Midwife Sarah Yorke walked along the dirt path next to the cornfield. Her long skirt and petticoat swished around her ankles as she moved, and her feet kicked up dust on the dry path. She clutched her Bible, and its familiar shape and rough cover calmed her nerves. She glanced back down for a minute to remind herself of the pages she had folded, in case she needed a quick explanation for where she was headed. Then she scanned the field in front of her, where the corn seemed to have gotten taller even since yesterday. I’ve been looking all over for Elizabeth, she thought. I only have one more idea as to where she might be.
Sure enough, the large pond at the edge of the community had barely come into view when Sarah saw the slight form of nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Goode at the edge of the water. The mere sight of the pond made Sarah shiver. She further hesitated as she noticed Elizabeth’s downcast demeanor. Sarah clutched her Bible to her chest and recited a few words of prayer. Then, feeling stronger, she moved forward until she was standing next to Elizabeth.
There was a silence as the two women stood together, staring out over the water. Then Sarah spoke. “How are you healing?”
“The birth is a small part of my pain now, Sarah.” Elizabeth’s voice quivered in the same motion as the corn that was shifting in the wind.
“I know,” Sarah replied, feeling shame rise within her. How dare I ask about the birth when the baby is no longer living? Her gaze dropped to the ground, and she saw a small glass beaker at Elizabeth’s feet, the same type of beaker that usually held laudanum. When Sarah looked back at Elizabeth, she guessed that Elizabeth’s eyes were glassy from more than just crying. “I am surprised you would come back here, to this pond,” Sarah said. “We have spent plenty of unhappy time here already.”
Elizabeth shuddered. “Each of those women who had their trials here sank,” she said. “There has to be a better test.”
Sarah nodded. “All of them were innocent- none were witches- and yet still this madness continues.”
Elizabeth’s eyes moved to Sarah’s face. “I fear I may be the next to be accused.”
“What? Why? You have only lived your life according to God’s precepts.”
“And yet still my baby died two days after his birth.”
“That was not your fault.”
There was a silence as both women stared straight ahead. “Fault doesn’t really matter, does it?” Elizabeth asked. “Children and even animals have been accused of witchcraft.”
“And convicted of it,” Sarah agreed. She shook her head. “Growing up, I was proud to belong to this religious colony- proud of the purity of our faith in God and our subservience to His teachings.”
“But?” Elizabeth asked.
“But these witchcraft allegations are no longer God’s work- they are man’s interpretation of God’s word, and a poor interpretation at that!”
“You could be accused of witchcraft just for saying that,” Elizabeth hissed.
“I’m well aware,” Sarah said. Then she sighed. “God blessed man with logic and reason, and this community has forgotten how to use His gifts.”
Finally, Elizabeth nodded. “We live in crazy times, with no end to the madness in sight.”
Sarah clutched her Bible again, and her eyes flashed with a passion she had long fought to control. “I have always wanted to live my life according to the Holy Scriptures, and I want to continue to do that,” she said.
Elizabeth waited, not sure what to say.
“We have to survive this fight against witchcraft,” Sarah added. “I will not be denied my life over this idiocy.”
“What do we do?” Elizabeth asked as she glanced at the cornfield behind them.
Sarah smiled. “We fight back.”
“How?” Elizabeth asked. “I am afraid of the tests for witchcraft — of the dunking in particular.”
“I am too,” Sarah admitted. “But we are innocent. If we get convicted now, our names may never be exonerated.”
“So what do we do when the water comes?”
Sarah smiled. “We float.”
Tamar Anolic’s short stories have been published or are forthcoming in The Copperfield Review, The Sandy River Review, The Helix, Foliate Oak, Evening Street Review and Pen in Hand. Tamar’s books include The Russian Riddle, a nonfiction biography, and the novels Through the Fire: An Alternate Life of Prince Konstantin of Russia, Triumph of a Tsar, and The Last Battle.