White Witch Pond – Preview

ShayaChapter 1 – The Voice

“Hurry up, Dev, it’s getting dark. We have to get home.”

Quickening her pace, Shaya glanced over her shoulder to see her brother falling even further behind. Dev was carrying a long stick and sweeping it back and forth as if it were a metal detector. Just to annoy her, no doubt.

A clammy wind blew, making Shaya shiver through her coat. She crossed her arms tightly around her and looked up at the sky. Different shades of gray were crawling towards each other. The darker patches looked ominous.

It was October, and the days were short. The light was already fading by the time school let out — only a quarter to four, and already the edges of the park were blurring away into a fuzzy half-light, as if a paintbrush with too much water had drawn their outlines. The air had a sharp, biting feel to it, making Shaya shove her hands in her pockets and bounce up and down on her heels.

Dev continued to play with his stick, tapping at leaves and turning over small rocks. Brushing back her long, dark hair, Shaya glanced around the park. Grassy slopes with large patches of bushes rose up from one side of the path. To the other side, reeds and thin, spindly trees stood like petrified sentries around the pond. Its water lay still and glassy.

After bouncing up and down a few more times, Shaya sighed and continued along the path. Dev could be late home from school if he wanted; she wasn’t going to sit through another telling-off by their mother because of him. Dev was thirteen — one year older than Shaya — but sometimes it felt like he was seven.

She hurried along, hands jammed in her pockets, shoulder bag swinging against her side. As she passed a tangle of bushes to her left, something dark on the ground made her slow her steps. She stopped and crouched down.

It was a circular object, and appeared to be made of feathers. Shaya reached out for it, and just before she touched it, her spine prickled.

Quickly, she glanced around. No one else seemed to be in the park apart from her and Dev, and he was every bit as far back as before. No doubt he was trying for real, now, to annoy her. Telling herself the chill up her spine was only the result of the cold wind, she reached out and touched the small, black hoop.

Mine,” a voice whispered.

Shaya sprang back.

“Who’s there?”

She looked around again. The voice had sounded like it came from behind her, but the path was deserted.

“H— hello,” she said nervously.

No answer came.

Shaya bent down towards the hoop again. It appeared to be some kind of bracelet, and half of it was pressed into the ground, as if someone had stepped on it. The part sticking up had an oily sheen to it, the feathers glinting blue-black in the fading light. Taking a breath, Shaya reached out and snatched it up.

“It’s mine.”

This time she cried out in alarm.

The bracelet went flying from her hand as she whirled around. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw what looked like a cloaked figure with long, matted hair standing on the far side of the pond. But when she looked back, it was gone. Dev came running towards her.

Shaya spun around to face him. “Dev, was that you whispering? What were you doing, how did you do that?”

“What are you talking about?”

Shaya’s hands and lips had gone icy. It’s just the weird weather, it’s just the dark that’s making me feel nervous, she told herself. But it wasn’t true; she had definitely heard a voice.

“There’s someone in the bushes. There’s someone hiding in there,” she whispered.

“Great!” A smile lit up Dev’s face, and he sprang towards the bushes, holding his stick out like a sword. “Whoever is in there, come out right now!” he said, making a couple of jabs at the bushes.

“Dev, stop it!” Shaya grabbed his arm. “If there really is someone in there, you’ll poke their eye out with that stick.”

Unconcerned, he continued to nudge at the bushes.

Shaya lowered her voice. “I heard this voice, but it sounded like it came from behind me.”

Dev looked around. “You going crazy, sis? There’s no one here.”

“No, I am not going crazy. I heard it. Are you sure it wasn’t you? You’d better not be faking, Dev.”

He grinned and gave another couple of stabs. When no response came from within, he said, “Well, if you’re sure you’re not crazy, Shay-Shay… then let’s take a look.”

He dropped his stick and backpack and, pulling apart some of the branches, reached into the bushes. “Hello, crazy whispering person! You there?” He pushed his head into the gap.

Shaya bit her lip nervously, not sure whether to laugh or be afraid. She was pretty sure she didn’t want to find anyone in the bushes, but neither did she want Dev to think she was a coward. She touched a couple of branches and gingerly pulled them apart.

Beside her, Dev stuck his head and shoulders right into the branches. Suddenly, he gave a loud yell and was pulled forward. Shaya screamed.

“Dev!” She dropped her schoolbag, picked up Dev’s stick, and started beating furiously at the bushes. “Dev, Dev!”

“Ow! Ow, stop it! Quit it, Shay, I was just kidding!”

Dev emerged from the tangle of branches, his clothes and hair messy and covered in leaves. He laughed. “I was only joking, you loser. There’s nothing in there.”

Shaya almost burst into tears. She didn’t know why she was feeling so jumpy today; Dev’s pranks didn’t usually get to her. She was done for now, of course — he’d never let her hear the end of this one.

“Devin! You twit!” She gave him one more smack with the stick for good measure.

He lunged towards her and she darted away. Her heart was still on overdrive, but she was laughing, and Dev grabbed her from behind, whirling her round like he used to when they were younger. Shaya squealed.

When he set her down, she was somewhere between trembling and laughing, and her knees shook slightly as she walked back towards her schoolbag. Dev was beside her as she bent down to pick up her bag.

“Give it back to me.”

They turned their heads towards one another. This time, Dev didn’t laugh. They stared at each other in silence, then raised their heads and looked around the empty park. Finally Shaya whispered, “You heard it this time, right?”

Dev looked worried for a moment, then broke into a smile.

“Nah, that was nothing.”

She punched his arm. “Dev! I know you heard it. Come on, we’re going to look around the other side of the bushes.”

As soon as the words were out, she regretted them. She’d only wanted to pay Dev back for lying, but she couldn’t back down now.

“Come on.” She picked up Dev’s stick.

The patch of bushes formed a big square that was at least twelve feet long and probably as many deep. Quietly, Shaya crept around one corner of it, Dev following close behind. There was no one on this side of the bushes, so she continued on, then stopped and held her breath before peering around to the back. No one was there. Shaya breathed a sigh of relief.

“Maybe they’re hiding in the middle,” Dev whispered. “Give me the stick again.”

“No, I’ll do it.” She walked on few paces, then reached the stick into the bushes and levered them open. They were so thick and tangled she could only see in a few feet, but it was enough to confirm that no one could possibly hide in there.

A glance at the sky told her it was really getting dark. “We’d better get going, Dev.”

For once he agreed with her. “Let’s go.”

No sooner had he said it than a few thick, heavy drops of rain began to fall.

“Oh nuts, it’s going to pour.” Shaya dropped the stick and ran, Dev behind her.

“Hey, wait,” he said as they came back around to the front of the bushes. “I wanted that stick.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Dev, what do you need an old stick for?”

He looked sulky. “I just want it, that’s all.”

The rain was starting to come down harder, but Shaya could tell Dev was going to be stubborn. “Oh, all right, then.” She didn’t really want to run on ahead of him and be alone. They jogged back to where she had dropped the stick.

It was gone.

“Where is it?” asked Dev, looking around.

“I don’t know. I thought I dropped it right here.”

The rain was now pelting down hard. As they stared at each other, thunder rumbled.

“Come on, Dev!” She grabbed his arm and pulled him away. They ran back to their bags, picked them up, and sprinted towards the pond, the rain hammering down like bullets.

The path took them alongside the pond, then up a set of hedge-lined steps leading from the park to their street. Shaya took the steps two at a time and ran fast up the rest of the tiny path. She burst out onto her street with a feeling of relief. Streetlights glowed against the now almost-black sky.

Shaya and Dev ran down the hill to their house. By the time they reached it, they were both soaking. “Back door!” Shaya said. “Mom will kill us if we come in the front door dripping wet.”

They clattered up the porch steps and tumbled inside. A cheerful yellow light spilled from the kitchen into the coat nook, and the comforting smell of food reached them as they kicked off their shoes. Their mother turned around from the stove.

“Where have you two been? You’re late, I was starting to get worried.” She left her cooking to help them out of their soaking jackets. “Go hang these up in the basement,” she said, holding both out to Shaya. “And your bag, too. It’s drenched.”

Shaya squeezed moisture from the ends of her hair. “Mom, why can’t Dev go hang them up? He’s the one who—”

But Dev had already run off.

Grumbling, Shaya took the jackets. She opened the basement door and clumped down the wooden stairs. A big clothes-drying rack stood next to the boiler.

After flinging the jackets onto the drying rack, Shaya squatted down to open her bag and pull out her books. Something black and circular bounced onto the floor and rolled a few feet. Her breath caught. Anything black and moving fast in the basement made her think of spiders. But as it rolled to a stop and toppled over, she saw that it was the feather bracelet. How had it ended up in her bag? She was sure she had dropped it. But then, she hadn’t seen it on the ground again — it must have dropped into her bag when she let go of it.

She emptied the rest of her belongings out, and balanced her bag upside-down on the drying rack. Then she picked up the bracelet.

Standing up, she turned the bracelet over to examine it. Although it was a fairly simple thing, it was impossible to see how the feathers were bound together. Glue, perhaps? Shaya slipped it onto her wrist. It was big and hung down to the base of her thumb when she put her arm down.

Her spine suddenly ran with goose bumps, and she felt like she couldn’t move. It was the same sensation she’d had when standing beside the bushes.

It’s mine,” the voice whispered.

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