The Scottish Witchfinder

Other submissions by WordSmith-Jacqueline:
If you want to read their other submissions, please click the links.
In the Family Way (Historical Fiction, Writing Award 2023)
The Two Seeings (Paranormal & Supernatural, Book Award 2023)
Slaves of Men and Gods (Young Adult, Book Award 2023)
Award Category
Golden Writer
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
17th Century witchfinder Janet Douglas is banished from Scotland after accusing numerous women of witchcraft and sent to the Jamaican plantations. Her possible descendant in the 21st century Mercy Douglas, travels to Scotland to confirm she's her ancestor. While there, finds some witches of her own.
First 10 Pages

PROLOGUE………………………………………………………………………….Pg. 2

PART ONE: Following Dreams…..…………………………………………………Pg. 7

PART TWO: Words of Warning…………………………………………………….Pg. 55

PART THREE: Living Nightmares…………………………………………………..Pg. 181

PART FOUR: Devilish Departures.………………………………………………….Pg. 261


The True Story of a Witchfinder from Scotland

In her own words

I scribe here not well but the best I can, to tell ma family the story of how I came to be this side of the world having bairns of two colours. I never thought when I was banished from Scotland that I’d live this long and have bairns and learn to scribe.

I’m not one for secrets dying with the auld yins and I’m beginning my last journey, at least in this life. Ye never know what can happen in the future and I’d like ma bairns to hear the story from me. The scribing of such a story doesn't come easy, so I’ve told it like ye’s were sitting around ma feet on the porch as we used to do when the black of night dropped from the sky and the crickets sang, as ma stories lit up the dark like fireflies.

Janet Douglas, Port Royal, Jamaica 1707

The National Library of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica, September 2006

She’d just pushed back, lifted her feet up on a half-filled crate and begun to read the next section again when she heard the office door handle rattle. ‘Raas!’ Hope cursed. The chair wobbled and she grasped the journal while regaining her balance. She breathed out to calm the tremble juddering through her limbs, but smiling at the useful paranoia she’d developed recently that made sure the door was locked. She hurried to hide the journal in the bookcase before opening up to find out why she was being disturbed.

Swallowing the irritable response poised on her tongue as the long face loomed close, she saw distinctive green eyes and pale freckled skin of a tall overdressed woman through the crack. Despite the corridor she was standing in being dim and cool, the woman’s forehead was glistening. She stuck out her hand introducing herself before Hope found her voice.

‘Miss Douglas, ma name’s Annie Stewart. I understand ye’ve uncovered some documents and I’d like to have a wee look at them, if ye don’t mind?’

Hope, at first confused by the flattened vowels and guttural sounds of the unfamiliar accent - ignored the damp hand and stepped into the corridor, lips tightening into an official line.

‘I am sorry. I cannot let unauthorised people view the documents stored on this level of the museum. How you did get up here - Miss Stewart, was it? Let me show you to reception where you may register to look at documents available to the public.’ Hope made to move past, indicating the stairs at the end of the corridor but emitted a surprised, ‘Wha…?’ on being pulled back, the woman clasping her arm in a tight grip as she swarmed into Hope’s space buzzing with menace.

‘I’m not the public Miss Douglas, and I believe those papers concern ma family. So, it would save a lot of trouble if ye just handed them over to me. No-one will know except us.’ The woman’s grimace was threatening enough to scare Hope a little, but not enough to make her oblige. Hope’s voice climbed higher as she wrested her arm from the woman’s clammy fingers.

‘That is not possible. I have no idea who you are, or what documents you are referring to. I must insist that you leave or I will have to call for security.’ The sleeve of a grey uniform flapped round the corner and Hope felt her body relax, but security guard Derek Brown’s usual amiable smile fled as he hurried towards the two women.

‘Mr. Brown, could you escort this lady down to reception? I think she managed to take a wrong turn somewhere.’

The woman glared at Hope then pivoted on her heel passing Derek, whose expression was now one of a kid caught truanting. He cocked his head, raising his eyebrows and lips forming a squiggle of apology before following to make sure the pale-skinned woman went in the right direction. Hope prayed that it would be out the building, forgetting she’d ever come.

The encounter left her stomach quivering; worrying how anyone outside the Library could know about their recent finds. Hope shivered with the kind of forewarning akin to an unwelcome hurricane forecast, the concerns she’d recently expressed to Mercy feeling even more justified and her excessive checking, necessary rather than neurotic. This wasn’t simply strange phone calls but straightforward intimidation. Was this the person she’d suspected of following her?

Once more locking herself inside the document storage office, she retrieved the journal turning it over in her hands. It couldn’t be this; she hadn’t logged it yet.

After discovering it stowed at the bottom of a crate a few weeks before, Hope was intrigued by the fact that she shared the same surname as the journal’s author, having to restrain herself from devouring it one go. Hope spent yet another afternoon researching the cracked leather-bound volume, foregoing lunch and break to work on till late.

By the time she was ready to go home, she knew that it linked with documents she’d uncovered last week mentioning prisoners, Covenanters and indentured slaves that had arrived in Jamaica from Scotland in the late 17th Century. The story in this journal was fascinating and to think this white Scottish woman might be family had her bouncing on her toes. From the moment she’d considered the possibility, the journal had gone home with her each night and she once again tucked it with care into the waistband of her skirt.

Derek, now at the glass-fronted entrance, studied his feet when Hope came to the reception and his stuttering ‘sorry’s’ meant he forgot to search her before leaving the building. Other times a little flirting had been enough to distract him. They’d dated once or twice a few months ago soon after he started working at the Library but she’d always felt a little uneasy around him. Hope let out her breath only after she’d stepped onto the pavement and the lock clicked behind her.

East Street was deserted, the lights above flickering shadows onto the white walls of the Institute next door. Why hadn’t she ordered a taxi as she usually did? Excitement was bubbling in her throat like a chuckle waiting to explode. Was she getting a bit carried away? She headed towards Tower Street hoping to be hailed by a route taxi before going very far, unable to stop the corners of her mouth twitching upwards about the connections she’d been discovering.

The street lights buzzed and there was an occasional boisterous shout in the distance. In the gaps there was a dull silence that, as she neared the corner, began to fill with the tread of steps. Measured footfalls echoed hers. Her mouth became dry. Trickles of sweat ran down her back. Her heart beat wildly on remembering the unfriendly visitor of early afternoon. An image of the woman’s sweating brow clouded her mind; the menacing eyes staring.

There was still no sign of any people or taxis as she hastened past John’s Lane, other than the footsteps behind her hastening too. Before she had time to turn her head, her arm was twisted painfully behind her back. Hope winced, tried to pull away but another arm came round her neck squeezing the breath from her, making her choke; weakening her efforts to break free as she was dragged backwards into the blank darkness of the lane. The stench of rotting fruit and vegetables rose to meet her as she hit the ground, her head smacking against loose stones before her bag was wrenched from her shoulder.

Part One:

Following Dreams

Island of Davaar, Scotland, to 1673(i)

Few mindings are left to me of the earliest part of ma life as a bairn on Davaar; mostly hunger and cold. Ma folks were poor farmers on the north end of the isle where we bided in a wee croft not much bigger than a bothy that was dark and drafty: just one room that had a bed and bolster for ma parents and a tyke bed for myself. There was only one pair of blankets each and winter saw us wearing clothes to bed at night or snuggling together with what creatures we could fit inside. But I was a bird-alone. Ma mother and father preferred to snuggle with just each other, so I had to be blithe with one of the sheep for closeness since there were no brothers or sisters to share the warmth.

Other than the cold dreich weather, I reckon it was the loss of ma father that made for an early grave for ma mother. They were blithe together and I always seemed to be in the way. I’d traipse around after ma da when he went to check on the few sheep that grazed on the hill behind the croft. There was no more than a dozen or so that I mind and the pickings left after ma father took the spun wool to Campbeltown, wasn’t enough to keep us overwell fed.

Between spinning wool and the making of linen with wheel and reel, ma mother was fair scunnered trying to keep up. Ma father was up at the keek-of-day to milk the one cow and I’d watch him sitting on yon wee stool, squeezing and pulling the teat, aiming into the bucket. I’d hear the creamy rattle as it hit the wood, sliding down the side to puddle at the bottom. The cow was better fed than us sometimes for there was no shortage of grass and ferns for it to munch on.

Of course, we could use the cow’s pats for fuel. We had to, for there were no trees on the island. From the Doirlinn causeway, the island just looked like a big green hump that ma father traipsed around with barrow and tongs gathering the cow pats that had dried in summertime to store for the coming year-end. They were both hard workers for they’d built that wee stone house with their bare hands. Boulder by boulder from the shore, they’d climbed up and down the path that wound around to Kildalloig Bay where treacherous rocks, sharp and slithery, made the toil arduous and full of danger. But ma parents had promised at their handfasting that they’d make a life together on Davaar whatever it took.

Aye, it sounds bonnie but I was left out most of the time and after ma fifth summer I started to wander further around the island on ma own. The faery mound and the caves became ma second home and then ma first as the years went on. Soon enough I had many a friend on land and by the sea, though none were human.

The work of the faeries I first learnt from the pixies when I began to notice them after I spied golden lights among the heather and seen sparkly trails that, till I got to ken better, thought was the journey of snails. The pixies kent when I was wandering around but I had to sit quiet and whisper till they came out to play with me. They were full of mischief, liking a game of dulling their shine and hiding under the heather, but they had bonnie glass wings that the colour shone through on catching the sunlight. I realised after a time, that I’d more likely find them under the toadstools where they seemed to gather. Not liking any lying about, they’d rather have me jig with them if I was lazing when I should’ve been looking out for the sheep.

Kingston, Jamaica – October 2006

Mercy had had the strange dreams most nights and hadn’t painted a thing since; her nights being full of intense slashes of colour, muffled whisperings and the screams of bleak, unfamiliar faces. They had begun four weeks ago when Hope came to stay and Mercy supposed she must have hidden the journal somewhere in the studio. Usually confident and outgoing, when Hope arrived after that frantic phone call, she was jittery and remained that way up until the last time Mercy saw her, when she left the house the day she died.

That morning the dream had been clearer. She could see a figure dangling, a rope around its neck; the face was livid, eyes bulging and yellow. The woman’s tongue protruded obscenely, her scalp shaved and bleeding. Curls of smoke coiled upwards as flames caught the tattered edges of the dirty cotton shift and she saw it begin to blacken and burn. Mercy glanced to the right seeing another figure, a young man with blue-black hair the colour of crow feathers. Then another woman, older, heavier; all dangling with their necks broken. All of them were beginning to burn and the smoke caught in her throat, making her gag.

She was not alone and the crowd roared their approval:

‘Witches, Witches; Burn the Witches!’

She struggled to get away but the jostling throng hindered her escape. Panic and nausea rose into her throat as she pushed through, slipping on rotten fruit as it squelched under her feet. She awoke gasping in the dawn light, sitting up slowly, her chest heaving; a sooty scent still present in the cool air and those words echoing in her ears.