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September 18, 1692
Elizabeth and I sat on the floor in front of Grandmother Thelma, listening to her stories. Elizabeth's thin, freckled face was filled with the magic of Thelma's tale. I'd heard it before and, still, it enthralled me. Grandmother concluded; Elizabeth and I exploded into clapping. Grandmother Thelma smiled, and bowed slightly, her arthritic joints creaking.
"Tell another, Grandmother," I said. "Please?"
"Yes! Please?" agreed Elizabeth, her crystalline blue eyes pleading.
"Hmm," Thelma pretended to think about it, but I knew her mind was made up. "Once upon a time…"
I settled back to listen. Grandmother never finished that story. Father came pounding down the stairs, sounding like his own personal earthquake. His shockingly red hair was slightly messy, as always. "Come on, Naomi, Thelma. Elizabeth, are you coming too?" He was still tying a tie around his neck. Seconds later, Mother followed down the wooded stairs, much more gracefully, her cinnamon hair framing her slim face.
"Where are we going?" I asked curiously.
"The Witch-Hunter has called a meeting." Mother sighed. She didn't like Greyson, the Witch-Hunter. He was a tall, somewhat pudgy man. A dark aura seemed to follow him around; no one in town was fond of him.
I scrambled to my feet, followed by Elizabeth. We were both about the same height. She was skinny and blonde, whereas I was plump and raven-headed.
"Yes, I'm coming," she said. Her arms, pale and freckly, were covered in goose bumps, though it wasn't cold.
"What's wrong?" I asked. She was shivering.
"I… I don't like him. He scares me. Something about him…" She didn't finish; she just shook her head as if clearing her head of his image.
Greyson was standing on a wooden box in the middle of town square. He glared at his audience over his aquiline nose, demanding silence. The people surrounding him wore masks of confusion, though some looked irritated like Mother. Elizabeth shivered again as she walked beside me. This time, I was shaking too, but from the cold. The autumn wind blew leaves around in a stunning display of power. I drew my brown shawl, which was the same color as my murky eyes, closer to my skin. It provided but little relief. Elizabeth similarly adjusted her shawl. We joined the crowd around Greyson.
"Silence!" he called to the murmuring crowding.
"Two weeks ago, I came to your tiny town. I am still looking for the witch. She is here; I know it." For some reason, Elizabeth drew his gaze. Or perhaps it was the black cat mewing at her feet.
"Be watchful, Ipswich," he told the town, "Do not hesitate to suspect. If you know the witch, you MUST tell me at once." Greyson was a man with no patience. The lack of suspicion seemed to internally pain him.
Many people shook their heads, not believing the witchcraft nonsense. Some people, though, looked apprehensively at their neighbors. I noticed Wendy Milford staring at Elizabeth, green eyes flashing.
After the meeting, Elizabeth and I started off to the baker's, to buy some bread for dinner. On the way, Elizabeth tripped and knocked over Wendy Milford, who was heading the opposite direction.
"Watch it, you stupid girl!" she said, recovering from the force of a ninety pound girl running into her.
"Sorry," Elizabeth said, though I knew she wasn't. Nobody liked Wendy. She was a spiteful, nasty girl with a wicked tongue. She especially didn't like Elizabeth. I think it was an envy thing, because Wendy was so chubby and Elizabeth was so skinny.
"Not yet, you aren't," muttered Wendy.
"What?" asked Elizabeth. She hadn't heard.
"Nothing, you witch." Wendy headed off in the opposite direction as us, toward the south part of town.
"Well, that was pleasant," I said sarcastically, once she was out of earshot.
"She called me a witch, Naomi," I could hear the panic in her voice, could see her brows knit together in worry.
"She wouldn't…" I said.
Elizabeth's eyebrows rose skeptically. "She called me a witch and then ran off in the direction of Greyson's house."
"It's nothing, Elizabeth," I said, but I started sweating.
At the same time, we stared at Wendy's retreating back and screamed, "WENDY!"
It was a long ways to Greyson's house. Although we ran as fast as we could, we didn't catch Wendy until she was on her way back to the town square.
"Hi, Wendy," I said brightly, falling into step beside her.
"Hello… Naomi." She sounded suspicious. Good.
"Where were you?"
She didn't reply.
"Were you at Greyson's?"
She looked scared now. Even better. She nodded.
"What did you two talk about?" asked Elizabeth, in a sickly sweet voice.
"You lied to him, didn't you?" Elizabeth was angry. Very angry. "You lied and said I was a witch, didn't you?"
Wendy swallowed and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath. "Yes, Elizabeth. Yes, I did."
Elizabeth and I abruptly stopped walking. We hadn't expected her to admit it so openly. She turned and faced us. Her face was smooth, as if someone had wiped every emotion from it. Any trace of fear was gone.
"Why?" we asked together.
She shook her head. Then, she smiled. At least, I think it was a smile. "Revenge, Naomi. Surely, you can understand that! I want revenge."
"For what?" I asked.
"For every time my mother has looked at Elizabeth and said to me, 'Why can't you be like Elizabeth?' For every time my father has seen you and said, 'See how smart that Naomi is!'" Wendy's voice broke. "This is my revenge." She turned away and headed back to town. I heard her sob when she thought we couldn't hear anymore. We let her go.
Elizabeth was in serious trouble, and we all knew it. Her parents met us at my house, where we held a meeting of sorts. It didn't help the decision making process that we were all of different personalities and opinions. Grandmother Thelma simply sat, deep in thought. Elizabeth's mother wanted to move out of town, to which Elizabeth protested furiously. Elizabeth's father wanted to run Greyson out of town, and my father wasn't far behind. Mother came up with the idea of hiding Elizabeth in the cellar, until Greyson inevitably moved on to rid the next unsuspecting town from "witches" and the like. We all decided on hiding Elizabeth. After all, Greyson had already burdened the people of Ipswich with his tales of witches and his unpleasant personality for two months; moving day couldn't be far away. Mother, Grandmother Thelma, Elizabeth's mother, Elizabeth, and I converted the cellar into a rather comfortable room. We moved an old bed into a corner down there, and piled it with blanket after blanket. There was no way she would be cold in the normally chilly room. We moved clothing from her room into the cellar. Her parents went back to their home to pretend to be distressed by their "runaway" daughter. Hours later, just as the house was quieting down for the night, we heard a knock at the door. I knew who it was, and my blood turned cold.
Thunder clapped in the distance, and I heard a steady rainfall pepper the roof. The knock came again. Mother, Thelma, Elizabeth, and I knew not to answer it; we pretended to be asleep. Father, however, was an ever friendly man, and pounded down the stairs to greet the visitor.
"No!" I hissed, seeing him tromp past my open bedroom door.
I hurried out of bed, trying to stop him, since he obviously hadn't heard me. I followed him down the hallway, but I was too late. He opened the door, and there stood Greyson, hair dripping from rain. His eyes were glazed over in his fervor to catch a witch. He scared me.
"Elizabeth. Is she here?"
"Why would she be here?" I asked, peeking out the doorway from behind Father.
"Shut up, girl, I am speaking to your father," he growled. "Where is Elizabeth?"
"She's not here," said Father. "And how dare you come to my house this late and insult my daughter."
"I'm going to take a look around," he sneered.
"I beg to differ," sputtered Father. He was unaccustomed to this kind of treatment. "Get off my land."
With a swift strike of his hand, Greyson sent Father flying into the couch. I gasped. He glared down at me, but I stood my ground. He wasn't taking my best friend.
"Move aside, girl. You don't know who you're dealing with."
"Yes, I do. You're nothing but a coward!" I jeered. Father groaned from the corner.
"Naomi?" I heard Elizabeth coming up the stairs. No! "Is he gone yet?"
Greyson's face split into an ugly grin. He slapped me aside, and all was dark.
I came to just as the sun rose over the horizon. I was still on the floor. My head ached. Grandmother Thelma was sitting on the couch, with her wrinkled face in her wrinkly hands.
"What happened?" I asked. My voice sounded dry and croaky to me.
She shook her head sadly. "He took her. He TOOK her! He grabbed her and disappeared into the night with her. She screamed the whole time he was dragging her away. We couldn't stop him." She sighed.
"Where do you think he took her?"
"Town Square, probably."
I shook off the achy feeling that coursed through my veins. I stood and rushed out the door. Elizabeth. How could he burn my best friend? I wouldn't let him.
I reached Town Square in record time. My forehead was beaded in sweat. Greyson was standing on an old crate in the middle of Town Square, holding Elizabeth's wrist up in a triumphant gesture. In front of the crate was a large pile of wood. My stomach dropped. No. I got closer and heard what they were chanting.
"Death to the witch!" they cried. "Death to the witch!"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. These were people that had grown up with Elizabeth. People who had known and loved her, before Greyson had poisoned their minds. Elizabeth's mother was standing in the front of the crowd, sobbing. Elizabeth's father wrapped his arms protectively around his wife, but tears streamed down his face, too. Suddenly, Wendy grabbed my arm.
"Naomi, I didn't know it would go this far!" she pleaded. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know."
I whirled around to face her and slapped her across the face. A red outline of my hand appeared on her face. It would bruise soon. Good. "Don't touch me," I hissed. "Get out of my sight."
She disappeared. I would deal with her later. At the moment, Greyson was pushing Elizabeth into the center of the wood pile. Was I too late? Would she die? Greyson prepared to light the fire.
Impulsively, I ran forward and screamed, "STOP!"
Greyson hesitated for a second. I grabbed Elizabeth's hand and yanked her off the pile.
"What is wrong with you?" I asked the crowd. "You have all grown up with Elizabeth, and you've watched her grow. We have been there for her and her family for years. And now, Greyson comes along and you all turn on her! Do you really believe Elizabeth is a witch?" I gestured to the sobbing girl by my side. I hugged her. "If you're going to burn her, burn me, too." Elizabeth beside me, I stepped onto the pyre. Greyson shrugged his beefy shoulders and prepared to burn us to ashes. Adrenaline pumped through my body.
"Wait!" said Elizabeth's parents. "Us, too."
A shadow of doubt passed over Greyson's face.
Wendy Milford stepped forward. Her chin was quivering. "Me, too."
One by one, starting with Grandmother Thelma and ending with the baker, we all crowded on top of the pyre. Greyson cursed angrily. He couldn't burn all of us. He threw his hands in the air and yelled at the people teetering on the pyre. "That's it! May the witches get all of you!" He spun on his heel, and stalked out of town. He disappeared over the horizon, and we all hugged each other and cheered. One by one, all of the residents of Ipswich apologized to Elizabeth. She wouldn't look at any of them, and I didn't blame her. Finally, the crowd on the pyre began to disperse, until it was only my family and Elizabeth's family. Mother hugged me.
"That was very brave, Naomi," she said.
Elizabeth's mother wiped her eyes. "I think that we will be moving along. I am definitely not staying in a town that turns on you so fast."
Elizabeth's father nodded his agreement.
"You took the words right out of my mouth," said Mother.
Days later, everything had mostly settled down. My family was packing everything up; we were going to move to the same town as Elizabeth. By now, everyone knew about Wendy and how she lied about Elizabeth. No one was speaking to Wendy. Elizabeth and I were in Elizabeth's house; I was helping her family pack for their move. We were in the living room, laughing at a joke she had told. There was a quiet, almost fearful, knock at the door. Elizabeth and I rose and opened it. It was Wendy.
"Elizabeth, I'm really sorry about what I did."
"Go away, Wendy."
"Just so that you know, I did have a reason," she said.
"Oh, really?" Elizabeth asked skeptically. "What was your reason?"
Wendy started to say something, but stopped. "Well, I really am sorry."
She turned and left. A black cat rubbed against her ankles, almost like it was comforting her. Elizabeth slammed the door. Impulsively, I grabbed Elizabeth's arm before she could sit down.
"Let's follow her," I said.
"Why? Why would we follow her home?" Good question.
"I don't know, just a feeling." I shrugged.
She shrugged, too. "Okay, then."
We started out the door, following Wendy as quietly as we could. The black cat was still shadowing her. She continued walking until she reached a secluded spot on the banks of the creek. She sat on the sandy shore, and the cat curled up beside her.
"You made the right choice," said the cat. Yes, the cat spoke.
"I know," said Wendy. "But it's so hard!"
"Yes," purred her companion. "But think of the alternative. That man, Greyson, would have kept searching until he found you. He would have burned a lot more people. And I told you the girl would save her friend."
Elizabeth stiffened beside me. Our jaws were hanging open, and there were goose bumps all over my skin.
Wendy sighed. "They hate me. They'll never forgive me."
"It's all over now, Wendy. It'll be easier moving on if they hate you," the cat reassured her. "Soon, we can move on and pretend none of this ever happened." He licked her hand.
She patted him on the head. She stood up, finally, and walked toward her house. The cat followed behind.
I turned to Elizabeth. "Wow."