Burn the Witch
It was dark when Eva finally left Matthew’s new home. They had spoken about all the things that could possibly stop a spirit or demonic force. Most of them were folk lore or old wives’ tales, which they were unsure were even true. Most involved iron, chalk, salt, garlic or any strong smelling herbs. At best, these were stabs in the dark, but neither wanted to give up.
By the time they had stopped talking about it and decided they needed to find a way to do some research on it later, they realised how dark it was and Matthew escorted Eva home.
When they reached the tenement, they said their goodbyes and Eva went on in on her own. She walked into the workshop. The door was unlocked – she supposed the reason was that her parents still expected her home, so she made sure to lock it behind her.
When she turned, she saw through the cracks in the door leading to the kitchen that candles were still alight downstairs. She walked through the quiet and dark workshop guided by the light emanating from the room. She tried to open the door, but the latch had been shut, so she knocked, announcing it was her, and waited patiently.
She was sure curfew may have already begun, despite not being able to recall hearing the bell toll and not having seen any of the watchmen, and hoped she wasn’t in too much trouble.
After what seemed like forever, her mother opened the front door, a grave look upon her face.
“I am sorry Mother. I didn’t mean to get home so late. Matthew and I got talking and we lost track of time,” Eva explained.
Her mother said nothing and let Eva into the house.
“Is Father already in bed?” Eva asked, looking around the room for her father.
Her mother didn’t respond. She sat down by the fire, drinking a cup of wine and staring at the flames that flickered in the hearth.
“Mother? Are you so angry with me you won’t talk to me? I said I’m sorry. What else do you want?”
“I want you to leave,” she said sharply, without looking up.
“What? Leave? Just because I got home late?”
“I saw you and Matthew. I came to bring him food and saw what you did.”
Eva’s heart sank, the blood from her face draining away. “What do you mean?”
“I know what you are,” she said, meeting Eva’s gaze for a moment.
Eva’s head raced and she instantly went on the defensive. “Mother, I’m not a witch. I’m your daughter.”
“You’re not my daughter,” Juliana hissed.
“Mother? Do you really mean that?”
“You’re a witch, Eva. How long before you try and kill us.”
“I would never hurt you. You’re my family.”
“That’s what your grandmother said and then she did this,” Juliana said, pointing out the scar on her face.
“I’m not her, though. I’m not the Weycombe Witch.”
“You are a witch, Eva. Even if I decided to trust you, and believe you would not do such things, you eventually will. I am not so weak to believe you. You have evil in your heart and the devil by your side. I don’t want you here. Leave before you break your father’s heart and give him knowledge of what you truly are,” Juliana entreated, tears trickling down her cheeks.
“No. I’ll never leave. Not like this,” Eva said, moving her arm passionately in defiance. But as soon as she did, the fire blazed out of the hearth, almost igniting her mother’s dress.
Juliana jumped up with a gasp, cowering away from Eva. “Leave,” she urged, her voice shaky. “Never come back. Never come back or I will have you hung.” This time Juliana took the knife and iron cross from the table close by her and held it up at Eva in defence.
“No Mother. No. I am not like that. I don’t know what’s happening to me,” Eva cried.
“Leave,” Juliana commanded, lunging at her daughter suddenly with the knife.
Eva backed up to the door and opened it. “Okay. I’ll leave. But I love you Mother. I did not mean to do that. Please tell me you still love me too.”
“Go away. Your lies will not convince me,” Juliana said, more tears flowing down from her eyes. She lunged forward again, “Go away!”
Eva quickly rushed outside. In tears she ran across town, bounding down streets away from her home, no destination set in her mind. She felt so afraid, so heartbroken. She ran as fast as she could, panting and crying, searching wildly for respite, until she realised she would not find it anywhere. How long until Matthew did the same as her mother and threatened to kill her too? He may have seemed supportive, but at first he feared her. It wouldn’t take much for her friends to repel her as well. After all, she manipulated fire and was capable of hurting people. She was a danger to everyone around her. And could she really see Matthew again now that she knew she could never come back? It would break her heart. But if she did not find somewhere to go soon, one of the watchmen would see her and question her on why she was out past curfew. Without a light or a good reason, she could be imprisoned. The thought made her quickly hide in the crevice of a nearby doorway, cautiously inspecting her surroundings.
Right then Eva remembered what Helen had said and she rushed to her cottage, being careful to avoid the attention of the watchmen, praying she would be saved and everything would go back to normal. Praying that whatever had made her this way would go away and that she could lead a normal life again. When she did finally reach Helen’s secluded cottage, she banged loudly on her door. As she waited for her to open it, all energy left Eva’s body and she fainted to the ground, exhausted. She fell into a deep slumber, fear and sadness burdening her heart.
When Eva awoke, she saw Helen sitting by her side as Eva lay in her bed. The horse and cow at the other end were lying down, but had looked up to see what the fuss was about.
“Helen. Was I out long?”
“No. Not long. What’s going on?”
“Mother has thrown me out of the house. I can’t ever return,” Eva said, her eyes averting sadly.
“What ever for?” Helen said, confused.
“I’m like my grandmother. I’m like the Weycombe Witch.”
Helen seemed dumfounded for a few moments. She looked around as if for guidance and Eva laid in anxious wait to see if Helen too would denounce her. “What happened?” she finally asked.
“She saw me with Matthew earlier this evening. We were talking and I grew mad, fire coming from my hand. She confronted me when I got home and I nearly put her to fire when I grew upset again and the fire leapt from the hearth. It seems my emotions have control over this... power, and I do not. I think my grandmother has cursed me or made me like her somehow.”
“Cursed you? From the grave? Certainly not,” Helen objected.
“But Aunt Helen, I’ve seen her, like I see you here. I’ve seen her in the flesh. She haunts me.”
Helen frowned, thinking for a moment. “That is very strange indeed. That she would haunt you and that you would see her ghost seems quite unlikely. But it does make sense with these new... ‘powers’ you seem to have, and I have heard stories of spirits haunting their families before. You realise your mother will never have you back now though. No matter the reasons for what is happening. She feared your grandmother and eventually even hated her. It would not be hard for her to do the same with you if she believes you are like her.”
“I know Aunt Helen,” Eva sobbed, and Helen held her close.
“Shh shh, do not cry girl. I am here for you. But we must make a plan. How are you to survive if you must leave?”
“I am scheduled to leave Weycombe soon anyway. In a week’s time I will become a silk trader’s apprentice and travel away with him. But until then, I am stuck in Weycombe.”
“I see. You can stay here until then. But what will you do about your powers?”
“Are there not herbs, trinkets or prayers for such things? Can I not ward her off and the powers along with her?”
Helen looked down and shrugged. “I am no expert on such things. I know of a cunning woman that deals in magic and potions though. Maybe she will be able to help?”
Eva suddenly laughed through her tears. “Magic and potions, Aunt Helen? Isn’t that a load of superstitious nonsense? You might as well send me to a witch doctor!”
“Eva, after what we have both experienced, how can you be sure anything is just a superstitious lie?”
Eva was stumped. Helen was right – she could never be sure. If she was capable of controlling fire and if there was a Weycombe Witch, what other monsters, creatures and magical beings could be roaming out there. Walter often talked of Sea Monsters, as if he had seen them himself. If there were such things in the sea, she couldn’t imagine what things might have lurked on the land and been hidden in the vast forests. And if she was a witch, why wasn’t it possible for there to be women who dealt in magic and potions that actually worked.
“I suppose you are right Aunt Helen. Where does this cunning woman live?”
“In the village of Little Chesterton, north of here.”
“Yes, I know it,” Eva replied.
“You can take the horse up there tomorrow. No one will see you here – I live so far out from the town square that the only people that do come by here are travelling strangers, so no one will recognise you.”
“Thank you Aunt Helen,” Eva said earnestly.
Helen smiled. “It’s okay, my girl.”
“You believe me though, right?”
“I believe that you don’t mean to do these things, just like your grandmother seemed to not be herself when she manipulated fire. I’m guessing the incident in the tavern has something to do with these new powers too?”
“You heard about that?”
Eva looked down. “Yes, it does. I really have no control over it. But I don’t go into a murderous rage like the Weycombe Wi—Grandmother did. It’s just that, it’s been a stressful couple of days and it seems the fire comes whenever I’m most upset or angry. Was that what happened with my grandmother?”
“Well it seemed she had control over it, or at least it looked that way. But it never came when she was happy or calm, just during one of her episodes, so it’s possible it was connected to her emotions. Maybe she wasn’t possessed by evil though. Maybe she was mad and just... had these powers.”
“No! That would mean I have them for good and I can never get rid of them.”
“Maybe it does. But you said so yourself that it seems to be connected to your emotions. Maybe Eva Smith must finally learn to control her temper,” Helen said, giving Eva a chastising look.
Eva gave a half grin, drying the remaining tears from her cheeks with her sleeves. “That wouldn’t make sense anyway. If that was the case, and I had somehow inherited it from her, why would I suddenly have these powers now? Why not long ago when I was a child and had plenty of tantrums? I’m sure I would have burnt plenty of houses down intending to get what I wanted. And why does my mother not have the same powers then?”
“That is true. But your mother you know is a very controlled woman. Even if she had these powers from an early age, she was always composed, even in sadness and strife. She never let her emotions get to her. A complete opposite to you, of course.”
Eva smiled. That was her mother. The model of womanly duty, manners and composure. She would have made a great Queen or Lady. Although, her superstitious and gullible ways would not have made her a formidable Queen or Lady, and she would have been easily fooled.
These thoughts soon turned sour when Eva remembered her mother had just chased her out of her home and threatened to have her hung.
“I’ll never see her again,” Eva said, lying back down.
“Eva, do not worry, I will always be here for you. You will finally have what you want anyway, right? You will finally be free to roam the world. Your mother won’t stop you.”
“Yes, but I never intended to leave without the love of my mother. I always thought I’d come back and visit everyone; tell them of all my travels. Just like Walter does. Now, I’m forever outcast. I may never see Matthew again either. He will wonder where I have disappeared to and Mother will probably tell everyone I ran away to join some sort of travelling merchant guild and that I would never return again. All the people I love will think I abandoned them and left without so much as a good bye,” Eva said. “What of the merchant I am to be apprenticed to? He will think I have left for good and betrayed our contract, and he will leave without me,” Eva said, bolting straight up at the sudden thought.
“Do not worry. I can see him in secret and tell him you have decided to keep yourself away from your family and friends because goodbyes are hard and you fear they will hold you back against your will. It makes enough sense for him to believe. That way, I can get him to meet you here, and you won’t be discovered by your mother.”
Eva lay back down. “There’s still the problem of my powers. What if the silk trader discovers them on the road? What will I do then?”
“You should not worry about that now. You will cross that road when you get there. For now, you will just have to wait till tomorrow and hope the cunning woman can help you. I’m sure you can somehow ward yourself against the evil your grandmother has brought to you and the powers will disappear. I’ve seen this cunning woman before – she is quite skilled.”
“What if you’re right? What if I may just have inherited these powers?”
“Eva, I was teasing you to cheer you, I was not being serious. These powers are not human. These powers are the work of evil. Whatever has happened, something evil must have attached itself to you. All you may need is holy water and charms to guard you against it. I’m sure you will be fine.”
“I hope so,” Eva said, uncertain.
“I believe you will be,” Helen insisted. She limped over to her hearth and poured the liquid from the small pot hanging over the fire into a cup and brought it over to Eva. “Here, drink this.”
Eva took a sip. It was warm milk with a sweet flavour. “What is it?”
“Milk with lavender, honey and camomile in it. It will help you sleep.”
Eva was not going to have a good night’s sleep though.
Just then Eva and Helen heard the far off bell and cries of townspeople in crisis.
They looked at each other and both knew it involved Eva.