Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
This is a story about an old Welsh witch.
It was All Hallows’ Day, 1 November 1974, when the people of my village awoke to find that my house had burnt down. My parents’ charred bodies were found and identified, but the investigators were unable to find and identify my remains, and therefore I was classified as a missing person. In addition to the official investigation by the authorities, the village in which I lived organized a search party for me, but there were no traces of my presence anywhere. The front room was the source of the fire. The fire was ruled to be an accident. There were no credible persons of interest for a possible kidnapping. It was as if I had vanished. Most of the village lost hope for me after the first week passed with no news regarding my whereabouts. No one knew what had happened to me in the house fire.
You must be wondering, “If she writing to us now, how is she missing?” The answer to that question is a complicated one. To understand it, I have to tell my story to you, which begins forty–five years ago.
Although I was declared legally dead seven years after my disappearance, I felt dead for years before that. My father was laid off from his job in late 1973, and he had taken to the drink as a means to cope. Alcohol was the fuel for the fire that was his anger. It would enkindle his wrath against me in particular. I was spanked as a child, but the occasional smack on the bum evolved into an almost daily routine of being beaten by Dad. Mum knew about the abuse, but she did nothing to stop it from happening. She was more concerned with the public image of the family than for my welfare. I was regularly subjected to physical, emotional, and verbal abuse by my father and mother. I did not know why I was the subject of their abuse. As an adolescent girl, I believed that the abuse inflicted on me was my fault. Why else would both of my parents hate me unless it was somehow my fault?
I was a fourteen-year-old girl living with my parents in Catbrook, Monmouthshire, Wales. It was the last day of school before the autumn half-term break when Michael Rees approached me at lunch. I would occasionally dream about a life outside of my abusive home in which I was a wife and mother, loved and loving. My dreams were a sunbeam in the overcast sky of my life. I had a crush on Michael, but I was not allowed to date at my age. I wish that I could do things that other girls can do. He asked me if I would like to go to a party on Halloween. I told him that I would have to ask permission from my parents, but that I would like to go with him. In my heart, I knew that I would not be able to attend the party with him, but there remained a flame of hope within me. Dream on, silly dreamer.
When I returned home from school, I prepared to ask Mum if I could go to the party, but she was not home from work. As I turned around, I walked into Dad, who was standing in the doorway of the kitchen.
“What are you doing?” Dad asked.
“I was looking for Mum,” I answered. “Is she still at work?”
“No,” Dad answered. “She went to the grocer’s. Why?”
He slurred his words as he spoke to me.
“I wanted to ask permission to go to a party with Michael Rees.”
“Why wouldn’t you ask me?”
“I didn’t want to bother you.”
I stepped backward as he stepped forward, and he asked, “Why would that bother me?”
“I don’t know…” I stammered.
As I attempted to step backward, Dad grabbed me by the shoulders, and he shook me. Please, stop.
“You’re a woman now,” Dad said. “Aren’t you?”
He shook me, and then he threw me onto the kitchen floor. I attempted to stand up, but he pulled me up by my hair.
“You’re not going to that party,” Dad said. “Go to your room.”
After he released my hair from his grip, I ran out of the house, and I hopped on my bicycle. I cried as I rode away from Dad, who was calling for me from the front door. I began to ride in the direction of Monmouth. It was during my ride that I discovered her. She was abandoned in the fields of Lydart, a hamlet between Catbrook and Monmouth. Who knew how many days she had endured without food and water? People can be so cruel. I placed her in my basket as I rode home. When I arrived home, I walked into the house, and I saw that Mum and Dad were sitting in the front room.
Before I was able to say anything, Mum asked, “Where did you go?”
“I was riding my bicycle,” I answered.
After a brief pause, Mum said, “Your father and I have reached a decision, Sara. You are not going to that party. It is best for you to stay home.”
I felt another piece of my heart break with her words, but I cannot say that they were unexpected. However, I focused my attention on what I found rather than my disappointment, and I introduced my find to my parents, whose eyes widened in surprise.
“Where did you find her?”
“Why did you bring her back here?”
“May I keep her?”
With a tsk of her tongue, Mum said, “Are you prepared to be responsible for her?”
“Yes, Mum,” I answered. “She will be my pet.”
Although Dad mumbled expletives, Mum reluctantly gave me permission to keep her. The cat that I held in my arms meowed, and I set her down on the floor so that I could prepare a dinner of tuna fish for her.
“I will have to buy proper food for you tomorrow, Princess,” I said. After I mulled it over, I decided that her adoptive name would be “Princess.” As she ate her food, I petted her black fur, and I said, softly, “My Princess.”
As I prepared for bed that night, I heard Dad shouting in the front room. I walked downstairs, and I saw that the family portrait that was hung over the mantle was crooked. Dad attempted to realign the picture frame, but it returned to its crooked position. Before Dad was able to recompose himself, the picture suddenly flew off of the wall into his face. The glass shattered, and Dad shouted in pain. I screamed, and Mum went to Dad to administer to his wounds. What’s going on? I flinched as Princess rubbed herself against my legs. I was looking down at her when Mum instructed me, “Bring me a package of bandages.”
“Bring me a package of bandages, Sara,” Mum repeated.
After I retrieved the package of bandages from the loo, I gave them to Mum, and I was sent to my room. How could a picture fly off the wall like that? As I mulled it over, I delicately took off my school uniform and put on my white nightdress. I noticed that Princess was watching me intently. I gave her a pat on the head absentmindedly, and then I laid down in bed. Princess jumped up on the bed, and she curled herself up at my feet. She purred as she slept, and I was soon lulled to sleep myself.
On the following day, I bicycled to Monmouth to buy supplies for Princess — food, a litter box with litter, toys, and a collar with a bell attached to it. I spent the entirety of the meager allowance that my parents gave me. When I returned home, I readied the house for Princess. I put her food in the pantry, her litter box in the loo, and her toys in my bedroom. I held her in my lap as I placed the collar around her neck. After I readied the house for Princess, I did my household chores. While Dad slept in his recliner, his face bandaged, I gathered the empty bottles that surrounded him. One of the bottles dropped out of my hands, and it shattered on the kitchen floor. Oh, no. Dad woke up, and he stomped into the kitchen. He had taken off his belt, and he smacked me in the face with it before he grabbed me, and he held me across his knees as he belted me. I attempted to escape from his grip, but he smacked me in the face again before he continued to mete out my punishment. After I was punished, Dad watched me as I cleaned up the broken bottle. He returned to his alcoholic stupor with another bottle while I finished the rest of my chores, and I limped back to my bedroom, where I sat on my bed. Princess had followed me, and she jumped up on my bed. As I laid down, I held her close, and I fell asleep.
When I awoke in the morning, Mum urged me out of bed to prepare for Mass. We attended the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each Sunday at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Monmouth.
“Follow me,” Mum said, and I followed her to my parents’ bedroom. She sat me down at her vanity stand.
Before I was able to say anything, Mum asked, “Would you like for me to do your makeup?”
I was momentarily confused, but I answered, “Yes,” after I looked at myself in the mirror.
I winced as Mum applied powder to my face with her powder puff, and thereafter she applied rouge. My cheeks still felt tender to the touch, but Mum was as gentle as she could be. She finished doing my makeup with an application of pink lipstick.
“Do I look okay?” I asked.
“Yes,” Mum answered. “What are you going to wear?”
“I don’t know…” I trailed off.
We returned to my bedroom, and Mum went through my wardrobe. She retrieved a blue jumper and a white dress from the wardrobe, laying them on the bed. Before she left me to dress, she said, emphatically, “Wear the jumper.”
As I dressed for Mass, I heard voices from downstairs.
“What did you think you were doing?” Mum asked.
“She needed to learn how to be more careful,” Dad answered.
“What will the people at church think?” Mum asked. “She has to wear makeup.”
I could not hear the rest of the conversation, but Mum and Dad raised their voices before Mum called for me. In a hurry, I put on my white mantilla, and I went to Mass with my parents. After we returned home from Mass, I fed Princess her first meal of the day. I was escorted upstairs by Mum, who removed my makeup with her cold cream. As Mum said, “We mustn’t show our flaws.” After she removed my makeup, she sent me to my room. I decided to listen to one of my records — Eagles by The Eagles. I would listen to music as often as I could to take away my pain and relieve my suffering. The music would drown out my depressive thoughts, and the lyrics would take me to a world where my father and mother and my depression could no longer do me harm.
Raven hair and ruby lips / Sparks fly from her fingertips / Echoed voices in the night / She’s a restless spirit on an endless flight.
Princess entered the room as I listened to “Witchy Woman,” and she jumped up on my bed. She curled herself up on my pillows as I sat on the floor, and she lay there as I played the song, “Nightingale.” I picked her up, and I danced with her in my arms.
Wait a minute, here comes my baby / Singing like a nightingale / Coming my way / Down along that devastation trail / Well, let the fires burn / And let the floods return / We will prevail.
As the song ended, Dad appeared in my doorway, and I turned off the record player. I set Princess down on the floor, and she stood by my feet.
“What are you doing?” Dad asked.
“I was listening to my records…” I answered. “I’m sorry.”
“No noise,” Dad said.
After he reprimanded me, Dad walked downstairs. We ate dinner in the dining room, and I fed Princess her third and final meal of the day. I finished my dinner, and I asked to be excused from the table.
“No,” Mum said. “You will wait until your father finishes his dinner.”
After Dad finished his dinner, I was allowed to go to bed. Before I was able to walk upstairs, Dad grabbed me by the arm, and he said, “What do you say?”
The light fitting on the ceiling of the dining room flickered.
I fixed the skirt of my dress, and I said, respectfully, “I love you, Mum and Dad.”
Dad smiled, and I could smell the drink on his breath. He replied, “Good girl.”
The light fitting on the ceiling burned brightly, and then it exploded. I gasped as Mum and Dad turned their heads around, and then they slowly turned back to me.
“What did you do?” Dad asked.
“I didn’t do anything,” I answered. “How did it happen?”
“You know how it happened.”
“No, I don’t…”
As I was speaking, Dad smacked me in the face. Princess approached us, and she hissed at Dad, who raised his hand to her. I leapt in front of Princess, and I was smacked in the face again for defending her.
“That is enough,” Mum said, and Dad nodded his head.
“Go to your room.”
I walked upstairs, and I entered my bedroom. I took off my Sunday best, and I put on my white nightdress. Princess followed me into my room, and again she watched me as I prepared for bed. As I laid down in bed, I remembered that I had not telephoned Michael and told him that I would not be able to attend the party with him. A wave of depressive thoughts washed over me. No one will ever want you again. With tears in my eyes, I closed my door, and I went to my wardrobe, where I retrieved a razor blade, a hand towel, and a package of bandages. The blood that I shed from my forearm felt like it unencumbered my soul of some of its many sorrows. I covered the cuts with bandages, and I returned all of it to my wardrobe before I laid back down in bed, and I fell asleep.
On the following day, I telephoned Michael, and I informed him that my parents said that I could not attend the party with him. He was disappointed, but he said that he understood. I spent most of the day in my room. No one came to check in on me, but Princess was my constant companion, and she never left my side. I looked into her eyes, and I said, “I love you,” and it seemed for a moment that she was going to respond. It must be my imagination.
It was not until the following day that I emerged from my room, and I ate breakfast with my parents.
“Your father and I will be attending a party tomorrow evening,” Mum said.
“Dr. and Mrs. Hughes are holding a party at their house.”
“May I go to the party?”
“No,” Mum answered. “You will stay home.”
I felt my eyes well with tears, but I focused on the bowl of cereal before me. If I cried, I would be punished by Dad for hurting Mum’s feelings, and therefore I nodded my head, and I continued to eat breakfast, forcing the cereal down with my tears. After breakfast, I decided to study for when school recommenced. I had high marks, but Mum stressed the importance of studying regardless. I stopped studying for the night to feed Princess, and play with her. After I played with Princess, I prepared for bed. As I prepared for bed, I took off my clothes, and a stream of blood trickled down my legs. I looked at the drops of blood on my hands, and I felt the beginnings of a panic attack. I was aware that I had just experienced my first menstrual period, but I was afraid to approach Mum with this information. Nevertheless, I approached my parents’ bedroom, and I knocked on the door. Dad was in the shower, and Mum was preparing for bed at her vanity stand.
“May I speak with you?”
Before I could say anything, Mum noticed the blood on my hands, and she reached into a drawer of her vanity stand. Her eyes were impassive, but her face betrayed her revulsion toward the menstrual blood on my fingers. I wish I could do this on my own.
“Wear them,” Mum said. She handed me a package of sanitary towels, which I took from her. “Is there anything else?”
“No,” I answered, and I left my parents’ bedroom. There was neither advice nor guidance nor instruction from her on what I was supposed to do. I returned to my bedroom, and I gently placed the sanitary towel in my underwear, and I laid down in bed, and I tried to fall asleep. Was I a woman now? I did not know. Did it matter?
I heard Dad shouting from my parents’ bedroom, and I sat up in bed. As I listened carefully, I could hear Mum and Dad speaking in their bedroom.
“What happened to you?” Mum asked.
“I was in the shower,” Dad answered. “And the water turned to blood.”
“The water turned to blood, Elizabeth.”
Blood? I could almost feel it trickling down my legs again. What was going on? As I laid back down, I recalled a reading from the Book of Exodus, which we read at St. Mary’s while learning the Ten Commandments. Before Moses was able to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God inflicted ten plagues on the Egyptians to convince the Pharaoh to free the Israelites. The first plague was read to us by Sr. Maria, who taught the Catechism class.
“And the water of the river turned into blood. And the fishes that were in the river died: and the river corrupted, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river, and there was blood in all the land of Egypt.”
As I tossed and turned in bed, I could still hear Mum and Dad speaking in their bedroom, and their words leaked into my mind like ink in my hypnagogic state.
“It is impossible.”
“It is possible because it just happened to me.”
“I don’t know,” Dad answered. “But I think it’s her doing.”
I could not understand the strange happenings in my house. Were we cursed by God? Before I was able to think of another explanation, I fell asleep, and my parents’ voices faded away. Or was I cursed by God?
On the following day, All Hallows’ Eve, 31 October 1974, I bicycled to Monmouth to buy sweets for the holiday. I bought a wide variety of sweets for me, and I also bought a treat for Princess. Although it was not as popular in the United Kingdom as it was in the United States, I loved Halloween. You could be anybody that you wanted to be, even if that meant that you wanted to be nobody.
As the day journeyed into night, I prepared to eat sweets while I watched television. Trick–or–treating was not common in the United Kingdom, and therefore I had to entertain myself for the night while my parents attended the party of Dr. and Mrs. Hughes. At 7:30 P. M. Mum informed me that she and Dad were leaving for the party.
“I hope that you have a good time,” I said.
“Thank you,” Mum replied. “You can be nice when you want to be.”
Before she and Dad left, Mum said that they would return by midnight. It was a couple of hours later that I finished watching the programs on television in honor of Halloween, and I prepared myself for bed. I took off my clothes, and I put on my white nightdress. Princess joined me in bed, and I fell asleep with her by my side. I awoke when my parents returned home near 3 A. M. Both of them sounded intoxicated, and Mum laughed as Dad talked to her. As I attempted to return to sleep, Dad called for me.
I opened my eyes. Why is he calling for me? I got out of bed, and I went downstairs. What’s going on?
“Where were you?”
“I was in bed,” I answered. “Why?”
“What is this?” Dad asked, his hands indicating the sweet wrappers on the sofa, which I had forgotten to dispose of before I went to bed. Before I was able to answer him, his hand connected with my cheek in a painful smack.
“Please,” I begged. “I’m sorry.”
“Not yet,” Dad said. He grabbed me by the hair, and he began to hit me. I remember being able to look into his blue eyes as he beat me. There was no other emotion behind them apart from unadulterated rage. The alcohol had taken everything else away. I was certain that he was finally going to kill me. And all over sweets.
This is it, I thought to myself. This is how I die.
As my father landed another smack on my crimson cheek, I heard Mum speaking, and Dad released my hair from his grip. There were shouts, but I could not discern the words of their argument. Mum separated Dad and me like an angel intervening in the affairs of mankind.
The issue with that comparison is that Mum was not an angel.
“What are you doing?” Mum asked.
She slurred her words like Dad.
“Look at that mess,” Dad answered. “It’s her doing.”
“Did you do this, Sara?”
I nodded my head, and Mum asked, “Why would you make such a mess?”
“It’s Halloween,” I said.
“I don’t care.”
“Clean up your mess,” Dad said as he threw me onto the floor. He approached me as I attempted to stand up, and he began to kick me.
Before he landed another kick, he was thrown backward into Mum as if he was pushed.
“Did you do that?”
With my eyes widened in shock, I shook my head, but he raised his hand to smack me. Dad was unable to smack me before he was thrown backward again, tripping over Mum, who fell back onto the floor. He stood up, and he unfastened his belt to beat me with it. I screamed, and all of the lights in the house burned brightly, and then they exploded. What happened? Mum and Dad looked around the darkened house before they settled their eyes on me.
With a hollow laugh, Mum said, “She’s a witch.”
Before I was able to say anything, Dad shouted, “Witch! …got Satan’s power.”
“You’ve sold your soul, haven’t you?” Dad asked.
“No,” I answered.
“It’s the reason for all of the strange happenings recently,” Dad said. “Isn’t it? You’ve sold your soul.”
Was I a witch? I shook my head as Dad removed his belt, and he approached me with it in hand, and I closed my eyes. Could I be a witch without knowing it? I dreaded the thought, and I heard the cracking of bones and tearing of flesh. I am cursed by God. Mum screamed, and Dad dropped his belt onto the floor. I opened my eyes to see them looking at an adult woman standing in front of me. I could fully see the woman, illumined by the light of the full moon. She had blonde hair and brown eyes, and she was wearing a black dress, various rings, and fingerless gloves. She was enveloped by a black shawl, embroidered with flowers. She wore a necklace with a bell attached to it.
Before they were able to say anything, Mum and Dad burst into flames. I was horrified as my parents fell to the floor, their flesh melting from their skeletal frames. As much as I was horrified, I was also relieved. They cannot hurt me anymore. The fire began to spread through the house, and the woman guided me upstairs to my bedroom.
“Who are you?” I asked.
She smiled as she approached me and caressed my tear-stained face, saying, softly, “My Princess.” Her voice was ethereal. Raspy, but graceful, and her eyes emanated love.
She nodded her head, and then she embraced me with the tenderness of a mother, a sister, and a friend that I had never known heretofore. After she embraced me, she held my hands in hers.
“What are you?”
“I have come to make you better,” she answered. “And I have come to take you away.”
Tears welled up in my eyes as I asked, “What about my parents?”
“I have seen what they have done to you,” she said. “They have tried to break you.”
There was a brief pause before she continued, “You have not let them. Your great love is a power in and of itself. And if you come with me, you can learn all of the wonders of witchcraft.”
“You were a cat…” I trailed off. “Why?”
“I knew you long before you found me in the fields of Lydart. If I was going to save you, I had to be inconspicuous.”
“Why didn’t you take me away before now?”
“I had to be certain that this life was not for you,” she answered.
“My friends…” I trailed off. “I will never see them again.”
“You must make that sacrifice,” she said. “However, it is ultimately your decision. Will you come or will you stay?”
After a brief pause, I said, tearfully, “Take me.”
With her hand in mine, we leapt from my window, taken by the wind.
It has been forty-five years, and I still live in rural Wales with the witch, who taught me the art of witchcraft. I am now also a white witch. Although she has not aged in appearance, I have, but I have aged at a slower rate than normal as a result of the powers with which she endowed me. You must be wondering, “Why is she telling her story now?” The answer to that question is a less complicated one. In the form of a bird, I witnessed recently in Monmouth the abuse inflicted on an adolescent boy by his parents. I have all of it planned. I have not transformed since the light of the last full moon. The next full moon is approaching. As the boy walks through the fields of Lydart, he will find a skylark with a broken wing, which he will rescue to nurse back to health.
And I will take him away.
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