Home > The Luminaries (The Luminaries #1)

The Luminaries (The Luminaries #1)
Author: Susan Dennard

 


THE NIGHTMARE

 

The forest comes for the boy on his thirteenth birthday. He is not the first to catch the forest’s notice. He will, however, be one of the last. Others have received bits of woven twine from a banshee or a shiny snail from a melusine, but he finds a wolf’s jawbone on his pillow when he opens his eyes at dawn.

He was having the nightmare again. The one where his father has a face and his mother is still alive. It always begins a happy dream, until the shadows arrive. First they claim his father. Then they claim him too while his mother weeps and screams and begs the forest to change its mind.

But the forest never changes its mind. Not in the dream and not in real life either. Which is why, when the forest calls for the boy, he enters. And when the forest is done with him, he leaves. No longer a boy. No longer entirely human, but rather a ticking time bomb waiting for the forest to one day spark his fuse.

 

 

CHAPTER

1

 


They say that spring never comes to the forest by Hemlock Falls.

It isn’t true, of course. Spring comes right after winter like it’s supposed to. What is true is how different the spring is in Hemlock Falls from the rest of the world. It’s quiet and lethal. Lonely and inevitable. It sneaks up on you, shaded by winter gray that doesn’t like to let go.

Even now, a month into the season, frost still clings to the north side of trees. And though the sun might rise momentarily, it won’t reach this dirt road. It won’t reach Winnie Wednesday as she muscles a clunky four-wheeler with no assisted steering toward the Wednesday clan meeting point.

Mist exhales from the forest like smoke from a censer. The four-wheeler lights flash and reflect, making shapes where Winnie knows there are none. It’s only the maple and fir saplings of last year’s spring, skeletal in the predawn darkness.

Her front teeth click together as she drives. Today is her sixteenth birthday. And today, everything is going to change.

When her headlights beam over six black SUVs, Winnie rumbles the four-wheeler to a hemlock—the tree, not the poisonous plant, although those grow here too and no one knows for which the town is named.

She flips off the lights, pulls up the hood of her sweatshirt, and waits. Fog coils around her, an octopus embrace. She imagines what tonight’s trial will be like. How it will feel to hunt a nightmare instead of just read about it.

Her mom won’t talk to her about hunting—at least not anymore. Not since the incident. But Winnie has read the Nightmare Compendium a thousand times. A thousand thousand times. She has sketched every creature in the forest, every nightmare the American Luminaries must face. And she has pretended to face them herself, stabbing a droll in the fleshy part at the base of its neck or a manticore where the cephalothorax and abdomen meet. She has jumped and rolled and jumped and rolled so many times her body does it without thinking.

She’ll be ready.

She has to be ready.

Minutes tick past. A wolf howls. A real one, she thinks, although she can’t be too sure. The Compendium does describe a few nightmares that look like wolves or sound like wolves or briefly become wolves entirely.

Winnie shoves her glasses up her nose and keeps waiting. And waiting. Her stomach grumbles; she wishes she’d eaten breakfast. She also wishes she’d slept more, although she ought to be used to the insomnia after three weeks of it. Ever since her birthday month began and the reality of what she has been planning these past four years settled in, sleep has been elusive.

The wolf howls again, though it’s farther away this time. It sounds lonely, lost. Winnie hates that she understands the feeling.

She hasn’t told anyone she’s going to attempt the first hunter trial tonight. If they find out, they won’t let her. Aunt Rachel will lose her mind; Mom will lose her mind; the Council will lose their collective minds; and they’ll find a way to intervene. But what they don’t know, they can’t stop. Plus, nowhere in the rules does it say an outcast can’t enter. Nons are forbidden, sure, but there’s definitely no mention of outcasts.

All Winnie has to do is show up with the other hunter applicants tonight, and the Thursdays in charge of the trial will let her in.

They have to. Winnie really doesn’t know what she’ll do if they don’t.

Eventually, she can’t hear the wolf anymore, and eventually, the sky begins to lighten. The night is over. The forest’s slumber is complete.

Wednesday hunters emerge from the trees on silent feet. A few hunters from other clans mingle within the ranks, replacements for anyone who’s hurt or sick or just has a kid in the Hemlock Falls drama troupe. Ever since a Saturday hunter died two months ago and a Tuesday hunter died three weeks ago, the Council has beefed up hunter numbers each night.

All around the world, the Luminaries live near fourteen sleeping spirits. Each night, when the spirits dream, their nightmares come to life. And each night, the Luminary hunters guard the world against those nightmares, one clan for every day of the week. Last night belonged to the Wednesdays—Winnie’s clan.

Or it was Winnie’s clan until the incident, when her family was sentenced to be outcasts.

There are forty-eight hunters right now, several of whom are second cousins or cousins of cousins. They’ve definitely forgotten it’s Winnie’s birthday and wouldn’t have cared even if they’d remembered. Dressed in matching black Kevlar and matching frowns, some are now bloodied, some have broken bows, a few limp.

Only Aunt Rachel speaks to Winnie, leaving the rest of the hunters to approach with a map in hand. SUV headlights beam over her like a stage light. She is gruff and perfunctory in her movements, as is Winnie’s mom. But where Mom’s hair is fully gray, Rachel’s is still glossy and black.

They have the same hooked nose, though. So does Winnie.

“Here.” Rachel holds out a map, a bad copy of a copy of a copy. “The nightmare bodies are marked, and we’ve got two nons this time too. Though fair warning: this one near the high school is just a halfer.”

Halfer. Half a human corpse. Not common, but not uncommon in the forest either. Rachel hands the map off to Winnie, already glancing toward the SUVs and forgetting her niece is standing there.

This is how it usually goes. Aunt Rachel says a handful of words and then, like every other Wednesday and every other Luminary, she goes back to pretending Winnie doesn’t exist. She even walks away before Winnie has fully grasped the map, leaving Winnie to swipe it from the air as it falls.

Once Rachel joins the other hunters, they all cram into their SUVs. Electric engines hum to life. A slurp of tires on fresh mud marks their exit.

Winnie doesn’t watch them go. She has been doing corpse duty for three years now and even if today is her birthday, even if her stomach is as knotted as a harpy’s braid, the familiarity of routine soothes her.

Corpse duty might be a job no one else likes—cleaning up the nightmare bodies left behind in the forest each morning, as well as any human bodies—but Winnie has always enjoyed it. Her brother calls her morbid; she calls him boring.

Sure, it’s a grim job, but someone has to do it. Otherwise, the corpses that don’t magically vanish at dawn will reawaken as revenants, and that’s always nasty. Besides, corpse duty is the only time Winnie gets to flex her knowledge of the Nightmare Compendium, and each new body is a riddle to be solved.

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