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"WICKED WITCH" EPISODE 8"



WICKED WITCH

Episode 8

(I HAVE NEVER FOUND IT EASY TO sit still during Sunday school.)


Some of my earliest memories are of squirming on the hard wooden pews. I suspect the Brothers had them constructed this way on purpose, lest we get too comfortable. It’s called Sunday school, but we are required to attend twice weekly: on Sunday before regular services and again on Wednesday evenings. There are two separate classes: one for children under ten, held in the classroom down the hall, to teach them basic prayers and the tenets of the Brotherhood’s beliefs, and one for girls aged eleven to seventeen, to teach us about how wicked we are.


The air in here is stifling, though the wind blows cool and fresh through the trees outside. The Brothers never open a window. Lord forbid we get distracted, even by something as innocuous as the September breeze tickling over our skin.


Brother Ishida, the head of the Brotherhood’s council here, teaches our class today. He is not a very tall man, only perhaps my height, but up on the dais he looms over all of us. His face is hard, and his mouth perpetually tilts down, as though he’s used to frowning his way through life.


“Submission,” he announces. “You must submit to our leadership. The Brotherhood would lead you down the path of righteousness and keep you innocent of the world’s evils. We know youwantto be good girls. We know it is only womanly frailty that leads you astray. We forgive you for it.” His voice is full of fatherly compassion, but his eyes are contemptuous as they rove over us. “We would protect you from your own willfulness and vanity. You must submit to our rule, even as we submit to the Lord. You must put your love and faith in us, even as we put ours in him.”


Maura and I exchange scornful glances. Love and faith, indeed. Back in Great-Grandmother’s day, the Brotherhood burned girls like us. We are not without our faults, to be sure—but neither are they.


“We will never lead you into sin and temptation. Indeed, we will do everything we can to keep you from it. When the witches were in power, they did not encourage girls to take their rightful place in the home. They cared nothing for protecting girls’ virtue. They would have women aping men— dressing immodestly, running businesses, even forgoing marriage to live in unnatural unions with other women.” Brother Ishida allows himself a shudder of disgust. “Because of their wickedness, they were overthrown. It was the Lord’s will that the Brotherhood take their place as the rightful rulers of New England.”


I stare at the pew in front of me, at the blond curls dripping down Elinor Evans’s neck. Is he right? Almost one hundred twenty years ago, in 1780, angry mobs stirred by the rhetoric of Brother William Richmond burned the temples up and down the coast—often with the witches still in them. Ultimately, the witches’ magic wasn’t enough to subdue their subjects—not when the witches were so vastly outnumbered. The Great Temple of the Daughters of Persephone in New London was the last to fall. Most witches were murdered; the few who were left went into hiding.


Brother Ishida’s voice rises, his face going red, his black-marble eyes shining. “Our rules were made toprotect you from yourselves. The witches were headstrong and lustful. Perversions of what women should be. Lord help us all if they ever rise again! We must never forget the evil they perpetrated—the way they corrupted our girls, and the way they used mind-magic on their opponents. These are women who left their enemies empty husks.”


I can—and do—mock much of what Brother Ishida teaches, but I can’t argue with this ugly bit of history. Mother confirmed the truth of it. When the early members of the Brotherhood first came to America, seeking religious freedoms, they were allowed to practice in peace. But as their numbers grew greater, they and their followers began to speak out against the witches, and they were systematically compelled to forget their objections. When the witches fell from power, the Brothers discovered asylums full of the witches’ enemies, the occupants reduced to childlike states or outright catatonia.


Elinor Evans shivers and waves her hand in the air. She’s a plump, placid girl of thirteen whose father is the chocolatier. “Can we go over the signs of mind-magic again, sir?”


Brother Ishida smiles. True mind-magic is rare as hen’s teeth, but the Brothers like to keep us frightened of it. “Of course we can. Headache. The feeling that someone is pulling on your hair, only inside. And your memory goes all foggy.” Brother Ishida’s eyes sweep over the crowd of assembled girls. “But if the witch is strong enough, there will be no symptoms. You may never know that she has invaded your mind and destroyed a memory. Witches are very clever and very wicked. That is why we must hunt them down and contain them, Elinor, so they don’t contaminate good girls like you.”


“Thank you, sir,” Elinor says, lifting her double chins with pride.


“You’re welcome. We’re nearly out of time. Let’s go over a few of the tenets of womanhood, shall we? Miss Dolamore! What is a woman’s highest purpose?”


Gabrielle Dolamore shrinks back in her seat. Her sister Marguerite is the one who was taken away last month, and the Brothers have been scrutinizing Gabby ever since. She’s a tiny girl of fourteen, all birdlike arms and legs. “To bear children and be a comfort to our husbands?” she whispers.


Brother Ishida strides forward to the very edge of the dais. He’s an imposing figure, cloaked in the Brothers’ black robes. “Speak up, Miss Dolamore. I can’t hear you.”


Gabrielle says it again, louder.


“That is correct. Miss Maura Cahill! To whom do you owe obedience?”


Next to me, Maura stiffens. “The Brotherhood. My father. And someday, my husband,” she replies, her voice crisp.


“That is correct. And what must you strive to be, girls? Answer all together!”


“Pure of heart, meek of spirit, chaste of virtue,” we chant.


“Yes. Good job, girls. That concludes our lesson. Let us clear our minds and open our hearts to the Lord.”


“We clear our minds and open our hearts to the Lord,” we echo.


“You may go in peace to serve the Lord,” he says.


We bow our heads. “Thanks be.”


Indeed, I am thankful that it’s over. I stand and arch my back as we wait for the children and adults to join us for the service proper. Some of the girls promenade down the aisle and back; others huddle together and giggle. I elbow Maura, who’s staring at Brother Ishida’s back as though he’s a two-headed calf.


“Perversions of what women should be,”Maura mimics. “Because they loved other women? Or because they refused to submit to a man’s authority?”


She has a point. The Brothers say that women having romantic relationships with each other is a very great sin. But in other, freer places, like Dubai, women live openly with other women—and men with men. It’s not common, but it’s not illegal.


“I loathe him,” Maura hisses, her pretty face distorted with anger.


“Maura,” I say warningly, putting a hand on her yellow sleeve. I turn to see if anyone is within hearing distance. Thankfully there’s no one’s left in the pew behind us.


But Sachiko Ishida is just passing our row, arm in arm with Rose Collier. “You should see some of the new hats from Mexico City, they’re so dear! All decorated with feathers and flowers,” Sachi says loudly. “But Father says they’re far too gaudy. Only meant to draw attention, you know. Just like rouging your face. Only ladies of loose morals dothat.”


“I hear girls in Dubai are wearing blouses separate from their skirts,” Rose adds in a scandalized whisper. “And sometimes trousers, just like men!”


Sachi gasps. “How positively indecent! I’d never go that far. Father says it’s only my womanly frailty that makes me wish for pretty things.” She catches me looking and winks a dark eye. “I shall have to pray harder to rid myself of sin.”


Is she joking? I’ve never seen the slightest indication that Sachi has a sense of humor. She is her father’s pet, a model of good behavior, and the most popular of the town girls. Her sixteenth birthday was a few weeks ago, and he threw her a grand garden party with croquet and chocolate cake. We were not invited.


I hold back a sigh. What I wouldn’t give to share in the freedoms of Arab girls. They’re allowed to inherit property and go to university; they’ve even been given the right to vote. But we never hear about witches living there. We never hear about witchesanywhere. It seems like most of the world’s witches were drawn to New England by the promise of freedom—and within a few generations, they were all slaughtered.


Even if witches were allowed to live openly elsewhere, there’s no way for us to leave New England. Girls have more freedoms in the Spanish colonies to the south, but the borders are closed.Allthe borders are closed, except for official Brotherhood business and trade. Stowaways are punished as harshly as witches themselves.


Running away is impossible. We have to stay here and solve our problems. I reach into my pocket, where my fingers brush against the crumpled note from Z. R. It’s been nearly a week since I received the letter, but I’m no closer to figuring out her identity. I haven’t been able to find Mother’s diary, and there’s no mention in her correspondence of anyone whose name starts with a Z.


Who is Z. R.? And what sort of danger is she warning me about?


Everyone from Chatham and the surrounding farms is here, stuffed into the wooden church; services are mandatory except for the very ill. Even when it became obvious that Mother was dying—and after, when the house was in deepest mourning—we weren’t granted a reprieve. Brother Ishida urged us to offer up our grief to the Lord. He promised it would prove our greatest consolation. I did not find much truth in that, myself.
_________

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