“But they are,” Maggie insisted. “I see them all the time. And one of them talks to me. Mister Shadow.”
A chill swept up my spine. “Mister Shadow?”
Maggie gave a single, fearful nod.
“What does Mister Shadow say?”
“He says—” Maggie gulped, trying hard to hold back her tears. “He says we’re going to die here.”
From the moment I enter the office, I know how things are going to go. It’s happened before. Too many times to count. And although each incident has its slight variations, the outcome is always the same. I expect nothing less this go-round, especially when the receptionist offers me a knowing smile as recognition flashes in her eyes. It’s clear she’s well-acquainted with the Book.
My family’s greatest blessing.
Also our biggest curse.
“I have an appointment with Arthur Rosenfeld,” I say. “The name is Maggie Holt.”
“Of course, Miss Holt.” The receptionist gives me a quick once-over, comparing and contrasting the little girl she’s read about with the woman standing before her in scuffed boots, green cargo pants, and a flannel shirt speckled with sawdust. “Mr. Rosenfeld is on a call right now. He’ll be with you in just a minute.”
The receptionist—identified as Wendy Davenport by the nameplate on her desk—gestures to a chair by the wall. I sit as she continues to glance my way. I assume she’s checking out the scar on my left cheek—a pale slash about an inch long. It’s fairly famous, as scars go.
“I read your book,” she says, stating the obvious.
I can’t help but correct her. “You mean my father’s book.”
It’s a common misconception. Even though my father is credited as the sole author, everyone assumes we all had something to do with it. And while that may be true of my mother, I played absolutely no part in the Book, despite being one of its main characters.
“I loved it,” Wendy continues. “When I wasn’t scared out of my mind, of course.”
She pauses, and I cringe internally, knowing what’s about to come next. It always does. Every damn time.
“What was it like?” Wendy leans forward until her ample bosom is squished against the desk. “Living in that house?”
The question that’s inevitably asked whenever someone connects me to the Book. By now, I have a stock answer at the ready. I learned early on that one is necessary, and so I always keep it handy, like something carried in my toolbox.
“I don’t really remember anything about that time.”
The receptionist arches an overplucked brow. “Nothing at all?”
“I was five,” I say. “How much do you remember from that age?”
In my experience, this ends the conversation about 50 percent of the time. The merely curious get the hint and move on. The morbidly interested don’t give up so easily. I thought Wendy Davenport, with her apple cheeks and Banana Republic outfit, would be the former. Turns out I’m wrong.
“But the experience was so terrifying for your family,” she says. “I’d surely remember at least something about it.”
There are several ways I can go with this, depending on my mood. If I was at a party, relaxed and generous after a few drinks, I’d probably indulge her and say, “I remember being afraid all the time but not knowing why.”
Or, “I suppose it was so scary I blocked it all out.”
Or, a perennial favorite, “Some things are too frightening to remember.”
But I’m not at a party. Nor am I relaxed and generous. I’m in a lawyer’s office, about to be handed the estate of my recently dead father. My only choice is to be blunt.
“None of it happened,” I tell Wendy. “My father made it all up. And when I say all of it, I mean all of it. Everything in that book is a lie.”
Wendy’s expression switches from wide-eyed curiosity to something harder and darker. I’ve disappointed her, even though she should feel grateful I’m being honest with her. It’s something my father never felt was necessary.
His version of the truth differed greatly from mine, although he, too, had a stock answer, the script of which never wavered no matter who he was talking to.
“I’ve lied about a great many things in my life,” he would have told Wendy Davenport, oozing charm. “But what happened at Baneberry Hall isn’t one of them. Every word of that book is true. I swear to the Great Almighty.”
That’s in line with the public version of events, which goes something like this: Twenty-five years ago, my family lived in a house named Baneberry Hall, situated just outside the village of Bartleby, Vermont.
We moved in on June 26.
We fled in the dead of night on July 15.
That’s how long we lived in that house before we became too terrified to stay a minute longer.
It wasn’t safe, my father told police. Something was wrong with Baneberry Hall. Unaccountable things had happened there. Dangerous things.
The house was, he reluctantly admitted, haunted by a malevolent spirit.
We vowed never to return.
This admission—detailed in the official police report—was noticed by a reporter for the local newspaper, a glorified pamphlet known as the Bartleby Gazette. The ensuing article, including plenty of quotes from my father, was soon picked up by the state’s wire service and found its way into bigger newspapers in larger towns. Burlington and Essex and Colchester. From there it spread like a pernicious cold, hopping from town to town, city to city, state to state. Roughly two weeks after our retreat, an editor in New York called with an offer to tell our story in book form.