Winners: Pippa Brush Chappell - Under Water
We always love it when we can sink our teeth into a story that transports us somewhere else, and that's exactly what this piece did. Pippa's tale of superstition and revenge tantalised us enough to score a place in the shortlist.
Flash Fiction 500 - Shortlist
"She stands accused."
She can hear the blood pounding in her ears. Can feel the bite of rope into her wrists, her ankles. Her hair, blowing across her face.
"She stands accused as a witch." The crowd is silent. "This woman will be tried." He struggles with the paper flapping in his hand. "Tried in accordance with the law. She will submit to the test. To ordeal by water. Such is the will of the law." His words scatter in the wind.
She tries not to look at the water. Not to look at the crowd. She saw, as they dragged her from the cart, all that she needed to see.
The men who fasten thick rope around her waist are known to her. They avoid her eyes, her face, just as deliberately as she seeks theirs. "May the Lord God forgive you." The words burn in her throat. May He forgive you, for I surely never will.
The breath rushes from her lungs. Weed, water, flood into her mouth and eyes, the rope tight about her, the force of the fall, water pulling her down, down. She cannot allow the witchfinder to see her struggle. Sink. Sink. Her ears are full, the sound of water, the rush of blood. Let me sink. Her lungs scream, her eyes stinging.
The jerk of the rope against her waist heaves against her straining ribs, drags her up, back up. As she feels the slap of the wind on her face, she sucks in the air, filling her empty, breaking body with its chill.
"She has... She has passed the test." He is already walking away. "She is innocent of the charge against her."
The slice of the knife against her skin, the jerk as the ropes release. She barely notices, gasping still to refill her emptied lungs. Strands of severed rope scatter about her.
The crowd drifts away. There is, after all, nothing more to see. No witch. Just a woman, wet from the river. A woman who has a child at home, and a fire to tend, as they all do.
Her words are little more than breath. Langueas, ut in inferno. They are steady, a candle's flame on a calm night. You, witchfinder. You, with your petty tests and trials. You shall be tested. She lays her hands on the ground. Omnes daemones et portae inferi. Spits onto the cold stone. Et condemnabitur.
The witchfinder, lodged by the tavern's hearth, rubs his forehead, a sudden flush of heat come over him. Langueas, ut in inferno. At his belly, it is almost as if a rope is tightening there. He shuffles over, away from the fire, yet the heat intensifies. Omnes daemones et portae inferi. His wrists, ankles, ache as if they are bound. The blood pounds in his ears, the sounds of the room receding. Et condemnabitur. Almost as if he is under water.