I go digging in the walls.
I’m following something. I don’t know what it is, don’t know anything about it aside from the sense of repulsion and dread it emanates. I follow it the same way you go looking for a distant, persistent noise in a labyrinth of corridors, the way you search for a bad smell in the pantry.
When I got stuck in the crawlspace under my house, I was there for a day. My mother never told me what she did in the interval. Now I’m trying to think what I would have done, if I had been her.
Did she call the police? Did she file a missing persons report? Did she walk across the neighborhood for me, searching in bushes and back yards and park playgrounds and even other people’s houses?
Or did she know I was nearby? Isn’t that a sense mothers are supposed to have? Did she go feeling along the walls? Did she knock? Did she expect something to knock back?
These walls are old and crumbling. Where the wallpaper hasn’t flaked away, it’s faded and washed-out, riddled with insects and mold. When I run my fingers along it, pockmarked spaces depress at my touch, crackling in the dry spots or squishing softly in the damp ones.
I’ve always loved abandoned places. I feel like I’m stepping into a suspended moment. Time has adjourned, taken up and left without much warning. But it has left the door ajar.
Alethe told me there are no secrets here to uncover, but I know in my bones there is something here to find. It’s a sense I have. Always considered it a talent of mine. I found my grandma’s lost engagement ring after she died, even though it had been missing for twenty years. Because I knew it was there, even though I wasn’t sure where to look for it. I found the crawlspace. I’m good at finding things.
I know there is something here. I know there is. He knew it, too. Maybe it was him, the other me, who left the note in my glove compartment. Maybe he’s the one who’s been writing in the margins of my notes.
I’m good at finding things.
I haven’t slept in two days. I can’t tell if it’s making my thoughts fuzzy or if I’m just more focused in certain places. I haven’t eaten much, either. This is more important. This is all that’s important right now. After I saw my double outside the gardener’s cottage, I went and looked and found the sledgehammer propped against the back wall. Flaking at the end, from rust or dried blood I can’t tell.
Instead of getting my hatchet from the car and breaking into the gardener’s cottage, I went back inside the Madigan house. I walked up and down the corridors, letting the hammer drag behind me, trailing my fingers along the walls, looking for a secret. Feeling for a secret. Listening.
Things stirring in the bones of the house. The rank, damp smell of mold and moss, the creak of groaning timber, the distant rattle of wind through dead leaves, like breath through sick lungs.
When you find the silence, then you swing. It’s the quiet of something trying to hide rather than the quiet of absence.
Dust and plaster blowing outward. Covering my mouth with the top of my shirt, trying not to cough (trying hard not to cough, never want to cough again), bracing up and swinging again. I’m not exactly fit right now, but I’m big and I have the muscle where it counts. I can get through a wall with a hammer.
Quinn gave me permission for this, right?
Jane Madigan is going to have me arrested.
I don’t care. I’m the one trying to dig up your dumb family, Jane.
Inside the walls of Madigan Manor, there is a long, narrow corridor, a passageway of sorts that runs through what I believe is the center of the house. Working estates often had servants’ passages, so the staff of the house could come and go about their business unseen by the Madigans and their guests. Many of the bedrooms and parlors would have had secret doors, set into the walls and painted over, through which the servants could enter and leave in relative silence.
I haven’t found any way into these passages until now. The doors in the bedrooms I can access are bricked off, sealed. But I knew the corridors must exist, so I had some idea of what I might find when I broke through the wall. I thought I knew, at least in part, what to expect.
Disused furniture, crates and barrels, cobwebs, tattered clothes, and dust. All standard.
But there are also documents. Books. Journals. Letters. Gathered up in haste and stacked with no order or reason, snatched from desks and bookshelves and hidden inside the walls in apparent haste. All the writings I haven’t been able to find in the parlors and offices, all the logs missing from desks and drawers. They’re all here, inside the walls.
And there is one other thing. He is slumped against the inner wall, still surrounded by bricklayers’ tools and ancient dried mortar, trowel still clutched in a withered, skeletal hand as though he fell dead the minute he was finished sealing himself inside the walls. The house and the woods have both laid claim to him. Branches grow up through his ribs and out through his mouth, white and brittle like finger bones.
I have found the corpse of Castile Madigan.