“Good. We start tomorrow. Eight a.m.”

Dane gives me a clipped salute. “Sure thing, boss.”

* * *

The drive from the gate to the house itself is a series of expectations either met or subverted. I had assumed the spiral ascent would feel like climbing the lift hill of a roller coaster—all mounting dread and stabs of regret. Instead, it’s just a calm drive through the woods. Uneventful. Peaceful, even, with twilight adding a hazy softness to the surrounding forest.

The only thing that gives me pause is an abundance of spiky-leafed plants along the side of the road. Sprouting from them are tight clusters of red as bright as stage blood in the glare of the truck’s headlights.


They’re everywhere.

Spreading deep into the woods. Swarming around tree trunks. Running all the way up the hillside. The only place they’re not growing is at the top of the hill, almost as if they’re intimidated by the presence of Baneberry Hall.

Again, I had steeled myself for the moment it rose into view. Since I have no actual memories of it, I expected a heart-in-throat fear of a house I’d known only through my father’s writing. The pictures in the Book make Baneberry Hall look like something out of a Hammer horror film. All dark windows and storm clouds scudding past the peaked roof.

But at first glance, Baneberry Hall doesn’t resemble a place one should fear. It’s a just a big house in need of some work. Even in the thickening twilight, it’s clear the exterior has been neglected. Strips of paint hang off the windowsills, and moss stipples the roof. One of the second-floor windows has a crack slanting from corner to corner. Another has been broken entirely and now sits covered with plywood.

Yet the place isn’t without appeal. It looks solid enough. There don’t seem to be any immediately noticeable structural issues. The porch steps don’t sag, and no cracks appear in the foundation.

Dane was right. It’s got good bones.

Before I left Boston, I made sure to check that the house was still hooked up to the necessary utility lines. It was, which in hindsight should have tipped me off that my father had been doing more than just holding the house for safekeeping. Baneberry Hall has all the utilities of an average home. Running water. Gas. Electricity. The only thing it doesn’t have is a phone line, which is why I remain in the truck and use my cell phone to call my mother. I deliberately waited to come here until she and my stepfather left for Capri. By the time my mother listens to this voicemail, she’ll be half a world away.

“Hey, Mom. It’s me. Just wanted to let you know that, while I really do appreciate your offer to buy Baneberry Hall, I’ve decided to fix it up and sell it on my own.” Hesitation thickens my voice as I tiptoe into the part she’s really not going to like. “In fact, I’m here right now. Just wanted to let you know. Enjoy your trip.”

I end the call, shove the phone into my pocket, and retrieve my luggage from behind the pickup’s passenger seat. With two suitcases in my grip and a large duffel bag strapped to my back, I make my way to Baneberry Hall’s front door. After a moment spent fiddling with the keys, the door is unlocked and opened with an agitated creak of the hinges.

I peer inside, seeing an unlit interior painted gray by twilight. A strange smell tickles my nostrils—a combination of stale air, dust, and something else. Something more unpleasant.


As I stand there breathing in the unwelcoming odor of Baneberry Hall, it occurs to me that maybe I should be scared. Fans of the Book would be. Wendy Davenport and tens of thousands more. They’d be terrified right now, worried about all the horrors lying in wait just beyond this door.

I’m not.

Any trepidation I feel is related to more mundane matters. Mostly what’s causing that whiff of decay. Is it wood rot? Termite damage? Some woodland animal that found its way inside during the winter and died here?

Or maybe it’s my imagination. A remnant of my expecting to find a house in utter disrepair. Not a place that still has a caretaker and a cleaning woman. Definitely not a place my father continued to occupy one night a year.

I step into the vestibule, drop my bags, and flick a switch by the door. The light fixture above my head brightens. Inside it is a trapped moth. Silhouetted wings beat against the glass.

I’m not sure what I expect to see as I move deeper into the house. Squalor, I suppose. Twenty-five years of neglect. Cobwebs strung like party banners from the corners. Holes in the ceiling. Bird shit on the floor. But the place is tidy, although not spotless. A thin coat of dust covers the vestibule floor. When I turn around, I see footprints left in my wake.

I keep moving, pulled along by curiosity. I had thought being here again would spark at least some memories, no matter how faint. Faded recollections of me on the front porch, sitting in the kitchen, climbing the stairs before bed.

There’s nothing.

All my memories are of reading about such things in the Book.

I trace the path my parents took during their first tour. The one my father had written about in detail. Past the staircase. Under the chandelier, which does have a few zigzags of cobwebs strung through its arms. Into the great room. Pause at the fireplace, where the grim countenance of William Garson should be staring down at me.

But the painting’s not there. All that’s above the fireplace is an expanse of stone, painted gray. Which means either Mr. Garson’s portrait never existed or my father had it covered up during one of his unmentioned visits.