I hope you enjoy this little "teaser" from the book. I know it's one of my favorite early scenes.
Rise of the Moon is now available in both Kindle and paperback on Amazon.
Please post comments or questions below!!!
You’ve heard the saying, be careful what you wish for? Well, there’s a lot of wisdom behind it. I had defeated (though narrowly, if I’m honest) my competition, and my idea had won the right for a spot on the stage. Now I had a month to write the script and get the thing staged for Districts. Which means I really had like a week and a half to write a 20-minute play. Suddenly, I was feeling slightly overwhelmed.
People just assumed that because I was into the Goth look that I was also an expert on everything even vaguely supernatural. They weren’t totally off base, but I was really more of an expert on vampire lore than witches. Somehow, that didn’t seem very helpful at the moment. Even though the story was about a witch, yes, it wasn’t about the kind of witch one typically sees in literature. No special schools for magic. No late night cavorting with the devil. None of that. I wanted Esther to be more like a modern-day neo-Pagan: a nature-worshipper who believed in the ancient elemental magic of the earth. The problem was that that meant research. And research would take time I didn’t have.
I found myself lying on my bedroom floor, staring at the ceiling and wondering where to start. I had Googled witchcraft and Wicca and Pagan and ancient rites, and I was overwhelmed with information, unsure of which direction to follow. It was thus that my mother found me.
“Lia, honey, do you have any dirty laun--good heavens, are you okay?”
“Momma, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I’m writing about a 17th-century witch, and I don’t know anything about witches. I don’t know how to make my play feel authentic. I’m stuck.”
“Witches? Like real ones?”
“Yes, like Wiccans. Or whatever the 17th-century equivalent is.”
“Do you know any Wiccans?” my mom asked.
“I know someone who claims to be a witch. But she doesn’t really know anything about the religion at all. She just wears a pentagram and watches a lot of Supernatural.”
“Huh. Good show.”
“Yep. But not helpful.”
“Well,” Mom started slowly, unsure whether she should go on, “I might know someone.”
I sat up. “You know a witch?”
“We’re related to one. But I don’t know that she does much with it anymore. She probably could help, though.”
Related to one? I started mentally listing my relatives, then abruptly turned to stare at my mother. “Aunt Kitty?” Aunt Kitty was actually my mother’s older sister who lived a couple of towns over. She baked a lot and gardened a lot and dressed like a bit of a hippie.
“Aunt Kitty,” my mother affirmed. “She doesn’t really advertise it, because people have a tendency to be jerks to anyone who stands out from the crowd. Know what I mean?” She winked at me.
“I think I can relate, yeah.” I smiled. “Can we maybe visit her this weekend?”
“I bet she’d really like that. She’s always been particularly fond of you. Let me give her a call.”
Mom started out of my room, then suddenly turned on her heel and poked her head back in. “Laundry?”
“I’ll bring it down, thanks.” Things were looking up.
The drive to Aunt Kitty’s house wasn’t a long one, maybe an hour, but I could count on my fingers how many times we’d made the trip. She came to see us on holidays, but we didn’t go to her house very often. I’d gone to see her a couple of times for trick-or-treating when I was little, and she’d picked me up after school a few times when my mom had had to work late or went on a date. Neither of those things happened all that often, and so I hadn’t spent a lot of time at Kitty’s. In fact, I probably hadn’t been there in three years. Mostly I remembered that the front yard was a wild garden, and the inside was colorful and cluttered and smelled good.
As we neared her cottage-style home, I found myself jittery with excitement. Everything made sense now. I always knew Aunt Kitty was nice, but a bit different from the rest of the family. All her little eccentricities started falling into place now that I knew she was a witch. I wondered vaguely how my mom had introduced the subject when she’d called. But I guess it didn’t matter much...her sister had been pleased to have us over, and here we were.
I loved the crunch-crunch sound our car made when we pulled into the gravel driveway. The house was a typical single story concrete-block home, but over the years, Aunt Kitty’s efforts had made it look more like a stone cottage. A river-rock facade had been added (probably by Kitty herself), and the concrete sides of the house were all but covered with tall hedges which hid its plainness. The wild yard had a flagstone path winding through it to the front step, and as we got out of the car, a rustle of curtains at the window told me our arrival had been noted.
The door opened and out stepped Aunt Kitty. She was tall, about five-foot-seven, which was unusual for our family, where the women typically topped out at five-foot-four. She was slender, with a mousy brown pixie haircut and silver wire-rimmed glasses. She wore a sleeveless turquoise maxi-dress that just brushed the butterfly tattoo peeking out on her right ankle. A huge smile greeted us as she watched us get out of the car.
“Hi, gals!” she called. “Come on in! I’ve got scones!” And with that, she disappeared inside. We walked up the path in silence, and I noted fat bumblebees buzzing around a large group of Echinacea blooms, giving the garden a hum of energy and life. Despite it being October, it was still plenty hot in northern Florida, and we were grateful to follow her into the air conditioned house. The inside of the house smelled as good as I remembered, the smell of orange scones mixing with something spicier and less familiar. As we entered the living room, she came in from the kitchen with a tray of the baked goods and a brightly-colored tea service.
“It was just so nice to hear from you all yesterday! I was thinking about going out and getting some new plants, but this is so much better! The garden center will be open tomorrow, so that can wait. I’m thinking I should start planting some winter squash and maybe some onions, what do you think, Maddy?” I was amazed she could get all of that out in one breath.
“Um, yes, definitely onions. Soup season will catch up to us sooner or later.” Mom accepted one of the proffered scones.
“Exactly my thinking, yes indeed. So, Lia, tell me about this play you’re writing! Your mom tells me your idea won some sort of contest?”
I side-eyed my mother, who clearly had built my victory over Gemma into a much larger story. “Not exactly...there was only one other person up for it, but yes, my idea won.” I summarized my idea for Esther’s story, highlighting the irony of her freedom lying in her ability to stay hidden from the society around her. Aunt Kitty listened with sparkling eyes and sipped her tea.
“Such a wonderful idea, Lia, really. It was such a historically difficult time for women. If they showed any personal power or independence outside of running a family, they were suspected of witchcraft. If they knew any herbal medicine, they couldn’t use it to benefit very many people, or they’d get accused and probably killed. Heck, if they had something someone else wanted, even if they’d inherited it from a father or deceased husband, someone could accuse them and strip them of their property. People don’t remember how bad it was, now that it’s so much better for us.”
“Us? You mean witches?”
“No, honey, I mean women. Most of the women accused and executed weren’t practitioners at all. Just women who made someone else nervous or jealous.”
I wouldn’t be deterred from my quest, however. “Do you think there might have been any real witches in Salem at the time of the Trials?”
“It’s certainly possible, though the Puritans were a pretty tight lot. Probably any witches back then would have appeared more like quirky, wise, old women. People tend to ignore women like that until they need them for something. Makes a pretty good disguise.”
It seemed to me that her last statement had held a little double entendre. I didn’t want to offend her. My mom sipped her tea and let me bail myself out. “I think it’s a fascinating subject,” I said, trying to sound both vague and genuine at the same time.
Aunt Kitty smiled and leaned back in her chair. I looked at her, trying to read her benign expression.
“Are you a witch, Aunt Kitty?” Smooth. That’s me.
“Of sorts, I suppose. I’ve never been in a coven or anything like that, but I believe nature has a spirit that is alive and connects us all. I believe that there is a benevolent energy that guides us and the gift of tiny magicks everywhere. I believe that if we understand the energy of the elements, we can learn to harness and use it. It’s not unlike science, really; it just can’t be measured in a laboratory.”
“Do you cast spells and things?” I felt like an idiot, but I had to ask.
“Not really. I mean, I have done those sorts of things, but now I pretty much stick to herbal magic and wishing blessings and protection on those I love. I try to be a good steward of the Earth. I remain grateful to the Goddess for her blessings.”
I didn’t want to seem disappointed, but I had built up something a bit more grand in my mind when I discovered I had a witch in the family.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve pulled out a couple of boxes of things I thought you’d find useful. Why don’t you go poke through them while your mom and I catch up, and then you can ask me any specific questions you have. How’s that?”
“That sounds terrific,” I breathed gratefully. I could feel my awkward showing, and I was afraid I was going to start asking even more ignorant-sounding questions.
“The boxes are on the bed in the guest room. Help yourself.”
“Thanks, Aunt Kitty.” I set down my teacup and stood, half-hugged her, and then scurried from the room to dig for treasure.
I don’t know what I expected, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a couple of medium-sized plastic tubs. In the movies, there’s always some old steamer trunk in the corner of the attic, or a box inlaid with brass symbols in an ancient language. But nope. I was looking at gray-blue plastic Walmart bins. All right then.
I pulled the top off the first one and the spicy scent which hovered under every other scent in this house wafted out at a much higher level. It smelled like peppery earth, like oil from trees, like fragrant leaves burning. I reached into the box and pulled out a velvet dress of the darkest shade of blue. It was beautiful and romantic and glamorous, and something I totally could not picture my aunt wearing...and yet, she had. Probably lots of times.
I had, at this point, sort of this surreal moment of realization that my aunt was someone far deeper than the lady who could bake nearly anything. She wasn’t just this sort of funky senior citizen with cool stuff in her house. She had been...she still was...many things I couldn’t possibly picture. I shook my head to clear it. I wasn’t really ready for this kind of existentialist thinking right now. But I knew that this epiphany would continue to poke at my brain and my perception of not only my aunt, but my mom, too.
The next item in the box was a small shoebox full of candles of various lengths and shapes. Most of them had been used before, and several had symbols carved into them. I didn’t understand what any of the symbols meant, but I recognized them as runes. There was also a brass pot, and a small iron cauldron with residue of what looked like ashes in the bottom. One sniff told me that the ashes were the remains of many layers of incense. There were several small baggies of labeled incenses, and a tube of what looked like charcoal discs. I found what looked like a dagger wrapped in silvery-gray silk. I felt a small chill as I touched the silver handle.
The next box contained mainly papers: handwritten notes about the uses of specific herbs, photos of people I would never know, greeting cards and calendars with a variety of mythological images. And then there was the thing I’d been looking for: a book. Not just any book, but my aunt’s personal journal with prayers and chants and recipes. I had hit the motherlode! Sort of.
I don’t know exactly what I expected...cures for warts or boils? Maybe. But there was nothing like that as far as I could tell. There were prayers for protection, blessings for loved ones far away, meditations to remove toxic people from one’s life. None of it was the kind of shocking stuff you’d imagine a witch’s book would contain.
But any of it would have been enough to get you killed in 1650. That was a sobering thought.
As I leafed through the book, something slipped out and fluttered to the ground. I reached down and picked it up. A tarot card. It was beautiful. It depicted a dark-haired woman with luminous skin reaching down through the clouds with outstretched arms. She was reflected in the rippling water below. It was card number 18: The Moon. I couldn’t stop staring at it. I didn’t want to.
Somehow, this one card seemed more important than any of the other paraphernalia that I’d pawed through. It seemed somehow alive, vibrant. The card appeared to be marking the page with an incantation entitled, “Drawing Down the Moon.” Seemed fitting, I supposed, but I couldn’t bear to put it back into the book. Instead, I slipped the card into my pocket, took a picture of the incantation with my cellphone, set the grimoire aside, and packed my aunt’s other belongings carefully back into the tubs.
I’m pretty sure I meant to ask her if I could borrow the card. Yep, I definitely meant to. Yet somehow, I didn’t.