Jennifer McMahon

author of nine novels, including the New York Times bestsellers The Winter People and Promise Not to Tell

 

 

Hattie Breckenridge May 19, 1924


It had started when Hattie was a little girl.

She’d had a cloth-bodied doll with a porcelain head called Miss Fentwig. Miss Fentwig told her things—things that Hattie had no way of knowing, things that Hattie didn’t really want to hear. She felt it deep down inside her in the way that she’d felt things all her life.
Her gift.
Her curse.
One day, Miss Fentwig told her that Hattie’s father would be killed, struck by lightning, and that there was nothing Hattie could do. Hattie tried to warn her daddy and her mother. She told them just what Miss Fentwig had said. “Nonsense, child,” they said, and sent her to bed without supper for saying such terrible things.
Two weeks later, her daddy was dead. Struck by lightning while he was putting his horse in the barn.
Everyone started looking at Hattie funny after that. They took Miss Fentwig away from her, but Hattie, she kept hearing voices. The trees talked to her. Rocks and rivers and little shiny green beetles spoke to her. They told her what was to come.
You have a gift, the voices told her.
But Hattie, she didn’t see it that way. Not at first. Not until she learned to control it.
Now, today, the voices cried out a warning.
First, it was the whisper of the reeds and cattails that grew down at the west end of the bog—a sound others would hear only as dry stalks rubbing together in the wind, but to her they formed a chorus of voices, pleading and desperate: They’re coming for you, run!
It wasn’t just the plants who spoke. The crows cawed out an urgent, hoarse warning. The frogs at the edge of the bog bellowed at her: Hurry, hurry, hurry.

Off in the distance, dogs barked, howled: a pack of dogs, moving closer, coming for her.
And then there were footsteps, a single runner coming down the path. Hattie was in front of their house, an ax in her hands, splitting wood for the fire. Hattie loved splitting wood: to feel the force of the blows, hear the crack as the ax head hit the wood, splitting it right at the heart. Now she raised the ax defensively, waiting.

 
 

from The Invited by Jennifer McMahon. © 2019 by Jennifer McMahon. Reposted by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.