Having long red hair is not always an advantage and it was one of the first things she noticed in her life. As a child she soon got the nickname Red Sally from her friends and even her mother seemed to push her to one side. It was always her sister that was preferred.
“Why can’t you be like your sister Betsy. She is always so helpful with the housework. You seem to spend more time day dreaming than doing something constructive” were the words she always heard. No, growing up life was not ideal, but in the middle ages you respected your parents and did what they said. That was another problem; it did seem that Sally’s father Noah would avoid her. She once overheard a conversation between him and her mother.
“There is definitely something wrong with that girl” said Noah. “First of all there is no-one with red hair amongst us. The only person I ever saw with that colour hair was the pot seller that visits the village once a year. She bears no resemblance to anyone on your side of the family, or on mine.”
“I suppose it is just one of those things that happens in nature. Polly Peckham always had nice white sheep on the meadow and suddenly she had a black one. Now who knows where that came from?”
“If you ask me there is something in this witchcraft talk. It just isn’t natural” answered Noah.
Being a witch in those days was dangerous. Just the thought was bad enough. Sally was almost sure she was not a witch, or was she. She remembered when Judith, one of the girls in the village, chased her into the woods and threw mud at her and the other village children just laughed and enjoyed the fun. Sally felt so annoyed, she just wished that Judith was dead. The next day they found Judith’s body floating in the stream. It was an accident of course, although Sally did have a funny feeling in her stomach. After a while she found that life was more peaceful without Judith, and the other village children seemed to keep their distance.
Sally also had a strange idea about the pot seller. Every time he visited the village to sell his goods, he always seemed to spend more time at her house. Her mother would send her off into the woods to collect berries and told her to take her time. When she returned to the hut where they lived the pot seller was gone. As Sally got older she realised she did bear a strong resemblance to the pot seller.
As the years went by Sally grew into an attractive woman, although was still avoided by most of the village population. It was only the visiting folk or gypsies that took an interest in the red Sally. Her parents died, her sister married and Sally stayed in the house. One day she was in her garden when a small kitten suddenly appeared and looked at Sally with such longing eyes. He was so black, that it would be difficult to find him at night, but Sally decided it would be company. She fed him and gave him a nice comfortable place to sleep. She realised that black cats were not looked upon as the ideal pet, witches always had black cats, but she decided as she was already avoided by most of the villagers, having a black cat would not make things any worse.
She gave the name Black Beauty to the cat and with time noticed that the cat would never leave her. Where Sally went, Black Beauty was not far behind her. One day she met Polly Peckham in the village but as she walked past Sally, Polly spit on the ground. Before Sally could say something Black Beauty jumped up on Polly and scratched her hand drawing blood.
“Witch” Polly called “you should be burnt with your cat.” And she walked on.
“May your milk turn sour” shouted Sally to Polly and she went home, still shaking with fright and anger.
The next morning there was a hammering on Sally’s door.
“Open in the name of the sheriff” she heard.
She opened the door and before she could run away her hands were put in irons and a leather band was tied around her neck by which she was pulled along. The sheriff was standing at the door and he was known for not messing around with witches. You only had to mention the word and he was ready for a burning.
“Sally Hobbs I arrest you in the name of the law for witchery. You will be tried tomorrow and when found guilty will received your just punishment.”
Sally was then pulled into a cart and brought to the local jail. Black Beauty, her cat, tried to run away, but was also caught and put into a small cage which was also brought to the prison. Black Beauty barred his teeth and flashed his yellow eyes and spit but there was no escaping. It seemed to Sally that he had turned into a wild beast.
On the day of the trial all villagers were present; some out of curiosity and others because they were convinced that the red Sally was a witch.
Polly Peckham entered the witness stand and repeated the curse that Sally showered upon her that her milk should turn sauer.
“And did it turn sauer Mistress Peckham” asked the judge.
“Oh yes, sir” she answered “as soon as I got home I had a look, as I was sure that red Sally was a witch, and there it was, as sauer as it could be. That woman is definitely a witch. And her cat scratched my hand look your honour. It still hasn’t healed.”
“Burn the witch, burn the witch” shouted the villagers in the court.
“Silence” called the judge “based on the evidence of Mistress Peckham I find Sally Hobbs guilty of witchery and she will be burnt at the stake tomorrow evening with her bedevilled cat.”
“This is not a fair trial” screamed out Sally, but to no avail. She was taken away from the court and locked in a cage, not a cell, to await her punishment. Her cat was in a cage next to hers.
“Have no fear Sally” he said to her.
“Did you speak, then you are bewitched.”
“Sally we are few cats that are really bewitched as you say. We are always on the search for a witch that will look after us. You know the truth Sally, you are a witch.”
“I am a witch! Things do sometimes happen that I cannot explain, yes, but I do not feel evil.”
“No, you are not evil; you are just on the dark side of life, like me. Do not fear, after the fire you will be cleansed. You will not die, and neither will I."
The next day Sally was tied to a stake on top of the wood pile with her caged cat next to her and it was ignited. She was frightened, very frightened, but her cat said nothing and just stared ahead. An hour later it was over, and the charred remains of the cat and Sally were thrown into the local cesspit.
If people had not been so busy watching the burning and the removal of the bones afterwards, they might have seen something red leaving the burnt remains of the wood, not just red, but glowing. It ran away, but it was seen again a week later. There was a fire in the village and Polly Peckham’s house burnt down. Her complete family were there, her husband and two children. They were sleeping when it happed and there were no survivors.
Some villagers that were called to extinguish the fire saw a glowing red cat sitting in the still smouldering timbers of the remains of the house, surrounded by smoke and flames, but it seemed to have no effect on the cat. The villagers poured water on the fire, although it was already too late, and the cat disappeared.
Many fires occurred in the village and each time the cat was seen. Sometime later the village was deserted. People no longer wanted to live there; the rumour was that it was haunted by a fire monster.
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