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Page 86


“Is your part of the story accurate?”

“To a degree, yes. I met with your father, in exactly the same way it takes place in the book. He came to the bakery, and then I met him at the library.”

“What did you talk about?”

Marta holds the beer bottle with both hands, cradling it against her chest. It makes her look like a wallflower at a frat party. Timid and shy. “A lot of what eventually ended up in the book. Our time at the house. What happened that horrible day. He told me he was working on a book about Baneberry Hall, which is why I agreed to talk. I wanted him to know the truth. I was very honest about everything, from Katie’s illness to how I discovered her and Curtis’s bodies.”

“And all that stuff about thinking your husband didn’t do it?”

“We never discussed it,” Marta says. “That part is entirely fiction.”

I stare into my beer bottle, too ashamed by my father’s actions to look Marta in the eye.

“I’m sorry my father did that. It was wrong of him.”

What my father wrote about Curtis Carver is one of the many reasons I’ve struggled with the Book’s legacy. It’s one thing to make up an outlandish story and say it’s real. Tabloids do it every week. Rewriting someone else’s history isn’t as easy to ignore. By openly claiming that Curtis Carver hadn’t killed his daughter and himself, my father twisted Marta’s true tragedy until it started to resemble fiction. The fact that she’s here now shows a level of forgiveness I’m not sure I possess.

That’s why it pains me so much to now think there’s an inkling of truth to what my father wrote. Not just about Baneberry Hall being haunted.

About everything.

It’s not safe there. Not for you.

“Did my father ever mention ghosts?” I say.

“Of course,” Marta says. “By then, your family’s story had been all over the news.”

“You two didn’t talk until after we left Baneberry Hall?”

“It was about two weeks after,” Marta says. “I remember because it was the only thing people talked about when they came to the bakery. They worried I was distressed by seeing Baneberry Hall in the news so much.”

“Were you?”

“At first,” she admits. “But I was also curious about what your family had experienced here.”

“Why?”

“Because it wouldn’t surprise me if this place is haunted.” Marta steps off the porch to gaze up at the front exterior of Baneberry Hall. A reflection of the house fills the lenses of her spectacles, hiding the fearful curiosity I’m sure is in her eyes. “I don’t believe in ghosts. But this house—and what’s happened here—well, it could make me change my mind.”

I remain on the porch, watching her watch Baneberry Hall. What I need to ask next is a make-or-break moment. One that might cause Marta Carver to think I’m exactly like my father.

Cruel.

“Did you ever wonder—even just for a second—if my father was right?” I say. “About those things he suggested in the Book. What if your husband didn’t kill your daughter?”

I expect Marta to be angry. She ends up being the opposite. Returning to the porch, she pulls me into a fierce hug.

“Oh, Maggie, I know what you’re feeling right now. I’ve been there, too. Wanting to believe anything other than what’s right in front of you. For months—even years—I harbored this kernel of hope that Curtis didn’t do it. That he couldn’t have been that much of a monster. But he did do it, Maggie.”

“How are you so sure?”

“He left a note,” Marta says. “It was kept out of the official police report, which is why it wasn’t in any articles about the crime. Curtis suffered from depression, which wasn’t talked about as much then as it is now. Katie’s illness sent him into a spiral. He wrote that he couldn’t handle it anymore. That all he wanted to do was end the suffering he and Katie were experiencing. The police confirmed it was his handwriting, and forensics evidence proved he killed both Katie and himself.”

She pauses, as if just saying those words has knocked the air out of her. That’s what hearing them has done to me. I can scarcely breathe.

“It’s hard coming to terms with the fact that someone you loved was capable of such cruelty,” she eventually says.

I’m not ready to start that process. How can I, when so much of what happened that night remains unknown?

But Marta’s mind is already made up, for she says, “I always wondered why your father wrote that book. It always troubled me why someone would go out of his way to spread such lies. It wasn’t until I heard you found the Ditmer girl inside Baneberry Hall that it all made sense. It was his way of justifying it.”

“Justifying what?”

“Killing her,” Marta says. “By exonerating my husband in the pages of his book, your father was also trying to exonerate himself. It’s just that, until recently, none of us knew what his crime was.”

I can’t fault her thinking. In hindsight, much of the Book feels like a secret confession. My father went so far as to point out the spot in the floor where Petra’s body had been hidden, almost as if daring someone to look there.

“I don’t blame you for any of this, Maggie,” Marta says. “Not the things your father said. Or the things he wrote. I can even understand why you’re doing that thing on the auction sites.”

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