When Evelyn Marston is offered a shot at writing for Hartly High’s newspaper she’s thrilled. The only stipulation is she has to attend the school dance as a reporter, so when a trio of guys claim she asked them to the dance, she loses her cool. Literally. And burns down the science building.
Evie learns a few things:
1. There are witches in every school and in every situation.
2. A fire isn’t the scariest thing that can happen in high school.
3. Sometimes the most frightening thing of all, the most terrifying to face, is yourself.
Witch One is the short story prequel to the Kindle Scout winning novel by Kristy Tate.
The prequel to the Kindle Scout Winning novel, Witch Ways
© 2017 Kristy Tate
When emotions run high, sparks can fly.
How a High School Dance is Like the Courting Rituals Found in the Animal Kingdom
By Evelynn Marston
The animal kingdom is rife with courtship rituals. These are generally initiated by the males who attempt to woo female partners.
Some animals, like the bowerbird, will collect a tower of objects to impress his love. The great grebe, who mates for life, has a series of dance moves to perform throughout the mating season. If, for any reason, the pair is separated, they will each bust a move when reunited. The male peacock spreads his tail feathers and struts around.
The praying mantis literally risks his life for a night of love. If his lady dislikes his performance, she bites his head off.
A male nursery web spider will present a little bundle of food wrapped in pretty white silk to the female as a request to mate. If the female likes the present, the two will mate while she unwraps and eats the meal. Sadly, sometimes the male will try to bring a wrapped twig. When this happens, the relationship is dead in the water.
It might be thought that courtship only occurs in the kinds of animals that have fairly complex brains, such as mammals and birds. This is not the case as the school dances at Hartly High clearly demonstrate!
Mr. Cox put down my essay and wannabe newspaper article and smiled with a gaze that glittered with excitement. "Are you willing to attend the dance--not as a participant, but as a spectator?"
"Absolutely," I said.
"This is the hallmark of a true journalist," he told me. "You must be able to put aside your own desires. As a reporter, you cease to be an individual with your own petty goals. Your function is to be a communication vessel--a transmitter to the world."
I nodded, mute with happiness.
"You agreed to what?" Bree asked at her house later that night.
I pushed my hair off my forehead and looked across the kitchen table at my best friend. Studying at my own house, where there was no one but Scratch, our bulldog, and the sound of Uncle Mitch's lab rats scurrying in their cages to interrupt us, was quieter and therefore boring compared to hanging at Bree's.
"I'm not going to the dance, per se, as a person." I had expected this conversation and had prepared for it. "I'm going as a journalist."
"So you are going and you can get me a ticket."
"You know only upperclassmen can go."
Lincoln, Bree's little brother, burst into the room wearing nothing but his tighty-whities. "Where are the cookies?" he demanded. His pale skin stretched across his bony chest.
"I don't know anything about cookies," Bree told him. "And go and put your clothes on."
Lincoln scooted a kitchen chair up to the counter for a quick cookie-surveillance and took note of backpacks, textbooks, novels, scribbled-on bits of paper, a baseball card collection. His eyes lit up when he spotted a half-eaten chocolate bunny, probably left over from Easter.
Bree ignored her little brother. "But the Blazing Blizzards!"
"Norfolk High will probably have a great band too."
"That's so not true," Bree said.
"The guys at your school are hotter."
Lincoln stood on his chair and nibbled on one of the bunny's ears.
"What makes you say that?" Bree asked.
"Well, they don't have to wear Hartly’s uniform, for one thing."
In the living room, the front door opened and Bree’s older sister Candace walked in with a friend wearing a chicken suit. A cold breeze circled the room until the door slammed shut.
"What the quack?" Lincoln asked.
"It's 'what the cluck,'" the girl in the chicken suit corrected him with a giggle.
Candace’s friend had masses of blond hair tucked into a hoodie covered with yellow feathers. She wore the beak on top of her head like a rhino horn.
"You look stupid," Lincoln told her.
"Thanks," the girl said.
"What are you supposed to be?"
"I'm a chick," she told him right before she lowered the beak over her nose.
"But why?" Lincoln demanded.
"You'll see," the girl said. The beak bobbed up and down with her muffled words.
"School play try-outs already?" I asked Bree in a hushed tone as soon as the chick and Candace ran up the back stairs.
"I don't think so," Bree said.
"Are the dogs outside?" Candace called from upstairs.
Lincoln jumped off his chair. "Why?" he demanded. "They have just as much right as you do to be in here."
"Just take them out!" Candace called back.
"They're not here," Bree yelled.
"Where are they?"
"I don't know," Bree answered.
"Well, keep them out."
"Why?" Lincoln asked.
The smell of fried chicken fried wafted down the stairs.
"What the...cluck?" Bree pushed back from the table and went into the front room.
Candace and the chick were dropping a trail of chicken nuggets that started at the front door and ran up the stairs.
"Nobody step on these," the chick demanded.
"Does Mom know you're doing this?" Bree asked, her lips curled in disdain.
"She won't care," Candace said as she dropped chicken nuggets on the floor.
"Uncle Mitch would," I said under my breath.
Bree nodded. “I don’t think Mom is going to like it, but the dogs will."
"Bree," Candace called. "Come help."
I trailed up the stairs after Bree and followed the nuggets into the bathroom. The chick lay in the bathtub and Candace stood beside her with a roll of plastic wrap in her hands. "We're going to make it look like she's swimming in nuggets."
Bree gawked at the large tinfoil baking pans. "You must have spent a hundred dollars on nuggets!"
"Three hundred and twenty-five dollars," the girl announced from her prone position in the tub.
"But why?" Lincoln pushed into the room.
Candace nodded at the sign hung on the white tile above the tub. It read, "Josh, you'd be a clucking fool not to go to the dance with this hot chick."
Lincoln bolted and waved his chocolate bunny in the air. "I want nothing to do with this!" he yelled over his naked shoulder.
I hoped Josh, Bree’s older brother, would feel the same. "I gotta go," I said, hating that I was following Lincoln's lead.
"Don't you want to be here when Josh sees this?" Bree asked as she helped Candace drop nuggets into the bathtub.
"Not really." I headed out, taking care not to step on the nuggets. I pictured how the rest of the evening would go. Mrs. Henderson’s lips would be tight with anger over the greasy spots left on the carpet. The dogs would scarf up as many nuggets as they could before any of the Hendersons would realize that the overload of chicken would make them sick. The dogs would barf and then there would be more than oily stains on the carpet. And Josh…he’d have a date to the dance.
I didn’t want to be there when any of that happened.
Melissa Blankly cornered me the next day in the cafeteria. "I know what you're doing," she said, poking me in the chest with her red bejeweled fingernail.
"What are you talking about?" I swatted her hand away and all her bracelets tinkled in response.
She gave me her best mean-girl smile. "You're just reporting on the dance so you can get in."
She narrowed her eyes, making her fake lashes look like centipede legs. She opened her mouth to utter another bit of stupidity but closed it fast.
I looked over my shoulder to see why.
Robbie Fisher, the editor-in-chief of the Hartly Herald, strode our way. He placed a large, heavy hand on my shoulder. "Hey, I read the article you submitted to Cox. Good stuff!"
"Thanks!" I responded, flushing from his praise and nearness.
Robbie was one of the few guys who could wear the Hartly uniform without looking like a dweeb. In fact, with his towering height and broad shoulders, he looked better than most of the males at Hartly, faculty included. "I can't wait to read the rest of it," he said.
"Well, I can't actually finish it until after the dance," I told him.
"Yeah." He nudged me as if we shared a joke. "I got that."
Melissa fluttered her eyelashes at him, but as soon as he left, she ramped up her glare. "Have fun at the dance." It sounded like a threat, but what could she do?
The Hendersons’ van pulled up in front of my house the next morning, and Josh tooted the horn. I snagged a muffin off the kitchen table, called goodbye to Uncle Mitch and waved at Mrs. Mateo, our housekeeper, on my way out. After settling in the back seat of the van beside Bree, I gave Josh sitting behind the steering wheel a glance under my lashes. Football had changed him from the lanky kid he used to be. "Is he going to the dance with the chick?" I whispered to Bree.
Bree nodded. "You really should have stuck around. It was pretty hilarious."
"Shut it, Bree," Josh growled without looking at her as he put the van in gear. His voice had also dropped an octave in the last year or so.
"One of the twins let the dogs in," Bree continued.
"Yeah," Lincoln piped in. "That was before Josh got home."
"And then Penguin started vomiting," said Gabby, Bree’s baby sister.
"Oh no!" I repeated as if I was surprised. Which I wasn’t.
"So basically, Josh followed dog vomit up the stairs," Bree said.
"Mom was so mad!" Lincoln said.
"Shut it, Lincoln," Josh growled as he shifted the van into second gear.
"Josh has to pay for the carpet cleaner," Bree told her.
"Oh, that's not really fair," I said. "I mean, it wasn't his idea--"
"We had to all clean our rooms before the Magic Carpet people came," Gabby said.
"And there isn't even a real magic carpet," one of the twins said.
"Yeah," the identical brother chirped. "It's dumb because it's just a name. They don't fly or anything."
"They don't even pick up stuff--we had to do that," Gabby huffed.
“So, we all pretty much hate that chick,” Lincoln said.
I caught Josh's eye in the rearview mirror. His cheeks flooded with color before he fixed his attention on the road.
Later, in my history class, while Mr. Benson talked about the bubonic plague, I thought about how I would ask someone to a dance. I wouldn't spread chicken nuggets around, and I definitely wouldn't call myself a hot chick. I also wouldn't wear a chicken costume. I almost felt sorry for Josh because how could he say no to someone who had spent hundreds of dollars on chicken nuggets/dog treats?
The bell rang before I could come up with my own clever, inexpensive, and not barfing-bad way to ask a guy to a dance.
Troy stood beside my desk and blinked at me through his glasses. The lenses were so thick, they distorted his eyes, giving him a Yoda appearance.
"I'd be honored to go to the dance with you," he said.
We had never actually spoken before, and the normalcy of his voice surprised me. Almost as much as his words. "What?" It was my turn to blink at him.
"The dance," he said. "Thanks for asking. I'd be happy to take you."
"But...I didn't ask you to the dance."
He started to stutter. "Y-you wrote me a letter." He fished in his backpack.
"It must have been a different Evelynn," I told him.
"You're the only Evelynn I know," he said.
I thought about pointing out that we really didn't know each other at all, even though we'd been going to the same school since kindergarten...well, since I was in kindergarten and he was in second grade since he was two grades ahead of me.
He slapped a handwritten note on the desk separating us. Sure enough, it had my name on it, and above that was an invitation to the dance.
"I got the same note." Harrison stood beside Troy and his chin sank to his chest, coming just inches above the Justin Bieber pin fastened to the lapel of his navy blue blazer.
"You did?" My voice squeaked. I cleared it and tried to sound normal.
"I knew it was too good to be true," Harrison said as he scrounged through his leather book bag. Moments later, he pulled out an identical note.
"You could go with both of us," Troy said hopefully.
Harrison looked up and met Troy's gaze. They seemed to come to a silent agreement. "I'd be okay with that."
"But...I'm sorry. I didn't write those. I can't go with a date to the dance. I'm going as a reporter for the Herald."
"I thought only upperclassmen could be on the paper," Troy said.
"Sometimes Cox lets sophomores write guest pieces so he can know who can make the paper as juniors," Harrison told him.
"If you go with us, you don't have to write the article," Troy said.
Harrison straightened his shoulders. "Yeah. We're both upperclassmen, so we're your ticket in."
Troy gave him a high-five.
"But I want to write the article. I want a ticket onto the paper, not to a dance."
The guys both seemed to deflate.
"You can find someone else to go with." I gathered up my books and headed for the science building.
"Yeah? Like who?" Troy demanded, trailing after me.
"I don't know. Who do you want to go with?"
"You," Troy said.
I blew out a breath. "I'm not going to the dance with you! Either of you! I'm sorry!"
"You don't sound sorry," Harrison said before shuffling away in the opposite direction.
"I think you're going to change your mind," Troy said, matching my stride. "When we get to the dance, you're going to feel awkward and alone--being the only sophomore there and all. You'll be glad for my company."
"You better go to class." The bell rang before I could add something mean. I knew the guys weren’t to blame. This situation reeked of Melissa.
Troy gave me a determined smile before trotting down the hall.
In biology, I took my usual seat near the window. Most of the class were already in their chairs, but Mr. Beck hadn't arrived yet. Just then the four Lounge Lizards, the barbershop quartet who frequently serenaded students in the cafeteria, positioned themselves in the front of the room directly across from Chester the rat's cage.
"Dance with me when the sun is high," the Lounge Lizards broke out in four-part harmony. "Dance with me beneath the stars."
"Yes, you, Evelynn Marston!" Frankel, a squatty tenor, pointed a finger at me and winked.
Sniggers and laughter broke out around the room.
I bounced to my feet. "What are you talking, huh, singing about?"
Frankel jumped onto a table and wailed, "Let me be with you when the moon is bl-u-e."
Laughter surrounded me and thundered in my ears. Chester the rat squeaked and scampered in his cage. The flames warming the Bunsen burners turned blue and crackled. The electricity in the air fizzled and I felt it lifting my hair off the back of my neck. Heat crawled up my spine and flushed my cheeks. I held out my hands to beg Frankel to stop. The Bunsen burners flashed. The air sparked.
Just then, I was seven years old again and my parents were yelling. My father called my mother a whore. My mother called my father a controlling oaf. The mirror in the hallway shattered. Shards flew around the room like dancing bits of stars caught in a wind tunnel. Stunned, my parents hushed.
"And now we're throwing things. Very mature, Sophia," my dad said.
"I didn't throw anything," my mom said.
Both my parents looked at me.
Screaming shook me out of the memory. Students trampled to exit the room now shimmering in silver smoke. Flames crept up the walls. Colors flashed around me, and I fell to my knees.
Someone grabbed me and lifted me up. I couldn't see her face, but she was small, wiry, and reminded me of my mother. "Mom?"
"She's delirious," a deep voice said.
"Crazy," said a girl's voice—Melissa’s. "She'll do anything for a newspaper story."
My knees buckled as I stumbled outside. All around me, kids stood huddled in groups--girls holding each other, boys trying to hide their shock. Teachers yelled at everyone to stay back as the fire consumed what had once been the science building.
A small cheer went up as a kid ducked out of the building holding Chester the rat's cage over his head. Sirens sounded in the distance.
I braced myself against a tree and watched the chaos around me. This is what it's like to witness an ending, I thought. Just like the broken mirror had marked the end of my parents’ marriage, I knew that with the destruction of the science building, somehow my life at Hartly would never be the same. It wouldn't be just a matter of new microscopes, desks, tables, chairs, periodic tables, Petri dishes--although all those things would have to be replaced.
Everything would be different now because people would treat me differently, even though I would still be, basically, the same person.
Or so I thought.
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