Hey guys and welcome to another day of Horror Month and today I have an extract and a giveaway for Conversion by Katherine Howe and it is to do with Salem and it is absolutely fantastic!
Colleen is feeling the heat. It's her final year of school, and university applications and deciphering boys' texts have turned life into a pressure cooker. Colleen and her friends are expected to somehow keep it all together - until they can't. The first victim is gorgeous, popular Clara who starts having loud and uncontrollable tics while her horrified classmates look on. More students follow suit with new symptoms: seizures, body vibrations, violent coughing fits, and hair loss. The media descends as school officials, angry parents and health experts scramble to find something, or someone, to blame. But there is one thing no one has factored in: the school's town was once Salem Village, the site of a similarly bizarre epidemic among teenage girls three hundred years earlier - and it seems history is about to repeat itself.
DANVERS, MASSACHUSET TS WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2012
Twitch is not the right word. It’s the word the media would start to use when things really got going, when they needed a word that wasn’t too sensational, because everyone was afraid that sensationalizing what was happening would just make it worse. But twitch does not even begin to describe what happened to Clara Rutherford that morning.
Her face seized up, as though an invisible person standing next to her had hooked his fingers in her mouth, trying to peel the skin from her skull. Her hands clenched closed, flew up to her chest, and vibrated under her chin. By the time Father Molloy got to her, her legs had started shaking so violently that she rattled off her chair and fell to the floor, flopping and gasping like a fish.
“Colleen, get the nurse,” Father Molloy commanded, sounding surprisingly calm.
Half the classroom was standing up, staring down at Clara. We couldn’t believe it was happening. We wouldn’t have been able to believe it anyway, but it was somehow even more wrong that it was happening to Clara. Her feet kicked like someone getting electroshock.
Seeing her perfection split apart like that made us panicky. “Now, Colleen!” the priest said, raising his voice.
He knelt beside her, cradling her head, with his thumb in her mouth to keep her tongue depressed. The last thing I saw before I fled for the door was Clara’s front teeth biting down on Father Molloy’s thumb. She was making horrible gagging, gurgling sounds, as though she were drowning. I sprinted down the upper school hallway, my footfalls echoing on the flagstones, running past the vacant student center, skidding on the rug outside the upper school dean’s office, ignoring the administrative assistant who stood up and hollered, “Walk, Colleen!”
I rounded the corner from the upper school hallway to the old wing, my shadow stretching long down the hall, so distorted I felt like I was falling into it. I could feel my heartbeat in my throat as I ran down the corridor that used to house the convent bedrooms, all of them so long locked that the doors were rusted shut.
At the very end of the hallway one door stood open, with warm light spilling out. I landed at the nurse’s office, panting for breath on the doorjamb. Inside, half behind a white partition, the nurse was pulling a thermometer out of the mouth of a green-faced eighth grader. The school nurse would be famous within the week, but on this Wednesday I have to confess that I didn’t remember her name. She was new, and young—so young, I found it weird to address her with a title. She looked like she could be in my class.
When she saw me, she stood up immediately and said, “What’s the matter?”
“You’ve got to come! Room 709. Hurry!” By the time we burst back into the classroom, Clara was sitting up, her hair disheveled, breathing heavily and looking around with wide, baffled eyes. Father Molloy stood up when he saw us and pulled the nurse aside. They conferred for an urgent minute by the door while I crouched next to Clara.
She looked up at me, her eyes shining with confusion.
She moved her mouth, but nothing came out.
“Don’t worry,” I said, touching her arm. “I brought the nurse. You’re going to be okay.”
She nodded, wrapping her arms around herself.
“Colleen,” the nurse said, placing her hand on my back. “Will you return to your desk, please?”
“Girls, I know you’re all worried, but we need to give her some air. Back to your desks, please,” the nurse insisted.
I felt someone helping me to my feet and back to my desk. Slowly I lowered into my seat, still watching Clara.
She was looking around on the floor, as if she were afraid she’d dropped something but didn’t know what.
“That was crazy!” Anjali whispered.
“Oh my God, do you think she’s going to be okay?” Deena said.
None of us could even pretend we weren’t staring. The nurse leaned over Clara, shining a penlight into each of her eyes, taking her pulse, listening to her heart.
“Oh, she’ll be fine,” Emma said with a wave of her hand.
“Does she have epilepsy or something?” I asked.
“Does this, like, happen all the time, do you think?”
I couldn’t imagine Clara having something seriously wrong with her. We’d all have known about it if she did. St. Joan’s was a small school. Everyone knew everyone else’s business. We knew who was diabetic, and whose mom drank too much. We knew who had a gluten allergy, and who just said she did to hide her eating disorder. We knew who cut. We knew about everyone’s tattoos, and we thought they should probably have gone into Boston to get them instead, ’cause the lines were already blurry. We knew within the week when one of us lost her virginity. Sometimes we knew within the hour.
“I don’t think so,” Anjali said.
“Maybe epilepsy doesn’t come on until you’re finished growing,” Deena theorized.
“What if it’s like schizophrenia or something, like one of those things that happen for the first time when you’re an adult?”
“You think she has schizophrenia?” I asked. I tried not to sound horrified, but I failed.
“No,” Anjali said slowly. “That’s not what schizophrenia looks like.”
“Whatever,” Emma said. Her nails drummed once, twice, three times on the top of her desk.
Father Molloy hovered at the front of the classroom, with an expression on his face that I couldn’t read. When the nurse beckoned to him, he seemed to be shaking a thought off before he could concentrate on what she was saying.
Laurel Hocking, that was the nurse’s name. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten, especially considering what happened later.
Clara’s two minions, Elizabeth and the Other Jennifer, which is what everyone called her to distinguish her from Jennifer Crawford, were huddled together at their desks behind Clara. They obviously had no idea what was going on. If Clara had seizures, they’d have known about it.
Then again, maybe Clara was kind of aloof from her best friends, too. Elizabeth was pretty cool, she did field hockey and debate, but the Other Jennifer didn’t have much going on. She was not especially bright, and most people assumed she had gotten into St. Joan’s only because both her mother and her grandmother went there.
I mean, she was nice and everything, and she was pretty, but she was just kind of blah. Maybe Clara just hung out with them because she could dictate the terms.
Nurse Hocking was stroking Clara’s hair, and I heard her say, “We’ll just make you an appointment, to be sure.”
“It’s definitely not schizophrenia,” Anjali said, looking at her phone, which was still expertly concealed between her hand and the end of her sweater sleeve.
“That’s a mental disorder, and has to do with how she perceives reality. It doesn’t cause seizures, just weird behavior.”
“Huh,” Deena said. “I hope she’s going to be okay.”
The bell rang, drowning out what Emma said, which I think was something like “Faker.” “What?” I said, looking at Emma.
“Huh?” Emma answered.
“What did you say just now?”
“I didn’t say anything,” Emma said, gathering her books. She wasn’t looking at me.
“Okay, girls,” Father Molloy interrupted, addressing the whole room of migrating students. “I want you all to remember what we talked about. And if any of you need to speak with me privately, I’ll be in office hours after lunch. You’re always welcome to drop by. Mary, Queen of Knowledge, be with you all.”
“But we didn’t talk about anything,” Deena muttered.
I hesitated when we reached the door, looking over my shoulder. Clara was still sitting on the floor, her legs splayed out like a kid. The nurse bent over her, offering a sip of water. Elizabeth and the Other Jennifer huddled nearby, as if they hadn’t even heard the bell. Father Molloy stood with his arms folded over his chest, frowning.
“Come on,” Emma said, plucking at my sleeve. “Or we’ll be late.”
“Yeah,” I said, allowing Emma to pull me away. As the door to advisory closed, I caught Clara’s eye. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone look so afraid.
Katherine Howe is the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, The House of Velvet and Glass, and Conversion. She has hosted “Salem: Unmasking the Devil” for the National Geographic Channel, and her fiction has been translated into over twenty-five languages. A native Texan, she lives in New England and upstate New York, where she teaches at Cornell and is at work on her next novel.
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Thank you to Cailin at Rock The Boat for the extract and giveaway prizes
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