Cozy mysteries with a witchy twist.
Melanie Snow is the pen name for established and prolific non-fiction author Wendy van de Poll. In this episode of the podcast, Wendy wears her fiction author hat and reads to us from the first book in the Spellwood Witches series, Witch’s Tail.
In the introduction I share that writing the December short story for my patrons has been a bit like driving on square wheels…and that I’m okay with that. Sometimes creativity is smooth and easy, sometimes it takes more effort and a little more coaxing to get a story onto the page.
Today’s show is supported by my patrons at Patreon. Thank you! When you become a patron for as little as $1 a month you receive a short mystery story each and every month. And the rewards for those who love mystery stories go up from there! Learn more and become a part of my community of readers at www.Patreon.com/alexandraamor
This week’s mystery author
Melanie Snow is the pen name for Wendy Van de Poll, a bestselling author, pet loss grief coach, and animal medium. She is the author of The Spellwood Witches, a paranormal cozy mystery series.
Her books weave together positive magic, snarky forest faeries, and insightful animals with fun and eclectic humor.
She has been followed by wild wolves in minus sixty degrees, hissed at by a mama bobcat, and played ball with a wild owl—among other animal encounters.
To learn more about Melanie and all her books visit WendyvandePoll/melaniesnow
Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher, Android, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, and Spotify.
Excerpt from Witch’s Tail
Lativia Spellwood sat on her ghostly throne of branches on the summit of Mount Katribus, with many other ghosts swarming around her reminiscing about life and drinking wine. The ghosts of Witchland residents always came to this clearing after they died to stay near Lativia for guidance and to wait until they were ready to pass on to the afterlife. Lativia had been dead for hundreds of years but had still not passed on, for her work overlooking Witchland and its forest was not yet done. One day, it would be, and she was beginning to welcome that time, or she was growing very tired.
A tiny troop of Leekin faeries moved about the arms and legs of Lativia’s throne, placing flowers into the holes between the woven boughs. They did that every day, as a way to honor her as Queen of the Forest.
Lativia sipped from a goblet of ghost wine, enjoying the blue fire as it spread down her throat, engulfing her in tingly warmth. Being a ghost was always cold; the magic wine was one of the few momentary sources of warmth that she could cherish.
“What else do you need, my queen?” chirped one of the Leekins, buzzing on tiny brown wings before her nose.
Lativia smiled. “I think it’s time I checked on Sarah, don’t you agree?”
The Leekin nodded excitedly and flew off into the woods. A huge bunch of Leekins soon returned, flying in formation to carry the weight of a glowing crystal ball. They lowered it to Lativia’s lap, where it sank through the spectral outlines of her legs. Lativia could pass through things, and things could pass through her, for her physical body was long gone and all that remained was her powerful soul.
Lativia smiled even more broadly and began to draw her transparent ghostly hands over the ball, summoning the blood bond she shared with her descendent, Sarah Spellwood. Gradually, the fog inside the ball began to clear and an image of Sarah’s frizzy explosion of red curls filled it. Lativia drew back a few feet with her mind and saw Sarah was at a coffee shop ordering a vegan sandwich. Sarah’s love and respect for animals always made Lativia proud. She noticed there was a conspicuous pale and indented band of skin on Sarah’s ring finger where her huge diamond wedding ring had once been. “That no-good husband of hers is finally gone!” Lativia crowed with delight. But then she noticed that there were bags under Sarah’s eyes, the bags of someone who had been up all night crying. Sarah must be heartbroken, Lativia thought with a heavy heart.
The barista serving Sarah froze when she saw Sarah’s last name on the credit card receipt. “Um, are you related to . . . ?”
Sarah drearily raised her hand. “Yep, I’m descended from Lativia Spellwood.”
“That’s amazing! I mean, have you ever been to Witchland and looked at the Lativia memorabilia?” The barista’s pigtails wiggled with her excited body language, and Lativia felt a swell of pride that people still remembered and even revered her. It had been four centuries and she was still honored as the greatest witch of New England, the one who had turned into a wolf and fought her way free of her captors at the Salem Witch Trials!
“Yep,” Sarah said, her voice full of annoyance. It was clear she was ready to dash out of the coffee shop.
Lativia knew Sarah was a good lawyer but she noticed how awkward Sarah was around most people, and how little she liked to disclose personal details, especially of her magical ancestry. Sarah was a woman of facts and logic, which is why she fought the magical powers pulsing through her like a current, trying to pull her back to her destiny. Her resistance to her true self and her stubborn adherence to logical facts made her unpopular with many people. Lativia yearned to watch Sarah blossom into her beautiful potential.
“Don’t you see?” Lativia cried. “You are not meant to be in New York! You should be here, following your calling, completing my work as a witch! You’re not happy there!” But Sarah couldn’t hear these words.
“Yes, yes,” several Leekins agreed. A ghost who was standing near Lativia also nodded his head.
Sarah trudged out of the coffee shop, carrying her drink and the sandwich in a paper bag.
A man in a trench coat bumped into her, and she hastily checked her pockets to ensure he had not pickpocketed anything. Then she continued on to her office, a massive steel gray prison with spikes in the window ledges to repel pigeons. There was no sign of life anywhere but for the scraggly maple planted out front of the building and a few waxy tropical plants blooming inside the lobby. Lativia groaned, feeling the despair and coldness of the place.
“It’s time for you to come here, to your destined home,” Lativia declared. “My Leekins have told me about the Hunter tracking lynx and the land surveyors, and I sense that there is about to be trouble in the forest.”
At the mention of the Hunter, the Leekins gathered around her throne began to turn blue and tremble in terror.
“I am not strong enough to fight these battles much longer, so I need you to come home, to come into your true self. Your marriage fell apart of its own accord, and I sense your job is about to unravel on its own, too. You can’t fight destiny,” Lativia said, giving the group of hovering Leekins their crystal ball back and shutting her eyes. “I could use magic to bring you to your destiny sooner, but it is evil to interfere with one’s life that way. I can only hope you don’t take much longer.”
She opened her eyes as the Leekins cried, “We need her!”
New York City top real estate attorney. Fierce redhead with green eyes. Direct descendent of Lativia Spellwood, a survivor of the Salem Witch Trials and the most notorious witch legend in New England. Sarah Spellwood was all of those things, and she thought she had life all figured out, until it fell apart before her very eyes.
The problems all started when the man Sarah had married ten years earlier approached her one evening after she got home from her law firm. Jeff looked at her with his steely gray eyes, not a hint of a smile on his smooth shaven face, and asked her for a divorce, plain and simple. His tone of voice sounded as if he was asking her where she wanted to go out for dinner. He then walked out the door without a hint of an explanation.
A few days later, his best friend, Lance, showed up. Sarah opened the door, curious to see him. “Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m just here to get Jeff’s clothes,” Lance replied. He looked apologetic and wouldn’t quite meet Sarah’s eyes.
“Why is he doing this?” Sarah begged Lance.
Lance only looked at her with sympathy before sharply looking away. He shrugged. “He just said the spark is gone. I’m sorry, Sarah.”
“Is there someone else?” she demanded.
“I don’t think so. You know Jeff isn’t that kind of guy. I really don’t know anything else, or I would tell you.” Lance shrugged apologetically again and went about boxing up Jeff’s things.
There was no fight, no anger, no rebuilding the relationship, no marriage counseling. They had originally met in the quad of law school and had gone through late-night study sessions, finals crunches, bar exam anxiety, and friend drama together. Getting married had been an obvious choice, as they were best friends. Though work had often come between them over the past ten years, Sarah thought their marriage had been sound. They’d always been able to talk about their problems—analyzing and discussing before things got out of hand. But this was different. He simply walked out.
One of the main things Sarah loved about being a lawyer was the fact that she loved to talk and work things out. She had learned to separate her emotions from the facts early in her career and that had carried over into her married life whenever things got too heated between her and her husband. So why couldn’t she get him to talk this time? And where had their love mysteriously gone? Surely there was another woman, but Sarah couldn’t find out anything.
Sarah finally got a clue during the divorce proceedings. Jeff had filed on grounds of irreconcilable differences. He didn’t speak to anyone unless he had to. Even her commanding green eyes couldn’t get a rise out of her husband like they had in the past. But when the mediator asked him what he wanted of their shared assets, he snarked, “She can give me a lot more than this; Lord knows she makes more money than I do. She’s always bragging about winning this case or that one.” Then he glanced at her, his eyes blazing with hurt pride.
Sarah gaped at him. “Is that why you’re doing this? Because I’m a better attorney than you?”
He refused to look at her or answer, telling her that she had guessed the reason. Recollections of his silence when she talked about winning a new case, the times he complained she didn’t make him dinner because she had been late at the office, and even the times he grumbled that men teased him at his firm about how they ought to fire him and hire his wife instead, came tumbling back to her. How had she missed it after so long? She was normally so intuitive, yet with her own marriage, she had missed the signs.
So, Sarah gave him everything but the apartment, and he didn’t contest that at all. It was clear she just wanted to be done with it all, to go start her new life. She heard he moved to Chicago shortly after the divorce and took a job at a new firm, where no one knew how talented his ex-wife was with real estate law.
As she trudged through the annoyance of changing her last name back from Lawrence to Spellwood, and enduring the excited looks from people who wanted to know if she was related to the infamous LativiaSpellwood, her hurt soon became replaced by a hot coal of rage that burned inside her heart, a sense of betrayal and a misguided rejection of love. As a Lawrence, she had been proud, and she had been able to avoid the looks and questions that had haunted her all of her life thanks to the Spellwood name. Now, she was single, thirty-five, and getting the looks and questions again. “So are you related to Lativia Spellwood? Really? Wow, so are you a witch, too?” She felt hurt and pathetic, and she couldn’t face either emotion.
Unable to remain in her empty home all by herself, with no one to talk to about how her day had gone over Thai takeout, she threw herself headlong into her work. She spent her nights at the law office and her days surrounded by cases and paperwork, taking comfort in the facts surrounding her. Because of her efficiency and workaholism, case after case was tossed her way, and she made sure she won every single one. Her clients and co-workers started to describe her as overly committed—in the scary, driven, borderline obsessed kind of way. By all standards, she was the most successful attorney at the firm. “Don’t you know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?” her boss would cajole her at times. Really, Sarah knew he just felt bad that she stayed later than he did every day.
Work hardly soothed her, however. She noticed people talking among themselves and falling silent when she entered a room. Feeling isolated and alone, she then threw herself into the gym. In the morning, she would run from her apartment to the sleek, modern fitness club she was a member. She would continue running on the treadmills or hit an early morning spin class that would drench her completely in sweat. Her curly red hair would explode in frizz around her head like an untamed animal and she would fight to tame it in the locker room before running back home for breakfast. Then, after work, she would return to the weight room, or go for a jog around Central Park in the gathering dusk. On weekends, if she didn’t have any work to catch up on, she would go back to the gym for another grueling workout with her boxing coach.
In time, the hot coal faded to an ember. Sarah had relentless drive, but it now came more from momentum than rage. Sure, she smarted when she thought of Jeff, but she no longer searched for him in the faces of passersby or imagined him in place of her punching bag at the gym. And she finally stopped looking longingly at her phone at night, hoping it might light up with his name on the caller ID. As a prestigious lawyer potentially making partner any day now, boasting six-pack abs and a mean lightning left hook, Sarah felt more invincible than anything. Work was going spectacularly, as she took on more and more extra tasks, and she felt life was finally going well. Even so, something felt off, but she had enough distractions to ignore that gnawing feeling in her gut.
It felt like any other morning when Sarah jogged home from the gym one early summer day, almost a year since the divorce. Getting ready for work, Sarah prepared her favorite vegan breakfast: freshly cooked quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes, onions, and a pinch of cinnamon. To that, she added something that had her mouth watering on the way home from her workout—a bowl of fresh organic fruit from her neighborhood fruit stand.
When she reached her office, her phone rang as soon as the elevator doors slid shut behind her. “Sarah, I would like to talk to you. Please come to my office immediately,” her boss said briskly and hung up without any explanation.
He doesn’t usually call me personally. His assistant must not be in yet. Could this be in reference to finally making me partner? Her stomach filled with butterflies, and she imagined Spellwood added to the line of names in gold letters on the lobby wall.
Sarah strode into her boss’s office, straightening her blazer and wondering how to react to the news. That was surely what this impromptu meeting was regarding.
Mr. Emmett smiled at her coolly. “Sarah, take a seat.” He gestured to the gray chair positioned across from him. As Sarah sat, he launched immediately into his speech: “I am sorry to say this, Sarah, but we have to furlough you for a few weeks.”
Sarah gaped at him. “What?” she finally managed to stammer out gracelessly.
“It’s just not fair to the other lawyers,” Mr. Emmett added, attempting to look sympathetic as greed shone behind his eyes. “You’re a talented lawyer, but we can’t have you taking all the clients just because you have more time since your divorce.”
“What? This is ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense. I’m your best lawyer and get the most work done around here,” protested Sarah, still struggling to regain her poise. Her green eyes pierced those of her boss, which caused him to look down at the floor.
“It is what it is, Sarah, and that’s all there is to it. There is nothing else to talk about.”
“I think there is.” Sarah seethed. “I think this is because I’m a woman.”
He scoffed. “If I were a sexist, would I have hired you?”
“You hired me to fill out your diversity requirement. You didn’t actually expect me to excel. I’ve been here years and I’ve never felt appreciated. I’m always passed over for your male lawyers,” Sarah went on.
He sighed. “The only reason I passed you over was because you—how shall I put this—you don’t strike me as a leader. You’re not management material. You have always had a bit of trouble connecting to people.”
“Really? If that were so, then how do I win every case I take and settle most of them before we have to go to court?” Sarah felt herself start shaking.
“Sarah, there is really nothing more to talk about. I’ve made my decision. Now you can go back to your office and start preparing your open cases for me to take over. I have things to do,” he said, still not making eye contact.
She slowly stood and returned to her office, feeling gut wrenched. This job was her everything! Another man that can’t tell me what the hell is going on. I am so done with all of this.
As Sarah began to go through her files, it hit her. “This is all just a thinly veiled attempt by my boss to hone in on my clients and take the pay all for himself. And talk about the male chauvinism! Just like Jeff, he can’t stand a woman who succeeds.”
In an angry rage, she stormed back into his office. He was on the phone and stared at her with annoyance as she flung his door open, ignoring the feeble protests of his secretary. “You know what? You take my cases and my clients for good. After all I have done for you and this firm, and all of the money I have made for you with my blood, sweat, and tears, I have never been so insulted in my life! I quit!”
Pausing only to collect her things, she said goodbye to a few friends and then walked out of her old work life for good.