Going Back to Salem for the First Time
After seeing visions of a vampire mourning his long-dead wife, I finally decided one morning to see if there was anything to these insistent daydreams. I sat down at the computer without any specifics about the story in mind. All I had was a thought about a vampire so in love with his wife that he couldn’t move on.
I decided to set the story in Salem, Massachusetts by a process of elimination. As I was thinking about the setting, I realized I didn’t want to set the story in the Northwestern U.S. because that’s where Stephenie Meyer’s vampires hang out. I didn’t want to set the story down South because that’s where Charlaine Harris’ vampires roam. I live in the western part of the U.S., previously in L.A. and currently in Las Vegas, but those didn’t feel right for a vampire story. Then I thought that if I wasn’t going northwest, how about northeast? I looked at a map of the northeastern U.S., saw Massachusetts, saw Salem, and that was that.
I have been asked if I was born in Salem or if I ever lived in Salem. The answer is no to both questions. I was able to describe Salem, Massachusetts in detail in Her Dear & Loving Husband using the Internet—website, photographs, maps, travel sites, and Google Earth. Then, as I sat down to write the second book in the series, Her Loving Husband’s Curse, I went back onto the Internet to reacquaint myself with the town that is itself a character in the story. Looking again at pictures and maps, I realized I had gone as far as I could describing the town from 3000 miles away. I decided I wanted a better look at the place where I had lived in my imagination for over two years, so this past July I finally visited Salem.
My main concern when I arrived was that I would get there and see I had gotten it all wrong and nothing was the way I described it. Thank goodness that didn’t happen. I was pleasantly surprised to find everything where I expected it to be. My only surprise was the tiny size of Lappin Park—with its statue of Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha on Bewitched—which occupies the corner of a busy intersection. For a history buff like myself, Salem is a great find, bursting with everything from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace to memorials to the madness of the witch trials to a recreation of a pioneer village from the 1630s. And there’s the beauty and the serenity of the seaside to take in.
Most importantly, I was able to absorb the energy of the town while I was there. I could see the sea kissing the shore with my own eyes, and I saw the boats bobbing in the harbor. I walked the same streets my characters James and Sarah walk every night. I stood outside the Peabody-Essex Museum and I visited the House of the Seven Gables. Now I have a depth, a personal well of knowledge to draw from as I add more light and shadows to this ever-deepening story between the vampire and his eternal love.
Although it was my first time in Salem, I felt as if I were visiting it all over again. And I enjoyed every minute of my stay.
Author: Meredith Allard
Reading Level: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Paranormal Romance
Reading Level: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Paranormal Romance
Release Date: April 19th 2011
Size: 262 pages
How long would you wait for the one you loved?
Her Dear & Loving Husband, the new novel from Meredith Allard, is part literary fiction, part historical fiction, part romance, and part paranormal fantasy. With elements of Twilight and The Crucible, Her Dear & Loving Husband is a story for anyone who believes that true love never dies.
James Wentworth has a secret. He lives quietly in Salem, Massachusetts, making few ties anywhere. One night his private world is turned upside down when he meets Sarah Alexander, a dead ringer for his wife, Elizabeth. Though it has been years since Elizabeth's death, James cannot move on.
Sarah also has a secret. She is haunted by nightmares about the Salem Witch Trials, and every night she is awakened by visions of hangings, being arrested, and dying in jail. Despite the obstacles of their secrets, James and Sarah fall in love. As James comes to terms with his feelings for Sarah, he must dodge accusations from a reporter desperate to prove that James is not who, or what, he seems to be. With the help of their friends, witches Jennifer and Olivia, James and Sarah piece their stories together and discover a mystery that may bind them in ways they never imagined. Will James make the ultimate sacrifice to protect Sarah and prevent a new hunt from bringing hysteria to Salem again?
I am looking lovingly into the eyes of a man, though I cannot see his face because it is featureless, like a blank slate. We are standing in front of a wooden house with narrow clapboards, and there are diamond-paned casement windows and a steep pitched roof with two gables pointing at the laughing, hidden moon. I am certain I hear someone singing sweet nothings to us from the sky. From the light of the few jewel stars I can see the halo of his hair, like the halo of an angel, and even if I cannot see his eyes I know they look at me, into me. I stand on my toes, he is much taller than me, and I point up my face and he kisses me. As the warmth of his lips melts into mine, making me weak from the inside out, I feel my knees give from the thrilling lightness his touch brings. I know the face I cannot see is beautiful, like the lips I feel. His hands press me into him, clutching me closer, closer, unwilling to let me go. I grip him with equal strength, wishing he would carry me inside, yet I cannot bring myself to break our embrace.
“I shall never leave you ever,” he whispers in my ear. I promise him the same.
I do not know how I have been so fortunate to have this man in my life, but here he is, before me, wanting me. I am overcome with the joy of him.
Sarah Alexander didn’t know what was waiting for her in Salem, Massachusetts. She had moved there to escape the smog and the smugness of Los Angeles, craving the dulcet tones of a small town, seeking a less complicated life. Her first hint of the supernatural world came the day she moved into her rented brick house near the historic part of town, close to the museums about the witch trial days, not far from the easy, wind-blown bay. As the heavy-set men hauled her furniture inside, her landlady leaned close and told her to beware.
“If you hear sounds in the night it’s ghosts,” the landlady whispered, glancing around to be sure no one, human or shadow, could hear. “The spirits of the innocent victims of the witch hunts still haunt us. I can feel them stirring now. God rest them.”
Sarah didn’t know what to say. She had never been warned about ghosts before. The landlady peered at her, squinting to see her better.
“You’re a pretty girl,” the old woman said. “Such dark curls you have.” She still spoke as if she were telling a secret, and Sarah had to strain to hear. “You’re from California?”
“I moved there after I got married,” Sarah said.
“Where’s your husband?”
“I’m divorced now.”
“And your family is here?”
“In Boston. I wanted to live close to my family, but I didn’t want to move back to the city. I’ve always wanted to visit Salem, so I thought I’d live here awhile.”
The landlady nodded. “Boston,” she said. “Some victims of the witch trials were jailed in Boston.”
The landlady was so bent and weak looking, her fragile face lined like tree rings, that Sarah thought the old woman had experienced the hysteria in Salem during the seventeenth century. But that was silly, Sarah reminded herself. The Salem Witch Trials happened over three hundred years ago. There was no one alive now who had experienced that terror first hand. Sarah wanted to tell the landlady how she believed she had an ancestor who died as a victim of the witch hunts, but she didn’t say anything then.
“Yes, they’re here,” the landlady said, staring with time-faded eyes at the air above their heads, as if she saw something no one else could see. “Beware, Sarah. The ghosts are here. And they always come out at night.”
The landlady shook as if she were cold, though it was early autumn and summer humidity still flushed the air. When Sarah put her arm around the old woman to comfort her, she felt her skin spark like static. She rubbed her hands together, feeling the numbness even after the old woman pulled away.
“It’s all right,” Sarah said. “I won’t be frightened by paranormal beings. I don’t believe in ghosts.”
The landlady laughed. “Salem may cure you of that.”
For a moment Sarah wondered if she made a mistake moving there, but she decided she wouldn’t let a superstitious old woman scare her away. She thought about her new job in the library at Salem State College—Humanities I liaison, go-to person for English studies, well worth the move across the country. She saw the tree-lined, old-fashioned neighborhood and the comforting sky. She heard the lull of bird songs and the distant whisper of the sea kissing the shore. She felt a rising tranquility, like the tide of the ocean waves at noon, wash over her. It was a contentment she had never known before, not in Boston, never in Los Angeles. She was fascinated by Salem, looking forward to knowing it better, certain she was exactly where she needed to be, whatever may come.
Sarah’s first days in the library were hectic since it was the start of an autumn term. She spent her shifts on the main floor, an open, industrial-style space of bright lights, overhead beams, and windows that let in white from the sun and green from the trees abundant everywhere on campus. Across from the librarians’s desk, a combined circulation and reference area, was a lounge of comfortable chairs in soothing grays and blues where some students socialized using their inside voices while others stalked like eagle-eyed hunters, searching the stacks or the databases.
By Wednesday afternoon, as she saw the short-tempered rain clouds march across the Salem sky, Sarah thought she would have to buy a car soon. After driving and dodging in nail-biting Los Angeles traffic for ten years, she liked the freedom of walking the quiet roads from home to work, watching in wonder as the leaves turned from summer green to an autumn fade of red, rust, and gold. But she had been living in the sunshine on the west coast for ten years, and she had forgotten about the sudden anger of New England thunderstorms. They could appear just like that, a crack of noise overhead, then a gray flannel blanket covered the sky as fast as you could blink your eyes, water splashing all around, wetting you when you did not want to be wet, and she was caught unprepared. She held out her hand and shook her head when she felt the drops splash her palm. Jennifer Mandel’s voice sang out behind her.
“Need a lift?”
Sarah wiped her palm on her skirt, grateful once again for Jennifer’s assistance. Jennifer had been the head librarian at the college for five years, and she had taken Sarah under her wing, showing her where everything was, introducing her to the rest of the staff, answering her questions. There was something almost odd about Jennifer’s intuition—she always seemed to know when Sarah needed her, like a clairvoyant magic trick. They sprinted to the parking lot, trying to avoid the sudden splats of rain soaking their thin blouses through, and they clambered into Jennifer’s white Toyota, laughing like schoolgirls jumping in puddles. Jennifer drove the curve around Loring Avenue to Lafayette Street, the main road to and from the college.
“Where were you before you came here?” Jennifer asked. “You’re obviously not used to the rain.”
“I worked at UCLA.”
“A small town like Salem must seem dreary after living in the big city.”
Sarah looked at Jennifer, saw the compassion in her eyes, the understanding smile, so she said just enough to make herself understood. “I’m recently divorced.”
Jennifer held up her hand. “You don’t need to explain. I have two ex-husbands myself.”
They drove quietly, letting the sound of the car’s accelerator and the rain tapping the windshield fill the space. As Sarah watched the small-town scene drift past, she thought it might not be so bad to drive in Salem. Everything back east, the roads, the shops, the homes, was built on an old-time scale, narrower and smaller than they were out west. But here people slowed when you wanted to merge into their lane and they stopped at stop signs, so different from L.A. where they’d run you over sooner than let you pass.
“Why don’t you come over tomorrow night?” Jennifer asked. “We’re having a get-together at my mother’s shop.” She leaned closer to Sarah and whispered though they were alone in the car. “I should probably tell you, and I’ll understand if you think this is too weird, but my mother and I are witches.”
Sarah studied Jennifer, her hazel eyes, her long auburn hair, her friendly smile. “You don’t look like a witch,” she said.
“You mean the kind with black hair and a nose wart? The kind that fly around on broomsticks? Not that kind of witch.”
“You mean you’re Wiccan?”
“Yes, I practice the Wiccan religion, among other things. I’m the high priestess of my coven. I’m also licensed to perform weddings here in Massachusetts, in case you ever need someone to preside over a wedding for you.”
Sarah laughed. “I just got divorced. I won’t be getting married again any time soon.” She paused to watch the drizzle slip and slide on the windows. “I’m surprised there really are witches in Salem.”
“Ironic, isn’t it? The city known for hanging witches is now a haven for mystics.” Jennifer shook her head, her expression tight. “Is this too much information? I don’t usually tell someone a few days after I’ve met her that I’m Wiccan, but you have a positive energy. You don’t seem like someone who’s going to assume I’m a Satanist who loves human sacrifices.”
“I don’t mind. I’m just surprised. I’ve never known a witch before.”
“There are all sorts of interesting people you could meet around here.” Jennifer nudged Sarah with her elbow. “So will you come tomorrow night?”
“I don’t know, Jennifer.”
“You don’t need to participate in the rituals. Come make some friends. I think you’ll like the other witches in my coven. They’re good people.”
A Wiccan ceremony did sound odd, Sarah thought, but she had always been fascinated by different religions and cultures. Librarians had to keep learning—a healthy curiosity was a job necessity. And it would be nice to know some people in Salem, even if they were witches.
As they continued down Lafayette Street, Sarah saw the sign for Pioneer Village and she added it to her mental to-do list. “I haven’t had a chance to see much of this part of town since I’ve been here,” she said.
“How about a quick tour then?”
“What about the rain?”
Jennifer turned right down Derby Street. “I’ve lived here my whole life. A little water doesn’t bother me.”
Jennifer drove down one tree-lined street, then down another street, and another until Sarah didn’t know where she was. Though Witch City was small, Sarah was still learning her way around. She tried to gauge her surroundings and saw the tall, white lines of the Peabody-Essex Museum, then further down was the Hawthorne Hotel. Past that was the brick, colonial-looking Salem Maritime National Historic Site. As she watched the history flip past, like a stack of photographs from time gone by, she noticed a house she thought she knew though she was sure she hadn’t been down that way before. The one that caught her attention had wooden clapboards, diamond-paned casement windows, and two gables on the roof. It was old, though it didn’t seem to be a museum as the other old buildings were.
“What is that house?” she asked. “It looks familiar.”
“James Wentworth lives there.”
“Do you know him?”
Jennifer’s answer was stilted, as if she considered each word, weighed it, measured it, decided yes or no about it, before she let it drop from her lips. “He teaches at the college. He—his family—has owned this house for generations. It’s over three hundred years old, one of the oldest standing homes in Salem.”
Jennifer slowed the car so they could get a better look as she drove past. “Does it still look familiar?” she asked.
“Yes. Even that crooked oak tree in front seems right. I can picture the man I dream about standing in front there kissing me.”
“What dreams?” Jennifer gripped the steering wheel more tightly and her eyes brightened. “My mother’s friend Martha is great at dream interpretation. She’s done a world of good for me.” She winked at Sarah. “And you dream about a man? Is he a good looking man?”
Sarah pulled her arms around her chest, wishing she could take back her casual reference, afraid she had already said too much.
“Do you have a lot of dreams?”
“Yes,” Sarah said. But that was all she could manage. When Jennifer had waited long enough and Sarah had to offer something more, all she could say was, “It’s not a big deal. I just thought I knew the house from somewhere.”
“A lot of houses around here look the same,” Jennifer said.
Sarah looked at the houses, the tall, Federal-style ones, the Victorian ones, the brick ones, the modern-looking ones. Suddenly, as they drove around the green of Salem Common, the rain cleared, the sun brightened, and the clouds flittered away across the bay.
“That must be it,” she said.
She lowered the car window so she could smell the wet air. Though she missed the rain when she lived in Los Angeles, at that moment she was glad to see the serene blue reflection of the northeastern sky again.
They drove the rest of the way in silence.
Author: Meredith Allard
Reading Level: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Paranormal Romance
Reading Level: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Paranormal Romance
Release Date: April 20th 2012
Size: 284 pages
Finally, after many long and lonely years, James Wentworth’s life is falling into place. Together with his wife, Sarah, the only woman he has ever loved, he has found the meaning behind her nightmares about the Salem Witch Trials, and now they are rebuilding the life they began together so long ago.
But the past is never far behind for the Wentworths. While Sarah is haunted by new visions, now about the baby she carried over three hundred years before, James is confronted with painful memories from his time with the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. Through it all, the persistent reporter Kenneth Hempel reappears, still determined to prove that the undead walk the earth. If Hempel succeeds in his quest, James and Sarah will suffer. Will the curse of the vampire prevent James and Sarah from living their happily ever after?
I am among the masses as they limp and drag toward some foreign place they are afraid to imagine. Even in the dimness of the nearly moonless night the exhaustion, the sickness, the fear is everywhere in their swollen faces. The weaker among them, the very old and the very sick, the very young and the very frail, are driven in wagons steered by ill-tempered soldiers. The riders are not better off than the walkers, their sore, screaming bodies bumped and jostled by the wobbly wheels over the unsteady forest terrain. No one notices as a few drop like discarded rags from the wagon to the ground.
“Here!” I cry. “Let me help you. I will find water for you to drink.”
But they pass me without looking. They see nothing, hear nothing. They walk. That is all they are. Walk. That is their name. Walk. Or “Move!” That is what the soldiers scream in their faces. They struggle under the weight of the few bags they carry and stumble under the musket butts slapped into their backs. And still they do not see me.
I wave my hands in the air and yell to make myself heard over the thumping of thousands of feet.
“Here!” I cry. “Who needs something to eat?”
I push myself into the center of the mass. Men in turbans and tunics, women with their long black hair pulled from their faces as they clutch their toddlers—all focus their eyes on a horizon too far away. One old man, unsteady under the weight of the pack he carries, stumbles over some rocks and he falls. The soldiers beat him with their muskets—their futile attempt to make him stand. The man tries to push himself up but cannot, so the soldiers try the whip instead. The old man prostrates himself on the ground, arms out, face away. He has accepted that this is how he will die.
“Step around him!” the soldiers bark. And they do step around him, their eyes straight ahead. They do not see the old man any more than they see me. To acknowledge the fallen elder would force them to admit that his fate is their fate and they will all die here among unknown land and foreign trees. The old man does not stir. He does not lift his head or seem to breathe. And the people pass him by. When they stop to make their encampment for the night, the old man does not arrive.
I throw my hands into the air again, my frustration boiling the blood in my brain. “Let me help you! Why will you not listen to me?”
“Because they cannot see you.”
I have seen the man before—his blue tunic, his white turban, his solemn bearing—and he has seen me. He is an elder, his hair silver, his face a ridged map of everything he has seen, every thought he has had, every prayer he has said. There is wisdom behind his wary glance and oh so tired eyes.
“That’s ridiculous,” I say. “I am standing here among them.”
The old man shakes his head. “You are the Kalona Ayeliski. They cannot see you.”
“The Kalona Ayeliski. They cannot see the Raven Mocker.”
I watch the walkers, hundreds of them, their heads bowed under the weight of losing their possessions, their land, their ancestors, everything they had in this world and beyond, and I realize the man is right. They do not see me. They have never seen me.
“What is a Raven Mocker?” I ask.
“An evil spirit. All the Raven Mocker cares for is prolonging its own life force, and it feeds from others to do it. It tortures the dying and hastens their deaths so it can consume their hearts. The Raven Mocker receives one year of life for every year its victim would have lived.”
“I am no Raven Mocker. I mean harm to no one.”
I turn away, watching the families reuniting after the long day’s walk, children crying for their mothers, husbands searching for their wives. They are setting up their campsites, eating the meager gruel and drinking the few drops of water given them. I cannot meet the man’s eyes.
“Not for a long time,” I say. When the man’s stare bores through me, pricking me somewhere I cannot name, I shrug. “I do not hasten death in anyone,” I say. “Not anymore.”
“We shall see,” he says.
Sarah Wentworth didn’t know how her life would change the first year of her marriage. She sat on a bench near the Massachusetts shore, protected from the high August sun by the shelter of overhanging trees. She watched the families on the narrow stretch of beach of Forest River Park, the children digging holes in the rocky sand, the mothers gossiping under the shade of striped umbrellas, two grandmas in their old-timey bathing suits and floppy straw hats, knee-deep in the water, walking back and forth in the laps of the waves, talking intently between them. Beyond them small white boats bumped and bobbed in the water, unattached to any dock, floating at will.
She was attuned to the laughter of children, and she watched the families eating at the picnic tables on the grassy expanse beneath the trees, lounging in portable chairs, playing games, enjoying the late summer day. She watched the tourists park their rental cars on the dirt lot and walk to Pioneer Village where costumed docents showed visitors around the historical replicas of wooden homes, medicinal gardens, carpenter’s sheds, and stocks for the naughty, explaining life in Salem, then Naumkeag, in the 1630s.
Before my time, Sarah thought.
She stood with a wistful look at the mothers tending their children, enjoying her time alone with her thoughts after her shift at the library, Forest River Park a short block across Lafayette Street from Salem State University where she worked as a librarian. Though it was a year since she moved to Salem, there was still a magic about the place for her, a quietness, a calm she couldn’t associate with anywhere else. It might be a Massachusetts thing, a Salem thing, or a seaside thing, she wasn’t sure, but people were different there. They smiled at you. Said hello. There wasn’t the mad-rush pace you see in larger cities where she had lived, like Boston or Los Angeles, except, she now knew, in their driving. Since she was a girl, she had always found something serene in the ocean, the peace of going home, she thought, and in Salem she had the tranquility of the bay every day.
She walked to the end of the park and waved to the shirtless teenage boy sitting in a lawn chair outside the gate. She headed down Lafayette Street, right on Derby, finding her way home. Thinking of her husband in their bed, still sleeping as the brightest daylight hours dwindled away, she smiled. She stopped in front of her wooden house, the one with the two peaked gables on the roof, and she realized she had such a fondness for the old thing. She and that old house shared a secret between them, after all. It was almost exactly a year to the day when she first stood on that lawn, fascinated by the museum-like home, needing to know it better. And then James had appeared, handsome and pensive in the shadows, reaching out to touch her cheek. Even then he knew her. Before she knew who he was, he knew her.
She walked past the crooked oak tree and touched the brown slats of the exterior walls, then looked through the diamond-paned casement window into the great room, the shelves of books, the flat-screen television mismatched against the old-fashioned furniture, her black cat asleep on the long reading chair. She looked at the sky, the light hazy, fading behind the breeze-blown trees. The air was cooler now, less heavy, the heat of summer fading into the beginning of a memory, and it was growing darker earlier, which Sarah liked.
She opened the green front door, walked inside, and pet her cat between the ears. She watched the sun drop away, first a pink light on the horizon, then blue, then dark. She glanced at her bedroom door, still closed, then at the wooden ladder leading up to the loft-style attic. I need to get up there soon, she thought.
She felt her cheeks blush hot at the sound of his voice. There he was, James, handsome as always, tall, gold hair, stormy night-black eyes, the smile that lit her up from the inside out. She stood on her toes and pointed up her face so he could kiss her, which he did.
“Hello yourself,” she said.
They kissed again, and again, until the heat settled within her and she had to pull back or risk being distracted. She dropped her arms from his neck, nuzzled close to his cool skin, then stepped away.
“Not tonight, Doctor Wentworth. The exhibition starts in an hour.”
James’s eyes narrowed. “Jennifer should have supervised it,” he said.
“But I’m the only one with personal experience from that time.” She looked at James, his ghost-white complexion, the hardness behind his flat-black eyes. “I suppose you were here then too.” She smiled, trying to lighten the mood. “I’m all right,” she said.
They left their wooden gabled house hand in hand. On Derby Street they passed the House of the Seven Gables, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and the U.S. Custom House. It was fully dark, the water steady in the bay, the boats bobbing with the flat-line rhythm of the low tide. The tourists cleared away when the museums closed at five p.m., and the locals were enjoying a last summer hurrah, dining under the stars at the restaurants along Pickering Wharf. It was a quiet night in Salem. Peaceful. The remaining humidity lingered like a soothing blanket, Sarah thought, protecting us. Protecting us from what, she wondered? She didn’t know, but suddenly her palms went wet and her breath stilted. She looked around, searching for anything that looked menacing or frightful, but she saw no one but James. She looked at him as he pressed his wire-rimmed eyeglasses against his nose, and she knew his strength, all of his strength, would keep them safe. She dismissed her shudders with the thought that she had been spending too much time in the seventeenth century lately. After that night, when the exhibition was over, she could immerse herself fully in the twenty-first century again.
When they turned down Lafayette Street and walked onto the campus of Salem State University, James’s lips tightened and his shoulders closed together. Jennifer and Olivia waited for them inside the library. Jennifer, an auburn-haired beauty, and her mother, Olivia, ever the gypsy with her peasant skirts and coin earrings, were Sarah’s dearest friends, her Wiccan friends, and she was happy to see them.
“Bickering witches,” James said, but he smiled when he said it.
Olivia patted Sarah’s hand lightly, as if she were afraid of breaking her. “Are you all right, dear?” she asked.
“You need to stop tip-toeing around me,” Sarah said. “I put the exhibition together. I’ve been working on this for weeks. I’m fine.”
“James doesn’t look fine,” Jennifer said.
“I know,” said Sarah. She looked around expecting to see one more face, and she was surprised when it wasn’t there. “Where’s that new guy you’ve been gushing about, Jennifer? I thought he was coming.”
Jennifer shook her head. “Soon,” she said.
They walked in silence to the Winfisky Gallery at the Ellison Campus Center in the North Campus, passing students with their backpacks slung over one shoulder, most walking in pairs chatting, others riding their bikes or listening to music blasting through their earbuds. Sarah felt her heart cough in her chest when she saw the sign outside the museum: The Salem Witch Trials, 319 Years Later. James’s hand tightened over hers, and though it hurt, his grip was strong, she squeezed back, trying to comfort him. After watching the doom on Olivia’s face, and the gloom on Jennifer’s, Sarah had enough.
“Stop looking at me like I’m going to explode!” she said.
Olivia exhaled. Jennifer smiled. James looked away.
“I knew you’d be all right,” Jennifer said. She nudged James’s arm. “I told you she’d be all right.”
When they turned the corner near Winfisky Gallery Sarah saw the people waiting. Most were tourists with their walking shoes and cameras, ready for one more witch museum to visit, as though the Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum, Witch House, and the tours weren’t enough. But there were others there too, locals as well as friends and families of the art and design students who created the exhibits.
Inside the gallery Sarah found the students making last minute adjustments, turning the statue of Rebecca Nurse to the right, straightening the painting of Gallows Hill, lighting the portrait of John Hathorne sitting center at a witch trial. James wandered from wall to wall, staring into the art as though he could reach through the paintings and the pencil drawings to the seventeenth century on the other side and wring a neck or two. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought him after all, Sarah thought.
“Should I open the doors, Mrs. Wentworth?” a student asked.
“Yes, Natalie. Go ahead.”
The people came in, oohing and aahing at the artistic interpretations of the Salem Witch Trials. Families and friends hugged each other, proud of their students. A few wiped away tears. Sarah nodded, pleased with the response.
Olivia stepped beside her, slid her arm around Sarah’s waist, and squeezed. “This took such strength for you, Sarah. Look how far you’ve come in just a year.”
“Thank you,” Sarah said.
Olivia leaned close and whispered. “Jennifer said there’s a recreation of the…the…” She shook her head, unable to continue.
“The dungeon? It’s in the next room.”
Sarah led the way. It was dark inside, and she could barely make out Olivia’s short-cropped red hair and steel-gray eyes in the flickering light of the flameless candles. The recreation of the dungeon was 70 by 280 feet, made of oak timbers and siding, and inside were dirty, suffering-looking women mannequins in seventeenth century rags, chained by irons to the wall. Most of the women had no bedding, though one had a sad excuse of a straw mattress. One mannequin woman was on her knees praying. Another lay prostrate, her eyes open, staring at a God in heaven who could not or would not help her. She was dying, or already dead, it was hard to tell. Sarah watched the women, some with their witch-accused children clinging to their knees, and she was surprised to feel nothing. Maybe she had relived the scene so often in her dreams that seeing it played out with life-sized dolls didn’t affect her. She felt Olivia watching her, that detective seeking clues look only Olivia could do.
“You’re all right,” Olivia said.
“I told you I was fine.”
“I didn’t believe you.”
Olivia stepped closer to the exhibit. “Where are the bars?”
“They didn’t need bars. We were chained. If anyone tried to escape they were immediately executed whether they were tried or not, whether they confessed or not.”
Olivia’s hand went to her heart. “Why do only a few have bedding?”
“We had to pay for everything. We had to pay for the bedding, a flat straw mat, useless though it was, and we had to pay for food. The prisoners who couldn’t afford to pay went without. We had to pay the salaries of the sheriff, the magistrates, even the hangman who would take our lives away. The bit of light here is brighter than it was then. When it’s dark, that’s when your mind plays tricks on you. Everywhere was a shadow where monsters could hide.”
Suddenly, in the space of a thought, the numbness went away and Sarah was there again, in 1692. She saw herself in the dungeon alongside the mannequin women, only they were living now, all of them suffering. The pain of it all, the horror and the sadness, were real and she had to shake herself back into the present. Olivia placed a comforting hand on Sarah’s shoulder, and Sarah exhaled.
“We had to pay for the privilege of having our bodies searched for witch marks. We paid to have our heads shaved. Sometimes I could hear James arguing so loudly, begging them to treat me well. ‘Name your price,’ he’d say, the grief cracking his voice. ‘Name your price for some kindness for my wife and I will pay you that and tenfold more.’ But I suffered with everyone else. They barely gave us enough water to drink because they thought they could coerce a confession from us if we were thirsting to death. When it rained it flooded inside and we’d be up to our waist in rainwater, urine, and feces, and often that was the only water we had to drink. The rats would bite our legs and arms. Some prisoners went mad. The only thought that kept me sane was knowing that James was trying to set me free. After a while I was shipped to Boston with other prisoners because the jail here was full. But I was already too sick when I arrived.”
Sarah closed her eyes. Her hands reached for her stomach, then full with the baby that should have been born. Suddenly, the pain, so strong just moments before, dissipated into a dull tugging. When she opened her eyes she realized a few of the visitors had gathered around, listening as though she were a museum tour guide. When they moved onto the next scene, Olivia put her arm around Sarah’s shoulders.
“I am so very sorry, Sarah.”
Sarah leaned into the warmth of Olivia’s embrace. Olivia reached into her bag and pulled out a tissue, dabbing at her eyes, and she dabbed at Sarah’s too. Sarah kissed her friend’s cheek, grateful for this second mother in her life, wondering where she would be without her wise Olivia. Olivia gestured toward the end of the exhibit.
“I think there’s someone who needs more comfort than I do,” Olivia said.
Sarah saw him across the darkened room, James, his beautiful face twisted into a torment so powerful she thought he’d be permanently scarred. She saw the blood spots at the corner of his eyes, visible under his wire-rimmed eyeglasses. She took his hand and kissed it, but he was so caught up in the nightmare-like panic he didn’t feel her caress.
“James? Jamie? It’s all right.”
He stared at the exhibit, his black eyes wide, almost child-like, as though he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. As if the monsters of his imagination had come to life and he was mesmerized by them. As if he were afraid the exhibit would disappear before his eyes and he would never understand. Sarah looked at the scene that held him in stop-motion terror. He was staring at a woman mannequin, dirty, ragged, kneeling between two walls with barely the width of her body as space between them. She couldn’t sit. She couldn’t stand or lay down, caught in pain-filled limbo.
“Why is she trapped between the walls?” he asked.
“She hasn’t had her trial yet,” Sarah said. “Sometimes they kept the accused witches in these tiny spaces hoping they would be in such agony they’d confess. Everything in the dungeons was about forcing confessions.”
“But she’s trapped,” James said, hysteria creeping into his voice, the sound a nails-on-chalkboard contrast to his usual mellow tone. He dropped his head into his hands, his eyeglasses hanging down his nose. “No. No,” he said. “You hadn’t had your trial. You never had your trial.” He looked at Sarah, a trail of blood slipping down his cheek. “You weren’t here were you?”
It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. You were not here. Sarah stroked his face, wiped the red away, his pale-blue cheek streaked pink.
“Were you here?” A question now.
“It was a very long time ago.”
“Were you trapped between the walls?”
Sarah nodded. James walked closer to the mannequin stuck in a perpetual half-up, half-down stance, the never-ending torture everywhere on her face.
“Oh my God,” James said. “You were trapped between two walls? And couldn’t lie down? Couldn’t sit? Couldn’t stand?” No matter how tight he shut his eyes he couldn’t stop the sobs. “Oh my God,” he said again. “Elizabeth…”
She took his face between her hands. “My name is Sarah.”
But James turned back to the mannequin, drawn to the horror the way lookie-loos gape at accidents on the road, not wanting to see the carnage yet unable to look away. Sarah stood between James and the mannequin so he had to see her.
“The reason they removed me from the walls was because of the money you paid them. You did help me, James. You did.”
“It was too little too late and you died. Oh Lizzie…”
Sarah took his hands in hers. She felt a shard of glass poking her heart from the inside out at the sight of her miserable husband. “I thought the exhibit would help us face the sadness from this time so we could be done with it. I hate feeling like there’s this whole part of our lives we have to tip-toe around.”
“Do you really feel that way?”
“We need to remember these times, James, the good and the bad. They’re a part of who we are, the good and the bad.”
“There is no bad of you, Mrs. Wentworth.”
James shook his head. “I’m not so sure.”
She wiped his cheeks with the back of her hand, then stood on her toes, leaning up, kissing his lips.
“Let’s just say these times, as horrible as they were, are a part of us. And now that we’ve faced them head-on we’re ready to leave them behind and focus on the wonderful, perfect years ahead. The madness can’t touch us anymore.”
“There is always madness, Sarah.”
“But it’s our turn to be free of it. We’ve earned it.”
James smiled with a pensiveness that said he wasn’t so sure. Sarah took his hand.
“Come with me, Doctor Wentworth. A few of your students have spotted you and we need to wash your face before anyone wonders why you’re bleeding from your eyes.”
James went into the men’s room and washed his face. He was quiet as they left campus. On Lafayette Street, Sarah took his hand again, but she didn’t lead him toward home. She led him into Marblehead, where the fancy people lived. She walked, faster and faster in the nook of a neighborhood, past the trees, the colonial-style homes where doctors and lawyers had their offices inside, through the parks. It was, Sarah thought, a perfect place to raise a family.
James stopped. “Where are you taking me?” he asked.
Sarah smirked, caught like a naughty child. “I thought we could visit Jocelyn and Steve. Their new house is down the block.”
“Are we going to see Jocelyn and Steve or Billy?”
“We’re going to see the whole family.”
Sarah turned away. She looked at the red brick houses, the yellow houses, the colonial-style churches with the steeples on top. As they neared the green-covered coastline and the bay in the distance she strained to see Jocelyn’s house, certain that if she could get James there he would understand.
“Sarah…” He touched her cheek with his fingertips, his face still pulled from the wretched dungeon. “I know you want a child, but we can’t have one.”
“Jocelyn and Steve have Billy.”
“We could adopt too.”
James turned away. “Do you know what problems Billy will have with a mother like Jocelyn? How are they going to explain her differences away?”
“As long as children have a loving home who cares if their family is different? He’ll think his mom works at night and sleeps during the day. What’s wrong with that?”
“How are they going to explain to that little boy that his mother drinks blood?”
Sarah wanted to scream. She felt goosebumps in her gut and her head ached. Again, she remembered the baby from so long ago. Her hands nearly went to her stomach, but she stopped herself. Why was James so set against a child?
Because he was dead.
But he seemed so normal, Sarah thought. Did the fact he didn’t breathe matter in any meaningful way? She didn’t think so, but she didn’t know how to convince him.
“I’m going to Jocelyn’s,” she said. “You can come with me or you can go home, but I’m going.”
Her pace quickened in time with her racing heartbeat. Was she angry? Worried? She thought she might be dying inside. It hurt too much to know James didn’t want everything exactly as she did.
She kept walking, faster and faster, hoping he’d go home, but he caught up to her in two quick strides. They walked the tree-lined streets in silence, lost in their thoughts. They were near the harbor now, near Marblehead Neck, and Sarah saw Castle Rock Park, a lookout for fishing fleets and pirate ships in colonial days. She felt the soothing sweep of the Atlantic Ocean in the air. In the distance was the mouth of the harbor, jagged and green, the sailboats rocking, the lights inside the houses beaming like curious eyes at the strangers on the road. It was a dark night, the stars resting, and everyone else had cleared away. The benches and picnic tables were empty, the swimmers gone. They were only a few miles from Salem, but to Sarah this was another world entirely.
She gazed longingly at the homes, some modest and narrow, others mansions with harbor-front views and personal docks. She was most attentive to the homes with swings and basketball courts behind the garages, lawns decorated with slides and kickballs. She looked at the gardens, the roses, the sweet Williams, the wild flowers, the American beeches, one fine tulip tree, and the requisite oaks. She admired the shrubs and the herbs, and she remembered suddenly that she used to like to grow things. In her previous life, in Los Angeles, she had a few rose bushes she cared for, along with two lavender bushes and assorted petunias and daisies. In her previous life, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, she grew herbs and vegetables. When they were married the first time, when she was Elizabeth, James made a point of admiring her front yard garden. She grew tomatoes, carrots, cabbages, and onions in the raised beds within the brown-wood fence. She would walk the gravel pathway to tend the beans and pumpkins in the copious land behind the house. There was no aesthetic value to gardens in the seventeenth century—they were for food and medicinal purposes—but sometimes she gathered native woodland flowers and set them out inside the house. They were wealthy enough to hire all the help they needed, and in truth she didn’t need to lift a finger, but she was a farmer’s daughter and she liked getting her hands dirty, digging in the dirt, feeling the roots in her hands, delicate yet vibrant, strong yet fresh. When Sarah saw Jocelyn’s house down the block she thought she might like to start gardening again. She would like to create something new.
Jocelyn’s new home was pale-yellow, a single-level, ranch-style house with a green lawn and manicured bushes. James stared at the swing set behind the house.
“What happened to all the land?” Sarah asked.
“Our house was surrounded by land. What happened to it?”
“I didn’t need more than what the house stood on so I sold it all, piece by piece.”
Sarah looked at Jocelyn’s house. “We’re here,” she said.
“Will you come inside?” She wanted him to go inside. She wanted him to see what she saw whenever she was near the happy little Endecott family, and she wanted him to relent and see that they could have that too.
James sighed. “For a while,” he said.
But he didn’t step forward. He had that little-boy-lost look, a ‘why’ between his brows. He spoke to the blades of grass beneath his feet.
“You knew when you married me your life would be different. A baby is the one thing I can’t give you, and I know that’s what you want more than anything right now. Don’t you know how that hurts me? But I’m not like ordinary men, Sarah. I’m cursed.”
“You’re not cursed, James.”
“Only a curse could turn me into a three hundred and forty-nine year old man who doesn’t look a day over thirty. Only a curse could turn me into something that’s seen the Salem Witch Trials, the American Revolution, the Trail of Tears, the American Civil War, World War II…”
“But a curse is a bad thing. You’re not a bad thing.”
James looked like a child left to find his way out of a haystack maze, where everywhere you look there’s one more row of taupe-colored straw the same as everywhere else. She rested her head against his chest and listened to the hollowness. There were nights when it was still a shock to remember he was silent inside.
“But the baby…” Sarah said.
“What baby, Sarah?”
“I can feel her. She’s calling me.”
She had to restrain herself from reaching out toward the phantom child. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Grace.”
“Grace has been gone a long time.” James took Sarah into his arms. “I’m so sorry, honey. I’m so sorry my curse makes it impossible for us.”
Sarah went numb. She felt the way Olivia looked when she went into a psychic trance—detached from her body, her mind, the earth beneath her feet.
They were shrouded in the shadows when the lights in Jocelyn’s living room went out. The lamp upstairs went out too. But the den stayed bright. Jocelyn. She wouldn’t sleep for hours yet. James glanced at the illuminated window, then looked at Sarah with a maudlin grin, as if to say, “This is why we can’t adopt a child. The baby will have a father whose light stays on when the others have gone dark.”
Sarah turned toward home. She thought of running away and leaving James behind, but something stopped her, unseen but tangible. She remembered the fluttery thread-like line she felt binding her to James, and the silken thread brushed her knotted shoulders, lassoing her frustration and releasing it to skid across the ocean, to the moon, and beyond. As suddenly as her frustration came on, she felt a wave of contentment wash over her as though she were standing in the bay at high tide, and instead of aching for the child she had seen so clearly in her mind’s eye a moment before, now she ached for her husband. When she looked at him she saw the man who loved her every night for over three hundred years. And I love him just as much, she thought. That was all. It was a simple sentence. No fancy similes. No poetic metaphors or alliteration or assonance. But it was so true. I love him just as much.
James brushed a dark curl from her cheek and pressed her head to his chest. “I don’t want you to be unhappy,” he said.
“I can never be unhappy with you. You’re my dear and loving husband.”
“And you are my Sarah. My Sarah.”
He brushed another stray curl from her face, the bay breeze was whipping her hair from its clips, and he kissed her, softly at first, then passionately. Sarah parted her lips, receptive to him. She wasn’t through wanting a child, she knew, and they would continue the discussion another time. They didn’t need to settle anything that night. They had time.
When they arrived home, James swept Sarah into his arms and carried her into their bedroom. He undressed her slowly, though she was always impatient when she undressed him. She could never wait as he could. When she connected with him that way she was transported, first somewhere far away where there was only wholeness and peace, then back to herself and she knew who she was in the world. Where she was supposed to be, in that house, at that time, in that place. When the moment was over, her panting done, when James was on his back pressing her head to his chest, when he stroked her hair from her forehead past her shoulders, twirling her curls through his fingers, he was silent for the longest time. Sarah pressed her cheek into him, trying to feel even closer. Sometimes, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get close enough.
And then, as if he could read her mind, he said, “We’ll be all right, Sarah. Just the two of us. I’ll never leave you ever.”
“And I promise you the same,” she said.
She felt cold suddenly and trembled, the hard bumps rippling her skin. She didn’t understand the rawness she suddenly felt, as though she were left exposed in a winter storm, and she closed her eyes and calmed her breathing the way she used to whenever she woke up from a nightmare. There was an echo to James’s voice when he said, “I’ll never leave you ever,” and Sarah realized she was afraid that one day he wouldn’t be there. But that will never happen, she thought. He promised me he would never leave me, and I believe him.
And she did.
Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review, an award-winning literary journal for readers and writers of historical fiction. She received her B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from California State University, Northridge. She has taught writing to students aged 10 to 60, and she has taught creative writing and writing historical fiction workshops at Learning Tree University, UNLV, and the Las Vegas Writers Conference. Her writing has appeared in journals such as The Paumanok Review, Moondance, Wild Mind,Muse Apprentice Guild, The Maxwell Digest, CarbLite, Writer’s Weekly, and ViewsHound. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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