There and gone in an instant.
I rush to the Indigo Room, trying not to think of Mister Shadow, when all I can do is think of Mister Shadow, even though three words echo through my head.
He. Doesn’t. Exist.
Which means it’s something else. An animal, most likely. Something that knows this place is unoccupied 364 days a year. Something I definitely don’t want hanging around now that I’m here.
Inside the Indigo Room, I hit the light switch by the door. Nothing happens to the chandelier dangling from the ceiling. Either the wiring is shot or the bulbs have all burned out. Still, the light spilling in from the parlor allows me to make out some of the room’s details. I notice kelly-green walls, parquet floors, more furniture dressed like ghosts.
What I don’t see is Indigo Garson’s portrait over the fireplace. Just like in the great room, the stone is painted gray.
I turn away from the fireplace, and something lurches at me from a pitch-black corner of the room.
Not an animal.
Not Mister Shadow.
An old woman, startlingly pale in the half-light.
A scream leaps from my throat as the woman draws near. She stumbles toward me, her arms outstretched, slippered feet threatening to trample the hem of her nightgown. Soon she’s upon me, her hands on my face, the palms pressing hard against my cheeks, my nose, my mouth. At first, I think she’s trying to smother me, but then her hands drop to my shoulders as she pulls me into a desperate embrace.
“Petra, my baby,” she says. “You’ve come back to me.”
Moving from the apartment in Burlington to Baneberry Hall was easy, mostly because there wasn’t much to move beyond my many books, our clothes, and a few assorted knickknacks we’d accumulated over the years. We decided to use most of the furniture that came with the house—more out of budgetary concerns than anything else. The only furnishings we didn’t keep were the bedroom sets.
“I will not force my daughter to sleep in a dead girl’s bed,” Jess insisted. “And I definitely won’t sleep in the bed of the man who killed her.”
Another thing she insisted on was burning a bundle of sage, which was supposed to clear the house of negative energy. So while Jess roamed around with a fistful of smoldering herbs, trailing smoke like a walking stick of incense, I stayed in the kitchen and unpacked the extensive set of dishes she had also inherited from her grandfather.
Helping me was Elsa Ditmer, who lived in the cottage outside the front gate not occupied by Hibbs and his wife. Like her mother and grandmother before her, she cleaned houses for a living, including Baneberry Hall. And while Jess and I couldn’t afford a full-time cleaning lady, we were all too happy to hire her for a few days to help us move in.
A stout woman in her early forties, Elsa had a soft-spoken demeanor and a wide, friendly face. She arrived bearing a housewarming gift—a loaf of bread and a small wooden box of salt.
“It’s tradition,” she explained. “It means you’ll never go hungry in your new home.”
She said little else as we worked, speaking only when spoken to. After Jess passed through the kitchen in a cloud of sage smoke, I said, “I assure you we’re not always this strange. You must think we’re the most superstitious people on earth.”
“Not at all. Where my family is from, everyone is superstitious.” Elsa held up a dessert plate that had recently been freed from its newspaper wrapping. “In Germany, it would be customary for me to break this. Shards bring luck. That’s how the saying goes.”
“And do they?”
“That hasn’t been my experience.” She gave a wistful smile. “Perhaps I haven’t broken enough plates yet.”
Elsa set the plate gently back on the table. As she did, I noticed the wedding band on her right ring finger. Barely in her forties and already a widow.
“Pick it back up,” I said, before quickly unwrapping a matching plate and clinking it against Elsa’s. “Shall we?”
“I couldn’t,” she said, blushing slightly. “Such pretty plates.”
They were indeed pretty. And plentiful. Two broken ones wouldn’t be missed.
“The sacrifice will be worth it if it brings a little luck to this place.”
Elsa Ditmer grudgingly agreed. Together, we tossed the plates onto the floor, where they shattered into pieces.
“I feel lucky already,” I said as I fetched a brush and dustpan and began sweeping up the shards. “At least luckier than Curtis Carver.”
The smile on Elsa’s face dimmed.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “That was cruel of me. You probably knew them.”
“A little, yes,” Elsa said with a nod. “I did some cleaning here when they needed it.”
“What were they like?”
“They seemed happy, at first. Friendly.”
“And Curtis Carver? Was he—”
I paused, choosing my words carefully. Elsa Ditmer had known the man. She even might have liked him, and I didn’t want to offend her if she had. It was a surprise when she finished my sentence for me.
“A monster?” she said with undisguised venom. “What else could he be? A man who could do such a thing to his own child—to any child—would have to be a monster. But he was very good at hiding it. At least in the beginning.”