The action of my new Southern gothic horror novel, The Devil Makes Three, kicks off on Indigenous People’s Day. And the book officially releases this week, October 14. So I thought now would be a good time to show off a sample chapter. xoxo Lucy
Serena had come home to Saxon County two years before because she’d had no choice. Once upon a time, she believed she would do great things, but the world taught her better. Now she just survived.
That Tuesday, she woke up at seven a.m. in the bed her late husband had slept in as a child. She ate toast and drank a smoothie while standing at the kitchen sink. Her mother-in-law fixed bacon and eggs for her father-in-law, and he sat at the table reading the morning paper. The three of them chatted, exchanging pleasantries and discussing the news of the day, nothing she could have remembered later if she’d thought to try. She told them she was leaving for work, and Claudine, her mother-in-law, told her to have a blessed day. She said she’d try and told them to do the same.
“You be careful, sugar,” her father-in-law, Henry, known as Rooster, called as she walked out the door.
As she got into her car, her eyes happened to fall on her keychain. It was a thick, clear plastic rectangle encasing a stylized portrait of an African goddess. Her late husband bought it for her at a gift shop in New Orleans on a long weekend away. “She looks like you,” he had said, and she had laughed.
The name of the goddess, Oshun, was printed in gold script across the portrait, a beautiful woman with an elaborate braided hairstyle who held a little round fan poised against her chin. Serena had looked up the name on the internet and read a few website articles about the Orisha, but she wasn’t really interested. She’d been raised Baptist and wasn’t in the market for any new gods. She was a historian, not a mythologist. She kept the keychain because it was a gift from Trey, and usually she didn’t notice it at all, any more than she noticed she had five fingers on each hand.
But that morning, she saw it. She stared at it, her mind wandering for several seconds. Mama, she thought, a word that rarely passed through her mind. Mama had one like this. Then she broke the trance and put the key in the ignition.
She pulled her car into the parking lot of the Briarwood Community Center half a minute behind Miz Rae, the branch librarian, just as God and Miz Rae intended she should. She helped her boss unload a monster-sized pumpkin from the trunk of her ancient Cadillac. They put it on the porch next to the library door. “Get that old scarecrow out of the storeroom,” Miz Rae said when they went inside. “And did you get those leaves?”
“Yes, ma’am, I did.” She put her mid-morning snack in the refrigerator and turned on her computer. She checked the book drop—a James Patterson hardback and three cowboy movie videos. Kirk Benson had been by.
She spent the rest of the morning decorating while Miz Rae sat at the front desk. She dusted off the scarecrow and stapled down a hank of his yarn hair that had gotten yanked loose the year before and fluffed his floppy felt hat to cover the spot. She put him on the porch beside the pumpkin. While she was out on the porch, she chatted about the weather and the relative dangers of trick-or-treating with a homeschool mom while Miz Rae dealt with the woman’s wild-ass children inside. She pasted colored paper leaves on the glass doors leading from the community center proper to the library, making swirls across the glass.
At noon, Miz Rae’s best friend, Miz Regina, turned up with lunch for the three of them—white Styrofoam plates from the Columbus Day hot dog and bake sale at the Briarwood Baptist Church with Styrofoam cups of sweet tea. Serena put up the “Be Back at 1:00” sign, locked the library doors, and joined the older ladies in the back office.
They ate at the work table in the back, and Miz Rae made Serena and Miz Regina laugh until they cried, talking about the people at the church. “You bad, Rae,” Miz Regina said, wiping her eyes with her paper napkin. “You know you so bad.”
“I’m just telling the truth,” Miz Rae said without cracking a smile, but Serena saw the twinkle in her eye.
At 12:45, Serena had just traded her little bag of barbecue potato chips for Miz Regina’s slice of lemon poundcake when the back door from the parking lot suddenly opened.
Tom Stewart, the director of the Saxon County Library, had let himself in with his key. “Afternoon, ladies,” he said. “Don’t let me disturb your lunch.”
“You can’t disturb us,” Miz Regina said. But of course, he could. He was a man, and he was White, and technically he was the boss. His arrival changed everything. Miz Rae grunted in a way he was welcome to interpret as pleasant.
Tom was nice enough; they all liked him fine. But he was the boss, even though Miz Rae had worked for the library for forty years. She had worked at the main branch in town when Tom and Serena had each gotten their first library cards. When the library board passed over her to give the director’s position to Tom and his graduate degree, they had opened this branch at the Briarwood Community Center and made Miz Rae branch manager as a way to smooth things over. Mostly it had worked. Tom acknowledged the branch as her special queendom, and Miz Rae didn’t make waves. But he knew, she knew, and Serena knew he would always be that White boy the board had given Miz Rae’s big job to.
“What are you doing working today, Tom?” Serena asked. “I thought county council decided to close down everything in town for the holiday.”
“Oh, we’re closed,” Tom said. “We don’t work hard like y’all do.” The Saxon County Council, all Republicans, had decided they were all aggrieved on behalf of Christopher Columbus and would make a big show of recognizing his holiday. Miz Rae thought that was foolishness. She kept the Briarwood branch open and put “Happy Indigenous People’s Day!” up on the big sign out front.
She also stayed open all day on Saturday instead of just the morning with the help of high school volunteers (Serena had Saturdays off), and she refused to allow public use computers. Tom left these issues to her best judgment, and they both slept better because of it. “Carol Ann Sweatt called me at home.”
“Oh lord,” Miz Rae said, immediately sympathetic. Carol Ann was a real estate agent and the chairwoman of the library board, a go-getter from Atlanta who thought the whole county belonged to her and her husband, the president of the bank. “What does she want now?”
“Y’all will never believe it,” Tom said. “She sold the Briarwood place.”
Both the older ladies cried out in shock. Miz Regina turned over her tea. “You can’t mean it,” she said, grabbing it up before the lid came off.
“The old Briarwood plantation?” Serena said. “I didn’t even know it was for sale.”
“It’s always been for sale,” Miz Rae said. “But didn’t nobody ever believe there’d be somebody fool enough to buy it.”
“I couldn’t believe it either, but that’s what she says,” Tom said. “Serena, you’ll never guess who she says bought it.”
“Who?” Serena said. Miz Regina wasn’t looking well, she noticed.
This time it was Serena who gasped. “You’re kidding!”
“Who is that?” Miz Regina asked Miz Rae.
“That writer who writes all those horrible books about monsters and demons and I don’t know what all ungodly mess,” Miz Rae said. Miz Rae’s own reading tended toward Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, and Agatha Christie, with the occasional biography thrown in. “You might know it’d be some kind of fool like that.”
“Carol Ann is supposed to be meeting him over at the Briarwood house this afternoon,” Tom said. “She wanted me to come and bring him copies of everything we had on the house and the murders.”
“You need to go out there and tell him he’s crazy,” Miz Regina said. “Don’t nobody need to try to stay in that house.”
“Is it really haunted?” Serena asked. She had moved away from Saxon County when she was seven years old. Her husband had been the real native, but she knew about the murders.
“Ain’t no such thing as haunted,” Miz Rae said, fixing Tom with a baleful glare that dared him to dispute her. Tom was a semi-professional paranormal investigator. Miz Rae was a Baptist.
“I don’t think the trust that owned it has ever let it be investigated,” Tom said. “Maybe if he buys it, McGinnas will.”
“That’s probably why he’s buying it.” Serena was a huge fan of Jacob McGinnas’s books. She’d been reading him faithfully since she was a teenager. “Maybe he’ll write a book about it.” She had liked his last two non-fiction books, but she yearned for a new novel.
“Carol Ann seems to think that’s the attraction,” Tom said. “I thought I remembered there being a whole file of stuff in the local history room at the main branch, but I couldn’t find it. So then I thought since this branch is closer to the actual site, it might have gotten moved out here.”
“I’ll go look,” Serena offered, getting up.
“I don’t think we’ve got anything,” Miz Rae said, also getting up. “You’re going to have to talk to Miss Creighton about that.”
Miss Florence Creighton was the former director of the library. She had held the post from the Monday after she graduated from the Winthrop Training College in 1922 until her forced retirement due to advanced dementia four years before. She was the one who hired Miz Rae in 1960, staring down a segregationist board with her watery blue eyes and daring them to tell her she couldn’t. When she was forced to retire, the present-day board had brought back Tom, who had worked at the main branch as the local history librarian for a year and a half before he went to grad school. Miss Creighton now lived in a rest home in the mountains and was, by all reports, withered as a raisin and entirely out of her mind.
“Let’s just look,” Tom said, giving Serena a glance. “You never know.”
But Miz Rae was pretty much right. All they found in the tiny walk-in utility closet that functioned as the archives for the branch was a single thin folder in the vertical file with a photocopy of a newspaper article Tom himself had written ten years ago when he’d been the local history librarian.
“This is good,” Serena said, reading through the first few paragraphs. “I didn’t realize you were such a good writer.”
“Yeah, well, that was back when I had time to practice.” He took the article from her. “I know there was more stuff, though. I used it to write this in the first place.”
“Maybe somebody borrowed it and forgot to bring it back.” Serena couldn’t stop herself wondering if Tom had neglected to put it back himself. He was a great guy but the classic absent-minded academic. His wife, Evie, swore they’d need a second house soon just for his books and papers. The missing file could be stuffed in a box in his attic with a bunch of comic books. “What are you going to tell Carol Ann?”
“That we’ll keep looking, I suppose.” He closed the file drawer. “Go to hell, if I could tell her what I want to tell her.”
Serena smiled. “Which you absolutely cannot.”
“Which I absolutely cannot.” He looked at his watch. “And I’ve got to go.”
“I’m sorry, Tom.” The door was open, and out in the library proper, she could see Miz Regina was still there, standing at the desk with Miz Rae. The two of them were huddled together like they were planning a heist. “Hey, can I come with you?”
He looked surprised but not unhappy. “Yeah, if you want.”
“I’ve always wanted to see that place.” Miz Rae was watching them, she realized. She pretended to be listening to her friend, but she was really watching over Miz Regina’s shoulder. “And you know what a big fan I am of Jacob McGinnas.”
“Come on and go, then,” Tom said, grinning. “I can use the help.”