Still grieving the sudden death of their mother, Sam and her younger sister Ollie McAlister move from the comforts of Eugene to rural Oregon to live in a meadow in a teepee under the stars with Bear, their beekeeper father. But soon after they arrive, a young woman is found dead floating in Crooked River, and the police arrest their eccentric father for the murder.
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Into a Dark Woods by Valerie Geary
When I was growing up, my parents let me wander in the woods alone. Running along one side of our property was a grove of cottonwoods that stretched no more than a half-acre and was less of a forest than a greenspace, an undeveloped piece of land that had grown wild. Yet when I left my yard and went into the trees, it was like entering a whole other world. One filled with lanky giants and thick shadows, whispering leaves and endless possibilities.
There was a path leading from the road, but I went the back way, pushing through brambles that snagged my hair and clothes and sometimes left long scratches down my arms and legs. I liked to pretend I was the only one who knew about this place, the only one allowed to enter. When I was in the woods, my yard, my house, the road, the real world all disappeared, and it was just me and my imagination playing among the trees.
A small creek cut through the middle. It dried up in the summer, but ran full in the winter when I would build dams and float leaves down the slow current, pretending they were ships sailing on grand adventures. I liked to stretch out on a nearby log, close my eyes, and imagine the tiny trickle of water below me surging to a mighty river.
High up in a small grouping of trees was a fort—a large board barely big enough for two people. Smaller planks had been hammered into one of the trunks for a ladder. It probably wasn’t safe, but you don’t think about stuff like that when you’re a kid. You just start climbing and then you sit up there feeling like you’re at the top of the world, like the trees are the only ones who will ever understand you. Like you might stay forever, living off nuts and berries and squirrels caught in elaborate twig and twine traps.
There were strange and dangerous things in those woods, too. A burned out car frame, rusted lengths of barbed wire, oil cans, glass bottles, bits of broken china, moss covered bricks, and strangest of all: three holes in the ground of varying size lined up in a perfect row. The largest was the size of a man, the smallest no bigger than a toddler. I was convinced they were graves.
I told myself a story about how, decades before I showed up, there had been a family living here in a small cabin. Then some tragedy had struck: a fire, a plague, a man with an ax in his hands and murder in his eyes. Any number of horrible things might have happened, whatever I could imagine, and they had been buried here, their bones left to rot. I was so convinced that this story I’d made up was true that I even went to the library to try and find evidence. If there ever was any, I never found it.
In many ways, writing Crooked River was like returning to those woods I played in as a girl. I used a place I was familiar with as a starting point, then added and expanded, exploring the darker, more unsettling parts of the woods and my imagination. I made the forest where Sam and Ollie live with their father bigger and wilder and more dangerous, and turned the creek into a winding river with a strong and treacherous current. My hope is that when you open Crooked River, it will be like you’ve entered a whole other world, one in which you are easily lost, where anything is possible and no one is safe.