Witch Holes

by Mary Crosbie

Johan dragged his cart full of witches up the steep hill, cursing as he went. He had been hoodwinked. The village people had obviously sized him up as a fledgling Witch Hunter, because after the trial, it was supposed to be one guinea per witch, but Johan only received three grubby shillings.

What nettled Johan was that they wouldn’t let him burn the witches in the town square. Everyone knew burning witches purified their souls, and Johan procured a box of Witch Killing matches, which had been very costly because the Pope himself had blessed them. But no, the village people claimed to have a wolf problem, so Johan would need to mete justice outside the village where stinking witch corpses would not attract any bloodthirsty scavengers.

So, Johan hauled the cumbersome witches up the hill. When he finally reached a plateau, he dropped his dragging rope and saw that his hands bled from the effort. He spat in the direction of the witches to show them his contempt.

“Foul creatures, and fat too!” sneered Johan, rubbing his hands. He lamented the loss of his last horse, Petunia. He had shot her for food, but her meat was diseased. Yet another hardship Johan had endured.

He took out his pipe and struck one of his Witch Killing matches to light it. All this toil made Johan wonder if the Lord Almighty had him on trial, for what crimes, he did not know. Yes, Johan enjoyed the taste of whiskey. And yes, his temper may have flared having imbibed. Regrettably, he had raised his hand in a blinding rage, and once woke up covered in another’s blood, but he could not be held accountable while in such a state. Why would the Lord Almighty create whiskey if He didn’t want us to partake?

Johan glared at his wicked charges. It was dead of night, but the light of the full moon revealed their visages. There was the fat one, Goody Baker. She had a sweet, doughy look about her. But they say she lay with the Devil and stole sweets from the church larder. She reminded Johan of a favorite Auntie who made him fudge, so he was relieved he didn’t have to burn Goody Baker and smell her chubby flesh sizzle.

The little witch was called Goodwife Schmidt. Her husband cried when Johan tied her up and took her away. She was a pretty thing on one side of her face, truly lovely on that side and almost all good teeth. The other side of her face was disgraceful: a scaly, flaky, livid ruination. They pronounced it evidence of her witchcraft. Johan wondered if perhaps she only required the healing balm his now deceased wife had used for her parched elbows.

The third witch, Hilda Delawest, was blatantly evil, with her bulbous warts, too numerous to count, and her constant cackling. He wanted to gag her with rope to arrest her nasty cackling, but he was afraid of touching even one of her vile warts. He looked forward to executing Hilda Delawest, if not to simply rid the warts from the good earth forever.

He had suggested hanging the witches, but the village people said: “Young man, we don’t want the wolves to smell corpses. They will eat all the Christian babies.”

So Johan, thinking on the spot, had come up with “Witch Holes,” and the village people were intrigued.

“I will bury them standing up so they will never rest,” said Johan. The man in the leather vest stroked Johan’s arm and said he liked the way he thought.

Johan grabbed his shovel and found a place to dig. He wouldn’t drag the witches deep into the forest as he had promised. They would never know where he buried the witches once he covered up the holes.

The witches watched Johan work. Goody kept fainting, nearly toppling the other two witches off the cart. Goodwife would smile whenever Johan looked her way, only showing her almost good teeth. And that cursed Hilda, cackled every time Johan hit a rock or wiped his brow from copious sweat. But Johan kept digging, slinging dirt over his shoulder. His joints creaked, marking his steady pace.

Johan used to be a farmer until his pigs died. He was going to become a preacher, but he didn’t have a golden tongue or any snakes. So he chose Witch Hunter. The man who sold him his Witch Hunter license had told him it was easy copper. Johan’s back screamed otherwise.

Eventually, Johan had three holes for the witches. He untied Goodwife first, and escorted her to her hole as if she was getting into a carriage. She really had something special. It was a shame about the hideously marked face. It was going to be hard to cover that half-good face with pounds of dirt, sharp rocks, and spit. Johan had dug her hole the best, tearing out sharp roots, giving her ample space for her final rest. She was not a complete monster.

Next, Johan untied Goody. She fell into his arms, sweaty and sad. As he dragged her by her damp armpits, she kept slipping out of his hands. It was nauseating, so Johan rolled Goody like a log into her hole. She landed with a thump and then, she screamed. He had broken her leg. Hilda let out a piercing cackle. He had enough of witches.

He grabbed Hilda roughly and felt her warts under the thick fabric of her dress. He wrestled with her, and he was surprised by her strength. It took all of his might as he pushed her in her Witch Hole.

But something was wrong. Damned Hilda was too tall!

“Oh, Witch Hunter. You didn’t dig my hole deep enough. Maybe you’re in love with me?”

Then she crouched down and popped back up, lifting her dress to reveal her hideous lady parts.

He raised his shovel to whack her. The shovel caught Hilda on the face. It made a nasty gash, which spurted dark blood. She held her clawed hand to the wound.

“Cruel Witch Hunter. You didn’t dig deep enough, and the Lord will make you pay,” whispered Hilda from her hole.

“Don’t use the name of the Lord, foul Witch. You will choke on your words!”

He could not kill these witches fast enough.

Johan needed to do the speech. He quickly unfurled the parchment.

“You have been tried and convicted of the crime of Witchcraft, and sentenced to Death by Witch Holes. You have lain with the Devil, you’re ugly, and one of you had an imp, so I’m sending you all to Hell.”

Johan smelled something funny and looked around. Smoke billowed from Hilda’s hole.

Hilda held up Johan’s box of Witch Killing matches. The witch must have stolen them during their tussle!

Hilda stood straight up and then rose even higher, holding aloft a torch she had fashioned from her dress. She was naked, and it was a ghastly sight.

She swooped down and rubbed herself against Johan, and he could only scream.

Hilda lobbed the torch into Goody’s hole. Goody caught fire so fast she might have been a good Christian after all.

Hilda roared through the air, howling at the moon, possessed.

Howls answered Hilda back.

The wolves.

Goody’s flesh burned so tastily that even Johan’s stomach rumbled.

Hilda took off over the treetops and sailed across the face of the moon.

The wolves’ howls drew closer.

Johan needed to get to safety. He tried to climb the nearest tree but could not find purchase with his boots. It was as if the tree rejected him.

Goodwife beckoned him to join her.

Johan crawled into Goodwife’s hole. They were so close to one another.

The wolves arrived, excited for the kill. Johan could hear their noses sniffing the ground, tracking the scent of death. He could hear the sound of their teeth tearing away at Goody’s corpse, her bones snapping, her now crusty flesh crackling between the jaws of the wolves.   Johan prayed they would eat their fill. Goody was certainly an ample offering.

He looked at Goodwife’s face, the good side only. She smiled and Johan felt stirrings of excitement. Maybe this is what the Lord had intended for Johan, a second chance for him, no punishment at all. He and Goodwife would survive this calamity, and be drawn close, and he could take her back to his village with a new name. The wolves would accept Goody as a sacrificial offering. The sun would come up soon, and Johan and Goodwife would climb out of this Witch Hole, sanctified.

“Look what I can do,” said Goodwife. She removed a sheet of her flesh from the bad side of her face and waved it around like a white flag for the wolves to smell.

A robust wolf, presumably the leader of the pack, snapped Goodwife’s waving hand clean off her arm. Goodwife laughed as if it tickled. She then transformed into a dog herself. Not a wolf, but a black Hound of Hell. She set to eating Johan’s heart. The rest of the pack descended into the Witch Hole to have a taste of Johan. Red mist filled the air. My, they were ravenous.

Mary Crosbie studied at the University of Toronto. She now lives in Brooklyn, where she murders plants slowly. Visit her website, www.marycrosbie.com.