The Darkest Part of the Forest Page 1

Author: Holly Black

Genres: Fantasy , Young Adult


Down a path worn into the woods, past a stream and a hollowed-out log full of pill bugs and termites, was a glass coffin. It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.

As far as Hazel Evans knew, from what her parents said to her and from what their parents said to them, he’d always been there. And no matter what anyone did, he never, ever woke up.

He didn’t wake up during the long summers, when Hazel and her brother, Ben, stretched out on the full length of the coffin, staring down through the crystalline panes, fogging them up with their breath, and scheming glorious schemes. He didn’t wake up when tourists came to gape or debunkers came to swear he wasn’t real. He didn’t wake up on autumn weekends, when girls danced right on top of him, gyrating to the tinny sounds coming from nearby iPod speakers, didn’t notice when Leonie Wallace lifted her beer high over her head, as if she were saluting the whole haunted forest. He didn’t so much as stir when Ben’s best friend, Jack Gordon, wrote IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS in Sharpie along one side—or when Lloyd Lindblad took a sledgehammer and actually tried. No matter how many parties had been held around the horned boy—generations of parties, so that the grass sparkled with decades of broken bottles in green and amber, so that the bushes shone with crushed aluminum cans in silver and gold and rust—and no matter what happened at those parties, nothing could wake the boy inside the glass coffin.

When they were little, Ben and Hazel made him flower crowns and told him stories about how they would rescue him. Back then, they were going to save everyone who needed saving in Fairfold. Once Hazel got older, though, she mostly visited the coffin only at night, in crowds, but she still felt something tighten in her chest when she looked down at the boy’s strange and beautiful face.

She hadn’t saved him, and she hadn’t saved Fairfold, either.

“Hey, Hazel,” Leonie called, dancing to one side to make room in case Hazel wanted to join her atop the horned boy’s casket. Doris Alvaro was already up there, still in her cheerleader outfit from the game their school lost earlier that night, shining chestnut ponytail whipping through the air. They both looked flushed with alcohol and good cheer.

Waving a hello to Leonie, Hazel didn’t get up on the coffin, although she was tempted. Instead she threaded her way through the crowd of teenagers.

Fairfold High was a small-enough school that although there were cliques (even if a few were made up of basically a single person, like how Megan Rojas was the entire Goth community), everyone had to party together if they wanted to have enough people around to party at all. But just because everyone partied together, it didn’t mean they were all friends. Until a month ago, Hazel had been part of a girl posse, striding through school in heavy eyeliner and dangling, shining earrings as sharp as their smiles. Sworn in sticky, bright blood sucked from thumbs to be friends forever. She’d drifted away from them after Molly Lipscomb asked her to kiss and then jilt Molly’s ex, but was furious with her once she had.

It turned out that Hazel’s other friends were really just Molly’s friends. Even though they’d been part of the plan, they pretended they weren’t. They pretended something had happened that Hazel ought to be sorry about. They wanted Hazel to admit that she’d done it to hurt Molly.

Hazel kissed boys for all kinds of reasons—because they were cute, because she was a little drunk, because she was bored, because they let her, because it was fun, because they looked lonely, because it blotted out her fears for a while, because she wasn’t sure how many kisses she had left. But she’d kissed only one boy who really belonged to someone else, and under no circumstances would she ever do it again.

At least she still had her brother to hang out with, even if he was currently on a date in the city with some guy he’d met online. And she had Ben’s best friend, Jack, even if he made her nervous. And she had Leonie.

That was plenty of friends. Too many, really, considering that she was likely to disappear one of these days, leaving them all behind.

Thinking that way was how she’d wound up not asking anyone for a ride to the party that night, even though it meant walking the whole way, through the shallow edge of the woods, past farms and old tobacco barns, and then into the forest.

It was one of those early fall nights when wood smoke was in the air, along with the sweet richness of kicked-up leaf mold, and everything felt possible. She was wearing a new green sweater, her favorite brown boots, and a pair of cheap green enamel hoops. Her loose red curls still had a hint of summer gold, and when she’d looked in the mirror to smear on a little bit of tinted ChapStick before she walked out the door, she actually thought she looked pretty good.

Liz was in charge of the playlist, broadcasting from her phone through the speakers in her vintage Fiat, choosing dance music so loud it made the trees shiver. Martin Silver was chatting up Lourdes and Namiya at the same time, clearly hoping for a best-friend sandwich that was never, ever, ever going to happen. Molly was laughing in a half circle of girls. Stephen, in his paint-spattered shirt, was sitting on his truck with the headlights on, drinking Franklin’s dad’s moonshine from a flask, too busy nursing some private sorrow to care whether the stuff would make him go blind. Jack was sitting over with his brother (well, kind of his brother), Carter, the quarterback, on a log near the glass coffin. They were laughing, which made Hazel want to go over there and laugh with them, except that she also wanted to get up and dance, and she also wanted to run back home.

“Hazel,” someone said, and she turned to see Robbie Delmonico. The smile froze on her face.

“I haven’t seen you around. You look nice.” He seemed resentful about it.

“Thanks.” Robbie had to know she’d been avoiding him, which made her feel like an awful person, but ever since they’d made out at a party, he’d followed her around as though he was heartbroken, and that was even worse. She hadn’t dumped him or anything like that; he’d never even asked her out. He just stared at her miserably and asked weird, leading questions, such as “What are you doing after school?” And when she told him, “Nothing, just hanging out,” he never suggested anything else, never even proposed he might like to come over.

It was because of kissing boys like Robbie Delmonico that people believed Hazel would kiss anyone.

It really had seemed like a good idea at the time.

“Thanks,” she said again, slightly more loudly, nodding. She began to turn away.

“Your sweater’s new, right?” And he gave her that sad smile that seemed to say that he knew he was nice for noticing and that he knew nice guys finished last.

The funny thing was that he hadn’t seemed particularly interested in her before she lunged at him. It was as though, by putting her lips to his—and, okay, allowing a certain amount of handsiness—she’d transformed herself into some kind of cruel goddess of love.

“It is new,” she told him, nodding again. Around him, she felt as coldhearted as he clearly thought she was. “Well, I guess I’ll see you around.”

“Yeah,” he said, letting the word linger.

And then, at the critical moment, the moment when she meant to just walk away, guilt overtook her and she said the one thing she knew she shouldn’t say, the thing for which she would kick herself over and over again throughout the night. “Maybe we’ll run into each other later.”

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