A Little Ignition

Once there was a town that found a witch, so they set out to burn her. Only it seemed wise also to burn her house as well, for it was known to be the center of a large collection of books of forbidden lore. No-one had seen them; but one doesn’t need to see these things; what else would a witch read?

So they sent a team of villagers into the forest to collect more wood to make sure that they could burn both the witch and the house, because parts of the house were stone, and would need some encouragement—not every wall would melt, but presumably all perishable things would be destroyed. Only, once in the woods, one of the wood-gatherers clearly heard another mention to a friend, in what he presumably thought was a private voice, that it was a shame; she’d always seemed like a nice old lady.

Instantly, the hero confronted the witch-lover, who immediately denied having ever said such a thing; but her companion verified that it was so. She said that her so-called ‘friend’ was always going around saying nice things about witches, and she had just been hanging around to keep a close eye on the situation. One of the wood-gatherers struck the witch-lover from behind, and they dragged her back to the town square. Soon both witches (oh, they were both witches; do you know what they found in her house? Books)—both witches were tied to large, sturdy stakes, in front of the first witch’s house, but there was a problem: they didn’t live next door to each other, and there was a third house in-between. This was going to be inconvenient. Unless…

The house’s owner wasn’t home, and there were no books inside, but he had, it turned out, drawn some scurrilous pictures of some of the town’s most prominent figures. So he was quickly found, and caught, but there was a wrinkle: he said that one of the town’s most highly-placed figures had paid him to make those drawings. The councilwoman wasn’t in the crowd, but by sheer good luck (of course) her ex-husband was, and he explained to the horrified onlookers that, indeed, his ex-wife had been a witch, and, of course, the moment he found out, he left her, but he feared her too much to reveal the truth, until now, in this moment, when at last witches were being revealed…

It was then that the first witch’s house began to smoke.

“Sorcery!” cried the townspeople—but no; it was simply someone who’d grown impatient with talk. And the crowd might have debated the wisdom of this act—some started to say it was rash, some started to say it was overdue—when they smelled smoke. The Council Hall was on fire. The crowd rushed over, and standing in front was the woman who’d almost won the election three times. “They’re witches all!” she screamed. And some began to question her, when, again, they smelled smoke.

It turned out that many had gone into the witch-burning, house-igniting business, because they realized they could finally reveal all the witches among them. Did they realize that, while they scorched the homes of monsters, someone else was bunching kindling around the homes they’d just left?

Who would have thought the whole town was made of witches? But it was, and it’s a good thing that they burned it down.

For so, too, were all the farms on the outskirts of town, feuding since time immemorial, each witches, under careful watch by others, and so was the tax-collector, and so was the nearby Embassy, and the whole town up the road had always been suspicious, and…

…it’s fortunate that this is just a story. For human beings are rational, and they hate Evil and its ilk; they are not petty, not driven by little grievances, not sly or obscure about their motives. Whoever would burn down a neighbor’s house falsely? No-one, for they would surely know that, in such a world, someone could, in the very same way, burn your house.

This was the town that burned the witch; this was the witch-burning that burned the town; this was the town-burning that set the countryside aflame; this was the flaming countryside that consumed the cities; these were the smoldering cities that blew huge sparks in all direction; that was the kingdom that burned to the ground, and the survivors had learned a valuable lesson: There must be a lot of witches in the world.

Never had so many flames lit the night; but never had visibility been so poor, for in every eye, and in every set of lungs, there were great fistfuls of soot.

And if it’s hard, so hard for the survivors to breathe, at least it’s a cleansing blackness in the center of their lungs.

Jeff Mach


 

My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities and create things. Every year, I put on Evil Expo, the Greatest Place in the World to be a Villain. I also write a lot of fantasy and science fiction.. You can get most of my books right here. Go ahead, pre-order I HATE Your Prophecy“. It may make you into a bad person, but I can live with that.

 

Witch Hunter’s Dilemma

Recently, the formerly-esteemed roles of Witch-Hunters throughout the known world (which extends, as it always has, all the way from one side of this village, right past the village next to it, and into that one village that you can kind-of see in the distance, the one where we go, once every few months, for Market Day; oh, we’ve heard rumour that there’s more in the world than this, but you know us. We’re very smart, and never ever fall for rumours)—

—the office of Witch-Hunters has been rocked by the newly-revealed knowledge that so many Hunters were, themselves, Witches.

And now people want to attack the Witch-Hunters, want to say they’re all Witches. As a Witch, I resent this in general; not every Witch is the kind of Wicked Witch of whom you’ve heard horrible stories (isn’t it convenient that, theoretically, the Wickedest Witch we know is unable to argue her case, by virtue of having been killed by a plummeting residential building?)

But as a former Witch-Hunter, I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak. It won’t make me popular; but popularity was never what I sought, and therein lies the challenge.

People have put forth the idea that the office of Witch-Hunter is the ideal place for a Witch to hide; who suspects the Hunter of being the monster?

But this is true only in one of two disturbing scenarios:

  1. Witch-Hunters are incompetent. The challenge, in said scenario, is this: if the Hunters, those who have literally trained for generations, honed their skills, written books, taught each other, created and used and promulgated technologies for catching Witches, are actually terrible at doing so…it is only reasonable to assume that the rest of us are worse at it. Sure, there are certain disciplines wherein academic knowledge fails to live up to the power of practical understanding. But Hunters hunt; they don’t just sit around writing papers on the subject. (Although, admittedly, most of the ones who write about the theory without engaging in the practice…they do deserve our skepticism.) Which leads us to the other possibility:
  2. Witch-Hunters have always been a secret plot by Witches; they have never had good intentions. But if this is the case… then why are we trusting anything they’ve told us about Witchery? If their actual goal is opposite their stated goal, then we can’t go around trusting their stated reasons, either. If we’re calling into question the integrity of Witch-Hunters, then it brings us to the uncomfortable idea that the Witches themselves might not be monstrous. Certainly, it would be a devious and terrifying plot for all those capturers-of-spellcasters to have been a diversion; but it’s a pretty stupid diversion for those who are supposedly cunning. Witch-hunters promote Witch-hunting, make their coin at the trade, lecture constantly about the need to do it. It’s far more complicated, and far less effective, than simply spending one’s time explaining that not all Witches are, in fact, intentional makers-of-pain, that, in fact, Witches are no more prone to it than anyone else.

“But,” you say, “the Mob seeks victims. The Mob wants guilt, not innocence. Perhaps they might have acted better, were they not spurred on by the Mob.”

If this is true, then we ought to ask: who, exactly, is the Rage Mob?

Why, it is no-one, of course.

Just ask.

Did an army ravage the countryside under the brutal rule of The Dictator? Why, it wasn’t any of us.

Who burned all those people who turned out to have never been any kind of Witch? Oh, not us. In fact, we always wanted to help, we were just afraid of The Mob.

Who believed the Witch-Hunters? Not us, it was all the other fools. We always knew there was something fishy, while the idiots over there only saw it after Hunters were all discredited. (And having discredited this group, we say, “The problem is solved!” Until we find someone else to blame.)

Do I hate Witch-Hunters? I do; and while I know that I was lied-to, deceived, and betrayed, it doesn’t change the things I did as a Hunter, and I need to answer for them. I hate Witch-Hunters for what they did to me, and for what I hoped they would be, and what they actually are.

But let’s not get too sanctimonious here.

The fact is, as long as any of us are willing to hide behind the anonymity of the Mob, we are all one rumour away from having the Mob turn on us.

All we need do is stop fearing the Mob, and it will lose its power over us.

…and I wish you good luck with that. Me, I’m going to build a raft and float somewhere without any humans. I’ll probably get eaten by sea-monsters, but I’m okay with that. I’d rather die for being what I am (in this case, “made out of meat”)—than be slain on the rumour that I’m something I am not.

~Jeff Mach

 


My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.

I write books. You should read them!

My new book, “I Hate Your Time Machine”, is now available! Go pick it up!