The Fairytale Curse, first book in my new series, is coming out soon. Here’s a peek at the first chapter to whet your appetites!
The girl on the TV wore a long white dress, as if she’d been on the way to her wedding when she decided to lie down in a glass coffin instead. Her skin had a healthy glow; her cheeks were a rosy pink and her lips bright red. She certainly didn’t look dead. I almost expected her eyes to flutter open as I watched.
“Janey!” Dad never took his eyes off the TV. “Come and look at this.”
Mum came in with a this better be worth it expression on her face. She didn’t approve of watching TV at breakfast time. Whenever Dad picked up the remote, she’d roll those sharp green eyes of hers and sigh in that I’m so disappointed in you way. Not that Dad took any notice. You’d think she’d have gotten used to it after twenty-one years of marriage, but every morning it was the same old same old. It always ended with her huffing off to another room as soon as her cereal was done, where she made as much noise as possible until the TV was turned off again.
The footage was wobbly, as if it had been taken with a mobile phone, and only lasted a few seconds. The camera panned around a small clearing in what looked like dense forest. And not the kind we have in Australia, either. This was forest straight out of Central Casting, dark and foreboding. Huge pines towered over the scene, leaning in as if whispering secrets to one another. In the centre of the clearing, in the gloom beneath the pines, stood a massive marble platform. How the hell it got there, I couldn’t imagine, since there didn’t seem to be any gaps in the trees big enough to drag a huge lump of stone like that through. On top of it rested the glass coffin.
The girl inside was laid out like royalty at a state funeral. Her dark hair fanned neatly across the pillow, and her hands were clasped precisely on her chest. Whoever had put her there had obviously taken a great deal of care. They’d even tucked a single red rose into her hands, its colour a perfect match for the lipstick she wore.
“The unidentified girl was found early this morning in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, not far from the popular tourist destination of the Three Sisters.” The camera zoomed in on the girl’s still face as the reporter spoke. She could have been anything from sixteen to twenty-six. “This footage was taken by the hiker who discovered her. Despite appearances, she isn’t dead. Emergency services took her to hospital where doctors found her to be in a deep coma, though apparently healthy. There is no visible sign of trauma, and police are appealing for anyone who can shed any light on the mystery of the Sleeping Beauty to come forward.”
Dad snorted. “Sleeping Beauty, my foot. Idiot doesn’t know his fairy tales.”
And Dad did? He was more comfortable with gadgets than books; I would never have suspected him of an interest in fairy tales.
The picture changed to the reporter standing in the same clearing. The coffin was gone, but the platform remained, cordoned off with police tape. Good luck shifting that sucker.
“I’m here with a local resident, who’s lived in the area for the past fifty years.”
The camera pulled back to reveal a grizzled old bloke who could have claimed to have lived there for the past hundred years and I’d have believed him. He had the leathery look of someone who’d spent a lot of those years outdoors.
The reporter turned to him with an encouraging smile. He was probably afraid the old guy would drop dead on national TV from the excitement.
“You were telling me before that there’s even more to this mystery than first appears.”
“That’s right.” The old man nodded vigorously. “I was a park ranger before I retired, and I know this area like the back of my hand. I’ve probably walked this trail more times than a young bloke like you’s had hot dinners.”
The reporter chuckled. “And what can you tell the viewers about this spot where we’re standing?”
“It doesn’t exist, son. At least, that’s what I’d say if I wasn’t standing in it, if you see what I mean.”
Hmm. Old guy wasn’t making any sense. Maybe he had dementia, and the reporter was about to make an idiot of himself live on camera. Mum and Dad were staring like three-year-olds hypnotised by a Disney movie. I’d never seen Mum pay that much attention to “that idiot box” before.
The old guy waved a bony hand at the trees looming over the clearing. “These trees here, they look pretty established, don’t they? Forty, fifty years old, maybe. But I’m telling you, they weren’t here last time I came down this track, and that’s only a couple of years ago. Maybe weren’t even here yesterday, you know what I’m saying? The main trail’s only twenty metres that way, and this whole section is nothing but gum trees and other natives. Not a pine tree for miles.”
“But the clearing was here?”
“Nope. Well, I mean—just look at that grass.”
The camera swung to focus on the grass, which didn’t look all that sinister to me. It was just grass.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s thick and green. Looks freshly mowed, doesn’t it? More like a putting green. Grass doesn’t get like that on its own, you know. You’ve got to take care of it. You seen anybody standing round the middle of the national park with a hose and a lawn mower?”
“So how do you explain it?”
The old man shrugged. “It’s got to be a hoax, hasn’t it? Probably one of those reality TV shows.”
The camera zoomed in on the reporter. “And there you have it. A mystery girl in a mystery clearing.”
The reporter signed off, and Mum reached for the remote and started flicking channels. Cooking shows and cartoons flashed past, but there was no other news. She turned it off, and for once Dad didn’t complain.
“What do you make of that?” he asked. “Did that girl look familiar to you? I feel like I’ve seen her before somewhere.”
Mum said nothing. Her forehead was creased into her thinking frown. No point talking to her when she got like that. She probably hadn’t even heard him.
“Do you think that guy was right about it being a hoax?” I asked. “Is this the kind of crap they get up to in Sydney?”
Dad seemed to have forgotten all about his cornflakes. They’d gone all soggy in the bottom of the bowl. “Snow White in the Blue Mountains? Either that or a serial killer, I suppose.”
“But she’s not dead.”
“Not a very good serial killer then.”
I refused to laugh. I was still mad at him for dragging us down to Sydney, just when things had been going so well in Townsville. We’d been there nearly two years, the longest time we’d ever stayed in one spot. “Snow White, is it? I didn’t know you were such an expert on fairy tales.”
He grinned. The corners of his eyes crinkled up when he smiled, making him look like a mischievous kid. It was hard not to smile back, but I wasn’t giving in. “Hidden depths, my darling. Hidden depths.”
A thunder of feet on the stairs announced CJ’s arrival. She was always running late in the mornings—probably because she spent so long in the bathroom doing her makeup.
“Have you seen my black hairband?” She shot me an accusing look.
“As if I would dare borrow anything of yours without asking.” My twin wasn’t big on sharing. At least not me sharing her stuff. Her sharing mine was apparently just the natural order of things.
“Good morning, darling daddy, I hope you slept well,” said Dad, watching her bang around the kitchen getting breakfast.
She snorted, but dropped a kiss on the top of his head before flopping into the seat next to his. “Morning.”
She, at least, wasn’t holding the move against him. She’d been hanging out to get to the big city for years.
Breakfast was at the small round table in the meals area off the kitchen. The dining room was still piled with the last boxes from the move. After two weeks, the unpacking was nearly done, but there were always a few odds and ends it was hard to find a home for in a new place. Like photographs, or Christmas decorations. Or our baby clothes that Mum had been carting around for the last seventeen years and ten houses. Every time we moved she and Dad went toe-to-toe about throwing them out. Again.
“Have you seen it since we moved in?” I asked.
“Wore it on Wednesday,” she mumbled around a mouthful of cereal.
“Well, I haven’t got it. Besides, you’re only allowed to wear accessories in school colours.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right. Like I’m going to wear ribbons in a lovely shade of cat vomit.”
“Caramel, please, Crystal,” said Mum, suddenly tuning back into the conversation. “Not cat vomit.”
“Whatever. I liked our old uniform better. The blue matched my eyes.”
Mine too, but that was about the only thing we had in common—we both had Dad’s blue eyes. Most people couldn’t believe it when we told them we were twins. CJ was about ten centimetres taller and three cup sizes bigger, so everyone assumed she was my big sister. She could easily have passed for twenty, though we’d just turned seventeen.
Me, I’d gotten my height from Dad—which was to say, I had none. CJ not only had Mum’s height, but she’d gotten her beautiful sleek dark hair too, not to mention the skin that tanned golden-brown the minute she even thought about going outside. She looked like a younger, blue-eyed version of Mum, whereas everyone could tell at a glance I was Dad’s daughter—short, with pale freckled skin that never ever tanned, and a mass of orange-coloured steel wool that passed for hair.
The uniform of our new school was a gross mustard brown, but it looked good on CJ. Everything did. Somehow it made her skin glow even more golden, and the blue of her eyes fairly leapt out of her face. In the same dress, I just looked washed out—also pretty common, given that my skin was so pale the veins in my arms stood out like a road map.
“Well, you know what they say,” Dad said. “A change is as good as a holiday.”
I shot him a look sharp enough to cut him to ribbons. Him and his stupid sayings. “Probably the people that say that haven’t moved quite as many times as we have. I don’t need any more holidays like that, thanks very much.”
Mum’s face was an odd mixture of sympathy and guilt. “I know you haven’t been very happy about this move,” she began.
“This move? When have I been happy about any of them? Would it be so much to ask if we could just stay in one place for more than two seconds at a time?”
This was our fourth high school, and I was getting kind of sick of making new friends. It hardly seemed worth the effort any more. I’d just start to get comfortable, then Mum and Dad’s stupid job would uproot us and dump us on the other side of the country. Again. They worked for the military, some top-secret hush-hush thing.
“I promise you this is the last one for a while,” she said.
Like that was supposed to be comforting. “How long is a while exactly? Six months? A year?”
“I’d tell you,” said Dad, “but then I’d have to kill you.”
I rolled my eyes. Like I hadn’t heard that one before.
“That kind of information is classified, Violet,” Mum said. “Curiosity killed the cat, you know.”
Yeah, I did know, because she’d been telling me that since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. It was one of her favourite ways of shutting down a discussion.
“Doesn’t your bus come soon?” Dad asked, one eye on the clock.
In Townsville we’d lived close enough to walk to school, but not any more. Everything in Sydney was bigger, further away, and more crowded. Welcome to the big city.
“Yeah.” Guess that was the end of that conversation. It made me crazy how they’d never give you a straight answer if it involved their stupid work. I stomped into the kitchen to pack my bag.
“We might be late home tonight,” Mum said, changing the subject with her usual skill. “There’s lasagne in the freezer if you get hungry.”
“Don’t worry about us.” CJ crammed in the last of her breakfast and grabbed her school bag. “We’ll be fine. Come on, Vile. You don’t want to be late in your second week, do you? Might make a bad impression.”
“I’m only ever late if I wait for you, Cryssie.”
“Bye, Violet. Have a good day.” Mum was the only person who called me Violet. She called CJ Crystal too—she said she couldn’t see the sense in giving someone a perfectly good name and then never using it.
I shoved my lunch in my bag without replying. The chances of having a good day were pretty damn low, all things considered, though I doubt she really cared.
I looked back as we reached the door. Mum had turned the TV back on to the news channel. Well, that was a first. Was the girl in the glass coffin really that interesting? It was probably just some stupid advertising stunt.
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