Chapter no 14

Hidden Pictures

That night, Adrian comes over and together we review all the illustrations. There are nine drawings in total—the three pictures left on my porch, the three pictures pinned to my refrigerator, and the three pictures I collected today from Teddy’s bedroom. Adrian keeps reshuffling the pages, like he’s trying to put them in a proper order, as if there’s some kind of magical sequence that might reveal a story. But I’ve been thinking about them all afternoon and I still can’t make sense of them.

It’s dusk and the sun is almost down. The air in the backyard is hazy and gray. The forest is full of fireflies blinking on and off. Across the way at the big house, through the windows of the kitchen, I can see Caroline loading the dishwasher; she’s cleaning up dinner while Ted is upstairs putting their son to bed.

Adrian and I sit side by side on the steps of the cottage, scrunched so close our knees are nearly touching. I tell him about my experiment with the baby cam, how I watched Teddy draw without the use of his eyes, without the use of his dominant hand. And by all rights Adrian should tell me I’m crazy—I know my story sounds crazy—so I’m relieved when he takes me seriously. He holds the drawings close to his face and coughs. “God, these really stink.”

“That’s the smell of Teddy’s bedroom. Not all the time but some of the time. Caroline says he wets the bed.”

“I don’t think this is pee. Last summer, we had a job in Burlington County? Near the Pine Barrens? Some guy hired

us to clear his vacant lot. It was a half acre of land gone wild, weeds taller than your head, we were literally hacking with machetes. And trash like you wouldn’t believe—old clothes, beer bottles, bowling pins, just the weirdest junk you can imagine. But the worst thing we found was a dead deer. In the middle of July. And we’re hired to clear the lot, so we need to bag it and get it out of there. I won’t go into details, Mallory, but it was awful. And the thing I will never forget—and you hear this in movies all the time, but it’s true

—the smell was horrible. It smelled like these pictures.” “What should I do?”

“I don’t know.” He takes the stack of drawings and puts them at a distance, like maybe it’s not safe to be sitting so close to them. “Do you think Teddy’s okay?”

“I have no idea. It was really weird. His skin was broiling. And when I touched him, he didn’t feel like Teddy anymore. He felt like … something else.”

“Have you told his parents?”

“Tell them what? ‘I think your son is possessed by the ghost of Annie Barrett?’ I already tried. They freaked out.”

“But it’s different now. You have proof. All these new pictures. It’s like you said: Teddy couldn’t have drawn these without help.”

“But I can’t prove Anya helped him. I can’t prove she’s sneaking into my cottage and leaving them on my refrigerator. It sounds crazy.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

“You don’t know his parents like I do. They won’t believe me. I need to keep digging, I need real proof.”

We’re drinking seltzers and sharing a large bowl of microwave popcorn—the best refreshments I could provide on short notice. I feel inadequate about my hosting skills, but Adrian doesn’t seem to mind. He updates me on the situation with the Spring Brook Public Library. His mother has started combing through the archives, but she hasn’t found anything yet. “She says the files are a mess. Land

deeds, old newspapers, nothing’s organized. She thinks she’ll need another week.”

“I can’t wait another week, Adrian. This thing—this spirit or ghost, whatever it is—she’s getting inside my cottage. Some nights I feel her watching me.”

“How do you mean?”

I’ve never really found the words to describe the sensation—the strange fluttery feeling on the periphery of my senses, sometimes accompanied by a high-pitched whining noise. I’m tempted to mention the research experiment at the University of Pennsylvania, to ask Adrian if he’s ever heard of terms like “gaze detection.” But I don’t want to say anything that might steer the conversation toward my past. I’ve already told him too many lies; I’m still wrestling with the best way to come clean.

“I have an idea,” he says. “My parents have a small apartment over their garage. No one’s using it right now. Maybe you could stay with us for a few days. Work here, but sleep someplace safe until we figure out what’s going on.”

I try to imagine myself explaining the situation to the Maxwells—telling five-year-old Teddy that I’m moving out, because I’m too scared to live in his backyard.

“I’m not leaving. I was hired to look after Teddy, and I’m going to stay here and look after Teddy.”

“Then let me stay over.” “You’re joking.”

“I’ll crash on your floor. No funny business, just a measure of added security.” I look at him and it’s nearly dark but I’m pretty sure he’s blushing. “If the ghost of Annie Barrett sneaks into your cottage, she’ll trip over me and wake me up and we’ll talk to her together.”

“Are you making fun of me?” “No, Mallory, I’m trying to help.”

“I’m not allowed to have sleepovers. It’s one of the House Rules.”

Adrian drops his voice to a whisper: “I’m up at five-thirty every morning. I can sneak out before sunrise. Before the Maxwells wake up. They’d have no idea.”

And I want to say yes. I would love to keep talking with Adrian until late in the night. I really don’t want him to go home.

But the one thing stopping me is the truth. Adrian still thinks he’s helping Mallory Quinn, cross-country scholarship athlete and college student.

He doesn’t realize I’m Mallory Quinn, ex-junkie and total screwup. He doesn’t know that my sister is dead and my mother won’t speak to me, that I’ve lost the two people in the world who meant the most to me. And there’s no way I can tell him. I can barely admit these things to myself.

“Come on, Mallory. Say yes. I’m worried about you.” “You don’t know anything about me.”

“Then talk to me. Tell me. What should I know?”

But I can’t tell him now, not when I need his help more than ever. I need to keep my history under wraps for a few days longer. And then I swear I’ll tell him everything.

He gently rests his hand on my knee. “I like you, Mallory. Let me help you.”

I realize he’s working up the courage to make a move. It’s been a long time since anyone has tried to kiss me. And I want him to kiss me, but at the same time I don’t, so I just sit there, frozen, as he slowly pivots toward me.

And then across the yard, at the big house, the sliding glass doors open and Caroline Maxwell steps outside, carrying a book and a wine bottle and a long-stemmed glass.

Adrian pulls back and clears his throat. “Well, it’s late.”

I stand up. “Yeah.”

We walk across the yard and around the side of the big house, following the flagstone path to the Maxwells’ two-car

driveway. “My offer stands if you change your mind,” Adrian says. “Although I don’t think you need to worry.”

“Why not?”

“Well, this thing—this spirit or ghost, whatever she is— have you ever seen her?”


“And do you ever hear her? Weird groans or noises?

Whispers in the middle of the night?” “Never.”

“And does she mess with your stuff? Knocking pictures off the wall, slamming doors, turning on your lights?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“Exactly. She’s had plenty of chances to scare you. And either she can’t or she won’t. I think she’s trying to communicate. I think there are more drawings coming, and once we have them all, we’re going to understand what she’s trying to say.”

Is he right? I have no idea. But I appreciate the calm and confidence in his voice. He makes all my problems seem completely manageable.

“Thank you, Adrian. Thank you for believing me.”



As I’m heading back to my cottage, Caroline calls out to me from the patio. “I see you made a new friend. I hope I didn’t scare him away.”

I cross the yard so I won’t have to yell. “He’s one of your landscapers. He works for Lawn King.”

“Oh, I know, I met Adrian a few weeks ago. Right before you moved in. Teddy was really impressed with his tractor.” She takes a sip of her wine. “He’s cute, Mallory. Those eyes!”

“We’re just friends.”

She shrugs. “It’s none of my business. But from here, it seemed like you were sitting pretty close.”

I feel myself blushing.“Maybe a little close?”

She shuts her book and sets it aside, encouraging me to sit down. “What else do we know about him?”

I explain that he lives three blocks away, that he works for his father’s business, that he’s studying engineering at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. “He likes to read. I ran into him at a bookstore. And he seems to know everybody in Spring Brook.”

“What about warning signs? What are his flaws?”

“I’m not sure I’ve found any yet. He’s kind of a Star Wars geek? I mean, it wouldn’t surprise me if he dressed up and went to these conventions.”

Caroline laughs. “If that’s his worst flaw, I’d put on a Princess Leia costume and jump all over him. When are you going to see him again?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Maybe you make the next move. Invite him to the house. You’re welcome to use the pool, have a picnic lunch together. I’m sure Teddy would love to go swimming with him.”

“Thank you,” I tell her. “Maybe I will.”

We sit in a comfortable silence for a few moments, enjoying the still of the night, and then Caroline reaches for her book—an old paperback that’s dog-eared and filled with annotations. The cover shows a naked Eve standing in the Garden of Eden, reaching for the apple while the serpent lurks nearby.

“Is that the Bible?”

“No, it’s poetry. Paradise Lost. I used to love it back in college but now I can’t get through a single page. I don’t have the patience anymore. It’s like motherhood ruined my attention span.”

“I have the first Harry Potter in my cottage. I got it out of the library, to read it to Teddy, but you can borrow it if you want.”

Caroline smiles like I’ve said something amusing. “I think I’ll just turn in. It’s getting late. Good night, Mallory.”

She goes inside the house and I make the long walk across the yard to my cottage. Once again I can hear footsteps padding around in Hayden’s Glen—more deer or drunk teenagers or dead people, who knows—but the sound doesn’t frighten me anymore.

Because I’ve decided Adrian is right. I don’t have to be afraid of Anya.

She’s not trying to hurt me. She’s not trying to scare me.

She’s trying to tell me something.

And I think it’s time to bypass the middleman.

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