Sneak Peek: Prologue, Down Salem Way

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20 December 1691

My life has only just begun. Is that not odd? I am nine-and-twenty years old and did not know who or what or why I was until I met my Elizabeth.

How did I know she was the one for me? In truth, I cannot say, but knew I did from the instant I saw her. Twas but three months ago, over the supper table where we were gathered with friends from the Village where Elizabeth and her father and sister had recently arrived from England. I noticed her the moments I walked in I saw her floating gracefully about the simple wooden cabin, making sure everyone’s mugs and bellies were full, caring for her younger sister, tending to her father. And then our eyes met and my life on earth made sense to me. I wanted to know Elizabeth, and when I discovered that she wanted to know me, I knew why I was brought forth on this earth—to love and cherish this woman.

I am not a religious man. I believe in God, I believe in His mercy, but I do not believe our lives are predestined, mapped out for us before we are born. I do not believe we have to forgo earthly joys in pursuit of some unknown Paradise in a mysterious afterworld. I believe we make our own fortunes through our work, our families, our friends, and elsewhere. I can devote my heart and soul to my wife and still do good and be good to those I love on earth and those I love in heaven. I listen to Reverend Noyes in the meeting house on a Sunday and his brimstone and hellfire sermons do not prompt my piety. There is a lot of brimstone and hellfire here in Salem, but I let it pass over me. If this is what others believe, that is all and well, but I believe in a God of compassion.

I’m certain I sound like an old married man though I have been married but this week past. Though my father is one of the wealthiest men in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, my wife is a farmer’s daughter, and she decided that our wedding would be a simple affair with family and a few friends. My wife, beautiful no matter her clothing, looked ethereal in the brown silk that matched the brown silk of the wisps of her hair that fell from her coif and the brown silk of her soft eyes. My father presented us with the best food and drink money could buy—spiced hard cider, fish chowder, stewed oysters, parsley-flavored mussels, roasted game birds, red pickled eggs, succotash stew, bearberry jelly, rye bread, maple syrup candy, nutmeats, my wife’s bride cake, and my father’s favorite, the Indian pudding with dried plums and West Indian molasses.

For myself I was all of nerves, trembling and stumbling, not from fear but from disbelief that Elizabeth Jones was about to become my wife. I forgot to tidy my hair or my clothing prior to the wedding, and I’m sure I looked like a rumpled roll of bedding tossed from the last ship to dock from England. I had to run to my own wedding, smiling, happy, impatient to create a life with the woman I love. It has been cold this December, but Elizabeth decided we would be married after the harvest months so that my father-in-law, a farmer, and our other friends from the Village could join in our joy. The magistrate recited the vows. My wife and I exchanged rings. My father bought us the rings, for, though rings are unpopular here where any earthly adornment is considered vain, he says that the thin bands represent eternity, which is as long as I shall love my wife.

“I shall never leave you ever,” I said to my blushing bride, and she promised me the same. My father brought us to our new two-story, two-gable house, one of the larger homes in Salem Town, his wedding present to us. When Elizabeth and I were finally alone, I was tongue tied. I had been dreaming of this moment from the very first time I saw her, but there I was in the great room staring into the kitchen where she appeared to be examining the larger cauldron hanging from the center of the hearth. I thought if she spoke first then she might alleviate the awkwardness. Finally, I laughed, and she laughed, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is where I’m supposed to be, in my beautiful home with my beautiful wife, and there was nowhere else in the world for me.

As I sit here looking through the diamond panes into the fading daylight I see my Elizabeth sitting in her chair by the heat of the hearth, her feet up on the tapestry-covered stool, a book in her lap, the flickering flames illuminating her peach-like complexion, her lips parted as if she had bitten into berries that stained her full mouth red, her dark curls falling down her back, her hair loose since it is just we two in the privacy of our home, her thin linen shift covered by a shawl to protect her from the cold that still filtered between the diamond panes of the windows. She looks from her book to me and smiles, and I know that all is well in the world. As I write this she stands, places her book on the chair she had been sitting on, and walks to me. She is placing her warm hands on my shoulders, and with the knuckles of her thumbs and forefingers presses the tight muscles of my neck and shoulders into submission. I exhale and lean back into her kneading hands, allowing the relief they bring me body and soul.

I thank God every night for this woman. Who am I to have such good fortune? Tonight, I, James Wentworth, am a content man, a joyous man, a grateful man with my loving, radiant wife beside me.

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Excerpt: Chapter 3, Her Dear and Loving Husband

James Wentworth arrived on the campus of Salem State College a half an hour after dark. He parked his black Ford Explorer in the parking lot off Loring Avenue near the Central Campus and walked past the Admissions Office and the bookstore, stepping out of the way of a student speeding toward the bike path. After he walked into the library he paused by the door to watch the young people studying at the tables, searching the stacks, hunching over the computers, so raw and fresh they still had that new-car smell. They had so much ahead of them, James mused. The world was exciting to them, adventures waiting to be had, dreams to be discovered, loves to be found and lost and lost and found. The students in the library were naïve, yes, but that would be tempered by experience and learning. Some of them thought they already knew everything they would ever need to know, but James had compassion for them. We think we know it all, but we never do, no matter how long we live.

Class that night was lively. These students had opinions and they liked discussing and debating, which kept the energy high. There is no worse class than when there were thirty silent students who wanted nothing more than to listen to the professor speak for fifty minutes and leave. That night’s class was an independent study seminar where the students chose which work of literature they would focus on. Usually, James found, the young people were predictable in their choices—Dickens, Shakespeare, Twain, Thoreau—but that term the students were more creative. One was studying Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray about the cursed man who never ages, a story James thought of often. He was amused by the choice, and curious.

“Why The Picture of Dorian Gray?” he asked.

“Staying young forever?” Kendall said. “How cool is that? I mean, don’t you want your hair to stay blond, Professor? You want to turn old and gray?”

James shook his head. “On the outside Dorian stayed young-looking and fresh-seeming, but on the inside he became decrepit in ways no one would guess. His physical body didn’t age, but the catch was, as the years passed, he grew more depraved and detached from human decency.” James looked at Kendall, a Junior about twenty years of age, her sandy-brown hair slung back in a ponytail, wearing a blue and orange Salem State College t-shirt with the Viking logo. Her expression hadn’t changed.

“Dorian looked young, Professor Wentworth. Isn’t that all that matters?”

“A youthful appearance is certainly valued in our society, but don’t you think there could be problems always looking the same while you grew in knowledge and experience?”

“But looking young forever would keep me out of the plastic surgeon’s office.”

“Fair enough,” James said.

“I mean, my sister is twenty-five, and she’s already getting Botox.”

James sighed as he surveyed the classroom, admiring the bright, fresh faces, and he wondered how many others were convinced they looked old when they were oh so very young. He scanned the list in his hand and his eyes grew wide. He pressed his wire-rimmed eyeglasses against his nose as he looked at Trisha, sitting front and center, a bright student, one of his hardest workers, and he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at her choice. He wouldn’t have guessed it of her.

“Why did you choose Bram Stoker’s Dracula?” he asked.

“Because I love that genre,” Trisha said. “I love the idea that there are supernatural beings so extraordinary out there walking unnoticed among us. Since we’re not looking for them we don’t see them, and when we do see them it might be too late.”

“Do you believe in vampires?” he asked.

“Of course not. That’s silly.”

“Yes,” he said. “That is very silly.”

“Besides, even if there were really vampires no one would believe it. It just doesn’t seem possible.”

“You’re right. Let’s hope we never have to find out.”

Levon Jackson, another bright student, an ice hockey player touted as a potential NHL draft, patted Trisha’s shoulder and shouted a loud “Amen!”

James sat on the edge of the instructor’s desk at the front of the room. Levon was one of his favorites that term, in two of his classes, and the young man so rarely shared without raising his hand. Though James insisted from the first day that students didn’t need to raise their hands, this was college, not kindergarten, Levon was always respectful, polite, waiting for James’ attention before he spoke.

“Amen to what, Levon?” James asked.

“Amen to let’s hope we never have to find out. Who wants to learn there’s some nasty old vamp lurking around somewhere?”

“There’s nothing to find out,” said Jeremy, who had aspirations of doctoral school at Harvard. “Who wants to waste time on make-believe?”

“Vampires could be real,” Kendall said. As other students laughed and hissed, she turned her scrunched face to the class. “Why not? Stranger things have happened.”

“How can something be dead and alive at the same time?” Jeremy asked.

“I’m not saying it’s true,” Kendall said. “I’m just saying it’s possible.”

Levon slapped his large hands over his ears, his palms flat against his head. “I don’t want to hear any more about vampires!” James couldn’t tell if he was joking.

Jeremy smirked. “You must cover your ears a lot, Levon. Everyone everywhere is talking about vampires. Vampire movies. Vampire television shows. Vampire books.” Jeremy’s fingers went to his temples and he shook his head from side to side. “I am so damn sick of vampires.”

 

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Excerpt: Chapter 2, Her Dear and Loving Husband

You can read Her Dear & Loving Husband for free. Click on the photo for booksellers where you can download a copy.

Thursday night Sarah was slow with her steps, savoring the town. She turned from Washington Street and wandered between Front and Derby, past the old-fashioned Salem Marketplace where people window shopped through the narrow lanes, gazing at the painters and sculptors in Artists Row, imagining what it must have been like living there centuries ago. She continued to the watery expanse of the bay where the breeze blew lazy laps in the water, postcard perfect along the natural coastline beauty. Rising above the water, towering above the sailboats, was the 171-foot-long, three-masted ship the Friendship, an emblem of Salem. She saw the white lighthouse, waiting patiently, beckoning sailors home. She stepped onto Pickering Wharf, a harborside village of gray-blue buildings with white trim, the hubbub of local seafaring activities, and she paused to admire the slick boats parked in neat little rows. She breathed in the wholesome air, exhaled, and relaxed. She felt comfortable, as if she had found a childhood friend after many years. More than anything, she loved the peace she felt. Her thoughts had been congested so long, the ten years she spent in Los Angeles, to be exact, and with every step she took she felt her muddled worries clearing away, lifted from her shoulders by the sauntering wind.

The Witches Lair, Jennifer’s mother’s shop, was located on Pickering Wharf, tucked in alongside the clothing, gift, and antique boutiques. Sarah arrived before everyone else since she was still on an L.A. schedule where you had to leave an hour early to get through the traffic to get anywhere on time. A tinkling bell rang as she pulled open the door, and when she walked into the shop she said hello to the woman behind the counter and glanced around. The Witches Lair was a perfect name for the store since it was stocked with any accoutrement a witch or wizard might need: altar supplies and incense, aromatherapy oils and diffusers, cauldrons and tarot cards, crystals and gems, and books about subjects ranging from the kama sutra to kabbalah and from magick and spells to dream interpretation. It was dark inside, with dim overhead lights and flameless candles in the sconces on the walls, the shadows adding to the mystical ambiance.

Sarah paused by the bookcase, searching the titles. She was intrigued by one, about dream interpretation, and as she scanned the back cover she wondered if the information inside could help her unravel the dreams that plagued her. There were nights when the images were so intense that when she woke up it took some time to distinguish between the scenes in her head and the reality in the world outside. With the book forgotten in her hands, she remembered her latest nightmare, the one that staggered her awake the night before. She was so lost in thought she didn’t notice the older woman beside her.

“Would you like a psychic reading, dear? I can read your palm, or perhaps you’d prefer a tarot card reading?”

“Oh no.” Sarah returned the book to the shelf. “I’m waiting for Jennifer Mandel. We work together at the library and she invited me here tonight.”

The woman clasped her hands together, and she smiled in warm greeting. “You must be Sarah. I’m Olivia Phillips, Jennifer’s mother. Welcome to the Witches Lair.”

Olivia looked like a fortune-telling gypsy with her hoop earrings and peasant-style skirt. Her steel-gray eyes and the wisps of silver in her close-cropped red hair were striking. Sarah and Olivia shook hands, and Sarah gestured at the store around her.

“Your shop is fascinating. I’ve never seen one like it.”

“Shops like these are a dime a dozen around here. Everyone in Salem thinks they’re a psychic or a mystic or touched by the supernatural somehow.” Olivia waved her hand in a firm dismissal of those who would think that way. “Jennifer tells me you’re new to Salem.”

“That’s right.” Sarah began to explain about her divorce, but Olivia held up her hand.

“You don’t need to explain, dear. I have four ex-husbands myself. But why Salem?”

“I’ve always felt drawn here. When I was growing up in Boston I asked my mother to bring me to the Halloween festival, and we lived so close, but somehow we never made it. My mother always had one excuse or other to skip the trip. Just the thought of this place made her shiver.”

“Has your mother ever been here? There’s nothing to be afraid of, at least not for over three hundred years. These days it’s more of a tourist town than anything.”

“I’ve told her that, but she still won’t come. I thought she’d want to know more about our ancestor, but she’s not interested.”

“Your ancestor?”

“When I was a girl my great-aunt told us that someone in our family died as a victim of the witch hunts, but my aunt didn’t know anything else about the woman, not even her name. I started working on my family tree when I was in L.A., and I thought if I were here I could do more research at the Danvers Archival Center. At least I’d like to know her name.”

“A mystery to solve. I love it.” Olivia looked at the book Sarah had slipped back onto the shelf. She watched Sarah, her face fixed, like a detective gathering clues where no one else thought to look. “Jennifer tells me you have dreams.” She took Sarah’s hand and patted it in a motherly way. “Would you like to tell me about them?”

Sarah shook her head. She had never told anyone. Nick, her ex-husband, knew, but only by default. He would yell and bitch and moan whenever she woke screaming in the night, clenching her jaw tight until the bones popped in her ears, her muscles like sailors’ knots. He told her she was weak for giving into the internal heckling, but they were her dreams. She couldn’t control them. They would have their way with her, picking and pulling at her, though she didn’t want them to. Because of Nick’s impatience, and her own disappointment with how easily she was jolted awake by the clear-as-day images, she kept her dreams a secret from everyone else. Instinctively, she felt she could trust Olivia, that Olivia might be someone she could confide in about the teasing games her subconscious liked to play when she was sleeping and defenseless, waking her with nervous, earthquake-like tremors. She had the clothbound notebook where she recorded her dreams there with her in the Witches Lair, in the canvas bag hanging from her shoulder. She could have pulled it out to show Olivia. But she didn’t. She shook her head again.

“Whatever you wish, Sarah. Just remember, I’m here should you change your mind. And my friend Martha, you’ll meet her tonight, is excellent at dream interpretation. She’s an expert at past-life regression as well.”

“You’re very kind, but you don’t need to trouble yourself over it.”

“But dreams are our subconscious whispering truths in our ears, Sarah. You should pay attention. You’d be amazed at what you could learn.”

Olivia gripped Sarah’s hand tighter and led her past the bookcases and displays to four cubby-sized rooms separated from the rest of the store by black velvet curtains.

“Come. I’ll give you a reading for free. Any friend of Jennifer’s is a friend of mine.” Sarah tried to protest, but Olivia wouldn’t be swayed. “Really, dear, everything will be fine. Perhaps I can help you understand your dreams.”

Sarah relented, telling herself she didn’t believe in psychics, extrasensory perception, mysticism, or anything like that, so the reading didn’t matter. And she did like Olivia. There was such unconditional warmth in the older woman’s manner. Besides, in a tarot reading didn’t they just pull three cards from the deck and make guesses about your life based on the pictures? She would humor Olivia, pretend to be startled by the revelations, then join Jennifer and the others.

Olivia pulled aside the curtain to the cubby on the end, fringed with more black velvet. Inside there was only enough space for a small round table covered with white linen and two folding chairs while a candle and spiced incense burned on a shelf. Olivia sat in the chair behind the table and gestured for Sarah to sit across from her. She took Sarah’s hand and looked at her palm.

“Have you had a psychic reading before?”

“Once, when I was in college. I was taking a religious studies class and one of our assignments was to have a psychic reading and write about our experience.”

“And what was your experience?”

“She seemed very young, the psychic, just college age herself, and I wasn’t impressed with her predictions since everything she said was generic and could have applied to anyone.”

Olivia dropped Sarah’s hand to study her. Again, that detective seeking clues look. “What did she say?”

“I was getting ready to move to Los Angeles where my fiancé had a job in the film industry. She told me moving away would be a mistake because L.A. was not my home. She said my husband was not my husband and I was not who I thought I was.”

“Who do you think you are?”

“I’m Sarah Alexander.”

Olivia was in deep thought as she considered.

“Yes, well, let’s see what else we can learn.”

 

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