One of the announcements at Witchfest International this autumn was that Children of Artemis is now publishing witchy fiction. I've been sent a copy of the imprint's first book, Wild Women by Moira Hodgkinson, and I'm looking forward to reading it in the Yuletide holidays. In the meantime, to give you a taste of what the book is like, here is Wild Women's prologue:
She hollowed the earth deeper with her bare hands, rich soil merging with roughened skin. I find her earth-stained hands comforting but my mother holds them in disdain.
The two of them couldn’t be more different if they tried. Gran wears long, flowing earthy coloured clothes from second-hand shops while Mum is a complete fashion victim. Gran works hard as a tarot reader and healer and Mum rebelled to find work as an assistant bank manager. Gran is honest and kind with a good sense of humour and she brought me up with laughter and love. Mum is a drama-queen; she never swears, rarely laughs and hates the outdoors. Gran has a way with people, plants and animals and she’s full of good advice. Mum continually makes poor decisions and ends up in trouble, which is why we came to live with Gran when my father died. Then Mum moved in with one terrible boyfriend after another, the most recent of whom was also the worst.
‘That’s deep enough, love.’ Gran’s voice brought me back to the present and I turned to the hole in the ground and the wooden box next to it.
‘No tears, Sally.’ Gran chided. ‘Time enough for that at the dark moon, tonight she’s full, so let’s remember the good things, eh?’
‘You’re right, Gran.’ I took a deep breath and picked up the box, running my hands over the polished surface. I’d thought about this moment all day but suddenly I was speechless. Gran’s hand settled on my shoulder and a subtle surge of energy ran through me. I breathed rhythmically, silently asking the Goddess to help me too.
Lady Bast, help me find the words for this little soul, help me get through.
‘Lady Bast, watch over my dear Judy. Cherish her as I have and – and – take her – take her into your heart.’
Gran took up the thread, her words coming naturally where my own had floundered. ‘We thank you, Judy, for your loyalty, love and companionship. We honour your spirit and give you rest with the Old Ones.’
I nestled the box carefully in the ground, packing the space around it with flowers and herbs and I placed a photograph of Judy on top. Gran laid the turf back down, patting it into place. She stood up, taking my smooth hand in her wrinkled one, and moved to the altar. A small table was set with all my ritual tools and the sad addition of a silver cord.
‘Sally, it’s time.’ Gran said quietly.
Heavy hearted, I picked up the cord and scissors and shut my eyes briefly, determined not to cry. ‘Lord of the forest, Lady of the moon, may ever the cord be loosed and the spirit be free. May we meet, remember and love one another again, in this world or beyond.’ I snipped through the cord, laying one piece over the grave in a spiral, the other on the altar. I’d sleep with it under my pillow tonight, along with Judy’s little red collar.
‘So mote it be.’ An unexpected voice came from the shadows and we both spun round in surprise to see our visitor.
‘Is that Judy?’ My mother asked.
‘Mum? How could you know that?’ I sniffed. Not knowing if I should move towards Gran or Mum, I took the safer option and stayed rooted to the spot. I wished my gorgeous feline familiar hadn’t died, that she was waiting to comfort me so this awkward meeting of stubborn women wouldn’t feel so heavy in the still of the night.
Mum shuffled and looked down at her feet. ‘I can’t explain it; I just felt something telling me to come here.’
‘Out with it.’ Gran said stonily. ‘What are you really doing turning up at the poor lass’s requiem for Judy like this?’
‘Gran, please, stop it!’ I shouted. I hate to see them bicker even though I was used to it.
‘I’m going in.’ Gran’s voice was cold and distant. ‘I’ll see you inside, Sal.’ She grabbed her athame off the altar and marched across the garden to the back door, slamming it shut.
‘What are you doing here, Mum?’ I hadn’t seen her in six months. ‘I’ve just buried the cat I’ve loved for twelve years, I’m not in the right frame of mind for your drama.’
‘Can we sit down, love,’ she asked? I followed her to the living willow seat nestled amongst fragrant honeysuckle. The full moon’s light made the bright red patent of my mother’s shoes glimmer and shine. My worn and mucky Dr Martens were shabby and tired in comparison.
Mum turned to me, brushing her hand briefly over my cheek. A tiny stubborn part of me wanted to draw back but a bigger part of me felt comforted. She steadied herself and took a deep breath. ‘I filed for a divorce yesterday.’
Well, that was a bolt from the blue!
‘I know, it’s been a long time coming.’ She smiled weakly and looked away.
‘How did you get away from the slug?’ The slug, my so-called step-father, was a prime example of the cowardly wife-beaters I’d come across whilst doing admin for a women’s shelter last month.
‘I haven’t told him, I just put a bag in the car and went to work as usual this morning. I thought about it all day and then I drove straight here.’ She shook her head, laughing suddenly. ‘All this time and she was right, I just didn’t want to admit it.’
‘We’ve both been telling you for years, Mum. You shouldn’t have moved in with him in the first place.’
‘I know, and it was stupid of me. That man is the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.’
My eyes were leaking so now it was my turn to look away. Through the kitchen window I could see Gran at the table, glass of red wine in hand, surrounded by pots and pans and clouds of e-cig
vapour. She smoked, she swore and she drank, but this loving woman had always been there for me while my mother’s contact had been sporadic and selfish.
‘I’m so sorry, Sally.’ Mum brushed away her tears. ‘I knew I’d never be happy with him, but by then it was too late.’ She shook her head. ‘I was stuck with it Sally, I was so scared.’
I’d heard it all before but working at the women’s refuge had taught me compassion and understanding. Gran’s kindness played a large part in that too, but nothing made up for Mum’s intermittent contact once she moved out of the house. The slug was just the latest and nastiest of her bad life choices.
‘You’ve taken the first steps.’ I tried to sound reassuring. ‘Things will get better from here.’
‘I don’t expect it to be easy,’ she went on, ‘but I hope I can start building bridges between us now I’m free.’
‘You want to stay here?’ I felt a tingle of warmth at the thought of it. ‘I think I’d like that, Mum, but I don’t know if Gran will warm to the idea.’
‘Yes, I’ve got my work cut for me there.’ Mum straightened up and pulled a small package out of her handbag. ‘Here, I got you something.’
My Gran had given Judy to me as a companion when Mum and I first came to live in the village. I was barely a teen and Judy, still a kitten back then, helped me adjust to life in Gran’s house and I would miss her dreadfully. And now Mum was offering this small box at the end of Judy’s life, some pathetic trinket to buy my affection?
‘I’ve always denied my witchiness.’ She said, shaking her head and looking up at the moon to avoid my eyes. ‘I guess it scared me a little and I got teased at school: the way Mum dresses, the tarot readings… you know what kids can be like.’
I let out a huffing sigh. I knew exactly what she meant; I’d gone through the same hellish torment at school myself. I fumbled with the wrapping paper while Mum tried to explain.
‘But I still have flashes of intuition, times when I need to
knock on wood or say hello to magpies. I have felt so unsettled for the last few days. And it was definitely not connected to Paul, for once. I wanted to come and see you, Sally.’
‘Oh Mum!’ I sobbed loudly and she held me close, kissing my forehead before heading inside to break her news to Gran.
It was a struggle to remain composed, looking down at Judy’s collar, especially with Mum’s revelation about the divorce. Her relationship with the slug had been doomed when the first bruises landed. It had been four nasty, hard years and her reluctance to admit what was going on played a large part in the arguments between her and Gran but I think really they were just too different to get along. Maybe now the walls between them would start to come down.
The altar was lit only by the stars and moon and I took out the box to look at the contents again. Judy had been my companion and my comfort for so long, I couldn’t bear the thought of not having her in my life. I opened the box again and smiled at the gift. A new cat collar, its tag engraved with my name and phone number. Tucked in with it were the details of a local animal shelter.
I looked up at the moon, feeling the soothing energy of the Goddess offering strength and courage. The loss of my cat had brought new situations to light and I looked forward to seeing how things would turn out from here. I packed up the altar tools and made my way back indoors while Mum walked inside.
I have no idea for how long I lingered outside, once I got in the aroma of vanilla candles and sandalwood greeted me in the dining room. Gran poured me a glass of wine and I plonked myself between her and Mum. We sipped our wine in silence until Mum’s mobile lit up. She read the text with a worried expression.
‘It’s Paul. Where am I and when am I coming back?’ She sounded terrified and her hands were shaking as her fingers hovered over the phone.
‘Don’t you dare!’ Gran swiftly laid a hand over Mum’s to stop her replying. ‘He won’t come here for you, not for love nor money. You can stay here for as long as you need to.’
I don’t know what the two of them had been talking about when I’d left them alone but it must have been a deep and hard conversation to have led to this turn-around. ‘What have I missed?’ I asked. ‘Have you two patched things up?’
‘Not by a long shot, Sally.’ Mum scoffed.
‘But we’re working on it,’ Gran said, the glint of a smile on her wrinkled face. ‘Aren’t we?’
‘You two are like sugar and spice.’ I mused aloud. ‘So different to each other but you go together well when the recipe is right.’
‘Oh, stop being daft and drink your wine, Sal.’ Gran hid a sly grin and I caught a glint of moonlight shining through the window. In two weeks the orb would be new, the perfect time to start looking for a new familiar. I held the little box in my hands and went up to bed, tucking it under my pillow with the silver cord and Judy’s red collar and that night, I dreamed the dream of a thousand cats.
You can order Wild Women from the CoA Witches Shop via this link: http://witchshop.org/#!/Wild-Women-Moira-Hodgkinson/p/93876536/category=25375032