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Fables Other Lies by Claire Contreras


Overview: Do you believe in curses?
I never did.
Not until that fated night, six years ago, when I sat in The Devil’s Chair and made a wish.
Not until it came true.
Not until I met River Caliban himself, heir to a fortune of curses. My fated sworn enemy.
I knew I should have stayed away from him. I should have run the other way when he called out my name, when he flashed that sinful smile of his, but instead, I walked toward him, leaving the light behind. Instead, I go against all reason, against all warning, and attended the gala of the year at his dark, allegedly haunted home at the top of the hill.
The moment I step foot inside I know I’m in trouble, but there’s something about River that magnetizes me, reels me in, and when he asks for the impossible, I find it impossible to turn him away.


Fables Other Lies by Claire Contreras Book Chapter One


I closed my eyes as I leaned against the dirty window of the bus. We’d been riding for an hour and only had about fifteen minutes left to go, as long as Doña Mercedes didn’t raise her hand and decide she needed to stop at the rest stop.


“So, is this your first time in Pan Island?”

I kept my eyes closed even though I knew feigning sleep would be futile. I’d only met Martín one hour ago, when we boarded the bus. I guess he figured since we were about the same age, he’d sit beside me, instead of risking sitting beside a grandmother who would chat his ear off. He salvaged his own ear in spite of mine and by the way he kept staring at my breasts every time the street went from paved to gravel and bumps, I knew he had other things in mind as well. He could stare all he wanted. It wasn’t going to happen. A part of him must have known. He’d gotten less and less talkative as the journey went by and my eyes wouldn’t quit shutting from exhaustion, which he may as well have taken as disinterest. We were almost at our final destination now and he’d only said those nine words in at least ten silent minutes. At least he smelled good.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me.” His voice was resigned, and even though I’d been hoping he’d shut up, a part of me felt bad. I knew what it felt like to speak and not be heard.

“How many times have you been to Pan Island?” I opened my eyes and looked at him.

“About five. Mostly for haunts and excavations.” He nodded at my camera. “Is that why you’re visiting again?”

“No.” I gripped the camera a little tighter as the guilt gnawed at me.

In the last six years, Pan Island had received over 12 million tourists. Pan was tiny and cloaked in mystery, or at least it was before the tourists decided to make it their stomping grounds, and I was partially to blame for it, with my photographs and social media engagement. The bus stopped moving with a loud squeak. Even the tires were tired of carrying unwanted people through these unpaved roads.

“The ferry leaves in ten minutes,” the driver called out. “I tried to make it as fast as we could, but the stops . . . ” He shook his head, shooting a salty look at Doña Mercedes, who scoffed and proceeded to set him in his place.

We got off the bus and collected our belongings, walking over to the ferry and showing the attendant our pre-purchased tickets.

“So, what brings you all the way out here?” Martín walked faster to catch up to me.

“I’m from Pan.”

“You’re kidding.” He eyed me closer, looking at me up and down. “You don’t look like you’re from Pan.”

“If I had a dollar for every time I heard that.” I rolled my eyes. “What exactly does a person from Pan look like? What does a person from anywhere look like nowadays for that matter?”

“You’re right.” Martín nodded slowly. “It’s just, I’ve never met anyone who’s actually from there. I mean, aside from the business patrons, and they’re not exactly the most welcoming unless they want to rip you off.”

“Well, I don’t think they approve of people excavating.” I shot him a look. “If there was gold in our caves, we would have found it by now.”

“The Guzmans maybe.” Martín scoffed. “They’re the only ones with access to those caves.”

I swallowed hard and kept my eyes on the ferry as we walked on, and then on the ground to make sure I didn’t slip. My Gucci loafers were a cute token of my work ethic, but they were not boat-deck approved.

“The old man Guzman died,” Martín said after a moment. “Is that what you’re here for? It’s crazy that his funeral will take place at the same time as Carnival.”

“It is crazy.” I sighed heavily. “But people die all the time. Especially on Pan Island.”

“Yeah.” Martín’s amusement suddenly dulled. “A few friends of mine died in that boating accident two years ago.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“They were fishing off the coast of Dolos. I told them it was a bad idea, but they did it anyway.” He glanced away.

I followed his gaze to the beautiful Dominican sand and swaying palm trees we were leaving behind. How many people had sailed away from that island to hop over to mine only to never return? Too many, and the amount who had sailed away from mine to hop to Dolos Island and came back was far greater. People didn’t make it out of Dolos. Not unless they were invited and one could only get invited this week. The week of Carnival.

“Have you ever been?” Martín glanced over at me.

I shook my head. It wasn’t a complete lie.

“So, you’ve never met a Caliban face-to-face?”

“I can’t say that I have.” I let out a laugh. “You talk about them like they’re some mythical creatures and not just another rich family.”

“No. The Guzmans are just another rich family.” He shot me a pointed look that made me glance away briefly. “The Calibans are the stuff of legend.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Only because of the Guzmans.”

“You mean because of the curse the Guzmans set on them.” He raised an eyebrow right back.

“I don’t believe in curses.” I rolled my eyes. “My point is, they’re just people.”

“People you’ve never met.”

“People I have no intention of meeting, ever.”

“Damn. You’re a Guzman, aren’t you?” His brown eyes searched mine for a moment. “Hey, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’m not.” I swallowed and looked away, back at the palms that were now nearly out of sight.

I used to take pride in my family and our name. We’d fought for freedom against slavery and became free people, we’d taken part in women’s suffrage and built our own town, and yet, the Guzman name had been reduced to one thing: the war between our family and the Calibans and the supposed curse that plagued their island and the water between ours.

“I’m sorry,” Martín said, “I know Maximo Guzman was a very important member of your family.”

“Thanks.” I blinked the tears swelling in my eyes and composed myself before looking at him again. “So, where in DR are you from?”

“How do you know I’m from DR?” He raised an eyebrow. I shot him a look that made him laugh. “The capital. Born and raised. I did study in Connecticut for high school and college though.”

“Why’d you move back?”

“Home is home.” He shrugged a shoulder, smiling. “Besides, I’m hoping to make a name for myself in journalism. Everyone says newspapers are dead, but I want to bring them back and show people that they’re not.”

“How in the world are you going to do that?”

“I don’t quite know yet.” He chuckled. “It’s another reason I love coming to Pan Island.” He said it as the ferry began to dock, perfect timing. We held on to the bars in front of us as the boat swayed slightly. “Pan Island seems to be stuck in another era, wouldn’t you say?”

“That’s a fair assessment.” I nodded. I left six years ago and hadn’t returned, but I’d kept in touch with my best friends and they were always complaining about the lack of change. “So, that’s what brought you here? To study the way of ancient times? I can’t imagine someone dressed like you appreciates mosquiteros and outhouses.”

“I don’t.” He laughed. “But Carnival is this week. I figured I’d enjoy it while I’m here. Besides, I was invited to the Caliban Gala.”

“Oh.” My brows rose. “You’re brave. You lost friends just off the coast of that island and you’re still willing to visit?”

“You know the tides dry up this week between the islands. I’ll be fine.” He smiled. “So, have you visited since you left?”

“Nope.” I gave a half-hearted smile. “I don’t do haunts.”

It was a total lie. My job was haunts. Or rather, taking photographs of places people believed were haunted. I was proud of what I had been able to accomplish with a camera in my hand, even if it was also what tore my family apart. When I was seventeen, my father gave me a spanking new Canon for my birthday. It was the most impressive gift he’d ever given me. More so than the Cartier watch he’d given me the previous year or the pale blue Vespa he’d purchased for me just a month shy of my birthday, a token of celebration for my early high school graduation. Little did either of us know how much trouble that Canon would bring. I’d taken photographs of our island, of the fog that never seemed to lift, even on the beaches that were visited by tourists from all over the world, not because of the sunny blue skies and palm trees, but rather their lack thereof. The photograph that really brought me success was the one I didn’t remember taking at all. It was a picture of Caliban Manor, a black estate, perched high on a hill, so secluded and covered in fog that no one had ever taken a clear picture of it until I did.

That picture had been the stepping stone to my successful career taking pictures of abandoned places and old houses, but it had also caused an irreparable rift between my family and me. It had gotten me kicked out of my house at seventeen and left me to fend for myself. Thankfully, I had great friends who had good families, and landed on my feet. It didn’t change the fact that I lost my father that night, lost my mother by association, and had a strained relationship with my grandmother, the person who had been closest to me.

Through the years, I’d been asked countless questions about that photograph and still couldn’t quite come up with a clear answer for them. To have taken the picture, I would have had to be standing directly in front of the Manor. The only way to get to the Manor was to go to Dolos Island. There were all kinds of myths surrounding just that alone. The tide was high most of the time and the turbulent waters between the two islands meant a likely death. Historians had long deemed it unsafe. Conspiracy theorists labeled it the second Bermuda Triangle. Those of us from Pan Island saw it for what it was though. The Caliban Manor was cursed and anyone who went near it suffered greatly for it. So, the question really should have been, how did a Guzman heiress stand in front of Caliban Manor and take a picture and live to tell about it?

I wasn’t sure. The only thing I knew was that the Caliban Manor had been the very first picture I posted on my website, The Haunt, and now there were Reddit message boards dedicated to deciphering everything I posted. As a side hustle to my side hustle, I took pictures for a real estate company called Old Houses Inc., which was exactly that. A real estate company dedicated to only finding and selling old houses.

“So, will you be partaking in Carnival festivities since you’re here? Or go to the gala?” Martín asked, pulling me from my thoughts.


“And definitely not going to the gala then?”

“Definitely not.” I felt myself smile. He obviously didn’t understand the feud between the families. Maybe he thought it was a legend, like the curse itself.

“That’s too bad. It’s the only time we can walk to and from the house,” he said, as if that was a huge selling point.

“I know. I just don’t know why anyone would risk being stuck there.” I raised an eyebrow at him. “You know what they say about that house.”

“I know, but aren’t you curious? Don’t you want to see what it’s like?”

“No.” It was a lie. I would give up my shiny white EF 800mm lens to walk those halls and see how it really was inside.

“You look like you would.” He eyed my attire. “Dressed in all black like that.”

We both reared forward, then back as the boat was parked and anchored. Martín was still waiting for my response. There were a million things I could say—I always wear all black, like Johnny Cash, like Batman—but I chose to go with the truth, one I hadn’t spoken aloud to anyone at all, so why not say it to a complete stranger?

“I’m here for a funeral. Or do you suppose I should wear a celebratory color to honor my own father’s death?”

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