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       Black Wood, p.6

           Jayde Scott
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  “You like it here, don’t you?” Emily knelt down to rub the cat’s tummy when her gaze fell on a brown bundle hidden between the dark wood and the wall. She pulled out the bundle, realising it was the thick, leather-bound book she still remembered in all its gory detail. As a child, Emily would often sneak in to look at the drawings of hideously withered frogs and to read the scary poems about the earth shaking and all kinds of creatures crawling from beneath.

  Lifting the heavy book, she set it on the bed with a loud thud. Dust particles swirled about, settling on her nose. She swallowed to supress the sudden sneeze and wiped the cover with the back of her sleeve.

  “What did Grandma need all this for?” Emily turned the first page to a strange recipe when something creaked behind her. She spun around, holding her breath. At the same time, Solace jumped up from the bed with his ears strained.

  A scraping sound came from the window. Stepping over the heaps of books on the floor, Emily walked slowly toward the drawn curtains. The drapes were of thick, red brocade, built to stave off the chilly Scottish wind. With a flick of her hand, she pulled them aside.

  The window was open; an icy breeze blew her hair in her face. Goosebumps formed on her arms and she shivered. How strange! She didn’t notice it before. Why would it be open? Dad ranted and raved about the high heating bill all the time. He would never allow it.

  Solace hissed.

  “What’s the matter? There’s nothing here. See?” Emily said.

  The cat scurried past and hid under the bed. Emily shook her head and rose on her toes, straining to close it shut. She pulled the curtains back in place, then returned to her grandmother’s book with a sigh. As soon as she sat down, the creaking started again. Her heart thumping, she turned back to the window and peeked through the curtains. It stood wide open, the panels rattling in the wind again.

  How could it have opened on its own when she had a heck of a time closing it? Solace jumped out from under the bed and meowed at her feet as she shut the window, but this time she left the curtains agape.

  “Good kitty.” Emily returned to the bed, peering behind her from the corner of her eye. Like on cue, the creaking came again and the window sprang open. Emily gasped. She grabbed Solace, jumped off the bed, panting, and backed up a few steps toward the door. What was happening? Why wouldn’t it just stay shut?

  Solace bolted toward the bedside table, knocking over a photograph. The sudden noise made Emily jump. The window forgotten, she lifted the picture to put it back in place when she recognized the woman almost hidden behind her grandmother’s smiling face.

  “It’s her.” Emily patted the cat’s head. “That’s what you wanted to tell me, isn’t it, Solace? So Grandma knew Muriel. I’m wondering whether they were friends.” The cat hissed and spit. “I guess not.” Emily laughed when she suddenly remembered the window.

  Maybe there was something wrong with it. It was an old house, after all. Should she close it, or would it bolt open again? It freaked her out, but at the same time she felt compelled to stay. With Muriel occupying her room now, where could she go? She sighed and wrapped one of her grandmother’s cardigans around her to keep warm, then returned to the open book spread out on the bed.

  A cool gust of wind blew in, turning the pages. Emily rubbed the goosebumps on her arms as she began reading.

  For century, Ravencourt Manor has harboured a secret so dark, it may cost the life of those who know of it. Therefore, it must remain in the possession of the Jones lineage, never open to uninvited strangers. For, of those who will pass its threshold, at least half will be Witches of the lowest kind, powerful in their Devilry to gain control over what is hidden in the attic behind dark cloths: a special mirror, the most powerful portal to the realm beyond, Black Wood.

  Black Wood with its guards is where the witch Queen—

  Steps echoed on the stairs. Emily stopped reading and lifted her head. Then a sound boomed in the hall, and the door opened with a click. “There you are, dear. We’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

  Emily turned in time to see Muriel, followed by her father, walk to the bed and snatch the book out of her hand.

  “Why’s it so freezing cold in here?” Muriel said.

  Her father glared. “Do you have the window open? You know we can’t afford the bill.”

  “It wasn’t me. It just won’t—” Emily said.

  “Come on.” Her father shut the window and took her elbow, guiding her toward the door. “You’ll be catching a cold.”

  Emily planted her hands on her hips. “No, I’m staying. And I want my book back.”

  Muriel shook her head, smiling. “Poor darling. She’s missing her grandma terribly, Edgar. What’re we to do?” She grabbed Emily’s hand, her beady eyes glinting with cunning as she threw the book on top of the others. Her palm was red as a ripe tomato. “I’ll make you a cup of hot chocolate.”

  Emily glared at her. No way was this woman going to intimidate her. If she could deal with grumpy Aunt Betty and her constant wise-cracking, she could surely deal with Muriel.

  “What do you say to that?” her father asked with raised eyebrows.

  “What?” Emily blinked. What was he talking about?

  He pressed his lips together. “Where did you leave your manners? What did your mum teach you about saying please and thank you?”

  “Thank you, Muriel.” Emily smirked.

  The queen smiled, self-satisfied, and they walked together to the kitchen where Sam waited slumped into a chair. Muriel went about preparing hot chocolate, her slim shape moving gracefully between the stove and the cupboards. As she placed the steaming mugs on the kitchen table, her father smiled. Emily’s heart sank in her chest because she knew that look on his face. It was the same she’d seen him give her mother when they were still madly in love.


  As soon as they finished their hot chocolate, her father excused himself and disappeared into his study and Sam went back to his PlayStation. Emily poured her hot chocolate down the drain and returned to her grandmother’s room. Sure, the room with that window popping open just like that was freaky, but she had to finish reading the story about Black Wood.

  Emily was almost out the door when she felt Muriel’s hand clasp around her shoulder. “I saw what you were reading.”

  “I don’t care ‘cause I want you to return from where you came. We don’t want you here,” Emily said.

  Muriel laughed, her voice loud and shrill. “Speak for yourself. It seems everyone has grown quite fond of me. Particularly your father.”

  “Maybe, but once Mum’s here, he won’t like you anymore. You’ll see.”

  Muriel’s brow furrowed, her beautiful face contorting into a hideous grimace. “Don’t you dare cross me! You’re not going anywhere near that book again, you hear?”

  Grinning, Emily bolted out of the kitchen. That was exactly where she’d be going. She entered her grandmother’s room when she heard Muriel calling behind her. “Sam, dear, would you join me for a minute?”

  As she closed the door, Emily frowned. What did Muriel want from Sam? That woman was up to something. Should she warn her brother? Maybe later, she had some serious investigation to do first. All she needed was half an hour with the book. What could Muriel possibly do in that half an hour?

  The room was dark. Emily walked to the bedside table to switch on the lamp. Muriel had tossed the book on top of a heap, but which one? Emily’s eyes drifted to the large piles on the floor and then to the closed curtains, her heart hammering in her chest. Would it snap open again?

  She focused on finding the right book among the countless others. When she found it, she sat on the bed and took a deep breath and began flicking through hundreds of pages to find the one about Ravencourt Manor and Black Wood.

  The window flew open. At the same time she heard Sam’s faint cry.

  Chapter 12

  “Sam! Are you all right?” Emily shouted as she darted out of the room, leaving the book behind.

  The corridor was as silent as the night, the soft glimmer of a lamp barely reaching the shadows in the corners. Panting, she peered left and right. Where could he be?

  She decided to check the ground floor first, then move up. As she headed for the kitchen, she thought she heard a second scream, faint as though coming from far away.

  Turning on her heels, she jumped two steps at a time toward the attic. She reached the trapdoor and stopped, listening for more sounds. Above, feet shuffled across the floor, then some grunting and something, maybe a chair, toppling over with a heavy thud. Her heart pounded in her ears like a drum. She needed to call her father, but the sound coming out of her mouth was barely more than a whisper.

  “Sam, are you in there?” she asked even though she didn’t expect an answer.

  Slowly, setting one foot after another, she climbed up half of the ladder, cold beads of sweat gathering on her brows, the memory of the incident with Muriel still vivid in her mind.

  The trapdoor opened and Muriel appeared.

  “What did you do to him?” Emily balled her hands into fists.

  Muriel descended slowly. “Pardon, dear?”

  Emily squinted. “Where’s Sam? I know you want to harm him.”

  “Why would you think that?” Muriel asked.

  Well, Emily could see right through her pretence. “Cause you aren’t who you say you are. Now, where is he?”

  “I don’t know where your brother is, but I can tell you he’s not in the attic.” Muriel’s eyes turned cold as ice.

  Was she lying or was she telling the truth? “What were you doing up here?” Emily asked.

  Muriel laughed, but her gaze remained cold, condescending. “I was looking for my shawl. See?” She pointed at the thin, black scarf around her shoulders. “It can get a little chilly at night.”

  “I don’t believe you.”

  Muriel shrugged. “Suit yourself. Shouldn’t a girl your age be in bed already?”

  Emily glared. Who did she think she was? “You’re not my mother. I can stay up as late as I want on weekends.”

  “You may now,” Muriel said as she walked past, “but I can assure you things will change soon.”

  After Muriel left, Emily returned to the first floor to look for her brother. As she opened the door to his room, she found him asleep, snuggled underneath the covers, his snoring loud and clear from the door. Whatever happened before, everything seemed fine now.

  Emily closed the door again and left for her grandmother’s room. No way was she going to sleep with that dreadful woman Muriel in the same room. She’d rather deal with a weird window that seemed to keep opening all by itself.

  Maybe, now the portal was open, the magic diary could help. She flicked it to the first page, considering her words. When nothing special came to mind, she just started writing.

  Dear Diary,

  Please, please, make Muriel disappear. She’s a horrible person and I don’t want her here anymore.


  Then she closed the diary, placed it under her pillow and opened her grandmother’s leather-bound book. Under the covers, with her grandmother’s scent enveloping her, she pushed her thoughts aside as she tried to focus on the thick book next to her, but her head felt heavy from the day’s events. Emily fell into a deep, tense slumber.


  That night, she had the strangest dream. She was walking through a dense forest with high trees. All was quiet. No light seeped through the canopy of leaves high above her head. She took a tentative step forward when she heard a growl in the nearby bushes. Her heart racing in her chest, she spun around, ready to run for her life.

  Two glowing, red eyes peered from behind a tree trunk. Emily drew in her breath sharply, unable to walk, as the creature stepped forward. She starred in horror at the cowered shape hidden beneath a black cloak.

  With knobbly fingers and long dirty nails, the creature removed its cape, and Emily gasped. Its skin covered with fur, the fangs visible in its open mouth, it looked neither human, nor like an animal.

  Trickles of sweat ran down the back of her nape. “Oh, no! Don’t eat me!”

  The creature crooned, shooting forward like a wolf ready to pounce. Whimpering, Emily cowered on the ground and lifted an arm to protect her face, but the creature didn’t attack. It put one paw-like hand on her shoulder and regarded her through sad eyes.

  Maybe it wasn’t bad. No animal this miserable and sad could possibly hurt her. She rose in one wary motion and wiped her face with the back of her sleeve. The creature whimpered. Emily cocked her head. “What do you want? I don’t understand.”

  The creature darted a few strides down the dirty trail, then stopped, its grotesque head beckoning.

  “You want me to follow?” Emily frowned. Should she do that? Could she trust it?

  Howling, it moved again a few feet. It seemed more sad than frightening.

  “All right. I’m coming.”

  She followed the creature down the narrowing path and through the dense thicket until they reached a wall soaring high against the canvass of the night.

  “What’s this?”

  The creature scratched with its nails against the naked wall and looked up toward the sky. Emily lifted her head as she peeked up. There, tiny and quite inconspicuous, overlooking the forest, was a window.

  “How are we supposed to get up there?” Emily asked. The creature snarled. “Okay, I get it. We’re not climbing up. But what is it you want to tell me then?”

  The moonlight flickered brighter as the clouds retreated, revealing thousands of sparkling stars. Behind the window appeared the face of a woman, so pale and extraordinarily beautiful, Emily couldn’t mistake it for another.


  The creature snarled again.

  “You don’t like her. Neither do I. She’s mean. But I still don’t understand what you’re saying.”

  The creature roared, the sound carrying through the night, and the woods shook. Emily gasped as the approaching echo of hundreds of heavy footsteps and growls reverberated through the trees. When she turned, she saw countless cowered shapes gathering around them.

  As she spun to inspect one face after another, the sadness in their quite child-like eyes brought her near tears. And then she remembered the face in the window and gasped. “Muriel did this to you, didn’t she?”

  The creatures whimpered, some lowering their heads, others staring straight ahead, and Emily could swear she got a nod from a few.

  “I’m so sorry,” was all she could say. The forest disintegrated slowly and she fell back into deep slumber.


  The next morning, she woke up to Solace’s meowing. Forgetting all about her strange dream, Emily suppressed a yawn. “What’s the matter? Are you hungry?”

  Solace snuggled closer. “Okay, let’s find something nice for you, shall we?”

  In the kitchen, Sam already sat at the table, sipping a huge glass of orange juice. Emily heated up a bowl of milk for Solace and plopped down next to her brother. “What happened last night? I heard you shout.” He just grunted. Emily snapped her fingers under his face. “Hey, I’m talking to you.”

  Sam looked up and Emily flinched. Dark shadows framed his bloodshot eyes. His lips had turned a sickening blue. She could only stare, her brain devoid of any thought.

  “What happened to you?” Emily whispered when her voice returned.

  Her brother sounded wispy. “What’re you talking about?”

  “Muriel dragged you up to the attic last night. What happened?” Emily probed.

  “Can’t remember a thing.”

  “But you yelled.” She knew she didn’t imagine things. Why wouldn’t Sam tell her?

  “Honestly, I can’t remember.” Sam stood, groaning at every move like his bones were sore. “Just leave me alone.”

  As Sam walked out, Emily shook her head and went about preparing herself for school. The people in this house were getting weirder by the minute. She fully
intended to find out why.

  Chapter 13

  Her father drove them to school and picked them up. To Emily’s relief, Muriel was away for most of the week, and so, every day after school, she stayed in her grandmother’s room, doing her homework and going through her grandmother’s things. The stacks on the floor grew bigger as she opened one drawer after another, putting aside what she needed to inspect closer. A few times, she caught Clifford’s gaze at school, but he didn’t chat to her. In fact, Aurelie and he seemed to avoid Ravencourt Manor.

  On the following Thursday after school, Emily peered out the window in her grandmother’s room when her father called her for her afternoon tea. She ran downstairs to the smell of smoke and her father opening the windows as wide as he could, his arms flapping about like he was learning to fly.

  She coughed, her eyes tearing. “Are you okay? Did you burn something?”

  Her father threw the blackened contents of a rusty pan into the sink and wiped his hands on his apron. “No beef today.”

  She frowned at his mumble and the dark circles under his eyes. First Sam, and then her father. While she didn’t like this one bit, she had to find a way to get rid of Muriel first. The magic diary hadn’t helped at all. “No worries. I’m not hungry,” she said.

  He pointed at a plate with full-grain toast and something yellow that smelled like cheese but looked nothing like it. “Well, take your sandwich up and eat it later then.”

  Emily shrugged and carried the plate up the stairs, returning to her grandmother’s room.


  Another couple of hours later and Emily was nowhere near finding out how to get rid of Muriel. Her grandmother’s books were filled with the strangest recipes and notes on various festivals, Samhain and the likes, Emily couldn’t even pronounce. And then there were poems, loads of them, some were in English, others in a language Emily didn’t speak.

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