A Lesson in Vengeance Victoria Lee’s Queer Horror Novel Excerpt

Purple flowers and spiderwebs surround the book title "In Vengeance" on a crop of its cover.

A crop of A Lesson in Vengeance’s cowl.
Image: Delacorte Press

It’s a identified incontrovertible fact that we right here at io9 are fairly keen on stories set at spooky boarding schools, so we’re very excited to be sharing an unique excerpt from Victoria Lee’s witchy new boarding school-set novel A Lesson in Vengeance, which blends queer themes with Gothic chills.

Here’s a plot description to set the scene:

Felicity Morrow is again on the Dalloway School to complete her senior 12 months after the tragic dying of her girlfriend. She even has her outdated room in Godwin House, the unique dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of 5 Dalloway college students—women some say had been witches.

Felicity was as soon as drawn to the darkish legacy of witchcraft. She’s decided to depart that behind her now; but it surely’s onerous when Dalloway’s occult historical past is in every single place. And when the brand new woman received’t let her overlook it.

It’s Ellis Haley’s first 12 months at Dalloway. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is eccentric and sensible, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks Felicity for assist researching the Dalloway Five for her second guide, Felicity can’t say no. And when historical past begins to repeat itself, Felicity should face the darkness in Dalloway—and in herself.

And right here’s a take a look at the total cowl, designed by Regina Flath, adopted by a sneak peek at A Lesson in Vengeance’s splendidly atmospheric eighth chapter.

Image for article titled A Séance Goes Alarmingly Awry in This Spooky Excerpt From A Lesson in Vengeance

Image: Delacorte Press

Chapter Eight

Here is the reality.

What occurred to Alex was no accident. Not simply because she fell, as a result of we’d fought, or as a result of I minimize the rope—however due to what occurred final October.

I’d lately selected my thesis venture: “I caution you against this,” Wyatt had mentioned after I instructed her I needed to review representations of witchcraft in literature. “You will struggle to get a thesis on witchcraft approved by the administration, no matter how good your scholarship. Dalloway is a respectable school—this isn’t the Scholomance.”

“I don’t see the problem,” I’d mentioned. “I’m not claiming the Dalloway witches were real. Just that conceptualizations of witchcraft existed in the eighteenth century, and that those were influenced by perceptions of female agency and mental illness at the time. I want to connect the reality of their lives to the fantasy of how women were presented on the page.”

Wyatt had fastened me with a lancet gaze and mentioned: “So long as you focus on the literature, Miss Morrow—not on flights of fancy.” And she’d signed the papers.

But after I’d instructed my mom about my plans, she’d been appalled.

“That school is a bad influence on you,” my mom had instructed me whereas I used to be residence for Thanksgiving break a couple of weeks later. “I thought you knew better than to believe all that nonsense about witches.”

Perhaps she was proper to be afraid. Of course, on the time I’d scoffed. I don’t imagine in witches, I’d insisted, and it was true. Before Dalloway, I had fancied myself a rationalist—too rational, in reality, to entertain the chance that actuality may comprise extra mysteries than my feeble mortal thoughts might perceive. But there was one thing concerning the Dalloway Five that drew me in, embraced me in their chilly useless arms. They had been actual: there was historic proof for his or her lives, for his or her deaths. And I imagined their magic stitched like a thread throughout time, handed from mom to daughter, a glittering hyperlink from the founder to Margery Lemont to me.

That had felt like a consolation as soon as. After Halloween, it felt extra like a curse.

By that night time, I’d had loads of alternatives to embroil myself in lore and legend. My room at Godwin House was affected by scanned grimoire pages and notes on the uncanny. Alex watched all this with a form of educational fascination; she’d by no means been in a position to perceive why I used to be so drawn to darkness. She had all the time belonged in the sunshine of the solar.

“Don’t you think you’re taking this a little too seriously?” Alex requested the night time all the pieces went mistaken, waving a match by means of the air to extinguish the flame. “You’ve been kind of over the top about this thesis business. Like, do you think you’re starting to get a little confused about reality here? Magic doesn’t exist, Felicity.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“I mean . . . yes?”

She held my gaze for a protracted second; I appeared away first, again to the Ouija board arrange between us. “This is important to me,” I confessed to the planchette. I dipped a fabric into salt water and wiped it over the board itself, cleaning it for the summoning. “Not because I believe in it, necessarily, but because they did.”

“And you’re obsessed with them. The Dalloway Five.”

“I’m not obsessed. This is our history—Godwin’s history. They killed a girl. That really happened, whether we believe in witchcraft or not. And we know they held a séance—that was documented in the trial. Whether they thought it was real or just make-believe, they performed a ritual to raise a ghost. And Flora died a few days later.”

The main sources I’d learn in Dalloway’s library had been inconsistent as to the character of Flora Grayfriar’s dying. The account I’d learn in the library described an nearly ritualistic killing, Flora’s throat slit and her abdomen minimize open, stuffed filled with animal bones and herbs. But different contemporaneous writings mentioned she was discovered with a musket ball in her intestine, useless in the forest, shot like a beast. It ought to have been a easy factor, to find out how a woman died: Was she shot, or was her throat slit? Do I belief the trial paperwork, or the letters written by Flora’s mom? Who had extra motive to lie?

Either the Dalloway women had been witches, they usually’d murdered Flora in some arcane cope with the satan, or Flora’s dying had a much more mundane rationalization. A searching accident, possibly. A lovers’ quarrel. Or even a bigoted townsperson who heard concerning the séance and needed to see the women punished for meddling with powers they couldn’t comprise.

After all, Flora was the primary dying, however she wasn’t the final. Following her, each one of many Dalloway witches died in ways in which had been unimaginable to elucidate. All of their our bodies had been discovered on the Godwin House grounds, like the home itself was decided to maintain them. It was nearly as in the event that they had been cursed, as in the event that they’d raised a spirit that was decided to see all of them useless.

The extra seemingly rationalization—that they’d been killed by non secular mountain folks who feared ladies, feared the magic they’d assigned to ladies—didn’t maintain the identical enchantment.

Regardless, Alex was proper. I hadn’t been in a position to get the Dalloway Five out of my head for weeks. I’d even dreamed about them the earlier night time, Beatrix Walker’s hair like spun corn silk and Tamsyn Penhaligon’s bony fingers trailing alongside my cheek. They had discovered their manner inside me, like fungal spores inhaled and brought root. Sometimes I felt like they’d all the time been there. I’d examine reincarnation, about women born many times, and imagined Margery Lemont whispering mushy phrases in the again of my thoughts. Every time I touched her cranium at Boleyn House, I felt her in my blood.

Maybe I used to be shedding my thoughts. Or possibly this was what it was to understand historical past, to really perceive it. When I learn books, the boundary between my world and others shifted. I might think about different realities. I envisioned the tales so clearly that it was as if I lived them.

The story of the Dalloway Five was a narrative born in Godwin House. Why shouldn’t their legend be actual?

And if this ritual labored—if we spoke to them—we might put the mythos to relaxation as soon as and for all.

The scent of sandalwood rose in the air. We’d already turned off the lamp; I might solely see Alex by the flickering candles, her pores and skin glowing heat silver in their gentle.

“All right, then,” Alex mentioned. “Let’s summon old dead witches.” I’d written the summoning spell in my moleskin pocket book: an incantation copied from an historic tome in the library’s occult part. The course of had been painstaking; nobody in the eighteenth century, it appeared, had been possessed of legible handwriting. Of course, they didn’t have Ouija boards in the eighteenth century both, and this Hasbro-branded contraption I had purchased on the unbiased bookstore in city hardly certified as an accoutrement of actual witchcraft. But it was higher than nothing.

I propped the pocket book on my knees, and me and Alex each positioned our fingers on the Ouija planchette, barely touching it.

And regardless that I hadn’t spoken but, all of sudden the room appeared darker—the corners deepening, the air heavy in opposition to my pores and skin. I took in a shallow breath and skim the spell aloud.

“Nothing happened,” Alex mentioned after a number of seconds. “It’s not moving.”

“You have to wait for it.”

“You know that when the pointer moves, it’s because we’re moving it, right? Like, they’ve done studies on this.”

I ignored her and closed my eyes. I’d stolen the Margery Skull; it sat on the head of our altar, shut sufficient that I might have touched it. A a part of me needed to. The urge was nearly overpowering. Maybe if I did . . . Maybe that’s what this ritual wanted. I shifted ahead, eyes nonetheless shut, fingers reaching. My contact grazed chilly bone, and in the identical second, the planchette moved.

My eyes flew open. The pointer had darted throughout the board to cowl the quantity 5.

“What does that mean?” Alex mentioned, and I shook my head.

The Dalloway Five.

The candles guttered as if from an unseen wind. The room had gone chilly, and an odd sensation crept up my backbone. My fingers quivered with the hassle of preserving my contact on the planchette gentle; I refused to lend any credence to Alex’s principle. If the board spoke, it wouldn’t be as a result of I compelled issues into my very own arms.

I’d by no means tried this type of factor earlier than. I didn’t know what to anticipate.

Be actual. I would like you to be actual.

“Are you really here?” I whispered. “Is this . . . Margery Lemont? Or—”

I ended myself midsentence and stared on the lettering on the board indicating the phrase sure. But the planchette had gone nonetheless, the numeral 5 nonetheless seen by means of its aperture.

This wasn’t sufficient. The incense, the candles—even Margery’s cranium clean in opposition to my palm. It wasn’t sufficient.

I’d examine this. I’d learn dozens of books, a whole lot, researching for my thesis. I knew how magic labored. I knew what these sorts of spirits required.

“We have to make a sacrifice,” I instructed Alex abruptly. “Like the original Dalloway Five did in their séance, with the frog. If the Dalloway Five really were witches, they were powerful. Why should they speak to us if we don’t give them something in return?”

Alex’s mouth twisted, skeptical. “Well, I forgot to bring along my handy-dandy sacrificial goat, so . . .”

But I already knew what Margery needed.

I launched the planchette and grabbed the letter opener—the one I’d used to open the Ouija board field.

“Felicity, don’t you dare—”

I sliced the blade into my palm. White fireplace minimize alongside my veins, darkish blood welling up in its wake. Alex lurched again as I held out my arm, however she didn’t go away the circle, didn’t retreat—simply watched wide-eyed as my blood spattered the crown of Margery Lemont’s cranium.

The candles blew out.

Even Alex yelped. My coronary heart pounded in my chest—too quick, too wild. Was {that a} determine stepping out from the shadows, eyes gleaming in the darkness like polished cash?

Alex struck a match, and the specter vanished. The place the place it had stood was pitch black, and but I might nonetheless really feel its presence. Maybe it hadn’t disappeared. Maybe as an alternative it had expanded, consuming us.

Alex and I stared at one another throughout the board. Alex’s shoulders shifted in fast, shallow little actions, her tongue flicking out to moist her decrease lip. It felt colder now than earlier than, just like the temperature had dropped a number of levels when the candles went out.

It’s all proper, I needed to inform her, however my tongue was a useless factor in my mouth, heavy and in poor health tasting. As if I’d swallowed grave dust.

Margery Lemont had been buried alive.

My blood was sticky in opposition to my palm, the scent of it excessive and coppery in the air, overwhelming the musk of incense. Alex lit the candles once more—simply the three nearest her. Their gentle solid unnatural shapes alongside the board, many of the letters fallen into darkness.

Neither of us had been touching the planchette anymore, however its aperture was fastened over the phrase sure.

“Did you move the pointer?” Alex shook her head.

My enamel dug into my decrease lip. Together, we each tilted ahead as soon as extra, our trembling fingers assembly atop the picket planchette.

“Are the stories true?” I requested. “Were you really witches?”

If the ritual account of Flora’s dying was true, it had been clearly Druidic in inspiration: some bastardization of Greco-Roman studies that the traditional Celts carried out human sacrifice on the autumnal equinox—that the long run could possibly be learn in the best way the sufferer’s limbs convulsed as they died. Even the best way in which the sacrifice bled had prognostic worth.

The city midwife’s diary instructed a model of the story in which Flora Grayfriar’s physique was discovered together with her pores and skin half-burned and her garments in ashes atop a wicker altar. Silver mullein leaves had been strewn concerning the floor, a wormwood crown laced by means of her hair, her throat moist with blood.

I knew the reply to my question, however I needed Margery to say it nonetheless.

The planchette shifted underneath our arms, my breath catching in my chest—the planchette moved apart, then returned instantly to sure.

So many new questions swelled inside me. Too many. It was unimaginable to ask all of them. Impossible to ask with a board and a pointer the query I actually needed to know:

What are you able to train me about magic?

I used to be about to ask the Dalloway Five the aim of Flora’s dying, what ritual they had been making an attempt to carry out that night time on the autumn equinox—in the event that they had been even liable for her dying in any respect—when the planchette moved once more.

“Get the notebook,” Alex gasped, and I snatched my moleskin again into my lap and uncapped my pen with one shaking hand.

The planchette shifted throughout the board in jagged jerks underneath our contact.

“I . . . A . . .”

The air was frigid now, a bone-deep ice that crystallized in my blood. I didn’t dare look away from the board, which meant that when the planchette lastly went nonetheless—after I lastly turned my gaze to the pocket book—I might barely learn my very own handwriting. “What does it say?” Alex urged after I’d been silent for a number of seconds.

“It says . . .” I shook my head, swallowed; my throat had gone dry. “It says, ‘I am going to kill you.’

I appeared up. Alex stared at me from the opposite aspect of the board, each her arms clenched in white fists in opposition to her knees. Her face glowed greenish in the candlelight, eerie, and—

Something grazed the again of my neck, a chilly finger tracing down my backbone.

“Alex,” I choked out. “Are you okay?”

The contact vanished; I felt a breeze ripple by means of my hair because it handed. I used to be too afraid to look over my shoulder. “I swear, something just—”

The shadows deepened, coalescing like smoke. A determine rose behind Alex like a ghastly silhouette, lengthy hair undulating like waves about its head, its arms like sharp claws reaching.

Reaching for her throat.

“Alex, behind you!”

She spun round, and in that very same movement the specter vanished, bursting into shards and scraps of shadow that light into the night time.


“Nothing’s there,” Alex mentioned.

But I might nonetheless sense her: Margery Lemont’s spirit had its talons dug deep in my coronary heart, my blood turned to poison in my veins.

I shook my head. “It was . . . She was there, I swear. She was right there.

How did the poem go?

And then the spirit, transferring from her place,

Touched there a shoulder, whispered in every ear, . . .

But nobody heeded her, or appeared to listen to.

“This is bullshit,” Alex declared. “No! Alex, don’t—”

Too late. She swept the planchette from the board and stabbed the incense out. “It’s not real, Felicity. Calm down.”

No. No, this was all spiraling uncontrolled. We needed to finish the séance correctly. Margery was nonetheless right here, lurking, the veil between our world and the shade world gone skinny and diaphanous at Samhain. It was solely too straightforward for her to shift into our sphere. I’d ready for this risk: a tiny bowl of floor anise and clove to be ignited over a charcoal briquette—sufficient to guard in opposition to the cruelest spirit, or so I’d been assured by the library’s copy of Profane Magick.

Alex scattered the spices throughout the ground, rendering them ineffective.

That was the second, I made a decision later, that set all the pieces in movement, the second the satan’s wheel started to show, my blood spilled on Margery’s cranium and Margery’s arms tangling in the threads of our fates. We’d cursed ourselves. I’m going to kill you, she’d made me say. And she was proper.

It had an absurd sense of inevitability about it. I stored fascinated about the séance the Dalloway Five had held, the one which was interrupted. About Flora, useless three days later. How every woman died in mysterious circumstances which couldn’t be defined, till lastly Margery herself was buried alive. It was nearly like no matter spirit they’d raised had cursed them—and wouldn’t relaxation till each a type of women was useless.

But on the time, I let Alex persuade me. Once the lights had been on, all of it appeared moderately ridiculous: The candles had guttered as a result of we’d left the window open, which additionally accounted for the chilliness. The determine I’d seen behind Alex was her shadow stretching and shifting in the candlelight. Everything had an inexpensive rationalization, and Alex was proper. The spooky environment, the old fashioned legends, Samhain: we’d let it get to us; that was all.

I didn’t inform her how I couldn’t cease dreaming about Margery after that night time, or how I slept with anise and clove underneath my pillow to maintain her away.

A few months later Alex was useless, and now . . . Now I can’t conceal from the reality.

Extract copyright © 2021 by Victoria Lee. Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

A Lesson in Vengeance might be launched August 3; pre-order a duplicate here.

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