About the Author
With the publication of her first novel, FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, Virginia Andrews became a bestselling phenomenon. Since then, readers have been captivated by more than forty novels in the Virginia Andrews' series. Her novels have sold over 100 million copies worldwide and been translated into 22 languages.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Christopher’s Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger Becoming Christopher and Cathy
The shorter days of approaching winter darkened the corners of my attic earlier and earlier every afternoon. Usually, when you think of yourself ascending, whether it’s hiking up a mountain, flying in an airplane, or walking to the top floor of your house, you imagine moving into brighter light. But as my boyfriend, Kane Hill, and I walked up the attic stairway for the first time together, I could almost feel the shadows growing and opening like Venus flytraps to welcome us.
The stairs creaked the way they always had, but it sounded more like a warning this time, each squeak a groan of frantic admonition. Our attic didn’t have an unpleasant odor, but it did have the scent of old things that hadn’t seen the light of day for years: furniture, lamps, and trunks stuffed with old clothing too out of fashion to care about or throw away when the previous owners left. They were still good enough for someone else to use. All of it had been accumulated by what my father called “pack rats,” but he also admitted to being one himself. Our garage was neat but jammed with his old tools and boxes of sample building materials, my first tricycle, various hoses, and plumbing fittings he might find use for someday.
The attic floor was a dark brown hardwood that had worn well and, according to my father, was as solid as the day it was laid. He looked in once in a while, but I would go up regularly to dust a bit, get rid of spiderwebs, and clean the two small windows, spotted with small flies and other tiny bugs who thought they had died outside. I felt I had to maintain the attic mostly because my father kept my mother’s things in an old wardrobe there, walnut with embossed cherubs on the doors, another antique. Even after nearly nine years, my father couldn’t get himself to throw out or give away any of her things: shoes and slippers, purses, dresses, blouses, nightgowns, coats, and sweaters.
Just like in the Foxworth attic that Christopher had described in his diary, there were other larger items that previous occupants had left, including brass and pewter tables and standing lamps, a dark oak magazine rack with some old copies of Life and Time, some black and silver metal trunks that had once worn their travel labels proudly, bragging about Paris, London, and Madrid, and other pieces of furniture that had lost their places in the living room and the bedrooms when the decor was changed.
Despite being thought useless and relegated to this vault, to my father, they were almost a part of the house now. He said that their having been there so long gave them squatters’ rights. It really didn’t matter whether they had been there long or whether they would find another home, fulfill another purpose. Memories, no matter whose they were, were sacred to him. Things weren’t ever simply things. Old toys were once cherished by the children who owned them, and family heirlooms possessed history, whether or not you knew exactly what that history was. It didn’t surprise me that a man who built and restored homes had such respect for what was in them. I just hadn’t paid much attention to any of it until now.
I was still not convinced that what Kane Hill had suggested the day he discovered Christopher’s diary under my pillow was a good idea. At first, I suspected that he might be playing with me, humoring me, when he said he would read it aloud to me, pretending to be Christopher Dollanganger, the oldest of the four children who had been incarcerated in Foxworth Hall more than fifty years ago. I didn’t want to diminish the diary’s historical importance for Charlottesville or in any way make fun of it. He had assured me that he wouldn’t do that.
And then he had added, “To get into it, really get into it, we’ll read it up in your attic.”
The Foxworth attic was where the four Dollanganger children had spent most of their time for years, there and in a small bedroom below. According to what I knew and how Christopher had described it, the attic was a long, rambling loft that they had turned into their imaginary world because they had been shut out of the real one for so long. The idea of reading Christopher’s thoughts and descriptions aloud in a similar environment both fascinated and frightened me. We would no longer be simply observers. In a sense, by playing the roles of Christopher and Cathy, we would empathize, and not just sympathize, with them.
As soon as he had said it, Kane saw the indecision in my face and went on to explain that it would be like acting on a movie set. Movie sets in studios were suggestions of what really was or had been, weren’t they?
“This is no different, Kristin,” Kane said.
I pointed out that my attic was much smaller than the one in Foxworth, but he insisted that it was an attic, a place where we could pretend to be imprisoned and better understand what Christopher and Cathy had experienced.
He thought we’d get a more realistic sense of it. “It will be like reading Moby-Dick while you’re on a ship on the ocean. This way, you’ll appreciate what happens to the older sister more, and I’ll appreciate Christopher’s words more, I’m sure.”
Of course, I had found myself empathizing with Cathy often when I read Christopher’s diary anyway, but not to the extent he was suggesting. It was more like putting on her clothes and stepping into her shoes. In moments, I would lose myself completely and for a while become her. Maybe I did have to be in an attic for that. However, what frightened me about pretending to be her in front of someone else was the possibility that I would be exposing my own vulnerabilities, my own fears and fantasies. Everyone knew the Dollanganger children were distant cousins of mine.
What if I was more like her than I imagined?
The leather-bound book suddenly loomed larger than some historical discovery. It was almost as though the diary had the power to unmask me and cause me to reveal my own secrets, deeply personal ones I had yet to share with anyone, even my father. There would inevitably be questions about Cathy’s feelings and how they were the same as or different from mine, especially when it came to her physical and emotional maturing. Like most girls my age, I was both excited and confused at times by changes in my body and my feelings. I wasn’t comfortable chatting about them with other girls, even best friends. And here I was confronting it all with Kane more intimately than I had with anyone. We hadn’t been dating that long. There was still so much about each other we had to learn, with or without Christopher’s diary. Was I rushing headlong into something I would regret, all because of the diary, because of how it made me feel about myself and my own new feelings? So much of what we do and who we draw closer to ourselves makes us see deeper into ourselves. Sometimes I felt surrounded by mirrors.
Yet I had to admit that Kane sounded as enthusiastic about and as genuinely interested in what Christopher was revealing in his diary as I was. He was as excited as I had been that day when I realized what it was. Since we could safely assume that no one else had read it, Kane made the point that only he and I would know what really had occurred at Foxworth Hall. The legend, the exaggerations, and the misinformation would all be shed, and we would know the truth about the mysteries that were thought to have gone up in flames and assumed to have been lost in the darkness of fading memories.
Kane’s eyes were dazzled with excitement when he spoke about it. He looked like a little boy on Christmas morning who knew what was in the package he was about to unwrap. In his mind, perhaps, and certainly in mine, it was like opening a forbidden door, an entrance that led us back into the dark past, through the shadows, up the narrow stairway, and into a world now more like the subject for Halloween stories. Would the door slam shut behind us? Would we trap ourselves in someone else’s nightmare? Would what we read and did in my attic haunt us forever because of how intimate the revelations were, both Christopher Dollanganger’s and our own?
I never anticipated that I’d be in such a quandary, but after Kane had discovered the diary while he was waiting for me in my room, he was naturally very curious about it. He had only read a page. However, it was enough to force me to reveal what it was. When I explained it to him and told him that my father wasn’t happy that I was reading it, his curiosity grew. Nothing makes anything more desirable than declaring it forbidden. Kane said he couldn’t wait to catch up to where I was in the diary so that we could go forward together. He sounded like a child about to begin an adventure he had imagined for a long time. I felt his excitement enliven my own and thought maybe it was a good thing he had found the diary under my pillow. Maybe it was meant to be. I even fantasized that it had the power to capture anyone who came close to it. I shouldn’t have been so surprised at his finding it and being drawn to it.
And yet I had gone to sleep that night afraid that I had given my trust too easily. I thought that yes, right now, he honestly might be interested in and genuinely excited about what the diary was going to reveal, and for a while, he might find reading it aloud to me in my attic somehow as satisfying as being in a play or a movie, but what if he became bored or thought it had been stupid to start with and then mentioned it to someone at school, who mentioned it to someone else, until I was surrounded with demands and questions? As my father was fond of saying, “Loose lips sink ships.” In this case, it would be my ship that had sunk, even before it had much of a chance to sail.
Would I feel like a fool? Would I feel as betrayed as Christopher would be by revealing to strangers how Cathy obviously felt at this point in his diary? I could appreciate how horrible it was for her and maybe even for him. When people whom you cared about and who cared about you seriously disappointed you, it was truly like digging farther down into a wound, sending the pain through your very being. Your heart would close around itself. You would feel naked, lost, deceived by anything and everything afterward, and you would know that from then on, you would not have faith in anyone again. You would be unable to give your trust, even to those you loved. How much more alone could you be than that? Surely, that was what had happened to the Dollanganger children. And maybe that would happen to me.
And all because I was reading the diary secretly.
Was it possible for a diary to be too dangerous to open, a Pandora’s box? Was that why my father had told me not to read it? Wasn’t it silly to ascribe such powers to an old leather-bound book full of some teenage boy’s personal thoughts and descriptions? However, I reminded myself that there were forbidden books. Books had influence on their readers. Schools kept certain books out of their libraries, and parents forbade their children to read them. Governments forbade books. Religions forbade books they thought had been written by witches, even the devil.
Whatever had happened at the original Foxworth Hall, it still had an atmosphere of mystery and horror around it. It had been kept alive through fantastic theories printed in the local newspaper and discussed around the date of the famous first fire and always on Halloween. The diary could carry that same aura. Touch it, open the cover, read the pages, and you could be carried away in the same ugly shadows and cold wind that had carried away those children.
I had tossed and turned all night debating these thoughts and worries in my mind. Sometimes I believe we all really do have two people living inside us arguing often. One has conscience, and the other doesn’t. Everyone talks to himself or herself. They would all have to admit that. Well, who were they all talking to? Who is the himself or herself?
The following morning, one side of me seemed to have won the argument. I was determined to tell Kane to forget it. I was even working up a good story, a fabrication, something that would end his idea completely. I thought I might tell him that my father had found me reading the diary into the early hours and was so angry that he had seized it right out of my hands. He had said he was going to burn it, and I had watched him throw it into an old oilcan in our backyard. It had gone up in a puff of black smoke.
But I changed my mind the moment I set eyes on my father at breakfast and saw how happy he was with how well his work was going rebuilding a new, more modern mansion on the Foxworth property. He was getting along with Arthur Johnson, who didn’t seem as difficult apparently as other customers he had worked for. That made my father even more sweet and loving to me. I regretted even thinking of using him to deceive someone by making him sound unreasonable and angry. I couldn’t do it. However, I felt trapped because I was disobeying his wishes by permitting someone else to know about the diary. I comforted myself by telling myself in this case, he would understand and forgive me.
But the questions and the doubts about what I had agreed to do wouldn’t be still. Really, I had thought, what if Kane should betray me and, in a real sense, betray Christopher? Go through with this or not, Kristin? I had asked myself while I had dressed to go down to breakfast. I was tottering between yes and no. I could easily go in either direction. I looked at the clock. It wasn’t much longer before I would have to make a definite decision. Kane was going to pick me up to take me to school again, and I knew he would be talking about nothing else. When I had told my father that Kane was coming, he paused in making our breakfast.
“Picking you up again? We’re considerably out of his way, especially with morning traffic. He has to be getting himself up and out much earlier.”
“Oh, please. He doesn’t care about that, Daddy,” I said, making it sound like he was just another parent who didn’t understand what was and wasn’t a priority for teenagers like us.
He shrugged. “To me—you excluded, of course—it seems young people don’t want to make compromises or sacrifices too easily. They don’t naturally go out of their way. It’s the ‘please me now’ generation.”
“You can exclude Kane, too, from that conclusion. Besides, you’d have driven as far as another state to pick up Mommy, wouldn’t you?”
He turned and squinted at me, deepening the folds in his forehead. “I see. Getting a little serious in this first romance of yours?” he asked.
I was a bit surprised myself at how quickly I had come to Kane’s defense, but I had also compared us to my father and mother, who I knew had loved each other intensely. That comparison was a bit over the top, at least for now. And my father was right to characterize my dating Kane as my first real romance. I had gone out on dates, met other boys at parties and dances, but none of that ever became much more than one follow-up call or a few days of some additional hanging out together. Until now, those budding romances always seemed to drift away with the softening of a grip on my hand, until my date’s fingers cooled into icicles and finally slipped out to find a different hand to hold. More often than not, however, it was my hand that began to avoid theirs.
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