Her mention of the new girls catches me off guard. I spend a millisecond wondering just how she knows about them. Then it dawns on me.
She’s not real.
She has no power over me.
I’m stronger than everyone realizes.
Strong enough to understand that Vivian isn’t a ghost haunting me. Nor is she a hallucination. She’s me. A fragment of my distressed brain trying to help me figure out what’s happening.
Which is why I stare her down and say, “You know where they are, don’t you? You know where I can find them.”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Because I’m not real,” Vivian says. “That’s your motto, right? I have no power over you?”
“Just tell me.”
Vivian moves on to another statue, hugging it from behind, her chin resting on its delicate shoulder. “Let’s play a game, Emma. Two Truths and a Lie. One: Everything you need to know is already in your possession.”
“Just tell me where they are.”
She shifts to the statue’s other shoulder, her head coyly tilted. “Two: The question isn’t where to find them but where to find us. As in me and Natalie and Allison.”
“Three,” she says. “As for where we are, that’s not my place to say. But I can tell you this: If you find us, maybe—just maybe—I’ll go away and never come back.”
She slips behind the statue, temporarily eclipsed. I wait for her to pop into view again on the other side. When a minute passes and she doesn’t appear, I take a few weak steps toward the statue.
“Vivian?” I say. “Viv?”
There’s no answer. Nor is there any sign of her presence.
I continue my approach, picking up speed on my way to the statue. When I reach it, I peer around its marble shoulder.
Nothing is there.
Vivian is gone.
Yet her parting words remain, hovering in the middle of the clearing like moonlight. Those three statements. Two true, one a lie.
I have no idea about the first two. Like much of what Vivian said while she was alive, it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s true and what’s false.
As for her third statement, I hope it isn’t a lie.
I want it to be the truth.
Every word of it.
I return to Dogwood the same way I left—zigzagging around the cabins to avoid being spotted. The helicopter seems to have packed it in for the night. So, too, have the search boats. When I get a glimpse of the lake, I see no activity on the water. It’s just an empty black mirror reflecting starlight. But the camera is a different story. I know it remains, ever watchful, which is why I slip to the back of the cabin and hoist myself inside through the open window.
Mindy’s snores tell me she’s still asleep. Good. I get to avoid having to explain both where I’ve been and where I plan on going next.
To find the girls.
Both sets of them.
Vivian’s words—my words—haunt me as I crawl down from the nightstand.
The question isn’t where to find them but where to find us.
Something Miranda said comes back to me. I heard the words as I was free-falling into sleep.
I’m worried about Emma.
That worry might have led her to action. Brash, confident Miranda. Mystery lover and future detective. Like Vivian, leading another set of girls into the woods for answers.
Then there’s Vivian’s toying suggestion that I might finally be rid of her if I find out what happened to the three of them. Maybe she’s right. Maybe the only way to free myself from the grip of guilt is to learn the truth.
I hope you never come back.
Christ, I hate myself for saying that, even though I had no way of knowing it would come true. Natalie and Allison were already outside when I uttered those words. Vivian was right in that regard—I really didn’t talk to them very much. Something else I regret. I should have paid more attention to them. Treated them as individuals and not just part of Vivian’s entourage. All the same, I’m grateful they never heard what I said to Vivian. That those weren’t my parting words to all of them.
I tiptoe across the cabin, careful to avoid that one creaky floorboard, the memory of something else Vivian said fresh in my mind.
Everything you need to know is already in your possession.
I know what she’s referring to.
It’s why they came back to the cabin, only to discover the door locked. Vivian needed her hand-drawn map to help her find the spot where her diary was hidden. She still thought there was something sinister behind the lake’s creation and Peaceful Valley’s end. I suspect she was planning to use it to expose whatever she thought she had found out about Franny and the Harris family.
I quietly open my trunk and remove my flashlight. Then I reach inside and feel around, searching for the map.
It’s not there.
The girls must have taken it with them, bolstering my theory that they set off to find their predecessors.
More hope. That I’m right. That I’m not too late.
As Mindy keeps on snoring, I take another trip out the window. Soon I’m rushing headlong through a patch of trees to the edge of the lake. At the water, I make a left, hurrying along the lakeshore to the dock and canoe racks. Atop the slope of lawn, the Lodge rises heavy and dark. Only one window is illuminated. Second floor. Overlooking Lake Midnight.