Character Spotlights are a (bi)weekly Wednesday series where I talk about some of the characters from the novels I’m working on, or have already completed. They’ll just be little snippets of their lives so that you can get to know them a little, and hopefully one day read about them in a published book! For the next five weeks of October, we’ll also be doing spooky-themed Spotlights, so prepare yourself for witches, vampires, the underworld, and demons!
This week, we’re chatting about my number one favorite witch: Henley, HWIC for the Salem coven. We dropped in with her pet demon in August, so it’s high time we see what the fuss is all about.
I can’t say for sure when Henley fully formed into an actual, real, living, breathing character. I’d known for a long time that I wanted to write about three witch sisters living together. They weren’t sisters by blood, but by magic, and they just were doing this little coven thing because it made them happy to have other women around them that believed in the same things.
And so, Henley was more of an archetype before she morphed into something real, and if I’m honest with myself, she still is a little bit of an archetype. All of them are, really. The story is ridiculous–three witches accidentally summon a demon into the heart of Salem and decide to keep him around when they realize he’s friendly and trying to run away from his home. Like, you don’t just accidentally summon a demon. I hope no one ever asks me the logistics of how a protection spell turned into summoning a demon because it’s literally not possible.
And that’s the point of sister witches! It’s ridiculous, and while it makes fun of the witchy community a little, it does that because I love how highkey Aesthetic™ it can be sometimes. And you know what? I want to celebrate that Aesthetic™. The first quote I’m using for Henley throws that out in full because guys, I shop at a store called Die With Your Boots On and I like going out into the swamp at night to accidentally explode candles.
And so, Henley was really a slow unraveling. After I’d been pinning things to their board for an eternity, I finally started forming actual characters and slotted them in different ideas. I wanted a HWIC that was a badass with a great ass, that wore bright lipstick like it was armor, and that had a killer girlfriend. I wanted a full-on, bat-wing collar and pentagrams everywhere and enamel pins and round black sunnies, aesthetic witch. And I wanted a natural witch, someone in love with bees and the color yellow and all things rainbow.
Thus, Henley was more of a collection of leather jackets and down with my demons memes before she was anything else. But then, like all good stories, something started to happen. Almost without my knowing, the three women started to differentiate themselves, started to figure out their voices, started to grow their own bat wings, as it were.
She’d gone full armor, black skinny jeans with rips in the thighs and knees, a blood red shirt cut open in the back to look like a grinning skull, her favorite leather jacket that had a pentagram sewn into the back and the letters hwic that Adelaide had painstakingly stitched into the collar so that if Henley ever flipped it up—which she would be caught dead ever doing—it’d show, killing boots like the ones she loved on Clarity so much, and dark crimson lipstick. Her hair was pulled back into a pony at the back of her head, and her nails were coffin grey, and when she stepped through the doorway and into Wren’s living room, it was with a feral feeling in her bones.
And though, yes, Henley does still fit into an archetype, she’s also very much her own person now.
Born in the deep US south, Henley was raised as a sweet Catholic girl. Her parents were not overwhelming in their spiritual devotion, but they required their two young daughters to attend mass with them. Otherwise, they let the girls roam free and get up to their own fun. They asked them to remain morally sound and aware of their actions, but they didn’t stifle them. Had it not been for her sister, Wren, Henley might have lived a normal life and never left the south.
As it was, Wren was as far from a normal sister as you could get. Though they were largely left to their own devices, Wren started making up stories of how their parents forbade her from certain rooms in the house, or forced her into not befriending certain people. And though Henley knew they were all lies, she didn’t know what else she might do with that knowledge. When she told her parents about Wren’s belief that they weren’t allowed in the basement, they opened the door and told her there was nothing but the laundry down there, but if she wanted to play down there, she was more than welcome.
Wren started screaming that they were clearly trying to sacrifice her to a demon.
Stymied by their daughters’ behavior, their parents started bringing her to their priest, hoping that he might be able to talk to her and see where the problem lay. When that just caused more distress, they promised to find a therapist for Wren, and for a week, all was quiet.
Henley was barely sixteen when she woke up to Wren hovering over her with a gleaming knife, claiming she just needed a little blood to make a spell work, and their parents dead in their room. In a daze, Henley promised Wren she would come down to the basement with her for the spell if only she could change first, and when Wren left, Henley left through the window with nothing but a small backpack.
Though she didn’t have a destination in mind, something in Salem called to Henley, and she set her sights north. She lied about her age and found work, forged her parents’ signature and enrolled in high school, found tiny shared apartments on the cheap, and spent winters cold, summers hungry, and everything in between miserable until graduation was behind her and she could stop lying. She shook off the cobwebs of Wren, bought a leather jacket secondhand, and got to work on her future.
She met Adelaide first. Though college sounded like a too far-fetched dream, Henley was determined. She set her sights on Salem State, planning to commute, figured out the finances, getting as much as was humanly possible, and started enrolling in classes. She met Adelaide purely by chance, a girl who showed up to their first day of English 101 in wearing a black and white striped shirt because she was channeling her inner Pugsley.
“Why Pugsley?” Henley asked. Because despite Wren’s insane plan to steal her sister’s blood for a spell after she’d already killed their parents, Henley had dipped her toes into Wren’s world a little, exploring what it meant to be a witch, and she’d always related most to Wednesday.
“Because Pugsley loved learning, duh,” Adelaide said before she flashed Henley a wide, friendly smile, and that was it. They were friends at first Addams reference.
They became thick as thieves through college. Adelaide slowly encouraged Henley to branch out farther, to try simple spells with her, to start learning about crystals, to buy her first tarot deck. And when, under a full moon in the middle of the night, as they traipsed through a walking trail Adelaide loved, Henley felt, for the first time in years, like she belonged, like Adelaide was the other half she’d lost with Wren. And when they sat down in the dirt inside a wobbly pentagram, Henley wasn’t the least bit surprised with the tiny flames from their tiny candles shot upright the second she and Adelaide joined hands.
They had formed a sisterhood, after all.
Margot, too, was an accident.
When they left college, Henley and Adelaide moved into a shitty two-bedroom apartment, barely scraping by on rent and once again frustrated with the world. They cast abundance spells and threw charms into the ocean and prayed for help, but it wasn’t until Henley hurled a black stone across the room and said, “Fuck this. The universe isn’t listening. Time to make our own future.”
And she got to work.
Because the universe was always listening, and this is what it knew: Henley was not to be trifled with. Her magic was too big, too wild to be aided. It needed to blossom and explode on its own.
In a few months, Henley had a full-time job at a cafe she’d been snatching every available shift from, was signed up for a yoga teacher training where she’d talked the owner into a scholarship if she helped out at the studio, and was starting to bother a vegetarian food spot down the street from their apartment until they finally caved and gave her a job.
In a few months, Adelaide was promoted to manager at her bookstore, got a massive raise in her salary, and came stomping home the day it all unfolded to shout, “Who the hell did you sell your soul to?”
Henley grinned and said, “I think we should find a third witch and start a coven.”
They put out the ad for a roommate unsure if they’d be able to find the right kind of person, and inside of a few weeks, they’d met with several people who either balked at the idea of their shared faith or were totally oblivious to it. Adelaide started to lose hope, but Henley just shook her fist at the sky and threatened it.
“Do your worst,” she spat, and Adelaide started carrying protective crystals everywhere she went. She’d long since realized Henley was the leader in their small coven, but the abrasive attitude she took with the universe sometimes left her more than a little wary.
And the universe said, “My worst? Okay. Hold my broom.”
When Margot sat down for her roommate interview, the first thing she said was, “You’re witches, right? Because I’m looking for other like-minded women, and I figured we should get this out of the way quickly if you’re not.”
Adelaide gaped at her.
Henley held out her hand, the one with a skull ring gleaming on her forefinger. “We found an apartment just outside of downtown. Four bedrooms.”
Margot shook hands with her. “I’m in. Now. How do you feel about bees?”
It was the beginning of something incredible.
Henley felt the subtle pull of Adelaide’s magic, drawing them into a tight, warm, protective bubble. Margot was grounding them and Adelaide was protecting them, and it had always been Henley’s job to lead them, to watch their backs, to make sure that nothing unwanted ever came near them.
And that is our first of the spooky-themed Spotlights! I know I’ve been wretched at keeping up with these, but everything has been pre-written for this month, so I promise you’re actually going to get to meet four other spooky individuals.
But what do you think of Henley? Would you follow her as your HWIC?