Here's a cheeky little excerpt to wet you guys' appetite for this scorcher of a book!
Arabel Spade was not like the other girls. She knew this for certain after old Mr. Hapkins’ funeral. Everyone turned out for the dismal ceremony, standing together in the spitting rain, hiding solemn faces under wide brimmed black hats and downturned glances. All eyes were upon the plain black coffin being lowered into the wet, dark soil; all eyes stood witness to the deceased man’s final journey into the cold belly of the earth.
Except for Arabel. She was too busy staring at the spectre of old Mr. Hapkins as he frantically tried to leverage the coffin open with grey stiff fingers, his skittish eyes darting back and forth in confusion as he did not understand the futility of his actions. His mouth worked wildly, as if he wanted to speak, to scream, to understand why he was not in his body and why said body was being lowered into the ground as the bagpipes played mournfully overtop the curtain of rain.
Arabel surveyed him sadly. She had seen his kind before. She also knew they never managed to reclaim their discarded bodies. They always tried, but none succeeded. Once the spirit left the mortal coil, it no longer belonged within the earthly realm. Of course Arabel was not exactly certain where they belonged, but it was obvious, it was no longer here at The Corvids. Arabel very much sympathized with their plight – she did not know if she belonged in The Corvids either.
Arabel Spade was not like the other girls.
The Corvids was the affectionate name bestowed upon the four townships bordering one another: Ravenswood Glen, Magpie Moor, Crow’s Nest Pass and Blue Jay Hollow. It was easiest to refer to the towns collectively as The Corvids, and most folk did.
The Priory stood in the epicentre of The Corvids. It stacked itself as high in the sky as it could go and cut the watery sunlight in half with its bulk. Bordering the Four, the Priory had long been a meeting place, a bustling, festive market guaranteed to serve up a crowd delighted to purchase wares and an industrious cottage nation willing to supply them.
Arabel often wandered the Priory with Shelaine Murphy, a stout redheaded lass who made Arabel laugh and didn’t remark when Arabel disappeared from the conversation mid-stream now and again. Shelaine came from a long line of horse breeders and very much wanted Arabel to come see the new foal. He promised to be a real beauty as both his sire and his dam were of championship lines.
“Your way with horses,” Shelaine was saying, “it’s simply marvellous. I don’t know anyone else who seems of such a rapport with the beasts!”
It was true. Arabel was keenly insightful into the behaviour and thoughts of most animals and they came to her unbidden, as if drawn to her by an invisible chord. The crows loved her most particularly and she heartily returned their admiration. Down by Ravenswood Glen, in the autumn and winter seasons, a roost of more than twenty thousand crows gathered nightly and hosted themselves a fairly raucous party of naughty chatter and flying feathers. Arabel loved to watch and listen to the gaiety. Their chatter was often loud, comical, and yet strangely cold, in that otherworldly sort of manner.
Arabel had just come from the crow gathering that fateful day, the day of the Lost Souls celebration, to join the rest of the townsfolk at the Priory for the annual lighting of the ceremonial Great Torch. Hundreds of people gathered in the early twilight of the softly foggy night. Arabel searched for Shelaine, or for anyone she might want to stand with to watch. Arabel moved quickly throughout the crowd, searching, sensing the excitement, the general mood of revelry; she felt the barely disguised tension underneath the happy façade.
There was a grey and swirling energy present; Arabel could see it, feel it, almost taste it – like chalk. Arabel’s mouth felt gritty and she was suddenly incredibly thirsty. The magnificent flame approached the base of the Great Torch and Arabel felt the collective sigh as the greedy licks of fire consumed the wood. And then the screams began.
Propped against the base of the Great Torch, the light shone to reveal that a small, female, mostly naked corpse had been draped there. The thin white arms and legs of the corpse looked garish under the red firelight and the mist could not hide the horror of the spectacle. A frail looking woman next to Arabel fainted suddenly and her male companion quickly grabbed the unconscious woman and moved her away from the perimeter of the Torch. Others edged closer, drawn to disaster and death like flies or vultures.
Arabel heard the screams. She saw the grey swirling energy possessively circling the body and she felt both the sorrow and the bloodlust of those around her. Arabel turned away. The night of Lost Souls was no longer a moniker for veil lifting or reconnecting with the other side; it had turned into a night of murder and a lost soul had personally visited their domain.
Hours later, the coroner, Mayor Aldritch and Chief Constable Bartlin were locked away with the corpse in the morgue. Arabel had never been inside the morgue but she imagined it to be a cold, ultra bright, antiseptic room where everyone wore snappy white gloves and wielded sharp scalpels on dead flesh. The smell would gag her most likely, so Arabel was glad when everyone pulled lots to see who was to investigate what, and she got the Copse instead.
Since no one knew who the dead girl was, most likely she was a drifter, a runaway, lost and murdered on her sad journey to nowhere and answers were needed. The Copse housed the Gypsy encampment which had sprung up in the murky depths of the deep green forest. The Copse was extensive, it bordered from Ravenswood Glen to Crow’s Nest Pass and that took two full days on horseback to complete. The majority of the encampment was located in Ravenswood Glen and it was an hour by horseback from the border of Crow’s Nest Pass.
Arabel and her partner, Sylvious North, an eager, if somewhat oblivious companion, did not have a horse and instead traveled by foot the following dawn, laden with emergency supplies, should they traverse too deeply into the woods and night-time fall upon them. They could easily set up camp but Arabel hoped it would not come to that. She’d no desire to sleep in the woods with Sylvious North.
Sylvious, however, quite longed to touch Arabel’s long, thick black hair to see if it could possibly be as soft as it looked. Sylvious hoped circumstance would conspire to nestle him in the woods with the pixie maiden Arabel and her lithe body and sharp blue eyes.
Arabel, the witchy girl.
“I think I’ve found something!” Sylvious shouted.
Arabel glanced up from the broken tree branches she’d been studying for clues.
“Come quick!” Sylvious shouted out again and Arabel made her way over to him.
Sylvious had found a black dress. A dress that could easily have been the dead girls, since she wasn’t wearing more than a scrap of clothing when discovered and clearly she’d been clothed at some point before her murder.
“It’s torn, badly, but no blood,” Sylvious announced, passing it to Arabel for further inspection. Arabel took it from him gingerly, as if the material would fall apart upon contact.
Like a fist to the gut, Arabel fell back against a series of protruding tree roots that jutted out proprietarily across the forest carpet. Sylvious reached out a hand to steady her.
“You got something off it?” he asked her excitedly.
Arabel’s pale face was more waxy and translucent than Sylvious had ever seen before. Arabel’s hands clutched at the dress, her knuckles fisted around the cloth in a grief-fuelled rage.
“He gave her this dress,” Arabel said softly, “so she would look pretty when she died. When he killed her,” she amended immediately.
Sylvious let out a low whistle. He laid a tentative hand on Arabel’s taut shoulder.
“Let’s go back,” Sylvious suggested, the unsettling discovery forcing him to forgo completely his plan to attempt some sort of seduction.
The canopied forest seemed to murmur in assent; the leaves rustled secretively and whispered intangible sorrows, but the birds, the talkative crows, were absent, and no birdsong pierced the gloom.
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