You never forget summer. The days go past, and if you try to slow them down, they simply go faster. And when I had Elsie’s palm in mine, they simply went faster. When I was with Elsie, the witch cries were a world away – everything was a world away when I was with Elsie. We smelled the fire, and we heard the screams, and as they became louder, and the flames illustrated the picture book of the sky, it became harder not to see. Elsie would carve out her imagination into the bark of old Oak trees, and on the dusty floor, dreams of silences in the night, dreams of the only fire being from the bakery, dreams of a world where we could be together forever. I laughed at my Elsie, and I looked at her wistfully, and I kissed her. I would kiss her every day, and she would smile, and we would laugh, and all pain that I had ever felt would be ferociously scribbled out with the nib of Elsie’s stick that she used to illustrate her imagination. And the days were wonderful….until August 8th, when life came crashing down in front of us, exploding in our faces, just like fire.
It had started off a normal day. I would meet Elsie in our hideout, and we sang with the birds, and share the cakes my aunt had made for me. I would tell her my news: my aunt was on the committee for the witches. She did not believe in the burning, but in order to protect her family, avoid suspicion as a woman living without a man, she was forced to join.
“They are taking more every day, Elsie.” I said, and I kissed her. “It may be you next, or me, or my aunt. They take them away for the simplest things! ”
She laughed at me. “They have nothing to charge us with.” I looked at her, and she avoided my eyes. “Nothing at all.” I wanted to trust her, wanting to persuade myself that she was right, wanted to lose myself in her bittersweet, blue eyes, but I could not.
“Why was your mother taken?”
It was as if the summer breeze had gift-wrapped the awkward pause, and tied a bow around the pain I could see behind Elsie’s eyes. The silence lasted a little too long, before Elsie looked up at me from underneath her eyelashes.
“My mother…” Elsie began, “had a lot of suitors once my father died. Trouble was, she had them all at the same time, and…”
“One of them found out?” I said, quietly.
She looked at me, but only a part of her was with me. The rest was in a memory of what had happened. I could almost see it played out on the stage of her face, with those eyes as actors.
“Hopkins.” She whispered, and closed her eyes. Matthew Hopkins. The infamous witch hunter. My next question was out before I could stop it.
“So why isn’t he trying to find you?”
“Because I’m his. And he doesn’t know I exist.”
I took her hand and kissed her, and that’s when it happened. I could hear it behind me. Hushed whispers turned to cacophonous roars of laughter, jeering and a few screams. I clutched Elsie’s hand and she winced, not turning around.
She gritted her teeth, and under her breath told me, “RUN.” We stood up and began to run, but not before I heard him. Edward Hughes. “FILTHY WITCHES.”