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Page 36

But the worst part about the figure is that it’s standing near the same spot as the person I saw last night. That could be a coincidence. But the churning unease in my stomach tells me it’s not.

My father’s imaginary whisper pipes up again.

It’s Mister Shadow. You know it’s him.

But Mister Shadow isn’t real. Just like the Book isn’t real.

I continue to stare at the photo, thinking about what happened moments after it was taken. My hand flutters to my cheek, my fingertips touching the slash of smooth skin under my eye. I realize the scar is yet another bit of proof that the Book—fantastical though it may be—contains strands of truth.

I drop the pictures on the desk, where they spill across its surface. The one on top is the selfie of my father, his eyes looking right into mine, as if he already knows what I’m about to do next.

Exit the office, leaving Dane alone.

Head outside, past the truck, weaving through the equipment on the lawn, and moving around to the back of the house.

Pass the exterior wall overtaken by ivy, their tendrils climbing all the way to a second-floor window.

Push into the shadow-shrouded woods in a one-woman re-creation of my father’s photograph and hurtle down the hillside, swishing through weeds, passing bright red swaths of baneberries, tripping over tree roots.

Finally, I come to a stop at a cluster of marble blocks jutting from the earth like rotten teeth.

The cemetery.

Yet another thing my father wasn’t lying about.

Behind me, Dane calls my name. He’s in the woods now, too, catching up to me. He freezes when he sees the gravestones.

“Whoa,” he says.

“My thoughts exactly.”

I kneel in front of the nearest stone, wipe the dirt away, see a name carved into the marble.

Then I begin to laugh.

I can’t believe I thought—even for just a moment—that the Book was true. It shows how good of a liar my father was and how greatly I’d underestimated his talent. Of course he sprinkled House of Horrors with real-life events and places. If there’s an honest-to-God cemetery on your property, it’s only natural to mention it. When you throw enough facts into your fiction, tangling them together like a nest of snakes, some people are bound to believe it. Politicians do it all the time.

And for a second there, I did believe. It was hard not to after encountering so many things mentioned in the Book. The record player. The photograph of me and my mother. The sleepover and the kitchen ceiling and the graveyard. All of it made me think the Book was real.

But now I look at the name on the gravestone and realize I was right all along—the Book is bullshit.

ROVER


He was a good dog

Dane, now at my side, stares at the stone and says, “This is a freaking pet cemetery?”

“Looks like it,” I say. “If not, the Garsons were one seriously messed-up family.”

We stroll through the rest of the cemetery. While certainly old and admittedly creepy, it’s nothing compared to the place my father wrote about. There are stones for several dogs, too many cats to count, and even a pony named Windy.

Pointing to its grave, Dane says, “Maybe it was a ghost horse your family encountered.”

“Ghosts don’t exist,” I reply. “Equine or otherwise.”

“Hey, now. Don’t be so quick to dismiss ghosts.”

“You don’t believe all that stuff, do you?”

Dane’s expression grows contemplative. “Do I believe in ghosts? Not really. At least, not in what people think of as supernatural. But I do believe that things happen. Things we can’t explain away, no matter how much we try. The uncanny. That’s what my maternal grandmother called it.”

“She was a believer?”

“Oh, yes. She was old-school Irish. Grew up hearing stories of sprites and banshees. I always thought it was silly, how she believed in such things.” His voice goes quiet now. No more than a whisper. “But then I saw one when I was ten. Maybe not a ghost. But something.”

“Something uncanny?” I say.

He blushes a little and scratches the back of his neck. A boyish gesture that’s oddly endearing. Of the many versions of Dane Hibbets I’ve encountered in the past twenty-four hours—cockily handsome caretaker, eager employee, font of information—this is the one I like the best.

“We were living in an old house a few towns away,” he says. “It was tall and narrow. My bedroom was on the top floor, kind of isolated from the rest of the house. I didn’t mind it too much. I was ten. I wanted privacy. But then one night in October, I woke up to the sound of my bedroom door being opened. I sat up in bed and saw my grandmother poke her head into the room. ‘I just wanted to say goodnight, Boy-O,’ she said. That was her nickname for me. Boy-O. Then she left, closing the door behind her. Before going back to sleep, I checked the clock on the nightstand. It was one thirty-two a.m.

“In the morning, I went downstairs and found my parents sitting at the kitchen table. My mother was crying. My father just looked dazed. I asked them where Nana was and why no one had told me she was visiting. That’s when they told me. My grandmother had died during the night. At exactly one thirty-two a.m.”

We stand in silence after that. To speak would be to break the sudden, strange connection between us. It’s similar to our exchange in the office, although this time it feels more potent because it’s personal. In that silence, I think of Dane’s story and how it’s more sweet than scary. It makes me wish my father had said something similar before he died. Instead, I got a vague warning about Baneberry Hall and an apology for something he never got around to admitting, both of which led me here.

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