The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding (The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding #1)

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding (The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding #1)

Alexandra Bracken

For the Garrett-Geyster-Bracken clan

Light a candle and step close to the looking glass. Time is short, and we cannot delay.

In another time, in another world, you would not have been worth the slightest flicker of my gaze. However, even I cannot break the terms of our contract. So if you find yourself still foolish enough to follow, there are three things—three things—you must know. Three lessons that must be heard, obeyed, remembered. These may one day prove crucial to your survival, human. Whether you choose to pay attention is entirely up to you. I’ve never had time to suffer fools.

The first is that you can never trust a Redding. The family will whistle lies between their teeth and beg for mercy until their wagging tongues tire. Do not give in. Cover your ears, your eyes, and block out their cowardly stench. These are the humans that broke a contract written in blood the moment they feared for their fortune. Their tradition is one of foolishness. They are no family of yours.

Listen. Mind me well, for the light grows dim and our hour approaches. The Reddings will tell you they were wronged, misunderstood. They will tell you I am a liar, a cheat, and a scoundrel. But do not forget that even as I slept, they feared me. As should you.

For the second thing you must understand is that my tradition is one of revenge.

And the third: anything I give you, I can—and will—delight in taking back.

Which, in the case of the Reddings, is everything.

See, here’s the thing.

In the big scheme of life and planet Earth, the town of Redhood is a tiny speck. An itty-bitty speck of a speck. Don’t even bother pulling out a map, because the town isn’t on most of them. It never held a witch trial, wasn’t responsible for starting any kind of revolution, and the Pilgrims landed on a rock about two hundred miles away. To most people, the only interesting thing about Redhood is the family that founded it.

Well, you might be interested to know that there is nothing interesting about us Reddings. I mean, okay, my great-great-great-great-great-whatever came this close to signing the Declaration of Independence but got held up by a sore throat that killed him two days later. A sore throat. Which, sorry, is just about the lamest way a guy could go. I don’t think he should get points for almost signing. That’s like me telling my parents I almost got a perfect score on my math test—a D is only four grades away from an A, right?

Anyway, the point is, my family has been around forever and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. The walls of the Cottage are stuffed with portraits of frowning ancestors in black coats and bonnets. Every day is like a bad Thanksgiving play over there.

Just below those are pictures of a few dozen four-star generals, important congressmen, and some CEOs. Grandmother likes to say that if any one of us decided to run for president (aka her), the country would be so in love (with her), they’d get rid of “this pesky democracy” and name President Redding (her) a monarch (queen).

The faces of my family changed with each generation, but you couldn’t say the same about Redhood. It never changes, not really. Probably because it takes years of town meetings and vote after vote to get anything done. I mean, it became front-page news when my grandmother, the mayor, finally allowed them to bring high-speed Internet to the town. Before that day, I don’t think Grandmother had ever touched a computer in her life.

Redhood was like a page that had fallen from an old history book and was stuck, forgotten, under a desk. It was still around collecting dust, but if you weren’t looking for it, you’d never find it. Families came and went, but they always seemed to return eventually. And the worst was that everyone was constantly all up in each other’s business—especially my family’s. The place felt smaller every year.

Which was why it was so weird that no one else noticed when a stranger came to town.

On Founder’s Day, the only place to be was on Main Street, under the ropes of warm, twinkling lights draped between Peregrine S. Redding Academy and the courthouse.

The steps of the two redbrick buildings were littered with straw-stuffed cushions and folding chairs, every last available spot claimed by the town’s residents for the evening’s Candlelight Parade. The tourists who wandered into Redhood to see its famous festival were too entranced by everything to know they needed to reserve their own seats long before sundown.

Most of the time, I would do just about anything to get out of this place. Founder’s Day is the exception. It’s when the town wakes up from summer’s sweaty sleep and exhales some strange magic stirring inside it. You feel it shift, transforming a place as stiff as a book’s spine into a maze of haystacks, wreaths, and garlands. The air crisps and sweetens, and breathing it in is like taking the first bite of a freshly picked apple.

In the dark midnight hours of October, the trees of Main Street set themselves ablaze with color. They lean over the streets and create a canopy of dazzling gold when the sunlight hits them just right. I still haven’t found the right blend of paint to capture it, and maybe I never will. Most of the fallen leaves are then rescued and stuffed into scarecrows that guests can take home with them from the celebration.

The best part of it, though, is the morning mist that creeps along the streets, glowing just enough to mask everything secretly ugly and rotten about this place.

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