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Page 3

Since we were living in a motel room that smelled of stale smoke and lemon air freshener, my father jumped at the offer. He wrote the book in a month, turning the motel room’s tiny bathroom into a makeshift office. One of my earliest memories is of him seated sideways on the toilet, banging away at a typewriter perched atop the bathroom vanity.

The rest is publishing history.

Instant bestseller.

Worldwide phenomenon.

The most popular “real-life” account of the paranormal since The Amityville Horror.

For a time, Baneberry Hall was the most famous house in America. Magazines wrote about it. News shows did reports on it. Tourists gathered outside the estate’s wrought-iron gate, angling for a glimpse of rooftop or a glint of sunlight bouncing off the windows. It even made The New Yorker, in a cartoon that ran two months after the Book hit stores. It shows a couple standing with their Realtor outside a dilapidated house. “We love it,” the wife says. “But is it haunted enough for a book deal?”

As for me and my family, well, we were everywhere. In People magazine, the three of us looking somber in front of a house we refused to enter. In Time, my father seated in a veil of shadow, giving him a distinctly sinister look. On TV, my parents being either coddled or interrogated, depending on the interviewer.

Right now, anyone can go to YouTube and watch a clip of us being interviewed on 60 Minutes. There we are, a picture-perfect family. My father, shaggy but handsome, sporting the kind of beard that wouldn’t come back in style until a decade later. My mother, pretty but looking slightly severe, the tightness at the corners of her mouth hinting that she’s not completely on board with the situation. Then there’s me. Frilly blue dress. Patent leather shoes. A black headband and very regrettable bangs.

I didn’t say much during the interview. I merely nodded or shook my head or acted shy by shrinking close to my mother. I think my only words during the entire segment were “I was scared,” even though I can’t remember being scared. I can’t remember anything about our twenty days at Baneberry Hall. What I do recall is colored by what’s in the Book. Instead of memories, I have excerpts. It’s like looking at a photograph of a photograph. The framing is off. The colors are dulled. The image is slightly dark.

Murky.

That’s the perfect word to describe our time at Baneberry Hall.

It should come as no surprise that many people doubt my father’s story. Yes, there are those like Wendy Davenport who think the Book is real. They believe—or want to believe—that our time at Baneberry Hall unfolded exactly the way my father described it. But thousands more adamantly think it was all a hoax.

I’ve seen all the websites and Reddit threads debunking the Book. I’ve read all the theories. Most of them surmise my parents quickly realized they’d bought more house than they could afford and needed an excuse to get out of it. Others suggest they were con artists who purposefully bought a house where something tragic happened in order to exploit it.

The theory I’m even less inclined to believe is that my parents, knowing they had a money pit on their hands, wanted some way to increase the house’s value when it came time to sell. Rather than spend a fortune on renovations, they decided to give Baneberry Hall something else—a reputation. It’s not that easy. Houses that have been deemed haunted decrease in value, either because prospective buyers are afraid to live there or because they just don’t want to deal with the notoriety.

I still don’t know the real reason we left so suddenly. My parents refused to tell me. Maybe they really were afraid to stay. Maybe they truly and completely feared for their lives. But I know it wasn’t because Baneberry Hall was haunted. The big reason, of course, being that there’s no such thing as ghosts.

Sure, plenty of people believe in them, but people will believe anything. That Santa Claus is real. That we didn’t land on the moon. That Michael Jackson is alive and well and dealing blackjack in Las Vegas.

I believe science, which has concluded that when we die, we die. Our souls don’t stay behind, lingering like stray cats until someone notices us. We don’t become shadow versions of ourselves. We don’t haunt.

My complete lack of memories about Baneberry Hall is another reason why I think the Book is bullshit. Wendy Davenport was right to assume an experience that terrifying would leave some dark mark on my memory. I think I would have remembered being hauled to the ceiling by an invisible force, as the Book claims. I would have remembered being choked so hard by something that it left handprints on my neck.

I would have remembered Mister Shadow.

That I don’t recall any of this means only one thing—none of it happened.

Yet the Book has followed me for most of my life. I have always been the freaky girl who once lived in a haunted house. In grade school, I was an outcast and therefore had to be avoided at all costs. In high school, I was still an outcast, only by then it was somehow cool, which made me the most reluctantly popular girl in my class. Then came college, when I thought things would change, as if being away from my parents would somehow extricate me from the Book. Instead, I was treated as a curiosity. Not shunned, exactly, but either befriended warily or studied from afar.

Dating sucked. Most boys wouldn’t come near me. The majority of those who did were House of Horrors fanboys more interested in Baneberry Hall than in me. If a potential boyfriend showed an ounce of excitement about meeting my father, I knew the score.

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