he next day, Ann Jr. arrived in the kitchen. She seemed unaffected after the onslaught in the church. Ann helped Tituba carry breakfast to Betty and Abigail without a complaint.
“Last night after Father brought me home,” Ann said, “my mother complained that you are afflicted children. Mother said bad spirits from the Devil are waiting to hurt us. She has feared such things for a long time.”
Ann glided her finger around inside a small pot of porridge like she was waiting for a reaction. Betty, under triple blankets, lifted her head off the mattress. “Why should we be afflicted? We are good girls.”
Ann produced a horsehair poppet and twisted the stiff arms. “Mother says to look for a stranger, a short man in a black coat.”
“A strange man has no business with us. We are good girls,” Abigail affirmed.
Ann tittered, “Father says most everyone will go to Hell, even some saints among us.” She dipped her fingers into the food and flicked a particle at Abigail.
“We shan’t go to Hell, shan’t we, Betty?” Abigail retorted.
Betty’s chest whistled as she labored to breathe. A coughing spasm ended the discussion.
Hours after she cleaned up after breakfast, Tituba looked in on the children and lit a fresh candle. Except for Ann, the other two had eaten little.
“I have brought you fresh bread and butter with honey. You must eat to regain your strength.”
Betty was still in bed, with her hands clasped above the covers. When Tituba looked more closely, she noticed the child was wringing her hands.
“What is it, Betty?”
“I had a dream. A great black man came to me and he said, if I abide by him, I should have whatsoever I desire, and go to a Golden City.”
“Abide by him? Does that mean, let him take you away?”
She had no answer.
Ann fed bits of bread to Betty. “I saw that old beggar woman, Sarah Good, at our house this morning. She brought along her lousy daughter Dorothy to help her beg.”
“Their clothes are full of holes,” Abigail said.
Ann wiped Betty’s mouth with the corner of her apron. “Some say she was once a witch and killed her first husband, and God made her base on account of her sin.”
Tituba tut-tutted. “Why do you talk of Goody Good that way? To me, she is only a beggar.”
“She looks like a witch.”
Tituba played along for a moment. “If that is the only reason, there are others who look the same. Like Goody Osborne. My friend Candy says she summoned a wild dog, and it turned into a man dressed all in black.” She smiled to invite them to giggle, but she felt a small pleasure at seeing them frightened by the fantastic story. “She bade it harm a woman she disliked, and he caused her to sicken and die.”
They gaped at her, wide-eyed, as if thinking if Tituba said it, so it must be true.
Tituba did not disabuse them of the notion that someone in the village might be a witch. The girls remained silent until Tituba reached the main room, and she was glad to escape their chatter for a while, hearing only the walls creaking now and then from freshening gusts of wind.
Tituba returned with more doses of a concoction from Dr. Griggs that they already knew was ineffective. At least the girls thought it helped them, that was worth the bother, she thought. Elizabeth Hubbard had delivered it and she was right behind Tituba as they arrived in the loft.
“Betty,” Abigail whispered. “Why do witches hurt people?”
Ann answered first, “They hurt people for the Devil since he cannot do it himself. He promises them anything they wish for becoming his familiars. Also, they make people sign the Devil’s book in blood or they keep hurting them.”
Tituba was tiring of their unending fears and ignored the comment as too foolish to acknowledge. Who would make children sign books in blood?
Abigail was whimpering, and she rocked from side to side on the bed. “I do not want a witch to hurt us.”
Tituba once would have soothed the child, but not today. She had enough of the children’s cares. To divert herself, she picked up a needle and thread to darn the heel of one of Betty’s socks.
Betty wheezed. “If we suffer from Satan’s familiars, my father will bring the whole meetinghouse to greater prayer and fasting. He will drive the Devil back to Hell.”
Elizabeth knelt next to Abigail and brushed her hair. “Perhaps he will, or perhaps Satan will summon more of his kind and return for a great final battle.”
Enormous tears flooded from Abigail’s eyes, dripping off her chin and plopping on the floorboards. “Someone must find the witches. Else, we shall never be well ever again.”
“We can find the Devil’s familiars and stop them from hurting you,” Elizabeth said. Her face became grave. “It would be good if someone catches them, but it is very dangerous to seek them out. Satan will bid new ones in their places to hurt more children, and even our parents.”
Betty gasped and Elizabeth took her hand. “But I will help you if you wish.”
Betty struggled to clear her raw throat. “Father knows Reverend Mather. He fought a witch of Satan’s in Boston. And he wrote a book about dogs and cats and how the Devil makes them talk. Plus, yellow birds that suckle sustenance from those doing the devil’s work.”
Elizabeth chimed in, “And they drink blood and eat red bread for communion.” She reached to smooth Betty’s sleeping shift. “They say the afflicted children in Boston ran through the house screaming and flapping their arms like geese trying to fly.”
Ann raised her arms like wings and said, “Like this?”
Abigail cringed and Betty said, “Yes, but Mr. Mather saved them.”
Elizabeth straightened her apron. “I know something more.” She waited until every eye was on her and then scratched her nose. “Goody Sibley can make a cake to find a witch who hurts you. If you send Tituba to the Sibley farm, she will tell her how to do white magic.”
Tituba shook her head. “I do no magic.”
“If you help us, I will tell you where to find Akanni,” Ann blurted out.
“What do you know!” The words came out stronger than she intended. How could Ann know his whereabouts?
“Father knows where he was the day he ran away. He says they know where to find him.”
“Tell me now!” Her hands trembled, and she put down her needle. If there was the smallest chance, she had to discover where he was.
“When you come back from Goody Sibley.”
A surprising urge to slap Ann across the face arose, but of course that was out of the question, and after a long stare Tituba agreed to their summons and left for Sibley’s farm at the base of Thorndike Hill.
When she returned from the errand, she demanded, “Now, tell me, now.”
“No. She will tell after we make the cake,” Elizabeth Hubbard said, joining with Ann.
Tituba held back the impulse to shout at them, even though she had never been so close to screaming at anyone. She must play along if she wanted to learn what they knew about Akanni.
She began, reciting Goody Sibley’s instructions. “First, Betty and Abigail must piss in a cup. Then mix in rye flour to make dough and bake it as hard as a field stone.”
To fulfill another task, Tituba sent Elizabeth Hubbard out to catch one of the wandering dogs that frequented the farms searching for scraps. “We must give the cur this cake, and if he eats—”
Elizabeth cut her off, “If he eats it, any witch hurting you will be forced to come out in front of us.”
Goody Sibley had said the same thing, and Tituba wondered that even children like Elizabeth knew how to find these imaginary witches. Still, she played along in order to finish this game and learn of her Akanni.
The result wasn’t promising. The dog, though its ribs showed, wanted nothing to do with a cake made with the urine of sick children. Their attempt to unmask a spiritual follower of their devil had failed.
That did not relieve them of their promise to tell Tituba what she wanted to know. She knelt in front of little Ann, waiting for her answer. The child would not look at her until Tituba begged, “Where was Akanni seen?”
“South of Salem Town. That is all I heard.”
Tituba nearly doubled over, wincing to hold back tears at the vagueness if not the bald-faced lie of the child. How could she have not expected it? But if the report was somehow true, anyone else hunting for Akanni would have no better idea where he was than she did. She repeated to herself; if no one knew his whereabouts either, perhaps he was safe.
That night and for several more days Elizabeth Hubbard slept at the parsonage. With the extra help, Tituba sloughed off on her nursing duties, resentful that she let a child dupe her.
At last, one night Skitôp arrived after stealing away for a visit. His touch almost stopped her heart when he crawled beneath the blanket with her. After they made love to each other, she asked if he had any news.
There had been nothing new since he first learned of Akanni’s escape.
“Master has said nothing of Akanni here,” she said.
“He knows. He stops at the tavern every day for a fresh word of the search, making smoke and fire at his loss. No slave means no money.”
It seemed as great a fear for the master as going to his hell.
Skitôp touched her cheek. “We must hope for the best, until we learn elsewise.”
When Skitôp laid on wood for the fire, and pulled the blankets over them, Tituba consoled herself. He was likely right. She would know in her heart if Akanni became ill or injured. A mother feels those things in moments of danger. But she denied the notion almost as quickly; after living in dread for days on end, how would she sense anything through her constant yearning?
“How many times I could have cut the master’s throat,” Skitôp mused.
“By now I have begun to doubt the wisdom of forbidding you to do so.” Saying that, what she never allowed herself to even think, made her feel righteous. Her worry for her son had peeled away the outer skin of caution.
In the warmth of the kitchen, with Skitôp sleeping next to her, Tituba drifted into a restless slumber. She awoke hours later to Skitôp snoring. She poked him to roll over and relaxed on her back, eyes closed, listening to the embers crack in the hearth.
Like a breath of air, a word flew past her. Tituba.
Tituba could not comprehend the strange sound, and she dismissed it as a product of her imagination.
Again, it came. Tituba.
Yes, it was her name, and she opened her eyes widely. Mama?
This was no dream. Here she was!
Looking the same as she had when Tituba was a child, Mama said, My little Tituba. We may speak as we did before, for no one can hear our thoughts.
Tituba felt both an urge to cry and a desire to burst with joy. Mama? Will you stay with me? She peeked at Skitôp to verify he was still asleep. I am so weary from this crushing sorrow. Why have you come so late? Akanni, your grandson, is suffering on my account. I must find him.
I am not come to you for your present need.
Mama, I must find Akanni.
He is meeting his destiny as we speak. There is no need for you to help him now.
Give me the powers, Mama, or I shall search for him without them.
I cannot give what you already possess.
Tituba sat up on her mat, ready to shout at her mama with words no one else could hear.
Yet her mother gave Tituba no time to speak.
You have already begun to find the secret powers.
Tituba was ready to discharge her fury like a gun when her mama’s declaration struck her. She had found noth…. She remembered the day in the loft. The day she seemed to be with the girls, but they did not see her. Had she made it happen?
Mama nodded. Yes, and more before that day.
But I have tried to imagine Akanni, Mama. And still I cannot make it happen.
He is safe. That is enough for you now. Mama’s image flickered. You need to give yourself permission to summon your powers… our powers. Accept this truth from me, and you will discover more in time.
Tituba tried to grasp her mama’s hand, but her fingers passed through her mother’s as if they were smoke.
Keep yourself ready.
An ember in the fire popped, drawing Tituba’s attention. The ember died out just as she spied it. And quickly as that, Mama disappeared.
Tituba drew a deep breath. If she could do as Mama wanted, become strong enough, she might shape her future, find Akanni, take Skitôp to him. And as one family, they could disappear from the English colony—without a trace.
When the daylight arrived, Tituba believed, as certain as the pouring rain outside, her mother had come to her in the night. Mama was neither a dream nor a hallucination. Mindful of her mother’s words, Tituba relaxed. She had no choice except to wait with an open mind, ready for whatever was to come.
But she did not expect events to erupt so rapidly.
Tituba was in the lean-to, dressing a fresh fat turkey for the spit, when Master burst in upon her.
“You will ruin me!” His dripping wet black broad-brimmed hat flew across the room before hitting the inside of the hearth, where it fell to the edge of the fire. He seemed not to care if it burned, nor did she dare fetch it.
“God’s flesh, you are worse than a cunning woman.” He slapped his hands on the cutting table and leaned forward, shouting into her face. “The witch cake! I know about the witch cake.”
The nearest object to him was a wooden trencher, and he struck her with it full in the face. Tituba did not feel herself fall to the floor. But she found herself lying on her side. Master stood over her, rain, sweat, or both dripping from his face.
A distant roll of thunder and a renewed wave of hard rain hitting the roof preceded his words. “They will ask why the pastor permits magic under his roof! And they will condemn me for it. They will wonder if he seeks to hide the afflictions of the girls. They will answer by saying I brought on God’s displeasure for allowing an abomination under my roof.”
Tituba scrabbled out of his reach, fearing he might strike her again.
“You have brought the Devil’s work here, and you shall suffer for it.”
He undid his leather belt and cracked it across her back and shoulders. Tituba submitted, bent forward, and covering her face. The master’s thrashing paused; the mistress appeared in the doorway. He turned to her, gasping from the exertion. “The people will believe divine disfavor has fallen upon this house, and they will lose their faith in me!”
Master raised the belt, and Tituba held her breath to take the blow, but he held back. “This scandal will finish me here.” He turned from the women, hiding his face, but it was clear he was wiping tears and trying to stifle them. He whirled toward Tituba again and reared back with the belt, but once more he paused as if he realized whipping her further would not ease his own pain. Dropping the belt, he fell to his knees, and called toward the ceiling. “That conjuring witch cake is the means the papists use for their perverted exorcisms. O, Lord, what a mockery of me who preaches prayer and fasting to save our dearest children.”
Then he stood, and grabbing Tituba by her linen collar, dragged her from the kitchen into the main room, heedless of her choking. “How long have you been a witch?”
His face was purple as he hovered over her. “I am no witch, Master,” she gasped.
She dared not resist as he pulled Tituba to her feet and drove her up the stairs under a volley of slaps and pushes. Then, like a man himself possessed, he ransacked the small storeroom closet on the second-floor landing, throwing bags of dry goods and such into the hall, clearing enough room to force Tituba inside.
Tituba remained mute throughout, stifling her urge to cry for mercy, afraid to bring on more of the same. After he slammed the door shut, she struggled to draw a deep breath, paralyzed, fearing the next unknown.
Tituba was trapped inside the storage closet for two days without food or water. And during those long hours, enduring cramped arms and legs that would not allow sleep, with her head on the floor and her mouth open to the space beneath the door, sucking for fresh air, Tituba waited.
In isolation Tituba heard the rain beating on the walls and roof of the parsonage. She imagined her first act outside the closet, standing and stretching while taking the deepest breath to fill her lungs.
After an interminable time, Tituba recognized Goodman Putnam’s voice downstairs in the main room. She could not hear at first, but his voice got louder as he continued talking. His wife, Ann, would not stop crying out that she sensed evil spiritual forces mounting an invasion. And she said it as plain as possible. “The pastor was a target of them.”
From the quietness, it seemed like the master was searching for the right words. Then he said, “Brother Thomas, rest easy. I understand her fear. Our faith will bolster us against Satan. And if you are referring to my, eh, problems, worry not. They will succumb to more prayer. We fight with prayer and soon our entire congregation will hear the Lord speak through me. And we will drive any possible demonic uprising back to Hell.”
“My daughter said there was talk about Sarah Osborne here in the village. She has been troublesome for twenty years hereabouts. She birthed a bastard child and dared any to call out her sin. Her bad example follows her, even at meetings. They say she once conjured for sick-headed people.”
“Our Father will protect us if we have faith. Worry not, brother.” He offered Putnam a cup of beer. As the men drank together. Goodman Putnam must have calmed down because Tituba could not hear their conversation.
After Putnam departed, Master climbed the stairs. Tituba tried to make herself smaller inside the closet. But when he opened the closet door, the look on his face told her that some of his fury had dissipated.
“You will cook and clean, but I forbid you to speak to the girls.” He descended two steps before he stopped and shouted up at her, “I shall decide on a fit punishment for your sinfulness.”
Tituba dared not move until he went all the way down and out of sight. What more could he do to her? He had sold her only son to a distant life of servitude. No further punishment could be worse.
She had been inside the closet for so long, Tituba’s legs were numb and useless. She crawled through the small doorway, extending her legs inches at a time. She paused to catch her breath and hearing a single horse arrive outside the parsonage, she rested.
It was Deacon Ingersoll, and he shouted, “Mr. Parris,” before dismounting and pounding the front door. Tituba scarcely cared why he had arrived with such urgency, but she waited to hear.
Master opened the door to him and Ingersoll stepped inside from the rain. After some muffled exchange, Goodman Ingersoll said. “Shall I help you bring her down?”
“No, leave her up there.”
She peered over the top step to pick up what news Ingersoll brought.
“I am told, there was no way to stop him.”
Stop him? Stop… who? She lifted her head.
“He refused to obey after they caught up with him.”
A fresh clap of lightning and thunder were no match for Tituba’s deafening heartbeat. She knew. She knew her son was…
“Your Akanni’s dead, Mr. Parris.”
The awful word, like an anvil dropped from a height, crushed Tituba. After frozen seconds, she screamed denials, heedless of the master’s response, sucking frozen air, burning her lungs as she fed her howling. Tituba began slapping herself, punching and scratching to come awake from this lie. After exhaustion stilled her, Tituba accepted the truth. My baby is dead.
A gauzy sense, her instinct to blame herself, picked at her, but she rejected it. And with the rejection of her habitual nature, a cold clarity came. She had done nothing to cause this.
When grief washed over her again, Tituba bit the hem of her dress to stifle her urge to scream anew. But the grief, like a wave receding lessened, and was itself overcome by a new wave. He killed my baby! He branded a scar on her heart and seared a vow by Tituba to never forget he caused her suffering. Nor would she allow that suffering to be quenched. For Akanni’s sake she would strike back. Justice must be meted out to her English master and all the people like him—they were all vile. She did not know how to make it happen, but she would not rest until she dispensed it.
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