Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

Zoey

Zoey rounded a corner in the alley, and something moved along the wall in front of her. She could see green and red scales glinting like jewels in the soft light as the head and body of a giant snake crossed the alley behind Poo Ping Palace Thai Cuisine, blocking her way. It had a second head, instead of a tail, and both heads licked the air with their gray forked tongues and spoke together.

“We are not going back. You can’t make us. We will rip your heart out if you try, human.”

She had no idea what it was talking about. It was the third creature that she had seen today, and the nastiest. Foamy white venomous spit puddled on the ground below its heads.

Zoey swallowed her fear.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she answered, her voice steady. She measured the alleyway for an escape and made sure no one else was watching her.

“I’m just on my way home,” she continued, “and I don’t want any trouble, Mr. Snake—or is it Mrs. Snake? I can’t really tell since your back-end has a head—or is that the head, and your other head is your back-end? How do you even go to the—”

“It lies!” Hatred flashed in its yellow eyes.

Both heads opened their maws to reveal teeth like rows of kitchen knives.

“It wants to kill us! It’s trying to trick us.”

The heads spoke to each other, “You can never trust a human—they are all liars and tricksters! It wants to send us back! But we won’t go. No—we will never go back!”

It turned both heads back toward Zoey, “We won’t let you!”

Zoey wasn’t about to be squeezed to death by the Mr. and Mrs. Snake Freak Show—she had big plans for her future. She had to do something right now.

The snake recoiled to strike.

She didn’t even have enough time to rummage through her backpack for a weapon when the giant snake shot up in the air, just like a Jack-in-the-box, and soared towards her.

A door burst open, and a dark-skinned man in a stained apron rushed out. “Hey! What are you doing there?” he yelled angrily.

The creature slumped to the ground and retreated into the shadows with a hateful hiss, faster than Zoey thought possible for such a large snake.

The man tossed two large black garbage bags on the ground and waved his fist furiously at Zoey. “You’re the one who’s been spraying graffiti on my walls, aren’t you? Get out of here kid, before I call the police!”

Zoey smiled and sprinted away down the alleyway, but not before she caught a glimpse of the giant snake disappearing through a basement window.

With the angry man’s voice still ringing in her ears, she reached the end of the alley and turned right onto Wade Street. The old maple trees that lined the street on either side were the only visible vegetation. She ran through the orphan district and passed a series of rundown buildings and boarded up factories, relieved to have escaped.

It would have been too good to be true—to have had an entirely uneventful day. The monsters always found her.

Number 85 Wade Street was a ghost-gray crumbled old house with a lopsided roof, a large rotten wooden porch, peeling window panes, and a chipped beige door that had once been painted white. The front lawn was a mess of dandelions and knee-high straw grass. Zoey ran up the stairs, pushed through the front door, and dashed straight through to the kitchen at the opposite end of the house. She slipped her backpack off her shoulders, and it dropped to the floor with a soft plop.

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