The XYZs of Being Wicked One
Mom’s voice is clipped and irritated when she taps her watch. “Tick tock, Hallie.”
I keep my eyes on the television. “When this is over.”
The television clicks off, and I huff out a big breath. I hate it when she does that.
“I’m not packing for you, no matter how long you put it off.”
I lie down on the couch and groan. “I’ll do it later. Who knows when I’ll get to see my shows again.”
“One, two . . .”
“Really? You’re counting? I’m eleven, Mom. Not five.”
She grabs my legs and drops them to the floor. “Now.”
Moving more slowly than honey in a snowstorm, I drag myself to the attic door.
I hate attics. And basements. They’re the soulless pits of a house, and I have no use for either one of them. Except today. Today, I have to climb into the attic. It doesn’t matter that the last time I was in the attic, I fell and landed face-first in the biggest spiderweb any spider has ever created in the history of the world.
I’m on my third jump to reach the cord hanging from the attic door when Dad appears. He drops a step ladder in front of me. “The definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing and—”
“Expecting different results,” I finish. Dad’s a total quote junkie. This particular Einstein quote has been repeated in my house so many times, I have it memorized.
I take two steps on the small ladder, grab the cord, and pull it down.
“Packing? Already?” he teases, knowing Mom’s been nagging me for a week to pack.
“Funny, Dad.” I give him a smile, and my heart pinches. I’m going to miss him. I’m going to miss Mom. I’m going to miss my dog, Charlie. The only thing I won’t miss is the heartless Kendall Scott, who has made it her personal mission in life to ensure I never rise above the level of social scum at school.
Dad rubs his hands together like he’s warming them over a fire. “Exciting stuff, Hallie.”
A flame of panic spreads through my stomach. I douse it with the reminder that I’m starting over in a new school with new kids. Dowling’s my do-over.
I look up the attic stairs, then back at him. He knows how I feel about attics.“Want me to turn the light on?” Without waiting for me to answer, he climbs the stairs, yanks the light cord, and comes back down. “It’s all yours.”
Watching Dad walk off, I wish I’d asked him to go up with me. I grab the handle of the folding stairs that lead to the attic and gently place my foot on the first step. It creaks lightly under my weight.
You’re being ridiculous, Hallie Faith Simon. Climb the steps, clean out the trunk, pack, and be done with it.
I hold my breath and take the rest of the steps quickly, exhaling when I reach the top. The attic is as musty and menacing as I remember.
I scan the neatly stacked boxes, plastic tubs, and plywood walking paths. I place one foot on the wood to test its strength, then gingerly walk the plank. The trunk is exactly where Mom said it would be—under the window, covered in dust, daring me to open it.
I drop to my knees and blow on the top of the trunk. Even after I open the window, the dust hangs in the air and I have to wave my hands in front of me to see better. Putting my hand on the metal latch, I close my eyes, and quickly lift the lid. When nothing jumps out and kills me, I peek through one eye to examine the trunk. Seems safe enough, so I dare to open both eyes. Carved on the inside of the lid is something I can’t read. I trace my fingers over the cursive letters and try to pronounce the words.
Delicias fuge ne frangaris crimine, verum
Coelica tu quaeras, ne male dipereas;
Respicias tua, non cujusvis quaerito gesta
Carpere, sed laudes, nec preme veridicos;
Judicio fore te praesentem conspice toto.
Anxiety swims through me. I may not be able to read it, but I know these words will be important in my new world. Engraved below that are words I can actually read.
SIMON FAMILY TRUNK
DOWLING ACADEMY SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT, Est. 1521
More curious than afraid, I peer into the trunk. Part of me hopes there’s a copy of Witchcraft for Dummies inside, but all I find are two weird things that look like they belong in a museum.
A small stick that looks like a miniature totem pole leans in the corner of the trunk. Again I blow the dust off and lean in for a closer look. But I can’t see it the way I want and slowly slip my hand into the trunk. I grab the stick and pull it out quickly, like rattlers are threatening to strike. When lightning doesn’t fry me, I let out the breath I’ve been holding. Call me crazy, but digging in a dead witch’s trunk puts this girl on edge.
The stick is so light, I can barely feel it in my hands as I hold it up to the sunlight. Symbols I don’t recognize are carved into the stick, and instead of totally creeping me out, it calms me. I can’t explain it, but something like relief washes over me.
I put the stick back into the trunk, and, braver than I thought possible, I grab the only other item in the trunk. A book of yellowed pages with an S embossed in the center fills my hands. I wipe the black leather cover and let my finger trace the S. Is the S for “Simon”?
Gently I open the cover and read the inscription.
This Book of Shadows Belongs to Elsa Whittier Simon.
I grin at the small angry letters scribbled at the bottom.
I don’t make friends easily, but I think I would have liked my great-great-grandmother.
I reread the inscription. Book of Shadows. Another part of my new life I know nothing about. Thumbing through the pages filled with perfect cursive handwriting, I stop at a dog-eared page.
Hear us now, the words of the witches,
The secrets we hide in the night.
Our magic is sought,
Invoke our power,
In this hour,
On this night.
I whisper the words as I read them, over and over again.
The sound of my mother’s voice behind me stops my
heart for a full second. I whip my head around, but before I can tell her how badly she scared me, wind swirls inside the attic, first soft and refreshing. Then churning faster and faster and faster, like an angry tornado. Boxes, papers, and pieces of insulation hurl through the room so fiercely, I can barely hold my place on the floor. I clutch the Book of Shadows to my chest to keep from losing it.
I attempt to scream through the storm. “Mom!”
The trunk seems to be the only thing not flying through the room, so I grab it in a death grip.
There’s no reply from Mom, and I’ve lost sight of her in the storm debris.
My glasses begin sliding from my face, and I drop the Book of Shadows to hold them in place.
In that instant the room stills.
My eyes dart through the room, taking in the attic, the attic that should be filled with trash but looks exactly as it did when I first climbed the stairs.
Hand still clamped on the trunk, I take a shaky breath. What in the world just happened? Did I imagine it?
When I finally lock eyes with Mom, her body is frozen in fear.
No. I did not imagine this. What just happened scared
her even more than it terrified me, and I remind myself that she’s as new to this as I am.
“What— Did you— How . . .” She stutters over her words, trying to make sense of the bizarro scene. All the relief I felt just moments ago has evaporated, and in its place is sheer panic.
I can’t do this.
I can’t do this.
I can’t be a witch.
But a voice thunders in my head. I have to do this.
I toss the book into the trunk and shut the lid before dragging the piece of luggage closer to Mom. I need to get out of here and immediately pretend none of it happened, pretend I didn’t cause the storm, and pretend I’m not going to a school for witches.
“See?” I say. “Didn’t I tell you? Nothing good happens