The Witch of Dark Hollow

bySabledrake©

The sight that met her eyes was nothing of the sort. Oh, Leah was abed, but far from sleeping. Far from dreaming. She was as naked as a newborn, her clothes a muddy heap in the center of the floor. Her knees were raised, her feet planted wide, and both hands were rubbing busily between her thighs.

"Leah!" gasped Sarah. She hastily looked away, but from the corner of her eye could still see Leah's bare skin, and the fingers, slick and shining, as they plunged in and out of the pink-lipped orifice crowned with fleecy yellow curls.

"Mistress Sarah," Leah moaned. "Help me, please, help me, I cannot stop!"

"What are you doing?" Sarah covered her eyes.

"I … oh! … I … need it … I need to … oh!"

Leah's hips rose from the cot. Her thighs parted wider, making the opening between them gape like a hungry mouth. Sarah was staring at this spectacle despite herself, amazed. Leah seemed to be circling her fingers over a little nub of flesh that poked up like the bud of a rose.

All at once, a series of tremors wracked her body. Her thighs and belly rippled from the force of it. She arched up higher, until her back was a bow, then sank down with a mewling whimper. Her toes twitched and curled. Her head lolled.

"Leah?" Sarah asked.

The girl's eyes drifted lazily open. They were different somehow. Older, wiser. More knowledgeable by far than Sarah remembered seeing them just last night after supper. Thus might Eve have looked after biting of the Apple, she thought. Leah had always been pretty, pretty enough that Jacob Woodbine had courted her despite her lack of family, education and fortune.

Pretty, yes, in a fresh-faced innocent way. No longer. She had attained a beauty that would forever be beyond the reach of plain Sarah Parsons, but it was a beauty with a sultry cost.

However, it vanished in an instant as Leah's expression turned to one tormented with guilt and despair. Tears poured down her cheeks. She rolled into a ball, trying her best to hide her shameful nakedness.

"Mistress Sarah, I'm so sorry, so sorry!" she wept.

"My goodness, Leah." Sarah was at a loss for words.

"I couldn't help it. How I tried! It was what I saw … the awful things I saw …"

Sarah picked up Leah's blanket from the floor and draped it over her. "Whatever are you talking about?"

Leah shot a fearful look toward the kitchen. Sarah interpreted it.

"My brother the parson is in the dining room. Waiting for his tea. The kettle's not yet a'boil."

"I've failed in my duties."

"Never mind that. What is all this, Leah? What did you see? What could make you do such a thing?"

Sitting up, the blanket wrapped around herself, Leah haltingly told Sarah how she'd awakened in the night to find a laughing imp of some sort perched upon her chest. And how, after it had seemingly disappeared, she had stepped out for a breath and been drawn to strange lights in the churchyard.

"I saw the witch there," Leah said. Her chin was quivering, and she was whiter than milk. "Two men joined her. Or so I thought at first, that they the both of them were men."

"You saw the witch?" Sarah instinctively crossed herself. "Was it … was it her?"

Leah nodded. Neither of them dared say the name. "Her, yes, yes Mistress Sarah, it was. And her husband was one of those with her."

A pang struck at Sarah's heart. "Zachary. She has bewitched him, then. I feared it was so. You know, Leah, he used to visit here quite often. Before he met her. I even thought that he might … well, let it be of no matter."

Inside, though, it was of great matter indeed. Zachary Greene had been one of the only men in Dark Hollow to show any interest in the parson's homely sister. Until he had gone to market in Thorn River, and come back with tales of the lovely Judith. He'd gone back as often as he could manage it, courting her, and finally brought her home as his bride.

"What did they do?" she asked now.

Leah shook her head. "I cannot even speak of it!"

"You must! You'll have to testify today before the magistrate."

"Please, no!" She quailed, and although Sarah wouldn't have thought it possible, went even whiter.

She sat beside her to soothe her. "Don't you see, Leah, it's proof. You saw her. You must say so."

"But the things they did, oh, the terrible and ungodly things!" Leah broke down in a renewed fit of weeping. "And they got into my mind like worms, burrowing, and it was as though I wasn't myself any more! I had to do what you saw me doing, Mistress Sarah. I couldn't make myself stop."

"What did you see?" Sarah urged.

"She … she was naked," Leah said. "All around her were beasts of hellspawn. Imps, animals mixed with men and women, the most appalling creatures. It was …"

"A devil's orgy?"

"Yes!" The chalkiness of Leah's complexion was turning rosy again. Her tears had dried up. "A devil's orgy, bodies joined together in every conceivable way. Loins and mouths and …"

Her breath was quicker, panting. The blanket slipped from one creamy, rounded shoulder.

"And then," Leah went on, gazing at the wall as if she could see through it to re-witness the events she was describing. "Oh, and then the witch got up atop the tomb. On her hands and knees like a dog, like a ewe. Goodman Greene stood before her. He raised up his night-shirt. She sank onto her elbows --"

"You saw Zachary Greene unclad?" asked Sarah, wide-eyed.

"The other one was behind her," Leah said. "Still cloaked, and cowled. He …"

"What? Leah? Are you all right?"

With a longing cry, Leah turned and flung herself at Sarah. The blanket fell entirely away. Startled, Sarah leaned back, and Leah's weight bore her down on the narrow cot. Before Sarah could protest, Leah's mouth closed over hers. Her lips were wet and eager, her tongue darting.

"Mmmph!" Sarah cried. She pushed, but Leah was pleasantly plump compared to her own thinness.

Leah grasped Sarah's hand and forced it down. Sarah felt the soft tuft of hair, and then the moist heat as her fingers were engulfed. Leah's thighs trapped her hand, while Leah's own found the insignificant swells of Sarah's breasts.

With an unexpected burst of strength, Sarah freed herself. She leaped from the cot. Leah, trying to recapture her, sprawled on the floor with a groan of pain.

At once, Leah dissolved into hysterical tears again. She threw herself at Sarah's feet, begging for forgiveness. Sarah minced backward a few steps.

"'Tis the witch, the influence of the witch," she said. "You must testify."

"I cannot," said Leah miserably. "How can I tell any of this to another living soul?"

"If you do not," Sarah said, "it will haunt you the rest of your days. Only when she is dead, and you are confessed, will you be free."

"But to go before everyone. All the town! To sit upon the witness stand as she watches me! And to say such things!"

"You must, Leah!" Sarah took a deep breath, trying to rid herself of the memory of Leah's tongue in her mouth, of her fingers lost in the clasping warmth of Leah's lions. "If we are to be rid of her, you must tell. The townsfolk will not hold you to blame. Just as I do not. They know, as do I, that evil is everywhere, and sly as a fox."

**

The town hall was filled to capacity, with every seat taken and people standing along the walls and in the aisles. It was hot, stifling, the air drifting with motes of dust. The good folk of Dark Hollow were packed in shoulder to shoulder. Others, from nearby towns and outlying farms, crowded in among them.

Tobias Miller had arrived early to secure a spot in the front row. There, he'd have a clear view of the proceedings. He doubted that they would decide to strip the witch again, but if they did, he wanted to see.

His manhood shifted in his breeches at the recollection. The magistrate had ordered that Judith Greene be stripped, that they might ascertain whether she bore the traditional marks. This could not be done in private, he had said, for she might use her evil glamours to trick the minds of a few.

What a sight she had been! Standing head-high, beautiful face almost haughty as she endured the shame. Her husband had been incensed, and nearly had to be forcibly dragged from the hall as the last article of clothing was removed. Upon very close inspection – Tobias would not normally have envied the parson and the magistrate, but he did that day as they lifted Judith's firm breasts and parted her buttocks – she was discovered to have three moles. Witch's teats, where she would suckle her unholy familiars before letting them loose to work her wicked magic.

That had, thus far, been the most thrilling part of the proceedings. Tobias had found most of the testimonies tedious or dubious by turns. He was waiting to hear more. Amos Cousins was supposed to speak today, and so was Deborah Fletcher.

The last few stragglers entered the hall. Tobias saw the parson point his sister and housemaid to a low bench, then turn to greet the magistrate.

Brother Ezekiel, Tobias thought, looked the part of the handsome but unreachable man of God that the girls would secretly pine for. He knew that many of them already made up excuses to visit the parsonage. They delivered fresh-baked bread and pies, canned preserves, quilts. Far more than Brother Ezekiel and Sister Sarah could ever hope to use.

It really was a pity that the parson got all the looks of the family. He had strong features, a cleft chin, and dark hair that tumbled down on his brow when he was intense about his preaching. His stormy blue eyes, according to Tobias' sister-in-law, made all the ladies' hearts gallop.

What Tobias would have given to make any lady's heart gallop! Or even just to canter. He knew that his face looked like someone had hacked it out of an oak plank, and his one wandering eye was unsettling to the beholder. He had shoulders broad as a beam, and a barrel chest, and those girls he didn't put off with his homeliness were intimidated by the bulk of him. He despaired of ever getting one alone in the hayloft, let alone into the marriage bed.

And there was the parson, wasting the gift of his handsomeness by pledging himself to God. It made no sense to Tobias, no sense at all.

They brought in the witch through the side door. The crowd, only just settled, surged to its feet. Voices rose in competing shouts and invectives. Fists waved angrily in the air. No one threw eggs or rotten vegetables, not yet. That would be saved for the ascent up the gallows stairs.

Judith Greene was much the worse for wear after so many nights in the gaolhouse. Her hair hung around her in strings, her cheekbones were prominent as blades, and her plain brown dress billowed on her body like a sack. The scold's bridle, an affair of straps and bars, was locked securely around her head. A curved metal plate went into her mouth, pressing her treacherous spellcasting tongue down to prevent her speaking.

She was dirty and disheveled, stumbling along in the blindfold as the guards led her to her seat. They pushed her into it so hard that it rocked back and smacked against the wall. Her hands were bound before her belly. Her legs were tethered by a length of rope. Yet, somehow, through it all she retained a vestige of her former beauty.

Zachary Greene's face was a mask of misery. He might have gone to her, but his father's large, work-callused hand held him in his seat. The eyes of the senior Greene were stony. He hadn't approved of his son's choice of a bride, would have sooner seen Zachary wed to the parson's sister. A fair woman, Greene was wont to say over mugs of ale, brings foul news. Better to take a plain and dutiful one to wife.

The magistrate strode to the head of the hall. His powdered wig rested squarely on his head. His black robe flared about him like the wings of some dark carrion bird. He was tall and thin, with sun-darkened skin stretched too taut over angular bones. Steel-grey and piercing were his eyes, and his mouth was a tight drawstring. He took his place upon the high bench and rapped smartly with a gavel.

Tobias saw Judith Greene flinch with every sharp report of the wood on wood. Her shoulders shook. He wondered if they would strip her again to hang her. Would the gaolers do that? What else did they do, when the hour was late and they were alone with their charge in the silent gaolhouse?

Oh, it was absurd, he knew. Neither of the gaolers would lay a finger on an accused witch, no matter how shapely she might be. They were too afraid for that. Tobias wouldn't have been.

He grinned to himself, thinking of what he would do were he gaoler. There were ways to make the dank and drafty cell more comfortable, for a price. Surely a witch who'd already consigned her soul to the Devil would hardly be concerned about the modesty of her body.

It would be dangerous to remove the bridle, of course. That was a shame, for Tobias had long admired Judith Greene's lush mouth. Nor should her hands be freed, lest she make a hex-sign at him. But he could have at her ripe breasts to his heart's content, or bend her over and plough her from the rear …

The discomfort in his breeches continued to grow. Tobias shifted on the hard wooden bench and hoped that no one would notice. Their attention was fixed on the witch and the magistrate as the trial was called to order.

Amos Cousins was summoned. A portly, florid man with a balding pate and a propensity to sweat, he stammered out his tale under the magistrate's inquisition. He had, he claimed, paid a call at the Greene house to borrow a scythe from Zachary. Arriving unannounced, he went round to the back. There, through the kitchen window, he beheld the accused down on all fours like an animal, hunched over a freshly-killed hare.

"Eating it alive, she was," he told the breathless assembly. "Not skinned, neither, but the fur all caught in her teeth and the blood splashed all around."

"And did she see you?" asked the magistrate.

With a nervous gulp, Amos nodded. "Looked up, she did, and saw me. She hissed. Like a cat, she hissed! And laughed. A devil's laugh if ever there was one. High, it was, and shrill, like a rusted nail being pulled from a plank. Sent shivers down me, it did."

"What happened next?"

"She cast the hare aside – I saw how its guts were eaten out, and its eyes gone – and stood up. She came to the window. It was like she wasn't mindful at all that she was drenched with blood and bits of fur. To the window, and there she smiled at me. Gruesome, it was!"

"What did you do?"

"I wanted to run, I did," Amos said. "But my legs would not seem to budge from that spot. And she, the witch, she raised her skirt. She turned her backside to the window and raised her skirt."

Tobias wasn't the only one to lean forward intently. In his imagination, he saw Judith lifting the hem of her skirt higher, past her dimpled knees, up her thighs.

"Bent over, she did, and …" Amos faltered. His gaze flicked to his wife, who sat with a scowl that would have curdled milk. The rest came out in a rush. "And pushed out her back end at me. She laughed over her shoulder, that same high, terrible laugh. Her chin still all running with hare's blood. She told me that if I wanted, I could climb in and … and stick it to her, your magistrate sir."

Uproar, not the least of which was Zachary Greene bolting to his feet and shouting that Amos was a liar, a damnable liar.

"Order! I will have order," said the magistrate. "Goodman Cousins, what happened then?"

"She said I shouldn't tell anyone what I'd seen. Or she'd put the hex on me." His voice quavered. "Said she'd turn my innards to black rot, and make my skin peel off in great infected welts."

Tobias ground his teeth impatiently. He wanted to hear more of how her backside had looked. All bent over like that, surely Amos must have been able to see right up. Tobias only had the word of his friends for what it looked like, that dark and mysterious woman-place, but he found he could see it quite vividly in his mind. If he'd been there instead of cowardly Amos, he would have been through that window quicker than Jack, and taking what she offered. It might mean the annihilation of his soul, but …

"Did you go into the house?" the magistrate asked forbiddingly.

"No! No, by God! I shut my eyes and that let me move my legs. I forgot all about the scythe, I did, and was down the road and gone before she could chase after."

"It's lies, I tell you, lies!" bellowed Zachary Greene. "My wife is no witch! Someone is causing you to believe these things! A glamour, as you said --"

"Be still, man!" Goodman Miller raised a menacing fist at Zachary.

"Thank you, Goodman Cousins," the magistrate said, acting aloof and above the disturbance. He glanced at the parson. "Brother Ezekiel, who shall testify next?"

"But am I safe, sir?" Amos asked. "She said she'd put a hex on me, she did!"

"Rest assured, Goodman Cousins, that the witch is in no way able to act on her threats. She is quite powerless at the moment. I promise you."

Not entirely mollified, Amos stepped down. He gave both Greenes as wide a berth as the hall allowed, and resumed his seat beside his fuming wife. She gave him a look filled with anger and disgust, then snorted and turned her head away as if she'd expected no better.

"Mistress Deborah Fletcher," Brother Ezekiel said.

Tobias forgot his disappointment over Amos' tale and craned his neck as Deborah came forth. She wore a demure dark blue dress that could not hide the robust young curves of her body. Golden ringlets dangled becomingly from under her white cap, framing her sweet face with its upturned little nose and dainty mouth.

He was not the only onlooker to murmur appreciatively. Deborah was a beauty, but more, she was her wealthy father's only child. Any man who married Deborah would be well-set for the rest of his life. They all knew this, and so did she, and the combination of her choosiness and her father's indulgence saw her well past the usual age for marriage.

Today, however, Deborah was pensive and pale. There was a peculiar quality to her mood, a jumping-at-shadows that was unlike her usual vivacity. She had chewed her lower lip ragged, and her hands were marked with scratches as if she'd clawed at them.

She sat in the witness chair, ankles crossed. Her breasts rose and fell with rapid breaths. Tobias couldn't keep from staring at them, and wondering how full and soft and white they must be.

The parson calmed her with a few friendly words. Deborah's smile was the ghost of its normal bright self, but her nerves seemed steadied enough to go on. The magistrate requested – in a rather kindly way, suggesting that even he was not immune to her charms – that she tell them of her interaction with the witch.

"It was after the sewing circle," Deborah said. Her throat moved as she swallowed. "At the Greene house. I stayed late to sort thread, and she must have thought that I'd gone as well. When I came into the kitchen, meaning to ask if she wanted any more help, I saw her. She had a … a creature on her lap, and she was suckling it like a babe in arms."

"Describe this creature," commanded the magistrate over the din of reaction.

"It was small, and covered in hair. It had claws."

Tobias saw the parson's maidservant start and gasp, and Sarah Parsons take hold of her to mutter reassuringly.

"Its head was like that of a … a wizened old man …" Deborah's words emerged with difficulty, and her head began to jerk in spasmodic little twitches. "Wrinkled … like a dried apple. She … she laughed … as she gave it suck. A … a shrill laugh … awful …"

Abruptly, she flung back her head and pealed a shriek to the rafters. Half the crowd screamed in response, jumping up.

Deborah fell from her chair to the floor. She was rolling and thrashing on the boards, making inarticulate gobbling noises.

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