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Every house has a story to tell and a secret to share.

The dining room wallpaper might hide pencil marks charting the growth of children who lived there decades before. Under that sun-faded linoleum could be wood once trod by soldiers from the Revolutionary War.

Houses are always changing. Coats of paint. Rows of laminate. Rolls of carpet. They cover up a home’s stories and secrets, rendering them silent until someone comes along to reveal them.

That’s what I do.

My name is Maggie Holt. I’m a designer and, in many ways, a historian. I look for each house’s story and attempt to coax it out. I’m proud of the work I do. I’m good at it.

I listen.

I learn.

I use that knowledge to design an interior that, while fully modern, always speaks to the home’s past.

Every house has a story.

Ours is a ghost story.

It’s also a lie.

And now that yet another person has died within these walls, it’s finally time to tell the truth.

 

HOUSE OF HORRORS

A TRUE STORY

Ewan Holt

MURRAY-HAMILTON, INC.,

NEW YORK, NY

 

PROLOGUE


JULY 1


“Daddy, you need to check for ghosts.”

I paused in the doorway of my daughter’s bedroom, startled in that way all parents get when their child says something truly confounding. Since Maggie was five, I suppose I should have been used to it. I wasn’t. Especially with a request so unexpectedly odd.

“I do?”

“Yes,” Maggie said, insistent. “I don’t want them in my room.”

Until that moment, I had no idea my daughter even knew what a ghost was, let alone feared one was occupying her bedroom. More than one, apparently. I noticed her word choice.

Them.

I blamed this new development on the house. We had been in Baneberry Hall almost a week by then—ample time to have noted its eccentricities but not long enough to have gotten used to them. The sudden shifting of the walls. The noises in the night. A ceiling fan that, when it spun at full speed, sounded like the clicking of teeth.

Maggie, as sensitive as any girl her age, was clearly having trouble adjusting to it all. At bedtime the night before, she’d asked me when we’d be returning to our old home, a sad and dim two-bedroom apartment in Burlington. Now there were ghosts to contend with.

“I suppose it can’t hurt,” I said, humoring her. “Where should I look first?”

“Under the bed.”

No surprise there. I had had the same fear when I was Maggie’s age, certain something awful hid in the darkness inches below where I slept. I dropped to my hands and knees and took a quick glance under the bed. All that lurked there was a thin coat of dust and a single pink sock.

“All clear,” I announced. “Where next?”

“The closet,” Maggie said.

I’d assumed as much and was already making my way to the bedroom closet. This section of the house—dubbed “Maggie’s wing” because it contained not just her bedroom but also an adjoining playroom—was located on the second floor, under the eaves of the sloped roof. Because of the room’s slanted ceiling, one half of the closet’s old oak door slanted as well. Opening it made me think of a storybook cottage, which was one of the reasons we decided the space should belong to Maggie.

“Nothing in the closet,” I said, making a show of yanking the chain dangling from the closet’s single lightbulb and peering between hangers draped with clothes. “Anywhere else?”

Maggie aimed a trembling index finger at the massive armoire that stood sentinel a few feet from the closet. It was a relic from the house’s past. An odd one. Over eight feet tall. Its narrow base gradually widened to a formidable midsection before suddenly tapering off again at the top. Crowning it were carvings of cherubs, birds, and strands of ivy that climbed the corners. I thought that, much like the closet door, it gave Maggie’s room a touch of literary magic. It brought to mind voyages to Narnia.

But when I cracked open the armoire’s double doors, Maggie sucked in a breath, steeling herself for whatever terror she thought waited inside.

“Are you sure you want me to open it?” I asked.

“No.” Maggie paused, and then changed her mind. “Yes.”

I pulled the armoire doors wide open, exposing a space occupied by only a few frilly dresses my wife had bought with the hopeful notion that our tomboy daughter might someday wear them.

“It’s empty,” I said. “See?”

From her spot in bed, Maggie peered into the armoire before letting out a relieved sigh.

“You know there’s no such thing as ghosts, right?” I said.

“You’re wrong.” Maggie slid deeper under the covers. “I’ve seen them.”

I looked at my daughter, trying not to appear startled, even though I was. I knew she had an active imagination, but I didn’t think it was that vivid. So vivid that she saw things that weren’t there and believed them to be real.

And she did believe. I could tell from the way she stared back at me, tears pooling in the corners of her wide eyes. She believed, and it terrified her.

I sat on the edge of her bed. “Ghosts aren’t real, Mags. If you don’t believe me, ask your mother. She’ll tell you the same thing.”

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