The Girl from Widow Hills Page 4

It was the box on the shelf of my closet, I decided. My subconscious, triggered by that almost-memory—of the cold and the dark—that may have been real, but maybe not. That same nightmare I used to have as a child in the years after the accident:

Rocks, all around, everywhere my hands could touch. Cold and damp. An endless darkness.

I used to wake from the nightmare feeling that even the walls were too close—kicking off the sheets, throwing out my limbs, pushing back against something that was no longer there. The fear lingering in place of the memory.

I remembered what my mom used to do back then. Hot chocolate, to calm me. The pills, to protect me. A hook and eye on the top of my door, for night. A rattle, the first line of defense, so she would wake. So she would stop me this time.

I turned back for the hall, and the glow from the bedroom lit up the wood floor. A few drops of blood trailing down the hall. I couldn’t tell whether that had happened before I left the house or just now. I followed the trail, but it stopped at the entrance to the kitchen again. On the left, the hall forked off to the kitchen and another bedroom, which I used as my home office; on the right, the arched entrance to the living room led straight to the front door. There was no sign of blood anywhere else. Just this hall.

I sat on the living room sofa, examining the cut on my left foot. Something was wedged between my first two toes. A splinter, I thought at first. But it was too shiny. A small piece of metal. No, it was glass. I pulled it out with my nails and held it to the light, narrowing my eyes, to be sure.

It was small and sharp, coated in dirt and blood, impossible to tell the original color. I looked around the room, searching for something that had been broken. A vase on the coffee table; a glass mirror over the couch; a lamp on my bedside table. But nothing appeared damaged or disturbed.

I kept going, room by room. Checking upstairs, even, though I kept nothing fragile there. The stairway didn’t have a light switch, and I felt my way through the dark, trailing my hands along the narrowed walls. The moonlight slanted through the open windows, and the shadow of the rocking chair came into focus. I reached up for the chain to turn on the light, but when I pulled it, nothing happened. I felt around the space above my head, but there was no bulb attached to the base. Now I couldn’t remember if there ever had been.

A chill ran through me from the gust of cold air funneling into the room. I pulled the window doors shut, latching the hook between them—there was no screen, a bird could’ve gotten in.

When I looked out into the night from this height, my stomach dropped. I backed away quickly, heading downstairs before the panic set in, resuming my search. Checking the shelves, the windows, counting the cups in the cabinets, peering into the garbage can. Growing restless and increasingly panicked as the minutes ticked by.

Searching for signs of what I had done in the dark.


OCTOBER 18, 2000


She’s a tiny little thing. Well, you’ve all seen her picture by now. Big brown eyes and all that hair. She was just standing there in the middle of the street, in the dead of night, outside my kitchen window. This was before she went missing. Maybe a month or two back. My daughter was sick, so I was getting her a glass of water. Spooked me at first, seeing someone standing out there, watching back. Until I turned on the porch light and saw it was her. I called out to her from the front door, but she didn’t answer. I knew who she was, knew her mother. Knew where they lived. It’s not that far, not even a mile, probably. But she must’ve walked all that way barefoot, in the dark. Had to cross three or four streets between her house and mine—I’m just grateful there aren’t many cars out that time of night.

I walked up to her and said her name again, but she just stared right through me. There was nothing behind her eyes.


Resident of Widow Hills



Friday, 6 a.m.

I HADN’T GONE BACK TO sleep, too high on the adrenaline, trying to understand what had happened during the blank spots of my mind.

But everything seemed calmer in the daylight. The sliver of glass could’ve come from anywhere. Outside, maybe, from any time in the past. A forgotten shard rising up from the dirt in the rain; the earth turning over.

The disorientation and panic, a side effect of waking up outside with no understanding of how I’d gotten there. A biological reaction. I had to keep busy, keep occupied. Keep my mind from drifting back to the contents of the box in my closet. The sweater. The phone. The bag. The bracelet.

I took a long shower, focusing instead on the pressing matters of work: the quarterly report for the hospital and the unyielding budget that required department cuts to be made—and it would be up to me to give an opinion on the matter. Two years in, and I was still proving myself.

My alarm went off while I was getting dressed, and when I silenced it, I noticed a text that had come through late the night before, just after midnight.

A quick drop of my stomach at Jonah Lowell’s name. Even now. Every time. Thinking of you.

Of course. Unprompted, after months of silence, waiting until I’d successfully excised him from my thoughts. Of course, in the middle of the night, when I could picture him in his living room, hair disheveled, feet propped up, bourbon beside his laptop.

Last I’d heard from him was three months earlier, in May, when he’d texted: Will you be in town for graduation?

A slippery slope with him.

Back in May, I’d responded on impulse, had slid into an ongoing conversation, an endless flirtation. I’d been talked into a visit. I knew better now.

With the distance, it had been easy to forget why it hadn’t worked.

To be fair, I was here in Central Valley, with my current job, because of Jonah. He’d been my grad school professor in health care management initially, was coming here on a temporary consulting assignment, and there would be a spot for me in the group if I wanted it. I was in even before I knew the details: It was a newer hospital in a rural area, necessary to the surrounding communities but still looking to find its footing—and its funding. It had been having trouble getting doctors and nurses to come and then stay.

Central Valley really was halfway from one place to the next, but not close enough to either extreme to commute. The college was too far to the east, and no one but the skiers heading west came out this far. On the map, this town was a pit stop. A bathroom break between the outer edge of a larger town and the mountain lodges.

I’d come because I thought I was in love with Jonah back then. But I’d stayed because I was fully in love with the place instead.

When the hospital offered me a full-time role, I accepted. It was good for my résumé, a higher position with more autonomy than I’d land at a larger facility, and I’d already recruited a lot of the staff.

Most of the doctors and nurses were young. Not entrenched in a community with their families but free of the roots that held them in place, willing and hungry for an opportunity.

Central Valley was a town that had transformed itself around the hospital, that existed in its current form because of it. All shiny new and built over a rural stretch of land, with the best of both worlds. It was a young town, and I was young.

The town center was self-contained and self-sufficient. It provided and fueled itself in a closed loop. The old Victorians getting fresh coats of paint, renovated porches, new landscaping. On the outer arch: apartment complexes with glass-walled gyms and mostly empty playgrounds. I’d lived in one such building myself when I first arrived, in housing provided by the school.

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