Little, Brown and Company / Ulf Anderson

Book Excerpt: 'In the House in the Dark of the Woods' by Laird Hunt


The witching season is upon us, and Laird Hunt’s In the House in the Dark of the Woods (out this week in paperback from Little, Brown and Company) is the perfect October read: a story of witchcraft in colonial America, in which a law-abiding Puritan woman goes missing – on the run, maybe, or kidnapped, or merely lost. Or, perhaps, on a terrifying and eerie journey.

In this excerpt from the book, our heroine flies for the first time – and lands outside the house of a mysterious stranger:


Up we sailed into the sky. And over the sea of the forest. And through the dark of the clear night. And beyond great tunnels of wind and straight through a banner of ice-filled clouds. When we came out the other side, we found ourselves in the snow of an early-spring storm. The earth lay smothered in its whiteness below. All about us the flakes fell softly. Captain Jane asked into my ear was I warm enough. The wolf cloak had turned white and my face was half frozen.

“I am,” I said. I was.

“Then would you like to stay in this fine boat and travel a small way through this night with me? For I have a mercy to perform.”

“A mercy?”

“A service of sorts. You’ll see. The boat will take us to it and may tell me more of it as we go.”

“Does the boat speak to you as well as fly?”

Captain Jane smiled but did not answer. I said that I did not well follow what she meant about mercies and could not parse her smile but that I would stay with her a little longer if only to ride through the air and skid along past moon and storm, for doing so was what I had always dreamed. This was what, I realized, I was dreaming when my father came to me the next time my mother was away after that night on the beach and said we were leaving. He had booked us passage. “Passage, daughter!” he said. We were going far from these shores and would stay away forever. And because he said that on such a grand voyage we must go gaily dressed and had nothing but our daily drab to wear, he teased open the lock on my mother’s treasure chest and we stuffed scarlet into our seams, indigo into our sleeves, aqua into our ankles and shoes. We slipped then from the house taking only the bits of color and what we could carry, only what would serve. It was as we walked quickly and merrily away that he told me about queens and fools. He said we were going to a place where we could still see them. “Would you like that, daughter?” he had asked me.

“Yes, I would like it very much,” I said, speaking to Captain Jane. As soon as I said it, the boat, which had paused in its flight, leaped forward, then curved right and cut a long arcing half-loop through the frozen skies. As we went our way Captain Jane sang or laughed or sometimes howled. For my own part I kept very quiet, as quiet as I have ever been, for there are things in this world that you think will never come to pass that will rob you of your voice for nothing but the joy of them when suddenly they do. I was so happy there in our riding, and so hushed in my happiness, that when the boat slowed and lowered, then came to a stop above the cobbled street in a town, it took me a long time to move or answer Captain Jane when she leaned away from me and asked me was I coming in with her on her errand or would I like to stay outside in the frosty cold.

“Where have we arrived?” I said.
“A street in a town whose name I do not know,” she said. “Have we come as far as the sea?” I asked with some wonder. For even cold as it was, now that we had stopped moving through the air, I could smell it, as if the waves were washing slowly over the cobbles and splashing on my shoes. There was tar in the air, tar and salt and brine.

“Distance means little to a boat of the air.”

“You know a great deal about boats and their habits for one who has just come into possession of one.”

“I have long enough studied the subject,” she said. “It is not just roots and herbs that I know the uses of. Now, will you come with me through this door and into this house, or will you stay here?” She had leaped over the side of the boat and onto the street and was pointing in a direction I had not looked at a stout oak door set in the side of a grand house. The windows of the house, at least on its ground floor, were brightly lit.

“Where have you taken me?”

Instead of answering, Captain Jane clapped her hands, stepped forward, and pushed open the door.

Excerpted from "In the House in the Dark of the Woods" by Laird Hunt. Copyright © 2019 by Laird Hunt. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.