Jess was wrong about that. I didn’t want any of it. But it was happening anyway. For instance, once she and Maggie managed to fall asleep, curled up together in our bed, I stayed awake, listening. First came a familiar sound in the hallway.
It was followed by a snippet of music from the study above.
“You are sixteen, going on—”
The song was then cut off by the noise that always arrived at 4:54 a.m.
Those sounds were real. They were happening. And I needed answers as to what was going on and how to stop it.
“We can’t ignore this,” I said. “We don’t have a choice.”
Jess took an angry sip of coffee and looked down at the mug clenched in her fist.
“There’s always a choice,” she said. “For example, I can choose to ignore my urge to throw this mug at your head. That would be the rational thing to do. It would keep the peace and prevent a big mess that one of us will have to clean up. That’s how I want to handle this situation. But you continuing to think this house is haunted would be like this.”
Without warning, she flung the mug in frustration. It sailed across the room, trailing dregs of coffee before exploding against the wall.
“The choice is yours,” she said. “But you can be damn sure that if it’s the wrong one, I’m not going to stick around to help you clean up the mess.”
* * *
? ? ?
Jess went to work. I cleaned up the broken mug and splashes of coffee. I had just dropped the glass shards, unlucky so far, into the trash when bells on the wall began to ring.
Four of them.
Not at once, but individually.
First was the Indigo Room. No surprise there. It was always the most active.
Following it was the fifth bell on the wall’s first row—the great room.
After that came the last bell on the first row, which rang twice. Two short peals in quick succession.
The last bell to ring was the only peal from the second row. The third bell from the left.
The ringing continued in this manner. Four bells tolling a total of five times. Repeating itself in a distinct pattern. After watching the same combination of bells, I began to suspect that this wasn’t just random ghostly ringing.
It seemed like a code. As if the bells—or whatever was controlling them—were trying to tell me something.
I dug the Ouija board out of the trash, wiping away a stubborn splotch of oatmeal before placing it on the kitchen table. As the bells continued their insistent pattern, I studied the board in front of me. I realized that if I assigned a letter to each bell, I might be able to decipher what the bells were trying to say.
A wall-size Ouija board.
I began with the first bell on the first row. That was A. I continued matching bells to letters for the first row, which ended in L. Then I started in on the second row, beginning with M. The only wrinkle in this theory of mine was that the alphabet has twenty-six letters but the wall had only twenty-four bells. To solve that problem, I assigned the last bell on the second row the last three letters of the alphabet.
I had no guarantee it would work. I assumed it wouldn’t. It was ridiculous to think a ghost was spelling out words for me to decode. Then again, it was also ridiculous to believe in ghosts at all. Since I’d long ago gotten over that impossibility, I decided to keep an open mind.
The first bell rang. Eighth from the left on the first row.
The second bell was also on the first row, five spots from the left.
Next came the bell that always rang twice. Last one on the first row.
By the time the sole bell in the second row rang, I’d already matched it to its corresponding letter, spelling out the full word.
“Hello?” I said, ignoring the absurd fact that not only was I right about a spirit spelling out words, but I was now also speaking aloud to said spirit. “Who is this?”
The bells rang again, this time in a different configuration.
Third from the left on the first row.
Fourth from the right on the second row.
Various bells continued to ring, spelling out the name I’d already suspected.
“Curtis, did you speak to my daughter last night?”
The last bell on the second row chimed. Two more followed, one on the first and one on the second.
“Did you tell her she was going to die here?”
The same three bells rang in the same order.
I took a gulp, bracing myself for the question I didn’t want to ask but needed to.
“Do you plan on killing my daughter?”
There was a pause that might have only lasted five seconds but felt like an hour. During that time, I thought of what Curtis Carver had done to his daughter. The pillow over her face while she slept. How horrible it must have been for her if she woke up, and I’m certain that before the end came, Katie Carver did wake up. I pictured the same thing happening to Maggie and became seized with panic.