Fable Page 1

Chapter 1

It was another dog day of summer, and Mina was miserable. The archaic air-conditioning unit in their apartment was on the fritz again, and the small table fan barely made a ripple in the war on humidity. For once, she was anxious for school to start, just so she could be back into the air-conditioned halls, but that wasn’t the only reason.

The start of the new school year also meant more opportunities for her to see Brody Carmichael, her long-time crush. Things last year had ended awkwardly when Brody and her best friend Nan Taylor started their almost-dating phase. Or that’s what Mina nicknamed “their friend, but more than friend, behavior.” Neither one of them was ready to admit they were an item, and Mina was fine with the delay, hoping that both of them would come to their senses.

It was Mina’s family curse that had forced Brody and Nan into circumstances that created something out of a fairy tale. Nan was in a coma and was awakened by Brody’s kiss, and since then they’d been awkwardly inseparable. It was as if neither one believed it, but they couldn’t argue what fate was pushing them toward. But Mina knew it wasn’t fate. She knew it was the Story, or as what she spitefully knew it as — Teague, Jared’s brother.

A flicker of movement on the floor made Mina move her head away from the fan to glance at her younger brother. Charlie, oblivious to the heat, was playing some made-up rogue game that combined Candy Land and Clue. Even in the heat, Charlie was still over-dressed, wearing his favorite yellow rain boots, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle T-shirt, and a Darth Vader helmet.

He rolled the dice, picked up a double red color card, and moved the little yellow gingerbread man from one game board to the other. Mina didn’t understand the game or his made-up rules, but she had a feeling that the yellow gingerbread man did it in the molasses swamp with the candlestick.

“Hey, bucket head, you hungry?” she asked, knowing full well that he could get whatever he wanted from the fridge himself. But she liked talking to him, taking care of him.

Charlie shook his plastic-covered head and continued to scrutinize his boards before rolling to the other side of the board and picking up another character.

“Suit yourself. I’m going up where it’s cooler.”

Charlie bobbed his head up at Mina, and his little hand waved at her.

She peeled herself off the living room chair and moved to her room, where she tiptoed over her piles of clothes on the floor and headed for the open window. She clambered over the ledge onto the fire escape and climbed up to her rooftop retreat. It wasn’t any cooler on the rooftop, but at least she got a slight breeze. Sweat still trickled on her brow, and she wiped it off with the sleeve of her blue T-shirt. She sat on one of her broken lawn chairs and surveyed the garden of mostly fake plants, a few live ones, and a smattering of eclectic decorations consisting of pink flamingoes, Christmas lights, and a shelf with two gnomes that she had collected at the end of the school year, Sir Nomer and Nomita.

It was the first time in months she had ventured to the rooftop, and she was surprised the rosebush was still blooming. She’d been avoiding the roof ever since her confrontation with Teague, when she had declared that she knew who he was and that killing him would end the curse on her family. He continued to harass her the whole summer, pushing fairy-tale quests her way, but she did something she’d never thought she would do. She ignored them.

She decided to try to take control of her situation…by doing absolutely nothing. Instead of Teague having all the power and making her jump through his hoops of fairy-tale quests, she went purposefully out of her way to avoid them. And it was relatively easy, if she knew what to look for. For example, one day their family was going to the mall, and she felt the beginnings of power stir up around her. A tingling sensation began in her hands and shot up her arms, causing the hair on the back of her neck to stand on end. Mina quickly surveyed the situation and saw the ravens, all seven of them, standing in an odd row along the sidewalk.

She knew it was another test, and instead of being manipulated into a confrontation in front of her family, she exclaimed loudly that they would find better deals at the neighboring outlet mall. Her family got back in the car and left. One after another, she had avoided his manipulations. A Rapunzel quest was avoided by her cutting her hair every day for two weeks. A trip to the zoo turned almost into a disaster when the bears began to talk to her and tell her how yummy they thought she looked; Mina decided that the monkey exhibit would be more entertaining.

On and on her summer went, and she was beginning to enjoy her freedom and the fact that she was, for once in her life, gaining the upper hand, except she was a bit lonely.

Nan had gone off to drama camp and Brody was traveling abroad with his parents, which left Mina alone. Sure, Jared was around, but since she was refusing to attack any fairy-tale business, he seemed to be off enjoying his freedom. He kept checking in on her and would look at her strangely whenever she avoided an obvious quest trigger, but he never pressed her to action. He seemed more relieved than ever at her course of inaction. Plus, he was spending a lot more time with his Fae friend, Ever.

Mina bit back a hint of jealousy and snapped herself out of it real quick. It was thoughts like that which led to trouble, and in her case, the Story had used or spurred on her jealousy to turn her into the evil queen in the Snow White tale. Since then, she’d learned and grown, and had gotten her emotions and power under control.

But that was weeks ago, and Mina knew the Faes’ sense of time on the Fae plane was different than on the human one, so it could be any day a gate would open up and a whole army of Reapers could come across, gunning for her—or it could stay closed for years, and she would grow old. Then what? The curse still existed and would pass on to her mute brother or her own children.

No, it would have to end with her. She would eventually have to find a way to destroy the Story. But every time she said those words, she would have to remind herself that the Story was a living, breathing person, and could she bring herself to kill him?

There had to be another answer, another way. She was going to have to stop the Fae and close the gates to their world, and if there wasn’t a way to do that, she would have to kill Teague. But what would Jared say? What would he do if she killed his brother?

Music drifted up from the Italian restaurant down the street, and Mina sighed loudly. She would have to make a decision, and soon. Time was running out; summer was almost over, and she felt it in her bones that Teague was going to strike, and strike soon. But when?

She lay back in the lawn chair and closed her eyes, wishing for a sign, for a cool breeze or even rain. The humidity in the air was killing her. She began praying for rain, a hailstorm, even a blizzard, because every second she was getting hotter and hotter.

Maybe she should go back inside. The intense heat on the roof was creating a weird burning-tar smell that made her nose sting. Mina sat up and looked around frantically, sniffing the air and looking at the steam vents across the roof. Black smoke billowed out of them. It wasn’t just getting hotter. The building was on fire!

She rushed toward the ledge and looked down at the street below. Their apartment was above the Golden Palace Chinese restaurant, and sure enough, there down below, the Wongs were evacuating guests from their restaurant and out into the street. People began to gather and point up in the air…until Mina realized they were pointing at her on the roof.

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