The cottage was made of stone and log, with a thatch roof, and never a day went by without it being warm. That was her father’s doing and Truda loved her father, Martin, dearly. Her mother, Meredith, she tried to love, but that woman was distant, some might say, “ Cold. “ She was more often than not having hateful thoughts toward her.
Meredith was barren and Truda took the blame for that. Her mother had referred to her in secret as a witch since her birth and it was her father’s rationality over religion, which some called blasphemy, that had them relocate when Truda was ten. He built the cottage from the ground up, collected the animals, and grew what he could, so they could eat.
The Winters were cold, but the remaining seasons were wonderful. Truda was allowed to wander where she pleased, except for in the woods. She had only done it once and wasn’t there for long, not even lost. Her father found her catatonic and staring skyward. When he touched her shoulder, she shrieked so loudly, it caused a ringing in his left ear, which would nag him for the rest of his days. What she had seen she could not remember.
“ Those woods are alive and not in a good way, “ her father said. “ They will gobble you up, my child. Not even I want to go there. “
It was 1646, Virginia, in the New World. Truda was born here and her mother and father rarely spoke of their voyage. All she knew was that it had been cold, wet, rough, and a lot of people died. Martin had tried not to doubt God’s plan, but some knew that he did.
Truda had just turned fifteen, was raven haired, blue eyed, at a good age for marriage, but she refused the idea, and her father joked that she was a little old woman in herself. He wanted grandsons and there were many eligible Christian boys in town, just six miles away. Her mother told her that witches and whores never marry.
Things at the cottage changed after her mother went missing.
Truda stayed there, by the fire, while her father followed her mother’s footprints toward the woods. He was gone for the night and she was too terrified to sleep, not even the scriptures bringing comfort.
On the second day he returned carrying Meredith in his arms.
“ Cover your mother’s nakedness, “ he said, exhausted, Truda at the ready with a blanket.
At dusk, as her mother slept, Truda saw the Jackalope, the horned one, scurry across the yard. She told her father, but he angrily dismissed her as having a madness, like her mother. Never had he spoken to her like that. For the first time she had a hateful thought toward him.
Soon, the hens had stopped laying, the cows were dry of milk, the horses died, and the grain stores were developing rot.
Mist hung low in the morning and Martin crawled over his sleeping wife, climbing from their bed. He dressed himself, instead of waking Truda to help him. Then, he noticed wet footprints, which seemed to manifest by themselves, upon the stone floor, in the middle of the room. They hadn’t been there a moment ago.
Meredith murmured in her sleep.
He followed the footprints to the main door. Slowly, he opened it, and now saw hoof prints. He followed them to the middle of the yard, to where they vanished amidst the mist.
“ There’s the devil in my house, “ he said to himself, horrified.
In a fit of rage, driven by terror, he stormed inside, dragging Truda from her bed. She screamed as he threw her from the cottage. He forced her to look at the hoof prints and dragged her by her hair to where they ended. She saw no hoof prints.
“ This is your doing! “ he yelled at her. “ Your mother always said you were a witch! You said you saw the Jackalope! “
“ I’m not a witch! “ Truda yelled back. “ You’re as mad as she is! She was lost in the woods, not me! I see no hoof prints and so what of the Jackalope? “
“ Explain this! “
“ I’ve never been lost in the woods. You said the woods gobble things up! “
He grabbed Truda by her hair again and dragged her kicking and screaming to the woodpile, yanking the axe from the chopping block. He placed the cold, sharp edge of it to her forehead.
“ If you’re a witch, I will split your skull! “ he roared.
“ No, Father! I’d rather you banished me now! “
“ And I will hunt you with my axe! “
From inside the cottage, they heard Meredith scream. Martin threw the axe down.
Truda grabbed the axe and tossed it away.
“ They’ve both gone mad, “ she wept, getting to her feet.
She followed her father inside.
Meredith writhed in agony in the bed, Martin trying to comfort her. She pushed suddenly, as if in labour, then relaxed, and sighed, falling back into a deep sleep. He threw back the covers. Behind him, Truda gasped, covering her mouth.
Resting on the sheet between her mother’s legs, in a small pool of blood, was a black hen’s eggs, warm, and hard as stone.
“ I told you, “ Truda hissed. “ There’s your witch! “
“ Quiet! “ Martin ordered. “ I must get rid of this, take it back to from where it came. The devil is in my house. I trust neither of you. This is what I get for doubting God’s plan. “
Later, when the mist had lifted, Truda watched her father take the egg to edge of the woods, and bury it. She was having hateful thoughts, her scalp still burning.
Truda was asleep and her mother was watching her. It was a misty dawn the following day.
Meredith dis-robed and in a trance slowly turned. She went naked through the cottage to the door and into the yard. She could hear a baby crying, crying near the woods.
As she crossed the fields, the mist parted for her, and the crying lead her to a spot in the ground. She fell to her knees and started digging. The closer she got to it, the crying intensified, and then there it was, the black egg. It was still warm, hard as stone.
She rubbed it against her cheek, and cooed, “ My little one, it will be all right. Mother will take you home. “
A weight exploded through her head, blinding her, and she felt it again, convulsing now, the egg cracking, spilling blood onto the soil, to mix with her own.
Martin held the axe, looking down at her. It was an effortless kill. Convinced the witch was dead, the curse would be lifted, the rot would be removed from the grain, and the livestock would produce again.
He reburied the pieces of egg and grabbed dead Meredith by an arm and dragged her into the woods. Her burial would have to be done before Truda awoke. She was not to see this.
Back at the cottage, still in her bed, Truda cried out, arching her back in pain, having a seizure. It only lasted a moment and she fell back into a deep sleep.
Martin was washed and sitting by the fire reading the scriptures. It was close to midday and Truda was wide awake now.
“ I’ve slept too long, Father. “ she said. “ I apologise for my laziness. Shall I check for an egg? “
He scowled at her, “ Is that an attempt at humour, my daughter? This is not a day for laughter. It is a day for mourning. Your mother has died and at dawn was buried. “
Truda was lost for words and went into the yard. The day was warm. Her mother was dead and she felt nothing. She could see no sign of a grave and the axe was missing.
She ran back into the cottage, and asked, “ Where’s the axe, Father? “
Martin had it resting across his lap, the book of scripture tossed on the floor.
“ It’s right here, my daughter, “ he said, with a crazed look in his eye, “ safest in my hands. “
“ Where’s mother buried? “
“ In the five points of the woods, as she wished, when she whispered it in my bad ear, while I slept. “
“ You’re a mad man. “
Truda dashed for the door and Martin chased her. He couldn’t believe how nimble she was on her feet. She ran in the direction of the town, six miles away, and only looked back once, to see her father collapse to his knees, exhausted, pointing the axe at her.
He cried out, but she was too far away to hear what he said.
At dusk, she entered the town, and requested to meet with the magistrate. Her request was granted, but only for a moment.
He was an elderly man, easily prone to superstition.
“ What counsel do you seek, young woman? “ he asked. “ I know you by your parents. Your father is a doubter. Speak quickly. “
“ My father has gone mad and murdered my mother. He is on his way here now. I’d like to testify to witchcraft. “
“ Witchcraft? That’s a confronting testament to make against one’s kin. What proof have you? “
Truda reached into her apron pocket.
On the magistrate’s desk she placed a black hen’s egg, warm, and hard as stone.