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At first glance, as long as you are at least a hundred feet away and see them from the back on a dark autumn evening when it's raining, the Floods look like any other family. There is a mom and a dad and some children. They all have two eyes, one head, two arms and two legs, and hair on top of their heads—except Satanella, who has no arms but four legs and hair all over her body.
At second glance, especially if you're less than a hundred feet away and see them from the front, the Floods do not look like any other family. Mom and Dad and most of the children always wear black clothes. Even Satanella wears a black collar encrusted with black diamonds against her black fur. Only the youngest, Betty, is different. Her hair is blond and she wears ordinary, brightly colored clothes and skips a lot.
The Floods are a family of witches and wizards—even Betty, although she looks almost normal. She likes looking different from the rest of them. It makes her feel special. It also lulls the world into a false sense of security. She is the only one of the Floods whom people don't cross the road to avoid.
They even feel sorry for her and say, "Look at that sweet little girl having to live with those weird people, poor thing."
It all started when Betty's mother, Mordonna, decided that six children who were witches or wizards was enough. Valla, Satanella, Merlinmary, Winchflat, and the twins, Morbid and Silent, were each, in their own weird and scary way, the sort of children any witch or wizard parent would be very proud of.
Satanella, for example, is not the family pet. She's actually one of the children, but because of an unfortunate accident with a shrimp and a faulty wand, she was turned into a fox terrier. Although it's possible to reverse the spell, Satanella has actually grown to like being on all fours.
Merlinmary also has hair all over her body,but she is not a dog, even though she does growl a lot and likes chasing sticks.
"I should like a little girl," Mordonna said to her husband, Nerlin, after the twins were born. "A pretty little girl who wants to dress dolls up instead of turning them into frogs. I want a little girl who I cook with and make cakes that taste like chocolate instead of bat's blood."
"But, sweetheart, we're wizards and witches," said Nerlin. "Turning things into frogs and blood is what we do. Our families have done it since the dawn of time."
"I know, and I adore frogs and blood," said Mordonna, "and I love our six wonderfully talented, evil children, who are as vile as your wildest dreams. I just want one pretty little girl to do ordinary mother and daughter things with."
"But you grow death cap mushrooms with the twins and you sharpen the cat's teeth with Valla."
"Yes, yes, I know," Mordonna replied, "and I love all those things, but what about knitting and painting pictures of flowers?"
"What's knitting?" asked Nerlin, but Mordonna had made up her mind. She was going to have one more child, and that child would be a normal, ordinary girl with no magical powers. And instead of being made in a laboratory using an ancient recipe book, a very big turbocharged wand, and a set of shiny saucepans, the way some of the other children had been, this new child would be made the same way as you and I were.
When Betty was born, she looked just like the pretty little girl Mordonna had dreamed of. Of course, being a wizard's child, she was very advanced for her age, and by the time she was three she was helping her mom make soufflés and had knitted a cardigan for her granny, Queen Scratchrot. (The queen, with several other friends and relations, is buried in the backyard and feels the cold on winter nights because most of her skin has rotted away.)
But no matter how "normal" she looks, Betty still has magic inside her. It's mostly little things most people wouldn't notice, like when she reaches for a book way above her head and suddenly the book is there on the table. Or when a glass floats across the kitchen, fills itself up at the tap, the water turning into juice with two ice cubes and a straw, and then floats back into Betty's left hand.The Floods #1: Good Neighbors. Copyright © by Colin Thompson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Good Neighbors by Colin Thompson
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