“How widely known is that story?” I asked. “Does the rest of the town know it?”
“I suppose most do.” Hibbs gave me a gold-tooth-flashing grin. “At least all us old-timers do.”
“What else do you know about this place?”
“More than most, I’d say,” Hibbs said with noticeable pride.
“The day we met, you asked if Janie June had told us the whole story,” I said. “At the time, I thought she had. But now—”
“Now you suspect Janie June was holding out on you.”
“I do,” I admitted. “And I’d appreciate it if you filled in the blanks for me.”
“I’m not sure you want that, Ewan,” Hibbs said as he pretended to scour the ground for more graves. “You might think you do, but sometimes it’s best not knowing.”
Anger rose in my chest, hot and sudden and strong. It only got worse when I looked down and saw my daughter’s blood staining William Garson’s grave. I was so mad that I stalked across the wooded cemetery and grabbed Hibbs by his collar.
“You told me I needed to be prepared for this place,” I said. “But I’m not. And now my daughter’s hurt. She could have been killed, Hibbs. So if there’s something you’re not telling me, you need to spit it out right now.”
Hibbs didn’t push me off him, which I don’t doubt he could have done. Despite his age, he looked to be as strong as a bulldog. Instead, he gently pried my fingers from around his shirt collar and said, “You want the truth? I’ll give it to you. Things have happened in that house. Tragic things. Indigo Garson and the Carver family, yes. But other things, too. And all those things, well, they . . . linger.”
The word sent a chill down my back. Probably because of the way Hibbs said it—slowly, drawing out the word like it was a rubber band about to snap.
“Are you telling me Baneberry Hall is haunted?”
“I’m saying that Baneberry Hall remembers,” Hibbs said. “It remembers everything that’s happened since Indigo Garson gulped down those berries. And sometimes history has a way of repeating itself.”
It took a moment for that information to sink in. It was so utterly absurd that I had trouble comprehending it. When it all eventually settled in, I felt so dizzy I thought I, too, was going to fall and whack my head on William Garson’s grave.
“I’m not saying it’s going to happen to you,” Hibbs said. “I’m just telling you it’s a possibility. Just like your house getting struck by lightning is a possibility. My advice? Be as happy as you can in that house. Love your family. Hug your daughter. Kiss your wife. From what I’ve heard, that house hasn’t witnessed a lot of love. It remembers that pain. What you need to do is make it forget.”
* * *
? ? ?
I returned from the woods to find Maggie on the sofa in the parlor, her head resting in Jess’s lap. Half her cheek was covered by a large bandage. The skin surrounding it was colored an angry red that I already knew would darken into a nasty bruise.
“How many are there?” Jess said.
“About a dozen. That we could find, anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more graves out there, their stones either completely crumbled or buried by plant life.”
“I want to strangle that Janie June. She should have told us there was a goddamned cemetery in our backyard.”
“Maybe she didn’t know,” I said. “They’re pretty hidden.”
“She’s a Realtor,” Jess snapped. “It’s her job to know what’s on the property. I think she knew telling us about it would freak us out and then she’d have to find another gullible couple to swindle.”
“We weren’t swindled,” I said, even though I was starting to think we were. If not swindled, then at least misled. Because Jess was right—surely a Realtor would know about a cemetery on the property.
“What did Hibbs have to say about it?”
On the walk back to the house, I’d decided not to tell Jess about Indigo Garson’s tragic death. She was already on edge knowing about two deaths inside Baneberry Hall. A third would likely send her running from the house, never to return. And, to be brutally honest, we couldn’t afford for that to happen. Buying the house had cost us almost everything we had. There was nothing left over for a down payment on a new home or a rental.
We were, for better or worse, stuck there.
Which meant I needed to follow Hibbs’s advice and make our time there as happy as possible. Even if it meant not being honest with my wife. In my mind, there was no other choice.
“Nothing much,” I said before scooping Maggie from the couch. “Now let’s go for some ice cream. Three scoops for everyone. I think we’ve all earned it.”
* * *
? ? ?
Considering everything Hibbs had told me that afternoon, I was surprised by how exhausted I felt when bedtime rolled around. I had assumed I’d be awake half the night, worrying about all I’d heard about the cemetery, Indigo Garson, the way Baneberry Hall remembers. Instead, I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.
It didn’t last long.
At five minutes to midnight, I awoke to a strange sound.