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James W. Creed looked up from his seat on the wagon carrying his family. Trees, rock formations, and snow filled his vision. The recently cut timber and pine needles’ scent lingered along the trail. The cold of the weather as autumn changed to winter crept up on him. Why didn’t I get a jacket? It’s freezing out here, James thought to himself as he sat, shivering on the coach’s bench of the wagon. The one person who doesn’t have a coat has to drive the wagon. Patches of snow were scattered across the ground around the wagon. A voice spoke up behind him from inside the cabin.
“How close are we?” Damian asked from his seat behind the coach’s bench.
“We aren’t any closer since the last time you asked three minutes ago,” Louise said in an agitated voice.
“We could be, Louise! You don’t know!”
“Stop arguing,” Helen yelled at them from the farthest seat back in the cabin. “I don’t want to hear any more sass from your mouth, Louise. No more questions from you, Damian. Jamie, how much longer do you propose we have to travel?”
Jamie took a few seconds to make up my mind. “At the least, half a mile. But I don’t know if we’ll encounter problems.”
“Well, just get us there in one piece, I suppose,” Helen finally said after a moment of contemplation.
Half an hour later, plumes of smoke rising from, what Jamie guessed to be, chimneys were spotted in the distance.
“I think we’re here,” he called back to the three passengers of the cart.
The town sat on a slight hill with a long slope leading up to it. Trees thinned out and rock formations grew in number as the trail wound closer to the palisade wall. The strong, mossy tree logs that made up the wall looked damaged and abused. The town had been attacked more than once.
I guess they picked an easily defendable place to live, Jamie thought to himself. Everyone moved toward James in an effort to catch a glance what he had just seen. The wagon emitted creaks and groans from the wooden planks as the two small children and their parent crawled. Damian arrived at the front first where he moved the tarp that hung down in front of the cabin.
“Thank God. I did not want to sleep another night in this wagon,” Louise muttered to no one in particular.
“I told you to shush,” Helen said to her.
“We should be entering town in just a few minutes. Is there a specific place we should stop, Momma?” James asked without looking away from the dirt trail. He didn’t want to be distracted and lose his control on the horses. “
No, just stop when we enter the town. The reverend should be waiting for us there.”
As the family edged closer and closer to Salem, black figures moved into view. What are those? James thought to himself. “Does anyone else see those black figures up ahead?” he called back to the cabin. Into the coach’s bench Damian jumped and stared intently in the direction James pointed out.
“I think…they’re cages!” Damian screamed in something mixed with excitement and fear.
“Don’t be silly, Damian! Why would the town have giant cages in front of it?” Louise yelled back to him.
“Damian’s right, Louise. I can see them. And—oh, dear Lord.” Mother moved to the front, worried about what James’s remark was referring to.
“What is it, Jamie? What do you see?”
“I see people.”
“Where, walking towards us?” she asked before she tried to make out moving figures.
“No, inside the cages. People. Dead people.”
James whispered the last sentence to his mother as to keep the knowledge from Damian, who still sat beside him.
“Kids, in the back! Now!” Helen yelled at her two youngest children.
“What’s wrong, Momma?” Damian whimpered as he climbed into the cabin. “We’re going to play a game, Damian. I want you and Louise to go hide underneath your blankets. Don’t come out until I tell you.”
“What’ll happen if we do?” Louise called back.
“Well, you won’t, so it doesn’t matter.” Helen moved back towards James before she entered the cabin. She whispered, “Tell me when we’ve passed.” Lucky me. I get to look at the corpses as we move past them. James nodded his understanding and urged the horses on.
Silence was the only company to James as he rode through the floating graveyard. Black, rusted steel cages hung from posts set into the ground. Starved and decomposing bodies lay in the bottoms, crumpled up like ragdolls. He held back his sudden sensation of nausea as a stench of death and decay emanated from the cages. He started to dry heave the first time he smelled the bodies. Luckily, the smell was easily accustomed to. James finally decided to risk a look around again. He saw that, in some cages, birds were feasting on dead flesh. I bet that tastes delicious, James thought. Maybe next they can find some tasty tree bark or some delicious dung to go with their unorthodox meal. James laughed at his own joke since he had no one to share it with. The quiet was almost as disturbing to James as was the dead staring back at him. He noticed that every cage had some kind of religious marking on the front of their doors. The symbols varied from crosses to doves. Considering the situation, James guessed they were to ward off evil spirits. Or demons. But is the warding aimed towards the outside or inside? he asked himself. He decided it was best to let the thought wander for now and ask about it later. So far, no problems had occurred while travelling through the forest of bodies. The plumes of smoke started to appear closer and closer. Thankfully the bodies were passed, and the first buildings were in sight. As he drove the horses toward town, James felt this inkling pulling at his subconscious. It was telling him he missed something. Something important. Well, I’m not going back anytime soon.
James and his family rode into town with a newfound sense of relief. The natural bustle of people was slowing down the approach towards the reverend, who was now in view. After what had just happened, however, they didn’t mind how long it took. James pulled the horses to a stop and dropped from the coach. He walked to the back and pulled Damian down from the cabin after he had assisted Helen.
“I can get myself down, Jamie,” Louise insisted when James moved to offer help. He shrugged and moved away. Letting her make her way down by herself, he turned towards the reverend. “Welcome!” he yelled to no specific family member. He moved toward my family quickly with a large grin on his face. James started to move in front of his mother, but she pushed him back before he was able to get there.
Helen moved in close to the reverend and asked, “What is the matter with this town?”
“What do you mean, ma’am?” He said to her as he took on a look of confusion.
“I’m talking about the bodies you have hung up along the trail here. I had to hide my children in the wagon, so they wouldn’t end up scared of this place!“
“Oh! Wait, you haven’t heard about the affliction, ma’am?” he asked as he took a step back, finally understanding what Helen was talking about.
“What affliction?” James cried out as he moved closer to the two. He didn’t want to let his mother find out all the information without him; mostly because she would keep all the details from him.
“Go back and stand with the other children, Jamie,” she whispered to him aggressively.
“Nonsense, the boy should hear things like this! It would be rude to not properly meet the current man of the family! What’s your name, son?”
Jamie looked at the reverend and slowly processed his appearance. He wore the typical black and white clothing that most newcomers to the new world wore. He held a bible in one hand and wore a cross around his neck, tucked into his undershirt. He seemed like a nice and understanding man—one someone could even model his or herself after if he or she didn’t know about how his town hung bodies from cages. “My names James Creed. But everyone calls me Jamie.”
“James! What a fine name! Welcome to our town!”
“Well, bodies hanging in cages isn’t a welcoming sight, reverend. Now tell us. What affliction is this?”
Helen looked at him in surprise. “James Wessen Creed! You will not speak to a man of God like that!” James was about to argue back when the reverend interjected once more.
“Now, ma’am, it’s quite all right. Your son is trying to look out for your family like you are. It’s quite an admirable feature for a man this young. Anyway, back to the matter at hand.” The reverend gained a look of seriousness and gloom. “Witchcraft has befallen our forsaken town.”
Helen looked at James with a questioning look. “Witchcraft?”
“It’s a form of magic, mother. Witches are said to serve the devil.”
The reverend pounced on Jamie’s statement. “Ay, they do! That is why those bodies hang! They’re a sign to any other witches who think they shall cause more hysteria among us.” The reverend looked back to James and spoke with an aura of sincerity in his words. “They will be properly punished.”
Jamie questioned what he meant. “What exactly has happened, sir?”
“Please, call me Parris. Reverend Parris, son.” The reverend continued. “It started after a slave of mine named Tituba started to perform black magic as entertainment for a few girls—things like fortune telling, palm reading and what-not. Until the girls started to become afflicted.”
“Afflicted with what?” James asked.
Reverend Parris continued. “Afflictions such as pinches, bodily functions being lost, losing their ability to speak, seeing apparitions, and other misfortunes. The girls eventually told us who was afflicting them. We held trials for each of them and all were found guilty. We continue to hunt down the witches in our town affecting our children. And we will find all of them.”