Once there was a town that found a witch, so they set out to burn her. Only it seemed wise also to burn her house as well, for it was known to be the center of a large collection of books of forbidden lore. No-one had seen them; but one doesn’t need to see these things; what else would a witch read?
So they sent a team of villagers into the forest to collect more wood to make sure that they could burn both the witch and the house, because parts of the house were stone, and would need some encouragement—not every wall would melt, but presumably all perishable things would be destroyed. Only, once in the woods, one of the wood-gatherers clearly heard another mention to a friend, in what he presumably thought was a private voice, that it was a shame; she’d always seemed like a nice old lady.
Instantly, the hero confronted the witch-lover, who immediately denied having ever said such a thing; but her companion verified that it was so. She said that her so-called ‘friend’ was always going around saying nice things about witches, and she had just been hanging around to keep a close eye on the situation. One of the wood-gatherers struck the witch-lover from behind, and they dragged her back to the town square. Soon both witches (oh, they were both witches; do you know what they found in her house? Books)—both witches were tied to large, sturdy stakes, in front of the first witch’s house, but there was a problem: they didn’t live next door to each other, and there was a third house in-between. This was going to be inconvenient. Unless…
The house’s owner wasn’t home, and there were no books inside, but he had, it turned out, drawn some scurrilous pictures of some of the town’s most prominent figures. So he was quickly found, and caught, but there was a wrinkle: he said that one of the town’s most highly-placed figures had paid him to make those drawings. The councilwoman wasn’t in the crowd, but by sheer good luck (of course) her ex-husband was, and he explained to the horrified onlookers that, indeed, his ex-wife had been a witch, and, of course, the moment he found out, he left her, but he feared her too much to reveal the truth, until now, in this moment, when at last witches were being revealed…
It was then that the first witch’s house began to smoke.
“Sorcery!” cried the townspeople—but no; it was simply someone who’d grown impatient with talk. And the crowd might have debated the wisdom of this act—some started to say it was rash, some started to say it was overdue—when they smelled smoke. The Council Hall was on fire. The crowd rushed over, and standing in front was the woman who’d almost won the election three times. “They’re witches all!” she screamed. And some began to question her, when, again, they smelled smoke.
It turned out that many had gone into the witch-burning, house-igniting business, because they realized they could finally reveal all the witches among them. Did they realize that, while they scorched the homes of monsters, someone else was bunching kindling around the homes they’d just left?
Who would have thought the whole town was made of witches? But it was, and it’s a good thing that they burned it down.
For so, too, were all the farms on the outskirts of town, feuding since time immemorial, each witches, under careful watch by others, and so was the tax-collector, and so was the nearby Embassy, and the whole town up the road had always been suspicious, and…
…it’s fortunate that this is just a story. For human beings are rational, and they hate Evil and its ilk; they are not petty, not driven by little grievances, not sly or obscure about their motives. Whoever would burn down a neighbor’s house falsely? No-one, for they would surely know that, in such a world, someone could, in the very same way, burn your house.
This was the town that burned the witch; this was the witch-burning that burned the town; this was the town-burning that set the countryside aflame; this was the flaming countryside that consumed the cities; these were the smoldering cities that blew huge sparks in all direction; that was the kingdom that burned to the ground, and the survivors had learned a valuable lesson: There must be a lot of witches in the world.
Never had so many flames lit the night; but never had visibility been so poor, for in every eye, and in every set of lungs, there were great fistfuls of soot.
And if it’s hard, so hard for the survivors to breathe, at least it’s a cleansing blackness in the center of their lungs.
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.