by Hester Fox
Hello WITCH readers, I’m so excited to share an excerpt with you from my upcoming debut novel, THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL (on-sale October 2, 2018). My name is Hester Fox, and hailing from Boston I’ve always been fascinated with the rich and oftentimes dark history of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. My novel takes place in a small New England town over 130 years after the Trials, and features a Gothic, melancholic atmosphere, restless spirits, and of course, resilient women. I hope you enjoy this witchy excerpt I’ve pulled for you.
Seated at the table is a woman, or what used to be a woman. She sits as if she has every right to be there, as if she has always been there.
A veil covers her face, but it is gauzy and threadbare, and I can see the contours of the features beneath.
Her dress is old, black as night yet opalescent as the moon through a cobweb.
Paralyzed with fear, I watch as it moves about her of its own accord, a soft undulation as if she were underwater.
And though I can see her as clear as day, the veiled woman in our dining room, there’s a translucence to her, and the panoramic wallpaper is just visible behind her.
She is like nothing and no one I have ever seen before, and yet she is familiar, as if I have always known her.
“Come, child.” Her voice comes from everywhere and nowhere, and when her words are finished, I have the unnerving feeling that they weren’t spoken aloud at all, but came from within my head.
She beckons me with a knobby finger, more bone than flesh.
I can’t drag my gaze away from her face, the sunken holes where there ought to be eyes, the lipless mouth, all teeth and blackness.
The cold pie that I just enjoyed churns in my stomach and threatens to come up. She beckons me again, and I imagine those long, terrible fingers closing around my neck and choking the life out of me.
I imagine them raking me across the face until ribbons of skin flutter from my skull. I stand my ground, unwilling to deliver myself up to her.
She is the stuff of my novels, a grotesque horror that titillates on the page, but sends terror into my heart when in the same room as me.
She gives something like a grunt, and as if able to read my thoughts, says, “One hundred and thirty years of death is not gentle on a body. Come, do not gawk.”
I dare not disobey her, so I force my leaden feet to move a few steps closer.
The smell of decay and death fills the room, sickly sweet and putrid at the same time. My throat is tight, my mouth cotton, but somehow I’m able to gasp out, “W-who are you?”
She makes a noise, something between a snort and a laugh, a scraping, rattling sound, though it’s devoid of humor. “Do you not know your own forebear?”
The blackness of her dress curls around her like a snake, but she sits as motionless as if she were carved of stone.
Her stillness is suffocating, it dares the house to be silent, and punishes the sunlight for filtering in through the window.
Warily, I come to a halt at the edge of the dining room table. I don’t know what she’s talking about. “Forebear?”
“Have you not looked upon me since you were a babe? Do you not recognize in me what flows through you?”
“I…” But then it comes to me. The lace collar, though tattered and black as her dress, is unmistakable around her neck. “You’re the woman in the painting. Mother’s ancestor.”
The inclination of her head is small, barely perceptible.
“I saw you in the garden, when we first moved here. What do you want?”
That noise again that might be an impatient snort or a laugh.
“It was not me you saw. You attract them. This is a haunted place and you attract the unhappy spirits that call it home. They know what you are. Haven’t I been telling you that for these two months past?”
You attract them.
My eyes widen at the familiar refrain, the words that I had convinced myself were nothing more than a figment of my imagination, though I saw them written in my mirror, and heard them on the whispers of the breeze.
I can’t tear my gaze away from her, yet I’m terrified that the veil will fall away, revealing her face in more horrible detail. Before I can ask her what she thinks I am, the voice comes again.
“You’ve been asking questions. Your mother would do well to educate you.”
“Tch, ignorant and incendiary. A dangerous combination. You might ask her for the book. It was my mother’s. Yet look at the good it did me,” she says.
At this, she lifts the veil to her chin, revealing a crooked neck, one of the bones snapped clean through. My hand flies to my mouth and I stifle a cry.
She drops the veil back into place. “That is what I got for my trouble.”
Despite the pounding of my heart and the coiling of my stomach, her roundabout way of speaking is wearing on my taut nerves.
“Why are you here? Did you come just to berate me? Are you a spirit come to try to frighten me away? Because that’s what you are, isn’t it? A spirit?” As soon as my questions tumble out I brace myself.
What if I anger her?
But my barrage of questions has no effect. “I have watched you since you were a little girl. I have watched and waited, wondering when you would begin to open your eyes to the world around you.”
The thought of this creature watching me from the shadows makes me feel sick. “If you’ve been watching me for so long, then why did you come now?”
She gives a sigh that lifts the curtains and wilts the flowers on the table. “I will not waste my breath on words you’re not ready to hear. I thought that this place would open your eyes, but I see that I’ve come too soon.”
Frustration overtakes fear.
“But I am ready! Something is happening here, to me. There’s something inside of me. You must have come for a reason. I’ve heard your voice in the woods, seen your words on my mirror! If you’ve come to say something to me, then just say it!”
She holds up a single finger, silencing me.
“Take this as a warning. If you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you as well. If your mother will not educate you, then you must seek out your own answers. You cannot protect yourself if you do not know that of which you are capable.”
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About the book:
Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.
New Oldbury, 1821. In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall. The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline. All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…
About the author:
Hester comes to writing from a background in museum work and historical archaeology. She loves the Gothic, the lurid, the dark…so long as the ending is a happy one. Though she has never seen a ghost, she remains hopeful. She lives outside of Boston with her husband and their two cats. THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL is her first novel. Visit her at HesterFox.com.
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