"The dead are restless here..."
Remy is a tour guide for Carrow House, a notoriously haunted building. When she's asked to host seven guests for a week-long stay to research Carrow's phenomena, she hopes to finally experience some of the sightings that made the house famous.
At first, it's everything they hoped for. Then a storm moves in, cutting off their contact with the outside world, and things quickly become twisted. Doors open on their own. Seances go disastrously wrong. Red liquid seeps from behind the wallpaper. Their spirit medium wanders through the house during the night, seemingly in a trance.
Then one of the guests dies under strange circumstances, and Remy is forced to consider the possibility that the ghost of the house's original owner, a twisted serial killer, still walks the halls.
But by then it's too late to escape.
A 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards Nomination
Release date: March 26, 2018
Publisher: Black Owl Books
Print pages: 372
Reader says this book is...: action-packed (1) dark (2) emotionally riveting (2) entertaining story (1) haunting (2) scary (1) supernatural elements (2) suspenseful (2) tense (1) terrific writing (2) unexpected twists (1) unputdownable (1) escapist/easy read (1) satisfying ending (1)
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The Carrow Haunt
Remy waited, shivering, on the wide stone porch as the van crunched along the gravel driveway. The near-full moon washed light across the overgrown topiary garden and stone guesthouse as distant waves battered unseen cliffs.
Despite the chilly autumn air, she had a full tour booked. From her vantage point, she could see faces pressed against the van’s windows, trying to glimpse the building, some grinning, others looking apprehensive. Remy tried to bite back a grin of anticipation.
The bus crawled to a halt, and Jones leapt from the driver’s seat to wrench open the sliding passenger door. Remy held a lot of fondness for Jones; he was nearly eighty but still had a quick energy in his wiry frame. She paid him to shuttle her guests to and from their hotels or homes. He did the job with an unfailing smile and an eager, bobbing bow. But, though he’d worked with her for nearly two years, Jones had never accepted Remy’s invitation to see inside Carrow House.
Eight visitors, a mix of young adults and older guests, descended from the van. Jones greeted them with a quick bow and waved them towards the porch. They clustered just short of the first step, glancing across the house, the gardens, the imposing stone gables, and the dark windows.
Remy adopted the familiar pose, one leg ahead of the other to highlight her costume’s silhouette, her right hand on her hip and her left thrown towards the sky. She took a deep breath and projected her voice so that it boomed through the night. “Welcome, esteemed guests, to the infamous Carrow House. I sincerely pray no misfortune will befall you during your stay.”
She knew she must look hilarious in her elaborate 1900s-inspired dress, but that was part of the fun. Guests weren’t just paying to visit the state’s most haunted house; they were paying for an experience. And Remy, lover of period dress and dusty books, was more than happy to oblige. The stiff black-silk uniform made her a passable impression of a gothic Edwardian-era housekeeper, and perfectly matched her story’s vibe.
The guests responded positively, some chuckling, others nodding. One middle-aged lady clapped twice. Remy lowered her hand and twisted, swinging both the black skirts and her long dark hair in what she hoped would be a dramatic way, then fixed her audience with an intense stare. “Tonight, you will hear tales of the macabre and the nightmarish. You will see firsthand the rooms where unimaginable horrors have transpired. And perhaps you may even be visited by a being from beyond the mortal realm.” She held up a finger and raised her eyebrows. “Your driver is about to depart, and he will not return for nigh on three hours. If any of you fear your courage won’t endure, this is your final chance to leave unscathed.”
The small crowd glanced amongst themselves, but no one moved. They never did, but Remy let the silence stretch a few seconds, enjoying the rising tension. Then she relaxed her pose and dropped the theatrical act as she beckoned them forward. “All right, great! Come on up here, gang. I’m Remy, and I can’t wait to show you this house.”
After a few more chuckles, the tour group shuffled up the four worn stone steps. Remy moved back into the shadowed doorway to make room for them. She took a second to assess her group: two middle-aged women, probably sisters or close friends, had locked their arms together. The three young adults gave off a touristy vibe. One balding man squinted through round glasses and kept smoothing his jacket. A woman who looked equal parts embarrassed and thrilled to be there squeezed her lips together to repress a grin. And a tall dark-haired man hovered near the back of the group, his face impassive but his eyes bright in the dim light.
Remy put her hands on her hips. Her short height meant she had to crane her neck to see everyone in the group, but she made sure to make eye contact. “Anyone here suffer from seizures? Heart conditions requiring medication? Is anyone likely to struggle climbing stairs or walking for an extended period?” They were all questions the guests had been asked when booking the tour, but Remy made sure everyone shook their heads before waving to Jones, who remained standing by the van.
Smiling, he gave her a quick nod then leapt into his seat, slammed the door, and hit the accelerator. The engine’s roar and the crunch of gravel faded as he sped back to town. It was an hour’s drive, but Jones seemed to prefer being on the road to waiting outside Carrow.
“All right.” Remy grinned at her group. “I’m glad you could all join me tonight. It’s going to be a real treat. I’ve been running this tour weekly for close to two years, and this house continues to surprise me. Some quick housekeeping before we begin. Don’t leave the group. Some parts of this building aren’t as structurally sound as they look, and I’d rather not have to fill out any insurance paperwork tonight. Don’t touch anything, no matter how pretty and tempting it is. Most of the furniture in this building is antique, and the owners have been very generous to let us tour their house. Let’s keep it clean for them, okay?”
She paused to wait for more nods then continued. “I’ll point out bathrooms as we pass them. No photography is permitted inside—sorry, that’s the owners’ decree, not mine—but you’re welcome to take pictures of the outside. You’ll have a chance to do just that before you leave. Some guests have actually caught some supernatural phenomena in their pictures. If you find anything of the sort, I’d love you forever if you emailed them to me. That’s about it. We ready to begin?” More nods answered, so Remy swept backwards and beckoned her guests through the gaping doorway.
Although she’d been at Carrow for close to an hour before the tour started, Remy had purposefully turned off the lights in preparation for her visitors’ arrival. She flicked the switch, lighting the foyer and bringing its treasures into sharp relief. The guests gasped and oohed appreciatively. Remy couldn’t keep her grin off her face as she dipped into her theatrical voice a final time. “Welcome, dear ones, to the dreaded Carrow House!”
His Cold Eyes
Revealing Carrow House to her guests was one of Remy’s favourite parts of the job. The building was the perfect blend of decadence and desolation. She gave the group a minute to appreciate the cobwebbed chandelier suspended high above them, the magnificent twin staircase cloistered in shadows at the back of the room, the slashed portraits hung on the walls, and the mahogany armchairs that still bore axe marks.
She beckoned them farther inside. “Carrow House was originally built by John Carrow and his wife, Maria, in 1901. John was a highly respected physician, though possibly not the greatest business mind the world has ever seen. He designed the building as a health retreat, believing the briny ocean air would cure a wide array of ailments. Health resorts had been hugely popular amongst society’s elite for close to a decade, but unfortunately, interest in the fad had begun to wane by the time John opened Cliffside Health Resort and Sanatorium’s doors.”
She led her guests to a series of black-and-white photographs on the wall near the door and gave them a moment to examine the pictures. They showed a building not too different to the modern Carrow House—a sprawling stone mansion dotted with dozens of lofty, dark windows. Clusters of patients sat in a neater and younger front garden, some swaddled in blankets, others in wicker wheelchairs, with nurses lingering nearby. “Those who were wealthy enough to afford the resort’s exorbitant fees didn’t enjoy the rules. John Carrow enforced a strict seven-thirty bedtime, insisted his patients bathed in the freezing ocean twice daily, and cut all forms of sugar, fat, and alcohol out of their diets. The institution struggled financially from its earliest days.”
Remy kept shifting backwards, gradually leading the tour towards a collection of blackened antique items arranged on a table in the foyer’s corner. “In 1906, barely five years after the building’s construction, a fire caught in one of the sitting rooms and spread through the building like… well, fire.”
The pun was awful, but it always earned her a few laughs. Remy waited for the chuckles to subside before continuing. “The lower west wing and upper floors were severely damaged. While it was eventually ruled an accident, many suspected either John or his wife, Maria, of starting the fire in a bid to escape what had become their white elephant. If that was their plan, it certainly worked. They received a considerable sum from their insurance company and used it to remodel the building.”
Remy indicated the photos showing wicker wheelchairs, tile bathtubs, and nurses in uniform then spread her hand towards the opulent foyer. “They converted the resort into a luxury hotel and renamed it Carrow Hotel. Salt baths were exchanged for silk sheets. Health tonics became cocktails. The medical staff were all fired and replaced with maids, butlers, and a troupe of entertainers. Over the course of three weeks, Carrow Hotel went from being an outdated bore to the trendiest place to visit, despite its remote location. It stayed that way for six peaceful years.”
She raised her eyebrows ominously then turned towards the wingback chairs in front of a magnificent fireplace adorning the opposite side of the foyer. “John and Maria Carrow, in their eagerness to revitalise their hotel, hadn’t thoroughly checked the backgrounds of their employees. If they had, they would have discovered their gardener, Edgar Porter, had been acquitted of murder just four years previously. He was accused of killing his wife but released due to a lack of evidence. I wonder if the jury would have come to a different conclusion if they’d known the victim was his third wife, and that the previous two had both gone missing within a year of marriage and never been seen again.”
Murmurs ran through the group. One of the younger women clapped a hand over her mouth to muffle a nervous laugh.
Remy, loving the reactions her tale elicited, tilted her chin down so that shadows would play across her features. “During the evening of November tenth, 1912, a fire broke out in the kitchen. Although it was extinguished quickly and caused minimal damage, John and Maria evacuated the building. When the staff returned the following morning, the doors had been locked, and a note nailed to the wood said Carrow Hotel would be closed while the building was restored. As you can imagine, rumours flew. Two fires in six years? Either the house was one of the unluckiest in the country, or foul play was in action.
“Carrow Hotel remained shut for nearly four months. When it reopened, John stood at the door alone. His wife had passed away, he claimed, bowing his head and placing a hand on his breast. The misery of seeing her hotel in flames a second time had eaten away at her heart and stricken her dead.” Remy mimicked the motion, putting one hand on her chest and dipping her chin. Then she glanced up. “Guests blamed grief for the change in John’s appearance.”
“Oooh,” one of the middle-aged ladies, understanding Remy’s meaning, clutched her companion’s arm closer.
“Based on what we now know, it seems that the gardener, Edgar Porter, set the fire. He hid in the house while guests and staff were evacuated, then murdered both John and Maria once they were alone. He’d been living with them for near to six years and had spent that time studying John’s speech patterns, his mannerisms, and his laugh. People claim there was already a significant likeness in place, which was only enhanced when Edgar donned his old employer’s clothes. A whole new set of staff were hired for the Carrow Hotel’s reopening, and no one questioned that the man welcoming them inside was an inch taller and a sliver gaunter than their old host.”
Remy turned back to the fireplace and lifted a hand towards a magnificent oil portrait above. A thin man with sunken cheeks, steel-grey hair, and sharp eyes glared down at them. “Edgar had this commissioned six months after taking charge of Carrow Hotel, perhaps to reinforce his ownership of the building.”
“He looks twisted,” the plump, bespectacled man said. He nudged his glasses up his nose and rocked on the balls of his feet. “Like his brain’s full of sick thoughts.”
“Perhaps it was. He’s almost single-handedly responsible for Carrow House’s reputation as the state’s most haunted building.” Remy let her gaze linger on the familiar image for another second. It had been skilfully rendered, and the grey eyes seemed to follow Remy no matter where she stood. A prickling sensation crawled across her skin. She turned her back to the image and flashed her visitors a grin. “Let’s head upstairs, shall we?”
She led them across a dusty, worn rug and towards the staircase at the back of the room. The wood groaned as they began to climb, and Remy noticed both of the middle-aged friends were clutching the bannister as though afraid the structure would collapse.
The bespectacled man jogged up the steps to get closer to her. “Does anyone still live here?”
“No, not for close to twenty years.” The staircase turned, so Remy stopped on the landing to make sure the other guests hear her. “You’ll find out why as I share more of its history. There were talks in the eighties about knocking the house down and building something less grim, but the land isn’t valuable, and it’s too far away from town to be much use. The most recent owners have embraced its reputation as a highly haunted location and were very kind to let me run these tours.”
From their vantage point of partway up the stairs, they had an excellent view of the foyer. Remy indicated to the chairs, the age-worn rug, and the elaborately carved doors. “Most of this is the same furniture from Edgar’s time. It spent a while in storage but was brought back out when the hotel closed for the final time. You’ll also get to see some of the original beds and dressers in the guest rooms.”
She continued up the stairs and raised her voice to make sure it would carry. “Carrow House has twenty-two guest rooms, plus downstairs recreational areas and lodgings for the staff in the attic. The house’s owner—first John, then Edgar—always stayed in the room with the best view of the ocean. We’ll visit that a bit later, but first we’re going to Room 8.” At the top of the stairs she turned left into the high-walled hallway that led deeper into the building. Even with the ceiling lights turned on, the passageway felt suffocatingly narrow and dark. Remy kept one eye on her guests as they followed her to a door bearing a little bronze Room 8 placard. Sometimes claustrophobic visitors struggled with the hallways, but that evening’s group seemed to cope well enough.
Remy opened the door and stepped back to let her group enter. On the surface, Room 8 didn’t look much different to its counterparts. Tall arched windows overlooked the ocean—though it was hard to see, except for tiny glitters of moonlight on the rolling waves—and decadent, ancient furniture filled the space. Remy entered the wallpapered room last and dusted her palms on the black silk dress. “In 1913, eighteen months after Edgar replaced his employer, Albert Geiger went missing while staying in this room. The last official sighting was by a butler who helped the inebriated Geiger to his bed. Edgar told police he had seen Geiger riding out from the property early in the morning, though some people noted this story didn’t make sense. Firstly, Geiger had arrived at the hotel by coach, not horseback. Secondly, the wardrobe still held his clothes. Thirdly, Geiger was notorious for sleeping in until after noon, especially on the mornings after binges. And finally, none of the staff—not even those who had been working in the garden since four in the morning—could corroborate Edgar’s story.
“But Edgar—or John, as the police knew him—was a well-respected gentleman, so his word was believed above others’. Geiger’s disappearance remained a mystery for years. But nine days after he vanished, guests staying in Room 8 complained of a bad odour. They were promptly moved to a new room, and later that night, a maid included a very strange entry in her diary.”
Remy reached into a hidden pocket in her skirts and extracted the black leather-bound book that contained her tour notes. She flipped to the first tab and began reading. “Couldn’t sleep; went to the kitchen to get a drink. On the way, I saw Mr. Carrow dragging a sack from Room 8. He appeared surprised to see me. The sack smelled fouler than anything I had encountered before; when I asked what was in it, he replied that an animal had died in the room. Did a guest forget their pet? The sack was large, but he would not permit me to help him and sent me back to bed. It is very strange.” Remy snapped the book shut. “The maid, Josephine, went missing shortly after starting her chores the following morning.”
“Was that other guy in the bag?” the light-haired lady asked. “Geiger?”
“There was never a definite conclusion, but it seems more likely than any other possibility.” Remy put the book back into her skirts then ducked between her guests to approach the wardrobe. Its heavy carved doors groaned as they opened, and she was greeted by the familiar musty smell. “As for how the body had been hidden in Room 8 for so long—well, every wardrobe in Carrow was constructed with a false back, possibly for storage purposes. The police later found traces of bodily fluid in this little cavity.”
She pressed a hidden latch at the back of the wardrobe, and the wooden panel came out. The tour group clustered up behind her, some pressing their hands over their noses as though the toxic smell might linger. The cubbyhole was small, one foot deep and four feet high—just barely large enough for a grown man to be stuffed into. It was hard to see in the dim light, but patches of wood were discoloured.
With her companions gathered so close, Remy could lower her voice and add a note of warning. “Some guests have claimed to hear knocking coming from this wardrobe, even before the murder was discovered. The stories are all the same: the guest will be in bed, minutes away from sleep, when they hear a soft tap, tap, tap… One woman said it sounded like someone asking to be let out.”
The guests reacted by either leaning closer to the cavity or recoiling. A couple of the ladies chuckled nervously, and the spectacled man began bouncing on the balls of his feet again.
“He was caught, though?” The quieter of the middle-aged ladies spoke. The quiver in her voice suggested the tour had been her companion’s idea. “If the police found blood…”
“They didn’t find that until nearly eight years after Geiger’s death.” Remy carefully fitted the fake wall back into its slot, covering up the cavity. “During his career as Carrow’s owner, Edgar murdered at least twenty-nine guests and staff and could be responsible for as many as sixty-three other disappearances.”
The statement was met with a mix of gasps and whistles. That wasn’t uncommon. Although Carrow House was notorious for its paranormal incidents, most people didn’t know the extent of its bloody history. Only the tall, dark-haired man who hung at the back of the group seemed unsurprised.
“Carrow Hotel had two kinds of guests,” Remy continued as she closed the wardrobe door. “Wealthy socialites who came to stay for the views and the entertainment, and travellers who were moving along the coastline. As the hotel grew older and less trendy, the proportion of the less-wealthy visitors increased.
“Travelling long distances—especially alone—was a risky endeavour back then, and it wasn’t unheard of for people to disappear partway along their route. Even though a staggeringly high number of them vanished around when they were supposed to arrive at Carrow Hotel, not all the disappearances were reported to the police, and even fewer were investigated. Geiger’s story is significant because he was the first well-known patron to go missing. But he was far from the last.” Remy flashed the group a grim smile and nodded towards the door. “We’ll go to Louise’s room next.”
Wash the Stains from These Walls
Remy led her small group down the hallway towards the other side of the house. She kept her pace slow, ensuring they had time to appreciate the faded red-patterned wallpaper and the oil paintings hung between doors. A runner muffled their footsteps, but the boards still groaned as they were strained. “Most of these rooms would have seen death at one point or another. Edgar’s favourite method of murder was to choose his victims when they checked in and assign them a room as far away from other guests as possible. He would then visit them in the middle of the night and either strangle them or, less frequently, slit their throats. While no accomplices were ever formally accused, many people think he had assistance from at least one or two loyal staff. He would have needed help to wash bloodied sheets and dispose of the corpses and their possessions.” She stopped outside Room 19 and grinned as she opened the door. “In you go.”
Just like before, Remy stood back while her guests filtered inside. The room was nearly identical to the previous, except for the mahogany bureau. A long, ugly crack ran down its glass. “Louise Small and her personal maid stayed here for two nights before vanishing. Another guest, who had become friendly with Louise, called the police. The officers searched her room and found a crack on the dresser’s mirror. Edgar claimed Louise had cut her stay short and that one of the maids had tripped and fallen against the mirror while cleaning. The police accepted his excuse and closed the case.”
“Just like that?” One of the touristy young adults scratched his long hair out of his face as his eyebrows pulled together. “They just took his word for it?”
“Remember, John Carrow was a respected member of society. And especially in small towns like the ones nearest Carrow House, there was a pervasive, subconscious assumption that the rich and influential couldn’t be criminals. Vagrants stole and killed; the wealthy were above such base behaviours.” Remy shrugged. “At the risk of stepping into politics, I sometimes wonder how much that attitude has changed. Even now, someone can spend years in jail for stealing from a convenience store, but bankers who siphon millions out of trust funds get a slap on the wrist for bad behaviour.”
The man with glasses leaned forward to examine the mirror. “But wouldn’t the police look more closely as the number of missing-person reports increased? You said he was doing this for eight years, didn’t you?”
“That’s right. And especially towards the end of his career, some people in the community had grown suspicious. But evidence was hard to find, and there was always one or two staff members who could vouch for their employer’s alibi. Edgar Porter was, from all reports, a highly intelligent man. He seemed to plan his crimes carefully.” Remy indicated to the cracked mirror. “Louise’s body was never found, but her story doesn’t stop there. The bureau’s mirror was removed and destroyed the day after the police investigation. Edgar had an entirely new mirror installed. Then, two nights later, while the room was unoccupied, it cracked again.”
“No kidding,” one of the young adults muttered.
“A maid reported it in the morning. Once again, the mirror was replaced. And five nights after that, a couple staying in the room woke half the hotel with their screams. They claimed they’d been disturbed by a woman’s weeping, and while they were trying to figure out where the sound came from, they’d seen the glass crack in two.”
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