Every Thanksgiving, I hold a scary hand turkey drawing contest. The winner gets a story by me in which they and their turkey are featured! The 2016 winner was Lucretia Vastea, whose super creepy turkey inspired the following tale. You can check out more of Lucretia's illustrative work on DeviantArt.
They led her to the center of town, to the Burning Tree–that great pole of charred black wood still smoking from its last victim. How the Tree stood after bearing so many fiery executions remained a mystery. The minister called it a sign from the heavens that God’s work was being performed, but there were those who doubted. Lucretia had been one of those doubters, but now she found herself bound to that very stake.
“Look at me!” she hissed as two men knotted the ropes about her waist. “If you’re going to murder me, at least meet my eyes before mine meet God’s!”
But they would not. She wanted to remember that.
“Lucretia Vastea,” barked the magistrate. “You stand convicted of employing the devil in the untimely passing of your husband. You bear guilt for the performance of sacrilegious rites so that your land might prosper unnaturally. Even now, you carry Satan’s mark in the form of a scar upon your left hand! For these and other ill works, you stand before us a sinner whose crimes against God and against all good Christians will now be cleansed through fire. Do you understand your fate?”
“Oh, I understand,” said Lucretia. “I understand a great deal!”
Lucretia understood that she was a wealthy widow with fertile land to her name. Land she’d refused to sell to anyone. She understood that her late husband had been admired by many ladies before he married her, and one of those slighted women now stood as the minister’s goodly wife. She understood just as well that her refusal to marry again had angered everyone who wanted what she possessed and found her free tongue and mind offensive. She wanted to remember all of that until her very last.
What she did not understand was who had been the first to betray her. Who was it that gave her name to the magistrate? That so many should testify against her surprised her little. A fever, once caught, always spread. But who was the one? This was the face she wanted to know. The face she wanted to remember most of all, even as the smoke of her bones mingled with the misty veil of dawn.
“Be there any friend here to speak for this condemned creature?” the minister called to the gathering crowd as the magistrate beside him nodded in a performance of sorrow. “Be there one man or woman to defend her before Our Father casts his heavenly judgment upon her?”
No one spoke. Lucretia knew it wouldn’t matter if anyone did. This part was merely a show of piety to hide the bloodlust the two men held in their hateful hearts. Any complaint would be publically ignored, its speaker’s name recorded for evidence of unholy collusion to be tried should it prove convenient.
A kind face would have been welcome all the same. Lucretia’s nearest neighbors had been her only friends since the passing of her husband. Goodman Holt and his wife Hester had looked in on her regularly. They’d helped with her farm and with the chores of the home. When her trials began, only Goody Holt had visited her in the jail, bringing her warm bread and comforting words.
But the Holts were older with concerns of their own. Lucretia couldn’t fault them for staying behind. Not when their farm had suffered from the blight that mercifully passed over hers. How unfair it seemed that two such loving people should suffer so much. She would tell them that were they here now.
“What say you, Widow Vastea, before you meet your heavenly maker?” the minister addressed her. “Use this moment to ask forgiveness and perhaps the Lord will see that the flames burn less cruelly.”
“Do you mock God, child?” said the minister.
“Oh no,” said Lucretia, digging her fingers into the grooves of her death tree. “No, good sir. I seek forgiveness, but not for the crimes of which I am falsely accused. I seek forgiveness for what it is I will do. Never in my life have I performed the devil’s craft, Minister. I never had the cause. Until now.”
The magistrate shook his head in disgust and motioned for the fires to be lit at her feet, but Lucretia, seeing no reason to hold her tongue now, continued.
“Curse you!” she spat. “Nay, not all of you–you’re damned already by your own foolishness. My curse is saved for the one who gave up my name in deceit. For your own selfish desires you have committed murder here. Celebrate this happy day, sir or madam, for you will have dispatched me. But tomorrow comes the truth. Never will you be rid of me. I shall think of you with every part of me. Every burning inch of my flesh is reserved for the loathing of you, though I know not your face. And whatever limb, whatever piece of my body is last given over to ash is what will hang upon you as a stone about your neck until the end of your days. A mark will it be. A fixed mark! Marring every benefit you receive from my death!”
By the dawn, all that remained of Lucretia Vastea were her bones and the cinders still swirling in the quiet breeze of the now-abandoned square.
Over the hill where the farmlands lay, Goodman Holt and his wife stood at the edge of Lucretia’s land and surveyed the grounds.
“Poor woman,” said Goody Holt.
“These are troubling times, Hester,” said her husband. “Everyone has to get by.”
“So you say, Nathaniel,” said Hester, frowning. Then she shook her head and laughed at herself. “Never mind my gloom. We should see to the animals now. They’ll need tending.”
Goodman Holt and his wife strolled through their late neighbor’s pasture, a vast plain of verdant possibility. They walked, arm in arm, to the barn where Lucretia’s goats awaited their milking. Nathaniel pulled back the latch and heaved open the door, smiling at his wife. It was theirs now. All of it. He had done it for her.
But Hester gasped. “Nathaniel!” she said. “The goats! What’s happened to them?”
Two nanny goats bleated, eager for their breakfast. As they emerged from the darkness of the barn, Hester saw them more clearly. She covered her mouth and screamed.
The goats’ hair, a pure gray only yesterday, was mottled with dozens of crimson hand prints. Hester felt the hair, but the stains would not come away. The hair in those blots had been born red.
“Oh, husband! I fear the devil has been here!” she cried.
But Nathaniel seemed not to hear her. His face had gone white. He could not speak. For rounding the corner was one of the Goodwife Vastea’s turkeys. It had no face. It bore no tail feathers. Its feet were not the feet of a bird. All these were replaced by something like hands. A woman’s hands, growing out of its body in place of its every natural feature. Hester knew them. She’d held a pair like them–the left one scarred–many times in prayer over the last few days.
“God in heaven…” she sobbed. “What have we done?”
The Holts clung to one another and collapsed, wailing. But their pleas for forgiveness would never be heard, for they were stifled by the hands growing up from the mud. The scarred hands of Lucretia Vastea dragging them to the depths of hell.