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The Hexer from Salem 03

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.

The Author

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.

Witches of Salem

He was running for his life.

They were behind him. Though he couldn’t see or hear them, he could feel them closing in. Behind him, or maybe already in front of him, somewhere in the darkness blanketing the street like a black cloud. This was their territory and they knew every step, every hiding place and every shortcut. He had a bit of a head start but he was under no illusion. They initially took him for an idiot from the countryside, a farmer terrified by the sight of a knife, the thought of fighting back not even crossing his mind. But as soon as he knocked out the teeth of one, the other three knew not to make the same mistake …

Andrew stayed where he was, gave a quick look around and took a few short breaths. The cold air hurt his throat and there was a terrible taste in his mouth. His heart was pounding.

The street was empty. He had made it twenty steps before his pursuers recovered from their surprise and three of them continued the chase. The fourth was probably still hunched over, spitting his teeth out. Twenty steps were nothing. The area he had wandered into was one of the least known parts of London. More precisely, Andrew soberly thought, one of the parts better to avoid after sundown. Yet, he hadn’t listened, fool that he was.

If only the men had wanted his money! He’d have happily handed over the meager twenty-three pounds in his satchel. However, there was something to them. Something he could read in their faces when they first emerged from the darkness and surrounded him. Something that told him they wanted more. Sure, money, but not just that. These four were out for blood — exactly the type Dingman had warned him about: deranged people who’d thrash someone just to pass the time. Maybe even kill.

A low rumble penetrated his thoughts. It snapped him back to reality. Andrew spun around and stared into the darkness, squinting with suspicion. The street before him was empty, though he found it hard to believe. This was Britain’s largest city and home to more than a million people who usually filled the streets with light and life, even at night, to no end. Here was another London that rarely made itself known to outsiders.

Now he knew why.

Andrew pivoted, swallowed the bitter knot which had built up in his throat, and pressed on with slow, careful steps. He could see light somewhere ahead of him, but it was only a street lamp shining an island of bright, yellow light into an ominous sea of darkness. Safer parts of the city lay at least a mile further. Too far.

He could hear the soft rumble again. An icy chill pricked his back and a new, indiscernible fear arose in him. For a moment he almost wished for the shadows of his pursuers to emerge from around the corner. He kept going, then paused at an intersection, unsure of what to do next. Two steps in front of him a pile of over-filled trash cans, boxes and rain-soaked cartons blocked his way. To his left and right the empty street stretched into a black pit. Further ahead, a few streetlights flickered and in one building he saw — or, at least, thought he saw — light creeping out from closed shutters. Perhaps he could get help there.

Andrew hesitated. Then he ran onto the trash heap and tore a loose plank from the side of a carton. It was a pathetic weapon against three thugs’ switchblades, but better than nothing.

When he turned around, a man was standing there as though he’d risen from the ground.

It was one of the three thugs who had been chasing him, and he had learned from the fate of his companion. His switchblade was out like a menacing snake ready to strike. Andrew desperately tried to dodge the swing of the knife but couldn’t. The sharp blade tore through his vest and shirt, and cut open a long, bloody gash. Andrew cried out from the pain and shock, stumbled, and lost his balance on the slippery ground. As he tripped, he tried to twist to the side and hit back, but his attacker was too fast. The thug swiftly avoided Andrew’s swing, and snatched the plank from Andrew’s hand. Andrew was thrown backwards. His head hit against something hard and he felt himself losing consciousness.

The man was standing over him when he came to. The knife in his hand shimmered in the dull light of the streetlight. An evil smirk came over his face.

“You piece of filth,” he said, his voice trembling in fury. “Time to finish you off.”

Andrew tried to lift himself up but was forced back down.

“What … what do you want with me?” he asked.

The man laughed. “What do I want with you? Nothing. But I believe Freddy would like to have a few words.”

Andrew figured it was Freddy that had been spitting out teeth after Andrew hit him. Meanwhile, he was berating himself: Why hadn’t he just given up the satchel? Maybe they would have beaten him up and then left him.

Now they were going to kill him.

“I … I’ve got money,” he flustered. His tongue flitted nervously over his lips. He sought desperately for a way out but there was none and there was no way this man would let him get away again. Andrew didn’t doubt for a second the thug’s willingness to stick the blade in his ribs if he made a move.

“Money?” he asked, his eyes perking up in curiosity.

Andrew nodded and reached for his wallet in his breast pocket. The man grabbed it and rummaged through it. His wicked grin grew wider.

“What good is this?” he asked derisively.

“I … I have more,” Andrew stammered, the fear creeping into his throat. His heart felt like it would explode. “At the hotel …”

“Too late boy,” he said. “Freddy will be here soon and I think he’ll want something other than money. You …”

He didn’t finish the sentence.

A black, broad shouldered form appeared as if it had emerged from the ground. Something dark and heavy hissed through the air, hitting the street thug in the back of the head. He flopped forward with a stunned gasp. It happened so quickly, Andrew couldn’t fully grasp what he had seen.

A rough hand pulled him to his feet. “Quick,” the voice said. “We’ve got to get out of here before the others come.”

Confused, Andrew stumbled behind his rescuer. The man’s face was hidden by the brim of a hat pushed down very low over his forehead. The black clothing seemed to absorb what little light there was on the street. Andrew was able to get a sense of how strong the stranger was when he was pulled up.

A two horse carriage was waiting at the end of the street. The rescuer motioned to an open door while silently mounting the driver’s seat and reached for his whip. Andrew gripped the door with his trembling fingers and, with his remaining strength, pulled himself inside.

The carriage started off before the door was even fully closed.

 

“You’re sure you have the right address?” The driver’s voice implied a great deal more than the words he used. As I leaned forward and pulled aside the dingy curtain, I understood why he had given me a frown when I first gave him the address. “If this is the WESTMINSTER Guest House, then yes,” I answered slowly.

The driver nodded. He was a tall, burly fellow, who looked a little ridiculous in the black livery uniform, but he had a good face and kind eyes. I could tell a lot from eyes. The face could lie, but not the eyes. “This is it. You’re sure, sir, your friend lives here?”

“Is there perhaps another WESTMINSTER Guest House?” I asked uncertainly.

The driver shook his head. He pushed his top hat back and scratched his forehead in thought. “No,” he said. “There’s a hotel with the same name on the west side. Otherwise …” He shrugged his shoulders and grimaced, which said all I needed to know.

I tried but wasn’t really able to smile. I had already been at the Hotel WESTMINSTER for three days, immediately following my arrival to London. I even had a room there, not that I could really afford such an expensive and lavish place.

Unfortunately, Howard, the elusive Howard my father had sent me to, was not to be found at the Hotel Westminster. In the last three days I had done little else than try to find him.

To find a man whom I knew only by the presumably fake name of Howard, in a city of a million inhabitants bordered on insanity. I was on the verge of giving up when a helpful bobby informed me of a guest house going by the same name.

There the similarities ended. The guest house was at the end of a street that was rundown even by the standards of the New York slums which I had left not half a year ago. Barely a quarter of the two-dozen streetlights adorning the cobblestone street worked, and what they did manage to illuminate would have been better left in the darkness. Waste and refuse were strewn everywhere, and the dark outlines of overflowing trash cans stood out against the buildings’ broken brick facades. What few windows I could see were shuttered or boarded up. Now and again you could hear squeaks and the tapping of tiny, hard claws. Rats. They were the only living things in this area after dark. The stench even seeped into the coach, and we had only just arrived.

The guest house itself was only distinguished by a poorly handmade sign and a dim gas lamp with a cracked shade above the door. Even the windows were shut, with only a bit of light seeping through the cracks between the shutters.

“Would you wait here a moment?” I said, opening the coach door and stepping out. “If I’m not back in ten minutes, you can leave.” I reached into my vest withdrew a five-pound note and handed it to the driver. To my surprise, he shook his head at it.

“Sorry, sir,” he said. “It costs just a pound and, as soon as you go in there,” — he pointed to the boarding house — “me and old Beth here will be on our way. We aren’t tired of living yet, you know?”

I let out a disappointed sigh, but didn’t try convincing him further. Instead, I handed him the pound and turned quickly to the boarding house. I couldn’t blame him for wanting to leave. Three other drivers before him had refused to take me here.

I nervously gripped the walking stick under my coat. I had a feeling I wasn’t alone– and I’d enough experience in such places to know when I was being watched.

My hands trembled slightly as I knocked. The knocking sounded hollow, I could hear a door opening somewhere inside and steps coming toward me. I glanced back to motion to the driver to stay. He nodded and began to play nervously with his whip. Shadows were moving on the other side of the street.

The door unlocked with a clatter but opened just a crack, stopped by a chain. A pair of sleepy and suspicious eyes looked through. “What you want?”

It wasn’t a very friendly greeting, but I bit back a rude retort and instead took a polite half step back and gave a short bow. “Good evening, sir.” I said gracefully. “I’m looking for a guest of yours, if you’d be so kind …”

“I’m not,” he interrupted. “You know how late it is?”

“A little after midnight,” I said automatically. “But my business is important.”

He sighed, rolled his eyes, and tried to shut the door. However, I had stuck my foot inside and the taut chain kept him from opening the door further so he could step out and rough me up.

“Fine,” he mumbled. “Whom do you want to talk to?”

“With Howard,” I said. “One of your guests. Perhaps you could …”

“Howard?” he answered. “There’s no Howard here. Never has been.”

That was a lie. I knew it as soon as the words left his mouth. I always knew when someone was lying.

“We both know that isn’t true,” I said. “Why don’t you save us the trouble and call him down?”

His face twitched. In the poor lighting I couldn’t make out his expression very well, but what I could see I didn’t like. It must have been a good half-minute of him looking me up and down, but I didn’t give him time to find another excuse.

“I really don’t want to trouble you, sir,” I said, still polite but with a sharper tone in my voice. “Mr. Howard and I are good friends, no matter that he doesn’t know me yet. Of course, I could get back into my coach and return in a half hour with the police, if you prefer.”

A shot in the dark, but it worked. He reacted with a hint of fear and now looked at me with a mix of new-found respect and murderous intent. He pursed his lips. “Ok, Mister Clever,” he growled. “Get your foot out of the door. I’ll open it.”

My eyes trained on him, I nodded and stepped back. The door closed hard and I heard the chain rattle. The door swung open again revealing a corridor lit only by a single, low-burning candle. I was startled by how large and broad he was — a hand’s width shorter than I but twice as wide, and all muscle. He appeared groggy — I had apparently awoken him from a very deep sleep — and his jowls and the puffiness below his eyes gave him the look of an agitated bulldog. Had I gotten a good look at him in the first place, I probably wouldn’t have been so bold.

But, then, he likely wouldn’t have let me in.

I moved swiftly past him into the hallway, turning only to wave to the coach driver. He acknowledged me with a tip of his hat, cracked his whip, and was off.

The man watched the carriage go until it was out of sight, shaking his head as he shut the door behind him. “That wasn’t so smart,” he said. “Letting your ride leave.”

I was unsettled as much by what he said as how he looked at me while he said it. There was something threatening about his demeanor.

I tried to return his glare but didn’t really succeed. “Why?” I asked.

“Because I don’t think H.P. will receive you.”

“H.P.?”

“Howard,” he grumbled. “If you’re coming in the middle of the night to talk to him, you should at least know his name, don’t you think?” A look of distrust came over him. “What do you want with him?&

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