The Girl from Widow Hills Page 2

I held my breath, the charm swinging like a metronome, keeping time even as the world went still. A piece of our past that somehow remained, that she’d never sold.

Even the dead could surprise you.

In that moment, holding the fine bracelet, I felt something snap tight in my chest, bridging the gap, the divide. Something between this world and the next.

The bracelet slipped from my palm onto the table, coiling up like a snake. I reached my hands into the bottom of the box again, stretched my fingers into the corners, searching for more.

There was nothing left. The light in the room shifted, as if the curtains had moved. Maybe it was just the trees outside, casting shadows. My own field of vision darkening in a spell of dizziness. I tried to focus, grabbing the edge of the table to hold myself steady. But I heard a rushing sound, as if the room were hollowing itself out.

And I felt it then, just like she said—an emptiness, an absence. The darkness, opening up.

All that remained inside the box was a scent, like earth. I pictured cold rocks and stagnant water—four walls closing in—and took an unconscious step toward the door.

Twenty years ago, I was the girl who had been swept away in the middle of the night during a storm: into the system of pipes under the wooded terrain of Widow Hills. But I’d survived, against all odds, enduring the violence of the surge, keeping my head above water until the flooding mercilessly receded, eventually making my way toward the daylight, grabbing on to a grate—where I was ultimately found. It had taken nearly three days to find me, but the memory of that time was long gone. Lost to youth, or to trauma, or to self-preservation. My mind protecting me, until I couldn’t pull the memory to the surface, even if I wanted to. All that remained was the fear. Of closed walls, of an endless dark, of no way out. An instinct in place of a memory.

My mother used to call us both survivors. For a long time, I believed her.

The scent was probably nothing but the cardboard itself, left exposed to the damp earth and chilled evening. The outside of my own home, brought in.

But for a second, I remembered, like I hadn’t back then or ever since. I remembered the darkness and the cold and my small hand gripped tight on a rusted metal grate. I remembered my own ragged breathing in the silence, and something else, far away. An almost sound. Like I could hear the echo of a yell, my name carried on the wind into the unfathomable darkness—across the miles, under the earth, where I waited to be found.


OCTOBER 17, 2000


We are asking for the public’s assistance in locating six-yearold Arden Maynor, who has been missing since either late last night or early this morning. Brown hair, brown eyes, three feet six inches, and approximately thirty-eight pounds. She was last seen in her bedroom on Warren Street outside the town center of Widow Hills, wearing blue pajamas. Anyone with information is urged to call the number posted on the screen.


Widow Hills Police Department



Friday, 3 a.m.

I HEARD MY NAME AGAIN, coming from far away, cutting through the darkness.

“Liv. Hey, Liv.” Coming closer. “Olivia.” The scene sharpened, the voice softened. I blinked twice, my vision focusing on the row of hedges in front of me, the low-hanging branches, the light of a front porch glowing an eerie yellow through the leaves.

And then Rick’s face, the white of his shirt as he turned his body sideways and angled himself through the line of vegetation dividing our properties. “Okay,” he said as he approached, hands held out like I might spook. “You okay?”

“What?” I couldn’t orient myself. The chill of the night wind, the dark, Rick standing before me in a T-shirt and gray sweatpants, the skin wrinkled around his eyes, callused hands on my arms near my elbows—then off.

I took a step back and winced from a sting on the sole of my right foot, the pain jolting through the fog. I was outside. Outside in the middle of the night and—

No. Not this. Not again.

My reflexes were too slow to panic yet, but I understood the facts: I’d come to in the wide-open air, bare feet and dry, itchy throat. I took a quick tally of myself: a sharp pain between two of my toes; the hems of my pajama pants damp from the ground; palms coated with grit and dirt.

“All right, I got you.” Hands on my shoulders, turning me back toward my house. Like an animal that needed to be led back inside. “It’s okay. My son, he used to sleepwalk sometimes. Never found him outside, though.”

I tried to focus on his mouth, on the words he was saying, but something was slipping from me. His voice was still too far away, the scene too dreamy. Like I wasn’t entirely sure I was back from wherever I’d been.

“No, I don’t,” I said, the words scratching at my throat. I was suddenly parched, desperately thirsty. “It doesn’t happen anymore,” I said, my feet rising up the front porch steps, a tingle in my limbs, like the feeling was returning after too long.

“Mm,” he said.

It was true, what I’d told him. The lingering night terrors, yes—especially around the anniversary, when everything felt so close to the surface. When every knock at the door, every unknown caller, made my stomach plummet. But the sleepwalking, no, it didn’t happen anymore. Hadn’t since I was a child. When I was younger, I’d taken medicine, and by the time I’d stopped—a forgotten dose, then two, then a prescription that had not been renewed—I’d outgrown the episodes. It was a thing that had happened in the past. A thing, like everything that came before, that was left behind in another life, to another girl.

“Well,” he said, standing beside me on my front porch, “seems like it does, my dear.” The porch light cast long shadows across the yard.

Rick put his hand on the doorknob, but it wouldn’t turn. He jostled it again, then sighed. “How’d you manage that one?” He looked at my empty hands, like I might have a key lodged in my fist, then narrowed his eyes at the dirt under my nails, his gaze drifting down to the blood on my toes.

I wanted to tell him something—about the things my subconscious was capable of. About survival, and instinct. But the evening chill finally registered on a gust of cool wind, goose bumps rising in a rush. North Carolina summer nights, the altitude could still do that. Rick shivered, looking away as if he’d be able to see the cold coming next time.

“Do you still have a key?” I asked, crossing my arms over my stomach, balling up my hands. He was the original owner of both his lot and mine, and I’d bought this house directly from him. Rick had designed it himself. At one time, it had been occupied by his son, but he’d left town a few years back.

Rick’s face tightened, the corners of his lips pulling down. “I told you to change the locks.”

“I’m getting to it. It’s on my list. So do you?”

He shook his head, almost smiling. “I gave you everything I had.”

I pulled at the door myself, imagining this other version of me. The one who must’ve walked out the entrance but managed to lock the handle behind her before pulling it shut. Muscle memory. Safety first.

The porch beams squeaked as I walked to the living room window. I tried lifting the base, but it, too, was locked.

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