The stone steps were rough and frigid against my bare feet as I climbed down into the dungeon. The damp, stagnant air clung to my naked skin.
I’d been stripped, doused in cold water, and pricked with needles. The worst part, however, hadn’t been the cold or the pain, or even the humiliation as my naked skin had been examined, inch by inch, for any marks. No- the worst part had been the night before, when they’d found me, dragged me from my home, and torn my child from my arms.
My baby’s cries seemed to echo, ghostlike, in the silent dungeon around me.
They hadn’t bothered to give me any clothes after my examination. They’d merely clapped an iron around my neck and handed the chain to an old woman. She didn’t speak- she’d only pulled on the chain and led me to my cell.
By the time we reached the bottom step, all light had faded. The old woman didn’t stop to light a torch or a candle. She continued to lead me, sure footed and steady, into the darkness.
Soon we stopped, and I heard the clinking of iron, followed by the creak of a door. The old woman thrust me into the room.
There was just a little light now- a candle’s light was flickering in an adjacent cell, and it shone through the bars on the narrow window. There was no candle in my cell, however, and nowhere to put it. There was only a small bed of straw on the floor, and some strange markings on the wall before me.
I stared at the wall as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, and soon I could make out a small spot, within a circle, within a larger oval- a drawing of a huge eye was staring at me.
The old woman coughed and then spoke- her voice was the same pitch as the creaky cell door.
“Tell me, girl; do you wish to die?”
“Of course not,” I said hotly.
The old woman only laughed in reply, and then she shuffled away, slamming the cell door behind her.
I didn’t sleep at all the night before. Instead, I’d sat in my cell, cold and numb, staring at the eye on the wall, which stared at me in return.
Soon after the sun rose the old woman returned for me, and took me back up the stairs. There I met the inquisitor, who introduced himself by branding my skin with a hot iron. It had already been determined that I am a witch- the inquisitor just wanted names, and he seemed ready to supply some if I couldn’t think of any. I didn’t speak. All I could do was think of my child, and weep.
That night, the old woman took me back to my cell. Before she left me, she turned to me and said, “do you wish to die?”
This time, I couldn’t say anything.
The old woman laughed again, and shut the door to the cell, leaving me alone with the eye.
The next day, no one came for me.
I sat in my cell, staring at the eye until I couldn’t stand it any longer. I turned away from it and tried to sleep, but I could feel the eye staring at me. As I grew drowsier, the sensation grew stronger- the eye seemed to burn into my bare skin, like the eye of the inquisitor searching for any mark or stain on my soul.
The closer it looked, the more it burned.
I was wakened at sunset, when the old woman came and opened my cell. She put a bowl of gruel on the floor for me, and watched as I drank it down.
There was so little gruel, and it was so thin, that it only moistened my dry throat a little.
“Do you wish to die?” she repeated.
“No, I don’t. I wish to go home. I wish to see my child,” I said roughly.
The old woman just stared at me, and then left.
They haven’t brought me any food since the day the thumb screws were applied, and I couldn’t use my hands to eat. The inquisitor put the bowl of gruel on the floor, and he and the guard laughed at me while I drank from the bowl like a dog.
Ever since, I’ve been left alone in my cell.
Today the old woman took me up into the courtyard and there I could see the pyre they’ve built for me. Then she led me back into my cell, where the eye waited- ever watchful. The old woman waited while I collapsed onto my straw mat, and then she spoke.
“Do you wish to die?”
For a time I couldn’t speak, and then I managed to croak, “I just want this to be over.”
“What would you give to get your wish?”
Then the old woman pressed a wooden bowl into my hands.
I drank. The bowl was filled with putrid water, but I didn’t care. I drank long and deep, until there was no drop left. Then I let the bowl drop from my aching hands.
I could hear the old woman’s laugh echoing in the cell- echoing in my head. I looked up at the watchful eye even as my vision blurred.
And then, everything went black.