The Woods at the End of the World: Sneak Peek

WoodsCover.jpg

The Woods at the End of the World will be my second full-length novel. It explores the importance of owning your identity, platonic bonds, and finding meaning. It’s also about recognizing, but pushing through, anxiety. “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” —George Addair

It’s tentatively scheduled for a June 19th release date.

In the meantime, you can read the opening right now:


The Archive: Year 17, Day 141

To the girl who dreamed herself to death,

I know you aren’t coming back. I’ve known for a while, I think. I wonder if you miss me as much as I miss you. Maybe that’s just my own dream. Maybe there’s nothing left of you but a body decaying deep in the Woods. I don’t believe in other worlds—in this life or after—the way you did. Your mind, with all of those hopes and stories and songs is just gone. That mind that—I used to believe, at least—loved me. All of that is so incredibly sad. So sad that sometimes I think I might crumble into myself until I disappear, just like you. Other times I think it’s only my heart that will shatter—that one day I’ll wake up and never be able to feel anything again. I’d like that.

Since you’ll never actually read this, I’ll be honest: I hate you. I hate you for leaving me and Mama. When you rambled on about wanting to see the world beyond the Woods, I thought you were only making up stories. When you made up stories, I thought you were only trying to escape from Haven in your own safe way. When you stared past the fence, I thought you were only daydreaming. Even when you screamed…I told you it was only nightmares.

I’m sorry. I should have stopped you. The world that mattered was the world we shared together, not one that had long since ended. You were so much of my world once.

You ended that world, too.

I hate you, I really do. I can’t believe how much we lived through only so you could throw it all away on a fantasy. I don’t know that I’ll ever forgive you. I do hope you’ll forgive me for not saving you. Or rather, I wish there was still a you to forgive me. I wish you’d let me know how much you’d needed saving. Most of all, I wish you’d saved yourself.

I’d like to think there is a chance that you made it through the Woods. That a better world really did wait for you. That you’re alive and happy. That you made your dreams come true.

But then I’m the one dreaming. And if there’s one thing you taught me, dear sister, it’s the danger in dreaming.

Goodbye, Moon.

With love and hatred too,

Sun

Note to the Archive’s eventual readers: forgive me for this display of emotion. I couldn’t tell my sister what I wanted to say, so I had to tell someone. I will return the Archive to its regular format with the next entry.

 

Prologue: Sisters

I’ve never heard my sister scream like this. I wasn’t even sure it was her at first—some poor animal, perhaps, torn apart by a predator in the Woods. But I’ve heard Moon’s voice every day of my life. I know the way her voice cracks on the high notes, the way her low notes ring like bells. I recognize the quiver in that cry—amplified by thunderous magnitudes in the stillness of Haven house tonight.

I fly through the hallway, past Mama’s locked door and the attic’s ladder and the empty closets. It all seems so different in the late night dark—too long, as if I’ll never reach her. My heart hammers as fast and loud as my footfalls. I wish she and I still shared a room—that she hadn’t moved to the old study on the far end of the second story, filled with books and dust and big windows that overlook the Woods at the end of the world. I swear I can hear the branches creaking outside even through the moans of the house and the pounding in my skull, as if Moon’s cries disturb them as much as they frighten me. Why did she—not want to stay with me?—have to pick the room the farthest away from mine?

“Moon!” I let out a cry of my own as I throw open her door.

She’s there, sitting straight and stiff in bed like she’s nailed to the headboard. Sweat captures moonlight on her blanched face. Her nails dig into the sheets tangled around her legs. Her breath comes fast but shallow. Her eyes… I shiver. Her blue eyes stare through the windows, stretched so wide they threaten to spill out of her sockets with pupils so small they threaten to disappear—to not have to see whatever it is they’re seeing.

“Moon!”

She doesn’t look at me. She doesn’t seem to hear me. She keeps on staring with those wild eyes, keeps on breathing with those strained gasps. It’s…like she’s an animal, not my sister.

A chill like winter tightens my own chest. I almost don’t want to look through the windows, but I do. Branches sway in the murk beyond the glass. I force my legs to the sill and peer down at where the Woods touch Haven. There are only the expected shadows and encroaching weeds. Nothing unusual. Nothing worth a stare like hers.

I let out a long sigh and turn back toward Moon.

“It’s her,” she says—so suddenly I nearly startle—with a voice as stiff as the rest of her. “The third girl.”

…The third girl?

“Make her go away! Make them all go away!” She covers those bloodshot blue eyes with her hands, her knees curling up to her chest like armor. “I don’t want the Visitors here anymore!”

For too long, it’s my turn to stare. “Moon, there’s nothing—”

Moon flinches back from something that isn’t there and lets loose another echoing peal, “Get away from me!”

“Stop!” I stumble to her bedside and grab her shoulders with both hands. “You’re dreaming.” She’s… She’ll wake up and be okay again. I’ve heard her say and do strange things in her sleep before. Not like this. “Wake up!”

She whimpers, gaping at the air as if she can’t quite find enough of it to keep on screaming.

“Moon!” I shake her harder than I mean to—her head hits the headboard with a too-loud thunk. “Stop! Please!” You’re scaring me.

Her eyes drift open and meet mine.

Goosebumps rise like a tide. It’s not right, that blank blue stare. That’s not the way my sister’s eyes are supposed to look. She’s looking right at me, but she doesn’t see me. She’s seeing something else. What else?

I struggle to squeeze out the breath to speak even more than I struggle to remember any of Moon’s poems. “Let it be a lie,” my voice shakes as it forms the words she wrote not so long ago. “Let the shadows be masks and not faces, made of stories and not scars—stories missing a hero.” Moon softens beneath my grip. I don’t understand why nonsense words soothe her, but they always have. “With a villain with verdant wings. Feasting on fear. Starve the beast. Find the sky. Finally breathe.”

Moon’s chest rises and falls with deeper dips, as if her own final line reminded her of her lungs. Her eyes seem to focus in on mine. Her pupils widen but only in flickers, like they can’t quite decide whether to come out from hiding. “…Sun?”

I pull my sister into an embrace and hold her tight.

Her heart plays drums against mine, and for a few moments, she’s still somewhere in between the world and dreams. She’s too cold. Trembling. Barely there. Then she falls into me, her arms wrapping around me, holding me even tighter than I’ve got her. Her nails dig through my nightgown. Her cheek nestles into my shoulder. I can already feel her tears touch my skin. She sobs.

For a while, I let her cry. The clock on her wall doesn’t work anymore—not since the last few batteries Mama had stored expired—but I’ve developed a good internal sense of time. My own clock inside me. About 80 ticks—heartbeats—per minute. There’s always some part of my mind counting, tracking the minutes as they turn into hours. The wind hums outside, indifferent to the way each moment seems to elongate. Is it my mind playing tricks—an anxious illusion? Or is it my body—an altered heart rate? I breathe slowly, trying to bring time back to normal.

Moon lets out a breath in sync with mine. I force myself to stay in her hold—her fingers show no sign of letting go of me. “It’s okay,” I tell her. “You were dreaming.”

She doesn’t answer, still letting loose those tears without shame.

A flicker of irritation that I don’t like sparks through me. Moon is different than I am, living more in her heart than in her head. There are times when I’m jealous of the way she sings as she works and the way she makes poems from the mundane. She must see the world in so much more color. There are also times when I can’t stand all those tears. Big, bulbous things, as if her body were full of leaky pipes. She makes no effort to stop them, letting all her feelings stain my nightgown as if I’m simply supposed to be here, supposed to be the responsible shoulder for her to cry on, supposed to be okay with her sending me into panic in the middle of the night, supposed to have so much patience.

“Enough of this.” I push her back so that my gaze meets hers. “You were dreaming,” I insist, and this time, my voice doesn’t leave room for doubt.

“Dreaming?” she gawks at me with those big blue eyes, still letting them spill out their tears. It’s like she’s only heard me for the first time.

“A nightmare,” I say, as if it needs clarification. Still, there is power in specificity. Now that I’ve named it a nightmare, it could be nothing else. That’s that.

“But I—” Her gaze shoots back toward the window. “The third girl. She was…”

I shiver, and hate myself for it. “Not real,” I promise. There’s no one else in Haven but Moon, Mama, and I. Never has been. Never will be. Never could be. Not when every other human is almost certainly dead. “You’ve had your tears, now how about you pull yourself together so we can both get some rest before the sun comes up?”

Moon’s gaze sinks toward her sheets. “I-I’m sorry, I…” Her throat bobs as if a knot’s still stuck inside it. “I guess… Maybe it was a dream.”

She doesn’t really mean that, but I’ll take it.

“Do you…” Her fingers let go of me, but she seems to chew on her next words. My heart sinks—I don’t have a conversation in me this late at night. “Do you ever wonder about what’s in the Woods? Beyond them, even?”

I don’t bother hiding my irritation, “No, I don’t.” We’ve discussed this before—there’s not even a world left on the other side. According to Mama’s stories, that isn’t much of a loss. The old world was hell compared to our Haven.

Her cheeks flush, “It’s…different than it used to be, Sis.” Her eyes finally find mine of their own accord, finally really see me. “I saw… There are things out there. I saw them through the windows. Even in the house! Something’s…” she searches for the words. “Different,” she repeats, surrendering.

“You’ve been having worse nightmares,” I say, “that’s all.”

Moon bites her lip, “You must be a little curious, otherwise you wouldn’t have remembered that poem.”

I blink at her, “I remembered it because my sister wrote it, not because I understand it. Surely, that’s reason enough.”

She smiles, just slightly, as if the smallest sound might scare it away.

For a while, there are only the familiar sensations of Haven. The wind outside howls away, but it seems less sinister. The room smells of the same dust that must have kept us company since we were kids. The only creaks come from Haven house’s tired bones. Even if Moon looked out the window now, her mind wouldn’t paint strange pictures anymore. Neither would mine.

“It’s just…sometimes I want to do more than wonder,” Moon admits. “I want to know.”

“We already do,” my irritation reignites like a scraped match. “We’ve got Mama and all of these books.” I gesture around the study with its bookshelf walls. “I’m sure she’d tell you even more about the End if you asked her.”

“Mama won’t help me, not really,” Moon’s smile wilts. “She didn’t even come to help me now.”

I grit my teeth. I want to yell at her—at the way she won’t believe Mama, won’t drop these curiosities of hers, won’t let us live in peace. But I can’t. She’s right. She was screaming so loud that she woke me from across the second story. Mama sleeps in a room much closer to Moon’s. How could she not have heard the sobs? Why didn’t Mama at least come to check on her?

Perhaps it’s because only I’m foolish enough to get pulled into a debate over a dream.

“The only way we’ll ever know what’s through the Woods is if we see it for ourselves,” fire flickers across Moon’s face.

I try not to grimace. Her gaze is meant to be made of clouds, not steel. If there’s anything different, it’s whatever has gotten into her lately. “Don’t talk like the Woods are our enemy.” After all, the Woods shield us from the End. They make our Haven safe. “If you keep saying things like that, I’ll have to tell Mama.” She’ll stop you from doing something stupid.

Her fire extinguishes all at once—as if it too were a dream. “Don’t mind it,” she sighs. “I just can’t help but imagine.”

I let out another sigh of my own and pull her closer for a few seconds longer. She feels more right than before. My sister, not a scared animal ready to bite. “So long as it’s only imagining.”

Moon relaxes in my grip, “I’m glad it was you who came to help me, Sis.”

I always will, I assure myself, but can’t bring myself to say.

Instead, I only hold my sister tight.

Sometimes I hate you, but I always love you.


I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek, and I’d love to know what you think! If you’d like to keep up to date on The Woods at the End of the World and my other projects, then consider joining my newsletter. Thanks for reading!

Comments

  1. NotOfficial says

    This looks really promising, I love how everything could be anything. Ok, I’ll explain it better, the world, to begin with, is mysteriusly inspiring, there seems to have had some kind of Apocalypse, but, it could be any world, maybe it’s not even a planet. the characters, only Moon is a bit “normal”, and their relationship feels so natural, and so outlandish at the same time, it’s great. In short, this work feels really imaginative, making your mind think on every possibility.

    I’m awaiting for this even more than before.

    Liked by 1 person

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