I lie huddled in the corner of my dungeon cell. It is dark, it is cold; the air is moist and stinks. Pale light pours though a small barred window. I am alone. The straw on the floor stabs into my naked feet. The dirty sackcloth robe scratches at my bloody, abused and bruised skin. Everything hurts and throbs with numb pain. I know I will die soon.
I have confessed under the torture. I knew that it would seal my fate, but I could not stand the pain any more. I shiver and tremble as the memories of the unspeakable things they had done to me come back: Their cold hands and fingers touching my body everywhere in search for the mark. As they did not find anything to prove my guilt, they had started to hurt me for a confession. They stab needles in my birthmarks, beat me with sticks and the whip. What followed was the torment on the rack, tearing and stretching my fragile body until I passed out from the pain. The chair with its sharp metal spikes, the screws that crushed my fingers and toes, the glowing hot iron.
I screamed in agony, shrieked in pain. I would have done anything to end it. I confessed to crimes I had never committed; I used dark magic on the miller's wife to make her ill. I had fornicated with the Devil in the darkness of the night, and more ... I repeated my false confession in front of the priest and judge. My shivering hand was barely able to hold the goose quill. I put a sign under a sheet of paper full of words I could not read. I only wanted the pain to end, that they stop hurting me. It was my death warrant. When it was done, I was brought back to the dungeon and left alone, until ... I don't want to think of it.
But the thoughts are there. I know what will happen to me. There is only one punishment for witches - death by fire. I remember the witch burnings I have witnessed. As a good citizen I was always there, to see justice done, screamed at the woman as they were dragged to the stake, cheered as the fire was ignited, felt satisfaction when the flames consumed them. They should have no mercy, no compassion. They deserved to burn. They deserved to suffer. They deserved to die. They should burn in hell for eternity. For all the ill and wrong they had done to us. They were witches!
I was not alone watching these executions. There were many other people, they all felt the same as I did. Now I wonder if the witches had gone through the same ordeal as I have ... I am the witch now. It is me who will be burnt to death. I am afraid. I am terrified. It is a slow and horrible death, to die by fire ...
I remember the pain when hot iron touched me. I was tied to a table, unable to move. It was glowing red. The sizzling sound, smell of the burning flesh, my body jerking, not able to move away from the pain rushing though my body, the shrieks that were so inhuman that I wonder if they really came from me. It burned only a small part of my body ... My finger trace the burned skin where the burning iron has touched me.
It is a "W" ... I wonder what it means ... Witch. Whore. Woman ... it is not huge, not larger than my fist. Still it was enough to make me do everything in order not to feel it again. I confessed crimes I had not done, admited to sins I had not committed ... and condemned myself to death ... I cringe when I imagine the same feeling all over my body when I will be burnt alive.
I don't want to burn. I don't want to die. I have done nothing wrong. I am innocent. I lower my head to my knees. Tears stream down my face, I cry and sob. Nobody comes to comfort me. Time passes and I drift into a dreamless sleep.
I wake up as I hear the bar from the heavy wooden door being removed, the hinges squeal as it opens slowly. I crouch into the corner, back away from the guards when they enter my cell. They urge me to come with them; I know where they will bring me and what is going to happen there. No, I can't go with them. My fingers clamp at the stones on the floor of my prison, try to grab hold, so hard until they start to bleed. I know what will happen when I leave the cell. I scream that I don't want to burn. I can't leave the cell.
They grab my hair and tear it violently upwards, I scream at the sudden in pain, plea to leave me alone, but they have no sympathy for me. They put my wrists into heavy manacles. I struggle, but they are too strong and drag me out of the gaol. I am so fragile and weak that I can barely stand. Slowly I move through the dark corridor to the light. I blink as if seeing the sun for the first time. Even with the sun it is cold, my breath spawns a small cloud each time I exhale. I shiver, from chill and fear. The crowd is already waiting, a roar goes though them as they see me. I am half pushed, half dragged to the marketplace. Their shouts are an inaudible clamor first, but after some time I begin to catch single words.
"Witch!" "Kill her!" "Burn the Witch!" "To the stake with her!" "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live!" "Give her to the flames!" "Burn her! Burn her!" "Make her pay for what she has done to us!" "She must burn!"
They all have come to see justice done, to see me die. I know some of them, I see a few people I called friends not long ago. Even my family is there. I scream for my parents, my brother, my sisters. But they do not know me anymore; they see only the monster the priest says I am. Their eyes show only hatred and contempt for me. I am not their daughter and sister, just a monster they want to see put to death.
I limp, slowly my naked feet shuffle over the paved ground. As I get near the marketplace the mob grows bolder. Devil's Whore, Satan's Harlot, Demon Slut they call me. Not long after, they throw the garbage, stones and sticks at me. Some miss me, some hit me. I stumble to the ground as a sharp stone hits my head. I feel blood running down the side of my face. The guards interfere, yell at the crowd, shield me from the stones ... It is not form compassion; the witch should die in the flames at the stake, not on the way to it. When the crowd stops, they haul me up again, and I continue to stagger to the place of my execution.
A tall wooden stake has been erected in the middle of the marketplace. Dry straw and wooden faggots had been piled around it. The pyre is not high, a little more than half my size. To ease the climbing they have attached a ladder at one side. This is the place where I will perish. My mouth is dry and I feel a knot in my stomach. No, this is wrong. I stumble back, away from the stake, but the guards drag and push me forward with force. I struggle, try to resist, but only delay the inevitable a little. One of them climbs the ladder and drag at the chain around my arms, while the other pushes me upwards from behind.
My bare feet step on the ladder, one rung after the other ... after four I am on top. Roughly they pull me on the pyre, the dry wood cracks and bows a bit under the combined weight of me and the guards. The branches stab into my naked sole; they push me back hard to the thick stake and loosen the manacles around my wrists. Instinctively I want to pull them in front of me, rub the sore skin to ease the pain, but before I can move my hands, they grab my arms and pull them behind the stake. I struggle to break free, but I am too weak. They use a thin rope to tie them behind the stake; it digs painfully into my wrists. I moan in anguish.
One guard is pulling a long black iron chain around my legs, waist and chest, so tight it hurts and I can barely breathe, I groan in misery. Another guard steps in front of me, blocks my vision, his gaze is hard. I can't stand his look, and lower my eyes. Out of his bag he pulls a finger thin rope, and puts it around my neck. I whisper to him, beg him to strangle me, to spare me the fire. He put the rope around my neck, I close my eyes, feel the rough cordage drawing tight ... for a second I believe he will give me that mercy, but he only fastens the rope tightly, not enough to choke me. I look at him in despair, but he does not look back and jumps from the pyre.
I am tied to the stake, alone, helpless. I squirm in the iron restraints, but the chain is so tight, and the stake is set deep into the ground. I can't escape. I can only make fists out of my fingers and open them again; it eases the pain from the bindings around my wrists a little. My eyes scan over the crowd, they all stare back, full of anticipation, full of hate. I can see the executioner; he is wearing a leather cap to hide his face, his dark eyes glitter below. He puts a torch into a brazier, dark smoke rises from it as the tar catches.
The judge steps in front of the crowd, the priest next to him. They announce my crimes, my sins, my confession and that there is only one punishment for witchcraft. They don't tell what they did to me in the dungeon, how they hurt me, how they forced me to confess crimes I did not commit. On a command the executioner takes the blazing torch, the crowd suddenly goes silent.
My eyes focus only on the torch, coming more near with every passing moment. The fire flickers around the pitch, black smoke rises around the flame. No, please, not. I sob, tears streaming down my face. I shout that I am innocent, that I am no witch, that I have done nothing wrong. They can't do this, it is wrong, it is cruel. I beg them to have mercy. But there is no mercy for me ... without the slightest hesitation the executioner thrust the torch to the straw, wait a few heartbeats for the flames to leap over, then circled the pyre and lit it at several other places.
I feel nausea, bile gathering in my mouth, the knot in my stomach tighten more, my heart is beating quickly, my breath coming in quick gasps. I am in panic, already feel the heat, hear the crackling of the fire, smell the burning wood. I look down, see the shy orange tongues licking carefully over the dry branches, creeping closer, growing, spawning sparks and smoke. I choke and cough, my pleas are interrupted as the smoke becomes too thick, it hurts when I breathe. When a breeze carries the smoke away, I realize what is happening to me and continue my hopeless struggle.
I squirm and writhe in a desperate but futile attempt to escape or bring at least some distance between the flames and myself, but the chains hold me in their iron embrace. I am panting, the flames leap all around me, not higher than my knees yet. It is so hot. The heat is unbearable, I sweat, the wetness runs down my face in thick drops, my hair sticks to my face, and the sackcloth is soaked at my neckline and armpits. It stitches as the sparks and glowing cinder set down in my uncovered skin at the legs and arms, where they touch the cloth it creates a dark spot, when touched more often it smolders. The fire has not touched me yet, but it hurts, the skin on my legs is turning red, forming blisters. I moan in agony, beg for a mercy that never comes.
My pleas change to a long and wordless scream, only shortly interrupted when I breathe the searing hot air into my lungs. The flames reach me, lick over my feet and ignite the hem of the sackcloth robe. I jerk to move away, but I can't, the chains force me to remain at the stake. The pain is beyond all bearing and grows more intense every second. I can't stay, I have to move away. Maniacally I haul myself with all remaining strength into the bindings, again and again, but the stake does not buckle, the chains do not lose their iron grip. I can't stop to shriek, my whole body twitches and trembles, as I suffer the fiery torment ... the pain is more horrible than everything I had ever endured before or could imagine ... I can't stand it anymore, please let it end. God, Satan, Anyone ... but there is no answer to my prayer ... I suffer a slow and agonizing death.
The pain drives me mad, but still I am aware of what is happening to me. The flames devour me, consume me with agonising slowness, inch by inch they tear the flesh from my bones. My shrieks and screams are endless as the flames bite deep into my legs like hot glowing knives, burn my waist, my hands and fingers, lick over my belly, and touch my chest. The torment seems to lasts an eternity. I look upwards into the sky; thick columns of heavy black smoke obscure the sun, sparks drift like thousands of fireflies. I can't breathe anymore, the flames engulf me completely.
My vision blurs, everything becomes a vague shadow. The flames that dance before me dissolve into an orange mist, slowly changing to grey and black, my screams fade into moaning and then end. The panicky beating of my heart becomes calm and then stops. The roaring of the fire becomes distant, then quiets down. I feel and sense nothing anymore. No heat, no pain, no fear. I drift into the silent darkness. Not long ago the thought of death filled me with terror, now it is salvation.