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Authors: Bronwyn Archer

Valley of the Moon

BOOK: Valley of the Moon
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Valley of the Moon

a novel

 

By Bronwyn Archer

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Bronarch Books 2016.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission from the publisher.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

 

 

 

 

For Noelle

 

Preface

 

 

New York City. December 2015.

The faces of two hundred
porcelain dolls gleamed blue in the pale glow of dawn. Each doll perched in its own silk armchair. Tiny chairs filled every available space along the walls of the cavernous bedroom.

Their glass eyes stared straight ahead, oblivious to the wizened figure in the four-poster bed who had acquired them over the years at tremendous cost.

They didn’t notice the other lady, either. The one in the plain black dress who was kneeling by the bed, crying.

The door swung open and the lace canopy over the bed fluttered in the draft. A stocky nurse packed into a white uniform poked her head into the room.

“Miss Tremblay,” she whispered. “The lawyer’s on the phone. What should I tell him?” She padded over to one of the tall windows and pulled back the damask curtains. Weak winter light flooded the room.

The lady in black didn’t look up. She wore her silver hair pinned up in a bun, but a few wisps had wafted loose during her all-night vigil. Severine Tremblay had been in service to Madame Georgette Ambrose, last of the Gilded Age heiresses, for twenty-five years. She came to care for the baby. She stayed on after the awfulness. After Madame Ambrose shut out the world and locked herself away in the vast apartment on Fifth Avenue.

In some ways, that nightmare had never ended. As Severine sat on the edge of the bed, she could sense the end coming. She stroked the old woman’s curled hands and smoothed the white braid lying across concave breasts.

There was a loud, wheezy rattle and Georgette’s bony fingers clawed at Severine’s arm. The nurse gasped. Severine leaned closer. The old woman muttered something in French and then her hand went slack and dropped to the bed.

Severine bent her head and whispered a prayer. Then she stood, gripping one of the bedposts to steady herself.

“Flora, go tell Mr. Bannister that Madame Ambrose is gone.” The nurse made the sign of the cross and rushed out of the room. Severine leaned down and whispered in her deceased employer’s ear.

Only the dolls heard what she said.

“Yes, I swear it. I will find the girl. And all that you have will be hers.”

Outside, snow fell onto the hushed streets, blanketing the city in white.

part one

 

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?

 

—Edgar Allen Poe

Mare Serenitatis ~ Sea of Serenity
 

 

Glen Ellen, California. Later that day.

I like to think my mother
would not have approved of teenage girls staying up past midnight on school nights.

I like to think I would have listened to her. 

Camouflaged in the shadow thrown by a stand of oak trees, I crept across the cracked driveway next to the little house. Halfway up, something snapped in the branches overhead. A battalion of crickets fell silent, all at once. An instant later, the front door of the house banged open. I darted to the nearest tree and pressed my body into its trunk.

The man stood on the front porch scanning the darkness. I held my breath until I heard the front door close. Then I sprinted the rest of the way until I got to the rusted ladder leaning against the back of the house. 

Right where I’d left it.

I climbed to the top of the ladder and slid open the unlocked window. I hoisted myself onto the windowsill and eased one leg into the dark bedroom. Straddling the windowsill felt like sitting on the blade of a knife. I stretched one leg down to the dresser under the window, but something tugged on my other foot.

My shoelace was caught in the hinge of the ladder.

I tried to shake my foot loose, but the ladder swung awkwardly from the end of my shoelace. It slammed against the wood siding, the lace snapped, and I tumbled into the house.

A second later, the overhead light switched on. I squinted in the glare. I was sprawled on the floor between the dresser and the bed.

“WHO’S THERE?” a man’s voice thundered. “I’m armed and I’ll shoot!”
The wig. Hide the wig!

I tugged off my short mousy brown wig and tossed it under the bed. My strawberry-blonde ponytail spilled down my back as I sat up.

“It’s me, Dad. Don’t shoot.”

John Goodwin, eyes bleary, hair askew, stood in the doorway in red flannel PJs. He held a metal baseball bat like he was staring down a fastball. He gaped at me and lowered the bat.

“You trying to give me another heart attack, Lana?”

“No,” I said, hoisting my sore body off the floor. “I was trying not to wake you up. You know how the front door sticks.” Without thinking, I tossed my coat onto my bed. He got a good look at my outfit. I steeled myself for his reaction.

“What are you wearing?”

“These? Work clothes.” I plopped down on my bed. My boss Justine made us wear these red short skirts trimmed with white fake fur for the Christmas party we worked that night. I’d cleared $150 in four hours valet parking insanely expensive cars.

He stared at me slack-jawed. “That’s what they make you wear at the yogurt place?” I had lasted one night at the yogurt place. At eight bucks an hour, I couldn’t afford it. Working for the Dolls was much more lucrative.

Only—I hadn’t exactly told him about it yet.

“Take it easy, Dad. Think of it as a uniform. I wear one to school.” He glared at me.

“I didn’t hear you pull up. Did you drive tonight?”

“Someone at work gave me a ride.” He pursed his lips.

“I don’t like you coming home late. Especially on a school night.” He sat on my bed crossed his arms. “It might hurt your GPA. And you know what’ll happen then.” He looked sheepish.

“My GPA is fine. My GPA is amazing. And I’m on vacation after tomorrow, remember?” I untied the laces of my high-tops and worked the broken shoelace out of the eyelets. I wound it tight around my palm until my fingers turned white. The wind picked up outside. Frigid air blew through the open window.

He walked over to it and slammed it shut. “Next time you sneak in, can you at least leave the windows locked?” he asked. I shrugged. We had nothing to steal except dusty car racing trophies and bad memories.

I tossed my sneakers into the corner, stood up, and pushed past him to get a nightgown out of a drawer.

“I wasn’t sneaking in; I was working. I need something to live on at college, right?” His face crumpled. “I didn’t mean it like that.” I put a hand on his arm. “I don’t mind working, Dad.”

“I mind,” he said, his voice soft. “It’s my job to keep you safe.” So far he had a C- in the Keeping Me Safe department. He’d raised it from an F. “Get some sleep, honey. Don’t stay up and study. Promise?”

“Cross my heart.”

 

***

 

The alarm clock said it was 12:58 a.m. I still had to finish French and review calculus. I was so tired that the list of grammar rules blurred in my AP French notebook:

 

The French author uses the subjunctive when:

The action is in doubt or is uncertain.

The desired purpose or end may never be met.

When you are searching for something, or someone, who may not exist.

 

I could write my whole life story in the French subjunctive.

In the reflection of my dark computer screen, something sparkled behind me. The air in my bedroom suddenly felt electric.

I held my breath and turned in my chair. Moonlight glinted on the thick curved glass of the snow globe on my dresser. It had been sitting in the same spot, collecting dust, for years. When we made the move to the Crawford Estate when I was eleven, it stayed behind, keeping watch over my room.

The glittery “snow” in the globe swirled around the tiny ice skater on the tiny pond in front of the tiny New York City skyline. But the snow was only supposed to swirl when you shake it.

You’re tired. It’s nothing.
I turned back to my desk.

There was a sharp sound behind me. Like a steel brush scraping bone.

The air seemed to vibrate with a strange energy. I was paralyzed, unable to move or breathe.

Then, a loud CRACK.

I forced myself to turn around again.

My snow globe had fallen off the dresser and broken open like an egg. Its liquid guts spilled out all over the worn wooden floor.

Icy threads of terror laced my heart and pulled tight. My skin wanted to slither off my body and scoot out of the room, but I made myself stand up and walk toward the mess. Thick shards of broken glass and silvery white glitter splattered the floor in wet heaps. Ribbons of water spread out in the grooves of the wide oak planks. The thickest rivulet disappeared, as though an invisible straw was sucking it up. My eyes followed it. The water wasn’t disappearing—it was trickling through a crack in the old floor.

But it wasn’t a crack.

It was a hole, no bigger around than a pencil. I stuck the tip of my finger into it and pulled. A two-foot plank of oak lifted up, like it was on hinges.

I set it to the side and peered inside the gaping hole in my bedroom floor.

The hidden space was about six inches deep and extended under the floor into darkness. A puddle of glittery snow-globe water pooled where it had dripped through the hole. I grabbed an old t-shirt from my dirty laundry pile and mopped up the mess. My hand strayed into the dark space under the next plank and brushed against something. I braced myself, ready to leap out of the way if it was something horrible. Once my dad found a possum living under the house. I didn’t need to see any beady little eyes peeping up at me.

I reached in and pulled out a small book wearing a thick sweater of dust. I wiped it clean with the damp t-shirt and saw that there were faded gold words embossed into the pale pink leather:

My Diary

I could suddenly smell my mother’s perfume. The touch of her hand on mine. The sense memory was vivid and intense, and I pushed my fists into my eyes to cauterize the tears. Was this her diary? Was this where she had hidden The Note?

She never said good-bye. She wouldn’t have left us without saying good-bye.

Even though that’s just what she did.

I tried to open it, but its tarnished brass lock was shut tight. I wiped my eyes and mopped up the rest of the water in the hidden space. Before I wedged the wooden plank back into place, I placed the diary carefully back in its hiding place under my floor.

I’d look for a tiny key later.

It’s probably not hers. It was probably left by the people who lived here before. Maybe someone died here. In this room. That’s who pushed the snow globe over.

I believe in the absolute, forever silence of the dead. I don’t believe in ghosts. The living are scary enough.

But just in case, I grabbed my pillow and comforter and bolted for the couch in the den.

 

***

 

“Morning, honey. Something wrong with your bed last night?” My father sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee in his bathrobe while I hunted frantically for my keys.

“Uh, yeah. Saw a spider. A big one.” I pawed through the basket of unopened mail by the front door. More overdue bills.

“Try your jacket.” He sat back in his chair and took a sip from the chipped beer stein he used as a coffee mug. “Looks like real estate prices are finally going back up,” he said.

I tugged my faded leather jacket off the coat rack, pulled it on, and jammed my hands into the pockets. My fingers closed around my car keys.
Found you!
Je t’ai trouvé!
Or was it
Je les ai trouvés?

I was going to bomb my French midterm. If I made it in time.

He coughed and cleared his throat. “So, it might be a good time to see what we can get for this old place.”

My hands tightened into fists around the keys. The sharp metal teeth bit into my palm.

My dad smoothed his newspaper and his eyes met mine. John Goodwin was still handsome at fifty-one, with sandy blond hair and warm brown eyes. I had his eyes, but her hair and freckles.

They were pretty much all I had left of her.

My dad smiled at me. He had the smile of a movie star—or a used car salesman. Which is what he was, actually. The used car salesman, I mean. I wasn’t allowed to call them “used.” They were “vintage restored one-of-a-kind classics.” And his smile could melt ice. Sometimes when he smiled at me, I could feel icebergs of sadness calve off my heart.

I hadn’t seen one of
those
kinds of smiles in a while. He coughed again and took a bottle out of the pocket of his robe. He twisted the top open and shook two pills out into his palm. He clapped his hand to his mouth and swallowed.

“You’re leaving for college next year, anyway. And you wouldn’t have to work at that yogurt place anymore. I know this realtor—”

“We’re NOT moving. We left once. It didn’t work out so well. Remember?” Our house was tiny and the roof leaked in a drizzle and the walls shook in a light breeze. But the 1100 square feet held an ocean of memories.

Sometimes, especially, for some reason, when it rained, it even smelled like her.

He nodded. “Yeah, I remember, but this would be different.” He held up the paper and pointed to a full-page photograph of a hideous apartment building. “Honey, look at this! ‘The Vineyards at Santa Rosa.’ There's a pool, a gym, and it’s right by my shop. They’re even giving free espresso machines to the first 100 buyers.”

“I don’t go to the gym or drink espresso. Bye, Dad.”

“Lana, wait!”

I picked up my backpack and slung it over my shoulder so hard that my textbooks sent a jolt of pain down my back.

I turned the front door knob and yanked. The door didn’t budge, so I kicked it. The jolt dislodged the door from its weathered frame and it swung open. I took all four steps leading down from the sagging front porch in a flying leap and jogged over to my dented Volkswagen Golf.

“If you love this damn house so much, why are you trying to kill it?” he yelled after me.

When I got into my car and turned the key, the gas gauge lit up.
No, no, no!
I suddenly remembered why I’d asked Allie to give me a ride to work the night before. I pounded my fist on the steering wheel, accidentally blasting the horn.

My dad stepped onto the porch holding his coffee just as I jumped out of the car with my bag.

“I need to drive yours, Dad. Don’t be mad, but I’m on empty.” He shook his head. I almost felt bad for him.

Almost.

“Are you nuts, Lana? You know how it works. That car’s not mine; it’s on consignment. I need to sell it
before
I let you total it.”

“Dad! If I’m late for my midterm, my life as we know it is over.” Which was sort of true. He gritted his teeth and rubbed his eyebrows. “I’m an awesome driver. Dad! Please, I swear I’ll be so careful.”

“Dammit, Lana! That car is—” I made my saddest face. I’d had lots of practice.

He sighed. I knew I had him. “Keys are hanging in the barn.”

I tossed him mine and started running.

“Bring it back to the shop after school,” he called after me. “No dings, scratches, or dents, and NO under any circumstances I repeat, NO speeding!”

I barely heard that last piece of quaint fatherly advice. “Be careful with mine,” I yelled back. “It’s an ’07. Needs a little TLC. And some gas!”

BOOK: Valley of the Moon
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