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The Change
Author:Kirsten Miller

The Change by Kirsten Miller


Dedication

For Erica Waldrop, my lifelong friend and inspiration, who was always the baddest witch around




Gone to Seed




No one had seen the woman who lived at 256 Woodland Drive since early November. Now it was late April and the house looked abandoned. A modern masterpiece, set back from the road and surrounded by gardens, it had once been the neighborhood’s biggest attraction. Real estate brokers ferrying clients contemplating a move to the suburbs had gone out of their way to drive past it. Now the gardens had grown wild and a gutter dangled from the roof. The children across the street speculated that the owner, like so many unfortunate old ladies before her, had probably been eaten by cats. Their mother assured them that couldn’t have happened as she cast a worried look at the family pet.

The owner’s name was Harriett Osborne, and though she wasn’t new to the neighborhood, few people on Woodland Drive could claim to know her. For over a decade, she and her husband had left for work early each morning, and if they returned, it was late at night. The two would vanish completely for days at a time, but while they were gone, the house rarely seemed empty. Twice a week at nine on the dot, a small army of cleaners and gardeners descended on the property. The curtains on the tall street-facing windows were yanked open and the house’s interior was revealed to all. Cars passing by often slowed or pulled over. The house developed a significant social media following after influencers christened it a monument to good taste.

When the Osbornes were profiled in the country’s most prestigious shelter magazine, newsstand sales spiked in the vicinity of Mattauk, New York. The couple had no children or dogs that would have forced them to engage with the community—and no desire to mingle with their neighbors at any of the coastal town’s seafood-themed festivals. So the residents of Mattauk made do with what little they could glean from the article. Chase Osborne was the chief creative officer at a Manhattan advertising agency best known for a long-running campaign that featured a family of talking pigs. Harriett Osborne ran a rival company’s new business department. They both appeared to be well-preserved specimens in their mid-to late forties. Chase had a tattoo on his neck and wore his blue suit without socks. Harriett’s chunky black glasses framed intelligent eyes, and her matte red lipstick drew attention to a subtle smirk. When the attractive pair weren’t off traveling the world, they split their time between their house in Mattauk and an equally stunning penthouse in Williamsburg. The Osbornes, the author of the article more than implied, were leading the kind of life readers should have been living.

Then, at some point in September, the cleaners and gardeners failed to arrive for work at the Osborne house. They were no-shows later that week as well. Once the neighbors began comparing notes, it became clear that Chase Osborne hadn’t been home in a month. Not long after, on the night before Halloween, a blond woman was spotted walking up Woodland Drive in a rain-drenched velvet skirt with no coat to cover it, her feet barefoot and a pair of three-inch Acne pumps in her hands. It wasn’t until she pulled out a set of keys and unlocked the front door that the witnesses realized it was Harriett Osborne.

After that, the interior of 256 Woodland remained hidden from view—and so did Harriett. She wasn’t dead yet. Passersby often spotted a shadowy figure in the garden at night. When the sun was shining, she received regular visitors. The UPS man arrived every day but Sunday and deposited a mound of boxes outside her door. They would wait there for hours until no one was watching, and then somehow disappear all at once. On Tuesdays and Fridays, a young man from the grocery store would show up like clockwork at six fifteen p.m., his arms loaded with paper bags. The door would open, and he would step over the threshold, only to emerge precisely one hour later with empty hands.



It was on just such an evening at seven fifteen that Jeremy Aversano happened to be walking a borrowed cockapoo past the Osbornes’ house. He let the dog root around in the foliage while the delivery boy backed out of Harriett’s drive. Just as the car reached the curb, Jeremy waved to the young man and gestured for him to stop. The window lowered and Jeremy leaned over with an avuncular smile.

“Yeah?” The delivery boy was twentysomething and movie star handsome.

“Everything okay in there?” Jeremy asked.

The young man grinned broadly, revealing an impressive assortment of teeth. “What?” He sounded both confused and amused. The vehicle reeked of pot.

“The lady inside—she doing all right?”

“You’re eighty feet from her door, bro. Why don’t you ask her?”

After a moment of stunned silence, Jeremy shook off his embarrassment. The kid was clearly a moron. “Forget it. Sorry to bother you.”

Jeremy stepped back from the window and waited for the car to drive away. Then he looked up at the house. The sun had dipped below the horizon, but as usual, the house lights hadn’t turned on. In the growing darkness, the abundant foliage felt primal and threatening. God only knew what it might be hiding. Jeremy’s wife had recently filed for divorce, and their house at 261 Woodland was now on the market. An eyesore just down the street would strip thousands off their asking price. Something had to be done.