By Celia Rees
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
-- MARY --
Massachusetts, November 1660
If I am a witch, they will soon know it. I had never ill wished anyone, but as I fled Beulah, anger and hatred clashed together, sparking curses like steel striking flint. I had done no wrong, so why was I forced to run like a fugitive? My accusers, Deborah Vane and the other girls, they were the guilty ones. Even as they denounced me as a witch, their eyes gleamed with scheming malice. The madness twisting their faces was counterfeit. Who could not see it? "Them that's blind and will not see." My grandmother's words came to me. She was a wise woman, but her wisdom brought her nothing but sorrow. She ended her life on the hanging tree, and now the same fate awaited me.
They searched, and that most diligently. I cowered in Rebekah's borning room, thinking to be safe for a little time, but they demanded entry even there, their voices ringing loud with right and duty. Only Martha stood against them, defying Reverend Johnson as brave as a robin before a striking hawk. They went away reluctantly. I tracked them searching through the rest of the house, moving from one room to the next, their heavy tread freighted with hatred.
I got away, but they searched for me still. I heard them hallooing through the woods, saw their torches, tiny bonfire sparks in the blackness. I heard the dogs baying and yelling. Dogs run faster than men.
Snow started falling soonafter I fled the town, icy pellets seeding the wind. It began to come thick, ever-more whitening the ground, making it easier for the dogs to pick me out. The first to come upon me was old Tom, Josiah Crompton's hunting dog. He's a gazehound, hunting by sight. Old Tom came leaping out of the brush toward me and threw back his long, bony head, making a sound deep in his throat, somewhere between a yelp and a swallowed bark of triumph. This brought the other dogs tumbling to him. They stood ringed about, tongues lolling, eyes bright.
They had me cornered. I backed against a tree and stared at them, waiting for them to spring. Tom crept nearer, the others following, the circle tightening, then he stopped. He stood, head inclined, his short ears cocked as if harking to some sound. The men's shouting was nearer now. I thought that was what he was hearing and that at any minute he would commence barking, but he did not. He gave me one last look, wheeled around, and made off with all the others streaming after him in a rag and tag mob.
The baying and yelling thinned to nothing. Tom had led the hunt away from me. I was alone again in the forest's frosty silence. I thought to run on, but tiredness overcame me. I sank down, leaning my back against the tree's rough bark, intending to gather what strength I had.
I have been here ever since. The snow is still falling, drifting through the air and making no sound, feathering across my cheeks like angel fingers, weighting my eyelids, settling upon me, covering me like a counterpane filled with the finest down.
I feel no cold, but I cannot move. My limbs have no feeling in them. To sleep is to die, I know that, but I cannot keep awake. Sometimes I almost hope that they might come back this way, that they might find me, but I dismiss the thought as soon as it arises. I'd rather die here than be taken. I'd rather freeze to this tree than be hanged.
-- AGNES --
Boston, Massachusetts, April, Present Day
Agnes fell forward, cracking her head sharply on the glass. The screen saver jarred and jerked, just for a second, then the monitor went black and she was looking at her own face staring back, eyes dilated by more than the pain in her forehead. What had that been? Vision or dream? She was cold; she was freezing. Her fingers were bloodless and withered, the nails blue. She looked to the window, expecting to see snow falling, but there was nothing. The sky was a clear evening blue.
Whatever had just happened was as real as any experience of her own, anything that she had ever known. She could not stop shivering. She got up and dragged the quilt off the bed. The quilt was serviceable as well as beautiful, a bright Lone Star, Aunt M's farewell gift to her. Agnes gripped the edges tight, wrapping it close around her, but still she could not get warm. Teeth chattering, she went to the window, opening it onto the quad below. Sodium streetlights were coming on, bronzing the leaves on the trees. Across the way, desk lamps were beginning to show in the windows of rows of little rooms just like her own. She closed the window and in the gathering darkness shifted her focus, turning the glass into a mirror. She stared at the face staring back at her.
Agnes put her hand up, sweeping back her jet-black hair. She wore it long, past her shoulders. She was only eighteen, but already a few silver hairs were threading down from the parting. She would have a white streak there, just as her aunt had, and her grandmother before her. She frowned, thick dark brows drawing down. The eyes beneath were gray, rimmed with black -- unusual, particularly in her family. The color of her eyes and her faraway gaze had caused her grandmother to name her Karonhisake, Searching Sky.
No one called her that here. To her fellow students, to the staff and faculty, she was Agnes Herne. The only time her tribal name was used was when she was back on the reservation. She did not seek to hide her Native American blood. She did not disguise it; neither did she advertise it. It was who she was. She went home as often as time and vacations would allow, but she'd moved away to go to college and she liked to keep her life in separate compartments.
Excerpted from Sorceress
by Celia Rees
Copyright © 2003 by Celia Rees.
Excerpted by permission.
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