From Julie Murphy, the author of Dumplin’, comes the first in a two-book origin story of a groundbreaking superhero—Faith: Taking Flight publishes July 7th with Balzer + Bray. Read an excerpt below!
Faith Herbert is a pretty regular teen. When she’s not hanging out with her two best friends, Matt and Ches, she’s volunteering at the local animal shelter or obsessing over the long-running teen drama The Grove. So far, her senior year has been spent trying to sort out her feelings for her maybe-crush Johnny and making plans to stay close to Grandma Lou after graduation. Of course, there’s also that small matter of recently discovering she can fly….
When the fictional world of The Grove crashes into Faith’s reality as the show relocates to her town, she can’t believe it when TV heroine Dakota Ash takes a romantic interest in her. But her fandom-fueled daydreams aren’t enough to distract Faith from the fact that first animals, then people, have begun to vanish from the town. Only Faith seems able to connect the dots to a new designer drug infiltrating her high school.
But when her investigation puts the people she loves in danger, she will have to confront her hidden past and use her newfound gifts—risking everything to save her friends and beloved town.
THREE MONTHS AGO
It was supposed to be an epic summer. It would be my last summer with Matt and Ches before our senior year and we had big plans—the kinds of plans that involved a whole lot of nothing. Like racing to eat snow cones before they melted down our arms and floating in Matt’s neighborhood pool until our skin wrinkled and curling up together by night to watch every episode of Battlestar Galactica followed by a marathon of our favorite episodes of The Grove (selected by yours truly).
All of that changed the day Matt and Ches showed up at my house during our first full week of summer break and broke the news that Matt would be spending most of the summer with his grandmother in Georgia. Not only that, but Ches would be joining him.
“I won’t go if you don’t want me to,” Ches had said to me apologetically.
But I couldn’t blame her. Matt’s grandma had a soft spot for Ches, who’d never even left the state of Minnesota. I was sad and felt left out, but I couldn’t blame her. Matt felt bad too, but his grandmother’s retirement community only allowed her to host two people at once.
The first few weeks without them were fine. I’d fallen deep down the rabbit hole of Kingdom Keeper, a new multi.player online role-playing game. I’d tried but failed to get Matt and Ches into it, so that we could play from afar, but they were busy exploring Atlanta. At least they sent me selfies from their adventures at the aquarium and the Coca-Cola museum. Besides, there were plenty of other people to play with in Kingdom Keeper, and putting yourself out there is a heck of a lot easier when you’re an avatar.
One night, a private message popped up on my screen from an orc who went by Sting.
STING: Hey, you’re in the Midwest, right?
A few of us had organized into different regional groups with the hopes of doing some meet-ups. Sting knowing I was from the Midwest was the least alarming thing about him. (Trust me. You should have seen his victory dance. It involved thrusting. Lots of thrusting.)
YOUGOTTAHAVEFAITH: Yeah. The land of cheese and malls.
STING: Cool. A bunch of us are meeting up at Mall of America on Friday. You should go!
I wish I could say I took the time to consider all the reasons why meeting a stranger from the internet was a less-than-stellar idea, but I missed my best friends desperately. Besides, we were meeting at a mall. What could possibly go wrong?
YOUGOTTAHAVEFAITH: Count me in!
Grandma Lou dropped me off since she needed the car, and I headed straight to Nickelodeon Universe, where I was supposed to meet the whole group. Sting said he expected at least fifteen or twenty people. I loved Matt and Ches, but the idea that I could make my own friends separate from them excited me in a way that now riddles me with guilt. What if I’d just stayed home? But I was so lonely without them.
There was only one person waiting for me that day. Sting. A white guy with mussed brown hair and a square jaw. Jeans, a black T-shirt, and a black baseball cap. He was definitely too old to be in high school, but I could imagine him in college. Okay, well, maybe grad school.
“YouGottaHaveFaith?” he asked, a charming smile playing on his lips. “I thought it might be only me.”
“No one else came?” I asked, my stomach plummeting. I was basically one second away from starring in an episode of To Catch a Predator.
He smirked, appearing suddenly boyish. “Just me and you. I guess that’s what I get for trying to make new friends.”
I could kick myself for how gullible I was, but that little response set me at ease. “I know the feeling.” Extending my hand, I added, “You can call me Faith.”
He chuckled. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Faith. It’s Sting… from Kingdom Keeper. You can call me Peter.”
Peter and I spent the whole day together, riding roller coasters, eating pretzels, and playing with all the different gadgets in the types of stores people rush to for Father’s Day. At the end of the day, when it was nearly time for Grandma Lou to pick me up, Peter and I took one last turn at the pretzel place.
“I think you might be special, Faith,” he said. “Have you ever felt like you were special?”
I snorted. “Uh, definitely not.”
He shook his head, and I could swear he blushed a little. “No, I mean, don’t you ever wonder if your whole life is a TV show and you’re the star?”
I gulped down my orange soda, not sure how to respond, because, yes, of course, I’d had that very same thought, but how could I even admit to that? I’d sound nuts, plus this was quite possibly the cutest guy who’d ever given me the time of day. But there he was, putting himself out there. It only felt fair to do the same.
“I know exactly what you mean. Do you want to hear something really weird, though?”
He tore off a piece of the cinnamon sugar pretzel we were sharing. “Oh, yeah. Lay it on me. I’m the king of weird.”
“So my parents died when I was a kid. Both of them. In the same car accident.”
“It’s okay, it’s okay. That’s not what this is about. Well, it is. Kind of. Anyway, sometimes I wonder if them dying was part of some bigger thing. Every superhero and character I’ve ever loved had to go through some awful thing to achieve greatness. What if that was my awful thing?” I sighed, feel.ing guilty about how self-centered I knew I sounded. My parents didn’t live and die just so I could be a superhero or something ridiculous like that. “Some days,” I say, “that was the only way I could get past it all, pretending that their death was part of some bigger picture. But it wasn’t. They’re just dead. Gone. Forever. No higher—”
“Faith.” He looked straight at me, unflinching. In a matter of moments, he’d become someone or something else completely. There was nothing boyish about him anymore. “What if I told you there was a way to find out? A way to get the answer to every question you’d ever asked? Maybe your parents’ death was for a higher purpose.”
“There’s only one way to find out. I’ve been through some shit, Faith, okay? I’m not perfect.” He zoned out for a second, concentrating on his hands before shaking his head. “Hell, I don’t even know that I’m good, but sometimes the only way I can cope with it all is to know that everything I’ve done and everything that’s happened to me has brought me to this point.” He shook his head, and for the first time I felt like maybe I was getting a glimpse of the real Peter and not the guy who was trying to be on his best behavior or feeding me some line I’d want to hear.
After a moment, Peter looked me right in the eye. “I know I haven’t given you a lot of reasons to trust me. As far as you know, I’m just some rando from the internet, but Faith, I need you to know that I’ve felt lost like you do and sometimes I still feel lost. What I’m offering isn’t a magic pill. But I think there’s something special about you, and I think you might have the kind of potential you can’t even begin to imagine.”
I felt like he was dancing around the real question here. “I don’t quite understand what exactly it is you’re saying.”
He must have seen the skepticism on my face, because he added, “Your parents were great people, Faith. I believe that every moment in our lives serves a purpose, and maybe everything in your life has led you here to this moment. I don’t know for sure, but I bet Jack and Caroline would agree.”
“How do you—”
“We know everything about you, Faith. We’ve chosen you for a reason,” he said with absolute certainty.
Part of me was unnerved by him knowing my parents’ names, and the other part of me just wanted to know how. “Just say it. Just tell me what exactly it is you’re talking about.”
He scooted to the edge of his chair, so that his voice could be the quietest whisper in the midst of the chaotic food court. “Superhuman abilities, Faith.”
Everything around me silenced until there was nothing left in the entire mall except for me and Peter.
I felt like a bird that had just flown straight into a glass window. “Wait. Are you telling me superheroes are… real?”
Peter grimaced. “I wouldn’t exactly call us superheroes. I don’t think you could really use the word ‘heroic’ to describe the people I work for,” he scoffed.
“Wait. Go back. You’re saying superheroes are real and you think I might be one?”
He glanced from side to side and then finally shrugged. “Well, sort of. Yeah, I guess that’s what I’m saying.”
“Sign me the heck up.” I didn’t know if I could trust him or if I even should, but I knew one thing: I’d do anything for answers. The logical part of my brain told me this guy was a creep and that I should run, but I couldn’t help but think back to every movie, television show, and comic book I’d ever loved. Peter could lead me to my Giles or Professor X or Gandalf or Nick Fury or Dumbledore.
“There’s no guarantee, Faith, and there are possible side effects. You’d also have to find a way to leave home for the rest of the summer, but we’ve got a solid cover for you. We do think you have the potential to be someone very special. We think you could be a psiot.”
“A psiot?” I asked. “What even is that?”
“Psiots are people gifted with superhuman abilities. We think your abilities are dormant inside of you. Potential waiting to be unlocked, and my organization has the keys.”
“Just freaking say superheroes!” Despite his aversion to the superhero label, the flashing neon sign in my head read SUPERHERO. You, Faith Herbert, could be a superhero. Grandma Lou says I believe in too many things, but I can’t help but think life is a little more fun that way. And if superheroes were real, then maybe my whole life had prepared me for this moment. Maybe the massive collection of comics my parents left behind was more than a reminder of what was. Maybe those comics—some of my most prized possessions—were meant to be the ultimate guidebook.
Peter sent me home with everything I would need. Permission slips, camp brochures, and emergency contact information for Grandma Lou. I’d only be gone for a few weeks, and he swore I’d be perfectly safe. He’d gone through the same program, he said. And look at him! He was fine! Normal even!
“So this is basically like superhero camp?” I asked.
“Sort of. Fewer canoes. Definitely no campfire songs.” He dropped a hand on my shoulder. “See you on Monday, kid.”
The next Monday, Grandma Lou dropped me off in the school parking lot, where a bus waited for me along with Peter, dark bags under his eyes and much less boyish than I remembered, in a Camp Pleasant Oaks Staff T-shirt. Grandma Lou stuffed some cash into my pockets and gave me a tight hug before sending me on my way.
“You’re sure about this?” Peter asked quietly as I boarded the bus, his easy confidence from just days ago beginning to waver.
I nodded with absolute certainty.
As I sat on the bus, with a handful of other kids my age who I didn’t recognize, eager nerves ate away at me. The small Asian girl who sat beside me, freckles spread across the bridge of her nose, leaned in and whispered, “Can you believe how lucky we are? I always knew there was something different about me. My name’s Lucia, by the way.”
I smiled, too nervous to remember my own name, let alone introduce myself.
After hours on the bus, we drove into the heart of Chicago. I’d never been to Chicago, and if my nerves weren’t eating me up, I’d have taken in the sights a little bit more. As the sun set across the glistening skyline, the bus turned down into a parking garage and into a giant freight elevator that took us deep underground, and my stomach immediately sank as dread slowly crept over me. This wasn’t the camp of burgeoning superheroes I’d expected.
As we plummeted down, a few kids around me screamed, and beside me Lucia began to cry. Whatever we’d each been sold, this wasn’t it.
When the elevator finally stopped and the door to the bus opened, a tall blond white guy who looked like an evil Ken doll on steroids trotted up the steps. “Everybody off the bus,” he barked. “Line up in a single file. Welcome to the Harbinger Foundation.”
Peter sneered at the man. “Better keep a lid on all that charisma. The new recruits might actually start to like you, Edward.”
Outside the bus, Peter leaned against a headlight, while the evil Ken doll, Edward, paced back and forth. “You’re here thanks to the goodwill of Toyo Harada. Follow me to your rooms, where you’ll find your uniforms. Please leave your personal belongings here, to be collected and tagged,” said Edward.
I had hope that this could still be a good thing. Maybe these people were just really serious about what they were doing. And shouldn’t they be?
Edward led us down a long cement corridor through a door that required his thumbprint to open and into a hallway of rooms made entirely of glass, leaving very little privacy, with Peter on our heels. One by one we were assigned rooms with a bed, sink, and toilet behind a small partition.
“Faith Herbert?” Edward called. “Until further notice, you will be referred to as the number embroidered on your uniform.”
I walked into my room and the glass door slid shut behind me. I pressed my palms against the glass, trying to push it back, but I was locked in.
As Peter walked past me, he kept his gaze focused on the ground.
“Peter,” I said, but he didn’t look up. “Peter, I need to talk to you.” I knocked on the glass, trying to get his attention, but he was gone and the group was on to the next room. I told myself that the rooms were soundproof and he probably didn’t hear me, but I had a feeling that wasn’t true.
Waiting for me on my bed was a pair of white pants and a white shirt with a 6-973 stitched to the front. I wasn’t Faith Herbert. I was 6-973. I created a million different reasons for why anyone would treat us all like this, but every show, movie, and comic I’d ever read told me everything I needed to know. I’d been assigned a number. I’d been labeled. I was an experiment.
Excerpted from Faith: Taking Flight, copyright © 2020 Valiant Entertainment, LLC