Wicker pg. 6 - I Return to Hannah's Rock

Presently, poised for the next stroke of the rhythm, I discerned a figure in a clearing just ahead.  It was human in form and statured, and seemed less ephemeral than the fog-visions I had learned to dismiss.  I turned around to catch Ethan as he tumbled out of the mist, and put a finger to my lips.  He understood my signal.  “How far may a man to into a marsh?” he whispered between labored breaths.

“Half-way; any further, and he shall be coming out again.  Do you mark yonder figure?”

Ethan peered at the unmoving figure.  “A witch!  Will she burn?”  He produced a torch, and scrabbled for his tinder-box.

“Nay, we shall take her to Hannah’s Rock to hang.”  I made ready the leathern sack to bind the witch up in.

As we advanced into the clearing, Ethan’s conclusion was borne out.  The figure was of indefinite gender; its clothes might have been our own, for their cut and material; and it was occupied in working a strand of wicker into the frame of some article of furniture.  We had captured one of the mythical wicker witches!

A piece of wicker snapped under Ethan’s foot.  The witch turned to stare him full in the face, and he fell down unconscious.  I lost no time in drawing the sack over its head, wrestling it to the ground, and forcing it into the sack.  My captive secure, I plunged into the wicker, never to look back.

I followed as best I could the path hewn out by Henry and myself, trusting the scimitar and my sense of direction to see me through the rest.  The wicker seemed to have mended itself in many places.  I gave my captive a difficult ride, dragging the sack behind me, at the mercy of the terrain.  Periodically, growing impatient to be free of the marshes, I slung the sack over my shoulder and proceeded at an awkward jog for a few minutes.  My progress was impeded not only by my burden’s weight, but also by its struggles.  The sack shook so at times that it was as if I were abducting the entire population of divine crickets.  All through the marshes, the crickets continued to sing their prayer for forgiveness.

When at last I sliced through the final strands of mist and wicker, the position of the sun indicated that it was the afternoon.  Weak of body and spirit, I dragged my captive eastward through the tall grasses.  I felt fortunate to breathe air not choked with fog.  My ears, however, continued to ring with the vibrations of the crickets’ song.  My shadow touched Hannah’s Rock by dusk, causing a not unexpected commotion.  Martha flung her arms about my neck, and kissed my muddied cheek.

“You did survive!” she said.

“I told you I should.”

“Henry and Ethan!” she cried, apprehensive.

“Dead,” said I, treading wearily through the street.

“Oh, Zachary!  Then the marshes truly are a haven of death.”

“They are evil.  I have captured the witch who killed Ethan.  The marshes themselves were Henry’s murderer.”

“How awful.”  She walked beside me, her head cast down in mourning.  Inquiries were flung at me from either side of the street respecting Henry and Ethan, to all of which I replied: “Dead.”  Martha wept onto my shoulder as we approached the town square.

A sizable crowd awaited me in the square.  I pushed through them – for they were no more substantial than a tangle of wicker – toward the gallows.  I distinguished Warren Fuller’s frightened face among the others.  From the platform of the gallows, Reverend Elliott hailed me.

“You have survived the wicker marshes, Zachary Moore.”

“But my brother and my friend have not,” I retorted.

“Perhaps the marshes have unseated their consciences,” suggested the Reverend.

“The marshes have murdered them.”

“So the marshes are evil.”

“Aye.”

“And are they wicker?” he asked.

“Aye, wicker, Reverend.”  I ascended the steps of the gallows.

“And be there witches?”

“Aye.  This is one.”  I dropped the sack at his feet, where it lay unmoving.  “This one has killed Ethan.  She looked into his eyes, and he was dead.”

“The legends are true.”  He searched my face, incredulous.

“Aye.”

“And after the life has settled into the soles of the witch’s feet, the rope shall close on the neck of Warren Fuller.”

“Nay!” I cried, lunging forth to within a hair’s breadth of laying hands on the Reverend.  “Had Warren Fuller been within the marshes, I should have seen it in his countenance.  Warren Fuller did not deal with the wicker witches.”

“You have seen them, Zachary Moore,” said the Reverend.

“Aye, I have seen them.  And now I shall avenge Ethan.”

Reverend Elliott stepped aside.  I intended to reveal only the body, and keep the face hidden within the sack.  On opening the sack, however, I was unable to locate my captive’s legs within it; in fact, its only content was a cloud of marsh-mist, which rolled placidly out, requiring me to dodge to one side to avoid getting it tangled in my clothes and hair!

The End

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