Half-Witch

Half-Witch

by John Schoffstall

Hardcover

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781618731401
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Publication date: 07/17/2018
Pages: 300
Sales rank: 133,354
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

John Schoffstall has published short fiction in Asimov's, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, Strange Horizons, and other venues, and was a Grand Prize winner of the Writers of the Future award. He is a physician, and once practiced Emergency Medicine. Now he follows Candide's advice and tends his own garden. He lives in the Philadelphia area. He has a website at www.johnschoffstall.com.

Read an Excerpt

Half-Witch
A novel, by John Schoffstall

Chapter 1


When Lizbet Lenz was eight years old, she and her father Gerhard fled their home in Frucy-sur-St. Jacques.
"Why do we have to leave?" Lizbet asked. "Why do they hate us?"
Unforeseen accidents, Gerhard explained sadly. Misfortune. Mistrust.
Clinging to the back of Gerhard's horse, they rode for their lives. An angry mob chased them. Lizbet, riding behind Gerhard and gripping his coat in her fists, risked a glimpse backward. Among the crowd she saw Marguerite and Huguette. Marguerite and Huguette were Lizbet's best friends in the world. She had shared everything with them. She had confided in them all the secrets that she could never, ever tell anyone else. They had all promised to be friends forever.
Marguerite and Huguette ran in the mob beside their brothers and parents, shouting curses at Lizbet and Gerhard.
Burning tears blurred Lizbet's eyes. I hate friends, she thought. I hate them. I'll never have a friend again. I promise.
After Frucy, Lizbet and Gerhard settled in Souvilliers. Lizbet broke her promise, and made friends with a girl named Rosemonde. But after a few months she and Gerhard had to flee again. Lizbet's heart broke in a different way: this time she was the betrayer, unable to say goodbye to Rosemonde, unable to make good on any of her promises to her.
"Why do we have to go away again?" she cried to Gerhard. "Why?"
Misunderstandings, Gerhard told her, sighing. Unreasonable expectations. Good intentions gone awry.
And so they traveled to Yblitz, where they lived for more than a year. Until one night, when men in clanking armor pounded on the door of their fine house, yelling that they had a warrant for Gerhard's arrest. Gerhard and Lizbet had to slip out through the scullery entrance and make off on a horse that Gerhard said was a 'friend's', but Lizbet was pretty sure they were stealing.
Bad luck, Gerhard explained, shaking his head and clucking his tongue. Misadventures. Poor timing.
They fled to Zwandt. From Zwandt to Pforzenhausen. To Zoltwice. To Padz. Lizbet learned her lesson. She stopped having friends. Having friends just meant enduring the pain of losing them, again and again. Her only friends were her dolls, her father, and her God, to whom Lizbet prayed that Gerhard might someday prosper, and that she might live in one town all her life, like a normal girl.
God was always friendly and sounded sympathetic, but He just didn't get what being a 'normal girl' meant. He liked to ramble on about about fasting. Or martyrdom. Had Lizbet ever considered becoming an anchoress, He asked?
"A what?"
An anchoress, God explained, was someone who let herself be walled up in a cubbyhole in some church for her entire life, with nothing to do but pray all day long. It was like solitary confinement, except that you hadn't done anything to deserve it.
It was the absolute opposite of the being a normal girl.
Each time Lizbet and her father made their home in a new town, it wasn't long before they had to flee again. Each time Gerhard had a new excuse. Every year Lizbet grew more lonely.
The year Lizbet was fourteen years old, they settled in Abalia, in the farthest east of the Holy Roman Empire, beneath the snow-capped peaks of the Montagnes du Monde, the highest mountains in the world. No one knew what lay beyond the Montagnes.
This surely must be the edge of the world, Lizbet thought. We have to stay here. We have to, because there's nowhere further to go.
But one day, after they had lived in Abalia for almost a year, disaster struck.

#
At some point during Lizbet's afternoon classes, it began to rain mice.
The mice may have started falling during the last half of "Realms Despoiled on Account of the Uterine Fury" or the first part of "Economic Geography of the Saracen Kingdoms." While Dame Mother Pallidum's nasal voice enumerated the principal rivers of the Caliphate of Andalusia, Lizbet noticed that Bruno, in the seat just ahead of hers, was staring out the window with unusual intensity. He'd better pay attention to Pally soon, Lizbet thought, or Pally's Rod of Chastening will get busy.
Brigitte, two seats over and a row ahead, also had her head turned to the window. And Robin in front of her.
The Dame Mother's voice stuttered to a halt. She turned her gaze to the window and stared.
Things were falling past the window, larger than snowflakes, and darker, and it was too warm for snow in April, anyway. One falling object landed on the sill, put its forelegs up against the glass, and wiggled its pink nose.
A mouse.
Another came behind it, and another, and another, until the sill outside the window was piled high with mice, black, white, fawn and dappled, wiggling their tails and their curious noses, tumbling over each other, falling off the sill to the ground. Teacher and class watched in silence.
Lizbet climbed onto her chair and stood on tiptoe to see out the window. She was a thin, pale girl, whom adults always felt they had to urge second helpings on at the supper table. Her hair was straight and square cut, her features narrow and precise. In her black school gown and white pinafore, dark hair and pale face, she resembled a handful of ebony and ivory keys fashioned for some celestial piano, but omitted by an absent-minded angel.
One by one, every student in the room turned their gaze from the mice to Lizbet, standing alone on her chair. Lizbet ignored them. In her fourteen years, she had lived in a dozen cities in five nations. Lizbet was always the stranger, always the foreigner. Because no one made things easy for her, she had learned boldness beyond her years: she went where she liked, demanded her due, and was not afraid to elbow her way to the front of a crowd. In her secret heart, loneliness tugged at her, and love for her ne'er-do-well father, and piety to God. But in standing up to the world of suspicious strangers into which life had dropped her, Lizbet was a lion in petticoats.
She squinted into the bright light from outside. The school grounds already were covered with a heaving, squirming, wiggling blanket of millions and millions of mice. She knew what all the other students were thinking. They thought it was her father's fault.
It was always her father's fault.
Never satisfied with the modest rewards of honest labor, Gerhard Lenz spent his lifetime peddling harebrained moneymaking schemes, disastrous alchemy recipes, quack medicines, and other frauds and follies across the breadth of the Holy Roman Empire, from West Francia to Dalmatia to the Hansa to the eastern reaches of the Abalian Pale. Here, in Abalia, Gerhard had declared himself a magician. He had wormed himself into the favor of Abalia's ruler, the Margrave Hengest Wolftrow. As always, he had been unable to make good on his boasts. His career had been one magical mishap after another. None, though, had been half as bad as this.
A blizzard of mice, blanketing the landscape. There would be such an uproar. Once again, Gerhard's endless schemes and deals and plans had led to disaster. Once again, they would have to flee.

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From the Author

"There is one aspect of the novel that I have had personal involvement with, in a way. A recurrent event in this novel is human bodies being unalterably changed, including mutilation, amputation, replacement of body parts with prosthetics, destruction and remaking, etc. I am now retired, but I worked for decades as an emergency physician. In the ER, physical injury to the body, 'trauma', is a common problem. I've seen and treated a great many patients with trauma, have thought about it a lot. Trauma has an emotional effect on individuals, beyond the aspects of physical injury and pain. That emotional effect is often out of proportion with the injury. I suspect this is is related to our inner image of the 'self'. We conceive our selves to be defined in part by our physical body as we normally experience it. Injury to the body represents not just pain, disfigurement or disability, but a damage to our image of our self on a metaphysical or ontologic level. This profound unease with physical injury is something with immense emotional resonance in many people, and something I want to tap into.

At the same time, body change of a different sort can mean growth. Throughout childhood and adolescence, our bodies are constantly changing as we grow, constantly being destroyed and remade, and that change is necessary if we are to become adults. But even this positive change causes uneasiness. The distress of adolescents with the changes in their bodies is well-recognized.

In Half-Witch, body change, destruction and remaking, represents... many things, which I will let the reader figure out on their own.”

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