I’m almost asleep, lulled by nature’s white noise, when another sound rises from outside.

A twig.

Snapping in half with a heavy crack.

Its sudden appearance silences the rest of the forest. In that newfound quiet, I sense a disturbance in the backyard.

Something is outside.

I slide out of bed and go to the window, which offers a sharply angled view of the night-shrouded yard below. I scan the area nearest the house, seeing only moonlit grass and the upper branches of an oak tree. I move my gaze to the outskirts of the yard, where forest replaces lawn, expecting to see a deer cautiously stepping into the grass.

Instead, I see someone standing just beyond the tree line.

I can’t make out many details. It’s too dark, and whoever it is stands in too much shadow. In fact, had they stayed a few feet deeper in the forest, I wouldn’t have known they were there at all.

But I do know. I can see him. Or her.

Standing in statue-like stillness.

Doing nothing but staring at the house.

So far.

I think back to what Chief Alcott said about people trying to get inside. Ghouls, she called them. And some of them succeeded.

Not while I’m here.

Turning away from the window, I sprint out of the room, down the stairs, and to the front door. Once outside, I run around the side of the house, dew-drenched grass slick beneath my bare feet. Soon I’m in the backyard, heading straight to the spot where the figure stood.

It’s now empty. As is the entire tree line.

I listen for the sound of retreating footsteps in the woods, but by now the crickets and frogs and night birds have started back up again, making it hard to hear anything else.

I remain there for a few minutes longer, wondering if I’d really seen someone lurking outside. There’s a chance it could have just been the shadow of a tree. Or a trick of the moonlight. Or my imagination, stuck in paranoid mode after my chat with Chief Alcott.

All are possible. None are likely.

Because I know what I saw. A person. Standing right where I am now.

Which means I need to invest in a security system and install a spotlight in the backyard as a deterrent. Because despite the front gate and the forest and the stone wall that surrounds everything, Baneberry Hall isn’t as isolated as it seems.

And I’m not as alone here as I first thought.


Day 3

After two days of unpacking and arranging our own furniture with what came before us, it was finally time for me to tackle the third-floor study—a thrilling prospect. I’d always wanted my own office. My entire writing career had taken place in white-walled cubicles, at rickety motel room desks, on the dining room table in the Burlington apartment. I hoped having a space of my own would once again make me feel like a serious writer.

The only hitch was that this room had also been the site of Curtis Carver’s suicide, a fact that weighed on my thoughts as I climbed the narrow steps to the third floor. I worried his death would still be felt in the study. That his guilt, desperation, and madness had somehow infiltrated the space, swirling in the air like dust.

My fears were allayed once I finally entered the study. It was as charming as I remembered. All high ceilings and sturdy bookshelves and that massive oak desk, which I had no doubt once belonged to William Garson. Like Baneberry Hall itself, it had a grandeur that could be conjured only by a man of wealth and status. The whole room did. Instead of Curtis Carver, it was Mr. Garson’s presence that loomed large inside the study.

But I couldn’t ignore the brutal fact that a man had taken his own life within these walls. In order to make this space truly my own, I needed to rid it of any traces of Curtis Carver.

I started in the first of two closets, both of which had slanted doors like the one in Maggie’s bedroom. Inside were shelves stacked with vintage board games, some dating back to the thirties. Monopoly and Clue and Snakes and Ladders. There was even a Ouija board, its box worn white at the corners. I remembered what Janie June had said about Gable and Lombard staying here and smiled at the thought of them using the Ouija board in the candlelit parlor.

Below the games, sitting on the floor, were two square suitcases, their surfaces feathery with dust. I slid both out of the closet, finding them not without some heft.

Something was inside each of them.

The first suitcase, I discovered upon opening it, wasn’t a suitcase at all. It was an old record player inside a leather carrying case. Fittingly, the other case contained LPs kept in their original cardboard sleeves. I sorted through them, disappointed by the collection of Big Band music and movie musical soundtracks.

Oklahoma. South Pacific. The King and I.

Someone had been a Rodgers and Hammerstein fan, and I was fairly confident it wasn’t Curtis Carver.

I carried the record player to the desk and plugged it in, curious to see if it still worked. I grabbed the first record in the case—The Sound of Music—and let it spin. Music filled the room.

As Julie Andrews sang about the hills being alive, I made my way to the second closet, passing a pair of eyelike windows similar to the ones facing the front of the house. These two looked onto the backyard, beyond which sat woods that sloped sharply down the hillside. Peering outside, I saw Maggie and Jess round the corner of the house, hand in hand. Knowing I was up here, Jess shot a glance toward the window and waved.

I waved back, grinning. It had been a rough few days. I was sore from all that moving and unpacking, tired from restless nights, and concerned about Maggie’s problems adjusting. That morning at breakfast, when I asked why she’d opened the doors to the armoire in the middle of the night, she swore she hadn’t done it. But my stress melted away as I watched my wife and daughter enjoying our new backyard. Both looked happy as they explored the edge of the woods, and I realized that buying this place was the best decision we could have made.