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THE BANISHING STONES

banishing stones
 

Stella is ugly, flies a broomstick and can wield a magic wand. In these respects she is just like the other witch girls in Wartville. But, unlike the other witch girls, Stella does not enjoy turning toads into slime or setting the elves’ forest home on fire. She would rather help a bear cub escape from its cage than cook it in a stew. It’s only a matter of time before she finds herself in serious trouble.

Stella’s fate is linked with the fate of two human children, Mitchell and Sarah, who don’t even believe in witches. That is, they didn’t believe in witches until they found themselves whisked out of their own world and into a completely different one, into the land of Wystovia.

Mitchell and Sarah soon find themselves running from an evil wizard who thinks nothing of enslaving dwarves in the mountain mines, turning giants to stone, and terrorising innocent merchildren that his eagles catch frolicking in the sea. Mitchell and Sarah will need a lot of luck and the help of friends to survive.

In Store Price: $AU28.95 
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ISBN:   978-1-921919-66-4
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 270
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
- Childrens

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Author: Elizabeth Ward
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2013
Language: English

 

Chapter 1 – Above the Restaurant

 

It was around midnight by the time the mops finished scrubbing the restaurant floor.

‘Nice work,’ Stella told them as she ushered them back into the closet to join the brooms. ‘Horribella’s going to be pleased tomorrow.’

Stella felt sorry for the humble working brooms and mops because they never got taken for a fly. For all she knew, they might have forgotten how to fly.

With a weary sigh Stella hung up the damp tea-towel she had been using, and then snuffed out all but the shortest candle, which she used to light her way up two flights of stairs.

The attic smelled musty as usual, though a refreshing little breeze darted in through the open window.

Stella set the candle down in a sheltered nook by her bed (an old mattress on the floor), and made straight for the window. Apart from a cat in the shadows grooming its velvet black coat, the town square below was deserted, and hazy moonlight prowled the shops in silence. Perhaps the cat sensed Stella watching, for its head jerked up, its jade eyes flashing.

Resting her elbows on the sill, Stella gazed up at the bats that swirled in the dark sky. Tonight their ragged black wings and ghoulish red eyes showed up clearly, for the breeze had dispelled most of the smog that usually hung over Wartville.

As Stella continued to lean out the window, she could hear the baby bear, Horribella’s latest prisoner, clawing at the solid bars of its cage. By hanging her head right out of the window and looking straight down, Stella could see the solitary cage beside the restaurant entrance. It was too dark to make out the cub inside the cage, but Stella already knew its fuzzy, sad face by heart. If only she could think of a way to rescue it. But a bear cub would not be easy to conceal.

Then it whimpered, and a second later Horribella’s head ducked out the first-floor window below. ‘ENOUGH OF YOUR RACKET!’ she bawled.

The cub quietened down, and Horribella pulled her head back inside.

As Stella turned away from the window, Horribella’s nasally voice carried faintly. ‘You really mean it? I’ve won? I can’t believe it. I feel so overcome.’ Sniff! Sniff! ‘It’s such an honour to have my cooking talent recognised. Thank you, thank you so much.’

Horribella was probably talking to her reflection again, practising her acceptance speech for the Fine Dining Award she expected to win for her Savoury Baby Bear Stew.

Stella changed into her nightgown.

‘Don’t you go out on me,’ she warned the candle’s feeble flame, before dropping onto the mattress.

Then she took up her storybook.

Most nights, Stella lacked the energy to even lift the weighty volume, let alone read it. But tonight she felt only a tiny bit sleepy.

The first story in her storybook Stella knew for a fact to be true. The rest? Well, she liked to imagine that Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Peter Pan might actually exist. Peter Pan frequently starred in Stella’s dreams, flying through the attic window and whisking her away to Neverland. Sadly, he never put in an appearance outside her dreams.

The book fell open at the place marked with a ribbon, and Stella brushed her hand over the yellowing paper and old-fashioned writing. As usual, a delightful thrill coursed through her. Within moments, the lonely attic melted away and she lost herself in the narrative.

Stella was so worried for Jack, who didn’t seem to be chopping down that beanstalk fast enough, that she was quite unconscious of the creak upon stairs.

Abruptly the trapdoor was thrown open, and sky-blue dreadlocks and a candle flame surfaced through the gap.

Stella slid down flat and folded the book protectively in her arms.

‘Reading again and using up my candles,’ Horribella said in an aggrieved tone. ‘No wonder you fall asleep when you’re supposed to be working.’

Stumbling over dented cauldrons and bursting trunks, Horribella bore down on Stella and snatched the book from her arms. With a quick intake of breath Stella sat up straight, anxious as to what Horribella might do.

Horribella deposited her candle on a battered hat box and flicked through An Assortment of Tales, tutting and humphing. Her habitual frown gave the impression that she had a chronic case of indigestion, which was rather unfortunate for a chef.

At last Horribella clapped the book shut like a bite.

‘I don’t imagine you’ve thought of studying something useful – like recipe books – instead of all this happily-ever-after nonsense?’ she croaked. ‘Spellfest is only three days away you know. There’ll be dozens of covens flying in to Wartville, and I’m expecting Wartalicious to be packed every day for the entire –’

Just then, a small shadow slipped from the pages, spiralling lightly to the ground. Stella saw it and knew at once what it was.

Horribella saw it too. Candlelight illuminated her distrustful expression as she bent over to squint at the floorboards. Swiping a cockroach out of the way, her gnarled fingers closed upon a lock of curly brown hair.

‘Well, well. What have we here? Where did you get this then?’ she asked as she straightened up. ‘It’s human hair, or I’m much mistaken.’ She seemed to be examining it with very great interest.

‘Uh-huh,’ Stella answered. ‘A human boy’s hair. The first story is all about him. It’s my favourite story. He came from a world far, far away. You can read –’

Horribella’s green eyes were bulging. ‘From another world? Snakes and serpents! Don’t you realise how rare this is? How precious?’

Stella just blinked in bafflement.

‘You must be dopey as a giant,’ Horribella declared. ‘I’ll be taking this book and these hairs to Morbidia first thing tomorrow.’

‘But they’re mine!’ Stella protested. She could count on her fingers and toes the pitiful assortment of things she actually owned – the book, a broomstick, a wand, a black dress, a pair of worn shoes, a stained apron, undergarments, a comb … Everything else had been taken by Horribella to pay for her board.

Stella had spoken without thinking. Now Horribella swelled up in a rage, and Stella shrank back.

‘You impertinent little wench! After all the kindness I’ve showered upon you, is it too much to expect a little gratitude?’

Here it comes, Stella thought. Here comes the lecture.

‘Who rents you a whole attic and a bed all to yourself, tell me that now?’

‘You do,’ Stella acknowledged with a dubious glance at the clutter hemming her in.

‘And who gives you two square meals a day?’

Stella took a moment to answer. It was true that the cold toast for breakfast was invariably a square, but the stale sandwich for lunch was usually four little triangles. She considered correcting Horribella, then thought better of it. ‘You do.’

‘And who gives you a job to keep you out of trouble?’

Stella knew what would happen if she tried to explain that she didn’t like her job as chef’s assistant one bit; that she didn’t enjoy preparing dragon gizzard pâté with a drizzle of olive oil, or deep-fried robin-legs, hot and crunchy with mango-chilli dipping sauce. Horribella’s eyes would narrow, and she would mutter, ‘There’s something very wrong with you. Very wrong,’ and then she would compel Stella to swallow a generous spoonful of choc-snail jelly. That’s what she always did when Stella didn’t act ‘normal’.

‘You do,’ said Stella.

‘That’s right. I do. Without me, you’d be sleeping with the wolves, and you’d do well to remember that.’

Horribella puffed out Stella’s candle, which was about to drown in a pool of wax anyway, and barked, ‘Go to sleep!’

Tucking the book under one arm, and taking up her candle in her other hand, the witch made for the exit. As she did so, her foot caught on a dusty rolled-up rug and she let out a grunt of frustration.

Horribella clomped down the stairs, pulling the trapdoor shut behind her and leaving the attic in darkness.

Stella’s lower lip trembled as she sank down onto the mattress. Chances were she would never see her book again.

 

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