Lizzie wished Mother Demdike would save her stories for someones who might pay for such foolery. Jennet’s head was tangled enough without happily-ever-afters in which the youngest of three brats succeeded in marrying into a household stocked with sweetmeats.
Lizzie sighed. She’d had such hopes for Jennet though she freely admitted that her eldest two children were ever in need of rescue. Not that half-orphans had ever been likely to flourish even without a grandmother who made a living, as some might call it, pretending to be a witch. Neverminding a mother some held to be the ugliest woman in all of Christendom.
True. Despite one eye bulging like a turnip sprung from cheekbone, Demdike’s daughter had grown up believing that a loathly hag might be transformed by a good knight’s bedding. Or at least by a good man’s need for a hard-working housekeeper. Lizzie had trusted a man’s willingness to try spell-breaking only to find that “as long as you both shall live” did not translate into “ever after” or even “very long after” in a world starved in stomach and sense.
Mother Demdike’s rituals and recipes could not compete with morbid mindedness. When hair-clipping and piss-boiling had failed to clear pus from John Device’s lungs, the old woman had cavorted around the sick man like that deranged dwarf around a campfire in another one of her fairy tales. No matter how many aves and deuteronomies Demdike spat into the ear of that prayer-deaf cat, John would die, he believed, for failing to pay a tithe of oat meal to his mother-in-law’s oldest rival in Pendle Forest. Of what use were unwitching remedies when they couldn’t defeat conviction in the greater power of a “just” curse?
Lizzie knew that John had not been in the wrong to deny Mother Chattox when his own offspring risked starvation in a year of meager harvest and, yet, he had given his word. If Lizzie had not convinced him that the dangers of Demdike’s rancor far outweighed the risk of the other cunning woman’s threats and extortions . . . Well. No use crying over swilled oat meal.
Still, since her widowing, Lizzie aimed kicks at the cat’s ribless heft whenever she crossed paths with the animal, though she mostly missed. That Tibbs—as Demdike called it—proved surprisingly nimble, considering its disinclination for exercise that involved effort. Cottage rats failed to arouse so much as an ear-quiver.
Even though Lizzie knew she must seem mad to visitors whenever she threw a ladle at the flicker of movement, she could not resist the impulse. So common were the intrusions of vermin, Lizzie could fling a cleaver without a hitch in her scold. But she could not explain why no one else seemed to notice the hairless tails as they whipped around chair leg or butter churn. Jennet certainly gaped at her mother as if the child were as given to drool as her dimwitted brother, while Demdike’s ferocious stare had phlegmed into sightless, blue glimmer long ago.
After John’s death, Lizzie had sworn off participating in her mother’s trade, refusing to swirl knives in bowls of river water so muckish anyone might claim to see “visions” in toad-spawn. Lizzie no longer packed owl pellets, drizzled with blood or urine into so-called “witch bottles” that the old woman flung into flame as she babbled just enough non-words amid the our ladies to convince willful fools that such nonsense must be magic.
And, then, Lizzie’s belly had burgeoned. John had been too long in his grave for that monstrous cabbage to be mistaken for a third offspring of honest union. This time, she’d no vow to love, honor, protect, or keep her from ruin. In truth, she’d not so much as a lie to seal trust in the moss-flecked eyes that Lizzie would later recall as owning the exact hue of green goose-turd. How she’d ever been taken in by such mobility of features. A traveler. Ever on the move with his trinket-packs carted by a horse suspiciously skittish of the man. A thief of whatever wasn’t nailed down, including reputation. And, yet, Lizzie had been so eager for rescue that a passing rogue needed no talking cat to trick her into hayloft after only a week’s worth of offhand wooing. Lizzie had awakened the next morning to a throbbing in her good eye. Even the sky had seemed bloodshot on her lonely walk back to Demdike’s cottage.
That hovel could not have been more ill-suited to shelter inhabitants from hostile elements. Nonetheless, the old crone held court as if the stones reeked of feudal glamour. Her bastard granddaughter might have been sired by Jamie of Scotland or Auberon of Pixieland. Thus the locals came to call the cottage “Malkin Tower,” despite the lowness of edifice. And the place was ever overrun by scraps of cats and other beasties. Patrons of Demdike’s services often insisted on calling the current haughty lordship “Sir Greymalkin,” though Tibbs’ coat was a sootish black, splotched with autumn.
Nine years had passed since Jennet had thrust her way into the world of Pendle Forest, forcing Lizzie to capitulate. She’d act the intermediary in her blind mother’s plots if only to put bread into the never satisfied mouth of the youngest child. As for the other two: Alisoun, at fourteen, seemed well on her way to, at least, a public dunking despite and, perhaps, because of her prettiness. If only she could keep away from taverns and husbands. And the boy, though nineteen, remained simple as thistledown, agreeing to whatever was demanded until given contradictory instruction. His own mother held no more authority than random cur slavering for bit of crust. But, Jennet, despite her less-than-auspicious beginning, had been ordinary enough to give Lizzie hope that wholesomeness might yet come from unwholesome beginning. Perhaps, that hope would go the way of other once cherished fairy tales.
Still, Jennet’s nose was straight, though longish. Her eyes, evenly spaced, were most times slate, though one deepened to black as it peered through the worm-sized hole in the stone the girl held between thumb and forefinger.
“Grandmam give you that?” Lizzie inwardly cursed herself for snappishness as Jennet set her shoulders against attack.
At nine, Alisoun had been generous with affection. Even the ill-tempered beasts that Demdike allowed to overrun the cottage were liable to be hugged with unrequited enthusiasm. Now, at the same age, Jennet was quick to pull away as if her mother’s touch were likely to infest her with fleas.
Even with one eye perpetually out of focus, Lizzie thought, anyone could tell the child was lying. She often did even when truth would better suit.
“Give it here.” Lizzie held out her hand for the object, its gray reminding her of puckered rain cloud.
Hag Stone. Adder-Stone. Devil’s Eyeglass. Whatever one called it or whatever one believed about magics possessed by such objects, one could not deny the power exercised on believers in superstitious nonsense. Demdike hoarded the things for dangling in doorways of those who paid for her protections from evil eye, neverminding that it was her own blind glower—or Lizzie’s misaligned blink—that had given rise to fears of ill-wishing in the first place. The villagers paid for the same reasons they bartered with the Device family. Those who refused traffic with cunning folk risked incurring malediction. Lizzie feared eventual payback for that fickle power even as her mother reveled in its sway.
Lizzie knew Demdike truly believed in her own ability to cure snake-bite and nightmare and chincough. Even an elf-gripped cow was supposed to be freed by dropping a ring of stone in its drink. And, yet, when confronted with failure, as in the case of her son-in-law, the old crone merely set blame on other cunning folk, most usually her old friend, Chattox.
Inefficacy of counter-magic became proof of enemies’ menace. Demdike set about instructing victims on how best to draw blood from those she appointed witches. Or, else, she bid sufferers to cast urine on the same. These acts would prove malefice or break curses. So she said. Truly, the mere thought of competitors’ humiliation or indignation left the old woman cackling like a magpie about to crack yolk from another bird’s egg.
Jennet did not need to be subjected to such foolishness. Lizzie made to snatch the stone, but the child twisted away, holding it so that its opening fixed on the one thing in the room certain to draw Lizzie’s ire from its current focus.
“Out!” she screeched, grabbing for the broom handle, as baleful eyed Tibbs languidly raised itself to four feet.
“What’d he ever do to you?” Jennet could not care less about the pie-bald cat.
“Oh, it wouldn’t dare do for me. You want that animal to drink your blood like it does Grandmam’s?” Lizzie had seen proofs on Demdike’s chest, thighs, and inner arms. “Kisses,” the old woman called them.
In truth, Lizzie minded the saucers of milk put out for the beast more than she minded any vampirism it might be given to. One needn’t dirty oneself mucking out stables of neighboring farmers as her son did; one needn’t flirt with tavern keepers and cattle jobbers as the elder daughter did if all one wanted was to procure gore for fattening ungrateful strays.
Jennet knew it wasn’t just fat Tibbs’ thirst or his ability to evade broom-swing with unlikely agility that sent her mother into tirade. They had all seen the black wolfhound, likely offspring of Chattox’s Fancie, following Alisoun whenever the girl left for the day. The appearance of additional animals was always cause for outrage, but Lizzie grew especially agitated whenever a member of the Device family seemed the especial aim of fawning or stalking by some four-legged stray. She’d been just as demented when James had acquired his own brown shadow, surely the dumbest and mangiest ever to wag its way into Malkin Tower.
“Now that’s just Dandy, innit?” the boy would exclaim whenever the dog brought him a useless stick too green for kindle—or a carcass of bird, dead too long to be braised and eaten by anyone. And, so, the name Dandy had been attached to the hapless beast, which seemed to love James, making up in its small way for the bullying that was sure to come whenever Lizzie’s son stumbled beyond the tree line of Pendle Forest.
Though Lizzie tried to be resolute in refusing to name such creatures, calling them all “beast” or “that thing,” she found herself the object of animal affection all the same. She had not meant to call the pup “Ball” when the furry poppet first put itself in the way to be noticed. Still, she had not been able to look away from its lopsided skull. And that lump that half-closed its left eye. The creature was monstrous ugly, but beguiling all the same with its frantic tail-wagging. Its one clear eye almost golden as a guinea. “Foolish little ball,” Lizzie’d said one day, forgetting to kick when it tumbled away from the malicious swipe of Demdike’s Tibbs. Lizzie had scooped the newly named Ball into the crook of one arm, then, absently, allowed it to take the cat’s place at milk dish that her mother had, yet again, filled for the familiar spirits that ruled the place.
But Jennet had yet to be claimed by one of those four-legged appetites. And she’d never be if Lizzie had her say. At one last broom poke, Tibbs leaped through the open door into the day’s settling shade.
Jennet didn’t fight when her mother snatched the stone away.
“There’s stockings wanting mending,” Lizzie announced before stalking after Tibbs, fully intending to find some place to bury the hag stone where Jennet wouldn’t be likely to unearth it.
But Jennet was not dismayed for just as Lizzie passed a patch of comfrey, the girl saw Dandy slip into paw-step with Ball. James could be heard singing a tavern song, but getting the words wrong, from behind the cottage. “Young Devlin’s Ditty” became “On Devil’s Titty.” The young man’s voice was surprisingly high-pitched for his age and almost tuneful. The axe thumped in rhythm, and just as the final note echoed, the slightly larger of the two dogs stopped and looked over its shoulder at Jennet.
Dandy’s upper lip raised. Not snarl. Not derision. Instead, he woofed once as he often did just before fetching whatever James had thrown into impossible thicket. Why, Jennet had once seen Dandy climb onto tree limb to retrieve a broken stool leg where James had flung it, more in jest than expectation. Brother and sister had both been stunned to see a dog shimmying up an oak like a sailor up a mainmast.
Jennet felt Dandy’s sympathy. Even Tibbs understood her better than Mam ever did. Some nights when Demdike snored on her straw mat, Tibbs lifted his over-sized head, green wisp-light revealing the gaze that was fixed on the youngest grandchild.
She’d never told anyone what she’d seen the first time she looked through one of grandmam’s hag stones. Not the piebald cat fur, but a jacket equally split, black on one side, nutbrown on the other. Not claws retracting and unretracting as Tibbs rested on Demdike’s lap cushion, but fingers dangling what she first took to be a ball on a string, then recognized as a baby rat dandled by its tail. No. Jennet never even told when she witnessed those same fingers plucking at newly mended stockings even though Lizzie’s bad eye liked to rupture when she’d discovered the undoing of morning’s work.
Mam could not have known how Jennet had watched the deliberate undarning. Preoccupied as she was by the marvel of ears that lacked lobes, but sharpened into tufts, the girl had not considered her mother’s predictable fury as the twisting of hag stone brought Tibbs’ fairy form in and out of focus. Those haunches wanted shearing, she’d thought.
Besides, Mam was ever railing over something a child or an animal did or did not do. Just now, Jennet could hear her mother bellowing at her brother to “Stop that godawful howling and help me with your grandmam!”
The girl flinched as the axe thwacked. Jennet imagined her mother wrenching it from James’ grasp. She would lodge it into the boy’s side-cocked skull one of these days, and they’d be forced to bury the corpse under juniper tree where it would commence singing to alert authorities of maternal injustice.
Of course, the girl would be in for it, too, even if Demdike had been settled in shade behind the cottage when Lizzie had been seized by cleaning frenzy. James and Jennet had both been admonished to “keep an eye” on the old woman who had been given to wandering despite having robin eggs where her own eyes should be. How such crooked limbs could maneuver such distances, Lizzie could not say. Once Demdike had to be hauled out of the River Ribble where she was gossiping with a speckled spirit that Lizzie insisted “were no more than common trout.”
Jennet knew Tibbs had likely transported the crone wherever she’d fancied as soon as the familiar had satisfied its craving for blood-pap. Fairy spirits weren’t limited to cat or dog form, after all, even though they tended to favor certain guises over others. No. Tibbs could convey Demdike in horse or pookah form if he wanted. Jennet had never seen a horned water pony, but she’d heard such beasts were common enough in Ireland.
Now, James hauled the sack of old woman on his back. Jennet expected he’d like to turn himself into dray-horse if only to better withstand the jabs and kicks. With so little flesh on her bones, Demdike couldn’t have weighed more than Jennet did. Still, James could lay claim to being “hag-ridden” as villagers were wont to do whenever they woke unrested. Some declared their bones bruised after a night’s running all over Lancashire with a blue-skinned witch brandishing a whip about their necks and foreheads. Mam said only drunks were subject to such miseries.
As James released himself from Demdike’s stranglehold, the old woman collapsed ungracefully onto floorboards, and Jennet could see that her grandmother’s bared thighs were mottled in shades that ranged from gentian-blue to spore-black.
“And where do you expect I found her this time?” Lizzie demanded as if she expected an answer. “Straddling the fence alongside the half-shed. Said the horse shoe was poisonous to wood folk. And who hung it there in first place is what I would like to know.” Her bad eye drifted toward James as if he were responsible.
So far as Jennet could recall the tumble-down structure had never sheltered anything except passersby in sudden rainfall. Probably a shepherd or poacher had tacked the iron crescent above doorway to discourage boneless goblin and baying bargeist from squatting in the place. Not that such objects were ever likely to keep Fancie, the green-eyed wolfhound, from occupying any structure he pleased. Still, young lovers were always straying into that straggle of trees that edged round the cottage.
“What luck do you call it when the old biddy falls and wrings her neck off?”
Lizzie pointed a butcher knife in James’ direction. The boy furrowed his brow, while Demdike cackled as if—like Jennet—she were entertaining a picture of an old woman’s body scampering about, a direction-mad chicken without its head.
Jennet would not be surprised if her grandmam had a stash of heads that she kept in a cupboard, carved into tree in Pendle Forest. Lose one, attach another. After all, the familiars changed bodies as rich ladies did riding costumes. Tibbs would hardly consent to only nine lives. Jennet was sure that fairies had dozens, if not hundreds. Surely, Grandmam was owed extras for all the blood the spirit took in her present lifetime.
Demdike’s cackle had become wheeze as Lizzie half-dragged her mother onto chair cushion. Dandy and Ball, having returned without notice, arranged themselves on either side of the old woman as if either dog could be counted on as armrest. The former leered so meaningfully that Jennet slipped her hand to apron pocket, where the circular outline might be felt through thin cotton.
Jennet couldn’t say why she felt so relieved to regain the hag stone. The feeling was fleeting as Alisoun’s cry sounded just outside the cottage doorway.
“I didn’t mean to kill anybody!”
* * *
What Lizzie Saw:
Alisoun’s tears left squiggles on her face as if glaze had been applied to clay by ill-matched, thorn-tipped fingers. Those runnels would never leave as the girl would not wash, would not allow her mother to rub away the signs of grief. Or guilty conscience. The girl would beg forgiveness whatever scorn Lizzie might heap on the over-exertions of old folk who succumbed to apoplexy at the slightest provocation. Not that Alisoun could recall the exact words she’d unleashed when John Law had refused to give the needles Demdike wanted for conjuring. The girl might have stamped a foot. She might even have sputtered or, else, shrieked enough to be dramatic as she had been wont to do whenever pouting prettily failed to result in the satisfaction of whims.
But, now, Alisoun was bent on acting the banshee, tearing and wringing at the thin cloth of her skirt. The memory of the black dog slinking back into bracken left the girl breathless with misery. She said the creature had transformed into furry little boy in order to shoot the peddler with invisible arrow. He’d done so at Alisoun’s bidding, though she hadn’t even known she’d inherited Demdike’s talent for communicating with fairy spirits, and hadn’t consciously ordered the execution.
How the girl had born such a naive heart was beyond her mother’s comprehension. Despite the disappointments and abuse Alisoun had suffered for friendliness that others viewed as promiscuity, the girl still believed in charity and forgiveness. Having already been refused the one by Law, she was, now, set on entreating the afflicted man for the other.
No. Old Law was not dead, after all. More importantly, he could not cast blame at any member of the Device clan as Lizzie had learned from judicious eavesdropping. When the tinkerer had been discovered on the roadway (before Alisoun had reached home in hopes of bringing Demdike to her magical rescue), the old man could only blink with one eye. Days later, only drool escaped his lip’s edge, dampening his jowl and pillow. Law had not named Demdike’s granddaughter as agent of his undoing.
All to the good so far as Lizzie was concerned. She could not determine how much the elder cunning woman understood, given the brevity of her lucid moments, but, whenever Demdike did arouse herself to interject an opinion, she might have been rooting at a bear-baiting. And the bugbear in question was, of course, that “old bitch Chattox,” who would surely claim responsibility in order to usurp power that rightly belonged to the rival family.
“Who cares if that juddering bag of bones takes credit?” Lizzie demanded.
If a black dog had been glimpsed in the vicinity of the attack on Law, Fancie would be the more obvious suspect. Or so Lizzie hoped. The slighter canine would not be as well known in the vicinity having only taken to stalking Alisoun in recent weeks.
Lord knows, that sensitive child would not fare well in the stocks were she accused of intentional or unintentional witchery. And neither would Demdike if the Device family’s involvement were attributed to its matriarch. Some said cunning power passed through the female line, but that did not mean that James would escape suspicion, despite being served with boiled pudding instead of brain.
And Jennet? Lizzie could not bear to think of her youngest girl braced to bear slops and shits that villagers would fling at her head if the Devices all found themselves in pillory. Why, only a week ago, Jennet had shed tears when Lizzie refused to replace a dress for an unfortunately placed stain that had inspired taunts from boys that Lizzie had thought too young to be taught about curses that weren’t commissioned by patrons or effected by evil eye. That Jennet retained a yearning for cleanliness was surprising, given the child’s natural laziness, yet her mother hoped that puberty would bring epiphany (or at least recognition of the possible compatibility of industry, purity, and integrity).
Of her own fate, Lizzie would not spare a second for reflection. She knew that only disaster might be wrought by misguided confession. A mother did not need a witch’s gift of prophecy, or even a hag stone to tell her that much.
* * *
What Jennet Saw:
After the magistrate’s men had taken Alisoun and Grandmam from the cottage, Lizzie had lost her senses. She’d even kicked Ball so that his head cracked against door jamb. Jennet had been afraid to look too closely lest his swollen eye had burst like a carbuncle.
Instead, she had looked up to find Tibbs clinging to exposed ceiling beam. Never having seen a cat scuttling upside down before, Jennet stared, more than stunned as Tibbs underwent his own version of tantrum. And what a startling flux it was. Though the spirit’s nose retained its whiskers, other features displayed such instability Jennet couldn’t have told what species he resembled. The animal spirit’s forehead bulged, then receded. The blacks of his eyes pulsed, or, perhaps, shivered. Fangs bit into a protruding lower lip. Could fairies cry? If Jennet could have reached, she might have been tempted to hug only the creature’s fur bristled to points that would lacerate if touched. What was the familiar feeling? Jennet thought she detected outrage, perplexity, despair, and glee all at once. She’d known that human children were given to emotional volatility, but nothing compared to the fairy’s mixed response. Should she pity the beast? Or fear him?
Jennet did not try to coax Tibbs down. Nor did she call her mother’s attention to his sustained surveillance. Lizzie was standing in the doorway, looking out at the hill that had purpled beneath the falling night. Jennet peered to see past her mother’s rigid form.
Two figures silhouetted. One: a gaunt dog the size of Alisoun’s stalker. The other, larger, might have been a wolf. No. A stag. Prongs branched from its head like elaborate candelabra. Jennet had glimpsed such an ornament once through chapel doorway, and though fascinated by fluttery blue flames, she had been too embarrassed by her dirt-encrusted hem to go inside. Besides, such light surely belonged to marsh instead of vestibule.
The stag dog’s antlers were not strung with flame heads, yet, even from this distance, Jennet could not help blinking at the green that lanterned from its eyes. In Demdike’s stories, magic dogs were known for glaring through sockets the size of saucers or mill wheels. But Fancie’s eyes were not so monstrous wide. No larger than sconces, they struck Jennet as being both brighter and darker than star-drunk skies.
Lizzie did not look around when she ordered her daughter to bed as if sleep might be possible with the dark familiars overlooking the cottage, with Demdike and Alisoun took for trial. Why had her sister gone to Law’s bedside to beg forgiveness against her mother’s advice?
“Honesty does not mean folly,” Lizzie insisted. Even her bad eye expressed urgency when it usually contradicted whatever feeling her good eye projected to the world.
Alisoun had slipped from the cottage when Lizzie had been wrestling to keep Grandmam—clothed only in her tattered shift—from flapping all the way to Higham where Chattox and her daughter would be engaging in their usual activities of souring ale and hexing heifers.
Jennet suspected that Demdike played at diversion. The old woman wanted Alisoun to own to ordering elf-shot so a fee might be charged to restore the stricken man’s reason. Law could not speak. And though Chattox was hardly known for eloquence, her very name deriving from a tendency to chatter syllables, closer to hiccoughs than words, Demdike fretted that the other cunning woman would seize the opportunity to benefit from Law’s decline.
And Law had looked more peaceful, more kind than he ever had in health. Alisoun was almost glad that her unexpected manifestation of powers had brought about this transformation, or so she told Jennet when she returned to the cottage, her face looking less streaked. Why, Alisoun was sure that one of Law’s eyes had winked. Was the peddler trying to flirt from his sickbed? Alisoun knew that constant prayers would bring this not-yet-dead Lazarus back from the brink, back to a better life.
Only Law’s son saw otherwise, taking the gleam in his father’s eye as sign of imminent demise. And he brought the charge of witchcraft.
Jennet wasn’t sure if the magistrate’s men had come for Demdike as well as Alisoun, but once the old woman had landed on the smaller man’s back, shrieking, “Eyeballs and bollocks! Eyeballs and bollocks!,” they’d tied her feet and hands, then fashioned a makeshift-bridle to silence her tongue. Were her grandmother’s last words meant as instruction to Tibbs? That nervy beast had already bolted for the tree line.
* * *
What Tibbs Would Have Seen
If He’d Looked through the Hag Stone:
Had the fairy thought to reverse the stone ring in order to make out the true nature of the hosts, who provided warmth, attention, employment and feeding, he would only have confirmed what he knew instinctively: humans were capricious entities. They were given to screeching just when a body was drifting peaceably on sparkly eddies of dream. They threw sticks and stones as if bone-breaking were sport, not that Tibbs’ kind believed in maintaining those ossified underpinnings. Skeletons—fixed foundations of any sort—were overrated in Tibbs’ opinion. But he was exquisitely impressionable. His was a sympathetic nature. Indeed, proximity to mistreatment left the fairy feeling desiccated. When his brother spirit, Ball, had been upended, boot to skull, the older familiar nearly flew apart from the very intensity of mixed feeling. It had taken half the night for Tibbs to recover some degree of equanimity so that he was eventually able to crawl beneath floorboard where he lay unappreciated in salted-slug misery.
If Tibbs had been asked to give evidence at the Assizes, he would have had much to say of young Jennet’s tattlesome treason. How her eyes cast downward only looked demureness to neighbors and strangers who packed the courtroom. How the child admired the white smock, the Virgin blue underskirt provided by her newly appointed guardian. How Alisoun had grown unattractive with weeping. How Lizzie had raged at the youngest child’s appearance and had to be hauled, kicking and blaspheming, from the room. How James, who could barely stand, confessed eagerly not only to conspiratorial meetings with winged demons at Malkin Tower, but to extravagant gunpowder plots to exceed Guy Fawkes’ scheme against king and country. How even Demdike had told what should not be told to those not tapped to behold the lightdark nature of fair folk.
After she and Alisoun blamed theft, warts, and milk-spoil on malpractices of Chattox and family, the other cunning woman accused the Devices of baptizing felines and desecrating churchyard. Both sides sang of spirits killing. And, soon, the bickering lot was all imprisoned excepting Jennet who embellished her brother’s confession, naming conspirators to the plot to blast Demdike from her prison. Jennet told how on Good Friday they’d met at Malkin Tower to suck fat from mutton-bone. She told how they’d capered with goats, how they gossiped with hares, how they swept wind over Pendle with hazel switches.
Jennet did not tell of Tibbs left motherless, kept by iron from Demdike’s gaol cell. Jennet did not mention how quiver turned seizure. She did not say he whimpered for steadiness of form if only to knead thigh flesh. Tibbs wanted blood for warmth, breath to purr. Jennet offered neither.
Only Fancie paid attention to the soon-to-be orphaned familiars as his mistress cradled her old friend and sometime enemy’s head on her lap, reminding the dying Demdike of a time when she was “Elizabeth” and Chattox “Annie.” When the coughs stopped, Tibbs sniveled against the wolfhound’s broad chest. And when the cart rattled to Gallows Hill, only Fancie licked away dullness that descended over the huddled spirits. These survivors did not watch the hangings any more than Jennet did as she stood on the moors above Lancaster. The girl kept her gaze to the round outline she could barely see through pocket’s cloth.
No. At the base of Pendle Hill, four figures tumbled, scrabbled, or slunk from nettled shadow to be caught by long-enough arms as the wolfhound shifted into fairy form. Fancie held the sobbing Tibbs, the keening Dandy, the flickering Ball. Even Alisoun’s never-named dog was allowed inside this clump of consolation despite the Robin Hood act that cost them all. It was Fancie who told of girls whose spit words turned to toad spawn, Fancie who told of shoes that danced their wearers’ feet to ankle knobs, Fancie who told of children brought to barrow by piper’s song.
Brenda Mann Hammack teaches creative writing at Fayetteville State University, Poetry Barn, and the Eckleburg Workshops. Her first book, Humbug: A Neo-Victorian Fantasy in Verse, was published in 2013. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including Gargoyle Magazine, Rhino, Mudlark, A capella Zoo, Menacing Hedge, and Bone Bouquet. She serves as editor of Glint Literary Journal. Hammack’s current project is a collection of stories based on transcripts of the Pendle witchcraft trials of 1612.
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