The Witch in the Well is a dark Norwegian thriller from Camilla Bruce, author of You Let Me In.
When two former friends reunite after decades apart, their grudges, flawed ambitions, and shared obsession swirl into an all-too-real echo of a terrible town legend.
Centuries ago, beautiful young Ilsbeth Clark was accused of witchcraft after several children disappeared. Her acquittal did nothing to stop her fellow townsfolk from drowning her in the well where the missing children were last seen.
When author and social media influencer Elena returns to the summer paradise of her youth to get her family’s manor house ready to sell, the last thing she expected was connecting with—and feeling inspired to write about—Ilsbeth’s infamous spirit. The very historical figure that her ex-childhood friend, Cathy, has been diligently researching and writing about for years.
What begins as a fiercely competitive sense of ownership over Ilsbeth and her story soon turns both women’s worlds into something more haunted and dangerous than they could ever imagine.
Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce, on sale 10/4/22.
I remember it all so vividly, as if it were only yesterday. I just have to close my eyes and I’m there again, watching it all happen.
We have come out to the well at dusk; the bleak light, filtered through the treetops, paints branches on Cathy’s skin. It makes her look unfamiliar all of a sudden, like an alien creature—a wild thing.
“I promise you want to see this. Just be patient, Elena.” She looks back at me with her face half-draped in shadows.
“Cathy.” I know that I whine but I can’t help it. I would rather be back at the castle, writing in our diaries, or even playing stupid board games with Erica. What I absolutely don’t want is to be out in the woods as the sun sets, draping everything in twilight colors. We are both wearing shorts, and the air is turning chilly. I have two mosquito bites on my calf that itch, and my fingers smell sickly sweet from raspberry lemonade. I ought to take a shower. It’s been a musty day.
Cathy turns back to me so abruptly that her long, dark braid dances down her back. “Well, it’s you who always complains that everything is boring,” she says. “But this is not! Trust me!”
I roll my eyes when her gaze is turned back on the well. I’m not sure if what Cathy considers exciting is the same thing that I consider exciting, which is why it’s usually my games we play, even if Cathy is the one who actually lives in these woods. She’s just not usually very inventive. When she stops by the well, an ancient-looking ring of stone, and grabs my hand in hers, I shudder. I look around at the dimly lit woods, and wonder what I’m supposed to see.
“There’s nothing here, Cathy,” I say. Her hand is as sticky as mine is. “What am I even looking for?”
She gives me a look brimming with disappointment, begging me to give her a chance. “I told you, we have to be quiet,” she half whispers and squeezes my hand. “We just have to look at the trees on the other side of the well. Just there, between the spruces. You can’t take your eyes away from that spot; just stare at it until it happens.”
“What happens?” I try to take a step forth, to examine the trees, but Cathy holds me back.
“You have to look across the well or it won’t work.” She sounds impatient.
“What won’t work?” I can’t help but smirk.
“Oh, will you just wait?” She gives me another scolding look. “I went to the lake with you even if I didn’t want to, and I had a great time. You will too if you just do as I say. Don’t you want to see something wonderful?”
“Sure,” I indulge her and roll my eyes again. Cathy’s stories are rarely fantastic, but this one was—enough so that I wanted to come, but now that we are at the well, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to see something that’s actually there, or something we just make up. I’m unsure what kind of game this is. I stare at the darkness between the heavy spruces until my eyes water, and the rank smell of the well makes me twitch my nose. I want to ask Cathy why we have to look across the well, but she has narrowed her eyes and is breathing slow and deep, much like Mom does when she’s doing her meditation. I try to copy her, if only to have this done with. Then suddenly, Cathy squeezes my hand so hard that it hurts.
“Look,” her voice is a quiet hissing. “Look, Elena. I told you so!”
I focus my gaze and then I see it; there’s something solid between the trunks. It looks like a large heap of stones, covered by moss and lichen. At first I think it’s mist that swirls around it in fine, pale gray tendrils, but then I can tell that it’s smoke, oozing out from the stone pile’s top. I can’t smell it, though; there’s no scent of burning.
Then I see the door.
It is small and rectangular, made of wood that looks old and water damaged. Dark stains bleed from the bottom up. The boards are held together by twine, and the handle is made from wood as well. Around it grows some peculiar plants from between the stones; some are light and curly, others long and stringy. It looks like hair pushed into the cracks. On the ground before the door, something glows white in the poor light. At first, I think it is mushrooms. Then I think it is bones.
“Oh fuck,” I finally curse. “Oh fuck, Cathy. We have to get out of here!”
“No, no.” She grabs a hold of my arm to keep me there with her. “It’s not real, Elena. Don’t you see? If you squint your eyes, it’s gone again.”
I look across the well, but the small stone cabin is still there. The smoke still curls into the air. “Looks pretty real to me!” I try to wrestle my arm free but Cathy won’t let go. Her short fingernails dig into my skin and it hurts.
“Wait!” she begs. “Wait! Just wait until she comes out.” Her eyes are large and pleading, but I won’t have it.
“Cathy, we have to go!” I can’t believe that she’s just standing there, looking at that ugly little cabin as if unable to resist.
“Don’t you want to know who lives there?” She gives me a weird smile and looks all excited.
“No, I fucking don’t! Let me go!” Just as I am about to kick her in one of her bad legs, I finally manage to wrestle my arm free.
“Look,” Cathy says again, sounding breathless. “She comes out now.”
I dare a glance in the cabin’s direction, and keep my gaze there just long enough to see that the door is indeed being opened from the inside, scraping along the ground.
Then I bolt.
“Elena!” Cathy is hot on my heels, sounding normal again, pleading and unhappy. “It’s not dangerous!” she promises behind me. “She won’t hurt us!”
I’m in no mind to stick around and find out, though, and rush down the path toward the castle, with my heart pounding in my chest and my mouth flooding with a metallic taste—like well water.
“Fuck you, Cathy!” I yell, but only because I’m scared.
“Wait for me!” she calls, far behind me now. She can’t move very fast on the uneven ground. “I thought you’d like it.” She sounds unhappy. “I thought it was the sort of thing you liked.”
“Fuck you!” I cry again, loudly toward the sky, and it does help a little to curse at the moon. I come to a halt, panting and sweating, and angrily wipe tears from my eyes. I wait for Cathy to catch up, but mostly because I don’t want to be alone in these woods in the dark—not after what I’ve just seen.
She keeps rambling beside me as we continue down the path. “It’s not really there, you know, so it can’t hurt us—”
“Shut up,” I mutter. “Shut up!” I keep my gaze glued to the dark ground before me, just so I won’t have to look at her. My arm still hurts where her fingernails bore into my skin.
“Please, Elena, don’t be angry,” she pleads, but of course I’m utterly furious, and remain so until the brilliant glow from the castle windows penetrates the dark night before us.
Perhaps it never truly subsides.
When I ask Cathy about it later, she says that it never happened.
Copyright © 2022 from Camilla Bruce
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