Mara Thames closed her eyes and let the delicious night wind kiss her upturned face.
The land fell away, and the North Atlantic Ocean opened before her. The black waves frothed in the moonlight, a void that plummeted to the depths of Hell below. If she pointed her broomstick down, would Lucifer offer her advice? Would he right all the wrongs with the snap of his long-nailed fingers? The crash of the water upon itself soothed the incessant murmur in her soul: Hush, my child, hush. The fine spray flecked her skin, and she licked the salt from her lips.
Mara’s black dress fluttered in the breeze like the beats of a black crow’s wings. As if it wanted to flee this frail frame and join its brethren on the bonfire. Even her pointed hat threatened to escape and spiral off into nothingness. She held onto it with one hand, though it would be easier to remove and stow it. She would not hide, not now. Instead, she would wear her clothes and her pendants with pride.
Mara’s maleficium rushed through veins as black as tar. Her heart—a gnarled knot of blackthorn roots—writhed in agony. Mara loosed a sob into the roar of the night. “Sisters!” The wind quieted as her voice sliced the air to give her words space to breathe. “Oh, mine own po’r sisters! How couldst they did hurt thee so?”
The puritans had accused a great many. More than 200 people. That they’d included most of her coven seemed to be an accident. How did that new saying go? Even a broken clock is right twice a day? They could have fled with the coven intact. But they’d chosen to stay and die beside their fellow women. Magic or no magic, they all suffered beneath the patriarchal boot.
They’d hanged the accused and burned those who survived. Then, they beheaded those who continued to squirm. Although Mara could never say for sure, only her coven had made it that far. The poor innocent ladies—not that being a witch implied guilt—died off in the first rounds. A blessing from the Dark Lord, if there ever had been one. The strongest of Mara’s coven put up a tough fight until the end. But even a woman who’d made a pact with Satan could only endure so much torture.
Mara watched from the crowd, too weak to reveal her true nature to the masses.
And now, here she flew.
A refugee in the night.
She ought to crash into the surf. But not to meet her lord. Instead, she should point her broom at the roiling ink and spill herself into the brine. To drown herself in the pitch black of the abyss, with only the sea beasts for company. Yes, that would be a fitting end for a coward like her. Let the suckered tentacles of the Kraken tear her apart. Let the guillotine of the megalodon’s jaws bite her in half. Let the bottom feeders of the deep feast upon her corpse as a snack.
Mara even tilted her broom towards the waves. The crash and roar of the ocean pulled at her with icy fingers. She would lean to the side and slide off her wooden steed. The brine would suck the air from her lungs; her broom would wash up on a distant shore like driftwood. Her skeleton would join the leviathans’ carcasses on the ocean’s floor—insignificant.
As she and her oblivion raced towards each other, her sisters’ faces flashed in her mind’s eye. Their words whispered through her mind like worms through an apple. Had they died for this? The utter destruction of their coven? Would not a single witch survive the genocide of Massachusetts? Who would speak their truths if only the dead knew the words?
Mara’s clutch on her broom trembled, and the midnight tide rushed up to greet her.
The seconds of her life ticked out into infinity.
The promise of the sweet embrace of death loomed.
All she could do, everything she could be, faded on the horizon like the last rays of sunshine.
She would not end it like this, weighed down by her losses.
Mara screamed and pried the dagger from her heart; she would wield her grief as a weapon.
She would not let this happen again. No more religious extremism. No more isolation. There would be no more due process lapses—fair trials for all. And from now on, they would deal with spouters of false accusations. No more would the male gaze and simple utterance of witch spell a woman’s downfall. Not whilst she still lived, and blood still pumped through her veins. Not whilst magic tingled in her fingertips.
Mara pulled up as the tip of her broomstick kissed the lip of a cresting wave. Her buckled boots skimmed the water’s surface, and the spray showered over her. She grinned into the rain, and the snakes in her heart uncoiled and hissed their poison at the world.
Her broom slowed to a stop, and the witch hovered there in the starlight as she gasped for air. Mara drew a deep breath and held it until her pulse thrummed in her eardrums. She exhaled with a whoosh and trained her gaze on the sky. The stars and moons twinkled and spoke in silent tongues. They lit her way forward and beckoned her to her future—to Ireland and Europe beyond. Things would be different; something had to be different. Mara would make it so.
She had the whole world at her fingertips.
And in the year 1693, a witch could do anything.
Mara put her head down and gripped the smooth wood of her broom with one hand. The other continued to clutch at her hat—she would take it off for neither man nor storm. She was a witch, a witch, a witch. And anyone who crossed her path would know it.
Into the delicious wind of the night, Mara Thames bolted like a crack of lightning.