"Tabitha Jane Smith; having been found guilty of withcraft, maleficium and consorting with the Devil, it is the sentence of the court that you be hanged by the neck until dead, and your body burned over a basket of live cats.
"Have you anything to say before sentence is carried out?"
Tabitha shook her head. She tried to meet the Witchfinder's gaze, but the smoke-blackened lenses of his spectacles reflected only her pale, frightened face. Guards seized her arms and dragged her back towards the scaffold. They were rough with her; men she had known all her life, striving to tell the world that while they might have spoken to her, flirted with her, even wooed her, they had been no part of her witchcraft.
John Wood had kissed her often in the time before the Witchfinder came; now he set the rope around her neck and would not meet her eye. Tabitha hung her head in sorrow and prayed silently.
Screams broke in on her thoughts. She looked up and saw that the crowd was streaming from the square, running towards the blazing mill.
John Wood hesitated a moment, then ran towards the mill as well; only the Witchfinder, his two black-clad assistants, and one other man remained. The fourth man wore the robes of a priest, but he stood like a fighter.
"I've come for your prisoner... What is your name?"
"My name is Smith," the Witchfinder replied. "Pastor Smith."
Two shots rang out and the two assistants fell. Smith scanned the rooftops and swept out his pistols. "Do you really think that you can win this fight, Stuber?"
The man called Stuber grinned. "I'm not without an edge," he said, and then he brought up his own pistols with almost inhuman speed.
Four shots; Stuber was hit twice, but Smith somehow moved fast enough to sidestep his enemy's bullets.
Despite his injuries, Stuber gave a great roar and charged at Smith, and as he did so his body seemed to swell and warp, face distorting into a snarling muzzle. He hit the Witchfinder with the force of a rampaging bull and buried him in a frenzy of tearing fangs.
So distracted by this horrific sight was she that Tabitha at first failed to notice the two women who swooped from the rooftops, riding on broomsticks, to cut her loose and bear her away.
Stuber met them at the Witching Pool, the secluded grove with its clear, still pond where Tabitha had been accused of cavorting with demons. There were five of them in all; Stuber and the two witches - Alice Cooper and Sary Goode - and two other warlocks, named John Brown and Ulysses Cole. The two witches had already begun some manner of spell by the time Stuber arrived.
"Is she clean?" he asked.
"Not a trace," Sary assured him. "We can begin."
Stuber nodded and walked over to Tabitha.
"I imagine that right now you're feeling a bit like Joseph; taken by strangers to a strange land?"
"You could say that," Tabitha agrees.
"I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of a woman who accepts what she sees because she's expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth. Do you believe in God, Tabitha?"
She paused for a moment, but despite the clerical garb she felt no urge to lie to him. "No."
"I do not accept that someone else, someone all powerful, should be in control of the world; not a world as bad as this."
Stuber smiled. "I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain. But you feel it. You felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there. Like a splinter in your mind -- driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
"Do you want to know what it is?"
Tabitha just nodded.
"The Witching is everywhere, it is all around us. Even now, in this clearing. You can see it when you look out your window. You can feel it when you go to work, or when go to church or when you pay your tithes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."
"That you are a slave, Tabitha. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Witching is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back."
He reached into his pocket and brought out a small phial of blue liquid. "You take the blue potion and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe." He brought a second bottle from his other pocket. "You take the red potion and you stay in Egypt to learn the truth of your dreams. Remember -- all I am offering is the truth, nothing more."
Tabitha reached out and took one of the phials. With a swift motion, she unstoppered it, and drank down the red potion.
Within moments, her vision began to distort. The witches and warlocks circled the pool, chanting madly. Tabitha stumbled forward and fell into the water, the chant rising into a fever pitch around her. The water closed over her head, clinging, suffocating...
...and she woke in a caul of glass, wrapped in a blanket of cold fluid, with a tube running down her throat.