Some say I am a stain on your history, a nameless statistic—a grotesque misfortune that is alluded to in your textbooks. I cannot disagree. Allow me to introduce myself as I am. Patience Annabel Horton is my given name, though I refer to myself as Annabel, never much caring to claim a virtue I do not possess. I am in spirit form for the most part, though it was not always so.
It was in the year 1692, in the village of Salem, in the state of Massachusetts, that I swung by my neck. Many of us died there, such needless, senseless tragedies.
There was evil in Salem Village in 1692, but it was not in the soul of any of those women they hanged. Poor Goodwife Nurse, now she was the saddest of the lot to be taken to the tree. No more of a witch than poor Bridget Bishop. No one was safe from the devil’s fire; certainly I was not, not with my detachment, my disinterest in the other girls of my village and their silly games. You see, I knew I had powers, and it kept me apart, but I told no one my secrets. Of course, I only tell you now because it no longer matters.
But I am not here to condemn anyone for my suffering. So do not be alarmed. As you may or may not know, men who believed they were doing God’s work chastised many of Salem’s citizens as witches and brought us to trial. Many, like myself, were hanged. I was eighteen years old.
I will tell you what really happened in Salem Village before the century turned. You never learned the truth of it. Your history books do not contain the truth, but I will open the veil of time for you.
Before my death, one year to be exact, a presence came to me.
“Who goes there?” I called in the dark. The form was like mist. The answer was like wind.
“Leave me, ghost,” I whispered coarsely.
The wind became a breeze and caressed my lips. I knew I had been kissed, and I shuddered.
“Who are you?” I asked softly. The form appeared to be that of a man.
“Yours,” I thought I heard him say.
“You hold me in your arms, and yet I cannot see you.” I looked around the room. I felt his movement. Once again, he came so close.
The wind was like a dance as it lifted the hair from my brow. The air around my body felt so light and sensual. I seemed touched by a gentleness. It caused my heart to pound.
“Show yourself,” I commanded.
He circled the room, a tall gray mist. I was sure his hair was black, his eyes as dark as evening.
After that, I waited for him every night, and almost every night he came to me. It was not long before I fell in love with this spirit, as helplessly in love as any restless young woman can be.
These ghostly visits continued right up until my physical death. I always knew when he was near because the air would become faint with the scent of fresh rain and I would feel drugged with the fragrance that lingered in my room.
“You smell like late afternoons in summer, after a rainfall,” I told him, but he did not answer. He spoke to me so seldom. It was quite by chance that I heard his whisper.
“Matthew,” he said.
“Matthew is your name?” I asked.
I listened so carefully as the shutters moved and some papers on my bureau fluttered like wings.
“Matthew?” I asked again. “Oh, please speak more. Tell me where you come from?”
My illusive shadow was silent.
“Matthew. Matthew, speak to me! Show me your face. Let me see the hand that strokes me.”
Suddenly, the wind returned. “I am so far,” he uttered.
“Surely you must be a spirit from another time,” I said.
Miraculously, the papers on my bureau flew around and around again, as if chasing each other in a playful game of tag.
I knew he could not reach me, could not fully pass beyond the barriers between us. Yet I felt him like an artist must feel his subject.
“You are tall,” I said. “Your shirt has cuffs of white and I have images of your smile. Does time part us, Matthew? Are the centuries between us too vast?”
I saw a shadowy light. It shone before me and revealed a man of great height, but in a split second the light was gone, the image within too oblique to recall.
Soon after his first visit, I received letters. They appeared out of nowhere. I would find them all over the house, always beginning: To my wife.
“What’s this?” I stammered as I held the letters in my hand.
Know that I love you and I’ll come to protect you, he had written.
His notes were always signed with the letter M, for his first name.
“Matthew,” I whispered. “How is it that you can leave notes about the house and yet not show me your face?”
But my ghost was silent and could not find a way to answer me.
“Why do you sign only with the letter M?” I asked. “Is Matthew really your name?”
Silence remained, as still as the night wind beyond my window.
I began to think that I had truly gone insane. Oftentimes, I doubted the presence of my ghost, and I questioned Father about the mysterious letters. For surely, I thought, the sun must be too hot and had affected my brain.
“Father, I have received notes of affection. Do you know who sends them?”
Father laughed. “A neighbor’s boy must surely be culprit to the bow of Cupid, daughter.”
Ha! I knew better. No neighbor’s boy in Salem would dare call me his wife. I frightened the boys of my village. They thought me haughty and illusive. Oh, there was a young man from Andover with the courage to court me, and I might have married him if not for my fascination with my ghostly lover, but I never got that chance.
It must be you who writes me. Mustn’t it be so, Matthew?
If only I had known then that it would be centuries before I would see the face of my beloved. But in 1692, I could only cherish his words, so I made myself a wooden box and covered his letters with a beautiful purple cloth. I placed all the letters inside. I then covered the box with a square piece of coarse fabric and hid it under the tallest elm tree by Frost Fish Brook. Many afternoons that year I read the letters in the shadow of the branches. The writer’s hand was full of lovely twists and loops, and the ink was black.
Had I not died so soon, I might have lived my life with my ghostly lover and never come to know him as a man of flesh. I would have assumed that some lost spirit had written the letters and had found a way to leave them inside the house. But, that innocence was not to be, and it was not fate that made it so.
It was Urbain, Urbain Grandier, and the power given him.
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