A Coven in Essex County | Prologue

J.M. YalestwitterJ.M. Yales is a queer identifying female writer currently living in Chicago, IL, but originally from Milwaukee, WI. Her start in feminist commentary came from personal blogging, but was expanded by FemPop Magazine between 2012 and 2014. Her writing and research interests include the representation of minority populations in Science Fiction genres and the Arts.

Yales refers to A Coven in Essex County as “Horror Fantasy,” and “Historical Feminist Science Fiction,” describing it as “a feminist revision of Lovecraftian horror that explores the personal pain and experiences of women in the fictional town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts.” Thirteen women in shadowy Innsmouth, brides of arranged marriages to the inhuman denizens of the neighboring reef, are bound by the will of their male relatives, until they pursue revenge. In 1926, 60 years after the first girl was married to keep a tense peace between those living on land and in the bay, her grandniece is forced to marry a second time. The same morning, a mysterious stranger is puked out of a whale and onto the beach. These two events will set off a plot eleven years later, when the wives of Innsmouth maneuver to marry a man to the alien Deep Ones in revenge.

Below is Part of 18 monthly installments for Visitant.


The humpback whale reached the warming waters surrounding Antarctica in early October. By the autumnal month, the polar ice retreated slightly, allowing for passage through with a bit of luck and effort. The animal had more force of will than luck, and little choice but to make the journey into foreign waters.

He made do, squeezing his body after a day of searching between floes with no lack of distressed cries. The green of the Atlantic teased its presence in between bergs, then sunlight broken by loose chunks of ice. Finally, the way to the ocean on the other side of the world cleared.

After swimming South for two months, he had exhausted himself. The humpback rode the circumpolar current along the sun’s course the length of a long Arctic day, then rounded the southernmost point of the subjacent continent. He pushed forward.

Crashing into the radiating currents of a subtropical gyre, he strode earnestly toward the equator. The animal cut through the concurrent equatorial movements and back to cooler waters. His head cleared by the colder water; he could feel something was amiss and he cried out for his Atlantic relations.

If they heard, they did not understand or considered it outside their familial bonds. None came to his aid and he circled momentarily, feeling the loss. The pressure on his body and brain increased and he knew the choice was only to move forward toward that uneasy feeling or drown there alone, in unfriendly waters.

Far North of the equator the whale was compelled to turn west. He skimmed as close to the shore as he dared and then came up for air. The polluted currents of detritus radiated from a harbor that was pushed into the sea by a marching progression of unnatural mountains touching into the sky. The whale dodged ships and smaller, flatter creations packed with people exclaiming at the sight of him.

He wished fervently to return to the open sea.

Finally the crowded shipping and transportation lanes fell behind him for the quieter seaside communities that served as rural stopping points by comparison. He passed another crowded harbor with the smell of dead fish on the air above the water; once he smelled dead brethren. Below the water’s surface was garbage floating bloated and littering the seafloor where things died gruesome, choked deaths.

The scent of diesel followed the whale out of the mouth of that harbor and up the coast. It was a short distance to the mouth of the inlet he was drawn toward. He pushed himself past a reef dotted with familiar figures it had hoped were long gone from the world. He cried out in alarm as they swam toward him, maneuvered painfully into water too shallow for its hulking body as they came abreast.

The things touched him all over in such numbers he felt them as one mass on its thick hide. They reached out, they communed with their minds, and the whale cried out again in a pitch low enough for them to register. There was a second noise that rumbled out from deep inside his belly; a baritone echo.

Just as quickly as they had approached, they scattered, driven away by something the whale felt but could not understand. A power settled over the whale and pulled him from the sand bank. Power coaxed the whale into the harbor, past the dark and dead reef.

That power had lain there in the waters, latent in the coastal tides, until the whale arrived. Power seeped from the mouths of fish driven from the harbor bottom to investigate the new arrival. Power crossed over the whale’s young hide and made it feel taught and stressed—it was electric.

He drove forward faster than he thought possible. He torpedoed toward the stone and wood planks sunk into the sandy bottom of the shoreline, touching the surface for air only once. He veered while he could still move in the shallow water away from the boats that rocked crazily in their cradles along the piers and toward a sandy stretch of beach under a rocky cliffscape, past the mouth of the river that dumped freshwater into the bay. It was suffocatingly spoiled with city slop and tinged with country litter.

The whale hit ground, and with a great slap of his tail, shivered further on the land in little hops. He heaved, trying to breath and feeling the sting of the barely moist air. The power left him as suddenly as it had appeared. The whale could still feel it touching the rear end of his belly and tail as the water whispered in and shushed back out; its electric in and out exhausted him further, and he closed his eyes against the strange wood constructions that popped up from the falsely laid ground down the strand.

The whale saw more boxy things above the beach. They were wrought from stone and alien and unnatural in form. Inorganic compositions of right angles and straight lines that could not occur in the world naturally. They stood against all reason, fought against worthwhile changes made by environmental elements on any other stationary thing in the world.

The whale blinked, took in the blinding slate sky. Gulls screamed offensively, the water whispered insistently, unnaturally behind him. All else was quiet.

The people of Innsmouth regarded the beached creature with suspicion and decided finally to ignore it. They wait for it to be taken back out to sea, like so much else that had washed up on the shores of the Atlantic. They waited, but nothing touched it.

On the third day of its residence on the sandy strip of beach, the bloated body vomited its burden on to the land: A woman curled in the sticking sand and sucking surf of the early morning. Around midday, three fishermen’s wives finally hazarded to climb the rocky way down to her, avoiding a straight view from the pier, and turning as much as they could from the reef out in the harbor.

They threw a shawl over her naked torso and shook her, not unkindly. The woman awoke slowly, stretching in her corona of exotic shells and bed of jade hued seaweed. When she finally stood, shivering, she looked more surprised and frightened than any of the eyes of Innsmouth.

Some people from the town had brought down their glasses and telescopes to attempt a better view from the docks. The wives of fishermen tried to think of questions that should be asked, but those that lived in Innsmouth were a timid people. They had learned better quietude the longer they spent in the seaside town, and had cultivated an incurious demeanor. The woman said nothing until she had cleared her ears of sand and seawater.

“Iǫkwe,” she spoke quietly, “Ich heisse Cora.”


► Read the next installment | An Invitation to Tea

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