POISON by Molly Cochran
When Paradise Turns Into POISON by Molly Cochran
Author of POISON and LEGACY
Katy Ainsworth attends a boarding school in a town with the highest population of witches in the United States. As a result, some of her fellow students, like Katy herself, possess what the school administrators refer to as “special ability”—meaning a penchant for witchcraft in its infinite forms (Katy’s personal talent is being able to “read” objects and their histories just by touching them).
But there are other students at the school – Katy calls them “Muffies”—without any such gifts, or any knowledge of their unusual classmates. When four particularly mean-spirited Muffies collapse into comas just as Katy breaks into their dorm room, Katy is unjustly accused of using magic to harm them.
In her quest to find out what really happened, Katy encounters a “friend” with a secret agenda who uses Katy’s special ability to exact a revenge that’s been brewing for 1600 years, since the time of King Arthur. Katy’s unwitting involvement with the false friend’s cruel plan brings about terrible consequences for Katy, forcing her to the brink of evil, where an unspeakable Darkness awaits.
Here she must learn the hard way what happens when we are betrayed by the people we trust most. What do we do when boyfriends, BFFs, and family just aren’t there for us? In the end Katy must learn how to depend on herself, as sooner or later we all must, giving up hopes of being rescued by princes or parents, serving as our own best friends, and becoming the heroes we never thought we could be.
EXCERPT FROM POISON
I probably go to the only school in the country with a rule against practicing witchcraft.
That’s not really as crazy as it sounds. The Massachusetts town where I live is sort of known for its rumored history of magical residents. Some say it’s even more haunted by witches than Salem, our famous neighbor. There’s a story that while the pilgrims in Salem were burning innocent women at the stake, the real witches came to Whitfield and vanished into a fog.
Of course, that’s not entirely true. Nobody was actually burned at the stake in Salem. Oh, there were plenty of murders, jailings, and torture of women who hadn’t done much more than piss off their neighbors, lots of widows had their property stolen, and one guy got crushed to death. But the burnings were pretty much left to the Europeans. The part of the story that is true is the part about the real witches coming to Whitfield.
I know, because I’m the descendant of one of those witches.
A lot of us are, although we keep quiet about it. That’s because even here, in this town where at least half the population are witches, we have to live among cowen, or non-magical people. Actually, we think of ourselves as talented – we can all do different things – rather than magical, but that wouldn’t matter to cowen, who have traditionally destroyed anything they can’t understand. Look at Salem.
At school, there are two kinds of students, the Muffies and the witches. Muffies are the kind of girls you’ll find at every residential school in the Northeast: fashionable, promiscuous, and clueless. Okay, that’s not fair. There are plenty of cowen kids at Ainsworth School, including boarders, who aren’t Muffies. Half of them aren’t even girls. But those people generally leave us alone. It’s the Muffies (I invented that name for them because they almost always have cute, stupid names) who are always making life difficult.
They sneer at us. They call us names. Geek is probably the most popular, since it’s pretty much true, at least from their point of view. We don’t spend all our time styling our hair and trying on push-up bras. Since most of us either live in town or have relatives here, we don’t run wild in the streets. We generally don’t have problems with drugs, alcoholism, reckless driving, kleptomania, credit card debt, or STDs. To be fair, we do sometimes have issues with ghosts, apparitions, disappearing, transmogrification, rainmaking, telepathy, demon rampages, telekinesis, and raising the dead. And maybe a few more things.
Hence the injunction against performing witchcraft at Ainsworth. This rule has been in place ever since my ancestor, Serenity Ainsworth, founded the school in 1658 (I like to think that one of her pupils gave some Puritan Muffy a pig nose in a cat fight).
The Muffies don’t know about this rule. They don’t know that Whitfield is the biggest and oldest community of witches in the United States, or that the geeks at Ainsworth School could summon enough power to make a hydrogen bomb seem like a fart in a bathtub if we wanted to. They think that Whitfield is an ordinary place, and that Ainsworth is an ordinary school.
Or do they?
I’ve often wondered if they knew… I mean, how they could not know? On every major witch holiday, the Meadow – that’s a big field in the middle of Old Town – fills up with fog so dense that you can’t see through it. It’s the same fog that saved the witches from being grabbed by the Puritans back in the day. When the fog appears, the witches all tumble into it like lemmings, but cowen can’t – physically can’t – enter. And that’s only one of the weird shenanigans that go on here. Even the dumbest Muffies must have an inkling once in a while that Whitfield, Massachusetts, is a little different from wherever they call home.
At least that’s my theory about how this whole mess started. With a jealous Muffy.
And an idiot who should have known better than to forget the no-witchcraft rule, since it was her relative who made it in the first place.
Right. It was me. But in all fairness, I had a good reason. I was protecting my friend Verity from Summer Hayworth, the most evil of the evil Muffies at Ainsworth. More accurately, I was protecting her boyfriend Cheswick from expulsion, and possibly arrest, for what he was about to do to Summer in Verity’s defense.
I can still see it: Summer, who has the taste level of a rhinoceros, laughing when Verity opened her locker and found a stuffed witch doll hanging by its neck. The doll had been made to look like Verity, with striped stockings and red hair. Its eyes had been removed and replaced by x’s, and someone had sewn a red tongue hanging out the side of its mouth.
There was no doubt about who’d done it. Even though none of them had classes near Verity’s locker, Summer and her three main cohorts – A.J. Nakamura, Tiffany Rothstein, and Suzy Dusset – just happened to be hanging around the area. Aside from Verity, me, and our boyfriends Cheswick and Peter, the Evil Muffies were the only people within a hundred feet of the locker in question. As for the witch doll itself, well, it had Evil Muffy stamped all over it. A.J. was an artist, and the tongue definitely looked like her work, but the idea had to have been Summer’s because nobody else in the school could possibly have been so crass.
If it had been my locker, I wouldn’t have thought much about it. The witch doll was actually kind of cute, x’d out eyes and all. But Verity is, well, sensitive. More to the point, she’s a QMS – a Quivering Mass of Sensitivity – of the highest order. She gets emotional if someone swats a fly or squashes a mosquito. She goes into coughing fits if anyone in the room is wearing perfume. She’s a vegan, of course, and only wears plastic shoes. Frankly, she’s not the most fun person to party with, but that’s not the point.
The point is, she’s from a very old witch family, and being outed by Muffies in high school was, for Verity, pretty much on a par with being ravaged by wild dogs. She went all pale and started shaking so hard that Cheswick had to hold her up. Her eyes filled with tears. Her nose ran. Her fingertips turned blue.
“She needs something to drink,” Cheswick said. He was looking at me, but Summer answered:
“What would she like? Bat’s blood?”
“Shut up, Summer,” I said.
“You going to make me, or are you just going to turn me into a frog?”
“I’d turn you into a jerk, except someone must have beat me to it,” I said. Peter poked me in the arm. He thinks I ask for trouble. Not true. I never have confrontations with horrible people if I can help it. Peter’s just more of a “go with the flow” kind of person than I am.
Tiffany almost laughed at my little comeback, but she checked herself. Summer had no sense of humor, especially about herself. A.J. and Suzy just stared, bored and clueless as ever.
“Let’s get out of here,” Peter said.
“Yeah,” Cheswick agreed, slamming Verity’s locker with a little more force than necessary.
“Oh, yeah. Go with your cool boyfriend,” Summer said. A.J. and Suzy smiled. Cheswick, who looks like a dandelion puff and is the all-school champion in Lord of the Rings trivia, is not considered to be cool, even by the geeks.
I think this, more than offending Verity, was what set him off. Before any of us knew what was happening, Cheswick hurled Verity at Peter like he was passing a football, and threw five fingers at Summer.
The Muffies really laughed at that, which showed how dumb they really were. When witches do that – flick their fingers at someone – it’s like aiming a wand at them. And when the witch is as pissed off as Cheswick was, the result usually isn’t good.
“Cheswick!” I whispered, but it was too late to stop him. All I could do at that point was to try to weaken his spell by throwing out one of my own to cross his.
“Stink!” I shouted. Don’t ask me why I chose that one. It was probably at the core of what I felt about Summer and the Skank Girls. Anyway, at that moment A.J. Nakamura, Japanese-American Princess that she is, let loose with this tremendous salami-scented belch. Tiffany sniffed at her armpits, and then gagged. Suzy Dusset grabbed her belly and headed for the bathroom, sounding like a Formula One racer the whole way.
“What the hell do you think . . .” Summer began, then stopped to sniff the air she had just fouled with her breath. The rest of us shrank backward. Verity started to retch. Summer narrowed her eyes at me. “You’ll be sorry,” she said. Then she smiled at Peter and made the “call me” gesture with her fingers. That’s how crusty she is.
“Er . . . you wouldn’t happen to have some air freshener in your locker, would you?” I asked Verity.
Cheswick led her away. Figuring that Verity didn’t need a repeat of what had just gone on, I opened the locker and took out the doll.
“I don’t think you should be touching that,” Peter said.
“Hey, somebody has to get rid of it.”
He sighed. “Okay, but why does that person always have to be you?”
“Look, I’m not doing anything wrong, okay?”
“Exactly what are you doing, Katy?” a pleasant voice behind me asked. It was Miss P, the assistant principal.
Oh, no,” Peter muttered.
“Move along, Peter,” Miss P said, her eyes never leaving mine. “Is that your locker?”
Quickly I stashed the doll behind my back. “Miss P, I can explain.”
“I don’t think so,” she said, in a tone she might have used to discuss the weather. “I saw you using special ability on those girls.” Special ability was code for witchcraft.
“Then you know I didn’t—” I thrust out my arms, having forgotten about the doll, whose head bobbed in mute accusation.
“I’ll take that, please.”
Abashed, I handed it to her as I watched Peter recede into the distance, shaking his head.
“Do you have a minute?” Miss P said cheerfully. That was code for bend over and kiss your butt goodbye.
About Molly Cochran
I was born in Tokyo, Japan, the child of a Japanese mother and an Irish-American father in the military. I lived in seventeen homes and two foreign countries before I finished high school, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh (with a major in Fiction Writing – talk about foolishly confident!), studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, lived among bad elements in Rome, communed in Hollywood’s Gower Gulch during my hippie days, worked in advertising (a natural occupation for someone with a Fiction Writing major), eked out a living in New York by writing lurid back-cover blurbs for a paperback publisher, frequented roller discos, danced in an African-American dance company, played the flute and the cello (both badly), went to baking school, authored four how-to books on a variety of trivial subjects and under several pen names, ghost-wrote 12 volumes in a longstanding series of men’s action/adventure novels, married fellow novelist Warren Murphy, became a mom (our son Devin is living pretty much the kind of life I was pursuing at his age), got unmarried (all good things eventually either end or turn rotten), freaked out, wasted time, moved to Tennessee, and finally – well, it’s probably not really finally – I came back to Pennsylvania, where I am working on establishing myself as a writer of Young Adult fiction as well as mainstream novels (in the business it’s called Adult Trade, although that always sounded sketchy to me). I’m in the process of moving again (how many places have I lived? 30? 40? I think I’m one of those people who can’t grow roots) with my cute little dog Lucy.Among the (28?) (30?) books I’ve written are two bestsellers, DRESSING THIN (one of the aforementioned trivial how-to books) and GRANDMASTER, co-authored with my former partner and husband, Warren Murphy, whose name is familiar to readers as author of the DESTROYER and TRACE series as well as several suspense novels and the hit movies THE EIGER SANCTION and LETHAL WEAPON 2.
GRANDMASTER, which marked my debut as a mainstream novelist, won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original of the year, and sold more than a million copies worldwide. It was followed by a sequel, HIGH PRIEST, as well as two other suspense novels, THE HAND OF LAZARUS – a novel about a terrorist priest in Ireland – and THE TEMPLE DOGS, which tells the story of a clan of underworld Japanese yakuza who wreak revenge on the American Mafia using the methods of ancient samurai warriors and the code of bushido.
THE FOREVER KING and its two sequels, THE BROKEN SWORD and THE THIRD MAGIC go in a slightly different direction, infusing strong fantasy elements into otherwise straightforward suspense stories. The premise of these three novels is the reincarnation of King Arthur as an American boy. THE FOREVER KING didn’t make the New York Times Bestseller List when it first came out, but over the years has sold well beyond bestseller numbers.
Another book with a pronounced fantasy element is WORLD WITHOUT END, which explores the Atlantis legend.
Warren and I also began a new line of “pure” suspense novels under the pseudonym Dev Stryker. He wrote one of these, titled ENDGAME, and I wrote two, DEATHRIGHT and A WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS, both featuring my first-ever female hero, Amelia Pierce, who discovers at the moment of her father’s death that he had been a high-ranking CIA agent who left behind a hot mess that leads Amelia into the most dangerous recesses of the secret world. Personally, I love these books. Amelia is my alter ego.
My most recent works are THE PAGAN TRAILER PARK, about a middle-aged writer on the brink of a nervous breakdown whose imaginary characters lead her back to sanity against a surreal background of snake churches, cross-burnings, and other terrors of the deep south, and my first Young Adult novel, LEGACY.
I’ve never been very good at answering the question, “What is your book about?” It’s really hard to condense several hundred pages into a single sentence, at least until the book has had time to cool down in my mind. LEGACY is about witches, I suppose. Good witches. A town of people with extraordinary abilities, into which walks an innocent – and seemingly ordinary – 16-year-old girl who finds out that her mother, who killed herself in this very town, not only was a witch herself, but was regarded as a monster. And it’s a funny book. Go figure. I’m going to try to include a chapter or two on this website so that you can have a taste of this new thing I’ve written that I love so much.
The next book on my agenda is a sequel to LEGACY. Well, two sequels, respectively titled POISON and SEDUCTION, although I don’t yet know if anyone will publish them. I’m just not ready to let this character and this town go.
Somewhere down the road, I’m going to write a novel about my grandfather. He was a Japanese aristocrat, a descendant of samurai, whose life was shaped absolutely by the women in it, from his domineering mother to his arranged marriage to his affair with an Australian free-thinker. There were others – a cast-off daughter who became a geisha, a housekeeper who saw him and his family through the privations of World War II, another daughter whom he had to rescue from the hell of Nanking after the Japanese invasion…Lots of material. I hope I get a chance to write it soon.