Flash Fiction for for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge, kindly hosted by Priceless Joy. The challenge asks us to write a piece of fiction from the photo prompt provided in around 100- 150 words – give or take 25 words. It encourages participants to comment, constructively, on other entries, so supporting each other’s writing. If you’d like to join in with this challenge, follow the link in the title of PJ’s, blog: Beautiful Words to see what to do. The challenge runs from Wednesday to Wednesday every week.
Here is this week’s prompt, provided by Priceless Joy:
. . . and this is my story:
As a girl I would dance at the edge of the pond, laughing at the ducks waddling along the grassy bank and sliding into the water. When I was grown and wed, I would scrub Tom’s tunics in that water till my hands were almost raw.
Tom worked hard on our farm and I contented myself with my chores. I tended my herbs and earned a little coin selling cures for ailments -chamomile to erase weariness and feverfew for headaches and fever…
But I couldn’t save Tom from the plague.
I kept the farm going after he’d passed, and continued to sell my herbs. And the company of my cats kept me from being lonely.
Then, in 1646, the Puritans came with their henchman.
The villagers jeered … called me ‘witch’… as my tortured body was dragged to the ducking stool. Three times I survived the ducking, but my fate was already sealed. I can never forget the pain of the flames …
I come here sometimes to watch the ducks waddling along the banks.
Word Count: 175
If you’d like to view other entries, click here.
For anyone interested, here is a little piece I’ve put together (from various sources) by way of explanation about witchcraft and the use of the ducking stool.
The main period of witch-hunts in Europe and North America was between 1450 and 1750, the last recorded execution of people convicted as witches being in the 18th century.
For many years, magic had been part of everyday life, and was only considered wrong if it worked effectively – but for the wrong reasons. Witches were often called on to help church ministers with illnesses, or to help deliver a baby. If anything went wrong, people would question whether the witch had made a pact with the devil. Witches were handled cruelly, often being subjected to awful tortures in order to exact a confession and the names of others involved in their craft. Thumb screws and leg irons were common – the great pain of which usually resulted in confession.
In 1645-6, a short period of ‘witch fever’ gripped England. Renowned witch finder, Matthew Hopkins, had 68 people from Bury St. Edmunds and 19 people from Chelmsford put to death in a single day. His main tool to discover witches was a ‘needle’, used to poke/prod a wart, mole or insect bite to see if the woman felt any pain. If she did not, she was a witch. It is believed that the needle was a 3 inch spike that retracted into a spring-loaded handle so that the witch felt nothing!
The most likely women to be targeted as witches were widows, who managed to keep a household going alone. No woman was believed to be that strong – unless she had help from the devil. Those who offered/sold cures for illnesses and those who kept cats also came under suspicion. A cat (typically a black one) was said to be the witch’s ‘familiar’ or ‘familiar spirit’ – a supernatural being that helped and supported her evil work.
The ducking stool had long been a common punishment to inflict upon women, though some men were also subjected to it (e.g. dishonest tradesmen). It was generally used on prostitutes, scolds (women who nagged their husbands, or gossiped too much) and women accused of witchcraft. If the ‘witch’ survived the ducking, she was said to have been saved by the devil, so she was executed anyway – either hung or burnt at the stake.
The ducking stool tended to be replaced simply by the ‘swimming test’ in many places. The woman was tossed into the water with her thumbs tied to opposite toes. If she floated she was a witch, therefore executed. If she sank and drowned she was innocent! Either way, she couldn’t win.