READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: The Curse of the King by Winnie Lyon
When young witch Laura Wilson is ironically cast against her will in her school's rendition of Macbeth, she is determined to break the curse that's long plagued her family. Things go awry when, instead, she manages to summon her long-dead magical relative—Cecily Wilson, one of the three witches who'd cursed Macbeth himself.
On September 1st, Winnie Lyon's THE CURSE OF THE KING will debut with The Parliament Press!
The Insufferable Rigor of High School Electives
I have to do this.
My mother may kill me for it, but I have to do it.
Well, she’s more likely to curse me than kill me, but it’s hard to predict with her.
The word MACBETH, scrawled in beautiful black calligraphy against a stark white poster, looms over my head. I reach for the pen dangling by a string tied to a thumbtack, but my hand freezes midair. I’m suddenly conscious of all the eyes on me, theatre kids desperate to get their name on the audition list. I retract my hand and step away, turning on my heel in a single swift movement before booking it toward Mr. Cochran’s room. It’s just past 3:15, so hopefully he hasn’t yet hopped in his signature brown sedan and left.
The school’s halls are almost barren, save for a few straggling kids making their way to their cars and athletes with hefty bags slung over their shoulders headed for the gym or the track. The lights in the English hall are still bright, their fluorescent rods humming faintly.
Thankfully, my teacher is still in his room when I reach the door, slightly breathless. My stampeding foot" steps must’ve grabbed his attention, because he cranes his graying head upward before I can even speak. The thin, blue-rimmed glasses resting on the bridge of his nose slide down a bit with the motion, and he has to readjust them as I step inside.
“Ms. Wilson, what brings you in?” he asks. He’s midway through packing up his computer and papers into a worn brown leather briefcase. I shift the strap of my backpack on my shoulder with one hand and shove the other in my back pocket. The eyes of Shakespeare, proudly displayed on the poster behind Mr. Cochran’s head, seem to watch me with impertinent omnipotence. Sorry, Will, hope you’re not too disappointed.
“Is there anything I can do instead of the play?” I blurt out. Cochran raises a quizzical brow and turns his whole body toward me, pressing one palm to the edge of his desk and leaning on it.
“I beg your pardon?”
“The play, Macbeth: I need to do something other than audition for it. I know it’s required for class to be a part of the production, but I’m wondering if I can somehow do something else. I’ll write a paper, read a monologue for the class, whatever. I just can’t be a part of the show,” I explain in a rush of total word vomit.
Cochran laughs, stunned, and straightens his spine, hooking his thumbs on his belt loops. “Well, Laura, if you’re having stage fright, I’d be happy to have Ms. Ellis, the director, coach you through some tactics to help out your audition. Or you can sign up to work tech. It’s only an audition, anyhow. Ultimately, it’s in Ms. Ellis’s hands.”
How do I tell him it isn’t stage-fright?
“You see, I’m just not sure I can make the time commitment,” I say.
“What do you have besides this?” It’s a genuine question, but his tone makes it clear he thinks I’m just trying to weasel out of it.
“I have a job,” I say. Not true, but he doesn’t need to know that. Most high school seniors have jobs.
“I see. Well I can’t interfere with your work and wouldn’t you expect to cut back your hours, but you are still required to audition.” The crow’s feet around his eyes crinkle as he gives me a reassuring smile and a thumbs-up. “You’ll do great. And besides, if you don’t get in, no harm done. The paper just needs to focus on the process.”
Damnit. Okay, what now?
“Well, it’s cursed!”
Mr. Cochran pauses, then laughs in surprise and crosses his arms.
“Yes, but as we discussed in class, that’s just a legend. I’m sure any superstitions you have won’t prove true. Anyway, remember what we said? Only the performance is allegedly cursed.”
Oh, that’s what you think.
I shake my head vigorously and readjust my bag. My palms are sweaty. “It’s been cursed since it was written. The original actor playing Lady Macbeth died the night of the performance and Shakespeare himself had to fill in for him. King James banned it because of the gore in it! You can’t even say the name without bringing on the curse, so it’s more than just the performance.”
“In 1926 the actress playing the part of Lady Macbeth fell fifteen feet o the stage in the sleepwalking scene. Thirty people died in a riot that broke out after an 1849 performance. A weight fell onstage and nearly killed the lead actor in 1937.”
“Ms. Wilson, why do you know so much about this?”
Definitely not because I’m a descendent of the witches who ensured all of that would happen.
I wonder what would happen if I said that out loud. I could just be completely transparent and tell him that I, along with my entire family, am a witch, and that for four hundred years the name Shakespeare has been more or less unspeakable for us.
I wonder what he’d say if he knew that my family, my ancestors, were responsible for the infamous curse of Macbeth.
“I like history.”
“Yes, well, I’m sorry, but you have to audition. Just the audition, nothing more. It’s a rather large sum of points and I can’t just reassign it.”
My heart sinks. I really can’t get out of it, not if I want to pass this class. Mr. Cochran sees my face fall and he sighs, rolling up the sleeves of his shirt and gesturing with his hands as he speaks. “Laura, you can bomb the audition for all I care. I just want you to get a feel for what it’s like to speak Shakespeare’s words aloud, with a crowd there to hear you, even if that crowd is a high school theatre teacher and twenty-five other students vying for the part you’re reading. It’ll take an hour out of your day, and it’ll be over!” His smile isn’t unkind, but he obviously doesn’t want to hear another excuse. He finishes shoving his materials into his briefcase and hoists it on his shoulder. “Don’t stress about it, it’s just a paper.”
He extends an arm to the door, the kinder man’s version of, Please leave, I have better things to do than tend to whiny teenagers. I do as I’m told, stepping out into the hall and pulling out my phone from my pocket.
“Have a good one, Ms. Wilson,” says Mr. Cochran as he goes the opposite way down the hall, aimlessly swinging his keys around his #nger. He’s halfway down the hall before I even look up, so I don’t bother with a reply.
Instead, I finish texting Holly.
EMERGENCY. SOS. MEET ME AT CIRCLE IN TEN.
With that, I shove my phone back in my pocket and make a beeline for my car. It’s one of the last left in the student lot; all the athletes have moved theirs behind the gym, and it’s Friday, so no clubs meet after school. The campus is vacant after the final bell rings.
My humble little black Honda is slightly warmed inside from the sun, despite the January chill outside. I crank up the heat, but the quick drive to Circle Coee Shoppe is over before it can make a difference.
My humble little black Honda is slightly warmed inside from the sun, despite the January chill outside. I crank up the heat, but the quick drive to Circle Coee Shoppe is over before it can make a didifference.
It's not crowded inside, not at this time of day. I drop my book bag on one of the good love seats near the big window overlooking Town Square and drape my coat over the adjacent one to save it for Holly. The barista calls my name and I sit down with two monstrous cappuccinos, one for each of us, just as Holly breezes in through the red-framed door. Her chestnut hair is wild, static causing it to cling to her white peacoat. She was probably napping when I texted her. She spots me and darts over, throwing her elegant frame onto the seat I’ve reserved for her.
“What is it?” she asks. “Family drama? Girl drama? You hooked up with a teacher and you need me to help make you look inconspicuous?”
“I keep hoping that’ll happen to someone. I just want to be in on the excitement,” she says as she unbuttons and casts aside her coat. Her chunky cream-colored sweater hugs her frame as she leans over the arm of her seat, eager to listen. She always changes out of her uniform the minute school ends, but I’m still in the dumpy gray-on-gray blazer and skirt we’re required to wear. Her deep-set gray eyes are wide with curiosity.
I set my coee down on the small table in front of us and lean back in my seat to stabilize myself before I can look at her and spit it out.
“It’s a requirement of my Shakespeare elective that we audition for the spring show,” I say. Holly’s meticulously plucked eyebrows elevate ever so slightly, silently urging me to go on. I heave out a sigh and lock eyes with her. “We’re doing Macbeth.” The word tastes sour.
Her playful demeanor darkens, and she sits up stiffly.
“Laura,” she says, her voice saturated with pity. I simply nod in response.
“I know!” I throw my head into my hands and push the heels against my eyes. “I’m screwed.”
I hear Holly sigh and look up. Her mouth is skewed in thought.
Holly knows everything, has for years. She’s as well versed in witch ways as she needs to be. The coven’s rules on secrecy are pretty lax, all things considered, but our texts and some of our history is sacred.
“Did you know when you took the class that this would happen?”
“Of course not.” I pull my hands away from my face and lean back in my seat. “My mom told me not to take it in case anything went south with the play, but I didn’t think she’d actually be right. She’s always paranoid. I was only allowed to take the elective so I could fit in another AP class. I am absolutely ruined.”
Holly runs her hand through her hair and it sticks up all staticky in the wake of her fingers.
“Well,” she starts, speaking slowly as she chooses her words wisely. “We don’t know that you are.”
“What do you mean?” Someone opens the door behind my seat and the frigid air sweeps in, sending shivers all over my body. I reach out for my coee, which is still piping hot and comforting against the cold.
Holly’s speech picks up in pace as her excitement returns. “Well, you’ve never acted before. You don’t even know that you’re any good. And if you just blow the audition, you won’t get in and everything will be fine.”
I heave a long sigh and burn my tongue with coee before speaking. “Yeah,” I finally say. “I’ll bomb it. And it’ll be fine. I do still have to tell my mom, though. She’d actually curse me if I didn’t.”
“Perfect!” Her voice is squeaky again, in the most delightful way. “So, in other news...” She doesn’t finish her sentence, but rather stirs her cappuccino and looks up at me, coy glee evident in her eye.
“You didn’t,” I say, and a blush blooms on her cheeks. “You asked him?”
She’s been eying this boy, Peter, to ask to the Honor Society dance that’s a few weeks away. It’s a full-on ball, with hoop skirts and suits and a live band. Private school perks, I guess.
“I did. And he said yes.” She giggles, eyes alight with giddy excitement.
“That’s fantastic,” I say. “So, when are we going dress shopping?”
Holly sets her coee down and whistles. “We’ll see about that. It isn’t easy finding a ball gown nowadays. And you, missy, have to find someone to go with!”
“Oh, I don’t have any reason for going in the first place,” I say. Horror spreads over Holly’s face.
“No reason for going? Are you serious?” she nearly shrieks. “That’s unacceptable.”
“I’ll think about it,” I say. “For now, I need to speak with my mother.”
“Mom, I have to for my Shakespeare elective!” She’s not angry, but frightened.
“No,” she says plainly. She fills a pot in the sink and sets it on the stove to boil.
“I don’t have to be in it, I just have to audition,” I say. I sling my backpack o my shoulder and set it on a dining room chair. My mother steps out of the kitchen and leans against the door frame between the two rooms, staring at me.
“Laura, you cannot possibly be considering this!” She begins wringing her hands, something she only does when she’s agitated and needs to relieve the magic building in her system.
“I don’t want to, but I’ll fail my class otherwise!” I unzip my bag and pull out the book with the purple cover and elegant white lettering. My mother gasps and draws her arms in like she’s pulling away from it.
“That cannot be in this house,” she says. “I’ll have a discussion with your teacher, love. We can get you out of this.”
I smack the book down on the table. “Mom, what the hell are you going to tell my teacher? ‘I’m sorry, my daughter can’t read this play and audition for the production because she’s a witch and her ancestors cursed it?’”
She flinches. There it is. To the best of our ability, we avoid the topic. But it’s part of us.