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The Salem Witch Trials have always been facinating to me. They are a point in our history that really shows how cruel and animalistic humans can become. I also wanted a love of sorts in my story, but not one that would be easily registered by most people.
I hid in the shade of the willow tree. My mother would holler my name in the distance, but I remained sunken down in the darkness. Especially when she was in one of her infamously bad moods. She would constantly scold and criticize me during my arithmetic lessons. I swear the women would annoy me to the break of insanity most days. So I avoided her like the plague, and sought out shelter under the layers of brush.
That was my secret place, no one ever ventured in the wooded area west of town. The other children would always whisper about a witch who lived in an old hovel there. They used to say she ate the souls of whoever was unfortunate enough to cross paths with her. Adults, on the other hand, would always just complain about how the forest was such a “dreadfully awful sight.” The whole city saw this place as a waste, but I found beauty in its solitude. I’ve only ever met one other who found tranquility in my forest, the girl with the rusted hair.
I was wandering along the trees the first time I saw her. She sat under the willow with her arms crossed, and an ugly pout upon her face. I approached the girl uneasily and took the spot at her side. She looked at me out of the corner of her eyes while I asked what was troubling her. I remember trying to hide my laughter when she started rambling on about how her mother had forced her to start wearing her hair in a cap. Snickers erupted from my throat, it truly was a ridiculous reason to throw a fit. The girl leaned over and pinched my arm in retaliation for my laughter. I yelped at the sudden pain while she stifled a giggle no longer able to bear a grumpy expression. She clutched onto her chest overdramatically as she cried woes over my cruelty. I knew I liked her right then. She was different then all the other girls in town. She was fun, and knew how to make even the dullest conversation enjoyable.
We started meeting at the willow every afternoon. We would sit and talk about God knows what, but the hours always seemed to fly by when I was with her. I soon came to know the girl as Rose. The common name never seemed to fit such an odd person, in my opinion. When one heard the name Rose, they often thought of flowers and elegance. It was the kind of name given to a highly renowned lady, or a princess from a faraway kingdom. But when I thought of the name, I pictured a girl whose world revolved around rebellion and dangerous amounts of curiosity. If you were to ask me, I’d say she did the name much more justice.
Rose started coming over to my house to play when we were about ten. My mother would often sneer at her in disgust. She would rant about how the girl was a monstrosity to women kind. Or that I was disgracing the family by just being acquainted with such a little she-devil. However, much to my mother’s displeasure, I continued to spend the majority of my time with Rose. I guess the rusty haired girl’s defiant nature had started to rub off on me.
Our childhoods seemed gone in a flash, but Rose remained by my side. She was my closest friend, the sister I always wanted, and the companion I could never live without. She was the only person I could tell everything too. The only one who wouldn’t judge me because of my thirst for knowledge. My mother would always tell me growing up, that a woman has no place in academic affairs outside of reading and writing. But Rose always encouraged me to learn more, she even went as far as to steal school books from her brothers for me. She was the one who encouraged me that I could be more than just a wife or mother. That I could actually do something with my life.
When we reached the age of eighteen, Rose and I had decided to leave Massachusetts. I had recently discovered that my parents had arranged for me to be married to a man in the next town over. I was supposed to marry him the moment I turned nineteen. Though in all honesty, losing a limb sounded more appealing. I had almost accepted my fate of a loveless marriage, before Rose told me we were going to run away. She said she had been saving up her pennies for quite some time now, we nearly had enough to get to Boston. I remember wrapping my arms around her in in glee, I had never been so happy in my life. The thought of being able to live my life the way I wanted, with no more parents to nag me or people to please. It was like the fairy tale that I never knew was possible.
We planned the date of our departure in a little over five months. Rose wanted to wait a bit longer, just until she could get a little more money. The poor girl worked day and night cleaning up after people. In the meantime, I started getting what I could before our journey. I would snag jewelry from my mother’s chambers or dig for change through my father’s pockets, anything that I thought could help.
We were so close to freedom; my bags were already packed and hidden under my bed. The days felt dreadfully slow as I pranced around my family home with glee. My mother had a wedding gown already picked out for me and hanging in my closet. It served as a reminder of what I was doing, what I was leaving behind. I loved my family, I truly did, but I could no longer stand this place. This house—this town—was falling apart at the seams. And it was like they were just waiting to drag me down with them. I avoided looking at the dress because of the thoughts that resurfaced when I did. I just focused on the fact that I had a few more weeks—just a few more weeks of the insufferable torment before I was free.
For over a year now the whole city had been in utter chaos, young women were being burned alive left and right. The uproar was caused by some nonsense about witches. I don’t know who or how it started, I just knew that it was becoming dangerous for girls to leave their homes. Nearly fourteen young women have already had their lives end tied to those stakes. I watched as my friends sentenced each other to death as if it was all nothing more than a game. All it took was one thoughtless point of the finger and shout of accusation. That’s all it took anymore, to light the match that was burning the city.
It was only a matter of time until someone pointed that finger at me. I just couldn’t bring myself to care at the time, with my departure so near. I knew I was a target; my family was considered nobility among the state. Plus, my young age, I was exactly the type of person they were pursuing. I prayed that Rose would hurry with her last preparations, so that we could head off soon, before this storm got any worse.
Then, a night before we were to leave, a knock came on the door to my estate. A young delivery boy stood, letter in hand, addressed to me from a young Miss Rose Wade. I felt a strange sense of dread settle in the pit of my stomach as I took the letter. Once opened, her writing was rushed and sloppy, and if she wasn’t given much time to complete it. It was hard to understand, her scribbled writing kept switching topics left and right. First, she started off talking about our lives, how we met and made some of our best memories together. Then the letter started drifting off to talk about her family; how poorly they treated her, but that she loved them just the same. Finally, near the end of the letter, I found out what was wrong.
Rose was convicted of witchcraft. She was to be sentenced to death by burning to pay for her transgressions. She wrote me this letter as a last farewell, her last encouragement for me to run away from this awful place. The letter seemed to drag on forever until my teary eyes blurred the ink. I never read all the way to the end. My hands were shaking so wildly that nothing could stop me from sending the papers scattering to the floor. I couldn’t even muster the motivation to pick them back up. I ran outside leaving them behind and blindly made my way through the darkness.
The dress I wore make movement difficult and the corset was restricting my movements, but I didn’t have the time to remove the garment. I lost my shoes in the struggle to move through the grass lands. I kept tripping and falling, landing harshly on the ground only to jump back up to my bare feet and continue on.
Adrenaline pounded through my veins as my legs struggled to carry me farther. I remember feeling the blood running down my knees and the palms of my wrists. It was so dark I couldn’t make out the potholes in the ground until I was already falling into them, slicing my skin on the rocks. I didn’t have the time to think about the pain searing through my limbs, I just had to keep moving.
The sound of shouting men pushed me to move faster. Even from so far away, when I glanced back I could see the brilliant glow of torches as they marched into the forest. I was gasping for breath just whispering to myself “Keep going. Keep going.” I made my way to the paths opening before finally allowing myself to still for second and regain my breath. Everything hurt, by body, my lungs, my head. My knees slide to the forest floor as I rested my forehead against a large oak.
A high-pitched scream rang in my ears as birds scattered in fear overhead. I forced myself to my feet stumbling over twigs and plants but remaining upward. I felt like a possessed man the way my body surged on without even thinking about it. I watched as the silent darkness of the night faded into dimly lit torches and chants of the gospel. I pushed my way past them trying to get closer to whoever they were crowding. I huffed for breath as I finally made my way to front, I froze.
It was too late.
They tied her to the willow and laid dried leaves in a pile up to her knees. Rose thrashed back and forth, trying to land a hit on anyone she could reach. I could barely recognize her, her hair was let down and spread in tangles. Her once favorite red gown was now torn into ribbons. Her fingers bled as they clawed at the tree’s bark. But it was her eyes that sent chills down my spine and stop me in my spot. Her eyes were swollen red, the tears they spilled reflected the torches light and the anger she fumed. A cloth was forced into her mouth to muffle the screams though she still grunted and hissed like a wild animal caught in a trap. But she too froze in shock, when her emerald eyes met mine. She went limp and focused on me as if I was the only thing still holding her to this world. She looked like she was trying to tell me something but the cloth made it impossible to interpret the words.
The sound of flint colliding with steel echoed through the forest and my body gave way. My bloodied knees dug into the soil, but I couldn’t feel the pain. I couldn’t feel anything. The roaring crowds, the heat of the burning willow, I couldn’t feel them. I felt nothing but the hollowness in her eyes. Tears were streaming down my cheeks while my lungs burned for me to let the sobs I held out.
In that moment, I was no longer on this earth. It felt like none of my surroundings were real, none of this seemed possible. It felt like a dream. All just a bad dream. I thought that so strongly that for a moment, I actually started to believe it. But the truth is an unforgiving beast that refuses to be concealed.
I don’t know when they put the fire out, or when the crowd no longer seemed to care and took their leave. I was so lost in my head that I didn’t even realize that I drifted into a reluctant slumber. I awoke on the forest floor, the smell of burnt ashes dwindled in the air. The sun was well into the sky already; I would guess it was nearly noon. I slowly rose to my feet, my head spinning as I took in my surroundings.
I was once again under the shade of the trees, my one place of comfort. The place where I would sneak away to play with the rusty haired girl. Where I would hide if my mother’s anger made me run in fear. The place I would lay and waste the day’s hours away.
It was now gone.
My willow was nothing but ashes among the lush grass.
And so was my Rose.