“What the hell is wrong with you?” I yelled.
“Me? What’s wrong with you?”
Overpowered and overwhelmed—with rage, with despair, with exhaustion—Jess gave up the fight. It shattered my heart to feel her body go limp beneath mine, to see her sink into the bed, moaning. I would have preferred a thousand punches to that.
“How could you do that, Ewan?” she moaned. “How could you hurt Maggie?”
The mention of our daughter sent me into a full-blown panic. I jumped off the bed and scrambled to Maggie’s room, thinking of Katie Carver and Indigo Garson and all those other girls who’d died within these walls.
When I reached her room and saw Maggie sitting up in bed, the relief I felt was stronger than anything I’d experienced before or since. My daughter was safe. William Garson hadn’t gotten to her.
Then I saw her neck, and my panic returned.
It was circled with marks so red they looked as though they’d been seared into her skin. Making it worse was how they resembled handprints. I could make out the ovals of palms and crimson columns left by fingers.
Maggie looked at me from the bed, terrified, and began to wail. I started to go to her but felt something swoop up behind me—a sudden force as strong as a wind gust. It was Jess again, her anger returning to full boil. In an instant she shoved me to the floor.
“Don’t you dare touch her!” she shouted.
I scrambled backward along the floor, just in case Jess tried to kick me. She looked so angry I expected one at any moment. “What happened to her?”
Jess stared down at me with an unspeakable look of hatred on her face. There was nothing else it could have been. In that moment, my wife despised me.
“Maggie woke me up with her crying. I came here and found her gasping for breath. Her face was purple, Ewan. And then I saw those marks on her neck—”
“Jess, you know I would never hurt her. You have to believe me.”
“Our daughter’s pain is what I believe,” Jess said. “And since I didn’t hurt her, that leaves you.”
Maggie had started to wail even more, the sound so loud I at first thought Jess couldn’t hear me when I said, “It doesn’t.”
She heard. It just took her a second to react. When she did, it was with a snarled “Of course it was you!”
“Think about it, Jess,” I said. “I was asleep. You’re the one who woke me up.”
“You weren’t asleep,” she said. “You’d just crawled back into bed the second before I heard Maggie crying.”
Panic poured into me—an all-consuming wave. I remained on the floor, my head in my hands, feeling terrified and guilty. I’d hurt my daughter, and I hadn’t even been aware of it.
“It wasn’t me, Jess,” I said. “I need you to believe that.”
“Ewan, I saw you get back into bed.”
“It might have been me, but it wasn’t intentional,” I said, knowing I sounded crazy. “William Garson made me do it.”
He’d come for Maggie, just as he’d come for the others. Each method was different—baneberries for his daughter, a pillow over Katie Carver’s face. Drownings and falls and accidents. Each death brought about by their fathers, even though they had no control over their actions.
“He’s been killing people throughout the history of this house. All of them girls. All of them sixteen or under. He killed his daughter, Jess. And now he’s making other fathers kill theirs. He’s been doing it for years.”
Jess looked at me like I was a stranger. I couldn’t blame her. In that moment, I was unrecognizable even to myself.
“Listen to yourself, Ewan,” she said. “Spouting this gibberish, trying to excuse what you’ve done. You’re lucky I don’t call the police.”
“Call them.” That would have been one way out of the situation—locking me away where I couldn’t get to Maggie and William Garson couldn’t get to me. “Please call them.”
“You’re sick, Ewan,” Jess said before snatching Maggie off the bed and leaving the room.
I followed them down the hall to our bedroom, my body getting more numb with each step. I couldn’t believe that my biggest fear was about to come true. I was about to lose my family.
“I didn’t mean to do it.”
Jess slammed the bedroom door in my face. I reached for the handle and, finding it locked, began to pound on the door.
“Jess, please! You have to believe me!”
All I heard on the other side of the door was the sound of drawers being opened and closet doors slamming shut. Ten minutes later, Jess emerged with a packed suitcase, which she dragged behind her while still carrying Maggie. They veered into Maggie’s room to repeat the process.
I paced the hallway, wondering what to do. The answer hit me when Jess finally left Maggie’s room with another, smaller suitcase.
Let them leave. Let Jess take Maggie as far away from Baneberry Hall as possible. It didn’t matter that she was angry with me and might be for a very long time. Maybe forever. What mattered was that Maggie wouldn’t be inside these walls.
“Just tell me where you’re going,” I said as I followed them down the stairs.