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Fevered Shadows

'When a small group of people come together to relive the Salem witch hunts, God cries. For if anything is sorrowful to God, it is evil done in his name. When you find out you were not given the truth, how will you live with yourself?' - Shannon L. Alder

The chilled air bit sharply at the thin, damp dress that clung to the young woman’s skin. The small amount of hay that was thrown carelessly on the cold stone floor offered her little warmth. Her body convulsed as she rubbed her hands weakly against her arms. It had been a week since she arrived in the prison, and three days since the fever settled in. Those few days were a cluster of hazy nightmares that morphed into reality. The monstrous winged creature with black beady eyes and grotesque teeth would transform into the guardsmen that would toss stale bread in her cell every other evening. The short troll with spindly fingernails and patchy, greasy hair would become the floorman that would patrol the cells late at night. His shrill voice echoed through the dark corridor as he hissed and berated the frightened women, those he only referred to, venomously, as witch.

It had been hours since the guardsmen tossed the hard biscuits into her chamber. Sarah did not dare to interrupt the limited amount of heat that she was able to create by her moving hands. She was no longer hungry. The pulsing pain that once overtook her stomach now rest comfortably in a constant ache.

The door on the far side of the prison slammed loudly as it bounced off the neighboring wall. The hallway echoed with a pair of distinct footsteps. The odd uneven pitter-patter was one that Sarah had grown accustomed too. She buried her heated temple into her forearm that rested in the hay, wishing to be hidden from the floorman's sight. However, her eyebrows scrunched together as the second footsteps followed suit.

The footsteps were unlike the other ones she knew. They were not the heavy, balanced march that carried the guard who arrived earlier that day. The soft sweeping of the other steps were not fitting in a place such as this one. If it were not for the small gasps or the abrupt chatter from the other women, Sarah would not have taken notice of the newcomer.

The increasing volume of the crying women and the screams from the floorman slowly began to pull Sarah from her safe haven. She crawled across the stone floor. The rough gravel bit at her knobby knees as she made her way to the open cell wall. She pressed her head between two sets of bars and looked down the hallway. Her shivering body locked in place. Her grip on the bars tightened painfully, leaving tiny cuts within her palm.

The shadow creature’s dark robes draped across the dirty floor as he floated down the corridor. A sea of inky black flooded the hallway, leaving deposits straw and dust in its wake. His hooded face never twisted at the sharp cries or the weak gasps from the accused in the other cells. His figure encased in a hovering, thick smoke, and yet it did not make Sarah’s eyes water nor her lungs to feel as if they were inflamed. The troll followed the creature slightly behind. His long fingernails swiped at the dusty air as he addressed the shadow. His piercing voice caused Sarah’s ears to ring as they continued closer to the end of the corridor.

Sarah clung to the cell bars as she watched with hazy eyes. The small wick from the burning lantern that hung above the cell flickered across the creature’s chest. A golden cross swung like a pendulum in the crevice of his layered skin, the light reflected between Sarah’s eyes. Chapped lips stretched, albeit painfully, into a grimace.

“Father,” she whispered. Her body pressed against the bars as she pulled herself into a sitting position. She swayed slightly but her new-found strength allowed her to stay seated. “Father Stephan!”

“Oh, bless you! I thought I would be lost here forever.”

The creature strolled past Sarah’s cell. Her withered hand reached out blindly and gripped the flowing gown of the shadow. The troll snarled and raised his hand as he prepared to attack. His outcry stilled by a simple wave from the priest. “Father Stephan, please! You have known me since I was a child. Your daughter and I were once friends. Please, grant mercy.”

Sarah’s hands quickly broke away from his robe when Father Stephan turned to her for the first time. Her weak body crumbled to the floor as she pushed herself away from the cell wall. Where once stood in the place of Father Stephan was a willowy creature.

Hollowed eyes stared at the scrambling woman silently. His neck contorted at an impossible angle. The shape of an angular skull protruded from his paper-thin skin. Throbbing veins weaved across his face, decorating him in a blueish tint. A thorny crown with wilted lilies, that thread in between the limbs, adorned his head. The occasional tremor of his cheek pulled back his skin, revealing a skeletal smile underneath.

“My dear. Your soul is corrupted with the lust of witchcraft. There is nothing more I can do for you.”

With a fluid twist of his head, his gown brushed against the cell wall as he exited the corridor. A cackle broke from the troll as he looked upon her broken form. His swiped his lengthy nails across the wall, eliciting a small screech from Sarah. The troll’s bony arms wrapped around his abdomen as his wheezing laughter filled the prison. He trailed behind Father Stephan erratically and he slammed the wooden door.

Now, the only sounds that serenaded Sarah were the continuous rain that bore down on Salem, and the haunting cries from the women in the neighboring cells. 

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