Editor’s Note: We’re pleased and honored to publish a two-part excerpt from Sarina Dorie’s latest novel here at the Café. The third in her “Womby’s School for Wayward Witches” series, [click to visit her website for more details] it’s a wonderful story, immediately engaging, skillfully mixing fantasy with reality. In short, Sarina is a really great storyteller!
Chapters 1 and 2 appear here today, and Chapters 3 and 4 tomorrow. Here is a synopsis:
You think you know the world of magical boarding schools? Not from a teacher’s perspective at a school for at risk youth. Witches Gone Wicked: Womby’s School for Wayward Witches is a whimsical urban fantasy.
Like any twenty-two-year-old who grew up obsessed with fantasy novels, Clarissa Lawrence expects all her Harry Potter fantasies to come true when she is invited to teach at a school for witches. Her dreams of learning magic—and being a good teacher—are complicated when she finds out her deceased mother was the equivalent of the Wicked Witch of the West. Clarissa is far from “the chosen one” who will bring justice and order to the world, let alone her classroom. As if being the new “arts and crafts” teacher isn’t hard enough at a school for juvenile delinquent witches, budget cuts are just as severe in the magic community, administrators are as unrealistic in their expectations of teachers, and the job is a hazard if the students find out you can’t actually do magic.
Amidst all these challenges, Clarissa must prove she’s not her mother’s mini-me and that she belongs at the school so she can learn to control her powers. If she fails, her powers will be drained, or worse yet, she might be enslaved by the Fae.
Only if Clarissa is able to embrace her humanness and use her mundane teacher powers of literacy strategies, science, and critical thinking skills, can Clarissa overcome Fae overlords and their standardized tests to save the day.
Witches Gone Wicked:
Womby’s School for Wayward Witches
by Sarina Dorie
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Totoro
The moment I learned I was a powerful witch and destined for a life of magic was the best day of my life. Finally, I had my chance to learn to control my powers at Womby’s School for Wayward Witches.
Forget my dream of being a student at Hogwarts when I turned eleven. I was going to be an art teacher at a real magical high school. The administration didn’t even seem to mind my lack of experience. I hadn’t completed my student teaching and didn’t have an official teaching license.
I would be reunited with my true love, Derrick, now that I knew he was here in the Unseen Realm. We would live happily ever after.
Assuming I found him . . . and he didn’t hate me.
Cheerful afternoon sunlight filtered through the unshuttered windows of my very own kingdom, a.k.a. classroom. It was an immense room with a high ceiling over gray basalt brick walls and beautiful hardwood floors that would make a historian drool. Someone had written: Welcome, Clarissa Lawrence on my chalkboard in elegant cursive.
My desk was made from scarred wood that looked as though it had been through battles of Witchkin past. I’d spent the morning scrubbing the walls and floor and wiping down desks with Lysol and bleach. At last I was ready to feng shui the furniture into a harmonizing environment for student learning and effective classroom management.
My favorite composition of tables, which I’d seen in the Morty Realm, was shaped like a U with the teacher’s presentation area at the opening. It felt friendly and democratic. By the time I was finished dragging the tables, my muscles were fatigued and my lower back ached.
Still, there was no rest for the wicked, and that was me.
I tried to tape my posters to the walls, but they kept falling off the uneven stone surface. I didn’t expect the stapler to work, but I tried it anyway. Tacks weren’t any better. Among my office supplies, I unearthed a roll of duct tape. The custodians at my last school had chewed me out for using duct tape. I didn’t want to make the janitors mad, but I didn’t know what else to use.
There was one thing I hadn’t tried. Magic.
I’d accidentally used magic plenty of times, and without my fairy godmother’s potions suppressing my abilities in the Morty Realm where magic hadn’t been allowed, I just might be able to do magic. It was unlikely I would accidentally turn anyone into a toad. Students wouldn’t be arriving until next week and hardly any staff was in sight yet.
The custodians would later thank me for not using duct tape, I told myself.
I stood on the stool and held Picasso’s Guernica up on the wall. The poster was huge, five feet long, and the cubist-style scene was painted in shades of gray. I focused my will onto the corners where I wanted it to stick. I thought about kissing, since that had set my powers in motion in the past.
It felt like I should say magic words, so I gave it my best. “Abracadabra. Stick to the wall.” I enunciated clearly and managed not to say any unintended words after the fiasco of saying “abra-cadaver” last summer.
I let go of the poster. It remained against the wall for about two seconds before falling.
Maybe I needed to rhyme. “Poster, I’m rubber. You’re glue. Stick to this wall, witchy-poo.” Not my best rhyme, but it was all I could come up with on the spot. For good measure, I added, “Presto chango!”
It remained against the wall. Yes! I was a witch! I stepped down from the stool. Ten seconds later, the poster peeled off the wall and fell on my head. As I tried to grab the poster, it gave me a papercut on my finger. The cut was deep enough that I bled onto the paper.
“Aarrrgh! Gosh darn it!” Under my breath I may have added a few choice swearwords. I jumped onto the stool, held the poster up again, and beat it with my fist. “Stupid! Stupid, poster!” Not exactly magical words, but I felt something shift inside me, like my organs were rearranging themselves. The room shimmered and smelled sharp.
The poster held this time. I hopped off the table and admired my handiwork. Maybe I had to get angry to do magic. Or maybe it was the blood.
I was just about to turn away when the cubist-style bull in the painting shook its head and brayed in anguish. The horse writhed as it trampled a man. A woman wailed, clutching her dead child to her breast. The people flailed and screamed, the blocky angles of their bodies shifting and shuffling. The explosion in the background beyond the window in the scene shook the interior of the house. The walls crumbled into geometric shapes and rained down on the people and animals. Crimson dripped through the grays of the painting, splattering man and beast alike.
The painting was about a Spanish town being bombed. I had admired the way Picasso had captured desperation and chaos in his angular and abstract style. Never before had I felt their terror this profoundly. This felt like war. Tears stung my eyes.
The lightbulb in the painting flickered and went dark, but the light outside the window grew so intense it washed everything inside with white. Monochromatic flames lashed at the building and the people in the painting. Pigment leached into the grays, the flames turning yellow and orange. Smoke billowed out of the scene, stretching beyond the edges of the paper.
I was in awe of the magic I had done. Then it sank in. I’d started a fire!
Flames licked the stone wall. Ashes from the poster fell on me. Black smoke clouded up to the high ceiling. The fire turned indigo and devoured the dried moss growing on the wall. On the plus side, it also got rid of the black mold problem.
I looked around the sparse room for something to put out the flames. At the back of the room in the nonfunctional sink was a bucket of water. I ran around my U of desks, snatched it up, and flung it at the wall. There was only enough water to douse a section of fire. It sputtered out only to return in full force a few seconds later. The fire kept spreading. Smoke filled the room.
Shit! I had really done it this time. I could see it now. Fired on day one of my new job.
I ran to the door of the classroom, shouting down the stairs. “Help!” I tried to say more, but I choked on a lungful of smoke.
“Merlin’s balls. What is that foul stench?” said a man out on the landing. Each word was enunciated in such crisp British I couldn’t have mistaken the voice if I’d wanted to.
My spine went rigid. Appearing like an unwelcome smell in a crowded elevator, Professor Felix Thatch pushed his way past me. His nose was aquiline and long, his dark hair shoulder-length and far nicer than mine—he probably used magic on it instead of hairspray—and he would have been handsome if he didn’t have a resting bitch face at all times. He watched me through heavily lidded eyes, lazily like a predator might watch prey.
He was the last person I wanted as a witness to my colossal mess-up.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked in his cool monotone.
I coughed by way of answer. A bubble around him kept the swirling arms of smoke from touching his brown tweed suit. He cracked his knuckles and gestured with his hands. An invisible wind forced the smoke out of the room. My breath was stolen along with it, and I thought of all the science fiction movies I’d watched with people’s air supply in their ships being sucked into outer space. He raised his hands at the fire, waggling his fingers, and the blue flames extinguished. The moment he lowered his hands, I gasped in air again. Unfortunately, that was the moment the flames returned twice as high, heat radiating off them like the infernos of hell. More smoke billowed out.
“Bollocks,” he muttered.
Considering he was a trained Witchkin, his use of British profanities didn’t strike me as the best of signs. I retreated closer to the door, ready to call for help again.
He removed a slender black wand made from twisted wood from his breast pocket and punched it in the air toward the wall. Orange and gold ribbons of water shot out and drowned the icy flames. Another gust of wind pushed the smoke out the windows, and again the air was momentarily sucked from my lungs.
He pointed his wand accusingly at me. “Not only did you manage to set your classroom on fire, but you somehow summoned flames of seraphim, which cannot be put out by normal means. If I hadn’t sensed magic at work, you would have burned the school down.”
Right. I guessed this was why I shouldn’t do magic. Lesson learned. Duct tape it was.
“Sorry. It was an accident.” I wiped soot from my sweaty brow and pushed my hot-pink hair out of my eyes. “Thanks.”
The wall was charred and black now. Interestingly, the corners of the poster remained. Even though it was gone, I couldn’t stop seeing the horror of Guernica in the place it had been.
“I’m tired of hearing about your accidents. You’re a menace.” He slipped his wand into the pocket of his old-fashioned vest and straightened his dark cravat.
I edged away.
“You should never have been hired. Obviously, a mistake has been made.” He tugged at the bottom of his suit jacket, imperiously staring down his long nose at me. “You are coming to the principal’s office with me.”
No mistake had been made, but the truth was more awful than I had imagined.
I sat in the principal’s office, my jaw dropping as Jebediah Ebenezer Bumblebub told me the news. Unlit candles rested in a row at the front of his desk, stacks of books, a crystal ball, and assorted vials littering the remaining space. Sunlight filtered in through the Art Deco-style stained glass of the double windows to the right, painting the room in the shifting hues of a rainbow.
“What do you mean, I’m not ready to do magic? I need this.” The words spilled from my mouth before I had time to censor myself and sound grateful for my new position as the arts and crafts teacher. “I thought that was the reason I was accepted as a teacher at this school—not just to teach art—so I can learn to control my powers.” Besides the fact that it would be nice to actually have sex someday without electrocuting someone, magic was cool.
I wanted to be one of the cool kids. Or teachers, anyway.
The principal sat behind his mahogany desk. He leaned back in a century-old chair that creaked under his weight. “Yep, that’s it exactly. You got a lot of learnin’ to do.” Jeb resembled the stereotypical wizard with his long gray robes, the only difference being the bandana peeking out from under his snowy beard and the hat on his head looking more like a Stetson with a cone attached than a witch’s hat. “The problem is, we ain’t ready yet. I never seen the likes of your kind of magic.” His accent reminded me of a cowboy from a Western. “Think how dangerous it would be for you to be castin’ with wild magic when our students are about. They’re an unpredictable mess as it is.”
All the excitement and joy of being at the school withered away, leaving me aching and hollow inside. Once again, I was the freaky teacher who didn’t fit in. I’d already signed the contract, arrived back at the school days before in-service, and had started getting my classroom ready.
His office resembled one-part wizard study, and one-part Old West parlor with Victorian settees and a full bar of liquors most high school students would give anything to pillage. To the left of the desk, a fireplace sat between columns of bookshelves. Various other items were stashed on the shelves haphazardly: kerosene lamps, candles, and other fire hazards among them. If there was such a thing as a fire marshal in the Unseen Realm, I was pretty sure he had missed this room.
What I’d first taken to be a cow skull—but I now suspected might be otherwise—decorated the wall between paintings of men wrangling miniature cattle-sized dragons. From the amount of clutter piled into every corner, the room looked like it doubled as the storage closet for extra supplies.
“So that’s it? I get to be here, but not do anything?” I asked.
“You were hired on as a teacher, not a student,” Felix Thatch said from where he stood by the mantle. Had he been anyone else, I might have found his British accent and good looks sexy. The sour-grapes face he gave me, though, ruined any chance of that.
I wiped soot from my face, suddenly feeling self-conscious from the way he eyed me.
The principal chewed on one end of his curly mustache. “That’s right, partner. You’re here for the teachin’. Everything else is second to that.”
Thatch trailed a finger along the ledge of one of the locked glass cases that contained books along the wall. “What did you think would happen, we would just hand you magic on a silver platter and allow you to use it?”
Jeb held up a hand. “Whoa, boy. Rein yourself in, eh?”
I was high on Thatch’s shit list, possibly because my true mother, former Headmistress Alouette Loraline, had been his enemy. And possibly because we hadn’t made the best of first impressions. Or second impressions.
Jeb looked to me. “Miss Lawrence, allow me to explain.”
I fidgeted in the hard wooden chair across from him.
“I need you to understand, I’d be mighty neglectful of my duties as principal if I didn’t ensure the protection of the students at our school. You hain’t exactly got a record for harmless, predictable magic.”
Thatch tossed his midnight hair back in contempt. “The Morties are fortunate I happened to witness your blunders or else no one would have been present to undo them.” He paused with the drama of a thespian. “You’re welcome.”
“Mortals,” Jeb said to me. “Morties is our term for the mundane mortals living in your world.”
I nodded. My mom—adoptive mother—had told me that much when she’d explained we weren’t biologically related. I’d never suspected we weren’t since I had green eyes like Mrs. Abigail Lawrence and red hair—only, I dyed mine pink these days. Now I knew she was my fairy godmother, half-Fae and half-mortal—a Witchkin selected because she looked so much like me.
“It is a mighty rare thing indeed to find a woman twenty-two years of age with more powers than all get-out in the Morty Realm, but sure ’nuff, there you were. Usually by this point, an excess of electronics, cold iron, and synthetic doodads would have weakened and deteriorated a Witchkin’s ability to produce magic,” Jeb said. “That’s if the Fae don’t claim a Witchkin first.”
Perhaps the drain of electronics was why my adoptive mom had budgeted to buy me a new iPhone for Christmas every year. She hadn’t exactly wanted me to embrace my powers. Abigail Lawrence wanted to hide magic from me, fearful I was going to get hurt or draw the attention of Fae who would snatch me up. I’d come to realize neither fear was that farfetched.
Jeb drummed his fingers on a messy stack of papers. “For this reason, we’re fixin’ to teach you to control your powers and help you find your path in our world.”
Thatch snorted. “Even if you risk injuring one of the students or staff, apparently. If I hadn’t been there to put out that fire—”
“Lord have mercy! Shut your trap. I heard you the first time.” Jeb cast Thatch an annoyed glance. “Who’s the sheriff around these parts?”
A sardonic smile tugged at the corners of Thatch’s mouth. “Principal. I think you mean, ‘Who is the principal?’”
“That’s what I said, dagnabbit!” Jeb turned back to me. “Where was I, darlin’?”
“Um. . . .” This was not how I had envisioned my first heart-to-heart conversation with an all-knowing, all-seeing wizard. This must have been what Dorothy had experienced after Toto outed the Wizard of Oz. I prompted, “You want to help me find my path and learn to use my powers?”
“Right. Left unmanaged in the Morty Realm, it would only be a matter of time before your powers harm yourself or others,” Jeb said. “The energy within you is a big ol’ beacon to any Fae fixin’ to snatch up an unregistered Witchkin. We could have drained your powers to keep you safe. We could have sucked you dry of all magic, so that no Fae would ever recognize you or abduct you to become a slave in their court.”
The memory of the Raven Queen and how she’d tried to claim me as her tithe—as her sacrifice—made ice race up my spine. She’d been beautiful with her liquid black eyes and a gown made of feathers. The lullaby of her voice had seduced me. The very air around her tasted of candy-coated black magic. By Fae laws, I could have been hers. Not only had I used magic in the Morty Realm, but I’d unwittingly used magic on one of her servants. I still didn’t know why she’d allowed me to strike a bargain with her.
I could see why a high school like Womby’s existed for the half-breed offspring of Fae and Morties. Witchkin needed a place to learn magic that wasn’t in the Morty Realm where it was forbidden. A place to learn to hide from the Fae and protect themselves.
Jeb had given me that chance as well. I lifted my chin. “Thank you, sir.” More than anything, I needed magic. I needed to understand who I was. I suspected he understood that. “Thank you for not draining me.”
Thatch’s voice slithered across the expanse between us, so quiet I almost didn’t hear him. “It isn’t too late for that.”
Jeb grimaced at Thatch. “You, shut it. This ain’t my first rodeo.” He tugged at one end of his mustache, the curl springing back into place as he turned to me. “You don’t want no drainin’, so that leaves the other option. You gotta stay in our stronghold, safe from Fae and creatures who would do you harm. We’ll teach you to harness your powers, but you gotta hold your horses on the magic part. Learn outside of school hours so your charges ain’t put at risk. You’ll obey the rules of the Unseen Realm like the rest of us, and follow our school rules so you ain’t puttin’ no one in danger. And from what I understand of your past, dating is out of the question. We don’t want this school to get blown to smithereens from some kind of fertility magic. Can you get behind this?”
“I understand. No boys. I’ll follow the rules. Thank you.” It was hard to hide the eagerness from my voice. “When can I start learning magic?”
Thatch made an insolent tsk. My face flushed with heat. I did sound like a child.
Jeb arched an eyebrow at him. “Felix, you got a bee in your bonnet?”
He dipped his head in mock apology. “No, Jeb. I never get bees in my bonnet.”
“Miss Lawrence has got herself an earnest enthusiasm for learnin’. Bless her heart,” the principal said kindly. “That privilege for learnin’ has been denied her entire life. Are you objectin’ to her right to an education when the time is right?”
“No.” Thatch lifted his chin. His voice was even and calm. “I object to her presence at this school. If she follows in the footsteps of her mother, all of us are put in danger. None of the teachers on staff are powerful enough to sense forbidden magic. If I hadn’t immediately gone to Miss Lawrence’s classroom earlier, she would be dead by now. The school would be burned to ashes. Only a Merlin-class Celestor such as myself has the skill to put out a seraph-fueled fire. Imagine what would have happened had I not been around.”
“Thank you kindly for makin’ your indispensability so clear.” Jeb folded his weathered hands in front of him on the desk. “Sure ’nuff, you are the most powerful and skilled of all teachers at our school. I’m mighty pleased how keen you are on the welfare of our students, and I’m indebted to your unexpectedly selfless concern, Felix.”
Thatch slouched against the mantle, arms crossed. His eyes narrowed.
“I agree, somethin’ has got to be done to ensure Miss Lawrence don’t stumble down some dark rabbit hole of evil. As a department head, you surely have more than enough to do. But seein’ you’re one of the most powerful Witchkin at this school, and you’re fixin’ to keep her out of trouble, I’ll task you with her education until the school year begins.” Jeb hooked his thumbs into his belt, reminding me of a cowboy.
Thatch’s face remained a mask of unreadable calm. “If she lasts that long.”
“Um,” I said, standing up. “Maybe I should focus on my job before I start studying magic. I have a classroom to set up and—”
“Yep,” Jeb said. “And then Merlin here will see to your learnin’.”
The principal could not be serious. Felix Thatch was the one person at the school who shouldn’t have been teaching me magic. Maybe Jeb wanted me to fail. Or maybe it was a test. Yes, heroic characters in fantasy novels were always tested.
That settled it. The person who hated me most was about to become my teacher. I would do anything to learn magic. Even this.
Tomorrow: Chapters 3 and 4 from Sarina’s new novel, and very special offer from her to Fictional Cafe Coffee Club members!
Sarina Dorie has sold over 150 short stories to markets like Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s IGMS, Cosmos, and Abyss and Apex. Her stories and published novels have won humor and Romance Writer of America awards. She has sold three novels to publishers. Her steampunk romance series, The Memory Thief and her collections, Fairies, Robots and Unicorns—Oh My! and Ghosts, Werewolves and Zombies—Oh My! are available on Amazon, along with a dozen other novels she has written. Womby’s School for Wayward Witches is her most recently published novel.
A few of her favorite things include: gluten-free brownies (not necessarily glutton-free), Star Trek, steampunk aesthetics, fairies, Severus Snape, Captain Jack Sparrow and Mr. Darcy.
By day, Sarina is a public school art teacher, artist, belly dance performer and instructor, copy editor, fashion designer, event organizer and probably a few other things. By night, she writes. As you might imagine, this leaves little time for sleep.
You can find info about her short stories and novels on her website: www.sarinadorie.com