The Witch of Wellfleet
Fear of abandonment and unprocessed emotions lead to catastrophe and an eternity of regret.
Every morning she waited at the window for his return. The view would be spectacular, were it not for the ominous clouds ever threatening rain. She splayed her palm against the cold window, willing him to come, but a constant melancholy hung over her, and her powers grew weak and useless. A vibration plunged under her skin as the wind waged war against the petty wooden structure. She removed her hand.
Inside, her house was quiet; no sound came from within its walls. But outside, the sea spluttered and spat flecks of briny water into the air, misting into clouds tinged with stagnant seaweed so pungent it penetrated the walls, taking up rent in her nose. In her home. In her heart. And, like the sea, a storm raged inside her, burning the edges of her soul like the flickering of wild flames.
He promised her riches upon his return. Was he disloyal? Was it mere trickery he uttered into her ears? She wondered if he’d have come back by now if he knew of the slow, steady swelling ‘neath her skirts.
An hour passed. She stared out into the salty abyss, squinting and scanning the foreboding horizon for any signs of tall masts bobbing their way toward the coastline. Ships of ebony and ivory navigating nauseating waves over the murky depths.
After arming her body from the imminent frigid air with a hot cup of linden tea, she wrapped herself in a woolen shawl and went, as she did daily, to stand on the cliff’s edge. There, she stood motionless as the wind tore through her hair, knotting it into fibrous ropes. Her eyes never left the shadowy sea, never stopped searching for vessels sailing in from the south.
As the waves crashed into the perilous shore below, she remained firmly planted in her spot, intently focused on the blackness of the ocean. Kelp slithered like snakes on the surface, collecting in swaths of green. Turbid water flowed over the rocky beach, etching wavy lines in the sand, then skittering back bubbly over the pebbles like little spiders.
But the rough and churning waters were no match for her seething disposition. The relentless ocean roar was soundless compared to the tsunami of emotions boiling and overflowing inside her like an erupting volcano.
She was angry.
With every passing day, the madness grew. It spread like currents through her chest, carved out space in the canals that were her veins, ripened hot in her belly. The chaos that was her mind screamed and cried in mournful sobs.
Heavy with the burden of an impossible future, she refused to believe he wasn’t coming back for her. He promised, after all. And a man was worth nothing if not for his word.
Sometimes, she’d stare for so long she’d see a ship that wasn’t there. A ghost ship, hovering over the somber surface, not quite touching the waves. Never to reach the shore. With narrowed eyes she’d scour the giant swells wondering if it had gone under or if it was her imagination. A conjuring of apparitional illusions.
Eventually, with the icy air and her tired feet leaden with the weight of a growing seed, she ventured back inside to quiet her mind and settle her turbulent soul. In the house, it was silent. In the house, she could breathe.
In the tumultuous months that followed, her body stretched and sagged. Her hunger knew no bounds, but she had little to eat besides what she could forage in the forest nearby. Ever since she’d been ostracized from the town, she was completely and utterly alone. It was a good thing she had her wits about her. She was smarter than all of them, she decided. Animals talked to her, a flash of her eye would send someone into a frenzy, and she could harness the power of the wind with her two small hands. Exceptional qualities, to be sure.
As a child, people spoke evil about her strange abilities. Her parents were shunned, and she was belittled, which only fed her animosity. She had come to rely only on herself, for no other could be trusted.
Until she met Sam Bellamy.
Call it sorcery, call it a spell, call it whatever you will, but she and Bellamy were matched the moment she saw him disembarking his ship. For weeks they courted, each enchanted by the other. Inseparable.
They would walk and talk for hours in the apple orchards, stealing a touch here, sneaking a kiss there, dreaming of a life together. He was strong and manly. Not like any other man she’d ever known. With his dark hair tied neatly back in a black ribbon, he didn’t look like a typical pirate. But a pirate he certainly was, with the sword and dueling pistols to prove it.
Although he was confident and well-mannered, her parents did not approve of their courtship. But that was no matter, for she didn’t approve of her parents’ disapproval, and she knew they couldn’t stop her from being with the man who’d stolen her heart.
They spoke late into the nights about running away together. But then one day, he said he was leaving.
“I will sail south, my dear, and bring you back more riches than you can imagine.” His voice was smooth as silk, his English accent strong.
“Will you not invite me along?”
“I cannot. The seas are no place for a woman.”
“But I am no ordinary woman,” she reminded him.
“Of that, I have no doubt. But I fear for your safety, and I could never forgive myself if anything happened to you. Let me sail with my men, and when I return, I am yours.”
When I return, I am yours.
That promise never came to pass.
Instead, she lived alone in a shack on the hill, watching over the stormy seas she used to love, hand resting on the bump protecting their child. Her hope dwindled a little more with the passing of each moonless night. And in the spring, the child was born.
She breathed through the surges, the waves of pain, tightening and loosening of her muscles, like the ebb and flow of the tide. Alone in her most vulnerable state. When it was over, she held her son in her arms and called him Samuel, after his father. The father she feared he would never meet. And in the coming days and weeks, she would take Samuel to her breast as she gazed out over the gloomy seas, waiting.
For a while, her nerves were calmed for the sake of the child. But as the sleepless nights multiplied, so, too, did her desire for revenge in her lonely state. The will to repress the hatred that brewed for her beloved had diminished.
When the townsfolk came to take her baby and jail her for treacherous and adulterous acts, she unleashed an impetuous catastrophe. The skies grew vile. Clouds pregnant with rain threatened a sinister deluge.
As the citizens of Wellfleet approached her dilapidated hut, she murmured hushed words, a foreign incantation of foul intentions, her voice getting louder with each clap of thunder. A great Nor’easter wind blew in, snapping branches off trees and thrashing them about the land. As her eyes rolled white to the back of her head, a sudden flood of water was released from the heavens. Yet she was safe, standing in the uneven doorway of her tiny shelter, arms outstretched in communication with some invisible being, unknown and unwelcome by the town.
The people ran for cover. Some were even picked up and blown away, nothing more than feathers. All except for one. Old man Tucker, who held his hat to his head, bracing against the forceful gales, defying and denouncing the woman who towered over him in her long, black skirts and flowing hair.
“Stop this sorcery at once,” he yelled.
But she remained strong and steadfast, larger than life, grounded in her entryway. Tempestuous as the winds and weather she invoked. She ignored his plea.
“You are hereby ordered by His Excellency the Governor and by the grace of God Himself to cease your witchery immediately and be brought to the jail of Barnstable until a trial determines the justice that shall be lain upon you.” He said it all in one breath, his words carrying away on the gusts that blew around him, dust and debris nearly swallowing him whole. Getting no response, he cowered, running away to safety with the others.
She continued her bewitching chant, her voice now as deafening as the sea itself. A tidal wave surged inshore, blanketing the beach with frothing dark waters and menacing tendrils, dragging away anything in its path. She was so focused on causing a ruckus, she didn’t notice the three tall ships dotting the sunless horizon, hurdling over unyielding waves.
When the seas had calmed, and morning was nigh, one-hundred-four bodies did they find washed up on the sand and stone. Two ships went down, one of which carried Bellamy. He was gone, and she, broken.
No one saw Bellamy after that fateful night. Legend has it he drowned with his ship, along with all the riches he had promised her.
In the wake of her wrath, she was entranced in tragedy. Ashamed. The baby died of starvation, and she was taken to the local jail to rot for the unproven murder of her child. She had no will to live, but for the small hope that somehow, some way, Bellamy had survived and escaped. It was possible, after all. Perhaps he floated out to sea, climbing safely aboard his third ship on her way back down south. Was there still a chance he would free her from this misery?
Her sentence cut short, she was released from jail. She returned to the quiet little house by the sea, destined to wander the lands in search of her beloved. To this day, she waits daily by the window in silence, roams weightless to the cliff, a spectral figure eternally watching the ocean, studying the swirling waters of the unforgiving Atlantic for any signs of billowing masts. Any day now he’ll return, rich as a king, and take her away, his bride-to-be, the Witch of Wellfleet.