Main Winterwood


From New York Times bestselling author of The Wicked Deep comes a haunting romance perfect for fans of Practical Magic , where dark fairy tales and enchanted folklore collide after a boy, believed to be missing, emerges from the magical woods—and falls in love with the witch determined to unravel his secrets.**

Be careful of the dark, dark wood…

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why. **

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Praise for Winterwood “A spellbinding tale of witchery, deadly secrets, and woods that hold grudges. Winterwood is immersive, atmospheric, and bewitching. I could feel the cold in my toes and the Walker magic swirling around me as I read.”


“Winterwood casts a deliciously dark spell with a rich lineage of witches, secretive boys, and a sinister forest that will pull in any reader and never let them go.”


“The beauty and mystery of the natural world infuse every moment in this lush, spellbinding story that weaves romance with witchcraft—a seductive, lyrical tale of lost boys, old legends and haunted woods.”


“Mystery unwinds at an accelerating pace for the undersupervised teens, and the malicious, haunting Wicker Woods are lovingly characterized and as compelling as the formidable heroine.… A delectably immersive, eerie experience.”


Praise for The Wicked Deep A New York Times Bestseller Spring 18 Indie Next Pick “The Wicked Deep is more than just a scary story, it is a tale with substance and depth, one of magic and curses, betrayal and revenge, but most importantly, it is a story about the redemptive power of love to make even the worst wrongs, right.”


“The Wicked Deep has both teeth and heart. It’s a mystery and a ghost story and a love story, all woven together with evocative prose and unforgettable settings. This is the perfect book to curl up with on a rainy night, when the swirling mists and dancing shadows make the ghosts and magic leap off the pages. Prepare to be bewitched.”


“The Wicked Deep is eerie and enchanting. I was thoroughly under the spell of the Swan Sisters, and utterly captivated by Shea Ernshaw’s gorgeous, haunting debut.”


“A magical, haunted tale of the sea, spells, and secrets. The Wicked Deep will lure you in, ensnaring you in the twisted enchantment of true love and sacrifice. Beware!”


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To all those with wild hearts

I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes.

—C. S. Lewis


A boy went missing the night of the storm.

The night snow sailed down from the mountains and howled against the eaves of the old house as if through gritted teeth—cruel and baleful and full of bad omens not to be ignored.

The electricity flickered like Morse code. The temperature dropped so fast that trees cracked down their centers, sweet-smelling sap oozing to the surface like honey, before it too crystalized and froze. Snow spiraled down the chimney and gathered on the roof, until it was so deep it buried the mailbox at the end of the driveway, until I could no longer see Jackjaw Lake beyond my bedroom window.

Winter arrived in a single night.

By morning, Barrel Creek Road—the only road down the mountain—was snowed in. Blocked by an impassable wall of white.

The few of us who lived this deep in the woods, and those who were housed at the Jackjaw Camp for Wayward Boys on the far side of the lake, were trapped. Stuck in the rugged heart of the wilderness.

We just didn’t know for how long.

Or that we wouldn’t all make it out alive.


Never waste a full moon, Nora, even in winter, my grandmother used to say.

We’d wander up the Black River under a midnight sky, following the constellations above us like a map I could trace with my fingertips—imprints of stardust on my skin. She would hum a melody from deep within her belly, gliding sure-footed across the frozen river to the other side.

Can you hear it? she’d ask. The moon is whispering your secrets. It knows your darkest thoughts. My grandmother was like that—strange and beautiful, with stories resting just behind her eyelids. Stories about moonlight and riddles and catastrophes. Dreadful tales. But bright, cheery ones too. Walking beside her, I mirrored each step she took into the wilderness, in awe of how swiftly she avoided stinging nettles and poison buckthorns. How her hands traced the bark of every tree we passed, knowing its age just by touch. She was a wonder—her chin always tilted to the sky, craving the anemic glow of moonlight against her olive skin, a storm always brewing along her edges.

But tonight, I walk without her, chasing that same moon up the same dark, frozen river—hunting for lost things inside the cold, mournful forest.

Tree limbs sag and drip overhead. An owl hoots from a nearby spruce. And Fin and I slog deeper into the mountains, his wolf tail slashing above him, nose to the air, tracking some unknown scent to the far side of the riverbank.

Two weeks have passed since the storm blew over Jackjaw Lake. Two weeks since the snow fell and blocked the only road out of the mountains. Two weeks since the electricity popped and died.

And two weeks since a boy from the camp across the lake went missing.

A boy whose name I don’t even know.

A boy who ran away or got lost or simply vanished like the low morning fog that rises up from the lake during autumn rainstorms. Who crept from his bunk inside one of the camp cabins and never returned. A victim of the winter cold. Of madness or desperation. Of these mountains that have a way of getting inside your head—playing tricks on those who dare to walk among the pines long after the sun has set.

These woods are wild and rugged and unkind.

They cannot be trusted.

Yet, this is where I walk: deep into the mountains. Where no others dare to go.

Because I am more darkness than girl. More winter shadows than August sunlight. We are the daughters of the wood, my grandmother would whisper.

So I push farther up the shore of the Black River, following the map made by the stars, just like she taught me. Just like all Walkers before me.

Until I reach the place.

The place where the line of trees breaks open to my right, where two steep ridges come together to form a narrow passage into a strange, dark forest to the east—a forest that is much older than the pines along the Black River. Trees that are bound in and closed off and separate from the rest.

The Wicker Woods.

A mound of rocks stands guard ahead of me: flat stones pulled up from the riverbed and stacked four feet high beside the entrance to the wood. It’s a warning. A sign to turn back. Only the foolish enter here. Miners who panned for gold along the riverbank built the cairn to steer away those who would come later, those who might wander into this swath of land, unaware of the cruel dark that awaited them.

The rocks that mark the entrance have never toppled, never collapsed under the weight of snow or rain or autumn winds.

This is the border.

Only enter under a full moon, Grandma cautioned, eyes like watery pools dewing at the edges. Inside this hallowed wood, I will find lost items, but only beneath a full moon—when the forest sleeps, when the pale glow of moonlight lulls it into slumber—can I slip through unnoticed. Unharmed. A sleeping forest will allow safe passage. But if it wakes, be prepared to run.

Each month, when the swollen moon rises in the sky, I enter the Wicker Woods in search of lost things hidden among the greening branches and tucked at the base of trees. Lost sunglasses, rubber flip-flops, cheap plastic earrings in the shape of watermelons and unicorns and crescent moons. Toe rings and promise rings given to girls by lovesick boys. The things that are lost at Jackjaw Lake in summers past are once again found in the woods. Appearing as if the forest is giving them back.

But sometimes, under a particularly lucky full moon, I find items much older—long forgotten things, whose owners fled these mountains a century ago. Silver lockets and silver buttons and silver sewing notions. Toothbrushes made of bone, medicine bottles with labels long since worn away, cowboy boots and tin cans once filled with powdered milk and black coffee grounds. Watch fobs and doorknobs. And from time to time, I even find gold itself: crude coins hammered into a disc, gold nuggets tangled in moss, flakes that catch in my hair.

Lost things found.

By magic or maleficence, these things appear in the woods. Returned.

Fin sniffs the air, hesitant. And I draw in a breath, spinning the thin gold ring around my index finger. A habit. A way to summon the courage of my grandmother, who gave me the ring the night she died.

“I am Nora Walker,” I whisper.

Let the forest know your name. It had seemed stupid once—to speak aloud to the trees. But after you step into the dark and feel the cold pass through you—the trees swallowing all memory of light—you’ll tell the Wicker Woods all manner of secrets. Stories you’ve kept hidden inside the cage of your chest. Anything to lull the forest—to keep it in slumber.

I pinch my eyes closed and step over the threshold, through the line of tall soldier trees standing guard, into the dark of the forest.

Into the Wicker Woods.

* * *

Nothing good lives here.

The air is cold and damp, and the dark makes it hard to see anything beyond your toes. But it always feels this way—each time colder and darker than the last. I breathe slowly and move forward, stepping carefully, deliberately, over fallen logs and dewdrop flowers frozen in place. In winter, these woods feel like a fairy tale suspended in time—the princess forgotten, the hero eaten whole by a noble fir goblin. The story ended, but no one remembered to burn the haunted forest to the ground.

I duck beneath an archway of thorny twigs and dead cypress vines. Keeping my gaze at my feet, I’m careful to never linger long on a single shadow, a thing skittering just beyond my vision—my mind will only make it worse. Twist it into something with horns and fangs and copper eyes.

The dead stir inside this ancient wood.

They claw their fingernails along the bark of hemlock trees, they wail up through the limbs, searching for the moonlight—for any sliver of the sky. But there is no light in this place. The Wicker Woods are where old, vengeful things lurk—things much older than time itself. Things you don’t want to meet in the dark. Get in. Get the hell out.

Fin follows close at my heels, no longer leading the way—so close his footsteps match mine. Human shadow. Dog shadow.

I am a Walker, I remind myself when the thorn of fear begins to wedge itself along my spine, twisting between flesh and bone, prodding me to run. I belong in these trees. Even if I’m not as formidable as my grandmother or as fearless as my mom, the same blood swells through my veins. Black as tar. The blood that gives all Walkers our nightshade, our “shadow side.” The part of us that is different—odd, uncommon. Grandma could slip into other people’s dreams, and Mom can lull wild honeybees into sleep. But on nights like this, venturing into the cruelest part of the forest, I often feel terrifyingly ordinary and I wonder if the trees can sense it too: I am a girl barely able to call herself descended from witches.

Barely able to call myself a Walker.

Yet, I press forward, squinting through the dark and scanning the exposed roots poking up through the snow, searching for hidden things wedged among the lichen and rocks. Something shiny or sharp-cornered or rusted with time. Something man-made—something that’s value is measured by weight.

We pass over a dried creek bed, and the wind changes direction from east to north. The temperature dips. An owl cries in the distance, and Fin stops beside me—nose twitching in the air. I touch his head gently, feeling the quick pace of his breathing.

He senses something.

I pause and listen for the snapping of branches underfoot, for the sounds of a wolf stalking through the trees, watching us. Hunting.

But a moth skims past my shoulder—white wings beating against the cold, flitting toward a sad, spiny-looking hemlock tree, leaving imprints of dust wherever it lands. It looks as if it’s just come through a storm, wings torn at the edges. Shredded.

A moth who’s faced death. Who’s seen it up close.

My heartbeat sinks into my toes and my eyelashes twitch, certain I’m not seeing it right. Just another trick of the woods.

But I know what it is—I’ve seen sketches of them before. I’ve even seen one pressed against the window while my grandmother coughed from her room down the hall, hands clasping the bedsheets. Blood in her throat.

A bone moth.

The worst kind. The bringer of portents and warnings, of omens that should never be ignored. Of death.

My fingers again touch the gold moonstone ring weighted heavy on my finger.

Every part of me that had felt brave, had felt the courage of my grandmother pulsing through me, vanishes. I squeeze my eyes closed, then open them again, but the moth is still there. Zigzagging among the trees. “We shouldn’t be here,” I whisper to Fin. We need to run.

I release my hand from Fin’s head, and my heart scrapes against my ribs. I glance over my shoulder, down the narrow path we followed in. Run, run, run! my heart screams. I take a careful step back, away from the moth, not wanting to make a sound. But the moth circles overhead, bobbing quickly out over the trees—called forth by something. Back into the dark.

Relief settles through me—my heart sinking back into my chest—but then Fin breaks away from my side. He darts around a dead tree stump and into the brush, chasing after the moth. “No!” I shout—too loud, my voice echoing over the layer of snow and bouncing through the treetops. But Fin doesn’t stop. He tears around a cluster of spiny aspens and vanishes into the dark. Gone.

Shit, shit, shit.

If it were anything else, a different kind of moth, or another wolf he will chase deep into the snowy mountains only to return home in a day or two, I’d let him go.

But a bone moth means something else—something cruel and wicked and bad—so I run after him.

I sprint around the clot of trees and follow him into the deepest part of the forest, past elms that grow at odd angles, down steep, jagged terrain I don’t recognize—where my boots slip beneath me, where my hands press against tree trunks to propel me forward, and where each footstep sounds like thunder against the frozen ground. I’m making too much noise. Too loud. The woods will wake. But I don’t slow down; I don’t stop.

I lose sight of him beyond two fallen trees, and little stabs of pain cut through me. “Fin, please!” I call in a near hush, trying to keep my voice low while the sting of tears presses against my eyes, blurring my vision. Panic leaps into my throat and I want to scream, shout Fin’s name louder, but I bite back the urge. No matter what, I can’t wake the woods, or neither Fin nor I will make it out of here.

And then I see him: tail wagging, stopped a few yards away between a grove of hemlocks. My heart presses against my ribs.

He’s led us farther into the Wicker Woods than I’ve ever been before. And the moth—frayed body, white wings with holes torn along the edges—flutters among the falling snowflakes, slow and mercurial, as if it were in no great hurry. It moves upward toward the sky, a speck of white among the black canopy of trees, and then vanishes into the dark forest to the north.

I step carefully toward Fin and touch his ear to keep him from running after it again. But he bares his teeth, growling. “Shhh,” I say softly.

His ears shift forward, his breathing quick as he sucks in bursts of air, and a low guttural growl rises up from deep within his chest.

Something’s out there.

A beast or shadow with hooked claws and grim pinhole eyes. A thing the forest keeps, a thing it hides—something I don’t want to see.

My fingers twitch, and dread rises up at the base of my throat. It tastes like ash. I hate this feeling building inside me. This awful fear. I am a Walker. I am the thing whispered about, the thing that conjures goose bumps and nightmares.

I swallow and stiffen my jaw into place, taking a step forward. The moth led us here. To something just beyond my vision. I scan the dark, looking for eyes—something blinking out from the trees.

But there’s nothing.

I shake my head and let out a breath, about to turn back to Fin, when my left foot thuds against something on the ground. Something hard.

I squint down at my feet, trying to focus in the dark.

A mound of snow. A coat sleeve, I think. The tip of a boot. A thing that doesn’t belong.

And then I see. See.


There, lying beneath a dusting of snowfall, in the middle of the Wicker Woods, is a body.

* * *

Snowflakes have gathered on stiff eyelashes.

Eyes shuttered closed like two crescent moons. Pale lips parted open, waiting for the crows.

Even the air between the trees has gone still, a tomb, as if the body is an offering that shouldn’t be disturbed.

I blink down at the corpse and a second passes, followed by another, my heart clawing silently upward into my windpipe. But no sound escapes my lips, no cry for help. I stare in stupefied inaction. My mind slows, my ears buzz—an odd crackle crack crack, as if a radio were pressed to my skull. I inch closer and the trees quiver overhead. For a second I wonder if the entire forest might snap at the roots and upend itself—trunks to the sky and treetops to the ground.

I’ve seen dead birds in the woods before, even a dead deer with the antlers still attached to the hollowed-out skull. But never anything like this. Never a human body.

Fin makes a low whine behind me. But I don’t look back. I don’t take my eyes off the corpse, like it might vanish if I look away.

I swallow and crouch down, my knees pressing into the snow. Eyes watering from the cold. But I need to know.

Is it him? The boy who went missing from the camp?

His face is covered by a dusting of snow, dark hair frozen in place. There are no injuries that I can see. No trauma, no blood. And he hasn’t been here long, or he wouldn’t be here at all. The dead don’t last in the mountains, especially in winter. Birds pick apart what they can before the wolves close in, scattering the bones across miles of terrain, leaving barely an imprint of what once had been. The forest is efficient at death, a swift wiping away. No remains to bury or burn or mourn.

A soft wind stirs through the trees, blowing away the snow from his forehead, his cheekbones, his pale lips. And the hairs along the base of my neck prick on end.

I lift my hand from the snow, my fingers hovering over his open palm, trembling, curious. I shouldn’t touch him—but I lower my hand anyway. I want to feel the icy skin, the heaviness of death in his limbs.

My skin meets his.

But his hand isn’t rigid or still. It twitches against my fingertips.

Not dead.

Still alive.

The boy’s eyes flinch open—forest green, gray green, alive-green. He coughs at the same moment his fingers close around mine, gripping tightly.

I scream—a strangled sound, swallowed by the trees—but Fin immediately springs up next to me, tail raised, nose absorbing the boy’s newly alive scent. I yank my arm away and try to stand, to scramble back, but my legs stumble beneath me and I fall backward onto the snow. Run! my spiking heartbeat yells. But before I can push myself up, the boy is rolling onto his side, coughing again, touching his face with his hands. Trying to breathe.

Alive. Not dead. Gasping for air, warm skin, grabbing my hand, kind-of-alive. My throat goes dry and my eyes refuse to blink. I’m certain he’s not real. But he draws in deep, measured breaths between each cough, as if his lungs were full of water.

I sling my backpack off one shoulder and reach inside for the canteen of hot juniper tea. It will save your life if you ever get lost, my grandmother would say. You can live off juniper tea for weeks.

I hold the canteen out to him, and he lowers his hand from his face, his eyes meeting mine. Dark sleepy eyes, deep heavy inhales making his chest rise and fall as if it’s never known air before this moment.

He doesn’t take the canteen, and I lean forward, drawing in a breath. “What’s your name?” I ask, my voice broken.

His gaze roves the ground, then moves up to the sky, like he’s searching for the answer—his name lost somewhere in the woods. Taken from him. Snatched while he slept.

His eyes settle back on me. “Oliver Huntsman.”

“Are you from the boys’ camp?”

An icy wind sails over us, kicking up a layer of snow. His mouth opens, searching for the words, and then he nods.

I found him.

* * *

The Jackjaw Camp for Wayward Boys is not an elite facility, not a place where the wealthy send their sons. It’s a meager collection of cabins, a mess hall, and several neglected administration buildings—most of which were once the homes of early miners who panned the Black River for gold. Now it’s a place where desperate parents send their headstrong boys to have their minds and hearts reshaped, to turn them into docile, obedient sons. The worst come here, the ones who have used up their last chances, their last I’m sorrys, their last detentions or visits to the principal’s office. They come and they go. Each season a new batch—except for the few who spend their entire high school years at the camp. They learn how to survive in the woods, to make fire from flint, to sleep in the cold under the stars, to behave.

Two weeks earlier, the morning after the snowstorm had rolled down from the mountains, I woke to find my house draped in snow. Ice coated the windows, the roof moaned from the weight, and the walls bowed inward as if nails were being pushed free from the wood. The radio had said we’d get twelve to eighteen inches of snow. We got nearly four feet—in a single night. I crawled from bed, the cold leeching up from the floorboards, and went outside into the snow.

The landscape had changed overnight.

I walked down to the lake’s edge and found the forest dripping in white marshmallow fluff. But it wasn’t quiet and still like most winter mornings. Voices echoed across the frozen lake, coming from the boys’ camp. They shouted up into the trees. They stomped around in their heavy snow boots and sent birds screeching unhappily into the bleak morning sky.

“Morning!” Old Floyd Perkins called, waving a hand in the air as he trudged up the shore, head bowed away from the blowing wind, shoulders bent and stooped with time and age and gravity. When he reached me, he squinted as if he couldn’t see me clearly—cataracts clouding his already failing vision. “A bad winter,” he said, tilting his gaze upward, soft flakes falling over us. “But not as bad as some.” Mr. Perkins has lived at Jackjaw Lake most of his life. He knew my grandmother when she was still alive, and he lives at the far south end of the lake in a small cabin beside the boathouse store that he runs during the summer months—renting out canoes and paddleboats and selling ice cream sandwiches to the tourists under the hot, wavy sun. And every morning, he walks the shore of the lake, his gait slow and labored, long arms swinging at his sides, arthritis creaking in his joints. Even in the snow, he makes his morning rounds.

“What’s happening over at the camp?” I asked.

“A boy went missing last night.” He rubbed a knuckled hand across the back of his neck, gray hair poking out from his wool cap. “Vanished from his bunk during the storm.”

I looked past him up the shore to the camp. A few boys were shoveling snow away from their cabin doorways, while most of the others moved up into the forest, calling out a name I couldn’t make out.

“Talked to one of the counselors,” Mr. Perkins continued, nodding grimly, considering the gravity of the situation. “Boy might’ve just run away, made it down the mountain before the snow fell last night.”

The wind roiled up from the surface of the frozen lake, and it made me shiver. “But they’re looking for him up in the woods.” I crossed my arms over my chest and nodded to the trees beyond the camp.

“They have to be sure he didn’t get lost, I suppose.” He raised one thick gray eyebrow, his gaze solemn. “But if that boy went up into those woods last night, there’s a good chance he won’t make it back out. And they’ll never find him.”

I understood what he meant. The snow was deep it continued to fall—any tracks would be long buried by now. And the boy himself might be buried as well. Even Fin would have a hard time tracking his scent in this.

“I hope he did run away,” I said. “I hope he made it down the road.” Because I knew the outcome if he hadn’t. Even though the boys at camp learn wilderness skills and how to build snow shelters in tree wells, I doubted any of them could really survive a night out in the cold. During a blizzard. On their own.

The lake creaked and snapped along the shore as the ice settled. And Mr. Perkins asked, “You lose power last night?” He glanced behind me up into the trees, where my home sat hidden in the pines.

I nodded. “You?”

“Yep,” he answered, then cleared his throat. “It’s going to be a while before that road clears. Before the power’s back on again.” He looked back at me, and the soft squint of his eyes and the wrinkles lining his brow made me think of my grandmother. “We’re on our own,” he said finally.

The only road down the mountain was blocked. And the nearest town of Fir Haven—a forty-five-minute drive—was too far away to walk. We were stuck.

Mr. Perkins tipped his head at me, a grave gesture, a certainty that this was going to be another tough winter, before continuing up the edge of the lake toward the marina. Toward the boathouse and his home.

I stood listening to the shouts of boys fanning out into the trees, the sky growing dark again, another storm settling over the lake. I knew how ruthless the forest could be, how unforgiving.

If a boy was lost out there, he likely wouldn’t survive the night.

* * *

It’s still dark—the deepest kind of dark. Winter dark.

The boy, Oliver Huntsman, follows me through the trees, stumbling over roots, coughing—gasping for air. He might not make it out of the Wicker Woods; he might drop dead in the snow behind me. He stops to lean against a tree, his body trembling, and I walk back to his side and wrap an arm around him. He is taller than I am and broad in the shoulders, but together we continue through the dark. He smells like the forest, like green. And when we reach the border of the Wicker Woods, we step over the threshold and back out into the open.

I release my hold on him, and he bends forward, gripping his knees and gasping for air. His lungs make a strange rasp sound with each breath. He’s spent too many nights alone out here, in the forest, in the cold. Where the creeping, crawling sounds of unknowable things rest just out of sight, and fear becomes a voice in the back of his mind—nagging and threading along sleepless thoughts. A person can go mad in these trees. Hatter mad.

Beside us, the sound of rushing water beneath the frozen surface of the Black River is both palliative and eerie. Oliver glances up at the night sky, his expression slack, in awe, as if he hasn’t seen the stars in weeks.

“We need to keep moving,” I say.

His body shakes, skin pale and muted. I need to get him inside, out of this snow and wind. Or the cold could still kill him.

I fold my arm around him again, hand against his ribs where I can feel the rise and fall of each breath, and we march downriver until Jackjaw Lake yawns open ahead of us—frozen solid out to its center.

“Where are we?” he asks, his voice thin, a crisp edge to each word.

“We’re almost to my house,” I tell him. And then because I think maybe he means something more—his memory blotted over—I add, “We’re back at Jackjaw Lake.”

He doesn’t nod and his eyes don’t shimmer with recognition. He has no memory of this place, no idea where he is.

“My house is close,” I add. “I’ll take you back to camp in the morning. Right now, we just need to get you warm.” I’m not sure he’d make it another mile around the lake to the boys’ camp. And the nearest hospital is an hour down a road that’s snowed in. I have no other option but to take him home.

His hands tremble, his eyes skipping warily through the trees—as if he sees something in the dark. A trick of shadow and moonlight. But the woods surrounding Jackjaw Lake are safe and docile, not nearly as ancient as the Wicker Woods where I found him. These trees are young, harvested over the years for lumber, and the pines that loom over my home were saplings not long ago—still soft and green at their core. They have limbs that sway with the wind instead of moan and crack; they aren’t old enough to hold grudges or memories. To grow hexes at their roots. Not like inside the Wicker Woods.

We reach the row of log cabins that dot the shore, and Fin trots ahead through the snow. “My house is just there,” I say, nodding up through the trees. Most of the cabins along the shore are summer homes, owned by people who only visit Jackjaw Lake when the weather warms and the lake thaws. But Mom and I have always been year-rounders, just like our ancestors before us. We remain at the lake through all the seasons, even the brutal ones—especially the brutal ones. Mom dislikes the tourists who come in summer, with their thumping music and fishing poles and beach towels. It grates on her. But the quiet of winter pacifies her—calms her racing, fidgety mind.

Our house is at the end of the row, closest to the mountains and the wilds of the forest beyond—tucked back in the woods. Hidden. And tonight, it sits dark, no lights humming inside, no sputtering of electricity through the walls—the power still out since the storm.

I stomp the snow from my boots and push open the heavy log door, letting the cold air rush inside. Fin brushes past my legs into the living room, where he plops down on the rug beside the stove and begins chewing the snow from his paws. I drop my pack onto the faded olive-green sofa, its cushions sagging and slumped as if it were sinking into the wood floor.

“I’ll start a fire,” I say to Oliver, who still stands shivering in the entryway. Looking like a boy who’s near death. Whose eyes have the hollow stare of someone who can already see the other side, only inches away.

My grandmother would know the right herbs, the right words to whisper against his skin to warm the chill deep in his bones. To keep him rooted to this world before he slips into the next. But she’s not here, and I only know the tiniest of remedies, the barest of spells. Not enough to conjure real magic. I clench my jaw, feeling an old familiar ache: the burden of uselessness I carry inside my chest. I can’t help him, and I wish I could. I am a Walker whose grandmother died too soon and whose mother would rather forget what we really are.

I am as helpless as a girl by any other name.

I stoke the few embers that still glow among the ash, coaxing the fire back to life inside the old stove, while Oliver’s jade-green eyes sweep slowly over the house: the log walls, the rotted wood beams that sag overhead, the faded floral curtains that have the rich scent of sage that’s been burned thousands of times within the house to clear out the old stubborn spirits.

But Oliver’s eyes aren’t caught on the curtains or the thick walls. Instead, they flicker over the odd collection of items crowding every shelf and cobwebbed corner of the aged house. Old pocket watches and wire-rimmed glasses, hundreds of silver buttons in glass jars, delicately carved silver spoons, and silver candlesticks with wax still hardened at the base. An ornate gold-rimmed jewelry box with only dust kept safely inside.

All the things that we’ve found inside the Wicker Woods over the years, the things we didn’t sell down in Fir Haven to a man named Leon who owns a rare antique shop. These are the things that mean something—that I can’t part with. The ones that hide memories inside them, the stories they tell when you hold them in your palm.

Just like most of the Walker women before me, I am a finder of lost things.

And standing in the entryway is a boy named Oliver Huntsman.

My latest found item.


Her hair is long and dark and braided down her back, like a river woven into knots.

I’ve heard about her, the girl who lives across the lake. The boys at camp say she can’t be trusted. They say her shadow can be seen on the roof of her house during a full moon, casting dark magic into the ice-flecked sky. They say she is descended from these woods—that she is a Walker. And all Walkers are witches.

Her home sits hidden in the trees, a small gingerbread structure that smells of earth and sod and wood. A place that could easily lure Hansel and Gretel in with the promise of sweets, where they would likely meet their end inside these walls. Just like I might.

She moves through the living room with the ease of a bird, her footsteps hardly making a sound on the old wood floor, little puffs of dust rising up around her feet.

I’m standing inside the home of a witch.

“What happened?” I ask, trying to bend my fingers, but they’re frozen in place—the cold running through me like tap water from a winter faucet, ice crystals forming at every joint. My thoughts keep skipping back and forth, rattled loose. Every memory is the color of snow, too icy-white, too blinding and painful to see.

“I found you in the snow,” she answers, kneeling beside the woodstove. She moves swiftly, deftly, using her bare hands to add more logs to the flames. Never wincing away from the sparks that lick at her skin.

I move partway into the living room, my boots sliding across the floor, closer to the heat of the fire, and my eyes sway to the window, where snow is eddying against the glass, willing my mind to remember. I woke in the woods. The shadow of a girl knelt over me. Her soft fingers touching my skin. But it feels like days ago, the hours slow and dripping, thawing like the snow settled in my bones.

“What day is it?” I ask.

Flames ignite suddenly over the dry logs, sending out a burst of heat, and she gestures for me to sit on a small chair facing the fire. I do as she says, removing my hands from my coat pockets and holding them out toward the stove.

“Wednesday,” she answers, brown eyes flicking to mine only briefly. Like she’s afraid of what she’ll see in my gaze. Or she’s afraid of what I’ll see in hers.

My hands ache when I close them into fists, circulation returning to my skin in painful jolts. Wednesday, I think. But it means nothing. I should have asked the week, the month, the year even. My thoughts sputter slowly across synapses. I can’t recall the moments that led me here, that led me into that forest, lying on my back, snow falling in a slow, endless rhythm—burying me alive.

The girl walks into the kitchen and hums something under her breath, like she doesn’t think I can hear: a soft melody—a lullaby maybe, slow and tragic. But then her eyes snap up to mine and she stops.

I drop my gaze to the floor, heat pricking my cheeks, and I hear her footsteps move across the room. “Drink this,” she says, holding out a red porcelain mug filled to the brim with hot tea. “It’ll warm you.” She nods at me and I take it, hands shaking, the scent of something sharp and pungent rising up from the steam.

Drink this. Eat that. Alice down the rabbit hole. Is that where I’ve returned from? Wonderland or Neverland? Or a place much worse? Filled with more monsters than sweet lemon cake and song-filled happy endings?

“You’re still at risk of hypothermia,” she adds, her lips pressed flat. “But you’re in better shape than I thought you’d be.”

I don’t feel like I’m in good shape. I feel like I’ll never be warm again. Like I can feel tree roots growing up the inside of my bones, and soon they’ll break me apart. Tear through my skin and push thorns from my eyes.

I feel cavernous. A husk of who I used to be.

I hold the mug of fragrant tea in my hands—craving something stronger. A stiff cup of black coffee, something with grit in it, thick like tar. But I take a sip of the tea without protest, wincing against the bitter taste. She watches me finish it, little freckles pinching together along the bridge of her nose—they aren’t year-round freckles, they’re scattered reminders of warmer seasons and days spent in the sun. She takes the empty mug from me, her gaze still cautious, rueful even, her fingers grazing mine. Pale white fingertips.

There is something stark about her, a wildness. That look you sometimes see when you’re driving down a back road at night and an animal crosses your path, its startled eyes caught in your headlights. That unbroken look, a creature who is more free than you could ever truly understand.

Again, a knot of fear begins to tighten inside me. She is the girl who lives across the lake. A girl to steer clear of, to avoid. She will hex you, charm you, toss you into the fire just to watch the skin peel away from your bones. But she doesn’t look at me with wickedness in her eyes, with a feral need to kill. She saved me and brought me back.

She holds the empty cup in her hand, and her mouth falls open, her gaze fixed on the floor beneath me.

I hear the odd splat of water hitting wood.

One after another.

She touches the sleeve of my coat and feels that it’s soaked through, as if I were made of ice and am now melting, making a puddle at my feet.

“We need to get you out of these wet clothes,” she tells me, a hint of urgency in her eyes. In her breathing.

I nod, my brain clicking forward on autopilot, the cold sapping any ability to protest.

I shrug out of my coat, my long-sleeve-shirt, and my jeans, right beside the fire. If it were any other day, if my mind were clear and sharp, I might feel strange standing bare chested in only my boxers, my body shivering, jaw clenching, in front of a girl I don’t know. But the cold is all I feel. All that’s left.

Her eyes sway over me, catching for a half second before she turns away. Pretending she wasn’t staring. Pretending her cheeks aren’t flushed.

I sit back on the chair and she drapes a heavy wool blanket from the couch over my shoulders, then hangs my wet clothes above the woodstove to dry. They have the scent of pine and wind and wilderness, a scent that’s hard to describe—unless you’ve trekked into the forest and returned with it clinging to your hair and the fibers of your clothes. It’s as if the woods followed me back, trailing me like campfire smoke.

“In the morning, I’ll take you back to the camp,” she says, facing the fire now, rubbing her own palms together. “They’ve been searching for you.”

“How long have I been gone?” I ask bluntly.

She chews on her lower lip, revealing a row of white teeth, and it feels like I’m seeing too much of her. Like I’m staring too closely, watching every shiver and shift of her dark eyes. “Since the storm,” she says at last, lowering her hands from the fire. “Two weeks.”

The room slips out of focus, wobbles briefly, then snaps back into place. Two weeks, two whole weeks. I shake my head. “That can’t be right,” I mutter, blinking to keep from tipping out of the chair. “I would have died out there if I’d been gone that long.”

“But you didn’t,” she answers, and she moves to the window, her reflection staring back: dark hair and dark moonless eyes. “Maybe the woods kept you safe.” I don’t understand what she means, and a gust of wind rattles the house, sending dust down from the overhead beams. “Everyone at camp thinks you tried to run away.”

I didn’t run away. But I don’t say this, because I can’t explain how I ended up in that dark forest. Where only bursts of light reached me through the never-ending dark, where trees swayed like long skeleton arms moving to some macabre ballet, the wind the only music that filled my ears. Always the wind. Cold and biting and cruel.

I blink away the memory, sharp as a nail, and let my eyes stray across the living room again—the woodstove is the only light flicking up the walls, illuminating a small kitchen, a narrow hallway, and a set of stairs near the back.

“The power’s out?” I ask.

She nods. “Landlines too. Cell phones have never worked this high in the mountains. Our only contacts with the outside world—with the nearest town—are landlines and the road. Both of which were knocked out in the storm.”

“So, we’re trapped?” I ask.

She shrugs. “The road will clear eventually. We’ve had bad winters like this before.” Her gaze slips away from mine, as if remembering. “Three years back, it was two months before the road thawed and the power flickered back on. We’re used to being on our own.” She pulls in her lower lip, like maybe she’s said too much, revealed a weak spot. “We’re used to the solitude,” she clarifies, her voice dissolving away, vanishing up into the high ceiling. “You’ll get used to it too,” she says, as if I’ll never leave these mountains. As if I’m one of the residents now, stuck here until they bury me in the ground.

A shiver rises up along my arms and I wonder: Maybe what they say about her is true—maybe I shouldn’t be here, in her home. A place of darkness and rot.

“You found all these things?” I ask, swallowing hard and diverting my attention to the magnifying glasses, the old perfume bottles, and the belt buckles lining the windowsill. My mind is pulled back to the stories I’ve heard, the stories the boys tell about how she goes into the dark woods—a place no one else will enter—where she finds lost things. How she is the only one who can, that she is made of the forest, that if you cut her open she will bleed sap just like a tree. How her family is cursed and damned and more dangerous than a winter storm. That her hair is made of stinging nettle and she grows talons through her fingernails.

“Yes,” she answers cautiously. “Just like I found you.”

A strange winding silence ropes itself around us, and it feels like we might choke on it. She steps closer to me and lifts her arm, brushing her palm across my forehead, her warm fingers against my skin—gauging my temperature. I feel myself draw in a breath and hold it there, trapped inside my lungs. “You need to sleep,” she says. “You might have a fever.”

Her dark brown eyes blink back at me, as dark as the woods, but she seems as if she’s looking into the past, a soft slant to her mouth that I can’t read. She smells like the wind, like rain on grass, and she can’t possibly be all the terrible things the boys say about her.

She can’t possibly steal boys from their bunks and bury them beneath the floorboards. She can’t possibly turn herself into a fanged beast and crash through the forest, knocking down trees. She can’t possibly be a witch who boils toads for breakfast and ties knots in her hair to bind curses that can’t be broken. She is just a girl.

With raven hair and crush-your-heart-in-half eyes.

“You can sleep on the couch,” she says softly, lowering her hand and stepping away from me, and I know I’ve stared at her too long. “It’ll be close to the fire.”

Outside, the sky is dark, not even a hint of light, and I can’t be sure of the time. Or how long it will be until the sunrise. Perhaps my memories will slip back into focus once I feel the morning sun on my face. Once the shadows are scared back into their dusty corners.

“Thank you,” I say, sleep tugging at me.

She places a pillow and two more blankets on the couch, smiling once, before she turns for the stairs, the wolf trailing after her. She pauses on the bottom step, like she’s forgotten something. Tomorrow you’ll feel right as rain. Tomorrow you won’t remember the woods at all. Tomorrow you won’t even remember me.

But she doesn’t speak, her hair falling over her eyes just before she starts up the stairs. I listen to the sound of her footsteps, small depressions in the wood, the creak of the ceiling overhead. And I feel unsettled, alone, a spike of uncertainty wedging itself into my thoughts.

I am in the home of the girl who lives across the lake. The girl who should never be trusted. Her name rises up into my chest, the name whispered by the other boys at camp when they tell stories about her late at night in our bunks. Stories meant to scare and frighten.

The name that rings between my ears: Nora Walker.

The girl with moonlight in her veins.


I lie in bed in the loft and think of the boy.

Oliver Huntsman.

The way his eyes twitched to mine when I spoke, and hung there, a ripe green that reminded me of the grass that pushes up from the soil in spring. A kindness in them. The way his wet hair dried in soft little waves around his ears. The way he held his breath just before he spoke, considering each word—each syllable. The way my heart swung up into my throat and made me dizzy. A feeling I tried to tamp down, to ignore. But couldn’t.

I think of the woods, the moment I found him in the snow: how his eyes snapped open, the whites like cracked eggshells. Fear trembling across his lips. What did he see in those woods? Why did the forest let him live? I wish I could peel him open, cut away his hard exterior, and see what he hides inside.

Now he sleeps downstairs, and I know that even the heat from the woodstove won’t warm the chill from his flesh, won’t cure what haunts him.

He needs medicine. Not the kind from a white room in a sterile white building prescribed by people in white coats. He needs forest medicine.

The only way to cure a chill caused by the forest is to use a remedy grown inside it. My grandmother’s words are always buzzing along my skull, always close.

I tiptoe back down the stairs, past the kitchen, to the rear of the house. Quiet as a winter mouse. Quiet as the seeds that fall to the ground in late spring.

I push open the door to my mother’s room and step inside. It smells like her: vanilla bean and honey. Always the scent of honey. It sticks to her, in her wavy auburn hair, honeycomb under her fingernails. It can never be properly washed off. Not completely. Three weeks ago, she left on a delivery to the coastal town of Sparrow with four crates of her wild clover honey placed safely in the back of her truck. During a full moon, she collects the sticky comb from the wild hives inside the Wicker Woods, then funnels it into glass jars and delivers them to small boutiques and organic food markets along the west coast. Stores pay a premium for her Wicker Wood Honey, said to be sweeter than real cane sugar and able to cure all manner of skin ailments—including hives and poison oak and sunburns.

I haven’t spoken to her since she left, since the phones have been down and the road blocked. But we’re used to winter storms. To being cut off. And although maybe I should feel alone, isolated and afraid without her, I don’t. She and I have always been more opposite than alike. I am the daughter who wants to be a Walker, and she is the mother who pretends she isn’t: a Walker or a mother. She feels betrayed by my curiosity, my need to know our past—to know who I am.

To understand the darkness that lives in my veins.

And I feel betrayed by her: her silence when she’s home, her refusal to talk about Grandma or about the Walkers who came before us.

I prefer it when she’s away, when I can be alone in the old house.

Mom has never been one to worry about me anyway—she knows I can take care of myself until the road thaws. I could take care of myself even if she never came back.

Inside her room, I kneel down on the floor and reach my arms beneath the bed, past a discarded, half-burnt candle; past dust bunnies that skitter away; and past a pale-yellow sock missing its mate, until I find the wooden box she keeps hidden.

I slide it out, resting the box on the floor in front of me, then quietly open the lid.

Inside rest an assortment of keepsakes: old photographs and family letters kept safely inside their envelopes, my grandmother’s pearl necklace, an old music box once owned by Henrietta Walker. Family heirlooms tucked away beneath a bed where they will eventually be forgotten. Things that remind me of who I am—that make me feel less alone.

And under it all, I find the book.

I touch the faded words handwritten on the front: Spellbook of Moonlight & Forest Medicine. And sketched below it is a compass with the four cardinal directions: north, south, east, west.

But I don’t open the book—not here in my mother’s room, where I fear she might sense it once she returns, sense that I sat on her floor with the book fanned open in front of me. So I tuck it under my arm, the weight of my family history inside its pages, and leave the honey-scented room before I leave too many clues that I was here.

With the fire roaring downstairs, my own room is sweltering when I return, and I push open one of the windows—letting the snow spiral inside and settle on the floor. I grew up in this room, in this loft overlooking the lake. I was born here too, seventeen years ago under a watery full moon while a rainstorm flooded the banks of the lake and turned the shore to mud. All Walkers are coaxed into the world when the moon is brightest. As if our birthright were calling to us.

I place the book on the bed, feeling like a thief.

The spellbook will belong to me one day, passed down from one Walker woman to the next. But for now, it belongs to my mother, and she never opens it, never pulls it out to sift through its pages. It’s a burden to her. Our family history like a disease she can’t be rid of.

When I was younger, when my grandmother was still alive, she’d bring the book into my room when my mother was away on a delivery. Your mom wants to forget the old ways, she’d say. Who we really are. Grandma Ida would settle onto my bed and turn through the pages of the book like she was sifting through dust, revealing artifacts from the past. Her wrinkled, unsteady fingers knew the pages by heart.

The memory causes an ache in my chest, recalling the kindness in her graying eyes. The soft, knowing tenor of her words.

She’d read me passages in a hush, as if the walls might tell on us. Pages and pages of notations and recipes and hand-drawn sketches. There were instructions on how to decipher the spiderwebs built by peppercorn spiders to predict the weather. How to locate the precious thimbleberries that were used during pregnancy to know if it was a boy or girl stirring inside the belly. Grandma would read to me old recipes written down by Scarlett Walker and Florence Walker and Henrietta Walker, women who seemed more like characters from folklore than real women who lived in this house and strode through the forest gathering primrose and hemlock. Who had more power, I fear, than I may ever have.

Some recipes were innocuous enough: instructions for baking spiced prickly pear pie or a particularly tricky recipe for rutabaga-and-parsley stew. The best method for steeping juniper berry tea, and how to harvest yarrow root in the fall. But others were for conjuring up things that were more witchcraft than forest medicine. How to trick a bat into hunting a common house mouse. How to grow wild strawberries and sword ferns and wax myrtle for protection and divination. How to see the dead wandering among gravestones.

There was no index in the back of the book, no rhyme or reason to the order of recipes and spells. Things were merely written down in succession, from one Walker to another. The book is tea-stained and chocolate-smeared, and the first few pages are completely unreadable, the ink having faded to nothing with time. And every few pages, a brief history has been written down—the story of a Walker who once lived, and how she died—recorded like a family ledger, so each tale, each woman, would never be forgotten.

But after my grandmother passed away, only a week before my fifteenth birthday, my mother took the book and shoved it inside the wooden box beneath her bed. Like she didn’t trust me with it, like she was trying to blot out the memory of my grandmother and all the Walkers along with it. But she can’t erase our past, can’t scrub clean the moonlight in our veins. Mom only ever wanted to be normal. To leave the past where it belonged. To no longer be called witches or weird or be forced to avoid sidelong glances when we went into town, catching the last of a muttered word about how spiders lived in our hair and beetles under our toenails.

We are Walkers. And our ancestors have lived in these woods since long before the first miners set up camp along the Black River. We came from this forest. From the roots and brine and weather-worn stones.

We are the daughters of the wood.

One cannot survive without the other.

I sit cross-legged on the white bedspread. Snow floats into the room, catching in my hair, landing on Fin where he’s curled up on the floor, nose tucked beneath his tail.

I flip open the front cover of the book and am met with the musty scent of burnt amber and jasmine. Just like the nights with my grandmother. A thrumming begins in my chest—a peculiar sort of ache. The thrill and also the fear leaping through me. If Mom found out I took it from beneath her bed, she would be angry. She’d hide it where I wouldn’t be able to find it ever again. Maybe she’d even destroy it.

Still, I bend over the pages and my hair falls loose from its braid—fine and inky-black, just like my grandmother’s. Even the sturdy slope of my nose, the dark storm resting behind my eyes, the melancholy curve of my lips—it’s all her. The reminder of my grandma always hidden in my own face.

The weight of the moonstone slides the gold ring around my finger as I skim over recipes and drawings outlined in charcoal, until I find what I’m looking for. A simple concoction—a crease folded down the page where the book has been fanned open countless times. The recipe isn’t true witchery. But Grandma used to make it during the cold months of January, to warm chilled bones, to calm a cough, to bring circulation back into numb fingers and toes.

Silently, I descend the stairs to the kitchen.

The ingredients are easy to find. One whole cupboard is lined with glass jars filled with dried herbs and powdered roots and fragrant liquids with descriptions handwritten on the lids. There is even a jar labeled lake water, in case a recipe needed to be made in haste and there was no time to walk the few yards down to the lake itself.

Mom has kept the cupboard stocked, never throwing anything out, even though she doesn’t use the herbs—not like Grandma did.

I pour the few ingredients into the same copper bowl my grandmother once used: ground cloves and powdered cardamom, a dash of fawn lily and burdock root, and a pinch of a reddish-rose tincture labeled bero.

I sift the mixture into a small cotton pouch, then cross the living room to Oliver. His hair is now dry, dark and wavy, and he doesn’t stir when I slide the cotton pouch beneath the blankets beside his bare ribs. His chest rises, the slow measured weight of his lungs expanding. A shudder runs through him and his eyelids flicker, his body tensing briefly—spurred by some dream I can’t see. He reminds me of an animal near death. Fighting it, struggling. I could crawl beneath the blankets and wrap my arms over his chest, I could feel the beat of his heart against my palm, I could wait for the heat to return to his skin before I went back to my own bed.

But he is a boy I don’t know. A boy who smells of the forest now. Who reminds me of the winter trees, tall and lean with bark that is rough and raw and could tear open flesh. No soft edges.

I catch my own breath and turn away. He is a boy I don’t know, I repeat to myself again. He is a boy with his own secrets. A boy unlike all the others—in ways I don’t understand. I can’t pinpoint.

The recipe instructs that the herbs should be kept close to the body while you sleep for three nights in a row, and then the chill will be banished from the bones.

It’s all I can offer him, all I know how to do—I am a Walker without real magic. Without a nightshade. It will have to be enough.

Back in the loft, I close the book and bury myself beneath the sheets, trying not to think of the boy. A stranger asleep downstairs.

The sunrise is close, the light through my bedroom window turning a carmine shade of pink.

I pull the blankets up to my chin, begging sleep to find me. To draw me down and give me at least an hour’s rest. But my heart drums against my ribs, a nagging that won’t go away. It’s not just the boy downstairs. It’s something else.

The moth I saw in the woods. White shredded wings and black pebble eyes. The moth is a warning.

And I know what it means. I know what’s coming.

My eyes flick to the wall above my bed, where a collection of items gathered from the forest are tacked to the wood. Bits of moss and dried maple leaves, a raven feather and a broken magpie egg, Juneberry seeds and other things found along the forest floor. A dozen dried wildflowers hang with stems to the ceiling, dusty pollen drifting down to my pillow. It’s good luck to bring the forest indoors, to let it watch over you while you sleep. These things protect me. They bring me good dreams.

But not tonight.

Even with the open window, with the snow gathering on the floor in drifts, I sweat through the sheets, my cheek sticking to the pillow.

And in my fever dreams, I have the strange sense that by morning, Oliver will be gone. Melted into the floor like a boy made of snow.

A trick of the woods.

As if he were never here at all.

Spellbook of Moonlight & Forest Medicine

FLORENCE WALKER was born in 1871 under a green Litha moon.

Crows gathered on the windowsill when she drew in her first infant breath, and they kept watch at her crib, wings folded, every night as she slept.

On Florence’s wedding day, a white-crowned sparrow in a nearby birch tree sang a tune that sent chills down the spines of those in attendance. She’s a bird witch, they said. They do her bidding.

But it was merely her nightshade that drew the birds to her.

She kept sunflower seeds in her pockets, and she left piles of them on rocks and along the shore of the lake. And when she wore her yellow-apricot dress, seeds spilled out through the hole in her pocket and made little trails wherever she went. She whispered omens to the birds, and in return, they told her the secrets of her enemies.

Later in Florence’s life, the Walker home built in the trees was always filled with the chitter-chatter of house finches and spotted towhees. They flew among the rafters and slept crowded around the bathroom sink.

Florence died at age eighty-seven. A nasty bout of tuberculosis. An owl cried from the footboard of her bed frame all night, until Florence finally let out a little chirp and went still.

In the garden, a crow can still be seen hopping between rows of garlic and geraniums, searching for earthworms. Its eyes are that of a girl.

How to Lure the Crow from the Garden:

One handful birdseed

A wisp of sapphire smoke

Two clovers picked beside the garden gate

Click your tongue andspeak Florence Walker’s name three times. Wear a sun hat.


Sweat beads from my forehead and I kick back the blankets. Hot and disoriented.

The morning sun is a diffused orb of light through my bedroom window, and Fin is panting beside the stairs, tongue lolling in the heat of the loft. A tiny pulsing spurs at my temples from not enough sleep, and then I remember the boy. Full lips and too-deep eyes.

I climb free from the bed, light-headed, on edge, and Fin follows me down the stairs—both of us needing the cool relief of fresh air. Something to wipe away the fevered dreams still clacking through me. The ones I can’t shake.

But when I reach the bottom step, I stop short.

In the living room, the fire burns low, barely a flicker from inside the stove.

On the couch is a heap of blankets, a pillow rumpled and wrinkled and slept on.

But no Oliver Huntsman.

I yank open the front door and hurry out into the snow—the cold air pouring into my lungs, stinging the tips of my ears. A thin edge of panic worms itself between my shoulder blades. Not because I’m worried about him—but because I can’t be certain he was ever here at all. That I didn’t imagine him: a boy made of snow and dark stars. And once the sun rose in the sky, he turned back into dust and disappeared.

I stand on the deck and scan the trees, looking for footprints in the snow, for some hint that he snuck away in the night. Returned to the Wicker Woods.

And then I see.

An outline appears among the trees, between the house and the frozen lake, and the breath catches in my lungs—a defiant itch crawling up the back of my neck.

It’s him.

He’s wearing his clothes from yesterday, now dry, and perhaps it’s just the morning light—all swimmy and strange and beautiful—but he looks oddly valiant, like a boy about to set off on a journey. Some perilous adventure he surely won’t return from.

Snow skitters down frm the charcoal sky, and he spins around, sensing me watching him. His lean emerald eyes stare back at me—a starkness in them I can’t decipher. And in his hand I see the cotton sack of herbs I placed beside him while he slept.

“Are you okay?” I ask, moving to the edge of the deck, but the words feel useless, sucked dry by the cold air as soon as they leave my lips.

“I needed the fresh air,” he says, shifting his weight in the snow. “I was hoping the sun might be out.” His gaze skips up to the sky, where the dark clouds have snuffed out the blue beyond. And I wonder if he thought the sunlight would warm him, heal him—a balm on his weary mind. That it might return his memories to him in one swift inhale.

His knuckles close around the pouch of herbs and he glances down at it, eyebrows drawn together, like he doesn’t remember holding it.

“I made it for you last night,” I explain, a twinge of embarrassment slicing through me. Witchy herbs gathered by a witchy girl. I am a Walker who has never wanted to be anything else, but I also don’t want him to look at me like the kids at school do, like the other boys at the camp do. Like I am a monster, strange and eerie with wickedness in my heart. I want him to see only a girl. “It will help to warm you,” I add, as if this makes it less odd. As if a sack of herbs were as common as a spoonful of strawberry cold syrup before bed.

But his eyes soften, unafraid, unfettered.

“You need to sleep with it for the next two nights,” I say, although I don’t expect him to really keep it—a strange bag of sharp-smelling herbs.

He nods, and when he speaks, his voice is raw and shredded by the cold. “Thank you.”

Fin plods down the steps and pushes his nose into the snow, trailing some scent through the low morning fog, past Oliver’s legs. “Another storm is coming,” I say just as an icy wind churns up off the lake, nasty and mean. It blows through the trees, stinging my face, and a feeling of déjà vu ripples through me so quickly I almost miss it. As if I’ve been here before, looking out at Oliver standing in the trees, his mouth pinched flat. Or maybe I will again—time slipping just barely forward and then back. I count the seconds, I blink, and when I open my eyes, the feeling is gone.

Oliver lowers his gaze, and I wish I could pull words from his throat—I wish I knew what he was thinking. But he’s as mute as the jackrabbits who sit on the porch in autumn, peering in through the windows, thinking their docile, unknowable thoughts.

When he still doesn’t reply, I clear my throat, preparing myself for the question I need to ask. The one that has simmered inside me all night, burning holes of doubt through my skin. “How did you end up in the Wicker Woods?”

How did you survive in that dark, awful forest for two weeks?

In the cold?

His eyes slide back over me, but this time his mouth is turned down, a puzzled expression forming along his brow. “The Wicker Woods?” he asks.

“That’s where I found you.”

He shakes his head. “I didn’t know,” he answers first, and then, “I don’t remember what happened.”

The prick of something tiptoes up my spine—mistrust maybe.

“It’s dangerous in there,” I say. “You could have died. Or gotten lost and never found your way out again.”

“But you went into the Wicker Woods,” he points out.

His expression is calm. While my thoughts turn in circles, round and round without end.

“It was a full moon last night,” I say quickly. “And I’m a Walker.” Everything you’ve heard about me is true, I think but don’t say. All the stories. The rumors passed through the boys’ camp, the word whispered in a hush: witch.

If he had grown up here, he would know the lore of my family. All the tales told about Walkers: of Scarlett Walker, who found her pet pig in the Wicker Woods, where it had turned an ashen shade of white after eating a patch of rare white huckleberries. Of Oona Walker, who could boil water by tapping a spoon against a pan. Or Madeline Walker, who would catch toads in jars to silence people from telling her secrets.

But Oliver doesn’t know these tales: the legends I know to be true. He only knows what the boys have said—and most of their stories are lies. Born from fear and spite, not from history.

He doesn’t know that Walkers can enter the Wicker Woods because our family is as old as the trees. That we are made of the same fiber and dust, of roots and dandelion seeds.

Yet somehow, this boy entered the dark of the Wicker Woods and came out unharmed. He came out alive. As if some strange form of magic were at work.

“How did you survive in there?” I urge him again, watching his face for any flicker of a lie. For something he’s trying to hide.

He chews on the question, mashes it around in his skull, and when he shakes his head, I wonder if he truly doesn’t know. Perhaps his mind has scrubbed away what needs to be forgotten. The unpleasant things. Better to not remember the woods. Or how dark the dark can be.

I swallow hard: frustrated, tired. Something happened to him out there—but he won’t say. Or he honestly doesn’t remember. And my mind skips strangely back to the moth, its white wings in the dark air. The memory of it flit flit flitting through the trees, leading me to Oliver, where he lay slumped in the snow. I wince and cross my arms, willing the memory away. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it wasn’t a bone moth but only a common forest moth, oversized and snowy white. A moth that wasn’t a warning at all.



“We should get you back to the camp,” I say, letting out a breath.

His shoulders sink and his jaw sets in place. I can tell he doesn’t want to go back there, to the camp, but I also can’t keep him. Finders keepers. He is a lost item that belongs at the Jackjaw Camp for Wayward Boys. Not mine to keep—to place on a windowsill, to dust and admire.

Even if I want to.

He nods—a solemn gesture.

“And we should go before this storm gets worse,” I add. The sky has turned the color of a broken bruise before it’s begun to heal, and the wind lashes through the trees, blowing snow up off the lake.

Oliver’s eyes lift, and there is a disquiet in them that betrays something else. Fear perhaps. Restlessness. Or just lack of sleep. “Okay,” he relents.

* * *

Fin whimpers from the front porch, eyes big and watery.

He doesn’t want to be left behind—but it’s safer if he stays. In summer, the tourists often think Fin is a full-blooded wolf. Dangerous and wild—and they might be right. When he appeared on our doorstep two years ago, scratching at the wood to be let in, he looked to be part wolf, part collie, part savage glint in his eyes. Like he might bolt back into the woods at any moment, returning to where he belongs.

Even the boys at camp who’ve seen him from afar will shout that a wolf is stalking through the woods. Or throw stones at him.

They fear him—and fear can make people do stupid things.

“Stay,” I say, patting Fin on the head, and Oliver and I cut a path through the trees, following the shoreline. To our left, the frozen surface of the lake is a web of fractures crisscrossing out toward the center. In warmer months, the water is a soft blue, glittery and mild. But now, the lake has fallen dormant. Black and grim and bone cold.

“The others at camp say it’s bottomless,” Oliver says behind me, our feet punching through the snow, our breath forming little white clouds with each exhale.

“No one’s ever seen the bottom,” I answer. “Or touched it.” Sometimes I will stand at the shore and imagine falling down down down into that dark pool, and I feel both terrified and the strange thrill of curiosity. What waits down there, where no sunlight has ever shone? What lurks at the deepest point? What monsters hide where no one can see?

“So you think it’s true?” he asks, stopping to face the lake. His voice sounds strong, a deepness to it that wasn’t there last night. Maybe the herbs are working.

I bite the side of my lip and lift a shoulder. “You live here long enough, you start to believe in things you might not in the outside world,” I tell him, certain he won’t understand what I mean.

I feel him looking at me, his green eyes too green, and then his hand lifts, reaching toward me. His fingers just barely graze my hair, tickling the soft place behind my ear. “A leaf,” he says, pulling it away and holding it out for me to see. A yellow three-pointed leaf with golden edges rests in his hand. “It was tangled in your hair.”

The closeness of him makes me uneasy, and I brush my fingers quickly through the strands of my hair. “It happens a lot,” I answer softly, looking away from him and feeling the heat rise in my cheeks. “The forest sticks to me.”

His smile is full and wide, and it’s the first time I’ve seen it—the slight curve of his lips, the crooked slant to one side, the wink of his eyes like he might laugh.

I don’t let him see my own smile trying to break across my lips. I know he thinks me strange. A girl who makes potions and whose hair is tangled with leaves. Surely a witch. Couldn’t possibly be anything else.

I turn away from him and we continue on. A half mile around the north end of the lake, we reach the camp.

The first outpost ever built in these mountains.

The first structures to rise up among the trees.

The Jackjaw Camp for Wayward Boys was founded fifty years ago, built from the remains of the early gold-mining settlement. In the early 1900s, rugged men and woman made their fortunes in these mountains, panning gold along the banks of the Black River. And even the lake itself gave up grains of gold dust in the early years.

But not anymore—the gold is long gone.

Now two dozen cabins sit nestled back in the snow-covered trees, with several smaller, odd-shaped buildings scattered along the shoreline, including a maintenance shed and a pump house that were all once part of the deserted gold-mining town.

The snow at the camp is worn with tracks: the boots of four dozen boys meandering this way and that, from cabin to cabin and back again. In summer, the beach is a chaos of boys playing Frisbee and soccer and wading out into the water with canoes and sailboats they built themselves—most barely seaworthy.

Icicles hang from the eaves of the mess hall, and we clomp up the steps to the two massive wooden doors. From the other side, we can hear the low cacophony of voices—breakfast at the camp is underway.

I glance back at Oliver, his shoulders raised against the cold. I have the distinct thought that maybe I should take him back to my house, hide him in the loft, keep him safe. But again, I know: He’s not mine to keep.

“You coming?” I ask, a waver in my voice, crackling along each word.

Maybe he’s preparing himself for whatever punishment he will face once the camp counselors see that he’s returned. Maybe he wishes he was still out in the woods, flat on his back in the snow. Lost.

But I can’t take him back to the woods.

A thing found cannot be unfound.

He nods, so I push open one of the heavy wooden doors, and we step inside.

The strange clamor of voices and the thick, smoky air barrel into us as soon as we enter. Like stepping from a quiet, snow-muted dream world into a loud, buzzing, awake one. And it takes a moment for my eyes and ears to adjust.

The room is expansive, stately, and looks like it could withstand a thousand years of heavy snow and wind before it ever started to decay. A fire roars from a huge stone fireplace against the far left wall, and the air smells of blackened toast and has a dusky, dim quality, as if the mournful winter air were trying to creep inside.

Two long wooden tables are set with candles that illuminate the faces of the boys seated along either side, and the racket of their voices echoes off the high timber ceiling. Most are eating breakfast, forks scraping against plates and orange juice sloshing onto the tables, but a few are at the far end of the room playing Ping-Pong near the fireplace.

I’ve been in here before, a handful of times.

The boys’ camp hosts a gathering every summer and winter where they invite locals from Fir Haven to a potluck party with music and tours of the old mining outpost. Mostly girls come up from Fir Haven—to see the boys, to kiss them behind nearby trees. Mom insisted I go the last two years, said it was good to meet new people. Make friends. As if my life is somehow lacking without a coven of girls to invite over for sleepovers on the deck in summer, sleeping bags fanned out beneath the stars. As if I couldn’t be perfectly happy without these things. As if these woods and Fin and a loft filled with books and found things weren’t enough.

Oliver and I stand for a moment, waiting for someone to look our way, to notice: Oliver Huntsman has returned.

But they continue shoving forkfuls of waffle dripping with syrup into their mouths, slurping orange juice, and laughing so heartily that I’m surprised they don’t choke.

Oliver stares across the landscape of boys like he’s trying to pinpoint the names and faces of the people he knew before he vanished, but it’s now just a muddled blur. He uncrosses his arms and turns to face me, a severe line of tension cutting from his temples down to his chin. “Thanks,” he says. “For letting me stay at your place last night.” There is no warmth in his gaze. And a cold stone of doubt settles into my chest. I may have saved him from the woods, but bringing him back here feels wrong—worse than the dark of the forest and the promise of death.

I force my lips to smile, but all I say, all that rises up from my chest, is “You’re welcome.”

This is where he belongs. Among a sea of boys.

He turns away without another word, without even a goodbye, and moves toward the row of tables—blending in with the other boys. I wait for someone to recognize him, to shout his name. But no one does. The room is too draped in shadow, too hard to discern one boy from all the rest. A boy they’ve already forgotten. Although I’m certain that once the camp counselors discover he’s returned, they will want answers. They will want to know where he’s been and what happened. Will he tell them the truth—that he’s been in the Wicker Woods all this time? Does he even know the truth? Does he even remember how he ended up way out there?

I stare after him, knowing this might be the last time I see him.

Even if he stays a whole year at the camp, he’ll be just another boy among a crowd of nameless boys. They come and they go. And soon he’ll be gone too, shuttled back to wherever he came from. One of the flat states, or the humid states, back home to his parents and his friends. He’ll soon forget this place and the night a girl found him inside the woods and let him sleep in her home beside the fire. An old memory replaced with new ones.

He vanishes among the mass of boys—my first found item that was made of flesh and a thumping heart, and now he’s gone.

My own heart betrays my head, sinking in on itself. Concaving. As though a deep, unknowable pain is squeezing it into a tiny kernel. A feeling I don’t want to feel. I refuse to feel.

I turn back for the double doors, pushing the feeling away, when from the corner of my eye I see someone approaching. Tall and slight and moving not with the hulking stride of a boy, but with the ease of a girl who is at home in her own skin.

The willowy Suzy Torrez—acorn-brown hair tied in a ponytail at the back of her head, eyelashes so long they’re like hummingbird wings—saunters toward me, lips drawn into a grin. “Nora!” she calls.

I feel my mouth dip open and my smile fade. “What are you doing here?” I ask once she reaches me.

Suzy lives in Fir Haven and goes to Fir Haven High. I only know her vaguely—our lockers were next to each other last year, but we’ve never been friends. She has a crowd of besties who do everything together and a crowd of boys who fawn over her, and I don’t have either of those things. But I also don’t want those things.

Still, I see Suzy from time to time at the lake, mostly in summer, sunbathing down by the shore, stretched out on a beach towel with all her friends—lathered in coconut oil and laughing so loudly their voices carry across the lake. She usually has a summer fling with one of the boys at camp, a seasonal crush who she swaps out when the next selection of boys arrive. I’ve always envied the ease with which her heart can flutter from one to the next. A buoyant, pliable thing.

“Been stuck up here since the storm,” she says. Her eyes slide across the room. “I snuck up to see Rhett Wilkes. Didn’t realize I was never going to leave these mountains again. Camp counselors weren’t happy when they found me hiding in Rhett’s cabin, but what were they gonna do?” She shrugs. “They couldn’t send me home.” Her gaze flicks away then back again, eyebrow raised. “I’ve never hated boys more in my whole life than I do right now.” Her nose twitches like she can’t shake the stench of all these boys, crowded together, smelling of wood smoke and sweat, stuck in the woods. Then her eyes narrow. “You live across the lake, right?” she asks.

I nod. Of course she knows—everyone knows where the Walkers live: the house where witches are rumored to practice the foulest of magic, where Walkers cast spells and drink the blood of our enemies. The house most locals avoid.

“What’re you doing at the camp?” she asks, white teeth gleaming, voice all drippy and cool. As if I were any other girl from school. As if we were friends. The kind of friends who stay up late talking on the phone, giggling, bedsheets pulled over our heads to muffle the sound. A thing I’ve never known. Maybe never will. A feeling that aches, that kerplunks into my stomach like a stone tossed into a deep pond. Sinking, sinking until it’s a gone.

“I found that boy who went missing,” I tell her. “I brought him back.”

She scowls, like the memory of a boy going missing sends odd spikes of pain through her chest. “I assumed he was dead,” she answers, her voice tight. “Frozen somewhere out there in the snow, and they’d find him in the spring.” At this she shudders, yet her description seems oddly callous, as if to die in the woods were commonplace up here. One dead boy, easily replaced by any of the others.

I raise an eyebrow, and she coils her long, dark hair over one shoulder, tapping a foot against the floor as if she were feeling impatient. Our conversation beginning to bore her.

The candles along the two long tables flicker briefly, sending shadows dancing up the walls, and Suzy crosses her arms, moving closer to me. Her chin dips down like she doesn’t want anyone to hear what she’s about to say. “This place gives me the creeps.”

“It gives everyone the creeps,” I answer, eyeing the strange shapes the candlelight makes on the high ceiling. Hands and faces and bones that twist at wrong angles. Boys have always complained that the camp is haunted, that the ghosts of miners rattle the halls and sway through the trees at night. The boys aren’t used to living in the woods, to the constant scratch of branches on windows and the wind against your bare neck while you sleep.

“Yeah,” she agrees softly. But I can see her mind turning it over, the itching of something along her skin. She rubs her palms down her arms and looks away from me, biting her lip. “I can’t stay here anymore,” she murmurs, more to herself. Her chin dips to her chest and she breathes slowly, like she’s trying to pretend she’s somewhere else—three clicks of her heels and poof, she’ll be back home—instead of trapped in these mountains, living with all these awful boys.

The candlelight vibrates again, and the wind shakes the sturdy walls. Another bad storm blowing in. I hear the whoosh of air just before the two double doors behind us tear open, pushed in by the wind, and bang back against the wall with a loud crash.

In an instant, the entire mess hall is dipped into darkness—all the candles extinguished, the fire at the far end reduced to embers. Chairs scrape back across the wood floor, plates are pushed aside, silverware dropped. Faint, gray daylight filters through the open doorway, but it’s hardly enough to illuminate the shadowy mess hall.

“All right, everyone, settle down,” a voice booms from somewhere in the dark—one of the camp counselors. “Take a seat and we’ll do a head count.” A flashlight is flicked on across the room, and then a couple more, the eerie beams of light slicing across faces and the towering walls.

“Please,” Suzy says furtively, as if each word were a secret. “Can I stay with you, just until the road clears?”

I feel both my eyebrows raise. Suzy Torrez has never stepped foot inside my house. Suzy Torrez wouldn’t be caught dead talking to me in the halls of Fir Haven High. She’s never asked me to sit with her in the cafeteria during lunch or invited me to one of her birthday parties, and now she wants to spend the night. At my home.

“I’ve been sleeping on a cot in a little room off the kitchen. It’s the only place that isn’t bunking with the boys. I can’t take it anymore,” she urges, she insists. The whites of her eyes too white.

A lantern is lit and it throws more light across the room as boys make their way back to the long wood tables. “I—” I start to open my mouth to speak, but Suzy cuts me off.

“At least until the phones come back on, then I can call my parents, they’ll find a way to come get me.” Her eyes bore into me now, pleading. Her hair falling about her face. Her fingers twitching like there’s an itch somewhere along her skin she can’t reach.

I feel sorry for her, the desperate curve of her mouth, the watery rims of her eyes. I wouldn’t want to sleep here either, in this damp, cold place. And a part of me—a part I don’t want to admit to—thinks it might be nice to have someone else at the house. To fill the silence. Last night, sleeping in my room with Oliver downstairs on the couch, felt oddly comforting. Another warm body and beating heart within the walls. “Okay,” I say at last.

A smile breaks across her face, revealing her perfectly straight teeth. “I’ll go grab my bag. Meet you outside?”

I nod and she spins around, crossing the immense room and vanishing into a dark doorway that must lead back to the kitchen.

Candles are relit across the thick wood tables, flames becoming little points of light in the dark, shining up the walls. But before I can slip out through the open doorway, I notice something flitting down from the ceiling—something I couldn’t see before in the dark.

A moth.

It must have been hovering up in the rafters, and now it quivers through the air, drawn toward the candlelight. Its white-gray body is paler than it should be. Its antennae too long and bleached white. Not a common moth.

It’s the same kind I saw in the Wicker Woods.

A bone moth.

Seeing it again is like a spark against my eyelids—cold as January frost. Wild as February wind. Like a premonition. But I’ve never been able to foresee what’s to come. Not like Georgette Walker, my great-great-aunt whose nightshade let her see the future in dewdrops suspended on blades of grass. This feeling is something else. A certainty resting at the base of my throat. A dull, stagnant ache. A ringing in my ears.

I turn away, a chill rolling down my spine, and dart back outside—before the camp instructors decide I need to be tallied and counted along with the others—and brace myself against the cold wintry air.

My hands shake at my sides, and my heart slams against the delicate rungs of my ribs. I lean my shoulder against one of the large posts holding up the deck, gasping for air, blinking away the snow. Blinking away the afterimage of wings stained against my eyelids. I told myself the moth I saw in the woods was only a common night moth, a winter moth the color of snow, nothing more. But I was wrong. It’s the kind I should fear. The kind that are mentioned inside the spellbook countless times. Charcoal sketches of wings torn into ribbons at the edges, woolly legs, black orb eyes that seek only one thing: death.

My eyes water from the cold, and my head thuds.

A fog sinks over the lake, the gloom as thick as wet alder smoke, and it reminds me of the day we buried my grandmother in the small cemetery at the west end of the lake—a place where old miners are laid beneath the ground, the headstones worn and crumbled and sinking into the dark earth.

Funeral fog, Mom called it that day. The kind of weather only suitable during a burial: for grief, for masking tears that stream down cheeks, for numbing hearts that have split in two. But now the funeral fog has descended over the lake, rolling down from the mountains in endless waves. A reminder—or maybe a warning.

It’s a good day to bury the dead.


When I was ten, my dad took me camping deep in the Blue Mile Mountains. We spent the night sleeping in a tent while the rain beat down outside and dripped through a hole in the thin nylon fabric. The rain made a puddle around our sleeping bags, and I shivered all night.

I had never been so cold in my whole life.

Until now.

These woods are a ruthless kind of cold. The kind that gets inside you, beneath clothes and socks and skin, and down to the marrow of your bones. I escape the mess hall through a back door, before any of the counselors can see me—before anyone does. The candlelight is dim and I am just another shadow passing through.

Fog lies heavy over the trees, and I weave my way through the snow, past cabins tucked back in the pines. The cabin numbers are out of order. Cabin four, then twenty-six, then eleven. It makes no sense. But I reach cabin fourteen—the place where I was assigned to sleep when I first arrived, weeks ago now—and I push open the small door, ducking inside.

Most people have never heard of Jackjaw Lake, or a boys’ camp hidden deep in the mountains. Even the nearest town is an hour’s drive down a steep, winding road. It’s a place not marked on most maps. An easy place to get lost, to be forgotten.

But I never intended to go missing.

Inside the cabin, there’s a bunk bed against each of the two walls—four boys to a cabin—and the air smells of damp wood and campfire smoke. It’s a smell that has settled into the bedsheets and starched-white pillows and the frayed green rug in the center of the room, into everything.

I crouch down beside the potbellied stove set in the corner.

The counselors tell us not to let the fires go out in our stoves—to keep them burning day and night, to keep the cabins warm. But most of the boys forget. And our stove has gone dark.

I place dry logs on the embers, coaxing the fire back to life, but the room is still cold, wind howling at the windows, rattling the thin glass. I kick off my boots and walk to the wood dresser on the right-hand wall. I kneel down and pull open the bottom drawer—the drawer that was mine. But it’s empty. My clothes, the backpack I brought with me, the handful of books, the dead cell phone—they’re all gone.

The counselors must have taken everything out. Boxed up my few belongings when I went missing, ready to ship it all back to my uncle once the road cleared. We’re sorry to inform you that your nephew, Oliver Huntsman, has gone missing from the Jackjaw Camp for Wayward Boys. If he turns up, we’ll let you know. In the meantime, here’s all his stuff.

I push the drawer closed, a strange hollowness sinking into my gut. My few things are gone—hardly enough to represent a life anyway. But it was all I had. All I had left that meant anything at all. Of my life before. My parents. And I hold back the threat of tears. The wretched twisting in my chest. Perhaps the counselors were already clearing away space for another boy. My single drawer, my bunk—wiped clean of any memory of the boy who vanished.

Oliver Huntsman, swept into nonexistence.

I climb the ladder to the top bunk—my old bunk—and the sad, sagging mattress settles beneath me. I stare up at the low ceiling, an arm’s length away, the wood carved with boys’ names and symbols and crude drawings. Nights when boys couldn’t sleep or were bored or didn’t want to be forgotten, they dug the blade of a knife into the wood. Proof that they were here.

Inside my coat pocket, I find the cotton pouch filled with herbs she gave me. It smells like my mother’s garden, where she used to grow thyme and potatoes and carrots we would eat straight from the soil. I press the pouch against my chest, my ribs, trying to push away the cold. Push away the memory of my mom that is a raw blade against my throat. That makes me feel alone. Awfully, desperately alone.

The boys call Nora a witch. A moon witch who is full of weird thoughts and strange words. Who lives inside a strange house, filled with strange things.

Maybe they’re right. Or maybe they only tell stories to pass the time. They tell stories about her so that no one will tell stories about them.

Maybe she feels alone too. Misunderstood. A vacant gap inside her that will never be filled.

Just like me.

The fire crackles and I close my eyes, pulling the blanket up over my head to keep out the cold. I try to sleep. To let the day melt away around me. And for a while I do sleep, but my dreams are black and bleak and I’m running through trees, eyes flashing upward, searching for the starry night sky but I’m lost and I sink into the snow and the cold until she touches my hand and I snap awake.

My eyes flutter open and I’m still in my bunk, peering up at the ceiling.

But I’m not alone.

Voices carry through the cabin. The shuffling of boots across the floor.

The others have returned.

I stay still, listening to their lumbering movements, the door shutting behind them. The cabin is dark, the sun long set, and they don’t know I’m here, hidden in the top bunk. They don’t know I’m back.

“Told you the fire wouldn’t go out,” one of them says. I recognize the voice—the voices of the boys who I shared a cabin with before my mind went blank. Before I went missing. It sounds like Jasper, his words more pitched than the others.

I hear someone add more wood to the stove, the kicking off of boots, the opening and closing of dresser drawers. The bunk below me creaks as Lin flops onto his mattress and starts tapping a foot against the wood frame.

Jasper, whose bunk is directly across from mine, says, “I don’t know why I need to learn this shit. When will I need to use a compass? After I leave here, I’m never going into the woods again.”

“You’ll probably get a job as one of the counselors,” Lin suggests below me, and laughs in a quick burst.

“Hell no,” Jasper answers.

A long pause settles between them, and the wind grows louder outside, making the fire in the stove pop and crack. Drops of rain begin to drum against the roof.

I think they’ve fallen asleep, but then Jasper says, “It’s been two weeks.”

Below him, in the bottom bunk, Rhett snaps, “Shut up, man.”

“I just wonder where he is,” Jasper adds quickly.

“He’ll turn up,” Rhett answers, his voice biting. Sharp as tacks. Maybe I should say something, tell them I’m here—but I stay quiet, a knot twisted in my stomach.

“Can you blame him for not wanting to come back?” Lin asks below me. The room falls quiet. “I’d hide too.”

Jasper makes a sound. “No shit.”

Someone grumbles, someone else coughs, but no one speaks. And soon the cabin is filled with the sounds of sleep. Of mutters and snores, feet kicking at their footboards, blankets tugged up beneath chins to keep out the cold.

Wind squeals through cracks between the thick log walls. A never-ending scream. Long and hollow. A desperate sound.

The rain turns to sleet and then snow, collecting on the windowsills. The dark outside becomes darker.

But I lie perfectly still, listening to their breathing. They don’t know I’m back. That I’ve returned from the woods. I’d hide too, Lin said.

What happened that night, when the storm rattled the walls of the cabin, when my memory blots out?

I push back the blanket and move silently down the narrow ladder, then across the room. None of them stir. I could wake them, tell them I’m back, ask them what happened that night—ask them to fill in the parts I can’t remember. But the gnawing in my throat won’t let me. The sliver of pain thrumming inside my chest tells me I shouldn’t trust them.

Something happened that my mind won’t let me remember.

Something that is more darkness than light.

I can’t stay here, with them. There are only bad memories in this place.

I yank on my boots and open the door just wide enough to slip through. I glance back and see someone stirring, Rhett I think, his head lifted. But I pull the door shut before he can focus through the dark.

Before he can see me sneaking out.


Night comes swiftly in the mountains.

The sinking sun devoured by the snowy peaks. Eaten whole.

I carry in freshly cut logs from the woodshed and drop them beside the woodstove—enough to keep Suzy and me warm through the night. If they’ll actually light.

“You found all these things in the woods?” Suzy asks, standing at the darkened window, running a finger over the items that fascinate her placed along the windowsill: silver candlesticks and a small, palm-sized figurine in the shape of a boy and girl dancing, the freckle-faced girl’s head inclined like she’s facing an imaginary sky. These found things I know by heart. The stories they tell.

Suzy spent most of the day holding her cell phone in the air, near windows, trying to find a signal—even after I told her she’d never get reception out here. Then she’d walk into the kitchen and pick up the landline, listening for a dial tone. But there was always nothing. Just the flat silence. Finally, she turned off her cell phone again to save the battery.

Now, with evening upon us, she seems defeated, her voice low and disheartened.

“Yeah,” I tell her. “During a full moon.”

She watches the snow eddy against the window. “People at school talk about you,” she says absently, like I’m not really listening. “They say you talk to the trees. And to the dead.” She says it in a way that makes me think she wants to believe it, so she can return to school when this is all over and say: I stayed in the house of Nora Walker and it’s all true.

And maybe I should feel hurt, wounded by her statement, but I know what people say about me, about my family, and their words fall like dull raindrops on my skin, never soaking in. I know what I am—and what I’m not. And I don’t blame them for their curiosity. Sometimes I think it might only be envy they feel—a desire to be more than what they are. To escape the blandness of their ordinary lives.

I walk into the kitchen and light two candles with a match—one for Suzy and one for me. “I’ve never talked to the dead,” I admit. The truth. Although Walkers have often been able to see shadows, glimpses of ghosts wandering through the old graveyard on the far side of lake. We see flickers of the in-between, phantoms moving from one corner of the house to the other. Our eyes see what others can’t. But I don’t tell Suzy this. Proof that I might really be what they say I am.

Suzy’s eyelids flutter and she taps her fingers against her opposite forearm, narrowing her gaze like she doesn’t believe me, like she’s certain I must be hiding something—a dozen black cats in the attic, a broomstick tucked behind winter coats in the hall closet, jars filled with my victims’ hearts beneath the floorboards. But nothing so gruesome exists within this house. Only herbs and chimney soot and stories that rest inside the walls. “I’ll make you a bed on the couch,” I tell her.

The blankets and pillow from when Oliver slept here last night are still rumpled at the end.

But Suzy glances to the couch, with its sagging cushions and frayed armrests and stuffing bursting out, and she frowns. She drops her arms, and her mouth makes a little pout. “Is there a bed where I can sleep?”


Her eyes cut away and she surveys the living room. She had probably hoped I lived in one of the larger homes on the lake—the log villas with five bedrooms, game rooms in the basement, and spa bathrooms where she could take a bubble bath to soothe the constant chill. “Could I maybe…?” Her words trail away. “Could I sleep with you, in your room?”

Another twinge of sympathy shudders through me.

I don’t want to say yes, I don’t want to share my bed with a girl who surely talks about me at school, who will only stare at all the strange things in my room and then spread more stories about me back at Fir Haven High. But a part of me also wants to feel normal—an ordinary girl who can have friends over and stay up late and not worry about what Suzy will say about me back at school.

The word slips out before I can catch it. “Fine.”

I lock both doors and we climb the stairs to the loft, Fin close behind.

Suzy strides over to the wall of windows, and I divide the pillows on my bed: one for Suzy, one for me. The snow is heavier now, falling in thick waves against the glass. I wonder if the moth is out there, stalking me, waiting in the trees. The week before my grandmother passed away, a bone moth had been pinging against the windows of the house all morning, tap tap tapping; flit, flit, flitting. I thought it was going to break the glass, its delicate wings beating so frantically, its tiny head thumping against the windows. It was the first time I’d ever seen one—the kind of moth my grandmother warned about—and I watched my mom pace through the house, ringing her hands together, braiding and unbraiding her hair methodically, as if the solution to the moth were in the folds of her dark hair.

She knew death was coming—the bone moth was a sign.

And when we woke to find that Grandma had wandered down to the lake in the middle of the night, taken her last breath on the shore, autumn leaves scattered around her—sad shades of orange and golden-yellows—we knew the moth had been right. Death was coming. Just as we’d feared.

And now, one follows me.

“Why do you stay here in the winter?” Suzy asks, touching her fingertips to the window.

I pinch my eyes closed, shoving away the memory of the moth and my grandmother. “It’s my home.”

“I know, but you could leave in winter, like everyone else.”

“I like the winters,” I say. I like the quiet. The cold, unending silence. But it’s more than that. I belong here. Every Walker for generations has lived in these woods. Between these ancient pines. It’s just how it’s always been.

We don’t know how to live anywhere else.

“Your house is older than the others,” Suzy notes, still peering out the window where she can just barely see the outline of other homes along the lake.

“My great-great-grandfather built it,” I tell her. “Long before any other houses lined the shore.” Her gaze is soft, and the light from the candle she holds flickers across her cheekbones and tawny hair. “He was a gold miner,” I continue. “He made his fortune in the Black River.” But like most of the men in my family, he came and