Wilde Magic, page 1part #1 of Ashcroft Academy Series
The Ashcroft Academy Series Book 1
Dark Arts Publishing
Other Books by K.M. Charron
About the Author
Ashcroft Academy Series
Copyright © 2019 Kelly (K.M.) Charron
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher – or in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing agency – is an infringement of the copyright law. The scanning, uploading, and distributing of this book via the internet or via any other means without permission of the copyright owner is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
This edition first published in Canada and internationally in 2019 by Dark Arts Publishing.
Charron, Kelly, 1979-, author
Wilde magic / Kelly Charron.
(Ashcroft academy series ; 1)
Issued in electronic format.
ISBN _978-0-9952765-8-1 (kindle).--
Cover Art by Dee J. Holmes http://www.djholmes.com/cover-art
Images licensed from DepositPhotos https://depositphotos.com
For more information, visit www.kellycharron.com
Please note: this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Other Books by K.M. Charron
The Ashcroft Academy Series
The Pretty Wicked Series (written as Kelly Charron)
For Braeden and Mckenna, who are pure magic. Auntie loves you.
We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one that we love.
–Madame de Staël
A violent smack sounded against the window behind Ainsley’s head. She jumped, heart hammering in time with the glass shaking in its wooden frame. She glimpsed a flurry of black feathers before it fell out of view. Scrambling up from her position curled under a blanket, Ainsley threw open the window and peered out. Maybe the bird was only stunned? She glanced down. The crow wasn’t on their fire escape landing. Taking a deep breath, she let her eyes float the six floors below. A little body lay on the ground, a black splotch on gray pavement.
"No," she whispered, heart sagging.
Ainsley gripped the edge of the windowsill, her nails aching as she dug them into the wood. Squinting down toward the inky spot, she was sure for a moment that the poor thing was moving but realized it was only the wind ruffling its feathers. It could never have survived the fall. She closed her eyes as a twinge rippled through her stomach and eased back inside, slowly closing the window. There was nothing she could do for him now.
It’s not an omen.
Pulling her knees to her chest, she tried to shake off the sense of dread. She’d read that crows were symbols of impending death, but that was myth, the stuff of stories, an old wives’ tale told to keep children entertained by campfires on long nights in the middle of nowhere.
No, her night would be good. Her dad would come home, and her mom would forget she was mad at him. He’d finally explain why he kept going away.
The clock on the living room wall, the one that appeared melted and was, apparently, a replica of some famous artist’s work, read 8:43 pm. She’d been sitting at the window waiting for her dad’s clunky, rusting green Subaru to pull into his spot for the past forty-five minutes, conducting online research to pass the time. She’d been looking up Danvers, Massachusetts, the place that kept calling her dad away. It was only about five miles from Salem and twenty-two miles from Boston. Not much was there. It appeared to be a tourist spot because of the historical connection to the infamous witch trials. The only other noteworthy thing she’d found was a posh boarding school. She had no clue what he could find so fascinating about Danvers unless he’d suddenly taken up Wicca or ghost hunting and not told her.
Her gaze moved back to the window. He was late, which wasn’t that unusual over the last few months. He’d blame his work as an investigative reporter—a job that spread his focus thin at the best of times. He never meant to ignore his family, they knew that. He was just passionate about his work uncovering whatever wrongs he believed needed to be exposed.
In the middle of the kitchen table sat the last scraps of her lasagna and the remaining pieces of a now-stale French baguette. Her dad’s full plate remained untouched and cold at his spot. Her mom had taken a sleeping pill and gone to bed, claiming she had a bad headache, which Ainsley understood. She’d inherited them as well.
She heard footsteps outside the front door and the jingling of keys. Seconds later, the door swung open, revealing her dad. He tossed his bag onto the floor and his keys into the little ceramic dish that sat atop the table—one she’d made for him in an art class when she was seven.
He smiled wide, almost beaming. "How are my girls?" he called out, the grin accentuating the tiny lines around his eyes and lips.
Ainsley popped up from her spot to greet him, her finger over her lips. "Mom’s already in bed."
He held his arms out, and she hugged him tight around his middle. He kissed her on the top of the head before leaning back. "Thanks for waiting up."
She narrowed her gaze playfully at him. "I was giving you until nine." She released him.
He laughed and peeled his jacket off, hanging it on a hook next to the front door. "Missed you, Squeak." She’d been gifted the nickname as a baby, her parents claiming Ainsley hadn’t cried as much as squeaked when she was hungry.
"You too, although…" She made a show of considering this, pinching her chin between her thumb and index finger. "Maybe if you stayed home a bit more, you wouldn’t have to miss me." She crossed her arms, eyeing him with a mixture of humor and actual annoyance since he’d been so tight-lipped about this investigation. He’d become far more secretive in the past few months and had been going away for longer stretches more frequently. No wonder her mom was getting pissed.
"How was your trip?"
He released her. "It was good." He ran a hand through his overgrown dark brown hair. "All right, Squeak, I’m going to jump into the shower. Meet you in the kitchen in fifte
"If you’re late, I’m eating yours, too."
"Don’t you dare." He gave her a stern look, pointed his finger, and then crossed his eyes before heading off to the bathroom.
They had a sort of ritual. Every time her dad got back from a trip, they’d meet in the kitchen for ice cream floats before bed. He’d tell her about his travels, and she’d fill him in on school and her friends. Her only close friends were Megan and Katy. Her social life was beyond basic, which was fine with her.
Ainsley padded into the kitchen, the tile felt like ice against her bare feet. April in Augusta could be the kind of cold that went right through clothes and into the bones, leaving behind a chill that was difficult to shake. The ice cream wouldn’t help, but there was no messing with their tradition.
She contemplated getting a sweater and socks but was far too lazy.
She retrieved all the necessities for ice cream floats. As she waited, she scrolled through her phone, stopping at a group chat she had with Megan and Katy. Tiny bubbles appeared as their messages popped up one after the other. Ainsley scanned to see what they were debating today and wasn’t disappointed to see they were analyzing which book was creepier, Stephen King’s IT or Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.
She could chime in that King’s was clearly superior, that a murderous clown trumped a few creaking doors any day, but her dad would be out any minute.
Her phone said it was 9:33 pm. What was taking so long? The sound of the shower still permeated through the apartment. He’d said fifteen minutes—half an hour ago. She hopped off her chair and made her way to the bathroom, reaching the door just in time to hear the water shut off. Glancing down, she noticed the thin black space between the floor and the bottom of the door. Since when did her dad shower in the dark?
The rattling of the doorknob made her jerk backward. It looked like the handle was stuck, trapping her dad inside. As she reached out to grab it, the door flung open.
She gasped, putting a hand over her heart. "Geez, Dad, you scared me."
He stood in the doorway, the bathroom a cavern of shadows behind him. His mouth was set, the rest of his face blank.
"When did you start showering without lights?"
Ainsley noted he hadn’t dried off well. Large beads of water trailed down from his hair streaking his face and plopping onto his white t-shirt. Instead of using the towel to staunch the dripping, he let it sag limp onto the floor. He was dressed in the pajama bottoms she’d given him last Christmas, cartoon puppies holding candy canes in their mouths.
"Well, aren’t you a sight?" she joked to off-set the odd mood that hung in the air. Ainsley slowly waved her hand in front of his face. His blue eyes looked darker than their usual hue as they stared vacantly straight ahead. "Dad?" He didn’t appear to be registering her voice or presence. "Are you okay?"
And then he tilted his head as if only just noticing her. "Hey, Squeak," he said in a voice so casual it was as if nothing weird had happened.
He lifted the towel and ruffled his hair with it to soak up the excess water. "I’m hungry. You got everything ready?"
Whatever fog he’d been in seemed to have passed. She nodded and led the way back to the kitchen. It wasn’t until she was scooping out the ice cream that she realized he hadn’t followed her.
A loud bang reverberated through their small apartment. It sounded like the front door opening but being jerked to a stop by the chain. Ainsley peeked her head out from the doorway in the kitchen to the small foyer. Her dad was yanking violently on the door, seemingly unaware that the chain was stopping it from opening.
"Dad, what are you doing?" Ainsley jogged toward him, but just as she got within reach, he pulled hard enough that the chain gave way; the broken metal links scattering over the carpet below.
She stood there in shock, attempting to process what was happening.
He shuffled into the hallway without a word, barefoot and without a coat.
“Dad?" There was no time to grab her slippers or robe. She called out to him again and chased after him.
He had already made it down the corridor. Ainsley’s legs were leaden and stiff from the cold as she hurried after him, trying to make sense of his abrupt actions.
"Where are you going?" She caught up to him in the hall and grabbed his arm. "Dad, stop!"
He knocked her away with enough force that she stumbled back. His eyelids were heavy, and his head lolled to the side. A wave of fear rolled over her as she steadied herself against the wall. She watched him open the door to the stairwell.
Her heartbeat quickened as she tried to think about what could be causing his behavior. Was this some kind of psychosis or a nervous breakdown? He’d seemed fine when he’d first gotten home.
She reached into her pocket but came up empty. Crap, she’d left her phone on the counter. She glanced back at their apartment door. Her mom was deep in a chemical sleep, and her dad had already disappeared from sight. She took off after him.
When she entered the stairwell, he was nowhere to be seen. Hearing sounds above, she flew up the steps two at a time. It took four flights before he came back into view. How was he moving so fast when his muscles looked so tense, his zombie-like limbs jerking and shuffling as he pulled himself forward? She was still a flight away. Panting, she called out after him. “Dad!”
He didn’t turn around. He didn’t even flinch at the terror in her voice shouting his name. He just kept ratcheting himself up the stairs. She’d never seen him move like that before. The display made her feel like she might be sick.
Ainsley made it to the landing of the last floor in time to see him push open the next door. The door to the roof.
She ran the rest of the way and stepped out onto the rooftop. Rain pelted her face. She wiped her eyes to clear her vision and searched for her dad along the darkened space. The knot in her stomach tightened. Where was he? What was he doing up here? Her lungs ached from the run and her panic. She could hardly breathe.
Her gaze swept the shadowed space for him, past the bedsheets hanging on a line that crossed from one side of the roof to the other—their landlord must have forgotten to bring them inside before the storm. She moved farther along, pushing against the cold, wet night. Her bare feet sloshed through puddles that had collected in the evening’s rain. The only light came from the street lamps below, an eerie backlighting. She had to force herself to keep moving.
“Dad! Where are you?"
With tentative steps and a racing heart, Ainsley dipped under the clothesline and looked for movement. The heavy rainfall and flashes of lightening made it hard to see, but she managed to make out the potted plants and benches that marked the start of a rooftop garden. He came into view just behind a tall potted bush. He stood still at the edge of the rooftop, drenched with rain.
"Dad!" She could barely register her voice over the thrumming in her ears, although she felt the scream strain her throat.
He turned slowly, his form highlighted by a flicker of lightning before it was once again masked by shadow. His arms hung limp at his sides. His hair was plastered against his forehead, but he made no effort to brush it back. He gave no hint of acknowledging her.
Her gut twisted tighter. What was happening to him? "Come back inside. You’re completely soaked!"
Another bolt of lightning illuminated the sky, and she finally saw his face clearly.
His eyes met hers. They looked desperate. Frantic.
Her heart lurched, forming a tight fist in her chest. "Just stay there. I’ll get mom." But she didn’t turn, didn’t look away. She knew there wasn’t time. There was only one reason he would be standing there.
He said nothing as he climbed onto the ledge of the roof.
His face was serene, but his eyes widened in a silent scream.
Her dad stared at her as he walked straight over the edge.
Ainsley’s hands flew to her mouth
She should look over the side to make sure he was really gone, but she couldn’t bring herself to see what had become of her father fifteen floors below.
Sydney contemplated throwing herself from the moving car. It wasn’t going that fast, she could make it. The drive from her parents’ house to Ashcroft Academy only took five minutes, but every second of it since the doors closed had featured her mother laying into her for screwing up the night before.
The opening, phase one, test hadn’t been Sydney’s best performance. Truthfully, she’d bombed it and was dying inside. But she didn’t need her ice queen of a mother berating her and reminding her of the unprecedented shame she’d brought upon the Lockwood name.
Sydney came from a long line of Lockwoods, the very family who had built Ashcroft from the ground up, although no one around here knew it. Her family’s direct ancestors made sure to hide that fact. Ashcroft had been constructed as a safe haven to protect the coven of witches which remained in Danvers and Salem after the trials.