The Haunting of Eyam
My new novel – Freya’s Choice – is set in the charming, picturesque and seemingly tranquil small town of Abbey St. Francis. Chocolate box thatched cottages sit alongside a meandering river. Birds of every hue sing and chirrup. The world moves at a slower place in communities like this, doesn’t it?
Well, don’t you believe it! In my small town – hardly much more than a village really – strange things happen within some of those cottages. Unnatural, spooky things. The river transforms into a raging torrent when it feels like it. A massive bird takes to the air and a new resident has moved in. One that will change everything for this peaceful little backwater.
In England there are many places like Abbey St Francis. And some of them are well haunted. Scarily well in some cases. Many of them hide deadly secrets. Oh yes, a lot can – and does – go on in the heart of rural England…
If you visit the pretty village of Eyam in Derbyshire, today, you’ll find a thriving community. You’ll also quickly find yourself immersed in an incredible tale of self-sacrifice and human decency, at a time when you might least expect it. For Eyam’s is an open secret. Back in 1665,it was a plague village, but one that did everything within its power to contain the scourge and prevent it spreading outside its boundaries.
And it all began with a parcel of cloth.
A tailor in the village received a parcel of cloth from a London supplier. Unfortunately the cloth contained fleas, carrying the deadly plague. Within a week of receiving his merechandise, the tailor was dead. By the end of September, five more people died and then, in October, twenty villagers died.
By now, fear was running wild in the village. People wanted to leave and go to the city, because to stay would surely be to die. But to leave would also mean they would carry the disease with them and cause a further epidemic somewhere else. They were faced with an impossible dilemma but, with amazing resolve, the villagers took the decision to quarantine their village and stay where they were.
Now they were dependent on people living outside the village to bring them food and other vital supplies. And those people, grateful for being spared the villagers’ fate, rose to the occasion. The boundary of Eyam was marked by stones and the provisions would be left there. In return, the villagers would leave money for these, in water troughs filled with vinegar in an attempt to sterilise the coins.
Sadly, the inevitable tragedy played out. Within 18 months, 273 people living in Eyam had died of the plague. There were just 83 survivors out of the population.
It’s not hard to imagine the suffering, torment and agony these villagers endured. How many times must mothers have wanted to protect children and get them out to safety? How many fathers had to watch, helpless, as their wives and children died in their arms? Yet the villagers stood firm.
They did leave behind some restless and unhappy spirits though.
The Miner’s Arms pub is one of the most haunted buildings in the village with numerous reports of footsteps and strange things happening in the bedrooms, frightening some guests out of their beds and off the premises in the middle of the night.
The Plague Cottages, understandably, house many ghosts unable or unwilling to leave their homes. One such haunting features a pleasant looking woman in a blue smock who is reported to wake people up at night.
Then there is Eyam Hall – built between 1671 and 1676 on the site of a smaller, older house, part of which is built into the existing Hall. The owners – the Wright family – employed a young servant called Sarah Mills. She drowned in the well and haunts the premises, as does an old man, whose haunting of an upstairs room became so frequent, it has now been permanently shut up.
Today’s villagers are proud of their heritage and have learned to live with their ghosts. So much so, that they conduct daily ghost tours of the village.
Freya’s Choice is published by Amber Quill Press. Here’s the blurb:
Nothing much happens in Abbey St. Francis, but Freya’s about to change all that...
Eve Lawson is no stranger to heartbreak. Three years ago, the man of her dreams betrayed her and left her unwilling to trust anyone ever again. So when gorgeous hunky farmer, Mark Latimer, starts to take more than a casual interest in her, she is cautious and nervous of committing either her mind or her body to him. But the attraction is there, and it’s growing. All Eve needs is just a little more time.
Abbey St. Francis—a sleepy, pretty village where nothing much happens and traditional values are held true—has been Eve’s home all her life. No one suspects that the beautiful young woman who has just moved into West Lodge is anything other than a wealthy and generous benefactor. But Freya Nordstrom is not what she appears to be.
Then the mysterious stranger takes more than a passing interest in Mark, and Eve knows she has a battle on her hands. But never in her wildest dreams could Eve have imagined the nature of the forces stacked against her...
And here’s a short extract:
...A loud flapping startled me. I looked up and couldn’t believe what I saw. The most massive bird I had ever seen flew past me and hovered, silhouetted against the moon. Then it flew directly toward West Lodge. I glanced back down at the cats. Their ears twitched, but nothing more. I searched the sky for the giant bird again, but it had disappeared. Could I have imagined it? Surely not. I certainly wasn’t imagining those cats or the malevolence in their eyes.
My knees buckled from my unaccustomed crouching position, but I was scared to make any rapid movement, and Freya’s cats continued to stare at me. Their eyes narrowed, as if at any moment they would pounce and tear me to shreds. But their hackles didn’t rise, they didn’t arch their backs, spit or make any of the warning gestures cats employ to let you know they’re about to strike. They just sat there, like statues. Waiting.
My knees ached and I had no choice or I would simply keel over. Slowly, I rose to my feet, wobbling with the effort, while I kept my eyes on the animals.
Their gaze traveled upward with my movement. A chill wound itself around my spine, spiraling the length of it, and I shivered.
Then, as if receiving some signal I couldn’t hear, they blinked in unison and turned away. They slunk down my path before jumping over the wall and out of sight. I continued to watch and, in the light of the streetlamp at the bottom of Freya’s drive, saw them emerge and pad slowly up her long drive. They matched each other step for step, their tails held high.
Then I saw a tall figure striding down Freya’s drive toward me. He passed the cats, apparently without acknowledging their presence. Too dark and far away to make out his features, my heart still lurched.
Mark. I could see the familiar long hair fanning his shoulders, the white shirt and dark pants. Tears pricked my eyes. At that moment, I wished with all my heart I hadn’t seen him. It couldn’t be happening again. Surely he wouldn’t betray me as John had. After all he’d said to me. And I’d believed every word.
So Freya had been telling the truth. Somewhere along the line she’d made his acquaintance, and now I knew why he hadn’t answered his phone. He’d been with her.
I told myself to calm down. There could be a hundred innocent explanations for his visit. But unless I asked him, I wouldn’t know. I hurried down my path and opened the gate.
“Mark! Hi!” I hoped I sounded nonchalant, but a note of desperation had crept into my voice.
He reached the end of her drive and turned left. He was directly opposite me now, in shadows, on the other side of the lane. Any second and he would cross over.
He must have heard me, but not a flicker. He never broke his stride. Just carried on walking, farther down the lane, away from me, while I stood and watched him, my insides turning to mush in dismayed disbelief...
You can buy Freya’s Choice here:
Antonia van Zandt has been writing since someone stuck a pencil in her hand at the age of around five. Sick of finding their wallpaper covered in scribbles, her parents relented and bought her an exercise book. This was the beginning of a trend. At the age of nine she progressed to her first typewriter, and can now spend hours happily tapping away at her keyboard while all around her descends into chaos. She has recently made the transition from writing erotica to paranormal adventure, with some pretty heavyweight Norse gods thrown in for good measure. She adores cats, fine wine and dramatic scenery. ‘Freya’s Choice’ is her first novel for Amber Quill.
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