Free Ghost Story: “The Beheaded Witch”

The following free online ghost story appears in my novel Evermore. It is told by a professional storyteller to a crowd, playing on the fears that the nearby forest is haunted:

The Story

The story of the hanged nobleman got everyone’s attention on hauntings, but what turned that attention to the woods was an incident just months later.

It happened just south of the lake, which many believe acts as a barrier between the spirits and those of the city. It seems that one of the hunters heard some strange sounds deep in the woods, and after feeling watched and finally losing his nerve, he started home and returned early at dusk. He was a religious man by all accounts, but superstitious and distrustful of the supernatural like many in those parts, and having just escaped what was in his mind a fate of supernatural horror, he was quite upset upon discovering his wife’s apparent activities at home.

None know for sure what she was really doing with the pot over the fire, the various herbs spread on the table, the candles, the chalk marks upon the floor, or the open book from which she was reading aloud, but her husband took one look at her long disheveled hair, the loose gown she wore, and a holy medallion around her neck that he forbade her to wear on the grounds that all talismans are evil, and flew into a rage. He pulled his sword from its sheath and stormed into the small cabin.

She must have been terrified by the sight of him coming for her, his sword swinging toward her throat. He half sliced her head from her neck on the first blow so that she fell without a sound, whereupon he struck her neck twice more to behead her, believing this stops a necromancer or witch from acting again. He threw her head into the fire and dragged the corpse some distance into the woods to dig a shallow, unmarked grave, throwing her in, covering her, and returning to the cabin.

It had now been hours since nightfall, and he lay down to sleep in the cabin’s single room, across from the burnt-out fire, mistaking the stench for whatever brew the witch had been concocting. Some time later, footsteps outside the cabin roused him as they shuffled through leaves to hesitate before the unlocked door, which now opened slowly and evenly. As a dark figure entered the cabin, he spied his sword was across the room on the doorway’s far side, out of reach.

Covered from neck to toe in dirt, the figure paid him no attention, heading instead for the table where the book his wife had been reading earlier still lay open. This it ran one finger over as if tracing a passage before closing the book, tucking it under one arm, and turning to go. Upon passing the fireplace, it knelt to seize the skull with its remaining bits of charred, black flesh. The figure then rose and placed its decapitated head back on its bloody neck, where it somehow remained before the figure started to leave. It was all of two paces from the doorway when he sat up more in bed.

The figure stopped at the motion, its head turning slowly to gaze at him as if realizing he was present for the first time. Then it stepped away to pick up something, turning back with arm swinging. He was too horrified to do more than stare as his own sword decapitated him.

None are sure what happened after this, as the seers who came to investigate could sense that this much had transpired here, but once the two corpses left the cabin and disappeared south into the woods, the trail of information vanished. There existed no sign of either body or the book she had taken. The bloody sword, the first clue that something had happened here, lay upon the floor.

Friends would later say his wife was no witch, just a cook who preferred plants to the meat her husband brought home, and so she harvested and prepared them when he was away partly because he’d grown intolerant of her tastes. She somewhat secretly worshiped the goddess of agriculture, the medallion she owned being this goddess’ symbol, and the chalk marks just indications of what plants she’d already added to her soup. None disputed her murder, but they could never believe the story of her returning from the dead, despite the empty grave near the cabin and that neither was ever seen or heard from again.

The Art of World Building

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