Since this is a book about strong women,
I dedicate it to my daughters, Katherine and Meredith.
I know that children don’t read fairy tales anymore. Oh, they see the movies—animated, sweet ones with helpful birds and talking raccoons, problematic ones where passive young women simply sleep and wait for their princes to come. But those are made-up stories. The real stories, stories that have recurred time and time again, are far more brutal. Stepmothers ordering their daughters’ hearts brought to them to eat raw. Young women cutting off their toes to fit an idealized vision of female beauty. And those are just the romances!
I know, for I have been alive for much of this time. Not all, of course. These tales date back to the ancient Greeks, and I’m not that ancient. Still, I have lived as a witch since my birth in 1652, and as a teenager since I was one, over three hundred years ago.
In that time, I have sought love. Once, I found the man I thought would be mine forever. But I have lost him time and time again. This story is about how I found love and lost it. I don’t know how it will end.
But it started in Salem, Massachusetts. I may, in previous accounts, have fibbed a bit when I said I wasn’t there. It is such a cliché to claim one was in Salem. But I was. Most of those accused as witches there weren’t actually witches, but a few of us were.
Or, at least, two.
Witches and Wolves
I might not have stayed in Salem had it not been for James. I might have been safer. But I have never been one to court safety above all, and I wasn’t in 1692.
It was in 1692 that I fell in love with James.
Then I had been alive close to two score years, but like most magical beings, I did not look it. Nay, I did not feel it either. This was convenient, as few things in my life were, for appearing mature carries with it certain expectations—that the person will marry, have children, be mature. I wanted none of that, for few people were like I was. They would age. They would die, as my family had.
I would not, as long as I stayed clear of fire. Fire was the only thing that could kill a witch. Still is.
I knew not to play with fire.
I knew, also, not to play at love. Love would only lead to painful loss.
But then I met James.
It happened one morning, early, so early that my breath was a silver cloud on night black as my cloak. I was out chopping wood for the family’s needs. I was a servant, but the Harwoods were not wealthy, so I was rather a maid-of-all-trades—chop the wood, darn the socks, watch the babes. It reminded me of life with my own family, back when I had one.
That morning, the spring breezes had not yet chased away the winter cold, but I was warm, for I was working. Goody Harwood kept a close watch on me, so I could not use magic. Not all the time, anyway.
If you think I was working like the mature woman I should have been, you do not know me well. I was slim, as I still am. Every swing of the ax was a herculean effort. I had been out close to an hour and had only two bone-thin logs to show for it. I knew that soon, she would be there, spying for me, accusing me (not incorrectly) of malingering. I had to move quickly.
I picked up the ax.
Just as I did, a black shape crossed my vision. Bird!
This was enough to make me stop again. The birds had left for winter and, thus far, had not returned. And this was no robin redbreast, but a crow.
I had a history with crows.
I examined the bird. It was a large one with a yellow bill. It flew around me just above my head and, finally, settled on the very log I had been about to split.
I laid down my ax, sighing as it sank into a snowdrift. My hands were bare and would surely freeze when I reached in.
I shooed the bird.
It did not move. Nor the second nor the third time, either. It merely stared with its black bead eyes, as if it intended to speak.
Finally, I reached for the ax. The blade was freezing. I meant to swing it just once.
When I rose, the bird had disappeared.
Not entirely pleased at the end of my excuse for idleness, I returned to my chopping.
A voice interrupted me, startled me.
I whirled to see where it came from, for I had been sure I was quite alone.
“Your humble servant,” someone said, and he bowed.
He wore black, at least what I could see, from the toes of his shoes to his hat. With his face thus obscured, he might have been any man I had seen before, any man in Salem, farmers beaten down by the winter’s struggle, old before their time.
But when he rose, I knew I had never seen him before.