“Promise?” Maggie said.
“I promise,” I replied.
Jess reached across the table for our hands and gave them a gentle squeeze. “We promise.”
“If you have any questions about what happened, don’t be afraid to ask,” I told Maggie. “We can talk about it anytime you want. In fact, I have a newspaper article about it, if you want to see it.”
I waited until Maggie nodded before sliding the article in front of her. Since her reading skills were still limited, her gaze immediately went to the photograph.
“Hey,” she said, pressing a finger to the photocopied face of Katie Carver. “That’s the girl.”
I tensed. “What girl, honey?”
“The one I play with sometimes.”
“Hannah?” Jess said hopefully.
Maggie shook her head. “The girl who can’t leave my room.”
She then looked to the other side of the photo and Curtis Carver’s scowling face. Immediately, she began to whimper.
“It’s him,” she said, climbing into my lap and pressing her face against my chest.
Maggie shot one last, frightened look at Curtis Carver.
“Him,” she said. “He’s Mister Shadow.”
The reporters return bright and early. I know because I’ve been awake all night. Sometimes pacing the great room. Other times checking the front door and all the windows, making sure for the second, third, fourth time that they’re secure. Most of the night, though, was spent in the parlor, sitting at attention with the knife in my hand, waiting for more weirdness.
That nothing happened didn’t make it any less nerve-racking. Every shadow on the wall sent my pulse galloping. Each creak of the house prompted a startled jump. At one point, while pacing the room, I caught sight of myself in the secretary desk’s mirror, startled not by my sudden presence there but by how crazed I looked.
I’d always assumed I was nothing like the fearful child in my father’s book. Turns out it was me the whole time.
Now I’m at the third-floor windows, peeking through the trees at the line of news vans arriving at the front gate. I wonder how long they’ll be there before giving up. I hope it’s just another few hours and not days.
Because I need to leave again, and this time going through the broken stone wall won’t cut it. For this journey, I need a car.
I consider the idea of simply hopping into my truck and driving it right into the crowd, casualties be damned. But the thought is more revenge fantasy than actual plan. One, I’ll need to get out of the truck to unlock and open the gate—giving Brian Prince and his ilk ample time to pounce. Second, even if I can drive away in peace, there’s nothing to stop them from following me.
My only way to make a quiet getaway is to catch a ride with someone else. That means a phone call to Dane, even though we haven’t spoken since he left the Two Pines. It is clear we are avoiding each other, although the reasons couldn’t be more different. I suspect Dane is embarrassed I rejected his advances and wants to put some space between us.
My excuse is that I’m still trying to process what Chief Alcott told me about his time in prison. I believe that people make mistakes. But I also can’t help but feel deceived. Until he convinces me he’s not the same man who entered that prison, my trust in Dane will be limited to a ride into town.
“I need a favor,” I tell him when he answers the phone. “Can you give me a lift in your truck?”
“Sure,” he says. “I’ll be right up.”
“That’s exactly what I don’t want you to do. Take your truck a half mile from your place and wait for me on the side of the road.”
Dane, to his credit, doesn’t ask me why. “I’ll be there in ten.”
Just as he promised, his truck is idling on the roadside when I emerge from the woods, having passed through the gap in the wall.
“Where to, lady?” he says as I climb inside.
I give him the address to Dr. Weber’s office, which I found online. Surprisingly, she’s still practicing, and still in Bartleby.
The reason for my visit is simple: to ask her if I was indeed a patient of hers and, if so, what I said. Because I have few memories of Baneberry Hall that weren’t influenced by the Book, I need the recollections of a third party to help me make sense of what’s going on. Yet part of me already knows what’s happening.
It’s all true. Every damn word.
It’s not safe there. Not for you.
“How’s everything going?” Dane asks after driving in silence for several minutes.
“Fine,” I say.
He shoots me a sidelong glance. “That’s all I get? Fine? The other night, you couldn’t stop talking.”
“Things have changed.”
More silence follows. A long, tense pause made all the more unbearable by the fact that Dane is right. I couldn’t stop talking that night at the Two Pines. Because he was easy to talk to, back when I didn’t know what he’d done and what he still might be capable of doing. Now I just want to get through this trip by saying as little as possible.
Dane refuses to let that happen.
“Is this about the other night?” he says. “If I made you uncomfortable, I’m sorry. I was just responding to the vibe in the room. Otherwise I never would have suggested it. The last thing I wanted was to make this—”