Short Story
                                   They Say She Was a Witch!
                                                                           By Rose Titus


   Long ago, and far away…

   He took her on a bright morning as she went out to milk the cow.  Just barely a woman, she knew
nothing of men, and didn’t even realize what was happening until it was over…

   They all told her to keep quiet about it.  He was the son of a nobleman, and there was nothing she could
do.  But she did not listen.  She believed she would see the light of justice.  And so she went to the
authorities.  She was brought before the judge.  When the young man spoke against her as a witness, he
simply said that she had seduced him, and thus she was sentenced to be flogged for the crime of adultery,
and then to be tossed into the rat infested dungeon.

   Each night in the dungeon was more horrible than the night before.  The guards came into her cold cell
each and every night and continued to punish her for the crime of adultery, causing her to be an adulteress
over and over again…

   The rats were her only companions.  She shared her meager crusts of bread with the little beasts.   
Eventually one of the creatures would come when called.  It was her only true friend in the world, she knew.  
But the other prisoners, thieves and scoundrels all, would watch and hiss, “See?  She talks to animals!  
Witch!  For sure they’ll burn her one day!”

   Finally after what seemed an endless sentence, she was to be released from the dungeon.  She was
brought again before the judge, who ordered that she, as a wicked temptress, should be banished from
the village, and from that day must live apart from all good decent people.

   A relative took pity upon her, and secretly passed her a few coins, “naturally, dear cousin, you will have
the kindness to say nothing of my helping you like this.”  She agreed, knowing now, after all this time, the
value of silence.  And so she began to wander away from the village, until near the edge of the dark forest
she found an abandoned cottage.

   She cleaned it up, made simple repairs the best she could, and there she remained.  She kept a few
goats, some chickens, and had a garden.  One day an old gray cat came by, an unwanted stray like
herself; the cat decided to stay.  She gave the cat no name, but on a dark night it sat at her feet and
purred.  She was alone in the cold world, save for her goats, her chickens, and the old gray cat with no
name.

   An old book was found buried beneath the dirt floor of the abandoned cottage one day while she
cleaned and swept.  She had little use for it, for like most women, she could not read nor could she even
write her own name.  She put it on a shelf, and there it remained, unopened.  She knew nothing of its
importance.

   She would go into the village to sell the eggs she collected from her chickens and as she went she
would hear the good and decent people whisper, “Adulteress!” “Temptress!” and “Witch!”

   The words tormented her, for she knew she was no adulteress.  Nothing of her virtue was ever given; it
was stolen on that bright morning as she went to milk the cow.  And now no one would ever want her; for
her hair was now graying, and her clothes had turned to rags.  She had suddenly become old, after not
more than thirty years in this miserable world.

   One day while tending her small herb garden, she heard another woman weeping.  The cries came from
out of the forest.  And so she went to find the source of all the sorrow.  There, sitting by the woodland
stream from which she drew water, was a young woman, her face bloodied and bruised and battered.

   “What happened?” she asked.  For the first time in life, she was seeing someone else with troubles
possibly as bad as her own.

   The strange young women looked up at her, “My husband…  I am fleeing my cruel husband.  He must
never find me!  For surely he will kill me!”

   “Well, come with me, then, girl,” she mumbled, “No one ever visits my lonely cold home.”

   The girl remained with the old woman for many years, and she became like a daughter to her.  She had
run from quite a far distance, running for days, stopping once only to drink from a stream.  The old woman
taught her to cook, sew, and plant a garden.  The young girl, when the book was found on the shelf, taught
the old woman to read.

   “What?  You can read?” said the old woman when the girl offered to teach.

   “Why, yes.  I can read.  You’ve done so much for me, I must do something for you.  I grew up in a noble
family, and was taught to read and write.  But they married me off to a cruel man, and that is how I
happened to wander so far from home,” the girl flipped through the book, “And this is a strange book.  It’s
a book of potions, spells, and magic.  I’ve never seen such a book, but the good sisters who taught me
warned me never to read such things.  They say that long ago, many spell casters were found near here
and burned along with their books. Where did you get it?”

   “I found it, buried under the floor of this house when I came here to be in exile.  So now then, teach me,”
the old woman demanded, after remembering the way she had been treated throughout the years, “Teach
me to read so that I may know what is in that book.”

   And so they learned the contents of the book of magic and spells by the light of the fire each night after
the day’s work had been done.  The old woman, her hair now gray after thirty years of life, learned to make
letters in the dirt floor with a twig.  She soon learned to write her name, something that most people in the
village could never do.  One night she showed the young girl how the mice would come to her when she
called to them, “A simple trick I learned while in prison for a crime I did not commit.  For many years,” she
said, “The little beasts were my only friends.”

   “How lonely you must have been,” the girl said.  She gazed down at the old leather bound book and
flipped through the pages, “This page tells of how to curse one’s enemies.”

   “Let me read that passage, then.”

   In time the plague came upon the village, and nearly all the people died.  The two witches, if witches they
were, were untouched, perhaps because they lived in exile.  And for those in the village who survived, then
came famine and drought, the cows went dry, and the crops failed.

   “Was it because of us?” The old woman wondered out loud while feeding her chickens, “Is that why all of
this happened?”

   “I don’t know,” the girl said, as she hung out the laundry, “I really don’t know.  Perhaps it was meant to
happen that way; perhaps it would happen if we never opened the book.  Perhaps it was really the will of
God.  Or nature.  Or perhaps they all just got what they deserved.”

   “I fear I shall burn in Hell, girl.  If I did not commit a crime then, I have committed one now.  For surely now
I am damned.  Or I always was damned.  My life has been Hell on Earth.  The only good thing that ever
happened was having one friend, and learning to read, even if from such a strange and terrible book.  No
one else that I know can read, save for you, and the man from such a good family who sentenced me to
torment and sent me to live away from all the decent good people.”

   “They all got what they deserved, then.”

   Many years passed...  The old woman sickened and died from a fever one winter.  The young girl buried
her under the dirt floor where the book was found, and buried the book along with her, so neither would
ever be found.

   And then she, herself now old, remained alone in the cottage for a while…  But then growing lonely and
sad, she finally travelled far away where no one knew her and found work as a housekeeper for a wealthy
family.  She never told of her life with the old woman, whether she was a witch or not.  Sometimes while
working she heard the other servants talking about an old witch who lived at the edge of the forest, who
was once a wicked temptress when she was young and beautiful, but who lived alone now that she was
old and ugly, and who could talk to wild animals, command the rats and mice to dance at her feet, and who
emptied an entire village of its people…  She never told that the old woman was now dead, that her
sorrowful life had ended one cold winter’s night.

   
Present time, somewhere in Western Europe…

   The tour bus slowly rolled up to the location, stopped, and let the people out, although many remained on
the bus from exhaustion and boredom.  They gathered around the ancient site, but all that was left there
was the stone chimney and walls beginning to fall down from age and weather.  The thatched roof no
longer existed, leaving the interior exposed to the sky above.

   “And this is where she lived,” the tour guide announced, “They say that centuries ago there lived here a
genuine sorceress.  She could command legions of horrible rats, and brought the plague upon the village,
killing everyone, because a handsome young man refused her!  Of course he refused her, because she
was so ugly!  Now we’ll be here only for a short while to take pictures, but please don’t go into the cottage
because it’s so old it may be unsafe.  Let’s all get back on the bus in ten minutes to be at our next stop.”

   Somewhere in the crowd that surrounded the old ruined building, a child whimpered that he had to pee.

   “Was she real?” asked an overweight young American with an expensive camera.  He enthusiastically
took one photograph after another.

   “Of course she was real!” The guide said, “We have historical records going back centuries that show
that this woman was sent to live in exile for her crimes shortly before the plague came to take all the lives
of the people.”

   “What crimes did she commit?” The young man asked again, still taking pictures.

   “The legend says that she was a temptress, in those days, meaning probably, you know, a prostitute,”
answered the tour guide, with a sly grin.

   “But was she really a witch?” asked a young girl that stood beside the fat American tourist, “Or was she
just some poor old lady who was misunderstood?  And if she was so ugly, how could she be a temptress?”

   “Well,” the tour guide smiled, “They say she was a witch.”

   Suddenly the big American with the expensive camera jumped back, “Oh my God!  A rat just ran out of
the bushes and came at me!  It tried to bite me.”

   “Are you all right?” asked the girl.

   “Yeah, I’m okay!  That’s weird, though, all this talk about a witch who could talk to rats.  The thing almost
bit me.  Let’s get back on the bus.  This is a cheap tour.  I’m hungry.  Let’s hurry up, this place is creepy.  I
think we can get lunch at our next stop.”
About Rose Titus

Rose Titus works two jobs
to support her writing
habit.  She exists
somewhere in cold, dreary
New England, with two
manipulative cats and a
very out of date Macintosh
with which she creates
horror and fantasy fiction.  
She also has a restored
classic car to ride around
while in search of
adventure.

For travel she has stayed
for the night in an
allegedly haunted castle,
has taken a boat ride on
Loch Ness, and has
visited the fabled Bermuda
Triangle without getting
lost.

Her work has previously
appeared in Lost Worlds,
Lynx Eye, Bog Gob,
Mausoleum, Midnight
Times, Blood Moon Rising
Magazine, The Bugle,
Weird Terrain, Descend,
Wicked Wheels, The Dead
River Review, and other
literary magazines.  Her
novella Night Home has
been published with
Bathory Gate Press and is
available with Amazon,
Barnes and Noble .com
and Smashwords.

When she’s not writing or
working or messing
around with her old Buick,
she waits by her mailbox
for the next issue of
Fortean Times to arrive.
To read other short stories,
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