The chant echoed around the courtroom, where the at least a third of the town was congregated. The woman being accused stood proudly on the stage. She never wept, never showed any weakness, even as people screamed for her death. I found her courage admirable. I would be crying hysterically if I was her, but she handled the situation with bravery and a calm, even bored air. She didn’t react to the disturbing scene around her. It was horribly sickening. This was not Salem, Massachusetts in seventeenth century America. This was not a world where we accused people of being witches.
“Miss Hannet Grace, you are hereby accused of practicing the dark arts of witchcraft,” the judge spoke loudly. “Do you deny these claims?”
Hannet glared at the judge. “Yes, I do. I have never practiced witchcraft in my entire life.”
At that statement, the accusers, three girls about a couple years younger than me, fell into a fit.
I stared in shock at them. This wasn’t real. No, it couldn’t be. Was this seriously happening? The girls were screaming and wailing that Hannet was hurting them. One of the girl’s neck and limbs were being twisted in horrible, painful angles. Another was showing off bite marks and brandishing pins that had “come and stabbed her”. The third had collapsed on the floor and was twitching violently.
“Liars,” I breathed. No one heard me.
“Who is it that hurts you?” the judge asked the girl waving the pins.
“Hannet Grace, sir,” she replied. “Her specter, the demonic ghost. It’s up in the rafters, now, suckling its familiars.”
“They’re lying,” Hannet dismissed. “I own no pets, and I shall say it again, I have never had anything to do with witchcraft.”
‘She’s lying,’ a voice whispered in the back of my mind. I shook my head, not believing it, trying to get it out, out, out.
The girls fell into more violent fits. I cringed back in horror. More and more people now were claiming that Hannet had hurt them, that she was a witch, that she was guilty.
The judge grimaced at the scene in front of him. “Hannet Grace, you are convicted of being a witch-
“-and you are sentenced to death by an immediate public hanging. Step forward,” he finished firmly.
No. No, no, no, no. This should not be happening. This doesn’t happen here. Not anymore. There are no more Salem witch trials.
But it was happening. Hannet stood stock-still in shock, her face betraying the disgust she felt. The guards shoved her unmercifully forward and placed a noose around her neck. They didn’t even bother to move her coal colored hair out of the way, or to put a black hood over her head. No, she was not to be given those luxuries.
The chants of “Witch!” started up again. The family who had accused Hannet shouted the loudest, and I noticed that the girls had come out of their fits. I didn’t believe any of it, but what could I say? I was not permitted to speak in a trial, and even if I was, they would probably just throw me up there with Hannet, to be killed for protection of a witch. Even though witches don’t exist. Why was I the only one seeing the insanity in this?
Hannet swept the room with her eyes one last time – eyes that were cold, unforgiving, the eyes of the wrongly condemned - before closing them. The judge gave the signal, and the latch was released. The floor underneath the accused fell open, and there was a sickening crack as Hannet’s neck was snapped. I turned my eyes away. There were thunderous applause, cheers, and one person even started singing.
“Ding dong, the witch is dead, the witch is dead, the witch is dead. Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead….”
And then it all stopped. Dead silence filled the room for a split second before the screaming started. Not the joyous screams of earlier, but awful, terrified shrieks, as though Death himself had suddenly appeared. People tried to rush for the door, knocking each other down in the process. The chaos blocked my view of the stage, so at first, I couldn’t see why people were freaking out so much. Maybe they had finally realized the horror of what they had just done? But someone – the same one who had been singing, I think – shouted:
“She died with her eyes closed!”
Everyone in the room had rushed to the walls, trying to get as far away from the stage as possible, leaving me standing stupidly in the middle. Most of them were flooding out the doors, but a few were still frozen in fear. And I could finally see why.
Hannet’s obsidian eyes were wide open. And they were locked on mine.