I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Magdalena by Candi Sary
Published by Regal House Publishing on July 11, 2023
Genres: Fiction / Ghost, Fiction / Psychological, Fiction / Small Town & Rural
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"Beautifully written and satisfyingly creepy, this is one of the most poignant and original ghost stories I've ever read." --Mark Haskell Smith, author of Blown
In a small, secluded town that thrives on gossip and superstition, Dottie offers plenty of both when the scandal breaks about a missing girl, a ghost, and the affair that started it all. Having suffered a history of miscarriages, reclusive Dottie develops a strange motherly interest in her 15-year-old neighbor, Magdalena. Somewhere between fantasy and reality, Dottie finds new life in her relationship with the mysterious girl. But Dottie's entanglements with Magdalena, a curious centenarian, a compelling stranger, an ex-mobster, and a murder of crows thrusts this once cloistered woman into a frenzy of public scrutiny. To quell the rumors, Dottie puts pen to paper and discovers something as frightening as it is liberating--her voice.
Welcome, book lovers! Today I have an excerpt from Candi Sary’s novel, MAGDALENA. This debut novel is a wonderful mixture of a ghost story and a tale of love, loss, and longing.
Magdalena once told me she knew how to cure sadness. She read on that little phone of hers that we all need fifteen minutes of sun every day and without it, depression could set in. Those of us here on the peninsula barely get fifteen minutes a week. The fog comes in over the cliffs in the morning, creeping through town, shrouding all neighborhoods with a thick graveyard effect. We don’t have an actual graveyard, but the landslide all those years ago took enough lives and left enough ghosts behind to bring on that kind of fog. If it does lift around midmorning, a heavy cloud cover still stays most of the day, keeping things gray. I’d always thought my sadness came from the unfortunate things that happened in my life, but according to Magdalena, my gloom might simply be a lack of vitamin D.
From the day she got the phone, she stared into it constantly, seeking answers to all of her questions and even finding new questions she would have never thought of on her own. She fed on its information like meat.
“Mushrooms,” Magdalena said. “We need to eat mushrooms.” The girl was my only visitor. When she spoke, I hung onto her every word. “If we eat enough of them, we’ll get the vitamin D we’re missing from the sun.”
I didn’t question her. For weeks, I based all my meals around mushrooms. I made mushroom casseroles, salads, risotto, soups, but I’m not sure it changed me. I’m not sure it changed her. How many mushrooms would it take to replace the sun? I wish I could ask the girl, but she’s gone. Three weeks ago, I lost her for good.
I pull up my sleeves and roll up my pants. My arms and legs are so pale in this light. They look like white maps with long blue roads leading to nowhere. The lighting in my house is soft enough to disguise my pallor, but here in the rest home, the deficiency is glaring. I quickly lower my sleeves and pants again.
“Focus, Dottie.” My command is quiet.
I swallow down one of the tiny white pills and sit up straight in my chair. Pen in hand, I look around the dismal room I currently share with Mario. It is a holding cell for the dying. We aren’t dying like the old people in this nursing home. But our town is small. They had nowhere else to put my husband after the accident a decade ago. And they had nowhere else to put me after the devastating incident at my house last week. So now we live together again in room eleven with the beige walls, the brown and yellow floral comforters on our beds, and the slim, dark wood secretary desk beside the bathroom door. The old desk is where I currently sit as I tap my pen on the blank page, trying to gather my thoughts.
Now the cold distracts me. I pull a blanket from the bed and wrap it around me. The air conditioner is dreadfully high. They say it’s to keep germs down, but I sometimes wonder if they’re trying to weed out the weakest of us.
“Focus, Dottie, focus,” I say a little louder, closing my eyes.
“What do you need to focus on?” someone asks.
Startled, I tighten the blanket around me and turn toward the voice. There is a white-haired lady in a wheelchair at my door. Her face is all wrinkled up like fingertips after a long bath, and her lips seem to be growing inward around her teeth. Thick bifocals, wrapped around her head like goggles, magnify her wet and cloudy eyes. There are some really old people here, but she has to be the oldest.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” she says, her ancient voice slowly rattling out the words. “I heard you from the hall.”
I wasn’t trying to be heard. I place my hand over my mouth to show her I’ve no interest in a conversation. I’m hoping my hand gesture will make her leave, but it doesn’t. Instead, she wheels through the small space between the two beds and parks next to me at the desk. Her nightgown is purple and far too big on her. She smells like leftover broccoli.
“I’m curious. What do you need to focus on?” she asks again.
It’s going to take some time getting used to this place. I’m not in the habit of answering to anyone, having lived alone for so long. “A letter,” I finally say. She’s so close now, there’s no escaping her. “I’m writing a letter. A story really. The rumors are terrible and—” I catch myself before it all comes flooding back. Their ugly words. All the lies. “I need to tell my story. It’s the only way to get the truth out.”
Her face lights up. “You must be Dottie,” she whispers. I nod. “I should have known.” Her eyes travel the length of me. “I heard about you, the young woman living in the old people’s home.” It sounds strange out loud but worse things have been said about me. “How old are you, dear?”
“So young.” She shakes her head. “It’s just awful what happened to you. How long will you be staying with us?”
“Well.” I look over at Mario in his bed. His eyes are open, but there’s no telling what he’s thinking as he stares at the ceiling tiles. “The Sisters say I can stay with my husband as long as I need. I’ve nowhere else to go.” She leans over the side of her chair to get a closer look at him.
“Does he even remember who you are?” “I haven’t let a day go by without coming to see him.” “But with what happened to him, do you think he can remember?”
“Oh, he remembers me.” I won’t let anyone convince me otherwise.
“That’s nice.” Her smile is kind. “Sometimes I think I remember too much,” she says. “Some things I wish I could forget, but the pictures are there in my mind, clear as day.” She sets her bony hands in her lap, and the veins bulge like soft worms. She smiles. Her demeanor is pleasant; it’s just the broccoli smell that’s bothersome.
I notice a pin on her nightgown. It’s gold with blue letters spelling out centenarian. I point to it. “You’re a hundred?”
“A hundred and two.”
“That’s incredible,” I say, feeling a new respect for her. She’s not just an old lady—she’s National Geographic material.
“It’s a curse, old age. The lucky ones die young. Freed from these bodies, they can move on. Or, of course, they can stick around.” She raises the few hairs left of her eyebrows, as if I know something about this. I feel her words in my stomach. I don’t respond. She whispers, “The ghosts of Sam’s Town are persistent, aren’t they, Dottie?”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to my letter.”
“But we haven’t talked about what happened to the girl yet.” She laces her fingers together under her chin. “We need to talk about what really happened to Magdalena.”
Hearing her name almost makes me lose my breath. I close my eyes and indiscriminate memories resurface—her blue nail polish, those stolen sunglasses on her head, lemon juice dripping from her fingers, her blood on the linoleum.
“Do you know what happened?” the old woman asks. “I mean what really happened to her?” She’s staring at me, waiting for an answer. I reach for my pen, gripping it like a weapon. “Until I write it all down, I’m not talking about it to anyone.”
“You can trust me, Dottie.” She wheels closer.
“I don’t even know you,” I say.
She smiles. It’s a sad smile. “Then let’s get to know one another.” She glances toward my husband before leaning forward. The smell is strong, her voice is soft. “Is it true that the man,” she asks, “who started it all was your lover?”
I close my eyes again, to escape her question, but now there he is behind my eyelids—Benjamin. His hand creeps under my dress and he’s massaging my leg. I squeeze my eyes tighter.
“Go away!” I shout. “Go away!” I am talking to Benjamin, but when I open my eyes, the old lady in the wheelchair is hunched over, wheeling away as fast as her bony arms will take her. I should explain that I was not yelling at her. But I don’t. I stay quiet.
While I feel a bit guilty, I’m relieved to see her go. The poor woman looks so frail heading for the door, like her arms might snap. That’s the other effect of vitamin D deficiency—frail bones. This town is killing all of us.
Excerpted from Magdalena by Candi Sary © 2023 by Candi Sary, used with permission from Regal House Publishing.
About Candi Sary
Candi Sary is an award-winning writer and graduate from the University of California, Irvine. Her writing has won Reader Views Literary Award, a Chanticleer International Book Award, and was First Runner-Up in the Eric Hoffer Book Award. A mother of two adult children, Sary lives in Southern California with her husband, a dog, a cat and several ducks. She can often be found surfing and paddling boarding in the waters of Newport Beach. She is a proud steward of a Little Free Library.
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