Carol of the Bells

December’s theme was Christmas Horror/Thriller.


Recently widowed Olivia Westcott notices that her teenage son is acting very strangely. An FBI statistician, she notices a bizarre murder pattern and comes to believe her son has fallen victim to Carol of the Bells, a horrific 300-year old curse. A mysterious stranger offers to help her break the curse, but to do so means Olivia has to face a painful past. Inspired by The Crucible.

Carol of the Bells

by Jessica Wren

December 25, 1691

The town square in Salem, was covered in a foot of snow. A biting gust of wind blew into the crowd surrounding the gallows as the executioner placed the noose around Carol Alexander’s neck. Despite the extreme weather, attendance at executions for witchcraft and murder was required by the local ordinances

Elizabeth Proctor felt a cold chill that had nothing to do with the weather. She looked to the eyes of the condemned woman, whose piercing, defiant gaze managed to make a dent in Elizabeth’s heart of ice. Something akin to remorse overtook her momentarily, until she felt Carol initiating a telepathic invasion, using the last of her psychic resources.

“It’s a mortal sin to practice black arts. You’d do well to repent now,” Elizabeth sardonically told Carol in the latter’s mind.

“You are correct,” Carol said. “Was it worth the price of your soul? The spell you cast against your husband and the one he was fornicating with? Was it worth the life of my dear brother?” Elizabeth bit the tip of her tongue to prevent the laughter that threatened to escape her. It was because of her brother that Carol’s neck was being strangled by the coarse rope, interrupting the blood flow to her brain and diminishing the telepathy that was her only means of communication.

“The price I paid for your vow of eternal silence was worth all fifteen pounds,” Elizabeth said. “For what it’s worth, Carol, I never meant for the spell to afflict your brother, may God rest his soul. Richard truly was an innocent victim.”

“Yes. Yes he was. And I shall avenge his untimely death.” Carol said just before the executioner announced the condemned and her crimes for the people to hear.

“This woman, Carol Alexander, had been found guilty of witchcraft, murder, and other acts against God and is condemned to hang. She bewitched her own brother into an unnatural passion for her instead of his betrothed, and then killed him to cover her unseemly lust,” he said in a loud, booming voice.

“This town is fraught with hypocrites and liars,” Carol said in Elizabeth’s mind. “All true witches be bound to their word, or you would be up here on the gallows with me. But do not be tormented by the gnawing of guilt on my account. I have already set my plan of revenge. The town of Salem will pay dear for slandering me. And you, Elizabeth, will be the one who brings unimaginable harm on the town.” As the executioner prepared to pull the lever that would send Carol to her death, music, four strange notes, came on the wind from an unknown source. Elizabeth shivered. The distraction bought Carol enough time to deliver her final telepathic message.

“No! I would never!”

“Yes, you will. The anger against John will burn eternal in your heart, as will Abigail’s misplaced passion for John in hers. The guilt in John’s heart will torment him endlessly. It was that anger that caused the spell to go awry. Just you wait. For eternity, the three of you will have to work together to get relief from the agony in your hearts. Richard will be avenged, and I will be absolved of guilt.” The music reached a terrifying crescendo as the executioner, acting quickly as if he would lose his courage, pulled the lever.

Carol’s telepathic message was cut off by the noose. The sight of her limp body was only shocking for a moment, for executions by hanging were a regular occurrence in Salem. It was the mysterious music, which had been little more than a melodic distraction for most of the townsfolk in the moments prior to Carols’ death, that caused confusion amongst the crowd. Even the executioner, who was gently trying to free Carol’s head from the noose to send her away for burial, stopped to locate its source. A haunting, repetitive, four-note melody that had a rich idiophonic quality reverberated through the town square, although no one could see anyone who was playing an instrument. Elizabeth stifled a shudder of revulsion as her adulterous husband placed a hand on her shoulder. As the supernatural music grew louder, as if its source was moving closer, Elizabeth felt the center of her heart burn hot. Abigail, standing with her family some ten feet away, turned to Elizabeth and stealthily gave her an insolent grin. The fire in Elizabeth’s heart exploded into an  inferno of everlasting rage. You will be the one who brings unimaginable harm on the town.

“Then may Salem and all who inhabit it burn for all eternity.” Elizabeth muttered under her breath as the music suddenly stopped.

November 29, 2016

“How did no one notice this before?” Olivia Westcott thought aloud as she perused the murder statistics for the fifty states and the District of Columbia. Alone in her office at the Federal Bureau of Investigations Headquarters, Olivia had been studying crime reports from the past ten years. She had left her job as a math teacher in South Georgia and moved to D.C. to take a job as the crime statistician for the FBI, having barely any time to grieve the sudden death of her husband three months prior. Now a single mother with two teenaged children, Olivia accepted the job, which paid three times her salary, but it was a decision she now regretted. She could not tolerate the heavy traffic and crowded areas of Washington D.C. and missed being in the classroom. Her children, Matthew and Katelyn, seemed equally unhappy. As she left for work that morning, she made up her mind: she was going to leave the FBI after she had completed the year’s crime report and return to Georgia.

But as she examined the reports, a shocking anomaly jumped out at her. She read the report several times, just to make sure she wasn’t imagining things, before calling her boss.

“Beth!” she called out to her boss in the adjacent office. Heavy footsteps announced the entrance of Beth Bassett, one of the main factors that cemented her decision to leave. Beth was a rude, callous woman who treated Olivia like her personal servant rather than an educated woman hired to prepare public reports on behalf of the FBI.

“What!” Beth yelled. “I have work to do and you interrupt me.”

Refusing to allow Beth to intimidate her, Olivia rose to meet her boss face-to-face. “Is this an error on the report? It says that a teenage girl has been arrested on Christmas Day for the last ten years for the murder of her brother. Last year it was in Pennsylvania, the year before in Florida. Oh, my God! Those two states have the harshest penalties for youthful offenders! Those girls are serving life without parole if they were convicted.”

“You can call each jurisdiction for verification if you like,” Beth said icily. “Or, you can just trust that no one has time to coordinate a nationwide prank just to play on you. You better get those reports done, or you will find yourself working on Christmas Day to finish them.” Beth walked out, slamming the door behind her.

“Bite my ass, bitch!” Olivia muttered as she decided to type up the statistics as shown in the reports she’d received from each state. After all, it wouldn’t be her problem for very much longer. “I am going to call each of these jurisdictions,” she said loudly, hoping Beth heard her. “This is too much of a coincidence to ignore.” A burning sensation started at the back of her throat. A bad memory had tried to escape from her subconscious, but try as she may, Olivia could not figure out the source of her intense feelings of guilt.

Two days later, she gathered her two children together to make the announcement: her former principal had agreed to give her back her old job at the high school in Georgia, starting January 3. They would be going home.

“Sweet!” Katelyn smiled broadly as she fist-pumped the air. “I can’t wait to tell Brenden. And there’s some weird kids at my school. Today I accidentally cut myself in the biology lab. I should have been more careful with the X-acto knife, I know” Katelyn laughed nervously. “Not a big deal, but I asked my teacher for a Band-Aid. This girl Hayley in my class kept looking at it, and when I threw it away later, she dug it out of the trash can. Gross! Who does stuff like that?”

Olivia noticed that Matthew did not exhibit the same enthusiasm, which was strange because he had objected vehemently to the original move. Her son, who was as sensitive and dramatic as his late father had been, insisted that whatever girl Matthew was seeing was the love of his life and he would never find anyone like her again. Matthew went as far as to beg his mother to allow him to stay in Georgia with Olivia’s father, but the thought of having either of her children so far away was unbearable. She didn’t even want to think that in a few years, both would be off at college. How selfish I am, she thought. Matthew had been dating another girl at his school, but didn’t seem as interested in her.

Olivia also noticed that upon the mention of Brenden, Katelyn’s boyfriend in Georgia, Matthew turned sharply and looked at his sister with a wide-eyed expression that seemed to be full of pain. She dismissed it as a product of her tired mind.

“Matthew, don’t you want to go back home?” Olivia asked

“Sure, Mom,” Matthew said, giving her a half-hearted smile.

It was at that moment that Olivia remembered that Hayley was the name of the girl Matthew had been dating.

December 1-7, 2016

From the moment Olivia handed her letter of resignation to Beth, the latter became remarkably more pleasant.

“You have to do what’s best for your family,” Beth said warmly as Olivia tried to offer explanations. “Thank you for agreeing to stay to finish the yearly report.” But for Olivia, the agreement had nothing to do with seeing the year to the end; anyone who could interpret statistics could simply pick up where she left off. Olivia’s departure would be no real hardship for the FBI. It occurred to her in the week that followed that she should have made her quit date earlier than Christmas Eve. She needed time to pack up and move and to prepare her old classroom, but additionally, she wanted to make Christmas as joyous of an occasion as she could under the circumstances. Matthew was becoming more sullen and withdrawn every day, something that Olivia had at first attributed to it being the first Christmas without his father. She was disturbed by how Matthew looked at Katelyn. It was as if he were hypnotized. Infatuated?

The thought was so disturbing that Olivia paused her work to mull over it.  When Katelyn was out of sight, a strange profound sadness spelled out the contents of his heart on his face. When she re-entered, he would momentarily cheer up. It can’t be, Olivia thought. Matthew was an average teenage boy, if not overly romantic, with whom she’d never had any cause to be concerned. Nonetheless, her years of experience as a high school teacher had proven that often the parents were the last to notice anything amiss with their children. Matthew had always been prone to sudden, intense infatuations, but on his sister? That was strange even for him. Olivia’s own mother passed away when Olivia was 19. She did not recall falling in love with her brother as an effect of grief.

It took her a week to admit to herself that the reason she couldn’t leave was because she was transfixed by the annual fratricides. A week after she delivered her notice to Beth, Olivia told her boss that she would need another two days to finish the final report.

“Of course,” Beth told her with a friendly smile.

“Thank you,” Olivia said, and as an afterthought, “I’m sorry if things aren’t going as quickly as they should. I’ve been concerned about my son.”

Beth’s face took on an odd expression that Olivia could not interpret. “What’s going on with Matthew?” She asked with concern. Did I ever tell her my children’s names? She wondered.

“I don’t know,” Olivia said. “I should probably find him some grief counselling or something. He hasn’t been himself since his father died last June, which I suppose should be expected. But lately, Matt’s been acting exceptionally strange.”

“I think you’re right; it probably is a response to grief,” Beth said. “Or it could be a girl. Nothing causes worse heartache for a young man than unrequited love.” Olivia, who had never had a conversation with Beth prior to that day that went beyond Beth barking an order and Olivia resentfully acquiescing, stared momentarily. Beth had an uncanny ability to get under her skin. Something in the measured tone Beth used told Olivia that Beth knew exactly what was going on.

“I don’t know. But I suppose the time has come for me to talk to Matthew.” As Olivia shook off her paranoia and turned to leave, Beth’s assistant entered the office.

“The package is in the mail and is guaranteed to be delivered by tomorrow,” she said.

“Thank you, Abby,” Beth said.

When Olivia returned home, she found her son sitting at the kitchen table, staring at the floor. On the stereo in the kitchen, “Carol of the Bells” was playing in high fidelity, as if an orchestra were performing in the kitchen. A holiday staple that Olivia usually paid no mind to as it played over and over in shopping centers, the song playing on the stereo filled her with a sense of horror and dread that she couldn’t identify.

“Matt, honey, would you care to tell me what’s wrong? Do you have a girlfriend here in D.C.? Is that why you don’t want to leave?” Matt stared at the floor as if in a trance. Once the horrid noel stopped, Matthew became suddenly aware of his surroundings.

“Hayley has another boyfriend. We broke up,” Matthew said evasively in a barely audible voice. Olivia, who had been racking her brain the whole day to figure out the best way to broach the subject of Matthew’s fixation with his sister, found that the solution had come to her easily as she sat there listening to the ominous rendition of “Carol of the Bells.”

“Oh, is that what’s been bothering you? I’m sorry, honey,” she said. “How do you feel about a nice dinner out at Giovanni’s? Just you, me, and Katelyn?”

At the mention of his sister’s name, Matthew jumped as if a snake had bitten his backside.

“No!” Matthew snapped. “I don’t want dinner. I don’t want go out. Just leave me alone, okay?” Matthew stormed out of the kitchen. As soon as she heard the door slam to his bedroom, “Carol of the Bells” started playing again on the stereo. Olivia went quickly to turn it off.

December 1, 1691

Anyone found guilty of witchcraft in Salem was routinely executed unless he or she signed a humiliating confession, which was pinned to the church door. However, until that fateful Christmas Day, the people of Salem turned a blind eye to Carol Alexander’s love charms. They were harmless and always resulted in happy, righteous unions.

When Elizabeth Proctor came to her, begging for a charm that would win her husband’s affections away from Abigail Williams, she did not hesitate. Abigail was engaged to Carol’s brother Richard, the town silversmith, and when she and John were caught together in the Proctors’ barn by the loudmouthed, gossipy Mercy Lewis, the entire town of Salem thought Richard would die of a broken heart. Carol had strongly considered preparing a charm that would restore Abigail’s affections to Richard. It would ease the pain of her brother’s broken heart, but Carol could not bring herself to accept a heartless whore as her sister-in-law. It was different with the Proctors, who had three sons and a prosperous estate. If Elizabeth had decided to reconcile with her philandering husband, that was her business.

Carol went outside to get some honey from the beehive she kept in her backyard. Due to the freezing cold, she did not feel the slight cut when a splinter of wood pricked her index finger. Nor did she notice that a few drops of her blood fell into the honey.

“Prick your finger and mix this honey with five drops of your blood,” Carol instructed. “Then serve it to him in some hot tea infused with mint and chamomile. You must repeat this spell once a month, and as long as you do so, John will have eyes only for you. But be warned: this spell has a bad side effect. As long as the spell is in effect, other people will view you with extreme animosity. This will cause predictable problems amongst the townspeople, and may result in slanderous accusations. I recommend you stay home as much as possible.”

“How much do I owe you?”

“One pound for the honey. And as an insurance policy for myself and for you, I’ll need an additional fifteen pounds for my vow of eternal silence. With this vow, I cannot tell anyone about our transaction.”

December 8, 2016

At four in the morning, Olivia finally concluded she wasn’t going to sleep. She decided to get up and go to work early. After reviewing some of the cases of the holiday murders, she saw eerie similarities. In each case she studied, about eighteen total in as many states after she had gone back further than a decade, the siblings in questions were between ages thirteen and eighteen, and there were no other siblings in the household. The timeline of events preceding the sister’s arrest was the same with little deviation. According to the parents, the brother would become depressed and irritable nearly to the point of psychosis, and his sister’s presence was the only thing that would calm him. About a week after this fixation on his sister begins, the brother would present her with a gift of silver bells. None of the parents could explain where the bells came from. Then, something jumped out at Olivia: a few of the parents reported that they had received a visit from a Mr. Alex Rich, advising them to confine the brother to a psychiatric hospital until the start of the New Year. The parents who had acted on the advice reported that their son had somehow manage to escape the facility.

As she took the metro to work, she thought of Matthew and how he had become obsessed with Katelyn. After her confrontation with Matthew the day before, she had received a call from a teacher, who told Olivia that Matthew could not focus on his assignments and seemed extremely depressed. She had managed to catch the principal before he left, and from him found out that Matthew had made various excuses all week to see Katelyn in her classes. Later that night, he caught Matthew trying to spy on Katelyn in the shower.

“Shit!” Olivia shouted as the terrible reality hit her. Other passengers turned to stare.

Whatever was behind this phenomenon, Olivia had no doubt that her children were going to be the victims this year unless she intervened. Knowing that Matthew would probably hate her for it, she decided to forcibly admit Matthew to the psychiatric facility for the remainder of the year. If that’s what it took to save her children’s’ lives, then so be it. For good measure, she would hire a personal bodyguard to prevent his escape.

The obnoxious melody to “Carol of the Bells” played on the train sound system as she rode it back to her house.

December 1, 1691

Elizabeth took the small jar of honey home and set it in the cupboard, along with some mint and chamomile leaves she had purchased from the local herb trader. She felt ridiculous, and regretted parting with fifteen pounds to ensure Carol’s silence about serving her husband a common tea brew. She doubted that the concoction would even work; she had approached Carol in a moment of desperation after hearing him murmur Abigail’s name in his sleep. Either John was still in love with Abigail, or he was tormented by guilt. Either way, a tea wouldn’t cure him, even if infused with a blood charm. But it wouldn’t hurt, either, and since she paid good money for the spell, Elizabeth decided she might as well use it. Elizabeth, who had secretly dabbled in witchcraft in her youth, firmly believed in the power of suggestion. She could suggest to John that the tea would cure him of his soul pain and hope the placebo would nudge the memory of his tryst with Abigail from his memory.

December 8, 2016

By the time Olivia made it home, her children had already left. Katelyn always drove them both to school in her car, so Olivia tried to calm herself by telling herself that the kids had final exams and probably went to school for a morning study session. Both were responsible, straight-A students. And maybe Matthew wanted to make up the assignments he’d missed during his fit of depression.

Unfortunately, Olivia was no good at self-delusion. And a quick call to her school confirmed her worst fears.

A search on her tablet revealed that Dr. Alex Rich was in the D.C. area. She called, and a wave of blissful relief swept over her when Dr. Rich agreed to meet with her immediately. While waiting for him in a corner diner, Olivia called around to anywhere she could think of where her children might be, with no luck. At eight-thirty, she called both of her children’s first period teachers. Neither were in class.

Suddenly, she remembered the GPS on her daughter’s car, installed at the insistence of her late husband as a condition of driving the car.

The app on Olivia’s tablet revealed that her daughter’s car was on Interstate 95 in southern Virginia. Were the children headed back to Georgia? Why? To get as far as they had, they would have had to leave three hours ago.

As she rushed out the door, she ran smack into a tall, austere man. As she apologized, he gently took her arm.

“You are Olivia Westcott?” he asked. She nodded. “I am Dr. Alex Rich. It is great sadness that I tell you that your children have been afflicted by the Carol of the Bells curse. Do you believe in witchcraft, Mrs. Westcott?”

“Yes,” Olivia said. “I myself am a witch.” This was something Olivia normally kept to herself. She had only told her husband and a small group of fellow practitioners, but she found herself opening up to Alex immediately.

“Oh, dear,” Rich said. “Carol of the Bells is a vengeful spirit that hunts and targets the children of witches, and also uses young witches to carry out its dreadful mission.”

As they walked to the metro station, something like a flash of lightning went off in Olivia’s brain. “Hayley Spence,” she called out in her mind. The electricity in her mind threatened to give her a seizure. Sensing this, Rich took her by the hand and helped her on the metro.

“What do you want?’ the teen answered after establishing a telepathic connection. “I’m taking a final exam.”

“I am Matthew Westcott’s mother. You better answer me honestly, or there will be horrific consequences for you, do you understand?” Olivia felt the girl’s psychic energy as it turned against itself in pure fear. “Did you take the Band-Aid my daughter threw away and use it to feed Matt his sister’s blood?”

December 8, 1691

The love charm worked perfectly. John was as loving to Elizabeth as he’d been in the days of their courtship. She was extraordinarily pleased when John walked by Abigail as if he didn’t see her. Gone was the look of longing that John had in his eyes when he looked at Abigail. Abigail, confused as to why her former lover no longer had eyes for her, had no choice but to go through the motions of reconciling with her fiancé, Richard Alexander.

The charm was worth the original fifteen pounds. It was even worth the extra pound she had to pay and the additional trip she had to make in the snow to Carol’s house to get more honey. She’d arrived home that day and found that her new servant, Mary Warren, had innocently used the ingredients to prepare tea for an unexpected guest.

“Richard!” she exclaimed in horror.

“Goodwife Proctor,” Richard greeted her respectfully.

“I invited him here to apologize for my actions,” John explained. It was an honest mistake, Elizabeth told herself to fight the rising tide of hysteria that was trying to drown her. But something felt very wrong, something she couldn’t put her finger on. All she had to do was get another batch, which was simple enough. Carol assured her that although the bees producing the honey were bewitched, the honey itself was useless unless mixed with the blood of the person the beloved was intended to fall in love with. And Elizabeth had not yet prepared the love charm.

Back at home, and unable to fight the irrational fear that had been plaguing her, Elizabeth furiously told Mary that the extra pound she had to spend would be deducted from her salary. She went to the kitchen, pricked her finger with a needle, and prepared the love charm. A week later, although pleased with the results, she still had a premonition that something had gone wrong. She thought she would be happier that Richard seemed to have lost interest in Abigail and had been overcome with longing for someone else.

December 8, 2016

“You were only looking in the United States,” Rich explained. “The curse of Carol of the Bells goes worldwide. Carol Alexander was executed as a witch in Salem on Christmas Day of 1691. It was said that she had given her own brother a love charm as punishment for forgiving his unfaithful fiancée, Abigail Williams, and then murdered him. Her legend was overshadowed by the chaotic witch trials that followed shortly thereafter, but Carol Alexander’s curse has been more far-reaching and caused so much more suffering.”

“The Salem Witch Trials,” Olivia said to herself. “What was Carol’s curse?”

“The truth is, her brother, Richard Alexander, had somehow developed an unnatural passion for his sister. There is no evidence that she had any intention of punishing him for his reconciliation with Abigail. On the contrary, Carol was known to be a discreet woman who did not interfere in the affairs of others, including members of her family. When Carol rejected him, he stripped naked and ran out into the wilderness, where he froze to death. Back in Salem, the word of any person considered righteous, such as Elizabeth Proctor, was considered irrefutable proof. It was believed that a virtuous person was incapable of lying. Elizabeth has been held up as the epitome of the loving, faithful wife.  No one ever knew just how black-hearted she really was,” Richard said.  “In any case, Salem agreed that such madness could only be the Devil’s work. In order to cleanse the town, the person responsible for Richard’s death had to be punished. They deduced that Carol must be responsible. Upon questioning, Elizabeth stated that she had seen Richard drinking tea with honey that she had purchased from Carol earlier that day.”

“Is this the same Abigail Williams who started the whole mess?” Olivia asked, flabbergasted.

“The same,” Rich said.

“Carol’s blood was in the honey,” Olivia said softly. “She somehow mixed her own blood in there, causing the spell to be misdirected.”

“So you do understand,” Rich said. “If John Proctor had taken the tee, he would have been the one to have fallen in love with Carol, and the entire course of United States history would possibly be entirely different today. I’m not exactly sure why he didn’t sip the tea with his guest.”

“Between you and me, I used that same charm to win my husband’s love,” Olivia said. “Matthew was intentionally fed Katelyn’s blood by someone who knows how to cast the same spell. Hayley Spence is her name.”

“The spell wears off after exactly one month,” Rich said. “But the heartache is so unbearable that no one can abide it. To date, no boy has survived Carol of the Bells, and all girls involved have been convicted in their brothers’ murders. If one boy can live out the month, then Carol of the Bells will be permanently broken.”

“I have heard of the love charm. As I said, I’ve used it myself, albeit not on my brother. But I haven’t heard of Carol of the Bells. How did it lead to the Salem Witch Trials?”

“The curse was placed on Abigail, her lover John Proctor, and his vengeful wife, Elizabeth. They would be eternally afflicted by, respectively, overwhelming passion, agonizing guilt, and a burning need for vengeance. The three quickly figured out that they could temporarily alleviate these afflictions if they transferred them to someone else. Abigail enlisted the help of her cousin, the slave Tituba, and some other girls to transfer the passions to other women after it became clear that she and John would never be together. At the same time, Elizabeth confided her secret to some trusted older women in the community, who agreed to pray for her. And John tried to alleviate his guilt by exposing the sins of the other men in town, so any potential rumors of him as the town lecher would pale in comparison. The result was the mistrust and paranoia that culminated in the Salem Witch Trials.”

“But I don’t understand why Carol would punish people who had nothing to do with her execution.”

“The trio agreed to a secret pact. They would work together to Carol’s own spell against her, by enlisting the help of witches all over the world to bewitch a brother into falling for his sister. They time it so the events play out exactly as they did with Carol and Richard Alexander.”

“You speak in the present tense,” Olivia said as the same feeling of intense guilt washed over her. A memory she thought she buried in the deep recesses of her subconscious resurfaced. “You mean they are still—my boss! Beth Bassett! She is the spirit of Elizabeth Proctor, isn’t she?” Richard nodded sadly. “I always knew there was something off about her. And her assistant, Abby? Oh, God.”

“And the principal, Johnny Harper, who eagerly gave you your job back. He had a good reason for doing so, didn’t he?”

“He has been my friend since high school,” Olivia said weakly.

December 10, 1691

Elizabeth felt in her heart she should confess to her part in the death of poor Richard Alexander, but coward that she was and protected by the vow of silence she had purchased, she said nothing. It wasn’t until Carol had warmed her hands by the fireplace that she’d noticed the small cut on her finger. Some of her blood must had dripped into the first batch of honey, the batch that Mary Warren had served to Richard, the two women concluded.

Two days before, Richard had presented Carol with a gift of silver bells, fashioned from his metalworking shop, and played for her an enchanting four-note melody. With the wild eyes of a lunatic, Richard then declared his undying love for Carol and begged her to return with him to their native England, where they could live together as husband and wife under assumed identities.

“Richard, you’re my brother,” Carol had told him as compassionately as she could. “What would Mother say?”

“Mother doesn’t have to know.”

“I can’t share your bed as a wife would do,” Carol said gently. “It goes against the laws of nature and the laws of God. Besides, Richard, your feelings will change after the New Year. I promise you that.”

Richard tore his clothes and ran off into the cold winter night. He dropped the bells, which Carol carefully collected. She wasn’t worried; Richard’s temporary insanity would only last a month. She calmly went to the home of Francis and Rebecca Nurse, respected community leaders, confided her dilemma, and asked them to organize a search party for Richard and, once found, keep him confined to a room until the New Year to prevent him from harming himself.

December 8, 2016.

“Elizabeth and Abigail send out silver bells to the selected brothers, with instructions for playing  the familiar four notes that you probably know as “Carol of the Bells,” which was officially composed by Mykola Leontovych. To those unaffected by Carol of the Bells, the composition is nothing more than an ordinary melody. People afflicted by the curse find a small amount of temporary relief in the song, and have been known to listen to it over and over in an attempt to free themselves from the passionate feelings they know in their minds are wrong but cannot control. The notes sent by Elizabeth and Abigail say that this melody will win them the love of their sisters. Of course, it never works, and his sister’s rejection sends the brother into suicidal despair. Did a package come in the mail for Matthew?”

“Not that to my knowledge.”

“Let’s hope it didn’t. If Matthew has already played the song for Katelyn, it is probably too late for both of them.”

“Dr. Rich, I have to tell you something,” Olivia said, for the first time sympathizing with the curse of guilt that had led to the horrific events. “I collected blood once. I put a fragment of broken tile in Melissa Daly’s shoe. When she cut her foot while changing after gym class, I helped wipe away the blood and bandage her foot. I then put the blood and honey mixture in Guy Daly’s soda. He never knew the difference. I was an agent for Carol of the Bells. This must be my punishment.”

“Then you must do all you can to see to it Carol of the Bells is broken.”

“It was all Johnny Harper’s idea. Wait a minute! Johnny Harper is John Proctor!”

December 8-25, 2016

Virginia Police had gathered enough evidence against Katelyn Westcott to issue an arrest warrant. The grand jury did not buy the story that her brother, Matthew, had tried to convince her to run away with him so they could live together as a married couple.  On Christmas Day, she was arrested at her home in D.C. and extradited to Virginia, where detectives questioned her. Young lady, do you actually expect us to believe that a fourteen-year-old boy tried to propose marriage to his sister? Hayley Spence reported to school administrators that you and your mother both threatened her on the day you and Matthew ran away. And need we remind you that you were driving the car? It sounds like it was the other way around, Ms. Westcott. You were jealous of your brother’s relationship with Ms. Spence that you kidnapped him and left him to die of exposure in the wilderness. Don’t try to tell us that he ran off into the woods after you tried to reason with him. You’ve already told us you were trying to take him to Georgia to your grandfather’s, but your grandfather said neither of you tried to contact him to tell him you were coming. You ran off without telling anyone, threatened your brother’s girlfriend, and then came back in your own car to D.C. and told your mother that Matthew ran into the woods after you rejected his advances. If that’s the case, Ms. Westcott, why didn’t you contact local authorities or try to get help for Matthew? Or for that matter, why didn’t you call your mother or your grandfather? Oh, how convenient that your cell phone suddenly stopped working! Our forensic technician has verified that your cell phone provider has full coverage in the twenty-mile radius where your brother’s body was found, and your LUDs have shown several calls made that morning to a Brenden Manning in Waycross, Georgia, so there is no way you had no cell service. And stop looking to your mother for answers. On that morning, she contacted psychologist Alex Rich, trying to have you both committed. She told us that you had become violent and unruly since the death of your father, statements that were backed up by school administrators, teachers, and classmates. And that Matthew had become suicidal. Do you know what Brenden told us you said to him? He said you “were tired of Matthew moping around all the time” and that “someone should put his pathetic-looking ass out of his misery.” Katelyn Westcott, you are under arrest for the murder of Matthew Westcott. You have the right to remain silent….

December 8, 2016

Olivia was so weak with terror that Rich had to help her off the metro. “Unfortunately, that’s not the worst part,” he told her. “After the brother’s death, everyone who looks at the sister or hears her voice will feel extreme hatred for her. This hatred is so intense that memories of her will be altered. In almost every case I have studied, even the parents have made statements about their daughters that have not been backed up with documentation. Be prepared, because everyone, including you, will turn on your daughter.”

January 1, 2017

Olivia Westcott was enjoying a quiet evening at home with Matthew and Katelyn. Just as Rich had predicted, Matthew’s lovesickness for his sister reached its zenith on the eighth of December, but then slowly faded until it was completely gone by the New Year.

“I can’t believe I actually asked you to marry me,” Matthew said, his voice full of disgust.

“I wouldn’t marry you even if you weren’t my brother, just because you’re a dork,” Katelyn said. A knock on the door announced Dr. Rich’s arrival.

“I can’t thank the three of you enough,” he said. “Because of you, my sister’s spirit is freed from the torments of Hell, and Abigail Williams and the Proctors are where they belong. Carol of the Bells is broken. So, I guess you’re going to Georgia tomorrow?”

“Not yet, but soon,” Olivia said sadly. “After John Harper’s departure as principal, they hired someone else. I don’t have a job to go back to. But without Beth, working for the FBI isn’t so bad. I think we’ll stay around here for a while longer.” Olivia’s voice was full of determination. “We’re going to petition the State of Massachusetts to have Carol Alexander officially pardoned. Meanwhile, there is some business I have to take care of in Georgia. I’m going to see to it that Melissa Daly is exonerated and freed from prison, along with as many of the other victims as I can.”

“I’m so sorry to use your children in that manner, but enough people have suffered due to the ongoing feud between my cheating fiancée and her lover’s wife, something that Carol had never meant to be used against innocent people.”

Olivia and Alex Rich, known in his former life as Richard Alexander, had rushed as fast as they could to track the children down. When they saw Matthew run into the woods, Richard sent the gentle spirit of Rebecca Nurse to warm him until a search-and-rescue team could take him to a safe place. He then sat Katelyn down and explained everything to her, and prepared her in advance for what was to come. He assured her that the district attorney was none other than the kind and just John Hale, who was determined to put an end to Carol of the Bells for good. It was only because of Olivia’s timely phone call to Richard that he was able to do so.

“I can’t believe this,” Katelyn said at the preliminary hearing. “We just read The Crucible in language arts class, and now I’m living it.”

Matthew’s survival broke Carol of the Bells for good. Abigail Williams and Elizabeth and John Proctor went looking for the reason the yearly procedure did not alleviate the torments that existed only in their hearts and minds. They tried in vain to rescue Matthew from his confinement at the psychiatric hospital, but the cell was under the guard of imposing spirit of Giles Corey. They were unable to get past him, and in the end, the three decided they preferred the fires of Hell to the anguish that Carol of the Bells delivered.

“Now that Carol of the Bells is broken, there is no way to transfer Carol’s curse to anyone else. No one else will suffer the way Matthew did. Elizabeth, John, and Abigail will suffer their due punishments alone,” Richard said.

“Thank God,” Matthew muttered. “I think I’m going to need about thirty showers now. Make that forty.”

“Might as well make it fifty,” Katelyn said. “You stink badly enough.”

“And you need about fifty plastic surgeries to fix your ugly face!” Matthew retorted. Olivia laughed. Things were back to normal.

“I’m so happy to hear you’re staying,” Richard said to Olivia, smiling. “Because I wanted to ask you something.” He pulled out a small box. “Since you’re not my sister…,”

“And I’m not Abigail,” Olivia said, hoping he’d never think about the tea she served him after they’d returned home on that fateful day, December 8. “But I am a witch. If you can accept that, then the answer is yes. And you can be assured that I will always be faithful. I’m a good witch.”

“Yes, I know,” Richard answered, his eyes full of three hundred years of wistful longing. “Just like Carol.”