“Lots of houses make noises,” Officer Alcott said.
“Not this kind of noise.” I tried to describe the tapping sound that had moved down the hallway, going so far as to knock on the parlor floor in an attempt to replicate it. When the officer seemed unconvinced, I added, “There was also music. Someone had turned on the record player in my study. That’s happened twice now.”
Officer Alcott turned to Jess. “Did you hear the record player?”
“I didn’t.” Jess gave me an apologetic look. “Neither of the times it was on.”
The notebook and pen went back into the front pocket of Officer Alcott’s uniform. “Listen, folks,” she said. “If nothing was taken and there are no signs of a break-in and only one of you heard things—”
“We both heard the tapping,” I interjected.
Officer Alcott raised a hand, trying to calm me. “I’m not sure what it is you want me to do here.”
“You can believe us,” I said testily.
“Sir, I do believe you. I believe you heard something and thought it was an intruder. But this sounds to me like whatever you heard wasn’t what you thought you’d heard.”
I understood then a little bit of Maggie’s frustration whenever we talked about her imaginary friends. Not being believed was maddening. Only in my case, what I was saying was real. Those things happened.
“So we’re just supposed to let it happen again?”
“No,” Officer Alcott said. “You’re supposed to be smart and vigilant and call us the next time you see anything suspicious.”
Her choice of words didn’t go unnoticed.
See anything suspicious. Not hear.
Officer Alcott departed with a tip of her hat and a nod of her head, leaving Jess and me to fend for ourselves. I did it the only way I knew how—by raiding the house for supplies to create a makeshift security system.
A pack of index cards.
Several spools of thread.
A box of chalk.
“What’s all this for again?” Jess asked as I tore off a piece of index card.
“To see if someone’s sneaking into the house.” I stuffed the paper sliver between the door and its frame so that it would fall out if the door was opened. “If they are, this will tell us where he’s getting inside.”
I used the chalk to draw a thin line across the floor in front of the door. After that, I stretched the thread across the doorway, keeping it ankle-height. If anyone entered, I’d be able to tell. The thread would be snapped, and the chalk would be smudged.
“How many places are you going to do this?” Jess asked.
“The front door and every window,” I replied.
By the time I went to bed, every openable window in the house had a length of thread across it and a small slip of index card stuck under its sill.
Whoever the intruder was, I was prepared for his next visit.
Or so I thought.
It turned out I wasn’t prepared for anything that lay in store for us.
I’m still looking at that empty patch of desk when something else catches my attention. On the extreme edge of my vision, I detect motion outside one of the study windows. Rushing to the glass, I glimpse a dark figure vanishing into the woods behind the house.
In an instant, I’m on the run again, reversing my route up here. Down the steps, across the hall, down more steps. On my way to the front door, I pause long enough to grab a flashlight from a box of supplies sitting in the great room.
Then I’m outside, sprinting around the house and crashing into the forest. It’s pitch-black here, the moonlight eclipsed by the trees. I turn on the flashlight. The beam jitters across the ground before me, catching random clusters of baneberries.
“I know you’re out here!” I shout into the darkness. “I saw you!”
There’s no response. Not that I’m expecting one. I just want whoever it is to know I’ve seen them. Hopefully that alone will prevent a return visit.
I continue to move through the woods, the downward slope of the hill making me go faster. Soon I’m at the pet cemetery, the lumpy gravestones blurs of white in the flashlight’s beam. Then I’m past the graves and approaching the stone wall at the base of the hill. It’s intimidating in the darkness—ten feet high and as thick as a castle wall.
It dwarfs me when I stand next to it, which should be reassuring. No one’s getting over that baby. Not without a ladder. But that realization prompts an uneasy question: How did this ghoul get on the property?
An answer arrives a minute later, when I decide to exit the woods by following the wall to the front gate. I get only about fifty yards before seeing a section of wall that has crumbled away. It’s not a big gap. Just a foot-wide space cut through the wall, like someone using a finger to slice a stick of butter. To pass through it, I need to turn and sidestep my way across. Once I’m on the other side—and no longer officially on Baneberry Hall property—I glimpse the back of a cottage through the trees. Its exterior, yellow in the daytime, looks whitish in the moonlight. One window is aglow. Beyond it flickers the green-blue screen of a television set.
The cottage belongs either to Dane or the Ditmers. I’m not sure who lives on either side of the road. I suppose it’s something I should find out, since an accidental side entrance to my property sits not far from their backyard.