I grab the book and start flipping through the brittle, tightly printed pages hoping that something will grab my attention. For about an hour, nothing jumps out at me. Just pages upon pages of material. Maybe I was wrong to think I actually had a chance. Estelle was right. There are hundreds of images. This is beginning to look impossible.
Then, on page 378, a drawing of the Salem witch trials of 1692 catches my eye. It’s from some courtroom artist who was drawing the scene as it took place. There’s a girl crouched over on the floor. A crowd of people that looks frighteningly angry. And a guy with big hair, whom I think is the judge, presiding before the cowering girl.
I reach for my camera lens because I notice a small smudge on a corner of one of the crates. When I use the lens to magnify it, it seems to actually be a couple of carved letters or symbols, like when people carve their initials inside a heart on a tree trunk. And it’s probably just my eyes playing tricks on me, but I swear the letters are of an ‘A’ and a ‘L’—my parent’s initials. It’s probably just a scratch, but it’s the closest thing to a lead that I’ve seen so far after going through about 200 illustrations and images.
Estelle and Bud said I should never travel to a photo where my presence would stand out. From what I remember in class, the witch trials were violent and intense. I should be able to travel there without being noticed.
I place a sticky note at the top of the page, right over the image, so I’ll be able to find it again later, and sit up straight, breathing in deeply. Then I chant, “To this time, allow my travel. Take me there, let time unravel.”
The noisy courtroom is filled with agitated Puritans screaming at a teenage girl who is being held to the floor by two burly men. Standing behind a tall counter across the room is the judge.
Fortunately, I’ve landed behind the crates, which gives me a perfect view of the trial. I probably should have changed clothes to something less… modern. They probably didn’t wear jeans in this era.
I’m trying to hear the judge’s words, but it’s difficult because the dozens of townspeople are howling over one another. One woman shrieks, “I’ve seen her wandering the streets in the middle of the night! What decent lady would act so?”
A toothless, disheveled man next to her shouts, “And her husband! Disappeared out of plain sight! To where I ask?”
Another man leans forward and spits on the girl. “She’s a daughter of the devil! With my own eyes, I’ve heard her speaking the language of demons!”
The mob starts chanting. “Witch! Witch! Witch!”
This is crazy. The girl, who I don’t think can be older than sixteen, is slumped over on the floor. Her hands are bound together with thick, coarse brown rope. She looks petrified and is weeping while facing the ground. I can’t hear her saying anything, but she seems to be whispering to herself. Maybe praying. She’s dressed in a long-sleeved black dress with a white collar and cuffs and her hair is hidden in a white bonnet. Like a costume. Like something along the lines to what pilgrims wore.
I can’t believe that the actions playing out in front of me are actually real. But they are.
“Elizabeth Wills!” the judge shouts. “You have been accused of demonic witchcraft. How do you find yourself?”
She lifts her face to him and the crowd goes silent. She swallows hard and then says softly, “I know of no devil. My faith is in my Lord. I know not of any other way.”
“Blasphemy!” a woman near her shrieks. “She lies!”
“Silence!” the judge thunders. He then orders his assistants, “Take her outside so we may assess the circumstances.”
The two men drag her outside, the crowd now shouting more loudly and violently. Their fury is terrifying. My heart is doing flips in my chest. I have to shake the numbness from my hands and hold myself back from whimpering.
I look around and spot a narrow line of sunlight coming through an unobtrusive pair of swinging doors that lead out of the courtroom. Maybe I can get to her that way.
Before I make a run for the doors, I look for the carving I had seen in the book. I feel around the crate in front of me until I finally find it—the initials “L + A 96” carved into one of the panels. I run my fingers along the marks. Could this be—
I’m brought back to reality by the crash of a distant crate being pushed over. The crowd’s becoming more frenzied. I have to get out before I’m caught. I drop into a crouch and sprint for the swinging doors.
Elizabeth is lying in a courtyard only a few feet from me, her shirt sodden by sweat. Her arms are wrapped around one of the posts that support the overhanging roof, bound by the same rope.
She weeps and begs. “My Lord. My Savior. Please protect me. Show me mercy, for I have not sinned.”
I can feel my heart breaking. I know she isn’t a witch. But from what I can remember from the pages of the book, she doesn’t survive this. I feel helpless. I know I can’t change the past, but there’s no way I can let her just die.
I edge toward her from behind and stammer, “Miss Wills?”
She keeps her face averted and doesn’t respond.
“I’m not here to hurt you. I promise.”
She still refuses to look at me, but I see tears dripping from her cheeks. “Please leave me alone! Let me be alone with my God!”
“I don’t know how to say this, but I know you are not a witch.”
“I know nothing of such vile things.” she sobs. “But at this moment I wish it were true, for then the death I am facing would have some justification.” She finally looks up at me and takes a deep, surprised breath. “Your eyes! Your clothes! Where do you come from? Are… are you in fact a witch? Is that how you know who I am when I do not know who you are?”
“No. I come from the future. I know it sounds strange, but—”
“Your eyes are like theirs’!”
My heart skips a beat. “‘Theirs’? Whose?”
“The lady and the man. You look like them.”
“A lady and man who looked like me? When? Where are they?”
“They dressed as you do, and their eyes shimmered like the planets. They were witches, too.”
My hands are shaking. “Where are they now? Please tell me. I need to know!”
She turns her head away from me. “They disappeared into the air. While I was watching them. That is how I know they were witches. They left me to be hanged when it should have been them!”
“Elizabeth, please! Are you sure they disappeared?”
She doesn’t respond. Come on, Elizabeth, answer me. “Please,” I beg. “They’re my parents. Help me find them.”
The word “parents” causes her to look at me again. She shakes her head. “They have fled. The man mentioned the ‘great’ something, and ‘quickly!’ to the woman. And then I saw them vanish with my own eyes. Now leave me be!”
“I can help you. I can help you escape.”
Her tear-filled blue eyes light up. “Yes. Oh, yes! Please set me free. My Lord has heard my prayers! My Lord has heard my prayers!”
“Please, be quiet,” I warn her as I grab a jagged piece of rock from the dirt and begin scraping it against the rope. I’m getting more and more frightened. The waves of noise from inside are growing louder, and terror is catching in my throat. Just as the rope around her wrists starts to give way, I hear a pistol being cocked and feel the barrel of a gun against my skull. I freeze.
“Step away from the witch and announce your name!” It’s the voice of one of the court officials.
“I come in… peace?” I answer nervously.
“Siblings of the black beast! You have come to protect your bewitched sister, have you not? Kneel before me!”
He summons the other assistants from inside. They throw me to the ground and tie my hands with the same skin-prickling rope.
“No!” I shout. “You don’t understand!”
“Silence!” the man says, knocking me across the face with his fist.
They drag us both inside. The crowd, even more enraged than before, shrieks and jeers, “Hang them both! Hang them both!”
“Look at his eyes!”
“His clothes are crafted from the fires of hell!”
“Murder them before they spread their evil unto our homes!”
Magistrate Howlands peers down on us. “You both have been found guilty. And will be executed by way of hanging immediately.”
Did he just say… hanging? You’re kidding me! No, no, no! This is not how this is supposed to play out. This is supposed to happen only to her, not me! I begin to sweat profusely and grow more anxious. I try to remember the return chant that will take me back home, but my mind is frozen. This cannot be happening.
“Don’t I get a trial or something?!” I beg.
Elizabeth stands with her eyes closed, tears rolling down her cheeks. She continues whispering prayers to herself.
Magistrate Howlands leans over his table. “Your trial is over. You will burn in hell!”
“No, wait! I’m not the devil! I swear—”
The two brutal assistants shove us toward the floor, and then drag us towards the doors of the courthouse. The crowd screeches with frantic joy, hugging and rejoicing over our imminent execution.
The doors swing open and we are dragged outside, over the steps and onto the dirt. Pebbles and more dirt fill my nostrils and mouth, making it impossible to catch my breath. I catch a quick, hazy glimpse of bodies pouring out of the courthouse behind us.
“Please! Stop!” I say.
“Quiet!” One of the assistants shouts, kicking me on the opposite side of the ribs that Jet had kicked me on.
Elizabeth’s muffled cries echo somewhere in front of me. Loose branches scratch at my face and arms as the assistants drag us to a wooden platform, eight feet high, directly under a noose that dangles from a large limb of a leafless, skeletal tree that appears to symbolize death waiting for its next victim. I’m literally about to throw up.
“No Beasts of the Blackness shall reside in our midst!” Magistrate Howlands announces. “Mistress Elizabeth Wills and her unidentified demonic brother will be hanged, never to walk our God-fearing community again!”
I watch in despair as the assistants force Elizabeth up onto the platform where a man in an oversized black cloak who resembles the Reaper places the noose around her neck and tightens it. She continues moving her lips in prayer.
When he steps back from her, she opens her eyes and scans the mob, which suddenly grows silent.
“I pray that—” She stops to catch her breath. “—that your Lord will forgive you for my murder. I shall forever rest in peace, in the name of my God.”
Then she moves her foot over the edge of the pedestal and allows her body to follow.
I gasp along with the mob, but I have to bury my chin to my chest because my hands are bound and I can’t cover my eyes against the sight of her lifeless body dangling in mid-air.
Come on, Gavin! What are the words? “Back in time... Home I go...?” I try desperately to remember but nothing works, my mind is blank. I look up and my eyes meet Elizabeth’s dead gaze. I swear she’s looking right at me. I turn away, holding myself from nearly throwing up again.
The Reaper grabs her body and pulls her in toward him. As he unties the rope from around her broken neck, she collapses against him and he loses his grip. Her body falls eight feet off the platform and onto the hard ground. Her head smashes against a small boulder near me, and when I see her bloody skull and lifeless body lying at my feet, I can no longer hold back my nausea. I turn my head to the side and let it all out.
I’m pushed through the crowd as they hiss at me and throw stones and branches in my direction.
“Don’t look into his eyes!”
“Hurry and kill them!”
I drop to my knees and beg for my life. “Stop! You have this wrong!” I don’t even feel the stones cutting into my skin anymore because I’m so terrified. Hands forcefully grab at my shirt, lifting me toward the platform.
“He’s all yours.” The assistant says to the Reaper, who pulls me up to my doom.
“Please! Please! I’ll give anything!” Sweat is oozing from every crevice of my body.
I can’t believe it’s ending this way. I can barely control my breathing. The stake wind beats at my face as I barely keep myself stand on quivering legs.
“No! Please!” I beg again, but the Reaper just continues adjusting the rope around my neck. The rough strands scrape my throat when I swallow.
Magistrate Howlands throws me a look of disgust and tosses a small woven bag towards the Reaper. “Cover his head. I never want to see those vile and disgraceful eyes again. His final moments should be filled with darkness.”
The Reaper pulls it over my head, stealing my final moments of sight and life from me. The material, which smells of a dead animal, scratches at my face. This is the last thing I will remember.
“On my count of three!” I hear the magistrate proclaim triumphantly. “One!... Two!…”