To read a full interview, please see the August issue of Uncaged Book Reviews
Four people. Three secrets. One cabin. No way out.
British actress Callie Crossley is kidnapped and dumped outside a cabin at the edge of Whispering Woods. All she has is a scrawled message: DEAD TO ME; and two unexpected housemates: a former sitcom star (who looks like hell) and a girl in a wheelchair (who is full of hell).
When film producer Torbin Thurston, a man Callie knows personally, turns up at the cabin, Callie has no idea who she can trust anymore. She seems to be the only one who can hear strange whispering and it’s not long till she realises that there’s something dangerous lurking outside in the woods.
But are the rumours about Whispering Woods true? Do the trees really talk? And, for those listening, does what they say lead to blood-lust and madness?
One way or another, Callie must find a way out before she is consumed by the darkness of Whispering Woods.
‘What do the trees in Whispering Woods talk about?’ Sarah Jane asked.
Uncle Dean shrugged. ‘Suppose that depends on what it is they have to tell you.’ His blue eye sparkled with mischief, but his dead one conveyed a solemn truth.
Sarah Jane’s own eyes glittered with excitement. She shifted her weight to her right leg, so her arm was touching his. ‘Do you know any stories? About any of the people that have gone mad.’
‘A couple.’ He smiled; his teeth were white and straight and somehow, falsely or not, substantiated genuineness. ‘There used to be a man lived here as it happens. Old Mally Murgatroyd.’
‘You mean here?’ Sarah Jane pointed to the floor. ‘In this cabin?’
‘Yep. He lived alone. Went doolally. Some say it was cabin fever, but maybe he’d always been a tongue sandwich short of a picnic.’
‘Sounds like the picnic was better off that way,’ Pollyanna said. She was looking out of the window from across the room. Next to her was Roxanne Miller.
‘You think?’ Uncle Dean seemed to consider this. He scratched his chin and the whiskers there sounded coarse against his fingertips. He smelled of cologne; a citrus musk. Sarah Jane breathed him in, becoming more and more inebriated on infatuation.
‘One evening, late August, quite some years back,’ he said, his voice still low, ‘something really awful happened here.’
It was then, right at that moment, Sarah Jane felt a change in the atmosphere, as though Uncle Dean’s words had commanded a shift in the fabric of reality. She imagined the room was listening and changing mood to suit, altering to accommodate his story like an emotional chameleon that recognised their morbid interest and need for tragedy. All at once every bit of warmth that the earlier sun had left behind was spat out through the open bedroom door and the air became instantly cold; as cold as the blue of the covers on the two single beds. Sarah Jane shivered. She looked out at the woods, needing and longing to know its darkest secrets so she could ponder them as if they were her own. There was a murderousness about Whispering Woods and she wanted Uncle Dean to go right ahead and weave its stories into the here and now so she might glimpse beyond its frontline, to see what was really in there. To feel what it was like. To know if its insides lay ghastly and stinking beneath countless deciduous summers or if the frostbite of each winter was enough to have cleansed the horror of the trees. She wanted to walk through the undergrowth with Uncle Dean leading the way, the pair of them kicking up dead leaves with the toes of their boots. She tingled with excitement and all the while was aware of a delicious warmth on her arm – the warmth of him radiating through the fabric of his shirt sleeve. ‘What happened that was so awful?’ she asked.
‘Some broken-down motorists on their way home from a camping trip stopped by. A man, a woman and their two kids.’
‘Take a guess.’ Again he smiled; it was a smile that didn’t denote any sense of favourable outcome for the family in the tale, but a smile that crushed down on Sarah Jane’s heart nonetheless, adding more weight, more pressure, till it actually hurt.
‘Old Mally Murgatroyd killed them?’ she asked.
He drummed his fingers on the sill, a quick-fire sequence of confirmation, then pointed a finger gun at her. ‘All except the small boy.’
He shrugged, looked puzzled for a moment as though he’d never considered this, then said, ‘Why does anyone do anything?’
Sarah Jane pressed her arm even closer against his. ‘How did he do it? Kill them, I mean. Did he butcher them?’
‘Sarah Jane!’ Roxanne Miller, still standing by the doorway, folded her arms over her chest. ‘Why do you always have to be so bloody horrible?’
‘Did it with a filleting knife,’ Uncle Dean said, seeming not to hear Roxanne Miller’s voice, let alone her disapproval. He was staring out of the window now, trancelike, unreachable. The room was breathing all around them. In. Out. In. Out. Big. Small. Big. Small. ‘Hacked all three of them up, right there in front of the little boy.’ His head jerked round then, and he regarded Sarah Jane with the most intense blue. ‘Can you imagine that? His mam. His dad. Then his big sister.’
Sarah Jane could. She half-smiled. ‘Then what?’
‘Old Mally Murgatroyd, he sautéed their flesh and made himself a stew for dinner. Made the boy eat some of it too.’
‘Oh come on, Dean,’ Roxanne Miller objected.
‘Once he’d had a bellyful,’ Uncle Dean went on, ‘he left the boy here and went out into the woods and hanged himself.’
‘Wow.’ Sarah Jane was still trying to determine if he was winding her up, but the white of his dead eye made it impossible for her to tell. ‘But why? Why would he do that?’
‘The trees, they told him to. That’s just how it is, sweetheart. Those touched by the madness of Whispering Woods do all kinds of crazy stuff. It’s like the trees…’
‘Dean!’ This time Roxanne Miller made sure she was heard.
Uncle Dean turned to her, startled, fully aware, his thoughts completely back in the room with them. ‘It’s okay though,’ he said, raising his hands in apology, ‘not everyone hears the trees anyway.’
‘What happened to the boy?’ Pollyanna asked, her voice a ghostly addition to the conversation.
‘Stayed here,’ Uncle Dean said. He edged away from the window, his eyes not leaving Roxanne Miller’s.
‘How long for?’
‘Hard to say.’
‘Where is he now?’
‘Look, I think we’ve all heard enough silly stories for one day,’ Roxanne Miller said. She was glaring, but her eyes lacked any real reproach. ‘I’m sure tales like this aren’t good for young imaginations.’
‘Yeah, sorry. I, uh, I’m sorry.’ Uncle Dean winced and Sarah Jane hated her mother more than ever for having made him look momentarily weak. It wasn’t a look befitting an ex-army sergeant. He owed her nothing, least of all an apology just because she was too feeble-minded to deal with the truth and the more unsavoury aspects of life.
Roxanne Miller shook her head and flashed him a different kind of sullen look which, deliberately or not, gave way to a certain sexual tension that brought a touch of uncomfortable warmth back to the room. She then turned and made off towards the lounge and Sarah Jane scrunched her fists tight, her nails burrowing into skin, when she saw how Uncle Dean sighed after her. The memory of the orphaned boy who’d eaten bits of his parents and sister lingered in the uncomfortable silence like a stewing argument and Sarah Jane thought of ways to encourage it. But nobody said anything for a while.
‘Maybe I’ll tell you the rest some other time,’ Uncle Dean said at last.
‘Can’t you now?’ Sarah Jane said, hopefully, her hands relaxing a little. ‘She won’t hear. And I won’t tell.’
Uncle Dean laughed and nodded. His blue eye shone. ‘You’re funny, kid.’ But he turned and left, taking with him the knowledge of Whispering Woods.
This is one tricked out story. We start out with a couple separate storylines, but don’t worry, they will merge together quickly. At the base of the story, is four people that are “hostages” in a cabin – where there is a ghost town nearby and things that live in the forest and come out only at night. None of these people have anything in common, except they are all stranded and can’t leave. But do they really have nothing in common?
This book never slows down, and you will be in for quite a ride. Even though I guessed about half way in parts of it, the author twists and turns the plot so well, that you begin to doubt your own conclusions. I don’t know that this is a “typical” horror book, it read more like a psychological thriller to me, but the result is still the same. As the characters struggle to find answers, you will be engaged right along with them – and the writing is excellent. The author will toss in a great twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. And did I mention there are ravens? Terrific read. Reviewed by Cyrene