“Your father and I prayed this day would never come,” she says.
“Neither of us wanted to tell you the truth.”
“Because it wasn’t your father who killed Petra.”
My eyes remain locked on the page in front of me. “Then who did?”
“You did, Maggie,” my mother says. “You killed her.”
I’m writing this for you, Maggie, although I hope to God you never see it. If you do, it means your mother and I have failed.
For that, we are profoundly sorry.
By now, you already know some of the truth about what happened the night we left Baneberry Hall. This is the rest of it. And while it is my greatest hope that you don’t read beyond this paragraph, I already know you will. You are, after all, my daughter.
We never planned to leave Baneberry Hall the way we did. We never planned to leave at all. Maintenance issues and prior tragedies notwithstanding, it was a lovely home. And it could have been a happy one if I hadn’t become fascinated with the history of the house.
I admit I had an ulterior motive when I convinced your mother to buy it. I wanted a house with a past that I could research and write about and, hopefully, end up with a nonfiction account about being a beleaguered freelance writer who restored the fixer-upper he unwisely purchased.
But once I learned the circumstances surrounding the death of Indigo Garson, I realized I had stumbled upon an even better idea for a book. I was going to be the beleaguered freelancer who solved a murder at the fixer-upper he unwisely purchased.
I ended up writing a far different book.
A word about House of Horrors: Much of it is true. A lot of it is not. We did discover letters written to Indigo Garson by the man who wished to elope with her. Petra Ditmer and I did research those letters, discovering other tragedies that had occurred in the house over the years.
But for every truth, there was a lie.
There were no ghosts, of course, although you did have several imaginary friends. Mister Shadow was one. Miss Pennyface was another. Although they were figments of your imagination, they seemed to frighten and fascinate you in equal measure. So much so that we sought out help from Dr. Weber.
There were also no portraits of William and Indigo Garson over the fireplace. Besides the deaths of Katie Carver and Indigo—who I do believe was killed by her father and was what I set out to prove in my book—all the other deaths at Baneberry Hall were simply tragic accidents and completely unrelated.
All of them but Petra Ditmer’s.
The guilt I feel about what we did hasn’t lessened one bit in the twenty-four years since she died. She was a bright young woman. She deserved better.
I know I’ll never forget that night, even though it’s all I want to do. I suspect it will take my death to erase that horrible night from my memory. Even then, I’m not so sure. I know we leave our bodies when we pass on. I hope we can choose to leave certain memories behind as well.
That night was supposed to be a good one—a much-needed break from the daily strife of Baneberry Hall. The house and all its problems had taken its toll on your mother and me. We could feel ourselves drifting apart a little more each day. The spark had gone out of our marriage, and we desperately needed to get it back.
To do this, we decided to have a “date night,” which is a polite way of saying we rented a room at the Two Pines with the intention of fucking like teenagers. We needed to be away from not just the house and its myriad issues but from you as well. Just for an evening. That sounds more harsh than it really is. You might be a parent yourself when you read this, in which case you’ll surely understand.
To get away, we hired Petra Ditmer to babysit. Thanks to your antics on the night she and her sister came for a sleepover, Petra had been forbidden from visiting Baneberry Hall and told us she’d need to sneak out in order to babysit. Your mother and I debated the ethics of this, deciding that since it was only for a few hours, a little dishonesty on Petra’s part was worth a night to ourselves. We needed it. Both of us agree about that. We needed time alone, to be us again.
Petra snuck out of her house and arrived shortly after eight. Your mother and I went to the motel, where our goal was achieved multiple times. We left the hotel at midnight, relaxed and happy. The happiest we’d been in weeks.
It ended the moment we entered Baneberry Hall and saw the body of Petra Ditmer.
She lay in a heap at the bottom of the steps, her arms and legs twisted under her like a pretzel. So twisted that at first I couldn’t tell what were legs and what were arms. Nothing seemed to be in the right place.
I knew she was dead, though. It was obvious. Her neck was also twisted. Turned at an angle so unnatural that I feel sick just thinking about it. Her right cheek lay flat against the floor, and her hair lay across most of her face. But I saw her eyes peeking out between the strands. Two large, shocked, dead eyes.
I couldn’t stop staring at them. It was too horrible to look away. I had seen dead people before, of course. But not one so young. And definitely not one so assuredly dead. All the other corpses I’d seen looked like they could have been sleeping.
Petra definitely wasn’t asleep.
You sat at the top of the stairs, gently sobbing. When we asked you what happened, you looked up at us and said, “It wasn’t me.”