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To Catch a Witch

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“Witch,” The townsfolk shouted as the verdict was announced for Catherine Dunlap, the accused. “She is a witch!”
Judge Maddox’s gavel came down with a resounding thud on the dark mahogany desk, newly imported from the Mother Country and with a price of forty pounds, all on the expense of the British Parliament. “On the behalf of the Royal Courts of England, the church, and the Old Dominion of Virginia, on the Fifth of June, year sixteen and fifty-seven, I declare the defendant, Catherine Dunlap, accused of one count of witchcraft, dark magic, and consultation with the Devil and two counts of placing nightmares on others, not guilty. This case dismissed on insufficient evidence.”
The Judge breathed a sigh of relief as everyone filed out of the courtroom. The case was no longer on his shoulders. The case was sure to go on to appeal, maybe even to the governor. The citizens would call for the poor girl to be hung, if they themselves did not get to Catherine first. But, her potential death was no longer on his hands and Judge Maddox was going to be able to sleep peacefully for the first time since the case had come into his hands.
Catherine was joined at the stand by her husband. The two of them were young, barely seventeen, and had just been married the year that the full-blown accusations had started, about two years before the current date.
Richard Dunlap, Catherine’s husband, was a tobacco farmer with a deep tan and fair hair the color of gold. Catherine, on the other, was stark in comparison, with snow-white skin and hair as black as the night itself. The courtship of the two had sparked what would turn into a dark consuming fire.
The townsfolk had started to gather and remove themselves from the watchful eyes of the courthouse authority and, around the marble courthouse steps, they waited for the witch to appear.
Yet, the witch did not appear. The Dunlap’s had escaped through the back doors of the courthouse and onto the farmer’s carriage, riding homeward.
Catherine’s story was yet to end, but one must have prior knowledge of the entire story first. This story started on the night that Catherine was born, a silent winter night under the full moon. Snow blanketed the landscape and in the reflection of the moonlight, shadows danced across the landscape that was barely touched by anyone except for the Old Man of Winter himself, who’s frosted breath seemed suspended in the air.
Born the daughter of a farming family, Catherine’s cries were not the only newborn cries heard that black night that seemed to seep in from the shadows. Yes, with Catherine, there came another child and a preceded omen of supernatural beings born in twos.
“What shall I do with the second child?” The husband had asked.
“Kill it. Drop a stone upon its head. Let us be rid of it before more bad luck befalls us.” The mother had replied and waved her husband away from her.
The father of the child had not wanted the omen of the twins, yet he could not harm the poor, innocent child sleeping in his arms. The father made his way out into the snow, taking care to wrap the child in a small blanket.
Nearby the home where Catherine and mother lay sleeping, there was a graveyard that was visited at all times of night by many grieving souls. The father entered the deserted graveyard and looked at all of the crosses marking shallow graves of those taken by the pox. Silently, the father made his way to the large oak tree in the middle of the assembled graves and placed the baby on one of the large branches that was somewhat more sheltered from the wind than the others.
“May you be christened Persistence,” The father placed on the newborn’s head a cross that had once been secured around his neck. He took one last look at the child and disappeared into the night as the shadows began to creep inwards, towards their new victim.
By the first part of midnight, the good side, the child was left alone. By the second part of midnight, the dark hour, the child was leaving the graveyard, hidden in the shadow-black cloak of a stranger.
The baby started to cry from inside the cloak as the stranger walked. The stranger switched the baby’s position in one of her arms. “Do not worry, my Persistence, we will both get them back in time.” The stranger smiled to herself, and let the cross dangle by the rope to which it was attached in her hands. And the cross fell to the ground, leaving a mark in the snow, on which the stranger seemed to float, “So God help it.”
And fifteen years passed for both girls as quickly as trees change their leaves in the autumn. Both girls learned of herbs, one how to heal, and the other how to do darker things. Only one child knew of the other, and kept constant watch over her twin, like a shadow over its owner.
Catherine, by the age of fifteen, had become a grand participant in society, but was still slightly quirky, sometimes preferring to wear men’s’ clothing because of the easier mobility than regular dresses and knowing how to write, and was oblivious to the fact that she had a twin sister. Persistence, on the other hand, strayed away from the happy and cheery society life, and instead played dark jokes on her sister, such as killing her plants and hiding important objects. But with Persistence, things started to grow worse when Richard arrived and as the visitations of Richard Dunlap increased, so did Persistence’s hatred towards her twin sister.
Animals started dying suddenly, and then appearances of Catherine in two different places at the same time began to occur. The townsfolk began to grow suspicious more than ever as soon as the courtship of Richard and Catherine was announced. A rumor was begun that Richard had been charmed by Catherine with a love spell. With that rumor, the first spark was set for the consuming fire.
Soon, neighbors started having nightmares during the full moon of Catherine coming into their rooms, transforming them into horses, riding on them until just before the sun rose and then returning them to their beds. Catherine was accused too of knowing Latin and growing herbs that could be used in spells of evil. Catherine denied any such acts, but the odds were slowly being stacked against her and more branches and logs were put into the fire.
On the day after her wedding, Catherine was arrested and imprisoned for witchcraft and consultation with the Devil. A trial was built up against her, and as the days progressed, the townsfolk grew more enraged, because they were still seeing Catherine’s image around the town, lurking in the shadows, waiting silently for the right time to spring.
The story had returned to the trial that ended in a not guilty verdict. The people were outraged and were going to prove that Catherine was a witch, all by themselves.
“Duck her. Duck the witch.” They had demanded to the Magistrate. “If she sinks, she’s innocent, but if she floats, she burns.” And the Magistrate, bribed by the money of some of the more wealthy men of the town, gave the approval. The ducking was to be the next day.
But, fate would not allow it for the goodhearted Catherine. The night was as dark as the night that she was born, with booming thunder and frantic bursts of lightning, and Persistence was finally going to start the fire ablaze. Up the stairs, softer than a shadow, she crept, and Persistence was her namesake. Richard was not home, but Catherine sat by the fire, reading. Her mother and father were asleep in their chairs.
Catherine looked up, ready to greet her returning husband. But his silhouette was not the one illuminated by the lightning in the sky.
“Hello Catherine,” The sister said as she stepped forward. In the dim candle-light, one could make out the blackness of her hair, the pallor of her skin, and the cross burned onto her forehead from the many years before in the graveyard.
“Who are you?” Catherine whispered as she picked up the candle, setting her book on a small table.
A dark smiled illuminated the countenance of the evil sister. “Why, you don’t recognize yourself?” Persistence walked over to her parents, her abandoning parents. “I am your sister, Catherine, your poor, abandoned sister. Everyday of my life, I have been in your shadow, watching the love and care you receive, whilst I received a mentor of… certain things. Catherine, you aren't leaving this house, and neither are these,” Persistence motioned at the sleeping parents and turned up her nose, “creatures.”
Persistence moved towards her sister. “You've had everything you ever wanted, even Richard. It was I that caught his eye, not you. I put a spell on him, but he went with you instead. And now, I am going to become you.”
Catherine backed away from the witch. The candle in her hands went out in a wisp of smoke. Suddenly, the fireplace’s flames seemed to expand. “You’re the witch. You’ve been framing me.” She accused as she fought to keep her eyes open against the heat.
“And who did you think it was framing you? And I feel so bad that the townsfolk haven’t had the pleasure of tearing you limb from limb. Yes, revenge is sweet, my dear Catherine, especially when you are persistent. My mentor told me that our mother had stolen father from her, and that everyone had to pay.” The smile of evil crossed Persistence’s face. “Goodbye, my goodhearted sister. Revenge does get the last laugh.”
Persistence snapped her fingers and the fire started to spread, first the floor then the walls. Persistence left the house in a blazing inferno that no one was sure to escape from easily.
As she made her way down the road in search of her husband, Persistence chuckled to herself. Halfway down the road to the town, Persistence was met by the less-than-friendly townsfolk.
“There’s the witch.” The townsfolk called. Several of the strongest men grabbed her and instantly bound her hands. The others placed binds on her feet and mouth. The townsfolk then forced her into a carriage and they carried Persistence to the jail.
The ducking was the next day. The townsfolk tied a rock to Persistence’s feet and bound her hands in iron with a cross engraved on it, to ensure no magic was going to interfere with the results of the ducking. A rope was secured around the witch’s waist to free her of the water, should she sink.
Then, at noon, the witch was tossed into the water, and she floated to the top, expelled by the water because she was not baptized. The crowd gasped and the witch was hauled from the water. Judge Maddox was watching, and at the sight of Witchduck Road, the witch was declared guilty and sentenced to be burned the next day.
And, in the same fire that had consumed her life, the fire of jealousy and a need for revenge, the witch was punished for her crimes and engulfed into the flames forever. And the mother had been correct the night that Persistence and Catherine were born. The two had been an omen, an omen of bad luck that had brought downfall to the entire family.



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