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~~~

Daughter of Chronos: 

 

1. Display


 

 

Duncan Falls,

State of New Hampshire,

U.S.A.

September 1st, 2012

 

 

A staccato burst of machine-gun fire cut across the rumble of distant artillery. From his hiding position behind a low wall, a helmeted figure rose to run, then dropped his weapon, staggered forward and fell, digital life leeching onto the pixelated street cobbles beneath him.

“Ach, not again!” Finn growled, slapping his open palm down beside him.

For half-an-hour, Finn had sat on his bed, control paddle in hand, trying to relax. It wasn’t so easy. Night had fallen, and tomorrow, he felt certain, his world would be a very different place. His confidence was high, but his emotions were turbulent, taking his head out of the game. Thus the ‘Medal of Honor’ character was getting his butt whipped. Again.

A swishing sound came from the bedroom door.

“Can you turn that thing down?” his sister grumbled, stepping into the room, “me n’ Janice are trying to Skype.”

“Come in,” he answered, “and a ‘please’ would be nice.”

“Hey, I only asked you to-”

“Okay, okay, sorry.”

A scruffily folded sheet of paper on the bed beside her brother caught her attention. “What’s this?” she enquired, picking it up.

“It’s a map,” he answered with a shrug, “of the old Duncan Falls.”

“The old-” Avril groaned, “why, and I’m afraid to ask this, do you need a map of the old Duncan Falls?”

“Because I’m going back there, aren’t I?”

“Aw Jeez, Finn, really? I thought we were past all... this!” she said, shaking the map under his nose.

“Where the heck did you get that idea?” he asked, swatting his sisters hand away.

“Because Mom said... ach, never mind, it doesn’t matter. I just thought after all these years you might finally have grown up, that’s all.”

“I’m trying to save someone’s life, Avril-”

“And you can’t do it! Christ, Finn, how many times have you had it spelt out to you? It’s impossible. Im-possible!

“Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s impossible. I’ve been told often enough.” His focus returned to the game. “Except it isn’t. Not anymore. I’ve finally cracked it, Sis. I know how to do it.”

I know how to do it, Sis. And tomorrow, tomorrow you’ll see.

It had long been his real mission. Not some coded software assignment on a gaming console, but a living, flesh-and-blood-type mission. To find a way, to make things right. To change the course of history. The greatest minds on the planet had all said time travel was unachievable. Thirteen-year-old Finn Killibrand begged to differ.

It hadn’t always been that way. There was a time when his greatest concerns were being picked for the school’s soccer team, or if his latest art sketch would make it onto the classroom wall. A time before that fateful school field-trip five years earlier, to the town’s museum, and its small room dedicated to ‘The Witch of Duncan Falls.’

As he had stepped off the bus by the museum’s entrance that day, he’d had no thoughts of witches, time-travel or heroic rescues.

He had been more interested in dinosaurs.  

---

 

November 13th, 2007

 

  It was even bigger than he had imagined it would be.  Finn looked up at the skull, his mouth hanging open and scoured his fingers through a nest of spiky brown hair.  It seemed big enough to swallow him without his body touching the sides of its cavernous jaws.  The mouth was packed with teeth that looked to the boy like pirate’s sabres, and the eye sockets held malevolence in their shadowy depths.  

  He felt insignificant next to the towering replica Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, and though it was totally harmless, he also felt a tingle of fear.  Next to him, a ginger-haired boy with rectangular glasses and a light sprinkling of freckles was framing a shot on his cell-phone.

  “Awesome, right?” Finn asked, one eye on the phone in Freckle’s hand.  The phone looked expensive, while Freckles seemed no older than him.  He made a mental note to bring the topic up with his mother again later.

  Freckles took the snap, then sucked a breath through his teeth.

  “Yeah,” he nodded, “outstanding.  What d’you think they sounded like?”

  “Sorta like, Grrr-RRR-aaaH!” Finn mimicked a roaring sound and threw his arms up, splaying his fingers like claws.  In his imagination, the herbivores were now stampeding in fear across the Jurassic plains.

  Freckles thought carefully, then disagreed.

  “Nah, I think it’s more, BRRoooAAGH!”

  Finn grinned at him.  He raised his hands once more, imitating a ravenous carnivore.  Stomping around, he roared again, his challenge answered by his new friend.

  The two boys chased each other around the fibreglass skeleton until Tyrannosaurus Finn, still roaring, ran backwards into the legs of William Adams, museum curator and school party tour guide.

  “When the two of you have finished driving the Stegosaurus to extinction,” Adams growled, “perhaps you would be kind enough to pay attention.”  

  The curator’s assailant lowered his head in apology, awkwardly straightening his bangs which permanently seemed to jut out. 

  “Uh, sorry, Sir.” The two boys exchanged sheepish grins.

 “Just watch it, that’s all,” Adams warned them, straightening his tie, “I don’t want any of my exhibits wrecked as a result of your mischief.  Do I make myself clear?” 

  “Yes Sir!” they chimed in unison.  The curator walked ahead a few steps, talking to some of the other kids in his party. 

  The two boys held back, before turning to each other.

  “My name’s Finn,” Finn beamed, “Finn Killibrand.”

  “Greg Mackenzie!”

  “So, how old are you anyway?”

  “Eight.  How ‘bout you?”

  Finn puffed his chest out. “Nearly nine!”

   “I thought so.  You’re new at school, aren’t you?”

  “Yeah,” Finn chirped, hands thrust in pockets, “how’d you know?” 

  “I saw you with your Mom around school a while back.  I don’t miss much.”

  “Oh, right.  Yeah, Mom and Dad had to move up here.  My Dad was in the Air Force-”

  “Really?  Wow.” Gregor let out a soft whistle. “Did he fly?”

  “Ah no, he mostly fixed all their planes for them.  Now he works for the Air National Guard, but it was too far away from where we used to live, so we moved.”

  “Ah, gotcha.”

  “Haven’t really made any friends yet,” Finn sighed. “I miss my buddies from my old school though.”

  “Yeah, that’s too bad.  So, why did you come to the museum, anyway?”

  “Animals!” When the form went around school, asking for children interested in the museum trip, Finn’s name was one of the first on the list. “I love nature, ‘specially dinosaurs.  How ‘bout you?”

  “Mechanical stuff.  All the old things they had to use.  Can you imagine,” Gregor flipped his cell-phone out of his pocket, “living without these?”

  “Yeah,” Finn snorted, “same as computers.  How did kids in World War Two do their homework with no internet?”

  Gregor shuddered. “Scary thought, no computers.” He paused for a moment. “What else do you like?”

  “Hmm.  Drawing, I guess.  Dad likes hunting and fishing, so he really likes it here.  He takes me with him sometimes, and I take a sketchbook with me.  I try and draw stuff, y’know, like the animals ‘n things.”

  “You like hunting animals, too?”

  “Ah no, only drawing them.  But,” he winked, “don’t tell my dad that.  I mean, he’s a great dad and everything, and he’s always taking me out with him, and I like that, but...”

  “But what?”

  “But... he doesn’t notice me much.  It’s like, he just thinks I’m gonna be exactly like him one day, like some great hunter, and not... not an artist or something.” He gave a small sigh, then the grin returned. “Anyway, how ‘bout you?”

  “Science,” Gregor quickly answered, “I love future stuff, new things, gadgets, and space shuttles.” He made a vertical movement with the flat of his hand. “Space, the Final Frontier!”

  The new friends chatted quietly between looking at the exhibits, trying not to draw further wrath from the curator as they followed him around the museum. 

  Finn paid particular attention to the Native American display, taking great interest in the waxwork figures with their bows and spears, and the scrappy loincloths they wore, wondering how they got on during the winter months. 

   Gregor, fascinated, studied the displays of how industry had helped shape the nation, amazed at the early designers’ abilities to create without the use of computers.

  There were other exhibits from the days of the Pilgrim Fathers, showing how they lived and dressed, a copy of the American Declaration of Independence, and models of the wagons the early pioneers had used to settle the country. 

  But it was the dinosaurs Finn had been most keenly looking forward to, and so far they had not disappointed.  Glass-topped cases held an assortment of actual bones and some small replicas of Velociraptor, Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus and others.  The pinnacle of the museums’ dinosaur exhibition, and the item that had most thrilled Finn so far, was the full size facsimile skeleton of the infamous T-Rex.

  Towards the end of the trip, the guide led them to a small room with a black, wooden sign over the door.  On the sign, in red painted script, were the words; ‘The Witch of Duncan Falls.’ 

  Most of the town knew how, around the end of the seventeenth century, an unusually violent storm erupted without warning, wreaking havoc on the freshly sprouting corn shoots in the fields, and knocking the buds off many of the fruit trees in the orchards.  The tempest’s destructive outcome left the townspeople expecting a particularly lean winter, and they needed someone to blame. 

  They found that someone in the Witch of Duncan Falls.  Dragged before a court the day after the gale, a trial quickly found her guilty of raising the storm through witchcraft.  Less than twenty-four hours later she was hanged in the town square.  From her death a legend was born.

  As Finn passed under the wooden sign, his attention was caught by a glass-fronted cabinet with a shabby, faded grey dress in it.  The edges of the dress were frayed with age, and some of the buttons on the front were hanging on by just a few threads.  A laminated note on the front of the case explained this was the actual dress worn by the witch, and was typical of the type of prison smocks worn by condemned felons.

  A  smattering of dark smudges on the fabric caught his attention.

  “Excuse me, Mr Adams?” He tapped the arm of the curator. “What are those spots on the dress there?” 

  The curator looked down at the boy, and then at the exhibit.

  “Those are blood-spots, son.”  

  Finn wrinkled his nose, feeling a tightening in his chest. 

  Hastily, he moved to the next case.  This one contained a set of rust-coated steel objects that looked like wide bracelets, one of which had a long chain hanging from its side.  He heard the guide explaining that these were called manacles, and that these too were the very ones worn by the witch during her trial, right up to and through her execution. 

  Finn studied them as they hung there, motionless.  Even though they were cold and inanimate, they seemed to have an air of latent cruelty about them, and he could almost sense the pain and fear they must have inflicted on their victim.

  “Mr Adams,” Gregor piped up, “how do you know those are the right ones?”

   Adams glared at the boy. “What do you mean, the right ones?” he snapped.

   “Well, uh, I mean, how do you know they’re the ones the witch wore, and not someone else?”

  “Ah, I see what you mean,” Adams answered, more relaxed. “In the whole history of Duncan Falls, only one person was ever tried and executed for being a witch.  Considering how prevalent belief in witchcraft was at the time, that’s a rare feat.  After the execution, someone in the town council, we’re not sure who but most likely the mayor, ordered these items to be hung up in the old meeting hall as a permanent warning, to let the rest of the townsfolk know what they could expect if they followed in the witch’s path.” 

  He grinned irreverently. “And I guess it had the desired effect.  No other witch was ever hanged.” Adams carried on walking around the room. “They’ve been around town, in one place or another, since the day of her execution.”

  The curator droned on, explaining the convoluted history of the artifacts.  Some of the kids began to fidget.  It seemed dry and uninteresting stuff but Finn, at least, listened.  Something about the curator’s tale had caught his imagination. 

  After he finished the story, the guide led most of the party of shuffling children out of the room, but Finn lingered.  He found himself drawn back to the dress, and peered at it through the glass of the cabinet.

  Isn’t that a bit small for a grown-up to wear?  Even Nana wouldn’t have fit, and she was tiny. He peered closer, studying the faded fabric. I wonder if she was as old as Nana?  She always said she was over a hundred! A small chuckle broke free. I’ll bet if she was like Nana she would have given them a real good ticking off! As he re-read the small notice at the bottom of the case an image of his maternal grandmother came to him, proud and stubborn, walking head held high to her fate. Poor old woman, I hope she had a long life too. He sighed, softly shaking his head. It’s just not fair, there’s not even any such thing as witches.

  He moved on to one of the smaller cases.  Inside was a press cutting from the local newspaper, dated March twentieth, 1968.  Stained almost brown by nearly forty years of sunlight, it had a bold headline.

  ‘Manchester University Student Makes Shocking Discovery!’

  Shocking discovery? The dramatic headline intrigued him.  Next to the case was a small, hooded, video monitor, with a large green ‘Play’ button.  He looked at the green switch, wondering.  Eventually his curiosity, already piqued, got the better of him, and the video spluttered into life. 

  It was an old recording, a local TV documentary reconstruction of the student’s finding, the video’s colours washed-out and bleached with age.  Finn watched, fascinated, as the story gradually unfurled.

---

  March 20th, 1968

 

  It had all started innocently enough, with nothing more shocking than a history student’s simple field trip.  On a crisp spring morning, while most other students were still slumbering, Sherman Peterson had risen early.  Planning to cram as much as possible into his day, he left the Manchester University campus before sun-up, and after several hours of listening to the Mamas and the Papas on the eight-track in his battered old VW he found himself standing in the town centre of the quaint, provincial town of Duncan Falls.  His focus, the reason for his presence that day, was the witch.  To Sherman, she seemed a good subject for his history paper on local myths and legends.  So, armed with a notebook and pencil, he set to work, asking passers-by of their versions of the witch’s story.

  Sherman’s first interviewee was a young man, sporting long, flowing hair and flared jeans.

  “Excuse me dude, I’m doing a history course study on the Witch of Duncan Falls.  Can you fill me in?”

  “Yeah, she fell out big time with the people round here, and raised this radical storm.  It was, like, a real bad scene, man.” 

  “The witch?” a balding, middle-aged man answered, “Got mad at the townspeople, and caused this huge storm that wrecked their crops.” 

  “Ah, that’ll be the old woman who blamed the town for the death of her daughter,” said an elderly woman. “Brought down this terrible storm as revenge.”

  Several dozen times Sherman repeated the question, and received several dozen different answers.  It seemed everyone had their own version of the events. 

  Similarly no one had any idea of her age.

  “Excuse me, Ma’am,” he asked a harassed mother with an irritable child, “the Witch of Duncan Falls, how old was she?”

  “Oh yes, she was a spinster in her sixties, lived all alone behind the Church.” 

  “Uh, wasn’t she a fifty-something widow?” a young married couple offered, “used to beg on the streets?” 

  “Oh, she was forty two,” came from a businessman in a sharp suit. “I read it somewhere, lived outside of town with her husband.”

  But what was her name?

  “Oh, uh, sorry,” a housewife apologised, “I don’t really know.”

  An off-duty bus driver shook his head. “No, son, I can’t recall ever hearing it.” 

  A small gaggle of teenagers though, were more helpful. “Ah, her name?” a blonde girl said, looking across to her companions, “I, uh, can’t actually tell you, but if you go check out the  library, they’ve got this section of really old books from back then.  I think you might find something useful there.” 

  “Hey, thanks, Sis.” 

  Let’s see, Sherman thought, she was a widowed spinster, who lived alone but with her husband, had a daughter, and was aged anywhere between forty and sixty. He sniggered quietly. Hmm, groovy! 

  About the only common element was the storm she raised, and the outrage this storm engendered.  Tucking the notebook into his back pocket, Sherman searched out the library.

  It didn’t take long to find, and he stepped up to the receptionist.

  “Hi, Sweets, I’m doing a history course study on local legends, and particularly the Witch of Duncan Falls.  Some kids told me you had some old books from about that time.  May I take a look, please?” 

  The young girl behind the desk looked up from her comic book and smoothed her hair.

  “Oh sure, no problem, you’ll need the historical archive.” She smiled. “You’ll need to speak to the chief librarian, though.  Those old books and documents are valuable antiques, they’re kept away from general view.” She pointed to a man in a suit placing returned books on the shelves in the main room behind her. “Go have a word with that gentleman there, he’ll show you where they are.” He thanked her and followed the direction of her pointed finger. 

  A few minutes later, after showing his student I.D, Sherman was led to a locked door away from the main wing of the library.  Fumbling with the key, the suited man opened up the small box-room and invited him in.

  “Here you go, son, there’s stuff here going back to the early sixteen-hundreds.  Now, take damn good care, and use the cotton gloves provided, some of this stuff is fragile, okay?” 

  The box room smelt musty, the aroma of a bygone age oozing from the plaster covered walls.  Ancient books and manuscripts were stacked irregularly on polished wooden cases that themselves would probably fetch a good price at an antiques auction.  A small, modern table and chair in the centre looked out of place, interlopers from a different era.

  Donated from private collections from across the state, the origins of some of the books were notified by small, discoloured dyno-tape labels that time was doing its best to peel away from the shelf edges.

  Oh man, Sherman wondered, glancing around, where the heck do I start?

  Blowing a breath he set to the task, and ran his outstretched finger along one row of vintage tomes that seemed to have been placed together under a common theme.  Volumes on necromancy and alchemy, astronomy and astrology passed by his fingertip.  Most had succumbed to the ravages of time, their covers faded and ragged.  Some had long since lost their cover altogether, leaving him to pull them from their position in order to discover their subjects. 

  One, ‘The Discovery of Witches,’ by Mathew Hopkins, sent a cold shiver through him.  Yeah, the infamous Witchfinder General of Olde England.  That dude had one seriously bad rep. He flicked through it, and quickly wished he hadn’t.  Apart from an account of the towns where Hopkins carried out his ‘investigations,’ it also carried vivid descriptions of the methods of brutal, degrading torture he used to coerce ‘confessions’ from the suspected witches.  With a grimace he added it to the growing pile on the small table. 

  Another title caught his eye, ‘An Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft,’ by Francis Hutchinson.  Apprehensively, he slid it out, hoping for less grim reading, and was rewarded to find it was, in fact, a counter to Hopkins own work, rebutting his methods and scorning his reputation.  Of greater interest was that Bishop Hutchinson, a contemporary of Hopkins, seemed to be suggesting that the Witchfinder General may not have been buried in the English county of Essex, as commonly believed, but may have in fact faked his own death and fled to New England, settling in the Boston area.  Temporarily distracted, he briefly considered using the theme for his next dissertation, then he focused back on his task. 

  Several hours of thumbing later he had a growing pile of books, but still nothing specific to one particular witch, the one he had come to Duncan Falls to research.

  Irritated and fatigued, he leant back in the chair and slowly stretched.

  “Come on Blondie,” he grumbled, “I thought you said there might be something useful in here.”

  Wondering if it was time to take a break and hunt for a burger bar, his gaze fell on a smaller bookcase, partially concealed by the open door encroaching into the room.  Reaching across with his leg he flicked the door shut with a twitch of his foot, exposing a small row of books he hadn’t noticed before.  The dog-eared label listed them as ‘local; personal interest,’ and the shelf’s contents seemed more like individual diaries and ledgers, rather than mass-produced printed books.

  Chiding himself for his original lack of observation, it now made sense that the more specific information he sought about one particular woman would be more likely to be recorded in an indigenous townspersons writings, rather than in a textbook, the author of which may have lived hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.

  He knelt down, looking along the newly discovered row of books.  Like before, the covers were in various stages of decay, and his first attempt produced some merchant’s account of his global travels.  Interesting, but a quick skim revealed nothing about witches.

  The next one seemed to hold more promise, appearing to be a personal diary of some sort.  Handwritten with an old quill and ink, the handwriting was small and neat, almost feminine in its graceful, flowing style.  Knowing few females of the time were ever taught to write with any degree of proficiency he was a little surprised to see the author’s name confirmed it was a woman.

   She must’ve come from a pretty wealthy family, he mused. I wonder if she can help?

  Settling back into the chair, he randomly opened the book somewhere in the middle, and began to skim through the pages.  It was a journal, as he had hoped, and each new entry had a date at the top right corner of the page.  A fresh glow of optimism washed away his earlier weariness, and he studied his new treasure more closely than he had the other writings.  As he carefully turned the delicate, yellow-aged pages, the woman began to come to life.  Her marriage, children’s births, all the minutia of her day to day existence. 

  Flipping lightly to the last page, he noted it was dated 1754.  Then, turning the other way, he found the very first page was written in 1709.  He blew a breath.  The author had kept this diary through much of her adult life, but she hadn’t started it till early in the eighteenth century, whereas one of the few reasonably accurately known facts about the witch was that she was executed at the end of the seventeenth.

  Aw man, no!  Dammit, I felt sure...

  Optimism rapidly ebbing, he was just about to close the book when he caught a word on the first page. 

  Witch.

  Wait a minute...  The entry on the first leaf of the woman’s journal did indeed talk about the witch.  She was giving a full, eye-witness account of the hanging, recounting the gruesome spectacle as the first of her memoirs before starting to keep a more regular record of her life. 

  Sherman snapped his fingers. “Jackpot!” Finally his diligence was rewarded.  But as he started to read, he became more confused.  Because her version of the event talked vividly, not of an adult woman, but a young girl, almost a child, screaming and pleading for her life as she was dragged across the market square before being hanged from an old tree.  This was at total variance with all of the interviews he had carried out, all of which spoke of a woman at the very least in her forties, and more likely quite elderly.  A frown creased his face as he scratched his head.

  Sherman knew of only one other case where a girl as young as the one described in the journal had been publicly executed, and that was for murder, not witchcraft.  No, he was convinced that suspected witches were generally not young girls. 

  So, who was she?  The old diary had created a mystery, and Sherman’s original plan to write up a dissertation on a local legend had branched off at an unexpected and interesting tangent, one that now involved a bit of detective work.  

  Deciding he was unlikely to find anything else in the archive room that could shed further light on the mysterious woman, hanged as a witch all those years ago, he found the librarian and thanked him for his help, before asking a question.

  “Are there, like, any official documents from that time, like death certificates, or court recordings?  I found something... odd, and I’d like to check it out.”

  “Sure, son, the old original civic hall dates back to that time, and holds all the towns records going back at least as far as the seventeen-hundreds, maybe even further.  Try your luck there.”

  “Okay, thanks Sir, I will.”

  It didn’t take long to locate the old civic hall, with the assistance of helpful passers-by, and on his request for information, the elderly male receptionist led him to the end of a short corridor leading off the main entrance lobby.  The receptionist produced a key and unlocked a door on the left, and together they entered the room.

  “All the real old stuff is kept in here,” he said. “The more recent records are in another room.”  Rows of bland, grey filing cabinets, with cardex notes on the end of each drawer greeted their gaze. “These used to be cells, y’know.  Chances are the witch herself was in one of these, way back then.”

  The man’s innocent words unsettled Sherman.  He could be standing in the very room a blameless woman had spent her last hours on earth incarcerated in.  What thoughts went through her mind?  Did she have family, loved ones?  Were they allowed to see her, before she went to her death?  He shuddered, thinking of how she must have suffered here in this chamber, fearful and lonely, waiting for the inevitable.

  The receptionist’s words jolted him back to the present.

 “Apart from a few folks looking up their family tree, no one’s really been in here since the war.”

  “The war?” Thick layers of dust bore witness to the receptionist’s statement.

  “Yeah, about ‘44 as I recollect.  Till then all this junk was stored in a bunch of old wooden boxes that had just about fell to bits.  The boss thought we’d better stick ‘em in some filing cabinets or something or else the vermin would get ‘em.  Then folks wouldn’t know when great aunt Minnie married great uncle Cecil.  Can’t have that now, can we!” he said irreverently. 

  “Oh, sure,” Sherman grinned himself, “that would never do!” Returning to the task at hand, he ran a finger across the dust-laden top of a cabinet. “Now, let’s see,” he mused, looking around the dull, featureless room, “if I were the sixteen-hundreds, where would I be?”

Together they searched the rows of cabinets, guided by the scribblings on the faded brown cards.

  “Hey, I think this one maybe close,” Sherman said, “I reckon I can take it from here, thanks.”

  “Knock yourself out, kid, I gotta get back to the front desk anyway.  Let me know when you’re done.”

  Starting at the top, Sherman began to methodically rifle through each drawer’s contents in turn.  To begin with his luck held, and it seemed that much of the historical accounts from that era had survived. 

  Then, when he tried to open the third drawer down, it refused to cooperate.  Tugging and banging the recalcitrant drawer only earned him a face full of dust, dislodged from the cabinet’s top.  

  “C’mon,” he muttered, squeezing the drawers latch again, “what’s wrong, dammit.” Stooping lower, he peered through the small gap at the side of the drawer, and could see the locking mechanism had failed to fully disengage from the catch.

  Aw, that’s just great.  If it’s gonna be anywhere... Sherman turned, thinking to fetch the receptionist, but muffled voices from the front of the building made it clear the man was busy with other enquiries.  He looked to the cabinet, then back in the direction of the reception.  Hesitantly, he pulled a small multi-knife from his jeans pocket, and slid one blade out. 

  Should I? The voices continued their discussion in the distance.

  He curled a lip, then leant back over the jammed drawer. It’s not like I’m stealing anything, he justified his actions to himself, I mean, this is research!

Carefully he slid the blade between the drawer and the frame, gave a twist and an upwards prod, then tugged again.  With a reluctant squeak the drawer succumbed to his advances.

  Yes!

  With a furtive glance back over his shoulder he pocketed the knife and resumed his thumbing through the ancient manuscripts and accounts.

  Old death certificates, marriage licences and land registrations were all scrutinised and dismissed.  Then, almost at the back of the drawer, and nestled next to each other, he came upon the court clerk’s written account of the witches trial, and the signed order for her execution.

  Aha, that’s what I’m talking about! Sherman read avidly for a few moments. 

  Then stopped dead, gaze held rigidly by the script on the old parchments.

  “Aw, man.  No way.” 

  There, written in the official court documents centuries before, was the long forgotten truth.  Sherman Peterson had solved the mystery, and in doing so he was about to shock the inhabitants of Duncan Falls to the core.  The old woman’s journal had been correct.  The witch had been a child.

  She had been just twelve years old.

---

  November 13th, 2007

 

  Finn shot back from the video screen, the words knifing into his soul.

  No, no that’s not right, it just can’t be...

  He stepped back to the cabinet with the faded old newspaper cutting.  The printed words were in total accord with the video.  Twelve years old.  They had hanged a twelve-year-old girl. 

  A moral outrage began to surge through his veins.

  “No, no, they… that’s wrong!” he cried out, his eyes beginning to prickle and sting, “they just can’t do that, not to a... a girl!

  Above the cabinet with the newspaper article was an old seventeenth century woodcut print.  It showed a tree, with figures hanging by ropes from the lower branches. 

  All thoughts of his grandmother shattered like glass.   Instead, a new, terrifying vision of his older sister, Avril, crashed into his thoughts.   Without the mature dignity of his Nana, he saw his twelve-year-old sibling screaming with fear as she was dragged through a jeering crowd. His fists clenched as the image turned to one of a rope being tied around her neck, and he gulped back tears as she was hoisted off the ground.

  The rest of the kids were gathering together in the main hall, the tour beginning to wind up, but Finn was held fast by his awful visualizations.  He and Avril had a fractious relationship, and frequently squabbled.  During one particularly heated altercation he lost his temper, and hit her on the leg with a loose length of slot-car track, raising a small cut and a smudge of blood. 

  The moment he saw her tears, he regretted his hurtful actions.  Despite everything, deep down he still cared about his sister, and never meant to hurt her.  His remorse increased when his act had brought down the ire of his father, who told him in no uncertain terms that real men never used violence against the fairer sex. 

  The lesson had worked its way firmly into his subconscious, becoming the cornerstone of his already strong sense of fair play.  Now he had found out that this girl, this child from the past, had also suffered physical violence. 

  Extreme, fatal violence. 

  He looked again at the yellowed newspaper clipping.  There was a girl’s name in the text, the name of the witch; Verity Proctor. 

  In the main hall of the museum, Mr Adams was conducting a head count prior to everyone leaving, and he came up one short.  A quick check found the missing person, still staring at the dress in the witch exhibition room.  He was fighting hard to check his emotions, the last thing he wanted was to be seen crying by the other kids. 

  Mr Adams walked over to him to hustle him along, but sensed something was wrong.

  “What’s the matter, son?” William Adams could be a stubborn and curmudgeonly character, but he wasn’t without sympathy.

  “It’s all, wrong,” Finn stuttered.

  Mr Adams knelt down beside the boy. “Wrong?”

  Finn swallowed hard. “It’s just wrong, she... she never grew up or anything, she... was only a... a girl…”

  “I know, son, I know.  The whole town was real shocked when they found out.  For centuries the story was passed down, from generation to generation.  We were quite famous locally, even had a small tourist industry start up, coming to see these very displays.” 

  Adams looked up at the cabinet himself. “I, uh, usually skip the part about her being a girl when I take school tours around.  I don’t like seeing kids like you getting upset when they find out she was... y’know, so young.  I mean, yeah, I suppose we felt sorry for the witch, even when we thought she was an old woman.  Witchcraft was just a terrible superstition, based on fear and ignorance, so it was obvious to us she was innocent.  But the world was a different place back then.  Thousands of other innocent people died for the same reason, for being witches.  I guess we thought it was just one of those things.    

  “Then some city kid comes along, and turned everything we thought we knew upside down.  Those records he found had held the truth, all those centuries, but no one even knew they were there, buried in some old box.  That truth was just... forgotten somehow.  So when the townsfolk found out their witch, our witch, was just a kid, it... it changed everything.  It felt like a deep sense of shame settled over the whole population.  For some time after the discovery, the exhibition was closed.  Nobody liked the idea of cashing in on that young girl’s suffering.   It seemed disrespectful and... tacky, somehow. 

  “But after a while the people decided the truth should be known, as an example of how blind prejudice and ignorance can lead folk to do terrible things.  So the display was re-opened, to show how far we’ve advanced as a civilised society.” 

  Finn listened, but it still rankled with him.  Vivid images of his sister choking on the end of a rope still haunted him.

  “It’s just not fair,” he whined stubbornly.

  “No, son,” Adams sighed, “no it’s not.  No, almost overnight the Legend of the Duncan Falls Witch became the Legend of the Innocent Witch-Girl.”

  He stood up, motioning Finn to follow him. “It’s time to leave now, but if you have time, pay a visit to the town hall.  There’s a small plaque on the wall outside the door.  Because she was thought of as a witch, she wasn’t allowed to be buried in the churchyard, so they took her up the slopes somewhere, and buried her in an unmarked grave.  Since no-one today knows where she is, the plaque was the best we could do.  It’s dedicated to her memory, as a sort of...” he circled a finger, “apology.” Finn followed him back into the main hall, where the rest of the children were already filing back out of the entrance hall and towards the waiting bus. 

  Gregor spotted him, and sauntered over. “Hey, bud, where ya been?”

  “Reading,” Finn answered quietly.  They followed the other children out, Finn being the last.  Just before stepping out onto the sidewalk, he turned one last time to look at the wooden inscription above the door to the witch display room.

  Three simple, determined words filled his consciousness.

  I’ll be back.

 

 

 

~~~

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