Still grieving the loss of her mother, Eden visits Safina Island, her ancestral home, as a healing balm. But when she discovers an old sketchbook that belonged to her mother, she’s haunted by the images she sees drawn there. A creepy mansion covered with roots and leaves. A monstrous dog with dagger-sharp teeth. And a tall woman with wind-blown hair and long, sharp nails who is as beautiful as she is terrifying.
Days later, exploring the island alone, Eden follows a black cat through a rift in the bright day. She stumbles into Everdark, a parallel world where the sun never rises, where spirits linger between death and the afterlife, and where everything from her mother’s drawings is all too real—especially the Witch of Everdark, who wants to make Eden her eternal daughter.
Can Eden find a way to defeat the witch’s magic? Or will she remain trapped in Everdark forever?
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Chapter One: Glass Flower CHAPTER ONE Glass Flower
Eden slid her finger on the map to the blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. She stared at the sea islands off the coast of Georgia. The largest island was out farther than the rest, an isolated mass. This was Safina Island, her mother’s birthplace.
Her father had bought the map at a North Carolina rest stop and designated her as the navigator instead of using the app on his phone. It was an opportunity for Eden to learn the geography of intersecting routes and identify points of interest.
On their road trip, they ate junk food from vending machines and drank too much soda. They sang songs and laughed at their off-key melodies. It could have been easy to pretend that it had always been just the two of them, but a weight pressed heavy on Eden’s chest like a block of ice. The cold truth of her mother’s death.
She had endured the first days of shock with denial. Then a bitter acceptance when the house stopped being full of strangers offering their condolences with dishes wrapped in foil. During this time her father had treated Eden like a glass flower, a fragile girl who could break at the slightest touch. But when the record heat of the summer turned into the chill of winter snow, Eden’s father slowly transferred his energy back into his work. A professor of evolutionary biology, he was teaching a full course load for the semester. Dr. Langston Leopold was keeping himself very busy.
Today he was dressed similarly to Eden in a graphic tee and jeans—much different from his usual uniform of oxford shirt and khaki pants. But he still wore his tortoiseshell glasses that complemented his brown skin.
“Saw a sign for a diner a few miles back,” he said. “Should be coming up soon.”
They were traveling the local highway through the coastal town of Marien, Georgia. The trees were different from the ones in Maryland. The pines had skinny trunks, and wide oaks dripped with Spanish moss. Palmettos clustered together as if sharing secrets. Eden hadn’t seen any of the red clay that she had read about online. Instead the soil was sandy brown as if the beach had invaded the mainland.
“Do you think this place will have fried green tomatoes?” Eden asked.
“I’ll bet they do.” Dr. Leopold chuckled, but then his face turned solemn. “You still feeling okay about this trip? It’s not too much, is it?”
A knot formed in Eden’s stomach. Those words again: too much.
They had lost the same person and been through the same journey together. Couldn’t he understand this was her chance to meet her mother’s family? Eden couldn’t explain how a place she had never visited could feel so much like home. How could she describe that kind of yearning to her father? Nothing could ever be too much for Eden. Not even the universe could fill the empty space her mother had left.
“Remember, you have to tell me.” Dr. Leopold stumbled in her silence. “If you’re not okay, you have to let me know.”
He was treating Eden like a glass flower again, so different from her mother, who always trusted that she had the strength to handle things. To bend but not break to whatever the world gave her. Strong enough not to shatter into tiny shards.
“Dad, this is my family,” Eden finally said. “This is my chance to finally meet them.”
Dr. Leopold ran his hand over his cropped curls, a nervous tic. “I just don’t want this visit to make you sad.”
“I’m already sad,” Eden answered.
“I know,” her father stated quietly.
They were still in grief counseling. It had been good for both of them, although difficult. Eden had spent the first session watching her father weep. It was in a recent session that the decision had been made to visit Safina Island as a healing balm. Dr. Leopold was reluctant about the idea at first, but when Eden persisted, he finally agreed.
Her mother’s childhood on the island was murky. Eden knew Safina Island was where her enslaved ancestors had cultivated cotton and sugar cane. It was these ancestors who’d stayed on the island during the Civil War when their enslavers had fled. When the federal government had granted them land after the war, they made the island their home. When the former enslavers returned, the federal government stripped the free people of their granted land. But her mother’s family had been able to purchase the entire north side of Safina Island.
The Gardener family had stayed. They’d stayed through famine and hurricanes. They’d stayed through failed attempts of golf courses and luxury hotels. The Gardener family persevered and had lived on their land for over two centuries.
Every spring her mother’s family held a celebration on Safina Island. Eden knew about these anniversaries of the Gardener land purchase from the invitations in pale blue envelopes sent by her great-aunt. The same one who also sent Eden birthday cards every year with a pressed island flower and a crisp twenty-dollar bill. Her mother had never wanted to attend these celebrations, so Eden had never been given a chance to visit Safina Island.
Now she was going to meet her mother’s family and learn all the things that were blurred in her history.
Her mother had been twelve years old when she left the island of her ancestors. The same age Eden was now. More than anything, she wanted to know why her mother never wanted to return to her birthplace.
Elvira’s Diner was tucked off a dusty side road. A few cars were parked in the small lot. Most of them had Georgia plates with faded peach decals. Eden decided this was a place to eat for the coastal town’s locals.
When they entered the diner, the mostly brown faces of the patrons turned to gawk at them, but after a few awkward seconds, they returned to their conversations and food.
An older light-skinned woman in a pink apron greeted them. “Y’all want a table?”
“That would be great,” Eden’s father said.
The waitress scanned the parking lot. “It’s just y’all two?”
Dr. Leopold put his arm around Eden’s shoulder like a protective shield. “Yes, it’s just me and my daughter.”
The waitress led them to a leather booth with deeply cracked seats sealed with red masking tape. Eden slid in and quickly grabbed a menu.
“I’m going to find the restroom. Be back,” her father said.
Eden waited until he was gone before she opened her macramé bag. She pulled out her phone and called her best friend. Natalie answered immediately.
“Are you there yet?” she asked.
“Almost. We’re at a diner now. I don’t think it’s far from the dock.”
“Is your dad still acting weird?” Natalie asked.
“Yep,” Eden answered.
Hearing Natalie’s voice instantly calmed her. Natalie had been Eden’s best friend since her first day at Cathedral, the Maryland private school they both attended. They quickly became chosen sisters. The Chen household was a second home to Eden. At Lunar New Year, she got her own red envelope. She would help Natalie’s father put decadent fillings of minced pork and chives into dumplings, then watch him fry them to perfection. Eden would sit on Natalie’s thick rug and eat them until her stomach stretched tight in her clothes.
In the days after her mother’s death, Natalie had wrapped Eden in a quilt to keep the wolves of grief away. Her best friend’s family had been among the small number of people who wore white in the sea of black at the memorial service.
Now Eden envisioned Natalie in her bedroom, sitting on her thick rug wrapped in a plush terry-cloth robe with her pet rabbit, Fiver, on her lap. Surrounded by macramé cords and wooden beads for her latest craft project, she would have a cup of tea within reach for inspiration.
“I have to admit, I’m surprised your dad didn’t turn around and drive you straight back to Maryland. This is true progress,” Natalie said.
“It’s too late for that now,” Eden replied. “My uncle is coming to pick us up.”
Since Safina Island had no bridges connecting it to the mainland, they would have to cross the water in her great-uncle’s boat.
“Spring break will be so boring without you.” Natalie paused. “Are you nervous? You’ll be meeting so many people at once.”
Eden was worried about this. Not only was she going to her mother’s island for the first time, but she would also be meeting that entire side of her family. She hoped that she wouldn’t disappoint them.
“Aunt Susanna has always wanted us to come visit. It’ll be okay.”
“That’s true,” Natalie agreed. “But I’m going to miss you! I hope I don’t get so bored I decide to cut my own bangs. You won’t even be here to stop me.”
“Stop being so dramatic.” Eden laughed. “I’ll only be gone for a few days. You won’t even get a chance to miss me.”
Natalie was quiet for several moments, but she spoke again before Eden thought they had been disconnected.
“You’ve always wanted to go to Safina Island,” she said softly. “I’m so happy for you.”
After Eden said goodbye to her best friend, she pulled out a photograph. Last night while packing for her trip, she had taken it out of the frame she kept on her nightstand. It was the same photograph she had chosen for the memorial service program.
Her mother had been in the summer garden drenched in sunshine. They had just returned from Thyme After Thyme Nursery with packets of seeds. Eden stared at the smudges of dirt on her mother’s collarbone and cheek. This was how she wanted to remember her. She turned it over and stared at the two words in her father’s handwriting: Beloved Nora.
Dr. Nora Gardener, the botanist and professor. The woman who kept her family name when she married. The mother who filled up Eden’s bedroom with glass globes full of soil and succulents.
A prick of pain twisted in Eden’s eyes. Blinking back tears, she pushed the icy sadness away. This was the thing she had learned about grief. It gave no warning. She was never prepared for its sharp sting.
“Eden?” Her father’s voice brought her back to the realm of the diner.
Dr. Leopold was standing beside her, his face full of concern. He stared at the photograph in her hands.
“Your mother was very happy that day,” he said quietly.
Eden sniffed and put the photograph back in her purse as her father slid back into the booth and picked up the diner menu.
“Looks like they don’t have fried green tomatoes,” her father said, a slight disappointment in his voice.
Eden peered out the diner window. This was the closest she had ever been to her mother’s birthplace. Soon she would be on Safina Island, and questions bubbled up her throat.
Her father lowered his menu. “Are you okay?”
“Why did Mom never want to come back here?”
Her father hesitated. “It’s complicated.”
Eden swallowed. “Are... are the Gardeners bad people?”
“No, of course not. They’re good, hardworking people, and your mother loved her family. It was hard after the divorce when her father, your grandfather, left the island.” Dr. Leopold ran a hand over his cropped curls. “Then she was in an accident and had to go to the mainland to recover. I think she never came back because all those memories haunted her.”
“She never talked to me about it,” Eden said. “Do you know what kind of accident—”
They were interrupted by the waitress arriving at their table with two glasses of sweet tea. “These drinks on the house. Y’all done figured out what to eat yet?”
Dr. Leopold ordered the special, and Eden ordered a cheeseburger and fries. Her father avoided meeting Eden’s eyes, and she knew that he wouldn’t talk any more about her mother in this public place. For now, her questions would have to remain unanswered until she arrived on the island.