Pirates of Pamlico Sound: Chapter 1

🏴 August 1692 * Salem, Massachusetts.

Aithne Reade’s husband Zephan was hanged yesterday alongside Elizabeth Proctor’s. Despite this, she tried like hell to keep her spirits from slipping into the vortex of hopelessness that had penetrated the smothering stillness of the prison. Like so many before her, she sat and nervously ran her palms over the edge of the cell’s meager pine bench. For a moment, she considered how the rough-hewn surface had been sanded smooth in places by countless distraught prisoners awaiting their fate at the gallows. She disliked the thought of such a desperate energy creating a smoothness that somehow calmed the nerves. After all, the outlook seemed to grow bleaker by the day.

Like Elizabeth Proctor, the current resident of the adjacent cell, she’d been given a temporary reprieve “for the belly.” Chief Justice Stoughton instructed Aithne to make no mistake about her own fate; when the baby arrived, she too would depart this world from Gallows Hill. He offered no further words of explanation or any information about what would become of the child. His sole advice had become by then a boilerplate warning issued with little true conviction.

“Aithne Reade, repent while you still have the chance.”

At that, an officer of the court rose on cue and took hold of her arm. She’d not been escorted half-way out of the courtroom before the justice had forgotten all about her and moved along to summarily convict the next supposed witch.

Even in 1692, many understood that witch hunts fed upon some unexplained societal phenomenon — a mass hysteria, if you will. And, of course, in almost all cases, the witch hunters sent innocent people to their deaths. But Aithne Reade was, in fact, a witch.

It didn’t help her case, come to think of it, that she looked the part. Like her now late husband, she was of Black Irish descent. Her dark eyes and hair suggested a mysterious aura that set her apart from the traditional beauties whose blonde and red hair might seem a more apt testament to an Irish clan. According to her mother, the family’s ancestral roots could be traced back to include a shipwrecked sailor from the Spanish Armada more than a hundred years ago, but all records had been long abandoned.

Knowing the truth of Aithne’s intimacy with the supernatural, one might guess that her rather miraculous exodus to freedom came about through an enchantment of a guard or perhaps via some other mystical explanation. However, the story has more to do with something much more commonplace: luck.

Elizabeth Proctor’s husband owned a tavern in Salem. John was a bumptious character — a man of some means — openly critical of the rampant persecution sweeping the town, and defiant to the last. Some say he brought on his own death through this criticism. One wonders if this thought crossed his mind at all as the noose tightened around his neck. He’d made it clear to several friends that, in the event that his wife were “accused” (which everyone understood to be equivalent to “convicted”), she was to be sprung from her incarceration at all costs.

John had loyal allies, to be sure. A guard was bribed and a midnight coach was arranged. However, the description given to the guard lacked a fundamental detail. They’d neglected to specify a name. The rather covert and shadowy back-alley deal transpired as follows: “At midnight,” they instructed the guard, having already slipped the payment into his waistcoat pocket, “you’re to enter the east corridor. Toward the end, you’ll meet her. She’s wearing a green frock and she’s with child. Unlock her cell and lead her through the door and into the carriage.”

The guard did exactly as he was told that night. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t have considered accepting a bribe. But this case came with a built-in excuse. If caught or questioned, he could claim to have been bewitched. And, to his credit, when he came upon the cell, he even had the presence of mind to verify her identity at least to his own satisfaction. “Do you be the witch whose husband hung at the gallows yesterday?”

It should be no surprise, given her circumstances, that she was wide awake at this hour. She met his eyes and vaguely sensed the opportunity forming before her. “Aye,” she said.

“Follow me then.” He unbolted the door. Like certain of her ancestors, Aithne had been born with a curious gift. Learning new languages came almost effortlessly. When asked about this by anyone she deemed worthy of a serious reply, she would often explain that her innate urge to communicate with the natural world opened up channels of understanding between herself and others. As she stepped hesitantly from the cell, the man handed her a small purse with enough gold to begin a new life. In addition to a talent for communicating verbally with others, she understood that in certain circumstances, the most appropriate form of communication is silence. She accepted the purse quickly and without words.

Aithne Reade had boarded a small ship bound south for Boston — a much easier place to slip into anonymity among its more than seven thousand residents — by the time John’s friends learned of the error.

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☠️ Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” and a web design blog called “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine.” He’s also contributes to various Medium.com publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. “Chapter number” background photo atop piece is adapted from “Light Reading” by Martin (Flickr, Creative Commons).