Category Archives: Historical Fiction

A Search For Hope

It was the year 1938. I was 25 years old, happily married with a promising future filled with big dreams. My husband, David, and I lived in a small town in Poland.  Our little home was barely even on the map, and it was just what we had always dreamed of having.  Both of us grew up in the growing political climate of Germany, and decided that we wanted to escape and explore the world together. Poland was to be just the beginning of our traveling adventures. We were well on our way, but then we found we were with child. Our traveling adventures were put on hold, and instead we began a new journey together in parenthood.

David was a beautiful man.  He stood at an impressive height, well built, with ebony curly locks of hair.  I had fallen in love with him instantly.  His handsome looks were only surpassed by the beauty of his heart.  As a Jewish officer, he would come home and tell me all the news about what was happening back home in Germany.  The stories of the Nazi party attacking innocent people seemed to be too horrific to believe.  How could anyone be that evil? Little did we know that our entire world would soon learn how true that evil could be.

A year had passed, and it was now March of 1939. Germany continued to invade town after town with its evil Nazi regime.  News finally reached us that soldiers had entered Poland territory. Due to our living by the border, we were the next city on the list. As invasion began, David, our young daughter, and I constantly stayed on the move. “It looks like our adventure won’t end here, darling,” I remember David saying to me. I simply replied with a worried smile and a heart filled with fear.  It seemed as if we were living on borrowed time, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that something horrific was about to occur.

In early April, we learned the gastapo was not too far behind us. We didn’t stop for anything, we couldn’t stop for anything. Our goal was to reach the sanctuary of the Soviet Union.  We knew we would be safe there due to the treaty Germany had made, which promised neither country would attack the other country during this World War. We were soon to learn that some promises were made just to be broken. Evil doesn’t care about keeping its word.

David and I had made a little home near the border of the Soviet Union and Poland. It was a beautiful spring, sunny day.  David was out on patrol and I was home with our little girl, Annaliese. I can still remember the sound of the Nazi soldiers knocking on my door. When I didn’t answer promptly enough for their tastes, they forced themselves inside and began barking questions. They asked me my name, my age, my birthplace, my ethnicity. Like bullet fire, the questions came one after another in constant repetition. Even in my fear, I was finally frustrated with their intrusion and demanded to know why they were there. How I would soon wish I had just kept my mouth closed.  Apparently, my indignation angered the soldiers. The last thing I remembered was one of them raising a fist, then everything became dark. The darkness would never leave me after that day. When I woke, I instantly looked for Annaliese. I found her in the corner in my husband’s arms.  “When did he get home?” I wondered to myself. Then the panic set in and I remembered the intrusion, the soldiers, and all the questions. I also realized we weren’t home, but in a freight train filled with other people. Most were neighbors in the tiny village near our home.  A home we were to never see again.

After a long journey, we arrived at a camp with a large gate and a sign that read “Work sets you free.” I looked at David and worriedly asked him what that meant. He responded with his usual positivity and smiled his beautiful smile. Annaliese wiggled in his arms.  He kissed her gently and then pulled me close. “Don’t worry my beautiful girl. We are together, and as long as we are together, everything will be okay.” It would be the last words I would ever hear him say.

“Men to the left, women to the right.” The Nazi’s order barked through the last sliver of hope I had. We were sorted like cattle and forced to separate.

“No sir, please. You don’t understand. We must stay togeth-” My request was met with the back of a soldier’s hand. 

David kissed me and silently begged me to obey. He cried as he held Annaliese. I think he somehow knew it would be the last time we would ever be together.  Annaliese was suddenly grabbed out of David’s arms and shoved in my direction. The Nazi that had slapped me pushed David to the left and forever out of my sight. I could only move to the right with the other poor souls as Annaliese softly whimpered in my arms, distraught after being abruptly pulled from her father’s protective embrace. Our journey to the right led to a wooden barracks with built-in wooden slabs for a bed. Annaliese and I found an empty “bed” and sleep overcame us.

The next day dawned, and it was time to begin the work. At that time, I still hoped to be reunited with David.  The thought of a possible reunion was what kept me pushing forward. The Nazi soldiers told us we would be rewarded with a shower after our work was completed. I worked without complaint, thankful that Annaliese was still with me.  Many of the other mothers looked at her longingly, and I could only shudder to think what had happened to their children. It was difficult to work and care for Annaliese. She would whimper, and I would quietly nurse her under my filthy gown, or hum softly to her. My instincts told me I had to survive. I had to push through for our little girl.

Finally, the end of the day came. Our work was completed, and the promise of a shower was ahead.  More trains had arrived with more soldiers and people. I assumed that my fellow prisoners and I would be allowed to rest, while the new arrivals would work as we did. I was so naive. Annaliese and I were in line waiting for our turn to shower when I smelled it. Gas. The air was permeated with the stench of gas and vomit.  Then the silence was shattered by the screams.  

Chaos erupted and everyone began to force their way out of the line.  The Nazis had put their youngest soldiers on post that day because they had no knowledge of how to control the mob.  I took advantage of their inexperience, clutched Annaliese tightly to my chest, and ran.  I remembered a small ditch near the outskirts of the camp.  A fence was just beyond, so I hastily made my way to it.  I quickly found my destination, glanced over my shoulder to see how many soldiers had followed, and tripped.  Down Annaliese and I rolled until we came to a stop on a pile of….something. I raised my head and realized what we had landed upon.  Bodies. Countless bodies.  All victims of bullets, the gas chamber, or the Nazi’s physical brutality.  Those that arrived weak or old had apparently been murdered instantly.  Those that were strong had been made to work until it was their turn for the promised “shower.” I couldn’t dwell on the poor souls that lay beneath me, their final resting place nothing more than mud, blood, and filth.  I had to escape.  I had to find David.  I had to protect Annaliese.  I had to survive.  I slowly began to crawl over the bodies, a silent prayer uttered for their souls.  Their sacrifice became my salvation.  Each time I would hear a soldier approach, I would lie down in the filth and stench of death, and wait for them to pass.  To this day, I do not know how Annaliese remained quiet the entire time.  One by one, we crawled over the bodies as I made my way to the fence and our freedom.  We were nearly there when I saw him.  My David.  His eyes wide with horror and his mouth forever in a scream.  I put my hand over my mouth to keep from crying out and screaming. I looked down at the child pillowed against my breast. I looked back at David and touched the side of his face. 

In those few precious moments, I quietly wept for my David, for the future we would never have, the adventures we would never take, and the daughter he would never know.  My grief almost overwhelmed me enough to give up.  I wanted to stay there with him and give myself over to the darkness that enveloped me.  It was at that moment that Annaliese chose to stir, and her soft whimpering broke me out of the abyss.  I closed my eyes and allowed the tears to fall from my face and onto David’s, covering him quietly with my final goodbye.  The rest is a blur.  I continued my crawl and somehow managed to make my escape through the fence.  My feet were covered in bloody blisters.  My clothes stained with blood, vomit, and the stench of death.  My hair was matted and my skin covered in dirt and mud.  But I was alive. For the sake of our daughter, I was alive.

I walked for two days, nursing Annaliese with the last bit of strength I had left.  I had to survive. I will survive.  Please God, let me live.  

He must have heard my pleas, for moments later I was rescued.  Polish officers saw my frightful state and took me to a nearby camp.  It was over.  I was showered, clothed, fed and allowed to sleep. Annaliese never left my side.  A day or two later, we were on a train, and then a boat. I stayed in the little cabin we had been given, alone with Annaliese and my grief, and mourning my precious David.  

After several days of travel, we reached our destination.  My first sight was of a lady, her arm outstretched to the sky with a torch in her hand.  It was Lady Liberty welcoming me to take rest and seek refuge.  A kind gentleman escorted Annaleise and I off the boat.  He had papers with him that had to be completed in order for me to be placed in a boarding home in New York City.

“My dear,” his kind voice penetrated my thoughts, “May I please have your name?’

“It’s Hope,” I replied. “My name is Hope.”  

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Lauren Hudson is a 17-year-old girl living in Alabama. Lauren has a deep love and appreciation for history. She hopes that by reading her work, others will grow to share that same love with her. Lauren plans to continue writing historical fiction in an attempt to bring more attention to important events that shaped our world’s history.

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The Gospels of Innish Bawn


It is only I who am left, on this jagged rock, with guillemots and kittiwakes for company. Yesterday, I buried Brother Fintan in a shallow pit and covered him with slabs of granite in the crowded cemetery. He was my uncle and it was he who brought me here.

My parents died of fever and I, a child of seven years, was like to follow. Then Fintan arrived at our bothy on his way to join the monks of this sea tossed isle. My only kin. I often wonder why he did not leave me with some village woman. Perhaps, he feared that I should be ill-treated or sold into slavery. I like to imagine that during the weeks of my recovery my uncle grew fond of me and could not bear to be parted from my affection—although, in later years, he must greet all outward show with a blow from his staff until I learnt to keep it as hidden as myself.

He was mindful of his sinning against The Rule; it weighed heavily. He bade me take the name of Cormac and guarded me close. My hair was shaved back to a high forehead like his own. There are those who call for us to cut our locks and adopt the roman tonsure.  I hope not. I have no cause for vanity, but once, in a piece of glass, I saw my flowing auburn tresses, my eyes of deep sea-green, my moon pale face, and was startled by my own beauty.

This is a bleak and savage place. Sheer and forbidding. Blasted by storms and chill winds. We cling to steep sides with only a slender niche between two craggy outcrops on which to build the crude stone dwellings of our monastery and cultivate a small thin plot, mulched with seaweed. We catch what we can from the sea, net birds and scramble for their eggs. There are few visitors and whilst they may bring gifts of honey and mead it is the ingredients for our life’s work that the monks most crave. The lapis lazuli. The cornelian. The flecks of gold.

All my childhood was spent in the Scriptorium under the tutelage of my uncle. To become his equal in talent. My fingers are ink-stained black. We labour on The Gospels of Innish Bawn. They are the light and joy of my days, for which I endure all hardships. From the first, Brother Fintan marvelled at my quickness; how deftly my fingers fashioned and held a quill, how eager I was to gobble up each word—not simply to scribe but to understand. From rough practice on course hides, my skill flowered on to the fine smooth vellum of our gospels. And it was not simply at writing that I excelled but in the depiction of all manner of beasts and demons and holy men of god. My uncle took this as a sign that we were blessed, for his own eyes were fading.

Once, when I found the sharp gaze of our abbot narrowed on me, I flushed and trembled that he had pierced my disguise. I felt his salty breath on the soft down of my cheek.

Your gift honours the Lord, Brother.

I sighed with gratitude.

My gentle brothers are gone. Taken by the pestilence. My eyes strain out across the roiling waters to catch sight of the boat which must one day come. And yet, even as I yearn toward the sliver of land which lies shrouded on the slate grey horizon, I dread approach. Without protection I may be discovered and undone. Worse, my holy brothers shall be defamed as I am branded their sinful temptress.

And who should then credit the artistry of my hand? My decade long of toil? Or permit me to continue?

I pray to finish our glorious Illumination. The days pass in a fury.  No one comes. Then, of lapis lazuli mere grains remain, of gold a few specks and of the cornelian—which makes such a brilliant red, there is none. 

I contemplate the final page. The last sacred words outlined in charcoal black. It is not enough. Here should be both terror and ecstasy.

I know what I must do.

I stand on the cliff edge, pale with coming death. My life blood has seeped from the slits in my wrist but I have used it wisely. The iron red juice bled into a mix which swirls and dances across the parchment. Shades which conjure fire and death melding into colours which rise in radiance to speak of unbridled life.

And one last; in the margin I have signed my name and it is not Cormac.

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Rosie Cullen was born in Dublin and now lives in Manchester, England. Her career has included theatre, front of house, and puppeteer but principally writing for theatre, film and TV. She was Programme leader of MA Screenwriting at Bournemouth University. In recent years she has concentrated on prose, both short form and longer and is developing a series of historical crime novels.

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Death Ship 2, Black Bird of Prey

The battle had been harsh, crude, and longer than expected, but at the inevitable end the ship Gerben Huraq had sailed on for three years, initially at the end of a sword honed to an invisible point in the hand of a maniacal privateer, was sinking fast. Huraq, still on the good side of thirty years of age and possibly primed for long distance of days, had once crawled up a rescue rope to that ship from another sinking ship.

Now, twice saved and twice accepted aboard a rescuing vessel, he was in the water again, and once more in the Black Sea, the sea of seas, death scene of floaters, those abandoned, thrown overboard or fallen from their stations at battle, each one in a downward slide into their own history. He had no idea how long he would last on this wide sea, until one precise moment when he espied through a break in sea clouds the growing dot of a mast at full sail advancing from a distant point, ever moving closer, hope most possibly at least a transient passenger.

A final surge of excitement propelled his nearly inert body towards an expectant welcome.

“Have I not lived most miraculously these long years,” he said aloud, “the salt so new and fresh upon me, so far the sea barren for me except for the prospects of the oncoming ship, also a privateer no doubt, which has spotted me alone here on these waters.”

Sooner than expected from his knowledge of the sea, the pure sound of a whistle, came to him across flat waters like a dog’s master at summons.

Also caught in self-reflections came new admissions: “If I had advantages of a mirror, I would see on what manner my presentation makes to the master of this oncoming ship I now see sporting the Black Flag of our destinies, one more privateer abound at mission, commissioned by one’s majesty, king or queen. We are the living dead as far as they are concerned.”

“Ho, there, seadog,” a voice called out, “if you swear allegiance to this boat and its captain, Slank by name, Jerdah Slank, once of Gorey in the Channel Islands, we will haul you aboard, feed you, and then put you to work for now until the holy Kingdom itself comes.

“We are a motley crew,” continued the captain later, “and I am a master of its indifference. What say you and by what name are you called, either by friend or foe?”

With a dramatic move, illustrated by his uniform flaunting gay red and purple colors tinged with black edges on each piece, and sporting a wide-brimmed hat, Jerdah Slank fit the idea of a king of this small estate of a ship overrun and stolen twice in its career, and now sporting a name burned into its name plank, Black Bird of Prey, Death’s Ship.

“My word is my agreement,” said the swimmer, “for this water is not friendly at all. Please hurry me aboard. I fear only great tentacles from the deeps. I am called Gerben Huraq by those who know me and save me from certain death on this sea of deaths.”

“… and my hand at the throats of those too hungry to abide my rules and destiny,” being all he heard of the response from the deck of the rescue ship, a dazzling, bright, shiny brigantine, impeccable to its very corners and Huraq judging it to be as large as 150 tons, about 80 feet long with a crew of pirates as hungry as the captain. She appeared to carry a dozen cannons and would likely sport cargo space twice as big as the sloop he’d just come off.

This rescuing brigantine had two masts with square sails excellent for handling in a quartering wind and promising safe haven for an added good hand. The awed stories would soon come to him in secrets of the hold or in the rigging, away from other ears. A sense of clarity fed him its promises, though he felt a serious reserve manifest itself in the pit of his stomach; he forced himself to absorb that feeling in his guts.

Gerben Huraq, near exhaustion, too familiar with the destiny of lone swimmers on seas of the world, announced his obedience when he said, loudly, “I do.”

As the ship came closer he realized it was a choice ship for battle rather than quicker and smaller ships, like sloops and schooners. He admired its way in the water, a sylph of a large ship loaded, no doubt, with more terror than The Deep itself. It loomed warm and welcome and he knew it could survive strong seas and storms.

He’d bet five toes it was built in a Dutch harbor.

In his mind he saw it commandeered, boarded, stripped of original crew and adapted as a new vessel under a new captain. To be sure, it was renamed on the spot, the old name erased, the new name scored into a mounted title board, a name to be known forever in annals of the sea. The ship was rugged enough to cross the Atlantic, and fair better than smaller crafts in harsh seas, now to be spoken in awe as Black Bird of Prey, Death’s Ship.

When hauled aboard, he smelled the fumes of that scored naming, a new ship indelibly named, and of a recent encounter, blood evident on many edges, on innumerable surfaces.

He was roughly dried off, thus warmed and blood thickened, then ate and slept in deep leisure. When he came to he was in another battle, the guns firing away in two directions, fore and aft, sails rent, blood spilled, riches achingly at hand. They spent hours aboard the newly captured vessel, securing sworn transfers by the sword, caring for their own wounded, blessing those dropped to the deep, hanging the captain of that recovered vessel, scouring each and every space for stashed valuables, coveted trinkets, astounding gems whose quantity and unbelievable quantity tightened the crew in a hurry , and even a pet monkey promising larks and laughs on the coming voyages onto salty seas and Hells. The search was complete from stem to stern, prisoners freed and sworn to their savior, Captain Jerdah Slank, one-armed swordsman, gun carrier, fierce of beard, visage, voice, and a man who was not once alone aboard his own ship, sworn to be protected by two enormous black sailors, dubbed Shade and Shadow by the captain himself at their capture and life-long enlistment.

Huraq became friends with Shade and Shadow, at first from their lively laughter, twins at contagion and humor, and their looking for new friends, a new smile, a freshness come along with wind and water. Huraq fit the bill for them, a smile ready for one and all, even for the captain and his gentle black giant protectors who carried instant laughter at the back of their throats, timbered, husky, and waiting for employment. He found an internal gentleness in both giants who, at divergence of ways when scouring the ship for reason, stooped at every bulkhead, hands groping ahead of them around dark corners for unseen threats. Once, to their pleasant reactions when he tickled one such hand with an osprey’s feather, their laughter filled the bowels of the boat, highly favoring this new man aboard.

And it was a time that shipmates began to disappear or get deposited at sea; some fell from the rigging, some pushed overboard, some poisoned and treated to a solemn sea burial, again over the side with a casual push.

It was also the time Huraq first heard from one of the twins about “the unfilled glove,” which indeed filled him with curiosity, enough for him to ask directly of the giants. “If you note with care, you will find the answer you seek,” one of them advised him. He pushed no more in that direction but began to observe all manner of actions and particulars on the topside.

One of those notifications he discovered was the stiff attitude of some fingers on the captain’s left hand; the middle finger, the ring finger and the baby finger never moved, never touched any surface, grasped any object, signaled any intention. Huraq’s curiosity was finally satisfied when Jerdah Slank sent him below to collect some charts from his cabin and he observed the collection of radiant gloves hanging on a line, the subject fingers of each left hand obviously stuffed with stiff contents, filling the shape of that digital home.

Once that day when the captain was in close discussion with the first mate, and the giant twins were at ease, Huraq said, “Shade and Shadow, I know about the missing digits on the captain’s left hand. Can you enlighten me as to the cause of that condition? I am more curious than a mouse.” He fully shrugged his shoulders as though he was lost at sea again.

Shadow, the most talkative of the two, and most daring, said in a soft undertone, “The words come from our mother who was at Gorey in the Channel Islands, both midwife and assistant to the lone doctor, one named Emil Parsentico, and his lover when his wife was killed by a runaway horse. For centuries we have had Voudun, or what you may call Voodoo, in our tribe in Ghana in west Africa, believing in one god and pleasing that god the best way possible enables good health and wealth to those fortunate enough to have Voudun expressed in their names, called upon them. We have met others like our mother across the seas in many countries or possessions of such countries. The bite in the snake of the belly or a bull with sharpened horn protects one from foes through all the days of belief in the spirits that surely possess them from the moment of birth.”

Suddenly caught up in his brother’s spirited views, Shade interceded and said, “Mother hurried off one day to assist at a birth when the doctor was treating a sailor who had been hauled from the sea. She knew the lady of means was in a bad way while the doctor was later delayed by delivering a baby with three fingers missing on his left hand. The doctor knew intuitively the fate that would fall upon the boy in his family, the father being a belligerent and bothersome man, so he took the deformed child with him in the night and swapped him in place of the lady of substance at the palace, calling upon our mother to sail the spirits with boy babies for their lives. The ill-formed child enjoyed the comforts of the castle and the other boy had the love of an unknowing sensitive mother and a father enjoying perfection of his child.”

He paused and said, “Life, with one stroke, took divergent turns, and you know half the story, at this end.”

“So,” said Huraq, “the crippled child, with a spoiled life, became a pirate, our pirate, and the other …?”

“The other became a favored son of somewhat gentle parents, the good product of the covering doctor who treated him all his early life, and our mother who was able to watch over him with the good spirits always at hand.”

“Yet, our captain has his fifth boat, as I count from stories, and looks to become a most notorious privateer on the oceans of the world. Could it not have been otherwise?’

“Aha,” proffered Shadow, and you or me or my brother might not be here now, and our mother might be in another’s servitude, a prison’s worth of undue penalties for a gracious lady who looks under green or yellow stones, behind wind-pushed sails, and on the far side of the horizon, all for the best becoming our personal gains.”

The smile that broke upon his face said he believed each word of his delivery, to such an extent that he made a sign of the cross over his heart, bowed his head and grasped a hand from each listener, passing on his current passion, faith and future.

Captain Jerdah Slank, attentive to all activity, had espied the three in tight converse, and commenced a diatribe none of the three had heard before, nor any of the pirates from deck through rigging, so loud did he exclaim; “I’ll have no undue or malevolent partnerships, other than brothers of the blood, here on my ship,” by which he had excluded the giant blacks for his own protection rather than theirs. “That is the law of the bridge, this bridge and this captain, and the law of the sea, and the law of my interdiction. Since that ungrateful slug pulled from the sea, the one named Gerben Huraq, I have personally counted 29 shipmates who have been dispatched from the ranks, all unto the gods of the seas, for one indiscretion or another from blatant treason to petty thievery of shipmates’ goods and spoils, and none directly by my hand but by commission on him called Huraq, who looms next on the list, lest any man speak otherwise in defense of his maligned office, hereafter called “the night master of fate, the dark progenitor of the canvas-wrapped, silence-ensured poor souls cast to the deeps.”

He let the pearls of his words fall to the deck on which he, as complete master of the vessel, let them shine in their abruptness and clarity as law of a captain of the main. And there followed not the silence of abeyance, the trust of the masses, the ghosts of lost comrades and shipmates, not the indecisive silence of the uprooted, the peculiar silence of the compromised and abject, but the voices of opposition.

Shade, first to speak, his hand on the shoulder of Huraq, a distinctively protective mode seen and understood by all the command, interpreted from the first word, said so softly that those in the rigging might have fallen to the deck in their leaning to hear defiance rise slowly but surely in the air, like a keen dagger held upwards in a formidable fist.

“We are done with secret deaths of many of our comrades committed in a patch of darkness, as on starless nights, or often when the moon refuses to accompany us though we are secretly outward bound, but bound for riches. That singular man who cannot grasp a sword in his left hand falls far short of being a complete master of such a vessel and must take his place in the mode of all slavery,” and with such quick utterance, the captain of a boarded ship, Jerdah Slank, was cast into ignominy aboard his ‘own’ craft, the devil himself be damned, too.

It was not too long before Gerben Huraq was master of his own ship, and he let the ship’s name stand in its place.

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Tom Sheehan, 93, has published 52 books; “Fables, Fairy Stories, Folk Lore and Fantasies,” and Poems off the Kitchen Table and Ruby’s File,” being two of the latest, from Taj Mahal Press. He has work in RosebudLinnet’s Wings, Literally Stories, Rope and Wire Western Magazine (over 800 pieces), among others. He served in Korea 1950-52 in the 31st Infantry Division before entering Boston College, class of 1956.

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The Sage Grouse and the Bandit Queen

“I’ll ask you again, Belle. What brings you all the way out here?”

“You can ask me a hundred times, Jack Hardin, and the answer isn’t going to change.”

Belle Starr stared defiantly at the fancily-dressed man standing across from her. The white satin puff tie flowing out of his vest and his shiny leather boots reminded her of something, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.  

 “I saw you on Cheyenne Road last Monday,” Hardin continued, “and a week ago Wednesday, you went south on old Bruton. Were you fixing to meet up with someone, Belle, or were you looking for something?”

Belle knew Hardin had been following her. She’d seen him both days. She also knew he’d been watching her movements for the last two weeks, but today was the first time he’d had the courage to actually approach her face to face. She’d stopped to let her horse have a drink in the clear water of Prairie Creek, and was considering jumping in herself to cool off, when Hardin pranced out from behind a rock. Now, there would be no refreshing dip in the creek with this tinhorn harassing her. 

“Why are you out riding so often in this heat, Belle?” Hardin repeated. “I figure you must be looking for something.” 

Belle did not respond immediately. Instead, she took a minute to study this strange man who had appeared, like a collared lizard, from behind a rock. Hardin’s fancy clothes were far too dressy for any serious riding across the dusty Texas terrain. He also strutted when he walked, like he was getting ready to two-step at a hoedown. Belle didn’t like him. She didn’t like being pounced upon, and she didn’t like being followed. To her mind, Hardin also acted far too friendly. She hardly recognized him as a past acquaintance from years ago in Missouri, but they were not friends there, and in Texas, he only looked like trouble. 

“What business is it of yours where I ride or who I meet, Jack?” 

Hardin smiled, shook his head, and adjusted his wide-brimmed Stetson to keep the sunlight out of his eyes.  

“Belle, you might as well confide in me. You know I’ll find out sooner or later, and the sooner you do, the sooner we can get out of this heat.”

August was always hot in Texas, but the afternoon sun this day seemed particularly penetrating. Belle removed her own hat and wiped the perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand. After carefully replacing this worn headpiece, she adjusted the two pearl-handled pistols hanging on her hips. She was sweating beneath her jacket and riding skirt, and once again, she wished Hardin would move on so she could take a dip in the creek. 

“Why have you been following me?”

“I’m following you, Belle, because I think you’re going to lead me straight to that $40,000 dollars you and Sam Bass took in that stagecoach robbery. I know you netted gold coins and paper money in that haul … and I know the whole lot of it is buried somewhere between Scyene, Mesquite, and Dallas.”

“You’re crazy or drunk. I never rode with Sam Bass, and I don’t know anything about buried money. Hell, Sam’s been dead two years. If there ever was any money, someone’s gotten it before now.”  

“Don’t go acting like you’re some innocent angel, Belle. You’re the best horse thief in these parts, and you’ve robbed more stagecoaches than anybody I know.”

Belle glared at Hardin. She wasn’t afraid of him, but she hoped, if she was as unfriendly as he was friendly, maybe he’d get the message and move on. Picking up on nuances and verbal cues, however, was not one of Hardin’s strengths. 

 “Besides,” Hardin continued as he strutted in circles, “I know for a fact you and that husband of yours, Jim Reed, robbed a stagecoach around here a few years back. It was in the papers. Where is ol’ Jim now anyway?”

“You need to read more newspapers, Jack. You’re behind the times.”

“What do you mean?”

Again, Belle did not answer right away. Her thoughts ran to her former husband, Jim Reed. 

Jim was a proper outlaw, she mused. He was nothing like this dandy pestering me now.

Jim Reed had been one of Quantrill’s raiders, and he’d rode with the Younger gang. He had robbed a stagecoach near Scyene, but he’d been killed resisting arrest.

“Jim’s dead, Jack. Been dead almost six years now. Like I said, you’re really behind the times.”

“My, oh my! So, the law finally caught up with Reed, eh?” Hardin chuckled. “Guess that makes you a widow, don’t it, Belle?”

“You really are behind, Hardin. I married Sam Starr three months ago.”

“If that’s true, Belle, why haven’t I seen Starr around?”

Belle’s new husband was on the run after robbing a post office, but she had no intention of telling Hardin anything about Sam Starr or his whereabouts. 

“You haven’t seen my husband because he has business elsewhere.”

“Business, huh? What kind of business?”

“It’s the kind of business that’s none of your business!”

“Sure, Belle, sure,” chuckled Hardin. “But from all I’ve heard you say, it just means you ain’t got no man around. Bass and Reed are dead, and Starr is off elsewhere. There’s no one around to take care of you.”

Putting her hand on the butt of her right pistol, Belle glared again at Hardin. 

“I don’t need a man to take care of me. Never have, never will. I can take care of myself.”

Taking a step back, Hardin flashed a thin smile. Belle was a crack shot, and he knew it.

“Calm down, Belle. It was just an observation. Remember, I knew you back in Missouri when you were simply little Myra Maybelle Shirley. I don’t care what your name is now or who you’re married to … I was just inquiring … for the sake of old times and conversation. I mean … I was just wondering what keeps you in these parts … if Starr is nowhere around?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, Hardin, but I have a brother in Scyene, and Sam’s family is nearby.”

The shrill scream of a red-tailed hawk drew Belle’s attention, and she turned to watch the predator fly over the sage-covered valley. Suddenly, she remembered. Hardin reminded her of that strange valley bird, the sage grouse. The one that puffs out its white-feathered chest and splays its tail while strutting around dancing and looking for a mate. Belle again noted Hardin’s white-collared neck and the way he strutted when he walked. 

He can dance around all he likes, she thought, but I’m not interested, and if he thinks I should be impressed by his clothes and highfalutin ways, he’s got another think coming.

“I think we should help each other out, Belle. Sounds like we’re all alone out here … and we are friends, remember? Why, we go all the way back to Missouri, way before the war, and you know, friends help each other.”

Sweat trickled down Belle’s back, as she moved toward her horse. She began adjusting the straps on her saddlebags, but she kept one eye on Hardin. 

He’s certainly a prickly lickspittle, she thought, if ever there was one. He’s not a proper outlaw, and he’s certainly not my friend. He’s just pretending on both counts. He forgets I know real outlaws. Frank and Jesse James hid out in my family’s barn back in Missouri, and I know the Younger brothers as well as I know my own brothers. Sure, those fellows rob, fight, and kill, but they always have a need or a reason. They’re respected men. I’ve seen all of them share their spoils with families in need. Doing a good deed, they call it. They may not be perfect, but they’d never try to be something they aren’t. Never have I seen any of them act like a puffed-up sage grouse. Hardin forgets, too, that I was a Confederate spy during the war. I know a fraud when I see one, and you, Mr. Hardin, are one. You want something, but you want it to come easy. You want it without any risk to yourself and without you getting any dirt on your fine clothes. You’re a fake and a fool, and I’m finished here. This conversation is over.

“No dice, Hardin. We’re not in Missouri any longer. This is Texas, and I’ve got things to do and places to be.”

With those words, Belle mounted her horse and galloped off toward Scyene. She didn’t, however, take the most direct route. She made a few detours and backtracked a little, checking constantly to be certain she wasn’t being followed.With vipers like Hardin watching her every move, she decided it really was time to move on. 

Two miles from Scyene, Belle rode around a large boulder that hid a narrow ravine. At the end of the ravine, there stood eight cedar trees, and beneath their branches she stopped. Sitting quietly on her horse, Belle waited and listened for any noise that might indicate someone was following her. 

When the sun started dropping down below the horizon, the stand of cedars became shrouded in shadows. Only then did Belle dismount and walk over to the tallest tree. Taking a knife from her belt, she knelt down beside the cedar and began raking the soil with the knife. She scooped out a couple of handfuls of dirt and then pulled on the top of a white bag. With a little effort, she dislodged the bag and carefully pulled it out of the ground. Untying the twine knot at the top, Belle looked inside the bag. In the dim light, she could just make out coins and paper currency inside. Standing up, she hoisted the bag up and down with both hands, and estimated, by its weight, that the money was all there. Smiling, she carried the bag back to her horse. 

It was too late now to head out, so Belle decided it would be best to wait till morning. Besides, she wanted to stop at the Shady Villa Saloon in Scyene. She needed a drink to wash away the dust in her throat, and she wanted to play the piano loud enough to drown out any lingering thoughts of Jack Hardin. 

Before Belle mounted her horse, however, she separated the money in the bag into four parts. She placed two portions in her saddlebags, one in her bedroll, and over two thousand dollars in a leather pouch tied to her waist. It was an old trick Jim Reed had taught her. By separating the money, if she did get waylaid, there was a good chance the would-be robber wouldn’t get all the haul—just part of it. This task completed, she mounted her horse and rode toward Scyene.

Arriving at Shady Villa, Belle looked for the owner, Molly Jennings. Molly was one of the few women whose company Belle could tolerate. Molly recognized that Belle was a talented piano player, and there were limited establishments available where Belle could exercise her talent. The two women had found common ground over the piano in Shady Villa’s bar. Belle liked to play the piano, and Molly liked for her to play. 

From behind the bar, Molly saw Belle first and called out to her friend. 

“Howdy, Bandit Queen. You going to provide some entertainment for my guests? You know they buy more drinks when you raise their spirits with music and keep their minds off their troubles.”

Belle liked it when Molly referred to her as the “Bandit Queen.” It was the newspapers’ newest moniker for her, and she felt the title described her well. Smiling at Molly, Belle nodded affirmatively. 

“That’s why I’m here, Molly. I need to raise my spirits, too.”

Belle didn’t mention Jack Hardin. She got a drink at the bar, and sat down at the piano. For over an hour she played, and gradually the music made her forget her dusty encounter with the sage grouse.  

Belle was just thinking about getting some sleep, when she saw Molly sitting at a table at the back of the saloon. Molly was talking with a man, and she looked distressed. Taking a closer look, Belle realized the person Molly was talking to was Jack Hardin. Had he managed to follow her after all? Or did he have some separate business with Molly? 

When Hardin headed upstairs for a night with one of Molly’s soiled doves, Belle left the piano and went to talk with Molly. She found the proprietor in tears.

“What is it, Molly? What’s wrong?” 

“That man,” Molly said, nodding her head toward the stairs. “He comes around every three months wanting his money. He says if he doesn’t get it, he’ll burn the place down.” 

“Why do you owe him money?

Dabbing at her tears with a handkerchief, Molly sighed.

“Three years ago, when I set out to buy Shady Villa, I was short on cash. That man … his name is Jack Hardin … offered to loan me money. I took it, but I’ll never get out from under his thumb. He wants a hundred dollars interest every month. I don’t clear that much from the bar, and the girls barely bring in enough to cover their food and clothes. Hardin knows this, but he’s a leech … a bloodsucking parasite. Once he gets his teeth in you, he won’t let go till he bleeds you dry.”

Molly put her head down on the table and started to cry again. Belle sat down beside her. She sat quietly till Molly’s sobs lessened, then she spoke. 

“How much do you owe, Molly, to get out from under Hardin’s thumb forever?”

Without raising her head, Molly whispered. 

“All total, he wants two thousand dollars.”

Belle reached into the bag at her waist and removed two thousand dollars.

 “Look at me, Molly,” she insisted, and Molly slowly raised her head. “We’re going to take care of this leech, or sage grouse, or whatever he is, once and for all.”

Belle laid the money on the table. 

“There’s two thousand dollars, and I want you to do exactly as I say. In the morning, when Hardin comes down, you pay him off. Make sure he signs a bill of sale, and get two witnesses to verify he got his money. Do you understand?”

Molly nodded. 

“Belle, how can I ever thank you?” 

“Never mind about that. I’m going to count it as my good deed, like some friends of mine do.”

“But Hardin is going to ask where I got the money. He’ll insist I tell him.”

“Tell him. Tell him I gave you the money. Tell him I joked that I found a treasure chest on my last ride. Tell him … I said I had to pay a few debts, and then I was going home to Missouri.”

With those words, Belle left the Shady Villa. She led her horse to the stables, and once there, she asked the stable boy to pick out a fresh horse and ride to a farm a few miles away. She told him what to say to the two men living there. The boy was hesitant until Belle dropped two gold coins in his hand. After he left, Belle fed her horse and settled him in for the night. Laying down on a pile of hay, she fell asleep in a neighboring stall.  

Belle woke when she heard the boy returning. The sun was just coming up. She saddled her horse and rode to the Scyene Wagon Factory. Behind the large building, she found Cole and Bob Younger waiting. 

“We got your message, Belle. Glad to help, but we’re not sure if you want us to catch this bird, chase him off, or just shoot him.”

Belle laughed, and then she shook hands with Bob and Cole.

“Thanks for coming, fellas. I’m trying to leave town to meet up with Sam, and I’ve had this little sage grouse following me. I just want you to rough him up a bit and send him packing. He’s got two thousand dollars of mine on him, and if you send him on his merry way, you can keep it for all your trouble.”

“How do we find this little bird?” asked Cole.

“It won’t be a problem. I’m fixing to head west, and as soon as he sees me leave town, he’ll follow me. All you have to do is waylay him, take the money, and scare him away from these parts. Then you can get back to your business.”  

“Sounds good, Belle. We’ll take care of the fella, and you give Sam our regards.”

“I will, boys, and I appreciate your help.”

Belle turned her horse and headed west. She was not surprised to see a fancily-dressed man on a horse following her before she was an hour out of town. When she gained a little elevation, she looked back over the land she’d just covered and smiled when she saw two men on horseback shadowing her sage grouse. 

Hardin doesn’t even know they are there, she thought.

When her horse mounted a rocky plateau, Belle stopped and turned to look back again. In the distance, she could just make out Cole and Bob Younger mounting their horses. Hardin was galloping off north toward Arkansas. 

Good riddance, Belle thought. Maybe he’ll go all the way back to Missouri.

As she looked on, Bob Younger waved his hand in her direction. In his fist, Belle could make out dollar bills. Tipping her hat in appreciation, she turned her horse and headed towards Sam Starr’s secret hideout. It was time they were together again.

* * * * *

Billie Holladay Skelley received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now retired from working as a cardiovascular and thoracic surgery clinical nurse specialist and nursing educator, she enjoys focusing on her writing. Billie has written several health-related articles for both professional and lay journals, but her writing crosses several different genres and has appeared in various journals, magazines, and anthologies in print and online—ranging from the American Journal of Nursing to Chicken Soup for the Soul. An award-winning author, she also has written eight books for children and teens: Eagle the Legal Beagle, Ollie the Autism-Support CollieWeaver the Diabetic-Alert RetrieverSpice Secret: A Cautionary Diary, Luella Agnes Owen: Going Where No Lady Had Gone BeforeRuth Law: The Queen of the Air, Hugh Armstrong Robinson: The Story of Flying Lucky 13, and Two Terrible Days in May: The Rader Farm Massacre.

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The Fall of Burhan

Liam Fani was born in the year of 572, under a dark, starry night in the middle of the rolling plains of the Arabian desert. His ancestors, like those of the Jews and the Babylonians, had been desert folks, knowing every inch of the sand dunes and the canyons of their land. They’d lived in the desert for many years, among trackless hills, but they knew how to track anything that moved and how to trace the lineage of the noble blood.

Rumors had it, as old folks had often retold, that immediately after Fani opened his eyes, he looked towards the sky, extending his hands as far as he could, as if to reach the stars. The hot, scourging desert sun had roughed his skin, but softened his heart. He used to be starving for days and would finally go hunting for gazelles, but he’d cry by his own kill. At times, he’d decide to just herd them into a corral he’d built, but their wild nature, tickling the soft part of his heart, would urge him to set them free. He’d rather choose to exchange cattle milk with some dates to eat, from the villagers nearby.

Occasionally, he’d go trotting freely on his white horse, foreseeing the scary, unknown orchards, far beyond the desert he had known. He’d be happy to meet those villagers, but the concentration of the green palm trees, dancing in the fires of heaven, always blinded his eyesight, hindering him from seeing as far as he could. And he hated it. The villagers’ land didn’t feel so open, relentlessly inviting as the barren land of the desert — a feeling that had often strangled him, suffocating his brotherly words towards those ancient villagers.

His four decades of desert life had been peacefully the same, until Burhan, the Persian, and his companions came along.

Fani had once deserted his woman for failing to bury their differences, but to turn his back again on another helpless creature, leaving her completely vulnerable to the pricking pickles of the desert, with no justifiable reasons, was a foul act, painfully chastised under his own, personal rules of the desert.

* * * * *

When Burhan gained power, he proclaimed himself to be a prophet, and built a fortress, hidden between the mounds of sands, in the middle of the desolate desert. The fortress he erected was built with the blood of the locals, whom he convinced to rule the region. They fell for his presumed truthfulness and kindness. His eloquent tongue made them kneel at his feet, furnishing before their eyes, a virtually-created heaven, full of virgins, wine and hashish.

The motto, he propagated and in which every fighter believed, was all heathens were wrong and however you do with them was justified.

His blind fighters willingly fought, sacrificing their lives, for achieving their reckoned paradise, where they’d satisfy their lust with the nymphs of heaven. Their foolish credulousness, coupled with their passion for the sheer and mere lustful desires, had helped him acquire his power over them — they were his living daggers. He manipulated those naive fighters, who were certain that obedience to him, was the key to the gate of paradise.

One day, Burhan along with his fighters set out their ruthless plan to conquer an oasis, lying in the middle of the village nearby.

* * * * *

In the village of the oasis, Merav had once had a dream of fire, burning between her legs. Her household collapsed, tumbling to the ground. She saw herself alone and no one around she knew to be found, but a group of strangers trooped around, surrounding her. She woke up petrified. Upon examining the lines of fate on her palm, she wondered about her unknown destiny.

Her frightening dream came true. On the sand dunes of the desert, she stood woe-stricken and heart-broken. She was a captive of war, stranded, not knowing where to go and what was going to happen of her. She grieved not only her brutally murdered father, but also her darling husband. They barbarously killed her kins, wiping out her community entirely. She looked back at her demolished, burning village, with tears falling down her cheeks, her mascara smudged across her smooth, white, and creamy face.

Though dismayed and devastated, she continued to spark like an elusive sea pearl, misplaced by the hands of God in the middle of the desolate desert, attracting her enemies. Her ancient beauty killed, it sent them hankering after her. They savagely argued, fighting over her. Each and every one wanted to claim her as his own. Her formerly prestigious and royal status rendered her free from them, but not from Burhan.

* * * * *

In the thirsty plains of the desert, they began betting on her, as a precious piece of land, as a deep well, full of an endless source of water.

“I found her first and she’s mine,” shouted a long bearded, wretched soldier, riding on a dark-brown horse. “So, you all stay away from her,” he went on.

“I’d get her from you for ten heads of sheep,” shouted another slim, ragamuffin soldier.

“By God’s will, I won’t give her away for fifty heads of camels,” shouted the one who found her first. “Look at her beautiful hips and hair. Her beauty surmises all I’ve seen in fifty years.”

“Kill her!” A call echoed from a wimpy soldier in the back.

“I’d give you a hundred of them if allowed for a nightstand,” said a fat soldier in the front line, with a sword embroidered with gold, in his hand.

“God forbid. She’s already christened for me. So, you stay out of it, too.”

They fought and bled, killing one another for her. They all wagered on her, save for Fani who approached her cautiously, asking about her name and that of her kins.

“I am Merav, the daughter of the assassinated sheik of the village and the wife of his assassinated deputy.” She asserted while her head was still held up high.

Upon hearing this revelation, Fani rushed to his leader, to inform him of the turmoil, preoccupying his entire army. He told him of her angelic appearance and of her royal lineage.

Fani, the only fighter questioning the truthful identity of Burhan, kept nagging his comrades with questions, “What if there were no nymphs in Heaven? What if this man weren’t the truthful, Godly-sent prophet? What if he was lying? Will you drop your weapons, abandoning the idea of going to paradise? Or will you continue to shed the blood you crave?” He wasn’t convinced nor was he lecherous enough so much as his colleagues were for the nymphs of heaven. Nevertheless, he was faithful, not to Burhan, but to the word he gave to him.

“Let me consult God on that,” Burhan said as he walked into his tent. God was made to be ready at his own discretion.

A few moments later, Burhan crawled out of his tent, wreathed in smiles. He instructed Fani to bring her to him, putting an end to the misery that engulfed his prominent army members.

* * * * *

A slim, hopeless figure, with hands bound behind her back, stood before him. Her black hair was straight, but wavy across her forehead. Her wide eyes flushed with tears, welling across the corners of her eyes. Once Burhan took a glimpse of her graceful beauty, he whispered to himself, by God, some people were born lucky; some strove to achieve luck, while others had had luck thrust upon them.

“Would you like your freedom granted?” He asked as he reiterated inquiring about her name and that of her kins. “Loss kills every pleasure in life. Only black suits me,” she said, choking with tears.

Eros danced above the clouds of his thoughts. A daffodil, waiting to bloom, stretched in the horizon of his mind. The worm in his brain began to crawl. With a brittle smile on his face, he blurted out, “I’d grant you happiness and freedom if you marry me.” “Shame on you. Between winning hearts and mending them lies a thin line called manner. Don’t you know you and your vagabonds just killed my father and my husband?” Burhan blushed as she uttered those words, totally unaware of her eloquence and potency.

But as mesmerizingly charming as she was, he couldn’t resist claiming her as his own. He flatly told his soldiers he’d marry her that same night. “Her dowry would be her granted freedom from enslavement,” he asserted. “Try applying it to your daughter before nailing it into the heart of others.” She said.

Burhan’s reality was hard to grasp. He unconsciously wished it were a dream. His comrades stood perplexed as she kept berating him, unleashing tongues of criminal prisoners behind the teeth, who if released when angry, would throw one in a cell of remorse, where one would only be freed, under the mercy of conscience.

Her circumstances were hard, but there was always hope as stars shone brighter on darker nights. She never experienced such an authoritarian desert prick in her life. She continued castigating him, till she unbridled a falcon, soaring high into the sky. She was stronger because of what she’d gone through. She was smarter because of his silly mistake. When she looked at her palm, terrified by her nightmare, she’d prayed, imploring she’d be happier, knowing the horror she’d experience. She was sure should she be free, she’d be wiser because she’d learned.

* * * * *

“My Lord, you can’t marry her tonight, for her father and husband just died,” Fani protested.

“That may not apply to captives of war, especially to those of heathen!” He snapped a justification for himself.

Aeolus enraged and furious, inside the cavernous interior of his cave, blew heavy winds, stirring a scourging hot, dusty storm that eclipsed a soaring hawk, circling the eye of the sky. Hard rocks eroded, boulders broke, harnesses pulled while horses reared and neighed. Swords swung and clanged, pounding with the howling storm. Fani whipped out his sword, thrusting it into the heart of his leader, whom he once followed, under the night disguise. He crushed his brain whose twin tumors were impossible to eradicate, one of which was the blood, manifested in the abode of mortals, while the other was the lechery for the nymphs of the abode of the just. Burhan tumbled down a cold corpse, underneath Fani’s feet. He had climbed the desert plains with many, but came down with none. Fani thought to himself who didn’t drink from the sea of knowledge would die thirsty in the desert of life. Life was a lesson taught by experience.

As Fani wiped his sword clean with a white cloth, bright clouds danced softly, blowing Zephyr’s winds. A white dove flew above Merav’s head.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Abdullah Aljumah is bilingual and bicultural. He received his Master’s degree in Linguistics from Eastern Michigan University sponsored by the Fulbright program. Some of his short stories are published by various literary reviews and journals. He writes short stories and poems revolving around hypocrisy, religion conflicts, and forced or arranged marriages.

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Copperfield’s Anthology of Historical Fiction Submission Guidelines

The Copperfield Review seeks to publish the best in historical short fiction and historical poetry. We proudly announce our second anthology of historical fiction.

Anthology Submission dates: April 1, 2021 through August 31, 2021

Anthology submissions should be sent through Submittable. There is a $3 reading fee. The word Anthology should appear in the submission title.

submit

  • Fiction: Submit one short story of historical fiction of up to 4000 words. The story must be historical fiction, though it may also be a sub-genre such as historical romance, historical mystery, etc. We do not accept alternative history submissions.
  • Poetry: Submit up to 3 poems in one document. Poetry should be either historical fiction or based on a historical subject.

Publication Information

Copperfield’s second anthology of historical fiction is scheduled for publication in October 2021.

The anthology will be published in ebook and paperback formats. Authors whose works are chosen to appear in the anthology agree to have their stories or poems appear in marketing materials to promote sales of the anthology.

Payment

Authors will receive an honorarium as well as two contributor paperback copies and a copy of the ebook. The honorarium will be $25 USD.

Licensing

Authors who agree to appear in the anthology grant The Copperfield Review the right to publish their work in ebook and paperback formats in the anthology. Otherwise, authors retain all rights to their work and they are free to license or sell their work however they wish. Future publication of work that appears in the anthology should be noted as first appearing in The Copperfield Review’s anthology. Copyright of the anthology collection itself is owned by The Copperfield Review.

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The First Annual Copperfield Awards in Short Historical Fiction and Historical Poetry

The Copperfield Review is proud to announce our First Annual Copperfield Awards for the Best in Historical Short Fiction and Poetry.

We will accept submissions from March 15, 2021 through October 10, 2021, with winners to be announced on Friday, December 10, 2021. There is a $25 entry fee per short story and a $20 entry fee per poem.

Fiction/Poetry

  • Historical short fiction submissions may be no longer than 4000 words in length. Authors may submit one story per entry fee.
  • We accept submissions of history-based poetry. Poets may submit two poems per entry fee.
  • The author’s name and email address should be at the top of the submission but not elsewhere.
  • Submissions sent without payment will not be considered for the contest.

One grand prize winner in short fiction will receive $250 and one grand prize winner in historical poetry will receive $200. Grand prize winners, with the top four finalists in short fiction and historical poetry will be featured in a special digital/print edition of The Copperfield Review to appear in February 2022.

Submit your work to copperfieldreview(at)gmail(dot)com. Make sure the subject line of your email reads either Contest Submission Fiction or Contest Submission Poetry.

Authors can pay for their contest submissions using the PayPal link below.


Copperfield Contest Payment



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The Strangling Angel

When I first felt sick, my parents hoped it was an ordinary sore throat and headache, but when I couldn’t swallow and the fever hit, they knew it was serious. Our country doctor was in Waupun, only 10 miles away, but my brother, Herman, had to ride there on our old horse, Buck, and it was a slow journey. As much as Herman tried to coax Buck to move faster, it took a long time to get to the doctor, and my breathing was becoming more and more labored.

I have no clear memory of what happened, but I do remember my body going from drenching sweats to relentless shivers, making my muscles ache and clouding my already frazzled mind. My breathing was raspy, and I was in serious pain. I saw the anxious look on my mother’s face, pale and terrified, fearing the outcome of whatever imminent danger awaited me. The rest of my family kept their distance, as my father would not let anyone close for fear of my unknown condition.

The year was 1879, and I was nine years old, the sixth of 11children of August and Louisa Gauger. We lived on a ten-acre farm near Brandon, Wisconsin, where we raised cows and chickens, along with a multitude of dogs, cats, and any other animal wandering onto our land. Recently, we had added more cows to our herd so we could produce and deliver milk to the nearby Hazen Factory, which had been built by Charles Hazen solely for the production of cheese. Prior to this, cheese-making was considered women’s work to be done at home, but now the factory was making Brick cheese, and it brought us extra needed money.

My life on the farm was enjoyable, in spite of the rigorous physical demands required to make a living off of the land. During harvest season, my dad would let me ride on the horse-drawn grain harvester he’d recently purchased in Beloit, Wisconsin, from the Deering Manufacturing Company. They invented a reaper to incorporate a twine binder and automate the operation of bailing hay. I was proud my father was always on top of the latest developments, which made us proficient at getting our crops to market. One day I would own the farm and follow in my father’s footsteps.

Our neighbors were a short distance away, and after my chores were complete, I would walk over to their farm to play with my best friend, Charlie. He also came from a big family, so to avoid the other kids, we would hide in the hayloft. We pretended the bales of hay were stonewalls when we played army; mountains when we played cowboys and Indians; and massive trees when we were explorers in an unknown world.

One afternoon, as I approached the farm, I could see Charlie’s parents building a bonfire by throwing toys and clothing into the flames. “What are they doing?” I asked. “Those toys can still be fun, and Charlie and I can still play with them.”

A shirt dropped from their pile of clothes and I picked it up and brought it to Charlie’s mom. “Get away from here and stay out of our house!” she screamed as she grabbed the shirt away from me and through it into the fire.

“But I want to see Charlie.” I was shocked by her outrage and couldn’t understand why she wanted me to leave. I thought she liked me.

Confused, I turned and ran away from the bonfire, through the fields of corn and soy and rushed into my house where I crumpled to the floor. My mother was preparing dinner and when I told her about the way Charlie’s mom yelled at me, a look of dread passed over her and she too started to yell. “Did you touch anything?” Tears formed in the corner of her eyes, turning them liquid and angry.

“No, I don’t understand why they are throwing away perfectly good things.”

“There is sickness in their house, and we must protect ourselves by staying away. I don’t want you playing with Charlie until this danger passes.”

“Why not?!” I said, challenging my mother. “Charlie is my best friend, and we’re building a fort in his hay loft. We need to finish it before the next harvest.”

My mother softened her gaze and relaxed, touching my shoulder. “Charlie’s little sister, Emma, just died of diphtheria. It is dangerous for anyone to be around her. We don’t know how she got sick, but it can strike anyone, especially young children. I don’t want you bringing it into our house. Stay away from Charlie and his family for now.”

My mother hugged me and started murmuring about being safe and keeping the evil winds away. I still didn’t understand, but thought I should reassure her that I was safe and would not play with Charlie until she said I could. I didn’t believe in evil winds and couldn’t imagine anything bad being at Charlie’s house, so I was sure I was alright.

“What is diphtheria?” I asked.

“It is an evil sickness that keeps you from breathing.”

Four days later, I became sick, and my mother could no longer protect me. It started with a sore throat and fever, but by the end of the day, my breathing was labored and painful. Our family doctor made a house call and prescribed whiskey to try to clear the membrane forming inside my windpipe. He said it would help keep the air passage clear, but he recommended a special doctor to treat the disease.

The following morning, I was worse. The special doctor was making rounds near us, and my parents brought him to our house to treat me. I tried to focus on what he was saying, but I was in pain and kept drifting in and out of consciousness. I couldn’t concentrate enough to listen to him, but I did hear things like “infection has progressed,” “little can be done,” and “experimental tracheotomy.” I heard my mother crying and begging him to try anything, and then I lost consciousness completely.

When I awoke, the doctor was still whispering in hushed tones with my parents. I stared at their grim faces and waves of hopeless sobs formed in my stomach and streamed through my body. When it reached my throat, I felt fire and tried to scream, but no sound emerged because the pain was too great.

I remained still and strained to listen to the doctor talking to my mother. “We are not out of the woods yet,” he said, his voice trembling. “There is a high risk of infection around the tracheotomy tube, and Henry must be kept isolated and away from his siblings. There are a lot of theories about how this disease is spread, but nobody knows for sure. Diphtheria tends to strike families, especially younger children. Keep him away from the others.”

My mother was barely able to speak, but she choked out a few words. “I will always hold you in my heart,” she said.

The following week was an uneasy pattern of wakefulness and deep sleep. I was hungry, but it was so painful to eat or drink that I avoided food and only ate when my mother forced me to swallow small amounts of liquid. Every day she cleaned and dressed the wound in my neck, and I wondered if I was going to have to spend the rest of my life with a tube sticking out of my neck. Talking was impossible, but I was able to breathe.

The progress was slow, but gradually I improved and became aware of what was going on around me. I hadn’t seen any of my siblings in over a week, and I had no idea what was happening on the farm. Did somebody do my chores for me? I bet they were really mad, especially my older brother, who always complained I never did enough work. The fort Charlie and I were building in his barn had probably been taken over by his brother, who always wanted to play with us.

My mother told me the special doctor was coming soon to see me and check on my progress. I really didn’t want to see him again, but my mother said it was necessary to remove the tube so I could get better.

I tried to speak as best as I could but it took so much effort to push the air out of my lungs and with the tube in the way, I couldn’t use my vocal cords. “What happened?” I managed to create some sound and pointed at my throat.

“Do you want to know about the surgery?” my mother asked.

I shook my head yes.

Slowly, my mother described the procedure with the precision of a trained nurse and a calmness I didn’t know she possessed. “The doctor started the surgery without anesthetic, since you were already unconscious. He used only a few tools from his pocket instrument case, a scalpel and a tracheostomy tube. He sterilized everything in boiling water and scrubbed them so they were free of germs. The only light we had available, besides that window over on the wall, was a kerosene lamp that your father held over the bed. I tried to assist wherever I could, but I was so scared I could not offer much help.”

“You had diphtheria,” my mother continued with the same measured calmness. “It’s serious because a membrane grows over your breathing tube and eventually stops you from breathing. The doctor made a cut in your throat where the infectious membrane was growing.” My mother pointed to her own throat as I felt the tube inserted in mine.

“That’s right,” she said now struggling to continue. “The doctor inserted the tube into the cut and, with his own mouth, sucked out the choking membrane. As soon as that happened, I could see your breathing was easier, and the pale, bluish complexion of your face almost returned to normal.”

The longer my mother talked, the more distraught she became. I was confused by her grief, because I thought I was getting better, and she should be happy. Yet, my mother seemed to be getting worse. When my stoic father walked into the room, I was relieved because he held her tight and she was able to relax.

A few days later, the special doctor came back to our farm. “Henry is my first success with this method of treatment. You did a good job keeping the wound clean, and no infection set in. Very few children ever recover from this illness.”

“Will he survive?” my mother asked.

“I think so. I have to remove the tube, and we will see if he can breathe on his own. At least this time I have an anesthetic with me.”

Focusing on the doctor, I tried to pay attention to the instructions he gave my mother, but they spoke in low, mumbled tones. I felt they were keeping secrets from me, maybe things I shouldn’t know or something that would scare me. The doctor poured a liquid into a cloth and approached me. He said something about being asleep, or maybe it was my sister Ida who was asleep, but I could sense something was wrong, and my body stiffened in anticipation.

The doctor moved the cloth towards me, and my hands flew to my face for protection. Without thinking, I yelled at my mother, not caring about the stabbing pain in my throat. I smelled something sweet, like paint remover, and thought of the afternoon my father and I had painted our barn door. That image quickly vanished, and I struggled to push the cloth away, but soon everything became black, and I sank into the void.

When I awoke, I was alone in the bedroom I shared with my older brother. My head hurt, my throat was on fire, but my breathing seemed almost normal. I tried to touch my throat, but it was covered with a large cloth, and when I searched for the tube, it was gone. Could I actually be breathing on my own? I swallowed and still felt pain, but I was able to breathe. Maybe I was going to live, after all.

I stayed motionless for a while, dozing periodically, until my mother came in to check on me. She didn’t look happy. Maybe I was wrong in thinking my breathing was normal, and this was only a brief reprieve before my body succumbed to the strangling angel. 

“How are you feeling?” my mother asked.

Struggling through the pain of talking, I pointed to my bandages and said, “My throat hurts.”

“You have been asleep for a long time, but the doctor said you are doing well.”

After another silence, my grief-stricken mother composed herself and said, “Ida is sick. This epidemic is stealing my children, and I don’t know what to do.” She began to shake, giving in to great waves of emotion that consumed her. “I think strong winds are spreading the disease, and I can’t do anything to stop them.”

“Yes you can, you did for me,” the grief I saw in my mother filled me with sorrow and I became determined to alleviate her pain in any way I could.

“The doctor did a tracheotomy on Ida,” she explained, calmer now. “Just like the one you had, but Ida is not as strong as you, and I’m not sure she will survive. I fear the younger children will also become sick.”

Guilt floods me. What did I do to give Ida my disease? We didn’t share the same bedroom and rarely played together. During my free time, I was always at Charlie’s. We had some of the same chores, but my jobs were primarily outside, while hers involved helping my mother with the household work. Ida and I didn’t even get along well, because she liked to do girl things, and I had no interest in her activities. I wanted to believe it was not my fault, but I had doubts.

As the days went by, I regained some of my strength, and my voice slowly returned. Both of my parents came to comfort me and tend to my needs, but the visits were short. The rest of my siblings stayed away. I had no idea what was going on with the farm or my family.

“Henry.” It was my father, coming to check on me. “How are you doing today?”

“All right,” I responded, but I sensed something was wrong. Fear bubbled up inside me; not the fear of danger, but the fear of not knowing what the danger was.

“Ida has been taken from us,” my father simply stated.

“What?” I shouted ignoring the searing pain in my throat.

“The tracheostomy tube caused an infection, and Ida was too weak to fight it,” my father said. “You were strong enough to survive, but Ida was not.” Pain brewed in my father’s sad blue eyes but outwardly, he remained calm.  

 “There will be no funeral,” he continued. “We’ll take her body to the graveyard next to our church. If you feel strong enough, you can ride along to say goodbye to your sister.”

I was devastated by my sister’s death. Why did my family keep me so isolated? A dark feeling started to invade my thoughts, and I wondered if my family blamed me for Ida’s death. I was the first one to get sick, after all. I was the one who became feverish. I was the one who brought the strong winds into the house, and I was the one who survived the doctor’s treatment only to spread the disease to my sister.

The following day, our entire family formed a procession to the Lutheran Cemetery. It was a sad sight to see my older brothers walking alongside the wagon, with the rest of us sitting next to the simple wooden coffin that was Ida’s final resting place. Mother held Baby Augie in the front, and Father spoke only to the horses, urging them to pull harder. There was no funeral service, and no one came to the internment. Families who knew of our situation were too frightened to attend, not knowing how long the epidemic would last, or who would be the next victim. Some families, already devastated by the disease, simply could not bear the grief.

It was the summer of 1879, and my family would have to go through this scene four more times before autumn set in: Ida, age 11; Emilie, age 8; Helene, age 6; Marie, age 4; Emma, age 3.

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Karen Shapiro is a retired school psychologist and teacher with a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology. She has a strong interest in Genealogy and bases her stories on actual events discovered while researching her family tree. She is a life-long student of continuing/online education, with an associate degree in web design and workshops in travel and fiction writing.

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Beneath the Yellow Aspen Trees

We are excited to share our first audio short story “Beneath the Yellow Aspen Trees” written by Chad Lester. The story is a well-written piece of historical fiction, and the narrator, stage actor Jeffrey Machado, does a great job bringing the story to life. We loved listening to it, and we think you will too.

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Chad Lester has a degree in Writing Studies from the University of Washington. His short story ‘The Lounge’ was a finalist in the 88th Annual Writers Digest Competition. He’s currently working on a novel which he hopes to traditionally publish.

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What Makes a Witch?

Susan North stood, shaking, in the Common House of Salem Village.  She shook so hard her clothes quivered.  Her life was at stake, and if she were not careful it could also be the life of her husband and child.  So, Susan shook with cold even while sweat stained her unadorned, brown, wool dress. 

It was hot in the room. 

The packed Common House had two stories with a door and two windows centered on all four sides of the split board, saltbox building.  It was overly warm from the summer heat and press of bodies but that did not keep cold fear from centering in the very core of Susan and those accused with her.  She had already seen Bridget Bishop hung and her dear friend, Rev. George Burroughs, die as well, even while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. 

William Stoughton sat in the center of the panel of judges and looked down at Susan with the pinched, disapproving look of a man who sees all women as vessels of the unclean.  He addressed no questions to the accused; it was assumed that whatever she said would be a lie.  His questions were instead addressed to the cluster of teen-age girls sitting in the front row of the meetinghouse—a place usually reserved for the most important and respected members of the village. 

The girls appeared more bored than engaged.  They would stir themselves soon, one or the other would begin a histrionic vision and the rest would join to a greater or lesser degree.  But for now, Ann Putnam picked at a fingernail, Abigail Warren was braiding the hair of Bette Parris and Deliverance Hobbs appeared to be staring out the window, but could have been nodding off as the warm sun hit her full in the face.  Mercy Warren was the only one paying attention to the judicial row.  This was to be her morning for questions, providing evidence against one more woman from her unhappy past, and it was she, if she so chose, who would provide the pre-arranged cue to the other girls to begin thrashing in spectral anguish.  All Mercy needed to do was say the words, “None of us want to see the vision of that great, black dog ever again.” and her friends would fall into screams, moans, and contortions. 

It is so simple, Mercy thought, to convince these silly, stupid adults that a witch was in their midst.  Mercy and her friends, bored, ignored, given little education and less respect, now controlled the life and death of every person in the village.  Such power was intoxicating.  And no one loved the heady feel of it more than Mercy Lewis, the orphan.

“You say you were afflicted, girl.  By whom?  Under what circumstances?  Who tempted you and how?”  Magistrate Stoughton was always harsh when addressing her and Mercy knew why.  She was a servant girl, living only at the pleasure and command of her distant kinsman, Thomas Putnam.  It was not lost on Mercy that the tone of the judge was more moderate and respectful when questioning Ann Putnam, Betty Parris or Mary Walcott.  Those girls had fathers with position and power.  They were called “child” in a warm and encouraging voice, not the cold, abrupt “girl.”

“Speak up, girl!”  Mercy flinched to hide her anger.

“I was afflicted, sir.  I hesitate only because I fear to see the same demon again.”  She hesitated, looking warily at her hands, which were clearly trembling.  Then she raised her head, in perfectly timed defiance of her fears.  “But I say it now, Sir, frightened though I am.  I was afflicted, tormented, and tempted by the Devil himself, and those that serve him.”
A rustle of concern moved across the crowded common room. 

“What form did these tormentors take?”

“It was last Lord’s Day, sir.  I was walking to this very House, to worship.  I was late, as I sometimes am, because of my household duties.”  She paused, but did not look at her employer, Thomas Putnam.

“We do not care about the reasons for your tardiness, girl.  Continue.”

“I am sorry, sir.  As I hurried to my worship, I saw a sky filled with birds, but there were other animals as well, dogs and pigs, and cats that seemed to be ordering the other animals in their flight.  The beasts told me to come away with them.  They barred my way to the Common House, so I could scarcely move forward.”

More murmuring. 

“I tried to cry out, but a man appeared, waved his hand across my throat and I could make not a sound.  But I saw the man well, and I know his name.”

“Name him, then.”

“George Burroughs.”

“The same Burroughs who was executed last week?”

“Yes.”

“You are sure.”

“I know him well, sir.  I worked in his house in the months after my parents were killed in the Wabanaki attacks.”

The story of Mercy Lewis’s orphaned state was well known by the whole community.  Mercy, the daughter of Phillip Lewis was born in Falmouth, Maine in 1675, at a time of constant unrest and violent conflict between the colonialists and the Wabanaki nation.  At three years of age her parents, along with Rev. Burroughs and many of the people of Falmouth fled to the islands in Casco Bay as the Wabanaki slaughtered those left behind, including Mercy’s grandparents, cousins and neighbors. 

At age 16 the Wabanaki mounted yet another offensive and killed both of Mercy’s parents.  It was then that she took temporary refuge with Rev. Burroughs, himself having lived and ministered briefly in Salem.  As soon as arrangements could be made, Mercy moved to the home of her married sister, who lived in Salem Village.  An orphan with no family or fortune behind her, the future she faced was outlined in full when she became a servant in the home of Thomas Putnam.  She would spend her youth, middle years and old age as a menial servant, bowing to all, and regarded by none.

“We already know of the evil works of Burroughs.  Were there any with him that still walk unknown in the Village?”

“There were, sir, they grabbed at my clothes and scratched my arms and snatched at my hair and bonnet as I ran into the Common for services.”
Stoughton briefly conferred with those present and they did indeed affirm that Mercy was present, though late and disheveled at worship the past week, though one of the men did comment dourly that she frequently appeared under similar circumstances.

“Name these apparitions.”

“One was Captain Alden, the man who sold guns to the Wabanaki and slept with their squaws, making babies with heathens, though certainly that did not bother him in any way.” 

Captain Alden had been named by Mercy before and had, in fact, been jailed and well on his way to the gallows until he had mysteriously escaped the jail and run to New York.  Mercy resented his escape, since it had obviously been abetted by people who did not believe this gunrunner from Maine to be a wizard.  Mercy had had Alden in her sights from the beginning.  It was well known that he had sold arms to the Indians he loved so much.  These same Indians had then used those arms to destroy Mercy’s family and her hope for a life that did not include emptying the chamber pots of kin who should treat her like family instead of the hired help. 
“The other was a most fearful witch, standing in a circle inside a five-pointed star, all made of fire.  She stood there and directed the birds to attack me, pecking at me and screaming in my face.  She laughed at my misery and then turned to Alden and used a soft voice to tell him I would be turned to the Devil or suffer horribly for naming the Captain before this council.”

“Give us her name, girl!”

“Susan North—is was Susan North.”

A rumbled moved through the assembly.  Goody North was well-known.   A healer.  A midwife.  A friend and a devout worshiper.  Her husband was a respected miller and their baby a bouncing, pink, bundle of health.  Susan doted on the child.  Certainly, Goody North was smarter than a woman should be.  She could read and write and vowed that her children, even the girls, would know those arts as well.  But there were times when her knowledge had saved the life of a good man, a deserving woman, or an innocent child. 

You could almost hear the thoughts of the women in Common House.  Was knowing how to heal a gift from God?  Or a bargain with the Devil?  Surely Goody North had saved the life of the unworthy as easily as the worthy.  There was even talk that Susan had helped more than one unwed young girl who might come to her with child to leave without one.  The loss of a child in the womb was neither here nor there, it happened all the time, but the thought that the punishment so richly due any harlot should be skirted by eliminating the proof of her sin was repugnant.  Sin was supposed to be punished.  Fornication was a sin. 

And here was Mercy Lewis, a supposed strumpet, pointing her finger at Susan North, naming her as a witch and agent of the Devil. 

“She comes to me almost every night.  Tormenting me in my bed.”

It was at this moment, cold and frightened, shaking and almost deaf from the pain in her head that Susan North turned from the judges’ bench to Mercy Lewis.  A small flicker of anger had managed to warm Susan’s core.  It did not balance the fear, but it gave her enough strength to do something she was not allowed to do. 

Susan North spoke.

“Mercy…” it was almost a whisper, but those close to her heard it and stopped talking.

“Mercy” louder this time.  “It is not me that torments you in your bed.”

“The accused will stand silent!” Stoughton shouted.

Mercy Lewis, shocked into silence for the first time in these proceedings looked about, almost as if searching for a place of escape.  Then she saw the faces of the other girls, attentive now, frightened, looking to her for the leadership she had offered from the moment this game of blame, theater, life and death had begun.  It gave her a moment and she seized it.

Mercy’s finger jabbed fiercely toward Goody North. 

“She torments me even now, even here.”

“Mercy,” Susan’s voice carried across the hall, “I stand here as the woman who helped you in your time of need.  You begged me to assist you, putting on a face of fear and sadness and betrayal.  You have many faces Mercy.  I think it is that which torments you.”

“She has faces!  She has faces!”  Mercy screamed, starting to thrash about, biting at her own arms, drawing blood and tearing with her fingernails at her own face and hair.

“The accused will not speak…” 

Spit from Stoughton’s mouth sprayed Susan and those around him on the bench.  “Order!” he screamed, not sure at whom he was directing the imperative.  Then louder, “There will be silence!”

The room was broiling with activity.  In all this Susan North was the only one who now stood silent.  In the instant when all attention had turned to the girls she had panicked and wondered if she could run—making good an escape as Alden had.  She had moved away from the thrashing girls and turned toward the door, but too many angry, screaming faces stood between her and freedom.  At almost that same moment two men charged as bailiffs grasped both her arms and she gave in to them.  Her death sentence was sealed by the histrionics of the girls.  But she knew the truth and she knew she would avow her innocence to the end.  No one would accuse her without her protesting the claim.  But, oh, the fear of it.  The pain, the panic, and her child…

Susan North slumped to the floor, not in a feint, but powerless to hold the weight of what she saw ahead of her.  The hands still held her fast but let her collapse between them.  She could not think of her daughter, Hannah.  That would be a pain that would break her.  Instead she concentrated on the hate she suddenly felt toward Mercy Lewis and the spoiled, selfish girls who casually stole life and reputation from so many good people in Salem Village and beyond. 

Rough hands brought her back to her feet.  Her head lolled but was drawn to the one face that could give her strength.  Her husband, John, stood against the back wall.  She had begged him not to come, but he had and in his drawn face she saw a mirror of the impotent rage she herself felt.  The injustice of it all!  The futility of argument!  The rejection of reason.  Their eyes met and she mouthed one simple word. “Go.” 

Susan and John had discussed the worst that could happen, and their plan, to be acted on only in that extremity, was now to be executed.  There would be no more affirmations of love, whispered hopes for the best and prayers to a merciful God.  Now there was only action.

John left the Common House and sped to his house, stopping only to get Hannah from the aged neighbor who was watching the child.  He bundled his daughter in the wagon which was already packed with most of the sparse furnishings from their home.  All of Susan’s things were left behind, by choice.  There would never—must never—be a way to use her possessions to accuse him of witchcraft. 

The father and daughter left Salem Village immediately and were in Boston by nightfall.   

John had sought refuge in his brother’s house when he heard the worst of the news.  Magistrate Stoughton, sure that the obstinate North woman must be an extraordinary witch, and therefore worthy of extraordinary punishment, decreed that Susan should burn instead of being hanged as her predecessors had been.  Execution was only a night and a day away. 
 The night before her death Susan North received a whispered message through the low window of her cellar jail.  Four words only: it will be quick.  Dumb with fear she did not ask for more, or who the speaker was, but she held the words in her mind and repeated them silently over and over.  The words became her mantra and they did not fail her.  The wood, piled higher than the magistrates had remembered from the day before, was extremely dry.  When the torch was put to the brush it flashed instead of smoldering, sucking oxygen from the air. 

Susan seemed to take one huge, sobbing breath, but there was no oxygen left to be breathed.  Her head snapped back, seeking air, and then collapsed on her chin, unconscious of the almost immediate explosion.  A small keg of gunpowder exploded under her feet.  The messenger was true to his word.  It was quick.

Outraged beyond grief at the loss of his wife, John North filed a civil suit against Mercy Lewis, and her fellow accusers. It would be the first of dozen of such suits filed against the Salem Village accusers—and it would help bring the dreaded Court of Oyer and Terminor to an end.   

A decade after John fled to Boston with his child; a decade after he watched his wife die horribly but swiftly in the blast of gun powder that he had placed under her scaffold; a decade after he had vowed eternal retribution against Mercy Lewis and the rest of the “afflicted” girls, John North faced his moment of truth.  He saw Mercy walking down the streets of Boston. 
He knew Mercy had given birth to a child the year before and had then fled to Boston to marry a teamster from her hometown of Falmouth, Maine.  The ne’r-do-well and drunkard, Samuel Alder, now led Mercy down the middle of the street.  As they passed each other, North realized that Mercy Lewis Alder had neither noticed nor recognized him.  She was dirty and ragged, shuffling along behind her much older and clearly intoxicated husband.  Her child was held carelessly on her hip and she was muttering to herself.  North thought of calling out to her, castigating her as the slattern she was, but was stayed by his daughter’s tug on his arm. 

“They are a sad family, aren’t they, Father?” 

John North looked at his daughter.  Hannah was growing in every way her mother would have wanted, and now she was showing a charitable concern toward the woman who was the instrument of Susan’s death. 

“They are.”  He started to add, “God bless them” but the words stuck in his throat.  To all his other faults and failings, John was not going to add hypocrisy.  Instead he moved his daughter along the street and whispered, “God bless us.” 

Mercy Lewis, absorbed in her own unhappiness, never heard the benediction. 

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Louise Butler is a writer of science, economics, and historical fiction.  She was examining ergot fungi as a cause for the “afflictions” of children thought to be possessed by demons or victims of witchcraft when she recognized the name of an accused witch that also appeared in her own ancestry.  The following is an excerpt from her third book: That Blaisdell Blood: a Novel.  Ms. Butler currently lives in the deep Rio Grande Valley of Texas. She enjoys good books, good friends, and good scotch. 

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