Chapter 18: Mrs. Ferris

Freddie found the hospital’s waiting area exactly as it had been the day before, except there was none of Theo Porter’s restless energy to fill the space.

Amazing how empty it felt without him there.

No. Freddie cringed as she crossed the beige tiles. Do not think about him. You’re not allowed to think about him. Now or ever again. She had screwed up on the way to the park with Divya; she refused to make that same, secret-keeping mistake again.

Fortunately, it only took Freddie twelve footsteps to forget about Theo. Twelve footsteps that carried her right up to Mrs. Ferris’s room…

Where her windpipe promptly closed off and her pulse thumped into her eardrums.

An irrational reaction, she knew. This wasn’t room 27, and it wasn’t Frank Carter waiting on the other side.

Still, it took Freddie three steeling breaths before she finally worked up the courage to touch the forbidden silver doorknob of room 34. Then another two breaths before she finally twisted it.

She shoved her way in, half frantic, half sluggish, until at last she was through and the door was clunking shut behind her.

Of course, Freddie realized a split second too late—after she’d already taken three steps inside—that maybe she should’ve knocked before coming in. Or maybe she should’ve found a nurse. Or maybe brought some flowers or a “Get Well Soon” balloon.

Something other than simply barging in.

Yeah, that might have been a good plan.

But it was too late now; Freddie could already hear Mrs. Ferris shifting in her bed behind the blue privacy curtain. The lights were off. The plastic blinds were drawn.

“Rita?” came a feeble voice, at once familiar and at once foreign. Mrs. Ferris had never sounded feeble before. “If you’ve brought me more donuts, I’m going to scream. I told you I wanted beef jerky.”

Okay, that sounded more like the Mrs. Ferris Freddie knew. And it gave her the final nudge of courage she needed to march to the curtain and poke her head through.

“Hi, Mrs. Ferris.” She tried for smile. It fell flat.

“Frederica?” Mrs. Ferris blinked, startled. Then she snatched at a pair glasses looped around her neck. Her blankets rustled.

She looked so frail, her skin makeup free and her hair unstyled. The hospital gown only made it worse, revealing the sharp lines of her shoulders.

And for a moment, Freddie was completely thrown by it all—by how this vision clashed with her mental image of Mrs. Ferris. Which was why, for several long seconds, all Freddie could do was stare.

Gone were the recited words she had prepared on her bike ride. Gone were the planned apologies or desperate pleadings for forgiveness.

This woman was her friend. She was also Sheriff Bowman’s mother and Theo Porter’s grandmother. What had Freddie done to her?

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Mrs. Ferris transformed before Freddie’s eyes. She sat taller. Her eyes flashed behind her thick glasses, and she even snapped her fingers. “Come,” she barked. “We don’t have much time.”

Freddie obeyed, too startled to do otherwise. “We don’t have much time for what?” she began.

“Hush.” Mrs. Ferris’s fingers lashed out. With shocking strength, she yanked Freddie to the bed.

Her skin was papery this near. Her blue eyes bloodshot. “How did you know to visit me?”

“Uh,” Freddie began eloquently, but Mrs. Ferris wasn’t listening. She was already powering on.

“Doesn’t matter,” she continued, swatting the air. “Rita will be here at any moment, and she must not know about this. Do you understand?”

Freddie didn’t understand all, actually. Sheriff Bowman was Mrs. Ferris’s daughter. Why couldn’t she know Freddie had come?

As soon as Freddie’s lips parted to ask this question, though, Mrs. Ferris continued: “Just listen to me, Frederica: it’s too dangerous. Don’t you see? Rita can’t resist their call. It’s in the blood. But you can resist because you aren’t one of us. Which makes you the only one who can figure out what to do. Just like your father.”

Freddie’s breath snagged in her throat. Her stomach turn to lead. “My…my father?” she began, but Mrs. Ferris cut her off with a wave.

“You know where my house is, Frederica?”

“Um…” Freddie nodded, dazed. She couldn’t keep up.

“There’s a key under the potted basil by the back door. I want you to go inside.”

“Why? What do you—”

“Go upstairs,” Mrs. Ferris pressed on, each word breathier than the last—though less from exertion and more from urgency. From panic, even. “At the end of the hall is a stairwell to the attic. Now, before I continue, you have to promise me something.” Mrs. Ferris blinked behind her coke-bottle glasses. “Do you promise?”

“I mean, it depends on what I’m promising—”

“You must not”—Mrs. Ferris cut in, leaning toward Freddie—“tell anyone what I am about to tell you. Can you promise me that?”

Goosebumps rippled down Freddie’s arms. Then she nodded, a jerky, wary movement.

“Good.” Mrs. Ferris dipped in even closer. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “ All the way at the back of my attic, behind an old dollhouse, you’ll find a hidden room.”

Freddie’s eyes widened.

“That’s where you’ll find the answers you need. More than I can give you right now. But you must, must, must not tell anyone what you see.” Mrs. Ferris flung her gaze to the door. “Lives depend on your silence, Frederica.”

And just like that, it was all too much. Freddie rocked back. “I don’t understand, Mrs. Ferris. What are you talking about?”

“You know. I know you know.” Another blue-eyed blink behind the glasses—but this time it was laced with doubt. She raked her gaze up Freddie. Then down.

Then she shook her head sharply. “You’re Frank Carter’s daughter. I know you understand. I see it in you. No—don’t say anything, Frederica. We can talk later. For now, you  need to go. Rita will be here at any moment.”

“But.” Freddie flung up her hands. “Why does that even matter? She’s your daughter.”

“And I told you.” Mrs. Ferris wagged a pointed finger. “Rita cannot resist their call.”

“What call?”

“Frederica,” Mrs. Ferris spat. She was getting angry now. And scared—she was definitely scared. “You need to go. Rita will be here at any moment.”

But Freddie didn’t want to go. Her mind was reeling, her gut was a block of lead encased in ice, and she had a million questions. A galaxy of questions, bright and desperate. But now Mrs. Ferris was shoving at her. Pushing her away from the bed. “Key is under the basil pot. Now, hurry!”

Freddie didn’t hurry. Or even move. She just stood there, numbly gawping at the frenzied old lady before her.

Because this was seriously too much. She had been accused of lying by the Sheriff because all of her hard-won evidence had been stolen. Then she’d found tombstones in the woods and a hypnotized Laina dropping a candle.

Now this too? Now she was expected to go into Mrs. Ferris’s house and find a secret room in the attic, but then she couldn’t tell a single soul about it afterward?

If this were one of Mary Stewart’s novels, the heroine would have gasped at Mrs. Ferris’s urgent command. She might have even trembled a bit. But then she would have gathered her wits about her and set off to fulfill her solemn duty to find the truth.

This wasn’t a Mary Stewart novel though, and despite Freddie’s knife-sharp instincts and her hunger for law enforcement, she just…

Well, she wasn’t equipped to deal with this. Not without more answers. Not without some kind explanation for why she had to do what she was about to do—

The room’s phone rang. Mrs. Ferris ripped up the receiver by her bed. “Hello, Rita!” she cried, pinning Freddie with a fierce glare. “Oh, you’re in the elevator? I’m glad you called, so I can make myself decent. Yes, I’ll see you soon too.”

She slammed down the phone. “Go,” she snarled, and this time, Freddie didn’t think. She didn’t hesitate. She simply spun on her heel and bolted.

Out of the room, she raced. Then down the hall and into the waiting area—where the elevator was already dinging.

No time, no time. The doors slid wide.

Freddie dove behind a potted plant. She was totally visible, and her breath came in punctuated gasps. But she couldn’t move. Couldn’t risk finding a better spot because there was Sheriff Bowman right there, strutting out of the elevator.

Don’t see me, Freddie prayed. Don’t see me, don’t see me.

Sheriff Bowman didn’t see her. She was distracted, running her hands through her hair and even muttering to herself as she stalked across the waiting room. Then she was past, and Freddie made her move.

Quite as a ninja, she charged for the still-open elevator doors. She lurched inside right as they began to close and flung herself into the farthest corner. Pulse clattering in her ears, she waited—breath held—for the door to finish closing.

It wasn’t until it finally clicked shut and the elevator jerked into a noisy descent, that she allowed herself to exhale. Allowed herself to creep away from the corner.

What the heck had just happened? And what the heck was Freddie supposed to do about it all? Mrs. Ferris had acted as if Sheriff Bowman—her own daughter—couldn’t be trusted. Like she was dangerous even.

Have you considered the possibility, Divya had said, that maybe Sheriff Bowman is the one who moved the water bottle?

Freddie gulped, her throat thick. Her mouth dry.

But no. No. She refused to believe her hero was a murderer. Whatever Mrs. Ferris was afraid of, it was separate.

“She can’t resist their call,” Freddie whispered to herself, repeating what the old woman had said twice. While Freddie’s gut had a few ideas about what that might mean—and who they might actually be—it was nothing definitive. Nothing that made any sense

But Freddie also knew exactly where she had to go if she wanted to get some actual answers: Mrs. Ferris’s house.

Even though it felt wrong to go there, just as everything about meeting Mrs. Ferris had felt wrong, wrong, wrong, Freddie saw no alternative before her. The more she thought about it everything happening in Berm, the less she understood what was going on. Her mind was like the Hydra, and each question she tried to face turned into another ten heads.

So if this was her only path forward, then it was the path she would have to take.

Freddie was shivering by the time she reached the sliding doors outside of the hospital. Not from cold, but from adrenaline. And maybe a little fear too—after all, was she really about to do this? Was she really going to bust into Mrs. Ferris’s house and find a secret room hidden in the attic?

It seemed that yes…Yes, she was.

By the time Freddie unchained her bike, she was shivering from actual cold. She sorely regretted forgetting her coat at Divya’s, but like mosquito bites and fear, there was nothing to be done but scratch at the shivers until they went away.

So after checking that Buffy was still secure around her neck, Freddie kicked off into the freezing wind.

Snow still fell.

#

Mrs. Ferris’s house was only a block away from Freddie’s, so she decided to leave Steve’s bike in the garage and trek the final distance on foot. Unfortunately, Steve’s truck was still in the garage, and walking inside would lead to questions like, “How was school?” or “Why are you missing your jacket and soaked with snow?”

Simple questions that Freddie didn’t feel like lying her way through. So although the still-falling snow had melted her shirt into damp misery and although she was shaking despite her bike-warmed muscles, Freddie bolted back into the elements without a jacket.

She did snag a small flashlight on her way out of the garage though. A pocket-sized tool almost as important as Buffy for any budding sheriff.

A quick jog carried her across the street, where she cut between the Hansens’ and the Chos’ houses, before finally hurtling through a brief stretch of woods that led to Mrs. Ferris’s backyard. Surrounded by a high wooden fence, the yard was mostly just patio and potted plants (that didn’t look too good in this weather).

The gate wasn’t locked, and although Freddie’s teeth were chattering when she slunk inside, she scarcely noticed.

Because her heart boomed too loud in her ears, her throat felt like sandpaper, and every nerve in her body was on fire. Sure, Mrs. Ferris might have told Freddie to come here, but Mrs. Ferris had also made it clear that if Sheriff Bowman found her, very bad things would ensue.

And yeah, the last thing Freddie needed right now was to piss of Bowman even more. Especially since Freddie didn’t doubt for one second that Bowman would arrest her for trespassing.

Freddie found the basil plant easily enough, and as promised, a rusty key waited beneath the terra cotta. With a furtive glance around—no one, no one—she unlocked the back door and shoved inside.

The first thing she noticed was the warmth (thank god), followed quickly by the smell. Like old baking. Slightly savory, definitely stale.

The next thing she noticed, as her eyes adjusted to the curtained darkness, was an old kitchen. It reminded her of Steve’s mom’s house: lots of linoleum and a beige fridge that hadn’t been replaced since the 1970s.

The last thing Freddie noticed was a letter affixed to said fridge with a magnet. After locking the door behind her—and dead bolting it for good measure—Freddie crept to the fridge and removed the page. It had a pink post-it stuck to the top.

I’ll see you soon, Gramma, the post-it read in a long, narrow scrawl. Love, Theo.

Freddie couldn’t help but smile slightly at that. Then she peeled up the post-it and scanned the paper beneath.

It was an acceptance letter from Roberta Hughes Preparatory School, dated April of this year. They were pleased to inform Mr. Theodore Porter that he had been accepted into their prestigious journalism program, and that his financial aid application had been accepted. He would have full room, board, and tuition covered for the 1999-2000 school year.

As Freddie read this, as she ran her finger down the letter, sadness wefted around her muscles. I was in the journalism program, Theo had said that very morning, before quickly correcting to, I AM in the journalism program.

A total lie, and Freddie had to wonder if he’d been kicked out.

She also had to wonder if that was her fault.

She shook her head, clearing away such thoughts. Freddie wasn’t here for Theo. She was here for answers in the attic. Very Nancy Drew of her. And also very ticking clock.

Freddie traced her way out of the kitchen, giving it one more glance before she left. But other than a yellow raincoat on a hook by the door, nothing caught her eye. So into the living room she wandered. Here, every surface was crowded with knickknacks, framed family photos, and an uncomfortable number of Precious Moments figurines.

It was so stereotypically Old Lady, it was almost painful.

A shadowy stairwell waited beyond, so Freddie made her way over. The steps creaked beneath her duck boots, and halfway up, the furnace clicked on—so loud, it sent Freddie jumping. So loud, she had to stand there mid-step with her hand clutching the bannister for a solid ten seconds before her heart finally slowed.

“Nerves of steel, Gellar,” she whispered as she resumed her ascent. “Nerves of steel.”

She reached the second floor, and there, at the end of the hall as promised, was a door. As Freddie snuck toward it, she passed two open doors. One revealed a tiny bathroom, the faded wallpaper as outdated as the fridge downstairs. The second showed a bedroom with a bunkbed draped in Fraggle Rock sheets.

Freddie approved.

At last, she reached the attic door, and after a brief pause to listen very hard over the furnace’s blast (and after hearing nothing), she turned the knob and pressed inside. A narrow stairwell met her eyes, even darker than the rest of the house.

Freddie switched on her tiny flashlight. A white beam illuminated ancient steps and cobwebs. Normally, Freddie would have considered this deliciously spooky—deliciously cliché even, and perfect for Mary Stewart or Nancy Drew.

But normally, Freddie wasn’t sneaking into a house while trying to avoid a sheriff. And normally, she wasn’t looking for answers about murderers and pentagrams and dead things in the forest.

At the top of the stairs, newspapers appeared in Freddie’s flashlight beam. Followed by more issues of National Geographic than Freddie had ever known existed. As she twisted around to cross the attic—dusty, spider-y, and with exposed nails in all the most dangerous places—the light revealed even more stacks of National Geographic.

It was incredible really, and as Freddie walked carefully onward, she examined the magazines. They went back decades, and the worn creasing in the spines suggested they’d all been read front to cover. Several times.

Next came old toys. Heaps and heaps of them—and ahead, Freddie could see the dollhouse Mrs. Ferris had told her about. It was as tall as Freddie’s waist, with as many steeples and gables and what-have-yous as Roberta Hughes Preparatory School.

Freddie didn’t make it to the dollhouse in a straight shot, though. Halfway through all the vintage Barbies and Legos, the flashlight swept over a familiar title.

The Witchlands, the box read. A Role Playing Game.

Freddie gasped. Then, in a burst of speed, she darted for that box. All thoughts of murderers or pentagrams or dead things had completely vanished from her mind. This was an original edition of the Witchlands. With the 1970s artwork and everything: a girl riding a sea fox, glowing sword in hand.

Freddie didn’t even think. She just popped of Buffy’s lens cap, switched on the flash, and snapped a photo. Divya had to see this.

Excitedly—and with her heart pumping for a totally different reason now—Freddie eased off the dusty box top. A well-worn guidebook met her eyes as well as piles of crumpled grid paper with caves and cities and castles drawn across them. It was the character sheet that caught Freddie’s attention though.

She gasped again, even louder this time. Because she recognized this handwriting from the post-it note downstairs.

Theo Porter had played the Witchlands. And he hadn’t just dabbled in it either—he was a Level 12 Windwitch named…

“Merik Nihar,” Freddie read aloud. Then she giggled, a fizzy sound that erupted from her chest. Because Merik Nihar, it would seem, was a prince with a fantastic Charisma bonus and a special skill called Temper Blast.

And just like that, Freddie was head-over-heels. Like, it didn’t matter that she’d made a sacred vow. It didn’t matter that she was a terrible friend or that a guilt monster had been sitting on her chest all afternoon.

The fact was that her heart was done, done, Done-zel Washington, done. Theo Porter was everything she’d every imagined a guy could be and then some. It wasn’t fair, actually, that one person could look so good (even when beat up) and also be such a good kisser and also be such an appealing human being.

Freddie would just have to tell Divya the truth. She would just have to come clean to her best friend and tell her that not only had she made out a second time with the enemy, but she would probably do so again.

She wanted to do so again.

With a sigh—part sickened, part in love—Freddie shoved grid papers back into the ancient box. Then slid the top on before pushing back to her feet. A quick glance at Sabrina showed the time was almost 4:00.

No more messing around. No more distractions. And absolutely no more thinking of Theo Porter.

Freddie’s boots thumped over the attic. Floorboards groaned. She reached the dollhouse and flung her flashlight beam over it. Then behind it.

Her lungs tightened. A small door waited. The kind that led into crawl-spaces and murder dungeons. It wasn’t well-hidden, though, and now that Freddie was looking, she realized no cobwebs clustered here. Nor did dust. In fact, a streak of clean wood suggested the dollhouse had been moved.

Recently.

Freddie inhaled deeply, senses sharpening and logic waking up. Mrs. Ferris had been in the hospital for two days. This could feasibly have been her doing. But cobwebs formed fast. Freddie knew that from her days of cleaning at City-on-the-Berm, and there wasn’t a single web between here and the doorway.

Maybe Mrs. Ferris had told someone else about this secret area? Except even as Freddie thought this, she knew it wasn’t true.

Ducking down, Freddie gently turned the knob. It squeaked. The door pulled wide. And she shot her flashlight beam beyond.

A tiny room was tucked beneath the roof’s support beams. Unlike the rest of the attic, everything was meticulously organized in boxes on the left. Tools, read the closest box. Poems, read the next. And a third sat in the farthest corner, unlabeled.

But it was the massive cork board leaning against the sloped beams on the right that captured Freddie’s gaze. She scooted in close. On one half was a topographical map of City-on-the-Berm County Park. Someone had drawn in all the trails with a red marker. They’d marked the historical village too, and the parking lots and the Archives, and…

The tombstones.

Or that was what Freddie assumed these red X’s labeled “burial sites” meant. It had to be. Freddie pressed her nose right into worn page as she tried to figure out which graves she and Divya had found only a few hours before.

We took this trail. She traced her finger down. Stopped around here. Cut east downhill…

Yep. Two of the X’s were right where Freddie and Divya had been. But there were more than two on the map. Freddie counted nineteen in total. Fifteen near City-on-the-Berm historical village, and two beside the lakeshore.

Freddie set down her flashlight and snapped a picture of the graves. Then of every other spot on the map. Buffy’s flash blinked bright each time, filling the space with rapid-fire light broken up only by cranks as she advanced the film.

It was, on the last shot, as Freddie craned backward to get in the map as whole, that she finally glanced at the second half of the cork board.

Excitedly, she beamed her flashlight over it.

And her eyes widened. “Holy shit,” she whispered. Because this was even better than the map. The page was shorter and the edges had been folded in, hiding most of it—so Freddie hadn’t noticed it at first.

But the it in question turned out to be a family tree, tracing all the way back to 1679.

Freddie unfolded the page, and as she’d done with the map, she snapped as many pictures as she could to get in the whole thing. It began with a Theodore Porter (clearly this name went way back) who’d married a Jessamine Gerard. They’d had three children, and the tree had quickly branched out from there.

There were a lot of Theodores across the tree, and as Buffy flashed one final picture, Freddie realized she was looking at one Theodore in particular that she actually knew.

Born 1982, it said, and above were Theo’s parents. His father was another freaking Theodore…and then his mom’s name was scratched out.

And not just a casual strikethrough either, but viciously scrubbed away. So hard that the black pen had torn the paper. It was as if someone hadn’t simply tried to erase this woman from the family tree, but had tried to erase them from life entirely.

Freddie gulped. That was important. She didn’t know why, but it was. Something with Theo’s mom mattered. She wondered if there was some way to bring it up in conversation, without revealing this room or what Mrs. Ferris had said.

Worry about that later, she thought, then she turned her attention to the boxes. With her flashlight back in hand, she opened the one labeled Tools.

And then reared back. She had no idea what she’d expected to find inside, but it definitely hadn’t been what glittered up at her.

Handcuffs.

A rope.

Duck tape.

And zip ties.

Freddie’s throat closed off. These were tools all right—for abduction!

Or murder, her gut suggested, and Freddie couldn’t argue with that. Maybe if it had been only a rope, duck tape, and zip ties, she could have found some other explanation…

But handcuffs? There wasn’t much use for those if you weren’t a cop. Or if you weren’t kidnapping a murder victim.

Breath held tight, Freddie snapped a picture of the contents. Then plunked the lid back on and shoved the box aside. Her skin crawled, and she felt vaguely like puking. But she forced the nausea aside, and with shaky hands, she opened the box labeled Poems.

It was exactly as described: a copy of the Executioners Three stared up at Freddie. When she thumbed beneath, she found it was actually one massive stack of copies of the poem, each dating progressively further back in time.

She returned her attention to the topmost page: a printout on clean white paper with 1999 scribbled in the corner. Beside the second and third refrains were the dates October 13th and October 15th. That was all it said, except for a single line added at the bottom.

12 years.

The next copy of the poem was a dot-matrix printout with shreds of the edging giving it a rough, frayed look. It was dated 1987, and here were more dates. Two sets, again beside the second and third refrains. At the bottom, it read, 9 years.

More was written on the back, though—and now that Freddie was looking, the handwriting matched the paper from 1999. No one here to answer, it said. Sent Rita on trip, and Teddy lives in Chicago. Have observed Justine when she visited, but all seems well.

Freddie had no idea who Justine was, but she filed that name away for further consideration.

The next copy of the poem was an even rattier dot-matrix printout on brown pulp paper, dated 1978. Same handwriting as before, but swoopier. As if Mrs Ferris—assuming that was who had kept these notes—had been younger. More dates filled the margin, although this time there were three sets. And once again, there was a note at the bottom: 11 years.

Freddie flipped it over, hoping for extra messages, but all it said was, Poor Edward. We mourn.

Freddie bit her lip. Another name to file away.

The next poem, handwritten, had two dates scribbled down and 10 years. The next poem had only one, and said, 9 years.

On and on, Freddie examined every single page in the stack. Other than the top three, they were all handwritten on varying types of paper. The bottom sheets were so yellowed with age and the cursive was so swoop-y, they were almost unreadable.

They were also in French. But Freddie recognized the poem anyway, from the shape alone. And she also recognized the dates. 12 Octobre 1701, read the bottommost sheet, which would have been during the lifetime of the first Theodore Porter on the family tree.

Freddie laid out eight copies, randomly chosen from the stack. Then she snapped a picture of them all. She was running out of film, so every poem wasn’t an option. Besides, it was pretty obvious what these were: records. Each date in the margin was when a warning sign had happened. Fog to swallow everything, crows in the sky, or ice on the shore.

And the top printout of this year’s warnings did match up. There had indeed been fog last Wednesday. And then there had been crows on Friday. Which meant ice on the shore was coming next…

If it wasn’t already here.

Freddie flipped over the poems—each had notes on the back too—and snapped another picture. Buffy’s flash winked bright.

After returning the poems back to their box, Freddie finally turned to the last box. The one without a label, lurking in the shadows. While the others were all brown filing boxes, this one was white. Newer. Cleaner.

Later, Freddie would swear she’d known what she was going to find before she’d even pulled off the lid. She would swear her instincts had already sensed, her mind had already decided—even if that thought had yet to solidify into words at the front of her brain.

Flashlight in hand, she pulled off the top.

And there it was: a red water bottle with Wed. run, lap 2 on the side.

Beside it was a role of 35mm film.

And under it was a familiar yellow folder with a barcode on the top. A whole stack of them actually.

“Aha,” Freddie whispered shakily, “eureka, and Gesundheit.” Heart thundering, Freddie wrapped her right hand in her sleeve. This was evidence, after all, that would clear her name, and she didn’t want her fingerprints on it.

First, she removed the water bottle, then the film, and finally the folders—which revealed a stack of newspapers.

And Freddie’s breath punched out. A great burst of air that sent nausea spiraling back in. Because here was all of her murder evidence. Just staring up at her in a secret attic room.

A room no one was supposed to know about. A room Mrs. Ferris had made Freddie swear to keep secret. Which left a very big, very important question gaping at the front of Freddie’s mind: who had put this here?

If it was Mrs. Ferris, then how had she gotten all of it? Like, Freddie couldn’t fathom that Mrs. Ferris might be the murderer…

But there’s someone else who has access to the house. Someone Mrs. Ferris didn’t want you to talk to, and someone who could have easily gotten ahold of all of these items.

Freddie gulped. She would have to think about all of that later. For now, she needed to learn as much as she could in the little time she had left.

She turned her attention to the topmost paper, a copy of the Berm Sentinel dated October 22nd, 1978. In huge letters, it declared, Headless Body Found in City-on-the-Berm. Below was a picture of two young men, arm in arm and grinning before Berm High School. Teddy Porter, the caption said, who found the body of his cousin Edward Barron.

In a numb, hazy movement, Freddie clicked Buffy’s film advancer. Then she pressed the viewfinder to her eye and snap! Light flared. The face of Theo’s father was captured on film—and it had to be Theo’s father. The resemblance was unmistakable

And there was something about Edward Barron too. Something…familiar, though Freddie couldn’t place why or where.

Freddie cranked the camera again, ready to get a picture of more articles and the water bottle and the stolen film…

Except Buffy wouldn’t move.

“Shit,” Freddie hissed. She had taken all the pictures she could. Frantically, she patted her jean pockets. Front, back, front again…But there was no spare film—because she was an idiot. A goddamned idiot. No spare film? What a rookie move, Gellar.

But okay, okay. This would be fine. All she had to do was come back later. She knew where the key was, and surely if she came in the middle of the night, there’d be no risk of getting caught by…

By a murderer.

One who was looking more and more like Sheriff Bowman.

“Shit,” Freddie repeated, rewrapping her hand in her sleeve so she could return things to the box.

She was just picking up the film canister when the house shook. A sudden slam that rattled everything.

Freddie froze. The furnace, she thought. It’s probably just the furnace…

It wasn’t the furnace though. Someone was in the house, and now their stomping feet were coming this way.

 

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