Feature: “Bacchanal” by Veronica Henry

Release Date: June 1, 2021
Publisher: 47North
Genre: Fantasy

Description

Evil lives in a traveling carnival roaming the Depression-era South. But the carnival’s newest act, a peculiar young woman with latent magical powers, may hold the key to defeating it. Her time has come.

Abandoned by her family, alone on the wrong side of the color line with little to call her own, Eliza Meeks is coming to terms with what she does have. It’s a gift for communicating with animals. To some, she’s a magical tender. To others, a she-devil. To a talent prospector, she’s a crowd-drawing oddity. And the Bacchanal Carnival is Eliza’s ticket out of the swamp trap of Baton Rouge.

Among fortune-tellers, carnies, barkers, and folks even stranger than herself, Eliza finds a new home. But the Bacchanal is no ordinary carnival. An ancient demon has a home there too. She hides behind an iridescent disguise. She feeds on innocent souls. And she’s met her match in Eliza, who’s only beginning to understand the purpose of her own burgeoning powers.

Only then can Eliza save her friends, find her family, and fight the sway of a primordial demon preying upon the human world. Rolling across a consuming dust bowl landscape, Eliza may have found her destiny.

Excerpt

Harlem, New York, February 1930

There are those in this country who arrogantly suggest the old religion’s dead. As if any amount of torture and erasing could sever those blood-deep ties. What do they think kept their chattel alive? Stephanie St. Clair’s chuckle is as bitter as a centuries-old grudge.

Even those lost lambs who don’t recognize it, practice it all the same. She calls it Yoruba. Other children of Africa label it Santeria, candomblé, even voodoo. Name doesn’t matter, though; they’re all follicles from the same nappy head.

Like every religion old and new, there’s a good side and a bad side. Which one you call on depends on your particular situation.

Stephanie’s situation is what you’d consider the bad side. A city girl through and through, she isn’t keen on being anybody’s wife or mother and would sooner sail back across the Atlantic on an old tire than be somebody’s maid again. Good with figures, she’s carved out a little business for herself. Running numbers never hurt anybody. Well . . . not much of anybody.

And now that cagey swindler Obeah has been threatening to steal her business. He is practiced in the old ways and isn’t afraid to use them to further his cause either. Stephanie needs to call on some help of her own. She has a nephew to think about now, especially since it doesn’t look like her sister is going to be long for this world.

Her throat is dry, hands sweaty. She knows the words but can’t spit them out; it’s like the letters are running away from each other, crashing around in her head.

She recalls how Obeah marched up to her in the bar and, loud enough for everybody to hear him, announced that Stephanie was done. Rage and shame, they unlock the words.

Mo pe awon dudu emi.

A raindrop appears, suspended in midair. It ripples and warps. Wobbles and grows until it rips open, flooding the room with the salty tang of the ocean and something her eyes can’t quite discern. Stephanie drops to her knees and plants her forehead on the floor.

The demon’s voice crashes against her like a storm wave.

“Face me.”

Stephanie doesn’t try to hide the trembling, but she does shield her eyes. The demon doesn’t have a human form. All smoke and dizzying fire. It writhes with something akin to amusement.

The demon calls herself Ahiku. After some coaxing, Stephanie lays out Obeah’s plan to muscle in on her business. How his arrogant declaration of war may see her dead because she’ll sooner die than hand over what she’s built.

“Obeah is a powerful witch doctor. Seems to me, the son of one so powerful might be of interest to you.”

It works: the demon positively sizzles. The weight of what she’s suggested wedges itself in a corner of her stomach and festers.

“There is another child,” Ahiku hisses. “One that has your strong chin.”

Stephanie’s face hardens. “I don’t have the right to, but I ask that my nephew’s soul be spared. If not, I send you back home.”

“A hunter with only one arrow does not shoot carelessly,” Ahiku says. “You offer me passage, knowing what it will mean to this country’s children, yet you think only of yourself and yours. Unwise but bold. I deem you worthy. I will spare your nephew, but he will work for me in this realm.”

Stephanie swallows; what choice does she have? Better this than her nephew being consumed. The demon glides around the room, exploring. “Even the lowly village elder understands this—an enemy must be destroyed. Dispense with that guilt you are nursing; you’re fouling the place with it. I will cripple this Obeah’s spirit when I consume his son, but you must deal with his physical form. And when that is done, make your own people dependent—do not teach them all that you know. Keep a little something to yourself.”

“I recognize wise words when I hear them.”

“As long as I have passage here, you will rule. I will hunt down and destroy those that can stop me.” She pauses. “And one last thing.”

Stephanie struggles to keep her breath. Even though the demon has no eyes, it feels like her deepest secrets lie exposed under her gaze.

“Never oppose me.”

The new Queen of Harlem heartily agrees.

Pre-order from bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, and Amazon.

About the author

Veronica G. Henry was born in Brooklyn, New York, and has been a bit of a rolling stone ever since. Her work has appeared in various online publications. She is a graduate of the Viable Paradise Workshop and a member of SFWA.Veronica is proud to be of Sierra Leonean ancestry and counts her trip home as the most important of her life. She now writes from North Carolina, where she eschews rollerballs for fountain pens and fine paper. Other untreated addictions include chocolate and cupcakes.

Author website: www.veronicahenry.net

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