The Dark One was enraged when he saw the carefully laid out body. He stormed to Annie’s cell and threw open the door.
“You,” he glared down at her. “How did you leave this cell?”
“Perhaps, it is you who underestimates my power, Lucifer.”
“Do not dare use that name,” he reached down, grabbed the front of her dress, and hauled her to her feet.
“Or what,” she reefed her nails along his hand, and her stomach lurched at the dark pus issuing from the cuts. “What will you do, Lucifer, kill me?”
“I will make you suffer the worst pain imaginable, and when I am finished you will join your family in Hell.”
“Never,” she laughed in his face. “I will never believe you. No matter what you show me. No matter what you do, I will be true to Him.”
“Even now,” he shook his head in wonder. “When he deserts you and leaves you to suffer alone.”
“Until the end of time, if need be.”
“Very well,” he signalled to the guards to bring Annie.
She followed them without resistance, faltering only outside that door. The table was bare. Dora’s body was gone. Relief flooded through her, for she felt her resolve would have weakened if she once more looked upon the lifeless body of her sister.
“Tie her down,” Hugh ordered, and she spun round to face him.
“You,” she spat, and he backed away, ashen faced.
She pointed towards the blazing fire imagining orbs of light rising from it. These she sent spinning towards him. He screamed and ducked down, but some made contact singeing his hair and clothes. Flames ran along the arm of his tunic, the same arm he had used in welding the stick. His roars of pain made the guards come running with water. Annie watched this tableau without feeling. She wanted Hugh to die. To feel the pain her sister had felt, but before she could act any further The Dark One seized her hair and pushed her down onto the table. Her face was pressed against the wood and her sister’s blood coated her face.
“Bring something to bind her eyes.”
A cloth, smelling of sweat was tied around her eyes, and she was lifted onto the table. No matter how she kicked and struggled, they kept her down. Now her vision was blocked, she was unable to fight, but had to lie there and listen.
They tied her hands to both corners of the table; her feet were pulled wide and tied in the same way. She lay there spread-eagled awaiting her faith. There were whispers from close by, and she turned her head towards the sound. Sweat coated her forehead not only from fear, but also from the arid heat. A smell of sulphur wafted across her face, and she knew The Dark One was standing over her.
“We must look for the witch mark.”
There were sniggers from the guards and Annie strained against her bonds.
“It will go much easier if you stop struggling.”
She turned her head from his putrid breath and kicked out as hard as she could. The slap she received split her lip, and she tasted salty, coppery blood.
“Very well, proceed.”
There was a sound of metal scraping against metal. Annie clenched her fists and tried to control the tremors shaking her body. Something cold touched her cheek and she gasped.
“Stay very still, cousin. I would not want to cut that pretty skin any more than I have to.”
Annie cried out as the knife cut the clothes from her body. She felt the bodice of her dress rip open and heard the gasps of the men as her breasts were exposed.
“Oh, God no,” she sobbed.
She had never been seen naked by anyone, not even her mother, since she was young. Now here she was lying almost naked on a table, surrounded by strange men. Her tears soaked the blindfold, as she felt hands move over her in mock examination. Her hands were untied, and she was pulled into a sitting position as her neck and back was checked.
“Nothing,” Hugh’s voice was hoarse, as his hands continued to move over her body.
Annie knew her skin was flawless. There was not a freckle or mole to be seen. Hugh’s hands still roamed over her, kneading, and pinching her breasts, until she cried out in pain.
“Remove her petticoat,” The Dark One ordered.
“No, please,” she tried to pull her legs together, as she felt the tip of the blade against her skin.
The guards drew closer. She smelt their sweat and heard their laboured breathing. They seemed impervious to her cries for mercy. Hands moved down her stomach, between her thighs. She screamed and thrashed, trying to get away as the fingers probed deeper.
“Enough,” The Dark One ordered, but still the hands remained. “I said enough.”
The fingers were pulled away, leaving scratches on her flesh.
“Move, go on,” she heard him order the men.
“Have you had enough?”
Annie was unable to answer. She was sobbing so much that words were beyond her.
“Answer me, Annie. Have you had enough?”
“Yes,” she managed to splutter.
Are you ready to concede?”
He waited for her crying to subside. After all, he had won. Someone of Annie’s sensibilities could not endure any more of this. Annie’s sobs quietened. She allowed her body to relax and her breathing to deepen. She heard the hissing of the fire and the muted mumbling of the men. Were these some of the last sounds Dora heard?
“Now,” he asked. “Are you ready?”
Annie turned her head towards him. “Never,” she roared.
“Very well. Shave her. We will find the mark.”
The blade slapped against leather, as Hugh sharpened it. Annie gritted her teeth, as she felt its sting beneath each arm. He moved uncaring of her tender flesh, and she tried not to cry out when the blade nicked and cut. She did not even move when she felt it between her legs and heard the dry scraping as it tore hair from the roots. There were small tracks of blood running under her arms. She felt the trickles as they moved. There was also stickiness between her legs, and she knew it wasn’t sweat.
“Still, nothing,” Hugh whispered in astonishment.
“Her hair then.”
“Shave her head,” he ordered. “Start with these,” he handed him a shears.
Hugh shrugged and began to hack at Annie’s hair. The auburn locks cascading around the table fell to the floor as he worked. Still she didn’t move, even when the shears snipped so close to her head, she heard the snapping of its jaws.
“Look, there,” Hugh was pointing to a small mark behind her ear. A tiny brown birthmark even Annie did not know about.
“Well done, Hugh. You have pleased me and I will see you are rewarded.”
“Thank you, Oliver,” he simpered, handing him the shears.
“You may leave,” The Dark One ordered the men. “You also,” he told Hugh. “Your work is done.”
Annie listened, as the men filed from the room. The flesh beneath her arms and between her legs burned and her scalp tingled, unused to the feel of the air. She felt the restraints being loosened.
“You may rise.”
She sat and removed the blindfold, blinking in the dim light. Black spots danced before her eyes, as she felt around her for her torn clothing.
“Such modesty,” The Dark One laughed, as she tried to pull the tatters of her dress from beneath her.
She gathered the cloth around her breasts and huddled into an upright foetal position.
“Get up,” he pulled her from the table, tearing the scraps of clothing from her grasp.
“No,” she screamed, and tried to wrestle them from him, but he pushed her aside and dumped the fabric into the fire.
There was nothing else within the room she could use to hide her shame.
He ignored her and walked towards a wall. With a wave, a mirror appeared, and he beckoned her forward.
“No,” Annie whispered, trying to cover herself with her hands.
He grabbed her, pushing her towards it.
“Look what your God has allowed to happen.”
She averted her gaze.
“Look, I said,” sharp talons seized her chin and twisted her face around. “Tell me again how much you love him.”
Annie gasped at her shorn head. All that remained of her beautiful hair was a few small tufts of bristles. He let go of her chin and caught her arms pulling them behind her back.
“Look well,” he whispered. “See what you have become.”
Annie’s cheeks blazed in shame as she looked upon her body. Dark bruises stained the flesh on her breasts and blood glowed against the whiteness of her thighs.
“Well, what do you say now?” He clicked his fingers and the mirror vanished. “I would never allow this to happen to you. I would protect you.”
“Then you will die.”
“Yes,” Annie whispered. “I will die.”
With a roar he flung her from him. He would have torn her to pieces, had it not been for the door opening. Hugh had returned.
“I told you to stay away.”
“I thought I could be of help, Oliver, and mother asked if you would be home for dinner.”
Annie started to laugh, home for dinner. In the awfulness of her situation Hugh’s words seemed ludicrous.
“Will you go home for dinner?” she asked. “I mean,” she wiped the tears from her eyes. “Hell is such a long way to go.”
“She is insane,” Hugh muttered.
At this Annie laughed even louder. Maybe she was insane. Maybe what she felt, what she had witnessed were all the wanderings of madness.
“She confessed,” The Dark One tried to be heard above her laughter. “And refuses to repent. She will die at first light.”
Hugh nodded and looked at Annie. She made no attempt so far to harm him, and he held up his arm for protection when she pointed at him.
“Will you give me you cloak?”
He was amazed at this request. This was his finest cloak, hardly worn. He did not want her blood on it. He was saved from answering.
“Sit her down,” The Dark One ordered.
Hugh motioned her to sit, but she refused to move. One arm was held tight across her chest, the other between her legs.
“Will you sit,” he glared at her, pointing towards a chair. The body he had violated no longer aroused his lust, and he didn’t want to have to touch her.
“Will you give me your cloak?” She asked again.
“Enough of this,” The Dark One roared. “I said sit.”
Annie found herself flying. She threw her arms wide in the hope of finding something to stop her flight. There was nothing and in the seconds, it took for her to reach her destination, she managed to look behind her. The sharp points of the nails glistened in the light throw by the fire, as Annie hurtled towards the chair.
The impact of her back against wood made it impossible for her to save herself, and she slammed with great force down onto the nails. Her howls of agony echoed within the mill. The guards outside the door crossed themselves, as the screams continued unabated. The eight-inch nails drove upwards, tearing through flesh and muscle. Spearing her rectum, puncturing her colon and bladder, and splitting the hymen. Despite the force in which she fell upon them, the points seemed to sink slowly into her body. The more she struggled, the deeper they sank. She gripped the arms of the chair and tried to lift herself off. The air was filled with the smell of blood and faeces. She managed to rise one side of her body off the spikes, but the other side dug deeper. Her screams resounded off the walls. Blood and body fluids ran across the seat of the chair and down the legs. Hugh stood frozen watching her struggle. She called out to him begging him for help, but he never moved.
“God, help me,” she cried to the heavens. “Let me die.”
The Dark One pulled her from the chair. With a sucking noise her body came free of the nails, and he threw her on to the floor. From her buttocks to the backs of her knees were covered with puncture wounds. Blood ran from each perforation and snaked around her body. She was shaking from shock as she cried again.
“Let me die. Oh, dear God, let me die.”
“Not yet,” The Dark One laughed. “What you have suffered is nothing compared to the death I will give you come morning.”
Annie felt a rush of cool air as the door was opened. Strong arms lifted her, and the guards carried her back to her cell. Her nakedness no longer shamed her, for the pain was overpowering. She was sobbing when they threw her down in the straw. Let me die, she prayed. Let me bleed to death. The blood coursing down her body felt warm. She reached out a trembling hand and tried to cover herself with the straw. The pain raging within her, made her catch her breath, and she surrendered to the darkness that threatened, and sank into its folds.
It was night when she awoke. For the first time torches were lit along the corridor. A blanket covered her nakedness and she clutched at the soft wool in wonder. The cell door creaked open, but she did not try to turn. The pain was too great.
“Here, Miss. Try to drink.”
She looked up to see the young prison guard. He was holding a ladle of water to her mouth.
He cupped a hand at the side of her face and allowed the water to drip over her lips and pool into his palm.
“I am so sorry, Miss,” he whispered.
“It is not your fault.”
“Aye, that as may be, but I have done nothing to help,” he sat beside her and pulled the blanket over her shoulders. She groaned as it stuck to the blood on her back.
“Sorry,” he gulped.
“No, you are truly kind. Did you light the torches?”
“Yes, I am on duty for the night.”
There was silence for a moment. Annie seemed to drift in and out of consciousness. The next sound she heard was his crying. She reached out a hand and patted his leg.
“Hush now; my suffering will soon be over.”
“But it is not fair. You are only a girl and look what they have done to your beautiful hair.”
Annie forgot about her hair. She reached up and felt the coarse stubble. Her tears stung, as her face was sore from crying.
The next thing she felt was a soft hand brushing her head. She looked up to find her mother smiling down at her, her mother as she had been in life, and not the ghoulish figure of her nightmares.
“Annie, darling,” she kissed her face. “Do not be afraid. This will pass and we will be together again.”
“Mamma, where is Dora?”
“She is safe and at peace, child. You need have no worries.”
“I am going to die.”
“Yes, child, I know.”
“I am afraid. Oh, Mamma, I am so afraid.”
“I would take all this from you if I could,” her mother’s eyes filled with tears. “But I have not the power.”
“Rose and Meg and the others are they dead?”
“No, they will live and prosper.”
“I must go now, child. I was allowed only moments upon the earth, and I must leave. Already the cock crows and soon it will be light.”
“Mamma do not leave me please,” Annie held tightly to her mother’s hand.
When she woke again sunlight blazed through the slatted windows. Footsteps thundered on the floor above, and she knew they were coming for her.