The Sea Witch
The Golden Age of Sail: The Sea Witch

This is an extract from a book I am currently writing. My story initially involved a witch in 17th century England and a young Preacher’s daughter 200 years later, who is sent to Australia with her family at a time when the colony was still being explored and (should I say?) conquered. I have put down Anna’s thoughts and fears as she embarks on this journey, as so many did, whether through choice, or as convicts.

I’m still debating whether to explore Anna’s character further, as she discovers the alien landscape she now lives in (which is the rugged tropical area of Queensland), and the peoples that live there. Her link to my witch, Hester, is a talisman given to her to ward off evil spirits, but Anna finds less happiness and comfort, and blames her heartache on the gift, soon regretting the day she accepted it. The talisman holds a curse, for good or for evil, that Hester conjured up before facing the hangman’s noose for witchcraft.

I’ve used a diary form of writing to explore Anna’s inner thoughts, which helps the narrative flow and allows me to understand the psyche of people who choose to explore new lands, whatever they find there; fortune or misfortune. In Anna’s case, she has her religious beliefs as her comfort, her salvation.

Anyway, here’s a piece I wrote to start her tale. Themes of my story will include – alienation, fear, magick, landscape, place, colony, native Australians, magical realism,  and witchcraft.

Does anyone else have snippets of stories that they’d like to explore further, but are not sure where to take them?

Please share !

Have a great creative week 🙂

Anna’s Story: 1825

Dear Diary,

The ship that we travel on is called The Sea Witch. Strong of stern, she cuts through the dark foam as a knife cuts butter, until the land behind us falls back into the shadows. The captain, a stout man with a large grey beard, stands on the deck, barely taking his eyes away from the seas ahead. The fish jump and splash alongside the stern as we sail further into the vast grayness. The dolphins follow us, their elegant forms keeping up with the sails with ease.  This clipper has a masthead, painted in reds and gold, depicting a face of a wondrous lady with flowing hair. My Sicile is fascinated by her, as she embraces the seas, guiding us ever southward. Papa becomes cross when he sees her glance upwards, towards the bow. He asks us to remain pious, to hold our Bibles in front of us as he preaches his sermons.

At a young age, papa chose to serve our Saviour. He and mama were married young even though his family disapproved of the union. They cut us off without a penny, forcing papa to search for pastures new. So far, my family has lived in seven parishes and mama has borne four children. I am the second oldest still on this earth. Before me, my brother Isaiah had barely lived beyond two years, the fever taking his sickly body within days. Papa grieved so, locking himself in his study, reading the Scriptures day after day. Then, the letter arrived. I remember papa hugging mama as tears streamed down her face. She looked anguished, like nothing I had seen before, even when Isaiah was taken from us. Within a few weeks we were bound to the new colony across the seas.

The journey is fraught with sickness. When I can, I go up on deck and breathe in the briny sea air. Then the smell of the cooking pots leaves me nauseous and I stumble below deck to the comfort of my hammock. My mother, ever anxious, brings me soothing drinks and comfort but nothing can take away the feelings inside of me. The anxiety of the future lies heavy on my chest, growing each day. Sometimes it catches me unawares, and I can feel my heart racing under my new dress, bought especially for the journey. The new land lies far on the other side, so I’m told. It is a frightening enough to live among strange pastures and even stranger peoples. But anything is better than the horrors that we’ve faced behind us. Day turns to night and the seas don’t let up their vastness. I clutch my dolly, my Mary, and pray that we’ll have a better life ahead of us.

*

Dear Diary,

It has been over a year since we arrived. In that time, I have lost so much that was dear to me; my beloved Sicile passed, barely six months ago. Even now I still feel the warmth of her body next to mine, the emptiness of my arms are bereft from holding her. Then my beloved blue kelpie Jack became lost in the bushes beyond the paddocks. It was I who saw the black, before Papa or the rest of the community.[1] He stood alone, watching us beyond our small enclosure, as silent as a statue. He had a spear in one hand and was half naked as the savages are wont to be. He disappeared, and I could smell their fires, smoking in the dense bushland that surrounds us. There have been raids across our small community and every day I feel anxious just to walk across our house to the church; afraid to walk alone on the tracks that run into the bush. Papa says they are not to be feared, that he wishes to preach to them the word of God. I am not so sure. Sicile’s death has left me feeling vulnerable and isolated, unsure of my own identity in this strange new world.

I have done much soul searching since Sicile’s passing. Mama has taken to her bed, too wrapped in her own despair to raise herself. The fireplace is my only warmth, my comfort. I have a trestle bed there, where I can find some peace from my daily routine. Only here the memories of my precious Sicile fill my senses. Her soft scent is evident in her blanket, and I breathe her in; her smell, the memory of her soft breath against my cheek. Her shoes are still there, by the fireplace, so small that it makes my heart stop. I place my Mary, my raggedy doll next to her, whom she loved. Her presence is with me always and I must keep them, to protect us from harm. Sometimes, I sense the savages before I see them, out in the yard as I place the clothes on our flimsy washing line. They stand there, in the shadows of the gum trees, silent as statues. They seem to like our fair skin, so different from their own.

Some days, when the air is dank and heavy, reflecting my mood, I hope they will take me, release me from my sorrow. But how I chide myself for my ungodly feelings! I must remain pious, say my prayers, and learn my Scriptures. I must gain knowledge of our new home, a land with birds that chatter from the tree tops and brown beasts that hop along the edges of our enclosure. A land that has trees that bend in the breezes, shedding their leaves unlike any I have seen in England. How I grieve for that time! We were a family, not knowing what the future would hold. Even Jacob my brother has left us, sent to Sydney by Papa to finish his studies. How I wish I could be with him. But it is my duty to stay, to care for mama, to ensure that the savages cannot finish us off. It is my task to ring the bell should they step onto our land. Such responsibilities! I mourn for my old self, for the girl I once was in England.

But wait, I hear mama waking. I must stoke the fire, make her strong tea, as papa has instructed. He is already in his refuge, his church. I heard him rise before dawn. He will be pulling out the Bibles for his flock, as the Lord’s Day is upon us.

*

Suzanne Bowditch, 2017

#writing #shortstories #fiction #historicalfiction #magick #witchcraft #alienlandscape #colonies

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