Alexandra Bracken, the #1 New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Passenger series, as well as a young reader adaptation of Star Wars: A New Hope: The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy, is back with her newest book,
A darkly delightful middle grade contemporary fantasy about a modern New England boy who must rid himself of the ancient demon inhabiting his body and break his family’s curse.
Prosper is the only unexceptional Redding in his old and storied family history that is, until he discovers the demon living inside him. Turns out Prosper’s great-great-great-great-great-something grandfather made and then broke a contract with a malefactor, a demon who exchanges fortune for eternal servitude. And, weirdly enough, four-thousand-year-old Alastor isn’t exactly the forgiving type.
The fiend has reawakened with one purpose–to destroy the family whose success he ensured and who then betrayed him. With only days to break the curse and banish Alastor back to the demon realm, Prosper is playing unwilling host to the fiend, who delights in tormenting him with nasty insults and constant attempts to trick him into a contract. Yeah, Prosper will take his afterlife without a side of eternal servitude, thanks. But with the help of his long-lost uncle, Barnabas, and his daughter, Nell, a witch-in-training, it seems like Prosper has at least a fighting chance of ridding himself of Alastor before the demon escapes and wreaks havoc on his family.
Little does Prosper know, the malefactor’s control over his body grows stronger with each passing night and there’s a lot Alastor isn’t telling his dim-witted (but admittedly strong-willed) human host…
And thanks to our friends at Disney-Hyperion we’re proud to present an excerpt of Alexandra Bracken’s The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding.
Over the past twenty-four hours, a few things about my family had finally started making sense.
Grandmother’s hatred of me and all of my cousins, for one. Why she never wanted to talk about Uncle Barnabas. What exactly was in the dungeon. You know, typical family stuff.
And now that I was standing in front of the cracked floor-length mirror, its clawed feet near my own toes, I had a very new understanding of where that superstition about mirrors in Redhood had come from.
I followed the fiend’s instructions exactly. Find a candle and light it. Find a mirror, and stand in front of it holding the lit candle. Continue to stand there. Easy enough.
“Is it him?” Uncle Barnabas asked, trailing behind me to the mirror. “He’s speaking to you now, isn’t he? What is he saying?”
Well, that was kind of the problem. It sounded like the thing-creature-fiend-whatever was speaking English, but he was tossing in words and phrases I’d never heard before. Like “beslubbering tickle-brained mouldwarp.” I wasn’t sure what that one meant, but I also wasn’t sure I wanted to repeat it out loud. Which worked out great, since it seemed like Uncle Barnabas was totally happy having a nice conversation with himself.
“Fiends travel between our world and theirs using mirrors,” he was saying, his eyebrows drawn together, “but a powerful fiend like a malefactor has to be the one to open those portals between the realms. I assumed they only communicated through dreams—at least, that’s what my research has told me. I didn’t realize a mirror could be used for a conversation as well . . . fascinating.”
I let him ramble, staring hard at my reflection in the mirror. Nell had plopped a fat white candle into my hand that smelled of wax and honey. She lit the black wick with a snap of her fingers.
I jumped so high in the air, the flame went out and she had to relight it.
“Chill,” she said. “Of all base passions, fear is the most accursed.”
I rolled my eyes. “Sorry I don’t speak Fortune Cookie. You’re going to have to—”
“Well done! Well done!” Uncle Barnabas elbowed me to the side and beamed down at her. It was like a cloud finally moving away from the sun’s face. Nell grinned back at him. “You’ve been practicing with elemental magic! Have you mastered any of the—”
‘The two were chatting in excited voices, flinging around words like “cunning one” and “pocket spells” and “charms.”
Me? I was a little more interested in what was watching me from the other side of the mirror’s filmy surface. Only Toad seemed to see it too. He half clawed, half flew to the very top of the armoire, spitting and hissing in disgust or fear.
The flame flickered between my hands, then caught the cracked glass with a brilliant flash of white. I winced and looked away. By the time my heart started beating again, our reflections had disappeared, and the mirror’s surface had turned into some kind of window.
A white fox sat still and silent, its fluffy tail sweeping back and forth across the darkness that hovered around it from all sides. It was a tiny, pale thing, more bones than anything else. I felt the weirdest need to squat down and be level with it—just so I could get a closer look at its eyes. One was a bright, bright blue. The other was as dark as the center of the burning candlewick.
“Wait . . .” I began, finally catching the attention of Uncle Barnabas and Nell. They moved in unison, leaning around my shoulders. I almost laughed at the way Nell gasped and my uncle started muttering, “What? What? I don’t see anything—”
“Are you . . . ?” I began, slowly cracking my knuckles to try to ease some of the tension building up in me.
“I am,” came the reply. The words fluttered around the attic, winding through the space like black, shimmery silk. Even Uncle Barnabas must have heard them. His face went a ghostly shade of gray behind me.
It was the exact same voice I had heard in my head both a few moments ago and at the Cottage. The accent was refined and all proper, but it sounded like someone my age, not an adult. Not to mention, the words were slipping out of a fox’s mouth. “I would say it’s a pleasure to meet thee, Prosperity Oceanus Redding, but truly, I only anticipate the delights of destroying thy happiness.”
A few steps to the right of me, Nell crossed her arms over her chest and narrowed her eyes at the mirror. “Is that right?”
The fox paid her no mind. It smiled, revealing a mouthful of ivory teeth, each sharper than the next.
“Why is he talking like that?” I asked Uncle Barnabas. “It sounds like he swallowed a Pilgrim.”
But he only shook his head, his mouth opening and shutting with a little gobbling noise.
Nell took a step forward. “It sounds like . . .” She shook her head and said slowly, “What does thou know of . . . um . . . thy circumstances?”
“Does the lass speak the good speak?” The fox’s tail swished again. “Or shall I deign to use your fouled-up form of an already wretched language?”
“The, uh, second option?” I said, scratching the back of my neck. “You don’t have to talk like Shakespeare?”
“I have been awake as you slept this day past,” Alastor said, his voice oozing with pride. “I have listened, with great horror, to thy manner of present-day speech, and I have already mastered it, as thee can see.”
“If you say so, pal.”
“How . . . how fascinating,” Uncle Barnabas managed to squeeze out. He leaned in closer to the glass and poked at it. He jumped back, like he was all surprised to find it was solid. “Yes,” he murmured to himself. “Yes, he would speak an old form of the language until he fully acclimates to ours. Fascinating.”
I set the candle on the floor and sat beside it, crossing my legs. I was surprised that I felt so calm when I was staring at definite proof that Uncle Barnabas and Nell hadn’t been lying.
I took a deep breath. This was going to be so much easier than Uncle Barnabas let on. The fiend was trapped inside me, which meant he had no chance of hurting Mom, Dad, or Prue for now. That made my legs feel a little more solid.
Not going to lie, it also helped to see a fox, not some slobbering brain-eating monster, watching me. His fuzzy little head was cocked to the side, and a small black tongue darted out over his button nose. It was actually . . . kind of cute?
Alastor wasn’t anything like the drawings. He didn’t have pointy wings, or a pitchfork, or a scaly tail that curled with his dark delights.
The white fox didn’t blink as its eyes shifted back to me. This time, when he spoke, it was only to my ears. Ye—you, rather, should see me in my true form, peasant. By the end of it all, you will accompany me Downstairs, and I shall show you terror.
You can hear my thoughts? The blood rushed straight to my face. All of them?
I know everything about thee, Prosperity. Everything inside thee belongs to me. I am joined to thy shade. I know all of thy fears, thy desires, thy jealousy—where thou hides thy collection of small porcelain ponies . . .
I turned to look back at Uncle Barnabas. “Is there any way to shut him up?”
Uncle Barnabas picked up the candle and blew it out with a single breath. As the flame died, so did the image of the white fox. “That work?” he asked.
Behind us, Toad was mewling frantically, as if trying to get our attention. I heard a thud and assumed he had jumped down from his perch. The scratch of nails against the floorboards faded beneath the rumble of laughter in my ears.
Hear me, boy. I have heard the things you and that man have planned for me, but this thou—you—must know. I have lived for over eight hundred years, and nothing, save the end of this world, will bring me more joy than ripping thy family to shreds and scattering every bit of their fortune to the winds.
“Go ahead,” I said. “Try it.”
Test me, and you will learn precisely how fragile the human heart can be. But . . . you are already acquainted with this knowledge, are you not? Imagine how easy it will be to undo what healing has already passed.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded. Fear and anger slammed into me. I gripped the sides of the mirror, shaking as hard as I could until the shelves around me were rattling with the force of it. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Nell yanked me back. “Cut it out! What did he say to you?”
I tore myself out of her grip and stormed over to the couch and its nest of blankets. I snatched up the darkest, sturdiest plaid and stalked back toward the mirror to cover it. Before I could, Toad’s yelping turned to a furious yowl.
His tiny fangs flashed as he practically unhinged his jaw to snap them around Nell’s foot like a trap.
“Ouch! Toad! What’s the matter with you?”
His tail flicked toward the mirror, frantically pointing.
The stupid white fox was gone now, but the reflection of the attic still hadn’t returned to the mirror’s dusty surface.
In fact, there seemed to be something else moving inside of it, something dark, growing closer and closer. The surface of the glass rippled like water, and even though my brain was screaming at me to stop, I reached up and brushed a finger with it. When I pulled it back, it was coated with what looked like silver paint.
But then the distant shadow wasn’t distant at all—and it wasn’t a shadow, not any longer. Its dark robes swirled as it spiraled up, as if climbing out of a dark well. I saw a flash of red mask. The thing bobbed, hovering just in front of me. Its head cocked to the side, curious.
“Hello?” I said.
“Prosper . . .” Nell began, her voice tight with fear. “Duck!”
“What are you—?” I started to say. But just as I began to turn the red mask flipped up, revealing five sets of teeth.
And then, suddenly, the creature wasn’t inside the mirror.
It was crashing through it.
The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding is available now in hardcover and e-book
This excerpt is republished with permission of Disney-Hyperion