Guest Post by Clarissa Johal
Many, many years ago, my husband and I backpacked through the United Kingdom. Both he and my father are/were from England, and I know why they missed it. The countryside is beautiful, the villages are quaint, and the people are wonderful. And the castles? They’re everywhere and a huge draw for a history buff like me. I would move to the UK in a second if I had the opportunity.
When our daughters were old enough, we decided to take them on a family vacation to England. We stayed in a tiny Grade 2 thatched-roof cottage built in 1693 in the small village of Kirkoswald, Cumbria. The village of Kirkoswald was a former market town and has records dating back to the 12th century. If you go exploring (and I did) there’s a general feeling of moving through layers of history. The history seeps from every building, cobblestoned street, church, and graveyard. It captures your heart and imagination and makes you wonder what the village was like, hundreds of years ago.
Once I decided to venture beyond the village boundaries, an entire countryside beckoned. Day hikes led me through pastures and sparse forests. At night, I could hear the sounds that defined this corner of the world drifting through the windows of our cottage. It was at that time that I was hit with the idea for this book. There was a duality to the area—it was a place moving through time but also captured by it. I started to hypothesize: what if the village was held captive by its own history? What if that history held a dark secret and the surrounding forests an even darker one? The idea grew and took shape. Four years later, Whispers in the Woods was born.
Here’s a peek at Clarissa’s paranormal dark fantasy novel.
It all began with an acorn.
There are some places you shouldn’t disturb, places where history lingers. When Rowan travels to England, she finds a remote village, hidden in the shadow of an ancient forest. Vague warnings from the local people aren’t enough to stop her from venturing into the trees, or from picking up a single acorn. It seemed a simple action. But when a stranger emerges from the forest claiming the acorn belongs to him, Rowan finds herself pulled into something both centuries old and deadly.
Stars dotted an inky sky and the moon cut a path across the pastures like water. It would have been a beautiful night in other circumstances, one where she would have been happy to go for a midnight walk. But tonight, her senses were on edge and she startled at every sound. Rowan’s feet made sloshing sounds in the wet grass as she hurried towards the church.
The standing stone reflected the moonlight like a beacon. The churchyard beyond it appeared empty, its gravestones pointing like accusing fingers towards the sky. The silence was oppressive and she resisted the urge to whistle. She stole up the steps to the church itself, hoping the teens would be inside.
Pressing her ear against the door, she breathed the pungent scent of burnt wood. Hesitant, Rowan tried the handle. The door gave way and opened with a long, drawn-out creak.
A giggle sounded behind her.
Whipping around, her gaze swept the darkness. The sound was coming from the graveyard itself. A shiver trailed down her spine like icy fingers. “Hello?”
A low whisper drifted with the breeze, followed by another giggle.
“Fiona? Will? Jennifer, Jonathan? C’mon, you guys. Not funny.” She waited for the teens to show themselves. “I’m not going with you to the forest, by the way. I don’t think you should go either.” She walked to where the sound came from and steeled herself for a ‘gotcha’ moment.
Expecting to see the teens hiding behind a gravestone, she was surprised instead by scattered flowers, left like offerings. She picked one up and twirled it in her fingers. The flower’s petals reflected alabaster in the moonlight like finger bones. Freshly picked, the scent of the plucked stem was still strong. Rowan began to toss it aside when she was hit with an icy gust of wind. Her vision clouded and she felt a jarring shift in her surroundings.
She kicked up debris as her feet pounded the forest floor. The trees were a wild blur, as were the smells. The strong scent of greenery mixed with the scent of blood. Her blood. Heart pounding, she saw a bright spot in the distance. Escape. The bright spot grew larger and larger as she tore through the overgrowth towards it. Suddenly, she was jerked off her feet and dragged backward. A scream ripped her throat and everything went black. A sharp pain cut through her spine. Unable to move her arms and legs, she tried to take a breath. Panic welled in her throat like bile.
About the author
Clarissa Johal is the bestselling author of paranormal novels, Whispers in the Wood, Poppy, The Island, Voices, Struck, and Between. When she’s not listening to the ghosts in her head, she’s dancing, taking pictures of gargoyles, or swinging from a trapeze. She shares her life with her husband, two daughters, and every stray animal that darkens their doorstep.