And now, we at Witch Awareness Month, have a real treat for you all, as we publish, exclusively, the first chapter of the novel, Hedge Witch, by Simon Kewin, which will be released 31st October, 2013.
Enjoy and keep a look out for more information at the Morrigan Books site.
1 – Cait
Cait nearly missed her stop that day on the tram. If she had, everything would have turned out very, very different.
As it was she pushed her way through the crowded carriage and just made it to the doors before they slid shut. Outside, she stood for a moment and breathed. Her eyes had closed more than once on the journey into Manchester, the result of a long day at school and the rocking of the tram as it rattled into the city. It was good to be in the open air. A breeze blew down Mosley Street, warm on her face.
The street was busy: office workers sweating in their suits and ties, shoppers burdened with purchases, rowdy children clouting each other with their backpacks. Beyond them all rose the grey, curving walls of the Central Library, like a round fortress built in the heart of the city.
She sighed. She’d promised herself she wouldn’t get off here. She thought about Devi, Rachel, Val and Jen, the friends she’d promised to meet one stop up the line at the Arndale. She watched the tram thundering off that way now, ploughing through the traffic towards Piccadilly Square. They’d be there already, cruising through the crowds, laughing and shouting, never bothering to move out of anyone’s way. As a group they were invincible. She imagined them veering from shop window to shop window, shouting their disgust at this, their burning desire for that. And no-one, no grown-up, no security guard, would dare confront them.
She loved them all, but in her mind she saw herself at the back of the group, saying nothing, not involved. It was like that some days. She would look at them from a distance, marvelling at how they all talked at once but still seemed to hear what each other said. Other times, without really knowing how, she was a part of that. But not today. She couldn’t face them today.
She looked back down the tracks the way the tram had come. The rails gleamed in the sun, past the oblong bulk of the cenotaph and away out of the city, south towards the suburbs.
Her mother would be getting home about now. Cait imagined her switching on the television, pulling steaming food from the microwave. She should be there, too. Another promise. But she couldn’t face going home just now either. She’d left a message, done the right thing. She’d go back later.
She sighed again. The tram had vanished and she hadn’t moved. She couldn’t just stand there, people would stare. Come on Cait. Back to the real world.
She thought about last Saturday, her disastrous attempt to secure a weekend job at Bling Thing. He’d said that, the manager, as he explained to her why she was so unsuitable for the job.
‘Look, love. You have to live in the real world now. You have to smile, be happy to serve the customers. Be enthusiastic about the products. Be excited by them.’
His words amused her and then annoyed her. He wanted her to be something she wasn’t. She felt trapped, had to fight down the urge to flee. It was all so mundane. Where was the beauty in it? Where was the magic? She’d imagined the man would be old but he was only in his twenties or something. He was smartly dressed, polite, but his staring eyes, the way he gushed about retailing, made her shudder and say little.
His office was a square, shabby room at the back of the store, its walls just breeze-blocks painted lime-green. A kettle and a jar of instant coffee sat on a tray on the floor. Boxes of stock were strewn all around, in contrast to the manicured layout of the shop. When he took his jacket off, she saw the sweat-rings creeping out around his armpits, circles widening towards the white stains of other days’ sweat-rings. And all this was something she was expected to aspire to. To be like him. She thought of herself still there in five, ten years’ time. Interviewing some other girl for a job. Would she be saying the same things by then?
A poster on the wall, the blu-tac holding it up visible as dark smudges in each corner, said Smile – it costs nothing. It wasn’t true. Right then, a smile would have cost her more than she could ever give. And what she actually said to himwas, ‘Hmm.’
And so she hadn’t got the job. She was a failure, it was clear. She knew she was no good at school. She tried, she really did, but she always ended up antagonizing her teachers for some reason. She’d always assumed she could get a job at least, make something of herself. It turned out she couldn’t. Couldn’t even make it as a Saturday girl in Bling Thing. She was a failure, going nowhere. Already it seemed her life was over.
She threw her rucksack over one shoulder and set off, a small pile of text books cradled in one arm. How she hated her black school uniform. She’d tried to subvert it with heels that were slightly too long, a skirt that was slightly too short, the tiny ruby in her pierced nose. None of it really helped. She hated how she looked. She scowled as she walked, warning everyone not to bother her.
Slumped against the grey stone wall of the library, out of the way of hurrying feet and the light of the sun, a man sat on a piece of tatty cardboard. A threadbare blanket was wrapped around his shoulders. On the ground before him lay a hat containing a paltry four or five coins, all coppers. He held a sign in his hands that said simply, Please. The rest of the message, whatever he was begging for, had been torn away. He was asleep, his head nodding forwards, long, matted hair covering his face. The crowd ignored him, probably didn’t even see him.
She wondered who he was, where he’d come from, what his story was. A fantasy came to her that he was one of the few who’d escaped the fire: the blaze in the factory that had killed her father. He had limped out, choking, his clothes smoking, his skin burned. He was disfigured now, unable to work, unable to do anything but sit and beg. The formless pleading of that single word on his sign.
She wanted to go up to him, sit with him, talk to him. She felt suddenly closer to him than all the people around her. They had so much in common, this shared bond of not belonging to the crowd. She stopped walking. A woman dressed in a smart blue business-suit, her gold necklace expensive, white earphones in her ears, tutted loudly at Cait for being in the way.
A flap of the cardboard on which the beggar sat caught the breeze and she saw the words This Way Up in red letters. Underneath, smaller, the name of some company.
The man looked sharply up and directly at her. Or rather, through her to something beyond, as if he couldn’t get his eyes to focus properly. He was young. He couldn’t possibly have worked with her father. Of course. His skin was unscarred, his features thin and pale. Anger flashed through her, an anger that was part adrenalin. The stupid ideas she had. What was she thinking?
‘The hunt! The hunt is coming! Monsters! Run and hide, run and hide!’ the man shouted. No-one paid him any attention. ‘They’ll chase you down, corner you. You’ll see! Sleep safe in your beds, that’s when they come. The dead of night, down these streets, knives flashing. Run and hide, run and hide …’ He tailed off, his head lolling forward again as if he was a toy whose battery had run down.
Cait stood for a moment, feeling ridiculous. He was just some loser, disgusting, probably mad.
Then he looked up again, this time directly at her, focusing on her. A look of surprise filled his face.
‘You?’ he said, not shouting now, but still speaking loudly. ‘Here?’
His mouth moved quickly without any words coming out. Concern, then fear, then amusement flashed across his features. He started shouting again, this time pointing directly at her.
‘They will hunt you! Once they find you, who you are and what you are, they will come! Day or night! You … here all along! All along!’
He started to laugh. A crazy, utterly uninhibited laugh. He flicked his head from side to side, expecting everyone to see the joke.
It was too much for Cait. She turned and ran for the library doors, her eyes down, shutting out the crowd, shutting out the beggar, his words knives in her mind.