The Darkening Dream by Andy Gavin
Even as the modern world pushes the supernatural aside in favor of science and steel, the old ways remain. God, demon, monster, and sorcerer alike plot to regain what was theirs.
1913, Salem, Massachusetts - Sarah Engelmann's life is full of friends, books, and avoiding the pressure to choose a husband, until an ominous vision and the haunting call of an otherworldly trumpet shake her. When she stumbles across a gruesome corpse, she fears that her vision was more of a premonition. And when she sees the murdered boy moving through the crowd at an amusement park, Sarah is thrust into a dark battle she does not understand.
With the help of Alex, a Greek immigrant who knows a startling amount about the undead, Sarah sets out to uncover the truth. Their quest takes them to the factory mills of Salem, on a midnight boat ride to spy on an eerie coastal lair, and back, unexpectedly, to their own homes. What can Alex's elderly, vampire-hunting grandfather and Sarah's own rabbi father tell them? And what do Sarah's continuing visions reveal?
No less than Gabriel's Trumpet, the tool that will announce the End of Days, is at stake, and the forces that have banded to recover it include a 900 year-old vampire, a trio of disgruntled Egyptian gods, and a demon-loving Puritan minister. At the center of this swirling cast is Sarah, who must fight a millennia-old battle against unspeakable forces, knowing the ultimate prize might be herself.
Salem, Massachusetts, Saturday afternoon, October 18, 1913
AS SERVICES DREW TO AN END, Sarah peered around the curtain separating the men from the women. Mama shot her a look, but she had to be sure she could reach the door without Papa seeing her. After what he’d done, she just couldn’t face him right now. There he was, head bobbing in the sea of skullcaps and beards. She’d be long gone before he extracted himself.
“Mama,” she whispered, “can you handle supper if I go to Anne’s?” Last night’s dinner debacle had probably been Mama’s idea, but they’d never seen eye to eye on the subject. Papa, on the other hand, was supposed to be on her side.
Mama’s shoulders stiffened, but she nodded.
The end of the afternoon service signaled Sarah’s chance. She squeezed her mother’s hand, gathered her heavy skirts, and fled.
The journey through Salem’s bustling downtown took only ten minutes, but the Indian summer sun left her corset sticky and cruel. A final two blocks brought Sarah to her friend’s pre-Revolutionary house, a kernel of which dated to the seventeenth century. Wings, rooms, and gables had sprouted during the past two hundred years, and in its present form the house and stables were large enough for five family members, seven boarders, a decent collection of horses, and a dog.
Sarah entered without knocking. Mr. Barnyard, the Williamses’ obese basset hound, rushed to greet her. After suffering his affections, she found Anne in the sitting room helping her mother with the mending. Several inches taller than Sarah, she wore her straw-colored hair in two looped braids, and possessed all the womanly curves Sarah found lacking in herself.
“What a nice surprise,” Mrs. Williams said. “Sarah, I know you’re not much for the needle, but some conversation would help pass the time.”
Behind her mother, Anne stabbed herself in the chest with an imaginary dagger.
“I hate to disappoint you,” Sarah said, “but I hoped to steal away your oldest daughter. Where’s Emily? Can’t she help?”
Mrs. Williams shrugged a padded shoulder. “Out back somewhere. If I hadn’t whelped that one myself, I’d swear she’s some sort of changeling. But take Anne, she’s all thumbs today.”
Anne set down the trousers she was sewing and tugged Sarah out the door.
“Thank God,” she said, leading Sarah upstairs to the bedroom she shared with her younger sister. “It was so stuffy in there I thought my stitches might melt.” She cracked the window, sat on the bed, and patted the quilt next to her. “What’s brought you here on a Saturday? Shouldn’t you be helping your own mother?”
Sarah pulled the door closed and sat next to her friend.
“I had to talk to someone. Your brother isn’t going to barge in?”
“Sam’s earning extra money at the cotton mill. Tell me.”
“My parents ambushed me at Shabbat dinner last night.”
“That sounds exciting,” Anne said. “Attacked you with candles and loaves of bread?”
“Papa brought a man home with him unannounced. Not one of his usual cronies, a gentleman. In his twenties. His name was Chaim Hoffmann.”
Anne squealed. “That’s a mouthful. Was the fellow handsome?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Extra, extra! Sarah Engelmann forgot something!”
Sarah had to smile at that. She replayed last night’s dinner in her head, trying not to grimace as the awkwardness returned with the imagery.
In her mind’s eye, her parents and Mr. Hoffmann hung before her as vividly as if they sat in the room. His skin showed little evidence of exposure to the sun, his bearded face was thin, and his spectacles were twice as thick as her own.
Sarah blinked and the memory vanished. “Not handsome, not ugly.”
“Then his manner was bothersome?”
She shook her head. “Gentlemanly enough. Clearly he was very bright. A student of Papa’s friend.”
“So what’s the problem? Your mother married at eighteen. With your birthday coming up on us, your father’s probably barely reining her in.”
“I have to finish school,” Sarah said. “And at least begin college. What’s the point of having studied my whole life if all I do is settle down and start a family?”
“But it’s exciting just the same. At least you have prospects.”
“What are you talking about?” Sarah said. “Half the boys in school would cut off an arm to court you.”
Anne sighed. “Even the thought of choosing is stressful. If it were all arranged it’d be easy. You’re lucky.”
Lucky? Sarah couldn’t imagine one of Papa’s friends’ sons allowing her the freedom he did. Or the respect. They’d only want their table set and six brilliant sons to make them proud.
“I know what we should do!” Anne said. “With this heat and with your, um, stresses, we need a break. My lummox of a twin traded for a new filly this week. Why don’t the three of us go riding tomorrow, take a picnic, make a proper outing of it?”
Anne was right. School had started only a month ago, and Sarah’s life was already dominated by study.
“What time?” she said.
The girls drifted downstairs to find Mrs. Williams and Emily entertaining a boy in the parlor. So close to becoming a man, he looked to grow four inches if you glanced away.
Emily’s pink dress was disheveled but she appeared luminous just the same. Sarah worried about what was going to happen when she came into her own. Anne could be bold and outspoken, but she had a fundamental prudence entirely absent in her little sister.
The new boy rose to greet them. He was about the same age Sarah’s brother would’ve been and almost as handsome.
“Charles Danforth.” He extended his hand. His hair was much straighter than Judah’s.
“Nice to meet you,” Anne said, shaking hands. “You’re a friend of Emily’s?”
Emily looked like she wanted to take a bite out of someone.
“We both study Bible with Pastor Parris,” the boy said.
“Charles is just leaving,” Emily said. “He stopped by to bring us some of his mother’s preserves.”
Charles offered Sarah his hand, and she took it. The late afternoon sun streamed in through the windows and threw their shadows against the wallpaper. A sound rose in her ears, slow and mournful like that of the shofar, the ceremonial ram’s horn blown to announce the New Year.
Sarah felt queer. Her mouth dry. Before her eyes the silhouettes on the wall contorted, human limbs and torsos shifting to form the shape of a leafless tree. The reddish hue of the sun — surely that’s what it was — made the tree look as if it was drenched in blood. The horn continued to sound in her ears, loud but seemingly blown at great distance.
She released Charles’ grip and the bloody tree vanished, in its place only the shadows of two young people who’d just shaken hands.
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