The Rye and Crows

Submitted into Contest #80 in response to: Write about a child witnessing a major historical event.... view prompt

2 comments

Historical Fiction Fantasy Thriller

Burning

The flames danced in the girl’s eyes as she watched, mesmerized. What causes such natural beauty, she mused, watching the growing fire while getting jostled by the crowd. What is fire even made of? The enthralling flames kept her attention as the crowd jeered and hooted, pushing in waves like a sea of bodies attempting to get the better view. She tuned out the proclamations that the town doctor was making about bewitched little girls; convulsions, vomiting, delusions. She rolled her eyes at the absurdity, aware that no one was watching her. They never watch her. With a smile she turned, pushed her way through the dense wall of villagers, and strolled to the woods. As she left, the screaming began.

Delusions

The excitement began months earlier, in school of all places. She knew school was a waste of time. Everything she needed to learn, she did so on her own or from watching her aging grandmother, Sarah Good- though from a distance lest she add more bruises to her collection. Despite her thoughts on education, there wasn’t much else to do in the freezing month of March in Massachusetts so there she was, in school. At least the drabby classroom had walls, and people to watch.

The two cousins, Betty and Abby Parris were chattering away as they tore at the homemade bread and cured meat. She looked away as her mouth watered at the sight of food, and looked down at her empty hands, hating the giggling girls.  While roughly the same age - near their first bleeding - they did not share the same ideals. 

The others in the room were as dirty as her but none sat alone. Perhaps she should feign befriending someone, if only to blend in better. In the safety of the shadows in the back of the room, she scanned the small class. She watched the boys nearby snort and chuckle as Joey, Betty’s brother, put a worm down another’s rag of a shirt. She felt her face contort in the usual sneer of disgust as she scanned for any other options.

A sudden shriek had her abandoning all thoughts of friends. Betty was screeching and tearing at her own limbs, scratching herself raw. She fell to ground convulsing, limbs concorting at odd angles as her eyes rolled to the back of her head. The rest of the small class watched in horror, except Joey who ran out the door. The girl simply backed up until she felt the wall against her back and hid her smile as she enjoyed the show. Abby started screaming with her cousin as her head jerked around, arms flailing as if fending off invisible insects. Tears streamed down her face as she joined her cousin in scratching her arms and legs until bloody wounds formed. She fell to the ground, both girls convulsing and writhing until slowly settling down into twitches. 

Joey ran in with the town doctor, William Greggs, and their young teacher. Both adults looked concerned as they picked up the moaning girls and walked out, leaving a deafening silence behind them.

Diagnosis

The entire village of Salem was abuzz with the news of the two girls’ bewitchment. That was the doctor’s diagnosis, for what else could cause such behaviour than a demonic possession? We had a witch in the village.

The girl walked through the village listening to accusations of old quarrels, pointing fingers at neighbours, friends and even family. The chilly air did not help cool the tempers of frightened villagers. Just as the wet season last summer, which led to a smaller harvest, did nothing to curb the town folk of blaming the poor farmers and stealing their crops. The girl chuckled at how quick the villagers were to blame others for their misfortune.

The girls recovered over the next few days and were quick at recanting their tales of being possessed by devils. The town’s gossip grew and became more frantic. They wanted justice.   

Trials

The town’s court hearings were held in the main hall, where most of the villagers could fit. The girl had snuck in with the crowd to hear what would happen to her grandmother, Sara Good, who was one of three accused women for witchcraft. 

The hall buzzed with the chatter of townspeople, excited that they had found someone to place blame - as long as it was not them. William Stoughton, the judge, sat at the front of the room with other councilmen while the two Parris cousins sat in the front to give their accounts. The three accused women were led into the hall in chains. Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba were resolute and quiet as the men and townsfolk yelled profanities and accusations as they passed. The room fell quiet as the women reached the front, awaiting the trial for their freedom.

Stoughton attempted to begin the trial only to be interrupted by the cousins who fell to the ground, moaning and shaking in what the girl thought to be a rather phony attempt to reproduce what had happened to them. Unfortunately, the villagers ate up phony faster than the town’s common rye bread. The whispers of ‘witch’, ‘witchcraft’ and ‘possessed’ began to spread like the plague. The girl rolled her eyes as the doctor helped them recover from such an onslaught of witchcraft, as if her grandmother or either of the other women had one ounce of magic in them. As if they would unleash it during a witch trial. The whispering began to build, those with sense leaning into the will of the frenzied crowd. The town was now yelling at the women and councilmen, demanding retribution. 

Accusations

The trials would last weeks, giving the fear enough time to fester, especially as more people went into convulsions. The women were held in jail which aroused some doubt for the accused- for how could they perform witchcraft from their cells? 

At one of the trials, Betty Parris had stood and pulled out a partially broken knife and went off on a tale about how Sarah Good had attacked her. Halfway through the daunting tale, a townsman argued against the tale with the other half of the knife saying that it was his knife that had broken and Betty had witnessed it. The uncertainty of these witches were wavering, especially as the cousins’ accounts changed with every version of the attack.

The town was in an uproar of confusion and fighting for an easy answer. The witches must burn for what they have done.

Throughout the weeks, both Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good denied any involvement. There was plenty of proof of how poorly Sarah Good treated children, the girl could not argue there as she hid her scars and bruises of how her grandmother treated her. But there was no witchcraft in abuse.

Tituba was a slave to the Parris family and of Carribean descent with stories of voodoo. She continuously denied guilt despite her own husband accusing the three women alongside the village.  

On the following trial day, when the women were walked into the trial, Tituba had several bruises along her arms and face. Within moments of the trial beginning, Tituba confessed to witchcraft, tears streaming down her cheeks. Gasps broke out within the crowd. Even the girl’s eyes widened, until she noticed two of the jailor’s knuckles were split. As if they had beaten someone. Her eyes narrowed in disgust at the easy answer the town finally acquired.

The girl snuck out as the townspeople started chanting to burn her at the stake, people rushing out to spread the news to gather firewood. She would witness the innocent's end. If only for something to do.

The rye and crows

After watching the town’s burning of Tituba, the girl needed to be free of them, if only for an afternoon. The girl walked along the fields, enjoying the little heat that hinted of spring. She felt no remorse for the jurisdictions. The other women were still held in jail until the council decided what to do, but Tituba had confessed, though clearly after being beaten. Her charred carcass would remain as a reminder of what happened when the village became fearful of the unknown. The woman had no magic in her veins, though with her voodoo knowledge burned along with her, the townsfolk were sedated. For now.

She walked between the Parris’ field and another. Both fields ready to be plowed and planted soon. She continued along past the small silo that kept the rye grain safe over the winter and paused as she witnessed a murder of crows eating grain that had fallen out of the open hatch.

The crows were possessed. They were scratching at their eyes, flapping one wing, walking into the wall. A few were on their backs, convulsing. The girl tilted her head and walked up to the spilled grain. There, within the spikes of the rye, were what looked to be black worms. Leaning down and toeing the plants showed the girl that the dark forms were not alive, but stiff, like black growths. She processed what finding growths like this meant for anyone who ate the rye and laughed at the ignorant town. She eyed the crows one more time before turning towards the woods, too lost in thought to notice the small boy who followed.

The woods

Joey followed the girl’s path deep into the woods. He kept far enough back that he lost her a few times until he caught up to her in a small clearing. The light was beginning to fade, twilight giving an eerie feel to the forest. He hid behind a large, damp tree and poked his head out. The girl merely stood there, facing away from Joey with a dead rabbit at her feet, throat slit. Her shoulders began rising with each deep breath she took. Joey ducked down into the surrounding tall grass to crawl a little closer. 

The girl cupped her hands in front of her, and slowly the back of her head was silhouetted by a bright light in front of her. Joey gasped and the girl whirled around, eyes scanning the trees. But Joey’s attention was on her hands which held a flame, brighter than any he had seen. It sent little sparks up, each a different colour. The swirling flames seemed to hold shapes of creatures and faces. Joey tore his gaze from the magic and froze as he beheld her face.

The girl’s hair, once brown, was black as death’s cloak as it swayed in the nonexistent breeze. Veins of black were running down her cheeks like slender, rotten roots. Despite the flame in front of her, a dark shadow seemed to overtake her face, obscuring her features. But what shot ice into Joey’s heart were her eyes. They had gone completely black, save for her irises which turned an eerie silver, gleaming in the dwindling light. 

Joey sat frozen on his stomach, not daring to move a muscle as she extinguished her flame and slowly scanned the area in the sudden darkness. She turned and began to walk further into the forest. Once she was out of sight, Joey sprang up and sprinted back towards home, towards the council to save the town from the witch. He shot through the underbrush, branches scratching at his bare limbs, breaths coming in gasps and his heart nearly giving out in fear. A snapped branch behind him made him throw his head over his shoulder to see if she was in pursuit. 

When he turned back, the witch girl stood motionless in Joey’s path, her gleaming, silver eyes piercing into his soul as he tried to stop. She tilted her head down and smiled.

A scream pierced the night sky.

Author’s notes:

This story is based loosely on one of the first witch trials in 1691-92 in Massachusetts. All of the names used are accurate and historical though many parts have been altered for the story.

The two Parris girls (and others) did suffer muscle spasms and convulsions which has been later believed to be caused by a fungus called ergot (a precursor to LSD).

Sarah Good was not elderly, but was accused of witchcraft and hanged in July of 1692 after giving birth to a child while in prison (who died before her hanging). 

Sarah Osborne died in jail awaiting trial in 1692.

Tituba was a slave to Samuel Parris but was sold after he refused to pay her jail fees. While her name has been used in fiction for witchcraft, she was not burned at the stake.

The girl is completely fiction. As is her magic. 

The ergot fungus was formed from a rather wet season the summer beforehand and having the rye sit in a moist environment until consumed in the winter months.

February 13, 2021 01:35

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2 comments

Galeena M
16:50 Feb 19, 2021

I love your story! I love the fast pace and the fact that you never named the main character and she remained just 'a girl'. I also thought it was a great idea to bring light to the witch trials and nonsensical nature of the accusations. I stumbled in a couple of places with the punctuation and subject-predicate inversion but overall, it's beautifully done!

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Alyson Ackman
17:24 Mar 19, 2021

Hi Galeena, can you give me a few examples of the times with poor punctuation and subject-predicate inversion? I would really love to learn from this. Thank you!

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