The town of Faraway, Washington is buried under a particularly harsh winter. Teenagers in attendance at Faraway Senior High find themselves restless, bored, and experiencing a myriad of problems ranging from mild to extreme. Cailyn Pure discovers her father involved in an adulterous affair with a wicked woman who is obsessed with apples. Ella Cinder is victimized by her evil foster mother Thelma Dark, and Thelma's ugly twin biological daughters. Aspen Briar finds herself once again on the verge of being uprooted and moved by her parents who are constantly on the run from a mysterious woman from their past. Stella Rampion is ever smothered by parents who consider her their miracle baby; only conceived once her mother consumed a supposed "magical" flower. Her parents are so overprotective; she's never even been allowed to cut her hair. Zoe Locke feels neglected and ignored, so much so that she begins breaking and entering in and around Faraway; just for kicks.
Enter the three Bars.
One night, on the cusp of a blizzard, Zoe burglarizes the fairytale like home of the uber wealthy Bar family. What she discovers in their basement sends her into a terrified frenzy, especially when the family unexpectedly returns while she is still inside the home. She breaks her leg while escaping, and is eventually apprehended by Officer Hook. Zoe Locke is sent to juvenile detention and nobody believes her desperate pleas to investigate the Bars. Unfortunately, the oversight on the part of local law enforcement will cost many lives, and the disappearances of numerous Faraway teens. A series of dastardly events is triggered by Zoe's infraction that will bring the town of Faraway to its knees. All involved will learn, there is no happily ever after.
Sometimes a princess's rescuer is far worse
than that from which she needed rescued.
Read an excerpt below!
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Once upon recent months, in the town of Faraway, Washington, a troublesome and unfortunate situation unfolded. Frankly, a lot of the problems actually occurred within the shadows of the dangerous wood, just outside of town. But certainly, many of the residents within the city limits of the gloomy burg also played their parts.
And hopefully, if there be even an inkling of justice within this dastardly strange universe… Hopefully, they'll regret it, every day of their wretched lives.
Our tale begins with one Ms. Zoe Locke, a girl who grew tired and desperate. Every day grew colder with the promise of a particularly harsh winter. Every day she sat pressed against the cold panes of her living room window, watching the snow angrily swirl from the barren grey sky. And, every day, she hated her life more.
In particular, Zoe Locke hated her mother. At age sixteen, Zoe was left mainly to fend for herself. Her mother managed the bills (most of the time) but outside of that, responsibilities fell upon Zoe. If she didn't want to live in filth, then it was up to her to clean the apartment. If she became ill, it was up to her to find her own remedies. If she had difficulties at school, she had to sort it out alone. And if her stomach growled, it was up to her to fill it.
Sometimes, she could track down her mother, at a job, or a friend's house, or on one of her many dates. She could convince her that she needed grocery money. Sometimes, she'd be given grocery money for a week.
Sadly, for a number of years, Zoe had known she had to stretch one week of food for three.
Zoe stared forlornly down at the street from her second story roost. She lived right down town in a tiny apartment above a decades old bakery. The heat from the ovens and the scent of the pastries rose pleasantly upwards. It was Zoe's one small blessing, the only thing that felt like home in her life.
She watched townsfolk come and go below, hurrying to escape the cold. Thanksgiving steadfastly approached. And people below walked with brisk steps to conduct their preparatory business. They visited the deli to secure their turkeys and hams. They passed in and out of the offices of lawyers, accountants, and the newspaper to get ready for their extra day off. They briefly paused to exchange pleasantries and polite smiles.
She wished that one of them, any of them, would cast an upward glance and notice her there watching.
But no one did. No one ever did. She doubted a single soul knew she lived up there. Or if they did, they certainly did not care.
Zoe dragged herself from the window seat and sulked to the bathroom where she stood before the mirror. Her blue eyes appeared sunken, lacking any sort of sparkle or life. Her cheeks were hollow as she was far too thin. Her lips were pale and chapped. And her hair. Oh, her hair; it disappointed her most of all. Her long golden locks hung limp and stringy, as she had been out of shampoo for quite some time, and washed it only with water. Zoe's hair should've been such a beautiful thing, yet, like everything else, it had fallen into shabby disrepair.
And nobody noticed.
Staring pensively into her own sallow face, Zoe Locke decided once and for all, that she must be invisible. Which was awful. Except that, invisible people could do remarkable things; wasn't that so?
With a rare smile, Zoe decided to test the theory.
The next morning, Zoe waited until ten a.m. to go to school. She wanted to see if the school would call when she didn't show up. She slept late; she prepared herself for the day leisurely, munched on some stale toast, and read a library book. The school did not call.
After a leisurely stroll to school, she strolled in the gigantic front doors of Faraway Senior High and down the center of the main hallway. It was empty and quiet outside of the low drone of classes in progress up and down the long bright corridor. She walked slowly and peered into classroom after classroom. Not a single glance was cast in her direction. Zoe smiled.
She slipped into her social studies class and dropped into her seat in the back of the classroom. No one stopped what they were doing. She would've expected to be questioned by the teacher or asked for a pass, but that was not the case.
Normally, Zoe wasn't a student who contributed or participated in any class. But that particular day, she raised her hand, offering to answer every question the teacher asked. She would've expected a teacher to call on the usually timid student who suddenly wanted to participate. But that did not happen. She remained as invisible as ever.
At lunch period, Zoe confidently strode to a different spot than usual at one of the long picnic style tables. In fact, normally, Zoe didn't even take lunch in the cafeteria, opting instead to find a place to spend time alone. Not that day. She took a seat right next to the "in" crowd. Ella Cinder and her handsome boyfriend, Nick Monarch. The beautiful Aspen Briar and Aspen's friend Cailyn Pure. Truthfully, Zoe would expect to be told by her popular peers to buzz clear off. But in her effort to test her theory, she faced the threat of an ugly or hurtful confrontation and planted herself right next to Ella.
And, as she'd suspected, it was like she wasn't even there. Zoe grinned broadly. She really was invisible.
After the last bell of the day dismissed the students, Zoe let the flow of them carry her happily out of the building. The entire day had passed and not one person had noticed her.
Prior to her epiphany the preceding evening, Zoe had hated the lonely feeling of being ignored. Unnoticed, unloved. And unassisted. There were things she felt she needed to have noticed. She had many basic needs that weren't met. She would've expected that SOMEBODY, some kind peer, Good Samaritan, some teacher or other authority figure would notice and rescue her from her misery. But that NEVER happened.
But suddenly, Zoe saw her invisibility differently. If no one wants to help me, Zoe thought, then I'll just help myself. Invisible people could help themselves. To anything they wanted.
She hurried down the street, rubbing together her icy hands and her breath plumed out in freezing puffs. She beamed. She could barely refrain from giggling.
Zoe stopped in her tracks, her heart immediately racing. She spun slowly around to find a spritely red head bouncing up behind her.
Jennifer Tide was another student from her class at school. Not one of the top tier of kids, but not one of the bottom, either. She was short and pixie like with vibrant green eyes and flaming red hair that fell wildly down past her waist. She was a nice enough girl; her worse flaw being perhaps a tad boy crazy. But other than that, a decent girl. Zoe knew all about Jennifer Tide. But she wouldn't expect Jennifer Tide to know a single thing about her.
It made her nervous and a bit cranky. It sort of shot holes in her invisibility theory.
"Yes?" Zoe asked tersely.
"Hey," Jennifer said with a lovely smile as she came alongside Zoe. "Where were you this morning?"
Zoe gave her a look of utter bewilderment and resumed walking. Jennifer fell into step with her. "Um… What do you mean?"
"Well, I mean, why were you late? Going on eleven years of school together now. I don't believe you've ever been late. I know, because I never have been either. So what's up?"
Zoe frowned. "Why do you want to know?" she asked, immediately regretting her tone. Any other day she'd be thrilled to have someone expressing interest in her.
But, the night before, she'd turned a corner. She no longer welcomed the attention.
A hurt look passed over Jennifer's freckled face but she quickly recovered her friendly smile. "Just worried about ya," she said kindly.
Zoe couldn't help but grow more annoyed. Why now? All the sudden someone cares? Sorry. Too late.
"Um. I'm just trying to be nice, Zoe," she said a little sadly. "Hey listen. Would you want to hang out?"
Zoe gaped at Jennifer open mouthed. "Sorry, I'm busy," Zoe said, quickening her pace. Any other time she would've claimed to be busy, she would've been lying. But for once, she really did have plans.
And she wasn't about to let anything get in the way.
"Well, um," Jennifer said awkwardly. "If you ever need a friend, I'm here."
"Thanks," Zoe said coldly. "But no thanks."
She jutted across the street and away from Jennifer Tide.
Faraway wasn't exactly a diminutive town, but by no means was it a big city, either. It was populated enough that it was possible to be invisible (obviously) if one was careful. Yet, it was small enough that citizens trusted one another.
Therefore, just as in days long gone, many people of Faraway left their doors unlocked.
At seven p.m. Zoe slipped out of her apartment dressed all in black. She scampered down the stairs under the murky light of a bare, dirty light bulb suspended high above her head. When she opened the door leading to the street, a blast of frigid wind blew in and the light bulb swung on its chain, omitting an eerie creek. Zoe bounced out onto the street.
She'd waited until seven for two reasons. One, night had completely fallen. And two, the Faraway Middle School's holiday play had begun. Half the town would be packed like sardines into the musty middle school auditorium. Leaving her free to implement her plan.
She walked briskly out of downtown Faraway, her hands shoved into the pockets of her worn black hoodie. A shiver ripped through her and her teeth chattered.
Zoe walked and walked until she found herself in the neighborhood of East End. It was the most affluent neighborhood in Faraway. The only neighborhood where the houses weren't either ancient, or little identical pill boxes. This is where Zoe had decided to change her life.
She slowed down and peered into the windows of the sprawling brick homes as she passed them. Some were decorated for Christmas already, which she found annoying. She wondered if rich people ever thought of how obnoxious their ostentatious Christmas displays were to people who couldn't afford even the paltriest of trees.
Smiling families could be glimpsed through some of the cozily lit windows, but most of the homes hunkered dark and quiet. This was a neighborhood with a lot of kids, so most of the occupants would likely be at the show, as she'd expected.
At the very last driveway on the very remotest cul-de-sac, Zoe stopped. She looked all around and noted every house on the block appeared dormant. She looked up at each dark window in the house, as they seemed to stare down at her like eyes that knew her secrets. She took one more deep breath, and then jogged up the driveway and around to the garage's side entrance.
Zoe paused again, staring at the shining brass handle. Her heart sped. She considered turning around and 86ing the whole plan. But then she shook her head. Instead of chickening out, she pulled the sleeve of her hoodie over her ice cold fingers and tried the door.
She beamed as it swung open into a still and quiet garage. With one more glance around, she stepped inside.
A Mercedes was parked inside the three car garage, glistening silver in the darkness. She imagined there would also be some sort of fancy van or utility vehicle parked there later, when the family was home. She carefully made her way around the car and mounted some steps that led to a door to the home's interior.
Inside, it smelled like cinnamon. It was a festive, clean scent. Like a place that was regularly cleaned with actual cleaning chemicals and disinfectants rather than just hot water and tattered rags. Like a place where the occupants could afford things like candles and air fresheners. She stood there for a moment, enjoying the feeling of being in this place, and getting her bearings.
Zoe had come there to steal. She just had no idea what.
She quietly crept down a hallway, through a laundry room (that was bigger than her bedroom) and finally into a kitchen. Almost immediately, her eyes landed on money.
She glimpsed bills pinned with a magnet to the refrigerator. She hurried forward to investigate. Sure enough, there were three, twenty dollar bills there for the taking. Zoe giggled. "Seriously?" she whispered. Such an odd place to keep sixty dollars, she couldn't fathom it. All the same, she covered her hands with her sleeves again, snatched the money, and folded it into her jeans pocket.
"Thanks!" she whispered, giggling again. She was delighted and decided not to even look for anything else to take. She simply let herself out the way she'd come in.
Then, she hit three other houses on the same cul-de-sac. All with unlocked doors. And in all of them, she found cash in under ten minutes per location. She was utterly stunned at the ridiculous places rich people kept their cash. The console of a car. On a family room desk. And on a night table. Incredibly easy and baffling, all at the same time. It was as though they'd left it there just for her.
By the time she dashed through a back yard and into the woods, she had three hundred dollars in her pocket. It was by far, the largest sum of money she'd ever laid eyes on, let alone had possession of. She took a short hike to leave the neighborhood unnoticed and reemerged onto the streets of Faraway minutes later.
The next day after school, Zoe bought herself the first warm winter coat she'd ever owned and a nice pair of gloves.