By: Stephanie J. Bardy
Marlon stood at the back door staring at the treeline. He knew she had gone into the woods, and he hoped if he stood there long enough, stared long enough she would reappear. That she would come back and talk to him. Not shut him out this time. She didn't. He pulled himself away, which was agony for him, as he could still feel every emotion, every pain, that she was feeling. He wanted to run after her, to comfort her, to avenge whatever hell she was tormenting herself with. He wanted to tear the ones who hurt her, limb from limb. But he didn't know who they were, or what they had done, just that they had put that look into her eyes, that fear into her heart.
He hadn't always felt such violence. Such anger. It had only been since he had met her that he had felt this overwhelming protectiveness for a woman who could manage just fine without him. They had been together a long time. The first few decades had been against his will, or so he told her. If he was honest, he had begun to care for her long before she had ever made it mandatory. He still told her almost daily that he didn't care that the power she held over him was the only reason he stayed, but they both knew that wasn't true. He loved her. As deeply as any man could, as fully as any captive could of their captor. Stockholm syndrome. That was the description in a book a college kid had left on the tomb stairs. Marlon had read that book cover to cover. Trying to understand why Reese did what she did, why he felt like he did. It didn't explain much.
Marlon settled himself on the couch in front of the fire and let his mind wander back. Back to when he was just a man, mortal, free, and very much alone. He had fled England and come to Roanoke to start his life over. The woman he had wanted to marry had chosen another and although his heart wasn't broken, his pride was dented more than he cared to admit. He had taken the job at the jail which for the most part had been fairly easy. Most of the people of the colony were very pious and tended to keep their indiscretions quiet. Until she had walked into the village.
The people had been flourishing, happy to be settling into a new land. They had come to an uneasy peace with the local natives. If they stayed within their lands, no harm would come to them. They lived that way for awhile and then she had arrived.
Reese had just walked into the village one day, with nothing more than a bag and a few clothes. She had said that she had escaped from a tribe of Indians to the north, but she looked unharmed. She also looked very well fed. The townsfolk, being the good God-fearing Christians they were, took her in. They set her up with a small cottage on the edge of town, and many would frequent her home for remedies as she had away with wildflowers that grew around her yard.
Marlon would watch her walk by the jail, just following the sway of her hips with his eyes. He wasn't overt about it, but he was a man after all. One who lived alone and had not seen any prospects as of yet, to change that. He had entertained the thought that she may be one that could alleviate that, but when the rumors of the men of the village making late night visits to her home began to circulate, he quickly dashed that idea. He wasn't sure how much stock he put into those rumors. But pretty or not, he wasn't about to saddle himself with a woman he had to throw fists over every night, just to keep her honor. She was small of waist and fair of face and in a town of unpleasant looking women, that was a threat. He could hear them gossiping at the mercantile, adding to the rumors.
Then the small animals started disappearing. First it was a stray dog here or there, then a beloved house cat. Then larger animals. A goat, two sheep and a calf. Gone. No traces of where could be found, No blood, no bone, not even a slight disturbance in the dirt. It was like they had just vanished. The rumors of Reese being a harlot quickly changed to whispers of witchcraft. A harlot was bad, but one could live with that. Albeit with a red letter, but witch? That carried the threat of death. The women, when angered, could be vicious. Marlon would do his best at the town meetings to try and change the popular opinion, but his voice fell on deaf ears. So, he just stopped and listened instead. He knew what was coming.
He had approached Reese one night, as she made her nightly walk about the town.
"You know they are accusing you of witchery?" he said.
She had stopped, turned, and looked directly at him. He had never seen her eyes before, and he was taken aback at the myriad of colors. Gold, green, brown, and black, all played within the perfectly outlined circle. She cocked an eyebrow at him.
"And what say you?" she asked with a small grin playing about her lips.
Marlon shrugged. "I don't judge."
Reese laughed. It was raw, throaty, and real. Not like the twitter of the woman of the town. Reese didn't hold herself back. She embraced the laugh as one should. He grinned just listening to it.
He made a point from that moment on, to speak to her each night as she passed by the jail. He would sit in his chair, leaned back, looking like he was snoozing and watch from beneath his hat. She would slow her pace as she approached, almost as if she too were looking forward to the encounter.
They talked about anything and everything. He found out she liked the sound of the rain on the tin of her roof and hated the smell of rose water. He told her about his childhood, his almost engagement and how he came to Roanoke. They were becoming friends when the event happened.
A baby died, and a small child vanished. The milk began to curdle straight from the cow and the chickens had stopped laying. The rumor mill exploded. The word witch became louder and louder.
Until one night they left the town meeting and descended on Reese's home. Marlon was tasked with taking her into custody. She had begged him to let her go, that he was mistaken. He couldn't look her in the eye as the guilt of his actions weighed heavy on him.
He had locked her in the only cell they had. They had sent word to the proper authorities that they had a witch they needed to set for trial and were waiting to hear back on how to proceed. It had been weeks since the missive had been dispatched, and the whole time Reese had maintained her innocence. Then the witch finder had arrived. Marlon watched him with curiosity, as he set up in the town meeting hall. He erected a large wooden X, laid out all sorts of metal tools and instruments, many of which Marlon had no idea what they were. One looked like a pear, but it had a handle that seemed to twist, and the sides opened up like a flower.
Each day, they would bring Reese through the town and to the hall. Each day Marlon was dismissed and sent for when it was time to bring her back. Each day she was weaker, more bruised, and more blood dripped from wounds she didn't have that morning. Her eyes had become dead, and she just shuffled along. Her long beautiful hair was now matted, and patches of scalp showed where it seemed hair had been ripped out. Her hands, which Marlon had always found elegant and dainty, were broken and curled into something resembling a claw. The fire and the fight in her had died. She no longer spoke to Marlon willingly, but only answered when he asked her a direct question, and only with as few words as possible. He felt awful, but he didn't know what he could have done to stop it. There was no explanation for the events that had transpired. When they had searched Reese's home, they had found the small child's shirt and a lock of the baby's hair.
One night she came back particularly beaten down. Marlon carried her into her cell and gently laid her on her cot.
"They will pay for this." She whispered.
"Who will?" asked Marlon.
"All of them. Every woman, every man, every child. Until there is nothing left but the dust they began as."
Marlon pulled the small, tattered blanket over her and left the cell. They had finally broken her mind. Or so he thought.
The next morning, he decided to stay and watch what they were doing to her.
They had strapped her to the large wooden X and the Witch Finder had ripped her blouse open. He was taking a long needle and was systematically stabbing each of her breasts then giving the spot a squeeze.
"No milk!" he exclaimed triumphantly.
The mayor, a bit confused, asked, "What does that mean?"
The witch finder turned to him, a look of disgust on his face. A bride of Satan can not sustain life, she can not suckle a child. Her breast is dry, and her womb will be barren."
He motioned for the few townswomen that he had enlisted to come forth with the large sheet they held.
"Search her." He commanded. The women poked and prodded every inch of skin until one squealed with pleasure. "I have found it!"
The witch finder approached and examined the spot that the woman pointed too.
"It is in fact the mark of Satan! She bears the witches mark." He pointed to a small birth mark located just under her left buttock. He walked to the side of the wooden apparatus and turned the crank. It slowly flattened until Reese was lying down. He pulled her skirts up to her waist and ripped her bloomers off. He returned to the table and the woman again raised the sheet to cover her upper body and face. He returned to Reese with the pear-shaped object.
Marlon's blood ran cold when he realized just what the witch finder was going to do with that object. Just where he was going to put it. Which he did, with an almost angry vengeance. Reese screamed and writhed as much as the restraints would allow.
Marlon moved to stop him but the men standing by grabbed him and dragged him from the room. He fought them but there were too many. They pushed him out into the street and locked the door.
Marlon paced outside until it was time to collect Reese and take her back to the jail. The doors finally opened, and the women ushered him in. Reese lay on the floor in a heap. Blood coated the inside of both other legs, and her face was black and swollen. Her ripped clothes lay in a heap beside her. He carefully wrapped her in the material from skirt and lifted her into his arms. The rage he felt inside made his body shake. He didn't speak the entire walk back to the jail. He couldn't. The woman he had come to care about, strongly, was broken in his arms. Her eyes closed, barely breathing. She let out a soft moan as he laid, he on the cot. He left the cell, filled a basin with water, and grabbed a cloth. He gently washed the blood from her legs, her face, and her hands. He had found an old night shirt and eased it over her head. It fell to her knees, and she looked even more fragile.
"I am so sorry Reese." He said. "I will find a way to get you out of here. I won't let him hurt you anymore."
"Do you promise?" she asked softly.
"Yes." He said
"Will you protect me no matter what?" she asked.
"Yes." He said but a bit more hesitantly this time.
"Would you give your life for mine?" she asked her voice stronger now.
Against his better judgement and almost against his will, he answered. "Yes."
The air around Marlon cracked and snapped as if lightening had shot through the room. A strong wind spun around Reese and Marlon scrambled back from her.
Her hair smoothed and softened to the luxurious locks they were. The bruising on her face faded and her skin once again appeared perfect. Her twisted gnarled hands cracked and popped as they returned to their original state. Within minutes, Reese, the woman he had known for almost a year, unbroken, and perfect, stood before him. Her hair spun and twisted in a wind that only seemed to engulf her. He had moved himself back far enough that his back was against the door of the jail. She padded over to him on bare feet, her hair swaying around those hips that had first caught his attention. His eyes were wide, and his breath came quick and harsh.
She leaned down as close as she could, her face inches from his. She captured his eyes and try as he might he could not pull them away.
"You will serve me. Until I deem you no more use to me." She said in barely a whisper.
"You will care for me; you will have the need to protect me above all other needs." She placed a hand on the side of his face and all the tension left it. ‘You will be mine, until you are not. The choice will be mine and mine alone. Your mind will be yours, but your body will be mine."
She removed her hand and he blinked.
"What did you do to me?"
"I made you mine." She said. "You will protect me, until I decide I no longer need you." She stood and the nightshirt fell around her. "Now, like I said before. They must pay." Flicked her hand and Marlon was slid across the floor and the door opened. She walked out into the street and within moments Marlon could hear the screams.
He wanted to help them. But he also knew they had brought on the hell they were about to experience.
Marlon's eyes refocused on the fire in front of him. For the next few decades, he had cleaned up her messes, moved them from town to town, city to city, country to country. Until she had met the witch she had been searching for. He shook his head and stood up. He didn't want to relive that particular memory tonight. He had relived enough for now.
He again went to the back door and stared out. He heard her wailing, felt her screaming and releasing some of the pain she carried. Then he felt something he hadn't in over 100 years.
It was faint and was gone as quickly as it had come. But it had been there.
Marlon saw her coming across the yard and schooled his features and prepared to greet her. She carried storm clouds and fury, but he loved her. For all it was worth, he had loved her before she had deemed him hers, and he loved her still and would after she was done with him.