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An Unnatural Woman by Leanbh Pearson

Light refracted off the lead-light windows and told me they had come with intent this time. The crowd of village representatives and those just keen for some carnage, were arranged across the lawn before our house. It was the house Jonah had built for us. Sweet, gentle Jonah. The war had nearly torn him from my grasp and he was a hollow-shell of the man I’d married. He hid from the townsfolk- his physical injuries so extensive he could scarcely walk. It was a humiliation for my proud husband to be seen so weak and broken. Some days he longed for death and some days I wondered if the Lord shouldn’t have granted it. 

The devout folk whispered I was witch. Lord help me, ever since I’d aided a few women with pregnancy sicknesses and visited the dying administering herbs to relieve their pain and ease their passing. My hands shook with fear and anger. 

Witchcraft fever had spread from Salem through every mindset in the country – unnatural women couldn’t be suffered to live. I didn’t want Jonah to fight them for me – his fragile mind and body would break and there’d be no one to care for him once I was gone. I’d committed a sin but not the one these townsfolk would likely charge me with. I’d liberally dosed his evening ale with milk of the poppy and he’d passed in my arms. We’d be reunited again soon. 

Rap. Rap. Rap…..a cane against my door. 

If I didn’t open the door – let them in – would they force their way in? There was no godly justice awaiting me – only flames and death.

“Goody Wrangham, please. Let us in.”

My feet obeyed a lifetime of schooling and breathed hard against the door before I realised I’d even crossed the room. My traitorous hands drew back the latch on the door. It swung wide. 

“ I cared for you all, healed your wounds and eased the passings of your loved ones –  let you into my life – is this how you repay my kindness?” 

Shocked faces – some sorrowful ones – greeted me from the crowd. The Chestertons from the farmstead next to ours, Goody Gilder from the church choir and the Churchman Rothman. No one looked comfortable standing there in the chill afternoon. Only Mayor Miller had a vicious excitement brightening his eyes.

“Goody Wrangham, you are charged with witchcraft and the unnatural practice of dark arts. A heresy and affront in the eyes of God.” 

I slumped against the door frame as if the air had been sucked from my body. I couldn’t breathe. They tied my wrists and dragged me from the front stoop. My old dog whined unhappily from somewhere behind me. I’d hoped for some respect but I was pushed and shoved as men herded me towards the pyre. The crowd jeered as I stumbled to my knees before the instrument of my fate. More rough hands pulled me limply onto the hastily constructed pyre.

Thoughts spun of how my good fortune had turned so sour. How the dreams Jonah and I had built here had become so dark. The rushes beneath my feet were lit and agony flared through me with the touch of the flames. I’d let this town – its people and into my life. I screamed as I burned.

I should never have let them in.

About the author
Leanbh Pearson lives on Ngunnawal Country in Canberra, Australia. An LGBTQIA and disability author of horror and dark fantasy, her writing is inspired by folklore, fairy tales, archaeology and the environment. Follow her at | Twitter, Facebook & Instagram @leanbhpearson