Monday, December 13, 2010
Today's excerpt is CHAPTER ONE from Maria E. Schneider's newest novel, Under Witch Moon. I'm a big fan of Maria's and she's been featured here before both with a short story as well as an excerpt from her laugh-out-loud Sedona O'Hala mystery, Executive Lunch. Now, Maria successfully tackles the world of paranormal fiction with a dash of humor.
About Under Witch Moon:
Adriel should have known that with a werewolf, it never stopped with just one body. She would have gone to the police after witnessing Dolores' death, but she wasn't certain the killer she saw was responsible for the other murders. Besides, the police didn't believe in werewolves, and they weren't going to believe she was a witch either so what could she tell them?
She kept her eyes and ears open while she tried to help her latest client escape the clutches of a voodoo witch, but things went from bad to worse when more bodies turned up. She was greatly relieved when she met White Feather, an undercover cop. Unfortunately, he wasn't convinced she was innocent of all wrong-doing.
It was going to take every spell she knew and a few she hadn't tried to solve the murders and stay alive.
Books on the Knob said this about Under Witch Moon: "..had me laughing out loud...I raced right thru it past all the twists and turns to the very end. I'm glad to see this one marked as part of the Moon Shadow Series...I hope that I'll be reading more about Adriel in the future."
And now, CHAPTER ONE from Under Witch Moon:
Being a witch isn't easy. It's smelly, grueling work. I'm not talking about magic. Magic is a power that comes from natural forces. I'm talking about witchery, the chemical reactions for spells. Mind you, I dabble in magic; most witches do, but the bulk of my work involves a lot of formulas. It's a chore like any, much like caulking a house--messy, stinky and the results don't last forever.
Yes, spells wear out. They sometimes glue themselves to the wrong thing or dry too fast or don't dry at all. When I'm finished, I need a bath and in some cases, just as paint needs turpentine, I need special solutions to rid myself of the chemicals that have made themselves at home on my person.
At present, I was working on a spell for protection. It was an easy spell and thankfully cleaner than most. Salt, a purifier and element that worked well against rogue spirits, was the main ingredient. While it was wonderfully effective, it was unfortunately, quick to break down. The main job of a witch in this case was to make sure the salt didn't degrade too quickly. Rich patrons paid me to mix it in gold or silver.
I preferred silver myself. It provided additional protection against evil spirits, including vampires and shifters. Gold was better for other types of spells, plus it was coveted by all, which meant that patrons expected me to include a spell of illusion so that the protection object didn't get stolen--but those same clients wanted the object to be beautiful, so it was therefore coveted by anyone who happened to see it anyway.
Being a witch was indeed an onerous task. If people accepted us, they wanted the impossible. If they didn't, they wanted to burn us at the stake.
Never mind all that. The important thing when working with metals, as I was now, was to make certain of its purity. I didn't care if a customer told me he dug it out of a mountain with his bare hands under a full moon. Santa Fe, along with most of New Mexico, was chock full of old Aztec gold and silver, and let me tell you, those people could imbue nasty spirits like no other.
I had to burn my entire house to the ground once when working with contaminated gold. I still looked over my shoulder on moonless nights, because I wasn't certain I contained the evil spirit back in that lump of gold.
My new house had a special room made from concrete walls covered in adobe brick, covered in stucco. Mud had the wonderful ability to soak up any number of bad things. Stucco had only one important feature--chicken wire. When coated with the right ingredients, the wire provided a nearly complete mesh of protection against many a magical ill. I only wished I had been able to dip the mesh into silver such as I was using now, fresh from the U.S. minting office.
The mint did a great job of removing impurities, along with any bad spirits. Of course, in doing so they nearly removed silver's strong ties to mother earth. Part of my job was to make sure the silver linked again with the purity of earth. I melted it, salted it and strung it ever so carefully into magical fibers. The magic came from mother earth; it was part of the silver. And in truth, any witch worth her pay added a certain magic of her own, a heartbeat tied to mother earth, an aura if you will--the magical quality of life.
The process of mixing, steaming, melting and salting took several days and exquisite timing. Moreover, when those things were done, I had to weave the silver thread into a careful pattern inside my chosen fabric. Given the trouble the woman was in, Dolores Garcia should have sprung for a fifty-strand liquid silver necklace instead. Such a necklace contained far more silver and wearing it would be an obvious message to a courting werewolf that she was not interested.
I finished my client's shirt on the night of a full moon, making sure the silver threads were placed correctly. As with any project, it felt good to finish, but I was tired. I planned to deliver the shirt the next day, but as I left my workroom, the phone rang.
"Adriel!" a voice sobbed my name and then choked to silence.
"Dolores?" I asked, although it could be no other.
"You must help me! Tonight. It's a full moon. It's…I can't control it, I saw him! I must have the shirt, finished or not, I can wait no longer!"
"Tonight?" Dismay colored my voice.
"It's a full moon! He's watching me, he's…" Her voice trembled with emotion.
"Please," she begged, naming a price that I could not afford to refuse.
"Fine." I sighed and then rolled my eyes as she dictated directions to a "safe" location. She insisted the exchange take place in the middle of the desert down in an arroyo so that we didn't stand out in the moonlight. In my mind, it would have been far less suspicious had she come over for a cup of coffee--or even met me at a donut shop.
Whatever. I had an image to uphold, and if the customer wanted me to traipse about the dusty desert after midnight, I just added it to the charge. If she didn't show up after keeping me up most of the night, I'd not only curse her, I'd sell the shirt to someone else, her silver or not.
I got traipsing. With the full moon, I managed to reach the location without too much trouble despite the fact that the spot Dolores had chosen was a mile from any paved road. To her credit, she was on time. From the looks of her though, I was a lot more agile in the dark.
She wasn't any older than me; somewhere in her twenties. She should have been able to easily avoid the prickly cactus, creosote and rocky terrain, but as she approached, she was limping rather noticeably.
She slid down into the arroyo and without ceremony, thrust out a tote bag weighted nicely with money. "Do you have it?" she whispered.
"You won't be able to wear this shirt every single day," I warned, prepared to sell her a kerchief as an additional security measure. "A werewolf is a dangerous--"
"Shhh," she shushed, despite the desert location.
"This shirt will be effective, but I would advise you to purchase some additional protection," I said, exchanging the plain wrapped package for the bag of money.
She grabbed the brown paper bundle from me and held it to her heaving chest like a long-lost teddy-bear. "At last!"
I frowned. I was accustomed to people being grateful, especially in the case of fending off evil, but her elation was almost giddy. "It will keep the werewolf away. Once you start wearing it, he will know that you know what he is. It will make it clear you are not interested."
She spun around in a circle, full Spanish skirts swirling around her legs. In addition to the dress, the idiot had actually worn sandals. Had she worn jeans and hiking boots like I had, maybe she wouldn't be limping.
"He will be mine now," she declared lustily. "I can date him without fear."
"What?" I forgot she wanted to keep our meeting a secret. "Are you crazy? He's an animal!"
"We're all animals! He just happens to be two animals, his were-person and his…person-person."
"That would be were-wolf," I emphasized. "Not were-person. The whole point is that he is an animal at times, with animal instincts and animal reactions."
She flicked long hair over her shoulder. It should have been as luminous black as mine from the usual mix of Spanish and Native American blood in the area, but she had bleached a gray streak across her forehead. Eagerly she gushed, "He's a person and very intelligent. I'm sure that I will be safe now."
"Nonsense." I shuddered at the thought of dealing with a werewolf in beast form.
She drew herself up tightly, thrusting out rather over-sized breasts. "Are you saying the protection I'm buying won't work?"
"Oh, the protection works. But you do realize that the werewolf will sense it, and it will automatically make you an enemy, especially to the wolf."
"He's human! He'll know that I need to be protected from the wolf. He'll be…attracted to the danger!"
"No. Animals are not attracted to danger. They run from it or they fight it."
She smacked away my hand as I reached for the goods. I had decided not to sell it to her.
"His human part will be wildly attracted to me!"
"Fool!" I declared. "His human part--"
She turned away in a swirl of skirts and ran.
Who in their right mind wore a skirt out in the desert? Some women had no sense.
Apparently I was one of them, but for different reasons. When Dolores had approached me about protection from a werewolf, I had hoped to keep her away from the animal, not bring her to it. While I worked on the spell, I kept my ear to the ground. Dolores had been keeping her distance from all men. Since I couldn't know who in her community was the actual werewolf, it only stood to reason that if she were interacting with none of them, she was indeed concerned for her safety.
"Drat your silly hide." I hurtled after her up the side of the arroyo. Catching her should be easy. She gimped along, tripping in the dark. Her legs would be good and scratched and the skirt full of rips before she made it home.
I lunged at her, but missed. She was too stupid to stay where the path was clear. Worse, her limp made her run and weave like a drunk.
I dashed forward again, making a flying tackle at her legs. The skirt, with its billowing mass, misled me. I ended up on the ground with a large armful of material. "Stop, you fool! The werewolf is a dangerous animal!"
She yanked hard, showing desperation that should have been saved for the werewolf. "No!" The skirt was already half shredded from her run through the desert. It gave way with a low rumble of protest. "He'll be mine!"
I was left in the dirt holding a fistful of brightly colored material while she made it to her truck and peeled away into the darkness.
Thankfully, in my pocket was the kerchief I had also made her--intending to tell her to wear it on her person at all times. The silver in the kerchief was from the same batch as the shirt. If I worked quickly, I could use the silver to make a witching fork, track the shirt, and steal it back. Maybe without the false sense of security, she'd give up her wildly stupid plans.
I sighed. It was obvious I could not enlighten her. Mind you, I had nothing against werewolves. I had no problem befriending their human side, but werewolves were werewolves. The animal instincts were there, and so was the animal power. While wolves have been known to fight on the side of humans, it was usually against a common enemy. They were still wild animals, with goals and instincts all their own.
I grumbled my way to my feet and pushed back the dark strands that had loosened from my ponytail. I had time. The moon would still be nearly full for the next couple of nights. No one would date a werewolf this close to a full moon. It would be even stupider than believing a mere shirt of silver and salt could save someone who jumped into the teeth of a wolf.
I took myself home to begin work on a witching fork. Since the silver was from the same batch as the shirt, my witching fork would act like a tuning fork. Only instead of music, the closer I got to the shirt, the better I would be able to hear the song of the mother lode.
My body demanded at least a few hours of sleep before concentrating on the difficult task of wrapping silver threads along a willow-branch fork. Every silver strand had to be exactly the same length and weight on each side of the fork. I didn't want false readings in the middle of the night while breaking into private property.
* * *
It took until dusk the next day before I was ready with Dolores' address in hand. A quick check with Lynx, my friend who lurked in the shadows of Santa Fe's streets, assured me that Dolores' parents were in town enjoying dinner. Lynx didn't come out of the shadows, but I could hear him chuckle. "I keep them busy for you," he whispered. "I pick up my pay tomorrow night."
"Make sure I have at least two extra hours," I whispered back into the darkness.
He didn't answer, but I knew he would be happy to make sure they were delayed while I visited the Garcia's hacienda on the outskirts of Santa Fe.
The trip, even after I stashed my dusty blue Civic on an unrelated side road and hiked up the short driveway to the house, took me under an hour.
The stucco estate was to my liking, mimicking the pueblos from the ancient past, with adobe walls forming a stepped design from the first to the second floor. The stepladder formation was a very good thing because the witching fork was pointing straight up.
I approached the walled-in garden with trepidation. At only five-five and maybe a half, I couldn't reach the top of the wall, not even on my tiptoes. I hated climbing. It was strenuous work, and I wasn't the most graceful of creatures. Thankfully I wasn't fat or the nearly six-foot barricade would have won.
The top was rounded, which kept me from piercing various body parts, but it was damned hard to balance on the thing once I straddled it. I wouldn't die if I fell, but as I shimmied toward the window ledge, I cursed the wall for not being high enough to allow me to easily reach the window.
I was sure of my destination. The fork was singing louder, a subtle vibration along my fingertips.
I clutched at the side of the house and groped upwards toward the open window. There wasn't going to be an easier entry. I put one foot in front of the other, took a deep breath and jumped.
Don't get me started about witches, broomsticks and being able to fly. I didn't know how to fly yet, and no witch in her right mind would use a broomstick these days. Why bother when there were more comfortable objects to levitate? If I ever learned to fly, I was going with a nice Arabian rug. Whoever spelled those magic carpets understood comfort.
I caught the sill with only one hand, flailing desperately. My next mistake was to try to climb with my hiking boots. Planting my feet on the wall pushed me away from the window. My hand scraped painfully across a metal rim before losing what skin was left to the stucco.
"Aeii!" I couldn't contain a stifled scream. My left foot landed on the wall, but the right kept sliding. A large chunk of adobe broke off under my boot and took me with it. One leg went left, the other right. I sat astride the wall like a drunk on a broomstick. One leg was painfully tangled in a rose bush.
"Why couldn't they have planted nice, safe, lilac bushes against the house?" Stifling a groan, I got up and used the side of the house to keep from falling again. If I kept sliding down and knocking chunks of the wall away, the Garcia's were going to end up with no wall. I would end up with no legs.
I jumped again, this time muttering the ingredients used in levitation spells. I didn't have any of the ingredients with me because the only one I was sure about was lodestone, but the list gave me confidence.
More stucco knocked free as I clutched the sill and dug my boots into the wall. The metal cut into my hands, but I kept climbing until I had a leg over.
It was then that I smelled him. Had he been in his human form, I might not have caught the strong scent, but wolves have a unique muskiness. A small light, maybe from a night light in the attached bathroom, gave off just enough of a glow to throw shadows.
"Aztec curses!" I swore in disbelief. "She wouldn't! The moon is practically full…"
One leg over the sill, I dared not move until I had my bearings. There was no sound of breathing other than my own, but if the man had turned werewolf, there had been an emergency or danger at the very least.
By the moonlight and the night light, I saw him. He was in the corner, half-changed to his coyote form. Most werewolves in the area were coyotes; at least the native ones. I hadn't known if I would be dealing with a local or not, but the color of his fur was definitely the dirty-blond of a coyote.
"It would be easier for you to escape as the wolf," I said softly, showing him that I was all about cooperation. I edged to one side of the window to give him plenty of room.
He let out a panting groan from the effort and pain of changing. His growl was a feral moan, but still a threat.
"You'll need to hurry," I advised. If I could talk him into leaving, I stood a better chance of coming out of the experience alive. His face was furry, but not much more than an overgrown, bushy beard. Ears were still poking through, but rapidly disappearing.
Because he was mostly human, I could see why the situation with Dolores had turned into such a problem. He was young. Very young. Eighteen if she was lucky. The barely grown man probably hadn't known how to deal with a flirtatious woman dabbling where she didn't belong. Perhaps he thought he could live in both worlds. Perhaps he was simply too young to understand she had been after him because he was a unique trophy prize.
"I would never have sold her the shirt had I realized she sought to control you with it. You have my apologies."
He was miserably human, shivering uncontrollably in the corner.
"You need to leave," I urged again. "Quickly." I moved away from the window without touching anything.
He bolted, buck naked, for freedom. I wasn't going to stop him. More stress might cause him to revert back to full wolf form, and that stupid I was not. Instead, I looked for the shirt.
It wasn't on Dolores, since she was completely naked. The problem with fabric protection was that it could be taken off and she had, after all, invited the werewolf into her bedroom. Had she somehow thought she could have sex with a werewolf partially clothed?
The scene in front of me was unpleasant, but for a panicked wolf, surprisingly lacking in blood. He had killed her, but crushed her throat rather than ripped it to shreds. There were more than a few deep scratches, as if the coyote had been trying to scramble away rather than do serious damage. From what was left of the shirt, it looked as though Dolores might have tried to wrap him in it.
The wolf had not been amused by the protection spell. I had seen at least two burns, one on his arm and another across his chest.
When it had finally rid itself of the touch of the garment, the coyote had soiled it with urine, destroying any of the spell that hadn't burned itself up when it came in contact with his skin. The silver that was left would have to be purified. Depending on the wolf's abilities…well, it was probably best buried.
I scanned the room one last time. There were two fancy shopping bags on a chair in front of the dressing table. The plastic one was the easy choice.
I held my nose as I bagged the shirt. I would have sighed, but didn't want to breathe deeply. Being a witch was a messy job. Being a witch wasn't easy. I had a bad feeling that retrieving the spelled shirt wasn't going to be enough to keep myself out of further trouble.
END CHAPTER ONE
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Posted by Karen Cantwell at 4:19 AM