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Sometimes I like to say words aloud, just to taste them. Write them down so my pen can feel the intersection of their curvatures and lines. You cannot write a word the same way twice, just as a name can never be called more than once in precisely the same tone or under precisely the same circumstances.

Epicurious. Eminence. Horticulture. Bone. Words alone have power, but strung together they may gain a bewitching sapience so potent it staggers me.

Hazel, my oldest friend, is dead.

I have never quite felt as though words hated me before. Can there be malice in the inevitable? Death is the one thing that comes for us all. In a way, it makes a family of the whole human species. It is a parent we all have in common.

I found a letter she wrote me when we were still children, a correspondence in which the two of us exchanged the secrets we had never told anyone else. I sat on the floor in the dark, probably for more than an hour, just tracing the old tracks her pen made along the paper, the slight raise of the ink. How can this exist in a world where she does not? How can an echo still reverberate when its voice has been silenced?

Would that I could shake hands with my own death. That I could write it a letter. Speak to it. Parlay with my own inevitable finality.

I would wrap my hands around its throat and crush it into dust. “Make peace,” they say. “Condolences for your loss. Give thanks. Do not mourn. Move on.” And perhaps some people can go gently into the night, hand in hand with their culmination. Take its hand. Dance a waltz with it, for all I care. “No one is ever ready,” they say.

I am about to blaspheme most severely; devout readers look away. There is nothing after death, nothing behind the curtain, no shadow beyond the veil. The most frightening ghost story I was ever told had no ghost in it at all. Death is not a state of being but a pair of gaping jaws which will only close once, and we sprint towards it eagerly.

Ha! This is not how I typically approach these entries. I am not here to bleed on the page, but you will forgive me if the death of my friend has overwhelmed me with bitterness and existential dread. I have done my utmost, for most of my life, to ignore the monster at the end of the book. But now I am selecting the clothes I will wear to Hazel’s funeral, and I know the empty seat beside me at the chapel will not be occupied by her spirit, but by her ending. It has replaced her. Become her. Hazel is no more.

I have not yet seen any premonition of my own death. Not yet had to face what I will, someday, become. This is not to say that I hope to encounter

There are pages and pages of this. I was hoping to find some insight into Castile’s psyche, and goddamn did he deliver. It’s like getting hit in the face with someone’s Meyers-Briggs test. Listen, man, I’m already scared and depressed. I don’t want your magnum opus on the terrible finality of death.

Bullshit there’s no ghosts. You didn’t seal yourself inside the walls of your own house like Fortunato just for funsies. Something has been leaving notes around for me to find. Something stole my goddamn protein bar on my second day here.

There has got to be some practical advice in here somewhere. Castile clearly knows that Hazel was having premonitions. From Alethe’s letters I’m willing to bet he knew they were seeing doubles of themselves. Hell, he was expecting to encounter one himself.

So what was he planning to do about it? Come on, there has to be something here!

You’re tired of hearing about this. I have waxed eloquent about my existential pain far longer than anyone should have to endure reading. If you are not my father, who can go and choke on a peach pit, then I have no doubt you are reading my journal out of either curiosity or desperation. Maybe the estate has laid a claim to you, too, and rather than speak to someone about your fear you have decided to rifle through my personal belongings to see if I have some comfort or answer to offer you.

Very well. Listen closely now. Every detail matters …

To break the curse of this estate you must wait until the night of the new moon. Stand then naked upon the third exposed stone from the west bank of the mill pond. Call your own name three times, pivot on the spot (do not fall in the water!), and recite the following incantation:

“I am a gullible fool who believes in magic, and I have divorced myself from reality so completely that I am standing naked in a filthy pond in the middle of the night, and there is not even a party going on.”

That felt … kind of weirdly targeted. All right then, jackass, I’ll look somewhere else for answers.

I don’t know what kind of “journal” Castile Madigan thought he was keeping. I found this entry in a sheaf of loose paper tied together with a string, at the bottom of a box otherwise filled with records of inventory.

I have another entry here, but it’s written on paper with a completely different weight and seems to have been torn out of a cookbook, because there’s a recipe on the other side. Seems like he just wrote on whatever he could get his hands on when inspiration struck. Let’s have a look at this one.

What follows is a record of the crimes I committed at Hazel Lawley’s funeral.

Now you have my fucking attention. Or you would if the bottom of the page wasn’t completely torn off. I’m going to scream. I could be here for a weeks and not find what I’m looking for. I’m almost out of time already! This is pointless.

I wonder how many antiemetics I can take at once.

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