How many times have I heard a thoughtless child, or even an adult, say out loud, "I wish I had magic powers"? I have to bite my tongue each and every time, to repress the kind of comment I know I'd regret later.
I know people have no idea what they're asking for. No one ever considers the full implications of that wish. They think only of how such powers would make their lives easier, more interesting, more fun. They never stop to think how radically their lives would change, what would really happen to them if such a wish could ever be granted.
You see, there's a world of difference between magicians -- that is, people who practice sleight-of-hand, showy misdirection -- and people who are born with the knack for magic. Magicians do what they do for fun and profit. They practice, hour after hour, to perfect the mechanics of a simple trick. Theirs is a craft of performance. People born with the knack, on the other hand, don't have to practice what they do any more than they have to practice breathing. What they can do is inseparably one with their being, woven into the very fabric of their souls. Asking them to stop doing what they do is like asking their hearts to stop beating. And of course in Salem, that's exactly what they tried.
How much do you know about Salem?
No, no. Not the capital of Oregon. (Though I have been through there many times, and it's a lovely city. Stop by Daynight Donuts some time if you want a small taste of fried dough perfection.) I mean the other Salem, the one that had that nasty little dust-up in 1692.
It wasn't pretty. But the worst of it is, the unfortunate people of Salem had it all wrong. Of the score of citizens who were publicly destroyed or died in prison thanks to the tissue of lies masquerading as court evidence against them, I feel quite safe in saying not a single one was really a witch. There's no such thing as the kinds of witches the people of Salem sought with such misplaced zeal to destroy.
Of course, just because there were no witches, that doesn't mean there was never any magic in Salem. A number of its early citizens had the knack. And those citizens, including my ancestors -- none of whom ever rode through the air on a broomstick, conjured spectral apparitions to torment their neighbors, or performed any similar arrant nonsense, by the way -- could see which way the wind was blowing in Salem long before the crazed accusations began, and quietly spirited themselves out of harm's way.
This wasn't as easy as I might have made it sound. The Conant family history records how Verity Conant, who had been born with the knack ("from Infancy she coulde heele the Sicke & all Godds Creatures alyke, with but a Touche of her Hand"), was horrified at the news of her friends and neighbors being carted to the gallows on Witch Hill, knowing there was nothing she could do to save them that would not cause her own death. Goody Conant firmly believed her use of the knack was a gift from God -- but I suspect Reverend Parris would have said her abilities were of an entirely different origin. (Wisely, Goody Conant never asked for his opinion on the matter.)
When the Conscient met again after the exodus from Salem, it was Goody Conant who stood up to ask -- well, in truth, demand -- that the new town be named after her late neighbor, Goodman Giles Corey, who had been cruelly pressed to death when he refused to plead guilty to witchcraft. The assembly agreed that it was entirely fit and proper. And that's how I came to grow up in Corey, Massachusetts.
You won't have heard of it. The town doesn't appear on any map or road sign. In fact, the only people who know of Corey are those who live there, and they have good reason to keep it secret. I've traveled enough now, seen enough of the ways people live, to realize that Corey is far from a typical American town. I was nearly an adult before I noticed that most Americans don't even know what a commonplace-book is, let alone keep one of their own. I thought everyone had the ability to open doors without keys, to heal illnesses without doctors, to catch fish without tackle, to communicate without speech, and a host of other everyday talents. I thought it was normal to have parties long past midnight, to twirl and dance for hours in a laughing circle of friends in the midst of the air, to drift slowly down to earth again just before dawn.
Of course, that was also before I met Keefe.