Clad in a short black robe that falls to the tops of his knees, one of the executioners, Mr. Tackie, strips Father naked and dry-shaves
him. Says it makes discovering the Devil’s mark less tedious. When not torturing and executing people, Mr. Tackie fixes boots and shoes
next door to the blacksmith.
The weight of the stares makes me tremble. I’m supposed to speak. In a ferocious storm of tears and determination, I explain what my
father and Mr. Kempe have “done.” The other executioners are eager to get their hands on him. I can’t speak fast enough. They quickly
wave me away and prick Father with the thick, blunt needle of a bodkin. His shoulders look dislocated, probably from having them pulled up behind his back. His hip joint is forced from its socket.
We watch as Mr. Kempe’s toenails are torn out with turcas. We are careful not to show too much compassion lest someone think we
sympathize with Devil worshipers. Father’s one eye is gouged out, while the other is burned out of its socket. His front teeth extracted with pliers. He spits onto the floor every time the raw sockets fill with blood.
I stand close to Richard as we look across the crowd of people from the high stage, then shift our gazes back to look at Mr. Kempe
slumped over next to Father. Mother is in the back somewhere with Louis. I can’t see her. She doesn’t want to watch, but everyone is
required to be present during these punishments.
I look at Richard’s hand, and I want to hold it—but I can’t. Not yet. Richard has wrapped his arms around himself as if it can stop him from shaking. He keeps his head down so he doesn’t have to see his father suffering. It doesn’t matter. All of us can still hear it. There is no escape.
I notice Mr. Kempe’s blotched and red skin from when he was forced to take a scalding hot bath laced with lime, which sears the flesh. The priest gets our attention and makes sure we watch as Mr. Kempe’s right foot is covered with lard and roasted slowly over the fire until his bones crack and pop as the marrow drips onto the flames.
“Is that all you have left to say?” I look each priest in the eye. One is tall, one fat, and the other so short his feet don’t touch the ground as he sits. They wear robes and strange pointed hats.
“Yes. It’s the same as before, your grace. My Father worships the Devil.”
I pause, and they watch me, clearly waiting for more information.
“He told me the demons said he must commit sins against God in order to win their favor. To be a head Devil priest, he had to commit
sin by incest. Father raped me.” I know it is a lie, but in my heart, it’s true. The tears start to come again. My reliable, grief-stricken tears.
“He would kill me if I told,” I say. “But I trust God. I know the Lord. She will protect me for speaking the truth.”
I shift from one foot to the other. “When he found out I was pregnant, he beat me in hopes of killing the child so there’d be no evidence. A few days after that, he sent Mr. Kempe into our cottage to break the law of union and morality by raping me too. That the sin would please the Devil!”
“Yes,” the heavy-looking priest says. He leans to the side, and the chair creaks. I can’t understand how it continues to hold his weight.
“The witness, your neighbor, said she saw Mr. Kempe come into your house on the same day you said.”
“Yes, your grace.” I wipe sweat from my face. The suns bite at me with their rays. We have been out here all morning. Father gets
silenced each time he offers an explanation. He denies wrongdoing, and they continue to torment him with questions and pain.
“And you, boy,” the same priest says. “Do you have anything else to add?”
Richard shifts his weight from one foot to the other, then shakes his head, silent.
What does it matter? The servants are already bringing in a large bowl filled with rats. The priests are going to torture them regardless
of anything else we say. They mean to turn the bowl onto their bare stomachs and light a fire over the top. I’ve seen this once before. The
rats panic and burrow into their bowels. It would take a while for Father and Mr. Kempe to die from the rats, but they would feel the
The dry, rotted stage creaks again as I glance at my feet. My slippers are blood-stained, the soles soaked. My nose keeps curling at the
stench. I’m not sure if Father or Mr. Kempe soiled themselves or if it’s the stink of their insides connecting with the air.
“So he tried to put the blame on you. That you impregnated the girl?” the tall priest asks Richard.
“She and I are friends,” Richard mumbles. “We would never think about sinning.” His voice cracks, and he wrings his hands. “We’re
not married. Too young to know of these things you’re talking about.”
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