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Middle of the Night

Recap, Summary & Spoilers

The Full Book Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for Middle of the Night by Riley Sager are below.

Quick(-ish) Recap

Three-paragraph version: Recently divorced, Ethan moves back into his parents house on Hemlock Circle, the cul-de-sac where he grew up. He left 30 years ago after his childhood best friend, Billy, was abducted from the tent in his backyard where they were camping out together when they were 10 years old. In present day, Billy's remains are found at the base of a waterfall on the grounds of the Hawthorne Institute, a private research facility, nearby. Billy, Ethan and some other neighborhood kids -- Russ, Ashley and Ragesh -- had all gone exploring there the day before Billy's abduction.

Ethan becomes determined to solve Billy's case when he senses that Billy's ghost is trying to contact him by leaving messages and baseballs on his lawn. Ethan looks into the Hawthorne Institute and eventually learns that it's a private research facility studying parapsychology (in inexplicable phenomena such as clairvoyance or ghosts).

In the end, it's revealed that 30 years ago, Russ had torn the tent open in jealousy over Billy and Ethan camping out without. Billy had awoken due to the noise and headed towards the Institute to explore. He had crossed a street in the process and Ashley had been driving and hit him. She disposed of his body in the waterfall. It turns out that the messages and baseballs from "Billy's ghost" were actually from Billy's younger brother Andy who suspected Ethan of having killed Billy.

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Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

Saturday, July 16, 1994 / Chapters 1 – 2

July 16, 1994. Ethan Marsh is ten. He wakes up in a tent in his backyard, though the person who was in there with him is gone.

In mid-July present day, Ethan wakes up around 2 AM after having had the same reoccurring dream. He’s been living in his parents house again, ever since they recently moved to Florida. It’s located on Hemlock Circle, a cul-de-sac in the suburbs. On the left is the old Barringer place and the Chens. On the right are the Van de Veers’, the Wallaces’, and the Patels’.

He notices the motion-activated lights in front of the Patel’s garage is on, but doesn’t see what triggered it. It clicks off, but then another house’s light turns on. Eventually, Ethan steps outside and calls out for Billy Barringer, though he’s been gone for 30 years.

Ethan doesn’t bother trying to go back to sleep. His chronic insomnia means he’s up every night from around 1 – 4 AM. His therapist once said it’s worry and anxiety that “whoever took Billy will eventually come back to take you”.

Billy’s story was highly publicized in the news. Like Ethan, he’d been ten. He and Ethan had been camping out in Ethan’s backyard. The tent was sliced open sometime between 11PM and 6:30AM, and he was taken. The case was never solved. Billy’s parents (Blake Barringer, a pharmaceutical sales rep, and Mary Ellen Barringer) and Ethan’s parents (Fred Marsh, a Princeton professor, and Joyce Marsh, a homemaker) were all named in the press, but Ethan wasn’t and neither was Billy’s younger brother, Andy Barringer.

Ethan recalls how after Billy — known as “The Lost Boy” in the media — was taken, his parents had sent him to a private boarding school in upstate New York where no one knew about his connection to what had happened. Ethan had eventually gone to college at Northwestern in Chicago where he met Claudia, and they stayed together for 17 years.

Tonight, Ethan goes through the familiar process of habitually checking the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (“NamUs”) for Billy’s entry. As always, Ethan wishes the kidnapper would’ve taken him instead of Billy that night.

Friday July 15, 1994 / Chapters 3 – 4

July 15, 1994. Ethan thinks back to the day Billy came over to sleep over and how he something was off that day. He’d awoken to both his parents being home, with his mother telling him she’d been let go of at work.

In the woods nearby is the Hawthorne Institute, which Ethan knows nothing about other than that he’s not allowed to venture over there.

When Ethan sees a baseball tossed into the grass between his and Billy’s house, he recognizes it as the sign they boys use to indicate they want to play.

In present day, Ethan wakes up after having the same dream again. He thinks of how it haunts him that he was there when Billy was abducted but doesn’t know what happened.

Today, the lawn guy comes and tells him he found a baseball in the front yard.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Billy think about how he’s been living here for three years but still doesn’t really fit in. Ethan is his only real friend and doesn’t seem to mind Billy’s eccentricities. He knows he could just go ask Ethan to play, but he he likes finding ways to leave the baseball there unnoticed, like a secret code between the two of them.

There’s only one kid in the neighborhood, so Ethan goes to ask Russ Chen if the ball belongs to his four-year-old son, Benji, but Russ says no. Russ is the same age as Ethan and they became friends after Billy disappeared. Russ’s older brother Johnny died of a drug overdose when Russ was nine. Russ moved back into the neighborhood with his wife Jennifer about five years ago to help take care of Russ’s mother. Seeing their picture-perfect family, Ethan thinks about how Claudia had changed her mind and decided that she wanted kids, which led to conflict in their marriage.

Russ suggests asking the Wallaces about the ball, telling him that Ashley Wallace, who was five years older than them and had grown up with them, moved back into the neighborhood a month ago with her son, who is nine. Russ also reminds Ethan of how all the boys had crushes on her.

As Ethan leaves the Chen house, he thinks about how five of the six families that were here when he was a kid are still here. He suspects it’s because none of the families wanted to be the first to leave in case it made them seem suspicious like they were fleeing after Billy’s disappearance.

Ethan passes by Fritz and Alice Van de Veer, who were also living here 30 years ago. He greets them and they make pleasant conversation. When they part, Ethan notices that Fritz asks him to give Ethan’s mother his regards but not his father.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Joyce Marsh thinks about how she hasn’t told her husband the whole story of why she lost her job and she doesn’t intend to. She goes to get together with the other women of Hemlock Circle to chat which they do daily, which Fred refer to as “the Gaggle”. Today, Mary Ellen Barringer joins them which surprises Joyce since she doesn’t normally do so. Alice Van der Veer is there and Joyce wonders if Fritz has told her what’s going on.

Joyce lies and tells the women that she’s not working anymore since the job wasn’t a good fit with her schedule. Trish talks about how some stranger was spotted roaming the neighborhood yesterday afternoon.

When Joyce heads home after the Gaggle, Mary Ellen catches up to her, wondering if it’s safe for the boys to have their weekly campout given the stranger roaming around. Joyce reassures her it’ll be fine. Afterwards, Joyce spots Fritz Van de Veer looking at her, and she can sense him willing her not to reveal what happened last night.

Chapters 5 – 7 / Friday July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan is greeted by a 10-year-old boy at the Wallace’s house. Ashley soon introduces Ethan to her son, Henry. Ethan asks them about the ball, but Henry says it’s not his.

Ashley’s father, Vance, also greets Ethan and suggests that it must be Billy’s and that he saw “that Barringer boy” running around around at 2AM in the morning. Ashley gently corrects her father before excusing them all and saying good-bye to Ethan. After he leaves, Ethan wonders about what Vance thinks he saw and about his own experience early that morning. He wonders if Billy is alive.

Ethan calls Detective Ragesh Patel, saying that he’s back in town and wondering if there have been any updates in Billy’s case. Ragesh is surprised to hear from Ethan right then — he says that they found human remains of a 10-year-old boy in the area yesterday that they believe belonged to Billy.

Later that night, Detective Patel comes by with more details for Ethan, Russ and Ashley. He says that dental records have confirmed that it’s Billy and that he was found at the base of the falls at the Hawthorne Institute. Patel tells them they think he was killed and then dropped into the water. Upon hearing the news, Ashley is upset, knowing Billy is definitely dead. Ethan hugs her, comforting her. He thinks back to 30 years ago when Ashley had comforted him after learning Billy had gone missing.

Patel says they don’t want anything to leak until after they contact Billy’s brother Andy, but he’s MIA so far. He also tells them that some scientists taking soil and water samples found the remains. Patel says it’s unclear why the area wasn’t searched 30 years ago. The Hawthorne Institute was once owned by a rich man, Ezra Hawthorne, and was very private and located on a large 100-acre lot of land. After Ezra died, the institute closed and he donated the land to the government with the stipulation that it remained untouched. It’s still unclear what exactly the institute did.

Ethan chimes in that it can’t be a coincidence that the five of them — him, Patel, Billy, Russ and Ashley — had gone exploring there the day before Billy was abducted and then he ended up being found there. But Patel says that they don’t know of the connection between the two events.

Back then, they hadn’t told the police about going there, afraid they would get in trouble. Patel tells them he only told the other officers about it earlier today. He says he doesn’t think there’s a connection because it’s not like they saw or discovered anything. He thinks the falls just happens to be the most convenient place to dump a body. He also says that Detective Cassandra Palmer is leading the investigation and that they’ll all likely hear from her soon.

Afterwards, when Detective Patel and Ethan are alone, Patel asks Ethan why he happened to call him less than 24 hours after the remains were discovered. Ethan tells Patel the truth — that he felt he had sensed Billy that night and that he’d found the baseball in his yard the next day. Detective Patel seems to believe him, but Ethan also remembers how they were never friends. Patel used to be a bully and would emotionally torment the rest of them.

Ethan thinks back to their visit to the institute and feels guilt over how he’d abandoned Billy at the Institute despite his pleas.

Afterwards, Ethan calls and leaves a message for Claudia, telling her the news about Billy. He then video calls his parents, but the door bell rings before he can tell them about Billy.

Russ is at his door, and he suggests they get drunk together. Ethan readily agrees. They wonder if Billy saw something at the Institute that day after the rest of them left Billy there.

Russ also brings up the death of his brother, Johnny, and Ethan realizes this must be dredging up memories of that for Russ.

In a flashback to July 15, 1994, 10-year-old Russ is thinking about his brother Johnny’s death and the void it left. Ragesh Patel had been Johnny’s best friend. Russ is determined to be more like his brother — to make more friends, to be more athletic and to do better in school.

Chapters 8 – 10 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan wakes up yet again after having had the same dream. In the Dream tonight, he felt like he could sense someone outside their tent.

Tonight, Ethan looks out and notices the motion sensors going off at various houses, but can’t see what’s setting them off. He steps outside looking for what could be causing it and ends up finds himself in the spot where their tent had been set up that night 30 years ago. He thinks he senses someone outside with him, but instead he just finds another baseball in the grass. Ethan wonders who could be leaving these baseballs and why.

The next morning Ashley shows up, asking if Ethan could please watch Henry that morning since she urgently needs to take her father to the doctor. Ethan is reluctant but consents.

Ethan decides to take Henry to Russ’s sporting goods store. At the store, Ethan asks for Russ and says he’s looking for a night-vision cam, though he declines to explain that it’s because he’s trying to catch who’s been setting off the motion sensors. Ethan decides to purchase a top-of-the-line model.

Back at home, Henry helps Ethan to set up the camera. After Ashley comes to pick Ethan up, Detective Palmer soon shows up at Ethan’s house. He invites her in for a chat. He admits to her that he has a reoccurring dream about the night Billy was abducted and tries to describe it in as much detail as he can. He also tells her that he believes Billy’s disappearance may have had something to do with their visit to the Hawthorne Institute the day before.

Detective Palmer is dismissive of his theory, nor does she think it was some stranger roaming around. Instead, she believes it was someone from the neighborhood. She notes that Ethan doesn’t remember Billy screaming because Billy must’ve recognized the person and willingly followed them out and into the woods.

In a flashback to that night, Ethan recalls how Billy had been eager to believe in ghosts since it made him feel less alone. Billy has a book called The Giant Book of Ghosts, Spirits, and Other Spooks, which he’s fascinated with, and he’s determined to see one for himself.

Chapters 11 – 12 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan is at home at night when he starts getting alerts from his night vision camera. As Ethan thinks about what might be setting it off, he’s reminded of Billy’s mother bringing him Billy’s copy of The Giant Book of Ghosts, Spirits, and Other Spooks shortly before they moved away from Hemlock Circle. He also thinks about Billy once telling him that ghosts aren’t really trying to scare people, instead they just want people to know they’re there.

Ethan is surprised instead to see Vance Williams outside his home. Vance mentions seeing “that Barringer boy” again. Ashley soon shows up to escort her father home. Ethan helps Ashley get her father back home and helps to tuck Henry in.

Afterwards, Ashley asks Ethan have some tequila together. Ashley tells him that she came home to take care of her dad after he started getting disoriented and confused. Ethan also asks about Ashley’s father, and she tells him he’s not in the picture and never has been since he was the result of a hookup and she actually isn’t even sure who the father is.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Ashley recalls hanging out with her friend Tara. She thinks about Johnny who died not too long ago and how she used to have a crush on him. She had been surprised that he died of a drug overdose because Johnny had been shy and studious.

She thinks about how she wants to get out of this place and plans to move away for college and she hopes to pursue a career in music.

She’s been babysitting for Ethan Marsh to save up money to go to Woodstock, but today Joyce Marsh shows up to say that she’s left her job and no longer needs Ashley to babysit anymore. Joyce gets upset as she tells her this and ends up admitting that she was actually fired from her job.

Chapters 13 – 14 / Friday, July 15, 1994

As Ethan heads home, he inspects the footage his camera recorded that night and thinks he sees that whoever triggered his motion senor lights looks like the shadow of a child. Back at home, he finds Billy’s book about ghosts and sees an entry for “shadow person” — the illustration for which looks like “a humanoid figure the same color as a shadow but with two white pinpricks for eyes”, similar to what he saw on the camera.

He stays up looking up more information on so-called shadow people. He wonders if Billy really is haunting him. He even wonders if Billy was the one who helped his remains be found now that all of the people who went to the Institute that day are back on Hemlock Row. Ethan considers whether Billy wants them to help find out who killed him and why. Ethan starts to consider how he might be able to communicate with Billy if so.

Ethan calls Claudia and begins to leave a voicemail telling her what’s going on when he’s interrupted by the sound of his motion sensor camera going off. He goes outside to investigate. He hears a rustling sound and finds another baseball.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Billy, Russ and Ethan are hanging out when Billy suggests exploring the woods. Andy wants to join them, but Billy says no.

Chapter 15 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan wakes up the next morning and starts researching the Hawthorne Institute and Ezra Hawthorne. He notes a line on Wikipedia that states that Ezra dabbled in the occult. Ethan wonders what happened with Billy that day. After they left him in the woods, it wasn’t until five hours later that Billy showed up at his house later that evening.

Scouring the internet, he finds a document noting that “Johnny Chen and Ragesh Patel” did mandatory volunteer work at the Institute the summer before Johnny died. Ethan wonders if Ragesh knows more than he’s letting on.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Ragesh is in the forest thinking about how Johnny had once tried to kiss him, but Ragesh had freaked out. Six months later, Johnny was dead.

He’s lost in thought when he sees Billy, Russ and Ethan in the woods, with Ashley close behind, saying that she was sent by Ethan’s mom to keep an eye on him. The boys are determined to explore the woods, and Ragesh decides to go with him since he has nothing better to do.

Chapter 16 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan ventures into the woods. He thinks he hears someone following him, but doesn’t see anyone.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, they reach the road that runs through the woods which Ethan knows he’s not supposed to go past. As they cross it, Ethan starts to feel they should head back, but Billy insists on continuing. They soon reach the wall that surrounds the Institute.

Billy leads the way to a gap in the wall, and they slip through it. On the other side is the waterfall. They also see the mansion that houses the Hawthorne Institute. Billy claims that that they do research into talking to ghosts at the Institute.

Chapter 17 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan reaches the Institute’s walls and passes through the same gap in it that he did 30 years ago. He can see signs of police activity at the base of the waterfall due to the discovery of Billy’s remains.

Ethan gets a ping on his phone from his motion sensor cam at home, but it’s just Henry standing on his lawn with a sign playfully saying hi. Ethan texts Claudia to say that he’s thinking of her.

He walks down a path and reaches a barn. He notices a recently opened empty tuna can. He assumes there must be squatters on the property. He then leaves and goes over a bridge, bringing him to a wrought iron gate.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Ragesh laughs at the idea that they do research about ghosts at the Institute.

They get to a wrought iron gate situated in front of a mausoleum. Ragesh taunts Billy to go inside, and Billy asks Ethan to go with him, but Ethan refuses. With more taunting, Billy, Ethan and Russ all end up going inside together. Ragesh then closes the gate behind them as a prank. Ashley demands that he stop, but the gate is stuck.

Russ and Ethan are able to slip back through the space in the grates, but Billy is larger than them and doesn’t fit.

Then, someone in a dark suit approaches, and they all run away, leaving Billy stuck behind the gate by himself.

Chapter 18 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan goes back into the mausoleum. He sees that Ezra Hawthorne is interred there now. His epitaph reads “DEATH IS MERELY AN ILLUSION”.

He then goes to check out the mansion, pretending to be checking it out as a potential wedding venue. A woman who introduces herself as Lonette Jones informs him that they’re closed, but offers to give him a quick tour. On one of the walls is a large painting of Ezra Hawthorne sitting in front of a tree and obelisk, both of which bear strange markings and symbols.

When he asks Lonette what the Hawthorne Institute used to be, she tells him it was rumored to be some type of cult.

Ethan excuses himself to go to the backroom, but sneaks off to locate the basement instead. He rifles around in the boxes until he finds a photograph of Ezra Hawthorne and Johnny Chen. He’s then interrupted when Ragesh Patel shows up accompanied by Lonette, and they escort him out of the basement.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Ethan initially runs off with the others, but he turns back without them to go back to Billy. He sees the man in the suit get mad at Billy, saying that “I told you yesterday to stay away” and Ethan realizes that Billy has come here before. Feeling betrayed and reluctant to get in trouble for something he didn’t even want to do, Ethan decides to turn and leave Billy behind.

Chapter 19 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ragesh tells Ethan that Lonette called the police since she thought Ethan was trying to rob the place. Ethan admits that he was there looking for evidence that the institute had something to do with Billy’s death.

Ethan then tells Ragesh that he knows he and Johnny volunteered at the Institute and demands to know what else he knows about it. Ragesh tells him he was only there for an hour and they had them participate in an experiment on ESP, trying to guess what was on some cards. Afterwards, he never went back, but Johnny did. He doesn’t know what Johnny did there, but it he seemed to really enjoy it. As they continue talking, Ragesh also tells Ethan that he knows Billy wasn’t murdered by the stranger the people had seen roaming around in camouflage the day before because that person was him. He says he was just headed into the forest to clear his head.

Ragesh also mentions that he’s married now, to a man. He apologies to Ethan for some of his behavior as a kid. Before he drops Ethan off, he instructs him to stay away from the Institute.

Back at home, Ethan looks through the photos he took of various photos that he saw in the basement. He looks again at the photo of Johnny and then realizes that his mother is also in that photo.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Joyce thinks about how she met Fred in college and dropped out to become a homemaker. However, she ended up feeling eager for more outside her home and family. She ended up taking a low level secretarial job at the Hawthorne Institute.

Everyone there wore black suits other than her and Margie, the senior assistant. There was some weirdness like administering Rorschach tests to blind people and the music she would hear coming from the second floor, but the pay was good. She bought Fred a watch for his birthday.

However, she went in early one day to grab it from her desk when she heard chanting. She saw people people wearing robes and blood. She was spotted, fired and asked to sign an NDA before she left.

Chapter 20 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan Facetimes his parents and tells them about the discovery of Billy’s remains at the Hawthorne Institute. He then starts to ask his parents about what they knew about the night that Billy was abducted, and he asks his mother what she knows about the Institute. She tells him she was only there for the summer and was fired after she saw something she wasn’t supposed to see. She says she can’t talk about it because of the NDA, but Ethan insists.

Finally, she admits that she saw some type of ritual. There were torches placed in a circle in the grass, and men were chanting and there was a heart on a copper plate. She says she was pulled away and threatened by her boss before she saw any more. Ethan then asks who her boss was.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Billy cries after being abandoned by his friends. The man in the suit helps him get free of the iron gate.

Billy thinks about how he had been interested in the Institute after Johnny Chen had told him a year ago that they were trying to speak to ghosts at the Institute. Johnny had died soon after and Billy had been too upset about it to go investigate for a while. Yesterday though, Billy discovered the gap in the wall, but was quickly spotted and told to leave.

Today, he’s brought inside and they go to fetch their boss, who turns out to be Fritz Van Der Leer.

Chapter 21 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, after he gets off the phone, Ethan goes to visit the Van Der Leer home. He asks to speak to Fritz and demands to know what he knows about Billy’s death, telling him that Billy’s remains have been found on the Institute’s grounds.

Fritz tells him that the Institute was dedicated to the study of parapsychology, which is “is the belief that there are forces at work beyond the easily proven ones we encounter every day.” He explains that it includes research on things like “extrasensory perception, telepathy, clairvoyance”. Fritz tells him that what Billy’s mother saw was a Druidic ritual from the “fourth century BC” and that it involved a pig’s heart.

Fritz says that Johnny took an interest in their work, but his death had nothing to do with them. He also denies that they had anything to do with Billy’s death. Fritz also says that Ezra was upset about Billy’s death since he had spoken to Billy about ghosts. Ezra and others at the Institute believed they had made contact with “spirits” many times.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Fritz talks to Billy at the Institute, offering to show him around but saying that he needs to keep it a secret. When Billy starts asking about ghosts, Fritz takes him to see Ezra, who talks to the boy. Fritz thinks back to meeting Ezra at a event in grad school, eventually going to see the Institute and being offered a job there.

Ezra tells Billy about his experience communicating with ghosts and invites him to return whenever he likes.

Chapter 22 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan asks Fritz about contacting spirits and Billy in particular. Fritz tells him what he knows from the Institute — that you can’t contact spirits that are at peace. Instead, only spirits who are in limbo can be contacted. He also says that he has tried contacting Billy, and he suggests that Ethan might want to leave him alone. He says that ghosts can stay tethered here due to unfinished business, but a grudge is a stronger tether.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Ethan and the other kids debate whether to go back for Billy. Ethan wants them to go back, but he is outvoted by the others who don’t want to get in trouble. They say that Billy will be fine, that he’ll probably be admonished and sent home.

Chapters 23 – 24 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan’s reoccurring dream is now extended and he’s able to see something after the point in his dream where the tent is ripped open — though it’s still a blur.

Awake, Ethan wonders if Billy is haunting him because he harbors a grudge over being abandoned by him at the Institute that day.

He also notices that the pen and notebook that he’s certain he left on his nightstand are gone. Instead, he finds them on the floor. He opens the notebook and is terrified to see the words “HAKUNA MATATA DUDE” — Billy’s last words — written in Billy’s handwriting in his notebook.

Ethan rushes over to Russ’s house to check if the spare key to his place is still there and they confirm they still have it. Ethan returns home to find Detective Palmer there, who is concerned about his visit to the Institute yesterday.

She also asks him to consider whether he knows something about Billy’s disappearance, but possibly blocked it out due to trauma. She says that maybe that’s what his dreams are about. She also says she thinks there’s only one person who could’ve done it. Ethan then realizes that one person who could’ve done it was Billy’s mother.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Mary Ellen worries about sending Billy off to camp at Ethan’s house after hearing of a stranger roaming around. She also notices Billy seems a little off, like maybe something had happened earlier that day, but he doesn’t tell her anything.

As she sends Billy, she thinks about a porcelain doll she’s owned since she was a child and how much time she spent worrying about it getting damaged. After Billy leaves, she smashes its head in so she can stop worrying about it.

Chapters 25 – 26 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan considers whether the detective could be right about Billy’s mother being responsible. Mary Ellen is mentally not all there now, but Detective Palmer plans to pay her a visit anyway.

After she leaves, Ethan looks back at his notebook and thinks about how he never told anyone Billy’s last words.

Determined to try to help figure out how to help Billy, Ethan goes to Russ’s shop and purchases a tent that’s just like the one he used to have. He then sets it up in his backyard and gets ready to camp out for the night.

As he lays there, he sense something outside his tent and hears a ping coming from his motion sensor cam.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Ethan worries about Billy after leaving him there. He’s worried Billy won’t show up for their camp out, but Billy soon arrives.

Chapters 27 – 29 / Friday, July 15, 1994

In present day, Ethan checks his phone for the images from the camera, but sees that it’s just Henry, who asks to join him in the tent. Ashley soon follows, looking for Henry. Ethan explains to her that he thinks Billy is trying to contact him and he hopes this will help him to remember.

Ashley wonders, however, whether the “signs from Billy” are actually Ethan’s own actions that he doesn’t remember, as some type of manifestation of his unprocessed feelings. She suggests that he could’ve written in his notebook and put the baseballs in his lawn himself.

Ashley then points out to Ethan that she knows his wife is actually dead and that they’re not just divorced. Ethan knows it’s true despite what he’s been telling people — Claudia died of an unexpected aortic aneurysm. Ashley suggests that Ethan is clinging onto the hope that Billy is out there since that might mean Claudia can be out there and able to contact him as well. She says that maybe all of this is just him processing his grief.

After she leaves, Ethan finally opens the purse Claudia had on her when she died. He finds her cell phone in there and charges it up, seeing the various text messages he’s been leaving her. He listens to the last message he left her before he realizes she was dead — one where he had agreed that they should have a baby. Ethan then calls her phone, leaves her one final message saying goodbye and then deletes her contact information from his phone.

He then goes and falls asleep in the tent.

Ethan wakes up after having had his dream again, but it feels louder and realer this time. His phone then chimes since his motion sensor is going off. In his tent, he finds a piece of paper torn from his notebook that says “HAKUNA MATATA DUDE”. He then exits the tent and sees more pieces of paper with the same message written on them scattered around the yard.

As he checks his camera footage, he sees that there are several hours where the camera either was turned off or malfunctioned since there’s missing footage. He also sees that today is July 15.

Flashing back to July 15, 1994, Ethan and Billy play Uno in the tent in the backyard. Ethan asks Billy about what happened at the Institute, but Billy says that nothing happened and that they weren’t angry with him. Billy then demands to know why Ethan ran away, and he’s clearly upset that Ethan abandoned him.

Ethan gets defensive and tells Billy that ghosts aren’t real. He then gets mad at Billy for being weird. Ethan soon realizes he’s being mean and apologizes. But when he asks Billy if he forgives him, Billy just gives him a fake smile and says “Hakuna matata, dude.”

Chapter 30 / Saturday, July 16, 1994

In present day, Ethan asks Detective Palmer to help him re-enact that night by stabbing the tent while he’s sleeping. When he goes to sleep, he hears the tearing of the tent and realizes he’s in his tent. He then sees the figure that’s standing there, but recoils when he realizes who it is.

When he awakes, he goes to confront Russ Chen.

Flashing back to July 16, 1994, Russ Chen is exercising in his room thinking about how Billy and Ethan have excluded him from their camp out despite his efforts to befriend Ethan.

Feeling angry, he marches over there with a knife to cut the tent open and confront them.

Chapter 31 / Saturday, July 16, 1994

In present day, Ethan sees on Russ’s expression that he was right about him and he attacks Russ. The scuffle is soon broken up by Detective Palmer who has followed Ethan over there.

Russ admits to slashing the tent open because he was jealous that Ethan wanted to be friends with Billy and not him. However, he says that he didn’t hurt Billy. He says he slashed the tent open and then left.

Russ says he didn’t know what happened to the knife he used to slash the tent open, and then his mother Misty Chen pipes up and admits that she got rid of it.

Flashing back to July 16, 1994, Misty Chen hears Russ come back in the house after being out. She finds the kitchen knife in the wrong place, and looks at it, but it appears to be free of any incriminating debris. However, hours later when she hears about what happened to Billy, she has doubts about how Russ could have been involved and gets rid of the knife by burying it.

Chapter 32 – 33 / Saturday, July 16, 1994

In present day, Ashley soon comes by looking for Henry, and Ethan sees from his motion sensor camera that Henry was at his tent. However, when they get there, Henry is not there. Instead, Ethan sees more images that show that someone in the hoodie had come by and grabbed Henry and led him out. They inspect the man in the photo and realize it’s Andy, Billy’s brother.

Ethan realizes that when Ashley’s father kept mentioning “the Barringer boy”, he was referring to Andy, not Ethan. Ethan quickly pieces together that Andy has been here all along and he suspects that Andy might be the squatter at the barn near the waterfalls.

They rush to the waterfalls and find Andy there with Henry tied up. Andy admits that his plan was to lure Ethan there. He says he returned after he heard that Billy’s remains had been found. Andy also admits that he’s been the one leaving the baseballs for Ethan to find because he wants Ethan to try to remember what happened to Billy.

Andy also tells Ethan that he had been outside the tent that night 30 years ago and overheard the conversation between Billy and Ethan.

Flashing back to July 16, 1994, Andy had been curious about what Billy was up to after feeling tired of being excluded. He decides to go spy on Billy and Ethan’s camp out, and ends up overhearing them arguing.

Later, when Billy is found to have been taken, Andy keeps this to himself since everyone says a stranger came and took Billy, but years later he starts to form his own theory about what could’ve happened.

Chapter 34 / Saturday, July 16, 1994

In present day, Andy accuses Ethan of being the one to kill Billy, noting the words Ethan had said all those years ago — “If you like ghosts so much, why don’t you just die and become one?”

Ethan insists he didn’t mean that when he said it to Billy, but Andy doesn’t believe him. Instead, he threatens to toss Henry into the waterfall unless Ethan confesses.

Finally Ashley says she was the one who killed Billy.

Flashing back to July 16, 1994, Billy cries himself to sleep after his argument with Ethan. Later, when he wakes up to the sound of the tent ripping, he wonders if it was a ghost that did it.

Thinking about it, Billy heads toward the Hawthorne Institute. In the woods, he reaches the road that bisects the forest and there’s a glare of headlights. At that moment, Ashley is driving down the road, her mind fuzzy after a few drinks

Chapters 35 – 36

In present day, Ashley explains that she hit Billy by accident when he was crossing the road in the forest at night. She was 15, drunk and driving without a license and she was scared. She ended up taking his body to the falls and dumping it in. She ended up telling her parents that she hit a deer.

After she confesses, Andy lets Henry go. However, Henry is upset after hearing Ashley’s confession. When she reaches out for him, he recoils from her and takes a step backwards, and he falls into the waterfall. Ethan jumps in after him.

Ethan finds himself being pulled under, but he feelings someone or something clasp his hand and pull him up. Ethan senses that it’s Billy. Then the hand disappears. Ethan reaches Henry, who is okay. When they get to safety, Henry says that a boy helped to pull him out of the water. Ethan tells him that it was Billy.

Wednesday, December 31, 2025

18 months later, Ethan is waiting for midnight. He thinks about how reporters descended upon Hemlock Circle after the truth about Billy’s death was revealed. They eventually departed, as did most of the families on Hemlock Row. Ragesh is selling his house soon, too.

Ethan is now teaching at a private school, which Henry attends. Ashley is in a correctional facility and Ethan adopted Henry.

Tonight, Ethan sees that Henry is reading Billy’s copy of The Giant Book of Ghosts, Spirits, and Other Spooks, and it makes him happy.

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Bookshelf -- A literary set collection game