The Devil’s Maiden


            Enoch Meyers might not have discovered his odd talent if it had not been for the harsh and ongoing bullying inflicted on him by Matthew Harper. At fifteen, Enoch had been the favorite victim of Matthew’s cruel and spiteful aggressions for at least the preceding ten years. A quiet and well mannered boy, Enoch had compiled an entire mental catalogue of such offenses. Being tripped, punched, pinched, shoved down, hit with stones, being used for target practice for Matthew’s slingshot; the list seemed endless, and Enoch could call up an enumeration  how many times each had been inflicted on him.

Indeed, Enoch made a fine target for Matthew’s wickedness, being a thin, slight young man, whose nature and upbringing made him loathe fighting and be disinclined to respond to each incident by beating his adversary, which several other boys had done, with varying degrees of success. The fact that others were inclined to resist Matthew’s godless and abusive ways, assured that he confined his efforts primarily to Enoch.

Matthew was a large and strapping youth. The son of the village miller, he had always been bigger and stronger than all others his own age. A slight affectation of speech, combined with his monumental cruel streak, had made it nearly impossible for him to make friends. The fact that his father tended to drink heavily, in a community which shunned such indulgences, and shunned the local church, did nothing to endear the boy to others, especially the responsible parents. The miller’s godless ways would have never been tolerated had his services not been so essential, and Matthew managed to exist under the umbrella of this necessity also.

Matthew would have grown to exist in perpetuity as the village bully, at least until such time that he took liberty with someone’s daughter, an offense that would have earned him the opportunity to hang from a short rope. Instead, it was Enoch’s unanticipated ability, which manifested unexpectedly one hot summer day in August, and ended Matthew’s career as a bully.

The village of Wakefield, was bustling somewhat, during the hour before noon, the dirt street, which passed more or less straight through the collection of houses, the church, the smithy, as well as Fairchild’s Store, was hard and bare, dusty from a lack of rain. Disturbed by the constant passage of traffic, the dust rose from the hooves of horses, wagon wheels and even the shoes of pedestrians, all vying for space and passage. Several people milled about, especially in proximity to the store, both those coming to buy or trade, and those farmers who were waiting on grain to be ground by Matthew’s father.

Enoch had walked to town with his mother and siblings, his mother having need of new sewing needles and other supplies. He had looked through the store, curious to see what might be new, and then had retired to the covered, wood floored porch that spanned the entire front of the store. He found a post to the left of the door, and availing himself of its sturdiness, he leaned against it, watching the passing activity, especially the wagons and their teams of draft horses.

He was enjoying the sights, calm and relaxed, when he heard his nemesis call his name.

“Enoch! Come here, skinny b…boy! Le…le…et’s arm wrestle!” Matthew invited, sounding, other than his slight stutter, reasonable and friendly, but grinning wickedly in anticipation of inflicting more humiliation and torment on Enoch.

Normally, Enoch would have been resigned to his fate, suffering thorough it, only to become enraged after the fact. He had repeated this cycle many times; pliant victim later transformed to an almost raving wildman, eager for revenge. Yet the anger always failed, and he settled into a subdued, sulking and bitter state, determined to never submit to such abuse again, but knowing that it would return. This time, however, something different happened.

Enoch felt a sudden, rising tide of anger and loathing grip him, sharp and strong. He felt the welling emotion as he stepped back from the porch post, moving back against the rough wood store front, so intense that he feared it would smother him. This allowed Matthew to step in front of him, with his back towards the street. They were to the left of the door, and on the other side of the doorway a group of men stood, talking quietly about the area’s strange affairs; there had been reports and rumors of witchery from Salem.

Neither Matthew, who was intently focused on his victim, nor Enoch himself, noticed Claire Fairchild, the store owner’s daughter, step out onto the porch to look around. Her eyes quickly spotted Matthew, whom she, like most, despised, and Enoch, whom she secretly found of interest. She watched the unfolding event silently.

Matthew, for his part, could not wait to inflict some form of suffering on Enoch, and when he rapidly punched at Enoch’s stomach, he suddenly was surprised and shocked to find himself flung backwards, away from Enoch and directly in front of a team of four oxen, pulling a wagon laden with heavy timbers, freshly sawn and destined for a new barn.

The near side lead animal’s harness wrapped chest hit Matthew squarely, sending him sprawling, and before he could even scream, the hooves of two massive oxen passed over him, trampling his wickedness into oblivion. By the time the shocked drover got the massive animals and wagon stopped, the wagon wheels had also rudely rolled over the remains of the mangled boy, the iron wrapped wooden wheels almost cutting the body in half.

Several women shrieked and screamed, overcoming the mortified and stunned silence of the men, who found the unfolding of the accident too shocking to somehow take in. The man who had been driving the wagon had climbed down and run back, only to stop, horrified by the gristly scene; the mangled remains of the village bully.

“Oh for the love of a merciful God” he managed at last to cry. He glanced at the porch, where Enoch still stood, rooted both in horror and in fascination.

“Enoch!” the drover, Jacob Brown, called, focusing on the young man. “Did ye push him back?!” he demanded, wanting somehow to understand what had caused this tragedy.

Enoch shook his head, his voice still not returned to him.

“Are ye sure?” one of the men on the porch asked, his voice insinuating.

The girl, Claire, who had, unlike the other women, not turned away from the sight of Matthew’s destruction, stepped forward, neither timid nor hesitant.

“Goodman! I saw the whole event! Enoch raised no hand against Matthew, who threw himself backward, playing the fool no doubt, not noticing Brother Brown’s team approaching. He was too intent on tormenting Enoch! He did this to himself, or perhaps God has chosen to end his miserable and evil ways…since no one of authority has had the decency to do so!”

Several of those standing close were stung by Claire’s words, yet none was willing to attempt to refute them.  The good people of the village had been frustrated and appalled by Matthew’s terrible behavior, but they were reluctant to provoke the wrath of his father, both because his services were necessary, and partly because to some extent, all of the honest, god-fearing people feared him somewhat; he was a vicious fighter and a mean drunk. They could have easily banded together and simply hung both the father and the son, but their religion seemed to impede this direct and efficient solution. As a result of this moral indecision, Matthew had been left with no admirers and now needed no friends.

“Perhaps Miss Claire speaks well and in line with what is godly…if the Lord has called Master Harper to him, he is certainly welcome to him!” someone called out.

“I expect the devil will be addressing him…and the father too!” another suggested. No one was willing to dispute this suggestion, in light of what all had witnessed of both the father and the son’s behavior. The people of the village fervently hoped that God would not only be merciful to those who honestly struggled with life, but also, perhaps even more urgently desired that the evil and wicked be addressed, sternly and with some bit of divine enthusiasm!

Someone was at last dispatched to inform the miller of the fate of his son, while others gathered what was left of Matthew up in a blanket, to remove him from his disgraceful repose in the wagon ruts; the smithy would build a coffin for him.

Enoch’s mother had come outside, attracted by the commotion, but had hastily retreated, herding Enoch’s siblings back inside, as she had no desire for any of them to suffer nightmares or evil dreams.

Enoch himself had gone inside, eager to flee the hideous display. His emotions were extremely conflicted. On the one hand, he was ecstatic that he would no longer have to endure Matthew’s bullying. Have I not suffered enough? he briefly prayed.

Yet he also felt terrible and completely inadequate as a Christian; did not the preacher repeat frequently and loudly the command that each person was to forgive and love thy enemy? Enoch had certainly failed at this, and Matthew had died, being very much hated and despised by Enoch. Will forgiving him now do any good? he wondered, not sure how God might view the issue. He sighed, his understanding inadequate.

Enoch had another form of guilt developing, a more profound and difficult to reconcile one. He knew that he had not touched Matthew, at least with his hands, not touching or contacting him in any physical way. But he knew he had wanted Matthew to be pushed away, thrown back, to be unable to contact him in his usual, bullying manor. He had willed his enemy to move away, back into the path of the team and wagon.

Did I really push him with just my mind? He wondered, fascinated somewhat, but also terrified. How is this possible? Has God given me some new…power…or has the devil? Is this witchery? Witchcraft? Has someone cursed me?

            Enoch understood that this was not a good subject to discuss or ask questions about. People were nervous and agitated; frightened. They had arrested several people, mostly women, around Salem, accusing them of ungodly things, of witchcraft. Am I a witch? he suddenly wondered. How could I be? I’ve done nothing wicked, have studied no evil arts!

Enoch knew little of the devil, and had intended to remain as ignorant and unacquainted as possible. His family faithfully attended church, spoke no curse words, prayed at meal time and before bed. Everyone regarded them as honest, devoted, God fearing people. But yet, somehow, Enoch knew he had caused Matthew Harpers untimely demise. Somehow…just by wishing it to be.

His mother had finished her shopping, the process slowed by the shocking tragedy of the morning. She stepped close to him, having seen his drawn and worried face. She laid her hand on him, said, “You are upset…we need to talk!” She leaned close, whispered, “You should not feel bad…a wicked person has been given God’s justice, has gone to Him. Rejoice that yours is a Godly home!”

Before he left the store, he spotted Claire, as she finished helping a customer for her father. Enoch stepped close, as much as manners and custom allowed, and nodded politely.

“Miss Claire…I want to thank ye for speaking up for me earlier. I am most grateful!”

“You are welcome, Master Enoch. In truth, I could not bear to stand by and let others question your integrity. Matthew Harper was a wicked and ungodly person. I know how poorly he treated you!”

Enoch nodded, pained by this reminder.

Claire leaned closer, glancing first to make sure her father was not looking, as young men and women were expected to keep their  distance and avoid being too close; this was why the school and church were divided, with girls and boys on opposite sides.

Seeing her father occupied and turned away, she inched even closer.

“I told everyone that you did not touch Matthew, which is true, but I know what you did!  We might speak of it another time,” Claire said, so faintly that Enoch barely heard her. Yet he did and stiffened, the import of her words cutting into his insides like a jagged knife. Claire stepped back a pace, turned slightly and stared intently at Enoch with her odd eyes; one blue and the other a shifting shade of green. She smiled knowingly, touched her lips with her index finger, a gesture calling for him to keep a secret, and when her father’s voice called, “Claire! Help Auntie Hooper get some flour,” she turned to obey.

Enoch struggled to turn and felt as if he was stumbling, as he went out the door, his insides knotted. Had Claire seen him move Matthew without touching him? How did she know that? Could she do this too? Was that how she recognized what he had done? What was this strange ability, if it was in fact something he had done? Perhaps God had intervened, and had divinely assisted him with his problem. Or had the devil suddenly decided to put his wicked mark on Enoch’s young soul, giving him assistance that would turn him from God and take him straight to hell?

Enoch shook his head, wanting all of these questions to go away. He ran after his family, wanting nothing more than normalcy; life as it always had been. Enoch preferred that matters of heaven or hell be left in the more qualified or at least more willing hands of Preacher Boswell.

Please! Dear Lord! Let everything be as it should be, with no evil or ungodliness intruding into my life, in my family’s life! he prayed as he hurried to catch up with his mother. Let me triumph over Satan’s allies, over mine own weakness, and show me your mercy, he concluded, hopeful that God would answer his prayer.

Yet, Enoch would come to believe that God had other intentions.


           Claire Fairchild was perhaps too smart for her own good, if anyone had chosen to reflect upon the issue of her personality or being. Of course, few did, as Claire was, in most respects, a quiet and obedient daughter. Certainly, her looks would have caused little scandal. She was a plain girl, a thin and willowy girl of fifteen, small breasted, and slim of hip, her body, covered modestly by her proper, long cotton dress, would have incited no schoolboy’s lust or passion.

Her facial expression was seldom sunny or radiant, only rarely breaking into a slight smile. Yet neither did she walk around looking dour and distressed; her mime was that of one given to careful contemplation and deep reflection, her curiosity emerging as a deliberate thing, not as a loud, squealing, headlong rush. Like all those children who managed to behave and who had no tendency to engage in wickedness or in any form of ungodliness, Claire was, in a small sense, invisible.

But this manner of being overlooked did not imply that she had no interaction or engagement with the people of her village. On the contrary, she was quite present. In church, her eagerness to read the word of God, made her hard to overlook, as she read with an earnestness and intensity that had little competition. In similar fashion, she addressed her school lessons wholeheartedly, displaying no reluctance or hesitation.

Had Claire been less demure, less inclined to appear proper and almost shy, her brightness would have easily been seen as a suspect kind of prideful arrogance, and have been considered wicked. Instead, she was well regarded, the sort of proper and reasonable young woman who would have been expected to grow up and become a school teacher, or a devoted and proper wife. That is, had she not suffered from an exaggerated sense of over eagerness to read. This dubious, and by the villagers senses, questionable tendency, which her father also had, was acceptable only insofar as Claire made a thorough effort to conceal it.

This she had done, yet occasionally, her constant reading caused her to make a comment or offer a point of view that struck a discordant note with the village people’s established view of existence. In 1691, forty miles from Salem, Massachusetts, this was becoming more unacceptable and problematic.

The day of Matthew Harper’s demise passed by as most others did for Claire. When not in school, she was busy, helping at the store, with little peace or quiet, both of which were necessary for any sort of contemplation or reflection. In truth, the constant buzz, which any decent person might have considered gossip, was stirred by the endless trickle of customers that came to her father’s store.

Holcomb Fairchild was well regarded as a merchant, considered by nearly everyone to be a hardworking and scrupulously honest purveyor of goods. He was not only a thoroughly devout member of the local church, he was a humble and fair person, who expected his children to be as devoted and hardworking as he was himself. He tolerated no sloth from his offspring, especially Claire, who was the oldest, and most often called upon to help with the store.

Claire was fortunate in that she had no resistance, no inclination to want to avoid or shirk her obligations. Quite the contrary, Claire loved working at the store, occasionally earning a bit of money, but more importantly, being able to interact with and to know the people who came to the establishment. A not inconsiderate aspect was also her love of hearing news, and just as much, gossip, which made itself at home in the store.

On this tragic day, there was an endless stream of commentary regarding the events which had taken place, directly in front of the store. Claire had waited on customers, attentive to their needs, but also attuned to the comments and speculation of the others who had come in, more to talk, than to purchase anything. There were moments when she was actually trying to listen to as many as three different conversations simultaneously, a skill she had practiced many times over the years of her childhood.

There was little doubt that the prevailing sentiment was one of relief, and that young Matthew, while not necessarily the most disliked person for miles around, would certainly have been on everyone’s list, in second or third place, if not first. Many lamented this fact, speculating about what would have saved him from being so wicked, yet few saw any road that would have improved his character; most blamed his father for this sad fact.

Claire listened hard, for any hint of rumor regarding the stranger aspects of his demise, but she was forced to conclude that she was likely the only soul with any suspicions regarding it. It appeared that the idea that Matthew’s own foolish horse play was responsible for his abrupt ending, had firmly taken root.

And why would it not? The good people of the town were very even minded, a reasonable group of souls, one might conclude, not the least given to hysteria or flights of fancy or imagination. Rooted firmly in the reasonableness of the Good Book, they were willing to believe in occasional small displays of Divine Intervention, as signs of God continuing power and care, but unwilling to ascribe any sort of odd powers to a mere human being.

This stood in marked contrast to the mental inclinations of those town’s folk up the way, in Salem, most notably. They seemed to believe all sorts of devilish, evil and supernatural events were happening, that humans, especially women and girls were engaged in all sorts of ungodly and miraculous things, but only of a dark and sinister nature.

Claire had heard much whispered commentary about these problems around Salem, and had talked with her parents about them, privately, at home, while the younger children were outside playing. She had grasped that this was a very touchy subject, one the normally open and outgoing townspeople seemed much disturbed by, perhaps even frightened of. Claire had been especially curious and fascinated by this fact.

“Aye! Daughter, Ye be wise to hesitate in speaking too much in public about this!” her father had declared.

“Why?” Claire asked, her voice soft, but her face displaying confusion that this was so.

“Politics! Certain people over there want to gain more power during this time of trouble. I frankly have no idea if there is anything at all, any truth to the rumors of the hysterical women accusing others of all manner of wickedness.” Holcomb glanced up from his reading, smoking his pipe a moment, thoughtfully, while Claire waited. “But many of the towns folk are being pushed into believing it, nonsense or not! That’s the real wickedness! Nothing good will come of such a thing, that I’m sure of.”

“But why should we be so…afraid?” Claire asked.

“Because, there be people here, who would delight in doing the same sort of wickedness…to gain more power over other people. I hope our churchman stays the course, and resists the evil…but one never knows. If we should be tarred by the same brush as Salem, it will behoove us to have no word uttered that might be questionable…especially by a young woman, such as you!”

“Oh.” Claire suddenly felt anxious. She had never entertained any sort of wicked or ungodly thoughts or ideas, had strived to always be a proper and modest daughter. She mentioned this aloud to her parents.

“And we are most grateful of that fact, my young child! You are certainly above reproach. Yet in Salem, no one has been safe from the wicked accusations. It is as if everyone there has gone insane, unable to judge right from wrong, good from evil. I just pray we are spared the disruption!”

“Do you feel that is likely?” Claire asked.

Holcomb sat a moment, puffing on his pipe. “Not really,” he sighed, “That is why you must be so careful!” he advised her.

Claire had continued to stew about this conversation, as she helped her mother clean up the supper dishes. She knew that events in Salem were most dire and difficult, and that many had been jailed, in terrible conditions, to await trial. The possibility that such a fate could befall either herself, or her mother, seemed too horrid to even consider. It seemed even worse, because no one seemed inclined to speak openly about what was actually happening in that place; all she heard were bits and scraps of whispered conversations, the town’s people mindful of her young ears, and wanting to spare her young soul any hearing of the wickedness being discussed.

Claire smiled slightly. The lack of honest and open comment only made her fear worse, as it did the other young people close in age to her, who were all gossiping behind the adults backs, taking what crumbs they overheard, and embellishing them most extravagantly. Perhaps this tendency to add to the story during the retelling was at the heart of the problem in Salem? Claire wondered in a burst of insight. Still, it mattered little what was causing the problem, the fact remained that it was simply dangerous. Not everyone accused in Salem was a person weak in faith…some upright church goers had been accused…no one would be safe, she considered, and what about any who were different, or had any…strange ability? Even if it was a gift from God…would not the person be attacked as having the devil working in them?

This nervous contemplation was having a bad effect on Claire’s insides, and excusing herself, she ran out back to the outhouse. Sitting in its dim, stinky interior, she continued to consider this possibility. What did I see today? Does Enoch have some…ability? Did he actually push Matthew away without touching him? Or are my eyes deceived, fooled by some trick of the light? She considered this. She had been standing, within three paces of the two boys, with a clear line of sight. She had not been the least bit tired or sleepy, had not glanced to the side.

Claire shook her head, upset by the truth of her memory, her insides again seeming to twist in displeasure. The fact that she herself had experienced something similar, had been fascinated to have effected small movements in inanimate objects, was something she had assiduously hidden, instinctively understanding that declaring such odd ability would be certain to cause suspicion and a wickedly intense inquisition. The good people of her community had slight tolerance for anything unusual or that might be suspected of being un-godly.

Claire frowned as another cramp assaulted her lower intestines. Had she been a fool to whisper her comments to Matthew, tacitly suggesting that she understood what he appeared to have done? What if he was frightened, and decided to denounce her as a witch? She understood that in Salem, no proof seemed to be required, no evidence beyond a hysterical denunciation, to cause someone to be subjected to a terrible fate.

She sat, nervous and almost ill, until the last vestige of material had passed out of her rear, considering what she might do, should Matthew actually speak more to her. She wanted desperately to understand what was causing their odd manifestation of strange ability. Had they somehow both been bewitched? She sighed, knowing she could not simple ask anyone for advice.

When she was finished in the privy, and as she slowly walked back to the house, wanting to read, but still disturbed, she considered what God might think of her worries and fears, reminded of His presence by a beautiful sunset.

Dear Lord, strengthen me and guide me…keep me from wickedness and evil. Defend the innocent from all unjust accusations, and forgive those who have strayed into wickedness, making them new and whole again. Show us your mercy, your kindness, and help us to stand against all things unjust and ungodly. Claire prayed simply and wholeheartedly.

She glanced up into the sky, puzzled at her own words. Why did I pray that? Am I going to need that prayer? she suddenly wondered, nervous and feeling much alone.