All stories are true.
Emma Wilkins is eleven years old and she lives on Belle Street.
In the forests of Saint Martin, a great power has awakened. Whispers abound of a monster that lurks in the darkness as more and more of the city's residents go missing. Called by the song of a tree, the diminutive Emma finds herself face to face with the colossal Minotaur. Following a narrow escape, Emma discovers that she is the only one who has any chance to stop him.
On her way to an impossible confrontation, Emma will learn that the crisis is greater than it seems, and that at stake are the fates of those she cares about the most, and that of the entire world.
There was a time when the forests cloaked the Earth.
Long ago, a sequence of events was begun by the song of a tree. The tree's voice, joined by that of its twin, brought forth a kind of creature that was like none that had existed before it. The creature possessed a special gift that enabled it to control its own destiny and it was because of that gift that the forests of the world were now diminishing.
Glenridge Forest was located at the centre of the City of Saint Martin and it was being consumed by a housing project.
Andrew Milligan's job was to go into newly built house-skeletons and stuff their walls with insulation. He worked with two other men at a construction site run by a company called Paigely Builders. The site was a sprawling mess of machines, building materials, and houses in various stages of completion, ranging from bare foundations to fully built homes awaiting only a layer of paint. During the day, the site bustled with activity as workers went around moving dirt, wood, and concrete from one area to another.
Today, it was late in the afternoon, however, and most of the site employees had already gone home. Andrew and his co-workers had remained behind. They were paid based on the amount of work they completed so putting in a few extra hours now and then meant a little more pay. The summer was nearly at its end and Andrew's son needed a new backpack for the coming school year.
The three men were sitting on the exposed floor of the house that was their current project. They had placed floodlights around the area to illuminate their work and these cast their shadows on the walls. The scene reminded Andrew of sitting around a campfire telling stories.
"What grade is the kid going into?" Bill said.
"He's starting middle school," Andrew said. "He doesn't know anyone here."
"I'm sure he'll be good," Bill said. "Lots of friends in no time."
Joel was the youngest of the three. "I don't know how you guys do it," he said. "I can't even take care of myself."
Bill chuckled. He tipped his cup back, drank the rest of his orange juice, and then threw the empty container at him.
"Alright," he said. "Let's get this done so we can get out of here."
Andrew stood up and pulled his face mask over his nose and mouth. He walked to the back of the house where he had been working before the break. The insulating material came in rectangular pieces that were made to fit into the frames of the walls but often they had to be cut into smaller fragments in order to fill in the nooks and corners.
He went to work, stuffing the walls with the fluffy material or cutting it into pieces with his utility knife.
An hour passed before Andrew finished insulating the back wall. He took off the face mask and leaned on the open frame that would eventually become a window. It looked out into Glenridge Forest. The moon was full and it shone down on the tops of the trees but its rays failed to penetrate the darkness underneath. It was a hot night but a lazy breeze cooled the perspiration on Andrew's face. He stared into the darkness of the woods for a long while and, in time, he heard music, faint and uncertain.
"Ready to go?"
He turned and saw Bill and Joel standing there. He hadn't heard them approach.
"Yeah," he said. "Hey, do you hear that?"
They joined him at the window and together they stared into the night.
"Crickets?" Bill said.
"No. Really listen. Don't you hear that music?"
"What are you talking about?" Joel said. "Have you been inhaling this stuff?"
Bill patted Andrew on the back. "Come on," he said. "Let's go home and get some rest."
They picked up their tools, left the house, and walked to the parking area. Their vehicles were the only ones remaining there. Bill and Joel threw their things into the bed of Bill's truck and then jumped into the cabin. Bill honked the horn as they drove away. Andrew put his tools into his aging sedan's trunk. He slammed the door down twice before it stayed closed. He walked around the car toward the driver's door but stopped in mid-step.
He heard music again, more clearly this time. He recognized violins, trumpets, flutes, and drums, among other instruments that he couldn't name. It was a sweet sound that made him think of honey and silk.
He reached into his car and pulled out a flashlight. He walked toward the source of the music and passed many of the house-skeletons that now hid in darkness.
When he reached the edge of the forest, he shone his light into it. The music was coming from somewhere in there. A hesitant step took him into the woods.
He walked for a while before he reached a part of the forest where the undergrowth was thick and the going was slow. He considered turning around but wavered. The strangeness of the music nagged at him and begged him onward. He breathed in deeply and fumbled with his flashlight.
During that moment of indecision, there came a sound from another part of the forest. It was a great thudding that sounded as though a giant was pounding on the forest floor. There was a rumble like thunder and, no more than twenty paces away from him, a monster appeared. In the darkness, he made out only a mass of muscles, glowing red eyes, and great horns like a devil.
Andrew turned and ran. He felt the earth shake as the creature gave chase. Branches struck his face and arms and pulled at his clothing, but he stumbled forward as quickly as he could. He dropped the flashlight and his flight became a blind sprint.
Before long, Andrew thought that he could feel the creature's warm breath on his neck. A bestial snarl made his head rattle. He dove forward. His head bounced off a branch and he fell. He landed hard and felt a trickle of blood run down his forehead and into his eye.
He scrambled to his feet and saw that he had come to a clearing. The full moon revealed a tree, enormous and ancient, in the middle of it. The tree was the source of the music that he had been searching for.
He turned back toward the edge of the clearing and saw, in the darkness, a pair of fiery eyes looking back at him.
The creature stepped forward and its massive frame was illuminated by the moon. Andrew backed away, using his hands to feel for the trunk of the tree behind him.
The monster took a step forward and the ground rumbled.
Andrew fell back toward the tree and then he found himself in another world.
Emma Wilkins was eleven years old and she lived on Belle Street.
It was Sunday morning, on the day before the start of the new school year, and Emma was sitting on the window sill in her living room, reading a book, when she saw a man walk up the lawn. The man saw her through the window and waved to her before he reached the front door and rang the doorbell. Emma dog-eared her book and put it down. She went to the door and opened it but her father came up behind her before she could speak.
"Good morning," he said.
"Good morning. You're William Wilkins, right?"
"Yes, that's right. What's this about?"
"My name is Bill," the man said. "One of my friends went missing near here and we're trying to get some people together to go search for him."
"You've called the police, obviously."
"Yeah," Bill said. "They're looking for him but we don't think they've looked hard enough. See, me and my friend work with Andrew and we were with him the night he disappeared. We work at the Paigely site over that way." He pointed in general direction of Glenridge Forest and Emma's father nodded.
"So we're sure he got lost in the forest somehow," Bill continued, "and they don't think he could've got very far but we know Andrew better. He's a stubborn son of a gun."
"Why do you think he went into the forest? Hiking or something like that?"
"Yeah," Bill said. "Something like that."
Mr Wilkins took a moment to look out into the street behind Bill. "Okay," he said eventually. "I'll be right out."
"Thanks," Bill said. "Meet us down the street at the intersection when you're ready."
He turned and walked on to the next house. Emma could see now that there was another man across the street doing the same thing that Bill was doing, knocking on doors and talking to people.
She turned back toward the house. "Dad, can I come?"
"You'd better stay here," he said. "It will be boring for you. We'll just be walking and looking."
"But I love the forest, Dad," she said. "And I like walking and looking too."
There was a closet next to the front door. Mr Wilkins opened it and took his running shoes out. He sat on the bench next to the closet and put them on. As he tied his shoelaces, he said, "Okay, go get your brother. He can help keep an eye on you."
"Okay!" Emma said and ran to fetch Will.