Sabbath of the River | Strange Folk

“She wears her garb at immodest length!” The judge bellowed, spit catching in his beard.

Perhaps if I could have afforded more fabric.

“She tempts the men like Satan’s harlot!”

Perhaps if they could control their own leers.

“She partakes in liquor and temptations!”

Perhaps only to ease the pain after a day’s labor, like so many others.

“Her brother was surely a sacrifice in her pact!”

My poor sweet Ethan, how the fever burned through you.

I felt the flaxen cord pull snug around my ankle, on its other end sat a heavy stone, bound like me. I looked down from the wooden platform that sat above the river’s edge. The abusive current lashed the bank as dreary clouds sat in silence above the village. My eyes stung and my cheeks burned, chapped from fear and sorrow. I scanned that seething mass of hate filled stares.

I caught a glimpse of Isaac’s face in the crowd. Like a flood, my mind was filled with the bitter-sweet memories of last harvest festival. He asked me to dance. How we twirled in that swell of music, all eyes locked to our orbiting bodies as he smiled at me. Now just another grimace in the mob. The recollection clung like ash in my mouth. A tightness gripped my chest and my jaw clenched as I fought back tears. These friends and neighbors. Twisted up with suspicion. Eager for my death. They thought it would relieve them; they thought I was the weight that crushed them so. It began to rain.

“She seeks to spoil our harvest!”

Do I not eat from the same fields?

“She congregates with beasts!”

Do not the slightest of God’s creatures deserve compassion?

“She taints our hallowed church!”

Did I not pray with fervor? Did I not pay my tithes?

“If this girl is a witch, then by ordeal we shall know it. If she is innocent, then may God have mercy on her soul.”

The assemblage roared and spit and jeered, vitriol seeped from them and the air teemed with it. The judge had said all he needed to. My tears came freely as he placed his boot on the heavy stone, pushing it into the river. I felt my ankle tug out from beneath me. Everything went white as my head hit against the deck. Splash. The ringing in my ears was swiftly replaced by the muted gurgle of submersion. The murky current wrapped around my body, pulling against the rope as I sank to its depths. My lungs ached as their reserves dwindled. Oh that panic. That deep, primal, alarm when the air does not come. Every muscle in my body screamed as I thrashed against my anchor. Blackness seeped into my blurry vision, but I felt no quiet acceptance. I felt something else. A defiance so cold it could make a god shiver. The sadness in me lit like oil as anger sparked through my soul. I was grief. I was rage. I would be the famine and I would be the weight. The rope went taught and the heavy stone dislodged from the murky sediment.

I began to rise, and as I rose, the river rose with me, and as I bellowed, the lightning joined my chorus. Let the fields flood. Let the farmers starve and the charlatans burn. No innocents would be lost this day, for innocence had left this place.

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