STRANGER THINGS X CURSED PRINCESS CLUB
Charity’s acts of kindness always end in disaster, but when one clown costume too many lands her in the Vice Principal’s office, she receives a mysterious note from a group called “The Cassandra Coalition,” asking her if she wants to be rid of the curse that seems to follow her.
The teens of the coalition claim to be cursed by a mirror world connected with their hometown known as Delphos. To make things worse, Delphos appears to be invading their world and turning people into zombies—either that, or someone switched all the coffee to decaf.
When one of their members goes missing, they’ll try to track her down, close the portal to their world, and find a way to end their curse, before the curse ends them.
Light from a dangled candy cane overhead flashed red in Hector’s eyes.
“Did your former director ever happen to mention a handbell player named Cassandra?”
Bella jolted back and knocked over a folder stand on the table behind her. She clutched at her chest with a fist.
“No, can’t say that I have.” Her voice shot up to a high-bell octave. She weaved her gloved fingers into her hair, but the cloth caught on a curl. Abandoning ship, she left the glove in a tangle and polished the bells on the table with a black cloth.
“Come on!” Paris slammed his hands on the table. But because the players had covered the surface in a foam pad, the sound muffled. “We got evidence at the library that she played with this group thirteen years ago. You joined a year after. You had to have heard something. And if my brother is going to show up in public in that ridiculous Red Riding Hood cloak, then you better make it worth it.”
Wowza, Paris standing up to the man. Well, wo-man.
Not being under the scrutiny of Danae’s glare had its wonders and benefits.
Unfazed, Bella started to shove bells into a case. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Hector pulled out his tablet—
Where on earth had he been keeping that?
—and the screen illuminated a scary-eager grin.
“Oh yeah, well take a look at—” his voice dropped, cracked, “this?”
Charity took two steps back and hoisted herself on her tiptoes to glance at the screen. The file had disappeared and a red “Error” replaced its slot. Had her touch back in the car eradicated the newspaper from the device?
Bella waved her hand at some invisible bug near her sharp nose. “Sorry, kids, but I don’t have time for this. We need to pack up in the next five minutes before the ‘Looking Sharp Jazz Choir ’gets here.” She jerked her chin over her shoulder at her other band members who hoisted suitcases full of bells onto rolling carts.
They needed to act, now.
When Bella turned to shove some mallets covered in yellow yarn into a black felt bag, Charity tore both gloves with her teeth, spat them on the floor, and gripped the handle of a bell the size of a baby doll’s head. Her arm swung down a few inches under its weight.
“What are you—” Bella stiffened. She sweetened her voice. “Now, put that thing down on the table. Nice and easy.”
With a knee crack, Bella lunged forward for the bell. But Paris and Hector stepped in front of Charity to form a barricade. Blanched, Bella whirled around to call for the aid of her bell-mates, but they were busy grunting and heaving the carts toward the door.
Now, for the bad cop sans good cop routine Charity’d practiced with her stuffed animals. This would, in no way, make Bella’s world a better place today. But she needed to do this for Io.
“I hate to do this, Bella, and I never envisioned myself being a CIA interrogator. That was twenty-seventh on my list of possible occupations for me in the future, next to skydiving instructor and corgi herder. But you’ve left me with no choice.”
“Listen, do you want money?” She dug a leather wallet out of her black slacks, opened it, and waved a neon-orange business card. “I have a coupon for two dollars off a pint of ice cream at The Scoop. You want?”
Oooh, ice cream.
Memories of sweet pralines of butter pecan mixed with cotton candy swirled over her tongue. Her favorite combo.
“Ma’am, if you do not tell us what you know about Cassandra, I’m afraid I’ll have to . . . have to,” she made a claw with her fingers. Digits wriggled like spider legs, “have to touch this bell with my bare hands.”
Bella slapped both palms against her over-blushed cheeks. She gasped.
Charity’s fingers squirmed so much, aches formed in her palms. She’d never threatened anyone before. Hoped she wouldn’t have to again. But for Io . . . she’d even get a fingerprint on this bell.
“Think of the oils from my skin.” She slithered each s like a snake. “The tarnish on this beauty. Bet it will take forever to wipe off. What is this?” Her thumb budged down an inch to reveal the label on the black handle. “A middle C.”
“Yes.” Bella’s voice tremored. She even crunched two crooked teeth down onto her pink lipsticked bottom lip.
“That’s an important note, isn’t it?”
“Some would argue that it’s the bread and butter that holds the music together.”
“Pity if I touched it . . . or even worse. Dropped it.”
Her fingers wriggled closer, closer . . . a centimeter away . . . .
Hope Bolinger is literary agent, freelance author and editor, YA novelist, and obsessed with anything to do with theater.
Books include The Quiet and the Storm (Taylor University Press), Blaze (IlluminateYA), Den (IlluminateYA), Dear Hero (INtense Publications), and Dear Henchman (INtense Publications). She's also contributed to books that were published by Broadstreet Publishing and New Hope.
When she isn't busy adding to her 600+ bylines, or showing up in her town square dressed as Red Riding Hood, she loves to connect with readers. Find her at hopebolinger.com or connect with her @hopebolinger.
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