Chapter no 26

Never Lie

He liked her. He really liked her.

I can hear it in his voice. This was obviously recorded before they were dating, and he just had a crush on her. It’s so sweet, you could almost throw up. It sounds like she let him kiss her. And then some.

Luke doesn’t sound like a killer. He sounds like a decent guy, if a bit nerdy. His voice isn’t dripping with evil like EJ’s.

But of course, this was at the beginning of their relationship. A lot can change. Did she do something to him that made him hate her? She must have.

I shiver in Dr. Hale’s leather chair. The blouse I’m wearing is paper thin, and not nearly warm enough, even with the heat on. Maybe I can get Ethan to turn the heat up a bit. He never showed me exactly how he figured out how to turn it on in the first place. I don’t even know where the heating system is. It could be practically anywhere in this giant house. I’m impressed he figured it out, having never been here before.

I eject the LUKE tape from the tape recorder and stuff it back in the bottom drawer. Then I leave the office and head upstairs to find Ethan.

It’s amazing how different it looks in the hallway of the second floor when the sun is up. It was nothing short of terrifying last night, but now it doesn’t seem so bad. I’m still reluctant to live here, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in

the world. The windows make it bright and cheery, although they illuminate every crack and imperfection in the wall.

And they illuminate one other thing:

A pullcord hanging from the ceiling.

I don’t know how I missed it last night. I guess it makes sense since the hallway was so dark and the cord isn’t exactly easy to see. I can now see that the cord attaches to a rectangle on the ceiling.

It’s a passage to the attic.

Of course. I remember now in Judy’s description of the house on the website, she mentioned “an attic perfect for storage.” But somehow it didn’t even occur to me last night. When we checked all the rooms on the second floor, I assumed that we had covered all our bases in terms of where somebody could go.

But there was another option. The attic.

I reach up and tug on the cord. Nothing happens. I tug harder, and this time I hear a click, and the rectangle swings open. There is a ladder folded up inside, and when I pull on it, it comes down, ending at my feet.

I glance at the room next to me—the door is shut tight. That must be where Ethan is working. I’d like to ask him to check the attic, but I have a feeling he won’t be too excited about that. He already seemed exasperated with me after I made him check every room on the floor. And I only made things worse when I started freaking out in the middle of the night. He’s already calling me “nutty” and blaming pregnancy hormones.

I squint up into the opening for the attic. It doesn’t look too dark up there. There are so many windows, there’s no way somebody could hide up there and jump out at me. I could check it out myself. And if I spot anything upsetting, I’ll yell for Ethan. He’ll hear me easily—the walls are thin in this house.

I grab one of the rungs of the ladder, putting my weight on it to test its stability. It seems stable—and it’s not like I

weigh a ton. I place one of my feet on the bottom rung, then the other foot. Before I can talk myself out of it, I start climbing the ladder carefully. I’ve got to see what’s in this attic.

A few seconds later, I reach the top of the ladder. I hesitate for a split second, then I stick my head through the opening. And I look around. It looks like…

An attic.

A completely normal, unremarkable attic. In one corner, there’s a bunch of dusty cardboard boxes, and in the next corner, there’s a plastic Christmas tree that looks like it’s seen better days. I imagine the woman with the intense green eyes struggling to get that bulky Christmas tree out of the attic and into her living room, and I almost laugh. It makes the painting a little less scary.

I climb the rest of the way into the attic, satisfied that there isn’t anyone waiting to pounce on me in here. The ceiling is much lower here—a stark contrast to the high ceilings on the first floor. If I stretch, I could probably touch the ceiling.

Most of the attic is filled with boxes. Dusty boxes. I’m surprised nobody cleared it out at some point. I wonder if the police went through the boxes in their search to find her. Unlike the hidden room of tapes, this stuff is all in plain sight.

I pace around the small space, wondering if there’s some hidden chamber up here as well. There aren’t any bookcases, anyway. I walk over to a stack of boxes and blow some dust off the top box. It’s labeled in permanent black marker in Adrienne Hale’s now familiar handwriting: ornaments.

I lift the box and shake it. Sure enough, ornaments rattle inside the box.

I wonder what will become of all the stuff in the attic if we were to buy the house. Not that I’m seriously considering such a thing, but would all this stuff get left behind? Would

they expect us to sort through Dr. Hale’s belongings? Doesn’t she have family who could do that?

Maybe she doesn’t though. It didn’t seem like anyone was in any hurry to claim any of her furniture. The seller of the house is listed as a bank—I am assuming they foreclosed on the property after she disappeared.

As I’m dropping the box of ornaments back in the pile, I noticed something stuck behind the boxes. Something made of fabric. I pull it out and suck in a breath when I realize what I’ve found.

It’s a sleeping bag.

There’s nothing that disturbing about finding a sleeping bag in somebody’s attic. On the contrary, it’s what you might expect to find. But the disturbing part is that everything in this attic is covered in a layer of dust. But the sleeping bag isn’t. The sleeping bag is clean. Recently laundered.

There’s also a pillow stuck back there, which seems to be in the same condition. There’s a pillowcase on it, and it’s all clean. It’s not covered in dirt and dust like everything else in the attic. There’s only one conclusion I can draw.

Somebody was using the sleeping bag very recently.

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