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At stake

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Seven girls were chosen from the village. 

The requirements were exacting and the priest wouldn’t settle for anything less. Chaste virgins with no impure thoughts were needed for the task. The job at hand was to gather enough firewood from the nearby forest to burn the witch, who had been caught red-handed. A few days earlier, the stranger was found twitching and shuddering, in the streets, summoning the spirits in an odd-sounding tongue. Calamities began to befall after that. Mrs. Wilson’s baby died and Baker John had his kitchen burned to cinders. So, it was unanimously decided that the stranger was responsible for these incidents.

On that balmy Saturday afternoon, the virgins were taken through the cobbled streets of the village, in a reverent procession, to do their bidding. The girls held their heads high, for they knew that the next day’s entertainment depended on them.

Once in the woods, the child-virgins went on with their work with due diligence, supervised by Jeane, the eldest one. She had taken unto herself the responsibility of looking after the pack. Abigail stuck with Jeane. 

“I wish one of the boys could help us,” she said.

“Don’t you know,..”, Jeane began to explain when she was distracted by a ruckus behind the bush. The curious duo parted the thicket to discover Aunt Anna and the blacksmith, doing very odd acrobatics on the forest floor.

Startled by the interruption, the podgy aunt and her companion hurriedly covered their modesty.

“By God, its afternoon already!”, Aunt Anna exclaimed and after issuing a stern warning to the girls, that they might be cursed by the witch if they revealed what they saw, the love birds scampered off towards the village.

“Aunt Anna ought not to sit on Tim like that. She might bruise his ribs” Abigail observed. 

Jeane, embarrassed,  tried to divert Abigail’s attention to the matter at hand.   

“To burn the witch, firewood had to be touched only by virgin hands. That’s why we are here alone”.

“Who is a virgin?”

“Virgin is someone who has not been kissed”

“But Priest Mark kisses me often. It makes me unhappy, though”.

Jeane ignored Abigail. She was turning out to be a nuisance.

“How do we know that the stranger is a witch?” Abigail queried.

 “Papa says she was possessed. She moaned and writhed on the streets last week”.

“Like how Aunt Anna did behind the bushes?”

“No” Jeanne screamed, in disgust

“The witches are different. They are strangers from  faraway places They look, eat and speak differently” said Jeane.

“So people who are different from us are evil?”

“Yes. Now stop tottering and gather some firewoods” 

Chastened, Abigail began to move but she had one more question. “ and how far is the faraway place?”

Jeane was positively irritated. “why?”

“Nothing….just making sure I don’t wander off to that faraway place while bundling up the twigs. I shall be a stranger there and being different could get me killed”  


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Corona in the times of Mahabharata


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