The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) - Sayantani DasGupta Page 0,1

not your real parents. Tell them you’re the daughter of an underworld serpent king and we found you when you were a baby floating in a clay pot down the River of Dreams.”

I guess every kid whose family is from somewhere else thinks their parents are weird. But with mine, it wasn’t just their language or their clothes or their food. It was something more—like my parents never really appreciated the distinctions between fact and fiction, science and mythology, dreams and reality. But it wasn’t until that fateful twelfth birthday that I really understood why.

The day began just like any other October morning in Parsippany, New Jersey. No ominous portents of doom, no noticeable rifts in the time-space continuum, not even a multicar, tractor-trailer pileup on the Jersey Turnpike. Just an autumn sky ribboned with tangerine clouds that tumbled in and over one another, like a bunch of orange-flavored cotton candy. But if you were looking carefully (which I wasn’t) and had watched enough sci-fi television to know (which I probably had), you might have seen a tornado-shaped shadow hidden in all those clouds, something that looked like an intergalactic wormhole.

But like any Dorothy at the beginning of her adventure, I was pretty clueless back then. I had no idea that soon I wouldn’t be in Kansas anymore (okay, New Jersey, but you get where I’m going with the metaphor).

The morning of my twelfth birthday, I totally slept through my alarm. It was Zuzu’s phone call that woke me up.

“Feliz cumpleaños! Joyeux anniversaire! Most felicitous of birthdays, Princess Kiran!” The voice shouting over the house phone was way too chipper for that early in the morning. Not to mention the extra chipperness of her shouting in multiple languages.

I made a little gagging sound. Zuzu knew perfectly well that I was allergic to anything remotely princess-y. It was probably because of my parents’ obsession, but I couldn’t stand princesses of any culture. Whether in saris and bangles or tutus and tiaras, the thing that really got to me about princesses was all that self-righteous, Pepto-Bismol-pink-coated prettiness. And of course all that waiting: waiting for princes to come, waiting for fate to change, waiting for rescue to swoop in. Just thinking about it made my throat feel like it was closing up.

“It’s my birthday, and you’re going to make me choke on my own bile.” I squinted my eyes against the morning sun, wishing for the quadrillionth time that my mother would let me have curtains on my windows. But she’d somehow gotten it into her head that it was healthier for young people to sleep in the moonlight.

“Oh, I think you’ll survive that, Princess Pretty Pants.” I imagined Zuzu pushing her hipster-red glasses up her pert nose. “But Ms. Valdez might impale you with her protractor if you miss the math test today.”

Gah. I finally registered the time. “Oh, man, I’m totally late!”

“Ahde! Schnell! You better hurry, babe!” Zuzu chirped. “But don’t you fret, this is going to be the wildest birthday ever!”

I had no idea then just how right she would be.

Forget a special birthday outfit; I threw on my favorite pair of jeans and a black T-shirt, and quickly braided my dark hair so that it covered the weird scar I had on the back of my neck—one of the two that my parents swore were nothing more than big birthmarks. I tied a bandanna over the even uglier scar, the one on my upper arm that looks like a pair of saggy glasses, and then, for double protection, threw on my favorite black hoodie. I ran down the stairs, ignoring the odd expressions on my parents’ faces, their strained birthday greetings, even the elaborate breakfast of puffed luchi bread and potatoes Ma had made for me.

“Kiranmala—” Baba began, but I cut him off.

“You know …” I snuck a few chocolate cookies from the pantry into my pocket. “I was thinking, tonight, for trick-or-treating, I might go as a vampire.”

“There is not enough fiber in that, darling.” Baba’s sharp eyes hadn’t missed my contraband breakfast. “Roughage is very necessary for good digestion.”

Ignoring Baba’s worries about my digestive system, I shoved a cookie in my mouth, then slipped on my favorite shoes—bright purple combat boots Zuzu and I had found at the thrift store. I threw my backpack on my shoulder and hoped Ma wouldn’t yell at me too much about not eating the food she’d made.

“You don’t have to buy me a vampire outfit, maybe just some fake plastic