Today, I’m thrilled to be releasing my latest novella The Witching House. This is a book that I wrote last fall while staying at a secluded cabin in the woods of East Texas. The story is set there in the present day and was inspired by the old 1970s horror flicks I used to love. The Witching House is about a small group of adventure-seeking couples who decide to explore an abandoned old house in the woods that’s been boarded up for forty years. The house is rumored to be haunted because it’s where a coven of witches had been massacred back in 1972. You can read the prequel in a FREE short story called The Girl from the Blood Coven.
Below is an excerpt.
“Witchcraft, sacrifices, an abandoned house and a thing that has hungered for decades set the stage for this must-read expedition to The Witching House. The best advice anyone could offer a visitor is: Don’t go in the attic, don’t go in the bedrooms, but don’t, under any circumstances, go in the basement. You won’t come out the same…if you come out at all.”
—John Everson, author of NightWhere and Violet Eyes
“The Witching House represents Brian Moreland at his frantic, bloody best. He takes a clutch of highly-sexed characters and their dark secrets, plunges them into a historical house of horrors, and gleefully throws away the key as all hell breaks loose!”
—Frazer Lee, author of The Lamplighters and The Lucifer Glass
“The Witching House starts with fear, moves into terror and ends with a horrific explosion of sensory delights.”
—Maynard Sims, author of Stronghold and The Eighth Witch
Excerpt from THE WITCHING HOUSE
“White Ceremonial Magic is, by the terms of its definition, an attempt to communicate with Good Spirits for a good, or at least an innocent, purpose. Black Magic is the attempt to communicate with Evil Spirits for evil purposes.”
—Arthur Edward Waite, The Book of Black Magic, originally published in 1898
The house that ate people stood within a coven of pine trees like an ancient god being worshipped. The high branches touched its shingled roof with reverence. Towering three stories, the rock house was far from being a flawless god. The moss-covered stones that cobbled its walls were pocked from years of rot and abandon. Fungus and creeper vines had spread across its facade, leafy tentacles invading cracks where boards covered the windows. The glass within their frames had long ago shattered.
The Old Blevins House, as it came to be called, was set miles deep within the East Texas forest and rumored to be haunted. The stone dwelling became a backwoods legend spoken over campfires and around beers at the roadhouse in Buck Horn, referring to it as “that house in the woods”. If anyone foolishly talked about ghosts or witchery, they were sure to spit the ground and cross themselves. Deer hunters wouldn’t dare hunt these parts. The deer wouldn’t come here either.
Otis Blevins, the caretaker of the property, knew all the house’s secrets because he had witnessed his family’s bloody massacre as a child. Now, decades later, the house often spoke to him in whispers and played violent memories inside his head. Some folk called Otis Blevins crazy, but he wasn’t. He just had a special bond with this house that ran deep as blood.
At age forty-seven, Otis now lived on a pig farm ten miles away but still looked after the stone house. On this dewy morning, he checked the front door to make sure it was still locked. The padlock was badly rusted. He made a mental note to stop by the hardware store and buy a new one. As the caretaker walked the perimeter, he noticed that some of the symbols painted on the clapboards had smeared after last night’s storm. He shook his head. East Texas got too much rain this time of year.
Otis pulled a paintbrush out of a mason jar of hog’s blood and repainted a symbol of a triangle with stick-figure arms and legs. He heard scratching from the opposite side of the clapboards—something angry clawed at him from within the house. Whistling, Otis walked around the corner. The scraping nails followed him as he painted the same symbol on every boarded window. The scrapes turned to pounding. The house was in a foul mood this morning. Or maybe just hungry. The caretaker ignored the incessant knocks against the wood and performed the tasks that the house had given him.
When he was done, Otis returned to his truck. In the back, a large hog was pacing in a cage, making all sorts of grunting noises.
“Easy there, girl.” Otis opened the cage and snapped a leash on Bessie’s collar. The sow hopped off the truck and snorted against Otis’s leg. He patted her pink head and then walked her to the back of the house where a long chain lay coiled on the ground. He was mighty upset that it was Bessie’s turn. Otis loved this pig. The house reminded him that he had alternatives, if he was willing.
The caretaker hooked the chain to the sow’s collar and backed away. Tearing up, Otis sat in an old rocker and chewed a wad of tobacco as he waited. Not long after, the chain began to uncoil and went taut. The pig squealed and struggled to run as she was dragged into a dark hole near the house.
Otis left after that. He hated the sounds the house made when it fed.
“Dead roads are bad omens,” Sarah Donovan’s grandmother used to say when Sarah was a little girl and her family traveled down a road littered with road kill. “You’ll find nothing good at the end of a dead road.”
Today, while riding through the backwoods of East Texas with her new boyfriend, Dean, and another couple, Sarah had counted a dead coyote, two mutilated armadillos, what might have been a possum, and buzzards feasting on a deer carcass. The carrion eaters took flight as the white Range Rover passed them and wound its way through the cloying pines.
Sarah’s nana, who was in to everything New Age, had preached that the universe always gives you signs if you watch for them.
Is this road trying to warn me? Sarah wondered. She looked at her boyfriend. Does this mean our relationship is doomed?
Dean seemed oblivious to the signs all around them. As he and his friends, Casey and Meg Ackerman, passed around a thermos of coffee and talked over strategy, Sarah remained quiet in the front passenger seat. Since they had left Dallas at dawn, she had seen a few truck stops and small towns along the way, as well as the occasional farm, but now mostly her view was empty road and endless trees. Civilization had dropped off since they turned off I-20 into what Dean called “redneck country”. In the backseat, Casey tried to be funny, mimicking the dueling-banjos tune from Deliverance, as if “redneck” meant inbreds. Dean was quick to correct Casey that inbreeding hillbillies were in Tennessee and West Virginia, not Texas. But rednecks were territorial and carried shotguns, and they lived by the creed “Don’t mess with Texas”.
It wasn’t the thought of encountering inbred hillbillies or gun-toting rednecks that had Sarah spooked. It was the legions of spiky pines, spruce and cedars pressing so close to the road. These weren’t the benign oak and pecan trees that stood in small clusters around White Rock Lake where she walked her dog on weekends. Out here, the trees crowded together, their branches intertwined in a constant battle for space. Choking out the gaps between the trees, thickets of brush and briars left no room for a hiking trail. Sarah’s father, the incurable nature lover, had taught her about things to watch out for in the wilds. Even from the moving vehicle, Sarah could spot the copses of stinging nettles and poison ivy that infested the overgrown forest. If only she had inherited her father’s love of exploring the untamed wilderness she might have been thrilled about where Dean and his friends were taking her.