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Black Wood

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Black Wood


  A Witch Rising Book One


  Cover art photography by Georgina Hawkes, [email protected]

  Smashwords edition

  ISBN: 978-1-4660-6667-0

  ©Copyright 2011 Jayde Scott

  The right of Jayde Scott to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.

  This is a work of fiction and any resemblance between the characters and persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

  This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the author, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorized distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

  Other teen and young adult titles by Jayde Scott:

  A Job From Hell (Ancient Legends Book One)

  Beelzebub Girl (Ancient Legends Book Two)

  Voodoo Kiss (Ancient Legends Book Three…coming soon)

  Alex Gonzo, Royal Spy

  To Foxy, Silver and Tabby


  My gratitude goes to F. for the inspiration and for loving this story just as much as I do.

  A huge thank you to the highly gifted photographer and model Georgina Hawkes for the amazing digital art. I think everyone will agree she is extremely talented.

  Thank you to my fantastic critique group, Patricia, Christine, June, Wanita, Holly and Elizabeth, and last but not least a huge thank you to my invaluable readers.

  Chapter 1

  Emily walked up the cobblestone path and peered at the tall Scottish mansion. Ravencourt Manor was still as creepy as she remembered it: big and gloomy with a draft in every corner. Taking in the old, murky walls with their peeling plaster and dark-green honeysuckle, she shivered. The vine stretching from the ground to the turrets and windows on the first floor looked like a hand sucking the life out of the red brick. And maybe it did, for the house seemed dead as a cemetery with its iron-wrought gates, stone-mullioned sills and weeds raking out of every crevice.

  Dark clouds gathered in the distance. A black crow swooped over her head and perched on the cast iron roof. The scent of damp earth hung heavy in the chilly December air. She squeezed her father’s hand when a crack of thunder made her jump.

  “I wish Mum and Sam were here,” Emily whispered.

  “You know that’s not possible.” He opened the large wooden doors. “Now come along.”

  The shutters on the first floor buckled in the wind. With slow steps she entered the wide hallway and followed her father to the kitchen. Her brother, Sam, had often joked that drafts were ghosts creeping slowly toward one. Emily knew it wasn’t true because her grandmother had called it nonsense. But now, standing in the large kitchen with a cold breeze blowing from beyond the closed door, the memory of Sam’s words made her legs wobbly.

  The room was dark given that it was only midday. She lifted a finger and poked at a huge cobweb hanging from the chipped mugs near the window as she glanced at the large backyard with its high grass and thick bushes. Her grandmother had always liked wild flowers, but the garden looked like you could hide an elephant in there and no one would ever notice.

  “Everything okay?” her father asked from the door, his arms straining with the weight of several large bags.

  “Yes, Dad,” she whispered, but he was already gone, the sound of creaking floorboards and thuds giving away that he was in the next room, opening and closing windows and cupboards.

  Emily climbed up the stairs to her room and found her suitcases on the thick wool blanket that covered her bed. She pulled down the zipper and placed her clothes and her favourite teddy neatly inside the empty drawers of a brown closet. She didn’t take her other stuffed animals and toys with her because she knew she wouldn’t be staying in Inverness long. Her mum and dad just needed some time apart. Besides, her room didn’t lack much. On her rare visits, her grandmother used to buy her whatever Emily desired.

  She stood in front of a big mirror, brushing her long, brown hair, as she took in her large hazelnut eyes, thin nose and pink cheeks. Her father always said she looked like her grandmother when she was younger. Except for the hair. One day, she’d dye her hair orange just like her grandmother's.

  Her fingertips traced her grandparents’ contours on the old picture frame in her hand when she heard her father call.

  “What?” Emily shouted back, placing the picture frame back on the bedside table.

  “I said, dinner’s ready,” her father’s voice said, louder.

  Emily sighed and blew her smiling grandparents a kiss as her gaze turned toward the window to the high, rounded tower perched on the hill in the distance. Urquhart Caste with its grey walls and haunted grounds. Her grandmother had told her about the narrow, overgrown trails twisting through villages and woods leading to the castle, meant to keep visitors away. Maybe her father would take her there if he wasn’t too busy with work.

  She put on her slippers and hurried down the stairs, then froze in her tracks. The sound of female laughter echoed from the kitchen.

  Who was that? She frowned, hesitating, before walking in. A pretty blonde woman watched her father with a smile as she brushed the hair from the eyes of a boy with very pale skin and hundreds of freckles covering his nose and cheeks. The boy slumped in his chair, picking at a scab on his arm. The smell of baked beans and sausages tickled Emily’s nose.

  “Oh, good. Come here, Emily,” her father said. “This is Aurelie.” He pointed at the woman. “And that’s her nephew, Clifford. They’re our next door neighbours.”

  “Hi, Emily. Your dad has told us so much about you,” Aurelie said, smiling. She was a little short, but slim, with pink cheeks and blue eyes. “You must miss your brother terribly. How old is he?”

  “Fifteen,” her father said.

  Aurelie reached out to shake Emily’s hand. Emily squeezed it and noticed that the woman’s skin was dry and unpleasant, almost like a bar of soap. She dropped Aurelie’s hand quickly. As she looked away, she spotted the strange boy squinting at her through brown, sleepy eyes.

  “Clifford, get up now,” Aurelie said through gritted teeth, her mouth contorting as she tried to keep her forced smile in place.

  Her old Aunt Betty would smile like that, and she wasn’t a very pleasant person to be around. Aunt Betty said the meanest things and she always knew everything better than everyone else. Like how you should sit at the table and how to sip your cup of tea instead of slurping.

  The boy stood to shake Emily’s hand. “How do you do?” His voice sounded as uninterested as his half-shut eyes. Emily wondered how he had actually spoken with his mouth closed.

  “Well, my Clifford’s fourteen, only a year older than you. You’ll be best friends,” Aurelie said.

  In spite of Aurelie’s stern looks and pursed lips, Clifford didn’t say another word throughout dinner, yet Emily noticed that, for some reason, he didn’t stop staring at her. At first, she avoided his gaze, but soon she had enough and stared back. Clifford’s face turned bright red like a tomato. He lowered his eyes to his plate and started chewing on his lips. What a weird boy. With a triumphant smile, Emily tuned back in to the conversation between her
father and their new neighbour.

  “My, what a shame the children aren’t the same age. If they were, they’d be in the same class,” said Aurelie with the same frozen smile on her face that Emily was starting to dislike.

  Emily snorted. Boy was she glad. She couldn’t imagine having to bear Clifford’s spooky stares day in, day out. She knew boys were strange. Just look at Sam and his friends, and how they always screamed and punched at each other. But this one was completely out of sorts.

  “But since the children go to the same school they will probably have the same afternoon activities and will finish at the same time,” Aurelie continued.

  "Just stop calling me a child," Emily muttered.

  Her father looked at her with raised eyebrows. Aurelie took a sip of her Earl Grey tea and carried on. “I don’t mind giving Emily a lift home when I pick Clifford up. She can stay with us until you’re back from work. Isn’t that a lovely idea, my dears?”

  "Don't think so." This wasn’t a good idea at all. Her father wouldn’t be home before six and her school usually finished at three. How could she possibly spend three hours in the presence of Aurelie and weird Clifford? Her father would never agree. She looked up at him expectantly. He wouldn’t, would he?

  “I plan on employing a babysitter,” her father said.

  "Dad, you can't be serious," Emily whispered. "I'm almost fourteen."

  "Almost," he whispered back. "It's either a babysitter or Aurelie."

  Given the choice, she knew which one to take. She could deal with a babysitter. They weren’t that bad.

  “But, there’s no need,” Aurelie said. “What a waste of money! You need to buy so many things for the house.” She looked around, gesturing with her hands. “Maybe a few rugs and proper curtains. And you know, letting a stranger into your home is never a good idea, Edgar.”

  Emily frowned. Why was this woman calling her father by his first name? Aurelie was a stranger too. So, what was she doing in their home? “I think a babysitter is a great idea, Dad!”

  “You’re too young to speak up without being addressed first,” Aurelie said. Her thin lips were still contorted in a smile, but her blue eyes shined unnaturally now and her grin showed more teeth than before. Emily couldn’t help but smile. Aurelie looked like one of those Chihuahua dogs with fletched teeth. Only, not even half as cute.

  “Oh well, you’re probably right, Aurelie. If you don’t mind, I’ll leave Emily with you for a few afternoons a week. I wouldn’t know how to find a babysitter so soon anyway, especially in a remote area like this,” her father said. “She’ll be no trouble at all.”

  Aurelie clapped her knobbly hands. “Goody, goody,” she exclaimed happily, like the cat who got the cream. “We’ll have a marvellous time, won’t we, children?”

  Emily rolled her eyes. She really doubted that, particularly if the woman didn't stop calling them 'children.'

  Chapter 2

  After the first day at her new school, Emily sat on Aurelie’s fluffy sofa, holding a cup of hot tea in her hand.

  “You’ll have to drink that eventually, my dear.” Aurelie’s voice was soft, yet her stern look didn’t leave any doubt that her words were an order rather than a friendly reminder.

  “So I shall when it’s cooled down. I don’t drink my tea hot,” Emily said, imitating the blonde woman’s voice. Aurelie grimaced, but didn’t respond.

  Emily lifted the cup to her nose to take a sniff and smiled sweetly. She didn’t intend to drink any of it. She had taken a sip and had found that it tasted like washing up liquid. Now she would just cradle the cup in her hands, waiting for her father to pick her up, so she could hurry out the door and leave the tea behind. Or maybe she could get rid of the dark-brownish liquid now. What a marvellous idea. She looked around the room and spotted several flowerpots in the corner next to the window.

  She chewed on her bottom lip. If only she could get Aurelie and Clifford out of the room. She tried to think of something, but not a single idea popped into her head. Turning her gaze away from the plants, she sighed. Sam would know what to do. He always did, but her brother wasn’t here. Hopefully, her father would come pick her up soon.

  Aurelie rose from her seat. “Clifford, dear, why don’t you help me with the sandwiches in the kitchen?”

  Without waiting for a reply, Aurelie grabbed Clifford’s upper arm. She pulled him to his feet and dragged him out of the living room.

  Yes! Emily almost shouted out loud, then covered her mouth with her palm. She bolted toward the window and emptied the content of her cup into the flowerpot, her heart drumming in her ears. If Aurelie asked, she’d say her tea had cooled down and she had enjoyed every drop of it. She smiled. What a great plan. As much as she hated lying, this was a matter of survival.

  When Aurelie and Clifford returned, each of them carried something: Clifford a plate with sandwiches and Aurelie a small wooden box. They exchanged a quick glance, as if they shared a secret, then placed the objects on the table in front of Emily.

  “Isn’t my tea delightful? I knew you’d like it,” Aurelie said. “Can I pour you another cup?”

  “Hell, no!” Emily shouted before she could contain herself. No way was she having more of that dreadful brew. Aurelie’s eyes narrowed to two tiny slits, and Emily hurried to add, “I mean, no, thanks. My dad will be here any minute now.”

  “Well, why don’t you help yourself to a sandwich?” Aurelie pointed at the tray.

  Emily’s stomach rumbled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since lunch. “Thanks,” she said, but Aurelie appeared not to be listening. Her head bowed over the wooden box, her fingers moved left and right over its carved surface as though she was stroking a beloved cat.

  Both Clifford and Emily grabbed a tuna and corn sandwich, munching away silently. The tuna spread tasted delicious. So much better than the tea, it was most certainly purchased, not homemade. Emily smiled, and Clifford threw her a questioning look. She glared back at him until he looked away.

  Eventually, Aurelie woke up from her dream-like state, clearing her throat to speak. “My mother left this to me.” She spoke slowly, her voice almost a whisper.

  Emily slid closer to catch her words.

  “It’s very special.” Aurelie opened the lid of the box. “I want you to have it. But you have to promise that you’ll take great care of it.” Her hands moved inside and she lifted a bundle wrapped in black satin. She removed the cloth to reveal a leather-bound book. The cover looked scratched and dusty, the pages yellow from age.

  “Isn’t it beautiful?” Aurelie asked, her eyes big and shiny.

  “I guess,” Emily said, not sure whether the woman knew there was nothing beautiful about an old, smelly book with yellow pages. She reached for the cover to open it and have a look at the thing when Aurelie cried out.

  “No, don’t!”

  Emily flinched. “Sorry,” she whispered, but Aurelie seemed once again absorbed by the book as she reached for the black cloth and wrapped it carefully around it, then placed it back inside its box.

  “You have to be alone when you open it for the first time because it’s very special,” Aurelie said with the usual frozen smile back on her face.

  “What’s so special about an old book? My granny used to have hundreds of them.”

  “Oh, but this isn’t the ordinary old knickknack your grandmother used to collect, my dear. Old, yes, but not ordinary.” Aurelie chuckled, and for the first time Clifford demonstrated he understood what was being said and chuckled too. His lips parted to reveal a large gap between his front teeth. For a while, Emily couldn’t help but stare at it. Boy was that a big gap!

  “And this is no book, either,” Aurelie continued, jolting Emily out of her thoughts. “It’s a diary that will fulfil your wishes. So, be careful what you request, my dear, because soon you may very well run out of wishes.”

  What nonsense! She had never heard of a wish-fulfilling diary. Of the tooth fairy and genies, yes, but not a diary. “Why don
t you use it yourself? Surely, there’s a lot you could want.” Emily looked around the room at the worn furniture, old chandelier and faded curtains. Aurelie could definitely use new curtains and someone like her grandmother to teach her how to make a good cup of tea.

  “Why, dear, you should be thankful for my generosity. Maybe I have two of them or maybe I simply have no use for it.” Aurelie chuckled again. “Either way, you should be very grateful that I have decided to pass it on to you. You wouldn’t be so lucky if I had a niece instead of a nephew.” She threw a meaningful glance at Clifford.

  Emily opened her mouth to ask why Clifford couldn’t have the diary when the shrill jingle of the doorbell cut her off. Aurelie hurried out of the room to open it.

  “I wish I could have it,” Clifford said as soon as Aurelie was gone.

  Did the boy just talk to her? “What?” Emily asked, not sure she’d heard right.

  Clifford pointed at the closed box. “The magic diary. Aunt Aurelie won’t let me have it, but I wish she would.”

  Emily smiled. She understood what the older boy was talking about. Her Aunt Betty had a cute, tabby cat, and she’d never let Emily play with it. Well, it wasn’t exactly the same thing, but somehow she felt that maybe she and Clifford had something in common after all. “You can look at it whenever you come to visit.”

  Clifford returned her smile, and Emily decided they could be friends after all. Maybe it wasn’t his fault he always gawked and never spoke so much as a word. With an aunt like Aurelie, who would?

  “Emily, time to go home!” She heard her father’s voice calling from the hall.

  “I’m coming, Dad,” Emily yelled back. She yanked the old box off the table. It was so heavy, she had to use both hands to carry it. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Clifford.”

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