“Who are you talking to?” I asked from the doorway. In Burlington, Maggie hadn’t shown any signs of having an imaginary friend. The fact she had one now made me wonder if it wasn’t a by-product of having Elsa Ditmer’s daughters here three days before. Now that she had finally experienced some companionship, maybe Maggie longed for more.

“Just a girl,” she said.

“Is she a new friend of yours?”

Maggie shrugged. “Not really.”

I stepped into the room, focused on the patch of floor where her imaginary not-friend would have been sitting. Even though no one was really there, Maggie had cleared a space for her.

“Does she have a name?”

“I don’t know,” Maggie said. “She can’t talk.”

I joined her on the floor, making sure I didn’t invade the space of her imaginary friend. I still felt guilty about when I’d accused Maggie of lying about the girl in the armoire. She hadn’t been lying. She was pretending.

“I see,” I say. “So which one of you was in my study last night?”

Maggie gave me the same confused look I’d received from Jess in the kitchen. A slight tilt of the head. Right eyebrow raised. A scrunching of the face. The two were so alike, it was uncanny. The only difference was the bandage on Maggie’s cheek, which crinkled as she scrunched.

“What study?” she said.

“The room on the third floor. You haven’t been up there, have you?”

“No,” Maggie said, in a way that made me think she was telling the truth. Her voice usually contained a note of hollowness when she was lying. It remained convincing when she turned to the empty space across from her and said, “You weren’t up there, were you?”

She paused, absorbing a silent response only she could hear.

“She wasn’t,” Maggie informed me. “She spent last night in the wooden box.”

Those two words, innocuous by themselves, took on a sinister new meaning when used together. It made me think of a coffin and a little girl lying inside it. I smiled at Maggie, trying to hide my sudden unease.

“What wooden box, sweetie?”

“The one in my room. Where Mommy hangs things.”

The armoire. Again. I thought it strange how fixated she seemed to be on a simple piece of furniture. I told myself that Maggie was five and only doing things all kids her age did. Playing. Pretending. Not lying.

But then I remembered the sounds I kept hearing in my dreams. And the thud that most definitely wasn’t a dream. That got me thinking about what Hibbs had said about the house remembering. And the way Maggie’s door had closed the other night, almost as if pulled by an unseen force. A sense of dread crept over me, and I suddenly no longer had the desire to indulge my daughter’s imagination. In fact, all I wanted was to leave the room.

“I have an idea. Let’s go outside and play.” I paused, opting to make one small concession to Maggie’s imagination. “Your new friend can come, too.”

“She’s not allowed to leave,” Maggie said as she took my hand. Before we left the playroom, she turned back to the spot where her imaginary friend presumably still sat. “You can stay. But tell the others I don’t want them here.”

I paused then, struck by one word my daughter had used.


The unseen girl Maggie had been talking to and playing with—she wasn’t her only imaginary friend.

* * *

? ? ?

“I’m worried about Maggie,” I told Jess that night as we got ready for bed. “I think she’s too isolated. Did you know that she has imaginary friends?”

Jess poked her head out of the master bathroom, toothbrush in hand and mouth foaming like Cujo. “I had an imaginary friend when I was her age.”

“More than one?”

“Nope.” Jess disappeared back into the bathroom. “Just Minnie.”

I waited until she was done brushing her teeth and out of the bathroom before asking my follow-up question. “When you say you had an imaginary friend named Minnie, are you talking about Minnie Mouse?”

“No, Minnie was different.”

“Was she a mouse?”

“Yes,” Jess said, blushing so much even her shoulders had turned pink. “But they were different, I swear. My Minnie was my height. And furry. Like an honest-to-God mouse, only bigger.”

I approached Jess from behind, took her into my arms, kissed her shoulder right next to the strap of her nightgown, the skin there still warm. “I think you’re lying,” I whispered.

“Fine,” Jess admitted. “My imaginary friend was Minnie Mouse. I have a shitty imagination. I admit it. Happy now?”

“Always, when I’m with you.” We crawled into bed, Jess snuggling against me. “Our daughter, I suspect, isn’t. I think she’s lonely.”

“She’ll be going to kindergarten in the fall,” Jess said. “She’ll make friends then.”

“And what about the rest of the summer? We can’t expect her to spend it cooped up in this house with imaginary friends.”

“What’s the alternative?”

I saw only one. And they lived just outside Baneberry Hall’s front gate.

“I think we should invite the Ditmer girls over,” I said.