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Love and Lyte,
Goody Johnson heard the screams from across the field, close as though they were coming from within her own home. She hugged her son Bartholomew closer and gave a knowing, pitying smile to her husband. The mistress of the house rocked her son back and forth, singing hymns and rubbing her pregnant belly. The stoic Goodman Johnson leaned back in his simple wooden chair, eyes closed, and took in a long pull from his pipe. The three could do nothing but wait out the night hoping that the dying man went soon and that he didn’t bother showing up after.
It was only the week prior that Eli Hastings, a local blacksmith, had been dragged out into the town square and accused of dealing with the Devil. The charge was leveled by Goody Perne and — a little less so — by her husband Goodman Perne. Their daughter Mercy had died a most gruesome death, having been burned alive while trapped in their ramshackle barn.
The Perne family claimed that their daughter was the victim of Hastings, who was more than displeased at Goodman Perne. The Mister Perne had shamed the man at his home during a dinner party and gone on to publicly slander the blacksmith’s work and question his sanity. Perne had been known as a proud, vain man, and the townspeople had been used to hearing him complain loudly of this shopkeeper or that’s work. Most thought it was due to his inability to pay his bill on time, but none thought that this time as the charred remains of Mercy Perne were dug out of a burned barn and carried through town for burial.
Eli Hastings had been a new addition to the town, having been somewhat of a traveling tradesman. He would stay in a place for a while, mending what could be mended, making what needed made, and then he moved on. Despite what words Perne would say against the man’s work, he was considered by most to be a man of profound gifts. Try as men might, they could never find a seam or other marker to denote where his metal was welded together. It was said that the chains you bought from Hastings were the strongest you would ever own, as they were seemingly fully formed and had no natural breaking point.
The man kept to himself. He had no wife, and no real property to speak of, nor did he attend church services. This would have been seen as a problem much sooner had he not been such a skilled craftsman and otherwise not been a bother on his community.
However, there had been odd talk here and there surrounding the blacksmith. He had sold a number of nails to Goodman Greenhill, a boulder of a man who was said to keep his wife at home as he made a habit of laying hands on her. Goody Greenhill, however, had been the one to procure the nails from Hastings, and Hastings had made inquiries later that day after her health due to the fact that the woman seemed both exhausted and possibly bruised. It was Goodman Greenhill, however, that met the blacksmith at their doorway and attempted to assuage Hastings that, indeed, his wife was in perfect health but that she had simply taken a spill in the barn when milking the cows. Hastings offered the man an additional package of nails, saying that they had been left behind by his wife.
Later, Greenhill would claim that, while some of the nails were brilliantly made, others seemed to split the wood when hammered. No matter where he hammered, the nail would break apart the lumber causing him great distress and a near injury. Others said that the man must have mistaken his axe for his hammer and let the man be. The less that was spoken of the Greenhill household the better.
Nothing sinister was ever said about Hastings, due to the fact that the man never seemed anything but apologetic on those rare times when anyone ever was displeased with his work. He offered replacements at no cost and was quick to turn around repair orders.
Nobody ever suspected Hastings of foul play until the day he offered to mend the plough of Nathaniel Heyrick, a young man who had been gifted a plot of land by his parents and several strong horses. Though, why anyone would give the young master Heyrick livestock was anyone’s guess, as he had never done anything in his youth to indicate a knowledge of or interest in farming. It was said that while his family had been well off, they had apparently not been able to afford to send the man to law school as he had wanted. Therefore they had chosen to gift him the land instead in hopes that he would marry a girl from a wealthier family whose father might like to see a son-in-law that could already provide for himself at a young age.
The story was that Hastings had been on his way to town when he passed the young Heyrick’s field and witnessed the young man whipping his horse rather mightily because it would not pull the plough. The horse was quite distressed, with several large gashes and whelps along his haunches. Hastings had quickly intervened, explaining that the plough might be to blame. After carefully looking over the tool, he concluded that, indeed, the item needed repair and offered to do the work if he could take the stubborn horse off the man’s hands. The young would-be farmer agreed to the terms, happy to be rid of the animal.
The next day, Hastings brought back the plough and gave it to Heyrick. However, the man’s field continued to remain untouched, as when he attempted to attach the repaired item to one of his horses, the steed leapt across the field, dragging the man behind and leaving the plough where it lay. Heyrick swore that the plough spooked his livestock, and that something had been done to it by the blacksmith.
After that, the blacksmith’s business began drying up. Townspeople were too spooked by the happening at Heyrick’s farm to patronize his storefront. Of course that did not preclude anyone from doing business with the man, as his work was without peer.
Time went by and it happened that Samuel Perne was in need of shoes for his horse. Knowing that Eli Hastings was still the best blacksmith in town, he chose to go to the man’s house at night to ask for a set of horseshoes so as not to be seen giving his business to a man under suspicion. Hastings agreed to make the shoes, and he showed up the next night at Perne’s home. However, Samuel and his wife had unexpected guests, and when Hastings showed up at their door, Goodman Perne made a rather boisterous act of ridiculing the man in front of his company and sending him on his way.
Perne showed up at Hastings’ home three nights later with a half-hearted apology asking what Hastings expected him to do and saying what a favor he was doing the blacksmith by giving him any business at all. Hastings gave the man a shiny set of horseshoes that seemed to be made more from silver than from iron. The set was so brilliant and bright that Perne was sure that none had ever been seen before nor would be since. They agreed that Perne would nail the shoes, so as to avoid Hastings being seen at his home again. The blacksmith also provided a set of shoe nails, equally as bright and silver as the shoes. The nail heads each seemed to have a small mark of some kind, which the smith said he only put on that work that he considered his best.
When Goodman Perne set to nailing the shoes to his horse, his daughter Mercy stood enraptured nearby, holding a small chick. Mercy Perne asked a number of questions of her father, until the man became annoyed and shooed his daughter away, imploring her to go find someplace else to be. She trotted off with her pet chick to the hay loft and promptly fell asleep. As Samuel was hammering the small but sturdy nails, his mind wandered to the image of Eli Hastings. That stupid loner of a man had thought him rude for sending him off when he dared to show up at his home when he had guests. The poor fool was lucky that Perne had even offered him money, as much of the town had written him off as strange at best, and a whispered sorcerer at worst. But Perne knew better. He knew that the man was strange and quiet and could do no real harm except to leech off the charity of good men like himself.
At this thought, it was as though the nails became hot in his hands. With every strike of his hammer, sparks began flying off and the silvery nails and shoe began to glow a dull red with heat. His horse became distressed and attempted to pull its leg away from the shoe, but it had already been loosely attached and as the horse pulled free, the shoe went with it. The horse began pawing the ground, attempting to rid himself of the increasingly hot shoe. Goodman Perne finally had to drop the small bag of nails as they were too hot to hold any longer. They fell into some loose hay, which ignited and began burning quickly.
Rather frightened, the man attempted to pour his horse’s water bucket on the fire, but to no avail. The bag containing the nails had gone up in flames and the fire would not be averted by water. The horse was now running around the barn, bucking wildly in pain. Goodman Perne was frightened for his own life and left the horse to the mercy of God and ran from the barn. He was almost inside his home when he heard the distinct, high-pitched screams of his daughter.
Blood drained from his face as he realized that she must have still been inside the barn, but when he turned to go back and get her he saw to his horror that the entire barn was ablaze. His wife came running from the house after she heard the man crying out to his daughter. The woman fainted at the sight. Transfixed with pain and helplessness, he could do nothing but wail and weep at the sound of his young daughter’s screams as she burned until, finally, the screaming was no more and there was only the slowly smoking remains of his barn.
Hastings was tried as a witch and convicted easily enough. There was no one that would defend him, as he had never bothered to make friends of the townspeople. There was no need to excommunicate him from the church as he had never bothered to join. The only problem was executing him. When he was hanged, the rope gave way and he just tumbled to the ground below. When they attempted to burn him, the wood wouldn’t light. Drowning him only seemed to upset the man, and through it all he remained quiet. That is when someone suggested pressing him.
He was laid on the ground with a large pallet of wood placed on top of him. As stones were added, he was asked to repent of his sins. This had done no good in his previous executions, as the man sat in silence, glowering at the masses gathered to watch him die in agony. This time, however, the crowd heard him speak.
A voice, muffled, spoke from under the pallet, “And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.”
The crowd gasped.
The preacher asked “Are you speaking the words of our Lord in his Book of Acts?”
To which the muffled voice responded, “I am washed, I am sanctified, and I am justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
“Surely,” cried the preacher. “only the Devil himself would seek to twist the words of our Lord in such a way. Begone, you Devil, and to Hell with you!”
The men gathered began heaving larger and larger stones onto the pallet. But with each stone, the muffled voice of Hastings would cry out with ever more verses on the resurrection until, finally, with great force, he screamed, “You who seek to end my life will not succeed! I shall rise again, and I shall be the fire that burns you all!”
With that, the men threw stones onto the pile until the crowd could hear the cries of the man who had stood silent through a hanging, a burning, and a drowning. With each pained moan, the masses could almost feel his agony as he was crushed under the ever-increasing weight of the stones. Women in the crowd began to swoon. Men bled from their noses or complained of chest pains. The crowd dispersed, crying witchcraft, until the only one left was Goodman Johnson, who had been charged with finishing the task. He remained until the last stone was placed, and said a prayer for the dying man.
Hastings’ wails could be heard all through the night. The man should have been crushed to death hours ago, but it seemed his cursed soul would simply not allow the man the rest of death.
Goodman Johnson finished the pull of his pipe and looked at his wife, pregnant with their second child and said, “I heard him say, before I left his side, that he would be reborn. Poor, crazed wretch of a man. I truly think his only crime was being mad.”
At that moment the wailing across the field stopped. The man was dead. Just then candles on their dining table flickered to life. Johnson was startled as his wife cried out, looked down, and saw that her water had broken.