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True Love's Glow
Author's note: I was inspired to write this after watching a show cale 'Witch Hunt.'
“Lisa, I can’t let go!”
“Finally, a smart one, which is a witch quality,” cackled the guard.
“Let me go too!”
“No.” I say firmly. “I have to do this by myself.”
“Catherine, I want to—“
“No.” I say softly. “No, you don’t. I’m going somewhere far away.”
“Are you coming back?”
He starts pulling me away, with a grip so rough I am certain it will leave a bruise.
Was I going to come back?
“They’ll decide, okay?”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll let you come back.”
“Catherine, wait, you forgot your hair band. It’s the blue one! It’s your favorite one!”
I am wincing in pain at his grip as I yell back, “You keep it, Lisa!”
All I see is Lisa, playing happily in the yard, as I am thrown forward into a room densely populated with girls older and younger than I am.
Some are crying. Some are sobbing hysterically. Some are just cowering in the corner. It is not comfortable living space. All we have are a few wooden benches and the stone floor. As I survey our conditions, I notice a little girl of about eleven sitting alone, not talking to the others. Suddenly, a gigantic sense of missing and longing came over me for Lisa, and I crumpled. I sat on the stone floor and just cried. It felt as if my heart was breaking. I wished it would. I was pretty sure I couldn’t possess any more tears, but more flowed. I wanted to go home. I was being loud, but did I care? No.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you all right?”
It was the little girl, the little one with long blonde straight hair, bare feet, and a white dress. “I cried the first day too, but don’t worry, they’ll feed you quite enough.”
“H-hello. I’m sorry, you just reminded me of someone I,” my voice shakes, “that I miss very much.”
“Oh. I’m sorry if I…”
“No, it’s…it’s okay…”
“Don’t answer them.”
“When they ask, DON’T ANSWER THEM.”
“What are you talking about?”
“When they ask if you did it. Say no. It’s hard, but you gotta pray and know the hurt’ll be over.”
“They…they hurt us?”
The little girl holds out her arm. There is an angry red slash leading from her elbow to her hand.
“I got this yesterday because I told them no,” she says.
“That’s absolutely barbaric!”
“The guards are like bogeymen,” she says. “They sneak up on you and pull you away. I’m Lily, by the way,”
“Here, there’s still a little bit of space in that corner. You have to get a place to sleep before they bring the others.”
A guard enters. “Dinner.”
This was not dinner; it was slop. It was some sort of white, mushy concoction. It looked like a dreary blob of gray. Like a soft clam.
“How do I eat this?”
Lily takes out a little of it and eats it directly.
“What’s it supposed to be?”
“Mashed potatoes. Bon appétit.”
Lily reminded me of Lisa so much at that moment, I thought of crying, and then put in a bite of Greyslop, so I wouldn’t.
It was repulsive.
It tasted like a mix of blandness and sourness.
I must have made a face, because Lily looked alarmed.
“Oh, Catherine, it’s not poisonous, trust me!”
“It tastes like…”
“Sour milk? Oh, you get over it in a while. It’s all they give ya.”
I was amazed at her ability to accept such gruesome change. I wish I were like that. As you can tell, I’m not. I wish I had a bit of her courage in me for these days, the days when I needed courage most.
But I didn’t have that.
I had Lily.
And old pictures.
And clam chowder gone wrong.
And a stone floor.
But I had the memories to last me five years.
Hive years of me and Lisa running in the yard. Two hair bands. Mine was blue. Oh, no. I’m slowly becoming a leaky faucet.
“I’m sorry,” I say to Lily.
“Go ahead, cry. It’s okay. We all do.”
I marvel at this amazing little girl, having gone through so much, but still resilient.
“But I didn’t hurt anyone, I swear my life on it!”
Lily looks at me sympathetically. “Oh, none of us did. But they’ll burn you anyway.”
“BURN you?” I imagine the pain of that, screaming, looking out at a crowd who can’t help you, unbearable heat…wishing you could just die, right then…
Get that out of your mind, Catherine.
“So when do trials happen?”
“Oh, every day. You never know when they’ll take you.”
As if on cue, a husky guard grabs the forearm of a little girl of ten or eleven.
“I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it! I promise I didn’t! It wasn’t me!” She was sobbing. “I didn’t hurt her! It was someone else! It’s not my fault!” She was hysterical. “Let me go! Let me go! Please! Mamma needs me, you see!”
“Quit making a scene and just go, Cadence,” says one of the other girls. “You’ve got no choice.”
Cadence, still sobbing, is now being dragged. The guard appears not to have feelings. I feel bad for him. I could never do something that horrific to someone younger than me. Did he want to, or did he go to bed every night hating himself?
“Let’s pack away Cadence’s things,” says Lily. “Miss Moore will want them.”
“But she may come back, right?”
“Right, and I’m the queen of England,” says a girl of about fifteen, the same that had rushed Cadence two minutes ago. “You must be new.”
“So what if I am?” She agitated me.
Lily gave me a look that clearly meant Catherine, shut up.
“Oh, so she thinks she’s better than us, huh?”
“No, Maia, Catherine didn’t mean to say…”
“Yes, I did.”
Everyone’s staring at me.
And then the same guard comes for me. I don’t even try to struggle. “Once again, smart,” he says. I go down a long hallway, ending in a room that I know will not be a good room. There is a grey chair I am clearly supposed to sit in. There are two tall people in suits. They scrutinize me.
“Are you a witch?” one asks.
“No,” I say.
“Then why did you hurt Molly Summers?”
“All evidence points to you.”
“I didn’t do anything!”
Suddenly, I see something long, and a flash of pain.
“Are you a witch?”
“No, I’m not!”
“Answer me honestly.”
“I swear to you I’m not!”
He starts to hit me multiple times.
“Say yes, confess, and I’ll let you go.”
I consider my options. Saying yes would be really easy, confessing…
“No. I’m not.”
I can’t let Lily down. Not now.
“All right, I’m…”
He looks at me expectantly.
That was not the right thing to say.
I didn’t even realize I was screaming. The pain just got worse, excruciatingly worse. I couldn’t struggle against it-all I could do was just scream, hoping the pain went away.
“ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT! I DID IT!”
What did I just say?
I am suddenly angrier at myself then I have ever been.
“I did it! Let me go! Please let me go!”
I am praying in my heart for deliverance from this torture chamber.
Catherine, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
That’s not my voice speaking, it’s Lily’s. She would be so disappointed I had succumbed to their promptings.
The second tall man looks at me approvingly. “Yes, finally honest. You’re the first to confess.”
Was I? So Prudence and Lily had said no no matter what they did?
There was no taking it back. I was going to be burnt.
I only had days.
And I did not want to be in prison for them, no, I wanted to be home,
Running across the yard one more time,
But, you have not yet had your trial!
I hated that little glimmer of hope. It made me hope too much.
Panting, I collapse into my corner. I am breathing heavily, and I just want to cry myself to sleep.
“Hey, Catherine!” Lily says, sitting next to me. “Did you let them get to ya? I’ll bet you didn’t! Did you win?”
I start sobbing.
“You let them win, didn’t you?” she says. “Did you tell them you did it?”
I nod yes.
“Oh, Catherine,” she says, the same voice she would use to address a four-year-old. “You should’nt have done—“
“I KNOW I SHOULDN’T HAVE DONE IT! But I did! And now I’m going to die for it!”
She just lets me cry. She doesn’t try to console me. This is one of the reasons she differs from Lisa. Lisa would have said, “It’s okay, it’s okay, nothing’s going to happen to you.”
Lily’s like a stone wall. She can be happy no matter what you throw at her. She’ll always have unbreakable optimism.
I pitied her at that moment, probably torn from her house, persecuted, tortured, and yet she still wore a smile?
Indeed, there she was, drawing little flowers in the dirt on the prison wall.
“Hey, Catherine! Help me draw a lily!”
So I did. She looked at it in awe.
“That’s such a pretty texture!” she says, smiling. “It’s perfect for my flower garden!”
I look where she’s pointing. Of course, etched into the prison wall, an endless expanse of daisies and bluebells. “One for each day,” she says, sighing. “Three months, times thirty days…”
“Ninety flowers,” I say. “Wow.”
That must mean she’d been here since September. This was her fourth month?
“Oh, and I forgot to add the last days. One extra for October, and one today.”
Lisa would have drawn stars, I knew. Stars. One for every day.
“ I know a story about a meadow,” I say. “Would you like to hear it?”
“Oh, yes! Momma never had time for stories!”
At the moment, the pot of Greyslop got passed to us. Dinner, I knew.
I tried to eat again. I tried very hard to get how bad it tasted out of my head.
Chapter 6: Naomi
Lily began her own story before I could start mine. “Once, there was a girl who everybody banished….”
“….all she had to eat was Greyslop…” Me.
“And then the girl, her name was Naomi….” Lily.
“Naomi realized she was the rightful heir to the throne….” Me.
“And she wore a pretty blue dress…” Me.
“And she met a handsome prince…” Lily.
“And his name was Carson…” Me.
“And Carson didn’t know Naomi was a princess…” Lily.
“….but he loved her anyway.”
“And then an evil witch didn’t want that?”
I turn. That was not Lily’s voice.
It was another girl’s. One of about twelve. With brown hair and brown eyes.
“Hi, Calamity! Do you wanna join the story?”
She lit up. I sensed they hadn’t had any remembrances of home in five months.
“And…” I pressed.
“And….she tried to take Carson away,” said Calamity.
“But there was magic that kept them together!” squealed Lily happily. “Right, Catherine?”
“All right, magic, then.”
“And so the evil witch disguised as Naomi,” I whispered.
“And, and she went to Carson’s house,” she said in a tiny voice.
“And she said ‘Come, my love, let us run away,” said Lily.
“And Carson said ‘No way!’” said Calamity.
“Because…” I said.
Lily lit up. “Because she didn’t have Love’s Glow?”
“Love’s Glow?” asked Calamity.
Lily smiled. “Yes, Love’s Glow. When you love someone, you seem to glow. Your cheeks glow red and your smile glows too! At least that’s what happened for Penny.”
“My older sister,” says Lily. “My parents, too.”
“So, she didn’t have Love’s Glow,” I say.
“And Carson realized she was evil.” Lily.
“And he banished her to the closet,” said Calamity.
“And all she had to eat was Greyslop,” said Lily.
“Lights out!” came the harsh voice.
“And a bear came into the dungeon…” whispered another girl I recognized as Tara.
“…and ate her!” said Calamity gleefully.
“Go to bed,” I laugh.
“Catherine?” said Calamity.
“Watch out for the cockroach.”
“Okay, I will.”
And as I lay my head down, the stone floor wasn’t as hard, and it wasn’t as cold. I put all thoughts of my trial out of my head.
I imagined I was Naomi, and someday I would be rescued.
But not by a handsome prince.
The odds of that were low.
That night I dreamed.
I dreamed I was running across the lawn, Lisa tailing me. And, it suddenly caught fire. Lisa was screaming. It was her or me. One of us had to run through. The flames were edging up my favorite oak tree. They were blocking our way both out and in to home.
“Catherine, no, don’t!”
“Lisa, get out! Get out of here!”
“I’m not going, I’m not!”
“Go. Please, go.”
Lisa grabbed my hand.
“Lisa, stop it! Let go!”
“I’m not going to.”
“I don’t want to kill you, too. Let go.”
“Let me go, it’s okay. I’m ready.”
And she let my hand loose.
And I ran.
The flames were so hot, it was almost like being baked. I searched for a way out, a little sliver of light.
I was dying; I felt it.
And I woke up….
“Is she okay?”
I opened my eyes, writhing, searching for the fire, searching for Lisa, searching for anyone…
“Catherine, calm down!”
“Lily. Am I—is she—“
“You’re okay. What were you talking about?”
“You were sleeping. I heard something like, ‘Lisa, don’t go! Stop it!’ Who’s Lisa?”
I sat up.
“When did you wake up?”
“We all heard you, and thought you were sick,” confessed Calamity.
“Merry Christmas, Catherine!”
Christmas breakfast: Greyslop.
Christmas Lunch: Greyslop.
Christmas Dinner: Turkey.
Just kidding, it was Greyslop.
Lily was shivering as we got ready for bed. It was too cold for her, most definitely too cold. We were freezing.
I imagined what Mum and Lisa were doing. Singing. Listening to the radio, curled up in Christmas blankets…. Eating gingerbread….my vacant stocking….
“Do you know if Santa will come?” asked Calamity.
“No,” said Lily. “Santa doesn’t give anything to prisoners.”
“What do you want?” I asked Calamity.
And so I set to work. I took one of my old dresses Mom had made me take.
My execution dress. She feared the worst.
And I sewed until dawn, and I put it under her head, and she awakened, and you should have seen the look.
“It’s soft!v It’s soft! It’s even cloth! It’s cloth,” she started to cry for happiness, “real cloth!”
“Calamity!” said Lily. “True Love’s Glow!” And she was right.
And Calamity said.
“Yes, of course! Santa must love me!”
I said, “Yes of course!” as I tried to hide the fact I had made it for her. “And look what’s in it!”
“A candy cane!” shrieked Calamity. “Here, all the girls can have some!”
As I chewed on peppermint, I was unaware that today I would be tried.
And I would be guilty of witchcraft.
“Lily, let me go up!”
“Catherine, how can they do this?”
“It’s okay. Let me up.”
“Yes, you can. This is my fight. No need to worry. I’ll be all right.”
This was what she had meant in her dream.
Let me go. Let me go. I’m ready. Trust me.
I can’t believe it. It’s as if the world has crashed down on me.
I see Catherine being led up, and the long wooden stake, and her family.
They all look like her. They all have brown hair and blue eyes. There are three. One is holding a tissue, and looks about forty. Her mum.
One is holding one lone daisy to bury her with. She’s barely as high as my waist.
That must be Lisa.
And her dad. He’s solemn. He just stands.
I don’t want to cry yet. She still has hope of getting out of here.
She searches the crowd for me. She looks as if she is the saddest she has ever been.
Which she probably is.
She tries to muster a weak smile.
The minister looks so happy.
I want to yell, “QUIT LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT! MY BEST FRIEND IS DYING!”
And yet nobody cares.
Nobody knows that this is Catherine’s last flower.
She’s folding her hands. A prayer.
And the flames leap at her.
She stares at us, desperate, a silent scream for help, for a friend, for someone…
We all stare at her sadly.
She looks at me. She mouths It’s too hard.
I mouth back, Pray.
I can’t do it.
Her face is contorted with pain now, and her blue dress is waist high in flames.
“Forgive me!” she says. “Forgive me! The wrong I have done to you I do not know, but please forgive me of it!”
She hadn’t done anything.
You’ll never know how hard it is to watch an innocent girl burn, eyes wide with fear is the flames reach her shoulders.
“Forgive me!” she says again. “Please.”
And the flames engulf her and I cannot hear any more.
And the fire just burns, continues immovable, undeniable, unstoppable.
Her hands are blackened.
When they take her out they put her down.
And her hands are blackened.
And she looks so scared.
That look on her face is frozen into her forever.
And no one mourns.
Except her family and I. We cry, we say goodbye.
And they put her down in the ground.
And I miss her.
So I run into the dungeon to sob, and no one interrupts.
Then I look at her lily, the one she had drawn, and I trace it with my hands.
And then I see her.
I think it might be an illusion, but I could have sworn I saw her face.
She was wearing a white dress and she was smiling and her hands weren’t black.
She looked at me.
And she was telling a story to Cadence now, dead Cadence, smiling, making funny hand gestures.
Then she smiled at me and I knew what she said even though she didn’t say it.
“For what?” I ask.
Helping me be brave.
“I didn’t do anything!”
She just smiles.
She’s evaporating into the air now, nothing but a white blur.
And then they’ve got me.
And I know it’s because of what I said.
And there’s the stake and the priest and the flames.
But someone is there invisibly, reassuring me.
It’s much better up here.
The pain will be over, just bear through it, he’ll let you up.
And I am being pulled up to heaven.
And it’s a cobbled street of gold and I am in no pain, and I see a familiar tall brunette figure running to me with her arms outstretched.
She laughs. “I thought you’d never come!”