Morgan buys a witch's diary.
Morgan found it in that little antiquities shop down Ringbutton Lane. You know the one, that dark alley behind the banks in the centre of town, although you probably didn’t know it had a name. And the shop, Scruton’s Antiques, is about halfway down, in the shadow of the Commercial and Maritime Bank. It’s easy to miss, being so small and dingy, but Morgan knew it well, as one of its few regular customers.
He was in the habit of searching for treasure amongst the aged and dusty wares on display in Scruton’s, and he must have had some success in this, as he kept returning to sort through the shop’s latest acquisitions. On the day in question, Morgan had decided to look through the small collection of books kept in one corner. It was here that he found the book that was to have so much influence on him.
There was little to recommend it at first glance. It was smaller than the books around it, bound in wrinkled black leather, and without inscription on the outside. Morgan was aware that the greatest treasures can be concealed in the most humble of presentations, however, and he opened it to the first page. There was only one sentence there, written in a scratchy and disjointed hand. The Diary of Jezebel Brinks it declared.
Morgan turned the page and began to read.
January 5 1674. Today Mistress Annabel showed me the herb Ground Elder and declared it good for the healing of aches and pains, burns and stings, and weakness of bladder and intestines. It can be made into a poultice that is good for wounds and welts.
Each day thereafter detailed further herbal remedies and their preparation. This was enough to decide Morgan that the book should be worth buying. Clearly, it had been written by an apprentice in the ancient art of herbal healing and might well contain some interesting, forgotten and long lost cures. This might be of some value to a chemist or pharmacist interested in alternative remedies.
After a brief haggle with the proprietor (no longer a Scruton, the shop having changed hands some twenty years before), Morgan left with the book secreted in one of the deep pockets of his overcoat.
Once home, Morgan made himself comfortable in his armchair by the fireplace and began to study the book. A few more pages covering the months of January to April confirmed that it was an account of Jezebel’s learning under the auspices of the lady Annabel. Not all the days had an entry and there seemed no pattern to the dates of their meetings. In very few pages, Morgan had progressed from January to August 1674. He flipped through to reach the end of that year and then kept going to see how long Jezebel’s period of instruction would take. The accounts of herbal medicines ran out in the year 1681 and this was followed by a blank page, as if to indicate a pause while the diarist absorbed and became adept with all she had learned.
The story resumed in April of 1703. This time the account was much more personal, there being no mention of the herbalism that preceded things. The first entry set the scene by describing Jezebel’s meeting with an old woman she called the Great Sorceress. It appeared that Jezebel had been chosen to advance from the ranks of herbalists to become versed in the deeper and darker arts and secret knowledge.
This time the content of the lessons were not divulged in the diary, the pages, still as few and far between as had been the medicinal pages, now consisting of descriptions of the student’s progress through the many stages of her development. The ordeals and anguish she experienced, vividly recounted, became darker and more surreal as time went on.
By the time this section came to its harrowing end, it was clear that the author was changed fundamentally and her character, so clearly innocent in the beginning, was now one at home with stormy and haunted nights when the moon rode full and evil spirits roamed abroad. It seemed all obstacles had been passed and Jezebel was now a fully fledged witch of a high order. The last date mentioned was in 1725.
Once again, this section was followed by a blank page before the next commenced.
This began with the announcement that Jezebel had been accused and imprisoned as a witch in 1751. It purported to be an account of her thoughts as she waited to be burned at the stake. Morgan found it hard to read of her terror and agonies. He hurried on through the few pages until she reached the end. The final paragraph caught his eye.
They are coming for me. I hear the noise of the crowd coming closer. I will pass this account to the jailer before they take me so I must finish now. He has agreed to put it in the hands of Missy Belmont. She will know what to do with it. May my vengeance ring through the ages and my suffering be announced abroad. Goodbye my sweets.
Overcome with weariness at the emotions that had passed through him, even with just a quick scan of the pages, Morgan put the diary aside and bent his head in thought. The business of reading the entire book in detail now appeared much more difficult a task than he had anticipated. Yet he was determined to press on with the project. The diary may not be as valuable as he hoped in monetary terms, but it might prove valuable in other ways to historians and scholars of the darker side of life. He would read it all and then decide what course of action to take. He fell into a deep and exhausted sleep.
The next day, Morgan began his in-depth study of the diary. He gave each section a title, in order Herbalist, Sorcerer, and Nemesis, then started to read while making copious notes. It was weeks before he arrived at the final paragraph again.
He sat back and took stock. He owned a remarkable document, of that there was no doubt. But where would it be most useful; who would be prepared to pay good money for so historic and important a work? It was so difficult to classify. His gaze fell back to the diary as he pondered its future.
Not for the first time, he noticed that there were several blank pages beyond the presumed end of the book. Idly, his fingers began to flip through these, seeking some sort of inspiration for his next move.
There was something written on one of the pages.
Just a brief sentence. A lone and enigmatic statement in the white emptiness of the page. In the hand of the old witch, it seemed. The same scratching scrawl sullied the purity of the paper.
He has finished it.
Now that was odd. It couldn’t be Jezebel’s writing unless she had set down the words randomly before her death. And what did the words mean? Who was “he” and what had he finished?
The thought crossed his mind that it might refer to himself. He had just finished reading the diary, after all. But that was ridiculous. Unless the old witch had a mind to scare some future soul leafing through her diary.
Yes, that might be it. Or could it be a reference to the executioner having finished his work? An unlikely sudden outburst of gallows humour from one so apparently terrified of what awaited her, thought Morgan.
No, it was probably a mystery that was never going to be solved anyway. To escape his thoughts, Morgan rose, put on his coat, and left on his usual trip down to Scruton’s. Perhaps something else would put the diary out of his mind for a while.
The following morning he found himself drawn back to the book. For a long time he sat and gazed at it but then, with a shrug, he picked it up and riffled through the pages. It turned to the inevitable page, empty but for its lone sentence.
He has finished it.
Underneath, something had been added.
Let the vengeance fall now.
Morgan could not drag his eyes away from the extra sentence. It had not been there the day before, he was certain of that. Either his mind was playing tricks or some ancient form of invisible ink was maturing to bring the new sentence into being.
It was still in her handwriting.
He slammed the book shut and left the house, to go wandering through the town, muttering to himself. When he returned, long after the sun had gone down and the town lit only by the occasional streetlight, he went straight to bed and tried to sleep.
The thoughts kept him awake all night.
In the morning he rose and returned to the book. He opened it to the page of sentences.
Another had been added.
Let the fires of hell burn for him as the earth has burned for me.
Morgan stared at the words, unmoving. Blood drained from his face and his eyes became dull as he gazed at the writing. Another sentence began to write itself as he remained fixed in horror-filled contemplation.
Do you feel the heat now, Morgan? Does it creep, remorseless, up your legs while your toes turn to charcoal?
Morgan could only scream as the pain swamped his being.
Word count: 1,581
For Weekly SCREAMS!!! 07.08.22
Prompt: An old diary of a long-forgotten witch.