“I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink.” — Sarah Good, one of the 20 people executed during the Salem witchcraft trials

“Shall we never never get rid of this Past?…It lies upon the Present like a giant’s dead body.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of Seven Gables

Salem, Massachusetts: 21st Century

The rare apparition of an All Hallows’ Eve moon cast its spell of eerie pallor and spotlight across the cobbled streets, illuminating ornaments of skeletons swaying from branches like a hangman’s Christmas tree, lighting them in passing with an apparitional caress and lingering on the old gabled colonial house, bathing it resplendently. Within its aging vined walls, its tenant thrashed in the throes of nightmare-haunted sleep, tormented by recurring nightmares. In the days leading to All Hallows’ Eve, they were becoming more vivid. Then the house was cast in sudden ominous darkness….like a murder of crows drawn to scavenge a terrible battle, there was a sudden gathering of darkness…a cauldrenous massing of rapidly-shifting storm clouds glowered over the town, growling with thunder like the belly of a grim, dark god hungering for offerings.

He awoke with a cry…disoriented…wondered where he was…as much as when he was. In the rising wind that sounded like a disembodied cry, the leafless branches scraped the window like skeletal hands clawing for him. He arose like a somnambulist and approached the great mullioned window overlooking the street. Its panes were lit in intervals by lightning…a disembodied song seemed to haunt the air, enticing him like a dark carol’s serenade of venomed honey.

He peered outside, and she was there, illuminated for a jolting moment in an eerie spectral glow of lightning, standing against a background of jack o’ lanterns. Her pale, expressionless face looking up at him expectantly…in a dark frilled gown and porcelain harlequin mask…she seemed to blow a sarcastic kiss at him, then seemingly dematerialised in an interval of darkness.

The mime.

The mysterious stranger who had been his second shadow since the leaves turned flame red…at first, her sudden intrusions had been mildly amusing, then annoying, then somehow concerning….

He had first seen her pale masked dance into his path on his walk back home…the usual routine of palms feeling at an invisible barrier between them. He had quickened his pace, shrugging her off dismissively…yet her appearances were unpredictable but numerous and calculated. She began reappearing jarringly from the leaf-strewn alleyways…then she would disappear as suddenly. He clutched the windowsill meeting her dark eyes…then an interval of darkness and she had vanished…yet again…

Veiled by darkness, she lingered unseen as he retreated from the window. She stood in cold rapture as the rain fell like pent-up tears hailing her…her arms spread, like the conductor of a danse macabre…rallying the ancestral ghosts of Salem…her rage and power were a force of nature like the raging storm that swept her soul. War had been declared…in that historic town that oozed dark secrets as if from reopened wounds.

Who was he?

He was a guide at the historic house for as long as any could remember. The novice docents idolised him and the local paper dubbed him a living treasure…

Morbid vultures, he privately scowled of the patrons who eagerly flocked to the historic infamous town with a dark past. He was legendary as a tour guide, idolised by the novices.

Mr. Elmer, the veteran docent who made the past come alive to the tour groups, transplanted his audience to another time as he ushered them through the house, relishing the chime of steady coins in appreciative tip jars.

Who was she? The mystery lingered…haunted him…as the nights grew longer and darker….and skeletons, black cats, and witches appeared on the trees…in feverish expectation for Halloween in infamous Salem. The storm had raged through the streets like a mad poltergeist…strewn with debris. Torn Halloween decorations lay amid leaves like an explosion’s aftermath.

Across Red Dreamscapes

“By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.” — William Shakespeare, Macbeth

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” — William Shakespeare, The Tempest

He sank into sleep again… writhing in the throes of nightmares that haunted his immortal sleep like a danse macabre of ghosts amid castle ruins…remembering a night like this…centuries before…when he roared from the pulpit…rallying his congregation against a coven of witches he insisted were bedevilling Salem, his oratory raised to maddened heights of righteous indignation. He suddenly pointed figures at women in the congregation…  

“Behold witches in our midst!” Women who screamed as they were grabbed and dragged away…women who had foolishly rejected his lecherous advances…he gloated inwardly…this was all too easy…none in Salem would refuse him again, he was sure…until he paid a call on one of his parishioners and tried his hand at a proud Irish midwife in their employ…refusal???

“Witch!!!” he howled, pointing a trembling finger at her…blood oozing from between his fingers as he clutched his cheek where her nails scratched as he tried to press her down into the barn’s hay.

“Popish heathen!” he had denounced her.

An Irish midwife among English puritans…she had fled his hired thugs into the night forest, under cover of mist and darkness…eluding their relentless pursuit in the labyrinthine wood…

Suddenly, the witch hunter stood in the clearing in the moonlight…and raised a thrashing figure…

“Yield, sorceress! I have your familiar! “

Her beloved cat…

She stifled a cry…

“Come hither, or I will have my men butcher the wretched demon alive…”

She stepped forward from the sanctuary of shadows and was roughly grasped…

“Now unhand him…”

He laughed gloatingly moving to snap the cat’s neck, only to scream as its claws raked his face. He let it go and it disappeared into the darkness soundlessly…he presided over her execution, next to him the russet sack-masked executioner at the gallows. Her face in the tear-shaped frame of a noose…a “W” had been branded on her cheek to mark her as a condemned witch…

He always savoured their cries and whimpering as the noose was tightened at their throat. Yet she laughed…laughed…the ultimate heresy…

“Cry! he demanded. “Cry, damn you! Whimper and plead for your life! All my victims cry,” he hissed.

“Shed tears and I will mercifully hasten your demise…” he offered.

Shrilly, she cursed at them in her native tongue of Irish Gaelic, her last words like a battle cry that would echo in recurring nightmares for centuries… cursing them and theirs and him most of all…

“She is summoning her dark power!” someone screamed…

“Silence her! Save us!”

Her teeth were forced open as he gripped her hair…a heated, pronged torture instrument sizzled into her tongue…severing it…

“Now!” he ordered.

He knew the dark art of execution…none of his accused died quickly at the rope…the trapdoor opened and she swayed, kicking…before shuddering spasmodically and swaying…

He asked a bounty hunter who he sent to track down fugitive accused witches…“You served with Cromwell…you know something of her savage tongue, do you not?”

“That I do, your eminence…she was cursing you…”

“Well, I imagine she wasn’t showering me with sonnets…”

“Ye miss my meaning….cursing prophetically…you and Salem…for all time…something about never dying and looking for you…”

He snorted derisively…

He pulled a Celtic cross from her neck…a talisman she treasured…he always took a memento of his victims as a grisly trophy…

He looked up then over the crowd and saw her black cat perched on a tree branch watching the execution…its eyes smouldered crimson in the torchlight…it hissed, baring its fangs, before slipping down like a dark teardrop and melting away into the darkness…

She seemed harmless enough swaying with head covered in a sack…yet something hypnotically pendulum-like in the motions…and the visions it inspired would haunt his dreams…never dying…

When the opinions of the prominent turned against his witch hunts, he relented in his persecutions…yet his insatiable desire to inflict pain clawed at his mind ‘til he turned to other targets…he vowed from his pulpit to bring civilisation with scripture and sword to the heathen savages who dwelled in the forest.

Like a dark lord on crusade, he led at the vanguard pikemen and musketmen, he himself astride a fine horse and clad strikingly in armoured breastplate and helm…he even permitted himself the vanity of a crimson plume for his morion helm…a brace of pistols across his chest and sabre sheathed at his side…he anticipated the butchery with a mad smile…and it was all too easy…the village was taken by fire and sword, its people fell screaming to volleys or were ran through with pikes if they fled. He felt intoxicated with the bloodletting. Those who spared in the onslaught were chained in a line to be force-marched back triumphantly to Salem.

As his men erupted in huzzahs, he scanned the faces of the living and slain. The infirm, the elderly, women with children…where were the braves? His question was answered as his horse snorted blood as its flanks was riddled with arrows. It reared and collapsed under him, pinning him down.

A wild choir of ululating battle cries tore the air like a sudden maelstrom. His men hastily tried to reload and powder their muskets and perished trying as they were slashed down by vengeful braves.

“The savage is upon us! Form ranks!” he cried…

Charging under cover of a cauldrenous shroud of mist, they erupted into the clearing, howling for revenge. He watched in grim, detached fascination as his men went down fighting, screaming in agony as they were ritually maimed.

One man was pinned down by multiple warriors while another dissected him with a flint dagger. Shrill cries announced that initiated youths had made their first kill, raising a severed part of their assailant’s body in the air as proof to their chieftain. He freed himself at last, and tried to crawl furtively away…

A warrior looked up from his slain enemy, baring his teeth like a wolf over his kill. His face warpainted a ghostly pale…the blood flowing from his tomahawk strike like crimson tears down his face. He closed in on the witch hunter, who felt a foot press him down and forcibly roll him onto his back…he closed his eyes in anticipation, yet the dreaded blow never fell. Looking down on him was the tribe’s shaman, ritually wolf-masked.

“I see you recognise me as a man of stature to my people…indeed, I am. And it is very much in your interest to allow me to depart unscathed and with humble apologies…to do otherwise would be to invite terrible reprisals on your people…”

In the tense silence, he heard the screams of ritual mutilations inflicted on his wounded former militia. The shaman was handed an array of small, barbed blades…he made his choice…

He was left…alive…death wasn’t painful enough….he was mortally wounded…horribly maimed. He was left begging for death, left for the wolves to finish off and ravens to scavenge…yet as he staggered with wolves howling in the background in eerie choir…he felt his wounds healing rapidly…


The curse!

He fled the colonies…living in self-imposed exile across the sea…where he delved into the occult himself and studied the dark arts under the best warlocks and necromancers in the world…one nightm he betrayed his master and killed him for the coveted sceptre of Hades…its wielder could command the dead…

With it, I hold sway over All Hallows’ Eve!” he had all but howled in lycanthropic rapture.

His self-imposed exile from Salem ended when he arrived at the door of the museum centuries later and auditioned as a tour guide…the artifacts displayed there were a witch-hunter’s trophy room…he kept souvenirs of each victim like a modern serial killer…again he felt at home.

Wizard’s Duel

“It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.” — Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

“All these, however, were mere terrors of the night, phantoms of the mind that walk in darkness; and though he had seen many spectres in his time, and been more than once beset by Satan in divers shapes, in his lonely pre-ambulations, yet daylight put an end to all these evils; and he would have passed a pleasant life of it, in despite of the devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was—a woman.” — Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

All Hallows’ Eve was ushered in by a moan of cold wind sweeping through the town like a flight of ravens bearing dark tidings to all who yet understood its dark speech…tossing its blood-red leaves like red debris…scattering it in tribute before a lone figure watching from the street, whispering through her raven hair.

For his part, the old witchfinder of Salem felt rejuvenated and invincible as he strode out. He basked in the apparitional spotlight of moonbeams, the facade of affable host shed like serpent skin.

Tonight, he would travel in style, he thought. He would hire a horse-drawn carriage with plumed horses. Yet by some trick of the light, it seemed the town looked older…the way

he remembered it…no cars roaring between the gabled houses, no mobs of revellers…what was afoot?

The mime, he suspected.

Her hand is in this!

If it is a duel she wanted…

He donned his powdered wig and primed his flintlock pistols…

Once again, he felt himself, the dark lord of Salem, leading hired thugs that seemed to rise in lumbering shadows, trailing him. The wind rose like conjured ghosts tearing Halloween decorations down.

“I will purge the city again of this heathen abomination…”

He cursed suddenly as a black cat undulated across his path. It paused in mid-step and hissed. It reappeared in golden-eyed vigil in its usual haunt perched on the gabled roof, back arched in a perpetual question mark poised to the night, motionless as a dark chimera, saw him in monochrome, baring its teeth…

As he advanced along the street, a solitary gowned figure watched his diminishing form, racing the darkness. Sinuously, undulantly, the cat approached her, fondly nuzzling her. She gathered him up, tenderly cradling him.

How I have missed thee, she thought.

Suddenlym two misshapen diminutive figures lurched towards her, detaching from a pack of trick or treaters they had mingled with. They tugged at her hems like grovelling and fawning courtiers…

Whither does our mistress seek her quarry? How may we serve thee?” one masked like a dark jester addressed her with a tri-echo rasp.

Its nostrils snorted at a glove the witchfinder had dropped, inhaling its stench and then scenting the air for its former wearer. Like hounds in eager anticipation of their huntress’ whim, they clawed the ground and whined restlessly to be unleashed.

Meanwhile, the witch hunter cursed at the sight of the memorial shrine dedicated to the man and women of Salem that had been executed in Salem for witchcraft. It was a glowing reminder that outside the oubliette walls of his historic home and narrative, the world had changed. He felt like an awkward relic…nauseated by it all…the laughter and merrymaking of a festival her had once personally outlawed when he was the great witchfinder cleric of Salem denouncing women from his pulpit. Any he so much as disliked perished at his word. Now he was merely relegated to a tourist attraction, a parody of his former esteemed self.

The shrine shimmered with vigil candles, constellated like a Gothic birthday cake. He moved to trod down flowers left in tribute.

 “Still displacing your impotent rage against us centuries later,” a voice taunted from the darkness.

“Who said that?” he demanded.

He saw her then…a solitary figure dancing gracefully, supple limbs weaving in flamenco-like motions, as if in a sacred dance. Suddenly her arms lowered languidly, as if aware of his presence for the first time. She slowly pivoted to face him.

The mime…

“What do you want from me?”

She raised a finger to her porcelain lips for silence and raised a jack o’ lantern as if brandishing a medusa’s head, gloating fire at him. As if ventriloquised, it addressed him in a lilting, brogued voice…

“Well met then, witchfinder…we cross paths again…three centuries to the day….I told you I’d return for thee…”

She pulled her mask down then…a face he had not seen since a dark sack was placed over her noose-ringed head at the gallows…he recoiled then. His sense of omnipotence deflated like a swollen plague sore lanced and drained of its putrid contents.

He raised a crucifix to hold her at bay, yet cried out in agony as the silver cross sizzled into his palm, branding his flesh and rejecting his touch. Yet there were other ways to vanquish his enemies. He drew the sceptre of Hades.

She uttered a counter-spell through the jack o’ lantern. As incantations were delivered, it seemed the shadows of two dark hounds were cast on the wall tearing at each other, though no beast was there…s he raised her arms suddenly with a dark flourish.

“Rise, sisters!”

A chill wind rose, extinguishing the candles, and her masked face confronted him, like a pale free-floating apparitional head.

“En garde!”

He pointed the sceptre at her like a rapier foil.

Suddenly, a small dark figure leapt from the shadows with simian agility and tore the sceptre from his grasp, squealing and cavorting with impish merriment.

“And touché!!! How now then, witchfinder?”

He scampered away, howling with glee.

He pivoted to face her again, drawing and cocking his flintlock pistol…yet again, she had vanished. Suddenly, the jack o’ lanterns flared up with hellish intensity and he cried out and ran in pursuit of the impish figure, waving the sceptre triumphantly as he fled. Yet the imp, moved with supernatural speed, maddeningly eluding his grasp. He arrived at a crossroads marked by a great ancient tree…

“Where are ye, devil? Nothing evil can escape me…”

“Especially not yer past. Devil am I? Hobgoblin, actually! Know yer unearthly denizens. You are about to meet them all tonight.”

He sprang onto a tree and hung upside down, grinning at him madly like a Cheshire cat.

“Much ado about this old stick. Want it? Here…”

He cast it to the cobbles and just as he reached for it…the goblin somersaulted from the tree acrobatically and grabbed it up again, just in the shadow of his palm…

He lifted the flintlock and suddenly his throat was lassoed from behind. He was lifted as if being hanged from the tree branch, as his goblin cohorts perched on the tree squealed with glee. They played panpipes as his legs kicked….

“Oh, look at him dance! And a merry reel at that!”

Suddenly, the branch broke and he gasped painfully on the ground…

He rose again and, with a howl of animal rage, pursued the hobgoblin. The cohort of goblins cast the sceptre in relays as they scurried away, with him bellowing in pursuit. Suddenly, the hobgoblin paused mid-leap and ran in place, cringing at some unsightly spectacle…a Santa and deer on a rooftop with lights. His eyes smouldered and he hissed…

“Where is he?” Mr. Elmer wondered aloud.

His eyes were drawn to a row of elf-hatted decorations standing triumphantly over Santa being hanged by the Christmas lights and the reindeer heads mounted like hunting trophies. Santa’s severed head was replaced by a jack o’ lantern-headed scarecrow on the sleigh…they leaped from rooftop to rooftop and onto the street, leading him on…

“And what a merry chase have we!” the hobgoblin squealed.

They were approaching a crowd of people eagerly lined up for a walk-through haunted house. The hobgoblin was at the threshold, his eyes smouldering with glee…

“Trick or treat!” he mocked, holding up the sceptre…

Sweeping past objections, Mr. Elmer pushed through the line and stormed into the haunted house, drawing his sabre and slashing through the cobwebs machete-like. Eerie music was playing…suddenly, a masked figure lunged at him with a “boo.” He grappled with it and threw him to the ground. The figure pulled off his mask…just a teenager…

“Hey, mister!”

He backed away, stammering apologies and strode further through the labyrinthine passageway.

“Where are you? You can’t escape me, devil…”

“You can’t escape me, devil!” a voice mimicked him.

He struck the wall with frustration and suddenly, a figure launched from the shadows, latching onto him with sharp claws and grabbing his locks like a bridle. The hobgoblin tore at his cheeks, lacerating him with talons and serrated fangs, his prey unable to dislodge him…the other hobgoblins cheered him on.

Mr. Elmer burst out of the haunted house to the screams of the crowd…the hobgoblins mingled with the crowd and before they could flee, reassured them eagerly.

“Don’t be alarmed. It’s all part of the show! Pass it on…”

“Yes! It’s all part of the show! they chorused.

Alarmed screams turned to laughter and cheers…

“Wow, all that blood looks so real…”

He reeled into the street, finally casting the hobgoblin off.

“How positively unceremonious of thee…hey!”

Mr. Elmer’s hands finally grasped the Sceptre…

“Alas! Unhand it at once! ‘Tis the mistress’s sceptre…” the hobgoblin objected.

With a roar, he began to tear it out of the hobgoblin’s grasp….yet just as it started to slip through his fingers, a she-hobgoblin leapt in and sank her fangs into his wrist. He cried out in agony and again the hobgoblin bounded away with the sceptre. He drew back from them as the other goblins advanced on him like a troupe of ghoulish jesters…

He had to escape. He would recover the sceptre later, surely…but now he must flee…As he retreated, they herded him down the dark and strangely abandoned streets, cackling like a pack of hyenas pursuing a wounded prey relentlessly.

Where were all the crowds…the hordes of visitors…? Mr. Elmer wondered.

In the distance, he heard the boom of music and a roar of appreciation at a debuting act. That crowd would help him, surely…he ran past leering skeletons and witches gloating from each branch towards the safety of a crowd… he burst into their midst and he was lost in the kaleidoscopic swirl of masked faces, as if stirred in a seething cauldron.

The blaring music drowned out his cries as a band dressed in outlandish gothic attire and faces painted likes skulls played their danse macabre wildly. They joined hands and danced in a circle around him, drums beating…tempo quickening in climax to a ritual…to his horror, there on the stage was the mime, beckoning for him.

They prodded him with pitchforks.

“Bring him forth…” she signed.

They passed him over their heads and cheered, chanting his name…

“She’s a witch!” he cried.

They cheered.

“No! A real one! Witches are real!”

“Are you a witch, too?”


They booed.

The bell in the old colonial steeple tolled as the crowd him back towards the stage…coloured smoke rose amid crimson strobe lights, figures chanting his name silhouetted against the stage lights. The bands played feverishly.

“Any last things you wish to say?”

A microphone was lowered to his lips.

“I am innocent! Innocen…”


An executioner drumroll beat, yet to heavy metal. The midwife stepped off the stage, cradling her cat. She seemed to pass intangibly through the crowd, as they chanted his name…dark-hooded figures flanked the band, gripping torture brands and prongs that were smouldering red. The stage began to sink into the ground as they played and his screams became shrieks of agony. The crowds cheered and danced wildly; their shadows cast gigantically on the old buildings in eerie revel. She stepped off the stage cradling her cat, seemed to past intangibly through the crowd as they chanted his name.

She reached out her hand towards his mouth and tongue. She tore his tongue out by the root. It seemed to writhe like the severed head of a reptile or eel in cold-blood death throes. The tongue that pronounced death on so many. She transplanted it into her own mouth. He heard a voice that he thought he had silenced forever.

“I swore before you took my tongue, I’d return for you, that I’d hunt you down in the city you once ruled as tyrant.”

Muted himself now, he ran.

The jack o’ lanterns posted along the way ignited in succession and ventriloquised screams in his own voice…suddenly, he collided with an invisible barrier…he tried to draw back but found his arms ensnared…he thrashed against it, yet found himself further entwined…with sickening realisation, he saw he was caught in a giant spiderweb hung like a ghostly banner from the trees in front of the old cemetery…

“Have we served thee well, mistress?”

“Aye that ye have…” she lowered the sceptre of Hades on his shoulder like an accolade.

“May we feed then, mistress…?”

Like spiders drawn by the vibrations of struggling prey figures crawled across from the corners of the web to gorge…

“Hail, witchfinder of Salem! Oh, hail to thee!” The hobgoblin prodded him with the sceptre…skeletal hands flowing with dirt as they rose like carnivorous plants pointed accusing fingers at him. He screamed as he was devoured alive by piranha-like mouths as the goblin howled with laughter…

“Happy Halloween!! O Happy Halloween indeed!!!”

They gorged like leeches and swarmed him to scavenge like nocturnal buzzards, making grotesque slurping sounds as they fed.

Days later in the aftermath, street crews cleared the Halloween props and decorations. A clean-picked skeleton was cut from a red spiderweb and packed into a crate with other holiday decorations…

The day after Halloween, the doors of the historic house were cast open to waiting tour

Groups, and there she stood, smiling hospitably. She was introduced to a crowd of eager visitors.

“Please give a warm Salem welcome to our new docent…she is joining us from Ireland. Yes, please make her feel welcome…in the wake of Mr. Elmer’s mysterious absence, we have hired a new hostess…a former acquaintance of Mr. Elmer’s, no less…I am sure you will be as impressed by her equally uncanny ability to make history come alive…”

“Yes, welcome to Salem,” she beamed with a lilting brogue.

“Where witches rule!” an enthusiastic visitor beamed.

She smiled.