Inside, I throw myself onto the bed, too exhausted to move. I want to sleep for a long time. Days and days.
Before closing my eyes, I look to the armoire opposite the bed.
It occurs to me how just a few hours ago I’d planned to demolish it. Yet here it is, still standing, a strange sound coming from within.
Hearing it cuts through my wooziness enough to make me sit up, startled.
The armoire doors slowly open, revealing someone standing inside.
I want to believe I’m dreaming. That this whole experience is nothing more than a night terror from which I’ll wake any second now.
But it’s not a nightmare.
It’s reality, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
The armoire doors continue to open, revealing more of the dark figure within its depths.
I know that now.
He’s always been real.
Yet when the figure at last emerges from the armoire, I see that I’m wrong. It’s not Mister Shadow stepping gingerly into the room.
It’s Miss Pennyface.
She takes another step, and the coins fall away from her eyes. Only there are no coins. There never were. It was moonlight coming through the bedroom window and reflecting off a pair of spectacles.
Now that it’s gone, I see Miss Pennyface for who she really is.
“Hello, Maggie,” she says. “It’s been a long time since we’ve met like this.”
Marta stops at the foot of the bed, hovering over me, and I’m struck with a sense of déjà vu.
It’s more than that.
It’s a memory.
Her standing just like this, only we’re both younger. Twenty-five years younger. I’m five and trembling under my covers, pretending I’m asleep but secretly watching her through half-closed eyes.
Watching her watch me as moonlight again flashes against her glasses.
Even worse is that it happened more than once. The memories continue, piling up, one after another, like some horrible slideshow projected on the backs of my eyelids.
Miss Pennyface visiting me at night again.
Marta must see the recollection in my eyes, for she says, “When Katie was alive, I’d come into this room almost every night, just to watch her sleep. I loved her so much, Maggie. So very much. I never realized how strong a mother’s love could be until I became one myself. Then I knew. A mother’s love is fierce.”
She flashes me a maternal smile before inching closer to the bed.
“But then my husband took it all away. First Katie, then himself. And I no longer knew what to do with all that fierce love. Then your family arrived. ‘They have a little girl,’ Janie June told me. ‘A beautiful little girl.’ When I heard that, I knew I had to see you for myself.”
She jerks her head toward the armoire, not only her hiding place but her secret passage in and out of Baneberry Hall. She’d lived here long enough to know of its existence. My family hadn’t.
“I returned here night after night,” she says. “Not to hurt you. I had no interest in causing you harm, Maggie. I just wanted to watch you sleep, just as I had done with my own daughter. It made it feel like she wasn’t really gone. Just for a few minutes. I need you to understand that, Maggie. I never wanted to hurt anyone.”
One last memory hits me like a slap. Marta standing over me, watching. Only this time we’re not alone. I hear someone in the hallway, tiptoeing into the room to check on me.
She screams when she sees Marta, who rushes toward her.
“It’s not what you think,” she says.
Petra makes a move toward the bed, trying to reach me. Marta intercepts her, gripping her arms.
“What are you doing here?” Petra shouts.
“Let me explain.”
“You can explain to the police.”
Petra breaks from Marta’s grip and runs from the room, heading downstairs to the only phone in the house.
Marta follows. I hear a scuffle in the hallway. Feet heavy on floorboards. A loud thump against the wall. Terrified, I slide out of bed and follow the sounds. Marta and Petra are at the top of the stairs, arguing. Marta has Petra by the shoulders, shaking her while saying, “Just listen to me. Please let me explain.”
I run to them, terrified and yelling and begging them to stop. I grab Marta’s right arm. She shakes it loose and swings it at me, the back of her hand connecting with my face. Her ring digs into the flesh beneath my eye—an inch-long scrape that instantly starts to bleed.
There’s another scream, and Petra tumbles backward down the stairs.
The memory ends, and I fall back onto the bed, unable to stay upright. All my energy is gone. The bed sways like a boat that’s been unmoored, at the mercy of the waves. When Marta sits on the bed’s edge, it’s at a canted angle not possible in real life.
“You killed Petra,” I moan.
“I didn’t mean to, Maggie. It was an accident. All a terrible accident.” Marta reaches for my hand and holds it in hers. “After it happened, I didn’t know what to do. So I ran. I knew the police would come for me eventually. It was only a matter of time. I spent that night waiting for them, feeling almost as scared as when I found my husband’s body up in that study of his. But something strange happened. The police never arrived. That’s when I knew your family hadn’t told them.”