Sarah Hatch was a witch who lived around here a long time ago. Some say she was related to old Crabapple Annie and old Agatha, and I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if she were, although if it’s true, she was certainly the darker of the three. No one paid her any mind for the longest time, but as times came and went and people lived and died, old Sarah was still around in her cottage in the woods. And while most people still didn’t care one way or another, some people disliked it greatly, saying that Sarah was evil and would bring bad luck to their town.
Elspeth Dyer was the daughter of the local preacher, and she often overheard her parents talking in hushed tones about Sarah Hatch.
“Only the devil can be behind someone who lives so long,” her father would say.
“She’s in league with something nasty,” her mother would respond.
Then they’d talk together about what to do with Sarah. Sometimes some of the other townspeople would come over, and the adults would all huddle around Elspeth’s father and talk about old Sarah.
“It takes some powerful magic to stay alive that long.”
“I heard she can curse you just by crossing her eyes!”
“I think she’s the one who killed my cat.”
“My wheat field failed because of her bad luck charms!”
“She’s got a magic wand and can turn into any animal she wants.”
|Sarah Hatch's grave.|
These were the kinds of things Elspeth heard when she hid behind the door and listened in to the conversations of the adults. The more she listened, the more fascinated she became with Sarah Hatch. Elspeth had many hardships in her life. She had no brothers, and there was a great deal of work to be done on their small farm. Whenever she complained out of sheer exhaustion, her father would beat her severely and tell her that idle hands were the work of the devil. The more he beat her, the more twisted her thoughts became, and those thoughts centered around Sarah Hatch and her magic. Elspeth was convinced that if she could learn Sarah’s magic, she could escape from her father and a life of constant work.
A plan began to develop in her mind. When her parents went to the next township for a meeting to discuss building a new church at the halfway point between the two towns, she would sneak away and go down to old Sarah’s cottage and get her magic out of her. She did not intend to leave empty handed and decided she would do whatever it took to force Sarah into revealing all of her secrets.
So the day came and she was given very stern instructions from her father about what work he wanted done that day, to which she silently nodded, knowing full well that she would not be doing it. She saw her parents off in their carriage and went straight to the barn. When she was quite certain they were gone, she headed for Sarah Hatch’s cottage. She had to be careful to not be seen along the way, and more than once she had to dive into a wooded area to avoid being found out, but eventually she came to the enormous old elderberry bush that marked the trail to Sarah’s cottage.
Elspeth took the trail quickly and surely even through the snow as she was a very strong girl, and in a very short time she was at the rickety old door of Sarah’s cottage. She knocked on the door very loudly and waited on the porch, but no one answered. Again she knocked, hard enough this time to make the old wooden boards on the door creak and groan. Still, there was no answer, but she had come this far and was not about to leave. She went up to the door, knocked very loudly, and then pushed it open.
It was fairly dark inside and she had to wait for her eyes to adjust to the low light, but sitting at the table was a very old and emaciated woman who could be none other than Sarah Hatch herself. Elspeth was surprised at just how old Sarah looked. Everyone knew she was extremely old, of course, but she never looked as ancient as she did now. She looked almost on the brink of death, and this worried Elspeth because she had come to get something from Sarah and was not about to leave without it.
“So you’re here at last,” Sarah said weakly, “You certainly took your time.”
“Yes, I did,” said Elspeth, caught off guard and feeling a bit confused.
“I was hoping you’d come.”
“Well, I’m here, and if you knew I was coming, then you know why I came in the first place.”
“Oh, indeed,” said Sarah a little more brightly than Elspeth might have expected, “and I know exactly what you’re here for.”
“Good. Then teach me your magic. Give me your wand. Give me your powers so that I can finally live freely,” Elspeth said loudly, not bothering to hide the menace in her voice.
“I can’t teach you anything or give you anything.”
“Oh, you’re going to do it.”
“Oh, you’re going to do it.”
“No, what I mean,” said Sarah, “is that this kind of energy cannot be taught or learned. It can only be transferred.”
“Then transfer it,” came Elspeth’s cool response.
“It’s not that easy. It takes time.”
Sarah looked at Elspeth for a good long minute. Each was sizing the other up, even though it was quite clear that Elspeth was physically superior. It was also quite clear to both of them that Elspeth wouldn’t leave without the transfer.
“Very well,” Sarah sighed. “I am old now and not very effective the way I am anyhow. You must put me in my grave and keep me there for a full month, from tonight’s full moon to the next full moon. You must visit me nightly and bring me bits of food, which you will push in through the holes. A month should be enough time to do the transfer.”
Elspeth just looked at Sarah. This was not what she expected. She didn’t exactly know what she had been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this. Put Sarah in her grave? Did she mean that Elspeth was supposed to kill her? But that didn’t make sense because then why would Sarah need food?
“Come with me,” was all that Sarah said. She got up and walked out of the cottage, and Elspeth followed behind her. Neither said a word, although Elspeth remarked silently to herself at the steady gait Sarah kept up even through the snow. They walked through the woods for a while and came to an old stone grave. The heavy cover stone had been pushed aside.
“This is my grave,” Sarah said. Elspeth recoiled at the idea of someone speaking so lightly of their own grave. She felt that something was not quite right and was very much on her guard.
“You must entomb me,” Sarah said, “and don’t forget to bring the food every night.” With that, she lay down in the grave and motioned for Elspeth to push the cover stone over the grave. Elspeth hesitated, but something in Sarah’s eyes told her to move quickly. She reached across the grave for the stone, but as she did, Sarah’s hand flew up and caught her wrist and wrenched her downward!
Elspeth almost fell in the grave on top of Sarah, but she was a very strong girl and she managed to swing her legs around to the other side of the grave. She wrenched her arm away quickly, and it took every bit of strength she had. Then she quickly heaved the cover stone over the grave before Sarah had a chance to move.
Sarah screamed furiously from inside the grave for Elspeth to remove the stone, but Elspeth was unmoved. She was scared half to death by what had happened but she was also very angry. So? she said to herself, She thought she would trap me? Now she is the one who is trapped.
“I’ll be back tomorrow night with some food,” Elspeth said coldly. With that, she walked quickly away and went home, ignoring the screams from Sarah’s grave.
True to her word, she came silently the next night with some food. It took some doing as she had to sneak out of her home and wait for her parents to go to sleep, but she managed it. She brought some bread and cheese and used a stick to stuff it through the holes of the grave. She could hear Sarah eating it, but Sarah never said a word. Night after night, Elspeth came with the food, and night after night Sarah ate it. She supposed that Sarah was drinking what bits of snow and melted ice leaked into the grave, but she wasn’t about to ask or to bring any liquid.
This went on for almost a month, and the next full moon was nearing. Finally, on the night before the full moon when Elspeth had brought the nightly food, Sarah spoke for the first time. Her voice was loud and clear and almost melodic.
“Tomorrow with the food, you must bring me some wine,” she said. When Elspeth began to protest, Sarah hushed her immediately. “You must bring it. It is necessary for the transfer.” Elspeth figured she had come this far, so what would it matter if she stole some wine from her father’s secret stash? He had always preached against drinking, but secretly he always drank. She hoped he wouldn’t miss it, but even if he did, there wouldn’t be anything he could do about it then. So she agreed.
The following night, the night of the full moon, Elspeth returned to the grave for the final time with some food and a flask of wine. She pushed the food through the holes of the grave, using the stick to push it in as always. She could hear Sarah eating. Then Sarah told her to put the flask up to the lower hole and push its opening in so she could drink the wine. Elspeth didn’t like the idea but figured it was the last night of this gruesome business anyway, and so she did as she was told.
But no sooner had she pushed the lip of the flask through the hole when a bony hand shot out of another hole and grasped her wrist like a steel vice! Elspeth cried out and tried to wrench her arm away, but she couldn’t budge it. She grabbed about wildly with her other hand, searching for something to smash against the bony hand that held her in its steely clutch. Before she could find anything, though, she heard a terrible snapping sound and saw her own hand pulled right off her arm and dragged into the grave!
Elspeth sat in shocked horror, unable to even scream. She held her arm up and looked at where her hand used to be only moments before. There was no blood, and now she realized there was no pain either. Her hand had simply vanished. She sat there, dumbfounded, immobile from fear, petrified into silence.
Sarah easily moved the grave cover stone aside. She rose up out of the grave quickly and put her hands on Elspeth’s shoulders. Elspeth looked up into Sarah’s eyes, her own eyes as wide as saucers. Then the transfer began. Both of Elspeth’s hands were now at the end of Sarah’s arms. Then her forearms and her upper arms went to Sarah, each woman trading parts. Her feet, her legs, everything went quickly until just their heads were left. Then with a smile, Sarah switched those, too. Sarah still looked like Sarah, only much younger. Elspeth looked like an ancient Elspeth, and she felt as exhausted as an ancient old woman would feel.
“You have done well,” Sarah said, “and the transfer is complete.”
“But . . .”
“Yes, not what you expected, I know.”
“Will I . . .” Elspeth began, but Sarah cut her off.
“I gave you what you asked for. You asked for my magic and now you have it, but I thank you tremendously for giving me yours.”
Whether Elspeth realized her mistake in misunderstanding what magic really is was uncertain as she never said a word. Sarah gently pushed Elspeth into the grave and tossed the wine flask inside with her. Then she easily pulled the heavy cover stone over the grave with her strong, sturdy arms and hands. Elspeth Dyer was never heard from again, and Sarah Hatch went back to her cottage. The rumors and complaints about her continued, but time was on her side, as it always was, and eventually the naysayers would all just fade away.