"Who are you?"
I rocked back on my heels, as I did every time I was faced with a difficult question, which recently had become quite often.
The older girl frowned.
"Well that's not true. You're clearly someone, you just don't wanna say."
I pursed my lips in annoyance.
"No really, I'm no one."
"And why do you say that?"
"Because people who are someone get hanged."
She frowned even more.
"And who told you that?"
She smiled briefly, trying and failing to hide the nervousness in her eyes.
"Not bad. But it's not always “someones” who get hanged you know. See? I'm someone and nobody is trying to hang me."
Her eyes flashed with fear.
"Do I look like a witch to you?"
"Good, then don't say idiotic things like that. It won't do you any good."
Of course, by the end of the year, she was dead. As was her mother and brother. As were many other villagers. Ten in total. Not me though, oddly enough.
I would’ve been the prefect candidate for an execution. A show-off who likes parading her talents like a peacock parades its feathers. I wasn’t a particularly cute child and my sharp tongue just made people dislike me even more. Not to mention I’d been seen on numerous accounts muttering strangely under my breath and giving people odd looks. Now if that doesn’t make you a witch, I don’t know what will!
But still, no one suspected me. No one even saw me. The town didn't welcome visitors. Newcomers were regarded with fear. And if they were Catholic well, God forbid, as they say. I decided I would not be a newcomer. No one recounts me ever stepping foot in Lancashire. I didn’t exist. After all, in the 17th century, how else to survive?
One must take into consideration the fact that the Devices weren't exactly important people. In the grand scheme of things, they were hardly even there. So how this happened to them remains, in my opinion, a matter of extraordinarily bad luck. Or just plain stupidity. That's always a possibility.
Alison Device, the girl I'd been talking to earlier, wasn't the sharpest of people. Not long after our conversation she cursed a man and supposedly rendered him unconscious. Anyone could tell by just looking at the girl that there wasn't anything remotely magical about her. I could tell and I was only ten at the time, but she was set on it. The poor thing was convinced his illness was the work of the Devil. When I heard, it honestly baffled me. The reason that man had fallen ill was undoubtedly the product of poor diet, especially considering he woke up soon after the incident. Now if I were to curse a man, I can guarantee he would not be waking up the next morning, but then again I like doing things efficiently.
But what could I say? I didn't exist. And people who don't exist can't comment on the latest gossip. Unfortunate but true.
Of course, the whole affair never would've transpired if the Devices had decided to live in London. London is such a big city that most things go unnoticed. The Gunpowder Plot was still all anyone could think about, so I like to believe that no one would've paid attention to a stupid girl claiming she's a witch.
But Pendle was a small place. So small, the most unimportant of people seemed much larger than they actually were.
"I did it!" Alison wailed a few days later, banging her hands against her forehead.
"I'm sure you did not" Said her brother James rather doubtfully.
Jennet, the smallest of the three, stood silent in a corner.
"Of course you did!" said the old woman, sitting so lavishly at the table, one might’ve almost thought the place wasn’t so much of a dump as it seemed. "You're my own blood, are you not?" she continued proudly.
I rolled my eyes, unnoticed. Old Demdike as she called herself might have had a bit of magic in her, enough to get lucky with her brews from time to time, but Alison was as human as anything. As was James and their mother Elizabeth.
Demdike smiled and reached out to pat her niece on the back.
"That Anne has nothing on you, dear."
I frowned. I wondered which Anne she was referring to. For one, there was Anne Whittle, or Chattox as people called her. I for one would've stuck with Anne Whittle, but that's just me. Or of course the likelier answer would be Anne Redferne, her daughter. Another so called witch who couldn't lift tea out of a teacup for the life of her.
"Pity Jenet's a mongrel." she grunted. "She‘ll inherit nothing from this side of the family."
I glanced towards the little girl, but saw no reaction.
"This will be the death of me it will!" cried Alison.
I quietly agreed.
“She’s right, mother” said Elizabeth worriedly. “This stupid girl has ruined us!”
She scowled at her oldest daughter, which created an odd effect, seeing as only one of her eyes was pointed in the right direction. It was a known fact in Pendle that the Device family was a strange family. Not only was Demdike one for making potions that banished ghosts or cured black spots or the occasional bloody cough, but it would be a lie to describe her daughter Elizabeth as anything else but plain ugly. Her brittle frame and oily hair didn’t do much for her of course, but her eyes were the real problem. One positioned slightly lower than the other, one gazing up, the other down, a Picasso painting come to life. That is of course if Picasso had been alive back then. For people in Pendle her features could only mean the Devil himself had had a hand in it. Up until that point it hadn’t really mattered, but Alison’s little stunt was about to put an end to things.
“The neighbours won’t say anything” Demdike assured her. “They know very well they won’t get any more help from me if they do. The people here have been plenty happy with us so far. Nothing will change now.”
“They’ve turned a blind eye” muttered Jennet in a low tone. “Now Mr. Law has been taken ill, they’ll think twice before coming here again.”
Demdike whirled towards the girl, and if her eyes would’ve had any light left in them still, I’m sure they would’ve been blazing.
“Hold your tongue you wretch!” she yelled.
Jennet stood quietly.
I gazed at her, ready to be pitiful, but the girl didn’t seem sad. Not in the slightest. She was smiling to herself, as though certain no one could see her. But I could. I frowned, wondering what in the world would make a child smile in those circumstances?
“Fucking bastard” the old hag muttered. “I told you, Elizabeth! There’s no good to be had from keeping a child like that!”
Her daughter clicked her tongue in disapproval.
“The Lord watches over us in every moment. Only He Himself knows what trouble would’ve befallen us if I’d had decided not to keep her.”
“The Lord doesn’t look kindly upon the unnatural. Wasting food is the only thing that mutt’s good for.”
“A mutt would be better fed” Jennet mumbled.
The old woman stood up angrily and grabbed frantically at the air, only to sit back down in defeat.
“If I still had my eyes…” she snarled. “If I still had them I would make you regret every word that escapes your mouth! How dare you —“
She stopped and suddenly clutched at her heart.
“Are you well?” asked James walking up to her.
She nodded weakly.
Elizabeth gave Jennet an ugly look.
“See what you’ve done? Mother is right. I should never have kept you. Perhaps God keeps you here as a reminder of my sins.”
I glanced at the child again. I’d expected sadness, maybe even a tear or two. At the tender age of nine, I wouldn’t have been too surprised to see a bit of anger. But all I got was that eternal smile, barely noticeable, but still detectable by the slight curve of her lips and her altogether tranquil state, as though nothing had passed, as though she were somewhere else entirely, far away from Pendle and the mother who brought her there.
Things happened in the next few months. Bad, but expected things. After years of accusing one another, the curse affair had finally managed to send both Demdike and Chattox to prison, which in time became their final dwelling. After many other gruesome details into which I will not delve, the whole matter finally concluded with a trial.
That is how I found myself sitting in the back of a dirty court room, watching sadly as Alison Device fell to her knees in front of John Law, tears streaming down her earthy cheeks.
“It was my doing, sir!” she lamented pitifully. “I am to blame! I confess to all wrongdoings, sir! I have conspired with the Devil, sir!”
One might have felt sorry for her and I almost did, if I hadn’t considered the stupidity of her words. The poor girl was confessing to things she had no idea about. Conspiring with the Devil? I was surprised she knew what “conspire” meant, much less practice the action.
“We are satisfied with your confession, Alison Device” said the judge whose name I’d forgotten. “Now… James Device?” he called.
The boy was brought in by several men, not to restrain him, but to keep him from collapsing. His clothes, hanging loosely around his frail figure, were stained with the remnants of blood, some dried some still dripping from a wound that from my vantage point I couldn’t quite see. I leaned in towards a woman sitting in the row in front of me.
“Was beating him really necessary?” I asked angrily.
“No one beat him” she answered. “Poor lad tried to kill himself in prison. Nasty business that.”
I gazed back at him. For the first time I actually felt sorry for the person standing trial. Poor boy couldn’t help his family being so witch crazed. Had tried to escape hanging and even that hadn’t worked. And the only dignity remaining, of standing straight in front of a judge was now also robbed of him.
He didn’t stay long. He was hardly conscious. After a few minutes he was quickly ushered to a seat.
The judge cleared his throat.
The woman was brought in through the great doors, setting off a collective gasp of horror from the audience. In the context of a witch trial, her face had become, if possible, even more displeasing. Regardless, she held her head up high.
“I am innocent” she cried, turning to face the crowd. “I have never consorted with Devil! My mother! She bares his mark! Not I! I never asked for this!”
She gestured towards her eyes.
“My mother sold her soul to the Devil before she had me! That is the cause for my —“
“Enough!” said the judge. “This odious witch is lying, undoubtedly. We have a witness to prove it. Will someone bring Jennet Device?”
My eyes and Elizabeth’s widened. The doors opened and in came the little girl, unabashed, no expression on her face but that never-ending smile haunting her lips.
Elizabeth stared in awe at the child for a few moments, then ran. Not towards the door. But towards Jennet. A pair of guards grabbed her arms before she could get to her, but she pulled against them furiously.
“You bastard!” she screamed madly, kicking and riving. “You wretch! Don’t say a word, you hear me? Curse you, you snake! Don’t you dare say a word, do you hear? Don’t you dare!”
Jennet hid her face in her palms and started sobbing while her mother screamed relentlessly, her hands clawing at the air, mere inches from her daughter's face.
“You fucking bitch! I’ll kill you, I swear! I’ll kill you! Do you hear me?”
The girl stood her ground, her face hidden, sobbing.
“Do you hear me?”
Suddenly, the child looked up.
“Send mommy away” she whimpered tearfully.
The judge smiled kindly and ordered for the mother to be escorted out. The moment Elizabeth was out of the courtroom, Jennet quickly wiped her tears away and unimpeded, climbed onto the main table. She stood up and gave the audience a sweeping gaze.
“I have come today to denounce my mother as a witch. I have witnessed her many times consorting with the Devil. And my grandmother too. They would have meetings together in the night. My sister and brother also. I denounce them all. They all have his mark and have held many gatherings with other witches. I have seen them about the house. I witnessed their plans to murder by unholy means.”
She continued in this fashion for another few minutes, naming every crime she had ever witnessed her family or other commit. Not once did her voice falter. Not once did she stop to consider her words. Not once did she show any sign of hearing her sister’s sobs from the corner of the room. She said it all calmly and collectively.
I found her by Malkin Tower a few days later. I asked, as any child would ask another, why. She shrugged and didn’t answer.
“But do you know they’ll be hanged? Your mother, sister and your brother. They might hang because of you.”
What her thoughts were on the subject I’ll never know.
But my guess is that she knew the consequences. Why else then would her gaze be so impassive as she watched, along with so many others, as ten bodies swung rotting in the wind at the very summit of Pendle Hill. A face lost in the crowd, a newcomer just like me. This little girl, herself a visitor in a town filled with suspicion, had somehow shown me a different way to survive.