by Melanie Karsak
Series: Harvesting #2.5, Witching Hour Collection
Genres: Fantasy, Horror
Harm none, and be ready for zombies. In the little town of Brighton, Amelia’s practice of Wicca makes her an outcast in school and the subject of disdain at home. But Amelia can’t change what she is. Knowing how to use herbs, see auras, and create spells comes naturally to her. Only Madame Knightly, the ancient matriarch and owner of Witch Wood Estate to whom Amelia plays caretaker, doesn’t seem to mind her conjoining. In fact, the library in the crumbling old mansion is full of old books and oddities. However, when modern treatments fail to make a dent in the flu outbreak sweeping the globe, those who once ridiculed her white witchcraft turn to Amelia for help. While her eucalyptus tinctures prove no more effective than western medicine, her spell-casting is another matter. The residents of Brighton soon depend on the very magic they once ridiculed to save their lives. Witch Wood is a tie-in novella that complements The Harvesting Series. It can be read as a stand-alone or as Book 2.5 in the series
Witch Wood by Melanie Karsak is a novella in the Harvesting series, a zombie infested fantasy series I have come to love. It is highly original with magic and twists that keep me flipping the pages and eager for more. Witch Wood is also the first in the Witching Collection and at first; I wondered how it would tie into the Harvesting world. All I can say is that it does and it is bloody brilliant.
Karsak takes us to Brighton and introduces us to Amelia, a young teen who practices Wicca. I adored Amelia from the start. She is strong, confident, caring and knows exactly who she is. Such confidence is rare in one so young and was refreshing. She can see auras, heal and is good with herbal remedies. Amelia follows her own path. While she is not overly popular, she does have friends but spends her weekends and free time at Witch Wood Estate caring for Madame Knightly.
Witch Wood Estate was delightful and I would love to spend my weekends traipsing the grounds and explore all the unique nooks and crannies of the old manor. Madame Knightly is unique, colorful and a soothing soul to be around. Interaction between them was that of student and mentor, but there was also a tenderness there.
An epidemic flu virus is plaguing the nation. Schools are closing and whole cities are shutting down. In Witch Wood, the epidemic finally hits Brighton and Karsak lets us experience the horror along with the characters. We get some intense scenes, and witness the friends working together which created some nail-biting moments.
As has become so typical of Karsak’s books Witch Wood leaves us with a cliffhanger just as she makes a shocking reveal. Curse her I say! Curse her. I need the next book!! While, Karsak claims this book works as a standalone and indeed it does I do feel the experience will be enhanced by having read the earlier books. This way you can bask in her brilliance and pine for the next book with me.
Read Chapter One
THE AURA AROUND MRS. DELANEY had faded from vibrant green to dull, sludge-colored green-brown as the last class of the day wore down to its end. Despite the fact she was still standing at the blackboard lecturing, a patient smile on her face, her energy told another tale: she was about to drop. She turned and jotted some notes on the board. I noticed that the chalk tray had left a white line of chalk across the back of her black skirt in a none-too-flattering spot. I hoped the boys wouldn’t notice.
“Witch,” a whisper came from behind me. “Amelia…hey, witchy woman.”
Nate must have gotten bored. Instead of just texting like everyone else, he was about to launch into his tired barrage. I ignored him, hoping it would dissuade him, but pretending he didn’t exist rarely fazed him. He was the glowing center of his own universe. Other people’s perceptions didn’t matter to him.
“Ah-meel-ya,” he chanted. “Witch, why don’t you let me put some sex in your hex.”
I looked at Zoey who was sitting beside me in the next row and rolled my eyes.
I was so over with this day. With half the class out sick, Nate—hipster extraordinaire and total douche—was running low on girls to hit on. Jenna and Sam, who sat behind Zoey and me, usually acted as a buffer. For some reason I never understood, they both liked Nate’s attention. But they were both absent. If I didn’t know it would come back on me tenfold, I’d cast a spell to silence his disgusting mouth. But I was a good witch, Glinda without the bubble, and I had no business casting hexes.
“Rhyming? I didn’t know you were that smart, Nate,” Zoey, who was less patient than me, shot back.
“Logan, you smell fish?” Nate whispered to Logan who sat beside him. “Zoey, close your legs.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I glanced at Logan. A newcomer, Logan had moved to Brighton at the beginning of the year. I could see him and the soft purple and indigo glow that always surrounded him.
Logan shifted uncomfortably then frowned at Nate. “Don’t be a dick. Sorry, Zoey. Nate doesn’t have any manners.”
Nate laughed. “Whatever. Oh, Edward Cullen, you’re such a gentleman,” Nate teased him. “Like Zoey and Amelia even matter.”
Since he first started school, Logan had always lingered on the outskirts of Nate’s tribe. It seemed that he wasn’t actually a jerk like Nate and his friends. And then there was the other thing about him that set him apart. He was an A student, too busy actually paying attention to what Mrs. Delaney had to say in class to be a jerk. And today, Mrs. Delaney’s lecture focused on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
I scanned around the classroom. Of the less than a dozen students in class, half of them were on their phones. Mrs. Delaney was explaining—mainly to the board at this point—the meaning of the witches’ chant in the play.
“Hey, Amelia, can you brew me a love potion to get Jenna to suck me off?” Nate whispered.
“Could you be any more disrespectful?” Logan chided just as Mrs. Delaney, who’d finally had enough, turned and faced the class.
“In the back…shush. Now, someone tell me, which goddess is said to have been insulted by this play? Anyone actually paying attention? Which goddess cursed Shakespeare’s work?”
I glanced back at Logan through my long, wheat-colored hair. Most days we would race to be the first to answer but not today. The last thing I wanted to do was draw more attention to the fact that I knew about witchcraft. While I’d been practicing Wicca since I was thirteen, the year I stumbled across a used copy of Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham in a used bookstore, I’d always been different. Being Wiccan meant promoting peace, protecting my environment, and feeling at one with the Great Mother. The idiot behind me, however, didn’t know the difference between a devil worshipper—which I was not—and Samantha from Bewitched. And I wasn’t in the mood to explain to him that I only performed good magic, earth and healing magic.
“Zoey?” Mrs. Delaney called.
“Sorry, Mrs. D. I zoned.”
“Of course. Amelia?”
“I…” I began, then glanced up at her. Mrs. Delaney was, by far, my favorite teacher. In the ninth grade, she’d introduced me to Madame Knightly, the owner of Witch Wood Estate, whom I took care of three nights a week and on weekends. I was eternally grateful for the job. I’d already stashed away enough cash to pay for my first year of college. Just the week before, I’d gotten my invite to Claddagh-Basel College for an admission interview. It was really happening. I was going to study Psychology at one of the best schools in the country. And all that had happened because Mrs. Delaney, who kept crystals on her desk and wore a medicine bag around her neck, had seen something in me that the others had ignored. “Hecate,” I said then. “Hecate is the dark goddess named in the play. The editor’s notes said that Shakespeare got the Weird Sisters’ chant from a real witch and that Hecate cursed the play because of it. Some productions remove Hecate just to get rid of the jinx.”
“Exactly. Well done,” she said with a smile then glanced up at the clock. My eyes followed hers.
Thank the Goddess, the day was done.
“All right, class. Please review King’s essay on the use of symbolism in the play and compose a two-page summary.”
“You’re kidding, right? School’s gonna be closed next week,” Brant, a football player, grumbled from the front row—where his coach had mandated he sit.
“Are you really asking me that?” Mrs. Delaney replied, frowning at him. I could see her aura growing even darker, sadder. She really needed to get out of here. “Thus far, they haven’t announced a closure for Monday. Yes, we’re the last school in the county still open. But still, read, write. It won’t hurt you.”
A moment later, the bell rang.
“Whatever,” Brant grumbled under his breath then headed out the door.
“Let’s get out of here,” Zoey said. Rising, she stuffed her book into her backpack.
Nate pushed past. “Sorry,” he said as he pretended to trip, banging his crotch against Zoey’s butt.
“Screw you, Nate. Do that again, and I’ll have Amelia cast a spell to rot it off,” Zoey warned him.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Freaks,” Nate said, glaring from Zoey to me, but I couldn’t help but see the look of fear cross his eyes. He wasn’t sure if I could really do something like that. In the end, it was better that he didn’t know I would never, ever practice dark magic. Harm none and do as you will, that is the motto of Wiccans. I wasn’t looking for trouble to come back to me.
I dug into my bag. “Almost forgot,” I said, handing Zoey a small, amber-colored vial.
“What’s this?” she asked, looking at the bottle.
“Eucalyptus and rosemary oil,” I replied. “Put it in your bath or on a cloth to inhale it. It helps keep your respiratory system clear. Should help ward off the cold going around.”
“Thanks,” she said, opening the bottle to take a sniff. “Ooh, my nose is burning.” She giggled.
Logan walked up behind Zoey and me. “Hey, Amelia…you’re organizing the Halloween dance?” he asked.
His dark hair fell over his black-rimmed glasses. He pushed it back then paused to arrange his scarf inside his heavy winter pea coat. For autumn, it was terribly cold and the reports of flu were already out of control. No wonder he was bundled up. His honey-colored eyes crinkled in the corners when he smiled at me. My knees went soft.
“Uh, yeah. We’ve just started planning. We’re still working on a theme.”
“Ms. Flynn says I need another extracurricular. Mind if I help?”
“If you want,” I replied, trying to play it cool when inside I was screaming like a tween at a Justin Bieber concert. “The next meeting is Tuesday at six. We meet down at Studio,” I said, referring to the local coffee bar where Zoey worked. When I wasn’t at Witch Wood, I spent all my time there, especially when Mom was at work. The last thing I wanted was to be penned up at home with my stepdad, Larry.
“Great. I’ll be there,” he replied then looked at the vial Zoey was holding. “So, a white witch? For real?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yeah, I know, it’s weird, but, it’s just, you know…” I said, trailing off. It’s just what, Amelia? You’re a witch. Own it.
Logan raised an eyebrow at me.
“Yes, I’m a white witch. I do healing and stuff. All-natural lifestyle. That kind of thing.”
“Dude?” Nate called to Logan from the door.
Logan grinned at me. “You do protection spells? I need one. My sister got that flu. She was puking all night, and I hate being sick.”
“I do,” I said then arched an eyebrow at him. “You really want me to—“
“Go for it. Please.”
“Okay then. This will just take a minute.” I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and then tried to envision the energy field, the aura, surrounding him. I envisioned white light passing from me to him, surrounding him with a glowing white energy that would protect him. With my mind’s eye, I inscribed this light with a protection rune that glowed with glimmering blue light. In my mind, I chanted:
“Goddess Mother, may this light protect him from all harm.
May this light keep away all illness.
May this light keep him safe from darkness.
May this light bring him peace.
So mote it be.
With thanks, I pray thee.”
I exhaled then opened my eyes. I could still see the white light shimmering all around him. “Done,” I said then smiled.
Logan grinned. “That easy? Cool. I feel much safer now. Thanks, Amelia. See you next week,” he said then headed toward the door.
“What were you doing?” Nate asked Logan.
Logan shrugged off the question, not answering, and they headed down the hall.
“God, I’m crushing on him so hard right now. That was awesome. You should have seen how he was looking at you. Lu-st!” Zoey said, emphasizing the last word in sing-song. “But I don’t get it. Why in the hell does he hang around with Nate?” Zoey asked as she pulled her long black and mermaid blue tresses out of the back of her jacket. They tumbled down her back to her waist.
“Their parents are connected or something,” I replied. “Brianna and Brian said their dads work together. And he’s new. He doesn’t know better yet. You heard him call Nate out. He’s not like them.”
“Well, he’s definitely into you,” Zoey said as we moved toward the door.
“Na. I’m just a curiosity.”
“Did you even register what just happened? All guys secretly dig the weird girls, but I think Logan actually likes you.”
“You think?” My heart slammed in my chest.
“Guess you’ll find out Tuesday.”
“So mote it be,” I said with a wink.
“Amelia?” Mrs. Delaney called as Zoey and I headed toward the door. “Will you see Madame Knightly this weekend?”
“Be sure to wish her well for me.”
“Will do,” I said with a smile.
“Oh, and Amelia, don’t cast in class,” she said with a laugh.
I smiled at her. “Okay, Mrs. D. Get some rest this weekend. You…you feeling okay?”
“Just run down,” she said then tapped her medicine bag. “We’re going out to the reservation this weekend to see my husband’s parents. They usually do powwow this time of year. School year started rough…” she said, her voice trailing off.
Rough. Yes, her aura definitely agreed. “Rest up. We’ll see you Monday.”
She nodded and waved us off.
Zoey and I then turned and headed down the hallway toward the exit. Over the loudspeaker, Coach Nestor was making announcements. “Tonight’s basketball game against the Laughlin Vikings is cancelled. Laughlin High School has been closed due to the flu outbreak. A reminder from the nurse’s office, please stay home if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms. Call the attendance line to report any absences. Make ample use of hand sanitizer to avoid spreading illnesses.”
“Have a good weekend, Miss Beatrice,” Zoey called as our lanky, blonde-haired biology teacher rushed past balancing her school bag, a coffee cup, and her cell phone. She was texting furiously.
“You too, Zoey…Amelia. I’ll see you at Studio Saturday night. Allen and I got tickets for the play at the theater. If they don’t cancel. Later, girls,” she said then raced down the hall.
I couldn’t help but notice that half the male teachers and male students turned to watch her go past. She was gorgeous, that was certain, like the kind of hot teacher you always saw getting fired because she was secretly a bikini model in her spare time. Her boyfriend was the town celebrity, a PGA golfer or something. I didn’t have her for class this year, but I’d taken advanced biology with her junior year. She was wicked smart. I must have wondered a hundred times why she was teaching at a high school.
“God, if I could get the flu maybe I could drop these last ten pounds before the Halloween dance. My dieselpunk outfit would look so hot if I wasn’t so flabby,” Zoey said absently as we headed out into the crisp, autumn air.
With her athletic frame from playing softball, Zoey was hardly flabby. “That’s gross. Just stop eating fries like they’re a food group.”
“They aren’t?” she asked with a wink. “Don’t go hippie on me, Miss perfect-boho-more-lithe-than-air figure because I am one with mineral water and acorns. Figure out what you’re going to go dressed up as yet?”
“I was thinking Harley Quinn. Not sure yet.”
“Well, I’m sure you and your date will come up with something.”
“Logan, of course, when he asks you on Tuesday. Don’t say no.”
“You know you want him.”
When we reached the front steps, we stopped so Zoey could dig through her bag for her van keys. I eyed the parking lot. Logan was getting into a car with Nate, Katie, and Brad. The popular crowd. Not my crowd. I looked around for Brian and Brianna. Their car was gone. I hadn’t seen them since first period. Had they gone home sick?
Zoey finally pulled out her keys. “Sure you don’t want me to drop you off?”
“Na. I haven’t had enough bonding time with the acorns today.”
Zoey laughed. “Fine. But you want me to pick you up at Witch Wood Monday morning?”
“Hugs,” she said then, pulling me into an embrace. “Don’t overdose on too much Matlock and Werther’s candies this weekend. And don’t get sick. Call me, okay?”
“Dead spot, remember? I’ll try…if the rotary phone is working. It’s been acting strange.” Strange was an understatement. Since last weekend the old rotary phone kept ringing, but there was never anyone on the line…just static and strange tinny sounds.
Zoey nodded. “Okay, I’m gonna be late for work. Later, babes,” Zoey called then flounced down the steps toward her van.
I took a deep breath, inhaling the crisp autumn wind. This weekend marked the feast of Mabon, the harvest festival, and I was planning to spend it with the one person who understood me best, Madame Knightly. Of course, before I could run off to the haven of Witch Wood Estate, I had to make a stop at the place where I hated to be most…home.
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