Organized by Storytellers On Tour, along with several other bloggers and bookstagrammers, we present to you Behind the Veil, E. J. Dawson‘s Gothic Noir novel in celebration of its release. Make sure to check out their posts as well! And don’t forget to enter the giveaway!
Beginning a writing journey with an epic 21 book series, Ejay started her author career in 2014 and has taken on the ups and downs of self-publishing with her fantasy series The Last Prophecy since 2016. At the start of 2019, she put the series on the backburner to write Behind the Veil in 25 days, and signed a publishing contract for the gothic noir novel to independent publisher Literary Wanderlust. Behind the Veil is set for release on the October 1st 2021. She resumed self-publishing a scifi series, Queen of Spades released across 2020 and 2021, as well as signing another contract with Literary Wanderlust for NA fantasy, Echo of the Evercry. Believing in more than one path to a career in publishing, Ejay pursues self-publishing alongside querying traditional publishers with multiple manuscripts.
Connect with E. J. Dawson
Can she keep the secrets of her past to rescue a girl tormented by a ghost?
In 1920s Los Angeles, Letitia Hawking reads the veil between life and death. A scrying bowl allows her to experience the final moments of the deceased. She brings closure to grief-stricken war widows and mourning families.
For Letitia, it is a penance. She knows no such peace.
For Alasdair Driscoll, it may be the only way to save his niece, Finola, from her growing night terrors. But when Letitia sees a shadowy figure attached to the household, it rouses old fears of her unspeakable past in England.
When a man comes to her about his missing daughter, the third girl to go missing in as many months, Letitia can’t help him when she can’t see who’s taken them.
As a darkness haunts Letitia’s vision, she may not be given a choice in helping the determined Mr Driscoll, or stop herself falling in love with him. But to do so risks a part of herself she locked away, and to release it may cost Letitia her sanity and her heart.
Excerpt from Behind the Veil by E. J. Dawson
It was cold when they kicked him out of the pub. Joseph only wanted to buy a bottle to take home. They hadn’t sold it to him after he vomited in the gentlemen’s. But tonight, of all nights, he needed it.
Just like every other night, really.
The rain drenched him, but he didn’t care. All he wanted was a drink.
He didn’t want to see his family, sitting around the table praising his brother John for the promotion at the bank. Declining the dinner invitation, Joseph had made excuses before John’s mocking laughter caught him at the door.
“Let him go, mother, he’s tight already.”
Joseph had proven to himself that his level of sobriety was nigh on angelic then, compared to what he was now. The world swam, and he struggled even to see in the dreary night.
He was lost.
The streets kept turning about, the normal route that should have taken him up Beverly and onto Gardner found him on Vista. Rain turned to sleet as he stumbled through the sleepy streets.
It was lucky, he thought, because if he hadn’t been drunk the cold would’ve bothered him. He’d get home. The rain had momentarily confused him. As the downpour turned to frozen slush on the pavement, the slippery surface caught his unwary feet.
There was a flash, and the sidewalk was level with his eyes.
He blinked away stars, feeling an echo inside his head, and the world went black, streetlamps dying out…only to come back. Joseph studied them, fading in and out, waiting for it to stop.
A part of him assessed the damage, cold and distant. This was bad. He’d fallen and given himself a severe concussion. It wasn’t the first time. The last time had been…had been…
Joseph tilted his head to the side so he could retch, agony rushing through him, sharp this time as he spat out the contents of his liquid dinner.
“This no’ good,” he muttered to himself, staring at the amount of vomit on the pavement.
Joseph got to his knees, and his stomach regurgitated yet more liquid, the stench of alcoholic bile bringing up everything until his body was curled in its own excess.
Pain lanced through his head, an iron spike that squeezed his eyes shut, and he didn’t see the men walking toward him.
“Tad ossified, sir?” one asked.
“Might be.” Joseph slit an eye open to see two policemen there and breathing a sigh of relief At least he wasn’t about to be robbed. That would have been the highlight of the evening. Or possibly it had turned worse; it was the police after all.
“I’m trying to get to161 South Gardner,” he said, searching for excuses not to be dragged to the drying out tank. His father wouldn’t bail him out, and when he threatened like he had tonight, he meant it.
“All good, sir,” the policeman said. “We’ll get you home.”
They picked him up under the arms, the journey foggy until he was standing in the porch’s light. The policemen knocked on the door and Joseph couldn’t stop them in time.
The maid opened it, her mouth dropping open at Joseph’s state and the presence of two officers.
“Oh, I’ll get Mr. Norman.” She dashed off.
Joseph tried to pull away, to stand on his own two feet, but even with his stomach empty of alcohol he was still drunk. His head hurt, thumping in pulse to the angry pounding of his father’s footsteps.
“Thank you, officers,” his father said and shook their hands, a glimpse of paper in his palm. The officers’ smiles were wide at the thick wad of money-the cause for their kindness, which continued as they tipped their hats and left.
“Walk around back and get in the guesthouse, boy,” his father intoned, not letting Joseph in. “I will not disgrace your mother by letting you into this house. I will not let you ruin John’s good fortune because you’ve pissed your own pathetic life away. You were a doctor, and then you drowned in a bottle. I should have told you I was disowning you, but I didn’t want you to come home like this, you’re a disgrace…”
It went on.
Joseph stopped listening, and he didn’t even notice when his father shut the door. How long he’d been standing out on the porch he was uncertain, the world’s tears falling on his shoulders. He turned around, walking around the outside of the house and down the side path to the guesthouse.
The door handle didn’t want to open.
The deck chairs around the covered pool were inviting, even with the cold, but the bitter chill was getting worse. He had to get into the guesthouse. There was a gas heater inside if he could concentrate long enough to open the door.
Another shove pushed the door open, and it slammed when he fell against it. Stumbling steps took him to the center of the room, but looking about it was as welcome as the rain covered chairs outside. Dust sheets covered the furniture and became the ghosts of his past. Silent and accusatory, he waited to hear their pleas to make the pain stop, though they were naught but memories.
Standing alone in the dusty space, Joseph fell to his knees and cried.
Friends dead in the war.
Few who understood what being in the medical tents was like, what it did to you, night after night. The endless screams and the visions that haunted him.
During the day now, it was worse, he could see them during the day…he could see them right now…
Letitia wrenched herself away, manifested as physical reeling, and her hand slapped down on the table. The end had been so subtle, it had wrapped about her with the tentative touch of a spider, coming closer to bite her and share the death with Joseph. She gripped the wood, absorbed the warmth in her palm, sweat on her upper lip, and a chill on her skin from the cold of Joseph’s death.
“Ms. Hawking, are you all right?” Mrs. Norman asked. “Please,” Letitia said, before quieting her tone. “A moment,
The traces faded, fingers of death slipping her by as she recovered her breath and grounded herself in her own body.
Letitia didn’t know what she would tell these patrons. They wanted to know it wasn’t their fault and to be sure Joseph hadn’t passed with regrets. The guesthouse was an eerie reminder of their transgression, but it wasn’t because Joseph was there, since he was glad to be gone from the world. It was their own guilt.
“Ms. Hawking,” Mr. Norman said, voice gruff, disbelief on his face. Opening his mouth to contest her, she cut him to the quick.
“You were there, at the door, when the policemen brought him home.”
She watched the skin of his pale cheeks become reddened, and she pushed on.
“You told him how…unimpressed you were after the police left.” Letitia didn’t stop, even as Mr. Norman glanced with shame at the now sobbing Mrs. Norman. “You told him to go out the back, not to make a fuss.”
Letitia changed the sentence, rephrased it so Mr. Norman wouldn’t be any more embarrassed than he already was, and at least now Mrs. Norman knew what had happened. She could guess for herself what exchanged between her husband and son. “And…at-at the end?” Mrs. Norman asked through a series of tearful hiccups.
Letitia chose her words with care, wanting the Normans to go away at peace but warier of how to treat their other children. “Joseph was relieved to pass on,” Letitia said, watching the father close his eyes in reprieve. “You were right, Mr. Norman, he wasn’t fine after the war, and he didn’t know how to make it better. This would not be the first time someone has come to me with a son or husband who was stolen by the war long after it ended. But Joseph saved many lives, he did dreadful things for those lives, but there are men who went home because of him.
Not whole, but they went home.” She let silence fill the space.
“But he never said,” Mr. Norman exclaimed. Letitia didn’t expand as he stared at her, fury and shame burning pink brands on his cheeks.
“He isn’t here,” Letitia said, “and he’s far better for it.”
Mrs. Norman clung to her husband, who was now wrapping an arm around her.
“I’d like a moment with my wife.”
“I cannot leave the room, Mr. Norman,” Letitia said, apology in every nuance of her words, “since what I have done today is difficult and leaves behind a residue.”
“We should leave, William,” Mrs. Norman said, composure returning as she rose with the help of her husband. “Thank you very much for your time, Ms. Hawking.”
“I hope I’ve brought you some level of closure,” Letitia said, coming to take Mrs. Norman’s outstretched hand and allowing a brief embrace before she pulled back, both arms on Mrs. Norman’s shoulders. “Now, go home, and when spring comes clean the guesthouse from top to bottom. There is nothing there than an echo of another victim of the Great War, and he does not reside there.”
Sniffling, Mrs. Norman went to the door.
Mr. Norman was behind her, holding out his hand for Letitia’s, and like the incident with the policemen, there were folded notes in his hand. At least another twenty dollars.
Letitia stared down at them before lifting her eyes to see the desperate hope of Mr. Norman.
If she took them, he would close the matter, the last page of a book. The certainty was so stark in the lines of his face she didn’t need to open herself to see his personality. He was revolting enough as it was, and it left a sour taste in her mouth. “Mr. Norman,” Letitia said, low enough for his ears alone. “You’ve paid me for my services already. And now you need
never bring your family the shame of disowning your son.” “You saw-” he stopped, hands clenching around the money.
She met his gaze, and after a long moment, he was the first to break away.
Letitia went to the door where Mrs. Norman had put on her coat, and the pair left, Mrs. Norman the only one to look back for a final goodbye.
There was no sinister figure on the landing, and Letitia closed the door.
But something about the session was wrong.
Nothing too untoward occurred. It was smooth from beginning to end, except for one small anomaly.
Letitia went to the table and sat back in her chair, and instead of looking at the bowl, she tilted her head back to glance at the chandelier over the table. It had candles in some of its holders, placed to cast the right light on the mirror that hung from its center.
Round and twice the size of the scrying bowl, the mirror was suspended from three chains, making it secure and avoiding sway as much as possible. It was tilted at such an angle so that when Letitia looked into it, she saw the scrying bowl.
This was a different type of seeing. The bowl would drag her in and take her to the critical moments before death to experience it herself.
Letitia always found the exact cause before she sought a person’s end. Innocent and accidental deaths were easy-she’d take a few gentle moments to relate to loved ones without getting too close to the cause. Others were in sickness or injury, even the battlefield itself. She’d be with them until their death approached. Those who died at the hands of a murderer were not forewarned, or what little they saw came too late to Letitia. It was why she would not take murder cases. There were instances where the victim succumbed to shock before death or were even taken unaware. Delving into their fate when she wasn’t sure what was coming risked her dying with them.
Old Mother Borrows hadn’t wanted to talk about what happened if Letitia got that far. But then she hadn’t needed to tell Letitia. Her own experience had cut her to the bone, tore her soul to shreds, and left her a wreck. Old Mother Borrows was lucky to find enough sense within to repair.
When Letitia used the mirror, there were simply visions, the sensation akin to the images that played in her head as she read works of fiction or watched a silent film at the cinema. But like the bowl that could drag her into the death, so too was the mirror dangerous. She could become lost in a reading…
The chair was her safety. She would fall to one side, or on the table, when she became too tired.
There was no such safeguard against the scrying bowl. She read the scrying mirror.
It was far easier to slide into its vision, which reflected the remnants left in the scrying bowl of Letitia’s last visit. Though it was still distant to her, she knew what she sought.
Joseph’s death replayed in her mind, but this time she was only an observer, not lost in his emotion. She was a figure on the street, following him home, watching him fall over, remembering his subsequent pain. The humiliating scene at the front door was a thousand times worse at a distance without the alcohol or splitting pain to distract her from the horrible words of Mr. Norman. For a moment Letitia wished she could have made Mr. Norman squirm all the more, but it was a brief and selfish wish. His tirade abated when Mrs. Norman came looking to see who it was, and Mr. Norman shut the door without a backward glance.
Letitia studied the scene from across the street, but now she came closer to Joseph, not watching him but the shadows.
Nothing alerted her senses or was wrong about the situation, but she followed, fading into the guesthouse. Joseph stood in the center of the room, crying before falling to the floor and curling up into a ball against the cold and all the nightmares the world had given him.
Letitia knelt beside him, aware of what was coming and unable to stop it, but still she touched Joseph’s forehead with a cool hand.
A figure leaned over her.
She shrieked, slamming onto the floor as she came off her chair. Broken out of the vision, she stared around her ordinary session room. The shadow had disappeared, but there was no mistaking its presence.
The figure, while terrifying her, had a discernable difference from the one she’d seen behind Mr. Driscoll. In the world of visions, she could evade its form, even if the sense of dread was triggered by her own underlying fear. Unlike the being who’d glared over Mr. Driscoll’s shoulder, this figure had emanated no such ill intent within the vision of Joseph’s death.
But if a being of shadow haunted her sessions, then being anywhere near Mr. Driscoll could risk the very damage that left her body scarred and her mind on the edge of insanity.
No amount of money would bring Letitia willingly back there, not when she’d already experienced what lay beyond the veil.
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