[A short story by Abe Van Luik, written in the eraly 1990's because I wanted to lift myself out of a rather depressed state after reading a rather accurate account of witch trials, their methods and results]
That metallic taste. There is taste sensation in every part of me and
it is tasting blood, contaminated with iron, brass, soot. That noise,like
I am under water and bubbles are screaming past from a deep, menacing,roaring
throat below. That wave of darkness that floods up and down in my body, dulling
pain as it rises. And when the waving darkness ebbs I see the townspeople
in the square, leering, staring, laughing, eating,drinking, jeering until
the pain again becomes unbearable and the darkness rises again with the noise:
a roaring mist!
I feel to scream a warning as I see the fleeting shadow of a pickpocket
behind a well dressed man. But then I suppress my urge to sound a warning,
I realize that well dressed man is, after all, laughing with his companions
and cheering on someone very near me.
That stench of burning again, a delicious aroma of roasting meat accompanied
by a flash of excruciating pain that is itself immediately overpowered by
the rising wave of darkness and the roaring bubbles. I fall. I fall out of
myself. I lie there and look at me, amazed. Amazed because it takes me a moment
to realize that skinny, filthy, broken, bloody, smoking, disgusting thing
is me. Amazed because all sound is gone, and because light is all around but
has nothing to do with sun or clouds or fire.
There is a man wearing a cape and a hood waving metal tools in the air.
He is so close I think I need to slink away but I am petrified a sin a bad
dream. He is near a fire in which more tools lay. He places his tools in the
fire and picks up others, red hot. He waves them to the crowd in the village
square: they roar. He turns around and uses the heated implements to tear
and scorch an area of my body that must be where my ample breasts had once
allegedly defied gravity.
I remembered that it was many months ago that I walked proudly into
the inquisitor's office, sure of my piety and cleanness in the eyes of God
and sure that God would reach out and defend me against all slander and evil.
I had been told it was necessary to examine me to determine if indeed I had
had contact with Satan. This was so ludicrous to me that I had said they could
examine all they wanted but would never find any mark of that Arch Fiend upon
The women who first examined me said nothing while they pinched and
pried into every conceivable part of me. I was truly horrified thereafter
when the men of the court were brought in to see the results of their search:
my whole body was exposed to them. My hands were tied and pulled up via a
pulley in the ceiling. The women declared I was about their age, and had obviously
traded my soul in exchange for a Satanic promise of an ever young body. Why,
I had all my teeth and they were all white! Proof in and of itself, apparently.
The men looked at these women and then at me and seemed to be trying hard
to look very wise. I felt like kicking them through the thick stone walls
that were drawing every bit of heat and will out of my body as I hung there
in my embarrassment.
Then one of the women pointed to my ample and firm breasts and said
they defied gravity by enchantment. One of the women blushed and looked straight
at the ground as she bared her own breasts to the inquisitorial band and showed
how an ample breast should look at my age. A man came over and put his hand
on my left breast and roughly pushed it down to look more like the standard that
was being set for it. He released it and as it bounced up the woman who had
briefly displayed herself shrieked in horror and ran out saying she could
feel evil coming out of me as the man touched me. All the men except one came
over then and tried their exorcising touch. The remaining man stood with his
lips silent but moving, and his eyes tightly closed. I watched him as I felt
myself repeatedly failing the Satanic tests, and fervently hoped he was praying
That was the last day I had seen direct sunlight until this day, a full
three seasons later. My historical reverie was interrupted when the caped
man stopped his burning and twisting of parts of me and laid down his tools.
He lifted my head by the little hair that remained after most of it was so
crudely shorn and the remainder more cruelly pulled out. I felt like rising
up and striking him, but I didn't want him to know I had fallen out of my
body and lay just behind him. I was afraid he would see me and reach down
to again practice his surgical procedures on this other me. He was a surgeon,
skillful at destroying bodies in such a manner as to assure their errant inhabiting
souls stayed to endure their God-prescribed punishments. Punishments publicly
performed to send an instructive warning to believers. Unrepentent lost souls
such as mine would never receive Divine pardon or spiritual healing, I had
I was this surgeon's patient, except it had all been a ghastly mistake,
my soul was fine. Oh no! As he splashes cold water on what I believe to be
my face, the sound of roaring bubbles returns as does the shadow of darkness,
and just as I see murkily through previously dead eyes and begin to hear deafening
throaty noises through previously dead ears, I begin to again see bright sunlight
just in time to see the approach of what looks like a hand. An immense pressure
and then searing pain where that fleeting light had been. What remains of
my hearing suggests the crowd is going wild, and I blithely wonder what I
missed that was so exciting.
I again drown in the bubbles and am overwhelmed by the darkness, and
fall once more out of my self. This time I sit calmly and look over the crowd.
I see my neighbor, a widow, and by her side I see my husband. I see my daughter
turned away from me, with her head over her father's shoulder and buried in
his neck. I briefly long to bury my own head in his neck for comfort. The
crowd again roars and I turn to see men applying their torches to the wood
that I have been standing on. I watch with faint interest as I am engulfed
in smoke first and then flames. I smile to myself: I realize they don't know
I am sitting here, looking at them looking at the flames and smoke consuming
what was once me.
My neighbor accused me of casting a spell and killing her husband with
a long, lingering illness. My husband stood by me, but felt obligated to volunteer
at some point that when we were first wed and I turned every village man's
head, he was always troubled by the nagging fear I had a lover. When they
crushed my feet in their blocks while asking me questions about who my lover
was, I erred and said I had never had any mortal man for a lover except for
my husband. Somehow this was interpreted to mean I acknowledged having had
a lover who was not a mortal man.
And my lovely little six year old daughter told of how one summer night
when her father was away on an errand for our landlord, she was awakened by
a scary sound in the middle of the night. She shivered with fright this warm
night as she crawled across the room and into my bed to sleep with me. When
she pulled the covers back she was delighted by a squirrel who groggily scampered
from the foot of the bed past my head and finally, lazily, jumped into the
window sill and out of the house. She had told this story all over the neighborhood.
She repeated it for the inquisitors who nodded gravely and wrote it down:
that squirrel in my bed, whom I do not remember, was my lover the Devil in
a clever disguise designed to not alarm a child!
I smile to myself recalling that child of mine, far below me, comfortably
and safely on her father's shoulder. I realize I am looking at and seeing
only a memory, so I turn around. But I see no people, no town square, no stake
with smoldering embers. I let out a terrible shriek of surprise, of fear,
and as the shriek tears away from me I watch it turn into love. Love emanates
from me and in my mind I wrap it around the last images I had glimpsed of
my husband and daughter. For a split second I have a horrible feeling: I just
realize my husband, daughter, and neighbor were standing close together and
looked like a family. I try to deny the feeling but then relent and know with
certitude these two were lovers and had conspired to remove me, and I feel
myself disconnecting from my emanation of love as if a cold wind comes between
me and a warm fire.
But I grab for that fleeting strand of emanating love and pump it full
again and surround all three in my mind and attempt to force myself to sincerely
wish them well. I succeed: after all, I know I am not a witch and that God
loves me and will soon come for me. And I think that when these two people
face that same God sometime in the future, they will see an all consuming
fire of a very differing sort, and suffer eternal torment. I shudder at the
thought and warm myself by generating compassion until it overflows, and I
pour out my soul in prayer: "Oh, God, have mercy on them! They have sinned
against me but I readily forgive them. Can you not do the same?"
I feel myself falling again. I hear the roaring bubbles again. What
now? I am dead. Am I to die a second time?
Light, love, I feel them. I see them. I am engulfed in them. I cast
no shadow. There is no part of me that is not light. There is no part of me
that is not love. I cry out: "Oh my God, I can feel thy presence, reveal thyself
to me!" Just as I feel I am about to be consumed as a twig in a conflagration,
I feel a voice speak within me: "I have always been present in you, I have
always revealed myself to you, for I am you and you are me." I stand for a
moment transfixed between two strong pulls: one to return to my mind and analyze
this profound and disturbingly heretical notion, the other to fall into a
swoon, surrender, and disintegrate into the totally overpowering arms, heart
and body of my soul's eternal and omnipotent lover: Love, which is God!
I surrender. I swoon. I sink into my lover and in a momentary flame
of blinding ecstasy. I am finally and utterly consumed. That which I truly
am falls out. What I had thought I once was melted and burned away in Love's
fire. Nothing remains of me but that which I have always been and ever will
be: Love. I am home. I am.
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