The church bells toll in the hot sun of morn. A single, solitary crow flies from its perch atop the steeple and cries as it makes its ascent towards the heavens, though it’s said the creature comes straight from Hell.
Those that had not already found themselves there joined their friends and neighbors gathered at the foot of the gallows. The pungent stench of unwashed flesh and the dung of the animals, the same animals that many of the town attended to, hung in the air and mingled with that unmistakable hunger- that deranged, animalistic desire- for blood.
This is a town of God; there is no place here for any and all heathens and demons that threaten that which the founders had fought for and worked so hard to build from nothing. Those families left everything behind and risked all they had to create a new place where they could live and flourish without the persecution that, at home, followed them like shadows. Here they’re free to practice as they please, and those that get in the way of that freedom must pay the ultimate price for their insubordinate behavior.
The bells cease their chimes and, as silence falls upon the crowd of spectators, the Reverend brings her from the jail. They’re followed by the judges and the governor, as well as another Reverend from a far off town. He seems quite confused as to how he ended up here and how all of this has happened, and yet there’s still an air of determination about him. He’s quite young, which likely explains his zeal for his work. Those decades older than he show little emotion towards their work anymore let alone passion and unwavering devotion. He will learn in time the weight his words carry.
The procession makes its way to the bottom of the stairs that lead to the raised platform of the gallows. Those in the crowd near enough spit on the woman and curse at her, yelling obscenities and damning her to hell, though a few of them instead stumble back and whisper prayers to themselves as they hold their hands across their hearts, the warm flesh of their bosoms reminding them of their dwindling humanity. The mortal judgment has been made; the only one left lies in the hands of God and his mercy. If this woman is deserving of that ultimate compassion on behalf of her heavenly father, he will see to it that no harm comes her way, but of course, that judgment cannot be passed as she lives and breathes.
Her steps are heavy and unbalanced, and the planks of the stairs creak beneath her. Rotting in the jail has left her almost too weak to support her own weight, and she stumbles as the Reverend yanks on her arm. Clearly she isn’t moving quickly enough for him. Whether he is fueled by rage, hate, fear, or desperation is known only by God himself, but whatever is driving him has thoroughly seized control of his actions.
Step. Step. Step. The procession forces the woman closer and closer to the noose that hangs before her- one that she will shortly hang from herself. The wind picks up, just slightly, and blows the knotted rope in her direction, almost as though it longed to be around her neck. A sign from God, perhaps, that this is right and just, and that this is the fate he has laid out for this woman as penance for her betrayal.
There are still those in the crowd that believe her to be innocent, but they do not dare speak out now. Instead, they weep silently to themselves for the memories of her they hold so dear. She had brought so many children into this world, how was it now that she be taken out of it by the cruel hands of her fellow God fearing brethren?
She trembles as the noose is placed upon her shoulders and tightened to fit her neck. Those that had yelled and shouted at her as she climbed the stairs again fall silent and gaze upon her, surrounded by the men that decided to play God. The Reverend and one of the judges step forward, and they speak a few words. They tell of how this woman here has committed the ultimate sin and how the only punishment fit for her and her spiritual sisters and brothers is death. She and her kind have poisoned this precious, immaculate town and all those that dwell in it. Her death is not only the fate she has laid for herself, but the only way for judgment to truly be passed on her as no mortal man can do. May her death be the first step in cleansing the filth and sin from this town.
With a glance from the Reverend, the hangman yanks on the loose end of the rope, sending the woman into the air. She gasps and kicks with all her might, but it is of no use. Her choked breaths are the only sound echoing across the square, and soon her movements subside and her breathing stops. Her body empties itself for the last time, and she is dead. Not a sound is heard save for the rustling of leaves on the nearby trees, and everyone stares at her lifeless body as she sways slowly in the wind.
The witch is dead, and the witch hunt has begun.