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Murderous, Short story

Dead Woman’s Ditch

Author: Emily Weeks

Illustration: Rosie Allen

It was not my intention to cause any harm. Harm has been done to me, yet that place bears my name – or rather, a name that reminds them of me. My name was, is, Jane. They took my voice from me in life just as they have taken my name from me in death. They will let it be known that I was an adulterous woman in order to excuse his crimes – with a true, honest husband whom I pushed and pushed until he snapped.

The truth is quite different, but I have not time to tell you everything. My husband, John Walford, was a cruel man. A drunk, a layabout and a sod. Another man was kind to me, but I swear that nothing passed between us more than words of friendship. John Walford made me out to be a liar, a cheat and said I carried a bastard in my belly. He is the liar and the cheat, yet I am the one whom has suffered for it. No one remembers my name.

Outrage and injustice burns in me until I want to erupt into howls like a bansidhe. The place where he tossed my body after murdering me can hardly be called a grave – a ditch is neither a place nor a fixed point. Where does it begin and end? By that blackthorn or further that way, where the ground dips away to the east, following the defences of an Iron Age settlement? A ditch is only a demarcation in the land, a threshold which can be crossed or stayed behind. He crossed that threshold. Even though they hanged him for his crime, they still put it about that it was because of me. The crows now peck the goodness from his eyes in the gibbet where he swings, creaking in the wind. There is some small recompense in that, but this place still bears no true name, just that of a dead woman. I was reduced in life to a shrinking, powerless female and made infamous in death with no decency, no name, no control. I will remain an adulterous wretch, murdered for seeking solace in a kind word.

My name was, is, Jane.

Author’s note: Dead Woman’s Ditch is located on the Quantocks in Somerset, England. Local legend has it that a man name John Walford murdered his wife and buried her in a shallow grave after discovering that she was having an affair. He was hanged for his crimes and left in a gibbet for one year.