Chapter no 11

Hidden Pictures

And I’m sorry but there’s no way Teddy drew these pictures. Most adults can’t draw this well—let alone a five-year-old boy who sleeps with stuffed animals and can’t count past twenty-nine.

But how else did they end up in the recycling bin? Did Ted draw them? Caroline?

Are the Maxwells studying illustration in their free time? All my questions lead to more questions, and pretty soon

I’m wishing I never got out of bed. I wish I’d just let the sanitation trucks carry away the clues, so I wouldn’t have to wonder what they meant.

Monday passes in a daze—LEGOs, mac and cheese, Quiet Time, swimming pool—but by nightfall I’m ready to do some serious research. I take a shower and wash my hair and put on one of Caroline’s nicest outfits, a breezy blue midi dress with pretty white flowers. Then I walk a mile into town to The Raconteur, Spring Brook’s local independent bookstore.

I’m surprised to find it crowded on a Monday night—a neighborhood author has just finished a reading and the mood is festive, like a party. People are drinking wine in plastic cups and eating sheet cake off tiny paper plates. I have to push through the crowd to reach the parenting section, but I’m grateful for all the distractions; I don’t want any store clerks offering to help me find something. If they heard what I was researching, they’d think I was crazy.

I gather some books and head out the back door to a large brick patio—a crowded café that’s ringed with

twinkling Christmas lights. There’s a small bar selling snacks and drinks, and a very earnest teenage girl sitting on a barstool with an acoustic guitar, dressed in overalls and singing “Tears in Heaven.” I can’t hear this song without thinking about my sister’s memorial service; it was part of a playlist that looped over and over. The song is constantly sneaking up on me in supermarkets and restaurants, and even after a thousand times it still has the power to make me cry. But this girl’s version is brighter than the Eric Clapton original. There’s something about her young age that makes the song seem almost hopeful.

I walk over to the coffee bar and order a mug of tea and a pastry, only to find that I don’t have enough hands to carry everything. Plus, all the tables are full and no one seems anxious to leave, so I can’t believe my good luck when I see Adrian sitting alone at a table for two, reading a Star Wars novel.

“Can I join you?”

And it’s funny—this time, he doesn’t recognize me, not right away, not in Caroline’s gorgeous $500 dress. “Yes! Definitely! Mallory! How are you?”

“I didn’t realize it would be so crowded.”

“It’s always busy here,” Adrian says. “This is the third-hottest spot in Spring Brook.”

“What are the other two?”

“Number one is Cheesecake Factory, obviously. Number two is the Wegmans hot food buffet.” He shrugs. “We don’t have much of a night life.”

The girl with the guitar finishes “Tears in Heaven” to tepid applause but Adrian claps long and loud, and she shoots an annoyed look in our direction. “My cousin Gabriella,” he says. “She’s only fifteen, can you believe it? She marched in here with a guitar and they gave her a job.”

Gabriella leans closer to the microphone and says she’s going to switch to the Beatles, and then she starts singing a sweet cover of “Blackbird.” I look at the book Adrian is

reading. The cover shows Chewbacca firing lasers at an army of robots, and the title is printed in giant silver-foil letters: Wookiee Vengeance.

“Is that any good?”

Adrian shrugs. “It’s not canon? So they take a lot of liberties. But if you liked Ewok Vengeance, you’ll love this one.”

And I can’t help myself—I start laughing. “You’re really something. You look like a landscaper. You’ve got a Florida tan and dirt under your fingernails. But it turns out you’re actually a country club kid and a Star Wars nerd.”

“I spend my whole summer pulling weeds. I need some escapist entertainment.”

“I understand. I watch Hallmark Channel for the same reason.”


“No joke. I’ve seen all five Murder, She Baked mysteries. And I don’t share this information with a lot of people so I’m trusting you to keep it secret.”

Adrian crosses an X over his heart. “Your secret’s safe with me,” he says. “What books are you reading?” And I don’t have to answer the question because my books are already on the table and Adrian can read the spines: Abnormal Child Psychology and The Encyclopedia of Supernatural Phenomena. “This is how you unwind after a long day of babysitting?”

“If I told you why I’m reading these books, there’s a good chance you’ll think I’m crazy.”

Adrian closes Wookiee Vengeance and sets it aside, giving me his full and undivided attention. “All my favorite stories come with that kind of warning,” he says. “Tell me everything.”

“It’s a really long story.” “I have nowhere to be.”

“I’m warning you. The bookstore might close before I can finish.”

“Start from the beginning and don’t leave out any details,” he tells me. “You never know what’s going to be important.”

So I tell him about my job interview with the Maxwells, about the guest cottage, about my daily routine with Teddy. I describe the evolution of Teddy’s drawings and the strange conversations happening inside Teddy’s bedroom. I tell him about my discussions with Mitzi and the Maxwells. I ask him if he knows the story of Annie Barrett, and he assures me that every kid in Spring Brook knows the story of Annie Barrett. Apparently she’s the local boogeyman, always ready to prey on children who stray into the forest after dark.

And after nearly an hour of talking (and after his cousin packs up her guitar and heads home, after all the surrounding tables have emptied out and it’s just me and Adrian and the café staff wiping down tables) I reach into my bag and produce my latest discovery—the drawings from the recycling bin.

Adrian flips through the pictures in astonishment. “You’re saying Teddy drew these? Five-year-old Teddy?”

“That paper comes from Teddy’s sketch pad. And I can hear him drawing in the bedroom. He comes out with pencil all over his fingers. The only thing I can think of is—” I tap the Encyclopedia of Supernatural Phenomena. “Maybe he’s channeling someone. Maybe it’s the spirit of Annie Barrett.”

“You think Teddy is possessed?”

“No. This isn’t The Exorcist. Annie isn’t trying to destroy Teddy’s soul or take over his body. She just wants to borrow his hand. She uses it during Quiet Time, when he’s alone in his bedroom. And for the rest of the day, she leaves him alone.”

I pause so Adrian can laugh or make fun of me, but he doesn’t say anything, so I outline the rest of my theory: “Annie Barrett is a good artist. She already knows how to draw. But this is her first time drawing with someone else’s

arm. So her first few efforts are terrible. They’re just scribbles. But after a couple pages she gets better. She gains control and there’s more detail. Texture, light, and shadow. She’s mastering her new tool—Teddy’s hand.”

“So how did these pages end up in the trash?”

“Maybe Anya put them there. Or maybe Teddy did, I’m not sure. He’s become very private about his drawings.”

Adrian cycles through the pictures again, this time studying them more closely. He turns some of the drawings upside down, searching the scribbles for a deeper meaning. “You know what they remind me of? Those picture-puzzles in Highlights magazine. Where the artist hides stuff in the background. Like, the roof of the house is actually a boot, or a pizza, or a hockey stick, you remember those?”

I know the puzzles he’s describing—my sister and I used to love them—but I think these pictures are more straightforward. I point to the drawing of the woman crying out in anguish. “I think this is a self-portrait. I think Annie’s drawing the story of her murder.”

“Well, there’s one easy way to find out. Let’s get a photo of the real Annie Barrett. Compare her to the woman in this picture. See if they match.”

“I already looked. There’s nothing online.”

“Well, lucky for you, my mother works summers at the Spring Brook public library. They have a massive archive of town history. A whole basement full of materials. If anyone’s going to have a picture of Annie Barrett, it’s them.”

“Could you ask her? Would she mind?”

“Are you kidding? She lives for this stuff. She’s a teacher and a part-time librarian. If I tell her you’re researching local history, she’ll be your new best friend.”

He promises to ask her first thing in the morning, and I feel so much better, now that I’ve shared my problems. “Thank you, Adrian. I’m glad you don’t think I’m crazy.”

He shrugs. “I think we have to consider every possibility. ‘When you eliminate the impossible, all that remains,

however improbable, must be the truth.’ That’s Spock in

Star Trek VI, but he’s paraphrasing Sherlock Holmes.” “My God,” I tell him. “You really are a nerd.”



We walk home in the dark and we have the sidewalks to ourselves. The neighborhood feels safe, quiet, peaceful. Adrian plays tour guide, pointing out the houses of his most notorious high school classmates, like The Dude Who Rolled His Parents’ SUV and The Girl Who Had to Change Schools After a Scandalous TikTok Video. I get the sense he knows everyone in Spring Brook, that his high school years were like a glossy Netflix teen drama, one of those silly soap operas where everyone is beautiful and the outcome of a varsity football game has life-altering consequences.

Then he points to a house on the corner and tells me it’s where Tracy Bantam grew up.

“Should I know who that is?”

“The point guard for the Lady Lions. Penn State’s women’s basketball team. I figured you knew each other.”

“Penn State is enormous,” I tell him. “There are fifty thousand students.”

“I know, I just figured all the jocks went to the same parties.”

I don’t answer Adrian right away. He’s giving me the perfect opportunity to come clean. I should tell him it was a stupid joke, a game I play with strangers. Clear up the truth before our relationship goes any further. I think it’s possible he’ll understand.

Except I can’t tell Adrian part of the truth without telling him the whole truth. If I tell him that I never actually went to college, I’ll have to explain how I’ve spent the last few years

—and there’s no way I’m ready to get into all that, not right now, not when we’re having such a nice conversation. So I just change the subject.

We arrive at the Flower Castle but Adrian says he’ll walk me home and I don’t object. He asks where I’m from and he’s surprised to learn that I grew up in South Philly, that I could see Citizens Bank Park from my bedroom window. “You don’t sound like you’re from the city.”

I give him my best Rocky Balboa: “Yo, Adrian! You tink we all tawk like dis?”

“It’s not your voice. It’s the way you present yourself.

You’re so positive. You’re not jaded like everyone else.” Oh, Adrian, I think to myself. You really have no idea. He asks, “Are your parents still in South Philly?”

“Just my mom. They split up when I was young, and my dad moved to Houston. I hardly know him.”

This is all true, so I think my answer sounds fairly convincing, but then Adrian asks if I have any siblings.

“Just one sister. Beth.” “Older or younger?” “Younger. She’s thirteen.”

“Does she go to your meets?”

“All the time. It’s three hours in the car, one way, but if it’s a home race my mother and sister always come.” And my voice catches—I don’t know why I’m saying all this stuff. I want to be honest with him, to have a real relationship, and instead I’m just piling on more lies.

But as I walk these moonlit sidewalks with this very sweet and handsome lawn boy, it’s so easy to surrender to fantasy. My real past feels a million miles away.

When we finally reach the Maxwells’ house, it’s dark. It’s after ten thirty and everyone must be in bed. We follow the tiny flagstone path around the side of the house and it’s even darker out back, with just the shimmering blue light of the pool to guide the way.

Adrian squints across the yard, scanning the trees for the outline of my cottage. “Where’s your house?”

I can’t see it, either. “Somewhere back in those trees. I left the porch light on, but I guess the bulb burned out.”

“Hmmph. That’s weird.” “Is it?”

“After all the stories you just told me? I don’t know.”

We walk across the lawn to the cottage, and Adrian waits on the grass while I climb the steps to my porch. I try the door and it’s still locked, so I reach for my keys. Suddenly I’m grateful to Caroline for insisting I put the Viper on my key chain. “Maybe I’ll just look inside for a minute. Would you mind waiting?”

“No problem.”

I unlock the door, reach inside, and toggle the switch for the porch light—definitely dead. But the interior light works fine, and the cottage looks just as I left it. Nothing in my kitchen, nothing in the bathroom. I even get down on my knees and take a quick peek under the bed.

“Everything okay?” Adrian calls.

I walk back outside. “It’s fine. I just need a new bulb.”

Adrian promises to call when he has more information about Annie Barrett. I watch and wait as he crosses the yard and rounds the side of the house, disappearing from view.

And as I turn to enter the cottage, my foot brushes an ugly gray rock about the size of a tennis ball. I look down and realize I’m standing on paper, three sheets of paper with ragged edges, and the rock is holding them in place. Keeping my back to the door of the cottage, I reach down and pick them up.

Then I go inside, lock the door, and sit at the edge of my bed, turning the pages one at a time. They’re like the three drawings that Ted Maxwell ripped into pieces—the three drawings he swore I’d never see again. Only they’ve been drawn by a different hand. These drawings are darker and more detailed. They use so much pencil and charcoal, the paper has warped and buckled. A man is digging a grave. A woman is being dragged through a forest. And someone is looking up from the bottom of a very deep hole.






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