Release Day: “All Things Dark & Magickal: Bitter Fruit” by SF Benson
Title: All Things Dark & Magickal: Bitter Fruit
Author: SF Benson
Genre: Fairy Tale Retelling; Gaslight Fantasy
Cover Artist: Deranged Doctor Design
Editor: Maria Rosera
Sometimes actions can be more poisonous than any fruit, especially when dark magick is involved…
Arabella Cuthbert lives in a magickal world where females aren’t valued. Her future includes a husband, children, and endless days tending house unless Arabella can prevent it.
When the young Spelltwister stumbles across a name in an ancient tome, it leads her to the crotchety proprietress of White’s Antiquities and her malus malum. Esther White reveals a way for Arabella to have everything she’s ever wanted—fill the bad apple with the souls of seven evil men.
The task makes Arabella question everything she’s worked for, but has she bitten off more than she can chew from the rotten apple? Is it too late to change things again?
All Things Dark & Magickal is a young adult series featuring time travel and retold fairy tales.
“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience…”
—A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft
Miss White gave Lance and me a menacing look as we stepped into the main area of the shop. My brother, not waiting for an invitation to leave, gave me a quick hug and hurried to the door. A snappish comment lay on my tongue, but I thought it best to swallow it. No need upsetting my new employer before I even completed one day of work.
She thrust a bass broom at me. “You can start by sweeping the floors. The shelves are in need of a proper dusting as well.”
I looked blankly at the dirty wooden handle, refusing to touch the unidentifiable filth.
“It won’t bite you, but I might!” Miss White barked.
Reluctantly, I reached for the object. The last thing I wanted to do was sweep or dust. I was more interested in verifying my theory about the broken watch.
“May I ask a question?”
Miss White lifted her chin and stared down her nose. “Other than the one you just asked?”
“Yes. Is it possible to bend time with a device?”
Her eyebrow quirked up. “What type of device? A simple instrument or something larger and complicated?”
I held out my empty palm and concentrated, recalling the watch Trevor had. Slowly, my thoughts took shape and a replica of the glass timepiece formed. When I looked up, Miss White’s mouth gaped wide.
Her expression bolstered my confidence. Quickly, I told her, “This is only a copy. I’m unsure where the original might be now.”
She grasped the imitation and turned it over in her hand. “You’re sure this is exactly what you saw?”
It was my turn to be haughty as I pushed back my shoulders. “I can assure you that my memory is extremely accurate. I have the ability to remember everything I see. Details do not escape me.”
A hint of a smile crossed the old hag’s face. “Only a few Spelltwisters have managed to manipulate time using aids such as this one. These devices, however, can not alter time in and of itself. It merely permits travel through dimensions.”
Interesting concept, but wasn’t bending time and altering events the same thing?
“Would it help someone alter events?”
Her nose wrinkled. “Not the way you’re thinking. Where did you see this?”
Resting the broom against the counter, I said, “My stepbrother had it. I think he used it to change his circumstances.”
I explained to Miss White how Trevor was late in getting his powers. Then I told her about the Bartholomew cotillion, and how he suddenly gained ability.
“Not really proof of anything, I’m afraid.” She peered closer at the replica watch. “However… We could prove it ourselves.”
She piqued my interest. I was there to learn important things, not how to clean floors or dust shelves. “How? When do we do it?”
“Not with this, I’m afraid.” Miss White passed me the useless device. “There is something I’ve wanted to test, but until you came along, it was a hopeless endeavor.”
Stepping behind the counter, she reached down and brought out a small wooden box and the parchment. She unfurled the scroll and held it in place with one hand. “Inside the crate is an item that only a true descendant of Aradius can unlock.”
I inched closer. There was nothing spectacular about the square-shaped package. “I don’t understand.”
We learned about Aradius and Devanus in our early years of school. They were twin brothers—one born Murcurial and the other Celestine. According to legend, Aradius wanted to harness magick for himself and become more powerful. His goal was to rule over all people. Devanus was the peaceful brother. He used his magick only for good. Naturally, a terrible battle took place between the first Spelltwisters. It ended with him forcing his brother into a dark, dangerous realm—what we called the Void. Some say that Devanus still lived, but no one had ever seen him or met him. As far as I was concerned it was all a myth.
I believed the common conviction that said there was a woman named Diavann who was lonely. She conjured up a husband, but he didn’t satisfy her need for companionship. So Diavann convinced her spouse that they should become parents. She gave birth to twin boys who inherited magick from both parents. One was evil, and one was pure of heart. The magickal offspring never got along. One day, Diavann got upset with them and inadvertently sent the evil twin, Aradius, away, creating the Void. Devanus wasn’t alive in that version either.
“If you are as powerful as I suspect you are, then you can open it.” She pointed to the top. “Place your palm here.”
Admittedly, I didn’t see anything but pine wood. Doing as she asked, I felt the surface warm before a red glow emitted from the box. Miss White knocked my hand off, and the walls of the crate fell away. Inside, was something that looked like a brass apple.
“What is that?” I asked.
“It is called a malum malus.” Miss White turned her radiant face toward me. “Do you know how special you are? Or how special this instrument is?”
“No.” Fear tied a knot in my gut.
“Your power doesn’t merely trace back to Aradius. You are one of his closest descendants.” She sighed, closed her eyes, and tipped her head back. “Such a powerful child…”
“Is that why I’ve had access to my abilities for years?” Spelltwisters normally didn’t reveal their magick until the age of twelve.
Miss White gazed at me and smiled. “When did your magick reveal?”
“Right before I began walking, I became aware of the world. I knew words early on.” Cocking my head to one side, I thought about it. “I took my first steps before I was two. My magick came before that.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Are you certain you know this, or did someone tell you?”
“I know it. My mother was surprised when I told her that I was hungry. Most children at that age cried for food. According to her, I used words.”
The hint of a smile grew, curling the corners of Miss White’s lips. “Your powers will only strengthen with the use of the malus.”
She placed the apple on the counter. Miss White turned the stem clockwise, and the entire structure opened like a flower spreading its petals. Instead of edible fruit and seeds, there were tiny gears inside along with small glass capsules.
“What are those?”
Miss White fingered one of the accoutrements. Clicking noises came from the bad apple followed by a sucking pop as she removed a vial. “Each of these departments can be filled.”
“The souls of evil men.” When I flinched, she continued, “Do you not agree that it is men who keep women downtrodden?”
“And don’t you agree that men only want what’s best for them? They misuse women or disavow our strengths.”
I nodded. Sadly, her words were true. In Crowley, women weren’t allowed to do much. We married early. Had babies early. Died early. Few of us were permitted to work. It was why Miss White concocted the story about a dead husband so that she could run her shop. Honestly, it was an unfair world we lived in, but what she was suggesting reeked of dark magick.
She returned the capsule to the mechanical apple. “I thought you wanted respect.”
“Then stop doubting me. Men would use this device against us,” she spat. “They’d find a way to use it to trap women forever.”
The knot in my stomach tightened.
“Are you ready to set yourself free? Are you prepared to do whatever is necessary to become the powerful, respected Spelltwister that is your destiny?”
Images of Mother deferring to my decisions filled my mind. Instead of being at the mercy of men like Mr. Wigglesby, they would come to me for help. I could be instrumental in placing women on the board of the Abra Guild. Life would change in Crowley. For the better.
“Yes!” I said eagerly. “I’m ready.”
“Good.” She placed the device inside of the box. “We’ll start tomorrow. I’ll need to study the grimoire this evening. Your stepfather documented how the malus works.”
Nonsense. I could study the book instead of cleaning. “Let me go over the book. I can tell you—”
Miss White laughed. “If you could do that, you wouldn’t have come to me. Run along and take care of your chores. At the end of the day, I’ll give you your wages for supper.”
SF Benson loves putting a spin on a story. She primarily writes romantic fantasy with unusual characters in unexpected circumstances. SF’s books feature diverse and strong characters who have to work hard to get to their happily ever after. Sometimes the playing field is fraught with supernaturals. Other times it might be a pervasive magic. No matter how you look at it, her characters know how to meet the challenge and get what they desire—love!
Published since 2016, SF has released sixteen books in five different series and has appeared in four anthologies! Under Nadirah Foxx, she’s written six books on the darker, steamier side of life.
Curious about what all SF Benson and her alter ego, Nadirah Foxx, might be up to? Check them out at https://www.authorsfbenson.com/.
Facebook Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SFSensationalReaders/?ref=share
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/SFBenson/e/B01DI9Z58Q/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
ADD TO GOODREADS: