Salem, Massachusetts, October 1692 – Twigs snapped underfoot. Branches were pushed aside. She stumbled over an exposed tree root, and would have fallen had not her husband’s hand shot out and grabbed her arm.
He straightened her and firmly, yet also gently, pushed her forward. “Don’t stop, Annis,” he said. He turned to look behind them.
Lights bobbed in the distance.
It was too close for comfort.
Annis continued, panting heavily. She needed rest. Her feet burned, her lungs ached for air.
She stumbled again, but William was unable to catch her this time. She did manage to catch herself on a tree trunk, and stood there for a moment, drawing in one deep breath after another. She placed a hand upon her still-growing abdomen and let out a sigh of relief when she felt a flutter. Everything will be all right, child.
She waved him off. “Please, I need air.”
He said nothing else, instead standing sentry between her and their now-unseen pursuers.
Then the lights and shouts came again, prompting more running. When the sounds had once more faded, William abruptly stopped.
“Keep going. I’ll meet you if I can.”
She furrowed her brow. “What do you mean, you’ll meet me when you can?”
He didn’t answer as he loaded his rifle. Annis’s mouth dropped open at the realization. He was going to try and fight them.
One against twelve.
“Will, don’t,” she placed a hand on his arm, effectively stopping him, if only for a brief moment. “Just come with me. Please.”
“Please.” Her eyes burned and for once in her life, she wanted to eschew her soft-spoken personality.
William held her gaze, steadily, and placed a gentle hand upon her cheek. “I have never loved anyone else as ardently as I love you.”
If this were a normal situation, she would have smiled.
But this was not a normal situation. He was saying goodbye this time.
One more kiss. One more endearing look.
Her hand slipped from his as he backed away, back towards those who did not want the truth.
The truth that she was innocent.
Annis lowered herself into a bush and flipped her hood over her head. It was a good thing she wore dark clothing.
She could see William still, standing a distance away with his back to her. Then came the lights, bobbing closer and growing larger until she could see faces. Most prominently, that of her accuser.
He looked down on William,whose stance showed he would not attack unless attacked. “Where is she?”
William said nothing.
Her accuser raised an eyebrow. “Do not make this more difficult, Smith,” he said. “Where is your wife?”
Still, William remained silent. Annis almost dared to reveal herself then, if only to see if he would be spared from what she feared they would do.
“She is innocent.”
William’s voice broke through the cold autumn air.
Annis forced herself to breathe slowly. She brought a hand up and covered her mouth, as though it would help.
Her accuser rode back to join the rest of the group. He raised a hand and they raised their rifles.
William did the same, but no gunfire erupted.
Her heartbeat sped up, pounding in her ears.
“One last time. Where is she?”
“She. Is. Innocent.”
A volley of gunfire erupted. Annis bit a finger to keep from crying out at the sight of William falling.
“Find that witch!” The accuser bellowed. “We will not rest until she has been dealt with!”
Silent tears rolled down her cold-reddened cheeks and her mouth started to hurt from how hard she pressed against it, but she didn’t let up.
Don’t let them come near, God, she prayed. Don’t let them near.
She held her breath.
After what seemed like an eternity, they left. She counted to make sure all twelve were there. Even after they disappeared from sight, she stayed where she was for at least five minutes. Then, she untangled herself from the bush and hurried to William’s side.
She knew even before she reached him that he was gone.
©H.S. Kylian 2020
(Critiques are welcome and appreciated!)