Twelve-year-old Clara is an ordinary girl, so small and shy that her mum calls her Little Mouse. Then, one day, she meets a cat. A huge, strange, black cat, with glowing yellow eyes. And so begins her new life as a wildwitch.
Suddenly, Clara is plunged into a world of mystery and magic. With her Aunt Isa to guide her, she finds she can talk to animals and walk the mysterious Wildways. But then she is captured by the dreaded Chimera...
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By Lene Kaaberbol, Rohan Eason, Charlotte Barslund
Steerforth PressCopyright © 2010 Lene Kaaberbol, Copenhagen
All rights reserved.
The cat was standing on the stairs, refusing to budge.
It was the biggest cat I had ever seen. It was the size of my friend Oscar's labrador and just as black. Its eyes glowed neon yellow in the dim light of the stairwell that led up out of the bike basement.
"Ahem ... hello, cat? Can I get past you, please?"
Now I'm not saying that it actually spoke to me. But I could tell just by looking. It wasn't there by chance. This was no accident. It was there because it wanted to be there. Because it wanted something from me.
I was on my way to school and I was already late. It was wet and windy, which meant my bike ride wouldn't be very fast or much fun, either. And I didn't want to try and explain to Ruler-Rita, my scary Maths teacher, that I was late for her class for the second time in two weeks because I was too scared to take on a black cat.
"Shooooo," I hissed at it. "Go away! Beat it! Clear off!"
The cat merely opened its jaws to reveal a pink tongue and a set of white teeth longer and sharper than ordinary cats' teeth. And it was quite clearly better at hissing than I was.
I pushed my bike a little further up the ramp and moved up to the next step. The cat and I were now two metres apart. I flapped my hand at it.
It didn't move an inch.
I know I'm not the bravest girl in the world, but at that moment I was more terrified of my Maths teacher than the cat. I took a deep breath and raced up the steps as fast as I could. The cat would have to get out of the way or ...
The cat jumped. Not to the side or backwards, but right at me. It landed on my chest and face so that for a second all I could see was black fur. I stumbled back and fell down the stairs with my bike and the cat on top of me. My head slammed against the concrete floor and my elbow scraped the rough wall. But what really made me lie still, shocked and with my heart in my mouth, was the cat. Its yellow eyes burned into me, its claws dug through my raincoat, through my jumper, right through to my bare skin. It was a black, furry shape that almost filled my field of vision, and all I could see behind it was a leaden sky and the rain falling on us both in big, cold drops.
It held up its paw, then spread out and extended its claws. They were milky white with slate-grey tips.
"No," I pleaded. "Please don't ..." Although I didn't know precisely what I was afraid it was going to do to me. My left arm was trapped under my body so I tried to push it away with my right hand. Its fur was wet and heavy, and not just from the rain. It smelled of seaweed, the sea itself and salt water. And I couldn't shift it at all.
With one lightning-quick swipe its paw raked my face and I felt its claws rip the skin right between my eyes. The blood started flowing immediately, I could feel it trickling down the side of my nose and I had to blink to stop it running into my eyes. And while I lay there, stunned and bleeding, the monster cat leaned forwards and I felt the warm, rough rasp of its tongue against my forehead.
It was licking the blood from the cuts it had just inflicted on me.
"Clara! Do you know what time it is? You'll be late!" Mum called out from her study. I was standing in the hallway, unable to speak. A moment later she appeared.
"Little Mouse," she said and now she sounded frightened. "What happened?"
I shook my head. In fact I was shaking all over. My head hurt, the cuts to my forehead stung and burned, I thought I could still feel the weight of the cat's wet body on me and still smell seaweed and salty blood.
"A cat," I whispered. "There was ... a cat."
I never thought for one minute that she would believe me. I expected her to ask me lots of questions and then accuse me of making it all up. I mean, how often do people get attacked by giant black cats?
But she didn't. She just stared at me.
"Oh, no," she said. That was all. And then she started to cry.
Perhaps I should explain a few things. My mum is no cry baby. Usually she's quite tough. She's a journalist and works freelance, that's what they call it when you work for yourself and you write articles for different newspapers that then pay you for them. And lots of newspapers do because she's a good reporter and she's clever at finding stories. My dad doesn't live with us and hasn't done since I was five, so Mum is used to handling most things on her own.
She soon stopped crying, found the first aid box and started cleaning the cuts to my forehead and my grazed elbow, her mobile wedged between her shoulder and ear while she tried to get through to the doctor.
"You are now number ... seven ... in the queue," said a tiny, remote, recorded voice. Mum pressed the "end call" button with an angry movement, then fetched a bag of frozen sweetcorn and a tea towel from the kitchen.
"Here you go," she said. "Press this against the cuts. I'm taking you to the doctor's."
"My bike," I said. "I haven't locked my bike."
"Don't worry about it," she said. "It doesn't matter. Go put on a dry top, we don't know how long we'll have to wait."
She was her old self again. My mum who always took charge, my mum who always looked after me. But I couldn't forget that helpless little "Oh, no." Or the look I had seen on her face before she put the mum-mask back on.
Her open mouth. Her lips that had gone all white. And the tears that had welled up in her eyes.
As if her whole world had just fallen apart.CHAPTER 2
"Take these for five days," the doctor said, handing my mum a prescription for penicillin. "And Clara ... promise me you won't go teasing cats again."
"I didn't tease it," I protested. My head was still aching and it felt bigger and hotter than usual. My shoulder was sore from the tetanus injection, and the scratch marks on my forehead still stung and burned. It seemed so unfair that our usually friendly doctor was acting as if this were all my fault.
"No, no," she said. "But I suggest you keep away from cats for a while." She looked up at Mum again. "Call me if the cuts start to go red and swell up or if blisters begin to form. We don't want her getting Cat Scratch Disease."
"Cat Scratch Disease?" Mum said. "What's that?"
"Many cats carry a nasty bacterium called Bartonella. It can infect humans, but the penicillin should nip it in the bud, so there's nothing to worry about."
And I didn't or, at least, not much. I was much more scared that the monster cat might return.
On our way home we stopped at the chemist in Station Road and then at La Luna, our favourite pizza place.
"Hawaiian with extra cheese?" Mum asked me.
"Yes," I said, though it felt a bit weird to get a take-away for lunch. But the rain was still tipping down and my body felt heavy and flu-like. I didn't know if vast quantities of melted cheese would make me feel better, but it was definitely worth a try.
There was no question of my going to school that day. In fact, Mum acted as if it were only a matter of time before the Bartonella bacteria would wipe me out, despite the penicillin and the doctor's best efforts with iodine and surgical spirit. When we had finished the pizza and cleared the table, I wanted to go to my room and play on my computer, but Mum made me take a book and curl up under a blanket on the spare bed in her study while she worked. It was very cosy and I didn't mind, but I had a feeling that she was doing it to keep an eye on me.
Just after three o'clock that afternoon I got a text message. It was from Oscar. "Why weren't you at school today?" he wrote. I didn't know what to reply. It was a bit complicated to explain that I had been scratched by a cat and that it might make me ill. So I just texted back "sick :(", even though I wasn't really sick – at least, not yet.
That night I dreamt about the cat. It was waiting for me in the stairwell, just as it had done in real life. But instead of attacking me, it extended its body in a long, smug and supple cat-stretch, and yawned so I could see all its teeth. "You're mine now," it said, licking its lips with its pink tongue. "Mine, mine, mine ..."
"Yes, darling?" She sat up in bed with a start so fast that I wasn't sure she had even been asleep in the first place.
"Mum, I think I've got a temperature ..."
My forehead was throbbing and my arms and legs felt long and stiff, as if they weren't properly attached to my body. The light from Mum's bedside lamp drilled through my eyes and into my brain. I closed my eyes for a moment, but that was no good either because it made me so dizzy I could barely stand up straight.
Mum pulled me down onto the side of her bed and put her hand on my forehead.
"You're burning up," she said. "Does it hurt?"
"Lie down. I'll call the duty doctor."
The duty doctor, however, had no intention of making a house call just because some twelve-year-old girl had a bit of a temperature. I lay in Mum's bed with my eyes closed and heard her arguing with him. She sounded far away and strangely woolly even though she was sitting right next to me.
"But the penicillin isn't working, I've just told you," she said. "Her temperature is above forty degrees C!"
I started to drift off. There was a lovely clean and comforting smell of freshly-washed bed linen and of Mum and Mum's shampoo, but I was scared of falling asleep again. The cat was still there, I could feel it. It was waiting for me in my dreams.
"Would you like some water?"
"No, thanks." My throat was hot and raw and I didn't want to swallow anything, even though I was actually quite thirsty.
"I think it's best if you drink something. A fizzy drink? Squash?"
"Some squash, please."
She fetched it for me. Then she went back into the kitchen and I heard her put the kettle on to make herself some coffee. She had taken her mobile with her and was calling someone.
"It's Milla Ash. I'm sorry to be calling you so late, but it's very important that I get hold of my sister ..."
Then she closed the door and I couldn't hear the rest. But, despite the fever, I was intrigued. I knew that Mum had an older sister, but I'd never met her. And I couldn't even begin to imagine why Mum was trying to reach her at two o'clock in the morning. Perhaps she was a doctor? No, my Aunt Isa was an artist, I remembered. Once we had seen cards with very lifelike ducks on them in a shop window. Isa Ash Design it had said on a big sign, and the cards were really expensive. "She's called Ash, just like me," I had said, pointing at it. I wasn't very old then, eight or nine, I think. "That's because she's your aunt," Mum replied. But she didn't buy the cards and when I asked why we never visited Aunt Isa, Mum just muttered something about her living "miles away from anywhere", as if Aunt Isa lived in Outer Mongolia and we could only get there with a dog sled or by helicopter.
That was all I knew about my aunt. So why was it suddenly very important to get hold of her?
I closed my eyes, too tired to carry on thinking. But in the darkness behind my eyelids I could hear the cat singing: Mine, mine, mine ... I opened my eyes again. I think I started to cry, mostly because I was exhausted, and yet I was too scared to go to sleep.
On the other side of the closed kitchen door, Mum's voice had grown loud and angry. I still couldn't make out every word she said, only something about necessary and my daughter's life.
My daughter's life? My heart skipped a beat. Did she think I was dying? Dangerous bacteria could kill you even if you weren't an oldie in a care home.
"Mum?" I called out. But she didn't hear me through the closed door. And anyway, she was probably too busy arguing on her mobile.
I sat upright. Bang! It felt as though I'd been whacked with a hammer right between the eyes, right where the cat scratches were. I whimpered. The pain was so intense, and it just wouldn't stop.
I got out of bed. The door to the kitchen was miles away, but I reached it eventually.
"... I might just be forced to do that," Mum said. "But I simply don't understand how you can take that attitude when —"
Then she spotted me.
"Hello, Little Mouse. Sit down before you keel over." She turned away quickly, but I had seen it. She was crying. Again.
Mums aren't supposed to cry. They are supposed to be grown up and strong and take care of their kids. Like I said at the start, I'm not brave, not like Oscar, but I think that even Oscar would have been scared by now if he'd been in my place.
"Give me the address," Mum snapped. "And I'll work out the rest for myself." She scribbled furiously on the notepad on the fridge door and said a very curt goodbye to the person she was talking to. When she turned to face me again, she had wiped away her tears and was smiling in a very mum-like manner.
"Little Mouse, I think we have to go for a drive. Are you up to that?"CHAPTER 3
Toad Venom and Snake Spittle
We drove for a long time. Mum had lined the backseat of our little blue Kia with pillows and duvets so I was really quite comfortable – apart from the fact that I was getting dizzier and there was a strange buzzing in my ears like an irritated mosquito, only louder and closer, as if it were actually inside my ear. Mine, mine, mine. I must have dozed off because when I woke up, we had left the city behind and there were no more street lights and no traffic noise around us, only darkness and the occasional headlights of another car. The windscreen wipers squealed across the windscreen, iiiiv-iiiiv-iiv, and the rain pelted onto the roof of the car.
"Please would you turn on the radio?" I asked, hoping it might drown out the mosquito sound.
"Yes, of course. Are you comfortable?"
"Fine," I said.
The speakers crackled while Mum tried to find a station with clear reception. Fragments of voices and music drifted past before breaking up into white noise.
"I don't think I can find a station this far out in the country," she said. "Why don't I put on a CD instead?"
She found an Electra album which she knew I liked. Electra's clear, strong voice cut through the boom of the bass and the percussion beat. "Go where you gotta go, no matter how far," she sang. "Mamma always told me, gotta be who you are, can't be nobody else, gotta seek your own star, gotta be ... gotta be ... gotta be who you are."
I lay in the back, listening. My headache seemed to throb a little less violently when I concentrated on Electra rather than the mosquito. I braced myself.
"Yes, Mouse?" She changed gear and accelerated. I could feel that we were driving uphill now.
"Is this ... this disease. Is it something you can die from?"
She took her foot off the accelerator and the car slowed down almost immediately because the hill was so steep. Then she turned in her seat and looked at me.
"Clara Mouse. You mustn't think like that!" she exclaimed. "We're almost at Aunt Isa's and she'll help us. It's going to be all right. OK, sweetheart?"
"Yes," I mumbled. "OK."
But I said it mostly to humour her. As the car sped up again and we drove through the rain and the dark I could think of only one thing.
She hadn't said no.
The car rattled and shook as it went down a road so bumpy that Mum could only drive the Kia at a snail's pace. I decided to sit up. It was just too uncomfortable to be bounced around when I was lying down. I looked out between the front seats and tried to get a sense of where we were. The headlights swept across steep verges, puddles and tall, wet grass. The road had become almost a deep, wide hollow. The verges either side were higher than a person and, though it had stopped raining, I could see only a few stars because we were driving through a forest of giant, pitch-black spruces.
"Are we nearly there yet?" I asked.
"Nine minutes," Mum said. "Or at least that's what the sat nav is saying. I don't think it has factored in the state of this road." She tried to swerve around a hole, but the high verges made it impossible. Grrrrrrr. Something scraped against the bottom of the Kia. Perhaps travelling by helicopter or with huskies wouldn't have been such a bad idea after all.
It took more like twenty minutes before we turned right across a small wooden bridge and saw lights between the trees further ahead.
"This has to be the place," Mum said. "I can't imagine anyone else who would want to live so far away from civilization."
We drove through a gate and along a small field before Mum stopped the car in a yard between two buildings, a farmhouse and what looked to be some kind of stable. She parked next to an ancient Morris Minor with black side panels and a white roof. Both buildings had thatched roofs and thick stone walls. The light was on in the house and when Mum opened the car door I could smell wet soil, spruce and smoke from a log fire.
The entrance to the farmhouse was one of those doors that you sometimes see in stables. The top half was flung open and a tall, hunchbacked figure with long plaits appeared. No, wait. She wasn't a hunchback. The hump had feathers, eyes and wings. It was an owl and it was eyeing us as if we were something it might consider eating for its breakfast.
"Come in," said the strange lady with the owl. "And let me see what I can do."
This would appear to be my Aunt Isa.
Excerpted from Wildwitch Wildfire by Lene Kaaberbol, Rohan Eason, Charlotte Barslund. Copyright © 2010 Lene Kaaberbol, Copenhagen. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents1. Monster Cat, 7,
2. Cat Fever, 13,
3. Toad Venom and Snake Spittle, 20,
4. Blue Tits and Scarecrows, 29,
5. The Pencil Case Mouse, 36,
6. An Angel in the Mist, 44,
7. Self-defence for Wildwitches, 54,
8. Jumping Fleas, 63,
9. Wildways, 75,
10. Fire and Ashes, 85,
11. Blood and Red Rainbows, 97,
12. Purring Cats, 103,
13. The Coven Gathers, 108,
14. Raven Kettle, 116,
15. Tooth and Claw, 128,
16. To Run From a Fight, 143,
17. Skyfire, 149,
18. Waterfire, 153,
19. Earthfire, 158,
20. A Friend in Need, 167,
21. Heartfire, 173,
22. The Last Word, 182,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review This is a children’s fantasy book that will be enjoyed by any Harry Potter fans. 12 year-old Clara has no idea that she has magical powers until she falls seriously ill after being scratched by a massive aggressive black cat. She is then attacked by a winged woman, Chimera, and has to seek shelter with her aunt, who tries to teach her about the wildwitch ways. All Clara wants to do is to get back home to her mother and her best friend, Oliver, and to escape the condescension of her aunt’s other pupil, the excessively bundled-up Kahla. Unfortunately, Chimera has other plans, and soon Clara is fighting for her life and her freedom inside a world that makes no sense to her at all. Unlike Harry Potter, Clara has no human friends in her magic world. Only Bumble the dog and the other animals at her aunt’s house are able to stave off her loneliness. Soon she is in dire need of friends, as Chimera throws her headlong into a series of life-threatening tests, that are a cross between Harry’s trials in the “Goblet of Fire”, and a medieval trial-by-ordeal. The pace is fast, and like Clara, the reader has little time to come to terms with her new life. There is not much background given, but that has the advantage of allowing the story to race you along while fully empathising with Clara’s confusion. As this is the start of a series, I am sure that any relevant gaps will be filled in in subsequent books. Although the story-line is not particularly original, it does blend well-known fantasy themes in interesting ways, and is well worth a read. I do hope to get hold of the other books in the series.