Now I treat any potential friend or lover with a hearty dose of skepticism. After one too many sleepovers spent having a Ouija board thrust at me or “dates” that ended at a cemetery with me being asked if I saw any ghosts among the graves, I can’t help but doubt people’s intentions. The majority of my friends have been around for ages. For the most part, they pretend the Book doesn’t exist. And if a few of them are curious about my family’s time in Baneberry Hall, they know enough not to ask me about it.
All these years later, my reputation still precedes me, even though I don’t think of myself as famous. I’m notorious. I get emails from strangers calling my dad a liar or saying they’ll pray for me or seeking ways to get rid of the ghost they’re certain is trapped in their cellar. Occasionally I’ll be contacted by a paranormal podcast or one of those ghost-hunter shows, asking for an interview. A horror convention recently invited me to do a meet-and-greet alongside one of the kids from the Amityville house. I declined. I hope the Amityville kid did as well.
Now here I am, tucked into a squeaky chair in a Beacon Hill law office, still reeling from emotional whiplash weeks after my father’s death. My current mood is one part prickliness (Thanks, Wendy Davenport.) and two parts grief. Across the desk, an estate attorney details the many ways in which my father continued to profit off the Book. Sales had continued at an agreeably modest pace, with an annual spike in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Hollywood had continued to call on a semiregular basis, most recently with an option that my father never bothered to tell me about to turn it into a TV series.
“Your father was very smart with his money,” Arthur Rosenfeld says.
His use of the past tense brings a kick of sadness. It’s another reminder that my father is truly gone and not just on an extended trip somewhere. Grief is tricky like that. It can lie low for hours, long enough for magical thinking to take hold. Then, when you’re good and vulnerable, it will leap out at you like a fun-house skeleton, and all the pain you thought was gone comes roaring back. Yesterday, it was hearing my father’s favorite band on the radio. Today, it’s being told that, as my father’s sole beneficiary, I’ll be receiving roughly four hundred thousand dollars.
The amount isn’t a surprise. My father told me this in the weeks preceding his death. An awkward but necessary conversation, made more uncomfortable by the fact that my mother chose not to seek a share of profits from the Book when they got divorced. My father begged her to change her mind, saying she deserved half of everything. My mother disagreed.
“I don’t want any part of it,” she would snap during one of their many arguments about the matter. “I never did, from the very beginning.”
So I get it all. The money. The rights to the Book. The infamy. Like my mother, I wonder if I’d be better off with none of it.
“Then there’s the matter of the house,” Arthur Rosenfeld says.
“What house? My father had an apartment.”
“Baneberry Hall, of course.”
Surprise jolts my body. The chair I’m in squeaks.
“My father owned Baneberry Hall?”
“He did,” the lawyer says.
“He bought it again? When?”
Arthur places his hand on his desk, his fingers steepled. “As far as I know, he never sold it.”
I remain motionless, stilled by shock, letting everything sink in. Baneberry Hall, the place that allegedly so terrified my family that we had no choice but to leave, has been in my father’s possession for the past twenty-five years.
I assume he either couldn’t get rid of it—possible, considering the house’s reputation—or didn’t want to sell it. Which could mean any number of things, none of which makes sense. All I know for certain is that my father never told me he still owned it.
“Are you sure?” I say, hoping Arthur has made some terrible mistake.
“Positive. Baneberry Hall belonged to your father. Which means it’s now yours. Lock, stock, and barrel, as they say. I suppose I should give you these.”
Arthur places a set of keys on the desk and pushes them toward me. There are two of them, both attached to a plain key ring.
“One opens the front gate and the other the front door,” he says.
I stare at the keys, hesitant to pick them up. I’m uncertain about accepting this part of my inheritance. I was raised to fear Baneberry Hall, for reasons that are still unclear to me. Even though I don’t believe my father’s official story, owning the house doesn’t sit well with me.
Then there’s the matter of what my father said on his deathbed, when he pointedly chose not to tell me he still owned Baneberry Hall. What he did say now echoes through my memory, making me shiver.
It’s not safe there. Not for you.
When I finally grab the keys, they feel hot in my hand, as if Arthur had placed them atop a radiator. I curl my fingers around them, their teeth biting into my palm.
That’s when I’m hit with another wallop of grief. This time it’s tinged with frustration and more than a little disbelief.
My father’s dead.
He withheld the truth about Baneberry Hall for my whole life.
Now I own the place. Which means all its ghosts, whether real or imaginary, are mine as well.
We knew what we were getting into. To claim otherwise would be an outright lie. Before we chose to buy Baneberry Hall, we had been told its history.