by Matt Handle
The first time we burned a witch, the stink lingered in the air for days. It was the middle of summer. There wasn’t even the hint of a breeze to be found. I ended up tossing the shirt I wore that night in the trash. No amount of detergent was ever going to make that cotton right again.
His name was Pellman. Tommy and Joe were the ones that snatched him. Like so many of what we call Hedge witches, the man practiced his dark arts in the posh offices of neighboring city New York, New York. My brothers bagged him on the street in broad daylight.
Five hours later, Pellman was lashed to a metal stake surrounded by some of our best firewood from the north field circle. He mewled like a lost lamb, still clad in his perfectly tailored Anderson & Sheppard suit. We drank our bottled beer as the kindling caught fire. He swore his innocence. He begged for mercy. And he wailed like a banshee when the flames began to lick at his kneecaps. The blaze silenced him quick enough.
Despite his initial protestations, the three of us watched the proceedings with cold-eyed certainty. We’d done our homework. We harbored no doubts. Pellman was a witch of the worst sort, a true child of Mammon. A Hedge witch’s foul alchemy turns livelihood into poverty and naked greed into wealth. Pellman was a beast that fed on the misery of others.
His ashes washed away after a few days. The rain cleansed our circle just as it fed our crops. Not long after that we lashed another to the stake. And then another. Tommy, Joe, and I figure burning witches is like every other part of tending the land. The job is never truly done. There’s no shortage of black magic around these parts. But we’re good, hard-working men. And we’ve got plenty of wood.
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Matt Handle lives in Atlanta, Georgia where he juggles the reality of being a husband, father, and software developer with the imaginary characters and worlds that constantly vie for his attention. You can find some of his longer work including his debut novel Storm Orphans for sale on Amazon. You can hunt down more of his short stories in magazines such as Devolution Z and Blank Fiction, as well as on websites including 365 Tomorrows, Verbicide, Flash Fiction Magazine, and his blog riff. http://matthandle.blogspot.com/