The noise was louder that time. Like whatever was causing it had moved a few feet down the hallway, closer to Maggie’s bedroom.
These were louder still, the second sounding nearer than the first.
“Do you think it’s the pipes?” Jess asked.
“If it is, why haven’t we heard it until now?”
Three that time, growing in volume until they were right outside.
Maggie pressed against her mother, her wide eyes unblinking.
“It’s Mister Shadow,” she said.
Jess hushed her. “Maggie, stop it. He’s not real.”
Mister Shadow might not have been real, but the tapping certainly was. The only explanation I could think of was the most obvious one: an intruder had entered Baneberry Hall.
“Someone’s inside the house,” I whispered.
The noise was now an unbroken stream, so loud and so close. It seemed to pass right by the bedroom door, even though no motion accompanied it.
The sound began to recede as it continued down the hall, seemingly heading to the steps that led to the third floor.
I bolted from the bed, determined to follow it. “You and Maggie stay right here.”
Jess protested. “Ewan, wait—”
If she said anything else, I didn’t hear it. By then I was already running down the hallway, trying to locate the source of the—
I looked up and down the hallway. Nothing was there. Certainly nothing that could have caused something as strange as that—
The sound had become quieter, almost as if it had moved to another section of the house. I heard one last tap before it died away completely, leaving me standing in a silent hallway.
It didn’t last long.
Within seconds, I heard something else.
Coming from directly above me.
“You are sixteen, going on seventeen—”
I bolted up the steps to the third floor, taking them two at a time. When the door to my study edged into view, I saw that it was closed, a thin strip of light visible just beneath it.
“Baby, it’s time to think.”
I knew I should have turned back, but by then it was too late. Whoever was behind that door had heard me coming. Besides, momentum kept me moving. Up the rest of the steps, through the door, into the study.
Just like the other night, the study was empty. It was just me and the record player and the damn album spinning and spinning and spinning.
I turned it off, the song mutating as the turntable slowed to a stop. I then examined the study, wondering where the intruder had gone.
And how he had caused those taps.
And if it was going to happen again.
Because it had already happened once before. Two nights ago, when I’d first heard the record player. That hadn’t been Jess or Maggie or a goddamn mouse.
The realization that our home had been broken into twice now rattled me. With shaking hands, I removed the record from the turntable and stuffed it into its cardboard sleeve. I saw no need to give the intruder a chance to play it a third time. I then unplugged the record player and put it back inside its case. Both cases were then put back in the closet where I found them.
Then I went downstairs to call the police.
* * *
? ? ?
The policewoman who came to our house, Officer Tess Alcott, was so young I at first didn’t believe she was a cop. She looked like she had barely finished Girl Scouts, let alone a police academy. Officer Alcott probably got that a lot, for she presented herself with a gruffness that felt forced.
“Was anything taken?” she asked, her pen pressed to the tiny notebook in her hands. “Any missing valuables? Any cash that’s unaccounted for?”
“Not that we know of,” I said. “But a lot of this stuff wasn’t ours. We inherited it when we bought the house. So something could be missing that we didn’t know about.”
The three of us were in the parlor, me and Jess perched on the edge of the couch, too nervous to relax. Officer Alcott sat across from us, surveying the room.
“Curtis Carver and his wife owned this place before you, didn’t they?” she said.
“Yes,” Jess said. “Do you think that could have something to do with the break-in?”
“I don’t see any reason why it would.”
I squinted at her, curious. “Then why did you ask?”
“So I can comb our records and see if there were any break-ins when they lived here. How did the intruder get inside? I’m assuming the front door was unlocked.”
“It wasn’t,” I said. “I locked it before I went upstairs to tuck my daughter into bed, and it was still locked after the intruder had left.”
“So, they came in through a window?”
“They were all closed,” Jess said.
Officer Alcott, who had been writing this all down in her notebook, suddenly looked up, her pen paused against paper. “Are you certain there even was an intruder?”
“We heard noises,” I said, understanding in that moment just how ridiculous I sounded. Like a child. Someone as scared and imaginative as Maggie.