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Chapter One

November 11, 1925

I disembarked a train at the little log depot at Gordon Bay, Oregon, and a sudden force—a charging bull—immediately slammed me to the ground. Rain pelted my cheeks, my hair, and my clothing, and for a moment I just lay there on the concrete in front of the passenger car, stunned, panting, drenched.

Once I gathered my wits enough to realize that gale force winds, and not a bull, were to blame, I rolled onto my hands and knees and pushed myself to my feet. Another blast of cold air smacked me in the face, and the burgundy wool cloche I bought when I first signed on with the Department of Education shot off my head. The poor hat sailed into the distance without ever touching the ground—a stain of red swallowed up by a palette of gray. My short hair slapped at my cheeks and stung my eyes.

The train whistle shrieked through the commotion of the storm, and the porter shut the door behind me. He may have asked if I was all right—he might have been the reason that my bags now sat three feet away from me on the platform—but the wind and the rain howled across the air and drowned all voices and sense. My only link to civilization on the other side of the mountains clacked away down the tracks to the south.

I grabbed the handles of my traveling bags and used the hun­dred pounds of dresses and toiletries packed inside to anchor myself against the winds. I then lifted the luggage, as well as my black leather briefcase, and staggered to the shelter of the depot’s overhang, but not without skidding to my left as the gales continued to bully me. The soles of my galoshes squeaked and slid against concrete. The town of Gordon Bay itself seemed to be fighting to spit me back out.

Somehow, I lumbered over to the safety of a wall and secured myself against the sturdy logs with my bags still in hand. Despite the woolen gloves shielding my hands, my fingers ached down to the marrow of my bones from the bitter cold and, even worse, from the dampness. Oh, my Lord, that infamous Oregon No­vember dampness—three times worse on the coast than what I experienced in Portland. Rainwater streamed down my face, iced my cheeks, and smeared my lips with the briny taste of the nearby Pacific. I closed my eyes, buried my face against the wall, and endured the wind screaming past my ears.

I believe I may have cried a little. I know I swore, profusely, at all of the PhD students—mostly male, of course—who had gotten themselves accepted into toasty, cozy universities, while I was doomed to roam the far reaches of the earth with a briefcase full of intelligence tests. My renowned fearlessness in working with stu­dents categorized as “delinquent” or “frightening” failed to transfer into bravery against the elements.

“Miss Lind?” called a man’s voice from a distance that sounded to be the opposite end of a tunnel.

Another gust of wind whacked me in the back and pressed my chest against the logs. Rain blew sideways and soaked my shins through the cream-colored stockings that my coat didn’t quite cover.

“Miss Lind?” asked the voice again, this time a tad closer.

I raised my head and saw a man in his late twenties or so push­ing his way toward me through the storm. He wore a midnight-black coat and a gray fedora, the latter of which sprang off his head and flew into the distance—the same fate as my cloche. His exposed hair, blond, trimmed short in the back with longer strands in the front, fluttered about like rippling blades of grass, but within a mere matter of seconds the rain slicked every lock flat against his scalp.

“Are you Miss Lind?” he called, pulling his coat farther around himself, bending forward to plow through the tempest.

I nodded. “Yes.”

“Welcome to Gordon Bay,” he said, and he smiled. His eyes— either blue or green—smiled, too, and a little dimple appeared above the right side of his mouth and made him look about ten years old, even though he stood close to six feet tall. Rain poured down his face and caused his lashes to stick together. “Here . . .” He offered his right hand. “Let me help you with your bags.”

“Thank you,” I shouted into the wind, “but I think I might need to carry them to keep from blowing away. The storm already knocked me to the ground once.”

“That’s our friendly coastal weather for you.”

He put a hand to my back and helped to coax me away from the log wall. I didn’t even realize I needed any coaxing until I took my first step and found my heart racing.

“Come along,” he said. “I’ll help you.”

I felt like a toddler learning how to walk again, my steps heavy and ungainly, my torso tipped forward while my backside stuck out behind me. I wore eye makeup and suddenly realized that ghoulish dark lines probably streaked my face.

A black car—enclosed, and with lovely rain-proof windows— sat at the nearby curb, but the task of plodding toward it through the winds felt like a ten-mile journey, underwater, while cloaked in chains.

“I don’t think we’ve formally introduced ourselves,” I said with an attempt at a lighthearted tone, although the storm whipped my words over my shoulder and carried them away as briskly as it had stolen our hats.

“How’s that?” asked the fellow, leaning his head toward mine.

“We didn’t formally introduce ourselves.”

He clasped me against his side as another arctic blast tried to shove us off our feet. “I’m Michael O’Daire.”

“And I’m Alice Lind. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too.”

“They told me I was to meet a Mr. O’Daire,” I said, “and I actually worried I wouldn’t be able to tell which fellow you were in the crowd of people at the depot.”

He laughed with a sound that cracked across the air. “There’s never a crowd at this depot from September to June. Never.

We reached the car, and Mr. O’Daire leaned forward and used both of his gloved hands to pry open his passenger-side door for me. He succeeded in the endeavor, and rain showered against the front seat’s leather, forming a small puddle. I plopped myself down with a splash and sighed in relief when he shut the door against the commotion outside. He then opened a back door and tossed my bags onto the seat behind me.

“Thank you,” I called over my shoulder, but he closed that door and sprinted around to the driver’s side without hearing me.

I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered inside my red winter coat. An agonizing chill throbbed deep within my bones and numbed my ears and hands.

My companion jumped into the seat beside me, slammed his door shut, and yanked off his sopping-wet gloves. The wind rocked the vehicle back and forth, and the rain beat against the windshield in an unyielding rhythm. If the town of Gordon Bay rose up before us, I could not see it through the deluge.

A cylindrical object of some sort soared into view.

“What’s that?” I asked, and the object smacked the glass in front of me so hard, I jumped and screamed.

“A bucket,” said Mr. O’Daire, and we whipped our heads over our shoulders and watched the projectile blow away behind us.

“Good Lord.” I shifted back around in the seat. “Is the weather always this temperamental on the coast in the fall?”

“This is a particularly devilish storm.”

“I hope it’s not a bad omen for my arrival.”

He chuckled. “I doubt it. But I think, if you don’t mind”—he combed both of his hands through his hair, splattering water across his coat—“I’ll wait a few minutes before driving through this mess. The worst might pass in a few minutes.”

“That’s fine with me.” I hugged my arms around my middle and slouched down in the seat.

“Here . . .” He swiveled around and half-crawled into the back­seat with his rear end jutting into the air beside me. It was a fine rear end—trim and well-shaped—but, still, I turned my face away.

“I think I might have a blanket,” he said, his voice a little muffled.

“You don’t need to—”

“Already got it.” He dropped back down in the seat with a thump. “Please, warm yourself up. What a rotten way for a town to greet a lady.”

He handed me a plaid blanket with fuzzy green fabric hairs sticking up all over the place. The thing reminded me of a mangy old mutt that my sisters and I once tried to convince our parents to take in when I was seven or eight.

“Thank you.” I tucked the blanket around my shoulders and arms. The fabric scratched at the bottom of my chin and smelled a little musty, but it, indeed, thawed the chill. “Much better.”

“You’re welcome.” He relaxed against the seat, and we both stared out at the rain that hammered away at the windshield as though fighting to break through the glass.

“So”—Mr. O’Daire drew in a long breath—“you’re a psychia­trist?”

“Psychologist,” I corrected him. “School psychologist. It’s a rel­atively new position in the fields of both education and psychology.”

“And you travel around, administering . . . tests?”

I met his eyes, unsure what his emphasis on that last word im­plied. “Yes.”

“Hmm.” He nodded in a noncommittal way and rubbed his lips together.

I cocked my head at him. “Do you work for the schoolhouse here in Gordon Bay, Mr. O’Daire?”

“No, I’m the proprietor of a local hotel.”

“How, then, did you get this glamorous task of fetching me from the depot in a typhoon?”

He smiled, but not with as much vigor as before. “I volunteered. My daughter attends the school, and the schoolteacher is her aunt from her mother’s side.”

“Well, thank you for not leaving me to flounder about on my own. Your kindness is much appreciated.” I wriggled my shoulders to keep the blanket from slipping. “Did Miss Simpkin tell the par­ents I’d be coming?”

“It’s not a secret that you’re here, is it?”

“Not at all. I’m here to help the children. I’ll be using a mea­surement called the Stanford–Binet Scale.”

“An intelligence test?”

“Yes.” I shivered again—from the cold, not the tests. “If I find students who are unable to thrive in their current environ­ment, then I’ll confer with Miss Simpkin and the Department of Education about the possibility of creating a special school—or at least a separate classroom—to meet the needs of the struggling children.”

“The feebleminded children, you mean?”

“Oh, I’m not fond of that particular term, but, yes, I’m here to identify children who are inclined to repeat the same grade levels, some of them doing so year after year. It’s a widespread problem that the state is striving to fix.”

“What about other types of children?” Mr. O’Daire returned his gaze to the windshield and the rain. “Others who are smart, but still . . .” He ran his tongue along the inside of his right cheek.

I waited for him to continue, for I had learned not to feed people words. It tainted the thoughts they were attempting to decipher and articulate. I peeled my wet gloves off my hands while he excavated the right phrase himself.

He wiped water off his brow with the back of his right index finger. “Children who are different.”

“Ah, well, I’ll also be evaluating students for hearing, vision, and speech deficiencies, and a physician will be coming to Gordon Bay—”

“That’s not quite what I meant about different.”

I shook out the discarded gloves and again waited for him to elaborate.

He grabbed hold of the steering wheel. “Have you ever dealt with children who defy explanation, Miss Lind? Children who un­settle adults?”

I tried to swallow, but my throat muscles tightened. I would not have been the “troubled child” expert sitting in that automobile in Gordon Bay—I would never have gone into the field of psychology to begin with—if I myself had not unsettled adults as a young girl. Naturally, I didn’t mention such a thing.

“Actually,” I said, “I’ve become rather famous in Oregon for my ability to work with challenging pupils. In fact, I hope to devote the rest of my life to unlocking the mysteries of the minds of haunted children.”

“‘Haunted’—that’s certainly a way of putting it.” Mr. O’Daire’s fingers tightened around the steering wheel. “Have you ever exam­ined a student whose problems seemed . . . illogical? Or, well, quite frankly . . . supernatural?”

“I have, indeed,” I answered without hesitation. “I’ve tackled a case of a supposed demon possession.”


“Yes. The poor child, as I discovered, had suffered from abuse, which led to that upsetting situation. I’ve also worked with several children who’ve claimed to have experienced ghosts and monsters, but most of them were coping with bereavement, or were influenced by superstitious families.”

“You don’t believe in ghosts or demons yourself, then?”

“No.” I smiled. “I don’t. In my experience, supernatural en­tities say more about the people believing in them than they do about the mysteries of the afterlife. Haunted people are far more predominant—more interesting—than genuine haunted houses, despite what the recent fashion for séances might suggest.”

Mr. O’Daire drummed his thumbs against the steering wheel’s leather and clenched his jaw. The rain softened, as though sitting back to allow him to speak—to turn those fidgety movements into words.

And yet his tongue remained silent.

“As a parent,” I said, “do you have a concern about one of the children here in Gordon Bay?”

He peeked at me from the corner of his eye. “How old are you, Miss Lind?”

“Old enough to hold a master’s degree from the University of Oregon, Mr. O’Daire.”

He smiled and nodded, as though appreciating the straight­forward zing of my retort. He couldn’t have known how much that question grated; how many fellow graduate students had called me “girly” and “kiddo,” making me feel like a child who only pre­tended to understand psychology.

Another violent gust shook the car, and for a moment I worried we had drifted out to sea. I squinted through the window to my right and saw the blurred outline of the log depot. Beyond it roiled gray ocean waves. Liquid steel.

“I don’t want to say what I think is happening with my Janie,” said Mr. O’Daire with a conviction that startled me.

I turned his way again. “It’s your daughter who concerns you?”

He pursed his lips and pleaded for help with his eyes—eyes now seemingly more blue than green, a sharp contrast to the ebony of his coat. “I would like you to listen to her yourself. Tell me what you think of her without me affecting your opinion.”

“How old is she?”

“She turned seven in July.”

I nodded. “Do you think your concerns about her will show up in an intelligence test?”

“No. She’s . . .” He cracked a grin that caused a second dimple to pucker the skin above his lip. “Janie’s smart as a whip. No, that’s not the way . . .” He ran a hand through his hair, smoothing it against his scalp, although it popped straight back up again in the front. “Please ask her about her earliest memories.”

I nodded. “Yes, of course. Early memories are typically a crucial component in unlocking enigmatic behavior.”

He kept taming down his hair, patting and combing and fuss­ing. “I’m not going to say anything more about her right now.”

“You don’t have to.” I folded the top half of the blanket down to my lap. “Thank you for your deep concern as a father. Involved parents such as yourself and your wife—”

“Oh, Janie’s mother and I aren’t married anymore,” he said, and he pulled back on the parking brake, as though checking to make sure he’d set it all the way.

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“We disagreed about what’s happening with Janie. It killed our marriage. It killed me.”

Before I could say a word in response, he popped his door open and dashed around to the front of the car, where he turned the crank with the rain beating down on the back of his head. I watched him, my eyebrows knitted, wondering what early memory from Janie’s past—what seemingly “supernatural” behavior that re­sulted because of it—could have broken up a marriage and caused a father to drive through hurricane winds to speak to a woman who might save the girl.

The engine sparked to life beneath the hood of the car, and the floor vibrated against the rubber soles of my galoshes. Mr. O’Daire ran back toward his side of the automobile, his wet hair hanging in his eyes. With a sigh, he dropped down in the seat beside me and slammed the door shut.

“Off we go!” He threw the clutch lever forward, and off we indeed went, puttering into gray and waterlogged Gordon Bay.

I peered out the rain-streaked windows at souvenir shops and restaurants, most of which sat dark and empty. “I don’t know if anyone told you, but I’m to stay in the boardinghouse.”

“The boardinghouse is a dump. You’re not staying there.”


“Gordon Bay blooms in the summer and dies a lonely, miser­able death every fall, so I have plenty of rooms available in my hotel. I’ll let you stay for free.”

“Oh, I couldn’t . . .”

“Miss Lind . . .” He looked my way, water streaming down his cheeks from his hair. “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for someone with a background like yours to show up out here.”

“Are you certain? I am here to examine all of the children, not just Janie.”

He ignored my words and drove us past the last buildings of that hiccup of a town. Open grasslands lay before us, between the sea and foothills coated in Douglas firs and mist.

I folded my hands beneath the blanket and endured the tips of my fingers tingling back to life. “Mr. O’Daire, did you hear what I said?”

“If you’re being forced to travel out to this godforsaken region of the world in the middle of storm season just to help our kids, then the least I can do is give you a comfortable room with a fireplace.”

He steered the car around a bend, and a three-story struc­ture—a Swiss chalet-style beauty—rose into view on the edge of a cliff above the churning sea. Fog devoured the top halves of a dozen or so chimneys; gables and exposed beams lent the place a dashing European air. The moody sky hovered impossibly close to the ground, and the building seemed to have slipped straight out of the clouds.

“Is that your hotel?” I asked.

“Do you like it?”

“And how! Did you build it?”

“My father did, as soon as the railroad linked us to Portland thirteen years ago. Before that he constructed houses.”

I leaned back against the seat and marveled at the architectural masterpiece. My skin longed for the heat of the fireplaces attached to all of those half-hidden chimneys. “Honestly, I’m used to simple boardinghouses, even ones considered ‘dumps.’”

“It’s no trouble at all. I swear.” He drove us around another bend, and the hotel disappeared from sight behind a thicket of pines. “Not that a person who doesn’t believe in ghosts would care,” he added, “but the place isn’t known to be haunted, nor does it have any tragic tales of murder attached to it.”

“Why did you expect me to ask about that?”

“I didn’t, but one of our competitors brags that his inn is inhab­ited by the ghost of a sea captain’s widow, so everyone expects the same of us.”

I sighed and shook my head. “I blame the séance frenzy I was just talking about. That and our culture’s bizarre fascination with sideshows and amusement parks. Over the summer, my oldest sister dragged me to the Winchester house down in San Jose, California. Have you heard of it?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune, lost her life no more than three years ago, and people have already turned her mansion into a tourist attraction, complete with a guide who tells stories about spirits driving the woman mad. My sister adored the theatrics. I, however, spent the entire time rolling my eyes.”

I bit my lip, for I realized Mr. O’Daire displayed no discern­ible reactions to my views on Mrs. Winchester’s house, despite his talk about ghosts. He stared ahead at the road, his expression now contemplative, his lips pressed shut. I also realized what a boring bluenose I sounded.

However . . . the fellow did need to know that I in no way in­tended to diagnose any of the Gordon Bay schoolchildren as suf­fering from paranormal phenomena, despite whatever he believed about his daughter.

The hotel reemerged, and Mr. O’Daire steered the car onto a driveway that wound around to the front entrance in the shape of an elongated S. Through the dance of the squeaking wind­shield wipers, I spotted the words gordon BAY hotel spanning a wrought-iron archway. The car dipped through a pothole and knocked my elbow against the door. I braced my hands against the seat.

“The weather is hard on the property,” said Mr. O’Daire with a tone of apology. “Half my job is maintenance.”

I returned my hands to my lap. “Well, the hotel is awfully beau­tiful, I will say that. And it looks far dryer than that overhang under which you found me huddled.”

“Good Lord, I hope your stay here doesn’t compare to that.”

We both chuckled, and he brought the car to a rattling stop beside a cement sidewalk, just a few short yards from the hotel’s front door.

“I’ll help you out”—he set the brake—“and get you settled inside before fetching your bags.”

“Thank you.”

More dashing about in the wind and the rain ensued, although this time the gusts refrained from knocking me to the ground, and the distance was so short, it took just a few swift sprints before I found myself standing inside a bright yellow lobby radiant with heat from a fire that crackled in the hearth. Stained-glass chandeliers flooded the room in electric light, and a rust-colored sofa and arm­chairs, devoid of any guests, occupied the center of a space large enough to hold a party of at least forty people.

A broad-hipped woman with a silver serving tray in hand traipsed down a staircase located behind the front desk. Her hair— waved in front, pinned in back with the help of a tortoise-shell comb—matched Mr. O’Daire’s coloring, only with streaks of white threaded through the gold.

“Good afternoon,” she said, her voice rich and earthy, as though deepened from smoke or drink. She sized me up with eyes like Mr. O’Daire’s—large, luminescent eyes that also couldn’t decide if they preferred to be blue or green. “I was a little worried when you didn’t come straight back, Michael.”

“The storm was hell. I took my time driving back.” He groomed his hair with his hands again. “Miss Lind, this is my mother, Mrs. O’Daire. She helps run the place from time to time.”

“So nice to meet you.” I walked over to my hostess with the thick heels of my brown oxfords echoing across the walls. “I’m Alice Lind, a school psychologist who’s come to evaluate the chil­dren of Gordon Bay.”

“Yes, so I’ve heard.” She accepted my hand with a firm shake, and I smelled a tea rose perfume that reminded me of my own mother’s. “I’ve already got a fire started in your room, and I just delivered a pot of tea.”

“Oh?” I looked back to Mr. O’Daire. “Then you both decided I was coming here before I even knew I was to be staying.”

“Someone wanted to stick her in the boardinghouse,” said Mr. O’Daire with a snort.

“Oh no, that won’t do at all.” His mother placed a hand upon my shoulder. “Would you like me to draw you a bath?” “No . . . no, thank you. I was hoping to quickly change and go straight to the schoolhouse to introduce myself to Miss Simpkin.”

“I’m driving over to fetch Janie and some of her friends in fifteen minutes,” said Mr. O’Daire with a gesture of his thumb toward the door. “Let me go grab your bags. You can change and warm up for a moment, and then we’ll head over. You can meet Janie.”

Before I had time to agree—or to contemplate if the best time to meet his daughter was right then and there—he threw open the door and jogged back out into the rain.

“Come along, then.” Mrs. O’Daire steered me around by my shoulders and lured my wet coat off my arms. “Let’s get you dried and warmed before you catch your death of cold. I’ve put you on the second floor, where you’ll have a fine view of our lovely, restless Pacific.”

I opened my mouth, half-tempted to bring up Janie with the woman—she was the girl’s grandmother, after all. I thought better of it, however, and sealed my lips shut.

Before I knew it, the O’Daires had tucked my belongings and me inside a charming room with a white double bed, white-paneled walls, and white ruffled curtains. A fireplace warmed the space, particularly the left side, and a blue and gold rug gave the room its one jolt of color. I blinked at the stark brightness of the quarters after drowning in the murk of the storm.

Once left to my own devices, I kicked off my shoes and poured myself a cup of much-needed tea. A stray drop scalded my wrist, warning that the beverage required cooling. While I waited, I grabbed a towel from a stack of linens on the bed and dried my hair in front of the dressing table’s oblong mirror.

“Good heavens!” I said in response to my drowned-rat appear­ance, brought on by five and a half hours spent on a train, in ad­dition to the damage from the storm. A bob, I discovered, was not attractive at all when it dripped rainwater onto one’s sweater and hung to one’s chin like limp brown shoestrings. My eye makeup stained my face, as I’d worried. My bangs stuck to my forehead. My neck, roughly the same width as my head, appeared even more mannish than usual with my hair too short to hide it and water glistening across it.

But this is all for the children,I reminded myself, rubbing my hair dry with the towel. The Department of Education spe­cifically requested that you be the one to administer the Gordon Bay examinations—you, Alice Lind. Not a man. Not someone with more experience. Just remember how much you wanted a person like your­self to appear out of the blue and help you when you were young. Just remember . . .

My eyes shut. In my head, I heard a sound that often followed me around whenever my confidence faltered—a cruel skipping rope rhyme, chanted in the voices of neighborhood children.

Alice Lind,

Alice Lind,

Took a stick and beat her friend.

Should she die?

Should she live?

How many beatings did she give?

Something rustled near the hotel room’s door. I spun around, and my eyes darted about, on the hunt for tiny movements—not from spiders or mice, but from eyelids, blinking as someone, per­haps, spied on me through a hole in the wood.

Of all the fears I carried with me—a terror of gunshots, a wari­ness of the dark—the paranoia that people were watching me in rooms where I undressed and slept perplexed me the most. My heartrate tripled, and my hands went clammy and cold, even though I had never once, in my conscious memory, experienced an actual Peeping Tom.

“Is . . . is someone there?” I asked.

No one responded.

I half-wondered if Mr. O’Daire stood outside the door, a new hat in hand, waiting to take me to see his Janie. I imagined him bending down on one knee and peering through the keyhole with one of his captivating eyes, his breath fluttering against the wood.

“Is someone—?” I shut my mouth, chiding myself for giving into that old stab of anxiety. It had manifested two years earlier, when I first embarked upon the job of traveling around to rural school­houses, and it had made for countless sleepless nights on the road.

“Always face your fears, Alice,” I whispered to myself, as I often did when paranoia attacked. I gritted my teeth and pulled my tan sweater up past my shoulders and over my head, exposing my arms, my satin slip, and a birthmark the shape of a nickel at the top of my left breast, three inches below my collarbone. “No one wants a crackpot evaluating their children—and no one cares to gawk at your naked body.”

by by Cat Winters