The Witch of Ballyvale
By Ben Kesp
The shouts overwhelm her. Strong hands grip her body, shoving her onto the damp sands. The same hands drag her through the cold sandy ground. She fears the oncoming waters. Placing her feet under her once more, she manages to stand, pushed forward under his force. The bitter cold water reaches her feet pulsating through her body. The strong hands push her deeper into the Atlantic waters, down into the murky depths overwhelming her senses.
She gasps, suddenly becoming aware of her surroundings; the sweeping broom in her hand and the dust still on the floor. The loud banging on the door follows with her name. “Mags! Mags!” It is little Tommy Walsh, the blacksmith’s son. As she opens, she rests her eyes on his.
“Quick! Bill Roche is in the town square! His cattle were poisoned last night and he says it’s Heather Rose! They are after her and she has been seen on the beach,” he splutters out of breath.
“Return to your home. I will find her,” Mags quickly responds grabbing her shawl from the nearby chair and exiting into the damp morning.
A fog of mist lies heavily around her having rolled in over the sea blocking out all signs of daylight. It is late October, not an unusual occurrence living by the coast for this time of year, but she knew the morning would be like this. Racing, she reaches the narrow path leading to the beach. The grass is damp under her feet. It soon changes to sandy patches as she climbs higher until the whole of Ballyvale beach spreads out before her. Through the watery fog she spies an outline. Heather! Moving quickly towards her, Heather’s voice reaches her.
“Go home Mags. This is no place for you.”
“Heather, the villagers are out looking for you!”
“Led by the mighty Bill Roche.”
“You must hide!”
“No point in hiding my girl; he will find me. Listen! I hear the murmur of voices.”
“Please, Heather, come with me!” Mags pleads, reaching for Heather’s arm in an attempt to drag her off the beach.
“Get out of here now Mags! Leave! You never saw me. Go, or they will think you are like me,” Heather responds by pushing Mags from her reach.
Hearing the voices growing, Mags fears the moment and retreats through the sands to the top of the beach. Sinking into the tall grass, she waits. The waters lapping on the shore edge soon disappear under the shouts of the village people. Peering through the reeds, she spies Bill Roche appearing on the sandy edge of Ballyvale beach shouting. “Witch!” His voice directs at Heather echoing through the dampness of the early morning. She eyes his son, Michael Roche, standing next to him. He has made his intentions of his affections for her more than clear. Watching the scene before her, Mags concludes they are all cowards, sheep, following one man, afraid to stand up and voice their own thoughts. Bill Roche is a large strong man with a personality to match. He is the largest tenant farmer for landlord Crosby; but his strength, she believes, comes from the fear he instils and from his loyal bunch of followers.
The crowd becomes silent on sighting Heather. The grey outline becomes clear as they move near her. Bill’s booming voice echoes throughout the beach carried by the quiet morning.
“Witch! You have done the devil’s work for the final time! I warned you!”
Heather stands firm facing her judge and jury. Grabbing her by his strong hands, he pushes her onto the sands. Mags closes her eyes unable to watch the scene that will unfold before her eyes. The townspeople raise their voices in shouts, their words inaudible. They surround Heather and Mags loses sight of the victim whom they lead to the cold watery grave of the merciless Atlantic. Retreating, Mags races quickly towards the safety of her home.
I first called my visions a gift, as Heather used to call them, when I was four years old. They were something I learned to live with, even if at times, their instant arrival without warning overwhelms me. My dear mother feared me, but I believe she feared being treated as an outcast even more, or having her friends of high society ridicule her. She was happy to hide me, wrapped behind the walls of her grand house. But on hearing a rumour, my father, a man of standing, could not bear to have such a story leak into the public.
I should take a step back and explain that I have not always been living at Ballyvale, but in the grand stately house of a rich merchant. I still have memories of my home, big it was, with many rooms. There were servants, and I had my own nanny to care for my every need. I had no sisters or brothers, well none until I left. Perhaps some followed and exist today, totally unaware of my existence.
My memory of that night is blurred. I was awoken from my sleep during the night, wrapped in a warm blanket smelling of soap after being freshly washed. The smell of that moment lingers today. Through sleepy eyes, candlelight flickered in the hallways until the cold of the night struck my face sending a shiver through my body. Drops of rain fell against my warm jaw wiping away all slumber from my body. Hushed voices echoed across the courtyard of my home, and I was lifted onto a trap.
Soon, my home, my parents and all childhood memories were left behind. It was then, for the first time, I found my voice and fear crept over my body. Unsure of where I was going, I recognised the lady next to me, Alice, one of the kitchen hands. She refused to answer my questions, just repeating that I should go to sleep while she held me tightly.
Sleep crept upon me again with the rocking of the trap and the echoing horseshoes off the ground. On opening my eyes, the light of the morning sun rising to the east gave the night sky a warm glow, sending the night away for another day. I lost track of how long we had been travelling. Alice still held me tight. Rising above the warm blanket perfumed with soap smell, I spied the ocean glitter softly against the warm glow of the morning sun. Shortly, my eyes fell on a small group of houses spread across a valley leading to a sandy beach. I suddenly feared the outcome as the horse pulled us down the slope entering the valley. The outline of the houses soon came into view through the early morning dew. Before long, we left the main crop of houses of the little village and entered a track secluded by trees on both sides. For several minutes, we continued before the trap stopped. As the driver’s strong hands lifted me onto the ground, my eyes fell onto a little cottage that had a low door with a small window on either side. Its roof was thatched, and white smoke drifted upwards from its chimney into the calm morning. Bushes and trees surrounded it; everything was quiet. We waited for a little while, then the door opened and I saw Heather Rose for the first time.