It was a small town. It was supposed to be safe.
But behind the white picket fences in New England’s quaint Cornwall Combe, outsiders find a town consumed by “old ways” – ancient fertility rituals – led by a powerful woman known as The Widow. At the heart of each year’s corn harvest is a secret ceremony dubbed Harvest Home, which locals describe as “What no man may know nor woman tell.” So what happens when a man stumbles onto this mysterious, blood-fueled rite?
You don’t want to know.
Read on for an excerpt of Harvest Home, and then download the book.
I should have realized what it was to be, yet until it actually began, I did not. Had I known, nothing could have kept me where I had hidden myself.
But even this part was for a time delayed, while the dancing began anew—another kind of dance, a brutal, fierce expression of emotion. Justin was brought to a standing position, and the red mantle taken from his shoulders, to be folded by numerous hands and passed from sight. Now he stood before them in god-like glory, his body covered only by a short tunic extending from neck to thigh and made of strips of corn leaves, and I could see his glistening flesh through the spaces between the strips. Again he took the proffered cup into his hands, fingers spread around the curve of metal; I watched his Adam’s apple rise and fall as the liquid slid down his throat. He returned the cup, staggering slightly, pulled himself erect, and stood, spread-legged, waiting.
Everyone was waiting. And then I saw what was to come. There was one figure in the ceremony I had momentarily forgotten: the Corn Maiden. Until now she had sat by, accepting the cup as it was handed her, bending forward in rapt attention as the Widow spoke. Now her outer robe was taken from her and she was brought forward, moving across the trampled grass with a slow, undulating walk, an aggressive sexuality revealed in her movement, the embroidered veil hanging to her waist, the rest of her body covered to the thighs in the same sort of corn-leaf tunic that Justin wore. While she gazed at him through her veil, the women took hoes and dug at the turf, turning the soft ground. Little by little, the green of the grass disappeared and the sod was dug up, revealing the dark earth beneath. As they worked they sang, their faces flushed from the drink, their gestures feverish, as though anxious to accomplish their labor.
Among them walked the Widow, putting her hand to their hoes, each in turn, encouraging their endeavors, her white cap catching the light as she lifted her head and offered reverence to the Mother; and as she spoke, each word was taken up in turn by the women, so the singing became a liturgical incantation, picked up one by one, the next repeating it, and the next, and so it spread all across the tilled clearing, the Widow making gestures of transference from her mouth to theirs, offering them the words, they antiphonally returning them.
“We offer Thee, O Mother, Thy husband, as Thou hast given him to us, so we return him to Thee, into Thy keeping.”
“Thy keeping …”
“As Thou has provided him strength, take him in strength.”
“In strength …”
“For tonight he shall be gloried. They shall stand by his tomb and remember him. He shall not have been Justin Hooke, the corn farmer, but the Harvest Lord. He shall be immortal.”
“Take him to Your breast, great holiest of Mothers, this Your son, and succor him, receive him, forgive him. Blessed is he…”
“Blessed is he…”
And at length, as the old woman circled, giving to them the sounds, some of the women’s heads began to sway and their bodies followed where their heads led them and their joined hands parted while, their throats giving utterance to the sounds, they fell to the ground and tore up the grass and dug at the earth like animals, swine rooting, groveling, rolling upon one another, writhing in hysteria, with heaving breast and flailing limb, and the old woman stood above them, driving them, her fist metronomic against the moon, rising, lowering, giving them the tempo and the words. Nothing could stay them now, nothing still them. Wildly they flung themselves where they might, heedless of injury, unaware of reality, swept into hypnotic oblivion, their stomachs expanding, contracting, drinking air that they should rise and chant again, and again fall in frenzy.
And there were some who fell at the feet of the watching Harvest Lord, who had laid his cup aside and sat unmoving and upright, observing the secret rites as they swooned before him, permitting them to extend their quivering hands to touch him: piteous, tender hands, despairing hands; surely they must touch their last. Beloved Lord, O lively, warm male flesh, O magnificent Lord, we thank thee, the Mother thanks thee—
“O Mother…Magthyr…ldhu, ah, ldhu…”
Louder grew the cry, louder the chant, more serpentine their writhings as they yearned toward him, rushing from him to tear their hair, heads flung back, open-mouthed to shout unintelligible obscenities at the heaven that was to deprive them of their beloved.
Now it would be his death, the end of Justin Hooke. But no; still it was not yet. There was more for the living Justin, one thing more for him to do.
Want to keep reading? Download Harvest Home now.