Chapter 1: Flying Broom
1 Flying Broom
AS HER TEACHER AND FELLOW witch-girl classmates watched, Hecate cautiously approached a magic broomstick. It hovered horizontally several feet above the ground, about five yards away, waiting for her. She was one of a very few in her grade who couldn’t yet fly. Which was embarrassing! Especially since tomorrow was her birthday and she’d be turning twelve. By that age most girls had been flying for a year or two! But maybe today was the day she’d finally win her own broom.
Like the other witches here at Hexwitch School, the dark-eyed Hecate wore the standard uniform: a black chiton—which was basically a simple, flowy dress—plus red-and-white striped leggings and ankle boots. And, of course, a pointy black hat. Beneath it, her hair was long, black, and a little messy. She rarely combed it. Witches weren’t supposed to have tidy hair!
Eyeing the broom, Hecate lifted a hand to fiddle with the necklace she wore—one she’d made herself. She possessed many such necklaces, each strung with small, square pieces of papyrus. Upon each piece she’d written one interesting fact she’d collected about a particular subject.
The facts on this necklace were all about brooms. She muttered one of them now to calm herself. “Witch brooms are made from grass, straw, hay, corn husks, or thin sticks that are tied onto a tree branch as a handle.”
For some reason, learning and speaking random information made her feel more in control, and calmed her fears about the possibility of any bad stuff happening. Hexwitch School was located on Earth. And that could be a scary place. The day she’d turned six years old, for example, she’d been chased up a tree by a dog!
And that was only the beginning of her troubles with animals. Over the years she’d been scratched by a cat, nibbled by a rabbit, and pounced on by a squirrel. And a raccoon had once stolen her lunch right off the bench where she’d sat eating it! It was like she was like an animal-trouble magnet or something. If she could win her own broom today, she’d be able to make quick getaways from annoying animals and maybe other kinds of trouble too.
At last, Hecate stood next to the waiting broom.
“Hecate, meet Twitchy,” her teacher Ms. Zoomly told her, gesturing toward the broom. It had a long black handle with dry brown corn husks tied at one end as the sweeping part.
“Hi, Twitchy,” Hecate squeaked nervously. Her past failures at flying were weighing her down.
“Twitchy, meet Hecate,” Ms. Zoomly told the broom.
It jerked and rattled its husks in reply.
“Remember, a witch needs to bond with her broom,” Ms. Zoomly reminded Hecate in a kind but firm voice. “You are not its boss and it is not yours. You’ll act as partners. For flying to go well, you must respect one another.”
Still feeling anxious, Hecate nodded. She’d heard this before. After all, this was her twelfth attempt at flying, each time with a different broom. If she wanted to avoid failing Broomstick Studies, she really needed to step it up.
Straightening, she pulled her hat’s drawstring tight under her chin, so it wouldn’t blow off once she was airborne. Her hand shook as she wrapped her fingers around the broom’s shaft ten inches from the tip, as she’d been taught. Her teeth started to chatter. Her knees wobbled.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” she whispered. She’d read that somewhere. She only wished she knew how many times she’d have to try, though.
Quickly, she slung one leg over the broom’s shaft. “Fly!” she commanded. Within seconds the broom took her soaring above the treetops. She’d launched before, but this was the first time she’d managed to get this high. So far, so good!
“You can do it!” “Go, Hecate!” she heard her classmates cheer from below.
She had only five minutes to complete her course. The goal was to fly in the shape of a pentagram, a five-pointed star that was the school symbol. It was embroidered on their school uniforms and on the school flag. Each point stood for a quality they were to strive for: kindness, responsibility, diligence, confidence, and honesty.
Hecate grinned as she and her broom successfully made the first point. And the second. Head down, she leaned left, indicating to the broom which direction to fly to make the next one. The wind cooled her cheeks and blew her hair into even more of a tangle as they turned. She hit the next point, no problem! She’d never made it to three points before. Woo-hoo! What a thrill! But the thrill didn’t last.
Without thinking, she loosened her grip on the broom instead of guiding it into the next turn. Sensing her lack of control, it decided to misbehave. (Witch brooms were mischievous like that.) It darted left, then jerked right, then backward and forward again. It was like a wild horse trying to buck her off its back!
Somehow she managed to hang on. But then the broom flipped her upside down. It headed for a huge oak tree. They were going to crash!
Hecate unclasped her hands and knees from the sides of the broom. And suddenly she was falling! A haystack magically appeared on the ground below her, thanks to Ms. Zoomly. Teachers always took care to give students a soft landing.
Oof! She dropped on the hay, landing faceup. As she lay there, she watched Twitchy zip safely around the tree. Not crashing. Never even touching it. It curled its corn husks into a smile shape and wiggled merrily. It was laughing at her!
“That did not go well,” she muttered. What if that wacky broom had crashed her into that tree? That was a scary thought.
“You’ll do better next time,” Ms. Zoomly told her encouragingly, while giving her a hand up from the hay.
Hecate stood and straightened her pointed hat, loosening its drawstring. Her green-haired best friend, Willow, ran over and gave her a hug. “You did great!”
Her other best friend, Hazel, clapped. “Yeah, three points this time!” She was wearing hazelnuts as earrings.
“What’s the opposite of nailed it?” said a third classmate, with bright orange hair. “Oh, yeah—failed it.”
Ugh. That mean girl was named Jinx.
Jinx’s BFF, Agatha, smirked and added, “Again.”
“Mm-hm,” said Hecate. She managed a smile as she got to her feet and brushed the straw off her chiton. Jinx was supercompetitive. She seemed to think that the more other students failed, the better it made witches like her look when they succeeded. Wrong!
But Jinx was right about one thing. Hecate had failed again.
Whoosh! Overhead, a flock of broom-riding Hexwitch students zoomed by, ruffling the hair and chitons of everyone below. It was the school’s Broom Zoom team, out practicing. They performed at sports and school events, flying in formation and doing tricks and fancy maneuvers.
As everyone watched, the team did the Wedding Cake, a formation with a row of nine flyers at its base, then eight, then seven, tapering up to only two at the very top. Then came the Leapfrog maneuver, which had them flying in horizontal lines while they leaped over one another.
If only Hecate could ever get good enough to make the team. Ha! Like that was going to happen. She couldn’t even fly a broom for five minutes without falling off!
Still, she got lots more thumbs-ups and encouraging words from other students at dinner later that evening. “You’ll do it next time,” they told her.
Jinx and a few of her witch-girl followers cackled and stared, obviously relishing Hecate’s failure. That stung a little. But she told herself not to worry about them. It helped to remind herself that she was better in Charmed Arts class than most girls at Hexwitch. Everyone had their strengths, right?
After dinner, Hecate dashed up the thirteen-story spiral staircase to her dorm room. (Thirteen was every witch’s lucky number.) She was in a hurry. Because school still wasn’t over. Her Creative Spelling class was going on a field trip tonight—to a cemetery!
In her room, a wind chime of metallic witch figures tinkled at her open window, which was framed by spiderweb-patterned curtains. She squeezed out some black licorice-flavored toothpaste and then brushed her teeth. Next, she reached into her closet and grabbed one additional fact necklace, looping it around her neck. This one was strung with papyrus squares that contained facts about cemeteries!
All the girls had identical rooms with a four-poster bed, a small dresser, a desk and chair, two shelves, one closet, and a cozy stone fireplace. In Hecate’s room, unlit wax candles of many sizes and shapes, which she’d made in Charmed Arts, sat all around.
Hecate grabbed a blue-and-topaz-colored candle. She’d mixed various herbs into its wax when she’d made it. Then she’d carved it with special symbols and infused it with glitter.
Once lit, different-colored candles could help you achieve specific magical purposes. Some colors could bring love or money. But blue brought protection, and topaz lent self-confidence. Two things she could have used during her broom test. Too bad it was considered a fire hazard to carry a candle while flying!
While holding on to the blue-and-topaz candle, she quickly spoke an incantation:
“Candle, candle, please alight,
To guide me safely through this night.”
Pzzt! Instantly, the candle lit itself.
“Darkness has fallen! Come along, those of you in my Creative Spelling class!” she heard her teacher call up the stairs from below.
Hecate scurried over, snatched up a piece of charcoal from her unlit stone fireplace, and stowed it in her pocket. Then she grabbed a half dozen large sheets of papyrus from her desk, rolled them up, tucked them in her bag, and slung its straps over one shoulder. After taking a calming breath, she grabbed her candle and dashed out of her room.