Salem, MA – 1692
Prudence Goodhope sighed and lamented her fate as she struggled against the ropes that held her tight against a wooden pole buried in the earth. Villagers came and went, dropping off handfuls of twigs and kindling at her feet. With each drop, the pile grew larger and larger until it reached her waist.
The stern looking Reverend Cotton Snerdway approached with a lit torch in hand. “Right then, time to send you to hell witch. Have you got any last words before I set you ablaze for the committing the crime of witchcraft?”
“Yes!” Prudence shouted. “I’m not a witch! Please believe me! I swear I’m not a witch at all!”
A hushed gasp overtook the crowd of villagers.
“She just accused her accusers of lying!” a random farmer cried.
A random old woman swooned and was about to fall when her fellow villagers caught her. “Fi on thee, witch! Your words cut my ears like knives! How dare thee mistreat thine accusers so!”
The reverend held up his torch. “Now, see here, you dirty witch. If your accusers say you’re a witch, then you’re a witch and that’s all there is to it. So shut your gob and enjoy your burning.”
“Please!” Prudence said. “Good reverend, allow me to plead my case.”
“Sorry,” Reverend Snerdway said. “Once you’ve been accused, that’s all there is. If we let people start denying accusations then people who make accusations will get their feelings hurt and then the next time someone sees a witch they’ll just shut their traps and not tell anyone because they won’t want to feel as bad as your accusers will when you start runnin’ your dirty witch face about your so-called innocence of witchcraft and then before you know it, the whole bloody colony will be overrun with witches, flying around on their broomsticks, turning children into newts, cackling at all hours of the night. We can’t have that. Not on my watch. Come on, now. It will just hurt for a minute.”
“But I can prove I am not a witch!” Prudence said. “I have, at all times, been in the company of my family and if they had seen me dabble in witchery, then surely they would have said something.”
“They’re probably all witches too,” the reverend said. “Fear not. We’ll burn them next.”
“Wait!” Prudence said.
“What now?” Reverend Snerdway asked.
“I’ve never flown on a broomstick,” Prudence said. “I’ve never turned a child into a newt. I’m not green. I don’t know any spells. You can search my home top to bottom and you’ll find nary a wand or a book of incantations, not even a single potion…”
“My hands are tied,” Reverend Snerdway said. “If your accusers say you’re a witch, then you’re a witch. But rest assured that your imminent burning is most assuredly deserved because if you hadn’t been a witch, then surely, your accusers would not have accused you of being a witch.”
Prudence’s eyes grew wide with shock. “Wait? Reverend, you mean to say that accusers never get their accusations wrong?”
“Not at all,” the reverend said. “Since the dawn of time, not one single accuser has ever made a false accusation, either on purpose or accidentally due to a misunderstanding of the pertinent facts relative to the issue at hand. You were called a witch and ergo, you are a witch. If you weren’t a witch, then you would have never been called a witch, so which witch is a witch? That’d be you, witch.”
Prudence sighed. “I can’t argue with that impeccable logic. You have convinced me, sir. I must be a witch.”
“Finally,” the reverend said as he leaned down. He was about to set the kindling ablaze when Prudence called out. “Wait!”
“Blast!” Reverend Snerdway said. “What now, witch?”
“What if there’s a tiny, absurdly small chance my accusers are wrong?” Prudence asked.
The reverend shrugged his shoulders. “Unlikely, but no matter. Most assuredly, you are a witch, and so when I set you on fire, you will die a painful death, shrieking in agony and being justly punished as the witch that you are. But, in the unlikely event that you are not a witch, you’ll still die and just get to Heaven that much sooner, enjoying all the rights and privileges thereto that a good Christian death can offer and I’m sure our Lord will be there to offer his condolences for the mix-up.”
“Hmm,” Prudence said. “Well, I should very much like to meet the Lord.”
“And meet him you shall,” the reverend said. “Unless you’re a witch, and then you’ll go straight to hell.”
“Now I’m very uncertain of this whole ordeal,” Prudence said.
“Woman,” the reverend said. “Please stop questioning this for in the end, the important thing is that your accusers not be offended. If I don’t set you on fire and allow hot flames to lick the very skin off of your bones, then they will think I do not take their accusations seriously. If I ask them simple questions like, ‘Say, accusers, why do you think Prudence is a witch?’ or ‘Did you even see Prudence ride around in the night sky on a broom?’ then your accusers will be cross and their feelings will be hurt and do you have any idea how inconvenient it is to make an accusation?”
“OK,” Prudence said. “You make a fine point, reverend. It would be easier to just burn me than offend an accuser with basic lines of inquiry. Have at it then. Lord, here I come!”
And so, Reverend Snerdway burned over 100 accused witches without even bothering to find out if they had ever even owned a broomstick because, holy shit, you can’t ask an accuser a question, you un-woke sack of crap.