Contents

  1. Cover
  2. What is The Hexer from Salem?
  3. The Author
  4. Title
  5. Copyright
  6. In the Beast’s Shadow
  7. Preview

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.

Wolfgang Hohlbein

Image

Episode 5: In the Beast’s Shadow

Translated by William Glucroft

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

In the beast’s shadow

As it so often is after a storm, the ocean was calm and unnaturally smooth. It was still, and even the wind, howling the whole night along the cliff-lined coast, and the waves, bursting into white spray against the craggy rocks, had faded to nothing by sunrise. The only sounds to break the silence were the steps of three men, carefully approaching a gray-white marble cliff.

Bensen’s hands were bloody and sore when he reached the beach. Getting down to the sand hadn’t been particularly dangerous; Bensen had grown up climbing the cliffs on these shores, and the rocks here weren’t as sharp and steep as elsewhere. Even an amateur climber could master the way in a short time. It was the edges of the chalky cliffs that tore up his hands, and the salty residue with which the storm had coated the rocks burned terribly.

Waiting for the two others to catch up, Bensen wiped some of the blood away with his handkerchief. Norris was getting down without trouble; Mahoney was another story. Grimacing and trembling in fear, he stood on a narrow rock ledge seemingly unable to decide if he would wet himself or simply turn around.

“What are you waiting for, Floyd?” Bensen called out. “The rocks won’t turn to stairs for you. Let’s go!”

“I … damn it. I can’t!” Mahoney called back. “I’m afraid of heights, you know. I can’t come down.”

“Then jump!” Bensen yelled. “It’s not high. And it’s soft sand.”

“Jump?” Mahoney croaked. Even from where he was standing, Bensen could see him go pale. “Are you crazy? That’s twenty feet!”

Bensen grinned, taking a step away from the cliff to give Norris room, then turned with a shrug. Mahoney wouldn’t have even joined them had it been up to him. But Norris convinced him otherwise, and he was probably right. Floyd Mahoney was probably the biggest coward for a hundred miles, but also the best diver in Durness. They needed him.

Maybe.

Norris made a soft landing in the sand, got to his feet, and stared uncertainly at his hands, which were just as bloody and torn up as Bensen’s. Finally, he gazed out to the water. The wind was as quiet as ever and the tide had gone out, leaving thirty or forty feet of wet sand pounded by the waves from the night before.

A deep furrow in Norris’s brow made him look older and more serious than he was. “Nothing to see,” he mumbled.

Before answering, Bensen rummaged for a cigarette in his bag and lit a match with his cold hands. “Was it your idea or mine coming here?”

The furrow deepened. “Jesus, I know what I saw,” he said reluctantly. “It’s here.”

Bensen took a long drag, coughed a few times, then flicked the cigarette into the wet sand with a curse. The smoke left a bitter taste in his mouth and his breathing was labored and wheezing. It had been a harder journey than they’d expected. Norris watched with a frown but was careful to say nothing. They waited in silence until Mahoney finally made it down to them. His face was white and sweaty despite the cold.

“Any idea how we get out of here?” he asked.

Bensen grinned. “The same way we got down here, Floyd. We climb.”

Mahoney went even paler but didn’t respond, looking instead past the other two out towards the water. The waves were almost non-existent — even the surf was hushed — as if the ocean had used up all its strength.

“I don’t see a ship,” he said after awhile.

“It’s there,” Norris countered. “I saw it for sure. It had three or four masts. Broken in the middle but you could …”

Bensen rolled his eyes, interrupting him with a dismissive wave of the hand. “It’s fine, lad,” he said. “We believe you. Besides,” he added, after thinking a moment and in a new tone of voice, “this is definitely the place that crazy bloke described.” He sighed. “Let’s go.”

Norris quietly unbuckled his rucksack and helped Bensen with his, too. Only Mahoney stayed still.

“What?” Bensen asked. “Don’t want to?”

“Not in the least,” he answered with a shake of his head. “This whole thing doesn’t sit right, Lennard.” With pursed lips he let his rucksack slide off his shoulders and motioned to the sea. “The water is too calm. And it is really cold.”

“Normal enough for November,” Bensen retorted curtly. “What’s going on with you? Afraid of catching cold?” He laughed. “Phillips is paying each of us fifty pounds. You can put up with wet feet for that.”

“Has nothing to do with that,” Mahoney mumbled. “I …” He cut himself off, taking a deep breath and shaking his head. “The whole thing just doesn’t sit right is all.”

Norris wanted to say something more but Bensen gave him a mollifying look. He knew best how to handle Mahoney. “Me neither,” he said, so gently it took Mahoney by surprise. “I’d much prefer a boat and proper equipment, but there’s no time for that. This Phillips would move heaven and earth to be the first to know the ship is here, but I want to explore the wreck before he can.”

Mahoney nodded, but it was barely noticeable. Bensen sensed he was beyond convincing. They’d already talked it over several times. There had hardly been another subject spoken of since the peculiar Mr. Phillips and his equally odd companions had come to the city and begun approaching people. They were searching for a ship, one that had sunk off the coast a good three months ago. There must be something quite valuable on board given their sense of urgency — and the amount of money they were offering to entice someone to help. Norris, Mahoney and Bensen were the only ones who’d agreed to try, but only Norris had been at the right place and the right time to see the storm reveal a bit of the ship.

“If it really is there, it doesn’t matter.” Mahoney muttered. “The water here is deep and the current is quite strong.”

“Try at least, Floyd,” Bensen interrupted. “Even if you can’t reach whatever is down there yourself, we can still cash in on the prize for finding it, no?”

Mahoney nodded reluctantly. Phillips had set the reward at 150 pounds for whoever found the ship — one man’s income for an entire year, Bensen thought. The wreck must really be hiding something valuable …

“Ok,” Mahoney said slowly. “I’ll try. But don’t think I’ll just go diving straight down. I’ll swim out and look around and that’s it. I may be stupid but I don’t have a death wish.”

“And no one’s expecting that,” Norris added. “When we know it’s there, we’ll get ourselves a boat and the proper equipment. Then we’ll explore it further.”

Mahoney considered this with an indecipherable expression on his face and, grimacing, began to undress awkwardly. Bensen and Norris did too, stuffing their clothing into the rucksacks they’d brought. Soon after, the three were freezing, naked, and standing at the water’s edge. The water’s icy chill bit at them. Bensen shivered. He was suddenly wondering if it was a good idea to do this on their own, after all.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Norris said suddenly. Bensen, frustrated but keeping quiet, looked to where Norris was pointing. Black, threatening clouds were gathering on the horizon. Nothing unusual for November, probably harmless, Bensen thought. Though, it could just as well be the formation of a storm. He thought, with a shudder, of the storm that had pounded the coast the night before. If another one came while they were still in the water or on the beach …

He pushed those thoughts away, helping Mahoney tie the rope around his waist and secure the knot.

The water was freezing. Bensen felt his legs go numb as he proceeded deeper into the water. Meanwhile, a gray mist rose from the surface of the sea and, just to make everything that much harder, the wind picked up again, throwing cold, salty water into their faces.

Norris and Bensen stopped when the water reached their waists while Mahoney steadfastly continued on. Bensen fed the rope, watching Mahoney as the water came up to his chest, then his shoulders, then his neck. Mahoney stopped suddenly and turned back towards them.

“Hold the rope tight,” he said. “If I give the signal, then pull me out. Understand?”

“Got it!” Bensen yelled back. He held the rope tighter and pulled until he could feel resistance. The current in these parts was infamous. Even a skilled swimmer like Mahoney couldn’t risk going in unsecured.

Mahoney turned again, took a few deep breaths, and dove in. Bensen started feeding rope carefully through his fingers, not stopping until Mahoney had reached the reef that lay a few hundred feet off the coast, below the deceptively smooth water. It felt like ages until his head emerged to take in more air, and then he dove again.

Bensen looked at the sky with growing concern. The storm clouds weren’t any closer, but he knew just how unpredictable the weather was in these parts. What, at one minute, seemed like a far-off autumn storm could quickly explode into a hurricane, turning the water into a wicked cauldron.

The taut rope pulled him back into the moment. He looked at Norris with alarm and quickly gripped the rope tighter.

Mahoney surfaced again, waved his arms, and took a few heaving breaths. His lips were blue. “It’s here!” he called. “Almost directly under me.”

“You sure?” Bensen yelled back.

“Yes!” He voice was jittery, as much from excitement as the cold. “I can see it clearly. It’s lying on its side. The railing is just six feet under. Give me some more slack. I’m going under again!” He disappeared below before either of the other two could say anything.

He stayed under longer this time, maybe two minutes, Bensen estimated. The rope snaked through his hands and a few times he thought he saw a shadow below the surface. He couldn’t be sure.

Just as Bensen really began to worry, Mahoney popped up. “It’s here,” he called out. “But there’s something else, Lennard. I …”

A fountain of gray-white spray shot up from behind him, drowning out his frightened cry. The rope vibrated in Bensen’s hands. Mahoney slipped under the water again so quickly as if he’d been dragged.

He appeared a second later, choking, and threw himself onto his back. His screams rang out across the water, “Get me out! For God’s sake, pull me!” His face was awash with terror. Bensen watched as Mahoney opened his mouth to let out another cry but then something hit the rope and yanked it down. Mahoney disappeared again, leaving behind just a spray of water.

Bensen pulled on the rope with everything he had while Norris held onto to the other end. Yet more and more of it was pulled out to sea. Bensen planted his feet and tensed his muscles but the soft seabed gave him no footing. He stumbled, falling forward, getting dragged ever further into the water. Norris was screaming next to him, but it hardly registered with him.

The water began to boil where Mahoney was last seen. Foam was forming on the surface and suddenly Mahoney’s hand appeared, clawing at the air, seeking desperately to grab hold of something. A green and shapeless form clutched at him, wrapped a thin tentacle around his wrist, and jerked his arm brutally under the water.

The sight of this gave Bensen renewed strength. Desperately, he threw himself back, pulling and struggling against the rope with all his strength. “Pull, Fred!” he gasped. “Goddamn it, pull him out. It must be an octopus or something!”

It was a bizarre, surreal struggle. Bensen couldn’t say how long it lasted. Maybe seconds, maybe an hour. The sea boiled and foamed. Mahoney’s head appeared a few times, wrapped in something large and green, something that groped for his eyes and mouth with slimy tentacles. Bensen’s hands suffered yet more lacerations and began bleeding again, but he took no notice as he strained against the deathly force on the other end of the rope.