The name of the town is Bury, but it hasn’t always been. The local government renamed the town from Chester after a local Union soldier named William Bury did some heroic thing or another a hundred and whatever years ago.
Poor Chester. They took the name of a whole town right away from him.
Bury, New Hampshire.
Most locals pronounce it berry, though there’s a small faction of lifers who insist it rhymes with fury. Doesn’t matter how it sounds out loud, in my head this town always makes me think of underground things, burrowed by worms, hidden from light. Secrets.
I grew up here. Part of me has always been buried here.
Thunderheads jostle for space in the summer sky. The air is heavy enough to create a drag on my steps, or maybe it’s just my natural hesitation to walk up the long stone path to my father’s front door. The house in which I grew up looms, as it always has, grand but not beautiful. Rum Hill Road is filled with mansions, but none of them feel like homes.
Max grabs my right hand as we approach the door. He does this when he’s scared, feeling shy, or simply wants to be somewhere else. In other words, a lot of the time. Not atypical for any eleven-year-old, much less one who’s going through what Max is. What we both are.
I look down and the diffused light from the gunmetal sky makes his blue eyes glow, as if all his energy is stored right behind those irises. Max has his dad’s eyes. Looking at my son, this fact haunts me, as if I’m seeing the ghost of Riley. I don’t want to see any part of my dead husband in Max.
It hits me again. I’m only thirty-seven and a widow. It’s both depressing and freeing.
“It’s okay,” I tell him. I think I’ve said those two words as much as I’ve said I love you to him over the past month. One phrase is the truth. The other is a hope.
“I don’t like Bury,” he says.
“We just got here.”
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He gives my arm a tug of protest. “It’s not Milwaukee. It’s not home.”
I tousle his hair, which probably assures me more than him. “No, it sure isn’t.”
We reach the front door, a curved and heavy slab of maple reinforced with iron hinges and bands. My father told me when I was a little girl that a door like ours conveyed wealth and strength. That we needed a thick door, like a castle, because it sent a sign to all who tried to enter. I asked him who we needed to protect ourselves from, and I’ll never forget his answer.
For a moment I have the impulse to ring the bell of the house where I spent the first seventeen years of my life. I try the door. It’s locked, so I press the doorbell and hear the muffled ring of the familiar chime inside.
I’m surprised when my father himself opens it. He stares at me, then offers a smirk that never blossoms into a smile.
The air of the house leaks out and crawls over me. Smells of the past. The aroma of time, of long-ago fear. My father is one of the reasons I left this town and never looked back. He’s also one of the reasons I’m back. Now, in this moment, a time when I need to be here but am dying to be anywhere else, my past threatens to scoop me up and wash me out to sea.
Perhaps this is how it all ends.
Maybe I was always meant to drown in Bury.
When I was seventeen, my father showed me a BusinessWeek article about him. It was a profile of his private equity firm, Yates Capital Partners, and the reporter quoted anonymous sources labeling my father “cold-blooded” and “ruthless.” My father considered those terms high praise.
Now as I look at him boxed by the mammoth doorframe, he doesn’t look all that different from his picture in the decades-old magazine. Just as bald, equally wiry and lean. If you asked a stranger what color my father’s eyes were, they’d probably guess wrong, because his eyes are largely hidden within a perpetual squint, the kind that makes the receiver of his gaze anxious. Logan Yates will stare at you in silence with that squint, embracing the tension, and wait until you talk first.
And you will always talk first.
The only signs of his aging are the deepened grooves forged by that squint, the dry riverbeds spider-webbing from the corners of his eyes. Etchings of time, and casualties of practiced, unwavering stares. My father would have made a hell of a professional gambler.
“Rosie,” he says.
Only he calls me Rosie. To the rest of the world I’m just Rose.
“Where’s Abril?” The housekeeper.
“She only works part-time now. I realized I didn’t need someone skulking about the house if there wasn’t enough work to do.”
Skulking is a fifty-cent Logan Yates word.
I haven’t seen my father in nine years. There are no hugs. Hugs are luxuries of the weak, and the Yates family tree is carved from petrified wood.
Max squeezes my hand as if clinging to a flotation device. “Hi, Granpa.”
The last time Max stood face-to-face with his grandfather, he was two. He’s only known him through phone calls and FaceTime since then. Max used to ask me why we never saw him, and I explained Granpa didn’t like to travel, and I didn’t like going back to Bury. The answer never satisfied Max, but he eventually stopped asking. Children grow used to routine.
“No more Granpa,” my father says. “You’re twelve, right?”
“Okay, eleven. How about you just call me Logan. I call you your name, you call me mine. Agreed?”
“I go by Max, not Maxwell.”
“Fine, Max.” My father reaches a hand out to his grandson, who hesitantly takes it and gives it a feeble pump.
“Son, you shake a hand like that in the real world, and you may as well yank your pants down and bend over.”
“The Dead Husband”
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My father looks at me in mock surprise, and still the squint remains.
“What? He’s gotta learn these things.” He turns back to Max, sticks his hand back out. “Take my hand, Max.”
Max hesitates, then does.
“Now squeeze, boy.” My father looks down at their joined hands. “Harder, Max. Come on.”
Max grunts as he puts all his strength into his grip.
“Listen to me,” my father tells him, still squeezing Max’s bony hand. “A handshake isn’t a sign of friendship. It’s an assessment. You versus the other guy. Who would win in a fight? That’s what I want you to think about. You need to show the other guy that, if you absolutely had to, you could tear his throat out. Now, squeeze like you mean it, son.”
“Oh, for chrissakes, Dad.”
Max grunts more and his eyes narrow; his intensity as he squeezes suggests he’s actually trying to inflict pain. Only then does my father allow a rare smile. “There you go,” he says. “That’s more like it. Now you’ve got me on the defensive. Good job.”
Max releases but his defiant expression remains. I feel years of my parenting efforts crumbling away.
“That’s not the kind of lesson he needs in his life right now,” I say. “Or maybe ever.”
My father puts his hands up. “Fine, by all means.” He’s poised to say something else, perhaps one of the quips he has loaded at all times, ready to fire. Then he appears to think better of it, saying, “You’re right. You’re right. You’ve both been through a lot. I’m sorry.”
He stands aside and ushers us inside.
1734 Rum Hill Road.
There’s a faint current of electricity rippling through me as I enter, bringing goose bumps to my arms. Like walking through a collection of ghosts who desperately try to drive me away.
I look down at my son. If he senses a change in the atmosphere, I don’t see it on his face. Why should he? This house doesn’t hold the memories for him that it does for me. Max has no idea what happened here, long before he was born.
And now we’re here to live. For a while, anyway.
My father lured me back to Bury after Riley’s death a month ago, and against all my urges, I had to concede I couldn’t do things on my own. Riley and I had always lived independently of my father’s wealth, but really, it was hardly living. My husband’s entrepreneurial ventures were always doomed to fail, and we’d saved up just enough cash to hold us over until he tried something new. As for me, my income from writing novels is just past the “hobby” threshold as defined by the IRS. I was hoping my third book would be my breakout, but it just hasn’t happened.
Yet my father’s money wasn’t the only motivation for coming home. I couldn’t stay in Milwaukee. Not in that apartment where the coroner whisked away Riley’s body, which was cool to the touch when I placed a hand on his bare shoulder. I didn’t even want to remain in the city. Too many eyes, watching. Too many shadows, long and reaching. So I left the ghosts there to come face the ones here.
See, the thing is, I need to be here. I need to face the things I ran from a long time ago. I have this idea of finding peace, but could be such a thing doesn’t exist.
The goose bumps fade, and I breathe in the familiar smells of the house. The ghosts allow me to pass.
Carter Wilson is a USA Today bestselling author who has written eight critically acclaimed, standalone psychological thrillers, as well as numerous short stories. He is an ITW Thriller Award finalist, a five-time winner of the Colorado Book Award, and his works have been optioned for television and film. Carter lives in Erie, Colorado in a Victorian house that is spooky but isn’t haunted…yet.
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