Witch of the Wild Beasts
By Catherine Stine
When Evalina is imprisoned for witchcraft, will her supernatural bond with animals be her curse or salvation?
In 1854, Evalina Stowe witnesses the murder of her brother by Dr. Dowdrick, an enraged client at the tailor’s where they work. Desperate to stop him, she rouses a swarm of wasps that sting the doctor while she stabs him with scissors, and then flees. At a subsequent job when birds race to her defense, Evalina is declared a witch and sent to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary.
While imprisoned, Evalina is horrified not only to learn that Dr. Dowdrick is still alive, but he’s experimenting on inmates. Determined to get inside his Eclectic Medical School, to expose his nefarious activities, she’s passionate about protecting fellow prisoners, especially Lewin, a child thief who knew her brother, and Birdy, a kind, resilient Welsh man serving time for a worker’s death while blasting granite for the railroad.
Evalina, her friends and her “wild beasts” work against time to unmask Dowdrick’s crimes when she participates with him in a symposium, showcasing Philadelphia’s premium doctors. If they fail, not only will the doctor’s evil deeds continue unchecked but Evalina and her crew will surely be hung. Actual historical figures such as Dr. Thomas Mutter and Charles Dickens spice up this thriller, brimming with historical gems. This novel won a second place prize in RWA’s ‘19 Sheila Contest.
I was curled in bed resting after a hard afternoon in the heat of the field when I heard a set of unyielding boot-steps approach. Peeking out of my small window, I nearly fainted from fright when I saw Mr. Gaul’s large figure silhouetted against the gilded sunset.
He crooked his beady-eyed noggin in my half-opened door and pushed his way in. “Evalina Stowe!” he called.
I had no time to hide my birds. They’d been contentedly perched in their twig houses, but at the sound of his shrill voice they began hopping and madly tapping at the twigs with their beaks. I had a surge of fury, and readied myself for battle.
All at once Mr. Gaul was by the ledge, toppling my twig birdhouses and smashing my stores of corn feed. “You loathsome thief! What the Sam Hill have you been doing in my barn, bird girl? How dare you steal my corn and feed it to these lice-bitten devils! You should’ve been scaring them out of my fields, not providing them room and board. Are you mad?” I had leapt off my bed and was desperately trying to salvage the twig houses, scooping them up in my arms. As fast as I did, Mr. Gaul rapped them with his cane and they crashed back down to the floor. “You dare defy me, scalawag!” he yelled, beating me anywhere he could find bare skin. My birds began to circle him. I sensed their ire rise along with mine. Moving in, they pecked his ears, his fleshy nose, and his brows, as they closed in on his eyes.
“Off! Get your familiars off, witch!” he screeched, and beat me more viciously. I would’ve tried to run but he gripped me tightly by my arm. The racket was what brought farmhands and fellow bird flushers running. All the while my birds circled Mr. Gaul closer and closer until their sharp claws were embedded into his arms, drawing blood. “Witch, get them off!” he shouted, and as a wave of red hot anger flew from me, my best bird, Speckle, hovered right above Mr. Gaul, staring him down like an uncanny human. Mr. Gaul pushed me away. He let fly a string of horrid curses just as Speckle made a dive for his opened mouth and hurled herself down Gaul’s throat. Gaul’s face reddened. He turned in frantic circles and thrust his fingers down his throat as he tried in vain to pull Speckle out by the tail.
I was in utter shock, standing rock still with my hands over my mouth. The others too, were frozen with stares of shocked fascination. During this, Mr. Gaul made ghastly choking sounds. His face turned chalky, soon followed by a peevish shade of gray.
Still no one was helping. Least of all me. Among the farmhands and barn workers there was no love lost for Mr. Gaul. He collapsed on the floor writhing, hands clamped around his bulging neck.
Around my brave Speckle, who had sacrificed her life for mine.
Gaul’s wild eyes looked over accusingly. He wagged his finger at me. The German farmhand, as if released from a spell of his own, took a few steps back and uttered, “Die hexe! Magische Kraft!”
After this, almost the entire crowd rallied to the chant. My reputation as witch was set no matter how I saw myself.
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Witch of the Wild Beasts
Catherine Stine is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fantasy, paranormal romance, sci-fi thrillers and YA fiction. She lives in Manhattan, grew up in Philadelphia and is known to roam the Catskills. Before writing novels, she was a painter and children’s fabric designer. She’s a visual author when it comes to scenes, and she sees writing as painting with words. Witch of the Wild Beasts won a second prize spot in the ‘19 RWA Sheila Contest. Other novels have earned Indie Notable awards and New York Public Library Best Books for Teens. She loves edgy thrills, perhaps because her dad read Edgar Allen Poe tales to her as a child. Catherine loves spending time with her beagle Benny, writing about supernatural creatures, gardening on her deck, traveling and meeting readers at book events.
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