Mr Stabs opened his eyes and lifted his head from his chest. As Stabs came to, he registered the pressure of two pairs of hands, holding him upright. The owners of the hands released their grip, when they realised Stabs was awake, causing him to stagger slightly, as he regained his balance. In front of him, the sound of a man, delivering a diatribe on wickedness, had woken him up. The man wore dark breeches and a tabbed doublet with a falling band. Stabs looked down, his 1940’s suit had gone and he wore something similar to the ranting man. Turning his attention to the scene in front of him, he made out he was in a dark panelled room, choked with people and smoke, from a fire, that refused to go up a chimney.
Stabs frowned. Where was he? Had he not been in the C20th? The crowd’s clothes matched those from the mid-1600‘s. Satan, his master, certainly moved in mysterious ways. He did not recall receiving a message about a change in time, from the Brotherhood of Arcanaan.
Stabs shook his head to clear sleep from his mind. His head was heavier than normal. Twisting his head experimentally, from side to side, he discovered the extra weight was a large wide brimmed hat, as the brim slide into view.
“Stop your devil twitching, witch,” ordered a guard at his side. As the guard spoke, he tugged the end of a rope tied around Stabs’ wrists, to emphasise his words. Stabs glowered at him. Stabs would have given the guard a taste of his hand power, if he could have freed a hand from behind his back.
The man in front of Stabs, with a fanatical gleam in his eyes, pointed at him and said, “See how he leaves his somnambulist state, after convening with his master.” The accuser was Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General. “Tell me how you did it? Did you leave your body in a fly?”
“I saw him swallow a fly,” said a voice from the witnesses’ side of the court.
“It was your unholy spirit returning wasn’t it?” questioned Hopkins.
“Speak,” said the guard, yanking the rope again.
“Do not pull Stabs hands. I would not inhabit the body of, as lowly a creature as, a fly. Nor would I eat them, like a familiar,” said Stabs with disgust.
In the C20th, a group of passing youths had compared Stabs to Dracula, in the street. Finding their tone insulting, he had turned them in to a small plague of locusts. Later, he found out about Dracula, after watching vampire films, on BBC2, late on a Friday night. He hadn’t been impressed with Renfield, Dracula's servant. He told Luko, his familiar, not to eat flies like Renfield. Stabs felt that as a loyal subject of the Devil, his familiar should eat something more impressive, like a bison. Sadly, there wasn’t enough room at the taxidermists, where they lived, to fit one in. The stuffed lion, he used as a seat, was too comfortable to throw away to make space for an oversized bovine. He hoped lizard sandwiches were an acceptable alternative.
Occupied by his thoughts, Stabs didn’t hear Hopkins, as he read out a list of accusations. Once more, the guard jerked Stab’s arms, to draw his attention. Without thinking, Stabs gave his guard a sharp kick in response. The guard responded by knocking Stabs, hat and all, to the floor.
“You hit me! You hit ME. I am not a familiar to be struck, you lackwitted oaf!” Stabs could not believe what had just happened to him.
“See! He is a witch - he talks of familiars,” said the guard, pulling up Stabs and pushing him towards the jury, before shaking him. The guard was very keen to get a conviction, he even trampled Stabs‘ hat, as he went.
“Are you not also a witch if you know of familiars, you senile fool?” Stabs was going to make the guard suffer first and most, as soon as he got out of this place.
Matthew Hopkins continued to read out the list of accusations against Stabs. “After you passed Hetty Taylor her butter would not set. Did you not also kill Ellen Holt’s calf through fascination of the eyes?”
“It is not possible to commit eye magic,” said Stabs dismissively. How stupid merely mortals are.
“Thou knows the dark arts then? Did Lucifer teach you maleficium? How did he teach you? Did he send a toad or a rat to deliver his diabolical instructions? Confess!” said Hopkins.
“The Visitor visits. I do not convene with common vermin.” Stabs spoke slowly and clearly. Clearly, he was in some kind of madhouse.
“See, he admits! He confesses!” said Hopkins getting excited.
This was getting tiresome. “As one of the Brotherhood of Arcanaan I demand respect.”
Hopkins came up close to Stabs. Before Stabs could work out what Hopkins was up to, the witchfinder jabbed a sharp bodkin into Stabs’ neck.
“Ow! What ARE you doing you addlebrained idiot!” said Stabs.
“If he feels pain does it not prove he is no witch?” piped up a voice, from the juror’s bench.
“He’s pretending,” said another member of the jury. “He faked a cry when he saw the pin come towards him.”
“But he has no witches mark either,” persisted the first juror.
“It is well known witches marks appear and disappear at will,” said the other juror scornfully.
“I am not a witch. I am Estabes,” stated Stabs, waiting for the humans to slip up, as they always did.
“That is for the court to decide,” said the Judge sternly. “Jury do you find the accused guilty or not guilty?”
The unanimous verdict was guilty.
“Does this mean I can depart this hole of halfwits?” asked Stabs.
“Silence!” said the Judge. “For the crimes of using maleficent magic, consorting with the Devil through a familiar and heresy, I sentence you to be burnt at the stake. The sentence will be passed immediately.”
“Wait! I’m too important to be burn by merely mortals. Do I not have the right to an appeal?” said Stabs in a panic, as the guards dragged him outside. “Luko, where are you? If this is a joke…” Being unable to use his hand magic he had counted on Luko turning up to help him.
Bringing Stabs up to the pyre, one of the guards hesitated.
“What is it, Thomas?” said the other.
“We’ll have to untie his hands to get them around the stake,” said Thomas.
Yes, yes, untie my hands, you fatuous fools, thought Stabs. Stabs may have come from Hell, but fire affected him in the same way as a human. He didn’t want to feel the fat melt from his bones. It should have been Luko suffering smacks to the head and flaming torches shoved in his face, not his esteemed self. He would miss the hapless hobgoblin. Besides, slapping Luko would cheer him up.
“Don’t be foolish. He is a dangerous, evil witch. Do you want him to put a glamour on you?” said the other guard.
As his hopes were dashed, Stabs let out a stream of formerly effective curses.
“Is he summoning the Devil? Would setting him on fire here do?” suggested Thomas fearing for his soul.
As a burning torch was thrust at him, Stabs leaned away as far as was physically possible, in his current situation.
“Way! Way! Make way for the Witch Burner by decree. I shall secure the witch to the stake,” shouted a voice, from the middle of the crowd gathered around the pyre.
Stabs said something unchristian, as a very small man came up to him, carrying a strong looking chain. The witch burner was dressed in dark rags, with an oversized Puritan hat obscuring his face.
“Speak ye not, ye unchristian sprite,” said the witch burner, rattling the chain menacingly. “Haul him to the stake.”
As the small man climbed up behind Stabs, on top of the pyre, Stabs felt a knife saw through his bonds.
“It is I, Luko, your faithful servant, oh illustrious master,” whispered the witch burner in his ear. Stabs gave a terrible grin, as he brought his right arm forward and put his left arm around Luko‘s shoulder.
“Hand of Stabs,” Stabs intoned with relish, as he flexed his gloved hand.
“Face these fools,
With terror so great,
Their bodies will…”
“Mr Stabs, Mr Stabs,” said Luko nervously.
Stabs slowly opened an eye. Luko retreated as Stabs sat up. Stabs would cuff Luko if he was in a bad mood, at being disturbed.
“Most magnificent Stabs, I was worried for your excellent self. You have been sleeping longer than normal. I have made you cocoa, just the way you like it,” said Luko. Cringing, he held out the steaming mug, as if it was an amulet that could ward off an angry Stabs.
Stabs beckoned Luko over to sit on his bed. Ever obedient, Luko complied. Stabs had decided he was going to be very nice to Luko today, but not tomorrow, he didn't want anyone thinking he had gone over to the other side.