Mary Lewis was born late on All Hallow’s Eve night, under the light of the full moon.
The illegitimate child of a single mother, with hair as red as fire and eyes bearing a wisdom beyond her years, she found herself the center of the village’s gossip from the very moment she was born, the target of their poisonous words even in her infancy. Her mother tried to protect her from their voices, but their cruelties only seemed to get louder as she grew.
As she grew, Mary isolated herself from the other children in the village, finding peace and solace in the quiet fields surrounding the village, gathering various plants and herbs her mother would use for cooking, medicine and dyes. In the rainy days, she taught herself to read, a crime the town leaders would be more than happy to punish her for if they knew.
The villager’s words only grew more toxic, more painful as the little girl grew. Despite her mother’s attempts to protect her from them, Mary was often victim to their cruelties whenever she found herself in public. The children of the village, many of them her own age, spat the venom at her just as their parents did. Mary heard their voices in her dreams, repeating themselves on an endless loop. She couldn’t escape the cruelties.
On her sixteenth All Hallow’s Eve, Mary was told to dress in her finest gown. The dress selected was a deep brown in color, the linen dyed with coffee long ago. It had once been her mother’s and was still her favorite. She tied her apron over the front of the skirt and appraised herself in the mirror.
Her mother, dressed in a simple cream-colored gown, appeared behind her and began to braid her fire-red hair as she always did. Mary knew that if there was a time to ask the questions that had been plaguing her, this was it.
“What are we dressing up for, Mama?”
Her mother’s eyes met hers in the mirror before returning to the task at hand.
“Louisa Mayes breathed her last yesterday. We’re going to pay our respects.”
“The lady in the woods?” Mary asked, and her mother nodded. “Why?”
“We owe the woman a lot, Mary.”
When the silence stretched, signalling that her mother was not going to explain further, Mary spoke up again.
“Was she actually a witch like everyone says?”
“Some would say so,” her mother responded lightly, tying off the thick braid and beginning to twist it into a bun, “She was a wise woman and that scared people.”
“…Do I scare people?”
Her mother’s hands stilled for the smallest moment before resuming their task.
“Maybe some people. You’re stronger than you realize, Mary, and strong women are often feared. You’ll do great things one day. I’m certain of it.”
The conversation faded into silence as her mother fastened a white bonnet over her hair, concealing the fire-red locks from view.
The two of them left their home at the outskirts of the village and moved toward the woodline, away from the village cemetary.
“Why isn’t she being buried with everyone else?” Mary asked her mother quietly as the crowd came into view.
“The village believes her presence would curse the sacred ground of the cemetary, so she’s being buried at her home.”
The moment they came into view, the comments began. Her mother tried her best to converse with her, distracting her from the hate being spewed her way, but her attempts were in vain. Mary heard every word of what was being said about her.
Mary and her mother neared the casket and stood before it. Within the pine box lay an older woman, her snow-white hair pooling beneath her and casting an ethereal glow on her lifeless face. In her arms lay a thick leather-bound tome. Mary found her eyes drawn to the tome as her mother spoke quietly.
“Thank you, Louisa. You’ve given me so much.”
Mary and her mother stood before the still form of Louisa Mayes in silence for a long moment after that, only moving when Father Paul, the village priest, ushered them away to close the box.
The dead woman’s hands were empty as the lid was nailed into place.
Later that same night, Mary sat in her room with the tome, looking for clues on how to open the sealed book. As she was meant to be asleep, she only had the light of the moon to guide her, and each time the clouds drifted in front of the moon, she was left to struggle in darkness.
There was no keyhole in the iron latch holding the book shut, but it was adorned with the etching of a moon.
At midnight, just as Mary was close to giving up, the clouds parted, allowing the pure light from the moon to fall across the etching on the lock. A click sounded through the room, seeming deafening due to the prior silence, and the book popped open. A single folded sheet of paper fell from the book onto the ground.
Mary gave the page a long look before bending to pick it up. She unfolded it slowly, finding her own name at the top.
You don’t know me, but I know you.
My name is Louisa Mayes and I have known you for as long as you have lived. When your mother fell pregnant with you and her own family turned her away, I cared for her so you could be born, safe and healthy.
In my life, I was a healer, a wise woman, and I helped many people within the village under the cover of night.
With this tome, I hope you will continue my work. I have documented every single plant and potion I know within these pages, as well as every single spell I know. I have left warnings where necessary, as some plants within these pages are safe only when used properly.
You have the potential to be a great healer and help a great many people. Let my knowledge and my magic help you in your cause.
Take these pages and do great things, my child.
Mary read the letter several times before crushing the fragile page in her fist.
Forget helping people. The people in this village didn’t deserve her help after how they treated her. She heard their voices again, echoing in the silence of the moonlit room.
With this power, she would make them pay for every foul word they’d spat her way over the years.
She’d purge their poisonous tongues from this land once and for all.
Hands push me through the veil and into sight
Is this footlight
just a little too bright?
No? You say just a light?
Then surely my dress is a little too tight?
There is no white knight
to save me from my plight tonight
or to protect me with his holy smite
The many eyes stare, waiting for a fight
or a fiery smite to set me alight
Maybe they will at the stroke of midnight
Can I argue legal right?
Infringement of copyright?
Perhaps ready to indict tonight?
Is my plight too trite
for protection from the might
of the light?
I came to suddenly, the blackness seeping away from my vision as adrenaline started to race through my veins. My hands were bound behind my back, handcuffs digging into my wrists, but the pain barely even registered past the panic. I couldn’t move from where I sat, bound to the pole at my back with a light shining directly down on me. Everything outside the ring of light was lost to the darkness.
The air was thick with the smells of hay and manure. Cicadas chirped beyond the walls in the still night air and I heard the gentle scuffing of someone, or something, moving not far away.
I heard large doors open somewhere behind me before they swung shut yet again. Heavy footsteps came ever closer until they stood before me.
It was Ryan, my new stepdad. He’d married my mother nearly a month ago, but I didn’t really know him very well. He was a tall man, with salt and pepper hair and average build. He liked to laugh and overall seemed friendly, which was a pleasant surprise. I was told he was an attorney, but at this moment I wasn’t entirely sure which side of the law he was on. He looked down at me with calm, knowing eyes and a solemn expression.
“Ryan?” I asked in disbelief, “What’s going on?”
He shrugged, so slight a motion that I nearly missed it entirely.
“This isn’t how I wanted to do this, but you gave me no choice when you walked in on me and Vanessa. I couldn’t have you spoiling things, so I had to resort to…extreme measures.”
His words brought back a fuzzy memory. I’d come home early and walked in on Ryan talking with a young woman I’d never seen before. I remember being outraged, thinking he was cheating on my mother already. Before I’d been able to say anything, I’d felt a sharp pain in my neck, and everything had gone black. Had he drugged me? Was he going to kill me to keep his dirty little secret? Where was my mom?
“Where’s my mom?” I asked, my mind locking on the singular question.
“Your mother is around here somewhere. I’m sure you’ll see her soon.”
A knowing smile touched Ryan’s features as he made a ‘come here’ motion at the shadows behind me. It only took a second for another figure to appear, a tall, blonde woman in a police uniform. My heart sank into my stomach at the sight of her. Presented with a lawyer and an officer in this old barn, likely in the middle of nowhere…what on earth were they going to do to me?
“Do you know why you’re here, Jacob?” the woman asked sternly, her gaze locking on my own and holding steady. I shook my head, a cold sweat breaking out on my palms. What did they find?
She made an unhappy sound, frowning slightly, and bent to my level, her eyes still locked on my own.
“I’ve heard things about you, Mr. Reeves,” she said slowly as an unseen figure behind me unlocked my cuffs, “I’ve heard you have the uncanny ability to get yourself into lots of trouble. That you are a naughty boy.”
The purr at her last words made me freeze, uncertain. My brow furrowed as somewhere in the area, music began to play.
“SURPRISE!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY JAKE!!”
People swarmed in from every direction. All of them friends and coworkers I was close with. It seemed, in everything going on, I had completely forgotten about my own 21st birthday. My stepfather winked at me conspiratorially as the officer began to strip. I lost him in the crowd shortly thereafter.
The party was a blast, going on late into the night, but nothing would top the relief I had felt when I realized they hadn’t found the bodies.