Undine, by T.C. Padgett (PG-13)

Updated: Oct 27

The miller was hanged by his own mill gate for the murder of Kate Hutchins. The wedding ring taken from her finger had sealed his fate. While he swore to the end that he had only happened upon her body in the stream by his mill, the admission that he allowed it to continue downstream did him no favors.

The silver ring was returned by the village constable to Kate’s betrothed, John Lawson. Sitting alone in his modest cabin, John clutched it tightly in his hand for three days, shirking food and company, bathing in quiet sorrow. He continued clutching it at the funeral. Lucy, Kate' s sister, tried to meet his gaze several times during the ceremony, but his face never turned from the empty casket that sat before the crowd. Later, as the sermon ended and the villagers returned to their homes, Lucy made her way toward him.

“John, I'm sorry,” she whispered. She looked to clutch his hand, but seeing it still closed resigned herself to lean on his shoulder. “If there's anything I can do...”

John was silent. Lucy lingered for a few minutes before patting his shoulder and walking away, casting one last, longing look before moving on. Rain was starting again.

Leaning down toward the casket, John opened it slightly, finding nothing but the plain wood. He didn't think too much about why, but he had to be sure it was empty. What a waste, he thought.

John held the lid open and with a heavy noise from the back of this throat he opened the final dam inside of himself. The dark sky over the island wept with him. When finished, he placed the ring down into the casket, trying his best to absorb anything he could from it as his fingertips slowly left the metal.

“I love you, Kate.”

The village of Undine sat on the Isle of Shoals, former place of banishment for the radical, Thomas Morton. Morton observed the ways of the world with a different lens than his Puritan brothers, who viewed Morton's lens as clouded by earthly desires. He was punished accordingly and cast aside to await an earthy-tasting brand of divine judgment in his homeland of England. Morton remained well-connected, and though those sympathetic to him could not save him they could still join him in exile. Myles Standish and his ilk on the mainland were already eager to forget the man who had tainted their endeavor with his paganism. Thus, Undine, a village made up of both natives and fellow pilgrims, existed beneath their notice. Morton, seeing after a time that his village was in good hands, stole away on his own back to England, eager to continue his work. Even without its founder, the village of Undine grew in hidden waves as Puritan life on the nearby continent developed.

John Lawson made his living through woodworking. While he never spoke these feelings, it brought his soul joy to see the journey of the lumber from the nearby forest, working the wood into a sound form with respect to the resource itself. As the population of the village grew, more housing was constantly needed, and John found it easy to lose himself in the long hours. It was something he relished now.

John and Lucy wed a year after Kate's death. They had always been friends, but after her younger sister's death Lucy made a point to visit him often, offering whatever comfort he would allow. Rumors floated in the breeze when the news emerged – some welcomed the wedding as a comfort to John's still-ailing soul; others sneered that Lucy had finally worn him down.

While John threw himself into his work, Lucy made headway into the local clergy. Occasional rumors of Undine's existence would be blown over the sea to their brethren on the continent, and it seemed those same winds were blowing Puritanical influence back into Undine. As the original village leaders grew old and ill, new heads emerged to steer the way. It was decided that the influence of the Christian church needed expansion. Lucy embraced the expansion with fervor; many speculated this was her way of easing the pain surrounding her sister's murder. For what certainty could Lucy have to the fate of her sister's soul if she did not immerse herself in God’s teachings?

One issue that had recently arisen was the matter of Mayday. An annual tradition in Undine and beloved by their founder, the celebration brought the entire village out and culminated with a ring dance around a delicately carved wooden maypole in the center of the village. However, many were now coming to believe that eternal salvation did not mix with such celebrations, that the souls of the youth were at risk. Lucy agreed, and while John did not discuss the matter with her it gave him pause. But, when she brought the matter up to him, he would only sigh and nod, and she took his complicity as agreement.

One night, wide awake as Lucy snored beside him, John swore that every time he shut his eyes, he could hear his name being spoken softly, almost-imperceptibly through the rain tapping on his roof. The cabin was creaking from the ocean breeze. Taking his pipe and some tobacco from the bedside table, he walked quietly outside.

Standing in the doorway, still in his pajamas and smoking as he listened to the rain, John felt he could hear the whisper a little louder now. He snuffed his pipe and, growing blind to the oddity of it all, started listening closely. Was he going mad, or was the voice coming from the forest?

John couldn't help himself – slowly, he crept between the trees. He lost himself in the dark wood, ignoring the cracking under his bare feet. Soon, he saw her – in a small pond enshrined by thick pine, a woman was bathing. Her white skin and golden hair shone even on this rainy night. John realized that the sound he had taken as his name was the woman's soft singing. But why would those sound so similar?

The woman turned. John was overcome. His consciousness fell to the night.