In 1692 the fear of witchcraft is spreading around Salem village. While those who are accused and sentenced face death, everyone else faces the risk of accusations placed upon them.
As Emmalynn Hawthorne, the daughter of a woman hung for witchcraft, places a bouquet of flowers upon her mother’s grave, a circle of black roses sprouts out of thin air. Dark magic, the roses strike fear through her heart when Mary Pruett and the handsome new-comer, James DeKane, spy upon her as they pass along the traveling road. Emmalynn flees and her panic soon turns into terror as another vine of black roses sprouts and grows throughout the inside of her home. Is she a witch? Will she be the next accused?
James DeKane has secrets of his own—ones that could prove deadly for him and anyone he holds dear. At fault for the untimely death of his parents, he must protect his hidden brother and dying sister, all while fearing that the haunting prophecy bestowed upon him at birth will come to pass. Desperate and fighting the monster deep inside of him, he’s searching for the one love who can alter his destiny.
A historical paranormal romance, WHEN THE BLACK ROSES GROW, spins the story of fearing witchcraft and living through persecution in 1692 Salem Village, Massachusetts.
Twenty-five men and women were accused.
Nineteen hung to their death on Gallow Hills.
One suffocated under bone crushing stones.
All believed to possess the power of witchcraft.
A gentle spring breeze blew the soft flower petals of the bouquet lying against my chest. They fluttered against my black, cotton dress as my feet crunched through the twigs and rocks along the dirt path.
The flowers were nothing more than the wild vegetation that bloomed around my home. Not akin to the pretty sprays of flora most set upon the crosses of their departed loved ones. Flowers of worth were not allowed in this part of the graveyard.
I tiptoed down the path past the only other mourners imploring the free-grace of God as they cried and prayed, their whispered prayers the same pleas bespoken before countless times.
One of the mourners watched me as I passed her with a look of judgment in her eyes. The brewing disdain spread through her rigid shoulders.
“I know where thou travel.” Her eyes narrowed as her words quivered from her lips. “Disgrace upon thou for thy betrayal to God, the Church, and to the honored Reverend.”
“My apologies for thy erroneous belief.” Trapped between my fear and her hatred, my teeth clenched.
The woman gasped, covering her mouth at my curt dismissal, but I ignored her and continued through the graveyard.
Leaves rustle from the tall trees as beams of sunlight danced around me. My grip upon the bouquet tightened, bending the stems and tugging at the petals. I tucked my chin deeper toward my chest then lifted my hand unto my face sheltering my eyes. I continued down through the maze of overgrown weeds and through the broken rotten wood gate.
I cared not for the mourner’s ill-placed belief, for my soul mourned the loss of my mother–the falsely condemned witch.
Along the meadow in the outskirts of town near the peddler’s road, the damned and cursed lay in shallow graves, devoid of headstones, unless a family member willing to bear the burden of shame bestowed them with one.
While not a conviction sin, the mere act of visiting this cursed part of the graveyard caused whispers–a scary thought in times of preternatural torment. One never wishes for another to speak about their actions, and my audacious defiance toyed with betrayal toward all held sacred.
As I scurried down the path littered with old refuse, my body collided with another. Outweighing the fragile old woman, I knocked Adalene McCarven off her feet. She grunted in pain for a moment before rising from her knees.
“My apologies, Miss McCarven,” I whispered.
Age showed through her wrinkled hands that trembled as she regained her balance. Her gray hair, woven in a tight bun under her bonnet, barely moved in the commotion, except for a few loose strands that fell in front of her ice blue eyes.
An acquaintance of my mother’s, she had just sneaked from the fated depth of the graveyard that I traveled toward. Both of us caught visiting the condemned. Our plight of doubtless innocence was an unavoidable truth.
Her eyes shifted to the ground as she bit her lip. “No need for apologies, or such formality, dear. Are you visiting thy mother’s grave this afternoon?”
“I am certain she smiles down upon you from Heaven. She was such a good, honorable woman of God. You must miss her deeply.”
“She has been gone nearly five months now, and I miss her every second of every day. I would give the world to speak to her just one more time.”
“She is with God. Certainly, you can speak with her in thy prayers.”
I ducked my chin to study the pathway rather than face the old woman. Tears blinded my eyes. I rubbed the back of my neck, pressing my fingers callously into my skin, hoping the pain would dull the heartbreak bleeding from my soul. Surely, Adalene did not mean harm with her words. Softly spoken, she only meant to convey some sort of empathy that she believed would calm the hurt in my heart.
It did not work.
“I do not wish to speak to her in prayer. I wish to speak to her, here, upon this earth.”
Before I could step away from her, Adalene clutched my shoulders. Her hands squeezed tight against my skin–an offering of comfort that brought no comfort, and never would.
“Do you believe she would want her beloved daughter to live with such grief?”
Reluctantly, I shook my head.
“No. She would not, dear. She would not want such fret for you.”
I inhaled a deep breath. “I hold no concern for my fret. I hold concern for not except the agony of a loss so great I doubt I will ever recover. She was taken from me, taken because of the accusations of two young girls whose reckless greed grievously torments me.”
Adalene glared as she stepped closer to me. Her body trembled as she squeezed my shoulders tighter. “Thou hast better bite thy tongue and beseech upon deaf ears to thy words. Only peril awaits those who speak ill of the persuasive in this town.”
I shrugged off her warning. “I care not for the judgments of anyone in Salem. Not but antipathy has risen with my bereavement for the wrongful accusations charged against an innocent woman.”
“However, you still should keep thy thoughts to thyself.” She nodded toward the mourners glancing in our direction. Their staring eyes pierced through my sorrow and loathing, stirring those emotions into my blood.
“I care not for whoever hears or their foolish whispered prayers and belief in their superiority over me through hushed tones. They feared the wicked, and yet, they are wicked in their own right.”
Adalene opened her mouth to argue, but I continued before she spoke a word.
“I am plagued by the daily burden of living amongst the accusers in Salem–the men and women who judged and taunted my mother. Screaming vile words at her as the magistrates sought their proceedings of justice. Why should I hold concern for what they think of me?”
“You should not mean such malicious words, however warranted.” Adalene’s voice hardened into a sharp tone. “No one defies the authority in this town as you do now, speaking such spite with their tongue. You might find thyself condemned as she.”
I retreated away from her. Her fingers slipped from my shoulders and she heaved a troubled breath as she clutched her throat.
Did she think me a fool for not entertaining the same thought?
“I hold no regard for my malice, Miss McCarven.”
“And, why not?”
“Why not? Ha. Forced to oblige a life with evils and duties, I nearly call upon death myself.” My eyes traced a headstone in the distance. A simple block of stone, etched with a name of someone no longer suffering, a lucky one who I now envied.
“Sickness,” I continued. “Old age, the warrants of some unforeseen event in one’s life, each breath inhaled and exhaled was one breath closer toward our death bed, and yet, not drawing near close enough.”
“Thy mother would perish all over again, hearing you speak of death as you are. You need to pray, Miss Hawthorne, pray for strength and courage, pray for thy mother, and for happiness to rise through thy sadness.”
“Do you not understand? Not even comforting prayer bestows me reprieve from my sorrow and anger.”
“Then those who accused her hath prevailed.”
Her words gutted me more than the blade of a knife ever could. To give power to the one in the wrong was never right.
“Good day, Miss McCarven.”
I stepped around her, but she grasped my arm.
“Miss Hawthorne, wait.” She cocked her head to the side. Sadness pierced through the blue hue of her eyes as she exhaled a deep breath. “I shall leave you to thy thoughts and I shall keep you in my prayers.”
With her final words, she lowered her gaze and scurried away down the pathway with her face concealed behind a traveling cloak.
“I do not need prayers from another,” I whispered after her. “I do not need anything from anyone.”
Nestled in the furthest corner, near the peddler road, lay the remains of my mother. Set against her headstone, a tiny wooden cross rested behind a rock, hidden from view–its existence only known by me, well, God, and me. I suppose He knew.
I desired to believe that the notion of a cross on such a woman’s grave was not a sin. That He would not hold my mother’s damned fate against her as Reverend Perris preached He would. No, surely God knew my mother. Knew her mind, heart, and soul for who she really was, a mere mortal daughter of Eve, not what the warrant of a man claimed her to be.
My mother, Gladys, was not what they accused–a witch.
Kneeling in the dirt next to the headstone, I laid the flowers upon the earth and wiped away the tears that streamed down my cheeks. Surrounded by the graves of the cursed, my guilt over my honest words toward the old woman stung. She knew not of my anguish or the unrelenting memories that haunted me.
Perhaps to speak the truth in my heart had been shameful.
Overgrown grass sprouted all around. I shook my thoughts away as I ripped the blades from the roots, tossed them aside, and brushed my mud caked hands on my apron. Tiny pebbles burrowed deep into my legs through my stockings, impressions that would undoubtedly leave bruises upon my shins–bruises that I would gladly take over the burdens of my sorrow.
Bruises healed over time, gone in a few days, they vanish, and their color fades until one forgets they even existed. Unlike the bruises, however, the mourning, the heartbreak–all I would never forget. Today was just today. Today was just another tortured day. Today was just another day I wished would end.
Renounce thy negative thoughts, Emmalynn, renounce them.
I pinched my arm as I repeated the advice to myself–the same words Mother said to me throughout my life and especially as I cradled her hands between the two iron bars of her prison chamber. Always the delightful positive person, even when facing the malicious accusations, she held onto her faith, refusing to let it break her spirit.
I forced a smile, fluffed the flowers, and closed my eyes, listening to the unspoken words I knew she would say to me now: the sun shines high in the sky, the birds chirp loudly in the trees, the day set to be beautiful, and you, my dear, are alive to enjoy it.
Oh, how I longed to disagree with the ghost whispering in my ear and refute the truth in her words.
Sudden laughter bellowed from the road through the trees, a familiar cackle that made me recoil and dragged me down into the depths of an anger, which I held onto tighter than I should.
“I simply cannot forsake the notion that you mock me,” Mary Pruett’s voice echoed in the distance, a hint of amusement under her disdainful tone. “I only meant, oh . . . my, my, my.”
Her unexpected silence twisted in my gut as I stared at the ground.
She had seen me.
“And, who do we hath here? Emmalynn Hawthorne, the widow of my departed, beloved brother. Oh, my…what a tragedy we hath happened upon.”
I glanced up and inhaled a sharp breath.
My late husband’s family stood just feet from me in a clearing of the tree line along the peddler’s road. Three sets of eyes I wished to forget, and yet, I could not.
Along with the Pruett family, handsome James DeKane returned my gaze. His eyes lived etched into my memory for a very different reason. A deep blue pair, the deepest of blue like the color of the sea, set on his perfectly handsome face. His blond hair, short and messy, stuck straight out from under his brown brimmed hat as he stood there.
“Perhaps, Mary, you misunderstood–” James attempted to steal Mary’s attention, but she ignored him and silenced him with a severe glare.
“Father?” She shifted her focus. “Why would anyone be so foolish as to visit such a place or believe God would pardon the unjust acts of the damned?”
Deacon Pruett cocked his head then glanced up from the ever-present Bible resting in his hands. The one he read from daily, and the one I remember shoved into my face on numerous occasions when I did not act like the daughter-in-law he presumed proper. I could almost remember the foul stench of the brown leather, not like any other leather Bible.
“I do not know, Daughter. Although, why you would bother to hold concern for such a person, is beyond me.” With his chin tucked, he nearly grunted each syllable.
Mrs. Pruett’s eyes stared upon the trail ahead of them. “Evil lurks within the inside, hiding away from the known and seen.” Her lips barely moved as she spoke.
With her arm hooked through her husband’s, her oval face displayed the usual pervasive somber-dazed expression, a peculiarity to her character. It was as though she remained lost in a thought from which she could not be distracted.
An older version of Mary, the mother and daughter nearly appeared to be the same woman, which left the only difference between the two being Mary’s dark brown hair, inherited by her father instead of her mother’s reddish locks.
“Shall we continue our stroll?” James gestured to Mary. His discomfort exaggerated through his jerked movements.
“In a moment, James, I wish to speak to Miss Hawthorne for a moment.”
“Mary, I do not–”
“Silence.” She whipped her head in his direction with a fierce, sharp tone before stepping forward and raising her voice to me. “God doth not answer the prayers bestowed upon the damned.”
James groaned under his breath. His jaw clenched as he grit his teeth together, closed his eyes, and shook his head. He reached for her arm, wrapping his fingers tight around the black cotton sleeve of her dress. His muscles flexed with an authority that caught my breath.
She ignored him, wiggling from his grip. She cleared her throat and stepped forward one more step to continue with her maliciousness.
“Thy mother burns in Hell and you sit in the dirt and pray for her lost soul. You are as determined for damnation as she was.”
“Mary, please, thy reproachful attitude leaves little to be desired.”
“James, do not proceed to believe you know the torment and misery that she and her family caused my brother. You do not know what it was like, so you would do best to keep thy opinion–”
“Daughter,” Deacon Pruett warned in a gruff tone. “Be mindful of thy words bespoken upon thy courted beau.”
Mary shifted her eyes away from us, folded her arms across her chest, and growled under her breath.
James’s eyes locked upon mine with a whisper of curiosity and adoration. Fierce, and yet, kind behind the sea of deep blue that drew me like a moth to a flame. They humbled my fear with an odd sense of comfort, and although I wanted to look away from him, I could not–too overwhelmed by the notion he played not a stranger, but an old soul known to me my whole life.
I held my breath. My body inched forward, toward him–the slight movement catching not only my attention, but also his, and I straightened, withdrawing in embarrassment.
A tiny smile spread across his lips–his perfect lips–and he stepped forward a single step as if to mirror the impulse I should not hath shown.
Mary caught his advance and she glanced at him without turning her head. Her shoulders tightened as a fierce fire ignited in her eyes. She wrapped her fingers around his arm, squeezed the wool on his jacket sleeve, and drew in a deep, warning breath.
James’s smile vanished and he obliged her unspoken command. Ever the queen of all, she demanded and everyone obeyed, like slave hands, only worse, because at least slaves had a nightly reprieve when they could think and talk for themselves.
“Daughter, ‘tis nearing upon supper time,” Deacon Pruett muttered. With his eyes still focused on the Bible in his hands, he and Mrs. Pruett strode past Mary and James. “We best conclude our stroll for the evening.”
Mary glared at her father, but did not say a word as she hesitated to follow. She looked at me and an evil smile spread across her lips as she tugged on James’s arm.
“Perhaps, you will consider staying through the night?” Her words were more of a hinted statement than a question, as though he really would not hath the ability to refuse.
My stomach churned at the thought of him snug in a bundling sack in her bed, wrapped neck to feet and sewn, so they may share a night together.
Do not look after them, Emmalynn, do not look after them.
I fought with my own counsel and wrapped my arms around my waist as I rocked my body back and forth. Unfortunately, my curiosity consumed me. All argument and reason against watching him stride away vanished.
James glanced over his shoulder and our eyes locked.
He smiled and I caught my breath, holding it while I clutched my throat with one hand and my chest with the other. Butterflies fluttered wildly in my stomach as the young girl inside danced with joy, screaming with excitement as she bounced on her toes.
He had noticed me before, but he has never smiled, not until now.
He smiled at me.
Elation burst through my veins. I covered my mouth to hide my own grin, a grin I thought not ever possible again, and I giggled a little to myself.
Suddenly, a gust of wind circled and whirled around me, blowing my cotton dress, the strings of my bonnet, and my raven curls in different directions. Like a warm blanket, it pressed upon me, wrapping in a confining embrace. As abruptly as it flurried, the burst of breeze died and vanished. An odd movement fluttered in the corner of my eye, catching my attention. A vine sprouted, then began to grow and grow, and within the wink of a bat’s eye, it circled around itself until it formed a delicate wreath.
I flung myself backwards upon my rump and kicked my feet.
The vine did not sprout from the ground, but grew out of thin air and floated over to my mother’s headstone.
From the vine, leaves sprang and bounced, followed by sharp thorns, and lastly flower buds that, within seconds of emerging, bloomed into perfect black roses. The allure of them mesmerized, and yet, terrified me.
Before me, lay an enchantment not of this earth.
No, Lord, please no. Tell me, I did not do this. Tell me I am not capable of this. Witches do not exist. They are not real. No one holds power like that. Witches do not exist.
My hand slapped across my mouth, stifling my scream as I stumbled to my feet. My knees weak, I tripped over a rock and collapsed in the dirt before catching my balance. My eyes fixed upon the roses, floating innocently in the air.
In my backwards haste, I bumped into the broken fence and the old splintered board jabbed my lower back, scratching the skin underneath my dress. Pain shot through my body and I whipped around to face the fence, nearly falling to my knees once more.
The last remaining mourner visiting her peacefully resting loved one gaped as she watched me. She could not know the hallucination I had seen, could not know what occurred with the sudden gust of wind and inconceivable ring of black roses.
Those that see hallucinations are those damned by the devil. Those that see hallucinations are witches, destined for a death sentence to rid the earth of their evil. Children of the possessed were not under suspicion, unless they showed the same behavior as their parents, so they spared my life months ago. I would not be, now, if someone had seen what I saw.
“My apologies.” I whispered. “Please forgive my interruption.”
I lowered my chin to my chest and hid my face behind my hand as I scurried passed her and fled the graveyard.
The otherwise short destination to my home seemed to extend on for miles, worsened by my emotionally driven clumsy footing and wobbly legs. With my mind nothing more than a fuzzy mess of never ending questions and terrorizing thoughts, the concept of stepping one foot in front of the other, proved almost too foreign.
Tears traced down my cheeks and stung my eyes, blurring my vision as my hand shoved against the old wooden gate. Nearly missing the board, the lumber nicked my finger as it swung on the rusted hinges.
My shoes pounded the porch before I dashed through my front door then slammed it behind me with a loud thud.
My knees hit the wooden floor and I buried my face in my hands.
I could not hath conjured those flowers. No, I refuse to believe it. I am simply me. Simply a woman. Simply a powerless woman. Witches do not exist…witches do not exist.