The scent of mint and ginger filled her nose as she crushed the herbs together in the kitchen. The mixture was missing one ingredient. She poured a vial of blood into the mortar and started mashing it with the green pulp. This would do the fisherman’s anemic wife well.
The front door opened. Footsteps echoed across the floor.
She undid her apron in haste and covered the workbench with it. Five men crowded into the kitchen, grim and tense. They ringed her at a distance as if confining a leper. She smiled and bowed her head, falsely demure.
This wasn’t usual business.
The silence grew. At last one man, a scar etched into the side of his face, stepped up to her. She backed up into her workbench, tried to slide away–but he gripped her wrists with his sandpaper hands and jerked her towards him.
“Come along, witch,” he said. “Village Patriarch sent us for yer head.”
She squirmed and pulled, futile against his male strength. “I am no witch! Why such foolery?”
The scarred man stared her right in the eye, pupils dilated like a cornered animal. Of course, they believed it; they needed that faith. When crops were dying, and prayer had failed them, what else did they have?
“On my mother’s grave, you must believe me.”
They surrounded her, suffocatingly close.
She came back to herself with the sun’s rays piercing her eyes and rough hands gripping her arms. They dragged her into the forest. A gigantic thick-limbed tree towered over her, its canopy cutting off the sun. Village folks were gathered ’round.
The forest seemed to scream, but no one else heard it.
Her stomach clenched, her bare feet furrowed the ground. Rocks and thorns scored her soles. She twisted in their grip, arms wrenched to the breaking point.
“Help!” she cried to the crowd, her voice dry and desperate. “Help me!”
“Quick –she’s tryin’ to call her imp!”
A heavy fist smashed into her mouth. Bits of teeth tumbled down her raw throat.
The crowd stared at her, dull and blank. Surely someone knew this to be wrong. Was there no friend to stand for her, to say “Let ‘er go! She’s no witch!”
They hauled her atop a barrel. She tried to leap off, one last attempt, but the scarred man overpowered her. His eyes still held fear, but tempered with determination, as though hanging her would absolve him.
Foolish idiots. What good comes of a hanging? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Now the village will be without a herbwife, and they would rejoice at the loss.
They fitted the noose around her neck. She swallowed once before they tightened it. Hard to breathe. She gritted her shattered teeth and closed her eyes against her neighbors’ uncaring faces. These ignorant cowards whom she had once called friends. They deserved the final circle of Hell.
And if only she could put them there herself, teach the lesson they so deserved. Let her soul be the Devil’s, let her enact revenge in the name of Nemesis. She would steal their sleep.
The barrel was knocked from under her.
She awoke to the cool of twilight. Alone in the quiet forest. Her neck was still in the noose–but where was the rest of her? Here she was, breathing, dizzy and lightheaded, but with no hands to clutch or toes to wiggle. Then she looked down.
Lungs, heart, liver, and intestines were on full display. Her limp body, without head or organs, sprawled on the ground. She closed her eyes in shock. Opened them to gape at this new form.
She had heard about such things, rumors from the Far East of a witch capable of existing without a body.
Her tongue tested jagged shapes in her mouth, and her lips curled. She’d become the stuff of nightmares, the abomination they’d most dread… Her ghastly mouth hinged wide, row upon row of razors tearing through their flesh. Even death would not save them, for she would await them in Hell.
The lightheaded feeling was real as she discovered she could float. Head twisted, up and away, organs followed through the loop of the noose. She descended to her body. What to do with it? She couldn’t abandon it to the scavengers. Her intestines felt as workable as an arm, albeit far more flexible and three times as long. After a few tries, she managed to wrap her intestine around her body, and drag it into temporary concealment in the brush. With some vinegar to shrink and pickle her entrails, she’d fit back into it like a well-worn dress.
But not now.
Her lips twisted into a grin at the thought of all those frightened faces, so eager to hang a witch in daylight. Tonight she would give them a taste of what a real witch was like.
Siobhan Gallagher is a graduate from ASU and wannabe zombie slayer, currently residing in Arizona. Her fiction has appeared several publications, including AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, COSMOS Online, Unidentified Funny Objects. Occasionally, she does this weird thing called ‘blogging’ at: defconcanwrite.blogspot.com