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Page 48

Not that Dane or Hannah Ditmer would need to sneak onto the property. Each has keys to both the gate and the front door. They could walk right in whenever they wanted.

Which suggests that whoever was in the house had come and gone this way. All they needed to do was pass through the gap in the wall. The hardest part, as far as I can tell, is knowing about it. And it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of people in Bartleby and beyond had that knowledge.

I head back to the house, my pace hurried, suddenly convinced there are more ghouls on the way and that I need to head them off at the pass. Back inside, I grab the knife and do a search of Baneberry Hall. It’s a nerve-shredding task. Opening each door, not knowing what I’ll find behind it. Flicking each switch and anticipating the worst in that nanosecond of darkness before the lights come on.

Baneberry Hall ends up being empty.

For how long, I have no idea.

Which is why I take a page from my father’s book.

Literally.

I rip the page straight out of the copy on the kitchen table and tear it into small pieces. It feels good. I’ve never defaced a copy of the Book before, and the satisfaction I get in doing so now makes me wish I’d started years ago.

I think of my father as I slip a scrap of paper into the crack of the front door, wondering if he’d be amused to see me doing something he wrote about in the Book. Probably not. If anything, I suspect he’d be disappointed that I broke my promise about never returning to Baneberry Hall.

I tried mightily not to disappoint him. Even though by age nine I’d pegged him as a liar, I still sought his approval at every turn. Maybe it stemmed from a sense that if I proved myself enough, he’d eventually deem me worthy of knowing the truth about the Book. Or maybe it was just typical broken-family rebellion. Since I knew I’d never live up to my mother’s lofty standards, I aimed for the much-lower bar set by my father.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good father. He was, in many ways, a terrific dad, and not just because he spoiled me rotten. He was attentive and kind. He never talked down to me, like my mother did. And he never, ever underestimated me.

Growing up, I was given lists of books to read, movies to see, albums to listen to. Things no one would suggest for a teenager. Bergman films. Miles Davis records. Tolstoy and Joyce and Pynchon. Each one was a sign he thought I was capable of opening my mind and expanding my horizons. And even though I had zero interest in jazz or Gravity’s Rainbow, I tried my best to appreciate his tastes. My father believed in me, and I didn’t want to let him down.

I disappointed him anyway. When I went to college and decided to study design and not journalism or English lit, dashing his dreams of having another writer in the family. When I quit the boring-but-stable design job I had since graduation to start the company with Allie.

That one began a period of ups and downs that lasted until my father’s death. He once told me our relationship was like a rose. Beautiful, yes, but it came with thorns. I liken it to the weather. It was always changing. Icy seasons. Warm spells. Months when we’d talk almost every day and long sections of radio silence.

Most of it was my doing, each phase dictated by my relationship to the Book. If I made it through a few months without being associated with House of Horrors, I’d treat my father like he was my best friend. But the moment the Book and I would inevitably be pushed together again—like the time I was ambushed by a tabloid reporter on its twentieth anniversary—I’d turn cool, even bitter.

Meanwhile, my father began his retreat from the world, cloistering himself in his apartment with his beloved books and classic films. Once a ubiquitous interview subject, willing to be quoted about anything from the supernatural to the publishing industry, he cut himself off from all media. For a long time, I thought he’d grown tired of living with the lie he had created and no longer wanted anything to do with it. His correspondence with Brian Prince suggests otherwise.

Our relationship changed when he got sick. His cancer was aggressive, sinking its teeth into him quickly and without reprieve. There wasn’t time for any more pettiness on my part. I needed to be there for him, and I was, right to the very end.

By midnight, there’s a scrap of the Book tucked into the front door and every window.

I go to my room.

I lock the door.

I put the knife I’ve been carrying on the nightstand next to the bed.

My final act for the night is to take a Valium, crawl under the covers, and try to sleep, even though I already know it’s not going to arrive easily, if at all.

JULY 2

Day 7

I didn’t sleep all night. As the minutes ticked by, accumulating into hours, I lay awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering if, when, how someone could get inside. The night was full of noises, all of them innocent. Yet that didn’t keep me from thinking each one was the intruder returning for another round. I thought about the stone wall and wrought-iron gate at the end of the driveway and how I had once scoffed at their existence. Now I wished they were higher.

By the time the darkness of night had started to soften into dawn, my thoughts turned to something else.

Thud.

There it was.

I looked at the clock: 4:54 a.m. Right on schedule.

Abandoning the notion of getting any sleep, I slipped out of bed—quietly, so as not to wake Jess and Maggie, who had spent another night with us. I crept downstairs and was immediately greeted by the site of the chandelier at full glow, a fact that seemed impossible. I’d made a point of making sure it was off before going to bed the night before.

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