The dreams began to come. That was how I wrote, mostly from the seeds that were planted in dreams. My daughter Jessie believed that it was a gift sent to me. I didn’t not believe, nor truly accept. I simply waited and watched.
But I’d known as soon as I’d laid eyes on it that the tree was the spark.
I was a spectator in this one, simply watching. She was beautiful, but of course she was, dressed in a long white cotton shift. But her black hair was wet, streaming over her pale skin.
Two men had dragged her from a wagon, and the townspeople gathered around as though for a show. “Lucy Bonner,” the name was spoken by a tall man garbed in a black robe. “You have undergone the trials at the river banks and have failed. You are condemned to death for the crimes of demonic sorcery. Do you have anything to say?”
She was on her knees, hands tied behind her back, but shakily she came to her feet. With a quick sharp fling she tossed her hair behind her shoulders. I moved closer, closer, although I felt somehow that I wasn’t really there at all. “I am innocent,” she spoke in a clear strong voice, too clear for someone who had endured so much.
My eyes snapped open. I was on the small sofa in the den of Bess Greenlief’s cottage. The clock on the wall read 3:00 PM. This morning’s meeting at the Kilmarnock Museum had clearly left an imprint. I sat up, slowly trying to sweep the grogginess and vivid images out of my head.
“So, these are from the late 1600s?”
She’d smiled as though she knew something that I didn’t. But that seemed to be Flora Catlett’s demeanor. She smugly tapped the small stacks of folders and envelopes that she’d placed on the wooden table in front of me. “Now, this stuff is priceless,” she emphasized with a quick tap of her hand on the stack. “At least to us, so be careful. But this was that crazy period when the religion was unstable, relations with the local Indian groups, unstable, and the people were just about terrified of their own shadow. Well, I guess they would be. Mortality was through the roof,” she rambled on with much animation.
I nodded, wondering distantly if this was a waste of time. I didn’t really care much about who was planting what and what the climate was like three hundred years ago. “What kind of documents did you say?”
“Oh yes, maps, journals, church documents. I took the liberty of pulling out some of the juicier stuff. But you’re free to look at anything in the museum.” She stood up, smiling a bit smugly as though she’d benevolently given me the keys to the kingdom. And then she’d left me in that tiny office, if you could call it that — one short table and two chairs at either side — slipping out and closing the heavy wooden door behind her. I pulled a small notepad out of my pocket and carefully began to examine and sort through the small pile of documents that lay before me.
Flora was right. They were old: paper parchment like, wrinkled acutely with age; hand drawn maps that I put aside; some wills, farms inventories, and then I stopped finding something of interest. It looked like a sheaf of papers, yellowing, some ripped slightly. But it was a list of criminal prosecutions. Thomas Fulton hanged for thievery, October of the year 1688; Rebecca Foster suspected of adultery, imprisoned, and Lucy Bonner accused of demonic influence over the children of Stephen and Christine Fulton — executed in April of the year 1689.
I glanced across the small deathly silent room into its unadorned corner that now was not empty, was now filled with my imagination. “What mischief can this be?” she spoke without speaking.
I shook my head, rubbing my eyes, and she was gone. It was too quick to give her flesh in my mind yet. “This is a strange manner of being,” she whispered in my ear, soft small hands on my shoulders.
“I don’t even know your essence yet.”
“It is your choice that I appear as thus.”
“What does that mean accused of demonic influence?”
Soft murmuring, “I aided in the caring of the young ones, the children. The mother was not well.”
There was writing, affidavits further in the papers confirming what he was hearing in his mind. “Christine Fulton? But why would they think you were possessing the children?”
“It was grievous. I was innocent.”
My mind traveled through possibilities weaving, “The husband?”
“He grew weary of his wife’s state.”
“You were lovers?” I was embellishing of course, but it was a story, so it didn’t matter.
“I had reached my 16th year, and he was a man of thirty.”
Not lovers, “So, he pushed his attentions on you?”
There was a silence. Then the soft floating whisper that he knew quite clearly wasn’t real, just a product of his wild writer’s imagination. “Forced Peter McQuade, forced.”
“He was a magistrate in the town.” His hands brushed over the old parchment confirming this. But which came first, the knowledge or her soft whisper?
“So, you were framed and innocent?”
“It was a diabolical calamity.”
I pulled my mind away from the museum and focused on the ceiling fan above me, white ceramic with small brass accents. Well, this was good news and bad news. Finally, something had taken root and fired up my imagination. Flip side was now it was invading my dreams. It clung to me still, the rank smell of the gathering — people garbed in heavy dark clothing, the sun shining down mercilessly, and, of course, paramount was the girl — shaking from her torture in the river and then facing the tree. The short scaffold was built right up beneath where they literally dragged her, her feet painfully scraping along the splintering wood.
My stomach flipped in nausea. Lovely, for not the first time I thought about cutting all this short, forgetting this project, and heading home to my lovely familiar city with all its people and things around me that comforted and made sense.
Copyright © 2021 by Evelyn Klebert
On the surface, things seem quiet and serene in the picturesque coastal village of Kilmarnock, Virginia. But something unseen roams its lush forests as the past and present collide and the unthinkable begins to wreak its vengeance. Young Lucy Bonner is executed for witchcraft in the town’s distant and brutal past. Her death triggers an unholy chain of events which grasp at the restless heart of novelist Peter McQuade, spurring him towards a quest to uncover the dark and terrifying truth.