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. A second place winner in RWA’s 2019 Valley Forge Sheila Contest.
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About the Book
Witch of the Wild Beasts
by Catherine Stine
Konjur Road Press
March 11, 2020
WITCH OF THE WILD BEASTS
A Standalone Novel
© 2020 Catherine Stine
My heart throbbed with a vague panic as Mr. Gaul dismounted and strode over. What did he want with me, a lowly bird girl? His boots riled up clouds of dry dust, which wended their way over and made me sneeze. I’d never spoken to Mr. Gaul other than to accept the job and be directed to the German field hand, who showed me to my living quarters, a tiny room behind the stone silo with a horsehair mattress and a curved ledge to place things on.
“Girl, what do you think you are doing?” Gaul demanded, his bushy brows crossed, his face a stormy sky.
“You heard me! You were only pretending to work as I rode by. Pretending,” he repeated with disgust. “This is unacceptable, you understand me?” he went on without waiting for my reply. “Your name?”
“Evalina Stowe, sir.” All at once I was shrinking in my boots and growing outraged. My irritable disposition was my least reliable suit. I was moody and sometimes tempted to let fly a rude retort. So, I bit my tongue. I needed this employment. Especially when I thought of all of the famished days that had preceded my hiring, when I was forced to pilfer from food carts and taverns. When outraged proprietors chased me with their own sharp sticks.
“Hear this, Miss Stowe, you’d best get every filthy bird out from my corn or I’ll send you packing on the next boat to Ireland.” He grabbed my flushing stick from me. “Bird Girls must flush birds like so.” With this, he gave the backs of my legs a hard whack. And another, wicked one. I winced but did not cry out.
A rally of birds streaked up from the cornstalks and swirled around us, squawking loudly. I could sense their outrage.
Mr. Gaul batted them away from his top hat, but not before I saw with vengeful glee one had soiled his black brim with an oozing blob of white shit. Gaul didn’t notice. “Itching to go back to your motherland, are you?” he jeered.
I wasn’t Irish, and I hadn’t sailed here on any boat. My mother had been born right here in Philadelphia on Brown Street. But I dared not say a word to challenge him. I could feel the rustle of the birds, their extreme agitation, readying for battle.
Mr. Gaul climbed back in the carriage and thwacked his whip. The chart horses galloped off in a spreading constellation of yellow dust as if they also understood he was in danger.
Ever since I’d begun to talk to the birds and save them from thrashing I built comfortable houses in my room on the ledge with the finer twigs of maple and pine. I used thin bark ties to connect the thatching. It was easy to steal them corn. The silo was accessible through the broken stone chinks. It was unlikely Gaul would miss the corn. After all, the barn rats ate much of the haul as it was.
I gave my small charges fluff from the mattress and old ribbons from Conklin’s I’d saved in my stockings to pad their nests. I taught them simple words: come, go, sing, beware and hide. I taught my smartest bird, a ruby-throated grosbeak I named Speckle, to carry a message to my co-workers Mary and Betsy. It read I have extra corn pudding, come feast with me after work!
Speckle carried the message to the right people, for though Betsy could not come, within the hour Mary knocked on the stone silo.
“How did you get the bird to do tricks?” she asked as she eagerly took a portion of my homemade corn pudding, from kernels I’d skimmed.
“I have a knack, I guess.” I stroked the top of Speckle’s head ever so softly.
“Quite!” Mary exclaimed, taking another spoonful of corn pudding. “Did you have to practice for years?”
“Not that long.” I shrugged. My luck with bird training continued to fill me with a rare delight, and perhaps my granny had passed the strange talent on to me. This was all I understood.
Until a week or so later.
I was curled in bed resting after a hard afternoon in the heat of the field when I heard a set of determined boots 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.
All at once Mr. Gaul was by the ledge, toppling my 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?”
Fury boiled in me and I steeled for battle. I leapt off my bed and desperately tried 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 at his ears, his fleshy nose and his brows, as they closed in on his eyes.
“Gah! Get your familiars off, witch!” he screeched, and beat me ever more viciously. I would’ve tried to run but he gripped me tightly by my arm. The racket brought farmhands and fellow bird flushers running. 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, glowering at him 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 spun 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.
Still, no one was helping, least of all me. Among the farmhands and barn workers there was no love lost for Mr. Gaul. 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!”
Mr. Gaul’s face turned chalky, followed by a queer shade of gray. He collapsed on the floor writhing, hands clamped around his bulging neck—around my brave Speckle who had sacrificed her life for mine.
Then, Mr. Gaul went horribly still, and the farmhand’s words were quickly translated. Almost the entire crowd rallied to the chant, “Witch! Black magic! She’s killed him!”
My reputation as witch was set no matter how I saw myself. Mary McMalley shouted, “She’s got her familiars, the devil lady does! I saw them in her handmade cages. She stole the expensive corn to feed them and they sat on her arms.” “Hang the witch!” cried the horse trainer. “That spotted bird was sucking from her teat in the field!” a field hand claimed. “She never flushed out the birds in the fields as she was told to.” Mary McMalley’s face curdled into a scowl. “The witch chose filthy birds over people.” Mary’s accusations hurt the most because I’d thought she was my friend. She’d seemed delighted by my birds when she visited. I’d even served her some of my special corn pudding. The only Bird Girl who hung back and didn’t join the jeers was Betsy Ainsley. My wounded heart warmed for an instant when Betsy gave me a kindly smile.
But looks of sympathy don’t prevent arrest.
The German farmhand hogtied me in front of the barn and knotted the bindings firmly around a hitching post. All of the Somerset Farm’s employ stared, their eyes reflecting the horror. No doubt they would do any amount of Hail Mary’s or latrine cleaning to escape my fate. That night three burly prison guards in hobnail boots wielding bats shackled me and hauled me off to the penitentiary.
In the dizzying speed of three months—May, June, July—I went from Pattern Cutter to Bird Girl, to Witch, to Murderess.
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of WITCH OF THE WILD BEASTS by Catherine Stine, we’re giving away a $25 Amazon gift card and a custom Witch of the Wild Beasts mug to one lucky winner!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card and a custom Witch of the Wild Beasts mug. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Catherine Stine. Giveaway ends 3/31/2020 @ 11:59pm EST. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About the Author
CATHERINE STINE is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fantasy, paranormal romance, sci-fi thrillers and young adult 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 was a second prize winner in the 2019 Valley Forge 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 fests.