From her elevation, Margaret let her wrists go limp in their ropes, her head relaxed back against the upright post of the cross. The sun was just breaking into bars and beams of gold through the colorful fall leaves and branches of the tangle of trees and vegetation. Birds started to sing. Her crown of thorns twined with roses pricked her forehead, and a rivulet of dark red trickled over one eyebrow. She pictured the bodies hanging at this very spot, the actual — not official — “gallows hill” of Salem, Massachusetts; Sarah Good, Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Sarah Wildes, and too many others. A sensation of exaltation swelled her heart; this was holy ground.
“Isn’t it beautiful!” Kayla whispered loudly from her perch on the slightly lower cross to Margaret’s right. Her breath misted in front of her face.
“Yeah, if you have a good imagination,” answered Letisha from her crucified position on Margaret’s left.
“Oh Mother of Mothers, Goddess of Life, Blessed One, we thank You for this sacrifice of your only Daughter, the Daughter of Life…” At the sound of the operatic soprano voice, the three young women gazed down and watched their high priestess, Mary — arrayed in a white chiffon robe, her head circled with flowers — use both hands to raise a large black kylix filled with wine.
“Oh Queen of Queens, we dedicate ourselves to You, for all eternity, on this glorious Samhain,” chanted the four associate priestesses who flanked Mary, two on either side.
A car alarm began screaming, then a loud booming radio blasted a chatter of news, weather, and sports. Behind them came the roar of big delivery-truck engines.
Mary gritted her teeth, her chubby face flushed. She heard giggling as children gathered from a nearby school-bus-stop. “Oh Queen of Queens, Holy Mother of the Goddess, bless us for another year, grant us…”
“What the hell are you doing?” a man’s voice interrupted.
“Daddy, what are those ladies doing up there?”
Margaret blinked and lowered her chin, focusing on the reality that their little hill butted against a Walgreen’s parking lot behind them, and single family homes, busy streets pressed them on three sides.
Two construction workers strode up the slight rise and stood in their jackets and gloves, arms folded, their faces ruddy and eyes sparking with anger. “Are you blaspheming the Lord?” one of them shouted.
“What are you doing here?” a woman who had seen the commotion from her back porch, and hurried over, insisted, her voice high and sharp. “We have rules here for you crazies on Halloween! I’m calling the police!”
“I already did,” a man said. He had apparently climbed from the parking lot and was brushing off his slacks, white shirt, adjusting his tie. “This is Walgreen’s property, what in the hell are you women doing?”
“Walgreen’s sits where a pond used to be, the pond where Rebecca Nurse’s son rowed his canoe in the night to retrieve her body!” At the same moment Margaret realized the men were glaring at her and their anger was about to explode, she remembered she was tied to a cross ten feet in the air. The first rock came whistling past her face.
“Hey, stop, leave her alone,” Mary shouted. She threw the wine at the two construction workers.
“‘Always look on the bright side of life,'” Kayla sang, laughing.
“Get me down from here!” Letisha cried.
More stones and garbage, a sandwich and even a cup of coffee were hurled at the three on their crosses.
“The Goddess ruled for a million years, you assholes,” Mary bellowed, “and your upstart so-called god for three-thousand…” A fist struck her in her chest and she punched back — she didn’t even know who it was she knocked unconscious.
By lunchtime, Margaret and her six companions — still wearing their chiffon veils — reposed in various positions of discomfort in a holding cell of the Salem Police Department building. The cells were immaculate, with white walls and blue doors. Many charges were pending, including trespassing— “It took us all night to get the crosses up there and set them up,” Kayla told one of the cops, her voice filled with pride. And assault— “I’d have beat his brains out if you hadn’t stopped me,” Mary snorted as her handcuffs were removed and she was shoved in the cell. And disturbing the peace— “You disturbed us, you dickheads,” Letisha told the booking officer.
They’d been in their cell for several hours when they heard the door’s locks CLICK and the blue slab slowly open by itself. In floated a stately, tall, ample, beautiful woman, dressed in a gold skirt-suit, her fiery-red hair pulled into a perfect chignon. “So,” she said but her mouth didn’t move.
They leaped to their feet, “Mother!” they shouted in unison.