Sunday, January 2, 2022

The Solstice Horror (Witchfinders, Book 2) by Cora Buhlert


Release date: December 21, 2021
Subgenre: Historical horror, Holiday horror 

About The Solstice Horror:


 Massachusetts in the Year of the Lord 1695: Apprentice witchfinder Matthew Goodson, and condemned witch Grace Pankhurst have been on the run from Matthew's former masters for months now.

Shortly before Christmas, Matthew and Grace find shelter with the Whitelaw family in the town of Cold Hollow. But the witchfinders are on their trail, so Matthew and Grace have to flee again on the day of the winter solstice.

Many dangers lurk in the dense woods of Massachusetts Bay Colony. But which is the greater threat, the witchfinders or the thing from beyond that dwells in the woods and hunts on the darkest nights of the year?

This is a historical holiday horror novelette of 11100 words or approximately 40 print pages by two-time Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert.




Winter had come to Massachusetts Bay Colony. The trees stood stark and silent, their branches bare, the last withered leaves desperately hanging on before finally fluttering to the frozen ground. Vicious storms battered the coast and snow blanketed the land.

It was the darkest and most terrifying time of the year, when none would step outside, unless they absolutely had to, and men swiftly went about their errands, hats pulled deep into their faces to shield them from the icy wind and swirling snow.

In this grim and icy land, the little town of Cold Hollow was an oasis of cheer with wooden houses wearing thick caps of snow and fires blazing in every hearth.

It was the day of the winter solstice in the Year of the Lord 1695, four days before Christmas and everybody in town was preparing for the holidays to come. Women and girls were baking and cooking in the kitchens, men and boys were decorating the houses with garlands and wreaths of holly and ivy and the younger children were having a snowball fight on the commons.

Matthew Goodson, eighteen years of age, watched the preparations with a mixture of bemusement and fascination. He was clad in the dark and sombre garb of the Puritan. Under his featherless hat, brown hair fell to his shoulders in gentle waves.

“Are you just gawking or are you going to help, lad?” called Nicholas Whitelaw from the top of a ladder he had climbed.

The Whitelaws, Nicholas, his wife Rebecca and their three children, has taken in Matthew and his companion Grace Pankhurst, giving them shelter in their flight across the colony. For Matthew and Grace were fugitives from justice. Grace had been condemned to death for witchcraft. She was guilty, too, after a fashion. Matthew had helped her to escape the gallows and now they were on the run, trying to stay ahead of the witchfinders who pursued them with the dogged persistence of bloodhounds that had sniffed prey.

The Whitelaws were good people, even though they were Anglicans rather than Puritans. Or at least Nicholas Whitelaw was, for his wife was something else altogether.

Matthew’s old mentors, Master Gideon and Master Caine, had said that Anglicans were almost as bad as Papists, but Matthew had encountered only kindness here in Cold Hollow.

And he wanted to help. That was all he’d ever wanted, to help people and do good. Only that the world didn’t make it easy to do good, when the borders between good and evil were often hopelessly blurred.

He trotted over to the ladder and looked up at Master Whitelaw. “What can I do?”

“Hand me the garland, will you, lad?”

Matthew bent down to pick up the holly garland and yelped as the sharp leaves pricked his thumb.

“Careful, lad,” called Nicholas Whitelaw, “You’d think you’d never handled holly before.”

“I haven’t,” Matthew replied. Somehow, he managed to grip the garland without further injury and handed one end to Master Whitelaw.

“So how do you decorate the houses for the yuletide where you come from then?” Mr. Whitelaw wanted to know, “Do you use ivy or fir branches and some other evergreen?”

“We never decorated our houses for Christmas,” Matthew said. In spite of the cold, he felt the tell-tale rush of blood to his cheeks. “Our pastor said it was a sinful custom.”

“But my, you Puritans are dour and cheerless folks. No offence meant, lad. So did you at least have a roast goose or a stuffed turkey or maybe some mince pies for Christmas?”

Once more, Matthew shook his head. “No, sir, we only had bread and porridge and maybe a little cheese.”

Nicholas Whitelaw shook his head. “Not even a decent Christmas meal. No wonder you’re so skinny, lad. But trust me, my Rebecca will soon fatten you up with her roast turkey and her mince pies and sweet potatoes and baked apples.”

“That sounds nice,” Matthew said. It was the truth, too. The prospect of sitting at a table with good people and enjoying good food, while a cozy fire was blazing in the hearth, was nice. And yes, maybe it was sinful to enjoy such profane luxuries, but Matthew had committed worse sins than that.

Nicholas Whitelaw had finished attaching the garland to the gable of the house. “Here, lad.”

He handed Matthew the other end of the garland. “Take a hammer and fasten it to the eaves, will you?”

Matthew nodded. He climbed onto a barrel and began hammering the garland to the wooden eaves. And this time, he even managed to neither prick his finger nor hit his own thumb with the hammer.

Nicholas Whitelaw nodded approvingly. “We’ll make a carpenter of you yet, lad.”

Matthew smiled and thought that carpenter would not be such a bad trade. It was certainly a better trade than witchfinder. Or heretic and fugitive from justice.

Nicholas Whitelaw picked up some green-leaved branched studded with white berries from a wicker basket. “And now let’s hang up some mistletoe,” he said with a wink, “I’m sure a young lad like you will find a good use for it.”

Matthew blushed. In his world, the world he’d inhabited for eighteen years, mistletoe had been very sinful, used by witches for all sort of terrifying rituals. Matthew knew that mistletoe was used as an excuse for kissing, too, but in his world, that had been almost as sinful as practicing witchcraft.


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About Cora Buhlert:

Cora Buhlert was born and bred in North Germany, where she still lives today – after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. 

Cora has been writing, since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. She is the author of the Silencer series of pulp style thrillers, the Shattered Empire space opera series, the In Love and War science fiction romance series, the Helen Shepherd Mysteries and plenty of standalone stories in multiple genres.

When Cora is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher. She also runs the Speculative Fiction Showcase and the Indie Crime Scene and contributes to the Hugo-nominated fanzine Galactic Journey. Cora is a two-time finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer and the winner of the 2021 Space Cowboy Award.


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