Writing Catalog

Shaliz Bazldjoo

Grade: 11

Laurel School

Instructor: Kate Webb

How to Hunt Witches

Novel Writing

How to Hunt Witches

If any man lyeth with mankind, as a man lyeth with a woman, both of them have committed abomination… And if any woman change the natural use into that which is against nature… going after strange flesh, or other flesh than God alloweth… every such person shall be put to death.
— From Capital Laws in the New Haven penal code of 1656

No one came to America unless they wanted to die. Dorothy came to America to live.

Gasping for air just off the coast of the Atlantic, she was starting to regret that decision.

The water was warm and cold at the same time. Her eyes stung, something in her body felt broken, and her throat was sticky with salt. Thunder rang bells in her ears. There was too much distortion to assess what had happened. Too much of everything, really: noise, sensation, light, even smell—a burning smell. Charred wood. Dorothy remembered things burning, just as she remembered the wails around her. She remembered her wrists straining against rope and skin unforming and reforming and smoke from long, long ago…

Focus. She was in the ocean. She'd been on a ship, and then the ship was gone in a flash, and now she was in the water. Her hands held onto wood. Her blurry vision turned the wood into an empty barrel from the cargo hold. That made sense. She'd been in the cargo hold.

Her hands were slippery, too. Maybe from blood. She was bleeding. And she couldn't recall why.

Retrace your steps, she thought, but it was a dangerous idea. Her memories came to her like the waves crashing down on her head. Each time they dipped her underwater and flooded her brain, she lost the reality of the moment.

It was decades ago, and she walked through a forest, whistling to birds. It was years ago, and she ate stolen bread behind a baker's shop, with mud and gore from her fingernails crusting each leavened chunk. Her hands were dirty. Maybe that was why they bled.

Except it wasn't. She wasn't in England anymore, she was in the ocean. And she wasn't in 1690, either. Ten years had gone by. New century. New Dorothy. New World.

The next wave bore down on her so hard she let go of the barrel. Her body plunged. All noise and color finally cut out. She swore she could feel the sand at the bottom of the sea, and then she felt nothing at all.


And she was running, so fast, to the boarding dock. The ground was solid beneath her feet, the bonnet whipping off her hair. England's coast smelled like fish and tea leaves. The crewmen were still packing for the voyage, so she had time to get on board. If barely. And without payment. And without being noticed.

There was a stack of crates on the ship's east side. Dorothy climbed them without hesitation. Sure, someone on the street might stop and stare, with her skirts hitching up as they were, but what did it matter? Soon, she would be free of them and their stuffiness.

She reached the top of the stack and breathed in higher, freer air, less polluted by dirt and slag. From here, she could see the whole town. Horses weighed down by carts, boys idly swinging hoops. People going about their bland days, occasionally in wealthy coats and gowns, more frequently in leather blankets and beggars' empty smiles. Endless stone streets and endless square buildings as far as the eye could see. Eternal conformity. Though she was in haste, Dorothy took the time to give them a bras d'honneur. Up your arse, England. Farewell forever.


The voice made her jump. She nearly fell off her perch on the crates. Her heart slammed to life in her chest, fear of being caught eclipsing her thoughts. She prepared to bargain with a deckhand for passage. To swindle him, or deign to seduce him. It would be more difficult than sneaking on, but manageable. It had to be.

This had all run a course through her head when she realized: the voice had come from above, not below.

Dorothy looked up. There was a face there, up on the deck a meter away from her. A mop of fabric-wrapped hair hanging over the railing. A women's bonnet. A passenger.

Dorothy didn't hesitate. "Pull me up," she said, hoping the force of the command flattened the insecurities in her voice.

"That doesn't sound safe, good lady."

"Nothing about this is safe. Be a kind soul and pull me up."

Round eyes blinked at her. Then they disappeared, away from the railing, where Dorothy couldn't see them. She thought for a moment that the passenger had abandoned her. Out of fear, maybe. Or some reclusive religious doctrine. Or just lawfulness. Worse, she could have alerted the ship's crew, and then Dorothy's whole plan would go to dust.

But she was overreacting. The woman returned a moment later. The sun lit her up from behind, casting her shadow onto Dorothy's face.

A rope dropped over the ship's edge, thick and crusted in places, but sturdy. "You don't tell a soul about this, alright?"

"Of course."

She grabbed onto the rope. She could feel the weight of the passenger on the boat, holding it in place. Climbing was difficult. The wood was flat, smoothed and sanded for the voyage. Dorothy took a deep breath, tightening her stomach, and fell, strained from the effort, onto the deck of the ship.

The sky above her glistened with heat. It was rare to have hot days in England—but she reminded herself that she had traveled south, so maybe not so much anymore. She hoped it was a good omen.

She was still lying there, back pressed to Amnesty's warm planks of wood, when her helper grabbed her arm. "We must go belowdecks," she said. "We'll be setting sail soon, and the crew would loathe to have anyone falling overboard."

"Hm. They may want me overboard," Dorothy replied.

The passenger huffed a laugh.

"Thank you, though. Miss…"

"Anne," she said. "And you are?"

"Dorothy Law." Her surname, rancid as it was to her, slipped comfortably off her tongue.

They wedged themselves breathlessly into a corner of the living quarters. It was crowded, with excitement and hope filling the few pockets of air that remained. Between bodies were faint glimpses of the beams holding the room up, and cannons pressed through portholes, and mats on the ground. Frizzy dark curls stuck to Anne's face. Dorothy smoothed them away. When she inhaled it was like…


Choking. Deep blue in her diaphragm. Prickling through every open crevice of her chest. A natural person would have died by now. But Dorothy was unnatural, so instead her breath clogged in her throat and stayed there. Her nerves kept firing, her heart kept pumping, her brain kept thinking, but everything else neared the threshold of death. Drowning felt oddly like burning, a salt fire inside of her. How long had it been since she'd slipped from the surface of the water? A minute, an hour, a day…


Three days since the ship took sail toward America. Dorothy continued to evade notice, tucking herself behind beams when crewmen came down. Otherwise, she stuck near Anne. She tended to sick men since she knew she couldn't die from their illnesses. She played with the littlest passengers, teaching Tommy, a farmer's son, how to carve dice out of tiny chunks of wood from the floor.

"No one will notice," she told him with a wink. "No one ever does."

It might have been boring if she wasn't intoxicated by freedom. The New World. A chance to start over, with no mother, no angry villagers, no self-censorship. No more pretending to be normal.

She was a witch. And now she would embrace it.

Anne came to her at midday, like she always did, with a handful of salt pork and bread hard enough to break teeth on. The look in her eyes was more earnest than ever.

"I don't mind sharing rations, Dorothy."

"What did I tell you yesterday?" Dorothy's callused hands cupped Anne's soft ones, and she pushed them away. "I don't need food. Really, Anne."

"You must. Or you will starve."

"I will never starve," Dorothy proclaimed. "I'm immortal."

"You're stubborn, is what you are."

"And immortal. You'll see."

Dorothy had gone far longer without food. Sure, it was uncomfortable, but it didn't hurt her, not beyond the embarrassment of her stomach growling.

"Just don't feed me and watch what happens."

"Doe, please."

The urging didn't faze her, but the nickname did. "Doe?"

"Yes. Short for Dorothy."


"It's easier to say. I've never been the best with words. Plus, you look like a doe."

Dorothy frowned at that. "How do you mean?"

"Like, you've got a gentle face. You're skinny. And smooth." As if to emphasize, Anne ran her free hand over Dorothy's arm. "You're… unassuming. But you pack a strong kick all the same."

Dorothy felt her gaze drift down to Anne's slowly chapping lips. She raised it. "It's a silly nickname. I don't like being considered meek."

"I never said that."

Anne's eyes were more doe-ish than her own: brown and big, too young for the tired lines of her face. She was pretty, but an exhausted pretty. The stress of life had crumpled her skin like paper, leaving gaunt cheekbones, too many folds in her forehead, too many crinkles when she smiled, all balanced out by the nobility of her features and the youth in her gaze. She was older than Dorothy—well, older in appearance, since Dorothy had looked the same for forty years. Age got complicated if she thought too much about it.

She sighed. She took a patch of salt pork from Anne's palm. Anne didn't leave until she swallowed…


The water so salty it seared. She'd never died in an ocean before. There was so much spasming to it. Even when her lungs gave up, her limbs shuddered, tearing through the current one last time. It was hard to figure out exactly what was killing her, or if she was technically dead, when everything was so constant. She was being hollowed out, liquified. Her organs dampened and cleared up again. Her veins rusted but clung to life, as if sneaking under every blow of the waves, evading every strike of divine judgment.


"Why did you sneak on board?" Anne asked her one day.

Dorothy didn't lie. "I'm fleeing England. People keep trying to kill me for being a witch."

"And are you?"

Anne's face was close to hers, her voice lowered. Dorothy could tell she was Christian, if not devoutly—some combination of her demeanor and the cross necklace buried under her collar. She delivered the question genuinely. She didn't seem angry, though. She asked it like she was asking about the weather.

"I like to think so," Dorothy said.

Floorboards creaked near them. Anne's whole body tensed. One of the men—Samuel, maybe?—squeezed past, probably looking for an empty space in which to sit. The women waited in silence until he was gone. They were curled up against the side of a cannon. It was a hidden place, but not that hidden.

After, Anne whispered to her, "I'm fleeing England, too."


As liberal as Dorothy was with her backstory, Anne had never mentioned her own. Not until now. Anne's bottom lip quivered, and Dorothy longed to reach out and hold it in place.

"I… I did a bad thing, Doe. The worst thing."

"You killed someone?"

"Heavens, no!"

"Then what's the 'worst thing?'" Dorothy asked, hoping the interruption had soothed her a bit.

"I abandoned my husband. He was a merchant in Bristol. I stole all our silver and gold, and I ran." Her round eyes moistened. "I left our children, too. Two boys. I didn't even look back."

It didn't seem so awful at first. Then Dorothy remembered that most women were wives, and nothing more, especially if they were wealthy. Their only duty was loyalty, and bearing children. Anne had deserted both. Running away was treason to the family.

"Why?" Dorothy asked.

Anne shrugged. "I know it's shameful. But I had to, Doe. I needed it like I needed air. Everything in the world was telling me to go. My husband, he—he was a strong man. A godly man. I don't think he was a good man. He threw coals from the hearth at me if I did wrong. But he was always better to the boys. That's why—that's why I didn't look back. My sons don't need me. They never liked needing me, even as little babes."

She took a deep, shuddering breath. Dorothy clasped her hand to keep her from crying.

"I am telling you too much," Anne moaned.

"You are," said Dorothy. "Now tell me more."

"I could think of nothing but escape. Any escape. I prolonged it, I tried to stay, but it was killing me. One day I strung a noose up in an ash tree. I stared at it. Told myself my time was up. I had to choose, to leave one way or another. And I chose this." She paused. "I still have the silver. I've sewn it all up in my clothes. I'm wearing it right now."

"That's good," said Dorothy. She released Anne's hand. Something familiar was rising in her, something she'd long associated with sin, witchcraft, and herself. "That's good. You did a good thing."

At those words, Anne broke down sobbing, burying her bonnetted head in Dorothy's shoulder. Something like friction passed between them. Something like rightness and wrongness at the same time.


The current barreled Dorothy into a rock. Then another. Then another. When her mind faded into darkness, it wasn't from suffocation, and she knew she wasn't going to pass on when she closed her eyes. It was just momentary blackouts, simple concussions as the sea tried its best to smash her apart.


When night fell, she met Anne's unsleeping eyes and lowered herself into the cargo hold. It was more spacious than where the passengers slept, but maybe just because it was free of other people, humid bodies, and watching stares. She inhaled a mouthful of dust.

Barrels were everywhere. Crates, too. The ones she'd stood on were probably somewhere in here. She wondered if her footprints had survived on their lids.

She heard Anne drop down behind her and stumble. The floor was more wobbly here, closer to the rotating waves. It was also dark; too dark for Dorothy to see Anne, though she knew it was her from the feeling of her shape in the air. She spoke softly:


"I'm here."

"And why is that?"

Anne stepped closer, and Dorothy touched her sleeve. Yes, it was definitely her. In the flesh. Dorothy pictured brown eyes blinking and hair untangled from a bonnet's clutch.

"Well," said Dorothy. "Why did you follow me?"

"I follow you everywhere, don't I?"

"I followed you first."

They were mere breaths apart, now, both holding on to the other to make sure they were solid. Dorothy clutched both of Anne's arms. Silence ensued. Within it, the creaking of Amnesty, the rustle of the water.

Then they touched faces, too. Brow against brow, nose against nose. Lip against lip. Lip against lip, harder this time. Dorothy felt her mouth uncurl. Her fingers tightened, digging into cloth. Color poured into her kiss by kiss.

She lifted one hand to the back of Anne's head, laced it through her hair, and pressed her closer. Pressed like she was trying to collide them into one body. Like it would never be enough. Like she could stay here forever, mouth in Anne's, and the exhilarating fall would never end.

She backed them into a wall, though she didn't feel herself move. Anne's shoulder blades thudded against it. They broke apart gasping for air.

"Doe," breathed Anne.

"I hate it when you call me that," Dorothy murmured into her neck.

"Well it worked out alright, no?"

Dorothy chuckled. She tried her best to feel… everything. Eyelashes, clothes, bodily warmth, the cold of the wood behind them, Anne's freckles, Anne's collarbone, the curves she had to search for under her dress. It wasn't warm anymore—hot instead, fire where her hands found the skin under layers and layers of purity.


It wasn't a coincidence. The ground was getting thicker, the rocks more frequent. She remembered: land. They had seen land, in the distance, the tides pulling them ever closer to it before whatever had happened happened. And now, she had reached it. Delirious and unalive, a smile twitched onto her dizzy, storm-tossed face, muddled by thick water. She'd made it to America.




which is another word for the dried fruit leather we used to make. i'm stretching from my father's shoulders to the bruised skins of apples, tearing them out of trees and helping madar-jun crush them under rolling pins. sometimes she boiled cherries, sometimes plums. sometimes she gashed pomegranates out of their rinds. always she let me taste the product, long thin sheets of sweet fruit turned sour. i tore off chunks and folded them into the shape of cranes. gnashed them under my teeth, puckered my mouth, fingers mimicking the sticky succor of love.

i haven't seen madar-jun since i grew old enough to understand what immigration really meant. her gnarled hands curled over the opposite side of phone screens. her voice fogged by long-distance static: today the internet is down. tali-khale says she heard gunshots floating on the wind. my mother buys lavashak from the market downtown and it tastes deceptively sweet, like it's grinning to a camera with a bullet aimed at its head.

i was six when i decided to taste religion. madar-jun disappeared to kneel on carpets in the corners of our house, and i followed. earlier, my mother had told me religion was the reason she came to america. earlier still, i visited iran for the last time. earlier still, the cia threw some coup or another, but when i ask about it madar-jun binds my mouth with apple skins and says that a question isn't the same as a prayer.

and i was six when madar-jun taught me how to echo her reverence back to her and bleed my soul out on a cream-colored mat over a paisley carpet over a hardwood floor. the words to whisper for salvation, the place to press my forehead to the ground. later, women started throwing fistfuls of their hair into fires, refusing to take it anymore. somewhere in between, i shed religion, deciding that if god existed then the years must have driven him insane.

and i don't know how old i was when i tore the pages out of my history textbook and folded them into paper boats. sent them off on the atlantic, set them free from the leather binding of their lies, drenching all the white space of erasure. sometimes the boats drowned on impact. sometimes the water dampened facts about the puritans and the mongols and the soviets but kept the boats afloat until a tidal grand finale. sometimes the ink smeared, fusing all the wronged people of the world into one molten black mass. sometimes the paper grew wings from untold stories, departed the ocean, and never looked back. always it tasted the same: creased hands, bloody hair. dried apples. the sticky succor of love.