Witch - By Fiona Horne



A piece of orange hit the back of my head, hard. Pulp and juice splattered over my shoulder and dripped down onto the book in my lap.

‘M-m-m-massive lips . . . Mrs Fish, Vania Thorn, Fish Lips,’ sang Cassidy Walters, then led a rousing chorus of, ‘Mrs Fish, Fish Lips,’ from the back of the Summerland High bus. All the cool kids sat in the back seat, taunting us losers spread out before them, ripe for the picking. I was third row from the front.

Although it was definitely annoying, I wasn’t angry about the orange or the song – I didn’t need idiots like this to like me. I was trying to ignore what they were saying, but their accents sounded harsh to me. Even though I’m American, I’d never lived in the US before, because my parents decided to move to the farthest-away place in the world – Australia – when I was born.

And now, fifteen years later, we were back here. My parents had said I would love it. Summerland was a small coastal town, just like Jervis Bay where I’d grown up, and my parents knew I loved the beach. But this beach was nothing like the beautiful white-sand cove of my Australian home. The water here on the coast of California was not blue, translucent and warm like Jervis – it was dark and green and freezing cold. The sand was not a fine white powder, smooth underfoot, like my cove – it was yellow and gritty and got stuck under my toenails. It was the same ocean, the Pacific, but here on the other side of the earth it was alien territory to me. I wasn’t loving it.

As for school, it wasn’t that I’d expected to fit in. I hadn’t exactly been popular back in Australia. I guess you could call me a loner. I find it comforting to be anonymous. So not fitting in to a new school in a new country didn’t surprise me, but the fact that my new classmates knew my name and cared enough to make up a horrible song about me did. Especially when I had only been at the school for two weeks.

‘Mrs Fish, Fish Lips, Mrs Fish!’ they kept screaming.

Thwack. Another piece of orange hit me. Still I did nothing.

Finally the bus driver, who was young and kind of cute, turned around. ‘You guys shut up or you’re all getting off this bus!’ He caught my eye briefly, concerned. I guess my stoic expression reassured him, though, because after that he went back to his driving.

I turned my attention back to The World of Chemistry in my lap, picking bits of orange off its pages and out of my hair. Suddenly more sticky juice coursed over my head. Cassidy was standing in the aisle squeezing another large piece of orange directly over my head.

‘You suck, Mrs Fish,’ she said as she grabbed the back of my head with one hand and roughly pushed the orange into my mouth with the other. Her fingernail cut into my lip and the acidic juice of the orange burned like fire. As the bus sped down a hill, Cassidy pushed me hard, laughing, then headed back down the aisle towards her back-row throne.

Fury suddenly coursed through my body like boiling lava. I didn’t deserve this. I wanted to run after Cassidy and punch her. Instead I glared out the window at a giant oak tree at the bottom of Ortega Hill. I stared and stared at the enormous tree . . . and realised it was falling across the road.

In reality it must have happened very fast, but it felt like slow motion. The bus driver braked hard to avoid it. Everyone screamed.

I was still staring at the tree as the bus screeched to a stop just before hitting it. Its huge roots were torn out of the ground, reaching to the sky like a giant claw. The driver, white-faced, walked up and down the aisle, checking to see if we were okay. Cassidy had been thrown to the floor. He helped her up; blood gushed from her lip. I looked around and saw that no one else except her was hurt.

I could feel someone looking at me. Bryce, our majorly gorgeous class president, was staring at me from the back row. I turned away, but his eyes were burning a hole into the back of my head.

‘Vania, are you all right?’ he asked about ten seconds later. He’d come to stand