Authors: Heather Beck
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other means without the permission of the Publisher is illegal.
This book is a work of fiction.
Names, places, events and characters are fictitious in every regard. Any
similarities to actual events or persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014
Cover Photos: Girl,
Kumari; Wolf, Quapaw; Forest, Alfred Borchard
All rights reserved. Except for
review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part constitutes a
Table of Contents
Snow fell gently upon
the still woods, leaving everything white and sparkling. The ground, which now
resembled a silky smooth frosting, was immaculate in appearance, as if no human
dared to tread there. Even the trees were magnificent. Row after row, the
cedars reached high into the sky, their identical formation creating the illusion
of a never-ending horizon. These trees were like an impassable gate, forever
concealing the secrets which lay within the woods.
The scenery was
undeniably beautiful, but all seventeen-year-old Anastasia Lockhart could think
only bad girls get sent away
At exactly 12:45 p.m.
on that very day, Anastasia had boarded the northbound train from Toronto,
Ontario to the small town of Cedar Falls. She was going to stay with her
grandparents, even though she hadn’t seen them in four years. Several hours had
now passed, and Anastasia was still on the train, watching as the serene
setting of Cedar Falls Woods had finally come into view. It was the first time
she’d traveled such a distance by herself, and it was certainly not by choice.
Anastasia’s mother, Ms.
Kendall Lockhart, had sent her to Cedar Falls for two reasons. First, she said
it was for her own good. Anastasia was becoming too wild and unpredictable –
tell-tale signs that great trouble would soon befall her unless drastic and
immediate action was taken. Second, she claimed that she was at her wits end.
As a young, single mother with a full-time job, dealing with Anastasia’s unruly
behavior on top of it all was too much for her to handle.
Believing that the
latter reason was the real cause for her departure pained Anastasia in a way
she could never express out loud. It had always been just her and her mother,
so if she didn’t want Anastasia, surely no one else ever would. Instead of
expressing her fears, she began to loathe her mother. The tension heightened as
she began to prepare for her indefinite trip to Cedar Falls. This resulted in
daily yelling matches set off by the simplest of disagreements and ended with
the worst fight they’d ever had, right before Anastasia left for the train
As ironic as it seemed,
Anastasia was once the epitome of a good girl. She’d been studious and somewhat
shy, and although she had a couple of friends, she preferred to spend her
weekends at the library, reading everything from classic novels to serious
non-fiction titles. The library was also a place where she could be alone. She
liked it that way, or maybe she was just used to it. Either way, the silence
comforted her, and it allowed time for her two favorite activities – thinking
and studying people from afar. This was time well-spent since she could now
read someone’s true character almost instantly upon meeting them. Certain
traits and mannerisms spoke volumes about a person, and she’d learned to
recognize these signs.
intellectual demeanor made her favorable in the eyes of her teachers. This was
fine in elementary school, but when she entered junior high and it became
uncool to be the teacher’s pet, she found herself being constantly teased and
even abandoned by the girls she used to consider her friends. In a school where
being accepted meant everything, unpopularity was a disease easily caught by
association, and she was most definitely the carrier.
Sad and alone, it was
almost inevitable that Anastasia would gravitate toward other outcasts – the
type of teens who skipped school to drink and smoke at the local park. She
could read these classmates like an open book, but she didn’t care since bad
friends were better than no friends at all. It was at that time, upon turning
thirteen, when everything went downhill fast. She began getting into trouble
for reasons she previously couldn’t have fathomed: unfinished homework, poor
attendance and talking back to teachers. She was trapped in a vicious cycle,
and regardless of her attempts to re-emerge as a good student, she’d already
been labeled as bad.
followed Anastasia to high school, where she began to get into trouble more
frequently. However, it wasn’t until one month ago, on a cold January night,
that she hit rock bottom. She’d been drinking at a house party with her
boyfriend, Derek, and when he got into a fight with another guy, they were
kicked out and left to walk aimlessly and unsteadily down the street.
Eventually, they were approached by a police officer and arrested for underage
drinking and public intoxication. After the most frightening and shameful few
hours of her life, they were released with only a fine and a very strict
warning. At least Anastasia had the common sense to dump Derek, but tragically,
she’d already fallen victim to a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. She was now
truly a bad girl.
The mere thought of her
disgraceful past made Anastasia cringe. Although she was hurt and angry because
of her mother’s decision to send her away, she was also secretly grateful. She
knew that her life was going in the wrong direction. Perhaps spending some time
away from Toronto would be a positive change. After all, her reputation
couldn’t possibly follow her to Cedar Falls.
The train began to slow
down as they neared their destination, causing Anastasia’s heart to beat faster
in anticipation. A large and somewhat worn sign welcoming visitors to downtown
Cedar Falls came into view, and then a few moments later, the train finally
stopped. Passengers began filing out, and Anastasia was soon forced to follow
them. Taking a deep breath, she emerged from the train and looked around at the
town she had once known and loved.
Cedar Falls remained
unchanged, as if time had never passed. As always, the old downtown core
featured vintage stores, a fire hall, library, and a large municipal building.
However, it was the train station, which was built in 1905, that was the main
attraction. The stores and their owners hadn’t changed either. Dale’s Diner,
which doubled as his apartment, stood tall and proud. After four years, the
blackboard sitting outside the diner still advertised his lunch special for
only five dollars. There were also clothing boutiques, other eateries, and a
couple of small grocery and convenience stores. Everything was familiar with
the exception of a medium-sized store which used to be Hazel’s Books and Gifts.
It was now Stone’s Hardware, and with several people coming in and out, it
appeared to be doing a great business.
Returning her attention
to the train, Anastasia waited patiently to retrieve her luggage. A few minutes
later, and with her bag in tow, she searched the area for her grandfather.
Unfortunately, she had no luck finding him. Looking at her watch, she realized
that he should have met her half an hour ago. Her mother had made the
arrangements, so where was he?
Anastasia shivered as
the late afternoon sun began to descend behind the tall cedars that lined the
whole town. Everything was darkening fast, and she didn’t want to spend any
more time at the train station. The train had made its last stop in Cedar Falls
for the day, and without people hurrying by or even the ticket collector in his
booth, the station was kind of spooky.
Confused and a little
hurt, Anastasia reached into her coat pocket for her cell phone. She’d just
begun dialing her grandparent’s number when someone called out to her.
“Anastasia, is that
Anastasia spun around
to see her grandfather, Mr. Fredrick Lockhart, standing outside his car, which
was making a slight clunking noise as it idled. Any negative emotion she’d felt
mere moments ago melted away as she looked at his bright blue eyes, rosy cheeks
and wide, toothy smile. He was a tall, burly man who looked much younger than
his actual age.
cried. Despite her age, she ran toward him and hugged him tightly. “It’s so
great to see you!” For a few precious seconds, as they stayed in that embrace,
nothing had changed. She was still his little angel who could do no wrong.
Anastasia felt something that she hadn’t experienced for several years now; she
“I’m glad you’re here,
too,” Mr. Lockhart said. “It’s been a long time.”
“Too long,” Anastasia
agreed. “I can’t wait to see Grandma.”
Anastasia hurried to
her luggage, which had been forgotten in the moment of excitement. When she
turned around, her grandfather was looking at her in a strange manner. He
appeared to be studying her, and he even wore a startled expression.
“Is everything okay,
Grandpa?” Anastasia asked with a racing heart, fearing that he may be falling
“Of course,” he said,
quickly regaining his composure. “I haven’t seen you in so long, and you’ve
really grown up.”
“I hear that’s how it
works,” Anastasia quipped, trying to lighten the mood despite the seriousness
of the matter.
Throughout the chaos
which was her life for the past four years, she’d always felt guilty about not
seeing her grandparents. It wasn’t exactly her fault, though. Her grandfather
used to pick her up and take her to Cedar Falls for the summer. However, after
Anastasia turned thirteen, her mother wouldn’t risk letting her out of her
sight for such a long period of time. Subsequently, neither of them saw
Anastasia’s grandparents because of her mother’s refusal to return to Cedar
Falls after leaving when she was only sixteen. At first, her grandparents had
offered to visit them in Toronto, but Anastasia’s mother always had an excuse:
she was too busy, she couldn’t take time off work and the house was too small
for company. For a while, the phone was Anastasia’s only connection to her
grandparents, but they soon lost regular contact, calling only at birthdays and
“You look so much like
your mother,” Mr. Lockhart said suddenly, almost as if he hadn’t meant to say
it at all.
Anastasia’s face fell.
Coming from him, that observation wasn’t a compliment. She quickly realized
that she was standing under a safety light, which had probably been switched on
seconds ago. She was exposed, and her grandfather was now looking at her like
everyone else usually did. Her heart broke more than just a little.
There was an awkward
silence as Mr. Lockhart put Anastasia’s luggage in the trunk and then entered
the car. Letting herself in, she sank into the passenger seat, almost wishing
that she could disappear. Never before had she felt this uncomfortable being in
“I was starting to
wonder where you were,” Anastasia began to say, desperate to make any sort of
“I’m sorry for keeping
you waiting,” Mr. Lockhart said at the exact same moment.
They both laughed,
causing the tension to ease slightly.
“My meeting at work ran
later than expected,” he finally continued.
“How’s everything at
the store?” Anastasia asked, truly interested.
Mr. Lockhart was the
manager of Rural Mart, the only department store in Cedar Falls. Anastasia used
to love visiting him at work and was so proud of the fact that he was respected
and well-liked by his employees that she would go from department to
department, telling everyone that he was
grandfather. Even outside
of work, he’d always been held in high esteem.
“Not so good, I’m
afraid,” he answered with a deep frown. “Sales are down after a competitor
opened up shop nine months ago. I think I’ll even have to lay off a few
“Who could possibly
rival Rural Mart in this area?”
“Stone’s Hardware,” Mr.
Lockhart spat out, almost as if he had a bitter taste in his mouth. “Herb’s
been undercutting Rural Mart by selling the same merchandise below market
value. It’s absurd, especially for a small store like his. He’s probably
stocking it with hot goods, though. After all, he did come to Cedar Falls
straight out of jail. Once a thief, always a thief, is what I say.”
Anastasia raised her
eyebrows. She’d never heard her grandfather talk so harshly about anyone,
making her realize that the situation at Rural Mart must be very bad. “Your job
is secure, right?” she asked carefully.
“As long as I do
something about it.”
“I mean, one hardware
store can hardly compete with all of Rural Mart’s departments,” Anastasia
continued calmly, sensing that her grandfather was becoming greatly agitated.
“People move to Cedar
Falls to build on cheap land. The hardware department has always been our
biggest source of revenue.” Mr. Lockhart suddenly brought his car to a stop
outside Rural Mart. “Speak of the devil,” he muttered angrily.
grandfather’s gaze, Anastasia saw a man emerging from Rural Mart with a stack
of papers in his hands. He proceeded to stand under a lamppost, where he began
attaching what appeared to be a flyer.
Anastasia recalled hearing
about the infamous Mr. Herb Stone when she was young. However, her knowledge of
him was very limited. Gossip made him out to be a hermit who lived deep in the
woods. She’d only seen him a few times in town, and whenever she did, her
grandparents would swiftly take her in the opposite direction. She’d thought
this was odd, but as a young girl, she had much more exciting things to occupy
her time. Looking at Mr. Stone now, she realized that he still had the same
blonde hair and pale complexion that she so vaguely remembered.