I burned a witch to death last night. She was a standard specimen: long nose, black hair, broomstick, pointy hat. I looked for a cat but couldn’t find one, which is not unusual. In my experience, few witches travel with their cats. Ditto for cauldrons, wands, crystal balls, and any other magical items you can think of: Witches travel light.
I caught this particular witch last evening, completely by accident. I had finished dinner and was just about to turn in when I heard a muffled thud outside my front door. Startled, I grabbed my lantern and went outside to investigate. At first I assumed the noise had been made by a deer that had jumped over my fence and gotten tangled up in my garden. That happens sometimes. My front yard is a mess of thick vines and thorny bushes, and unwitting animals can get trapped in its foliage. A few weeks ago I had to extract an irate crow from an overgrown rosebush. Last month I rescued an especially fat rabbit that had somehow wedged itself between a pumpkin and a tree stump.
But this time, there were no animals. As I passed my lantern over the garden I saw her, bending over a broken patch of fence and brushing dirt off the hem of her long black dress. The witch. I recognized her at once. She had all the tell-tale features, plus a bright green face that sparkled in the lantern’s light. It’s a common misconception that all witches have green skin. In fact, witches can be almost any color. I’ve seen black witches, white witches, orange witches, purple witches, neon pink witches, you name it. Green witches, though, are by far the most typical. If you see a green-faced woman walking down the street, chances are she’s either a witch or very, very sick.
When the witch saw me on the front step with the lantern, she stood up, straightened out her dress, and walked over to greet me, hat upright and broom in tow. I wasn’t surprised; witches, like vampires are remarkably sociable creatures, especially at night. Unlike vampires, however, witches don’t have fangs, they can’t turn into bats, and they aren’t much stronger than the average woman. Most importantly, witches don’t have an unquenchable thirst for human blood, though most wouldn’t say no to a glass or two if you offered it. Knowing all this, I didn’t have any problem inviting her into my cottage. It was cold out, and I figured she’d want to eat a warm meal and maybe chat a little before I did the deed. I opened the door, and she gave me a brief smile and stepped inside, the tip of her hat grazing the doorframe.
I followed her in and, after offering a seat at the kitchen table, lit a small fire. She flinched when I struck the match, and when I tossed it into the fireplace I heard her scoot her chair to the other side of the table, away from the flames. I pulled a stool to the place she had vacated and sat down. “Would you like something to eat?” I asked. I motioned to the stovetop a few feet behind us, where the leftovers of the stew I had eaten earlier sat cooling in a big iron pot. “Or drink?”
She shook her head mutely. Up close and illuminated by the fire she looked younger than
I had first thought: smooth skin, plump cheeks, and sleek, undamaged hair. She was staring down at her knees, and the brim of her hat covered her eyes. I was a little perturbed. The witches I’d encountered in the past had all been wrinkled and ravenous, not to mention talkative. One navy blue specimen I’d housed a while back had gone through three loaves of bread and a bottle of my best wine before the night was out, chastising me about the state of my garden between mouthfuls. Another had put away an entire pound cake and a pot of tea while lecturing me on the perils of an open fireplace, all within ten minutes of sitting down. I had never known a witch to refuse food or conversation, and the fact that this one seemed to be doing both unnerved me slightly.
We sat in silence for a few minutes, and then I asked her again, “Are you sure I can’t get you anything? Some tea, maybe? Or a glass of water?” Once more she shook her head, still staring at the floor. I shrugged, stood up, and went into the kitchen to heat up some coffee. I poured two mugs and carried them to the table, setting one in front of her. “Here,” I said. “Drink.”
She looked up. Her eyes were blue— unusual for a witch — and pink at the edges, as
if she’d been crying. “Is it… poisoned?” she asked in a voice so soft I could barely hear her over the crackle of the fire.
“Of course not,” I laughed. I swapped our cups and took a long, deep draft from hers. “See?” I said. “Perfectly safe.” She eyed me suspiciously, then slowly reached for my cup and took a tentative sip. I noticed for the first time that she was wearing pale red lipstick, a bit of which had rubbed off on the edge of the mug.
“Good, right?” I said. She nodded and set the cup down, returning her hands to her lap. “I don’t use poison,” I joked. “Tends to ruin the taste.”
She looked away from me toward the fire, which was beginning to die down. “Where —” she faltered. “Where do you do it?” She tilted her head at the fireplace. “In there?”
I laughed again. “Heavens no. Big girl like you? How on earth would you fit?” But as I said it, I considered the possibility. Her dress made it difficult to tell for sure, but she seemed rather petite for a witch; her hat barely reached above my forehead. “I’ve got a pit out back,” I said. “I can show you, if you’d like.”
She nodded and stood up. I took the lantern off its hook and led her through the front door and behind the cottage. The firepit was wide, scorched black, and in the middle covered by a thin layer of grey ash: Witches cremate nicely.
The witch stood at the edge of the pit, kneading the dirt with her feet. “Well?” I asked. “What do you think?”
“This is fine,” she said, speaking to the ground. “Just tell me what to do.” Her voice had a slight edge to it now.
“All right,” I said. “Strip down and walk over to the center of the pit. Take your time: I have to set up a few things first.” I watched her undress from the opposite side of the pit: hat first, then her boots and dress. Like every witch I’ve met, she wore no undergarments. Naked, she was even thinner than I had imagined: I could count her ribs. When she began moving toward the middle of the pit, arms folded over her chest, I walked to the woodshed near the back fence and retrieved what I needed: two coils of rope and a log sharpened to a point on both ends.
I strode back to the pit and planted the log in a divot next to the witch, who was still standing with her arms crossed. She was shivering, and in the lantern’s pale light I could see goosebumps on her green flesh.
“Cold?” I asked. She shook her head, eyes fixed on the ground. “Don’t worry. It’ll be all nice and toasty soon enough. Hands, if you don’t mind.” She held them out, and I tied her wrists together with the shorter of the two ropes. Her wrists were narrow, so I made the bond especially tight. She gasped softly as I finished the knot.
I raised an eyebrow. “Too tight?” She shook her head again, still not meeting my gaze. “Stand with your back to the log, please.” She walked over to it, and I strapped her waist to the log with another tight knot. This time she was silent.
I stepped back to appraise my work. She was firmly bound and appeared nearly immobile. Her feet hovered just above the dirt. “All right?” I asked. Nothing. I took a matchbook from my pocket.
“Don’t —” she said, “Don’t you need more wood? Or leaves, or something?” She raised her head to look at me, and I was once again struck by her eyes: pale blue, like the sky.
I shrugged. There was already a loose pile of twigs and pine straw near the log. “I’ll put something down if the fire doesn’t take.” I lit a match, set it at the base of the log, and walked back inside.
The fire took. When I came back the next morning, the log was black, and she was a lump of ash and charred bone beneath it. Witches cremate nicely.
Image – Pixabay.com