I’ve always thought highly of Mrs. Anne Stewart. Sweet old lady, one of the kindest I’ve met in my life, in fact. She always made a habit of avoiding the trials though, which is understandable, considering how unpleasant they can be. Mrs. Stewart was beloved by her church. She was pious as they came, and nobody would ever dare to think otherwise. That is, until a blind girl ran into town spewing accusations, claiming she had been cursed by an old witch. An old witch that turned out to be none other than Mrs. Stewart. Following this, an arrest warrant was issued for Anne, and not long after, the same was done for her husband, Alan. So now, after nearly two whole weeks, the day has finally come. The day of the verdict. We all know what it’s going to be, no point in pretending. Still, there’s something about this that doesn’t bode well. As if we’re making some kind of mistake. A huge, irrevocable mistake… Whatever the case, it was too late now. The decision had undoubtedly been made, and now, we can only pray that our choices were just. For the Stewarts’ sake, and our own…
There was a sense of tension about the courthouse that day, as if some invisible force was grasping our necks, filling us with unease. Anne and Alan seemed to notice it too, as I observed them from the audience. I could tell from the look on their faces that they already knew the final outcome of this “trial.” Finally, the judge spoke, “Alan and Anne Stewart, you have been accused of the inadmissible crime of witchcraft. It has been found by the assembly gathered here that you are guilty, and shall be executed by hanging for your crimes.” For a moment, the Stewarts turned to the assembled, almost as if they were searching for some sign of sympathy, some sign of remorse. They found none. All that could be heard were small sighs of relief and the occasional “good riddance,” - the indication of a group that truly believed that a just and fair judgement had been passed. As for me, I sunk my head, not ready to face the couple I’d just condemned. But what could I do? This was just the way things were.
It was exceptionally frigid on the day of the hanging, even for a September morning. The sky was an unrepentantly dark shade of grey, a portentous sign of what was to come. We’d convened atop the hill once again, a grim ecstasy about the town. While we certainly didn’t enjoy these gatherings, there was always a sense of anticipation in the air when they came. I had been placed in charge of “preparing” the Stewarts for what was to come, which gave me the opportunity to briefly talk to them. I wanted to say so much, to let them know that I was sorry for what was about to happen, that I’d always admired them, and that they deserved better than this. I wanted to say all this and more, but when the time came, nothing came but silence. With my job done, I wandered into the crowd, lost and uncertain. “This is just the way things are,” I thought to myself, “The town’s made a decision and now it’ll have to be carried out. This is how we’ve always conducted ourselves when it’s come to matters like this. Who am I to question that?” Once again, I lowered my head, still not ready to look into the Stewarts’ eyes. I was completely cut off from the occurrences. The world around me was completely devoid of any sound or movement, as still and silent as a meadow. Then, I heard it. That horrible sound, the same sound I’d heard at all of these meetings. There were murmurs amongst the crowd. Some were expressions of relief, while others were declarations of contempt. Once again, I remained trapped in my thoughts. “This is just the way things are,” I kept repeating to myself, hoping that would make it any better, “This is just the way things are, this is just the way things are…”
BY Chris D'Arcy