Where The Woods End by CHARLOTTE SALTERWhere The Woods End by CHARLOTTE SALTER

Where The Woods End

byCHARLOTTE SALTER

Hardcover | August 14, 2018

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In a forest filled with treacherous beasts, the thing to be most afraid of is closer than you think in this middle grade horror fantasy.

Kestrel, a young huntress, lives in a seemingly endless forest crawling with dangerous beasts. But the most dangerous beasts of all are the Grabbers--beings that are born when you are and stalk you throughout your life, waiting for the perfect moment to snatch and eat you. No one has ever defeated their Grabber once attacked, and those that die from accidents or other creatures are considered "lucky." Kestrel has been tasked by her mother, a powerful and controlling spell-caster, to hunt down the Grabbers in an effort to protect their village in the forest. Accompanied by Pippit, a hilariously bloodthirsty weasel, she hones her skills as she searches for a way out of the forest--and away from the judgmental villagers who despise her. But her own Grabber is creeping ever closer, and nothing in this forest is what it seems...including her mother's true motivations.
Charlotte Salter lives in England, and has a Master's in Writing. She loves to tell stories and create dark, fantastical worlds.
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Title:Where The Woods EndFormat:HardcoverProduct dimensions:304 pages, 8.63 × 5.88 × 1.13 inShipping dimensions:8.63 × 5.88 × 1.13 inPublished:August 14, 2018Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0735229236

ISBN - 13:9780735229235

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Read from the Book

1The Hungry HourThe endless forest was as dark as the back of a wolf’s throat, and it was filled with countless horrors.Cats with too many eyes. Dogs with teeth as long as knitting needles. Ravenous birds with razor-tipped feathers.And that was only the beginning. Every night, all of the people who lived in the forest’s only village slammed their doors, pulled the sheets up to their chins, and crossed their fingers that they would survive till morning.Well. All except one.Kestrel had been lurking in the branches of a moonlit tree since sundown. It was the Hungry Hour, the time before sunrise when the forest was darkest and most dangerous. Here she was, a ready-made monster meal, completely and utterly alone.So why had nothing tried to kill her yet?“Help,” she said unconvincingly.Kestrel sighed and wriggled her nose to try and get some blood back into it. She was hanging upside down, her knees hooked over a branch, swinging gently like a sock on a wash line. It was part of her research on bats. She wanted to know what was so good about being upside down all the time, but so far it had only made her feel sick.She’d write it down later—right side up is BETTER—adding another tiny bit of knowledge to everything she knew about the forest. The more she knew, the better she’d be able to work out its secrets.And the more she knew about its secrets, the sooner she’d be able to escape.Kestrel touched the hard leather book stuffed under her shirt. It had belonged to her grandma, Granmos. It was crammed full of Granmos’s terrifying descriptions of the most dangerous places in the forest, notes on the monsters that lived there, and some truly unique, stomach-churning recipes. Kestrel had added her own carefully written additions, such as ghosts are scared of cheese and don’t touch those weird yellow frogs ever again, I MEAN IT. She was proud of her notebook.Then she checked the rest of her arsenal. There was a slingshot up her sleeve. Her favorite weapon, a spoon with a sharpened handle, was wedged in her boot. Lastly, there was reeking pork fat in her pocket and a necklace of tasty chicken bones hanging around her neck, which she had stolen from Mardy Banbury, the evilest hag in the village.Kestrel wasn’t sure what made someone a hag, but Mardy was probably it. Unless you counted Kestrel’s mum.She looked toward the village, thinking longingly of the warm gutter where she sometime slept, or the dark, dry burrow she hid in when her mother was in a bad mood. But she couldn’t leave without catching the awful creature that had been running around the village at night, hissing at people through the shutters.“Look at me, completely and utterly alone like a snack on a stick,” she said loudly. “I hope nothing tries to eat me.”But the animals knew that Kestrel was undelicious and as stubborn as a badger, and they kept their distance.Instead, Kestrel was answered by the kind of laughing, creaking silence that only the forest could make. The trees scratched the inky sky like a creature with thousands of long, bony fingers and overgrown nails. The wolf fire, a huge pyre that kept the ravenous beasts away, flickered in the distant village. It helped keep the village safe, but it made the shadows bigger, too.Kestrel saw something out of the corner of her eye. It was a tiny, fleeting movement, and most people wouldn’t have noticed it, but her eyesight was formidable and she was quicker than a greased fox. In one fluid movement the slingshot was in her hand, fitted with a stone.“Come out,” she said boldly, tightening her fingers around the stone. Her heart started to thump, but she made herself ignore it. “I’m ready!”Nothing happened, and she slowly lowered the slingshot. Kestrel cautiously hoped it was because everything near the village was terrified of her. She was scary, but she wasn’t as good at hunting as her grandma, who had taught Kestrel everything she knew. Even her dad was a great hunter. He set incredible traps and hadn’t let a villager get eaten by a wolf in five years. He was so good that the villagers called him the Trapper.Kestrel secretly thought it was a terrible name, like something you’d call a dog, but she liked hearing it anyway.Kestrel pulled the notebook from her pocket and pretended to read, so it wouldn’t look like she was lying in wait. She could see every shadow of the forest in her peripheral vision. She turned the book around as her grandma’s scrawled sentence crawled around the corner of the page, turning into a tight spiral and bumping into a recipe for snail cake.The reeking monster-fat candle inside her storm lantern suddenly guttered. A group of giant moths, which had been hopefully bumping into it, spiraled into the air and disappeared.They knew that something was wrong.Kestrel shoved the notebook back under her shirt, hand on spoon, as her heart did a horrible little dance in her chest. She thumped her ribs, shutting it up.The first thing Granmos taught her was that fear is bad. Being scared is more dangerous than having snakes in your bed or spiders in your tea. It stops you breathing properly, it makes your heart thump so loudly any creature can hear it, and it makes your skin so cold you can’t move. All those things mean it’s easier for you to get caught and eaten.When she thought of her training, Kestrel felt a familiar queasiness in her stomach. It was the same queasiness she always felt when her grandma called her name, ready for the next session.But that was all over now.“Don’t let them know you’re scared,” she muttered, clinging to her grandma’s mantra. “Shut it away and deal with it later.”Bit by bit, her racing heart slowed. Kestrel glared through the trees. She’d spent ages practicing looking dangerous, and there were lots of small rabbits who were, indeed, completely terrified of her.There was another crack, closer by this time. Something was in the forest with her, and it wasn’t Finn, the only other person who might be hanging around here in the dead of night. It wasn’t Pippit, either. Pippit was never quieter than an explosion.Something was watching her. She could feel its eyes drilling into her.Kestrel gritted her teeth and looked down.The creature was sitting on the branch right underneath her, watching her greedily. Its eyes were as flat as black buttons, set in a smooth brown skull with no nose. It was at least her size, with gangly arms and legs and two long, flat wings folded against its back. It froze with a claw stretched toward her, as though it had been caught doing something wrong.Kestrel recognized it from her notebook: It was a treecreeper. Treecreepers liked to sneak up on their prey. They made their victims jump so they fell out of trees, then they picked at the body for dinner.Kestrel thought quickly.“I know what you’ve been up to,” she said imperiously. She secretly felt unnerved by its unblinking stare. “You’ve been creeping around the village and scaring people. Big mistake.”The treecreeper hissed and tilted its head to get a better look at her. It opened its mouth, revealing three rows of tiny peg teeth on its upper and lower jaws.Kestrel clamped a hand over her nose. The treecreeper stank of rotting potatoes.“Kessstrelll,” it rasped. Kestrel’s blood turned to icy slush. She hadn’t expected it to know her name. She scrolled through her mental list of creatures that had something against her.“Hunnnterrr,” it belched. The noise escaped from its throat with no input from its tongue or teeth, as though the word had come right from its stomach.Kestrel’s eyes flicked over its body, looking for a weak spot. She decided to aim her slingshot right between the treecreeper’s eyes. She calculated the distance and the force she’d need. She imagined the stone smacking the treecreeper right in the forehead.The treecreeper twitched, raising a hand to its head. Kestrel caught her breath.Gotcha, she thought.She pointed her stare at the treecreeper and thought very hard of the snail cake recipe, imagining the crunchy sponge and the slimy icing in as much stomach-churning detail as possible. She visualized picking a slice up with her fingers, the frosting oozing between her fingers as she raised it to her mouth.The treecreeper shuddered, turning a bit green.“Did you enjoy that?” she said, feeling triumphant. “That’s right, I know what your trick is. You’re just a stupid mind reader.”“Twelllve,” the treecreeper rasped, desperately trying to claw the situation back.“I’m not impressed,” Kestrel replied. She began to inch along the branch until she was right above its head. “Just ’cause you can read minds doesn’t mean you’re dangerous. You haven’t even tried to eat me yet.”The treecreeper paused with its mouth open, as though nobody had ever challenged it before. Kestrel noticed that there was a gaping darkness behind its teeth. She stared down its throat and tried to remember what else her grandma had told her about treecreepers.“You’re not even moving your mouth in the right way,” she said. She was thinking out loud now. “I don’t think you’re any more dangerous than a squirrel. In fact . . .” an idea squeezed through. “I don’t think you’re much bigger than one, either.”She grinned and flexed her fingers, getting ready to jump. If her grandma was watching now, Kestrel knew she’d be pleased.“Granmossss?” the treecreeper said, and a smile cracked across its face, like it knew the next thing it said would strike her to the core. “Murderrrrrr.”Kestrel threw a punch, hissing like a cat. The treecreeper jerked out of the way just in time.“It’s rude to go in people’s heads,” Kestrel said dangerously. “Didn’t you ever get taught that?”They stared at each other. Waiting. Then the treecreeper twitched, and Kestrel leaped.They both screamed as Kestrel hit the treecreeper spread-eagle. It was horribly light and fragile, with paper-thin skin. They tumbled to the ground, slamming against the branches of the tree as they fell. They crashed into the dead leaves a few feet from each other, Kestrel’s slingshot flying from her pocket and landing in a deep puddle.The treecreeper groaned. It was huge, but it didn’t look any more terrifying than a crumpled kite now that it was on the ground. Kestrel plunged her hand into the puddle, ignoring the small horrors that might be lurking there, and grabbed her slingshot. She aimed an acorn at the treecreeper, which looked at her pitifully with its big, watery eyes.“Mercyyyyy,” it croaked. It was a pathetic monster, really, with fragile bones and dry, thin skin that looked about as tough as moths’ wings. Kestrel pressed her lips together, but her hand was beginning to drop.Then the treecreeper leaped at her. Kestrel was faster, and the stone punched the treecreeper in the side of the head, making a big hole through which she could see the moon. The treecreeper gurgled in surprise, reaching out for her with its big, hooked claws, but it was already deflating as though it had been filled with nothing but air. Kestrel stepped back as it slumped at her feet. Then it lay still.She bent down and prodded it with her finger. She’d stayed up all night for this?“Yeah, take that!” she said anyway, shaking a fist. “And tell all your creepy friends I’ll turn ’em into stew if they mess with me!”With that she plunked herself down in the leaves and folded her arms, waiting for the onslaught. The forest breathed out again. Cold air began to seep through Kestrel’s holey shirt and under her skin.“I guess you’re all afraid of me,” she said after a minute. She didn’t want to admit that she was secretly relieved.After a minute, she pulled the notebook out again to add some notes about the treecreeper. With half an eye still on the forest, she flicked through the pages.Kestrel was used to feeling disappointed by the notebook. Every time she looked at the maps, she hoped that she’d notice something she’d never seen before. A big red arrow that said this is the way out, maybe.Kestrel’s grandma had been born outside the forest. Kestrel remembered her describing it when she was little, when Kestrel still sat on her lap, cocooned in Granmos’s huge coat made of rags. Outside, there were huge, churning expanses of water filled with shells, which were like leaves made of stone. There were enormous open fields, and sometimes not a tree in sight. There were even other villages. Her grandma had run away into the forest when she was young, and the forest had—Kestrel never forgot this description—closed behind her like a purse. Granmos knew that the forest was more than just a big bunch of trees; it was a huge, clever animal that swallowed the unwary and wouldn’t let them out.Granmos became the most fearsome hunter in the forest’s history, and eventually got married and had her dad. Kestrel was determined to leave the forest and find the place her grandma had come from. Together she and Finn were exploring every single place Granmos had described in the notebook, following each scrawled and twisting map. Kestrel wanted to see the bright fields of water. She wanted to collect piles of shells and roll through long, tickly grass. It would be nothing like the scrubby, spiky patches of grass in the forest that sometimes tried to eat you.She was sure that one day they’d find the path Granmos had wandered down, and they’d be able to leave.Well, if her mother ever let her. But that was a different story.Kestrel traced her finger over a drawing of a shell, smooth and shiny from the path her finger had taken again and again. She dragged her eyes away, flipped the page, and paused. There was nothing left in the middle but a jagged line of paper hanging from the spine. The page had been ripped out by a set of claws. On it, half torn away, was one huge word written in thick black ink:GRABBERKestrel shifted uncomfortably. Suddenly the forest seemed an awful lot darker. Even the trees were shivering, as though they were horrified by the word in the notebook.Kestrel got up. She didn’t feel like writing notes now. She grabbed the lantern and her bag of missiles, which she’d hidden in the roots of a nearby tree, and started pacing. As she turned she saw a grinning face out the corner of her eye. Without thinking she grabbed her spoon and pointed it at the creature’s neck, a snarl rising in her throat. But it was only a scarecrow planted behind the trees.Kestrel lowered the spoon, then quickly looked around to check that nobody had seen her mistake. Some of the villagers thought that if you built a scarecrow that looked like you, your grabber would be confused and eat the scarecrow instead. It would have taken a lot of bravery for someone to put it there; the villagers only came into the forest in large groups, and even then, only rarely.But the villagers would do almost anything to keep themselves safe from their grabbers. You were as good as dead once your grabber came after you. Any other kind of death was a relief.There was a soft chittering sound high up in the trees. Kestrel swung the lantern and saw a giant moth, its wings the color of an old carpetbag, swoop away. She forgot all about the scarecrow. She loved hunting moths.“Come back!” she yelled, and all her worries fell away like an old cloak.If you got lost in the forest you could stumble in circles for days, not finding the way home even if it was right next to you. Sometimes the trees even seemed to shift behind your back. But Kestrel had spent so long sprinting, climbing, and swinging through the trees that they didn’t dare try to confuse her. She could slip through gnarled roots like a fox, find rabbit holes to hide in within seconds, and climb a trunk so fast she’d be doing acrobatics in the branches by the time a squirrel caught up with her. She knew which streams were poisonous and which just looked bad, and she knew exactly where to find a long, sharp stick to fight with.Kestrel skidded to a halt and rooted around in her bag for stones as the moth disappeared into a high tree. Her hand went right through the bottom of the bag. She turned it upside down and looked at it properly for the first time. There was a neat slit in the fabric where someone had taken to it with a pair of scissors.One of the village kids had found her burrow, where she hid her stuff, again. She’d thought the bag felt too light. What else had they done? Poured sour milk in her boots like last time? Thrown away all the objects, the trinkets and things from outside the forest, that she’d carefully collected?“Well done,” she said aloud, squashing the shame burning behind her eyelids. “A hole in my bag. Original!”There was a low, rumbling growl in the trees. Kestrel stopped, then very slowly lowered the slingshot. She knew what was making that noise.“Hullo, dog,” she said, turning around with her hands raised. “Good doggy. Good boy.”The dog was, in fact, the complete opposite of anything someone might describe as “good.” It was large and black with bristly fur and shining teeth, and an expression that suggested it had recently swallowed a wasps’ nest. It was also standing so close that she could feel its breath on her face. It wasn’t technically a real dog, but that hadn’t stopped it so far.The dog growled again. Kestrel wished she’d spent more time with the treecreeper, which at least had never bitten her.“My mother wants me back, right?” said Kestrel. “I’m coming, I promise. I just need to finish—”The dog leaped at her. Kestrel shouted as it barreled straight into her chest with all the force of a cannonball. She hit the ground with a loud oomph that knocked the breath out of her.Dead leaves puffed up and floated down over Kestrel’s face.“Why has she sent you?” Kestrel asked. She felt a small, sudden spark of hope. “Is Dad back?”The dog bared its teeth. That meant no. It bit her shoelaces and began to pull. As Kestrel slid through the leaves she tried to grab a tree root, but it snapped off in her hand.“Okay, so she wants me now,” shouted Kestrel. “I’m coming!”The dog let go. Kestrel was covered in dirt, and there was a dead leaf up her nose.Kestrel cast one last glare at the moth. “You were lucky this time,” she said sourly, dislodging the leaf with a snort.The moth surprised her by sticking its tongue out. The black dog jerked its head in the direction of the village. Then it padded away, and Kestrel followed with a scowl.If she disobeyed, she’d have to deal with something worse than a hundred treecreepers.

Editorial Reviews

★ "Deliciously shivery" —Kirkus, starred review★ "[At] the top of the pack of fantasy horror for tween readers. Give this to readers of Neil Gaiman and Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice series." — School Library Connection, starred review "Gorier than Gaiman, this novel is not for the faint of heart but packs a surprising emotional punch. Buy where complex horror-fantasy for young teens is in demand." —School Library Journal"Bone-tingling scary." —BCCB"Hand to readers who like their plots action-packed, their monsters fanged, and their fairy tales dark." —Booklist