Allyson Darke has eight days to save her father from Salzari, the mythical monster who haunted her mother’s twisted fairy tales. But Mom was more than she seemed: a storykeeper whose terrifying tales held secrets across eons. Secrets Allyson must now use to collect dangerous, magical items for Salzari. She races against the clock to save her crazy father from the same mythic villain who killed her mother and brother.

CHAPTER 1.

 

 Six Years Later

 

I died on a Tuesday, and my father was the one who killed me.I lived in one of those small towns in the middle of America that wasted away, like, fifty years ago. Pity no one told the residents. Sullivan: armpit of the world, magnet for rednecks, and home sweet home. I knew everyone in Sullivan, which only made it worse when my dad burst into the school, raving like a lunatic.

 

The lunch crowd fell silent. Three hundred people — half the school for first lunch — froze as if someone hit pause on life. I buried my head in my hands, wishing I could disappear, but I had nowhere to go. Dad stood by the emergency exit to my right and students blocked my only escape on the left. Everyone jumped up and pressed in, suffocating me. Each piercing eye like a nail hammered into my coffin.

 

Dad grabbed my shoulder. “Allyson, honey — you’re still all right.”I brushed off his hand.

“Why are you here?”

 

“They’re coming.” His lip quivered. “Coming back.”

 

Not again. Not here. “Dad—”

 

David rushed over, a gawky grin lighting up his face.

 

I jumped to my feet to keep David at bay, and tried to control my voice as I spoke to my father. “You’re not supposed to be in the school.”“Big ones,” Dad ranted. “And — and the little ones, too.”

 

The cheerleaders at the next table whispered behind their hands. Even the three goth kids pointed and chuckled.

 

There were supposed to be teachers around, but they were probably smoking out back like hypocrite weasels.

David pushed in front of me. “Who’s coming, Mister Darke?” Most times, I tolerated, even enjoyed, David’s jokes. Now I wanted to strangle him for egging Dad on.

 

Dad’s eyes dashed wild. “Allyson, it’s just like before.”

 

No.

 

David spoke in an overloud voice. “Are there a lot of them?”

 

“Hundreds,” Dad continued. “Claws and wings and eight legs and—”

 

“Do they have magic?” David waved his fingers. “Are they ghosts?”

 

NO.

 

I pushed David aside, but he pushed back, laughing. Heat from everyone in the lunch room closed in around me. The whispers, taunting, jeering, painful. Even though I was taller than most of the guys, I felt tiny. Everyone stared at us like we should be locked up.

 

Dad ignored it all. “They took…last time…I don’t want…”

 

David waved his hands as if casting some sort of spell. “Are they goblins? Are they—”

 

“Yes!” Dad shouted.

 

“No!” I screamed.

 

Bad idea. Horrible idea. Worst idea in the Guinness Book of Worst Ideas. The three or four people in the lunch room who weren’t already watching turned our way. The words “stark raving mad,” “lunatic,” and “asylum” slapped me from all around.

 

Where are the damn teachers?

 

Dad sensed the audience and leapt onto a table. “You all have to get somewhere safe. I know you can’t see them, so grab a fork or a knife and—” he picked up the silverware and swung it wildly, miming what they should do, “—until you make it home.”

 

David took a spoon and mimicked my father.

 

Humiliation burned.

 

“Asshole,” I growled, not sure who I was talking to.

 

Dad hopped down and pointed at the football players. “Tinfoil will keep your thoughts secret.” Then, before I could grab him, he snatched a foil wrapped burrito from one of the trays. Rice and beans spilled everywhere as Dad tried to fashion a hat.

 

“Dad!” I screamed through my teeth. “You need to go home.”

 

He turned to me again. “I warned them, Allyson. Now your friends can be safe, too.”

 

“I don’t have any friends, thanks to you.”

 

“Come on, Allie. I have somewhere safe where we can—”

 

“Where you can what? Finish me off? I’m basically dead already!”

 

“No. No.” He reached for a necklace peeking out from under his shirt.

 

My eyes narrowed — her necklace. The keepsake Mom gave me when she died. The last time she touched me, talked to me. “Why do you have Mom’s necklace?”

 

He had a blank stare on his face, fingers twisting around the jewelry.

 

I shook my head. Things only got worse when he wore that thing. Even when I hid it, he’d always find the necklace. “Go home, Dad. I’ll be there later.”

 

“But they’re after us. We need to go. I love you, Allie.”

 

My fists clenched. I tasted blood. He used to be my dad: always there, always strong, always had the right words. But now —

 

He looked deep into my eyes. “You’re all I’ve got. I have to get you out of here.”

 

He’s just sick. I chomped on the inside of my cheek. Doesn’t know what he’s saying.

 

“Please, Mo Grah,” Dad whispered.

 

The name poked a hole in my soul. Her name for me. Old Irish meaning “my love”.

 

“You can’t call me that!” I shoved him away. “You’re crazy! They should lock you up!”

 

The lunch room erupted in laughter.

 

Dad just looked at me. He stared at me like he’d never seen me before, like he wouldn’t see me again. Like he was soaking up my soul. My world stopped. The other students faded away. I’d never called him crazy before. He was all I had, but I was more than humiliated. Couldn’t he understand what he was doing to me?

 

I wanted to swallow the words. I wanted — I just wanted —

 

One of the football jerks who thought he was a freaking knight pushed past me to Dad. “Come on Old Man, you’re scaring the girls. Time to go.” He grabbed Dad’s wrist.

 

I stepped forward. “Back off. He’s not hurting—”

 

Dad wiggled out of the guy’s grip, getting burrito goo on the jerk’s clothes. The idiot should and shoved Dad to the ground.

 

I jumped forward without thinking, and threw a punch straight into his face. He squealed as bone crunched beneath my fist. My hand throbbed.

 

He doubled over. He could get tackled by guys on the field and walk it off, but one hit from a girl and he was crying.

 

Everyone else backed off. No one shouted “fight” like in the movies. They just looked at me. I’d been in fights before, but they weren’t that ridiculous hair-pulling crap. I punched, kicked, and bit. I certainly never lost.

 

The laughter stopped. Dad’s jabbering stopped.

 

Everything stopped — except David. “Al, that was great!”

 

I swung to him and pushed him down. “Shut the hell up.” Then I turned to Dad, fuming. “Get the hell out.” When he didn’t move, I shrieked, “Leave. Me. Alone!”

 

Finally the “adults” got into the lunch room to “take charge” and burn my last chance of not-total-and-utter-humiliation.

 

I grabbed my backpack and jetted toward the exits.

 

How long had it been? Probably just a couple minutes, though it felt like forever.

 

David tried to catch up with me. “Al, that was great!”

 

“You’re a bastard.”

 

“Oh, come on, that was hilarious. I wish my dad was half as funny.”

 

“He’s sick.” Tears stung my eyes. “He can’t help it.”

 

I stepped through the door.

 

He didn’t follow. “Hey, stop! Where are you going?”

 

I didn’t answer. He could figure it out.

 

“What should I tell them?” he shouted after me.

 

“Say I died,” I called back. “Tell them my dad killed me.”

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