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The Devil's Kiss

Creative writing inspired by the Scottish witch trials and the life of Gillis Duncan, written by Donna Faulkner.


Spat out from deep within the prison pit and flanked by two lumbering men, I

staggered through a haze of human waste and misery. Dragged through the dust and the crowd I shielded my eyes from the harsh winter's sun.


It was then the waiting gallows came into focus.


Each hair on my neck stood erect. Enlivened by my racing heart, every thought

screamed at me to run or fight or beg, anything to avoid meeting my fate at the end

of that cruel short rope.


I struggled violently and broke free from my chaperones, making a dash for a gap in

the crowd. The mob quickly closed ranks so I fought through them, desperately

kicking and throwing fists. I was frightened yet fierce but within moments the scuffle

was over and I was recaptured. The humiliation resumed as I was paraded like a

pariah back through the centre of the crowd, who threw rotten fruit and stones in

retaliation.


I searched the hateful stares of those who had gathered. Former neighbours and

friends. Frantic, my eyes darted between the faces, seeking any hope from an ally.


“Mary…..Mary.” I pleaded to a familiar face.


Avoiding eye contact, Mary stared blankly ahead.


“Mary...I'm not a witch. I'm innocent. You know me! We’ve been friends for years, Mary. Mary...Mary” my voice was drowned out by the baying crowd.


Unwashed and unkempt, I was undoubtedly a terrifying spectacle as hails of spit

thundered down on me.


The village atmosphere was ugly, and charged with fear. Shivers raced the length of

my spine. Terrified and awash with sweat. I had never felt so utterly alone.


In my last moments I recalled the unfortunate events which had brought me before

the gallows.


The breaking dawn had seen clear skies painted crimson red. Exhilarated by the crisp

November air. I had skipped home, swooning with whimsical recollections of a

magical evening spent with Mark. Excited by his tales of life beyond the village and

seduced by his dark eyes.


I had quietly crept in through the back door. Still happily caught up in my own

secret world. I hadn’t seen it coming, Master David wielding the book that knocked

me senseless and off my feet.


Demonology had claimed its first blood. The smile I’d been wearing all evening

slipped instantly. It would never again return.


Master David towered over me. “Are you a witch?” he shouted. I felt the colour drain

from my face.


Still slightly confused but sensing imminent danger, I made a run for the door but

Master David's enormous frame blocked the exit. His eyes met mine and with a

sinister smile he slammed the door shut and pulled the bolt locked. Launching me

back across the kitchen with a sharp backhand.


“Are you a witch?” Master David repeated. Thumbing through the book he held, the

questions came quickly.


“Where did you get your healing powers, Gillie, and where do you go late at night?”

He leaned down to me. A crumpled pile of a girl cowering on the cold kitchen

floor.


He was armed with the instruction manual for witch hunting. Apparently penned in

person by Scotland's new King James. I’d heard mutterings of witch hunts and

witches amongst the villagers. Discovering a witch in your midst would certainly curry Royal favour.


Two other male figures emerged from out of the shadows. Out came the periwinkles.

The interrogation began.


I could feel every slow turn of the thumbscrews. With each denial, the screws

tightened just a little more. Pain like none I’d ever known seared through me.


I screamed hoarse as my flesh ripped and shredded, vomiting loudly between

screaming and sobbing. I was in shock and just wanted it to stop, but the men didn’t

relinquish and wouldn’t let up.


My torment continued. Amidst screams, my bones cracked and one by one each

finger shattered at the knuckle.


Eventually, the periwinkles were removed. My mangled hand was hot and swollen.

Lamenting its loss; I cradled it momentarily like a dead baby. My respite was

short-lived.


Rough rope was wrapped around my face and head. The two men held the rope, an

end each, ready to tighten.


Master David leaned in towards me, close enough that I could taste the ambition on

his breath. Again he spat his accusations at me.


Aggravated by my repeated denials, he simply nodded to his accomplices to tighten

the ropes.


I pleaded for mercy as Master David paced the floor and my head was crushed and

cut. “Confess Witch and we will stop the wrenching.”


My eyelids seemed suddenly heavy, closing of their own accord and for a fleeting

moment the pain subsided. I was back in the meadow with Mark and I almost felt

his kiss upon my forehead.


My eyes reopened quickly as pain coursed through my body again. Blood pooled in

my mouth, the overflow gurgling out from my swollen lips. Gasping for breath I tried

to scream my innocence, but it was futile.


Master David thought me a witch. I would be banished from his house regardless.

Live or die in this room today, I was done for.


The rope was eventually removed. I did not die and I would not confess. So on it

went.


Dragged up by my hair roots, out from the bloody remnants of my wrenching.

I was pushed onto the kitchen table. Held down while cruel men’s hands tore at my

clothes. Ripping and pulling them from my battered flesh.


“Look for the devil's mark,” Master David instructed. Absolute terror froze me. I was

helpless, naked and alone. Poked and prodded. My skin crawled as strangers searched and violated my body.


“What’s this…. what’s this?” Master David was excited. Forcing my neck to one side, revealing a fresh love bite, or the ‘mark of the witch’.


I was exposed. My secret was tainted forever. Discovering the ‘witches mark’ extinguished the light within that the broken bones

and bloodied beatings had not.


“Stop…….Stop.” I pleaded. This violation broke me.


“Are you a witch? Tell me and it stops.” It was all I could do to nod in agreement.


In a daze of confusion and exhaustion, I responded to the clues I was given. I made

mention of Heather, and rowan berries and how I helped the midwife Agnus.

Conjuring up a Demonology style narrative. Similar to the one Master David had

already set on in his mind. His eyes widened with excitement.


I was a coward. In exchange for some respite from my suffering, I named names. I

sentenced them all to a fate similar to my own. Their pain and suffering are a stain

on my soul.


I heard whilst in prison that they all named names too. Sacrificial lambs purifying

the village of its idiots and its misfits and its poor.


Stood shaking now in the shadow of the gallows. I shut my eyes against the spitting

hordes. Trying to banish their slurs from my mind.


Any hope of salvation slipped away as the hangman's rope scratched over my face. I

could feel my heart drumming its own funeral March.


Now balancing on that terrifying precipice of inevitability. I was determined, my final

thoughts would not be of them.


I had experienced very little control over my own life. My peasantry predetermined,

my job decided for me. I had lived at the whim of others, except for Mark. I had

chosen Mark wholeheartedly and without reservation. My memories of him were moments of snatched happiness.


Trying to stop my knees from buckling beneath me, I could hear the gallows groan. I

took deep breaths, aware that I would only have a few breaths left to take. My knees weakened again and my whole body shook. With another breath I squeezed

my shut eyes tighter still and forced my mind to escape to happier times.


I was back in the meadow on that cool November evening. Surrendering to a lovers

frenzy, giggling as the feathery heather tickled my bare flesh. Disheveled but satisfied, I rested my head upon Mark’s chest. He gently stroked my hair as I listened to his heartbeat returning to rest.


Author's accompanying notes:


This creative nonfiction/fiction hybrid piece is based on the Scottish witch trials of Gillis Duncan.


Recognition for all those who suffered these injustices has been slow, and retelling the stories of suffering endured by these women and men is particularly relevant at this juncture. Especially in the context of an historic apology offered by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who on 24 May 2022 issued a statement to "acknowledge and regret the terrible harm caused to all those who suffered from accusations and prosecutions under Scotland's historic witchcraft laws, the majority of whom were women, and apologise for the role of the Church of Scotland and the General Assembly in such historical persecution”.


The Devil's Kiss stands not only as a narrative of a young woman’s personal demise but as an example. It is a cautionary tale that demonstrates the devastation inflicted when church & state turn citizens against one another in pursuit of the enemy within. Fueled by hysteria, and without restraint, the power and violence in its response is unyielding. Inevitably, as a result, there are real and catastrophic consequences for societies most vulnerable and powerless.


Author biography:


Donna spent her childhood as an immigrant between countries. One foot bare and carefree in New Zealand, the other tiptoeing the coal dust and camaraderie of working class England. Donna has been published in: Journal of Literature & Art, Havik: Journal of Arts and Literature, Tarot Poetry New Zealand, Written Tales, Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, Fieldstone Review, Dissident Voice, East Midlands Writing and others. She recently won the Loud Coffee Press Annual Haiku and Rune Bear Quarterly Drabble contests. You can connect with Donna on Instagram @lady_lilith_poet


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