the door. It was too late.
A blinding light engulfed the room and in a brilliant flash, the old woman and the child vanished.
Alice knew her life would end soon, but she had saved her daughter.