It was a dark night. The dogs cried as something vociferous had just passed by them. Their unrest was felt even by the sleeping babies in cradles, the mothers who were tired and slept along with them, woke up to the sound of their babies crying. They immediately took their baby out from the cradle only to comfort them, rocking them to and fro, close to their chest, a mother’s warmth can do wonders, they say. But the babies won’t stop crying. This happened in every house in the small riverine town. Lights were lit across the town as everyone got up. The men of the house took out their torches and lit them with the courage they had to, their families meant everything to them, their families wanted them to protect them. They called out each other’s name as everyone was familiar with everyone in the town. It was a small town, closely knit, strongly held. What it could be in the middle of night, asked Mr Krazinsky. Maybe an owl had set the dogs howling, assumed Mr Reggie. Or it could be “Her”, an old, ancient voice came from the back of the gathering. But wasn’t she killed Mr Roary, said one of them. We never found her body. It was if she had vanished into thin air, said Mr Roary. Who is “Her”? a young boy had asked. His mother quickly lulled his voice. Shush, come back here. Don’t you have to sleep? But mother, I want to know who is “Her”? a curious little kid had just stunned some elders. They were silent for a moment. The sight of her was in their eyes. This night would be a long one, Mr Roary had remarked. The mothers quickly took their younger ones and they all went inside the already dilapidated church, where their prayers were answered, where the lost were found, where the dead were departed. The other half of the community, the women, held their hands together and started to pray. O Lord give us the strength, give us the strength to fight the unnatural, the devil is upon us, he is catching onto us, protect our babies, protect our husbands, brothers and fathers, protect us, help us. It was almost as if they had started to lose hope, prayer was the only thing that was keeping them sane. The men closed the doors. Bolt the door very firm, they said, we will knock five times when we want you to open, do not open the doors even if anyone calls your name, we will be alright as long as you don’t open the doors. They took their torches and every weapon they could find. Pitchforks, shovels and Mr Roary took out his gun, the only gun in town. What Shall we do? asked everyone from the elders. Let’s join hands and pray to the lord first to give us the strength to tackle “Her”. Let’s first move to the river, let’s see if the dam is intact. They cautiously moved towards the dam that was built even before Mr Roary. I wasn’t born when the dam was built, he would tell the children when they would try to ask him about his dam, while he smoked tobacco under the shade of the enormous Mango tree, that too was there before him. The kids would call Mr Roary ” The White Seal” as his teeth all his teeth had fallen down, his beard touched his chest and he barely moved. He was seen on most days near the Mango tree or near the dam. As if his routine was fixed, his focus points were two. The men slowly inched towards the dam. One of them carefully climbed down the dam to check for any damages. I don’t see any, he shouted from below. Did you find anything strange there? Mr Roary had asked. Nothing Sir, the man said. Wait! Wait!, there is a piece of cloth here. How does it look?, the temperatures were rising, the cold of the night had slipped under their noses, sleep ran away like a frightened rabbit. It looks old, torn in between, I cannot see, there isn’t much light. It’s HER. Mr Roary screamed. She was here. Quickly Alex, Shut down the valves, we shouldn’t drink the water. She must have poisoned it. She is indeed the Devil, She doesn’t need to live, Death to the witch, Burn in hell, the crowd had started chanting. The dull, scared faces now had an immense energy. Let’s find her and burn her and make a memory of her that our future generations will never forget.
Mr Roary took his gun in his hands and addressed the gathering, Today we shall free the village from the fear of her, Today we shall begin to live in peace, Today we will make her day end, We will burn her and dance on her grave. Let’s follow the any trails, bring out the dogs, let them smell the piece of cloth and let them guide us to her. Mr Krazinsky brought his ferocious dogs from his barn. They were so strong that two men had to hold one of them. These two puppies from the same mother had grown immensely, Mr Krazinsky had been feeding them all kinds of meat even before teeth had grown in their mouths. Mr Krazinsky and the other men took the piece of cloth that they had found in the dam close their noses. The dogs already anxious from all the energy of the crowd, quickly sniffed the cloth and immediately started growling and barking. They sense something sinister, Mr Roary remarked as he loaded his gun. Let them loose, he said, let’s see where they take us. But Mr Roary what if they get lost in the woods, they are very dear to me and my little girls, Mr Krazinsky was concerned about the dogs. He had made them since they were too young even to walk. Every day they would run to him when he would come back to the house from work, they would lick his face and his hands and jump in happiness on his glimpse. His daughters would sometimes dress the dogs in frocks so pretty that Mr Krazinsky would smile ear to ear. They’ll be fine, Mr Roary assured Mr Krazinsky, after all they are so powerful beasts of nature. With a heavy heart Mr Krazinsky let loose their leash and the dogs started running. Quick, follow them, they will lead us to her, the crowd had started to run after them. I’ll sit near the church for the women need to be protected, Mr Roary remarked. Carry on Lads, he had said. But what will we do if we find her, Mr Krazinsky asked Mr Roary. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t let her touch you, she fears fire and the pitchforks will keep her at bay, Just catch her and bring her to me, I’ll know what to do, Mr Roary took a chair, took out his cigar and sat on the door of the Church. The dogs are getting away, a voice in the crowd remarked. Let’s go, Mr Krazinsky quickly started to follow his dogs. The dogs were loyal enough to sense that their owner was coming for them, they stopped at the entrance of the forest and waited for their owner. Mr Krazinsky patted their heads and they started walking, sniffing the air and the soil on the ground. The forest had been off limits for every citizen of the village because they had always feared of what was in the woods. Since they were little babies their mothers and their mothers before them had told them stories of giants that would eat human heads for breakfast or werewolves that would look like humans but would change into flesh eating beasts as long as dusk settled in. Nobody dared to set foot in the woods, they all celebrated life and the little joys of life. The forest was since a abode for the vagabonds, the outlaws that weren’t ever accepted in the society that the village had grown to become. There was no marking of any path, everywhere grass had covered the soil, the algae on others that were moist. Everyone started to chant their prayers as they slowly moved inside, following Mr Krazinsky and his dogs. Atta Boys, he would say every time they stopped for him as he was left behind. Slow Down Mr Krazinsky, the people following him would remark, you are going too fast. Be Quick, Mr Krazinsky would say, we have to end this today. They got deeper and deeper into the woods. The forest untouched by any human presence looked serene and beautiful. Wild roses had grown on the trees that had fallen, the river flowing was so clear that you could see the fishes swimming in it, the thick canopy of the trees almost didn’t let any moonlight in, although it was enough for them to see each other’s faces. I don’t think we will find her today, its already too late, she must be asleep, I too want to sleep, a voice remarked. Let’s go back to our families, we have kids to feed, a family to take care of, let’s do this in the day. Everyone had started to feel tired and scared. They all wanted to go back to their families, it was hard for them to accept that they too were scared from all this commotion. I am going back to my family, if anyone wants to follow, they are most welcome, Mr Littlefish had remarked. But, we have to find her before it’s too late, Mr Krazinsky said. Why don’t you carry on? You would be enough for her with both your dogs and the strength you have doing farming. I am just a shopkeeper, I Don’t know how long will I last in-front of her, Mr Littlefish turned back and started walking. Very Well, Whoever wants to stay and fight with me, let’s find her. Mr Krazinsky was stunned to see just a handful people standing with him. Only his most trusted allies, his friends who had been there during his thick and thin. We should go back Shawn, his friends said, it’s not safe, we don’t know what her powers are, we don’t even have a gun, they tried to reason with Mr Krazinsky. I understand your concern, Mr Krazinsky said, but I don’t want to live in fear of her for rest of my life, I don’t want to become Mr Roary. I am following my dogs and if my righteousness permits I shall be conqurous tonight. Mr Krazinsky kept on following his dogs, who never left their owner behind. A few steps in the forest and the dogs stopped walking. They had stopped sniffing and immediately ran back to their owner. What is it Boy, asked Mr Krazinsky as he looked towards his front. There was a house in the middle of the forest that was made entirely of wood, a small vegetable garden was carefully laid near to it, some chickens also sleeping in cages next to the garden. Help Me O Lord, I have found Her, Mr Krazinsky said as he took out his pitchfork and in a position of attention carefully started to move towards the house. His dogs having already sensed a danger followed suit. The house had no lights in it, as if it wore a mask to protect itself. As he walked closer to the house, he felt a tinge on his neck, a cry of the dogs and he fell unconscious to the ground. The smell of burning wood woke him up. He was tied to the tree outside the house and his dogs were caged. They had started to wake up and seeing locked up, started to cry. Don’t worry boys, I’ll get you out of here. That’s when he saw her. Dressed in an old evening gown, she had long hairs that due to years of neglect had entangled among themselves, her face had wrinkles and she could barely stand upright if it was not for the stick she held. Who are you and what are you doing here? She asked in a voice calm. Mr Krazinsky already in a state of shock, couldn’t believe what he saw. She was just an old lady who maybe couldn’t harm anyone. I have come from the village, we had heard stories about you, that you want all of us dead, that you want to take our children and make them your slaves, that you poisoned the dam waters so that the entire village could die and you could feed on their soul, you are the devil, you are the living image of the devil. The lady smirked at Mr Krazinsky because this wasn’t the first time she had heard anyone say that about her. Will you harm me, she asked him. I won’t if you will not harm me, Mr Krazinsky said. She picked up the freshly cut chicken and fed it to the dogs who quickly gobbled up the little cut up pieces. Do You want water? I haven’t poisoned it. She drank it first to assure Mr Krazinsky that it was safe. She carefully fed the water to him. I am sorry that I had to hit you and your dogs with darts. I didn’t know what you might do to me. I had looked around to ensure that you were all alone. Mr Krazinsky still couldn’t believe what he was hearing or seeing. It’s too late to be venturing in this forest. There are poisonous vines that will kill you in blink of an eye, jaguars that will feed on your flesh, she said while heating up a pot. We villagers had come to find and kill you, Mr Krazinsky told the woman. Very well, shall I untie you then, you have a job to do, she said as she grabbed a knife that lay around her. She came near to him and cut his ropes. Mr Krazinsky still weak from the tranquilliser couldn’t get up. If I were you, I wouldn’t get up. She said as she opened the gates of his dogs. The dogs came out wagging their tails and started kissing the woman. Mr Krazinsky was shocked as this was the first time his dogs did that to a stranger. The dogs quickly saw their master and did the same to him.
Here have this, What’s in this, Mr Krazinsky said, it’s just tea, she remarked.
Why didn’t you kill me, Mr Krazinsky was now curious as his whole belief system had started to fall.
You were the only one that followed your dogs and your dogs that followed you, she said. I haven’t seen a connection in time so long, she said. Moreover, the only thing I can kill here in these woods is time and my own mind. I have been living here for God knows how long.
So, the stories about are they all lies. I don’t know what you have heard or from whom you have heard it. They conversed.
How did you end up here? Why do villagers say those thing about you?
Well, my memory betrays me, it was so long that I had lived in a civilisation. But I do remember some bits. I had a father and a mother who thought way ahead of their times. My father was the first person to be educated in the village and he became a doctor. He could earn well and live in the city but he chose to work and help his fellow villagers. He set up a small clinic and very soon he was known around the village for his unconventional methods of treating people. He believed in prayers along with the efficacy of modern medicine. His supplies would come from the city on the horse cart, the driver of which soon became an admirer of my father. The driver had a daughter who he married to my father. My mother was a brilliant young woman and at a time when women were supposed to do the household chores, she learnt medicine and with my father started to work in the clinic. This seriously injured the ego of many around the village, especially the old priests that did nothing except making their subjects fall in the hands of God. I was my parents first born. My birth was celebrated in the village with a feast which wasn’t attended by any soul, as told by my parents. My parents right from the start had started to give me all their knowledge and very soon I was too an educated woman, way ahead of my times. Other parents started to keep their children away from me as they thought I would be a bad influence as I talked about stars, astronomy, the healing power of plants and why thinking logically is the way to go. As I got older, I could see how we were turned into outcastes and one day the water fell off the brim. I remember sleeping peacefully on the first floor when I smelled smoke. My father quickly came running and wrapped me in a blanket. He took me in his arms and we ran to the exit. Where is mother? I remember crying and asking him. He didn’t reply. The doors had been bolted from the front and they didn’t open. We will die, I shrivelled with fear as my father held me close to his chest. He ran off to the roof so as to jump. The villagers had surrounded the house and the head priest was chanting his verses. My father didn’t know what to do. He jumped from the roof of our house and broke a leg. Run Emily, Run, Don’t Look Back, Run to the forest. He screamed until his voice had turned silent. I could hear footsteps coming nearer and nearer. I ran and ran till I entered the forest, the villagers didn’t enter the forest for they knew I couldn’t survive alone in that treacherous forest. I was a child that time. But was intelligent enough to know that I cannot ever go back to the village. I was dead for them and they were dead for me. The first few days in the forest were difficult. I had to hunt for food and shelter but the forest was kind to me.
Mr Krazinsky had tears in his eyes as he heard her story. I am sorry. I am sorry for the acts of my ancestors and those of my fellow villagers. Nobody deserves to be deprived of the love of their parents, no one deserves to live a life so disregarding. I am sorry that we failed you as humans. We didn’t deserve you and your parents. Mr Krazinsky had broken down, maybe the effects of the tranquilizer hadn’t wore down.
It’s okay, she said. Her broken teeth had started to show from the weak smile she had. I have made my peace with it. She sighed. Why did you tell me all of this? You were the only one who asked me who I was. I have been always addressed to as the witch, the devil’s friend, the worshipper of Satan. Also, I absolutely love dogs, they have been my greatest ally in this forest. But not the dogs in your village, for some reason they do hate me. She laughed. I wanted to do so much more for the community I was born in but. She stopped. She didn’t want to explain herself more. It was enough suffering for one lifetime.
What will you do now when you back to your village? She asked Mr Krazinsky. I would tell them about you, you deserve to live your remaining life in a civilisation. I am humbled you think this way, but I believe this is what that’s best for me. She said. Please leave whenever you feel like, or the villagers might come looking for you. I don’t think they will. They still fear the forest. Mr Krazinsky sipped his tea. I’ll just take a short nap and then return back. Mr Krazinsky said. Then get inside the house, you wouldn’t want the mosquitoes to bite, they are poisonous. Where would you sleep, he asked, I have a place, don’t you worry. She closed the doors behind her. I’ll chain your dogs so that they don’t run away. Mr Krazinsky lied down on the cot made of wood and slept. The cry of roaster woke him up and it was already morning. I overslept, he remarked and went outside. He was stunned to find his friends looking for him.
Oh you are here, we were looking for you since the morning. They saw him. Wait, but what were you doing in her house. He is not him, she has taken his form. You Devil, you killed our friend, they started to beat Mr Krazinsky as his dogs cried. Die you Evil Woman, May you burn in hell.
Mr Krazinsky had started to lose consciousness and soon he slipped into oblivion. Let’s put her into the house and burn her. They dragged Mr Krazinsky and sparked a fire into the house. Burn you Witch. Burn. Mr Krazinsky had started to feel the heat when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Emily was there, she dragged her in through a smoke bomb she had made while she lived. She took him on hand pulled cart and deep down in the valley. Mr Krazinsky slowly opened his eyes to see the house burning. His friends dancing in joy, We have killed the witch, We have Burned the Witch, We Saved the village. Mr Krazinsky opened his eyes the next day and saw his wounds covered up. Emily was sitting there and making ointments for his pain. It’s okay, she said. It took Mr Krazinsky months to recover because of which he was now aware of the ways of the forest. I shall go back, my family still needs me. They won’t ever believe if you are what you used to be. I need to go, I want my family. Very well then, Emily said, you should leave. She said him goodbyes and Mr Krazinsky wore the same clothes he had worn the day his friends tried to burn him, he went to the village next day. The villagers were astonished. Mr Roary was standing there, Wait stop right there, he pointed his gun at him. Tell me who you are. I am Shawn, Mr Roary. But she had killed you. No Mr Roary, she only took my form, I was chained back in her other lair, he said. As soon as my friends killed her, I was free from her, but I was so wounded that I couldn’t move for days. Glad to have you back Shawn. Welcome Home, Mr Roary had lowered his gun. Mr Krazinsky straight away ran to his home. His wife had started to work in the fields and his daughters were working in the house. He couldn’t find his dogs. His heart sank. His wife as soon as she saw him, came running to him and kissed him. Her kiss felt like heaven. The daughters jumped on their father as he swayed them with joy. Where were you? What had happened? Are you Okay? They asked. I am fine, everything is fine. How have you been? Where are the dogs? Mr Krazinsky asked. We are fine now that you are here. They never found the dogs. Your friends said that the witch ate them. Mr Krazinsky was on his knees now. He wanted to cry but tears didn’t drop. I have to tell something to you, we are leaving the village. But why, his wife and daughters asked. Do you trust me? He said. With all our heart, they responded. So pack whatever is necessary, we leave as soon as we can. It was difficult to part with their land and the cattle as rumours had tainted Mr Krazinsky’s image. But he settled for anything he got. His friends came to see him but he couldn’t see now why he was friends with them in the first place. Done with everything, they started to move away from the land where lay their identity. Mr Krazinsky took their cart and slowly steered it away from the village as some came to bid them goodbye. The cart moved in the direction of the city but something came in Mr Krazinsky’s mind, he moved it towards the forest. There’s something I want you all to see. What are you doing? Asked the frightened wife and the daughters. Trust me on this. He said. He slowly took the cart to Emily’s cottage and stopped the cart at her door. His wife came down along with him. I want you to meet Emily, she was the one who saved your husband. Whatever you might hear or whatever you might have heard, she was the one who brought me back from the dead. His wife hugged Emily as both of them cried their hearts out. I want you to come with us, said Mr Krazinsky as he held back his tears. I would be honoured to. Emily said. Wait one moment, I have a surprise for you. She went to the back of the cottage, whistled and came running the two most special friends to Mr Krazinsky. His dogs had returned. He was now crying and sobbing like a little girl. You love them more than me, his wife remarked laughing hysterically.
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