18. After

The young doctor took a deep breath, placed his jacket on the hallway floor, removed his shoes and entered the kitchen. He didn’t have much hope, but it was his duty to, at least, confirm the death of the lady he had come from the city to surveil. Sandra’s husband was at the door, one hand over his mouth, the other one placed under his sternum.

Walking on the smooth tiles covered with flour in his socks, David understood how easy should have been for the old lady to slip and fall. She was laying on the ground prone, the body pressing down her left arm, a rolling pin still tightly in the other hand, close to her face. It had blood on the upper end, while other blood had spilt from Mrs Agramanti’s forehead. She was not breathing. She had no pulse. Her cold face frozen in a  startled expression. David stood up and explored the room with his eyes.

“Is she dead?”

“Call the police.”

“Shouldn’t we call an ambulance?”

“We should call both. I am not sure about the dynamic of the incident. I don’t want anybody touching the body before an expert sees the scene.”

“I can’t do this.”

“What?”

At those words, David moved toward the door and risked to fall. He pointed his feet and exited the room.

“What does it mean you can’t do it?”

“Sandra.”

“Sandra?”

The silver-haired man seemed to have gained ten years while David was in the kitchen. He looked forlorn, and his voice trembled.

“Sandra, my wife, the daughter of that poor woman! I came here to find her, to bring her home, and now I don’t know where she is, and her mother is – he pointed his square chin to the kitchen – there!”

He spat out those last words screaming. David had to grab his shoulders with both hands and calm him down. Unknown to the two men, a female glare was upon them. Her eyes went from one to the other with a mixture of familiarity and aloofness. She remembered a light haired man and a dark one, a square chin and an androgynous visage, a confident man and a panicking guy but the features of two she was looking at were oddly mixed up. In her memory, her body was shivering because of a high fever. Her hair had been cut off with a knife, leaving her almost powerless. The shock had been so great that she could not move or speak. With her black braid still tightly in his square hand, the dark man had pulled her out of the zinc tub where she was bathing and carried her to his miserable shack. She was sure he was going to tear off her nails, kill her and skin her body, to extract from it as much power as possible. Her grandma had told her many times how the witch hunters work.

But as soon as they reached that stone shack, the man had wrapped her in all the plaids he had and put her on his bed.

“You are not going to die for a braid of hair. Are you?”

Said the man, fluffing up the stinking pillow he had put under her head. She looked at him with all the hatred she could. She would have cursed him, if she could speak but was too weak even for that. The man touched her forehead and suddenly ran away. He came back a few moments later with a bucket of cold water and a piece of cloth, wich he placed, soaked, on her forehead.

“You are scorching. We should do something.”

He moved to the end of the bed and reached her feet through the blankets. The touch of his warm hands on her shivering skin felt like the touch of red-hot iron. She gushed a short scream. He arranged the cloth again around her feet and rushed to set on fire some woods in a small stove. Then soaked the fabric one more time and put it on her face again.

“You are not going to die. Not in my house.”

He left. She could not tell how long he was away. She had visions of her grandmother telling her the story of how her mother died. She felt her tears becoming sharp knives made of ice that carved her flesh. She felt the fire of the stake burning her. She heard the sweet voice of the goddess calling. But when she opened her eyes there was no beautiful, powerful goddess, only two men staring at her. One of them was the dark squared man. The new one was a tall, slender guy with fear in his eyes and a large brown bag in his right hand.

“Do something!”

“I don’t know what she has.”

“It’s not tricky, doctor, she has a fever. She has a fever like if we were burning her on a stake.”

“Don’t say things like that. – The pale boy cleaned his mouth with the back of his pale hand – I am not a doctor, yet. What do I know?”

“I tell you what I know. I know the girl was well until I did as you told me to do and cut her bloody hair. The moment I did, she fell head first into the water where she was bathing like a puppet whose strings have been ripped. I pulled her out, and she could not move nor speak. When we arrived here, she was already feverish and delirious.”

“The man didn’t tell me about the consequences of cutting the witch’s hair.”

“Currently, I don’t care. It’s our fault if the girl is like this, and we are going to save her.”

The tall scared guy nodded to the dark one, opened his bag on the table and started to dig in it. She didn’t remember what they had done from that moment on, but after three days her fever was gone and her colours too. Her skin had become frail and pale as porcelain. Her short hair was totally white. No one cut her nails or stripped away her skin. Nonetheless, she was no more a witch. The dark man kept her hidden in his shack until she was well. He changed the cloth on her head. He fed her soup with a spoon. He helped her walk to the loo outside the house when she was still too feeble to do it by herself. Finally, when she had recovered, he presented her to a priest, who imposed her baptism. The moment the holy water touched the girl’s forehead, she fell unconscious. Only from time to time, the Christian girl who had been one with her awakened her for a minor spell, using a little of her grated nails. But now the girl, her old vessel, ha died, and she was awakening.

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