Newlyweds Nora and Paul aren't thrilled to learn that Paul's parents are too ailing to maintain the once-beloved Hidden Lake Camp. Faced with the prospect of fixing cabins that have literally rotted away, Nora puts on a good face to help out.
But when knives from Paul's parents start going missing in inexplainable ways, Nora is certain that something sinister is going on. As the knives continue to disappear, and a corpse is found, it becomes clearer that something—or someone—is deeply wrong.
Book of Knives is one of two books included in the October/November Creepy Crate, and we can't imagine a better book to settle into this Halloween season!
Read on for an excerpt of Book of Knives, then subscribe to Creepy Crate for your chance to receive a copy!
A week later, I wake up at 1:48 in the morning. This is the exact time my husband left this world. My brain is flooded with light though the room is dark. Sounds are amplified—the settling of the house, the HVAC system kicking in, an animal noise outside. Raccoons are having a busy year.
I go online, looking at sperm banks again, and discover that in Seattle, there’s a Japanese one. And another where I can select donors by the famous people they resemble. A couple of my friends have gone through this culling. I could reach out to one of them for a reliable place, but I’m still at the just-looking stage. After an hour, the whole idea pushes down on me. Takeo didn’t look like a movie star. I don’t. Our child shouldn’t. We talked about freezing some of his sperm, but we kept thinking he’d get well. That everything would turn out. And then he was awfully sick.
I go outside and sit in the dark thinking of what I might do with the flower beds I can barely see.
I’ve tried everything for insomnia. Melatonin, caffeine regulation, chamomile, CBD oil. The list is long and unsuccessful. This is the worst stage of the night, when I can’t read or watch movies anymore. It’s too easy for dark thoughts to dig in about the purpose of life, the purpose of losing Takeo, the purpose of me. The loneliness begins in my chest and radiates outward through my neck and jaw and down my arms like a heart attack. The therapist I saw for a while said, Be conscious of where the feelings are held in your body. Try to breathe through them. When I sat in her patient chair, I looked at the framed photo in which she appeared to be happily married and had two darling kids—the four of them on a sailboat moving through the water, fresh with life. I stopped going to see her and understood how envious my mother’s patients would get if she carelessly placed a photo of one of our happiest moments on a table across from them.
In my mother’s practice, she does a fair amount of grief counseling. She lectures on this subject and has written two books on loss that I’ve not been able to bring myself to read. She always helps when I want to understand psychological things, but I noticed she stopped offering unsolicited advice around the time I got married.
When I tell her I’m unsure if I’ll ever stop mourning, she says people who love deeply tend to grieve the way some people build collections. The only answer is to build the other parts of my life until I have more than one collection that needs my care. She admitted this is far from easy.
My whole body aches at the thought. I go back into the kitchen as if there’s something waiting for me. Something to eat or drink that will change my outlook. But there’s nothing I want. It’s too dark to go for a run, my brain too weary to take photos or movies.
Takeo wanted love for me. Maybe I just need to be held. I step into a pair of flip-flops and start across the back lawn and the gravel drive. The stairs to the loft are on the outside. I climb slowly, gripping the railing in the dark, and when I get to the top, I find Paul doesn’t bother to lock his door. Before we built the loft, sometimes he stayed over in our guest room when it was late and we had too much wine. I know him to be a very sound sleeper.
The temperature is cooler up here, the doors to the balcony wide open. I find him in a pair of boxers, sleeping on one side of the mattress, bedding kicked to the floor. I get in and cover us up to our shoulders, curling around his back. He moans just a little but doesn’t stir. His hair smells like lemon, his skin radiating the day’s heat.
Maybe it’s his snoring that wakes me at first light. Whatever it is, I have a chance to head back to my place before he’s up.
The second time I slip into his bed is more intentional, more planned. I don’t fall asleep, and I leave the minute he rolls over and his breathing shifts.
The third time feels like the start of a habit.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth, more like early addiction. I don’t have the excuse of hypnagogia—a half-sleep state. And there is no specific term I can find for those who slip into another person’s bed when they’re sound asleep and disappear before dawn. Each night I give him an hour after his lights go out, and sneak over to the loft. The odd thing is I fall into my own deep rest and wake eager to get to work in the morning without setting an alarm.
On the thirteenth and fourteenth evenings, I have to restrain the impulse to touch his hair, to touch his mouth when he turns toward me. I know I would not be the first widow on earth to want intimacy in the middle of her grief.
On the eighteenth visit, I wake up in the morning to find him sitting in bed, drinking a cup of coffee. He hands me a cup of black tea with fireweed honey.
“I could always come to your house,” he says, “if you’d rather.”
“How long have you known?”
“Do you want me to explain?”
“No.” He takes a sip of coffee. “I’m just happy you’re here.”
That night, he pretends to be asleep, and I pretend he isn’t pretending, and when I slip into bed, we make love with tender confusion.
After Paul moves into the home he’s newly remodeled, he comes over several nights a week, rarely planned in advance, as if this would have us admitting to something. We continue to sleep in the loft. I notice one day, when searching his bedside table for a pen, that he kept the religious card.
When we begin to spend time together on Sundays, we visit museums, take hikes, go on picnics. It’s hard to believe he’s never been up Mount Tam. We drive into wine country and add an overnight there. His son, Leon, used to stay over at his house on weekends, but Leon’s a senior in high school now and has a band and a girlfriend. I’ve met him briefly over the years when Paul pulled up to the house for something, but Leon tended to stay in the truck and wait for his dad. Both are quiet men.
A shift occurs after Paul takes me to a French restaurant one Saturday night. On the drive home, I ask, “What happened back there?”
“Meaning?” He’s practically racing through the streets.
“In the restaurant you became…somber.”
“I’m not asking you to be sorry. I’m asking you to help me understand.”
“I got a call this morning. From my brother. From Gabe.”
“Wow. Is he okay?”
“He got a call from old family friends who live near the camp. Emmett and Elizabeth—our parents—are in bad shape. Gabe is planning to drive up to Hidden Lake to see what they need, once he sorts a few things out.”
“It’s good he can go. Did he say anything else?”
“He told me he’s an ornithologist. And that he and his wife have four kids.”
There’s an emptiness to the way he transmits this. As if he’s reading the ingredients on a boxed recipe. I don’t have any siblings, but I’ve always imagined, if I did, I would want to keep them close.
On a couple of our excursions, he opens up about Hidden Lake. More about the natural wonders than the complex family, though I learn the father is a terror. Or was before he fell so ill. I finally understand that it’s been almost thirty years since Paul left. I see how Takeo and I filled that place of family for him.
As much as I need my time alone, I miss Paul when I don’t see him for a few days. There’s something about our lovemaking that takes me back to the boys I once crushed on. I relish the way the air comes through the opens doors of the loft and crosses our bodies, the idea of things unexplored. I’m able to talk with him about my confused feelings. All the while, through the conversations that gain momentum and our playfulness, I continue to mourn.
Takeo’s gallery owner comes by the studio that takes up the lower portion of the garage and makes a selection from the remaining ceramic pieces for the retrospective next year. I’ve held out a few I’ll never sell but am happy to see on display. She says I look well, as if she suspects I’m not grieving hard enough. People never know what you go through.
Want to keep reading? Sign up for Creepy Crate for your chance to receive a copy of Book of Knives!