The Girl from Widow Hills Page 3

“Liv,” Rick said, watching me peer in the darkened window, hands cupped to my eyes. I hadn’t flipped a single light switch inside. “Please get the locks done. Listen, my son’s friends, they weren’t all good, not all good people, and—”

“Rick,” I said, turning to face him. He was always seeing another version of this place, from years ago, flushed out long before I’d arrived. Before the hospital came through, and the construction, and the shiny new pavement and chain restaurants and people. “If someone was going to rob me, they probably wouldn’t wait over a year to do it.” He opened his mouth, but I held out my hand. “I’ll change them, okay? Doesn’t help with the situation right now, though.”

He sighed, and his breath escaped in a cloud of fog. “Maybe you got out some other way?”

I followed him down the porch stairs and stepped carefully through the grass and weeds as we paced the perimeter together, as if we were following the ghost of me. My bedroom window was too high to reach from the slope of the side yard, but it appeared secure. We tried the back door, then the office and kitchen windows—anything within reach.

Nothing was disturbed, nothing gave an inch. Rick looked up at the set of beveled glass windows from the unfinished attic space on the second floor, frowning. The windows were partly ajar, leading to a small balcony that was purely decorative.

I fought back a chill. “I think that’s a stretch,” I said. The upstairs was mostly unused, empty space, anyway, except for the single wooden rocking chair left behind, which was too large to maneuver down the stairs—as if it had been built in that very spot and was now trapped. A single bulb hung from the center of the exposed-beam ceiling, the only place you could stand fully upright between the slanting eaves.

There was one narrow stairway up, tucked behind a door in the hallway. The space was too enclosed, too dark, every one of my senses elevated. From up there, you could hear the inner workings of the house: water moving through the pipes, the gas heater catching, the whir of the exhaust fan. I rarely went up there, other than to keep it clean. But any time I did, I’d gotten into the habit of opening those windows immediately after climbing the stairs, just to get through the task.

I’d heard if you were ever trapped underwater and didn’t know which way was up, you could orient yourself by blowing out air and following the bubbles—a trail to safety. The open window worked much the same. If I ever needed it, I’d feel the air moving and know which way was out.

I must’ve forgotten to close them after the last time.

But a jump from up there would’ve done a lot more damage than dirt on my hands and a scratch on my foot.

Rick shuffled his feet, and it was only then that I noticed he was barefoot, too. That he’d heard me or seen me in the night and rushed out to help before grabbing his own shoes, or a coat. He circled to the back entrance of the house, and I followed.

“My son, he used to keep a key . . .” He bent down to the bottom rail of the wooden steps. Fished his fingers into the splintered hollow. Pulled out something coated in mud. He placed a hand on his knee as he straightened again, then handed me the metal with a crooked grin. “Still here, I’ll be.”

I slid the key into the back door, and it turned. “Hallelujah,” I said. I handed the key back to him, but he didn’t take it.

“Just in case,” I said. “Please. I’ll feel better knowing you have a copy.”

He was frowning when I placed it in his open palm, but he slid it into the pocket of his sweatpants. He looked like a different person in the night, without his jeans and flannel shirt and his beige work boots laced tight, regardless of the fact that he had long since retired from his job as a general contractor. He had just turned seventy earlier this year, his hair a shock of gray over a deeply lined face—all proof that he’d spent decades out in the sun, building his own life by hand. He still tinkered around in his shed, still told me if I ever wanted to finish the upstairs space, we could do it together. But apart from his typical attire, he seemed smaller now. Frailer. The contrast was unnerving.

Rick entered the house first and flipped the light to the kitchen, peering around the room. The wineglass had been left in the sink. I felt the urge to straighten up, prove I was taking care of this place. That I was worth it. He was soft-spoken but perceptive, and his gaze kept moving, to the arched entrance, to the dark hall.

Rick was the one I’d gone to when I’d found a baby bat hanging from my front porch in mid-daylight; when there’d been a snake at the foot of the wooden steps; when I’d heard something in the bushes. He’d said the bat had probably gotten lost, then he’d used a broom to urge it along; he’d declared the snake harmless; he’d told me to stomp my feet and make noise and act bigger than I was to scare whatever might be watching. Most of the wildlife had been driven farther back with the development over the past couple of years, but not all of it. Things got lost. Things staked their claim. Things stood their ground.

He was looking over the house now as if he could see its past remaining. Different people inside, with a different history. He twisted the gold band on his ring finger with his other hand.

“I heard you yelling,” he said. “I heard you.”

I closed my eyes, searching for the dream. Wondered what I’d been calling into the night. Whether it was a noise or a name—the word on my tongue, in my memory, as my eyes drifted over the bare kitchen table. The box of her things tucked out of sight in my bedroom closet now, where it had been stored since it had arrived two days earlier.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“No, no, don’t be.” His hands started to faintly shake, as they seemed to be doing more and more now. The tremors, either from the start of illness or from craving his next drink. I didn’t ask, out of politeness. Same way he didn’t ask about the marks on my arm even though his gaze would often linger on the long scar, eyes sharp before cutting away each time.

He raised his trembling fingers to my hair now, pulling a dead leaf from a spot above my ear. It must’ve gotten caught as I walked through the lower-hanging branches between our properties. “Glad I found you,” he said.

I shook my head, stepping back. “I used to. I used to sleepwalk. I don’t anymore,” I repeated, like a child who didn’t want it to be true.

He nodded once. The clock on the microwave said it was 3:16. “Get some sleep,” he said, pulling the back door open.

I had to be up in less than three hours. It was pointless. “You, too.”

“And lock up,” he called as the door latched shut behind him, the silverware drawer rattling. His bare feet made hardly any sound as he walked down the back steps.

Now I peered around the house like Rick had done, like I was looking for signs of an intruder. Holding my breath, listening for something else that might be here. Even though it was just me.

I trailed my fingers down the wall of the dark hallway as I headed for the bedroom door, gaping open at the other end. I flicked the switch just inside. The sheets were violently kicked back, pulled from the corners of the mattress. A chill ran through me. The scene looked familiar—the aftermath of a night terror. Though I hadn’t had one in years. My childhood doctors had attributed the episodes to PTSD, a result of the horrors of those three days trapped underground.

Prev page Next page