Bewitching Exclusive Excerpt:
A few days went by, but I couldnât peel the image of that creature from my mind. I couldnât shake the nightmare, or the hallucination, if that was truly what it was. I still couldnât believe it. I hadnât seen it in years. Maybe it was like it was when I was a childâmaybe it was a manifestation of my inner distress.
It was probably because I was worried about this new assignment. Everyone was getting all worked up for nothingâout of some blind hysteria. A mass belief in a curse borne from one horrific incident no one wanted to talk about.
My whole life had been riddled with superstition and fear. I was absolutely sick of it. I would face the fears Iâd lived with my entire life, as well as the fears of this city, and Iâd prove to everyone that there were no such thing as monsters or curses.
I went home at the end of another busy day to find Mr. Clarke sitting at the front desk, drumming his fingers on something in front of him. He watched me walk in with a look of deep unease. That same queasy feeling snaked through me, a contagious sensation around here. I feigned a smile and nodded in greeting. âGood evening, Mr. Clarke.â
âCaroline, you have something here,â he said quietly.
âWhat is it?â I asked, my voice catching slightly on my throat. He sighed, picked up the envelope, and made his way over to me. My eyes immediately fell on the letter. It undoubtedly had my name on it. When he handed it to me, I flipped it over and saw the crest of Ashdown Manor, along with the name of the family. The color drained from my face.
I looked up at Mr. Clarke, trying to find the words to say. When they failed to come, he spoke up instead. âAre you really going to do this?â
The grandfather clock in the lobby thumped even louder than usual, filling the space between us. I swallowed, then nodded. âYes,â I said quietly, âI am.â He nodded in return, a sort of resigned nod, and then walked into the dining area.
Unsure of whether or not he wanted me to follow him, my feet stayed planted in place. I wasnât sure if I could move right now anyway. My body felt like ice, though it had never really felt the same since that day I passed out at work.
The man shuffled back into the room, holding what looked like a frayed, cream-colored cloth. It was rolled up tightly, and the way he handled it made me feel that there was something inside. He held it out for me to take, so I grabbed it carefully. Something was indeed inside. When I unraveled it, my hands froze. It was a knife.
I looked up at him, fear and confusion clear in my eyes. He puffed out a breath and said, âTake that with you to the castle. It might prove useful to you.â My hand stayed frozen in place, fingers out and palm upright, as if afraid to fully grab hold of the blade. What would it mean if I accepted it? What would it mean if my fingers curled around the handle and I tucked it into my purse?
Mr. Clarke continued, âYou may need protection. You donât need to say anything, but please take it with you.â Neither one of us moved for about two minutes after that, judging by the crescendoing thunks of the clock.
Then, finally, he shuffled away, and for some reason, tears burned against my skin. I closed my hand around the knife, tucked it back inside the cloth, and shoved it in my bag. I grabbed hold of the letter, which had been tucked under my arm, and walked up to my room.
After closing the door, I let myself fall against it, my back sliding down the wood until my bottom reached the floor. I looked at my name on the front of the envelope. So flawlessly written, with swirling curves and thick black lines. I flipped it over and examined the sealâthe crest: two ravens and a lion, vines looping around the exterior, outlining the curious animal depictions.
The ravens were floating atop the lion, the felineâs paws reaching heavenward, its gaping mouth snarled open. The odd thing about it, though, was that the ravens didnât look like they were afraid of the lion. They looked like they were commanding it, smiling over the lionâs vain attempt at attacking them. What a strange crest, I thought, mesmerized by its peculiar design.
I reluctantly took the knife Mr. Clarke had given me and broke the seal, cutting the envelope open and releasing the contents inside. A crisp, bone-colored piece of parchment fell into my lap.
I picked it up and read it:
Brakerton Heights September 16, 1885
Miss Caroline Blake,
We are pleased to inform you that your application has been received and accepted. Please report to the front gates of Ashdown Manor at 9 am sharp on Friday, September 18th. Your stay with us will be for a period of six weeks, in which you will accompany a member of the house as we make preparations for the newly re-introduced Ashdown Family Harvest Festival.
We look forward to making your acquaintance.
Ashdown Family Manor
September 18th. That was only two days away.
I could hardly believe it. I applied for the job, and I wanted it, but a part of me thought Iâd get rejected. What was I to do now? I looked out the window as if the dreary weather would offer me my solution. What could I do other than wait until the morning for my fate to arrive? Whatever fate that might be.