The Devil Didn’t Make Me Do It

Rue Thornee guided the sheep indoors and closed the door once her lamb had followed.

Someone had claimed that her poor child’s seizures had to be the Devil’s work. Satan hadn’t possessed her baby; what twisted mind would conjure up such a thing? Who could look at an ill child and think, She’s lain with the Devil? A strange sickness must contort the mind into thinking that way. At eight years old, Rue’s daughter didn’t even know what it meant to lie with a man.

The animal, away from its flock and in the strange half-light of the Thornee home, snorted and shook its head. Early signs of the sheep’s discontentment. Rue had cleared a space in the room so that nothing would break if she kicked and struggled. Not that that would matter if it didn’t work. But, for the time being, the sheep obeyed the rope tug.

Hale contented himself with doing nothing. When Gleda fell ill, he began to imbibe. When they took the child, his hobby of alcoholism became a full-blown profession. He spent most of his time drinking in the tavern and begging for forgiveness in the church. Rue shuttered the windows when he’d left for the day’s repentance, whether in liquid or spirit form.

Past the lit candles and across the chalked earth, she led the animal into the heart of her family home. The sheep’s lamb bleated—a tiny, trembling sound—and she followed suit with a grumbling of her own. What would Hale think if he could see such a spectacle? Livestock in the main room? What would Gleda think? The sheep’s ears pricked when Rue whispered in the gloom. “This is all f’r thee, mine own ladybird. I wonneth’t alloweth aught befall to thee.”

The trial would be a mockery, the jury a joke. The witchfinder had asked Gleda to read from The Bible, a fine thing to do if she could read. Gleda knew The Lord’s Prayer by heart. But when Rue prompted her to recite it, those awful convulsions locked her jaw tight. “Evidence yond Flibbertigibbet is working hither,” he had said. “T hast to beest his worketh!” That had been that, and now her daughter sat in a cell like a common criminal, awaiting sentencing. The ending would be like every other: guilty, the death penalty.

The animal pulled at the leash and turned for the door, but Rue wouldn’t let her. “Hither we wend, mine own sweet. Hither we wend. Thee not worry, I wonneth’t did hurt thee.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of barley. The sheep sniffed at her hand. Rue leaned forward and scattered the grain in the centre of the chalk markings on the floor. Between the regular barley, dark-purple bodies sat, fat and bloated. Rue had aired concerns about those; could they be behind the sickness? But the townsfolk wouldn’t hear it. How dare she suggest that the village’s harvest be anything less than the best the land could offer? Where was her community spirit?

The sheep bent and nibbled at the food on the floor, and her lamb joined in. The sheep’s infant kept glancing at Rue between mouthfuls. The adult, meanwhile, only ate the grain. Finally, Rue slackened the leash and reached over to the table she’d pushed to the wall. She snatched what she needed from it and bounced the item’s weight in her palm.

Rue had begged God for mercy, guidance, help, anything. She’d pled with the witchfinder, townsfolk, town elders, everyone. Nobody wanted to get involved for fear of guilt by association, including Gleda’s father. What a paltry excuse of a man. And, save for busting her out of prison in a jailbreak that would claim their lives, what could a loving mother do?

With the animal subdued with feed, Rue straddled the sheep and locked her between her knees. If this went wrong, the beast would trample her to death—a better end than this current anguish, but not for Gleda. “We’re going to burn thee f’r being a beldams. Oh, and thy mother kicked the bucket in a sheep-relat’d accident. My most humble apology.” But this wouldn’t go wrong. Neither Heaven nor Hell knew the fury of a mother backed into a corner.

What price would a woman pay for the safety of her child?

She gritted her teeth, grimaced, pulled the sheep’s head up by the chin and slashed the blade across its neck.

Blood sputtered onto the floor across the chalk markings. The sheep offered gargled, guttural bleats, but Rue held it clamped tight. The sheep fought but could not break free. It floundered and stomped its hooves, shook and twisted. The blood splattered and sprayed around the room, up the walls, and over every surface. In the background, her lamb shrieked and threw itself from side to side. Its head twisted around, and its eyes widened. It had to be this way, with the sheep sacrificed, and the lamb left to live on.

What price would a woman pay for the safety of her child?

What a stupid question. Rue would pay anything, anything at all, to guarantee Gleda’s protection. Wouldn’t every mother on God’s green earth do the same?

The sheep’s struggles weakened, and its watery cries began to fade. The lamb bucked and jerked, leaving tiny hoofprints in her mother’s blood. Rue pulled the beast’s head up further, and a final death spurt of the poor thing’s life force sprayed into the air.

There had been no temptation. Instead, the pious had pushed Rue into His arms. Because—to save her daughter—Rue had to become the thing the witchfinder accused Gleda of being.

The sheep’s blood seeped across the pentagram as her lamb bleated in the premature twilight.

April 12 2023

Written for the April 2023 #BlogBattle: Jury

18 thoughts on “The Devil Didn’t Make Me Do It

  1. Gary

    She turned me into a newt… I got better…

    Good to see you back Joshua. Interesting take on the old ways of “She’s a witch.” Half expected a weighted ducking stool and its a fair cop.

    Very interesting period of time really, Inquisitions, witch finders and such like. Nothing like neighbourly trust either. I think you summed up a few current villages too. Noting wrong with my crops, even if they lie withered in the field. Only witches say otherwise type of thing.

    Bit of a sacrificial mum to the slaughter here. Great use of the prompt too. I’m now off to look up Monty Python videos hah

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      “Who are you, who are so wise in the ways of science?”

      I need to catch up, don’t I? May’s prompt is almost out, and I still need to get back to everyone and read their stories!

      Thanks very much; I always found this period fascinating too. It’s almost the “good” ending if witches are real and Rue manages to summon Satan. Thus this act won’t be for nought, and she will have the power to save her daughter.

      But if not, she’s done this horrific act and received no infernal powers. And the scene will be hard to explain away, without magic. She’ll have cemented the idea that hers is a family of witches who must have their weight tested against a duck’s.

      “If she weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood…”

      “And therefore?”

      “A WITCH!”

      • Gary

        Oddly I’ve just referenced three weird historical references including the Dancing Plague of 1518, Salem Witch Trials and a writing one covering about 3 or 4 centuries in time. Part of a WIP, but I’ve so many going on I’ve forgotten which. From bog all to Dragon Stone, Prison of Ice, Release of the Crow and Letters of the Amanuensis which is done and somehow spawned another called Return of the Crow!

        Bit like the proverbial buses 😳

        I so knew you’d get the exact scene referenced too haha.

        One of my favourite scenes is just a little bit of Peril, against Get off my juniper bushes…

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        Bloody hell, Gary! You have been busy! I received the manuscript you sent me, and it looks great. Unfortunately, I haven’t found the time to read it yet, but I will when I can.

        I hope to see some of those on bookshelves soon! 😉

      • Gary

        No worries Joshua. Time presses us all. I’ve also entered several competitions, hit a few lit agents and am doing Reedsy prompts too. Best thing I’ve done recently is go for Grammarly premium. It’s editing is awesome. Even monitoring this reply to you. Way better than words and even rewrites half baked sentences into some thing impressive 😯

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        I hope to get back into the swing of BB again, I’ve loved the little moments I’ve had with you guys this year. I’ve missed our sprawling chats!

        That’s fantastic news, Gary. I have zero doubts that all this work will pay off, your worlds are so rich and beautiful. 😊

        Ooh, Reedsy? You’ll have to add me on there. I haven’t done it in a while but I used to do it religiously.

        Ha, I also swear by Grammarly. The Hemingway app is also a fantastic tool, too. Once you use it for a while, it changes the way you write, too.

        As of late, I’ve started handwriting with a fountain pen and typing up my scribbles.

      • Gary

        Be good to see more of you Joshua. I’ve also missed those chats too. I value them as I do all BB ones because it’s writers on writers.

        I’ll add you tomorrow now. I was slack on Reedsy. Been a member for years but did nothing. I’ll have a look at the Hemmingway app too. Not tried that one. Might pass on the fountain pen mind as I’ve forgotten how to write manually lol.

  2. aebranson

    This story is as steeped in irony as Rue’s floor is steeped with blood. The name Rue Thornee is full of symbolism and foreshadowing, and I found dark humor in her husband’s quest for liquid or spirit, considering the liquid he sought is also known as spirits. One suggestion to offer is occasionally refer to the sheep as a ewe, although I thought goats were more commonly selected for this sort of ceremony. 🙂 I feel sorry for Rue, who in desperation to save her child chose a method that will probably only make things worse – those deals with the devil never work out!

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Thanks, A.E.!

      That’s a good suggestion with the word “ewe”; thanks!

      Unfortunately (or fortunately?), Rue has no experience with this. She used the animal she could get her hands on the easiest. If it doesn’t work, is it because she used the wrong beast or because Satan doesn’t exist?

      I always like the stories of people who make things much worse by trying to improve things!

      • aebranson

        I’ve read enough of your stories to know Satan exists. 😉 And as for people making things worse when trying to improve them, there’s a reason for the saying ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’!

  3. deteremineddespitewp

    Impressively sombre story. The reader can’t but feel anything but sympathy and pity for Rue, her ill child a victim of not just ill-health but superstition and ignorance of the times; the whole scenario is portrayed in dark, tragic colours.
    I was drawn in by the by the anguish of Rue’s words ‘What mother…’ Of course not! Betrayed by her husband, the community and the fanaticism of a witchfinder she is driven down the very path they all arbore.
    As the reader I couldn’t help but judge them and not Rue…
    ‘What mother…’ indeed.

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Thanks, Roger! I do find the whole idea of the witch trials to be tragic. One can only imagine what those poor people felt. Every friend and neighbour turned against you? How claustrophobic!

      I’m drawn to characters who do bad things—summoning Satan—for reasons we can all understand. She’s not evil; she’s a loving mother. We’d be hard-pressed not to do the same in her shoes.

      • deteremineddespitewp

        There are some of a more flexible spiritual outlook who would suggest Satan would grumble…’Oh no. Not helping her out. She’s doing it with a good heart. We don’t want that sort down here, messing up the place with good influences,’
        Indeed who can say though what we would do, as the verses from Matthew read:
        [1] Judge not, that ye be not judged. [2] For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again?
        ‘Walk a mile in my shoes’

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        Excellent points, Roger. Ah, but then Satan could take advantage to corrupt this good heart, using her daughter as leverage. A falling from grace, of sorts, of which the fallen angel surely knows.

      • deteremineddespitewp

        There is that to it Joshua , for the mother could then ask for vengeance to fall on the persecutors, which themselves are ideal Satan fodder, and every person loses, which is deal for Satan.
        There is the challenge for the individual.
        An entire series of posts in itself.
        And that is before we get onto the thorny topic of ‘The Just War’

  4. Rachael Ritchey

    When I come late to the reading, all my comments already covered (and then I get to enjoy reading all the comments too!). These stories are the ones where my heart wants to step in a defend and rescue who I might! Rue and her daughter are both in need of it. ❤

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