“We all call them that. They’re mostly local kids. I’ve heard they like to dare each other to sneak onto the property and get close to the infamous House of Horrors. They’re harmless. But you might want to stop making it easy for them. The front gate was wide open this morning. That’s like sending them an invitation to trespass.”
Dane’s mansplaining aside, I know he’s right. I’d forgotten about the gate last night. My lesson learned, I don’t plan on doing it again.
“Duly noted,” I say as I open the door to the study. It’s hot inside, even though it’s not even nine and the sun is still rising behind the woods out back. It’s also dusty. Huge particles of it swirl around us as we enter, practically glowing in the light shining through the circular windows.
Dane looks around the room, impressed. “This is a great space. What do you plan on doing with it?”
“I was thinking guest bedroom,” I say. “Or maybe an in-law suite.”
“You’d need to put in a bathroom.”
I grimace, because he’s right. “Plumbing will be a bitch.”
“So will the cost,” Dane says. “I know this sounds crazy, but if you wanted to, you could get rid of the floor—”
“And make the room below a master suite with cathedral ceilings—”
“And a skylight!”
We stop talking, both of us slightly out of breath. We speak the same language. Good to know.
Dane zeroes in on the bookshelves along the wall. I go to my father’s desk, getting uncomfortable flashbacks to when Allie and I emptied my father’s apartment a week after his death. It was rough. The entire place smelled like him—a soothing combo of wool, aftershave, and old books. Every item dropped into a cardboard box felt as though a part of his existence was being locked away where no one could see it. Every tattered cardigan. Each worn-edged book. I was erasing my father piece by piece, and it gutted me.
Worse still was finding a box of manuscripts in his office closet, sitting with his old typewriter and a set of rarely used golf clubs. It turned out he had written five books after House of Horrors. All of them fiction. All unpublished. One included a letter from his longtime agent, saying no one wanted anything other than another ghost story.
Now I open the top drawer of my father’s desk slowly, steeling myself for similar signs of his failure. There’s nothing in it but pens, paper clips, and a magnifying glass.
The next drawer, though, holds a surprise.
A copy of the Book.
I pick it up and blow dust from the cover. It’s a hardcover. First edition. I can tell because it’s the only one not to feature the words all writers dream of having on their book jacket: New York Times bestseller. Every edition after this one wore them like a badge of honor.
The cover is a good one, which many say attributed to the Book’s initial success. It’s an illustration of Baneberry Hall as seen from an angle not attainable in real life. A bird’s-eye view of a tall, crooked house on a hill. There’s a light on in the third floor—the very same floor in which Dane and I now stand—the greenish glow seeping through the round windows, making it look like Baneberry Hall is watching you. The forest encroaches on the house from all directions, the trees bending toward it, as if waiting to do its bidding.
This is the edition I read, back when I was nine. I knew my father had written a book. I knew it was a big deal. I remembered the interviews and TV crews and studio lights that hurt my eyes.
What I didn’t understand—not really—was what the book was about and why people treated my family differently from everyone else. I eventually found out from a classmate named Kelly, who told me she had to disinvite me from her upcoming birthday party. “My mom says your dad wrote an evil book and that I’m not supposed to be friends with you,” she said.
That weekend, I snuck into my dad’s office and took his first-edition copy down from the shelf. For the next month, I consumed it in secret, like it was a dirty magazine. By flashlight under the covers. After school, before my father got home from the writing class he taught just to stay busy. Once, when I’d brazenly shoved the book in my backpack and took it to school, I skipped third period to read it in the girls’ bathroom.
It was thrilling, reading something forbidden. I finally understood why my classmates had been so giddy about stealing their older sisters’ copies of Flowers in the Attic. But it was also deeply unsettling to see my parents’ names—to see my name—in a book about things I had no memory of.
Even more disconcerting was how my father had turned me into a character that in no way resembled the real me, even though only four years separated us. I saw nothing of myself in the Book’s Maggie. I thought I was smart and capable and fearless. I picked up spiders and scrambled to the top of the jungle gym. The Maggie in the Book was shy and awkward. A weirdo loner. And it hurt knowing it was my own father who had portrayed me that way. Was that what he thought I was like? When he looked at me, did he see only a scared little girl? Did everyone?
Finishing the Book left me feeling slightly abused. I had been exploited, even though I didn’t quite understand that at the time. All I knew then was that I felt confused and humiliated and misrepresented.
Not to mention angry.
So fucking furious that my younger self didn’t know what to do with it. It took me weeks to finally confront my parents about it, during one of their custody exchanges in which I was handed off like a relay baton.