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Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Witching Hour Collection by Various Authors

Good witch. Bad witch. 
White magic. Black magic. 
Kitchen magic. Pick your potion. 
Ready for Halloween? 

Description:

Published: November 30th, 2015

Good witch. Bad witch. White magic. Black magic. Kitchen magic. Pick your potion. Ready for Halloween? The authors of the Blazing Indie Collective, who brought you the Falling in Deep Collection, are brewing up something new. 

Check out all the novellas in The Witching Hour Collection 
Melanie Karsak: Witch Wood
Claire C. Riley: Raven's Cove
Eli Constant: Sleeping in the Forest of Shadows
Elizabeth Watasin: Charm School: The Wrecking Faerie
Erin Hayes: I'd Rather be a Witch
Carrie Wells: Playing with Magic
Evan Winters: The Witch of Bracken’s Hollow
Minerva Lee: Spun Gold
Blaire Edens: The Witch of Roan Mountain
Poppy Lawless: The Cupcake Witch

EXCERPTs




Excerpt from The Cupcake Witch by Poppy Lawless

Holding the whisk tightly, I swirled the pale-yellow batter around the bowl, the sweet scents of vanilla, brown sugar, and bitter dark chocolate perfuming the air. Even though it was a cool autumn morning, the heat from the oven made the kitchen feel toasty warm. I’d been baking all morning: expresso mini cupcakes with cappuccino flavored frosting, matcha green tea macaroons, and strawberry rhubarb coffee cake. The kitchen smelled divine. Now, with a pot of coffee brewing and a batch of chocolate chip walnut cookies just about ready to go into the oven, I could almost relax.

“Here, taste this,” I said to Dad, scooping up a small bite of the dough with a spoon and sticking it into his mouth before he could protest.

“You’re going to give me salmonella poisoning,” he said then sighed deeply. “A little food poisoning is worth it. So good, but they taste…different.”

“Bad different?”

Dad shook his head. “Tasty different.”

“Organic brown sugar and sea salt.”

“I’m going to gain ten pounds before you go back to college next week,” he said with a laugh then turned back to his paperwork.

Sighing, I placed the cookie dough on the baking sheet and stuck it in the oven. How was I going to tell Dad I wasn’t planning on going back? With Mom gone…well, I just didn’t even know why I was there anymore. It wasn’t like I had ever wanted to go to college. I wanted to be a baker. But Mom wanted me to be a dentist, so I was studying pre-dentistry. Now, Mom was gone. The pain of her loss still felt like a huge lump in my chest.

I poured Dad and myself coffee and sat down at the table. He was thumbing through a heap of real estate briefs. Dayton Real Estate was busier than ever, and with Mom gone, an agent short. Dad was running himself ragged.

I spooned some raw sugar into my cup and tried to think of something to say other than the fact that I hated school. It was nearly the end of October and thus far junior year had been a bust. I told Dad I wasn’t ready. After losing Mom that summer, I just couldn’t get my head back into the game. I didn’t want to waste my life pursuing a career in dentistry just because everyone, but especially Mom, thought it would be a good move for a smart girl like me. Mom’s death had taught me many things, the most important being that life was short. Why was I working so hard for a future I felt pretty apathetic about?

“Here is the property in Chancellor I was telling you about,” Dad said, saving me from having the dreaded conversation once more, as he handed me an envelope. From inside, I pulled out a yellowed photograph of a tiny little Tudor-style cottage. Under the photo, the words Serendipity Gardens had been written in faded pencil.

“It looks like a witch’s cottage. Mrs. Aster, the woman who left us the building…how did you say we were related again?” I stared at the photograph as I twirled one red dreadlock around my finger. The little building was a mess, the glass nursery overgrown, but there was something quaint, almost fairy tale like, about it.

Dad was eyeing the table full of sweets, finally settling on one of the mini cupcakes, popping it into his mouth. “These are amazing, Julie. Seriously,” he said after a moment. “Mrs. Aster was Grandma Belle’s husband’s sister.”

“And how does that make her related to us?”


“Through marriage only, but we are her closest living relatives,” Dad said then shrugged. “I’ve got the property into the MLS system, but I need to run over to Chancellor this week and put up the signs. Probably won’t be hard to move the old place. I already have a message—which I haven’t even managed to return yet—from Blushing Grape Vineyards inquiring on the property. Need to get that sign up, see if I can fish any other bids out of the pond. Maybe the college will want the property, turn it into an office or something. On the corner of Main Street and Magnolia, the location is great. We’ll probably get a good price if we can get some competition,” Dad said then paused. He looked up at me, a serious expression on his face. “You know, Chancellor College offers science degrees. Jules, I know you aren’t happy…” he began then stopped. Trying again, he switched directions by saying, “Maybe if you were closer to home, things might be easier.”

Panicking, I picked up the envelope. “Chancellor, eh? Don’t they have a harvest festival at this time of year? Why don’t I take the signs over? I’ll grab a pumpkin spice latte or something.”

My dad pushed his glasses back up his nose then ran his hand through his hair. Was it my imagination or did his hair look whiter? His face was certainly more drawn. He must have shed twenty pounds from his already thin frame. Mom’s death had hit us both hard. It was just manifesting differently. Dad was running thin, and I was running scared. I didn’t want to waste my life following the dream Mom had lain out so neatly for me. My real passion had always lain in the kitchen. Fondant. Buttercream. Meringue. Ever since I got my first Easy-Bake Oven, I knew what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be. My dream, however, had never jelled with what Mom had wanted. And as much as it hurt, Mom was gone. I could keep going to college for her, but that didn’t feel right. I needed to do something. Something needed to change. And in the meantime, I was failing my classes.

“Walk around the campus while you’re there. Check out its vibe. See if you like it.”

“Or not,” I said absently. The last thing I wanted was more college: more homework I couldn’t get myself to complete, more classes I couldn’t get myself to go to, more anything.

“You know, they also have a culinary program,” my dad said carefully. “A letter came from your college’s advising office. It said you’re failing all—”

“I…I know,” I stammered, standing. “Can we talk about it tonight?”

He nodded. “I love you. We’re both just trying to manage here.” He lifted a macaroon then looked from it to me. “The culinary program. Mom and I always disagreed...tonight, let’s talk. But you’re making dinner.”

“Of course. It’s pizza night! I bought portabella mushrooms, arugula, and goat cheese.”

“You had me at portabella,” Dad said with a chuckle. “Anything would be better than those damned frozen dinners.”

“Dad! You can’t eat that garbage.”

He shrugged. “What can I say? I don’t have time to cook. Speaking of which, did you know it only takes five weeks to get a real estate license? Without your mom, I could use the extra help,” he said then patted the massive stack of inspection reports, loan documents, and other paperwork that was my dad’s—and had been my mom’s—life’s work, “and a home cooked meal, on occasion.”

I picked up the envelope then kissed my dad on his balding head. “Home cooked meals I can handle.”

My dad patted my hand.

“Take the cookies out when the timer goes off?”

“Of course. I’d never let a Julie Dayton cookie burn. Too precious a commodity.”

I wrapped my arms around my dad and hugged him tight.

“Love you,” I said.

“Love you too, Julie bean,” he replied.

Letting him go, I grabbed my purse and keys and headed off to the witch’s cottage.


Excerpt of Sleeping in the Forest of Shadows by Eli Constant

Chapter One - Through the Glass


It calls to me. It is calling to me now.

The thing that has no face—that thing that is nothing, but is somehow everything—is hiding outside my window, far off across the field, past the fence, cloaked by the forest’s dark shadows. Once, some time ago, before my mother was forced to leave this home, it called to her. I don’t know how I know this, but I do. Now, I am here and I’m like her in so many ways. The same crow-dark hair atop my head, the same olive green eyes with rings of silver that are often obscured by my thick-framed glasses, and the same aristocratic upturn at the end of my nose—a physical trait that is infinitely unattractive in my opinion.

It thinks I am her. So, it calls to me.

But my mother was vibrantly alive and healthy and adventurous when she was my age.

I am not vibrant or healthy or adventurous.

I am crippled, wheelchair-bound. If I’m honest with myself, the voice that I hear in my head could be nothing more than the imaginings of a girl who has lost so much, a girl who has a great and terrible desire to be wanted. But something inside of me says the thing is real. So very, very real.

At nearly eighteen, I should be starting my senior year with all of my friends…with my best friend Charlie. Especially her. There’s so much that we’d planned to do together Senior year and now I’ve ruined that along with the laundry list of other things my touch has spoiled. I just could not bring myself to face that life with all its walking, talking, chatting students. The kids who thought life was about parties and books. Because I know the truth now. Life is not fun and games. It’s not about tomorrow. It’s a tragedy in which you inexplicably live when everyone else—all those who are better and kinder people than you are—die.

Sometimes, I wish I hadn’t survived, that I’d died along with my mother and father and little brother Toby. But I did not die. I’m very much alive and breathing. And self-pity is an ugly, ugly thing that keeps life at bay. That’s something I have to keep telling myself. Don’t feel sorry for yourself, Tilda. Other people have it worse off, Tilda.

I only listen to myself sometimes.

I only believe myself sometimes.

My life is loneliness, like I am still outside our home hoping the firemen will carry my family out and that they will be unscathed. But when they do carry them out, they are burned, blackened, unrecognizable, and they are dead. My eleven-year-old baby brother. I still see him in my nightmares—how his pajamas, several inches too short in the legs, are burned through in places to reveal flaking, charred skin.

Looking through the glass, which is bubbled and wavy so that the world outside is always a distortion of reality, I can hear my Aunt Jen yelling my name. Her voice is loud and threatens to ruin my connection with whatever lies beyond the wall of great pines and thick foliage. Real or not, the ever-strengthening threads that connect me with it are something I can cleave too, a tether of security as I stand on the precipice, my childhood behind me and the great chasm of adulthood yawning in front of me. Life isn’t always beautiful. No, sometimes it is a gnarly, thorn-bearing fruit that cuts the throat as you swallow. Reality is bitter and bloody.

A singular tear, wet and salty, escapes my right eye and crawls down my face. The slowness of its movement is nearly unbearable. I wipe it away with the corner of my shirt and stare at the woods, one part of my brain cataloging the details of the landscape as the rest of my mind wanders away to other things.

The bright shades of the emerald forest have just started changing, their tips becoming ochre and crimson. I do not look forward to the dull browns that will come after the fleeting and vivid shades of fall. Even though autumn has always been my favorite season, when I can hide my tall frame and thick hips beneath the folds of fuzzy sweaters and patterned scarves, I do not relish in it now. Besides, I am always sitting these days—my hips out of sight and away from scrutinizing peers with slim hips and perfect skin.

In my old life, the changing of seasons would bring Thanksgiving and Dad’s turkey; it would bring Christmas and decorating the tree. Toby would place the star atop the fir. That was always his job.

Truly, fall and winter hold little magic for me now.

Magic. As if there is such a thing. Magic can’t be real in a world where families senselessly die.

“Matilda Elisabeth!” Jen yells my given name, even though I hate it with a passion, and that hatred is what destroys the veil and disconnects the faceless thing from my mind. As its calling fades, I feel the hum of discomfort returning to my body. The siren call from the forest often makes me forget how much I hurt inside. The aching pain that swells so large at times that I think my chest will burst. “Tilda, seriously, come on! Your appointment is in twenty minutes!”

“Coming.” I don’t bother yelling back at her. The house is not gigantic; my voice carries easily down the hallway. I think Jen just likes raising her voice, hearing the octaves change as she gets louder. My responses aren’t always so calm; often, I scream back at her until we are both mad and brash things filling the house with discord.

It takes me time to move from the bay window seat to the wheelchair. I’m still getting the hang of it. Aunt Jen has picked me up off the floor more than once. I’m lucky the house is one story, that the doorways are wide—which is unusual in such an old farmhouse.

Despite everything, I love it here with Jen and I can’t imagine what would have happened to my mother’s family home if my grandparents had sold it rather than willing it to Jen. It was in poor shape and my aunt has put her life’s savings into restoring it the way it once was when she was a child—bright white siding, hanging flower pots screaming with irreverent color, hunter green storm shutters and even the rooster-shaped weather vane atop the roof. The only thing Jen hasn’t repaired is the fencing along the edge of the woods.

Several of the fence posts are crooked in the ground and the paint is peeling, but it is still white enough to be stark against the darkness of the thickly grouped trees in the forest. Sometimes, leaving something undone is a promise for tomorrow. It’s a stupid thing to think.

Finally, I am in the wheelchair, but I find that I do not want to move.

I hate to leave this room and reenter the world outside, because Jen has made my room so wonderful. It is my own little sanctuary.

The walls are a soft gray and the curtains are an ethereal, gauzy white embroidered with delicate ivory flowers. The chandelier above my bed is original to the house, but it has been restored so that the pale yellow flower sconces are sunny and re-glazed. Everything has been picked out with so much care—the paisley pillows, the pastel throw blanket, the faux fur rug that is so soft. I’ve felt the material a hundred times with my fingers, imagining how it would feel under my feet, imagining how my toes would sink into the luxurious fibers. It makes me sad that I cannot stand on it each morning after waking.

My room is the best room in the house really, the largest. Jen doesn’t want the room for herself; maybe she just feels sorry for me after everything.

When they were children, Jen and my mom shared the room—up until my mom was shipped off to boarding school at sixteen. My mother never explained why she was forced to go and Jen was allowed to stay. Maybe the room just reminds Jen too much of mom. Maybe it reminds her that her sister is dead. I find it comforting, because I can feel mom here. But I can also understand. I see the grief and pain in Jen’s eyes sometimes when she looks at me—how her expression goes blank because of how much I resemble mom. She’s called me Heather once or twice and she rarely comes into the room while I am here, like I am the ghost of my mother and seeing me in the room is too much to handle.

“Seriously, Tilda, come on!” Jen’s voice is louder and more insistent.

“It’s not like this is easy,” I mumble under my breath, trying to call up some angry, but I can’t really be angry, not with Jen. She didn’t have to give me a place to live, assume the burden of caring for a crippled niece, but she did. And she chooses to care for me every day. I half expect her to wake up one morning and have changed her mind. 

As I begin to move toward the door, I feel a pressure in my stomach. A hook in my navel linked to a line that is desperately trying to yank me backwards—to the window, to the thing that is calling to me. I am connected once again. The call is getting louder. I’ve only been here a few months and each day the summons becomes more compelling.

My hands are already hurting from gripping the wheels of my chair and I’ve barely moved at all—just a few yards out of my room and down the hall towards Jen’s little art studio next to the kitchen. I know I need to get stronger, that recovery will be a long road. If I can recover. The doctors say there’s only a fifty-fifty chance that I’ll walk again. The beam that fell on my back was so heavy. I remember the sound my body made when it crashed into me and how it felt—that unsettling crunch as my body caved inward, the way the lower half of my body went numb after the initial sharp, excruciating pain.

My aunt is standing, still wearing her paint-covered apron and working on a large piece, the largest yet. It nearly blocks the longest wall. It’s a line of three robed figures and the only colors she is using are purple, blue, and white, but somehow she’s created such depth that the figures seem to walk off the canvas and come towards me. It touches me for some reason. I want to be one of them, a robed girl hiding me from the world.

But they are walking.

And I am not.

“Do you like it?” Jen says over her shoulder, not looking at me. “It’s almost finished.” She turns around, hands on hips, a satisfied smile on her face.

“Yeah. It’s nice I guess.” It’s such an understatement. I love the painting, but it’s so hard to be positive about things these days. “Why were you yelling at me if you’re not even ready?” I huff, rubbing the palms of my hands roughly to drive away the soreness.

“Because I can give you a rolling head start, take off my apron, put on my shoes, grab my purse and still beat you out to the car with time to spare.”

“I’m not that slow.” I grumble, not amused—but my aunt certainly is; her face is stretched in a self-satisfied grin.

“Don’t mumble.” Jen turns away from me and applies a streak of bright white next to a stretch of deep blue.

“I grumbled. There’s a difference.”

“Oh really?” She turns to me, cleaning her brush with a stained cotton cloth.

“If I mumble, it can be for any reason. Grumbling means that I’m mumbling because I’m unhappy, displeased, despondent or generally grumpy.”

“If you say so. Grumbling or mumbling or anything in between. How about we toss the ‘tude and get to your appointment.” Jen unties her apron, takes it off, and lets it fall to the floor. “How’s your bag before we go?”

Frowning, I feel the collection sack strapped to my leg. It’s still very flat. “It’s fine.” I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the catheter and waste collection set up, but it’s a fact of my life now. One of the many joys of paraplegia. Cringing, I place my still-throbbing hands on the wheels again and I make my way to the kitchen door—it whines like a dying cat when you open it, because Jen forgets to oil it, no matter how many times I remind her. I’d do it myself, but the spray is in a bottom shelf in the pantry—one of the only rooms in the house with a doorway too narrow for my chair.

We always enter and exit out the back, because that’s where the ramp is. Jen has taken to parking on the lawn by the ramp instead of the front drive. It makes it easier for me, but I always feel bad when I see where the grass is dying.

Things seem to die around me, especially things that I love.

And I love grass, as stupid as that sounds. I love the feel of it on my bare feet; I love stretching out on it beneath a warm sun, and I love the way it smells when it is fresh-cut. So, inevitably, all the beautiful emerald blades are turning brown. Because things that I love die. This is a fact that haunts me.


Excerpt from The Witch of Bracken’s Hollow by Evan Winters


Standing in the backyard of the Unity Road Baptist Church Retreat, Damon Daugherty gazed out across the black waters of Deep Run Lake to the woods that ran into Bracken’s Hollow and for unknown miles beyond. For the umpteenth time that day, Damon struggled with the strange feeling that he was somehow peering not just through space but backward through time. There he stood in the present on a chilly October day. The sound of laughter came from inside the lodge where his friends were preparing dinner in the kitchen. Damon, on the other hand, labored with refuse. In each hand, he held a trash bag, both of which sagged heavily under the weight of discarded bottles, cigarette packages, and all the rest of the debris that had been left on the trails around the lake by local kids over the course of a long summer worth of secret parties in the woods. Damon had spent the afternoon cleaning up the campsite in preparation for the teen retreat he would be hosting that weekend—his first as the youth minister of Unity Road Baptist. His labors that day had been simple and straightforward, requiring little in the way of mental effort.

But even after several hours working under a cold October sun, Damon couldn’t help but feel out of step with the present moment. Excitement ticked in his chest, a childish impatience so strong that it bordered on anxiety. Damon supposed it was to be expected. Though he was a grown man with a set of new challenges before him, he had grown up a member of Unity Road Baptist. He had attended many retreats at Deep Run as a kid, and it had been over ten years since his last visit.

All afternoon, as Damon had worked along the bank of Deep Run, he had found memories waiting to ambush him around every corner. For the first few hours, as he picked trash out of the trail that ran along the lakeside, he couldn’t help but glance from time to time out to the dock expecting to see his junior high school buddies cannonballing off the end or challenging each other to dive all the way to the bottom and return with a handful of mud from the mucky bottom.

Later, as he cleaned out the fire pit in the clearing along the eastern path and gathered a batch of firewood for the next night, the nostalgia was so strong that Damon could almost hear the hymns he’d sung around that fire pit so many times in his youth. Then, as he cleaned trash from the trail that led into Bracken’s Hollow, Damon’s memories of hikes he had taken with his father were so strong that he could almost feel the man’s footsteps following along the dirt path behind him.

But for all these fine memories of his youth at Deep Run, one memory lurked under them all, rising up from the depths of Damon’s consciousness like some submerged leviathan coming up for air. So, after depositing the trash into the bins at the corner of the lodge, Damon turned back to the lake and gave it a long, thoughtful look. Over the course of the past week, as he had been making arrangements for the retreat, Damon had been quietly bracing himself for his return to the lake. Damon’s ten-year absence had not been accidental. Damon was no fool. He had known this memory would come for him. And as he gazed out across the dark waters shimmering in the late afternoon light, he let it rise up in him in the shape of a single word, spoken aloud.

“Rachel,” he said.

Then, as if in reply, a voice called to him from inside. “Damon! Come on! These steaks ain’t getting any more done than they are. Least not on my watch.”

“Be right there,” Damon shouted in reply. Then he turned away from the water and went inside, forcing himself not to look back. He’d had enough of the past for one day


Limited edition box set! 
This collection will be available until the end of the year only!

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