“There’s half a pot with your name on it.”
When we go down to the kitchen, I pour a giant mug and hand it to Dane.
He takes a sip and says, “Why did you ask about my cottage? Were you planning on paying me a visit?”
I note the flirtation in his voice. It’s impossible to miss. This time, unlike on the night of my arrival, it’s not entirely surprising. Or unwanted. But his timing could definitely be better. I have more pressing issues.
“Someone broke in last night,” I say.
I relay the events of last night, sparing no detail. He hears it all—the bell, the music, the missing bear, me shouting at whoever it was as they fled through the woods.
“And you thought it was me?” he says.
“Of course not,” I say, massaging the truth so as not to offend him. “I was just wondering if you saw anything suspicious last night.”
“Nothing. Have you asked Hannah if she did?”
“Haven’t had the chance. But do you know about the breach in the wall? There’s a spot where it’s crumbled away.”
“That’s been there for decades, I think. I wrote to your father last year asking if he wanted me to repair it, but he never got back to me.”
That’s because he was enduring aggressive rounds of chemotherapy, even though none of us had much hope it would help things. It was just a stalling tactic. A way to stretch out my father’s life by a few more months.
“Well, someone used it to get on the property,” I say. “They snuck into the house, although I don’t know how.”
Dane grabs a chair and sits down backward, his legs straddling the chair back. “Are you certain of that? The bear could have simply fallen behind the desk. We piled quite a bit of stuff on there.”
“That doesn’t explain the record player. It couldn’t have turned on by itself.”
“Not unless there’s something funky going on with the wiring. Have you noticed anything else weird?”
“Yes,” I say, recalling the night of my arrival. “The light switch in the Indigo Room doesn’t work. Not to mention the chandelier being on when I got home yesterday.”
“How about down here?” Dane looks to the kitchen ceiling and studies the light fixture, a chunky rectangle of smoked glass and gold trim that, like the rest of the kitchen, reeks of the eighties. His gaze soon moves to the bulging, stained swath of ceiling situated directly over the table.
“Looks like water damage,” he says.
“I’ve already added it to the very long list of things that need to be done to this kitchen.”
Dane climbs onto the table and stands beneath the bulge, trying to get a closer look.
“What are you doing?”
“Checking to see if the ceiling is compromised,” he says. “You may need to fix this sooner rather than later.”
He pokes the bulge with an index finger. Then, using his whole hand, he pushes on it. Seeing the ceiling give way slightly under his fingers unlocks another memory I know only from the Book. My stomach clenches as I picture the plaster opening up and snakes pouring out.
“Dane, don’t.” My voice is more anxious than I want it to be. “Just leave it alone for now.”
“This plaster is weak as hell,” he says as he keeps pushing. The ceiling expands and contracts slightly—like the rise and fall of a sleeping man’s chest.
It’s snakes, says the whispering voice I heard yesterday. My father’s voice. You know they’re there, Maggie.
If there are snakes coiled inside that ceiling, I want to pretend they’re not there, just like my parents pretended the Book didn’t tear our family apart.
“Dane, I’m serious,” I say, angry now. “Stop doing that.”
Dane’s hand bursts through the ceiling, punching into the plaster all the way up to his wrist. He curses and yanks away his fist.
The ceiling quivers as small chunks of plaster rain down around him.
The seams of the patch job darken, growing more pronounced. Puffs of plaster dust pop from newly formed crevices and spiral to the table.
A small groan follows.
The sound of the ceiling giving way.
Then it falls.
A rectangular section drops away like a trapdoor. It swings toward Dane, who tries to twist out of its path. The ceiling hits him anyway, knocking him over.
He lands hard and scoots backward, narrowly missing the swath of plaster as it fully rips away from the ceiling and breaks apart against the tabletop. Dust blooms from the rubble—a foul-smelling cloud that rolls through the kitchen.
I close my eyes and press against the kitchen counter, my hands gripping the edge, bracing for the snakes I’m certain will start raining down at any moment.
I’m not surprised when something drops from the ceiling.
I’ve been expecting it.
I don’t even flinch when I hear it land on the table with a muffled thud.
When the dust clears, Dane and I both open our eyes to see a formless blob sitting on the table like a centerpiece.
Dane blinks in disbelief. “What. The. Fuck.”
He jumps down from the table and backs away. I do the opposite, moving toward it.