Someone, somewhere, was singing.
A man. His voice soft and lilting. Drifting from a distant part of the house.
I looked to the other side of the bed to see if Jess had also been awakened by the music, but she remained fast asleep. Hoping she’d stay that way, I slid out of bed and crept out of the room.
The music was slightly louder in the hallway. Loud enough for me to recognize the song.
“You are sixteen, going on seventeen—”
The music was coming from upstairs, a fact I realized when I reached the other side of the hall. I could hear it echoing down the steps that led to my study. Accompanying the music was a chill strong enough to make me shiver.
“Baby, it’s time to think.”
I started up the stairs slowly, nervously. With each step, the song got louder and the chill got worse. At the top of the stairs, it had grown so cold that, had there been more light there, I’m certain I would have seen my breath.
When I opened the study door, the song practically boomed out of the room. Inside, it was pitch-black. The kind of darkness that gave one pause. And cold. So freezing that goose bumps formed on my bare skin.
I stepped into the study, hugging myself for warmth. I flicked the switch by the door, and light flooded the room.
Sitting on the desk, right where I had left it, was the record player. The album on top of it spun at full speed and at top volume.
“Baby, you’re on the—”
I plucked the needle from the record, and silence fell over the house like a wool blanket. The cold went away as well—an instant warming that swept through the room. Or so I thought. As I stood in that newfound silence and warmth, it occurred to me that it might have been my imagination.
Not the music.
That had been all too real.
The album still spun atop the turntable, its grooves catching light from the fixture overhead. I switched it off, not looking away until the record came to a complete stop. I assumed it was Jess’s doing. That in a fit of insomnia she had made her way up here and listened to some music before getting tired.
The only excuse for the cold was that I’d somehow imagined it. Any other explanation—a draft, a gust of freezing air from the open window—seemed unlikely, if not downright impossible. Therefore it must have been my imagination, prompted by what Hibbs had told me earlier. Here was the irrational fear I’d been expecting, arriving a few hours late.
And that’s exactly what it was—irrational.
Houses didn’t remember things. The supernatural didn’t exist. I had no reason to fear this place.
By the time I returned to bed, I had convinced myself it was all in my head.
That everything was normal.
That nothing strange was going on at Baneberry Hall.
It turned out I was wrong.
So utterly wrong.
I send Dane home for the day after our talk in the cemetery. It feels like the right thing to do, despite the fact that we accomplished next to nothing. After revisiting our possibly haunted pasts, both of us deserve an afternoon off.
For me, that involves heading into town for much-needed groceries.
My drive to the store brings me onto Bartleby’s main thoroughfare. Maple Street, of course. I pass clapboard houses as sturdy and unbending as the people who surely live inside them, storefronts with large windows and signs hawking authentic maple syrup, the obligatory church with its ivory steeple stretching toward the sky. There’s even a town square—a small patch of green with a gazebo and flagpole.
Although quaint, there’s a slight dinginess to Bartleby not present in similar towns. A sense that time has passed it by. Still, I notice small attempts at modernization. A sushi restaurant. A vegetarian bistro. A consignment shop specializing in designer brands with a diaphanous Gucci dress prominently displayed in the window.
And I see a bakery, which makes me slam on the brakes in the middle of Maple Street. In my experience, where there are baked goods, there’s also coffee. Usually good coffee. Considering my undercaffeinated state, that’s worth slamming the brakes.
I park on the street and step into a space decorated in a manner that’s both trendy and timeless. Copper fixtures. Tile-top tables with mismatched chairs. Midnight-blue walls filled with vintage illustrations of birds inside ornate frames. At the rear of the shop, an old-fashioned display case stretches from wall to wall, filled with gorgeously decorated cakes, delicate pastries, and pies with elaborate crusts worthy of Instagram. As far as visuals go, the owner certainly knows what she’s doing.
I walk to the display case, ready to tell the woman adjusting pastries inside it how much I like the design. The compliment dies on my lips when the woman rises from behind the counter and I see who she is.
I recognize her from the pictures I saw when I was a House of Horrors–obsessed tween who hoped Google would help fill the gaps in my knowledge. She’s older and softer now. Fiftyish, brown hair graying at the roots, slightly matronly in her yellow blouse and white apron. Her glasses don’t help—the same unflattering spectacles she wore in all those photos.
I’m apparently not the only one who’s done some Googling, because it’s clear she knows who I am. Her eyes widen just enough to register her surprise, and her jaw tightens. She clears her throat, and I brace myself for an angry tirade about my father. It would be justified. Of the many people in Bartleby who hate the Book, Marta Carver has the biggest reason for doing so.