I move to the next photo—the ceiling repairs in the kitchen, which has a new, morbid significance after the events of the past few days. Now it’s a picture of a sixteen-year-old girl looking directly at the spot where her remains would be discovered twenty-five years later. Seeing it makes me quiver so hard the chair shakes.
I push that Polaroid away and look at the one of me standing in front of Baneberry Hall, struck by something interesting. I don’t have a bandage under my left eye, which led me to assume it had been taken immediately after we moved in. But when I take another look at the picture from the sleepover, there’s no bandage there, either. Nor is there a cut, bruise, or any other sign of damage, even though according to the Book, the sleepover happened after I’d hurt myself on the gravestone in the woods.
I gather all the Polaroids and slide them around the table like mahjong pieces, putting them in chronological order based on the events in the Book.
First is me outside Baneberry Hall, smiling and guileless. The girl I never thought I was but now worry I might truly have been.
Second is my mother and me stepping into the forest behind the house.
Third is the sleepover, and fourth is the shot taken in the kitchen.
The fifth, the selfie of my father, could have been taken at any time, although it strikes me as being toward the end of our stay. He looks haggard. Like something had been weighing on his thoughts.
I know there was a bandage at some point because Chief Alcott told me she noticed it when interviewing my father at the Two Pines. Also, I have the scar to prove it.
If it wasn’t on our third day here, which is what the Book claims, then when did it happen?
And how did I get it?
And why did my father fudge the facts?
A rhetorical question. I already know the answer. He did it because the Book is bull—
I’m stopped mid-thought by a voice from elsewhere in the house, singing a song that roils my stomach.
“You are sixteen, going on seventeen—”
I grip the table’s edge, buzzing with fear. Hannah’s words again streak into my thoughts: It’s all true. Every damn word.
The song keeps playing, louder now, as if someone’s just cranked the volume.
“Baby, it’s time to think.”
Bullshit. That’s what I think.
There’s no ghost in this house.
But there is a ghoul.
“Better beware, be canny and careful—”
I bolt from the dining room and pass through the great room. The chandelier is on again, even though I’m certain I haven’t touched its switch in days.
When I reach the front door, I find it’s still locked. The slip of paper I stuck in the doorframe when I returned from the Ditmers’ remains in place.
“Baby, you’re on the brink.”
The windows are also locked. I checked them earlier. If this is a ghoul—and of course it is—how did they get inside?
There’s only one way to find out.
The song continues to play as I tiptoe up the stairs, trying hard not to make a sound. If I’m going to catch whoever’s doing this, I need surprise on my side.
The music gets louder when I reach the second floor, which actually works to my advantage. It covers the sound of my footsteps as I pad into my bedroom and take the knife from the nightstand.
I move down the hallway, gripping the knife so tight my knuckles turn white. They remain that way as I climb the steps to the third floor. On the other side of the closed study door, the song continues to pulse.
I throw open the door and burst inside, announcing my presence with a primal scream and a jabbing knife.
The study is empty.
On the desk, suddenly back again, is Buster.
* * *
I stand in the driveway, hugging myself against the evening chill as Chief Alcott finishes her sweep of Baneberry Hall. I called her immediately after finding Buster and met her at the front gate. All the reporters had disbursed for the night, thank God. Had they stayed, they would have seen me unlocking the gate with trembling hands, pale as a ghost.
Upon her arrival, Chief Alcott checked the outside of the house first, circling it with a flashlight swept back and forth across the exterior walls. Now she’s inside, checking the windows. I see her from the driveway—a dark figure framed in an eyelike window on the third floor.
When she’s done, she steps onto the porch and says, “There’s no sign of a break-in.”
It’s exactly what I don’t want to hear. Something that pointed to forced entry—say, a broken window—would be a much better alternative to the reality I now face. Which is that there’s no rational explanation for the record player turning on, or the sudden reappearance of Buster.
“Are you sure what you think happened actually, you know, happened?” she asks.
I hug myself tighter. “You think I’m making this up?”
“I didn’t say that,” the chief replies. “But I’m not discounting the possibility that your imagination is running a little wild right now. It wouldn’t surprise me, considering what you found in the kitchen the other day. That would make anyone jumpy.”
“I know what I saw,” I say. “And I know what I heard.”
“Maggie, I looked everywhere. There’s absolutely no way an intruder could have gotten inside this house.”