They were still shaking as I turned off the main road, on the way to our new home. Although we wouldn’t be moving in until the next day, Jess and I wanted to stop by the place, mostly just to let it sink in that it was now really ours.
“What about it?” I said.
“Now that we’re doing this—actually, truly, no-turning-back doing this—I need you to promise that you’ll let the past stay in the past.”
Jess paused, waiting for me to acknowledge that I understood what she meant. As a journalist, it was in my nature to poke around, searching for the stories that surrounded us. And it had certainly crossed my mind that moving into a massive estate where a man had murdered his daughter was one hell of a story. But I could tell from the stone-serious look on Jess’s face it was a subject she didn’t want me to touch.
“I promise,” I said.
“I mean it, Ewan. That man—and what he did—is one story you don’t need to investigate. When we move into that house tomorrow, I want us to pretend its past doesn’t exist.”
“Otherwise it will always be hanging over us,” I agreed.
“Exactly,” Jess said with a firm nod. “Plus, there’s Maggie to consider.”
We had already agreed not to tell our daughter about the fates of Baneberry Hall’s previous residents. Although we knew there’d come a day when Maggie would need to know what happened, that could wait a few years. Jess and I avoided talking about the subject until Maggie was either sound asleep or, as was the case that afternoon, staying with Jess’s mother.
“I swear to you I’ll never utter the name Curtis Carver in her presence,” I said. “Just as I swear that I have no intention of trying to figure out what made him snap like that. I agree with you—the past is in the past.”
At that point, we were pulling up to Baneberry Hall’s front gate, which was already wide open. Waiting for us there was the caretaker, a scarecrow of a man wearing the state uniform of Vermont—corduroy pants and a flannel shirt.
“You must be the Holts,” he said as we got out of the car. “Janie June said you’d be stopping by today. The name’s Hibbets. Walt Hibbets. But you can call me Hibbs. Everybody else does.”
He grinned, exposing an honest-to-God gold tooth. Fit and flinty and pushing seventy, he reminded me of a character out of a Stephen King novel. Still, I found myself charmed by his breezy manner and outsize personality.
“I got the grounds all cleaned up for you,” he said. “And Elsa Ditmer gave the house itself a good scrubbing. So you should be all set. We know what we’re doing, Elsa and me. We grew up here, the both of us. Our families have worked Baneberry Hall for decades. I just wanted to make you aware in case you find yourself in need of full-time help.”
Honestly, we were. Baneberry Hall was too big for us to properly take care of on our own. But the purchase of the house meant there wasn’t much money left for anything else. That included hired help.
“About that,” I said. “From time to time, we might need the services of you or Mrs. Ditmer. But for right now—”
“You’re a hearty young man who can do things on your own,” Hibbs said with unexpected graciousness. “I respect and admire that. I envy it, as well. As you can see, I’m no spring chicken.”
“But I’ll be sure to call you if something comes up,” I said.
“Please do.” He jerked his head in the direction of the two cottages we had passed when we turned off the main road. “I live just over yonder. Give me a shout if you need help with anything. Even in the middle of the night.”
“That’s very kind, but I don’t plan on disturbing you too much.”
“I’m just letting you know.” Hibbs paused in a way I can only describe as ominous. “You might need my help during the witching hour.”
I had been on my way back to the car, but hearing that stopped me cold.
“What do you mean by that?”
Hibbs put a thin arm around my shoulder and pulled me away until Jess was out of earshot. Then, in a low voice, he said, “I just want to make sure Janie June told you everything you need to know about that house.”
“She did,” I said.
“Good. That’s good that you know what you’re getting yourself into. The Carvers weren’t prepared for the place and, well, the less said about them the better, I s’pose.” Hibbs gave me a genial slap on the back. “I’ve kept you long enough. Go on up with the missus and take another gander at your new house.”
Then he was gone, turning his back to us as he strolled away to his cottage. It wasn’t until we were back in the car and navigating the corkscrew of a driveway that I was struck by the oddness of the conversation.
“Hibbs asked if we knew what we were getting into,” I told Jess as Baneberry Hall rose into view, just as grand as I remembered. “At first, I thought he was talking about the Carver family.”
“I’m sure he was,” Jess said. “What else could there be?”
“That’s what I thought. But then he told me the Carvers weren’t prepared for the place, and now I’m wondering what he meant by that.” I brought the car to a stop in front of the house and peered upward at the pair of eyelike windows on the third floor. They stared back. “Do you think something else happened here? Something before the Carvers moved in?”