“Be still, baby,” I whispered. “Let me see how bad it is.”
I pried Maggie’s hand away, revealing a gash below her left eye. While not very long, it appeared deep enough to require stitches. I took off my T-shirt and pressed it to the cut, hoping to slow the bleeding. Maggie screamed again in response.
“We need to get her to the emergency room,” I said.
Jess, her maternal instincts kicking in something fierce, refused to let me carry Maggie. “I can do it,” she said, hoisting our daughter over her shoulder as blood gushed onto her shirt. “I’ll meet you at the car.”
Off she went, a still-whimpering Maggie in her arms. I stayed behind just long enough to examine the spot where Maggie had hit her face. It was easy to find. A wet splotch of blood glistened atop a rectangular rock that jutted an inch or so out of the ground.
Only it wasn’t a rock.
Its shape was too orderly to be caused by nature.
It was, to my complete and utter shock, a gravestone.
I dropped to my knees in front of it and brushed away decades of dirt. A familiar name appeared, the soil in the carved letters making them stand in stark contrast to the pale marble.
After seeing that person outside, it took two hours and one Valium before I was calm enough to get back in bed, let alone fall asleep. Even then, a night terror invaded my slumber. Me, in bed, the figure in the forest now suddenly hovering over me, its back against the ceiling.
I woke up gasping, my skin covered in a thin sheen of sweat that glistened in the moonlight coming through the window. I took a second Valium. It did the trick.
Now it’s six in the morning, and even though all I’d like to do is stay in bed, I can’t. There’s work to be done.
Since there’s no coffee in the house, I use a cold shower as a poor substitute for caffeine. I emerge wide awake, but in a sore and sorry way. It feels as though I’ve just been slapped, my skin pink and pulsing. When I glance in the bathroom mirror, I see how it makes my scar stand out in in the faint light of dawn. A small slash of white on my otherwise rosy cheek. I touch it, the skin surrounding it puffy and tender from lack of sleep.
For breakfast, I have a protein bar—literally the only food I thought to bring along—washed down with another mug of horrid tea and a vow to get to the grocery store by the end of the day.
I check my phone as I eat, seeing a text from my mother. Its tone and subject matter tell me she’s heard my voicemail.
So disappointed. Don’t stay there. Please
My response is a master class in maturity.
Try and stop me
I hit send and go upstairs to roam the Indigo Room and parlor, looking for the letter opener I’m certain I misplaced last night during the unexpected drama with Elsa Ditmer and her daughter. It is the only explanation. Letter openers don’t just vanish by themselves. But after several minutes of fruitless searching, I give up.
I tell myself it’s here somewhere, likely buried under years of junk mail. It’ll turn up at some point. And if it doesn’t, so be it.
By seven, I’m outside and unloading my pickup truck before Dane arrives, even though it’d be easier with his help. I do it myself because, one, I’m already here and don’t feel like wasting time and, two, I want him to see that I can do it myself. That he’s here to assist, not carry most of the load.
When Dane arrives promptly at eight, half the truck has been emptied and equipment litters the front lawn. He eyes the drill case sitting next to the ladder, which leans against the tile saw. I think he’s impressed.
He helps me finish unloading the truck as I go over the plan. Clear the house, keeping anything that might be worth saving and throwing out the rest. We’ll start at the top, in my father’s old study, and work our way down, room by room. I still don’t know what I’m going to do with it all. I need more time in the house before I can come up with a proper design. But already I’m leaning toward taking a cue from what’s already here. Rich woods, ornate patterns, jewel tones. If I had to put a label on it, I’d call it Victorian glamour.
With the truck unloaded, we grab some empty cardboard boxes and head inside. The house feels larger in the morning light. Warmer and brighter. Most people, if they didn’t know its history, would describe the place as homey. But the past hangs heavy over Baneberry Hall. Enough for me to feel a chill when we pass a back window and I see the spot where last night’s trespasser had been standing.
“You have a key to the gate, right?” I ask Dane as we climb the steps to the third floor.
“I wouldn’t be a good caretaker if I didn’t.”
“You didn’t happen to be strolling around the grounds last night? Around eleven?”
“At that hour, I was asleep in front of the Red Sox game. Why?”
“I saw someone in the woods. A few feet from the backyard.”
Dane turns around on the steps to give me a concerned look. “Did they do anything?”
“As far as I know, they just stood there looking at the house before disappearing in the woods.”
“It was probably a ghoul,” Dane says.
“I guess that term isn’t just cop talk.”