Doli Harrison had blue fingers.
She was unremarkable in every other way. Plain-faced, with pale skin and stringy blonde hair. She wasn’t tall or short or curvy or skinny. She wasn’t smart or stupid or exciting or boring. She was simply average.
Admittedly, her eyes were beautiful. Dark indigo blue, and deep, like you could fall into them and drown.
But what really stood out were her fingers—the same color as her eyes. The tips were a dark blue-purple, which faded down her fingers until her knuckles.
Doli never took off her gloves in public. Obviously because it would be embarrassing to have blue fingers—Doli could only imagine the stares and whispers. But that wasn’t really why she wore them.
To take them off would be a death sentence.
It was May, 1693, and Amesbury, Massachusetts had fallen to the disease that had swept across New England in the form of witch-hunters. It had started in a town known as Salem.
Doli heard the stories. That some women were marked by the devil, and cast curses upon their neighbors, and served Satan. That in the name of God, they had to be exorcised or killed.
She didn’t doubt that that was why she had been abandoned. She didn’t remember her parents, could only imagine their horrified faces as they beheld their hell-marked daughter.
Honestly, she didn’t blame them. She was disgusted by herself too.
She jerked out of her reverie to see Josephine stomping forward. Josephine was an older woman, with long, braided gray hair and a face of stern angles and planes. Doli would have died had Josephine not taken her in as a baby.
Witches had to stick together.
“Just a moment!” Doli drew her gloves back on and kicked at the dirt. She’d been passing the time by drawing, because her extremely useless power was turning things blue.
That’s right. She’d had to live in fear for sixteen years, but on the bright side, she could color with her bare hands!
“Doli!” Josephine warned, catching her in the act of concealing her drawing. Her brows drew together in a terrifying scowl and she crossed her arms. “You know how foolish it is to Mark things.”
Mark things. Like her touch would taint everything around her.
“I know,” she sighed. It was a huge risk. Every time she Marked something, she jeopardized their safety.
Last year, she’d volunteered to help the Jacksons plant their vegetable garden. It had been fun—largely because of their son Andrew—and she had even been invited to help with it the next year.
When the crop had come up from the ground, there were juicy tomatoes, lush eggplants, and delicious turnips. And they were all blue.
That shouldn’t have happened. She’d worn her gloves, but some way or another—maybe her glove had torn or she’d slipped—she had Marked the seeds.
The whole crop was trashed and the Jacksons were exorcised.
Mishaps like that had haunted Doli her entire life. The most recent was perhaps the worst. Somehow the Douglas’ cat Misty got into Josephine and Doli’s home during the night. When Doli had shooed the cat away, he had clawed and bit at Doli’s hand. She’d grabbed Misty and flung him out of the room, then rushed for a needle and thread to mend her torn gloves.
The next morning, Misty’s soft white fur was dark indigo.
More rumors and exorcisms ensued.
“Keep up,” Josephine ordered, and Doli ran to her side. “We have to hide. The witch-hunters have come.”
Doli stopped in her tracks. “What?”
“The witch-hunters have come from Salem. I can only assume they’ve heard the rumors.”
“Oh, dear…” Doli muttered. She hitched up her skirt and rushed after Josephine, tripping over bushes and roots. Another drawback to being a witch was that they had to live on the edge of the town, nestled in the woods. It was easier to hide that way.
She followed Josephine into their one-room cabin, simple with only two mats on the floor, a fireplace, and a single chair. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for the brightly painted mural. It showed the Massachusetts landscape, and helped to disguise the blue streaks on the walls.
They remained in their cabin for the rest of the day, doing mundane chores and dreading when the witch-hunters would come for an investigation. Josephine had dealt with nosy neighbors before, and even that had terrified Doli. Witch-hunters were a different matter altogether.
Doli’s hands were cramping from sewing when there was a banging on the door. She yelped, and Josephine shot her a stern glare. Josephine swept to the door and threw it open.
It was Mr. Jackson, his thinning hair sticking to his sweaty scalp. His eyes were wide. “Ms. Harrison! Haven’t you heard? They found the witch!”
“Really?” Josephine gasped, playing along. “Who is it?”
“That mute girl, Mary.”
Doli shot to her feet. “Mary Douglas?”
Mr. Jackson nodded. “They said that she can’t speak because she’s cursed. She’s the one that turned Misty blue and caused the drought!”
“But she’s not a witch!” Doli cried.
“When is the exorcism?” Josephine asked, ignoring Doli’s protests.
“They’re skipping it,” Mr. Jackson said. “Said it’s too late for her, since she’s never been able to speak. They said it’s hopeless. They’re executing her tonight.”
It seemed that everyone in the town had gathered at the river side to watch. Most of the men held pickaxes and rakes, while plenty of the women held torches. It disgusted Doli, made her want to vomit, how quickly they would turn against one of their own. And a sweet, twelve-year-old girl at that!
Doli and Josephine pushed through the crowd until they burst through, and saw the witch-hunters. The townsfolk had gathered in a near impenetrable circle around the hunters and Mary. Everyone kept their distance, except for Mary’s mother, who was sobbing in Mr. Douglas’ arms and trying to reach her daughter.
Mary’s round face was blank with terror, her mouth in a perfect “o”. Her dress was streaked with mud and torn, and her brown hair had fallen out of its bow. The witch-hunters were tying her wrists roughly together while another prepared a bag of stones. Doli gasped. They were going to drown the girl, tie her to the bag of stones and dump her in the river.
A tall witch-hunter with a blond beard raised his arms for silence.
“Ladies and Gentleman,” he announced. “My name is Matthew Hopkins. I am the Witchfinder General, come to cleanse your good town of Amesbury of servants of the Devil. My men and I have come, hearing of a cursed town, with blue crops and pets. I knew this was the work of a witch—and we have found that witch. This girl here”—he pointed at Mary, his eyes flaring with hatred—“may appear innocent and good. But she is marked by the Devil. She cannot speak! This witch has ravaged Amesbury and now we will avenge ourselves. She will be executed in the name of God!”
The crowd screamed, jeering at Mary. Doli felt something rising in her chest, something she’d never felt before. Rage, burning hot and unstoppable. They were not going to kill Mary. She wouldn’t let them.
She broke away from Josephine, ignoring her cries, and plunged into the crowd. Feeling somehow separate from herself, she removed her gloves.
Her fingers bared, she let herself be jostled, touching as many people as possible. She brushed faces, moving as fast as she could, and didn’t realize she’d reached the inner circle again until she saw the Witchfinder General just to her right. She was among the witch-hunters. Doli reached out to touch the one in front of her…
Josephine was looking at her, eyes wide. By now the crowd had started to notice the streaks of blue on their bodies, and had started screaming hysterically. Josephine was shaking her head, mumbling under her breath. Was she casting a spell? Doli didn’t know, but she hoped not. She couldn’t have Josephine endangering herself.
Josephine was mouthing something to her. Are you sure?
Doli was. She grabbed the two witch-hunters by their faces, Marking them. The men spun around, furious, and grabbed her. She bared her teeth and pushed one man’s sleeve up, gripping his forearm. He paled when he saw her blue fingers, shoving her away. Right in front of the Witchfinder General.
Matthew Hopkins stopped trying to calm the crowd, which was quickly turning into a mob. His eyes narrowed at Doli, and he grabbed her wrist and held it in the air.
“Who is this?” he shouted, careful to keep her fingers away from his hand. “We have found another witch!”
“NO!” Doli screamed. The mob had quieted again, staring at her in horror. “I am the only witch! Mary is innocent!”
Mrs. Douglas collapsed, sobbing even harder. She crawled to her daughter and tore off her bonds, while silent tears coursed down Mary’s cheeks. The witch-hunters did nothing to stop her.
“I’m the one who cursed the crop!” Doli yelled. “I turned Misty blue! It was all me, all along! And I have Marked you all!” People frantically searched themselves for blue Marks, gasping or crying out when they found them.
“You heard the girl!” the Witchfinder shouted, pushing Doli to the dirt. “Bind her!”
Countless rough hands grabbed Doli, pinning her to the ground, pulling her hair, kicking her, and tying her too tightly. Within a minute, her legs and arms were tied and a gag was in her mouth. One of the witch-hunters was tying the bag of stones to her ankles.
“In the name of God!” the Witchfinder yelled, and she was lifted by the men and taken to the riverside. Her heart was galloping and she was trembling and the rope was cutting off her circulation. They were walking further out into the river.
She was going to die.
She sucked in a breath.
They dropped her.
The water was cold and unrelenting. It washed over her, got in her eyes and blinded her, and she was sinking, sinking, sinking, so fast.
She thrashed in her bonds, but it was no use. She couldn’t move, couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe.
Doli hit the bottom, silt rising around her. She closed her eyes.
The rushing water slowed to a dull roar around her. Her heart slowed.
Mary was safe. Josephine was too, now that the people believed they’d found the only witch. She had protected them.
And somehow, she felt content. She had shown the people her true self, blue fingers and all. She knew the Marks on them would never go away, and it would serve as a constant reminder of the girl they had flung into the river.
They would never forget.
It was funny, she thought. They were so worried about ridding themselves of monsters, that they became monsters. So scared of sinners that they sinned.
Doli realized something then, as her lungs burned for air. They were the monsters. She wasn’t. Her blue fingers didn’t make her hellish, any more than her blonde hair or blue eyes did.
She wasn’t a monster. She wasn’t cursed. She was just different.
Her blue fingers may not be able to do anything useful, but they were proof that she was a witch, and witches had powers. She’d just never wanted to use them.
She did now.
Doli opened her mouth and screamed through her gag.
Lightning struck the water, blasting off the bag of stones. Doli threw out her arms, magically breaking the ropes, and kicked for the surface.
The townsfolk were fleeing, lightning striking the town. The witch-hunters were rushing to their horses and wagons, and Doli wanted to make them pay. She wanted to see how they handled a true witch.
But that would just prove their point. She wasn’t evil, or a servant of the Devil, and she refused to become one.
She swam for the opposite shore.
Josephine was waiting for her.
“How do you feel?” she asked casually as Doli hauled herself out of the river, soaking wet and injured.
“You knew I’d survive,” Doli accused, coughing. “How?”
“You always had such power,” Josephine said. “You were simply ashamed of it. When you took off your gloves, I knew you were ready to own it.” She smiled. “I’m never wrong.”
Doli started laughing. She was relieved and—admittedly—a bit delirious. “Is Mary okay?”
“She’ll be fine,” Josephine replied. She eyed Doli. “You know we’ll have to leave.”
Doli nodded. “I wouldn’t want to stay anyway.”
“No use in waiting,” Josephine replied. “Can you walk?”
Doli rose shakily to her feet. She felt stronger, somehow. “Let’s go.”
She and Josephine set off into the trees, and as she passed, Doli left a blue streak along the trunks.
Her gloves remained on the other side of the river.