Storm Eden was forbidden to put a foot
Excerpted from Into the Woods by Lyn Gardner; illustrated by Mini Grey Copyright © 2009 by Lyn Gardner. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
outside the high walls that surrounded the park at Eden End. Her older sister, Aurora, had made that quite clear after Storm's last escapade, which had ended badly, with two lost shoes, one black eye and a bump the size of a robin's egg on her head. On no account was Storm to leave the park and go into the woods, except in an emergency.
'What sort of emergency?' Storm had asked.
'Only a direst emergency. Nothing less than imminent death,' Aurora had replied darkly, a dangerous glint in her eye.
So, once upon a time, here and there, now and then, Storm Eden stood disconsolately under an oak tree in the park, looking up at a cloudless sky. It was not yet noon, and the day rolled out endlessly in front of her like a piece of carpet with nothing on it. And if an empty day didn't count as an emergency, Storm wasn't sure what did. Aurora had mentioned death, and Storm felt quite certain that she would die of boredom if she didn't find something fun to do. Surely even her sister would understand that? Or perhaps not. But then, Aurora need never know.
Storm was sure that her sister would either be busy demonstrating her unnatural talent for housework, by rearranging the linen cupboard for the second time that week, or perfecting her recipe for chocolate madeleines in the kitchen. And she was certain nobody else would miss her. Her mother, who hardly seemed to notice Storm's existence at the best of times, would be having a pre-lunch nap, and her father would be in his study planning an expedition in search of the legendary four-tongued, three-footed, two-headed honey dragon which was reputed to be at least one hundred metres long and have the sunniest disposition of any member of the lizard family.
Storm felt restless and hungry for something, although she didn't think it was for food. She had a round of cucumber and watercress sandwiches, a hard-boiled brown speckled egg, laid by an unreliable hen called Desdemona, and a flask filled with raspberry juice in her pockets. And she had the whole day before her.
Storm ran across the park to a place where one of the gnarled oak trees nestled close to the high walls, clambered up the trunk with the ease of a monkey, shimmied along the nearest branch that overhung the wall, took a quick glance back towards the ramshackle old house with its winking windows, lopsided chimneys and single turret to check she was unseen, and dropped to the ground on the other side.
Rooks rose from the treetops, their icy cries cutting the stillness. Storm realized she had forgotten her shoes. She shrugged and scrambled to her feet, oblivious to muddied knees and a tear in her skirt. The woods waited: mysterious, watchful and alluring. The whisper and rustle of branches in the wind sounded to Storm as if the trees were calling out to her. She took a few steps into their shadows and the thorns of a briar latched onto her arm, like sharp grasping fingers, urging her onwards into the enticing darkness of the forest.
It was then that she remembered a story Aurora was fond of telling -- a story which she claimed was completely true and had happened in these very same woods. It was about a woodcutter's daughter, who many centuries ago had disobeyed her mother's orders, strayed off the path in the woods and been eaten by a wolf. Aurora always concluded the story by wagging her finger at Storm and saying, 'So heed my words, stay close to home where you are safe, and don't wander into the woods.' Storm would listen and then retort, 'Well, if I met a wolf, I'd gobble him up in a single gulp. Wolves don't scare me,' and Aurora would shake her head mournfully at her sister's boldness and reply, 'You'll come to a bad end, Storm Eden. Just like the woodcutter's daughter.'
Storm turned her back reluctantly on the forest and, skirting the very edge, set off through a copse of saplings. After a couple of miles she hit a small lane, down which a hay wagon was rumbling noisily. Hurrying after it, she hitched herself a lift on the back and made herself a nest in the spiky grass that smelled of earth and molasses, next to two dozen jars of lavender honey and three churns of milk. Lying back in contentment, she scoffed a sandwich, and soon the jolting of the moving vehicle, the heat and the drowsy hum of bees in the hedgerows sent her to sleep. She didn't know how long she dozed, but she woke with a start to the sound of surprised voices.
'Look 'ere, 'Arry, you've got a skulker in the back taking you for a free ride. You oughta demand payment from the little minx.'
Still befuddled by sleep, Storm saw rough, hairy arms coming towards her. Struggling this way and that, so she was slippery as an eel, she slithered from their grasp, and scooted across the cobbled street and through the market stalls beyond, upsetting a display of cheese, and sending a barrel of wormy apples tumbling over. She heard angry shouts and curses behind her, but she didn't stop. She bolted away from the market square, skidded past the rusty railings of a derelict church, dashed through its graveyard, thick with nettles, and crossed the waste ground beyond. Soon she was lost in a maze of narrow streets with unwelcoming names such as Damnation Alley, Desolation Lane and Rat Trap Wynd. The streets were edged with identical houses with mean little windows and doors like pinched mouths.
Storm ran through Bleeding Heart Mews and into Drowned Man's Alley and found herself by a dark, oily river. Fog curled around her. Exhausted, she collapsed on a low wall behind a lidless dustbin and leaped up again in fright as two huge rats, the size of small dogs, emerged from the bin, eyed her defiantly and then streaked off. Storm's throat felt as if it was on fire and her head was muzzy. She heard a distant clock strike three. She was surprised that it was only mid-afternoon -- it seemed much later. Here in the town there was no sign of the sun that shone so brightly on Eden End. Instead, the air was heavy with soot from the belching factories, and the street lamps, already lit despite the early hour, were blotches in the smog that ate up the sky.
Storm finally realized where she was: Piper's Town. She had been here once before with Aurora and her father. He had been in search of supplies for one of his expeditions and had taken them to a dark little shop in Angel Court, just off Butchery Lane. Storm remembered studying one of the old maps displayed on its walls, her grubby finger following the winding road that straggled south-west from the mountains and Eden End until it rested over the smudge that was the town. Until then, Storm had thought her home was the centre of the universe, but the map showed it as a tiny dot compared with the town, the sea that lay further to the south, and those immense mountains.