- What is The Hexer from Salem?
- The Author
- When the Master Died
- Part II
- Part III
- Part IV
What is The Hexer from Salem?
The Hexer from Salem, a novel series in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft, was created and written almost entirely by Wolfgang Hohlbein. The epic began in 1984 in a pulp-fiction series: Ghost-Thrillers from Bastei Publishing and later as a stand-alone series under The Hexer from Salem, before it finally became available in paperback and collectors editions.
The story takes place primarily in nineteenth century London, following the chilling adventures of The Hexer, Robert Craven and, later on, his son as they encounter the Great Aged — godlike creatures hostile to humans — and their representatives on earth.
Wolfgang Hohlbein is a phenomenon: With more than 200 books selling over 40 million copies worldwide, he is one of Germany’s most prolific fantasy writers. Hohlbein is well-known for his young adult books and above all his novel series, The Hexer from Salem.
When the Master Died
The sea was as smooth as a mirror. Fog had come in during the last hours, changing the grayness from billowing clouds to a heavy mass, flowing sluggishly like smoke over the water’s surface, which became ever smoother as the fog thickened. The waves flattened out and the dull, rhythmic clapping that had accompanied the thirty-four-day journey of The Lady of the Mist like a monotone choir, grew quieter until it subsided completely.
The ship now lingered in place. The large, patched-up sails hung limply from their yards, the masts and rigging collecting moisture, which ran in sparkly streaks to the ground. An uncanny quiet accompanied the fog that was creeping across the water and enveloping the sleek, four-masted ship. It was a quiet that tugged at the nerves and gave off a sense of something other — a feeling, I know it sounds crazy but that is exactly what I sensed at the time. The mist was carrying something foreign and hostile that had now crawled aboard The Lady of the Mist with invisible spider legs, embedding itself into our thoughts and spirits.
The mist reached around the whole ship, shrouding it. Anything more than ten or twelve steps away became blurry and distorted, as if it wasn’t real but just a vision from a dream. The creaks and groans of the wood became muffled while voices of the crew drifted up to the deck as if through a thick, invisible veil. One side of the aft deck was a tiny, isolated island in a vast ocean of gray and dense silence.
And it was cold.
We had set sail on June 19, 1883, from New York. It was maybe the twenty-fourth now, if I hadn’t lost track somewhere on the Atlantic. High summer, I would have thought, though my hands tingled in the cold, and my breath formed thin clouds of water vapor when I spoke.
“Why not go into the cabin, Mr. Craven?” The Captain’s voice distantly pervaded my thoughts. I had trouble recognizing it as a human voice and reacting to it in kind.
“It’s bloody cold out here,” Captain Bannermann added, as I finally turned to look at him. In his thick, black coat and knit cap, which he wore in place of his captain’s cap, he looked like a friendly penguin. He was an improbable ship’s captain: a short-legged, easygoing, always-smiling man, far too gentle and forgiving to be in command of a ship. I had never spoken with him about it but I had the strong feeling that it was more by chance that he came to this post, and he wasn’t too happy about it.
“I’d rather stay here,” I answered after awhile. “This mist worries me. Are you sure we’re still on course or won’t run into a reef?”
Bannermann laughed, which was muffled by the thick wool scarf he had wrapped around his face. Still, it seemed like a good-natured laugh. He and his lot were seafarers whereas Montague and I couldn’t tell the difference between bow and stern. I had been at Bannermann’s side for most of the journey, and it was probably getting on his nerves, but he gave me no trouble, not at least from what I could tell.
“We’re nearly thirty nautical miles from the shore,” he answered. “I’m also not pleased with this mist but it’s not dangerous. Just annoying.” He sighed, moved past me to the railing and stared with narrow eyes into the growing gray clouds. “Extremely annoying but nothing more.”
I said nothing. I could have asked a thousand questions but I figured he wouldn’t answer them, so I just moved silently next to him and also stared out to the sea, to the north, in the direction of our destination.
There was something disturbing about this mist; if you looked at it long enough, you could start to make out shapes: bizarre faces and distorted bodies, hands without contours that seemed to want to grab hold of the ship. Without the mist, The Lady of the Mist would have reached London sometime the next day. Now we might spend another night at sea — or more if the mist didn’t dissipate.
I was careful, though, not to express these thoughts. Bannermann would have probably thought I was mad.
“Really, Mr. Craven,” the Captain continued, his gaze still fixed on the gray beyond. “You really should go below deck. You can’t do anything here except catch a nasty cold.” He was quiet for a moment and then carried on, but in a quieter and noticeably different tone. “And it would please me if someone were with Mr. Montague.” A deep wrinkle emerged between his bushy, gray eyebrows. “How is he today?”
I didn’t answer immediately. Montague had been sleeping when I left him before daybreak, nearly four hours ago. He slept a lot, and although his condition hadn’t improved, he seemed surprisingly clear and sharp-minded in those few hours he was awake and could talk with me or Bannermann. There was something strange about that man.
“Unchanged,” I finally responded. “The fever hasn’t gone up, but nor has it gone down. It’s getting to that time when we need to get him to a real doctor.”
Bannermann nodded. “I’ll raise all the sails just as soon as this bloody mist is gone. In twenty-four hours we’ll be in London and an hour later, he’ll be in a clinic.” His smile revealed an optimism neither of us truly felt.
“You’ll see,” he added. “He’ll be back on his feet within a week.” He smiled again, made a quick turn and cupped his hands in front of his mouth so his orders would carry across the deck. Two sailors high above on the rigging responded by crawling back and forth. I didn’t know what they were doing and it didn’t interest me. The Lady of the Mist was the first ship I had ever stepped foot on, and would probably be the last. I never liked ships or the sea, the vastness and loneliness scared me. Sure, I was three thousand miles from home, which meant the only possibility of getting back there was also by ship. However, I wasn’t so sure I would go back to America at all.
I pushed back those thoughts, still watching Bannermann as he shuffled his sailors around the deck before turning back to me. The cold became ever more unpleasant, and I could feel a certain scratch in my throat. Bannermann was absolutely right, I’d only get sick out here. Fortunately, the cabin was heated and strong grog would take care of the rest.
The worn, wooden steps creaked under my weight as I made my way down the short stairwell to the main deck. The sound was strangely muffled, and again I sensed that peculiar quiet that had enveloped the ship. I stayed there, greeted a passing sailor with an awkward nod, and once again stepped up to the railing.
The sea had disappeared. The ship’s crusty hull a meter-and-a-half beneath me seemed to vanish into a gray mass and an odd, but not entirely unpleasant odor wafted up from the water’s surface. Not the saltiness of the ocean, which I no longer noticed after thirty-four days at sea, but something else that was completely foreign. I leaned my hands on the railing, bent forward and tried to catch just a glimpse of the water. But the mist was too thick. Absurd. The ship was called “The Lady of the Mist” but at this moment it was more like a prisoner of the mist.
As I turned, I thought I sensed movement — a short, sudden twitch — as if something from the gray mass was reaching out, something green, glittering and covered in tiny, shiny scales. I stared into the void. From one second to the next my heart began to pound so hard I broke into a sweat despite the cold. The apparition passed so quickly I couldn’t be sure whether I really saw something or if my wracked nerves were playing tricks on me. Whatever the case, in that moment, I felt a fear that I had never experienced before.
My hands were still trembling when I opened the lower aft door to my cabin. The cabin was dark and narrow. It reeked just as a windowless room far too small for two people would, especially when one of those two has been lying there sick for five weeks. A small, sooty kerosene lamp hung from a wire under the ceiling and Bannermann, being thoughtful, had placed a small pot of fragrant herbs, he’d got from God knows where, on the shelf next to the door. Despite this, the stale stench, which by now seeped from the walls, couldn’t be masked completely. It was becoming difficult to breathe properly in here.
Whenever I had these thoughts, I felt guilty. Montague couldn’t help the fact that he was sick, and he had been very good to me, even though I didn’t really deserve it.
Quietly, I stepped up to the narrow bed screwed onto the wall and looked him over. Nothing had changed, neither for the better nor for worse. His cheeks where as gray and sunken as ever and days of fever had created deep, black rings under his gloomy eyes. He fascinated me now as much as the first time I saw him.
I remember that day well, every minute, every word, and even every look that first time we met, although it was already six months ago, and so much has happened since. I was someone else then. Bannermann and his crew wouldn’t recognize that man if he were suddenly next to me now. I was twenty-four, poor, and ready for adventure (which means nothing more than the fact that I had lived in prisons four of the eight years I had been in New York), and I got by on whatever work I could scrape up.
Anyone who knows New York’s harbor quarter knows what this means — mostly that, on occasion, I would part a clueless stranger who had wandered into the area after dark from their jewelry and money. Not that it was fun for me; I’m no criminal, and I abhor violence, but in that east coast metropolis it was easy to find yourself in a vicious cycle of survival. from which there was no escape.
Until I came to New York at sixteen, I hadn’t met another living soul beyond the ninety-six inhabitants of Walnut Falls, the backwater village where I was born and raised. The aunt who raised me was a fundamentally good woman with a big heart. Although not really my aunt, she took me in after my parents had abandoned me as an infant.