Last Halloween, Eleanor, Pip, and Otto narrowly escaped the clutches of the evil January Society and their leader. But life in the too-quiet Eden Eld isn’t safe just yet: according to the bargain they made with Mr. January, it’s now his sister’s turn to hunt the three of them. And her methods are a bit more…treacherous.
When their friends and neighbors begin disappearing, abducted by strange, mud-drenched monsters, Eleanor and her two best friends must race to uncover their enemy’s secrets. If they fail, their families will be next.
Stalked by the relentless mud beasts, they have to find a way to escape using their trusty book of twisted fairytales, their wits, and their friendship. But they quickly learn that the power of the stories they’ve turned to for help has a stronger hold on them—and their futures—than they realized. Even if Eleanor and her friends survive, they won’t end this journey the same people.
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It was raining again. It had rained every day for the last three weeks, and Eleanor was starting to wonder if she should invest in an ark. She clumped along the muddy trail. At least she had a good pair of rubber boots, and it wasn’t far to Pip’s house from school.
She’d had to stay late so she could go to her Yearbook Club meeting. She had to go to her Yearbook Club meeting because normal kids did extracurricular activities, and those extracurricular activities didn’t include “searching for Wrong Things” or “researching ways to break curses” or even “cataloging the magical artifacts hidden in a secret room behind the fireplace in your family’s spooky old mansion.”
When she’d come to Eden Eld, Eleanor had wanted more than anything for people to think she was normal. She didn’t want to be known as the girl who saw things that weren’t there, or the girl whose mother had burned their house down, or the girl who lived in the creepy old mansion at the edge of town. She just wanted to be Normal Eleanor.
But then she’d met Pip and Otto, and found out that the strange things she saw were real after all. Pip and Otto called them the Wrong Things, and they were all over Eden Eld. The next few days had been a blur of terror and excitement as they discovered that the three of them were at the center of a curse that had been stealing kids for over a century. By the end of it, Eleanor didn’t care about being normal quite so much. But shedid care about Aunt Jenny and Uncle Ben being worried about her. So she went to Yearbook Club and she did her homework and she told them everything was great.
And she definitely didn’t mention that there was a trio of magical siblings called the People Who Look Away, led by the wicked Mr. January, trying to kidnap her and her friends to use in their evil ritual.
Eleanor and her friends met up after school whenever they could to research more about the Wrong Things and the People Who Look Away, in the hopes of finding something that could save them. Pip and Otto had offered to wait for her to finish with Yearbook Club, but she’d told them to go on ahead without her. She’d meet them at Pip’s house.
Which was why she was alone in the rapidly darkening woods when the rain started to glow.
It started as a faint glimmer that Eleanor almost dismissed as a trick of the light, but as the rain got steadier, so did the glow. A droplet splashed against the back of her hand and ran shimmering down to the cuff of her jacket.
Her skin prickled. Eden Eld was full of strange things. Most of them wouldn’t hurt you, if you stayed away. But some of them were hungry, or angry, or just dangerous the way a cliff is dangerous—it doesn’t want you to fall, but that doesn’t make landing hurt less.
She picked up her pace. It wasn’t far to Pip’s house. She could handle a little glowing rain.
Off among the trees, something hooted, a low warning sound. Just an owl, she told herself.It was just an owl.
The rattling moan that followed definitely wasn’t.
Eleanor started running. Her backpack, stuffed with textbooks, slowed her down and bounced painfully against the small of her back.
The weird light made the air seem to shiver and ripple. She could barely see anything but the streaking colors of the rain—but there wassomething off among the trees. It was moving with her, keeping perfect pace without making a sound. The glimmering rain dazzled her, making it impossible to see anything but the creature’s shadowy form.
She ran faster. So did the shadow. Her breath was sharp and cold in her throat. Her boots slapped against the muddy ground—and then her foot jetted out from under her, hitting a slick of thick mud.
Eleanor hit the ground backpack-first and flailed. She flipped herself back over in time to hear bushes shake and snap as whatever was hunting her charged forward.
A scream tore from her throat. She ditched her heavy backpack and sprinted away, plunging into the trees. Branches clawed at her face and arms.
Her foot caught against a root. She made a wild grab for the nearest tree trunk and managed to stay upright. She panted, looking desperately around her. The woods were empty. No creature. No shadow-thing. Just the steady plinking of the rain.
“Eleanor!” Pip’s voice came from close by.
“Pip! I’m here!” she shouted back. “There’s something in the woods!”
Moments later, Pip came tromping toward Eleanor, her walking stick—made of solid ash and excellent for fighting magical beasts—held in a tight grip. The rain had set her red hair into a frantic frizz around her pale, freckled face, but her expression was fierce. Otto, whose tight, dark curls were shimmering with the rain, thrashed his way through the underbrush.
“What’s wrong? What’s after you?” Pip asked, drawing in close and squinting at the woods. Everything shifted and blurred behind the weird light of the rain.
“I don’t know. I saw a shadow. It was big,” Eleanor said. “I think.”
“Look!” Otto cried out. He pointed as something darted past them, low to the ground. “Is that it?”
“It was bigger than that,” Eleanor said, but she couldn’t help the uncertainty in her voice. Whathad she seen?
“Whatever this one is, it’s glowing,” Pip said grimly, pointing the end of her stick in the direction the small shadow had gone. The light seemed brighter up ahead, past a huge pine tree.
Eleanor crept forward behind Pip, who held her walking stick—or hittin’ stick, as she liked to call it—at the ready. The light at the base of the tree pulsed like a heartbeat.
“Yahhh!” Pip cried, and leaped around the side of the tree. And stood there, brow creased.
“What is it?” Eleanor asked. She stepped around the tree.
A salamander the length of her foot blinked up at her. Its translucent skin glimmered like the rain, blues and pale purples swirling and rippling. Tiny mushrooms grew around it, and they were glowing, too.
“Don’t try anything,” Pip warned it. The salamander did not seem inclined to defy her. It stared. After a moment, it blinked again.
“Pip! Eleanor! Check this out! There’s more of them!” Otto cried, and burst out from behind a bush, holding another of the glowing salamanders in both hands. Its hind legs dangled. It looked less evil than vaguely confused about its present condition.
Pip gave it a narrow-eyed look and menaced the creature with her walking stick. “Watch out, Otto. It’s probably poisonous. Or carnivorous. Or”—she paused, considering— “scheming.”
“I don’t think so,” Otto said with a frown, turning the salamander so he could peer into its face. It stuck out its fat tongue and licked its own eye.
Eleanor sighed and wiped the rain from her glasses with the edge of her sleeve, which only succeeded in smearing it into wet streaks. She must have imagined the thing being giant and frightening because the salamanders definitely weren’t either of those things.
Pip lowered the walking stick. “At least put it down until we know what it is,” Eleanor pleaded.
“Okay, fine,” Otto said with an annoyed huff and set the salamander down. It stayed where he put it but bounced up and down a few times. Otto dropped into a crouch to watch, his tight curls flopping over his face. “So cool,” he said.
“Wrong Things aren’t cool,” Pip said, but Otto just made a shooing motion.
Otto and Pip were best friends. They’d known each other for all of their thirteen years. Eleanor was the newcomer to the group, but she tried not to let that bother her. After all, they shared a unique bond: they’d all been born on Halloween, and they were all descended from the founders of Eden Eld. And that made them cursed.
Last Halloween, the curse had almost taken them. They’d avoided it temporarily, but they knew that they weren’t safe for good. Eleanor and her friends had to be on their guard.
“I like them,” Otto said. In Pip’s opinion, stated loudly and often, he was not sufficiently on his guard at all. “I think I’m going to call them glimmanders. Or glimmermanders. What do you think?”
“I think they’re going to try to eat your face,” Pip told him, but without much conviction.
Eleanor couldn’t see how these placid little creatures could possibly be part of Mr. January and his sisters’ schemes. Just to be safe, she took out the flat shard of crystal that hung around her neck on a chain. She’d used it before to see the true nature of the Wrong Things and other hidden magical secrets, and now she lifted it to her eye, peering through it. The salamanders didn’t look any different.
“I don’t think they’re a threat, Pip,” she said gently.
“I’m not stupid. I know they’re not a threat this second. But we don’t know anything about them!” Pip glared at her—and then looked down at the ground, taking a deep breath. Eleanor knew she was counting to ten in her head. It was supposed to help her control her anger. Judging by how often Eleanor and Otto found themselves getting glowered at, and how many snapped pencils rattled around in Pip’s backpack, it wasn’t terribly effective.
“It’s my fault. I freaked out over nothing,” Eleanor said, trying to smooth things over.
“Yeah, you did,” Pip snapped. She stalked away, marching back toward the path.
Otto glanced at Eleanor, wounded worry on his face. Otto had big, dark brown eyes, light brown skin, and a wide, expressive mouth that was quick to smile or frown. That was one of her favorite things about Otto—he never hid what he felt. “Did I say something wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” Eleanor replied. “I’m pretty sure she’s mad at me. Again.” She wasn’t like Otto. She thought about every expression, every word, always aware of how she seemed to other people. And right now, she was trying to sound reassuring and confident, even though her stomach was one big knot of anxiety. “It’s just hard, you know?”
“No, I don’t. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? I have a totally normal family with awesome parents, so I don’t understand what it’s like. Right?”
The rain drummed against their shoulders and slicked Eleanor’s hair down. She could only shrug helplessly. Pip’s mother had been one of the people who tried to give them to Mr. January. That wasn’t something you got over in five months. Before that, Eleanor’s mother had disappeared—and for months, Eleanor had believed she burned their house down, trapping Eleanor inside and almost killing her. It turned out not to be true, but she was probably the person who most understood what Pip was going through.
She hated this. She hated that Pip was hurting and she hated that it hurt Otto, too. And that she couldn’t fix any of it.
Pip, shoulders sagging, trudged back toward them. “Hey, guys. I’m sorry I got mad.”
“That’s okay,” Eleanor said quickly. “We’re all on edge. We don’t know when Mr. January’s sisters are going to come after us.”
“Can I take another look at the salamanders? With your crystal?” Pip asked. She reached out a hand.
“Of course.” Eleanor lifted the chain over her head and started to hand it over.
“Stop!” Pip yelled—but Pip hadn’t said anything. Not that Pip, at least.
Another Pip, identical to the one standing in front of Eleanor, charged through the trees. Eleanor froze. And then she looked down.
The Pip with her hand outstretched was standing on a muddy patch of ground that showed her footprints clearly. Footprints that were pointed the wrong way around.