Excerpt: The Woods - Vilma Iris | Lifestyle Blogger

From the acclaimed author of The Woman in the Dark: a young teacher struggles to solve the mystery of her sister’s death while battling hallucinations of her own.

Two girls went down to the woods… But only one came back.

There’s a lot from Tess’s childhood that she would rather forget. The family who moved next door and brought chaos to their quiet lives. The two girls who were murdered, their killer never found. But the only thing she can’t remember is the one thing she wishes she could.
Ten years ago, Tess’s older sister died. Ruled a tragic accident, the only witness was Tess herself, but she has never been able to remember what happened that night in the woods.

Now living in London, Tess has resolved to put the trauma behind her. But an emergency call from her father forces her back to the family home, back to where her sister’s body was found, and to the memories she thought were lost forever…

Book Type:

Psychological Thriller

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Excerpt: The Woods
By Vanessa Savage

Excerpt: The Woods

Out this week is THE WOODS—a new creepy psychological thriller from Vanessa Savage, author of THE WOMAN IN THE DARK (which I loved).  In this latest, a woman struggles with the trauma and mystery of her sister’s death, a decades-old incident she cannot remember but of which she was the sole witness. Now, an emergency draws her back to her family home, and to the memories lost that night in the woods so long ago.

I’m thrilled to share an excerpt from the novel…


“Can you take us through what happened after the wedding?”

There are two policemen in my room, one sitting by the bed in a crumpled shirt, one pacing the room, watching me. I’m in a private ward and there’s a uniformed officer outside—I saw him when the other two came in; he was talking to Dad and Julia. Dad was still wearing his suit, his jacket draped around Julia’s shoulders, white carnation drooping in the buttonhole. They both looked like they’d been crying, and I wanted to call out that I was fine, but the pacing detective closed the door on them.

“I don’t remember,” I say, voice hoarse. My throat aches and my head is throbbing, the stitches tight and tender. It hurts to try to remember. It should have been such a happy day—for Dad and Julia, even if the rest of us weren’t feeling it.

“You went into the woods . . .” the sitting detective says. I don’t re- call their names. They introduced themselves but I don’t remember.

My foot is bandaged and feels hot and swollen. Just a sprain, though, from the fall: I was lucky, they said.

“I was at the wedding, I drank too much champagne, and I went to lie down for a bit. I don’t remember anything after that.” They’ve cleaned me up and stitched my head but there’s still dirt under my nails. Or is it dried blood? Oh God. Vomit rises, sour at the back of my throat. “Where’s Dad? I want to see my dad.” My voice breaks.

“He’s right outside, Tess. He’ll be in in a second. We’re trying to understand what you and your sister were doing in the woods near Dean House, some distance from your home. There are at least two hours unaccounted for, after anyone at the wedding last saw you and Arabella.”

Dean House: Bella and I were there, but that was last night— the night before the wedding. That night is all so clear. Not the wedding—pretty much everything about today is a blur, but last night . . .

Tess, wake up.

The voice makes me jump, but it’s not a whisper from the corner of the room, it’s an echo: Bella’s voice, the night before the wedding, pulling me from a dream of sex and Norse gods. The night before the wedding that we’d all been dreading. I had been sweating, skin damp and clinging to the sheet, the heatwave still going on. I wasn’t shivering like I am now. The storm didn’t break until the night of the wedding.

Bella was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and I twisted to look at the clock, thinking I’d overslept and should already be at the hall, trussed up in my mint lace bridesmaid’s dress. But it was only four o’clock, still dark outside and hours from morning. I’d stayed up too late, trying to make inroads into the mountain of reading I had from school that had been gathering dust since the beginning of the summer holidays.

“Can’t you sleep again?” I pushed the sheets off me and sat up. All this, I remember, the crisp cotton of the sheet brushing against my legs, the groggy disorientation as I was pulled from sleep.

She shook her head. “I need to tell you something.” “Go on then.”

“No—not here,” she said, pulling on my arm.

“Where are we going? We have to be up in four hours to get ready.”

“This can’t wait. Come on.”

I was thinking I was still in that dream as we walked up the    lane in the middle of the night—Bella in shorts, me in my pajamas and flip-flops. I was thinking it was still a dream and, any minute, some Norse god would appear with Max’s face and sweep me off into the woods.

Max. Where is Max now?

The night air was thick and still. Hot, even at that hour. It felt wrong. Unusual for August: there should have been rain in the air, clouds to cover the stars and moon. The heat and dry- ness made it seem like I’d been transported somewhere else in my dreams, somewhere with warm seas, twisted olive trees, cicadas, and bright lizards swarming the walls.

Bella stopped by a crumbling, ivy-choked wall and turned back to look at me. She bent down, laced her hands together. “I’ll boost you over,” she whispered.

Dean House watched from behind the wall, windows black. My scalp prickled and I could feel the hairs rise as I figured out where we were. No way.

“Not scared, are you?” she said, a challenge in her voice.

I remember all this, I think, but I’m not sure I’m remembering it right. There’s a woodenness to the memory that makes me think I’m missing something. The dream I had seems more real than this.

“What is it?” the detective says, leaning forward. His hair is thinning on top; I can see the light from the fluorescent bulb shining on his scalp. “Have you remembered something?”

I shake my head. He doesn’t want to know about the day before the wedding. It’s not relevant. It’s not. Then why does my chest feel tight, full of fluttering fear? Why is the night at Dean House so vivid and the wedding a blank?

I look up at the detective. “I remember going upstairs and then I woke up in the ambulance.”

I pick at my nails—is it my blood? My hands are shaking.

I was scared. I didn’t want to go in there. Bella looked on the verge of tears and I wanted to be back in my bed.

The night grew quieter as we dropped into the garden. Even my breath, quick and panicked, sounded muffled. That house had always been the haunted house when we were little kids, daring each other to open the front gate and go up the path. I never did it. I’ve never been the brave kid. Then Julia and Greg Lewis bought it, and what was it then?

Bella marched away around the house and I hurried after her, tripping over tangled tree roots hidden in the weeds. I knew this garden well but it was the house I was afraid of. Bella didn’t stay in the garden, she went right to the front door and opened it. It wasn’t locked.

Wait, why wasn’t it locked?

I’m wondering now if any of it was real, or if it was all part of a dream—haven’t I had this dream before? The house, a rainy night . . . a scream hidden by the roar of a monsoon-like down- pour?

“Bella, what are you doing?”

She glanced back at me and then stepped inside the house.

I can’t tell the detectives any of this; I don’t want to get my sister into trouble. I followed her up the dark hallway, hissing her name, flinching at every creak of the floorboards. What if someone was there? What if Greg came back and found us in his house? He could have had a heart attack.

Bella flitted like a ghost in front of me in her white T-shirt, dis- appearing through a door on the left. I glanced nervously up the stairs—what monster exactly did I think I’d find?—and followed my sister.

The room was like something out of Miss Havisham’s house. Everything coated in dust, cobwebs hanging from the corners, lit up from the moonlight shining in the uncovered window. There was an empty mug on a side table, a book facedown on the arm of a chair, a pair of shoes lined up in front of the cold fireplace. That was fine, perfectly ordinary, but it was all covered in dust like no one had lived there for months. That seemed impossible, I remember. It shouldn’t have been so dusty. Greg hadn’t been gone that long. And despite everything, it made me feel guilty—that no one was looking out for Greg, that no one was helping him while his house crumbled around him.

The goose bumps rose on my arms again. Bella was standing in front of the back window, pressed right up against the glass, fogging it with her breath, looking out into the woods. I could see her footprints, a clean path through the dust on the floors. Too much evidence we’d been there.

My stomach lurches and I have the urge to jump out of my hospital bed and rush back to the house to clean everything we touched. Or have they already been there? Do they already know we trespassed there?

“I’m sorry,” Bella whispered—whispers still from the shadows in the corner of my hospital room. Her shoulders were hunched, and I think she was crying. “I’m so sorry, Tess, but you need to see. You need to wake up.”

I can taste sour champagne in my mouth, and mud and dead leaves. I can feel them on my face still. I keep touching my cheeks, expecting to find them covered in leaves and dirt. I was found   in the woods near Dean House, but I don’t remember how I got there.

I should tell them we were in the house the night before the wedding. We didn’t do anything wrong other than sneaking in. We didn’t steal or break anything. It had nothing to do with what happened after the wedding. I should tell them. But . . .

“I’m sorry,” I say.

wake up

“I really don’t remember anything.”

I remember the taste of mud and leaves, but I don’t remember being in the woods in the storm. I do remember the ambulance, the paramedics wheeling me into the hospital on a stretcher. Dad and Julia were there, and Max. But . . .

I blink and see a flash—Bella in the woods, sprawled on the ground, facing away from me.

“Wait,” I say as the detectives move toward the door.

Another flash. Me crawling toward her, reaching out my hand to touch her shoulder.

“Where’s Bella? Is my sister okay?”

Clutching her shoulder, rolling her onto her back and . . .

wake up


Excerpted from THE WOODS by Vanessa Savage. Copyright © 2020 by Vanessa Savage. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

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