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Page 98

Red-bellies.

They appeared instantly, emerging from darkened corners and out from under the floorboards. I saw them on the second floor as well, slithering across the landing on their way down the stairs.

Within seconds, we were surrounded, the snakes sidewinding their way toward us. Quite a few hissed their displeasure, their open mouths exposing teeth as sharp as razor blades.

I pushed Maggie into Jess’s arms, still fearful of what I might do if I continued to hold her. I then began to fight off the snakes, trying to clear a path toward the vestibule. I kicked. I stomped. Some snakes backed away. Others struck at my feet.

One lunged for Jess. I kicked it out of the way before it could make contact.

“We need to hurry,” I said. “Run!”

That’s exactly what we did. The three of us ran through the vestibule. Toward the front door. Onto the porch.

The snakes followed, pouring forth from the open front door in a writhing, teeming mass.

Indigo Garson was with them, unseen but definitely felt. White-hot air burned at my back as I guided Jess and Maggie down the porch steps and into the car.

“What about our things?” Jess asked as she climbed into the back seat with Maggie.

“We need to leave them,” I replied. “It’s too dangerous. We can’t ever come back here.”

I started the car and peeled down the driveway. Behind me, Maggie knelt on her seat and stared out the back window.

“She’s still following us!” she cried.

I glanced in the rearview mirror, seeing nothing. “Miss Pennyface?”

“Yes! She’s right behind us!”

Just then, something rammed into the back of the car. A hard, shocking jolt.

Jess screamed and reached for Maggie. I gripped the steering wheel, trying hard not to run off the road and into the woods, which is exactly what Indigo wanted. I slammed my foot down on the gas pedal and continued to speed down the twisting drive, tires squealing all the way.

The car was hit by another invisible force, this time on the passenger-side door. For a brief moment, I lost control of the car. It skidded onto the grass alongside the drive, perilously close to the trees. It was only through sheer force of will that I was able to right us and continue down the drive.

Jess, thankfully, had left the front gate open when she and Maggie returned, allowing me to drive right through it. As soon as we were off the property, I leaped from the car and slammed the gate shut.

Heat bore down on me as I fumbled with the keys, frantically trying to lock the gate. It burst through the gate’s wrought-iron bars, turning them hot. If hell does exist, I suspect it feels a lot like the angry heat I experienced the moment I turned the key and locked the gate.

That was the moment the vengeful spirit of Indigo Garson realized she had failed.

We’d escaped Baneberry Hall, our family still intact.

And there was nothing she could do to lure us back there.

Others might one day pass through that gate, travel up that winding drive through the woods, and enter Baneberry Hall. If so, I wish them nothing but luck. They’ll need it to survive such a place.

As for me and my family—my sweet Jessica, my beloved Maggie—we have yet to return. Nor do we intend to ever set foot inside that place.

For us, Baneberry Hall is a house of horrors. One that none of us may dare enter again.

Twenty-Four

Half a dozen emergency vehicles sit outside Baneberry Hall, their flashing lights painting the house in alternating shades of red and white. In addition to Chief Alcott’s cruiser, there’s an ambulance, three more police cars, and, just in case things really get out of hand, a fire truck.

I watch from the porch as Dane is loaded into the ambulance. He’s strapped to a stretcher, a brace around his neck. His fall through the floor didn’t do much damage, all things considered. As the EMTs wheeled him out, I heard murmurs of broken bones, maybe a concussion. Whatever happened to him, he was injured enough to allow me to flee the house and call the police.

Now Dane is on his way to the emergency room and then, presumably, jail. He stares at me as the stretcher is pushed into the back of the ambulance, his expression pained, his eyes accusing.

Then the ambulance doors are slammed shut and Dane vanishes from view.

As the ambulance departs, Chief Alcott emerges from the house and joins me at the porch railing.

“Did he confess?” I say.

“Not yet. But he will. Give it time.” The chief removes her hat and runs a hand through her silver hair. “I owe you an apology, Maggie. For saying those things about your father. For thinking he did it.”

I can’t be mad at her for that. I thought the same thing on and off throughout this whole ordeal. If anyone should be ashamed, it’s me.

“We’re both guilty on that front,” I say.

“Then why’d you keep looking?”

I’ve been asking myself that same question for days. The answer, I suspect, lies in something Dr. Weber told me. That it was my way of writing my own version of the story. And while I did it for completely selfish reasons, I realize now the story isn’t solely mine.

Petra’s a part of it, too. It doesn’t change what happened. Elsa’s still without her older daughter, and Hannah no longer has a sister.

But they have the truth. And that’s valuable.

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