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Burning Autumn Leaves
“The amber leaves were covered with snow, signaling winter”
Eleanor dismayed at the comment written at the top of her paper. “It is not a poem if it does not rhyme. F” Mr. Berkler, the schoolmaster, did not appreciate her particular writing style, and he was failing her in English. She could at least take comfort in the fact that the school day was over. She packed her bags in despondence. Walking home through the streets of Salem, she felt an eerie change in the air. She knew why. There was to be a burning today. As she walked by Gallows Hill a crowd was gathering. Out of a morbid curiosity, she stayed. The mayor rose onto a platform, and a girl was brought out. Eleanor recognized her. Her name was Matilda Laron, a strange girl who lived on her street that she had never really talked to. The mayor read from a large document, saying: “We, the people of the Massachusetts Bay Colony,”
Matilda was in a trance. Eleanor could see the terror in her eyes.
“Have sentenced you, Matilda Elizabeth Laron,”
A burly man began to tie Matilda to a large upright log with kindling beneath.
“To be burned at the stake,”
A torch was brought to the burly man and Matilda began to scream.
“For the reported and unlawful use of witchcraft,”
Eleanor’s eyes widened.
“Punishable now by the government,”
Small children in the audience cried and Eleanor looked away.
“And in the next life by God!”
The kindling was lit. Small sparks accumulated into a roaring blaze. Matilda’s screams became louder, uncontrollable, and then stopped. Eleanor fought the urge to look. The heat from the fire could be felt where she was standing. It was too much for her. She covered her eyes, horrified, and all she could think about was the smell of burning autumn leaves.
The next day Eleanor was still in shock. Even Mr. Berkler’s ramblings couldn’t snap her out of it. Apparently, he could see the change in her demeanor, and he hit her with a ruler for “day dreaming”. She spent the entire day consumed by her thoughts, and barely even noticed when it was over. Her only assignment for the night was to write a story. Alone in her bedroom, she began to write about the previous day’s burning. She wrote about it all. The death, the fire, the innocent girl, and the villagers, whose own bloodlust had overruled their judgment, making them sacrifice yet another girl to the flames. Eleanor looked over her composition. She couldn’t turn it in. It wasn’t much of a story. Just some thoughts. A way to let out her feelings. She put it under her bed. Even though she now had to redo the assignment, Eleanor felt better. Realizing it was getting late, she quickly jotted down another story. It wasn’t much. Just some uninspired tale about the sea. It would have to do.
“Eleanor Shoppe!” yelled Mr. Berkler. As Eleanor neared his desk, she noticed that his attitude, though irritated, differed from his usual disposition. The man seemed genuinely shaken.
“Eleanor,” he said, for once addressing her by just her first name. “You wrote a story sympathizing with a witch?!”
Eleanor went pale. She looked at the paper in Mr. Berkler’s hand. It was what she wrote on the burning.
Mr. Berkler looked away. She said his name several times but he would not answer.
On her way home, Eleanor became increasingly paranoid. What would happen to her now that Mr. Berkler knew of her story? The path to her house was long and lonely, and this only added to her fears. She was just around the corner from her house when she swore she heard something in the trees. As it came closer, her anxieties greatened. It was nothing, she told herself, and then-
Something hit her. Everything went black.
“We, the people of Salem, in the Massa-”
Eleanor awoke. She did not know where she was, but she had a splitting headache. She tried to move, but she was bound by some impenetrable force. She had been tied up.
“Sentence you, Eleanor Bethany Shoppe,”
Eleanor realized where she was. She screamed. The kindling was lit. and all she could think about was the smell of burning autumn leaves.