Today, we’re pleased to present an excerpt from Leah Angstman’s novel Out Front the Following Sea, due out in January on Regal House Publishing. Set in 1689, it follows a woman accused of witchcraft who flees her home in search of safety, and instead ventures into a much larger conflict. Regarding the novel, Steph Post said, “Leah Angstman creates an immersive world for readers to get lost in and a fascinating story to propel them through it.”
From the borning room, Gran’s wheeze filled the house, then collapsed, again, collapsed, rose, collapsed—an eerie rhythm of death’s footsteps. Ruth pulled herself to her knees, grabbed hold of the fireplace grate, and reached for the iron to poke for any lingering hot coals. A quarter of an hour later, despite the new log’s wetness, a budding flame was nursed to health. Eventually, the crucible boiled with melted snow.
Ruth sat at Gran’s bedside and soaked hot calico into a wooden bowl for the woman’s clammy head, then readied a droplet of mercury to dot the woman’s tongue.
“I remember at your age. In Woodbridge—” Gran grasped her granddaughter by the wrist. The woman’s eyes were sunken like dark cherry pits, strikingly contrasted against saggy eyelids of old linen. Jowls, rich of age, laid against her neck in one continuum.
“You’ve never been to Woodbridge. You’re thinking of my mother.”
Gran shook her head. “I do not know your mother, child.”
Ruth sighed and forced a patient smile. “She married your last son.”
“Why has he nay come?”
Ruth studied the flower print on the ewer. The blue porcelain came from the Old Country, the flowers not native here, their blossoming colors an insult to the season’s starkness. The spot of life deadened Gran by comparison. Nothing but death flourished in a New English winter.
“Who’ll take care of you?” Gran said.
“I will,” Ruth replied flatly.
The old woman winced at the application of a new hot cloth to her forehead. Her mind trailed beyond the shutter cracks, and Ruth knew where it went. That path that led to the false hope of the harbor—Gran’s mind walked it, too.
“Pray, then,” the elder whispered.
“Praying makes no more of an end to this than discussing it. Owen will be back in spring to see you. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? He will take you to his mother in Fairfield. In Connecticut Colony. You do remember Rosalie?”
“No, she’s not my mother. Rosalie Townsend, Captain Townsend’s wife.”
“You’re Captain Townsend’s wife?”
“Oh, heavens. How dreadful a prospect that would be.” Ruth snorted. “Rose is Owen’s mother. He’ll take you to stay with her until you get better. Along the Long Island Sound, on a bowery near the water. It will be good for you.”
“Oooh, that’s too hot.”
Ruth pushed the woman’s hand from the cloth. “It’s not that hot, so stop. You’re freezing. You look—”
“You should see how you look.” The woman chuckled, then coughed. Her chest heaved beneath the weight of it. “Where is my son? He hasn’t come for me.”
“He’s not here now.” Ruth felt the fever swell inside her. Her father hadn’t been there for a decade. “You won’t see him. He won’t be coming.”
“Who’ll take care of you?”
“But who’ll chop the wood?”
“I’ll chop wood. Gran, please.” She faced away and whispered to herself, “I always chop the wood, always.”
The elder closed her eyes and nodded reluctantly and fell into sleep. Ruth retreated into herself, maddened. Color drained from her eyes and cheeks and hands, from the wallpaper on the one wall that had it, from her fingers, clutching cloth that felt neither warm nor cool. The candle’s flame like a tarantella and her dancing inside it and around it and in it and around. The bubbling of a boiling crucible, the howling wind. Stoke the fire, stir the pot, mash the peas, heat the kettle, wet the cloth, chop, slice, wrap, heat, cook, sweep. Dizziness overcame her, and her forehead burned, throbbed. She stood to her feet, but her balance gave way; the sudden motion swept blood from her spinning head. Her body crumpled against the wall, where she slid down to the cold floor into dark.