Witch Finder

A drawing of a noose, with the text: I hanged a hundred and twenty witches.

Witch Finder

Short story by Iris Carden

Age and illness had taken their toll, and now the witch finder was lying on his deathbed. He faced the inevitable without fear, knowing he had done well in his calling. He was guaranteed Heaven.

A dear friend, the angel who’d guided him throughout his work, appeared to him.

“The time has come old friend,” the angel said, “I’ve come to take you to your true home.”

The old man smiled slightly. “You told me once, angel, that you would tell me your true name on this day.”

“Of course,” the angel replied. “I have many names. Some you might know are Lucifer, Devil, or Satan.”

“What?” the dying man was shocked. “You? You are the Devil, yet you’ve come to take me to Heaven?”

“I haven’t come to take you to Heaven. I’ve come to take you to your home where you belong. Trust me, I know about this. I once lived in Heaven. I know who goes where. But I’m not the one who judged you, I’m just carrying out your sentence.”

“But I belong in Heaven. I have done God’s work. I hanged a hundred and twenty witches!”

“God’s work? No, you’ve done my work. You’ve turned neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend, and along the way you murdered a hundred and twenty women. God wept over what you did to every one of them, and each one added to your judgment.”

“Murder? Never murder? I followed the Scriptures! A witch cannot be allowed to live!”

The Devil smile a huge vampiric grin. “Yet you claim to follow Jesus who said not to judge or you would be judged.”

“I followed the law. I always gathered proof.”

“You gathered proof that frightened people will point the finger at someone else, rather than risk it being pointed at them. You gathered proof that, given the chance, some people will take ultimate revenge on petty jealousies and resentments. You gathered proof that fear and resentment and anger can tear communities apart. So you killed more than a hundred innocent women.”

“Innocent women? Many of them were whores!”

“Your precious Jesus loved sinners and whores. He said the tax collectors and prostitutes would make it to Heaven before you. He said it while talking to holy people, like you, who always judged themselves as better than their neighbours. I know, I was their close friend too.”

“Some of them disobeyed their husbands, or lived alone without men to rule over them. I sent their souls to Hell where they belonged.”

“You were frightened by women living their lives without being controlled. They lived with more freedom than you allowed yourself, and you resented it. Your petty jealousy made you hate. Indeed, your society is filled with people like you who resent anyone who does anything differently from themselves. There was plenty of jealousy and hatred around for you to harness, when you stirred up the witch craze wherever you went.

“You sanctimonious people, you all make my job so easy. Your pointless resentments, and policing of differences that do no harm, all combines into a hatred that brings death. You only sentenced one soul to Hell. Those women are all free. It wasn’t the witches who were judged. It was never about the witches. It never will be about the witches. In the past it wasn’t about the Samaritans or the Canaanites. In the future it won’t be about yellow stars, or pink or brown or black triangles. Hatred is a test, not of the one who is hated, but of the one who hates.”

The old man tried to argue his case once more, desperately clutching at another straw. “You made me do all of the things I’ve done wrong. Lying to me, telling me I was doing Heaven’s work. I didn’t know I’d been misled.”

The Devil laughed at that and said, “No, I just showed you a path and you ran down it freely. You always had the choice to stop and say no. You can’t claim ignorance here. You were never an ignorant peasant. You could read. You’d read the Gospels, and should have known right from wrong. You chose hatred and condemnation, when your Jesus told you to love. You chose to believe that he was lying and I told the truth. Then you found your imagined witches and persecuted them to death.”

“I don’t belong to you,” the old man desperately tried again. “I didn’t sign a contract or sell you my soul, as witches do.”

“You didn’t sell me your soul. You shattered it into a hundred and twenty pieces and joyfully gave me each individual shard. No-one ever sold me a soul. It always comes to me as a gift. And you got something in return for every one of your gifts. You got the power of life and death over innocent people. You got the fear that pretends to be respect. You got paid your silver and gold for the carnage you created.”

The dying man, with no arguments left, merely whimpered and begged. “Grant me mercy,” he said. “I didn’t know what I did.”

The Devil’s smiled widened. He leaned in close and said, “My dear old friend, for all you’ve done, God has handed you over to me. I will grant you the exact same mercy that you granted all your victims.”

By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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