Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Short Story Competition

Came second in the contest- pretty close! So with no further ado...

Witch Hunting in the Bowels of England

It was the first Thursday of May 1646 that I went up Primrose Hill to meet Colonel Digby’s men. ‘Apothecary, you are to help us with the Lord’s work.’ It was not the Colonel but a man in all black. ‘I am Hamilton, Witchfinder appointed by our goodly Parliament. Satan does his work not just through misled Kings, but also in every village in England. That is why this God-fearing body of Trained Band, under Colonel Digby, will help me cleanse the lands we see from here of Satan.’

Hamilton continued: ‘We need you, Apothecary, to see if men are using true or false medicines. The latter are Satan’s work. If you spot them you are to tell me of their providence.’

‘Colonel, I have addresses to visit. Satan has caused much mischief around Chalk Farm Tavern, a place of much debauchery and dissoluteness. Order your men to march.’

The Colonel, an old Trained Band officer, ordered his men down the hill. I walked alongside Hamilton. I knew a lot of Presbyters like him in the City.

‘So how do you spot a witch, sir? I have read many books on the matter.’

‘Apothecary, I learnt my trade all over Europe. I find that witches are just poppets of Satan and if you find him in them, they just crumble. I use a method, approved by Scotch brethren, in Yorkshire and Ireland, where Papists blame potatoes, the evil wretches.’

I was pondering Hamilton’s words when we reached the first house where he said Satan was active. ‘Master Bourne, come out. Your wife says you harbour Satan!’ A haggard fellow opened the door. ‘She is telling lies again, just because I prefer the tavern’s company to her nagging and cavorting with other men.’

‘Are you calling your good wife a whore, sir? Let us see if you are possessed by Satan.’ Hamilton brought forward a sharp spiked mace. ‘Behold Satan, leave or you will feel the vengeance of the Reformed Church!’

A loud farting noise came out of Bourne and much unpleasantness followed. ‘Leave me alone! It is just the beer!’

‘Confess or you will hang at Tyburn and be crow sport.’

As six bodies, including Bourne’s, were left to hang outside Chalk Farm Tavern, I asked Hamilton: ‘So that is how you know Satan is inside a man?’

‘Verily. Satan may set a face hard and still, but he cannot stay quiet. Satan needs to move and make noise and when threatened by good Christians he cannot hold himself. Apothecary, some of the science you hold to says other, but it is nonsense. For science cannot purge the soul or the bowels of evil doers.’ I fell silent.

Though for Parliament and God, I did think Hamilton spoke nonsense. However, it seemed the Colonel and his men approved Hamilton’s method and had no qualms about executing those he said had Satan lurking in them. For three weeks we marched to nearly every corner of the land between Primrose Hill and St. Albans, dispensing Godly justice to Satan’s familiars. Colonel Digby made sure we did not abuse the hospitality of the locals, though some did wonder in earshot of me why all Satan’s familiars these days appeared to be men.

I was not called onto do much apothecary-related work, though some men needed painkillers to sleep. The fourth Thursday of May we executed three in the mudtrack locals call West Hampstead. Next morning we marched on Cricklewood, full of surly drunken types. The Colonel’s men used musket shot on four score troubling fellows. After twelve died and Digby threatened the rest that the New Model would arrive by dusk, we marched to the Red Lion by Kilburn Priory, a well-known stop on Watling Street. We had not partaken ale during the campaign but both Digby and Hamilton agreed that a few to celebrate our efforts would not harm.

It was to be more than a few. Our discipline went at the Red Lion. With Hamilton praying, Digby and a few of his men sat at my table.

‘So Apothecary, do you believe Hamilton that farting is a sign of Satan?’

‘Not all the time, Colonel, for our victuals can play a part. Hamilton is a man of God, though, he must know more than us.’

‘Well, boys, we would not be allowed ale if he was a true man of God, for I have been belching and worse since I had my first sip today. I am full of Satan! Hamilton must know!’ He ran to the side room in the inn where Hamilton had gone to pray.

‘Presbyter, do you think Satan owns my buttocks…’ Digby opened the door to see Hamilton on the floor, with the late Bourne’s wife astride him.

‘Save me, she is possessed by Satan…she is full of him!’ screamed Hamilton. The Colonel then heard, he told us afterwards, the worst breakage of the wind in his life.

‘Thou merely talketh turds, false prophet!’ shouted Digby, whose sword sliced both their heads off in moments.

That night our drunken rabble of ninety-seven was no match for the three hundred New Model horse of Captain Croft that had just subdued Cricklewood. Most of the survivors were led off to Tyburn. Due to my medical knowledge I was allowed to help the few injured troopers and tell the whole sorry tale to Croft.

‘Farting the work of Satan? Then all of England is damn’d!’ he exclaimed. ‘This is nonsense, false doctrine that should be suppressed and a capital offence to promote. Apothecary, please say nothing of this, unless you want to join Digby and the others entertaining the mob.’

I swore immediately on King James’s Bible not to say a word. Though for many years, indeed unto the days of the Glorious Revolution, I was occasionally visited at my shop on Philpot Street by the weak-stomached, fearing it was the Devil’s work, and asking me questions about the 1646 ‘Crusade For The Bowels.’