THE TRIAL OF MARGOT LEPLATT
by GARY CLIFTON
“Eternal Hell for this evil spawn of Satan!” shouted a man from the rear.
The angry voices of both were edged with fear and horror. In 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, a wave of manic paranoia had exploded, the lunacy aggravated by accusations of two pre-adolescent girls who suffered “fits” they claimed had been generated by witches who were under the direct control of Satan. The governor of Massachusetts had appointed a special tribunal; The Court of Oyler and Terminator was instructed to weed out the evil. The result had been brutal and the madness escalated.
The dreary, macabre scene was set on the town square of Salem, Massachusetts. Margot hung, nude and ravishing, hands chained overhead to a pole at the center of the square, brush and kindling wood stacked closely around her. A motley assembly of spectators, who had gathered to watch the horrible spectacle, crowded the available space like worms in a bucket. Bruises on Margot’s ample breasts and reddened stripes across her legs and back were clear evidence she’d been tortured. Ligature marks on her ankles and at her wrists, despite the chains binding her, showed she’d been restrained.
In his black judicial robe, the chief Justice, graying, morose, and permanently stooped, approached and read aloud to the cheers of the glut of morbidly curious townsmen who’d ventured out despite the sharp chill of January wind. The huge, hooded man behind him held a flaming taper. Both men, enraptured by the nude beauty, were unable to avoid leering lustfully. Although naked against the cold, Margot hung stoically, without speaking.
“Margot LePlatt,” the chief justice droned. “You have been convicted by the Court of the crime of witchcraft. The sentence is death by fire. May God have mercy on your soul.” He turned to the executioner, still holding the flaming piece of wood, and nodded. The huge man stepped forward, his eyes still locked onto Margo’s body.
Margot stared hatred at her two tormentors, her bottomless black eyes radiating death.
Judge, executioner, and the mostly hostile crowd were shocked as high pitched, hysterical laughter wafted across the square. At a time in history when “white magic” was an acceptable practice intended to bolster crops in the field and daily health, the drift to a belief in black magic and witches was only natural. Nearly thirty victims had been executed in Salem in the past year and hundreds more up and down the Atlantic seaboard. The mocking, squealing laugh was sufficient to scatter a large part of the simple peasants enjoying the spectacle.
The chief justice strained to see over the crowd. “Find that disrespectful heretic,” he ordered the executioner.
He edged behind the bigger man, fear evident. Both he and the executioner had spent the previous night “interrogating” Margot in a nearby dungeon. The justice was infuriated that she’d refused to admit any complicity in or knowledge of witchcraft, nor would she scream when pain was inflicted. She’d repeated the same story over and over: “I’m Margot LePlatt, a simple midwife.”
Margot spoke the truth under torture. She was no witch and she was definitely a midwife, a temporary assignment well below her medical skill level. Her deviation from normal society was something else entirely. No stranger to the cruel demands of powerful men, she had been an uneducated indentured peasant servant on a vast, rolling estate in the mountains of Transylvania 150 years earlier. She toiled daily, minding her nine-year-old daughter, Shelbina. The baron, master of all, lured Margot and Shelbina into his bedroom one night and the simple, naïve country girl learned a new dimension of the uncertainty of life.
The Baron bit both Margot and her daughter, then used Margot in his huge poster bed the rest of the night, forcing Shelbina to watch. Once bitten by the vampire Baron, Margot and Shelbina were brought into the “life” and would remain so forever. Blessed with tremendous physical strength and keen insight, she and Shelbina would remain young forever. Margot, naked, tormented, chained to an execution pole, was relatively young as vampires go – barely over 150 years old.
Margot and Shelbina had no other choice but to stay on the estate, subject to the whims, urges, and carnal needs of the Baron. Under the tutelage of the Baron, Margot, free of the hindrance of growing older, became educated, spoke several languages and mastered medical science sufficiently to act as doctor of the entire estate and the small village nearby.
Although Margot and Shelbina were vampires, their behavior and needs differed from the normal vampire lifestyle. For example, they could function in daylight, although both were physically stronger in the darkness of the night. They learned they could satisfy the craving for blood by eating raw animal meat. Both were endowed with a sort of mental telepathy, which allowed them to literally look into the minds of men and capture, dominate their thoughts, and quickly reduce them to slaves.
Then, after ten years, local peasants revolted, killed the Baron, and burned the castle. Margot managed to flee her daughter and settle in England in the 1560’s. Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Margot flourished. Elizabeth allowed more religious freedom in England than the country had ever known and with the relaxed rules, Margot and her daughter blended into society unnoticed. In London, lost in the masses, she worked as a physician, briefly taught at St. Elizabeth’s School of Medicine, and enjoyed a comfortable, full life for the next thirty years.
Required to relocate and essentially assume a new identity every five years or so, she and Shelbina moved regularly. Trouble reared its ugly head when Elizabeth died in 1603, passing the crown of England to the King of Scotland, Charles I, Elizabeth’s uncle, a member of the Catholic Stuart family. The Stuarts returned Catholicism as the religion of the England. Non-Catholics quickly became the target of violence. Puritans fled in numbers to America to escape the strife. Margot, aware of the delicacy and danger of her situation, crossed the Atlantic with her daughter, who took the new, more american name: Shelby.
In America, the very Puritans who had fled religious persecution soon established rigid moral controls, dictating daily lives of common people. Belief in magic and witchcraft developed in lock step with the tightening of religious freedom. Margot moved several times in the next fifty years, eventually taking up housekeeping in Salem. Although she spoke several languages and was an accomplished violinist, Shelby, nine years old forever, attended school with other children of her age. Because of her excellent medical skills, Margot established a booming midwifery practice.
Two factors combined to throw Margot’s life into turmoil and result in her being chained naked to a public stake: First, the two girls, ages 9 and 12 respectively, claimed they had been stricken mad by numerous persons in the community who were minions of Satan – witches. The government and the church joined forces to try, convict, and execute many unfortunates as witches.
Secondly, Margot was delivering a peasant woman’s child one cold January day when a local man rushed in and announced that Shelby had dropped dead on the street nearby. Margot rushed to the scene and found Shelby unconscious and breathing only slightly. Margot recognized that Shelby had only fainted and would recover on her own in a few minutes. She knelt and applied mouth to mouth to facilitate the recovery and Shelby was soon sitting up, chatting with spectators. However, resuscitation, to the simple-minded citizens of the era, was unheard of. To the average person, the mysterious, lovely Margot had raised Shelby from the dead, a function possible only by witches.
Word of the “miraculous recovery” spread like wildfire and by the end of the day, the court had clapped Margot in jail, charged with being a witch. Her captivating beauty and general withdrawn, introverted personality lent to the prosecution's charges and Margot was sentenced to death. Shelby visited her mother in a jail cell and begged her to use her great strength and supernatural ability to overpower the jailers and both would flee. But weak from improper diet, double strength chains, and nightly sexual abuse by the chief justice and the jailers, Margot could not break the chains as she normally would have.
Margot hung helplessly at the stake and barely heard the shrill screaming laugh that had interrupted her execution. Then little Shelby, with mama’s bright black eyes and penetrating stare, appeared in front of the chief justice and his executioner and continued her piercing scream. Shelby had retained her great strength and vitality and quickly had the chief justice and his executioner bloodied and unconscious on the cobblestone. But, alas, the executioner had dropped the match into the brush piled around Margot. Flames leapt up quickly engulfing Margot in the conflagration.
Shelby laughed the screeching cackle again, stepped into the flames, and managed to snap the chains holding Margot like soft twine.
“Shelby, child,” Margot realized both were in the midst of a fire. “You must save yourself.”
“Mama, we are immune to fire.”
Both Maggot and Shelby walked out of the flames unharmed. The few remaining spectators agreed that the rescue had been a Divine mission of God. Townsmen assisted Margot in finding clothes and provided them with a donkey – it had belonged to the chief justice, who’d died of fright after being physically overpowered by Margot and Shelby - to ride far from Salem.
As they cleared the first hill and lost sight of Salem, Margot said, “My God baby, how did you know? And why were you laughing?”
“Mama, I knew fire couldn’t harm you. I learned last night.”
“But how, darling?”
“Mama, sometimes I see the Baron in my dreams. When I’m afraid or sad, he comes to me. He told me you could not be burned. That you could not be harmed by weak mortals such as these. When I saw the crowd of fools that held you, I knew him to be right. He’s never been wrong before...” Shelby said all this with a mischievous grin that revealed that she had even more secrets hidden away.
“And what else has the Baron told you?” Margot asked, a rare sense of wonder filling her experienced and wise mind. But Shelby withheld those secrets for another day.
Two days later, Margot appeared before the governor in his private office. As the door closed, she slipped out of her robe and stood nude before his Excellency.
The governor locked the door, and after several hours, he became convinced that the horror the witch burnings caused was hideously wrong and he outlawed the practice immediately. Margot never admitted that it was her captivating eyes and ability to control the old fool’s thoughts that convinced him and the time spent on his desk was only dessert.
But there was never another witchcraft trial in Salem.
Gary Clifton, forty years a cop, has over sixty short fiction pieces published or pending with online sites including Bewildering Stories, Flashes in the Dark, Spinetingler, and Black Heart Mag. He's been shot at, shot, stabbed, sued and is currently retired to a dusty north Texas ranch. Clifton has an MS from Abilene Christian University. Gary’s stories can be found in the following issues of HelloHorror: Blood Passion appears in the January 2013 issue, Measure Twice, Cut Once appears in the April 2013 issue, Mother’s Nature appears in the August 2013 issue, Mind's Eye appears in the October 2013 issue, Sinning in the Rain appears in the December 2013 issue, Special Handling Required appears in the April 2014 issue and Queen Margot appears in the June 2014 issue. All but one of Gary’s stories appearing thus far in HelloHorror have been part of the Margot LePlatt series. Read more of Gary's work at his new blog, Bareknuckle Thoughts.
The authors published at HelloHorror retain all rights to their work. For permission to quote from a particular piece, or to reprint, contact the editors who will forward the request. All content on the web site is protected under copyright law.