Mary stood with the other girls of Salem Village and stared at the line of women on the raised platform. Conversation from the crowd buzzed around her like insects on a hot, humid day. Mary clenched the coarse fabric of her skirt, and a hush fell over the crowd as Chief Justice William Stoughton stepped onto the platform.
He spoke to the crowd, but none of the words registered for Mary. Her eyes slowly trailed over the faces of the women facing the crowd, hands tied behind their backs and a thick rope placed around their necks. One of the women stood with her chin lifted towards the crowd so that she could glare down her nose at them.
Mary watched the woman and stepped back into the group of girls when the woman's sharp eyes rolled over them. A pinch on the back of her arm—a reminder to stay in line— made Mary stop.
A voice rang out from the back of the crowd when the Chief Justice finished his speech. "Hang the witches!"
The woman's head snapped towards the voice as more chanted the cry. She bared her teeth in a sneer. "I am no witch! I have committed no crime. God as my witness, I stand here more innocent than all of you!"
Mary turned away when the shouting crowd drowned out the woman's voice. She twisted away from the pinching fingers and shoved past the other girls. She slipped between the adults, eyes locked on and rushed towards the edge edge of the houses. Her stomach turned when she bumped into a man and heard him shout, "Look! She's using her black magic to drive the poor girls away! Hang them!"
A new round of "Hang the witches!" erupted from the crowd, and Mary's stomach cramped as she shoved past the last lines of the crowd and made a mad dash towards the closest house.
She turned the corner of the closest house and stopped, gasping for breath. She could still hear the crowd shouting, and she lurched forward with a gag. Bile burned the back of her throat, and a tear slipped down her cheek.
Abigail grabbed her arm and jerked her around. The older girl's face was twisted into a scowl, and her nose wrinkled when Mary wiped away the strand of spittle on her chin. "What are you doing?"
"I can't." Mary swallowed the bile rising in her throat. A new round of shouting came from the crowd. She twisted to the side and gagged again. Nothing came up. "I can't do this anymore!"
A stinging pain flared from her cheek, and she lifted a hand to gently press against it. Abigail rubbed her hands together with a deep frown. "Pull it together! Do you want our fathers to know what we were really doing with Tituba?"
"People are dying!"
"And they'll hang us too if they find out we practiced her voodoo!" Abigail grabbed Mary's wrist. Her nails bit into Mary's skin, and Mary flinched. She didn't pull away though, and Abigail dragged her closer to hiss in her ear. She had been here before—Abigail hissing in her ear to do as the other girls did, screaming and pointing at the nearest person to blame. It was "necessary," Abigail had said; their age wouldn't save them from punishment. Once the word "witch" was used against someone, nothing else mattered.
Mary's stomach churned again. "I found a way to keep us out of trouble. Are you about to jeopardize that safety for everyone just because you're scared?"
Mary wiped away the tears that fell. She took a deep breath and attempted to ignore the sounds of the lynching party still happening beyond the house they hid behind. "Nothing my father does to me can compare to what God's punishment will be."
Abigail raised her hand again, and Mary cringed away from the predicted blow, almost pulling out of Abigail's grasp. Her heart stuttered when the older girl did nothing but pat her on the head and release her wrist from the biting grip. With a gentle smile, Abigail's expression shifted from indignant rage to angelic. "You're right Mary. This has gone far beyond what we planned. I will tell my uncle everything. You get some rest now—I started all of this, so I'll be the one who fixes itw."
Mary slowly nodded, and with a sniff, she turned towards her home on the far side of town. She glanced back towards the crowd and cried at the bodies swinging from the large tree. She turned and sprinted away.
Mary winced when when the needle jabbed the tip of her finger. Her hands slightly shook as shifted the skirt on her lap and continued to hem the piece of the cloth. She smiled at her younger sister, who watched with big eyes. "What do you think, Temperance?"
The little girl's head jerked up and down, but her eyes remained fastened to the skirt. Mary kept smiling and tried not to wince again when the needle pricked her. The fire on the other side of the room crackled, and Mary put the needle and thread down long enough to point at it. "Go stoke the fire before it goes out. We don't want the beans to go cold."
Temperance jumped from her spot on the floor and dashed over to the fire placefireplace. The little girl poked the smoldering fire with the iron poker, and embers popped into the air like angry fireflies. The girl ran back to sit on the floor. "When is papa coming home?"
Mary bit her lip, and the needle jabbed deep into her finger. She clenched her hands to stop the shaking. "He should be here soon. He's an important member of the church now. You know that."
"He helps put away the mean witches!" Temperance picked up the cloth and needle Mary had given her to practice with and restarted the jagged pattern on the cloth. "They can't get you no more with papa helping. He'll find the one that took mama too."
Mary dropped the needle and thread and began to fold up the skirt with shaking hands. "Mama died because she became sick last winter—not because of a witch."
"But the witch probably made her sick." Temperance threw aside her practice cloth and sidled up to Mary on her knees. She grabbed Mary's hands and squeezed hard enough for the shaking to stop. "I saw a lady spit in mama's direction before she got sick—I know I did!"
Mary snatched her hands away. "There are no witches in Salem! Don't ever talk about it again."
Mary pushed her sister away and stood up. She hurried to the other side of the house and leaned against the table. She drew in a deep breath, but it only made her stomach cramp. She turned back to Temperance, who sat on the floor picking at the thread on her cloth. "Temperance—"
A banging on the door made both of the girls jump. Deep voices snaked through the walls of the house, but and one hoarse voice stood out amongst the others. Mary froze, but Temperance wasted no time running to the door and throwing it open. "Papa!"
Temperance was shoved through the door and into the arms of their father. Five men filed into the small house, two of which Mary recognized as Chief Justice William Stoughton and Abigail's uncle. She took a step back when Abigail and some of the girls trailed after them.
Stoughton turned to the girls. "Is this the witch who has afflicted you?"
Abigail fell to the ground with an otherworldly howl, like a dying animal slowly being ripped apart. The other girls followed suit, writhing and shrieking at the top of their lungs. Mary could hardly breath as she watched them. A tremor crawled down her spine at their high-pitched screams and contorted movements.
Abigail was the first to struggle back to her feet, and her uncle rushed over to help her. Her eyes rolled up into the back of her head, and she pointed towards Mary. "She's the witch! She's the one that came to us in our sleep and poked us with her needles."
The girls shrieked along with Abigail, their accusations echoing through the small space. Mary couldn't take her eyes off of Abigail, who contorted and writhed in her uncle's arms. The girls continued to cry until the Chief Justice gestured two the men towards Mary. "Arrest her on the charge of witchcraft."
"This is outrageous!" Mary's father pushed past the girls crowding the door with Temperance close at his side. He stepped between the men and pulled Mary behind him. "If you have already forgotten, my daughter is also a victim of this black magic!"
Abigail threw her head back and shrieked in a way that Mary had never heard before. It made the other girls go quiet until their leader pointed at Mary's father, her eyes wide and spittle flying from her mouth. "The black man! It's the black man that brings them to us."
Mary watched as the men immediately restrained her father; his protests were lost among the renewed hysterics that the girls fell into. Mary only moved when one of the men grabbed Temperance by the arm, but she was only able hit him a few times before she too was restrained.
She fought against the man with Temperance's cries motivating her. She stopped when she was shoved past Abigail, and she caught the older girl's eye. Abigail was no longer screaming; instead she stood perfectly still with the same gentle smile she had given Mary earlier that day.
Mary went limp as she was dragged from the house and carried into the night. She had been wrong in telling Temperance that witches weren't real. There were witches right here in Salem, but they weren't the ones. Only these witches were far more dangerous than the ones the church had described who hung from the gallows. .