Authors: Riley Sager
Tags: #Thriller, #Mystery, #Horror, #Adult, #Suspense, #Contemporary
Vermont is gorgeous in October. Nothing but cerulean skies and fiery leaves and the smell of woodsmoke in the air. In the mornings, I like to sip my coffee on the front porch of Baneberry Hall and take it all in.
It’s my first Vermont autumn. It will likely also be my last.
There’s not much left to do on the house. With occasional help from Allie, I spent the rest of the summer and most of the fall renovating the place. My original plan in everything but execution. Instead of the Victorian glamour I’d envisioned, I settled for modern blandness. Open rooms and laminate floors and white everything. It seemed like the best option. Some houses don’t deserve to have their stories preserved.
It’s unclear how much Baneberry Hall will sell for when it’s listed. The house is once more all over the news—not always a good thing in the world of real estate.
Despite it being reported everywhere that the Book was all a lie to cover up what my parents thought I’d done, rumors persist that Baneberry Hall is haunted. People also continue to believe that my father
was right and that Curtis Carver never murdered his daughter before killing himself. In fact, there’s a growing suspicion that Marta herself might have done it, even though all the evidence suggests otherwise.
All of this has brought out the ghouls, who’ve returned with renewed vigor. It got so bad that Chief Alcott had to resume stationing a police cruiser outside the front gate. I bring the cops coffee each night.
But I no longer feel unsafe here. It helps that I had the crumbled section of wall rebuilt, even though it was only the Ditmers and Marta Carver who got onto the property that way. I also had the secret passage bricked over and a state-of-the-art home security system installed. No more slips of paper stuck in the door for me.
As for the armoire, I happily took a sledgehammer to it, relishing the crack of the wood that came with each blow. Even so, I no longer sleep in that room, having moved instead to my parents’ old bedroom.
It turns out that Marta Carver wasn’t the only person who snuck through that armoire to visit me during the night. Elsa Ditmer had, too. While only partially lucid when interviewed by Chief Alcott, she confirmed in a foggy, roundabout way that she had entered my bedroom at least twice when I was a child.
Only I knew her as someone else.
Not a ghost but a superstitious woman who knew of Baneberry Hall’s history and came at night to whisper a warning that almost came true.
You’re going to die here.
But now Elsa and her daughter are gone. Mrs. Ditmer’s Alzheimer’s got to be too much for Hannah alone, and she was admitted to a care facility near Manchester. Hannah went with her, moving into a studio apartment so she could be near her.
Before they left, my mother apologized to Hannah, who chain-smoked while she listened. When my mother finished, Hannah simply
said, “You caused my family twenty-five years of pain. No apology is going to make up for that.”
It was the last time I saw her, although in the days leading to her departure, I noticed more and more items missing from Baneberry Hall, including Petra’s teddy bear, Buster. Other than that, everything that’s vanished from the house has ended up on her online auction site. Thanks to renewed interest in Baneberry Hall and the Book, a lot of the things sold for five times what they’re worth.
Dane is also gone.
I stopped by his cottage shortly after we both got out of the hospital. To his credit, he listened to what I had to say, letting me spend a good ten minutes standing on his doorstep and rambling my apology.
He said nothing when I finished. He simply turned away and closed the door.
A week later, he moved out.
It strikes me as ironic that I’m the only one who’s still here. Me, who was never supposed to return in the first place. But it’s more than just work on the house that’s kept me here. I want to remain in Bartleby until all the legal issues are over.
That should come next week, when my mother is going to be sentenced for her role in covering up the death of Petra Ditmer.
It turns out that what she told me in the kitchen was wrong. She
stop me from throwing my life away—by confessing to Petra Ditmer’s murder, which is exactly what she tried to do immediately after leaving me alone in Baneberry Hall. While Marta Carver was rubbing my back and telling me how she accidentally killed Petra, my mother was talking to Chief Alcott.
After hearing my mother’s story, the chief came by the house to also bring me in for questioning. Instead, she discovered Elsa Ditmer, lost once more in an Alzheimer’s haze in the parlor, and Marta and me splayed out in front of the stairs.
Marta was dead.
I was on my way.
After having my stomach pumped, my fluids restored, and a fractured wrist bandaged, I told Chief Alcott everything. I even included the part about seeing Petra Ditmer right as Elsa pushed Marta down the stairs, although everyone agrees I was hallucinating.
I hope not.
I’d like to think it was Petra’s spirit, helping her mother save my life.
Once Chief Alcott got everyone’s story straight, it was time for my mother’s formal confession. In July, she pleaded guilty to one count of concealing a dead body. Now it’s up to the judge to decide her punishment. Although she could get up to three years in prison, her attorneys think she could escape jail time altogether.
Whenever I ask my mother if she’s scared about possibly going to prison, she tells me no.
“Even though we did what we thought was right, it was still wrong,” she said on the phone yesterday. “I’ll serve whatever time the judge sees fit. All I care about is that you forgive me.”
I forgave her the moment I heard she confessed to what we both had thought was my crime. I wouldn’t have let her go through with it, of course. If I had been the one to kill Petra, I would have admitted it. But the fact that my mother was willing to sacrifice herself like that told me I had been wrong about her. She wasn’t a monster. Neither was my father. They were just two people thrust into an unfathomable situation who were terrified about what might happen to their daughter.
It doesn’t excuse what they did.
But it sure does explain it.
Everything, it turned out, was for me. As for who that is, I am still figuring it out.
That the relationship between my mother and me is the best it’s
ever been is another irony. She likes to joke that all it took for us to get along was an impending prison sentence. Yet I still can’t help but think about what might have been. So many years have been wasted on cover-ups and lies. Now all we can do is make up for lost time. I only wish I’d been able to do the same thing with my father. But I hope he knows, wherever he is now, that he has also been forgiven.
My mother and Carl have been in Bartleby a lot these past few months, for reasons relating to her criminal case. Although she’s now fine with spending an afternoon in Baneberry Hall, she refuses to stay the night. She and Carl always book a room at the Two Pines, which, in my mind at least, is probably worse than jail.
When they’re not in town, I spend my nights roaming Baneberry Hall, thinking about all that’s happened within these walls. Sometimes, I just sit and wait for Petra to appear. Unlike everyone else, I don’t think she was a hallucination brought on by ingested baneberries and approaching death.
I believe she was real, and I’d like to see her one more time before I leave.
I want to tell her I’m sorry, and to thank her for coming to my rescue.
Maybe she already knows these things. Maybe she’s finally at peace.
Right now, I’m in the study on the third floor, standing at my father’s desk. All that sits here now is his old typewriter. I’ve spent several evenings in front of it, my fingers tripping over the keys, debating whether or not I should actually press a few of them.
Tonight, I decide that the time is right. Just because my interior design includes no traces of Baneberry Hall’s story doesn’t mean I won’t tell it. In fact, the same publisher who put out the Book all those years ago has already contacted me about writing a sequel.
At first I declined, despite the sizable advance they offered. I’m a designer, not a writer. But now I’m thinking about taking them up on
their offer. Not for the money, although that will keep Allie and me in business for years to come.
I want to do it because it’s what I think my father would have wanted.
I am, after all, his daughter.
So tonight I sit down at his typewriter and peck at the keyboard, writing what may or may not be the first sentence of what may or may not become a new version of the Book.
Every house has a story to tell and a secret to share.
THE REAL STORY
Every book is a journey that begins with the germ of an idea and ends with a finished product reflecting the hard work of dozens of people. This includes everyone at Dutton and Penguin Random House, especially the fabulous Maya Ziv, who guides me through each book with warmth, support, and a keen editorial eye. A special shout-out goes to Alex Merto and Chris Lin for continuing to give my books covers that are never less than gorgeously creepy.
At Aevitas Creative Management, I owe a million thanks to my tenacious agent, Michelle Brower, and to Chelsea Heller and Erin Files, who help my books take flight around the world.
Special thanks goes to the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization for granting me permission to use lyrics from “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” Being allowed to let their song drift through the halls of my haunted creation makes my heart sing.
Thank you, as usual, to Sarah Dutton for being an excellent first reader who pulls no punches, and to the Ritter and Livio families for their unflagging enthusiasm and support. Finally, I owe more than thanks to Michael Livio, who willingly accompanied me on this journey every step of the way. This is for you.
Home Before Dark
is the fourth thriller from
New York Times
bestselling author Riley Sager, the pseudonym of an author who lives in Princeton, New Jersey. Riley’s first novel,
, was a national and international bestseller that has been published in more than two dozen countries and won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Hardcover Novel. Sager’s novels
The Last Time I Lied
Lock Every Door
New York Times