I rushed upstairs and moved through the great room. When I reached the front staircase, I looked up to see the chandelier aglow, even though it had been dark the last time I passed beneath it.
A sign that spirits were active. I felt foolish for not realizing it sooner.
I kept moving. Past the staircase. Into the Indigo Room. I didn’t stop until I was at the fireplace, looking up at the portrait Curtis had been referring to.
I stared at the painting, wondering what I was supposed to be seeing. Nothing seemed amiss about it. It was a portrait of a young woman painted by a man who had been in love with her.
I didn’t find anything strange about that.
But then I looked to the white rabbit Indigo held in her hands. I’d previously noticed the chip of missing paint at the animal’s left eye. Considering it was the portrait’s only flaw, it was hard to miss. But it also drew the eye away from the fact that the rabbit had been rendered in a slightly different manner than everything else. It wasn’t as detailed as the rest of the painting, as if it had been the work of an entirely different artist.
I moved close, studying the rabbit’s fur, which lacked the individual brushstrokes of Indigo’s shining hair. The paint there was thicker as well. Not overtly so. Just raised slightly higher than everything else. When I zeroed in on the rabbit’s missing eye, I saw within its socket another layer of paint behind it.
Someone had painted over the portrait.
Using a thumbnail, I scraped at the paint surrounding the rabbit’s eye. It fell off in tiny flecks that dusted the fireplace mantel. Each piece that was chipped away revealed a little bit more of the original portrait. Grays and red and browns.
I kept scraping until a sliver of paint lodged itself under my thumbnail—a needle prick of pain that shot through my entire hand. After that, I switched to a putty knife fished out of the utility drawer in the kitchen and kept scraping.
Careful not to also scrape the paint below, which emerged not unlike a freshly taken Polaroid. Color appearing from an expanse of white until the full picture was formed.
It wasn’t until the rabbit had been completely chipped away that my body succumbed to exhaustion. It began with dizziness, which overtook me at alarming speed. I staggered backward, the room spinning.
Everything went gray, and I realized I was falling. I hit the floor and remained there, sprawled on my back, the gray that swarmed my vision darkening into blackness.
Before I passed out, I caught one good look at the original portrait, now freshly exposed.
Indigo Garson, looking as angelic as she always had. Same alabaster skin and golden curls and beatific expression.
But it was no longer a rabbit held in her daintily gloved hands.
It was a snake.
I need your help.”
There’s silence on Dane’s end—an uncertainty evident even over the phone. I don’t blame him. Not after the things I’ve said. I’d understand if he wanted nothing more to do with me.
After tonight, he just might get that wish.
“With what?” he eventually says.
“Moving an armoire.”
I don’t tell him that the armoire needs not to be moved, but disassembled completely. And that the hole in the bedroom wall it will leave behind needs to be sealed shut. And that there’s a door in the back of the house that will also need to be boarded up so no one will be able to enter Baneberry Hall without a key. All of that can wait until he gets here. Otherwise he might hang up.
“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?” Dane says.
“It can’t. I need your help. Please. I can’t do it alone.”
“Fine,” Dane says with an epic sigh. “I’ll be there in ten.”
Dane doesn’t hear that part. He’s already ended the call.
I shove my phone into my pocket and prepare for the job ahead. The plan is simple—block off the secret passage to the bedroom, gather up my things, and leave Baneberry Hall.
This time, I won’t be returning.
Once I’m back in Boston, I’ll list the house and sell it as is for whatever offer I get, no matter how small it might be. I no longer want anything to do with this place. Nor do I want the truth about what happened here.
I just want to be gone.
It’s not safe here. Not for me.
In the dining room, I gather the five Polaroids on the table and my father’s copy of the Book, still splayed spine-up on the floor. They’ll be going right back where I found them. Soon to be someone else’s problem.
My hands full, I march to the third-floor study and go straight to the desk, where I drop the Book and the photos. I then grab Buster and toss him into the closet where he’d first been discovered.
Much like Baneberry Hall, I never want to see that bear again.
I turn back to the desk, where the Book sits open.
It was closed when I dropped it there.
I’m certain of it.
Yet there it is, flopped open, as if someone has just been reading it.
I approach the Book slowly, considering all the ways it could have opened on its own. I can’t think of any. At least nothing that doesn’t border on the supernatural. Or, to borrow a term from Dane’s grandmother, the uncanny.