Friday, June 11, 2010

The Burning of Sarah Post

I recently sold a short story to the print digest Cover of Darkness, an anthology of dark fiction. It's due out this November. The story, titled "The Burning of Sarah Post," is set in a quasi-historical, quasi-Puritan community undergoing the throes of a witchcraft panic. I've been shopping it around for some time now, and it's great for it to finally have found a home.

For fun, I decided to post a "teaser," the first few pages of the story, to pique your interest. If you like what you read, why not pick up a copy of the book when it comes out?

The Burning of Sarah Post

by J. David Bell

Witchcraft, like gossip, spreads fast. No sooner does Agatha Simmons turn her toddlers to toadstools (she always was a bad mother) than Hester Rand turns the head of John Samuels, perfumes and potions, and lures him from home and hearth and his poor sweet idiot Annie. Next you know Annie’s raising warts and boils, welts and warts again on Prothall Rand’s prize show cow Prudence, and fifteen year old Lilly, the Reverend’s housekeeper, is curdling milk and sprinkling spiders in the Reverend’s wife’s shortbread. Before the week’s out it’s not safe to go abroad for fear of being hailed on by dead newts, or shoved by giggling invisible demons into the pigtrough, or snatched by the Devil himself and danced naked in the forest under scrawls of chicken blood and the red tongues of crosses burning.

Sarah Post was a witch. The rains that bestirred the roads to mud that fall also churned up evil, and it lay over the town like a film of oil on a puddle of still water. It was green if you saw it in a certain light; as your shadow fell on it, black as tar; and if in passing you stole a hindward glance, glistening like wet sugar. Children running averted their steps and tripped past; the old black cat sniffed it and backed away, mangy bristles erect; even the great Daniel Oldfather refused to touch it with his twisted walking stick, as if for fear that hands beneath would drag him deep down and under. At its mere mention a shiver threshed the town like leaves curling in fire.

Her hair was black as bat’s wing across pumpkin moon, her eyes green like the place beneath the lift of a wave, her skin so pale it seemed a reflection of itself in a night window. Nestled in the webbing of her lip was a scar, dark and wet, as if she’d nipped herself and not done bleeding. She lived alone, in the hut on forest’s edge her mother had left her; she strayed to the woods accompanied only by the black cat, which trailed her as if she might be something good to eat. She spoke little, even when spoken to; she labored till dawn, rose at dusk, and sojourned seldom in public places; she tended her garden on the Lord’s day, planting strange herbs that climbed vines out of the moist black earth, their blooms smelling of garlic and onions. Suitors she had none, though in the past they’d braved the stinging air to deliver flowers and suchlike gifts. These she’d pitched with other rot on the backyard heap.

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