by Jason Kahn






From Issue 13 (Sept 2011)

Mary Warren gathered her shawl around her shoulders as she walked her great grandnephew to the new schoolhouse. It was Mary’s first morning visiting her relatives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and there was a chill in the early spring air.

Despite her normally gruff nature, Mary doted on her grandnephew. “You must be excited,” she said, giving Thomas’ hand a squeeze.

Thomas was seven. He smiled, unable to hide his eagerness. “Yes, ma’am.”

The schoolhouse had been built just a few weeks ago, after the arrival of the town’s first schoolteacher, and the children studied their lessons with great enthusiasm.

Mary and Thomas shared the hard-packed road through the center of town with dozens of other boys and girls, similarly escorted. Mary couldn’t help but notice the strange glances that passed between the adults as they walked: suspicious, almost accusing, creating a tension in the air to which the children were oblivious. She frowned, wondering what was amiss.

“There’s Miss Jamison,” Thomas said.

Mary saw the schoolmistress, her head bowed, face covered by a wide bonnet as she greeted the students at the door. Her voice, a low murmur, stirred a distant echo, causing an involuntary shudder to run through Mary’s body.

“Good morning, Thomas.” The teacher raised her head, facing Mary. “And you must be his great aunt.”

Mary’s eyes widened and for a moment she was struck dumb. That hair, that face. Forty years flew by on ravens’ wings and she was back in Salem. Mary heard the slow creak of wood and rope as men and women hung by the neck, swaying with morbid grace. The sour stink of sweat and urine from the hundreds locked in their cells awaiting trial assaulted her nose. And in her mind’s eye, Mary saw her, the beautiful, haughty girl who had ensorcelled them all, including herself. The chief accuser, Abigail Williams.

Mary came back to herself with a start. Sweat beaded on her forehead and she felt a spreading tightness in her chest. With great effort, she got her labored breathing under control and returned to the present.

“I’m Thomas’ schoolteacher, Miss Emily Jamison,” the young lady said, proffering her hand.

Mary took it automatically as speech came to her. “Mary… Mary Warren,” she replied. There was a flicker in the schoolteacher’s eyes. Was that recognition or just her imagination? “Pleased to meet you, Miss Jamison,” Mary said. “I trust Thomas has been attentive at his studies?”

“Indeed he has, Miss Warren,” she answered, with that dazzling, familiar smile. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

She turned to the next child, allowing Mary to take her leave. It was all she could do to keep a steady gait as she turned and walked away. She kept walking until her feet led her into the saloon in the town inn. Mary sat down at the bar and ordered a shot of whiskey.

The bartender gave her a dubious look, not sure what to make of an elderly woman drinking so early in the morning. Mary fixed him with a stern gaze and placed a few coins on the bar. “Make it a double.”

Mary sipped her whiskey, letting its warmth soothe her frayed nerves and unclench the knot in her chest. It had been a long time since she had thought about Salem, about what she and the other girls had done. She had spent years – decades – burying that part of her life. Her family had moved away because of the shame she had brought on them. But that was nothing compared with the terrible emptiness, the bitterness she had endured every day since.

And after mother and father had passed into the Lord’s Kingdom, being on her own had been difficult, as the memories continued to plague her. That was why she traveled, visiting her nieces and nephews throughout the colonies, though some groaned inwardly when Mary showed up on their doorstep. Still, the dreams haunted her less and less, and Mary had finally known a measure of peace.

Until today.

Mary took another sip, grimacing. That schoolteacher was the spitting image of Abigail Williams: her voice, manner, everything. But that was impossible. She would be in her early sixties by now, the same as Mary. Yet she looked just the same as the last day Mary had seen her, before Abby disappeared from Salem aboard a ship, never to be seen again. Mary downed the last of her whiskey. It couldn’t be her, just someone who looked like her. Had to be.

Mary  put the glass down with a solid thunk, reassuring herself that it was just coincidence. She wandered outside, glancing warily at passersby as she walked through town on her way to her grandniece’s home. The cool of early morning had given way to sun-warmed day. Shops were open for business as farmers inspected equipment for sale and men in waistcoats and bright-buckled shoes displayed their wares.

Once again, Mary noticed a strange tension amongst the townspeople. Tempers flared over imagined insults. People almost came to blows at the slightest provocation. The town was a-simmer.

Mary passed a church, hearing raised voices inside. She had shunned the Church most of her adult life, having seen first-hand the terrible acts it could countenance in God’s name. Nevertheless, driven by a feeling that perhaps she might learn the nature of what now afflicted the town, Mary eased the door open and slipped inside.

She raised her fan as she entered the back of the congregation, swirling the hot, thick air inside the long, high-ceilinged structure. Even with her spectacles, she couldn’t make out the figure at the other end, shouting from the pulpit. Mary moved against a side wall and edged her way forward, listening.

“…‘Tis a perilous time we live in, good people, as we are beset on all sides by the agents of darkness,” boomed the orator in deep, sonorous tones. Despite the stifling air, an icy chill prickled up Mary’s spine. This voice was familiar too, though its owner’s identity eluded her. She moved closer, attempting to see.

“Just a fortnight ago in Chester County, a homestead of God-fearin’ Christians all under one roof slept sound in their beds, when a tribe of godless red savages swooped down in the black of night. The men folk were slaughtered where they lay, and the women and children were taken, no doubt to sate the savages’ evil appetites.”

Many of the congregants shouted and yelled in anger. Mary could see the minister’s form now: his black robe, a mane of silvery hair. She moved closer.

“Hear me, my friends. Though we lay rightful claim to this bountiful land, the low heathens mean to drive us out. And they will not stop at mere violence. Do not doubt that the Indians will call up their allies from the spirit world and send them among us, turning us against one another to aid their evil designs.”

The minister had them whipped into a frenzy. The congregation cursed the tribes and prayed to the Lord for protection. Mary could almost make out his face, but in her heart she knew who it was, though it defied logic.

“Surely we must defend ourselves against these agents of the Devil,” he continued. “Look you into the hearts of your fellow man, your neighbors, your friends.”

Mary was now close enough to see the hard features, the intense eyes. A cold dread gripped her.

“Think on any strange, bewildering behavior. Perhaps they have sent out their spirit upon you and done you ill. If they are truly your friends, they will be grateful to stand before the Church and renounce the Devil so they may return to the Light of Heaven.”

Mary stared, not quite believing. It was Henry Danforth, the high magistrate who had presided over the court in Salem over forty years ago, whose signature was on the death warrant of every man and woman who had hanged. He had been in his sixties back then and he looked exactly the same now. In a flash, Mary relived her most painful memory. She saw herself standing before Mr. Danforth in the Salem court, trying at last to do right and recant her testimony, only to falter and collapse, too weak to withstand his relentless questioning and Abby’s merciless cruelty.

“And if they will not confess and turn away from the heathen spirits that have given them their dark powers,” he continued, his voice shaking the very rafters, “then they shall be revealed in their wickedness. And they who do not repent shall pay for their crimes against the Almighty and His children. And to that, good people, I say a most fervent amen.”

The congregants exploded in response, shouting “amen” over and over with a wild, vengeful look in their eyes. Mary felt ill, like she was about to vomit, but she wanted to know one thing. She reached out a trembling hand to touch the arm of a woman who looked as if she were tallying up all those who might have wronged her at some time. It was a look shared by many in the room.

The woman turned. Mary asked, “Excuse me, what is the name of that minister?”

“Why, that’s Pastor Ezekiel MacInnis,” the woman replied.

“Thank you, dear.”

Mary staggered away, bursting out of the door into the cooler air. She was shaking, and the tightness had returned, constricting her chest like a vice. Mary gasped for air, breathing deep until the blood in her veins slowed from a wild thunderhead to its more regular, methodical pulse. She straightened her back and began walking toward her grandniece’s home again. This was no coincidence. Abigail Williams and Henry Danforth, the two most powerful forces behind the Salem witch trials, were here in present-day Doylestown, Pennsylvania. And from the looks of things, this town was headed down the same, dark path.

That evening, Mary dined with her grandniece’s family. Elizabeth was a charming, though impressionable girl who had married a tinsmith, Patrick, who as far as Mary was concerned was a pompous fool. His finest settings adorned the table, and after prayers were said, they all set to eating a delicious repast of turkey with chestnut pudding that Mary had helped Elizabeth prepare. Young Thomas sat with them, next to his older sister Isabelle.

“You know,” Mary said during the meal. “I happened to hear your Father MacInnis this morning. He seems a most excitable sort.”

Patrick looked affronted. “He is a most revered messenger of the Lord,” he said. “And he gives good reason for the many strange happenings in recent days.”

Mary ignored his reaction, cocking her head to the side. “Strange happenings? Pray tell, what has occurred?”

Elizabeth leaned forward. “They say that Owen Barton has put a curse on his neighbor’s farm so that every calf that is born should wither and die, which has occurred to the last three in a row.” Elizabeth’s voice lowered to a whisper. “And that Rebecca Pendergast laid her hand on the Leighton’s youngest girl, and she has been ill ever since.”

Mary kept her face impassive, watching Isabelle out of the corner of her eye. “And these events are ascribed to what cause?” Mary asked.

“It is said that they have trafficked with the heathen spirits,” Elizabeth said.

“Indeed?” Mary noticed Isabelle fidgeting in her seat, as if uncomfortable. She was a few years younger than Abby, just as Mary had been at one time.

“They have not been named outright.” Patrick’s voice was somber. “But there is talk of setting up a proper court here in Doylestown.” Mary did not miss the calculating gleam in Patrick’s eye. She did not doubt he would be among the first to cast suspicion on a neighbor.

Mary noticed Isabelle becoming even more restless. “These are grave times, then,” Mary said. “No doubt your Father MacInnis is rightfully concerned.”

She changed the subject, turning to young Thomas. “And how were your lessons today, dear?”

“Oh, very good, Aunt Mary,” the youngster replied. “We’ve been practicing our numbers and our figuring.”

Mary smiled, commenting to Elizabeth and Patrick, “The schoolteacher, Miss Jamison, seems a most pleasant sort.”

“Oh, yes, the children all adore her,” Elizabeth said, smiling. “Isabelle and her friends have been most helpful, too, what with her being new to the town. They’ve become thick as thieves.” She turned to her daughter. “Isn’t that so, Isabelle?”

Isabelle nodded, her eyes downcast. “Yes, Mother.”

“And where does she hail from?” Mary asked her.

Isabelle gave a small frown. “I can’t think of it now,” she said. “I’m sure she must have told me. I just can’t remember, I’m afraid.”

“That’s alright, Isabelle. I’m sure there are more interesting things for young girls to talk about,” Mary said with a wink.

Mary ceased her questions. There would be a full moon tonight, and if she was right, there would be more to confirm her suspicions. She let the conversation wander to more innocent subjects for the rest of the evening, cheerfully helping Elizabeth with the dishes afterward. But inside, she seethed.

That night, Mary lay in her bed, bitter tears forming in the corners of her eyes. Memories and emotions she had worked for years to bury scrabbled to the surface –

shame and humiliation for the part she had played, rage at the townsfolk who had turned all too easily against her. Finally, above all, regret, not only for what she had done, but in a sliver of her heart that could not be denied, for what she had lost after that brief, crazed time when her slightest word meant life or death. She shuddered. Though she cursed those memories, nothing was ever again as bright as those days had been.

Mary sobbed. For now it seemed the only real witches had been Abby and Mr. Danforth. They were the ones who had orchestrated everything, just as they were doing here. Mary ground her teeth. She had always wondered at how the particular madness that had ruled her and the other girls seemed to have vanished after Abby left. Surely she was a sorceress who cast her spell over the innocent, using them, using her, for her own dark purposes. The betrayal stung. She and the others had practically worshipped Abby, had wanted to be her.

The hellspawn must pay, for what she and Danforth had done to Salem, for what they would do to Doylestown, for what they had done to her.

Amidst the background tapestry of natural creaks and whispers in the house, a discordant note sounded. Someone stirred.

Mary quietly rose, already dressed in her darkest clothes. She eased open the door to her room and waited until she heard faint footsteps make their way through the kitchen and out the back door. Mary floated down the steps, careful to make no noise. She passed through the kitchen, pausing only to slide open a drawer and remove the wide carving knife Patrick had used earlier to prepare the turkey. Then she eased out the back door into the night.

The full moon hung like a great pearl in the dark sky, casting cool light over the sleeping town. Only not all were asleep. Mary stayed hidden in the shadows, watching Isabelle’s form move off down a dirt path, away from the center of town. Isabelle paused, and Mary saw several others join her. They bent close together and Mary heard their nervous titterings carried on the breeze.

Mary followed, keeping them just in sight, crouching low whenever they paused to look back. Soon they entered patches of tall grass and copses of birch and elm, enabling Mary to move more easily from shadow to shadow. Then they were in the forest proper, thick with trees and brush. Mary’s solitary life had bred a certain toughness in her. With muscles hardened through countless repetitions of her own household chores from dawn to dusk, she kept pace without difficulty amongst the dense foliage.

Nevertheless, she was unused to traveling in the dark, and as the trees started to thin, she tripped and fell, crashing to the ground. The carving knife fell from her hand and there was a great commotion of leaves and fallen branches. Mary kept perfectly still where she lay, gritting her teeth against the pain as she prayed that the girls hadn’t noticed the noise. After several moments, during which she heard nothing save the rapid thrum of her own heartbeat, Mary rose and took a few more careful steps, peering from behind a tree down a gentle slope into a clearing.

She saw them, Isabelle and several other girls, dancing around a fire, their clothing discarded upon the ground. Abigail, or Emily as she was called now, led them, her movements graceful and erotic, almost feline. Mary stared, hypnotized. She had almost forgotten what it was like to be in that dance: the freedom, the intoxicating thrill. Mary’s breath came heavy as she felt drawn toward it, compelled. The naked silhouettes framed by flickering tongues of fire beckoned to her. At last, Mary bit her lip so hard the sharp pain broke the spell. She shook herself loose from the mesmerizing scene.

The dance stopped, and Abby, her body perfect and supple despite the years Mary knew she possessed, stretched forth her arm. From the other side of the fire a short, squat form appeared. She was dressed in servants’ clothes and from the color of her skin, Mary knew she was Indian. Probably a maid or washer woman, much the same as the black woman Abby had used for this very purpose back in Salem. From the sullen look she cast toward Abby, the Indian woman did not wish to be here. Abby had no doubt promised to tell all sorts of lies about her if she failed to perform her assigned task, same as forty years ago.

The Indian woman raised her arms. In one hand she held a rabbit, limp and lifeless. In the other she held a knife. In one swift motion the woman slit the rabbit’s throat, held it high and caught the dripping blood in her open mouth. Then she extended the dead animal out to the girls, her eyes challenging them. Abby, of course, was the first to accept. She knelt demurely, closing her eyes and feigning fear as the blood ran down her throat. The other girls all followed her example.

Once finished, the woman threw the carcass into the fire and began chanting words Mary did not understand, swaying back and forth as she invoked the spirit world. The girls all stared, transfixed, just as Mary remembered staring herself once before. But this time she watched Abby, who was muttering rapidly and peering into the fire. And when the flames suddenly roared and surged upward like a living thing, Abby was the only one who did not jump back, startled and afraid. Even the Indian woman showed fear.

“It was her, always her,” Mary muttered to herself.

Once the flames receded a bit, Abby pointed to one of the girls. A plump, nervous girl stepped forward. She looked into the fire, screwing up her courage.

“I call upon the spirit of Philip Bergen,” she said, her voice quavering.

The girls all looked into the fire, the Indian woman, too. Mary watched as Abby muttered some more and made subtle hand gestures. A darkness formed inside the fire, coalescing into the rough shape of a child.

“Who summons me?” the high, spectral voice issued from the shadow.

“I do,” the girl replied. “Haley Marcus.”

“Why have you called me?”

“I wish to know how you died.”

“A sickness, a wasting disease,” the shade replied. “This you know, Haley Marcus.”

“But you were healthy, the doctor could find no cause for your ailment,” Haley protested. “Where did the sickness come from?”

There was a pause as everyone in the circle held their breath. Mary watched Abby, her hands carefully shielded from the other girls, maintain control over the shadow.

The eerie voice rang out, its anger filling the clearing. “It was Beth Anne Parson. She put a curse upon my soul.”

Several of the girls gasped, others muttered to each other. Haley pressed on.

“But how could she do such a thing?”

“She has powers given to her by the heathen spirits,” the shade replied. “She does their bidding now. I have answered your questions. Now I return to my rest.”

The shadow faded, leaving only the rustling fire.

The girls were exclaiming to each other in a rising chorus. Mary heard phrases that echoed in her mind from years past: words of accusation, condemnation. This was the turning point, she knew; once the girls banded together, bewitched by Abby’s sorcery and guile, their allegations would be given weight. And in a town with a foundation of suspicion and fear already laid by Henry Danforth, or Father MacInnis, it wouldn’t be long before the hangings started.

Mary’s mouth pressed in a grim line. She would not let these poor girls fall prey to that she-devil, to have their lives destroyed by shame and guilt. Mary remembered she had dropped the carving knife when she fell. She turned to look for it, but instead saw a great shadow looming over her. She felt a moment of panic before her head exploded in pain. And then there was only darkness.

For a long time Mary floated in a foggy haze. But the pounding ache in her head forced her awake at last. Bleary-eyed, she saw the smoldering fire, much smaller than before. She tried to sit up but found her hands bound behind her. Her feet were tied as well, forcing her to remain on her side.

She could tell she lay within the clearing, and as her eyes adjusted, she saw it was empty save for two figures. One was Abigail, clothed now, and the other was Danforth. Despite the warmth of the fire, their smiles chilled her.

Abigail broke the silence. “I thought we might have company tonight, so I asked the good pastor to see to any guests who might stop by.” Her eyes shone with dark merriment. “But where are my manners?” She stepped forward and grasped Mary’s shoulders, sitting her up with her back against a tree stump. As she did, she leaned close to Mary’s ear, her whispered words taunting. “After all, it is a rare and special occasion when we get to see old friends, isn’t it, Mary my dear?”

Mary stiffened on hearing her name, shocked at having her suspicions confirmed.

“Abigail, so it is you,” she said, each word a harsh accusation.

“Indeed, but please don’t forget my dear colleague.” She turned her head. “What were you called back then? The names all seem to run together.”

“Danforth,” he said, amused. “Henry Danforth.” He turned to Mary, his tone light and mocking. “And who could forget you, Mary Warren? You were such a contrite little girl, a shame you had to be dissuaded for the greater good.”

Mary’s face twisted. “Greater good? ‘Twas not the greater good of Salem you two worked for.”

“I suppose it depends on one’s point of view,” Abigail said. “But we had our roles to play, and our Master so dislikes being disappointed.”

Mary’s wits began to return to her. She felt gravel and stones on the ground behind her, the rough bark of the tree stump against her hands. She started rubbing her bonds against it, back and forth, saw-like.

“And your Master would be Lucifer himself, then?”

Danforth chuckled. “He goes by many names, some more familiar than others.”

Mary kept rubbing.

“And is this the work you do for the Devil?” Mary spat the words out. “Destroying the lives of good people? Accusing honest folk of witchcraft?”

“It is true that discord and acrimony are as sustenance to our Master, but he prizes something even more.” Abigail crouched down to Mary’s eye level. “Dear Mary, we collect souls for our Master.”

Mary’s breath stuck in her throat, her eyes widening in horror. “You mean … those who hang…”

Abigail’s trilling laughter drowned out any words that would have followed. “No, silly. The souls of those who hang are not our Master’s concern, they do not fall under his dominion.”

Danforth spoke. “It is the souls of the accusers who are condemned to fill our Master’s halls. The myriad hypocrites who denounce their neighbors out of spite, out of avarice over some past quarrel, coveting their land or wealth. We merely provide the forge within which their true natures are put to the test. If they falter, their souls are forever marked. But the choice is always theirs.”

Mary swallowed. She couldn’t deny his words. She had seen it in Salem; too many people eager to step forward and make the wildest accusations against other townsfolk, often out of greed or anger. She thought immediately of Patrick.

Mary realized she had stopped rubbing her bonds. She continued as she spoke again. “Yes, I suppose Salem should thank you for your kind service.”

Abigail shook her head. “Oh, Mary. You are so utterly naïve. Do you think Salem some heavenly paradise that we corrupted? The places we visit are already ripe on the vine.”

“Just how many places have you visited?” Mary struggled to keep her breathing regular as she worked at her bonds, the effort soaking her garments with sweat. A few strands frayed and snapped, but she resisted the urge to hurry, keeping her movements slow and even, concealing what she did.

Danforth answered her. “Oh, many, many. Wurzburg, North Berwick, towns you have never heard of, that ceased to exist before you were born.”

“What type of demons are you that you can live so long?” Mary asked.

Abigail rose. “We are quite human, I assure you,” she said. “Though we are long-lived by your standards, and we have been taught some skills by our Master that are beyond your understanding.”

“You describe the very definition of a witch,” Mary said, her voice full of scorn.

Abigail shrugged. “If that word best matches your perception, then I am in no position to say otherwise. All I will say is that my colleague and I made a choice a long time ago, and we have lived according to that choice ever since.”

Mary blew out a deep breath, exasperated at the rationales of the two conjurers. They behaved like no witches she had ever heard of. Her wrists were chafed raw as she felt another strand give way.

“And what will you do now?” she asked.

Danforth spoke. “That remains to be seen. Obviously, we cannot allow you to interfere with our plans. But your disappearance at this delicate time may swing the balance either way in Doylestown. So we must consult with our Master.”

Mary nodded, her words tinged with bitterness. “So you will kill me. I suppose it is only fitting. I should have died of shame after Salem. Since then my life has been little more than a great emptiness. It must be fate that I meet my end at your hands, the ones who caused my ruination from the very beginning.”

Abigail wore an amused expression. She came closer, kneeling down and bringing her face inches away from Mary’s. “Such self pity does not become you, my dear.” Abigail licked her lips, her words silken murmurings. “When you watched us dancing before, did you feel empty then?” Mary focused all her concentration on grinding her bonds against the bark, refusing to answer, unable to look away. “Tell me, after you realized I had left Salem, what was the very first thing you felt? Was it the shame that you claim ruined your life? Or was it something else?” Abigail’s voice dropped to the lightest, lilting whisper. “Was it sorrow? Sorrow that the rapturous power I gave you had suddenly vanished? Is that the emptiness you have felt all these years?”

At that moment, the last strand snapped. Mary grabbed a hand-sized rock from behind her, giving a howl of rage and pain as she swung it, clubbing Abigail on the side of the head. Abby toppled over with a cry. Danforth hurried toward her and Mary threw the rock, hitting him squarely in the knee. He yelped and stumbled.

Mary knew she had only seconds. She didn’t even pause to untie her feet, instead lurching on hands and knees across the few feet of open space into the trees. Her one hope was finding the carving knife. She prayed that Danforth had not already recovered it.

Her breath rasped and she felt lightheaded as she thrashed about among the underbrush. Behind her in the clearing, she heard Abigail speak in a strange, guttural accent. “Marcus, I’m fine, go get the stupid girl.”

Footsteps were approaching. Mary cast about desperately. A short distance away, a stray beam of moonlight glinted a cool spark on the dark forest floor. Mary propelled herself toward it, reaching beneath the leaves to grasp the familiar wooden handle of the knife. As she did so, a hand grabbed her by the collar and hauled her up, half strangling her.

“Mary, you’re only delaying the inevi…” Danforth was interrupted as Mary swung an elbow behind her, landing a blow into his stomach. He doubled over for a moment as Mary tried to turn around to face him, but her bound feet caused her to falter. She found herself falling back, and reached out with her free hand to grab hold of something, anything. She caught Danforth’s shirt in her gnarled fingers. Still wheezing to catch his breath, Danforth fell too, right on top of Mary and the knife she held between them.

Mary hit the ground an instant before Danforth fell on top of her. The knife made a sickening tearing sound as it sliced into him below the chest. Warmth gushed all over Mary’s front. Only a brief, gurgling breath escaped Danforth’s lips before his body went limp. Mary lay there a few seconds, panting beneath the dead weight on top of her. Then she struggled and wriggled out from under the body. She fought to still her trembling hands and carefully cut the rope around her ankles, casting it aside before scurrying over to crouch in the deep shadows of a tree. She could still see the body.

Stillness reigned as Mary clutched the knife in her white-knuckled hands. Her old body was battered and bruised and she still felt dizzy. There was a small tightness in her chest that she ignored as she concentrated on remaining utterly quiet while she willed her body to stop shaking.

Finally, she heard Abigail’s voice. “Marcus?” she said in that strange accent. “Are you there?” Then, in the voice she recognized, “Mary? I do hope you’re alright, dear.”

Her voice was moving now, coming closer. “You know, of all the girls in Salem, you were my favorite.”

Mary remained alert, her back against the tree, knife ready.

“The others were merely followers, sheep eager to be led.” Now the voice receded, seeming farther away. “But not you, Mary. It took real strength to defy me and seek to confess. That showed courage. It took both me and my colleague to stop you…”

Mary let out a long breath. Abigail’s voice continued to fade. Perhaps she could slip away, unnoticed. Then she practically jumped out of her skin in fright when Abby’s voice sounded right next to her.

“…Just as you will be stopped now.”

There she was, beautiful despite the blood that coated her hair where the rock had struck her. Mary hesitated for a split second, then she swung the knife. Abby intercepted her arm with ease, grabbing her wrist and punching her full in the face with her other fist. Mary sagged as the knife dropped. Abby looked around for a moment, noticing Danforth’s body. She pursed her lips.

“How unfortunate, now my Master will have to supply another colleague,” she said.

She grabbed Mary by the hair and forced her back toward the clearing. Dazed, Mary offered no resistance as she was dragged. Her hand ran across something rough on the ground. Out of some reflexive instinct, she grabbed the tree root and jerked herself back. Abby’s hand came free, along with some of Mary’s hair.

Abby turned, still mocking. “Mary, such spirit. If only you had shown as much in Salem,” she said. “Come along now, we mustn’t keep my Master waiting.”

Mary was on her hands and knees, barely conscious. She knew she had not long to live. On the ground, she noticed a length of rope, the bonds that had once secured her wrists. Mary took them in her hands as Abby came near. She remained still, allowing Abby to reach down and grasp her by the hair again. Mary took the rope and wound it once around Abby’s ankles. Then she drew it tight and lurched forward, driving into Abby’s body while she pulled on the rope. Abby fell backward as her legs went out from under her. There was a horrible cracking sound as Abby hit the ground. She did not move again.

Mary looked up. Abby had fallen on the tree stump where Mary had previously been held captive. Her neck had caught the edge, snapping instantly. Abby’s head lolled at an unnatural angle, her face blank.

Mary leaned over her, her body trembling with exhaustion and relief. Somehow, through the wildest luck, she was still alive. She looked down at Abby, beautiful even in death. Mary touched her porcelain cheek, her emotions a confused jumble.

She wearily rose to her feet. Every inch of her body felt battered. She took a deep breath and was about to turn away when she clutched her chest in sudden agony. Jagged pain shot down her arm as she dropped to her knees, unable to breathe. Her chest felt like it was being crushed, and she fell on her side, gasping for air. In her last few moments of life, Mary’s vision constricted down a long tunnel to the low-burning fire in the middle of the clearing. Thick black smoke began to pour out of it, and a pair of chilling, red eyes peered out at her.

The eyes were dead, utterly devoid of emotion or feeling. But they stared at her, into her, sifting through every single atom of her being. And they gave her a choice. Mary thought about her long life, about the people of Salem, and Doylestown, and everywhere else. She thought about Abby, whom she had loved and then hated, and her words, and the scalding truth she couldn’t deny in a small part of herself. As blackness enveloped her, she chose.

On a hot summer morning in Richmond, Virginia, Melissa Jennings took her ease in the town saloon. The young beauty was the new nurse and assistant to the town’s physician. She drank lemonade as she studied her flawless reflection in a mirror behind the bar. A young man approached her.

“Excuse me, Miss Jennings?” he said. “I’m sorry to bother you. My name’s Franklin Harden.”

She turned to him. “Not at all, Mr. Harden. How do you do?”

He frowned. “My little girl has herself a nasty cough,” he said. “Doc Jacobson saw her a few days ago, before you arrived, says it’s nothing to worry about. But she’s still sick and my wife and I are more than a bit concerned. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, would you take a look at her? We’d be much obliged.”

Melissa took Mr. Harden’s hand. “Of course I will. No bother at all. Only, do not be alarmed if your child’s malady is not of a physical nature.”

Mr. Harden looked confused. “What do you mean?”

Melissa leaned forward, motioning him to come close. “Those who traffic with the spirit world may cause such ailments,” she whispered.

Mr. Harden’s eyes widened. “Here in Richmond? I cannot believe it.”

Melissa nodded knowingly. “It has been known to happen.” Then she gave a dazzling smile. “But I’m sure this is not the case with your little one. Go see to her now, and I will be along presently.”

Mr. Harden clutched her hand tightly before letting go. “Thank you, most kindly.” He hurried off, gratitude and concern in his eyes.

Melissa watched him go before returning to her reflection in the mirror. She still could scarcely believe it, but her new Master had been true to his word. And though the price had given her pause, she knew that ultimately, those who chose the path of evil would go to their just reward. The rest was unimportant.

She eschewed the drink in front of her for something stronger, ordering a shot of whiskey.

The bartender gave her a dubious look, not sure what to make of a young lady drinking so early in the morning. Melissa fixed him with a stern gaze that belied her apparent youth and placed a few coins on the bar. “Make it a double.”


Copyright © 2011 by Jason Kahn

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Jason Kahn

Jason Kahn lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his lovely wife amidst all of the other young families fleeing Manhattan for more space.

His online series, The Dark InSpectre (, is currently running courtesy of Abandoned Towers Magazine. He has had short stories published in various places including Baen’s Universe, Damnation Books, and Abandoned Towers (print version),as well as several anthologies.

When not writing, Jason enjoys rooting for his University of Michigan Wolverines and chasing after two mischievous gnomes who claim to be his children.

Feel free to check out more about Jason’s writing here: (

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