See No Evil

Recently separated with a young child to raise, Lauren Freeman is more determined than ever to complete her doctoral thesis. But the pursuit of knowledge is leading her into dangerous, hidden places—toward a secret closely guarded for over three hundred years.

Now the past is reaching out for Lauren with lethal tendrils—threatening her family, her friends, her future . . . her life. For there are those who gather in moonlight for strange, unholy purposes—those who believe that Lauren Freeman has lived before . . . and now must die again.

 

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Reviews

"In her third book, See No Evil, Barbara Shapiro tells a fascinating and frightening tale that twists and winds from contemporary Cambridge back to the eerie period of history in which fear, hatred and witch trials prevailed. . . Barbara Shapiro skillfully juxtaposes the interplay of light and dark, good and evil, past and present. Her story moves swiftly and suspenseful to its chilling conclusion, interwoven with strong characterization and compelling questions."
—Kate's Mystery Books Newsletter

 

"This masterpiece encompasses an array of thrilling elements: danger, witchcraft, history, love and suspense. The innocence of Lauren's search, combined with the ethereal nature of the coven, gives this story an eerie and seductive quality. The author magically ends almost every chapter with some kind of shock. . . The extraordinary, well-crafted tale presents an enchanting mystery in which there is never a lag in tone. The reader will be hooked by the end of its first chapter.
—Gothic Journal

 

"Barbara Shapiro has achieved notice as a master of mystery."
—The Boston Globe

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

"Shivering in the night air, Rebeka Hibbens pushed aside the reeds and the brush at the river's edge, at the place where firm ground flowed into mud and marsh and then on into the ocean's sandy shore. Her dress was torn and her cloak streaked with dirt. Oblivious to the mud that sucked at the ankles of her boots, she knelt and, using her hands as a trowel, searched for the shallow grave she knew lay in the soft ground.

The others stood on the sand, gathered around a large bonfire and a bush whose exposed roots resembled a knot of sleeping snakes. Including Rebeka, there were seven: six women and one man. All had been convicted of witchcraft and had just escaped from Cambridge Prison. All were being pursued by the righteous goodmen of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. And all were to be hanged at dawn the following day.

'The Immortalis must be done,' Millicent Glover called to Rebeka, but her words were shredded by the wind and Rebeka heard only a few snippets of sound.

Groping in the dirt, Rebeka's fingers finally hit upon the soft object she sought. Gently pulling against the sucking mud, she brought forth a soiled bundle the size and heft of an infant born a few months before its time. Peeling off the binding cotton shroud and letting the muddy cloth drop away, Rebeka exposed a naked doll to the cold moonlight.

She looked down at the misshapen thing: a sorcerer's poppet she had hurriedly crafted from old rags and stuffed with boar bristles. The doll's pewter eyes, which in her haste she had affixed slightly askew, gleamed dully back at her: flat and empty and ominous.

She held the poppet heavenward, revealing it to the stars and the waxing crescent moon that stood out against the ebony sky. Although she felt an abiding sadness at having to speak the words, nonetheless, Rebeka said, 'Those who risk the sanctity of the coven shall be punished by eternal death.'

'Mahala,' Millicent called to Rebeka again. 'We must make haste. They shall soon be upon us.'

Rebeka nodded and dropped the poppet into a deep pocket in her skirt. As she approached the group around the bonfire, Rebeka saw how weak and low they all were. Dirt outlined the deep wrinkles etched into Millicent's skin and one of Abigail Cullender's eyes was swollen shut, swallowed by a purple-and-black bruise. Bridget Corey's arm hung at an odd and useless angle as she leaned into Foster Lacy--he in ripped breeches and a single boot. Mercy Broadstreet stood on Foster's other side. Rebeka was overcome with an aching tenderness for them all. Even for her cousin, Faith Osborne, who was the cause of it all.

Faith's hair was full of leaves, and the dirt on her face was streaked with the tears she had shed, and was still shedding, over the death of her only child, Dorcas, who had been hung a fortnight ago on Gallows Hill. Looking at Faith, Rebeka was stirred to empathy: How terrible to have watched the life smothered from the one for whom you cared the most.

And yet, Rebeka knew, Dorcas would not have been hanged but for Faith's own folly. Nor would the rest of them be in such danger, forced to make quick business of what Rebeka and Millicent had intended to be a prolonged and glorious event.

Rebeka touched the magic lancet that hung from her neck on a braided chain of human hair and reminded herself that Faith was not one of them, that Faith should not be here, partaking of this sacred ritual; it was Dorcas who was of the coven, Dorcas, whose power, if it were present, would allow the coven to unchain itself from humanness and ascend to immortality. But now that Dorcas was lost to them, three more Immortalises would have to be performed, and three more human lifetimes would have to be endured, before the coven could regain the power necessary to reach eternal life among the sages.

Rebeka entered the circle, promising herself that, care as she might for Faith, she would complete the poppet's curse before this Immortalis was done. Although vengeance was not in her nature, the sages had made it known to her that Faith must pay for her deeds.

With the crescent moon to her back, Rebeka lowered a wooden dipper into the pock-marked pot. She lifted the full dipper and turned to Millicent, offering her the first sip of the liquid. 'Heliotrope, sage, malaxis, christainwort, heart of lubin, aconite,' she chanted as Millicent drank, her voice vibrating with power. 'To live, one must die.' Although Rebeka knew the goodmen would soon be upon them with their rifles and their dogs and their chains, she spoke the words she had written with clarity and deliberation. 'To die for future life is the privilege of the few.'

As Rebeka passed the dipper around the circle, the hem of her cloak dragging along the ground, Millicent began the story of the Immortalis. 'We come to this ocean, that carves the edge of the earth, to perform the first great Immortalis.' she said. 'It is a deep magic Rebeka and I have crafted to insure that our seven souls shall be reborn together again, and again, and again.

'One plus zero plus one,' Millicent continued. 'One hundred and one. Every one hundred and one years until the great millennium, in 1793, and in 1894, and in 1995, we shall meet upon the ocean's sand, under a waxing crescent moon, to perform the Immortalis: To give up our present forms, to meld our souls and our energies, until we are able to reach the sages and our immortality.'

The wind picked up and brought with it the whooshing sound of movement: The sound of something, or someone, approaching. Millicent froze.

Rebeka held her arms wide in a gesture of comfort. ''Tis only a bird,' she said as a long-necked heron dove between the killdeer and the pickerelweed at the water's edge. 'Only a bird.'

Millicent sighed and concluded her story. 'And in each new incarnation our coven shall grow in knowledge and in power and in the magical crafts,' she said. 'Until we have learned all there is to learn, until we are able to leave behind the shackles of our human carapace.'

As Millicent's words were carried away by the wind, Rebeka turned to the dark water, its waves pulled by the force of the new moon. Slowly, she walked across the sand and into the ocean, stopping when the water flowed just above her waist; her cloak swirled as it rode the restless waves. She turned and beckoned for the others to follow.

They stepped into the sea: Millicent and Mercy held hands to keep from stumbling on the slippery rocks; Foster helped Abigail; Bridget and Faith clutched each other tightly. Slowly, the six made their way to where Rebeka stood.

When they were a circle once more, enfolded and rocked by the bone-numbing water, Rebeka stepped into the middle and tugged the ribbon that gathered the neck band of her cloak. As the cloak fell open, she pulled out the lancet. It was a physician's lancet and concealed within its wooden case, carved with serpents, pine-cones, frogs and a winged caduceus, were four keen-edged blades. Reverently, Rebeka opened the lancet and fanned the knives above her head. 'I wield the lancet of Heaven,' she whispered into the fog that hung in ghost-like wisps over the ocean. 'The touch of this divine blade shall carry us high.'

'To die for future life is the privilege of the few,' the coven chanted.

'The touch of this divine blade shall ensure breath be with us for all eternity,' Rebeka said, touching each of the four blades to her nose, to her lips and to the soft spot at the base of her neck. 'To live, one must die.'

'No!' Faith cried, pulling her hands from the circle. ''Tis against God's will.'

Rebeka reached out and took Faith's hand in hers. 'This must be done,' she said softly.

Muffled sounds from upriver interrupted Rebeka. This time the sounds were not the natural noises of the marsh; this time they were the cries of men, the thud of horses' hoofs. Rebeka turned to Faith. 'Look at me,' she ordered. When Faith raised her eyes, she was caught within Rebeka's unblinking stare. 'You shall do as we do,' Rebeka said.

'I, I. . .' Faith stuttered.

'You shall do as we do,' Rebeka repeated, her gaze burrowing deeper and deeper into Faith's eyes, deep into the core of Faith's being. 'You shall say what we say: 'To live one must die.''

Faith's eyes were fixed on Rebeka, trance-like and dazed. 'To live one must die,' she repeated in a stilted and disembodied voice. 'To live one must die.'

Torch lights flickered through the naked tree branches and the sound of barking dogs was carried by the wind. Rebeka turned from Faith to Millicent. 'Faith will follow my will,' Rebeka told her friend. Then she bowed her head in a gesture of both respect and farewell. 'Go to new life, Millicent Glover. We shall meet again soon.'

At Rebeka's words, Millicent plunged a single blade into the soft spot at the hollow of her neck. Deep-red blood spurted into the dark waters as she twisted the knife to cut the shape of the crescent moon into her skin. 'To live, one must die,' she whispered, as she handed the lancet to Faith. Then Millicent waded toward the deep channel, laid back upon the moving waters, and let herself be carried out to sea.

Faith stood motionless in the frigid water, the lancet in her open palm.

'Go to new life, Faith Osborne,' Rebeka said, her eyes searing into Faith's, ordering her to do her bidding. Faith remained frozen, the lancet at her side. Rebeka lifted her cousin's hand, and, with Faith's fingers wrapped around the hilt, Rebeka placed the knife to the younger woman's neck. Rebeka glanced over her shoulder; the torch lights were growing brighter and the horses' hoofs louder.

'The sages have rendered judgment upon you,' Rebeka told Faith. 'You must sacrifice your life. And you shall be cursed to be with us, to make this same sacrifice, in every succeeding lifetime and at every succeeding Immortalis--until we have achieved our immortality and your soul is lost forever.'

With her free arm, Rebeka pulled the sodden poppet from her skirt pocket and held it up to the heavens. The moon caught the dull shine of the doll's pewter eyes and, for a moment, the thing seemed to come alive. One silver eye flashed her a roguish wink, while the other pierced straight into her soul with its depraved stare.

'Those who risk the sanctity of the coven shall be punished,' Rebeka said to Faith. Then she threw the doll into the ocean.

Faith gave a feeble kick as Rebeka guided the knife to the hollow of her neck, but it was apparent to all who watched that the young woman's spirit had been broken. Rebeka pressed the blade home, slicing a deep crescent into Faith's taut skin. With a slight tremor, Faith slipped from her grasp. Within moments, she was gone.

The other four followed in quick succession. Rebeka was the last to go. Standing alone as the frigid waves lapped at her waist, Rebeka watched the first of the goodmen break through the birch and pine trees, knowing she would be gone before they were able to detect her form upon the water. As the throng of horses and dogs and men thundered toward the long spit of sand, she cut a deep crescent into her own neck and cast the sacred lancet back toward shore.

As she knew it would, the lancet flew as if it had wings, over the water and the sandy beach, until it dropped into a crevice between a large outcropping of rocks. Rebeka noted exactly where the lancet had set down and then laid herself upon the waters, thinking of Faith Osborne, cursed to unwillingly sacrifice her life in 1793 and again in 1894 and again in 1995.

It had to be done, Rebeka thought as she let the swiftly moving waves carry her far into the night. Justice had to be done."

***

Deborah Sewall carefully closed the cover over the yellowed parchment pages from which she had been reading. Placing her hand on the book's leather spine, she raised her eyes and gazed into the five rapt faces before her. Although she and Rebeka shared the same soul--were, in essence, the same person--the intervening centuries had hardened that soul. For Deborah had been forced to endure, as Rebeka Hibbens never was, the consequences of Faith Osborne's deed.

Deborah's eyes peered into the shadowy darkness of the small room. "And as we did in 1692 and 1793 and 1894," she told those assembled at her feet, "so too shall we do in 1995."