Today's Reading

I blinked twice. The subject of kids had come up only once, shortly after Tim proposed. He wanted them; Tim had grown up with a sister, two stepbrothers and a large flock of cousins, all of them close. I wasn't opposed to children in theory, but in practice the idea of raising one jangled my nerves. Our control over kids, and the people they became, only went so far. It was rare, but sometimes raising kids went horribly wrong. I'd seen it happen for myself.

'I hope you're right,' I told Tim. 'Doug and Josie will never forgive me if I screw this up.'

'The only thing you're going to screw—'

'There's a minor in the house,' I purred, pressing a finger to his lips as I recapped the wine.

Leaning back in his chair, Tim groaned in frustration and chased the sound with a laugh. 'Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.'


I woke with a start to a sound in the hall. The floors in our house were sloped and squeaky, cranky to the point where Tim and I had devised a game of mapping their landmines; skip the fourth tread on the staircase, sidestep the knotty board outside the bathroom door. He was better at the dance than I was, deliberate in his movements Tim was more panther than pachyderm, while I tended to forget myself and thunder on through but Tim was asleep beside me now, his breath soft and warm on my bare shoulder.

There was a time when such sounds would have jolted me upright, and my hand would have darted to the bedside table for my sidearm. Now and then I still dreamed of a figure looming over my bed, me unconscious and defenseless, him with a pocketknife angled at my face, but it had been a year and a half since I closed the door on my cousin for good, and I was finally getting better at not flinching when I felt Tim's arm snake over my hip, or pulling away and persuading myself that I didn't deserve his love. Abraham Skilton, the boy who became Blake Bram, was no longer a threat to me. And again I heard the growl of weight on a floorboard, just beyond our bedroom door.

I threw off the sheet and swung my legs out of bed.

It's incredible how completely a foreign presence can change the atmosphere in a place. One night in, and already our routine felt slippery and elusive, almost as if our previous way of living never existed at all. I still wasn't used to its new shape or Hen's cool presence. The idea of her creeping around the house at night made me itchy, uneasiness spreading over my skin like a hot red rash. Night was when Hen drank her mother's wine, and crashed the family car, and gave herself over to dark diversions, the bloodier the better. This was her first time sleeping in our home, and though we'd done our best to set up the bedroom, to make her feel welcome, she'd waited there like a mink in a den until we were out cold.

Maybe she's hungry, I thought, struggling into a sweatshirt, its hood snagging on my head to block my view of the door. When it was just us, Tim and I slept with it open, but we'd nudged it closed tonight to provide some semblance of privacy, stopping just short of engaging the latch. When I finally managed to yank my head free of the hoodie, the door stood wide open, the hall beyond it illuminated with an eerie silver light.

Bewildered, I crept forward. The house was old, but the floors weren't so crooked that doors swung open all on their own. What was Hen up to?

To my right, her bedroom door stood open too, her bed conspicuously empty, but the quiet in the house was deep and dark as the channel once more.

As I walked toward the staircase, skirting the loudest of floorboards, an object caught my eye. Outside the door that led to our study, a small former nursery that connected to the master bedroom, a black pearl earring lay on the hardwood, lolling gently as if recently dropped.

I recognized the earring; it was mine, left to me by my paternal grandmother when she died. Along with the rest of my jewelry, which I rarely had occasion to wear, I'd tucked it away in a wooden box on a shelf in the study closet. And now, here it was on the floor.

The human mind, I've often thought, is like one of those jumping fountains, a jet of water hopping back and forth across a swimming pool. We're somewhere and then, in a blink, we're someplace else, with an entirely different point of view.

As I stood in the hall, that lone earring clutched in my damp fist, I found myself in rural Quebec at a place called The Mystery Spot. Less than two hours north of Swanton, the tiny Eastern Townships hamlet of Huntingville had been a tourist destination when I was a kid, attracting visitors almost entirely based on the merits of a house that defied the laws of gravity. The story I'd heard was that the owners bought a parcel of land and discovered it had supernatural properties; beads of water rolled uphill, chairs balanced on two legs. The Mystery Spot house looked like an M.C. Escher painting, all tilted floors and slanted ceilings that messed with your mind and made you feel drunk. Tour guides told ghost stories about the maison hantée, and after my visit, I'd returned to Vermont feeling like I'd experienced something paranormal, an inexplicable secret that fueled my inherent need to ferret out the truth.

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book The Road to Murder by Camilla Trinchieri.

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