Read Home Before Dark: A Novel Online

Authors: Riley Sager

Tags: #Thriller, #Mystery, #Horror, #Adult, #Suspense, #Contemporary

Home Before Dark: A Novel (25 page)

I take a step toward the door, stopping only when Dr. Weber says, “Your parents contacted me, saying you were having trouble adjusting to your new house. When I learned where you lived, I wasn’t surprised.”

She gestures for me to return to the chair. Seated once more, I say, “Because of what happened with the Carver family?”

“And other things,” Dr. Weber says. “Stories. Rumors. Every town has a haunted house. In Bartleby, that’s Baneberry Hall. And it was that way long before your father’s book existed.”

I think of the passages in the Book about the house’s history. All those articles my father had reportedly found about deaths that had occurred there beyond the Carver family’s tragedy. I assumed he’d made them up.

“When your parents brought you to see me, I was prepared to talk to a little girl afraid of the dark. Instead, I met a smart, willful five-year-old convinced there were supernatural presences in her house.”

“I mentioned ghosts?”

“Oh, yes. A little girl, Miss Pennyface, and Mister Shadow.”

A thin sliver of fear shoots up my spine like a titanium rod. I sit up straighter in my chair.

“My father made them up.”

“It’s possible,” Dr. Weber says. “Children are impressionable. If an adult tells them something, no matter how impossible it may sound, a child will tend to believe it. Take Santa Claus, for example. So, yes, your father could have planted the idea of these people in your head.”

For the first time since we’ve sat down, I detect uncertainty in Dr. Weber’s voice.

“You don’t think that’s what happened,” I say.

“I don’t.” The doctor shifts in her chair. “I can tell when a child’s thinking has been manipulated. That wasn’t the case with you. It’s why I remember that session so vividly after all these years. You spoke with complete conviction.”

“About ghosts?”

Dr. Weber nods. “You said they came into your room at night. One of them whispered to you in the darkness, warning you that you were going to die.”

“They were probably night terrors. I’ve had them since I was a little girl.”

“I don’t recall your parents mentioning anything about that,” Dr. Weber says. “Do you still have them?”

“That’s what it says on my Valium prescription.”

Dr. Weber doesn’t crack a smile at my admittedly bad joke. “The thing about people who suffer from night terrors is that they think they’re real only when they’re taking place. Once they wake up, they know it was just a bad dream.”

I think about the night terror I’d had three nights ago. Me in bed and Mister Shadow watching me from the armoire. Even days later, it still makes me uneasy.

“So, those things I claimed to have seen—I thought they were real?”

“Even when you were wide awake,” Dr. Weber says.

The chair seems to give way beneath me. Like I’m sinking into it, on the verge of sliding into nothingness. The sensation’s so strong that I need to look down to confirm it’s not really happening. Even then, the sinking feeling persists.

“So the stuff in the Book—the things you told my parents—”

“It’s mostly true,” Dr. Weber says. “I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the rest of the book, but that part happened. You truly believed these beings existed.”

“But they didn’t,” I say, still feeling myself sinking. Down, down, down. Deeper into the rabbit hole.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Dr. Weber says. “But you
believe that something was coming into your room at night. Whether it was real or imagined, I can’t say. But it did weigh on your mind. Something was haunting you.”

I stand, relieved to be out of that chair. A backward glance confirms that the cushion is still there. That the sinking sensation had all been in my head.

I wish I could say the same about the ghosts I claimed to have seen as a child. But there’s nothing to prove that they weren’t made-up, either by me or my father.

All I know is that, at least to my young mind, those three spirits, including Mister Shadow, were absolutely real.

Day 14

Part of Jess’s new job required her to teach summer school, which began that morning. Left to our own devices, Maggie and I went to the local farmers’ market and then the grocery store.

It felt nice to get out of the house, even if it was just for errands. After what Maggie had said the night before, I wanted to spend as little time in Baneberry Hall as possible.

“Remember what Dr. Weber told us,” Jess said before leaving for work, as if seeing a psychologist had been her idea. “This is just Maggie’s way of processing what happened.”

But I
concerned. So much so that I made Maggie sit at the kitchen table with some crayons and paper while I put away groceries. I was placing canned goods in a cupboard, my back turned to Maggie, when one of the bells on the wall suddenly chimed—a tinny half ring that stopped as suddenly as it started.

“Please don’t do that, Mags.”

“Do what?”

The bell chimed again.

“That,” I said.

“I didn’t do any—”

The bell rang a third time, cutting her off. I spun away from the cupboard, expecting to see Maggie at the wall, straining on her tiptoes to reach one of the bottom bells. But she remained at the table, crayon in hand.

The bell let out another ring, and this time I saw it move. The whorl of metal tilted ever so slightly, taking the bell with it until that familiar ring sounded again. That’s when I knew it wasn’t Maggie’s doing and that the rope attached to that bell had purposefully been tugged.

I looked to the label above the bell, which now sat silent and still.

The Indigo Room.

“Stay right here,” I told Maggie. “Do not move.”

I took the steps to the first floor two at a time, hoping speed would help me catch whoever was doing this in the act. After rushing through the great room and to the front of the house, I burst into the Indigo Room.

It was empty.

An uneasy feeling overcame me as I spun slowly in the center of the room. A sense that something strange was going on. Something beyond Maggie’s imaginings. As I continued to spin, making sure the room was indeed completely empty, one thing I
feel was surprise.

Deep down, I had
the Indigo Room to be empty.

By then, the idea that someone continued to sneak into Baneberry Hall seemed more like wishful thinking than possible reality. People didn’t break into homes only to ring bells and turn on record players. Nor were those things caused by mice or a draft or even snakes.

Something else was going on.

Something unexplainable.

Passing under the chandelier, I saw it was inexplicably lit, even though it hadn’t been earlier that morning.

I hit the switch, darkening it once more, and continued to the kitchen. I was halfway down the steps when a chorus of bells rose from the kitchen, prompting me to run the rest of the way. Inside, I saw that every bell on the wall trembled, as if they had been rung at once.

Also trembling was Maggie, who no longer sat at the kitchen table. Instead, she crouched against the wall opposite the bells, pressing herself into a corner. Terror glistened in her eyes.

“He was here,” she whispered.

“Mister Shadow?” I whispered back.

Maggie gave a single, solemn nod.

“Is he gone now?”

She nodded again.

“Did he say anything to you?”

Maggie looked from me to the wall of now-silent bells. “He said he wants to talk to you.”

•   •   •

That night, I dropped the Ouija board on the kitchen table, where it landed with a thud so loud it startled Jess from the glass of wine she’d been staring into. We hadn’t talked much about what happened with the bells because Maggie was always with us. But now that our daughter was in bed, I was able to give Jess a full report, followed by the retrieval of the Ouija board.

“Where did you get this?”

“I found it in the study.”

“And what do you intend to do with it?”

“If Mister Shadow wants to talk, then I think we should try it.”

Jess glanced at her wine, looking as though she wanted to down the whole glass. “Seriously?”

“I know it sounds stupid,” I said. “And borderline ridiculous.”

“I think it crosses that border, don’t you?”

“You’re the one who walked through this place burning sage.”

“That was different,” Jess said. “It was just superstition. What you’re talking about is—”

“Ghosts,” I said. “Yes, I’m suggesting that Baneberry Hall is haunted.”

There it was. The word we had tiptoed around for days. Now there was no way to avoid using it.

“You know how crazy you sound, right?”

“I do, and I don’t care,” I said. “Something strange is happening here. You can’t deny that. Something we won’t be able to stop until we know what we’re dealing with.”

Jess’s face rippled with indecision as she stared at the box. When her mind was made up, she took a gulp of wine and said, “Fine. Let’s do this.”

The Ouija board was older than I had initially expected. Far different from the one I’d used as a teenager, when my friends and I would get high and try to scare one another. It was an actual board, for one thing. Solid wood that thunked against the table when I removed it from its box.

The varnish gave the wood an orange tint. Painted across it were two rows of letters, arced on top of each other like a double rainbow. In a straight line below them were numbers.


The upper corners each bore a single word.
in the left corner,
in the right. Two words ran across the bottom of the board.


Just like the board, the planchette also differed from my youth. It wasn’t plastic, but real ivory, one end tapered to a point.

I lit a candle, set it on the table, and turned off the kitchen lights.

“Romantic,” Jess commented.

“Can you please be serious about this?”

“Honestly, Ewan, I don’t think I can.”

We sat across from each other, taking opposite sides of the board. We then placed our fingers on the planchette, ready to begin.

“Is there a spirit present?” I said, addressing the area above the kitchen table.

The planchette didn’t budge.

I asked again, this time intoning the words the way a medium would do in the movies. “Is there a spirit present?”

The planchette slowly began to move—a stuttering slide across the board to the word in the upper right corner.


I looked across the table to Jess, who could barely contain her snickering. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t help myself.”

“Please keep an open mind,” I pleaded. “For Maggie’s sake.”

Jess grew serious at the mention of our daughter. She knew as well as I did that this was about Maggie. If there were ghosts at Baneberry Hall, only she could see them. Which meant she’d continue to do so until they left.

“I will,” she said. “Promise.”

Once again, I asked if a spirit was present. This time, the planchette jerked forward—so hard I thought it was going to slide entirely out from beneath my fingers. They stayed with it, though, following it to the word in the upper left corner.


“You need to be more subtle than that,” I told Jess. “Stop pushing it.”

pushing it.”

I looked to the board, where the planchette continued to circle
, even though my fingers were barely touching it. It was the same with Jess. Her touch was so light it looked as if her fingers hovered over the ivory.

A chill entered the kitchen—a sudden drop of temperature I felt in my bones. I hadn’t felt cold like that since the night I first heard the music coming from the third floor. When I exhaled, I saw my breath.

Shivering, I spat out another question before the planchette could stop moving.

“Spirit, did you once reside in Baneberry Hall?”

The planchette continued to circle the word.


“Spirit, what is your name?”

The planchette jerked again. So fast that Jess audibly gasped. I stared at it, dumbfounded, as it moved seemingly on its own to a letter in the center of the board.


Then another.


And another.


“Is this the spirit of Curtis Carver?” I asked.

The planchette did another lurch to the
in the upper left corner. Across the table, Jess gave me a worried look. She was about to lift her fingers from the planchette, but I shook my head, urging her to keep them there.

“Curtis, are you also who my daughter refers to as Mister Shadow?”

The planchette kept circling.


“Our daughter said you’ve spoken to her,” I said. “Is that true?”

More swooping and circling ensued around the word.


“Do you have something to say to us?”

The planchette quickly slid back to the letter
. Six other letters followed, the planchette moving so hard I could hear it scritching across the board. Jess and I kept our fingers on top of it, our wrists jerking back and forth with each letter.







“Careful?” I read aloud.

The planchette rocketed back to the
, touching it briefly before returning to the double rainbow of letters and spelling out the same word.


“What does that mean?” I asked.

The planchette never stopped moving, repeating the seven-letter pattern three more times.




As soon as the planchette’s narrowed tip hit the final
, it swung to the bottom of the board in a jarring swoop.


The chill left the kitchen. I felt it go—an instant warming.

“What the hell just happened?” Jess asked.

I didn’t know. Nor did I have time to consider it, for at that moment a scream pierced the silence of the house.


Making the same siren-like wail she’d let out during the sleepover.

Jess and I ran upstairs, pounding up both sets of steps until we were on the second floor and in Maggie’s room. Once again, she stood on her bed, screaming in the direction of the armoire.

Its doors were open.

“Mister Shadow!” she cried. “He was here!”

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