“Well, the good news is that there doesn’t seem to be any other damage,” he announced. “Beams look good. Wiring is fine. Looks like there’s still some nest up here, though.”
He swept the remnants of the nest onto the floor. Dust mostly, although I also spotted cobwebs, crinkly strands of dried snakeskin, and, most disturbingly, the bones of a mouse.
“Now that’s strange,” Hibbs said. “There’s something else in here.”
He descended the ladder holding a tin box that looked to be as old as the house itself. He handed it to Jess, who took it to the kitchen table and used a rag to wipe away the dust.
“It’s a biscuit tin,” she said, turning it over in her hands. “Looks like it’s from the late 1800s.”
The tin had seen better days, even before it somehow found its way into our ceiling. A prominent dent marred the lid, and the bottom corners were edged with rust. But the color was nice—dark green accented with golden curlicues.
“Do you think it’s valuable?” Petra asked.
“Not really,” Jess said. “My father sold ones just like it in his shop for five bucks a pop.”
“How do you think it got up there?” I asked.
“Floorboards, most likely,” Hibbs said. “What room is above this one?”
I spun in place, trying to pinpoint our exact location within Baneberry Hall. Since the kitchen ran the width of the house, that meant either the great room or the Indigo Room.
It turned out to be the latter, as Hibbs and I found out when we went upstairs to check. We had been roaming both rooms, tapping the floor with the toes of our shoes, when a section of boards in the Indigo Room made a hollow sound.
Both of us dropped to our hands and knees by the boards, which were partly covered by an Oriental rug placed in the dead center of the room. Together, Hibbs and I rolled the rug out of the way, revealing a section of boards about four feet long and three feet wide that wasn’t connected to the rest of the floor. We each took an end and lifted. Inside was a clear view to the kitchen, where Jess and Petra remained huddled over the biscuit tin.
It explained a lot. Not just how the tin got into the ceiling but also how a snake had gotten into the Indigo Room our first day there. It had somehow slithered up through the loose boards.
Jess, startled to see us leering down at her from the ceiling, said, “Come back down. There’s something inside this tin.”
By the time Hibbs and I returned to the kitchen, the biscuit tin had been opened and its contents laid out on the table. Four envelopes, turned yellow with time.
Jess reached into one and removed a sheet of paper folded into thirds. The page made a crackling noise when she smoothed it out. Like the crunch of leaves in autumn.
“It’s a letter.” She cleared her throat and began to read. “‘My dearest Indigo. I write these words with a heavy heart, having just spoken to your father.’”
Petra grabbed it from her hands, the paper crinkling. “Ho. Ly. Shit,” she said. “These are love letters.”
“It looks like they were sent to Indigo Garson,” Jess said.
“Dearest Indigo,” Petra said, correcting her. “Can I have them?”
I almost told her no. That I wanted to take a look at them first. I was stopped by Jess, who shot me a warning look, reminding me of the promise I’d made.
The past is in the past.
“Pretty please?” Petra said. “I’m, like, obsessed with old stuff like this.”
“I suppose that’s fine,” I replied, eliciting a satisfied nod from Jess. Still, I couldn’t help but add a caveat. “Let me know if there’s anything of historical significance in them.”
Petra gave me a wink. “I promise to tell you if I find anything juicy.”
* * *
? ? ?
That night, I dreamed of old envelopes sitting in front of me. Each one I opened contained a snake that slithered into my hands and curled around my fingers. Yet I kept opening envelopes, praying at least one would be empty. None were. By the time the last envelope had been opened, I was covered in snakes. A wriggling, hissing blanket I couldn’t shake off.
I woke up in a cold sweat, just in time to catch a familiar sound fill the house.
I looked to Jess, fast asleep beside me.
I sat up, listening as the sound made its way up the hallway.
A flurry of them flew past our bedroom door.
Then it was gone, replaced by music, distant but unmistakable.
“You are sixteen, going on seventeen—”
I sat up in bed, all memories of that awful dream banished from my mind. All I could think about was that song, playing in spite of the fact I had put both the record player and the albums back in the closet.
“Baby, it’s time to think.”
What followed felt like a dream. A recurring one that wouldn’t go away no matter how much I wanted it to.
I got out of bed.
I traversed the hallway, bare feet on hardwood.
I climbed the steps to the third floor, rising into a confounding chill emanating from the study.
The déjà vu continued as I entered the study and saw the record player sitting on the desk, looking as though I had never moved it.