Two young girls sat across from each other on the floor of a tidy, sparsely-decorated room on the top floor of an austere wooden house. Lying between them was a small cup with cloth wrapped around its handle, resting over a candle flame and slowly starting to grow hot. Next to their small circle were two bowls; one was empty while the other contained two eggs filched from the chicken coop. One of the girls, a shy little thing of about nine years old, was fiddling with the end of her bonnet ribbon and chewing on her bottom lip.
“Are you quite certain we should be doing this?” she asked with a slightly shaking voice. “What if we are discovered?”
Her companion lifted her eyes from the makeshift cauldron in order to give her a stern look. “Of course I’m certain, Betty, don’t be so timid!” she said. “Your parents are both gone, Thomas is at school, and Tituba will be too busy minding Susannah to come check on us; none will be the wiser.”
“Yes, I know, but...” Betty shifted her weight off of one of her legs and onto the other and glanced towards the closed door. “Please, Abby, Father would be most vexed if he knew what you wished to do.”
Abby clenched her jaw into a stubborn set as she turned her attention back to the contraption sitting before her. “Well he’s always vexed with me for something, whether I’ve done wrong or not, so I don’t see why I should not have some harmless fun regardless!” she boldly declared before tentatively dipping a finger into the water. Whatever she found must have displeased her, as she scowled deeply and withdrew her hand.
Betty sighed, loudly and morosely. Abby was her cousin and had lived with them for as long as she could remember. The two of them were constant playmates, which Betty rather enjoyed, since her older brother was always too busy with the other boys to have time for her and her younger sister was still little more than a baby. But sometimes Abby would get these strange ideas for games they weren’t really allowed to play and make Betty go along with them, and usually both of them ended up punished for it by Betty’s father. And Betty would try to talk her out of them, but Abby was three years older than her, so she was quite bossy and wouldn’t listen.
She leaned back as carefully considered her cousin, who was absentmindedly tucking back the stray locks of red hair that had been falling into her face ever since she’d discarded her bonnet at the door. Betty’s mother would have scolded Abby for letting her hair fall free like that, and in fact quite often did, but still Abby never changed her ways. Betty just didn't understand how one could go through life always being so contrary, so disobedient; children were meant to mind God and their elders, that was simply the way things were supposed to be!
Abby cared little for the way things should be, though. And nothing Betty did could change that.
Betty let out another sigh, this one sounding more defeated than anything else. “Can you explain again what this… thing is supposed to be?” She gestured to the strange array of objects that Abby had lugged up to her room.
Abby sat up straight again and spared her younger cousin a quick glance before pulling a sheet of parchment out from underneath her legs. “It’s called a Venus Glass,” she said offhandedly while squinting at the paper. It was an odd piece, ripped at one end, that Abby had found two days ago blowing next to the road, miraculously undamaged from the wetness of the snow. It depicted a diagram set up much like the one in front of them now and a bunch of strange instructions that Abby had gotten very excited about. “It’ll let us find out what sort of man our future husbands will be… If the water ever heats up.”
Betty couldn’t help but feel a little bit curious about the whole affair, even with the voice in her head that kept telling her they should stop. “But what are the eggs for?”
“We’ll crack them in the hot water and then look at the shapes we see in the yolks,” Abby explained, sounding effortlessly confident. “Those shapes will indicate what occupation our future husbands will have. It’s called Oomancy, predictions by egg.”
Betty furrowed her brow. “Abby, this sounds much like… witchcraft.” That last word out came out in a fearful whisper.
Abby sighed and set her paper aside before crossing her hands in her lap and giving Betty an indulgent smile. “Tell me, Betty, are you going to invite the devil into your heart?”
Betty gasped indignantly. “Heavens, no!” Her father was the preacher, for God’s sake!
Abby nodded and pressed on. “And do you think that I intend to invite the devil into my heart?” Betty only thought for a moment before she slowly shook her head. Abby continued, “well then, since your father, who is a Reverend, says that witchcraft is what happens when you invite the devil into your heart, and neither of us intends to do so, how can we be doing witchcraft?”
“I… I suppose we’re not,” Betty replied slowly, thinking through her cousin’s logic. “But… I’m not sure that he would see it that way.”
“And he shall never know!” Abby declared. “Now, hopefully this has had enough time…” she stuck her finger into the tiny pot once more and this time when she made contact she hissed and quickly drew it back. The water appeared to be actually boiling, despite its only heat source being a candle. Abby grinned before removing the cup from its stand, pausing to blow out the flame of the candle. “Hold the eggs for a moment?” she asked, and Betty complied, taking the fragile white objects into her hands. Abby then separated the two bowls and poured half of the heated water into each one.
“Egg?” Abby held out her hand and Betty rushed to supply her with one. Once they’d both settled in front of their respective bowls, Abby met Betty’s gaze. Betty could see the spark of barely contained excitement in her eyes. “Do you wish to do the honors or shall I?”
“You go,” Betty said quickly.
“Very well.” From her grin, Betty could tell that this was what she’d preferred. She expected Abby to crack the egg into the bowl, as she’d said they would, but instead, her cousin took it and began rubbing it over the skin of her arms. Betty watched the strange ritual for a minute before she was unable to stop herself from asking, “What are you doing?”
“This allows the egg to familiarize itself with you before you ask it your future,” Abby explained, moving to rub the egg over her face.
Betty furrowed her brow. “Do I have to do that?” She would feel quite silly rubbing an egg on herself.
Abby rolled her eyes. “Only if you want it to work.” Betty sighed again.
When Abby had decided the egg was familiar enough with her to do its job now, she rearranged herself into a comfortable position and then finally tapped her egg against the edge of the bowl. She then carefully separated the two halves of the shell and dumped its contents into the water. Then she said in a slow, important voice pitched lower than usual,
“Spirit of the egg, I ask thee to reveal the form of my future happiness. Show me what tidings my fates have in store.”
Betty held her breath as she watched her cousin lean down over the water, a look of utmost concentration on her face. Slowly the liquid whites of the egg started to solidify from the heat, and the wispy tendrils started to drift around by the force of the slight current in the bowl. It remained in a strange, undefined shape that didn’t look different from what one would expect a cracked egg in hot water to be. There certainly weren’t any obvious portents for the future within it.
After a minute of silence, she couldn’t help but ask, “Did it work?”
"Hush!” Abby snapped, frowning at the contents of the bowl. “The instructions said you should see the forms after the egg whites had hardened…” she muttered.
After another pause, Betty couldn’t help but fidget impatiently and say, “All I see is a wispy blob.”
Abby huffed loudly and sat up again, crossing her arms. “Try yours,” she commanded tersely. “Perhaps I got a bit of eggshell in it; the notes said that that could keep it from working.”
Betty wanted to say that she thought the problem was with the whole idea, and not any bits of eggshell, but she also didn’t want to get into a row with Abby today; her cousin was not much fun when she was moody. So she begrudgingly obliged, lifting her egg from her lap and moving to crack it on the edge of the bowl.
“You’ve got to rub it over your skin first!”
Betty did her best to repress a groan, but moved to comply, feeling quite foolish as she ran the egg’s shell quickly over both her arms and swiped it once across her cheeks. Then she finally tapped the fragile shell against the hard edge of the ceramic and poured out its contents into the water.
“Quick now, say the incantation!”
“Oh, yes. How did it go?” Abby rolled her eyes but repeated the words for her and Betty recited them. Then both girls leaned forwards and bent their foreheads low over the bowl. When very much the same thing happened, Betty started to say,
“I don’t think—”
But Abby held up her hand and hissed, “Look !”
Betty looked down and almost couldn’t believe her eyes; the egg in the bowl was starting to break apart into three clumps that were shaped in a curious manner. Two of them looked like random forms, but one of them bore a striking resemblance to a shoe.
Betty could feel the blood drain from her face and suddenly found it difficult to breath. She shrank back from the bowl, filled with an undeniable sense of dread. This was surely not right. It shouldn’t be working at all, should it?
Abby leaned forwards and eagerly pointed to the separate blobs of egg yolk. “Well that one certainly looks like a shoe, so perhaps he’s a cobbler? And in this one, I sort of see a boat, if you think of this part up here as a sail… Perhaps he’s a sailor. For this last one, I’m not sure… perhaps some land with furroughs in it? A farmer? What do you see?” She looked up at her cousin, her face flushed with excitement, but when she saw Betty’s posture and pale countenance, she frowned. “What’s the matter, Betty? Do you not like what you see?”
“We need to dump this out and put these things away,” Betty said, unable to keep a slight tremble out of her voice. “Abby, I really think this might be witchcraft!”
“Nonsense, Betty, I already told you…” Abby paused and frowned, tilting her head to one side. “Do you hear that?”
Sure enough, Betty could make out the unmistakable sound of footsteps quickly mounting the staircase. She gasped loudly and looked at Abby in alarm. It was too late for them to hide their game, so the two of them scrambled upright. Betty attempted to smooth out her skirt while Abby stepped between the evidence of their misbehavior and the door. Moments later the door was pushed open by Betty’s father, who was breathing heavily and red in the cheeks.
He was an imposing man, with broad shoulders, thick dark hair, a prominent nose, and a personality of such force that when he was preaching, he could fill the whole church with his passion and fervor. His eyes quickly took in the evidence of their play, and his features instantly hardened. His jaw clenched and he lowered his brows into an expression Betty well recognized; it was the terrible one he usually reserved for denouncing sinners in his sermons. “Abigail. Elizabeth,” he said, his voice low and hard. “Please tell me that I am mistaken about the nature of the ritual you’ve been performing.”
Betty hated when her father got like this; she would sometimes close her eyes during the church services so she didn’t have to see him with that angry, terrifying expression. Now, when it was focused entirely on her and her cousin, she found herself much too terrified to speak.
Abby was not quite so timid, however; she straightened her back and lifted her chin in a way that was clearly defiant. “It’s not witchcraft, Uncle, if that is what you’re thinking. It’s simply harmless fun—”
“This is not harmless!” With sudden purpose and conviction, Betty’s father strode across the room towards the remnants of their game. “This is fortune telling, and fortunes are the work of the Devil! Man should have no prior knowledge of what God has in store. You two have been practicing witchcraft under my roof!” With great force, he kicked his foot out and knocked over the bowls, spilling their contents across the wooden floor.
Betty couldn’t help but let out a sharp cry of distress, but Abby just watched, silent and stone-faced.
“You are both in serious trouble! Not only with me in this earthly realm, but with the Heavenly Father!” her father continued, giving them each a harsh glare while his nostrils flared. “Elizabeth, you should have known better than to let the Devil tempt you, even if he came in the form of your cousin.” Betty shrank away from his gaze, feeling her cheeks burn with shame and tears begin to prick at her eyes. “And, Abigail…” When his eyes fixed on his niece, he pressed his lips into a thin line, and his voice came out clipped. “May the Lord give me strength to forgive you for bringing the Devil into my home.”
Abby simply stood there, meeting his gaze without flinching. She never would let herself show fear or be humbled by someone’s authority, be it Betty’s parents, the elders of Salem, or God himself. Betty had always thought that that was one of her most admirable and at the same time most worrying traits, for while Betty herself sometimes wished she could find the strength not to be so afraid of the punishments they were threatened with, she also knew that those who refused to mind the rules and do what they should were always made miserable in the end.
“I see no fault in my actions,” she declared. “Perhaps you should re-examine your understanding of the nature of witchcraft!”
Betty knew Abby had gone too far, her accusation was too bold. She fully expected her father to launch himself into a furious speech full of fire and brimstone and damnation for Abby’s soul if she should not repent. It was what he always did when confronted with the sinners in the church, after all. What she could not have anticipated was the almost unnatural stillness that overtook his posture and the solemn, hair-raising tone his voice took on.
“And do you claim to have an understanding on the nature of witchcraft?”
At last Betty saw Abby’s bravado falter, as she perhaps realized she’d gone too far. “Nay, Uncle, that’s not what I meant to—”
“Enough!” Betty’s father roared, his anger breaking through again. He wheeled back on Betty and said shortly, “go to your room, child. And so that you have plenty of time to pray to the Lord for forgiveness, you’ll not have supper tonight, nor breakfast tomorrow.”
Betty couldn’t help but whimper slightly, and one of the tears that had been welling up finally started to trace down her cheek, but she nodded and tried to appear as repentful as she could.
“Now !” Her father bellowed, and she didn’t hesitate to scramble away to the door. As she was exiting she heard the words he directed at her poor cousin: “And as far as you go, obstinate girl. I shall do what I should have done long ago, and drive the devil out of your soul!”
Betty chanced a glance backwards as the door to the room closed behind her. The last thing she saw was the slight quivering of her cousin’s firmly set jaw.
Betty’s punishment was not as harsh as it could have been, given the nature of her sin. She’d cried alone for a few hours, solemnly prayed for a few more, and then laid herself in bed and managed to ignore the pangs of hunger long enough to fall into slumber. No one interrupted her all evening, although at one point just outside her door she’d heard Tituba tell Susannah not to come into her room, as Betty was being punished with solitude. The next morning, her mother had woken her without smiling and told her to get up and washed, and that she was to join the family at the breakfast table, although she would not be allowed to eat.
Still feeling wretched about the events of yesterday, she’d done what her mother asked with unprecedented promptness and was soon taking her place in her accustomed seat at the polished oak table in their dining room. Betty sat with her eyes downcast and her hands folded in her lap, and paid mind not to slouch her shoulders or swing her legs. The rest of her family arrived to fill their seats as well, save for the one to Betty’s right that Abby usually took.
Her father cleared his throat, signaling that he was about to start the prayer that would begin their meal, and Betty frowned; they were supposed to wait until everyone was present, that was the rule. However, she knew she was still in trouble from the events yesterday, so she fought the urge to speak out of turn. And she was successful for as long as it took her father to get through their customary Grace, but once he’d finished and begun to eat, she couldn’t help but ask,
“Please, Father, where is Abby?”
Her father clenched his jaw and his Adam’s apple bobbed visibly. Then he responded coolly, “She is still being punished, as are you, so you would do well not to speak of her further.”
Betty nodded and looked down at the empty place before her, and a strange feeling of dread seeped into her bones. For some reason, she had the feeling that whatever Abby’s punishment was, it was far worse than going hungry for a day. But then again, her father wouldn’t punish Abby too horribly, would he? She was his only niece, after all, and he was a pastor. He wouldn’t be unnecessarily cruel… she hoped.
Abby didn’t appear for the rest of the day, and Betty was too afraid to ask about her again. It wasn’t until the next morning when she saw Tituba mounting the stairs to the attic and carrying a small tray of food that she figured out where her cousin was. Later, when no one was looking, she climbed up the stairs herself, and found the door to the attic firmly padlocked shut. She tried calling out for Abby a few times, but the only response she got was a shuffling sound and what sounded like faint whimpers. She would have called out again, but she’d heard Thomas shouting for her downstairs and didn’t want to get caught.
For over a week, Abby remained locked away, and no one in the house could mention her without Betty’s father telling them off. Betty tried to speak with her cousin through the door, but after a few days of no response, she gave that up. But finally, ten days after the incident, as Betty had come to think of it, Abby reappeared at the breakfast table.
When she first saw her cousin climb into the chair next to her, Betty couldn’t help but grin. “Abby! You’re back!”
Abby didn’t say anything; she just stared at Betty with a strange, almost hollow expression on her face. Her skin, while it had always been fair, was now nearly ashen in its pallor, causing the freckles on her cheeks to stand out in sharp contrast. No impish grin turned up the corners of her mouth, no playful spark of excitement lit up her eyes; instead, she looked… empty. After a few moments, Betty’s smile faltered and she looked down at her plate. “It’s nice to see you again,” she mumbled softly. Abby’s only response was to make a faint, strangled noise from the back of her throat.
They spoke no more during the meal. Abby spoke to no one, actually, and spent the whole meal avoiding anyone’s eyes and shoving her food around her plate, hardly eating at all. When they were dismissed from the table, Abby nearly bolted from the room, and Betty quickly followed after her.
“Abby! Abby, wait!” She caught up to her cousin in the hallway and reached out for her arm. Abby visibly flinched when Betty touched her, so Betty quickly released her and took a step back. “Abby, what’s wrong? Your punishment is over now, we can go back to playing.”
Abby stared at her for a long moment, her eyes swimming with many emotions that flashed by too fast for Betty to place, before taking a step back and saying coldly, “Leave me alone, Betty. I don’t wish to play with you any longer.” Before Betty could say anything else, she’d turned away and mounted the staircase, retreating to her room.
So Abby was just as shut up as before, only in her bedroom this time. Nothing Betty did or said could induce her to talk or open her door, so she had to go and do her chores by herself and spend the day with Tituba and Susannah. At supper, Abby was just as silent as before, and no one commented on it.
As she put herself to bed that night, Betty pondered her cousin’s strange behavior. She knew it must have something to do with being kept in the attic for so long, but beyond that, she couldn’t see the reason. Whatever it was, though, there was no reason that it should keep them from resuming their normal activity, and so she firmly resolved that when the next day came, she would do whatever it took to get through to Abby. There just had to be a way to fix whatever was wrong!
Thus determined, she allowed herself to drift off into a deep slumber. Usually she would sleep through the night until morning, but for some reason, she found herself suddenly awakened in the pitch black of night. Judging by the pale moonlight flickering through the tiny cracks of her shutters, it was well before the dawn.
Betty rubbed her eyes and sat up, looking around her room for the source of her disturbance; perhaps the cat had gotten in? She peered through the darkness, trying to discern any movement… Just there, in the shadow next to her wardrobe! She could make out some form, moving slowly. It was difficult to tell in the near pitch-blackness, but it almost looked as though the shadows themselves were moving…
“He-hello?” she stammered, clutching at her blankets and pulling them into her chest. “Mittens? Is that you?” The floorboards creaked, the sound echoing in the stillness of the night, and she flinched. “Come on out, kitty…” She could feel her body start to tremble as she was overcome with the undeniable sense that something was watching her.
Finally something really did move out of the shadows. Betty could feel the air in the room shift, and one of her shutters blew open. The being was suddenly bathed in moonlight. What she saw made Betty gasp in shock, and she wasn’t entirely sure she wasn’t having some terrible nightmare. For it was no person or animal that moved towards her out of the shadows, but a strange dark mass made of shadowy tendrils that rippled through the air, floating almost gracefully until it came to a stop at the foot of her bed. As she peered inside of it, she could see flashes of a hot red light flicker and then disappear. It was truly otherworldly.
“What are you?” she whispered, the words almost catching in her suddenly dry throat.
The thing made no reply, and Betty found herself too afraid to try again. Instead she held herself motionless as the… apparition, or whatever it was, drifted around her bedroom, almost lazily. After a minute or two of just watching it, however, Betty found herself growing slightly emboldened by its lack of a threatening demeanor, and so she cast her blankets aside and ever so slowly pushed herself forward so that she was perched on the edge of her bed. Surely this wasn’t a creature of hell, or it would have tried to harm her already, right?
The thing’s tendrils seemed to retreat into itself slightly and Betty got the impression that it had turned to face her, but it made no other movement, continuing to float ethereally in the moonlight as a brittle silence settled over the room.
“Am I dreaming?” she breathed out after another event-less minute. Slowly she lifted up one pale, shaking hand towards the center of the darkness, wondering if it would let her touch it, if it was solid enough to be touched. Betty watched, fascinated, as her fingers brushed lightly against one of the wisps of shadow, and it yielded to her. It had the strangest texture; she'd never touched velvet before, but she imagined it might have been something like that. The whole being shuddered slightly at the contact, flashing a few more of the red lights from within.
She looked up at it again, peering through the swirling pieces of smoke-like substance to try and catch a glimpse of whatever was below. From within, she saw some of the tendrils beginning to solidify, to take on a more familiar form. It was almost turning into… a face?
“So you are someone, then…” Betty whispered. “But who?” She waited with bated breath for the creature to reveal its true form, second by second becoming more and more distinct—
Mittens the cat jumped onto Betty’s bed, and she couldn’t help but to shriek loudly and the unexpected intrusion. The swirling black mass jolted back at that sound, and all its serenity was suddenly gone as its tendrils started to whip around the room frantically.
“No, it’s alright!” Betty shouted, to no avail. It should have been impossible since they were inside of the house, but as the thing’s agitation increased, a sudden gust of wind blew around the room, rattling her furniture and sending her belongings flying about. One of the doors of the wardrobe was pulled off its hinges and smacked loudly against the wall, its cracks like thunder. The cat yowled loudly and scampered off of the bed.
“Elizabeth!” She heard her father’s voice call out from elsewhere in the house.
The thing contracted violently and spun in a dark whirlwind towards the window, which suddenly opened and let in the frigid winter air. In its frantic motion, one of its shadowy arms caught Betty across the stomach and by some unknown force threw her off her bed and onto the floor. The breath was knocked out of her lungs when she made contact with the ground and her vision swam for a minute. When the world came back into focus, she saw the last tendril of smoke slip out over the windowsill and disappear into the night.
Not a moment later her door was forcefully thrust open and she saw her father’s furious face illuminated by the flame of a candle. “Elizabeth! What in God’s name are you—” when he saw the state of her room and her form lying prone on the floor, his angry speech was cut short and his expression morphed into one of concern. “Betty, child, what happened in here?”
Betty opened her mouth, ready to explain about the strange apparition, but just as she was about to speak, a mighty shock reverberated through her entire body, causing her to contort wildly. She had absolutely no control over her motion, nor could she form any words. Her chest was pushed up, and then down, and then twisted around as far as she would go, while her arms flailed about helplessly. Her skin started to prickle, and then sting, as if she were being hit by a barrage of needles, and a loud ringing filled her ears. She produced a prolonged, high-pitched scream, until she could not get any breath into her lungs. Her heartbeat echoed in her head like a drum in a military band.
Somehow through her fit she heard the sound of her father’s thunderous voice, full of more fear than she’d ever thought possible from him. “Lord have mercy! Liza! Liza, come quickly! Your child is possessed!” Betty wanted to reach out for him, to run to the safety of his arms, but no amount of willpower could break the grasp of whatever force held her. She couldn’t even turn her head to seek reassurance in his familiar, fatherly form. Tears started to leak out of her eyes and stream down her face. If she’d had any control of her own body, she knew she’d be quaking from terror at having all volition inexplicably stolen from her.
More shouting and then running footsteps came from within the rest of the household, but Betty could not concentrate on that, for now the crazed force was compelling her to twist backwards and push her limbs past the limits of what should have been possible, until she felt she must resemble a broken doll, with its arms snapped backwards and her head on askew. She felt like she was on fire as the pain of contorting so burnt through her limbs and her neck.
Just when she’d begun to think it couldn’t get any more terrifying, she felt the ground beneath her body disappear entirely. She saw the dark wooden slats of the ceiling above her head drawing closer, and closer… she whimpered pathetically, and was unable to even close her eyes.
And then the twisting, terrible energy left her body entirely as quickly as it had come, and she fell to the ground once more. The awful thud of her head hitting the floor jolted her brain, and everything went dark.
“There’s no obvious markings, no signs of a fever, no external damage. She appears to be a healthy child in every way. I apologize, Reverend, but I can find no medical explanation for what you claim occurred.”
“That’s quite alright, Doctor; truthfully, I expected as such. Only one thing I know of could have caused that fit.”
Her father’s statement was followed by a loud, grief-filled wail that sounded like it came from just next to Betty head.
Betty groaned softly as her eyelids fluttered open, and she turned her head towards the sound. She was met with the sight of her mother, still in her nightclothes and hair disheveled, hunched over in a chair while her shoulders shook with sobs.
“Mum?” Her voice came out in a hoarse whisper; as soon as she spoke she became aware of how dry her throat was—like sandpaper.
Her mother lifted her face, and Betty was taken aback at how red and watery her eyes were. When she saw that her daughter was awake, she let out another piercing sob and launched herself forward to envelop Betty in an almost suffocating embrace. Her mother pressed her face tightly into Betty’s hair and through her sobs, Betty could make out her frantic speech:
“My poor, darling child, I feared you were lost to us! Thank Heavens you’re alright, I don’t know what I’d have done if—”
The rest of her words were cut off by the doctor placing his firm hand on her mother’s shoulder. “Pardon me, Madame Parris, but I should like a word with Elizabeth now that she’s awake.”
Betty felt her mother nod and then slowly loosen her grip before returning to her seat. The doctor stood next to her and looked down at Betty with a warm smile on his face and a small furrow in his brow. Behind him, she could see her father leaning against the door frame and scowling.
“Good morning, Elizabeth.” The doctor’s tone was overly bright. “I heard you had quite the episode last night.”
“Is it morning?” Betty frowned and looked around; sure enough the room was now bathed in sunlight.
The doctor chuckled softly. “Well, nearly midday, but yes. You slept for a long time after your fit.”
She wrinkled her brow as she tried to recall whatever the doctor was talking about. She seemed to remember that there was something strange about last night, but her mind felt like it was moving through a sluggish fog and she coming up blank. “What… happened?”
The man’s genial expression faltered for just a second before he said lightly, “we were hoping you could tell us.”
Betty blinked a few times and she looked around the room, and was shocked to perceive the state it was in. One of her shutters had come off the window, and one of the wardrobe doors was askew. Across the floor were scattered the various dolls and items of clothing that were usually kept orderly in drawers and on shelves. It was rather as though a storm had moved through.
Her eyes widened as the recollection suddenly hit. “Something came to my room last night!” she exclaimed, looking at the doctor in excitement. “Something…” she paused and furrowed her brow as she tried to settle on the words to explain it, before settling on, “something odd.”
Her father cleared his throat. “Someone, maybe?” He asked, his voice low and menacing.
Betty frowned, but when she tried to remember with clarity, she found the details escaping her. “I’m… not sure,” she admitted, pulling her blankets into her chest. “I think there was something not quite right about it, though.”
Her father pushed himself off of the door frame and came to the side of her bed opposite her mother. Then he knelt down and with surprising tenderness laid one of his broad hands on top of her head, beginning to smooth down her hair. “Betty, Dear, I believe that last night you were visited by a specter, one of evil intent and malicious will that would do you great harm.”
Betty looked at him, then at the doctor, who now wore a serious expression, and finally at her mother, whose tears had been renewed with her husband’s dire pronouncement and were streaming down her face, albeit silently. They all looked so solemn, so certain of what had happened, but that version of events didn’t feel right to Betty at all. Hesitantly, she said, “I don’t know if that’s quite correct. I think… It didn’t want to hurt me; it only hit me on accident.”
“There is no such thing as accidental witchcraft,” her father declared sternly. “It is caused by alliance with the Devil and specifically targets the enemies of the witch.”
That was preposterous! Betty didn’t remember feeling scared until after the creature had left, and besides, she was only a nine year old girl! Surely the Devil had more important people to go after. “But, Father, that’s not right; I don’t have any enemies!”
“Yes, but I do,” he said gravely, standing up again and going over to peer out of the window. “I have taken my life and made myself a soldier in the fight against the Devil; it is only natural that he should eventually attempt to strike at me within my own home.”
“Who do you think it might be, Reverend?” The doctor murmured.
“It could be anyone. Someone we know well, someone we think we can trust…” Her father turned back around with a dark look clouding his face. “Doctor, would you mind examining the other children in the house? I’d like to be sure that everything is in order with them.”
The doctor frowned, but he nodded. “Very well, Reverend, but if they are afflicted, I doubt I will be of much help. My expertise is limited to this physical world, the spiritual is your domain.”
Betty’s mother gasped and pressed a hand over her heart. “Good heavens, Samuel, you don’t think the witch might be after the others?”
“Anything is possible at this point,” her father said solemnly.
Just then, they heard loud screaming start from elsewhere in the house. The adults looked at each other for a moment before hurrying to stand up and rush out of the room, and Betty didn’t hesitate to hop out of bed to follow them. As she stood the blood rushed to her head and she wobbled in place for a moment, before she regained her balance and hurried after them. When she caught up to them, they were standing in front of the open door to Abby’s room, their mouths wide open and gaping in horror. Betty ran over to them and peeked around her mother’s skirts. What she saw made her gasp and nearly faint from alarm.
Abby’s limp body was being twisted and contorted in a grotesque fashion in the middle of the room. Her limbs were being flung about wildly like some sort of crazed marionette, her mess of long red hair whipped about as her head swung from side to side. She was absolutely silent; it was Tituba who had screamed. The poor woman was now backed into the corner, quivering visibly, with the contents of a serving tray strewn at her feet.
“With mine own eyes, it is the Devil…” The doctor breathed out. He took a step forward, as if he meant to assist Abby, but Betty’s father seized his shoulder and pulled him back.
“We mustn't interfere, or the spell may transfer to us. We can only wait for it to pass.”
Betty’s mother sobbed loudly, again. Betty herself wanted to scream in terror for her cousin, who must be so afraid right now, but she managed to keep silent lest the witchcraft move back onto her.
Finally, after what must have only been another minute but felt like an eternity, Abby’s body collapsed into a heap on the floor and she moved no more. Betty’s parents and the doctor rushed to her side.
“Abigail, Abigail, can you hear me?” Betty’s father pulled Abby up by her shoulders so he could look into her face. Betty’s heart nearly broke when she saw her dear cousin’s expression. Her eyes were thrown wide, tears streamed down her face, and she trembled almost uncontrollably.
Betty’s father put one hand on each of her shoulders and looked her squarely in the face. “Tell me, child, what force just seized you? Did you see who it was?”
Abby didn’t respond for the longest moment, and then ever so slightly, she nodded. The doctor and Betty’s mother gasped.
“Who? If they are known, then name your attacker!” Her father nearly shouted his words as a manic expression crossed his features.
Abby turned and looked at the doorway, and met Betty’s eyes. It was Betty’s turn to gasp as another image to flash in her mind: dark, swirling shadows with infinite depths, with something almost solid emerging from within. But before she could place it, her cousin turned away and raised one thin, pale, shaking hand towards the servant woman huddled in the corner.
“Tituba did it,” she rasped.
Her pronouncement was met by a collection of horrified gasps from the room, but Betty found herself frowning. She hadn’t seen anything that night that had made her think of Tituba, who’d always been kind to her and the other children. She just didn’t seem like the type to be a witch!
Upon the accusation, Betty’s father had risen up to stand in front of Tituba, his arms crossed menacingly. “Are you certain, Abigail?” he asked, his grave tone matching his expression.
Abby sniffed loudly, and then nodded. “Y-yes, Uncle. I saw her specter come out of her body and start to throw me around the room!”
Her father slowly nodded, and then looked at Betty. “Elizabeth, what can you remember? Was it Tituba’s specter in your room last night?”
Betty floundered for a moment, her mouth falling open and closed, before she sputtered out, “Well… I don’t know. I couldn’t tell who it was, really.”
“Is there a possibility it was her?”
“I… I suppose so,” she said. It was completely honest, not a lie at all, but the words still tasted wrong as they left her mouth. “What I saw could have been anyone…”
Her father crossed his arms and glared darkly at poor Tituba, who was vehemently shaking her head and pleading denials under her breath.
“Well. Let’s just see what the magistrates have to say about all this, shall we?”