“Can you come down here for a minute?” The man called from the bottom of the basement stairs. “There’s something I want to show you.”
I groaned as I got up from the desk in my office.
“Sure!” I called back as I crossed the foyer to the basement door. “But I don’t think I want to see anything down there.”
The man smiled up at me. “Oh, it’s nothin’ a little poison won’t take care of, just something you should be aware of.”
I hesitated in the doorway when I saw that he had unlatched and opened the doors to the crawl space beneath our family room.
“Come on over, I’ll show you what we’re dealing with.”
I tried to shake off the fear, but it only increased as I walked closer to that dark, cave-like space.
I stood next to the exterminator and peered into the darkness.
The man moved his flashlight beam first along the dirt floor, “See there, you’ve got a few dead bodies,” and then up to the ceiling which had been lined with insulation held in place by clear plastic stapled to the wood beams. “See those dark trails running to and fro?” He asked. “That’s feces and urine. They’re tracking it all throughout their home. You’re home.” He had a beautiful Irish accent, which I wouldn’t dare try to emulate, and he pronounced ‘urine’ as yoo-rYn..
Disgusted I stepped back. “Are there a lot of them?”
He nodded, gravely.
“What are we going to do?” I asked. Feeling a stab of guilt. I knew we had to kill the things, we couldn’t just let them completely infest the house, but still… they were just doing their little mouse thing.
“They’ll be dead and gone within five days,” the exterminator assured me.
“Do I have to worry about the dogs or the kids?” I asked, referring to the poison he intended to use to massacre the family sharing our home.
He assured me that the girls and the dogs would be perfectly safe, “even if one of the dogs ingested a poisoned mouse.” Gross.
“Sorry little guys,” I whispered into the crawl space. I thanked the exterminator and began my retreat, eager to get back to my office.
“Hold on now,” he said, “I still gotta show you the spiders. In my twenty-two years at this job I’ve never seen anything like it.”
We’d had critter infestations in past homes. In fact in our Beacon Hill condo we’d had a nasty mouse problem. When Max was a toddler and Joey an infant I was straightening up and reached down to retrieve their pajamas from the bedroom floor. As I picked up the little bundle of clothing I heard two little thumps as something dropped out of the bundle onto the ground. It was two small, dead mice. Chris had reasoned that someone in one of the other condos must have put out poison and the mice had crawled into the baby clothes to die.
Needless to say, it was one of the last nails in the coffin of city living.
Alas there are mice in the burbs too.
We hadn’t taken my psychic pal Judith’s advice and renovated the basement so it still held a spooky vibe. I would have loved to redo the place, thereby eliminating the negative feelings that had etched themselves into the material space before we’d owned the house, but we simply didn’t have the funds lying around to do it.
The basement was overly sectioned. One room for the laundry and furnace and such, one wood-paneled room that had been the previous owners children’s den, and then a large storage space where we’d thrown unopened moving boxes and a bunch of other stuff we didn’t need. That’s where the crawl space lived and I barely ever went into that portion of the basement. I kept that door shut, a hook and eye latch carefully in place so that the girls wouldn’t wander in there either. But the exterminator reminded me of the place and it occurred to me that in Judith’s walk through and spiritual cleansing of my home I hadn’t shown her the room.
So after the exterminator pointed out an absurd amount of spider webs in a far corner of the basement I’d gone back upstairs to my office and said quietly, “Is it just critters down there or do I need to be worried about something else?”
A brief silence and then Claire’s answer. “I don’t go down there.”
“Why?” I asked.
But our conversation was interrupted by the exterminator who needed me to sign a consent form to deploy his death traps throughout my home.
When I tried to bring the issue up again Claire was silent. Whenever she wanted to speak she did, but when I needed information she’d only answer if she felt like it. Maybe that was unfair, maybe she couldn’t for some reason. Or maybe the problem was me, maybe I wouldn’t hear her. Still. There was obviously more than bad memories affecting my basement. It would have to be sorted out and I was overwhelmed with life as it was. Add it to the fucking list, I thought.
Before the basement could be dealt with I was due to meet with a woman who had a paranormal story to share.
Jess Curtain and I were cut from very different cloth. The nurse was a tight little bundle of energy and spunk, optimism and make it work-ness. She wore her highlighted brown hair in a swishy bob. Her tortoise shell glasses looked like an expertly placed punctuation mark on an outfit that screamed effortless style (a double pocket light pink button down silk shirt and bootcut jeans with cheetah print kitten heels). Her whole persona threw me for a loop because, like an idiot, I’d for some reason expected her to show up in scrubs.
It was a chilly autumn morning and I’d intended to go for a walk after interviewing Jess over coffee at Quebrada. So I had on workout gear and a baseball hat. It was a Saturday and Chris was treating the kids to a Whole Foods breakfast and a trip to the dump followed by a shopping spree at BJs; their idea of a killer outing.
“I’m so glad this worked out,” I said to Jess as we arranged ourselves in front of the windows at Quebrada’s new bar seats. I was happy we weren’t sitting at the back tables, walking in I’d been reminded of the recent conversation with the Jessica Heng. Despite her warning, or perhaps threat, Biddy and I had neither seen nor heard anything from the woman. Her stunned and confused ex-fiancé claimed that he hadn’t seen her since that day we met either.
“Sorry it was such a cluster fuck trying to find a time that worked with both of our schedules,” Jess apologized. “Working nights makes it difficult for me to be a part of regular society.”
“I’m sure,” I replied.
“Anyway, I can’t believe how long it took me to find your blog,” she said.
I smiled and sipped my coffee not sure what she meant.
“A guy I used to work with emailed me the link last week. For real, I read it in two days.”
“Oh, wow,” I said, thinking of the punctuation and grammatical errors that must have overwhelmed her over the course of those two days.
“When I read the About page I just knew that we were cut from the same cloth. I read the Fear Street series growing up too. I was absolutely obsessed. How old are you?”
“Almost forty,” I replied.
“When’s your birthday?”
My brain took a moment to retrieve the information. Jess spoke quickly, jumping from topic to topic, rapid firing questions and then offering intense revelation. I gave her my birthdate.
“Aries,” she said confidently. “Makes sense. I’ve been wanting to talk about what happened for a long time but most of the people I know don’t believe in this stuff, and I have to be careful with confidentiality and everything. I live over in Poets’ Corner, where are you?”
I was as vague as I could be without being rude, giving her a cross street we were close to. My run in with the demon possessed Ms. Heng had reminded me that I should be more careful in sharing personal details about my life.
“I told you I’m a nurse, right?”
“Good, well, that’s when everything happened, when I was on overnights with a patient, Shelly. You’ll change her name, right? She lived over near the dump in a brick split level. Below grade was pretty much it’s own living area. Like a little efficiency, it even had a separate entrance and a little patio out back.
“The house was nice enough, a rental for her. The place was a dark and dreary, but the woods in that area are pretty intense, the important thing was that it was clean. I won’t take a job in a dirty house.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to keep up. “When you said overnights I was picturing you in a hospital.”
“No, not anymore. I’ve been a terrible sleeper my whole life so I was drawn to the night shift while I was in nursing school. Worked on Med Surg for years at Brigham and Women’s but two years ago I transitioned into home healthcare. It lets me really meet a patient’s needs. Most of the time I help people recover at home from surgery, or I help get them through their cancer treatments. I’ve built a good reputation so I can be selective in choosing patients. It was Shelly’s daughter who contacted the service.”
“What did she need help with?”
“The daughter made it sound as though Shelly was rapidly descending into full-blown Dementia and that she wanted someone in the house at night to make sure she didn’t hurt herself or wander off.”
“The poor women,” I said.
“I know, it’s a fate worse than death. I don’t typically assist patients with advanced Alzheimer’s or dementia. The risk for them is too great, they’re much better off in a secure environment. Houses can be dangerous for confused people. The daughter was insistent and I asked to meet Shelly before I accepted the job. She was perfectly lovely and seemed pretty with it.
“I thought, you know an overnight nurse is pretty expensive if you don’t have a person who needs actual medical assistance, but it was their money and I didn’t have any other pressing patients. If I did, I would have given them priority.”
“How many nights a week did you stay with her?”
“Wow,” I commented.
“Yeah, it paid really well,” Jess sighed. “But on with the spooky stuff, right? So, the first night I’m there I was in my room on the ground level, you know in that little efficiency, reading. It was probably about one in the morning and I hear someone walk into the kitchen and turn on the faucet. I figured Shelly was getting herself a glass of water. I didn’t want to crowd her so I just listened. But the water stayed on for too long so I went up to check that all was well – oh, so there was a short staircase from the efficiency that led up to the kitchen.
“Anyhow, she wasn’t there but the thing that concerned me was that the kitchen light was off. I’d left it on just in case she got up. I turned off water, flipped the light back on and went to check on her. She was sound asleep. It put me on alert, I thought, okay I get why the daughter wants me here.
“Next night, same exact thing. This time I stood at the bottom of the stairs, listening. When I thought it had been long enough I went up. No Shelly, light’s off again and the damn faucet was on full blast. I peeked into her room and sure enough, there she was, sound asleep.”
“Third night. Same song, same dance. But this time I went right up there the second I heard what I thought were her footsteps. I heard the faucet turn on as I was halfway up the stairs, I fully thought I’d see her standing there so when I turned the corner and saw a dark empty kitchen and that faucet running, it stopped me. Gave me a chill. I turned the water off and just stood there for a second trying to figure it out. Then I went down the hall checked her room, can you guess?”
“She was sound asleep,” I said.
Jess put her finger on the tip of her nose. “Bingo.”
“Spooky,” I said, smiling.
“Damn straight. I psyched myself up and thought, all right, I was forged in a fire greater than this. You know, by some fluke, I was on shift the day of the marathon bombings, covering for a nurse on maternity leave. We took thirty-one trauma patients that day. A ghost who likes to play at the kitchen sink isn’t going to ruffle my feathers. At least, it shouldn’t have. But turns out ghosts require a different kind of brave. I need another coffee, you?”
“Oh, yeah, sure.”
“I’ll grab you one, do you like Hazelnut?”
“I do, here,” I said, grabbing my wallet.
“No, it’s on me. It feels so good to tell someone about this,” Jess said waving my money away. “I’ll be back in two shakes.”
I looked out the window as Jess purchased the coffees and tried to process what she’d shared so far. Then I checked my phone and saw that Chris had texted several photos of the girls sorting recycling at the dump.
“Here you go, I put soy milk and sugar in it.” Jess placed the coffee in front of me and climbed into the tall chair.
“Thank you! Perfect.”
“Where did I leave off? Uh, yeah the kitchen faucet. So that’s how it started. That night, the one where I realized it wasn’t Shelly who’d been turning on the water, I turned on every single freaking light in the basement and jumped at every creak and bump.”
“Did you ask Shelly about it?”
“Well, that was tricky. I didn’t want her to think I was lurking around at night. But after that I asked if she’d been up to get water in the middle of the night. I didn’t mention the previous two nights with the faucets, I just said I thought I’d heard the water. She claimed she’d slept through the night, that she’d been sleeping so much better just knowing that I was in the house with her. And this I’ll never forget, she said, ‘You’ve quieted things down.’”
“That’s what thought. So I asked what she meant but she didn’t really answer. Just sorta ignored the question. Thing was, the more time I spent with her, even though it was just for about a couple of hours at night and one or two in the morning I just wasn’t seeing the tell-tale signs of Dementia. And morning and evening can be the most disorienting times for people with the disease. She was pretty sharp when we watched Wheel and she wasn’t a bad poker player either. Besides that I didn’t notice many instances of confusion, or time slips and she recognized me and referred back to earlier conversations we’d had.”
“What had the daughters told you about her condition?”
“Ah, the daughters. Well, the eldest, Marny was the one who’d contacted me and I’d interviewed at her house with the younger sister Alexis. They weren’t exactly on the same page where their mother was concerned but they agreed she should have someone in the house with her at night. Marny was convinced her mother was beginning to ‘lose her mind’ – her words, not mine – but Alexis was of the opinion that their mom was lonely and still getting used to the new house. At the time I thought maybe she was in denial.”
“Oh,” I said, “so it was a recent move. I was going to ask.”
“Oh, yeah. They’d moved mom out of the house they grew up in over in Dover, dad had died about three years prior, so they wanted mom close by ‘To keep an eye on her’ again, the daughter’s words, not mine. As I mentioned, the house was a rental. Marny was building a guest house on their property, I guess Shelly had refused to move into the main house with her. So that was the compromise. Apparently, the old family home sold faster than they thought it would so the rental house was a short-term solution until the guest house was complete.”
“Had she lived there?” Jess finished the sentence for me. “Six months.”
“And had she been-”
“Displaying any signs of confusion before she moved into that house?” Again, Jess completed my thought. “No, at least according to her daughters.”
“Did you mention the kitchen faucet thing to them?”
“No. At least not right away.”Jess seemed to hesitate.
“And then?” I prompted.
“Then things got really creepy,” she admitted. “The whole kitchen thing happened the first week I was there. Then one night during my second week at the house I must have dozed off while I was reading because the next thing I know, Shelly is gently rubbing my arm to wake me up.
“‘Did you see him?’ She wanted to know. ‘See who?’ I asked once I’d shaken off the sleep. ‘The little boy, he walked past my room and I followed him down here. Where did he go?’”
“Oh no,” I groaned.
“Mm, well, here’s the thing. It was startling, for sure. But remember why I was there – to take care of someone who supposedly had dementia, right? We walked through the basement checking the rooms and doors and then did the same upstairs. I was finally able to convince her that it had been a dream. She did say one thing that gave me pause, though. She sad she’d seen the boy before. In the garage once, in the middle of the day.”
I let out a breath. “I’m guessing it didn’t end there.”
“Not even close. Soon after I was up having a midnight snack in my little living area at this cute cafe table. I had my back to the kitchen area and all of a sudden the damn faucet turned on. That gave me a jolt. I shot up to turn it off and when I did I heard the door at the top of the stairs – the one that lead right into the first floor kitchen – slam shut.
“I bolted up the steps not even sure who or what I thought I’d catch and when I got up there I saw that the damn faucet had been turned on up there too. And yes, Shelly was right where she was supposed to be, tucked in tight fast asleep in her bed.
“So now I’m fully unsettled, right? I went back downstairs and grabbed my book and camped out in the living room the rest of the night on the main floor. Lights ablaze. This is going to sound cliché, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched.”
“I’ll bet,” I said.
“That next morning over coffee I asked Sherry if she’d noticed any issues with the plumbing. No, she hadn’t really, except for the faucets. Said that sometimes she’d come home and they’d be on. She told me it was one of the reasons her daughters got so worked up about her being alone at night. ‘What if you’d left the stove on by accident instead, mom?’ They’d asked. She was pissed they wouldn’t believe her that she hadn’t left the water running.”
“And now she was seeing little boys running through the house at night,” I commented.
“You know it. Classic escalation, right?”
“You seem to be pretty familiar with hauntings. None of this seems like a surprise to you.”
“Yeah, no. I love this stuff, have ever since I was a little girl. I’d just never experienced anything paranormal myself, you know? It scared me more than I thought it would.”
“I know exactly what you mean.”
“Yeah, um, so do you really hear spirits?” Jess asked, cautiously.
“Sometimes,” I said.
Jess watched me, an expectant look on her face.
“I haven’t heard anything recently if that’s what you’re asking.”
“I just wondered, you know…”
“Sure. Usually, in busy places like this I’ll hear someone. But there hasn’t been anything of note so far.”
“Would you tell me if there was?” She asked.
I smiled, “Maybe. Probably.”
“Do you watch Ghost Adventures?” She asked abruptly.
“Do you mean it?” I said.
“Yeah, I think that’s the best reality show about the paranormal out there. I mean, best show ever, really.”
“I one hundred percent agree with you.” I said, trying not to completely geek out.
“Would you ever go to one of those really haunted locations they investigate? Like the Washoe Club or Bobbie Mackey’s?”
“But what if you heard something incredible, you know, that could prove those things are really there.”
“Those things are there whether I hear them or not,” I said.
“True. And I guess no matter how much proof you have barely anyone will believe you. Even if I’d managed to record that ghost boy or the faucet turning on by itself, there would still be people who thought I’d faked it.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “There will always be skeptics.” I said simply.
“Well. I know what happened in that house, and it cured me of my skepticism completely.”
“What else happened?”
Jess took a deep breath. “Objects began to move on their own. I went up one morning and there were four of Shelly’s little porcelain figurines lined up on the floor right at the top of the steps. I noticed them when I was halfway upstairs, it stopped me cold. I stepped around them and found Shelly, who was just walking out of her bedroom and showed them to her. She was pretty pissed. She was really into those Hummel things. Told me that most had been packed away awaiting the move to the guest house, but she’d brought her favorites to the rental because she didn’t want anything to happen to them while they were in storage.”
“Oof, figurines moving on their own. I don’t like it,” I said with a nervous laugh.
“Neither did I,” Jess said, seriously. “I was jumpy in that house as it was. That little ghost trick sent me over the edge. You’ve mentioned a couple of times in your blog how kid ghosts might not actually be kid ghosts, right?”
“Well, yeah, I mean who knows, right? They could very well be demons or some other negative entity pretending to be a child. But from there my mind starts to freak out, like what if everything is demons just pretending to be ghosts. Tricking us all for some scary reason.”
Jess looked at her coffee and gave a subtle nod. “That thought kept sneaking up on me. Like, if it was just some kid’s ghost being all mischievous then why did I feel so threatened? More importantly, why did I have such a strong intuition that Shelly was in danger? Like the thing was after her? There was no logical reason for me to think that, a faucet and some figurines don’t spell out sinister intentions, but the feeling I had. It was tense, anxious.
“And then it wasn’t long after that I heard the voice over the baby monitor.”
I let out a whistle. “Baby monitor?”
“Yeah, it was just the simple old school kind. You know, only sound, no video or anything. Shelly agreed to put the transmitter on her nightstand and I kept the receiver with me so I could hear if she needed anything.”
“I was watching a movie on my iPad, I’d stopped reading at night at that point, I needed more company than that. So I’m watching the movie and I hear static come across the monitor. I listened for a minute, nothing. I went back to the movie but with one ear on the monitor just in case.
“A few minutes later I hear my name. It startled me a little, but I assumed it was Shelly and that she needed help. I was alarmed, actually. She’d never used the monitor to call for me before so I was afraid she was in trouble. I rushed upstairs and, dun dun duuuuun, the kitchen faucet was on full blast. I don’t know how I hadn’t heard it. Along with that the kitchen lights were off. It scared me. I basically ran to Shelly’s room and there she was sitting up in bed staring at her closet.
“I asked if she was alright and she said, ‘Did you hear that?’ I told her that yes, I’d heard her call for me over the baby monitor. But that’s not what she’d meant. She hadn’t called for me. But she’d heard someone in her closet.”
“Yeesh,” I breathed. “What exactly did she hear?”
Jess reached up and rubbed the back of her neck. “She said she woke up to her closet door sliding open and then she heard a little boy say, ‘We can’t wait for you to join us, Shelly.’”
“Oh, shit,” I said, laughing nervously.
“Yeah. I immediately clicked into calm nurse in a crisis mode and told her to get up out of bed. I had to get us both away from that closet and I didn’t like the vibe on that main level. So we went down to the basement and watched Moonstruck until morning.”
“And then what did you do?”
“I wasn’t about to mess around. I called Marny at seven and asked her to come over right away. I laid everything out for her and told her that in my professional opinion, from what I had observed in my time with Shelly, she wasn’t experiencing the initial stages of Dementia. What she was going through was a haunting and the house was not a safe place for her to be. I had serious reservations about her even spending time alone there during the day.”
“How did the daughter react?” I asked.
“Defensive, at first. Which I’d fully expected. But she asked a bunch of questions and I think she really took us seriously when I told her that Shelly and I had discussed it and we both felt that the best plan of action was for her to go live with Marny and her family until that guest house was complete.”
“And that was that. Shelly didn’t stay there another night. She moved out of that house and in with her daughter to wait for the builders to finish the guest house. She’d been adamant about maintaining her independence up until that point, but that little house or whatever was in it chased her out.”
“Crazy,” I said.
“Yeah, sorry there’s no big scary reveal here. It was just a regular old haunting, I guess.”
“Those are the scariest ones,” I commented.
“True,” she conceded.
“So that house must still be a rental, right?”
“Yup. I drove by it not long ago and there was a Suburban parked in the driveway and a bunch of kids stuff, you know bikes and scooters strewn around.”
“Great,” I breathed.
“So, you still haven’t heard anything, right?”
It took me a moment to realize what she was asking. I’d thought she’d meant about the rental. “Oh, you mean have any ghosts chimed in on your story?”
“No,” I said, apologetically.
But I wasn’t telling the truth. Around the time we’d been debating whether it had been ghosts or demons pretending to be ghosts haunting the rental house, Claire had spoken up.
“It’s getting worse,” she’d commented.
I don’t know why I didn’t tell Jess. Maybe because it scared me and by not telling her I could pretend things weren’t escalating in Wellesley.