This story is by Marjorie Clement and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The breeze feels nice against my neck. Gardening has always come so naturally to me. I was humming a song my mom used to sing when I was little while I pulled a weed that snuck into my garden. It’s 1692, my husband and I moved to Pennsylvania twenty years ago, and the Providence Colony welcomed us. The tiny home we built is laid back just within the forest line; life here has been blessed and fruitful. I am known here as the town healer and midwife.
“Mama!” My daughter Helen shouts from a distance. I stand to see her running with a smile towards me. “Here, I found these near our spot in the forest. They are so pretty, I wanted to bring some to you. I have been working on our project and think I almost have it.” Helen said, handing me the bouquet.
“They are beautiful, Helen. Thank you. Now, go clean yourself up. Papa will not be happy to see his 14-year-old daughter looking disheveled.” With a kiss on her sweaty brow, she sends her off. Walking after her, then seeing our neighbor heading in my direction, my attention turns to him.
“Hello, Mr. Brown; how may I help you on this fine day?” I say, rubbing the dirt off the front of my dress. Mr. Brown has been my neighbor for ten years; his children are friendly enough. The Brown family has a high influence on the village, though their work ethic is low. They believe their high profile should be rewarded by taking from others in the village.
“Good day, Martha. Your garden looks prosperous. Our garden seems to be having issues this year. Your family always has plenty of everything, it seems. Would you mind if we trade some of your garden food for our hunting meat?” Mr. Brown asked.
“I have talked to my husband, Lucian, and he says as long our family has enough to get us through the seasons, you are more than welcome to any extra. I am off to start supper. Have a lovely evening, Mr. Brown.” I say, walking to my home.
“Thank you for your consideration, Martha. Please remember your neighbor when you have leftovers. Good evening to you.” Mr. Brown tells me while he walks over to the road.
“Hello, Mother.” Jacob, my 17-year-old son, says as I walk into the house, focused on his chess game with Lucien.
“Hello, dear. Are you going to beat your father at chess this time?” I tease, starting my preparation for our family meal.
“Martha, Jacob is learning, but yes, it has been a while since he has won a match,” Lucien smirks at me.
“I need to check on Miss Larsen in the town over tomorrow. She is due in a month or so, and I want to check in with her,” I announce.
“Sounds wonderful; you are such a blessing to this area,” Lucien states.
“I do my best, though. Mr. Brown came by today saying his garden is not doing well this year, and I shared our message with him. I haven’t seen how the other gardens are doing in town. I hope they are faring better. In return, he offered his family meat, but I think we are just fine with what you and Jacob catch.” I say. They both howl at me, and we all laugh. “Yes, you two are great hunters; you have an unfair advantage over the other men in town,” I say. They grin at each other and continue their game.
After dinner, I tell the children the same thing I do every night. “Good night, my children, and remember no matter what…”
“We will always have each other.” Both children say together, walking to their rooms.
Heading back to my home village, I can’t help but think how Miss Larsen is doing well. I made her my favorite tea for when I was pregnant, and she enjoyed it, too. She wasn’t too happy when I needed to cut our appointment shorter than planned, but I felt a tug to return home. At the perimeter of the town, I hear a commotion. “What is going on?” I asked the closest person near me.
“She is here!” They yell at the crowd. “Witch! Witch! Witch!” Their voices are loud as they scream at me.
“Where is my family?! Lucien!” I cry with wide eyes.
“Your family ran and will be hunted, and they will pay for their crimes!” Mr. Brown tells me as he grabs my arms and holds them down.
“What are you talking about? What is happening?” I ask.
“The council has decided there is no way your garden and household could flourish this great without the work of witchcraft.” Mr. Brown tells me.
“This is ridiculous; I have lived in this town for ages; you all know me!” I shout.
The ropes are tight on my arms; I strain against them. “I am not a witch!” I yell.
The sound of the logs piling around echoes around me. “You know me! Elizabeth, I delivered your children! Help me!” I scream at Elizabeth. I have known her for years, and most children in this village I have delivered into this world. People I have known for over a decade are ignoring my cries and yelling at me. I have done so much for them; I have given and given. These people have taken from me and my family for years. Tears stain my face as they finish stacking the logs.
Mr. Brown steps closer to the wood pile with a light torch. The breeze takes away my tears and, with it, my sadness. Rage fills my blood, and a tingling feeling starts at my fingertips. “Martha Clarke, you have been found guilty of witchcraft! Your children and husband will be punished for aiding a witch! You are sentenced to burning at the stake until you no longer are living!” Mr. Brown announces.
Breathing deep, the hairs on my arm stand on edge. “I am not a witch! I am not a witch!” I scream. The faces in the crowd go quiet; they all stare at me; there is no sound but the humming in my ears. My mother’s song enters my mind. Opening my eyes, the rage and chaos that entered my body was building. The people I once thought of as friends scream and run; some kneel and begin to pray. Looking at the sky, my hands feel hot, and it is traveling through my body. I take a deep breath, and when I release the air from my lungs, a ring of destruction flows from me. There was nothing when I looked down at the people who accused me. Everything within our town’s radius is gone. Black, burnt dirt is all that remains. My arms are free, filling my lungs with air, and I step off the platform. Wiggling my fingers, the last of the energy subsides from my skin. Howling in the distance pulls me from staring at the ground.
“Well, that did not go as I thought,” I say. Kneeling on the freshly seared ground, I place my hand down. Grass and flowers immediately rise from the forest floor. “There, that’s better,” I say to the grass and flowers. I know where I need to go; I head there steadily.
“Hello, sweetheart. I hope you didn’t worry too much.” I greet the wolf that has joined me in my walk. A little whimper is all the answers I get. “Jacob.” The wolf looks back at me. “Change back into your human form, please,” I say.
“Mama! You made it!” Helen yells as she slams into me.
“Ugh, Helen, you are squeezing me too tight.” I kiss her head, and she releases me.
“Hello, my darling. I am sorry we couldn’t change what happened. You would have been very proud of your daughter. Jacob and I didn’t need to take care of the villagers because our little Helen placed that distraction spell on everyone, and we could run away when we could see the writing on the wall.” Lucien says, placing a kiss on my forehead.
“Helen, you are very impressive. Thank you for using your gifts; your practice has paid off. Sadly, when I returned to the village, they had their minds set, and I gave them as long as possible. I’m sorry they turned on us.” I tell my family. Helen looks up at me as I say. “This is why practicing and letting some energy out occasionally is important.”
“We made sure to stop at the house and collect our items. Are you ready to move?” Lucien turns to me and offers his hand. Our carriage is loaded with everything we need to start over.
“I love you, Lucien,” I say.
“I love you too, Martha,” Lucien says, holding hands and heading to our new home wherever that may be.