Can love survive the dark?
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Edgewood by Kristen Ciccarelli, out March 1st from Wednesday Books.
No matter how far she runs, the forest of Edgewood always comes for Emeline Lark. The scent of damp earth curls into her nose when she sings and moss creeps across the stage. It’s as if the woods of her childhood, shrouded in folklore and tall tales, are trying to reclaim her. But Emeline has no patience for silly superstitions.
When her grandfather disappears, leaving only a mysterious orb in his wake, the stories Emeline has always scoffed at suddenly seem less foolish. She enters the forest she has spent years trying to escape, only to have Hawthorne Fell, a handsome and brooding tithe collector, try to dissuade her from searching.
Refusing to be deterred, Emeline finds herself drawn to the court of the fabled Wood King himself. She makes a deal—her voice for her grandfather’s freedom. Little does she know, she’s stumbled into the middle of a curse much bigger than herself, one that threatens the existence of this eerie world she’s trapped in, along with the devastating boy who feels so familiar.
With the help of Hawthorne—an enemy turned reluctant ally who she grows closer to each day—Emeline sets out to not only save her grandfather’s life, but to right past wrongs, and in the process, discover her true voice.
The woods came for Emeline the way they always did: creeping in with the shadows, seeping up through the cracks.
Emeline, they whispered. Sing us a true song.
Emeline gritted her teeth, ignoring it. From her perch on the wooden stool beneath the white lights, she continued to croon into the mic, picking the strings of her ukulele, telling herself she didn’t care if the ale in the bar taps turned to mucky creek water tonight, or if the cash in the register transformed into crisp golden maple keys. She didn’t care if those spongy green clumps currently sprouting up between the floorboards were, in fact, forest moss.
She needed to stay focused.
She needed to not screw this up.
Emeline couldn’t give the representatives from Daybreak Records—sitting at the back of this crowded pub—any inkling that freaky things happened when she sang. Nope. Tonight, she was Emeline Lark, folksinger with a pop vibe. Rising star with foot-stomping melodies and a breathy, warbling voice.
Nothing freaky to see here at all.
The lights of La Rêverie were turned down and a real fire crackled and spit from a hearth in the pub’s stone wall. Along the opposite wall, round logs for the fire were stacked neatly from floor to ceiling, and oil lamps glowed on wooden tables throughout the room.
It all felt very hyggely. Cozy, warm, and dark. Minus the sterile white lights above Emeline. These blinded her, heating her face and making her sweat, hiding the patrons from view as she hurtled towards the end of her final set.
As she sang, the scent of damp, mulchy earth festered in the air. Emeline scrunched her nose, trying to focus on the faceless audience beyond the lights. Her leg bounced as she plastered on a smile, cracking jokes between songs, keeping things cheerful and light.
She only played songs her manager approved. Those likely to jive with the Daybreak representatives at the back, watching her. Representatives in a position to offer her a contract.
The thought made Emeline crackle and spark with hope.
A contract with Daybreak—one of the biggest record labels in the country—would launch her to the next level of her music career.
But will they see a rising star? she thought. Or will they see a hack?
She kept strumming.
When she reached the last song of her last set, the pungent smell of moldy earth made Emeline glance down. The spongy green moss had skulked right up to the scuffed brown toes of her Blundstones and shiny black insects were starting to scuttle out of it.
Just one true song, rasped the woods.
Her spine stiffened as she thought of last Thursday’s gig. The woods sent spiders that time. The creepy-crawlies arrived during her third set, crawling up her jeans and falling into her water glass. Drawn to the sound of her voice.
Emeline shuddered at the memory.
She’d found one in her hair later that night, and an infestation in her guitar the next morning.
Don’t let it happen tonight.
Before the insects crawled over her Blundstones and up her stool, before green moss could start sprouting out of the mic—a thing that happened a month ago—Emeline skipped the last verse of the song and moved straight into the final chorus.
No one ever noticed the strange things that happened when she sang. Maybe it was because she played so late at night and most people were into their third or fourth beer. Or possibly it was because the lights were always turned down so low. Or perhaps she’d just gotten really good at ending her sets before things got out of hand.
Or maybe it’s because you’re seeing things that aren’t there.
Emeline’s last song trailed into silence, ending her set ten minutes short. The forest paused, waiting for her to begin another one.
Not a chance.
Because the moment her set ended, so did the forest’s reach. It was something she’d learned after moving away from Edgewood two years ago: the woods—real or imagined—only came for her when she sang.
The problem was: Emeline was always singing.
Music was her life.
The audience applauded. She smiled, hoping it didn’t look forced. Thanking them, she wiped her sweaty palms on the threads of her yellow sweater, then let out a deep breath. The house music started up, relieving Emeline of her role as entertainer.
Lifting her ukulele from her lap, she set it on the stand next to her guitar and covertly scanned the room.
The green moss was receding, along with the bugs, taking the scent of the woods with it.
Emeline slumped with relief. She’d done it. Managed to get through all three sets without causing an incident. No one noticed the mossy presence in the room tonight. No one except her.
It made her wonder—not for the first time—if it wasn’t all in her head. If her mind wasn’t perhaps going the way of her grandfather’s.
Maybe I’m crazy too.
Like everyone who lived in Edgewood too long.
An ache flared in her chest as she remembered the last time she’d seen her grandfather. That sterile room. Her shoes on the gray linoleum floor as she walked away and out of his life.
She forced herself to breathe.
You did the right thing. It’s what he wanted you to do.
She shoved the thoughts from her mind, but a sharp ache remained.
To soothe her throat—which was dry and parched from singing—Emeline reached for the bright pink Hydro Flask beneath her stool. The one Joel gave her. She’d filled it up with water at the beginning of her last set.
Her fingers grabbed air.
She leaned down, scanning the floor. No Hydro Flask. Emeline narrowed her eyes. She’d put it right there, beneath her stool. But it was gone.
In its place rested a flower. A white anemone, pretty as a star.
Emeline pinched the flower’s stem between her fingers and plucked it out from beneath her stool. Light caught in the translucent white petals circling the black center.
The sight sent a chill down her back.
Excerpted from Edgewood, copyright © 2022 by Kristen Ciccarelli.