ghosts in the burbs

A blog about the people who live in Wellesley, MA and the ghosts (and monsters) who haunt them.

unnamedOver the next week Gen Hensley became a surprisingly frequent texter. For some unknown reason the woman had taken a liking to me and I couldn’t shake her. It began when I texted her Judith Kay’s contact information and then escalated to Gen basically live texting me from the Mani Pedi. The texts were basically inane gossip; who she saw, where she went, who she saw when she was headed to wherever she going, what they were wearing, etc. It was mildly amusing at times, claustrophobia inducing at others. She didn’t ask about me or my life, thank goodness, and she never suggested that we hang out. It was as if she had simply tapped me into her stream of thought via our cell phones.

“You need boundaries,” Biddy pointed out, not for the first time.

I agreed, of course, but what was I going to do? Tell Gen to stop texting me insipid nonsense?

“Mark my words,” Biddy insisted, “You’ll be sorry you didn’t shut her down sooner.” I felt that was rather dramatic. It was just a silly text chain. Gen’s interest in me, or talking at me through text rather, would peter out eventually.

Meanwhile, I was impatiently waiting for Judith to come diagnose my paranormal problem and Biddy had someone she wanted me to meet.

“He thinks he has a demon problem,” Biddy told me over quinoa bowls at CocoBeet.

“Why does he think that?” I asked, enjoying the maple syrup drenched grains despite myself.

“Mood swings, aggression, seeing shadows, sleep paralysis, the usual,” she replied. “These are good, right?”

I nodded. “When are you meeting him?” I asked.

“Tomorrow morning, at CrepeBerry. He’s a vegetarian.”

“Hm, what time?”

“Nine-thirty.”

“And they have crepes?”

 

***

 

The next morning was a complete and utter shit show. I was so turned around and lethargic that I could barely make the kids lunches for school. I hadn’t slept well the night before. Vivid dreams kept startling me awake until I finally gave up and read until the kids woke up.

Even though I was running late I stopped for a Starbucks latte before making my way over to CrepeBerry. I scanned the cozy restaurant and spotted Biddy. Her back was to me and she sat across from an Adonis. Though seated, I could tell the man was tall. He had very dark wavy brown hair which he kept a little long and it looked as though he’d spent a week or so someplace warm and sunny. I pegged him somewhere in his early-to-mid forties.

I put my hand on Biddy’s back, said hello and then introduced myself.

“Liz, hello,” the hunk said with a wide smile and heavily lashed shark’s eyes, “I’m Jason, Jason Brock. So great of you to hash this out with me.”

His handshake was way too strong and I resisted massaging my hand after I sat.

“You look like shit,” Biddy declared, concern in her voice. “Are you alright?”

I shook my head, “Yeah, just a rough night’s sleep. Sorry I’m late, what are you guys talking about?”

“Oh, I was just saying how much I like this restaurant. I was telling Biddy that I’m a one hundred percent plant fueled athlete. It’s the wave of the future for athletics. Even Tom Brady’s doing it.”

“Who’s that?” I asked.

The two of them looked at me like I’d just thrown my coffee at the wall.

“I’m joking,” I said, rolling my eyes.

Jason laughed nervously. “Yeah, well, lately I’ve been having a hard time staying on my plan. I blame it on the trouble I’ve been having.”

“Wait,” I said. “Did Biddy tell you that I write a blog about Wellesley hauntings?” I asked.

“Oh, sure, yeah. That’s great, it sounds rad,” he said, brow furrowed.

“I just mean, is it alright with you if I record your story and share it on the blog? I would change your name and everything to keep you anonymous.”

“Oh, right, yeah sure, that’s cool.” Jason had been sitting with his elbows on the table. He removed them and then his hands together in his lap then looked between the two of us with mild concern as if we were about to conduct a job interview.   

“You wrote in your initial email that you feel like there’s a demon haunting you,” Biddy said, cutting to the chase.

“Yeah. I do,” Jason said, with slight embarrassment.

“Why do you think that?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve had these mood swings lately, bad mood swings. I’ll be fine, you know? And then all of a sudden it’s like I want to tear someone’s head off. And there are shadows in my house. I see them out of the corner of my eye. I was watching television the other night and one passed right in front of the screen and then darted into my kitchen. Oh, and a couple times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and it feels like something is sitting on my chest, I can’t move at all and it’s really hard to breath. That has been the worst. Feeling trapped like that.”

“That all sounds really awful,” Biddy said sympathetically, “And those can definitely signify demonic oppression, but why do you think a demon would be haunting you?”

“I’ve thought a lot about that, you know? Like, why me? Why now, when I’m at the top of my game?” Jason looked down at his lap. “I’m not perfect, I admit I went through some rough years, you know with my ex and the kids. But I’ve worked really hard to put all of that behind me.”

“So you think that something you did attracted a demon?” I asked.

Jason looked nervously between us then leaned forward. “Look, I’m no saint, alright? I cheated on my wife a couple times and that’s why we split up, but I’m a pretty good dad. And I’m totally clean now, but in my thirties I got into supplements that enhanced the effectiveness of my workouts.”

My mind took a minute to catch up. “Oh, steroids?”

Jason looked around nervously. “Yeah, but all that is totally out of my system. I train people now and everything I teach is based on completely clean eating and living.”

“You think using steroids somehow lead to a demonic attachment?” Biddy asked.

“I’m just trying to come clean, that’s all. I just want you to know the whole story. It feels like my past has come up to bite me.”

Biddy watched him for a moment considering. She said, “You know, the symptoms you’ve mentioned, they could simply have a medical basis. Mood swings are definitely tied to steroid use. The rest might be anxiety brought on by these big life changes you mentioned-”

“No, that’s not it. That’s not what’s happening. I’m not describing everything right,” Jason became agitated. Shaking his head back and forth. Biddy and I both sat further back in our seats.

“I don’t doubt what you’re saying. You’ve obviously experienced something disturbing. When did all of this begin?” Biddy asked soothingly.

“A few weeks ago,” Jason replied.

“So what exactly happened?” I asked, wondering why he was being so vague.

Jason blew out a breath. “I went on a date with this crazy chick. That’s the night everything started.”

I glanced at Biddy, she sighed and said, “Now we’re getting somewhere. What happened that night?”

“So this girl I do CrossFit with set us up. I wasn’t totally sold on the idea, but Caroline, the woman I work out with, pushed and pushed for it. She told me her friend was really hot and into working out and she thought we’d connect. So I gave in and agreed to text the girl and ask if she wanted to grab a drink.

“She works clients out in their home, like she’s personal coach, and her last client of the day lived in Needham so we met early, around five, for a drink at Blue on Highland. I figured if it was a total bomb I could duck out saying I had dinner reservations with a friend at seven.

“Caroline wasn’t wrong, this girl, Regan, was really hot. Not my type, you know? She was pretty tatted up and had short dyed black hair with some of those purple stripes, know what I mean? Thing was she was pretty cool to hang out with, a little intense, but we talked a lot about training and she was pretty interested in hearing all about Crossfit.

“We ordered another drink and she asked if she could read my palm. I was like, yeah, whatever and kinda laughed it off but she took my hand and told me all this wack stuff about the lines on my hands.”

“What kind of stuff?” I asked.

“Oh man, I don’t know I wasn’t really paying attention until she started wigging out about my fate line. She held her hand out next to mine to get me to see some similarity that I honestly didn’t see, but she was, like one hundred percent sure that our fates were crossing for some reason. Then she goes, ‘You have to come home with me.’”

I couldn’t help it, I laughed out loud which made Jason smile and blush a little bit.

“Ha, yeah, I know it sounds like a total pick up line, but it wasn’t like that. She was, like convinced that something special was happening. And, I mean of course I wanted to go home with her. She was sort of strange, but you know, she was hot. So I agreed to follow her home.”

“Does she live in Wellesley too?” I asked.

“No but really close by, she lives in those apartments near the Woodland Country Club. Close to that T station.”

Biddy and I indicated that we knew the ones he was referring to.

“Yeah, her place was cool, it was a two bed and she lived alone so I figured she was doing pretty well for herself. She poured us a drink and then she showed me the second bedroom. It was cool, she’d converted the room into her own workout and meditation studio. In front of the windows there was a wooden table with glittery black table cloth on it and two chairs so we sat down across from each other. She was like, ‘Don’t think I’m crazy, but I’ve been waiting to meet you.’ So I go, I know, Caroline has been trying to get us together for a while I’ve just been busy or whatever and Regan was like, ‘No, I knew about you before that.’”

“Uh oh,” I said, sucking in a breath.

Jason shook his head. “At first I thought, shit is this chick some kind of a stalker or something? But then she started talking really quickly about how the table we were sitting at had told her all sorts of things that had come to pass and that it had described a tall man with black hair whose life she would change. She was all, ‘You’re that man.’ Dude, after my dad died my mom used to go to a psychic so I totally get how some people are into that stuff, but I just never put any stock in it, right? But this chick was way into it.”

“What exactly did she tell you?”

“She was positive that she’d been told all about me and that we were supposed to meet so she could change my life. The weird thing was she knew I wasn’t believing her so she started spouting things off about my life that she shouldn’t have known.”

“Like what?” I asked, nervously.

“Like my birthday for one thing.”

“She knew your exact birthday?” Biddy asked doubtfully. “Maybe your friend told her.”

“I don’t think so, maybe but there was other stuff. She knew that I’m an only child and that my dad died from a heart attack a couple years ago. She said it all made sense that the table had told her those things because she needed those facts to make me believe her.”

“Tell me you put down your drink and got out of there,” I said.

Jason shrugged. “I was weirded out, sure but…”

“But she was hot,” Biddy interjected.

“Well that, and what she was saying was nuts. Like how could she know all of that about me?”

“Then what?” I pressed.

“Well then she was like, ‘I have to show you, you’ll believe me if I show you.’ So she told me to pick up my drink, so I did, and then she pulled the shimmery cloth off of the table and I saw that there were letters painted all over the table top.”

Biddy actually slapped her hand to her forehead at that point.

“What?” Jason said nervously. “Is that bad?”

“You tell me,” Biddy replied, rubbing her hand over her eyes. “What happened next?”

Jason looked at me, as if for reassurance but I just stared at him, fascinated.

“Well,” he continued, “She grabbed a glass that was sitting on the windowsill, turned it over and put it in the middle of the table over this little painting of a star. Then she put two of her fingers on top of the glass and told me to do the same thing.”

“No, no, no,” I breathed.

“What?” He said, obviously worried.

“Did she ask the table any questions?” Biddy asked him.

“Oh yeah, she asked it a bunch of stuff and it would spell out answers by moving the cup over the letters written on the table. I thought she was moving the cup and I said so so she had me do it on my own and I don’t know how to explain it, maybe it was the three drinks I’d had, but it felt like it was really moving on its own.  

“She made her own damn Ouija Board,” Biddy said, incredulous.

“What’s that?” Jason asked, looking genuinely perplexed.

Exchanging a glance with Biddy, I explained, “It’s a way to contact the dead and, well, other things.”

“Oh, okay, yeah I guess that makes sense because it got really creepy in that apartment after that.”

“Wait, you’ve never heard of a Ouija Board?” I asked in disbelief.

“No,” he replied, simply.

“Did you ask the table any questions?” Biddy asked.

“Yeah, sure, I asked if it knew my middle name. It did, it’s Michael,” Jason informed us. “So then I asked it who we were talking to and it did this crazy thing. It began arching the glass back and forth, back and forth between the O and the Z. It did it at least ten times. Finally I just let go of the cup, it weirded me out. And Regan goes, ‘It’s him! He’s here!’”

“Holy Mary, Mother of God,” I breathed.

“Does that mean something?” Jason asked.

“How much more time did you spend in that apartment?” Biddy asked, ignoring his question.

“Well, like I said, the place got real creepy and I just wasn’t digging Regan any more. I made an excuse that I had an early workout and got out of there.”

“How soon before you knew you had an attachment?” Biddy asked. Her demeanor had changed. Whereas she’d appeared to simply be humoring Jason prior to the table revelation, since the name had come up she was leaned forward over the table, serious, intent.

“Uh, I guess that night. I heard shuffling sounds at the foot of my bed around three o’clock. Like someone was walking back and forth, pacing. It was weird though, I couldn’t fully wake up. Like, I knew it was happening but couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it. And then the headaches started. They only lasted on and off for a couple days but they were brutal. I get them once and a while now, but it’s only when I’m doing something he doesn’t like. I’m actually surprised he’s letting me talk to you right now.”

“Oh shit,” I said, my hand automatically searching for the medallion around my neck. “Is he here now?”

Jason nodded. “He’s always here.”

“Where?” I asked.

Jason tilted his head to the side and cracked his neck, “Right behind my chair. He hovers behind me like that most of the time. It’s weird though, I don’t know why but he isn’t giving me trouble right now.”

“What sorts of trouble would he give you?” Biddy asked.

“Well, headaches definitely. They’re so bad I get to the point where I want to cut my head off. That’s usually how he’ll stop me from doing something he doesn’t want me to do.”

“What doesn’t he want you to do?”

“It’s hard to say, I think it’s that he might not want me to interact with certain people, or, I mean, forget about going to visit my mom or my friends anymore. It’s good though, he doesn’t really bother me when I sleep. Actually, I’m sleeping better than I have since my dad died. And I know he likes when I work out. It took some time to piece that one together but it’s like he’s given me more strength than I’ve ever had. My reps are up, I can lift more than I ever have in my life and I could run for hours.”

“He wants you strong,” Biddy commented.

“For what?” I asked. The two of them gave me a look. “What?” I said.

“From all reports, Zozo likes violence and forgive me for saying so Jason, but in you he basically has a loaded weapon.”

“Zozo?” Jason said, confused again.

“Yeah, that’s his name he was spelling out for you on the table,” Biddy said slowly.

“Oh,” Jason replied just as slowly. “Okay, I thought it was Oz.”

I stifled a nervous giggle.

“What do you mean, ‘by all reports,’ though. This thing has affected other people?”

“Yes, and he’s incredibly dangerous. The mood swings you mentioned, are they getting worse?” Biddy asked seriously.

“For sure. It actually reminds me of what I felt like on the uh, you know, the supplements. I’m pretty up one minute, feeling great and then bam! I’m about to tear someone’s head off for not putting the weights back properly at the gym. It feels out of control, like I could rage at any minute.”

“But you feel alright now, talking with us, I mean?” I asked.

“Yeah, the weird thing is that after I emailed you,” he said to Biddy, “I put my phone down on my bed and when I came back it was like someone had take a sledge hammer to it. It was in a million pieces. I went to get a new one and I was afraid to respond to your first reply. I deleted it. Then I got your next email asking if it was alright if she tagged along,” he pointed to me, “I didn’t respond to that one either. He did.”

“What do you mean?”

“I wasn’t going to write back to you. I’m not made of money. I knew he didn’t want me in touch with you so I didn’t write you back. I didn’t respond to the first email and neither did he. But then when I got the response from you confirming the meeting time and place I scrolled down and saw that someone, I mean he had responded to your second email. Saying it would be great if you brought her. Something like-”

The more the merrier,” Biddy and Jason said in unison giving me full body chills.

“Oh, fuck,” Biddy breathed.

“I would never write something like that, it sounds like something an old lady would say,” Jason insisted. “Look, man, I don’t know what your deal is,” he continued pointing to me again, “But I need help. I’m afraid that I’m gonna to go off one of these days so bad that someone’s going to get hurt.”

“What the hell does this thing want with me?” I said defensively.

“Later,” Biddy said giving me a hard look.

“I’ll say it again, I know I’m not a saint but I’ve tried my best to leave all of that bad shit in my past. I help people now and I’m a good dad. I don’t know why this thing is obsessed with me!”

“Look,” Biddy said firmly, “The first thing you need to realize is that all that stuff from your past is not what attracted this demon. This isn’t like some sick payback from God for past sins. For whatever reason Zozo finds a way out through the talking board – or in your case, table. He attaches to people he feels he can manipulate and ruin. He’s using those memories and the guilt you carry over past mistakes to weaken and drain you. You have to let all of that go if you even have a chance of getting rid of him.”

“What about the woman, Regan?” I said.

“Have you seen her again?” Biddy asked Jason.

“Yeah, I mean not on purpose, but I keep running into her. Like I saw her yesterday at the Starbucks near my gym and a couple days before that I ran into her at the dry cleaner.”

“She’s totally following you around,” I said.

“No, wait, do you think so?” Jason asked, looking frightened.

“I have no idea what her role is in this but if you see her stay away until we can get someone to help you. The church will consider this a priority, but for the time being I’m going to give you this.” Biddy reached down into her bag for her wallet. She unzipped its coin purse and took out a St. Benedict medal. Then she put it on the table top and slid it across towards Jason.

He stared at it. “What is that.”

“It’s a St. Benedict medal that’s been blessed by a Catholic priest. Put it in your wallet and carry it with you during the day and place it under your pillow while you sleep, okay? It’s not going to solve anything, but it will shine a little bit of light into the darkness around you.”

Jason continued to stare at the religious medal on the table.

We watched him watching it.

“Take it,” I said, fighting an inexplicable panic.

Jason began shaking his head slowly and then he grabbed his forehead, his face tight.

“Is it one of the headaches?” Biddy asked quietly.

Jason didn’t respond. Biddy snatched the medal off the table. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I just had to be sure.”

BloodyMary

Biddy: DUMB DUMB

Me: But if I hadn’t gone I wouldn’t know that there is something attached 2 me.

Biddy: eye roll emoji

Me: She knows Father MacGonagle

Biddy: Yeah, I’ll check into that…

Me: Will you just please b here with me when she comes 2 the house?

Biddy: Ugh, yes.

Me: smiley face emoji, thumbs up emoji, ghost emoji, devil face emoji

Biddy: poop emoji

I was saging the house  like it was my full time job and I had the kids sleeping on blow up mattresses on our bedroom floor. Chris wasn’t thrilled but he reassured me that he didn’t think it was my fault there was something creeping around our family again. I didn’t agree.

I installed a hook and eye latch on the basement door, placed high enough so the girls couldn’t reach it. I buried St. Benedict medals at the four corners of the property and I said out loud (when no one was home), “I command any negative spirit to leave this property.” It was pretty weak, but I felt better making an effort while I waited for Judith Kay to swoop in and save the day.

 

***

 

In the meantime, I received a text from a woman in town. She explained that a “mutual friend” had provided my phone number. She wanted to meet me to “give an interview and ask for advice.” I recognized her name immediately.

Gen Hensley’s appearance is deceiving. She appears to be a completely involved mother of two with a healthy, if a touch over-active social life. She doesn’t look like she quietly commands a group of Wellesley mothers. She doesn’t seem like a cold-hearted gossip. She doesn’t appear as though she could detach in the blink of an eye and gaslight a woman right out of her social circle. But I’ve heard a few stories, and I believe them.

What Gen looks like is a typical Wellesley mom. The dark circles under her eyes that show through concealer might indicate a sleepless night with the kids, though they more likely are the result of staying up too late with too many vodkas on the rocks (aka. Skinny Bitches). She hides a calculating mind that doesn’t miss a beat (or a social guffaw) with a tight smile and a quick laugh, but don’t let the way she quickly cozies up fool you. Gen files every tiny detail you tell away in her ex-business woman’s mind.

I’ve mentioned before that the town has five elementary schools and the townsfolk tend to identify and clique up along the district boundaries. Gen’s children attend the elementary school known for its party atmosphere. Think booze-soaked themed costume school fundraisers. A class social complete with an ice luge. Moms frequently plan “girls’ weekends,” to tropical locations or full service spa getaways. It all sounds like so much fun doesn’t it? Drunken late nights with friends, quick getaway with the girls to recharge from family life… But just like every dark tunnel has a light of hope, every bright and shiny clique has a dark underbelly.

Gen Hensley floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee in her microcosm of suburban social life. When she reached out, I knew of Gen but didn’t know her, I felt the familiar rise of good old-fashioned middle school social anxiety. The queen bee had come to call, and what the fuck was I going to wear?

 

***

 

We met at Cafe Nero (my suggestion). My friend Jennifer warned me to watch my back, she knew a couple of women who had been burned by Gen and didn’t want the woman’s conniving ways to negatively affect me or the blog. I considered canning the interview but curiosity got the best of me. She can’t be all that scary, I reasoned.

Unable to find anything in my closet that felt cool and then angry with myself for even caring what I was going to wear to meet this famously bitchy woman, I chose black workout gear and threw on a light North Face vest. Whatever.

I got to the cafe early to snag a table. After waiting about ten minutes a woman approached me, dark Gucci sunglasses obscuring her eyes. “There you are,” Gen said, in a mildly accusatory voice.

“Here I am,” I replied, forcing a smile.

“I’ll grab a drink,” she stated, placing a large Goyard tote on the chair opposite mine. “What are you drinking?” She pointed at my cup.

“Just coffee,” I answered.

She gave a little nod and strode off towards the counter. I scrolled through my phone to kill the time while I waited.

Gen gracefully took her seat across from me and popped the lid off her green tea. Now held back by her sunglasses, her shoulder length, highlighted hair was beginning to show roots. Gen was just this side of too thin in that way that ages a woman’s face prematurely. She wore white skinny jeans, a blue and white slouchy, long-sleeved St. James shirt and some kind of cool white sneaker.

We chit-chatted about mutual acquaintances and the schools our kids attended.

“Where do you work out?” She asked.

I named the gym where I’d been attending yoga classes.

“Are you headed there after our interview?”

I shook my head.

Her eyes skipped over my apparel. “So how many kids do you have?”

“Three,” I answered, after swallowing a sip of coffee.

“All girls, right?”

“Right,” I said, realizing that she had done her homework and wondering what else she knew about me. “Do you mind if I record our interview?” I asked pointing to the recorder by my coffee cup.

She shook her head. “Whatever.”

“So you don’t mind then? And is it alright if I publish your story, under a different name, of course?”

“No, that’s fine. It’s not like anyone I know will read it. So I guess I’ll just start telling you what happened. Okay, so do you remember that eclipse we had?”

“The one that happened last summer?” I asked.

“Yeah. My daughter had some friends over that day after school and then when their moms came to pick them up we ended up chatting like we always do and then my neighbor, Maeve came over and when four thirty rolled around I poured the Rose and one glass turned into another. You know how it is. I ordered pizza for the kids and chatted with my girlfriends in our sunroom.

“My daughter, Madison, was really into those Goosebumps books last summer. She tore through them. And she was always on the lookout for something scary and I think the girls were a little freaked out by the eclipse or whatever. Anyway, she and her friends came into the sunroom to show us ‘light as a feather stiff as a board,’ you know that old game, right?”

I nodded my head.

“Yeah, so they were just fooling around with that and my friends and I got into the fun and we did it too. Then Maeve asked the girls if they’d heard of Bloody Mary.”

“Oh, Gen.”

“How were we supposed to know it wasn’t just a game like that stiff as a board crap?”

“Are you about to tell me that you played Bloody Mary during an eclipse?” I asked in disbelief.

“Um, yeah. Here’s the thing, Maeve’s husband is, like way into weird stuff, like weird board games and, okay this is so embarrassing – I would die if my husband did this – but I guess the guy does like ghost hunting-”

“Wait, what is their last name?” I interrupted.

“Uh, Sayre, why do you know Maeve?”

I closed my eyes for a second and took a deep breath. “I know her husband.”

“Nick? How do you know Nick? Did he sell you a house?”

“No, I interviewed him about, well about the paranormal things he’s into, and he actually introduced me to one of my close friends.”

“Small world,” Gen said and I could tell she was filing this information away in her mind, that perhaps I was someone who actually had connections in her little social world and she might just need to adjust the way she handled me.

“So Maeve brought up the idea of Bloody Mary to your children?” I asked, not wanting to talk about Nick, or what I thought of him.

“Yeah, just for fun. We all did it when we were little girls, right?”

I shook my head.

“Well, now that I think of it, I didn’t either, but I know I talked about it at sleepover parties or whatever,” Gen admitted.

“I remember talking about it too, and I absolutely did ‘light as a feather stiff as a board,’ but Bloody Mary just felt too, I don’t know, risky. Scary actually,” I said.

“I figured it was just Maeve being strange. I thought it was just a stupid kid’s game and I know Maeve is into some really weird shit, I mean, who over the age of fifteen still talks about ghosts and seances?” Gen tossed her hair over her shoulders and I just sat quietly. Actually I’m pretty sure I did a slow blink though Gen didn’t notice.

“Ok, so get this, we were all just laughing and having a good time over that stupid feather game and then Maeve goes and tells the girls about this absurd Mary person and she dared the kids to go into the bathroom, light a candle, turn out the lights and say the name three times.”

“And they actually did it?”

“Not exactly, Madison’s little friends were too scared, and I could tell that Maeve was like, I don’t know, I just felt like she was being a prick. She made some comment about them being too scared to do the really spooky stuff. So I was like, ‘Come on, Maddi, your mom isn’t scared. I’ll do it with you.’”

“No, no, no,”I breathed.

“Yes, yes, yes,” she insisted. “I wasn’t going to let Maeve put down my daughter like that.”

“Are you guys friends?” I asked.

“Me and Maeve? Totally, she lives three doors down from us. New construction.”

Ah, I thought, So that was why she didn’t like the woman. Maeve was richer than Gen.

“What exactly did you and your daughter do?” I asked.

“I grabbed the peony & blush suede Jo Malone candle that I had in the kitchen and brought it into our powder room. [I looked it up so you don’t have to, women like Gen throw in useless information like that because they are trying to tell you something. Here’s what this incredibly specific candle description is telling us: y’all, that candle costs $470]. The girls were all giggling and excited and my girlfriends were like, ‘Oh, my God, Gen, you are too funny.’ I hustled Madison into the powder room and we did it.”

I waited for her to elaborate but she just sipped her tea and looked at me expectantly. “Right, but what exactly did you do?” I asked.

“We said her name three times, or whatever,” Gen replied, testily.

“What’s the ‘whatever’ part?”

“Here’s the thing, I was about three glasses of rose deep and I was just treating it as a joke so Madison wouldn’t get freaked out and so she could look cool in front of her friends. I may have been a little flippant.”

I forced myself to be quiet and waited for the truth of it to come.

“Ugh, fine, I think after we said the name three times, actually, I’m pretty sure Madison only said it once, but after I said it the last time I said something like, ‘Now twirl betch.’

Had I been drinking coffee at that moment it would have shot out of my nose. This was the problem with women like Gen, as nasty as they can be, their cruelty can be bitingly funny and therein lies their dangerous appeal.

Gen smiled at me as I laughed and I could sense her softening towards me a little bit.

I took a breath and pulled myself together, “So after your called Bloody Mary a betch, what happened?”

Gen’s face darkened. “Stop saying her name, okay? Here’s the thing, I thought it was nothing, like a total coincidence, right? But, we saw someone in the mirror. I mean, it was like the outline of a person, like a dark outline, but sort of cloudy, you know? She was standing right beside me. Madison screamed and I jumped away from the figure but when I looked next to me – you know, not in the reflection, but actually next to me – no one was there, but in the reflection, she was there. She was shorter than me and the longer I stared at her the clearer she became. It was only for a couple seconds, and then I flipped on the light and she was gone. Madison whipped the door open and ran out. I admit, I was pretty stunned. Everyone thought we were trying to pull one over but I could tell Maeve believed we’d seen something. She seemed, like guilty about it.”

“That was really shitty of her to let you guys do that,” I said sympathetically.

“Yeah, well, I guess it was,” Gen agreed. “But thank God Madison didn’t say the name three times. I don’t think I could handle it if she were being targeted like this.”

Just then a gorgeous leggy blond in a tight white t-shirt tucked into high-wasted army green bellbottomed capris snuck up behind Gen and squeezed her shoulder. “Hey, girl!” The beauty sang out.

Gen jumped, and then in the blink of an eye her face and voice morphed, happier, and higher pitched.

“Tinsley!”

Heeeyyyy,” the woman almost yelled. “Oh my God, we have to get coffee, soon. I am literally drowning in this kitchen renovation. If I’m not there constantly it’s like they don’t even remember my instructions. Part of it may be a language barrier if you know what I mean, but honestly, it’s no excuse.”

Gen made a soothing noise.

The women ignored me and spat privileged nonsense at each other for a few moments before Gen lowered her voice and said in a stage whisper, “Did you hear about the Silvins?”

“No!” Tinsley replied gleefully. “What?”

“Sleeping with the nextdoor neighbor,” Gen said triumphantly.

“Oh my God! Stop. Well, I mean, it’s not that shocking. Did I ever tell you what he said to me at the fall fundraiser last year?”

Gen glanced at me, apparently just remembering that I was sitting there. She gave Tinsley a look and then said, “This is Liz, Liz Sower. She blogs.”

“Oh, fashion? Home design?” Tinsley asked me.

Confused I looked at Gen.

“No, no, she’s, like, a writer. Anyway, we’re just catching up. But let’s you and me definitely grab coffee, tomorrow?”

“Done,” Tinsley said, bending down to kiss Gen on the cheek. “I’m off. Bye, Lisa, nice to meet you.”

I smiled and waved.

Gen’s face fell a little bit and I saw how exhausted she actually was. I saw no point in addressing the gross interaction with her friend so I sat and waited for her to go on with her story.

“Where was I?” Gen asked.

“You’d come out of the bathroom with your daughter and the only one who believed you was Maeve,” I reported, dryly.  

Gen squinted her eyes at me. “Right. Yeah, so that whole thing put a damper on the night. Our impromptu party broke up after that and everyone gathered up their kids to go home. Maeve held back though and waited for the rest of my friends to leave. She obviously wanted to talk about what I’d seen, so I sent Madison to watch television and Maeve and I chatted in the kitchen.

“What really pissed me off was how guilty she was acting. Like, she was all, ‘I’m sure it was just a trick of the light. It is really rare for her spirit to actually show up.’ First of all, why in the hell did she tell our children to do it if she thought it was real, and second of all, screw her. I know what I saw and it wasn’t a fucking trick of the light.”

“Did she tell you how to undo the summoning?”

Summoning?

“Yeah, that’s what you did, right? You carried out a little ritual to summon the spirit called Blo-, the spirit. Did Maeve have any way to reverse it?”

“Well, duh. No, of course she didn’t. And this is the first I’m hearing of a ritual summoning.”

“Alright,” I said, soothingly, “Well, even though you didn’t realize what you were doing, it doesn’t seem to matter. It still worked.”

Gen squinted her eyes at me again. “How do you know all of this?”

I raised my eyebrows at her, “A lifetime of reading, watching and listening to paranormal stories. And I interview people and write a blog about it.”

“It’s just such a strange hobby for a mother, I mean, no offense,” Gen said, quite offensively.

“Flippantly conjuring the ghost of a dead woman with your child is pretty strange. I mean, no offense.”

“Yeah, but that was a fluke.”

“Mmm, okay,” I said not bothering to hide my growing annoyance.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be a bitch. I’m just really fucking stressed out and I need this fucking dead woman out of my life.”

“What exactly has she done?” I asked, sighing.

Gen returned my sigh and leaned forward. “I went to my old psychiatrist, okay? I asked if I could be experiencing some sort of break from reality, or whatever, and her opinion was that I was simply in a highly suggestible state when we did the whole name in the mirror thing. And, like as a result, I’m somehow vividly imagining these scary things but it’s all like a sort of hallucination or waking dream.”

“Do you think she might be right?”

“I wish. How could I possibly hallucinate getting scratches all over my body? Or the loud noises in the middle of the night, we all hear them. My husband too. How could I hallucinate that?”

“What sorts of noises?” I asked.

“Sobbing, mostly. Paul, my husband, thinks it’s some weird animal outside. But I know it isn’t, I hear it during the day too. And it comes from everywhere, if that makes any sense, like I will be in the sunroom and think it’s in the kitchen then go to the kitchen and then I hear it coming from the damn sunroom.”

“And it sounds like a woman crying? That’s awful,” I said with a shiver.

“Yeah, like what exactly is her problem? At night I’ll startle awake because I hear a woman screaming. It’s, like the worst scream you could possibly imagine, like she just saw someone killed or something. But I’ll look over and Paul will be sound asleep. So I guess, yeah I mean there are some things that only I hear.”

“What about the scratches? When do those happen?”

“It started out that I would wake up with them, mostly on my back, but now it happens during the daytime too. Just yesterday I was unloading the dishwasher and this happened.”  Gen pushed up her sleeve and I saw four scratches across her forearm, the angry red lines had scabbed and they began with a bruise. As though someone had gripped her arm very hard and then dragged their fingernails across her arm.

“Jesus,” I breathed. “Did it hurt?”

“What do you think?” Gen snapped.

I shrugged, “I don’t know. I’ve never been scratched by an angry spirit before.”

“Well, it hurts,” Gen whined. “I just don’t understand why she’s so pissed at me.”

I tried my best to keep my expression neutral. “Does she bother you everywhere you go?”

“No, I think she’s like, trapped in my house. But regardless, I feel like I’m freaking contaminated or something.”

“I know what you mean,” I said.

“Are you being haunted by something too?” Gen asked excitedly.

I shook my head quickly. “I just mean, I know from talking to people in your position that it can be really isolating and nerve-racking and everything.” The last thing I wanted this gossipy woman knowing was that I was dealing with an attachment of my own.

“Have you ever interviewed someone haunted by this woman?”

“No,” I said simply.

“Well then let me tell you what it’s like. My husband, Paul, he usually travels every other week, so I’m on my own a lot with the kids. And come summer I’m basically a golf and sailing widow,” Gen rolled her eyes, though I could tell she was weirdly proud of this fact.

“Paul got home late last Sunday night from golf on the Cape and I was already asleep, but he woke me up all weirded out. He said that he saw me in the living room sitting in one of our armchairs drinking a glass of wine. So he called hello and then went to pour himself a glass so we could chat and when he went back to the living room I was gone. He looked everywhere for me downstairs then finally came up and found me sound asleep.

“He said the weird thing was that it looked like I was wearing a long dress and I had my hair up, he thought maybe I’d gone out to dinner with friends or something and was waiting up for him.”

“Oh man,” I breathed. “So you’re not the only one seeing her?”

“That’s the first time that he’s seen her, and my son, Ellison, saw her too. I was in the kitchen and Ellison came in after school and was like, ‘Who’s that weird woman in the garage, mom?’

“I went out to look and of course no one was there. That actually scared me, and then after Paul saw her too, I mean, she’s like escalating. I don’t understand what she wants from me! She lurks around the house, I see her there, like a shadow out of the corner of my eye. I can’t go into the basement to do laundry anymore since I saw her on the ceiling, and-”

Whoa, pump the brakes. You saw her on the ceiling in your basement?”

“Ugh, yeah. I was taking the laundry out of the washer and something made me look up for some reason and she was there, like crouched on her hands and knees, but on the ceiling, like in the corner of the room. I couldn’t see her face, she was like, almost all black and white sort of.”

“What the fuck,” I breathed.

“I know. Now I’m stuck paying the cleaning ladies extra to wash our clothes.”

Trying not to sound accusatory I said, “It seems like you’re more annoyed about having a nasty spirit terrorizing you than you are frightened.”

“Well it is annoying,” Gen began when we were interrupted yet again.

“Ha! She is so full of shit,” I heard a woman say behind me in a low voice right in my ear.

I gave Gen a surprised look then spun around. As I did I said, “Excuse me?”

But there was no one there.

“Who are you talking to?” Gen asked, eyeing me suspiciously.

Confused, I looked around a bit more then said, “Sorry, I thought I just heard a woman say something right behind me.”

Gen raised an eyebrow. “What did the woman say?”

“Nothing,” I replied hastily. Confused and a little freaked out I said, “So you were saying how annoying it is.”

“I’m not sleeping well, my husband thinks I’m crazy since I tried to explain to him what he actually saw in our living room, and I am supposed to host a Stella & Dot trunk show next Thursday night. I can’t do this right now.”

“Have you done research into this Bloody Mary?”

“No. That’s why I reached out to you.”

“Right, well, I don’t know too much about her either. I sort of remember it having something to do with Queen Mary and her children, but I don’t honestly remember the whole story. The thing is, if that were true then every single girl who’d ever done the ritual at a sleepover would be just as haunted as you are now, so I’m thinking that maybe you managed to catch the attention of some other kind of haunt. And the eclipse definitely wasn’t in your favor.”

“Well, that’s just great. The one time I ever do anything this boring and stupid I get absolutely nailed.”

“Well, this is Wellesley,” I reasoned.

“What do you mean?”

“This town is sort of weird. When I started my blog I thought I’d just hear a couple of benign haunted house stories, but this town is really strange. There are ley lines and vortexes and I’ve even talked to someone with a demon nest in their basement.”

“Alright, I’m just going to go ahead and stop you there. I have no idea what any of that is. I need this bitch out of my house by the weekend. What exactly do you suggest that I do?”

I definitely slow blinked her again. “Well, you could get in touch with a psychic to try and clear the space but honestly? Since the spirit has become physical, you know the scratches and all? I think you should probably have an exorcism done on your house at the very least.”

“Whatever it is, it needs to be done quietly,” Gen insisted.

“Sure, well I can put you in touch with a friend who does consultations for the church, but I don’t think that anything can be done before the weekend.”

“So, like the Catholic Church?”

“Well, yes,” I replied.

“Yeah, no that doesn’t work for me.”

I waited a beat but when Gen didn’t elaborate I said, “Ok, then you’d better find a powerful psychic.”

“And where might I find one of those?”

“I have someone you can talk to, but Gen,” I paused, choosing my words carefully.

“What?” She pressed.

“You might want to take this a little bit more seriously. These things, spirits like this or whatever it is, they only get more and more powerful. It could really hurt you or make you sick.”

“It’s a fucking ghost for Christ’s sake. I’m over it. I just want it done and gone.”

“I know what you mean,” I said.

 

***

 

As I dug in my bag for my car keys I was startled by someone yelling my name from across the parking lot. I looked up to see Erica Payne.

“Oh my God,” I said happily, “How are you? How is Mattie?”

“Oh we are so good. The house is really coming along and Mattie is completely back to himself.”

“I am so, so happy to hear that,” I said, really meaning it.

“I don’t know if Biddy told you, but the priest had to come three times before the attachment was completely broken and then he even had to do a little exorcism type thing on me to be sure that it didn’t jump.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

“No, it was great. I’ve never felt better, clearer. But how about you? How is your family?”

“Good, good,” I said, quickly considering whether or not to tell her about the creeper that had been following me around. If anyone would understand it would be Erica.

Before I could confess anything Erica asked, “Did I see you walking out with Gen Hensley?” I nodded and she asked, “How do you know her?”

I told her that this was my first time meeting her but did not elaborate.

“I hope you don’t think that I am overstepping,” Erica said slowly.

“Never,” I reassured her. “What’s up?”

“That woman, Gen, you just, I mean like, sorry? But you should kinda watch your back with her if you know what I mean.”

I laughed, “Oh, I think I know exactly what you mean, but how do you know her?”

“She came to my morning practice for a little while, over at Babson? So one morning she asked me if I could move the class fifteen minutes later because it was too stressful for her to rush over in time after dropping her kids off at school and I was just like, so sorry but I can’t do that. So she got sort of pushy about it, like it would be better for everyone if it were held later in the morning, and like, that totally wasn’t true, you know?

“So I tried to brush it off and be funny and was like, ‘why not skip stopping for that latte and come straight here instead,’ and ugh, that was exactly the wrong thing to say.”

I groaned, “Oh no, what did she do?”

“Well, she stopped coming and then so did her little group of friends. I saw them around town a couple times and they, like totally gave me the cold shoulder. I think she told them I did something? I couldn’t ever prove it, but I have this feeling she told people I was having an affair with one of my students. Which, gross, those guys I teach are like forty-five.”

“Mmm, gross,” I said hiding a smile.

“I hope you don’t think I’m being a gossip?”

“Not at all,” I reassured her. “Thank you for warning me but I definitely wouldn’t want to spend any more time with that woman than I absolutely had to.”

unnamed-5[Something to note: The psychic, we’ll call her Judith Kay, had the best Southern lilt and I am burdened with the Upstate New York twang, so I certainly wasn’t able to recreate her gorgeous way of speaking. Also, the psychic asked that I refrain from detailing her physical appearance in this story so that she could remain truly anonymous.]

 

It was close to six-thirty as I slowly wove along the tree-lined road but it felt much later. Branches met overhead and blocked out the final moments of daylight. I wasn’t exactly a stranger to that part of the world, one of my sisters lived just miles from my destination, but I hadn’t explored the densely forested town on my own. It was my sister who’d orchestrated the whole event, she’d put me in touch with psychic medium Judith Kay and what had begun as an interview morphed into me tagging along on one of the woman’s “walks” (a nighttime exploration of a haunted home in which she determines what is causing a paranormal disturbance and then prescribes the antidote).

“Like Aimee Allen!” I’d blurted out to her on the phone.

“Kind of honey, but usually I get rid of the creepies myself.”

I’d excitedly trekked two hours up to North Berwick, Maine earlier that afternoon and had spent some time hanging out at my sister’s place excitedly discussing what the night would bring. But as the hour approached I began to lose my nerve. This next interview wasn’t really an interview, I would actually spend time in a severely haunted home as the psychic did her thing. She’d assured me on the phone that she would never allow anything to either affect me when I was in the house or follow me home from it. It goes without saying that I didn’t mention what I was doing to Biddy.

The twenty-minute drive included just three turns from my sister’s house, but I was half convinced I was lost. Just as I was about to call it a night and turn the car around the headlights fell upon a sign declaring, “Welcome to Moosewood Farms.”

“Shit,” I said under my breath as I turned into the development. The neighborhood was an oasis in the middle of dense forest. Large homes with generous lawns seemed to watch me suspiciously as I scanned the mailboxes for number seventeen. Several of the yards boasted large ponds that swirled discreetly in tame New England landscaping. Nestled at the inside curve of the development and sided by what appeared to be a section of marshy woods to the right, and a good sliver of forest to the left, number seventeen was a stunner. A three-floor colonial with a pretty front porch, the home was yellow with white trim. Two white rocking chairs flanked the front door, patiently waiting for Spring to arrive. The windows glowed warmly in the dusk and it appeared that every single light in the house was on at full blast.

I turned in and immediately made note of the empty driveway. It meant that Judith hadn’t yet arrived. Social anxiety overcame me. I had never met these people and I had no idea what Judith had told them about me.

As I sat in my awkward panic the front door opened and a pretty woman waved to me to come inside.

“Shit,” I muttered again as I returned her wave.

I took the key from the ignition, grabbed my bag and stepped out into the driveway. What had at first appeared to be a cozy marshy wood seemed significantly more threatening once outside of the safety of my car.

At least I’m not putting the kids to bed, I thought, putting things in perspective.

“Come on in!” The woman called to me, pulling her boyfriend-style sweater tight to stave off the chill in the air. “Judith texted, she’s running about fifteen minutes late.”

“Okay, great!” I called back, not meaning it at all.

I climbed the steps to the porch and introduced myself to the woman.

“I’m Kate,” she said. She had long dark brown hair and those damn bangs that I’ve always coveted. The grey cashmere sweater covered a crisp white t-shirt and she wore perfectly distressed boyfriend jeans and spotless keds. As I had so many times before I wondered how some women know how to put together an outfit. I was wearing skinny jeans (that if I am honest had become way too tight as of late), a navy blue pullover sweater with a ruffled collar and Uggs. I can’t help it, they’re just so damn comfortable.

Clothing issues aside I found myself hesitating to enter the woman’s home.

“They haven’t bothered anyone but us,” Kate said with a shake of her head.

I looked at her, confused.

“The ghosts, or whatever is here. They only appear to my family.”

“Oh!” I replied quickly. “No worries. I just, you know feel funny being here without Judith.”

“I’ll make us some tea while we wait for her,” she said, closing the door and locking it, eliminating any means of escape. “This is my husband, Steve.”

I exchanged hellos and a handshake with a cute, bespectacled guy in his mid-forties.

Following her to the kitchen I took in the home’s cozy warmth. Colorful walls were lined with family photos (it looked like the couple had two teenage boys) and the first floor flowed from an adorable seating area with leather couches and a kitchen table to the kitchen itself and then on to the dining room where you could continue to complete the circular path. Dark wood, pretty mirrors and a beautiful hutch displaying attractive tchotchkes set a warm, modern farmhouse vibe.

“Your home is absolutely beautiful. How long have you lived here?”

The couple looked at each other and I immediately recognized the hive mind that Chris and I share as they tried to calculate the answer via telepathy.

“Almost ten years,” Steve decided.

I looked at the happy family photos lining a sideboard in the dining room. “You have two boys?” I asked.

“Yup, nineteen and fifteen,” Kate replied. “Our oldest son,” she continued, pointing to a photo of a teenage boy in a football uniform, “He recently had a difficult falling out with an old friend.”

“They played football together in high school,” Steve interjected.

Kate nodded, her mouth turned down, “I’m sure it has nothing to do with it, but our problems began right after they had their disagreement.”

“It’s gotta be a coincidence,” Steve insisted in a way that made me think that it wasn’t a coincidence at all.

“Totally,” Kate agreed, her eyebrows scrunched. She then busied herself making two cups of tea while Steve and I chatted about my sister’s family and whether there were any small world degrees of separation between us. I described my blog and asked permission to start recording the night and he happily agreed.

We sat on the couches in the kitchen area and when I had a piping hot decaf black tea in hand I asked, “Do you know Judith well?”

“No, not at all really,” Kate replied, “A woman at our church put us in touch. We’ve spoken briefly on the phone, she didn’t want too much information about our situation. She asked only for our address,” Kate paused, then looked at her husband and said, “We have no idea what to expect tonight.”

Steve put his hand on her leg and gave it a squeeze.

“That’s a good sign,” I said, reassuringly. “When she says something that lines up with what you’ve been experiencing you’ll know that she’s the real deal.” I stopped myself from asking what was going on in the house though I was dying to know.

As if reading my mind, Steve said, “I wish we could tell you, it sounds like you’ve talked to a lot of people in our position.”

“I would love to hear what you think is going on in our house,” Kate said. “It is such a relief to talk to someone who doesn’t think we are crazy.”

“Or lying,” Steve added.

“So what has been-” I began to ask when the doorbell rang. Startled, a generous splash of hot tea landed on my lap.

Steve got me a paper towel and Kate answered the door.

“Hello!” Judith bellowed as she stepped inside and wrapped her arms around Kate in a bear hug. “Now who do we have here?”

I waved the paper towel in my hand awkwardly and she smiled and said, “There’s my Liz,” before walking over to Steve to give him a politician’s handshake, grasping his right elbow with her left hand as she shook with her right.  

She stepped back and closed her eyes. Bringing her hands in prayer form first to her chest, then her mouth and then her forehead she took three long deep breaths as Kate, Steve and I stared at her unsure of how to act.

Judith’s eyes snapped open and her hands fell to her sides. “Well, well, well,” she said, her eyes scanning each of us. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.

“Now, who’s staying behind with me?” she asked.

The couple exchanged a look and Kate spoke up, “I’ll stay.”

“Are you sure you want to?” Steve asked.

“Yes, you go to the hotel with the boys. I don’t mind.”

“It won’t take but two shakes of a lamb’s tail,” Judith assured Kate. “Then you’ll be off to the hotel and the spirits will have a chance to settle down once I’m gone.”

Judith clapped her hands together, “Alright, daddy. Gone with you to the boys. Ladies, let’s get to work. We’ll start in there.”

Steve gave Kate a kiss on the cheek, and duly dismissed walked through the kitchen towards what I assumed was the door to their garage. Kate and I exchanged nervous smiles and and followed the psychic into the family’s television room, located off the kitchen seating area.

“Fabulous rug,” Judith said pointing at the grey-toned animal print. “There’s a woman here, but I think she might be a relative of yours. Listening, listening, okay, yup. Got it. It’s your grandmother, your mom’s mom. Alright? And she comes and goes between you and your sisters. She’s worried, honey, really worried. She can come into this room but she doesn’t dare go into the rest of the house. Why is that, maam? Okay, mmm hmmm, she says he has control of the property but there’s something, okay, sure, yup, there’s a religious something or other in here. On the mantle-”

We all looked up at the fireplace mantle.

“Oh my God,” Kate breathed. I put a cross, from an old necklace, I put it up there last week.” She walked over and reached up onto the mantle and pulled down a tiny gold cross. “How could you know that?”

“I didn’t honey, your grandma told me. And know that this is a safe room for you and your family. Get a few more of those crosses and get them blessed at your church. Put them in the four corners of the room. The rest of the house needs more than a blessing, but you were able to protect this room on your own. Good girl.

“Thank you,” Judith said into the corner of the room, “Sure, I’ll tell her. Your grandma thinks your boys are the handsomest she’s ever seen.” Kate smiled and blinked back tears.

“Alright, ladies, let’s move on, find out who the controlling jerk is.”

Into the kitchen we followed. Judith stood still with her eyes closed for a long moment. I realized I was holding my breath. “What’s with the flowers?”

“Oh! I can’t keep fresh flowers anymore. Since everything, you know, started happening flowers just wilt within hours if I bring them in here.”

“Mmmm,” Judith groaned. “I don’t like it,” she glanced over at me for a moment and scrunched her eyebrows then looked over to Kate. “It’s heavy in here, honey. He’s messing with water, or something connected to him is. What’s been going on with the water?”

“Everything on this floor leaks, the kitchen sink, the toilet in the powder room. It’s been an ongoing problem for the past two months. Once one issue is fixed another crops up. I just had the plumber in here yesterday for the dishwasher.”

Judith closed her eyes again, “Water, water, water. He doesn’t care about the water, but it amuses him to see you scurry and fret. Hmm.”

We followed Judith around the entire first floor. Through the eating area and into the dining room. All the while she mumbled things to herself about heavy energy and dark spots. “They’re floating in the air and I think they are his little helpers,” she said at one point. “Relentless and draining, you’re lucky none of you have gotten sick yet. That’s what they want. I don’t know what he wants, yet. But he’s pulled these things inside, recruited them, again, it amuses him to see your family struggling.

“Gorgeous part of the country, this,” Judith said abruptly changing the topic. “Lots of forest. Passed a horse farm on the way here. Do you know which tribe was on the land?”

Kate looked as confused as I was. I was trying to figure out what sort of tribes horse farmers formed when Judith clarified, “Native Americans. Was it the Wampanoag?”

“Oh, I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t know,” Kate admitted.

They both turned to look at me and I shrugged my shoulders.

Judith stared out one of the dining room windows into the front yard. “He says the land is healthy but that something- No, no they aren’t involved in that. Okay, thank you. He says that something caused a tear in the fabric and that’s how it all got in.”

“Who says?” I asked.

“The Native American gentleman in the front yard,” Judith replied, pointing out the window.

Kate and I exchanged a look. She said, “We’ve all seen someone walking in those marshy woods next to the driveway. My youngest, he called the police one night. He was sure it was someone skulking around but they didn’t find anyone.”

Judith nodded, “It’s him, he’s harmless, and he’s just watching. Wants to be sure that what’s in this house doesn’t infect the neighborhood.”

Kate gave what could best be described as a little whimper.

Judith shook her head and looked down at her feet. “There are two here, two masters. I don’t get it- yet. One wants control over this household but I don’t know about the other one,” she glanced behind me and I looked over my shoulder. “They can’t hide forever. I’ll figure it out.

“Alright, the basement. It’s a finished space, is that right?” Kate nodded her head. “And the mirror,” Judith tsked. “There’s a large mirror down there, isn’t there?”

“Uh, yes,” Kate said, sounding apologetic. “When the boys were little they would put on plays, you know or rock band performances in front of it, or whatever.”

“Mmm hmm,” Judith affirmed. “How much time does the oldest boy spend down there?”

“None, anymore at least. They used to play their video games and use the exercise equipment, but now-”

“How often do they see things?” Judith asked.

“Um, well they’ve told me about the shadows, my youngest says he’s caught the shadows watching him. He said they remind him of little kids peeking around corners.”

“More than one shadow spying on him?”

“That’s what he said.”

Judith nodded confidently. “Let’s go down there so I can get a look at ‘em.”

Kate walked back to the kitchen and to a door across from the island. She undid a chain lock at the top of the frame, then an eye and hook below that and finally the dead bolt. After a slight hesitation she pulled the door open and quickly flipped a light switch, bathing the wide carpeted staircase with light.

“Do you mind if we keep the lights off?” Judith asked.

After a moment’s hesitation Kate flipped the switch again. “No, it should be fine.”

She lead the way, Judith went next and, filled with dread, I brought up the rear.

After a quick beat my eyes adjusted to ambient light filtering in from flood lights in the backyard. The basement was above-grade in the back so there was a regular sized door through which one could access the backyard. Three full-sized windows lined the same wall. Divided nicely into areas of interest it appeared that the basement was a teenager’s dream hangout. There was a large sectional facing a huge television. A bunch of electronics on a table below lead me to believe the boys had gaming stuff. Though, which system I had no idea, even in my prime I never did beat Super Mario Brothers. An array of workout equipment stood tauntingly in one of the basement’s corners and a long dining room style table took up a large space, creating the perfect place to do homework with friends.

Kate and I followed Judith as she completed the circular path and stopped in front of a big wall-length mirror. I’m not good at any sort of estimation but the mirror was floor to ceiling and was at least as, well, like if another me stood on my head and we laid down on the floor, that’s how long it was.

Judith stared at the mirror eerily for too long and then sucked a breath in through her teeth. “There you are you little buggers,” she said quietly. “Now how did you get in here?”

She bent down, closer to the glass and watched the reflection near her feet. After a time of nodding her head and listening to something that Kate and I could not hear, she stood and stepped back, away from the mirror.  

“Little demons,” she declared quietly. “They tagged along with the one in charge, but they aren’t powerful enough to get past the first floor so they’ve taken control of this space.”

“But how did they get into the mirror?” Kate asked, desperately. “And why?”

“We’ll get there, honey. These prideful little creeps can’t stop themselves from spilling everything they know.” Judith paused and watched the mirror, her eyes moved around as though she were following something moving around. She shook her head and gave a small laugh. “They’re just about as low on the totem pole as you can get – and that’s good news. Really. It means that whoever is the big bad living upstairs can’t be that powerful. He wouldn’t be hanging out with these guys if he were. They’re creating the small disturbances, little scares, bad feelings, the water. They do it because they get a kick out of it. But those low vibration emotions, fear, annoyance, frustration? He, the big man on campus here, yeah he feeds off those. Get a little oomph out of ‘em.

“I’ll have no trouble getting rid of these guys, but you’ve gotta get rid of this damn mirror. Immediately. I’m surprised these little gremlins are the only thing it’s let into your house. You let these little demons use it to enter your space much longer and something else is going to notice what they’re doing and try it for themselves.”

“Is this where the big bad guy came in too?” I asked.  

Judith looked at me, she seemed to be sizing me up. “No, he walked right in through the front door. Which is very interesting. He just let the little guys know about this secret passage, if you will, and he feeds off the bad emotions they create.”

“He’s a demon too?” I asked.

“Yup,” she said. “Let’s get back upstairs and head up to the second floor, shall we?”

We did. Kate and I followed Judith as she walked through all four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Aside from commenting on how heavy the energy was on that floor and how exhausted the family must be she did not see anything spooky, save for some more of those floating dark spots she’d seen on the first floor.

We stood in the the master bedroom, the final room on the second floor tour when Judith said, “Can you feel it?”

“What?” Kate and I asked in frightened unison.

“It’s like he’s pushing down on us. I can barely catch my breath.”

“Sometimes at night I wake up and it feels like there is a stack of encyclopedias on my chest,” Kate said quickly. “I wake up because I can barely breath.”

“That’s him. He is oppressive. To women, that is. To men he is an instigator. How are the guys doing here? On edge?”

Kate nodded.

“Quick tempered, yeah?”

“Very,” Kate confirmed, “And that is not like them at all. Especially my oldest, we can’t say anything to him without him flying off the handle. He’s either off brooding in his room or yelling at his brother. He is a completely different boy.”

“Well he’s got a demon whispering in his ear, honey. He’s quite deceived.” Judith looked up at the ceiling above her head. “Speaking of, how do you get to the third floor?”

Kate hesitated. “I hate it up there.”

“I can imagine,” Judith said, “You’ve got a demon nesting in your attic.”

We stood silent, processing what Judith had just said. Finally, Kate moved towards the door, “Follow me.”

Down the hallway, past the stairs and around a corner Kate stopped in front of a door that I hadn’t noticed on our first pass.

“We renovated last year, the builder left it unfinished so that we could decide what to do with the space. We got the idea in our heads that it would make for a good guest room and there was even room to build an office up there. I’m afraid that when we renovated we somehow invited all of this in,” Kate admitted staring at the door handle.

“No, honey, that is not at all what happened,” Judith reassured her. Judith looked up at the ceiling again then said quietly, “It was that boy on his football team, Mark? No Mike. Michael. He put the hex on your family.”

Kate stared at Judith. “How could you possibly know that?” She said in disbelief.

“Sometimes it takes a little while for the picture to solidify, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got the gist of it now. A nasty little boy that one, always has been.”

“It’s true,” Kate said enthusiastically, grasping her hands together in front of her, “We always knew he was trouble. They’ve been on the same football team since they were in eighth grade and there was no way to keep my son from having to interact with him. His mother,” Kate paused, and I saw she was trying to hold back from saying anything uncharitable, but her need to share her burdon won out, “She’s a real piece of work, makes little digs about everything but does it in a sweet way so you don’t even realize she’s done it until you’ve walked away from the conversation. Anyhow, her son has been caught in trouble a million times. Smuggling beer on the away bus for the ride home, pot, then there was some issue with him writing something about a girl in the locker room and his parents always pull strings to get him out of it. It’s a private school so I’m sure they’re donating money,” Kate rolled her eyes. “Anyway, my son was at a graduation party at the boy’s house, against my better judgement of course, but he was eighteen, and we have to loosen our grip. Anyhow, I know something happened at that party-”

“Ouija,” Judith interrupted.

“What?!” Kate demanded.

“There was a Ouija board at that party,” Judith closed her eyes and breathed deeply before continuing, “The kids were drinking beer and smoking pot but nothing outrageous. And then that boy started talking about Satanism. Not with that word, but that’s what he was getting at, your son and a friend gave him a hard time about it, just poking fun, but that boy took it personally. So he took out his Ouija Board and summoned whatever spirit he’s got attached to him and began telling the kids things that he shouldn’t know. Um, Oh!” Judith gasped making Kate and I jump. I put my back against the wall, my heart pounding.

“What? Oh my God, what did you see?” Kate demanded.

“It’s face,” Judith said, slightly out of breath. “I’m getting too close and it doesn’t want me to know how it got in here. It likes it here too much, its,” she paused, staring at the ceiling, “It’s put in too much time laying the groundwork.”

“Groundwork for what?” I asked.

Judith looked at me and then at Kate. “Let’s get this over with,” she said, nodding to the door.

Kate hesitated before reaching up to undo the hook and eye latch near the top of the door.

“I’ll go first,” Judith assured her. Kate followed and again I reluctantly brought up the rear.

Beyond the door was a steep carpeted staircase. Kate had turned on a light and a ceiling fixture at the top of the stairs illuminated a small hallway. We were halfway up the stairs when a low growl followed by a heavy bang as though something had slammed against a wall stopped us in our tracks. Kate and I screamed and Judith said loudly, “That’s enough!”

I didn’t know if she was talking to us or the entity but I forced myself to stay silent, too scared to either climb further or go back downstairs alone I froze, my back pressed up against the wall once again.

“I’ve never heard a bang that loud,” Kate whispered.

“What about the growl?” I asked.

What growl?” She demanded, her voice shaking.

“You heard that too?” Judith asked, peering down at me.

“Didn’t you?”

“Of course I did, but I’m clairaudient,” Judith replied.

I shrugged my shoulders, “What difference does it make? Something just growled at us!”

Judith stared at me for a long moment. I stared back hoping she would say we should retreat back down to the second floor.

She turned and looked back up to the third floor landing, “Let’s go.”

Too frightened to revolt I followed.

At the landing there was a small bathroom in front of us, an office space to our left and a large bedroom to the right.

“Let’s start in here so I can get my bearings,” Judith instructed.

We entered a large room with high ceilings and a pretty crescent-shaped window overlooking the front yard. A bright overhead light produced no safety or warmth. Just stark reality.

Bare but for a large wooden desk and floor to ceiling bookshelves lining one wall, the carpeted room held nothing outright ominous, but the feeling in the room was repellent.

“I hate it in here,” Kate said, giving voice to my own thoughts.

Judith held a hand behind her neck. “He’s here, not here here, he’s in that other room,” she motioned across to the door, “But I can feel him trying to block me. He’s pretty damn strong. Even to choose this place to nest, up here, I mean. They usually stay close to the earth. This one is different. What in the hell did that boy get himself into?”

“My son didn’t get into anything-”

“I meant his friend,” Judith said soothingly. “Your boy got caught in the crossfire.” She rubbed the back of her neck, “Alright, let’s just be quiet for a couple minutes and let me see what I can see.”

Kate and I stood next to each other, staring at the psychic. From where we stood I had a clear view of the doorway, though I didn’t want to look straight at it for fear I would see something terrible, and I kept hearing little ticking noises coming from the room across the hallway.

“His nails,” she finally said. “It likes to click them together, like this,” she held her hands together as though in prayer and tapped her fingers together.

“Is that what that little ticking noise is?” I asked, horrified.

Judith looked at me and nodded her head. Then she glanced at the area over my shoulder again like she had been doing all night.

“What did you see?” I demanded.

“It’s not important right now-” Judith began.

“Why are you rubbing the back of your neck like that?” Kate interrupted.

“It’s him,”Judith replied, nodding her head towards the door. “I’m feeling what he’s doing to your son.”

“He does that all the time now, he rubs the back of his neck like that. He says it hurts, we’ve even had an MRI done but it didn’t show anything.”

Judith was silent, a sad look on her face.

“What is it? Kate asked, panicked.

After a heavy sigh, Judith said, “I’m not going to pull any punches, alright? This is bad, it’s very very bad. Had I known what was happening I would have brought a priest with me and I certainly wouldn’t have let you come, there’s enough going on in this home already,” she said looking at me.

“Tell me what is happening,” Kate pleaded.

“Let’s go into that room so I can be sure,” Judith said, sounded very unsure.

Feeling guilty, as though my presence was making things worse somehow, I followed the two women across the hallway, but I didn’t step foot into the guest room with them. I stood in the doorway, overcome with the creeps.

Judith stood in the center of the room. “I don’t like that closet, honey,” she said very quietly.

Kate and I looked over at the closet door.

“He’s in there. He’s in there and it is exactly where he wants to be.” Judith was tapping her nails together like the demon.

“Well can we get him out?” Kate asked, her voice shaking.

Judith looked at her and then squinted back over at the closet door. “Give me a minute.”  Again she grabbed the back of her neck but this time she gave a real wince of pain.

“Are you alright?” I asked.

Judith shushed me. Kate had backed towards the door and was standing close to me. We watched the psychic and I became aware of the ticking noise again. “Do you hear that?” I whispered.

“What?” Kate said in a low voice.

I shook my head, not wanting to again bring up the fact that I was hearing things she wasn’t.

“No sir!” Judith said loudly, causing Kate and I to jump about three feet into the air. “No sir and not today. You did not come to stay, you came to pass. You will not leave that little hell hole you’ve created for yourself until you are driven back to hell and in Jesus holy name I command you to leave the boy. You will leave that boy be!”

And with that the closet door slammed open so hard that it almost swung back shut completely.

So I ran. I ran down those stairs back to the second floor and kept on running until I was out the front door and onto the porch. The only thing that stopped me from jumping in my car and driving away was the almost complete darkness in that yard and the memory that Judith had seen a Native American ghost skulking about not long before.

Unsure what to do next I stood there, frozen at the top of the porch steps trying to get the courage to either stay or go. Judith appeared in the doorway.

“Come back in, he’s bound upstairs for now. We need to talk.”

I stood still, unwilling to go back into that house.

“You’re in it now, you might as well come in here and listen to what we’re going to do about it,” she reasoned.

Against my better judgement I followed her back into the house and into the kitchen where Kate was at the island assembling all of the fixings for tea. I noticed that her hands were shaking.

I sat across from Kate at one of the stools at the island and placed my voice recorder on the gleaming granite. Judith stood at one end of the island, her hands flat on the countertop.

“Well?” I prompted.

“Plain and simple? It’s a hex, and an incredibly sophisticated one at that.”

“That boy did it?” Kate asked, and for the first time I saw a little spark of anger within her.

Judith nodded in confirmation. “That boy managed to summon a mid-tier demon and direct him towards your oldest son. It could be dumb luck but I don’t think so. I’m thinkin’ there’s someone in his family that turned him onto the occult and coached him, maybe an aunt.”

“What does it want?” I asked.

“It wants complete control of the boy,” Judith said, her eyebrows raised, “and it’s gettin’ pretty damn close.”

“Jesus Christ Almighty,” Kate breathed.

“When I was finally able to see what it’s been up to I realized that this wasn’t about your family at all. It’s about your son. The demon, I won’t say it’s name but I’m pretty sure it’s one that you would recognize, it stands behind your boy and sort of sticks it’s fingers into the base of his skull. He can implant thoughts in his head and can even get him to speak for him.” Judith held her hand up like it was inside a sock puppet and opened and closed her fingers. “You mentioned your boy hasn’t been himself, right? Well, that’s why. Because he truly isn’t himself sometimes.”

Kate folded her arms across her chest and looked like she was fighting back tears.

“You can do something about it, though, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, sure. I’ve bound him in that closet for the time being and I’ll get Father McGonagle on the horn tonight. He’ll be up here quick to get started with that exorcism,” Judith said confidently.

“Exorcism!” Kate said in disbelief.

“Father McGonagle, from Massachusetts?” I said at the same time.

Judith gave me a look and then said to Kate, “Honey, it’s the only way. It’ll be a hell of a time getting this thing back down to hell, but it can be done. Father McGonagle is the best I’ve seen and it’s blessed to have him so close by. I’m not saying there won’t be scars. Your son will have to look over his shoulder the rest of his life. He won’t be able to do anything that might allow the darkness back in. You see, once it’s had a person it’s always trying to get back inside. It’s like there’s a little stain on the light inside them and the demons can see it.”

I watched Kate as Judith delivered the horrible news. She was handling it quite well. She asked, “What do you mean by doing anything to let the darkness in? He’s not going to get into the occult for goodness sake.”

“It doesn’t have to be that obvious,” Judith explained, “Drinking alcohol, doing drugs, promiscuity, greed, even just getting overtired, you know most people can get away with that stuff without attracting too much attention from down below but since your boy has been marked now, if he is in a weakened state the demon will take a shot at him and try to get back in.”

“Well, fuck,” Kate breathed, making me laugh nervously. “You know this priest can get rid of the thing? For sure?”

“I do,” Judith said simply.

“What about those things in the basement?” Kate asked.

“Oh, they’ll hightail it out of here the second they catch wind of the church. Just get rid of that mirror. But don’t just haul it to the dump, destroy it. You don’t want some poor sucker bringing it to their home.”

“It’s as good as gone,” Kate said.

“There was something else here tonight,” Judith said, turning to look at me. “I couldn’t figure it out at first, I could tell there was some sort of a connection but it didn’t make any sense. At first I thought maybe you were somehow connected to the family and that was why that thing seemed to hover around you, but upstairs, when I saw that it was just as scared of the demon as we were, I realized that it didn’t have anything to do with this home. No, no, no. That’s when I realized that skinny creeper belonged to you.” Judith pointed a finger right at me.

“What in the hell are you talking about?”

“You’ve got your own little attachment, honey.”

“You let her bring another demon into my house?” Kate demanded.

“There’s a fucking demon attached to me!” I exclaimed, horrified.

“Stop!” Judith said firmly. “No, you don’t have a demon,” she said to me, before turning to Kate, “and yes, Liz brought it in here but it will leave with her because it wants nothing to do with the demonic mess in this house. I’m just tryin’ to tell you girls that this was one confusing storm of a night and I’m happy I’ve finally got it sussed out.”

“Nothing is sussed out!” I said in low grade panic, “What in the hell is attached to me.”

Judith shook her head for the millionth time that night, “I don’t know honey, at first I thought it might be alien-”

Kate gave a little “Oh, dear,” as I said, “Hell no.”  

“But,” Judith held her hands in front of her, “I don’t think that anymore. It’s some kind of an entity. It might even have been human once. I’m too drained right now so let’s say a damn prayer and close up shop for the night. We’ll all need our rest for what’s to come.”

 

****

 

Judith and I waved to Kate as she backed down the driveway and away from her demon infested home. “Liz and I are gonna have a little chat but you get going to your family,” Judith had told her.

She leaned against my car and sighed. “In these sleepy towns the kids are doin’ one of two things, smokin’ crack or worshippin’ satan.”

“That’s not true,” I said defensively, thinking of my nephews.

“Not your family, honey. Your sister keeps an eye, but the same can’t be said for everyone. But there are enough of these kids and they’re causin’ a real ruckus,” she took a good look at me. “How long you been hearing things?”

“I think tonight was the first time,” I said.

“Hmm, well I’d bet the farm that it won’t be your last. You’re just starting to crack open. I think that’s why this thing is so keen on hanging around you. Your family is in a new house, yes.”

I nodded.

“Yeah, that house chose you baby girl. You’re in for a wild ride.”

“Is it safe for me to stay at my sister’s house tonight? I don’t want to bring this thing, whatever it is, to her house if it will put them in any danger.”

“Oh sure, I’ve protected her house and I know she’s had the priest out for a blessing. Your creep can’t follow you in there. He’ll just hang around the perimeter. Don’t worry, he’s not interested in your sister’s family.”

I was about to ask another question when she turned to look at the marshy wood behind her and asked,  “You seeing something behind me?” And turned to look at the marshly wood.

“No, I’m just afraid of those woods,” I admitted.

“You should be, darlin,’” Judith said, opening her arms to give me a hug. “Get in your car and lock your doors. I’ll call you Monday and we’ll deal with your little friend. Don’t worry, he’s just doin’ reconnaissance right now.”

Judith gave me a hug and as she unlocked her car door she called to me, “And honey, stay out of your basement.”

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The Power Patagonia Crew is a Wellesley social faction I find incredibly intriguing. It’s a group of overachieving, active lifestyle women with big families and big careers. A clique of neurotic, uber-controlled and controlling women who will never accept less than a ten out of ten in every area of their lives, they consider the setbacks of modern adulthood opportunities for growth. Burst sewage pipe in the basement? An chance to learn more about sustainable building materials. Infertility? Lead them to the discovery of the benefits of the raw food diet. School vacation? An occasion to spend time working with the kids on extracurricular STEM projects.

Candice Carroll, the subject of our next creepy encounter, is a stereotypical member of the PPC. Unlike the spin class set who display their hard won physiques with tight Lululemon gear, Candice’s crowd opts for less form-fitting apparel. Their uniform consists of fleece jackets, Nano puff vests, worn in t-shirts from north east ski mountains, flat front colorful shorts in the summer and boot cut (not skinny) jeans in cooler months.

Candice has tried CrossFit and various boot camps, the Whole30 and Atkins, but she feels the most in control of her weight when she’s running five miles every day and meticulously tracking food intake. It may appear that she is simply devoted to eating healthy whole foods from sustainable sources, but terror at the thought of gaining weight drives this particularly insidious form of disordered eating. It’s a specific brand of eating disorder that is rampant in this town and it’s tricky to spot. Afterall, what’s wrong with eating healthy? What’s wrong with knowing every single ingredient in your foods? And what could possibly be wrong with not wanting to be fat? Nothing, unless those thoughts become a constant, punishing buzz in the back of your mind.

Candice has four kids – four boys. Timmy (age eleven), Christopher (age nine), Jason (age seven) and Daniel (age five). Oh, and she’s a life coach. She owns her own successful business and guides other women to “reach their full potential by identifying and striving towards their true calling.”

I used to be intimidated by women like Candice. Their confidence and ambition, their tight bodies and wash-and-go looks, the organic vegan children being shuttled from here to kingdom come for enrichment activities left me feeling less than. Their tendency to tweak and/or correct other people in conversations (“Actually, it only takes twenty-two minutes to get into Boston”) made me feel defensive and dumb. But if the suburbs have taught me anything it’s that looks can be deceiving.

Candice’s problem began in a home in Poet’s Corners, a neighborhood whose streets boast the names of dead, white male poets (like Longfellow and Tennyson). The tear down movement hasn’t yet affected this part of town, so the neighborhood maintains a vintage New England vibe. Well cared for homes with mature landscaping and deep front lawns stand proudly along winding hilly streets. Dense foliage creates a picturesque landscape in warm months, in cool months the bare trees betray the aging neighborhood’s flaws.

The Carroll’s home was on Thackeray Road. After I spoke with Candice I drove by the property, a large brick colonial with black shutters and a red front door, the very image of New England living. The plot was buffered from Route Nine by a section of the Town Forest, a 221 acre piece of conservation land that includes Longfellow Pond, Ollie Turner Park, woodlands, brooks, marshes and four and a half miles of walking trails. The Carroll’s house was at the north edge of the forest. Interestingly, the parking area for this green space is located at the south end of the park – just steps from the public garden where our old psychic friend Molly Vail was overcome by her grinning man.

I received an email from Candice in late February from ccarroll@lifecoachlife.com. It read:

 

Good morning,

I am a fellow Welleslian and I understand you are in the process of acquiring tales of paranormal encounters. I have an interesting story to share about my previous home. If you are interested please respond to this email address so that we may find a time to discuss my experience. Be well, be you. Regards, Candice

 

Hmm, I thought and googled Candice’s name immediately. Her website described her as an “expertly trained life coach born and bred to help other women pursue their dreams and cut all ties to any circumstance, thought-pattern, individual or group holding them back from their best life.”

If the testimonials were to be believed, then Ms. Carroll was really good at helping women to improve their life circumstances. One woman wrote that Candice had helped her to lose thirty-seven pounds and find the discipline to write and publish her first book. Another woman credited Candice with giving her the tools she needed to open her first restaurant and ditch her husband (which she described in more empowering terminology). There were testimonials from women who had overcome all sorts of sticky situations. On the “About Me” page of her website Candice smiled alongside her husband and four children. The two younger kids were strapped into seats behind both Candice and her husband’s bikes, the older two kids sported their own rides.

Candice was toned and glowing with health. She smiled widely but her eyes bore the intensity of a mother willing her progeny into the perfect, ‘get a look at my healthy active family’ photo. Her husband looked genuinely happy and relaxed.

I emailed her back, incredibly curious about what it was that had dared to haunt this woman. We arranged to meet at Cocobeet, the newest vegan juicing joint in town.

We recognized each other immediately (she must have Googled me too) and we each picked out a juice. Feeling adventurous I chose the McGregor’s Garden, a blend of several vegetables. It wasn’t horrible. I also picked out a couple of desserts to bring home.

We sat at a table at the end of a long bench no doubt built with sustainable and/or reclaimed materials. Candice took the bench, I took a metal sky blue chair across from her. We talked about our families and then she proceeded to grill me about my blog; How did I come up with the concept? Was it profitable? Had I considered hiring an editor and marketing liaison? How many hits did it get per day? Per week? What was my ultimate goal for the blog?

I fielded the questions awkwardly at first and then even more awkwardly. When she asked me about my ultimate goal I had to stop her.

“Honestly, the whole thing sort of snowballed out of control. My goal, if you can call it that, was to hear ghost stories and I’ve always enjoyed writing and it all sort of grew from that, I guess,” I rambled.

“Then you’re in the sweet spot,” Candice said with meaning, “You are right where passion and success collide. With some intentional shifts you could be so much more successful.”

“Oh, well,” I hedged, “I mean, I’m sure I could do a better job at getting the stories out more regularly, but I have other things I like to do, well other things I need to do really, like other responsibilities and stuff so I’m pretty happy with the way things are.”

Candice sat forward in her chair, gave me what I think was supposed to be a concerned and meaningful look and said, “Are you truly happy with ‘pretty happy?’”

“Are you life coaching me right now?” I asked forcing a laugh.

Candice sat back, “Sorry, I suppose it’s become habit. I have this gift of seeing the potential in people and it lights a fire within me when I see someone who with just a little bit more intention and focus could take her life to the next level.”

“Well, thanks, I guess. But I don’t think I could handle leveling up right now.”

“Women put limits on the amount of success they believe they can achieve,” Candice said matter-of-factly. “Take a man with your writing ability and the audience you’ve built. Would he settle for “pretty happy” with everything? No. He would build on it, advertise it and get a book deal out of it. You deserve to be recognized and compensated for your hard work. Don’t limit yourself with small thinking, Liz. As women, we can have and do it all if we just focus and apply ourselves.”

Bullshit, I thought but did not say.

“It’s about prioritizing and leaning in,” Candice pressed.

There’s no way Candice could have known it, but “leaning in” is a real bitch of a trigger phrase for me (it’s right up there with “natural birth”). I had to force myself not to begin a monologue about entitlement, affluence and self absorption.

I took a breath and then a sip of the green juice wishing it were Chardonnay and said, “Well, if I ever want your advice I’ll be sure to reach out.” Then I opened the organic coconut date balls I’d intended to save for dessert that night and popped one in my mouth.

“I don’t want to be pushy,” Candice said forcefully, “I’m just suggesting that you play up what makes you different, what makes you shine-”

“Okay sure,” I said, cutting her off with a smile. “Here’s the thing though, I need to pick Kat up at play school in about forty-five minutes and I want to make sure we have enough time to talk about your haunting.”

“Of course,” she said quickly. “But it wasn’t a haunting, more of a creature problem.”

“What kind of a creature?”

“I wasn’t any animal I’ve ever seen.”

“Tell me everything,” I said, pleasantly surprised to hear Candice had a monster story to share.

“It was supposed to be our forever house, the place we intended to put down roots and raise the boys. The lot was ideal, located on a lazy street and the yard backed onto Town Forest and Rosemary Brook wasn’t fifty feet back into those woods. We hadn’t any intention of moving but Tim noticed the listing on Zillow – he’s always watching the market – and it looked like our dream home so we poked our heads in at the open house.”

“I know how that goes,” I said, “We just did the same thing.”

“Really? You’re moving?”

“Yes, but go on,” I said, not wanting her to get sidetracked again trying to shine up my life.

“Well, the house was quite big, five bedrooms, three and a half baths, a finished basement and the kitchen was only three years old. There was a basketball hoop in the driveway and the yard was large enough that I could put in some raised beds and grow a proper garden. It just felt right. We weighed all the pros and cons and in the end it seemed ridiculous not to put in an offer. And once we did I knew it was as good as done. Tim knows real estate and he’s very competitive. We were up against three other families so we waved all contingencies and offered well above asking.”

“Real estate in this town is cut-throat,” I commented.

“You just need to know how to play the game,” she replied smugly.

I sipped my vegetable juice an suppressed and eyeroll.

“The house wasn’t perfect, there were some projects that needed attention but I really felt at home there. We all did.”

“And the weird animal?”

“The kids were the first to interacted with the creature. They came upon it as they played in the woods. On summer mornings I schedule outdoor free time for the boys between eight and ten. Typically they’d play basketball for a little while in the driveway and then explore the forest behind the house while I worked in the garden. They knew to go no further than the stream so they could hear when I called them in to work on their Lego or circuit building projects.

“I believe the first time they mentioned the creature we were on the porch having lunch and the little one, Daniel, suggested we leave a bowl of kale chips out for Fuzzy. Timmy corrected him, ‘Her name’s not Fuzzy, we decided to call her Tiny Teeth.’ I assumed they had made up an imaginary friend. I asked what this Fuzzy Tiny Teeth was like and Christopher described her as sloth-like but with shorter back legs and very long arms.”

“It was a girl monster?”

Candice nodded her head. “Yes, they always referred it as a female. I don’t know why, maybe they just figured it was female because it didn’t have a penis.”

I tried and failed to suppress a giggle. “Gross.”

Candice nodded but did not share the laugh. “The boys told me that the animal stood on it’s short back legs and it’s arms reached down to the ground. It had a sort of piggish nose, ears flat to it’s round head and tiny grey eyes. They described its rows of tiny teeth in detail.

“It being summer, I assumed they were influenced by one of the shark week programs we’d watched together. But they insisted that Fuzzy Tiny Teeth was real and that she played alongside them at the stream, splashing water and throwing stones.”

“Ugh, that’s kinda weird,” I said.

“I agree, it felt too detailed of a description for an imaginary friend. Daniel spoke of her shiny belly. When I asked him to elaborate, Jason explained that the thing’s stomach was scaly like a lizard’s.”

“What color did they say it was?” I asked.

“Pitch black, except around its eyes. They said her eyes had a ring of tan colored fur around them and the scales on its belly were a light brown. Christopher bragged that her claws cut right through a tree branch he’d held out to her.”

“Nope,” I insisted.

“In all honestly I didn’t think much about it. We kept close to our summer weekday schedule and I was happy they’d come up with a creative imaginary game that kept them all entertained. It gave me pause when they decided as a group to forgo their daily half hour of iPad time to play in the woods, but what mother would argue against kids asking to play outside rather than sit indoors with electronics?

“Anyhow, Tim and I were in the yard one evening enjoying cocktails while he grilled salmon. The kids were off playing in the woods and I was just about to call them for dinner when they burst through the trees close to hysterical over something that had happened with their imaginary friend. Tim demanded they settle down and the boys elected Christopher to speak on their behalf. He explained as calmly as he could that Daniel had been leaning over the stream when he’d slipped and fallen into the water. Chris explained that Fuzzy Tiny Teeth had scurried onto Danny’s back and held his head down under the water. I saw that Daniel was soaked to the bone, but it was such an incredible story that Tim and I couldn’t entertain it.

“The boys were appalled that we did not immediately believe their story. Jason insisted that he had to hit the creature with a tree branch several times before it released Danny. It was an incredible story and the boys were believably spooked, but I chalked it up to them carrying the imaginary game too far. The thing was,” Candice paused a moment staring into her cashew milk latte, “They didn’t go into the woods to play after that. In fact, I could barely get them to go outside at all, except for out to the driveway to play basketball. Even then, they insisted that I stay in the front yard with them.”

“You thought they were completely making it up though?” I asked.

“At that time, yes. I had no reason to believe them. It was strange they would carry the story so far, especially because they faced consequences for Danny falling in the water. Their iPads were taken away for a week. I felt they had made the story up to cover for some other accident that had happened to Danny involving the water and that they had convinced him to go along with the lie. No more playing in the woods and no more iPads for a week. It struck me as odd that they did not push back against those repercussions, but I also assumed that whatever had actually happened had frightened the boys enough that they knew they needed stricter boundaries.

“The summer carried on and I didn’t think any more of their creature until something began attacking my kitchen garden. Systematically pulling out my plants, row by row and destroying them. I knew it wasn’t bunnies doing the damage, they would eat the food not simply rip it out of the ground. I thought perhaps a skunk or some other critter was digging around for grubs in the garden. I even thought it might be one of the neighborhood dogs. It is the law to keep them on leash or fenced in, you know? People treat them like children, as though everyone else will be overjoyed to see them traipsing around the neighborhood,” Candice said passionately. “I can’t imagine having an animal in the house. No matter how you care for them, they are filthy.”

I bit my tongue and added this to the list of things that made Candice and I incompatible.

The dog hater continued, “I put in tall mesh fencing around the garden, but still, over the course of a week it was completely destroyed.

“It was truly disheartening. I couldn’t find any help on the gardening blogs I follow and Googling the problem didn’t result in any help either. I won’t say the boys’ Fuzzy Tiny Teeth friend didn’t come to mind as the culprit, but I was still certain that he was imaginary at that time. But then Timmy made a comment about the creature, ‘Mom, it’s our fault she ruined your garden. She’s mad that we won’t play with her anymore.’”

“Ick, chills,” I breathed.

“It did give me pause,” Candice admitted, “and when the carcasses began to appear, that’s when I gave weight to their stories.”

I shook my head at her. Wanting to ask her to skip what I knew was coming. Call it ESP but I just knew it was going to be about animals. Dead cute, fuzzy animals.

“I found the first one at the back door. I was going outside to bring in the pillows from the lawn furniture because we were expecting rain. I tripped right over it. It was a rabbit, a big one and something had torn it apart. It didn’t look as though it had been eaten at all, just killed and brutally at that.

“I used a shovel to pick it up and toss it back into the woods. I was determined to ignore all the signs that we had a problem and I just went about my errand and began collecting the pillows. I had my back to the woods when I heard something land behind me, a thud on the grass. It gave me a jolt,” Candice gave an  exaggerated shiver, “I turned around slowly and there was the rabbit, the carcass. Someone or something had thrown it back out of the woods and whoever had done it was watching me. Leaves rustled at the treeline and I felt such dread, I don’t know how else to describe it other than primal. It was a primal fear. I began backing towards the house and I was able to pick up the shovel hold it in front of me like a weapon until I was able to slip back inside.

“I ran to the front and called the boys into the house. They had been getting in some basketball time before the weather turned. I didn’t tell them what had happened, but I insisted that they play inside the rest of the day. By the afternoon I felt calm enough to ask Timmy and Christopher to tell me more about their imaginary friend. I didn’t want the little boys to overhear so I sent them down to the basement to play.

“We were in the kitchen, the room had this large window over the sink that overlooked the backyard. It was one of the things that I loved about that house. I could cook and keep an eye on the boys in the yard at the same time. I had the older boys sit at the kitchen island, their viewpoint was towards that window and I stood leaning against the sink, the window at my back.

“The day had gotten grey and it was drizzling outside. I asked the boys to tell me about Fuzzy Tiny Teeth. I asked them to describe her to me again, to tell me about their interactions. I asked if she’d ever been aggressive before the incident with Danny and the stream. They looked at one another and then Jason admitted that the creature had lead them to dead animals a few times. As if it were showing off for them.

“As we were talking all of a sudden we heard Danny and Jason screaming for me in the basement. I ran to the basement door and met them as they thundered up the stairs. ‘Mom! Mom! She’s here, at the window, she’s trying to get in!’ They were frantic. I bent down and tried to get them to tell me exactly what was happening. The only windows we have in the basement are those small rectangular shaped ones at ground level. It is not possible to open them, I didn’t understand what they were saying.

“As I was trying to calm them down Timmy started screaming, ‘She’s out there, Mom! She’s in the yard! I see her! Look!’ I spun and ran to the window and I caught my first glimpse of the thing. I only saw it’s back and it was just before it leapt into the woods, but what I saw made my blood run cold.

“I do think it was an animal, but not one I’d ever seen before. It had these short legs that seemed to hardly even bend as it ran. It was upright, but it’s long arms sort of helped it run along, it’s hands or paws whatever slapped the ground as it scurried away. It had tight curly black hair, sort of like a poodle. It had a sort of unnaturally round head and when I thought about it afterwards, when I was describing it to Tim I realized that I didn’t see any ears on the thing.”

“How big was it?” I asked.

“A little taller than the lawn chairs so I would guess up to my hip,” Candice replied. “In other words, it was as tall as my five year old.”

“How could something like that be living in the woods without anyone knowing about it?”

“I don’t know,” Candice admitted. “I drilled the boys that afternoon. Once I’d calmed them down and made sure that all the doors and windows were secured, of course. We sat in the living room and, I mean I feel terrible about it, but I didn’t want them out of my sight so I just let them watch television for the rest of the day. I sat in a chair facing the windows so I could have a view of the back yard. I texted Tim and asked that he get home as early as possible. I sat in that chair with one earbud in listening to NPR to keep me from going crazy until Tim got home.”

“Did you think to call anyone? Like animal control or anything?”

“Not that day, I was worried they wouldn’t believe me. I was also worried that maybe the boys getting themselves all worked up had gotten me into a state where I saw something that wasn’t really there. Like maybe it was a raccoon or a neighborhood dog but my fear had morphed it into a monster. I wasn’t ready to completely believe what was happening.”

“What did your husband say?”

For the first time I saw a crack in Candice’s facade. A look of, sadness? anger? surfaced and as quickly it appeared it was gone. “He’s totally rational, you know? He agreed that my imagination carried me away because the boys were so upset.”

“But you saw what you saw,” I argued.

“Right, I know that, I mean I knew it, but he was very convincing. And it was a relief to think that I had just gotten carried away with the boys’ panic. I wasn’t ready to let them go play outside, and I certainly wasn’t rushing to get back to work on the mess in my garden, but I was willing to believe that what I had seen had simply been a big animal.”

I caught myself shaking my head and quickly asked, “Then what?”

“Well then Tim saw it and he believed me.”

I gasped and smiled, happy that this “rational” husband of hers had been proven wrong.

Candice smiled back at me. “I got kids out of the tub that night and Danny couldn’t find his dinosaur so I sent Tim downstairs to look for it, but it was nowhere to be found. Jason remembered that Danny had the stuffed animal with him when they were out playing basketball that morning.”

“Hell no,” I insisted.

Candice nodded. “Yes, and I was not going out there to get it. Tim was-” she paused briefly, “dismissive when I warned him of going out in the dark. He laughed it off and grabbed a flashlight from the mudroom as I continued to get the kids ready for bed. The next thing I know Tim is stomping up the stairs yelling, ‘It’s on the roof, everybody downstairs, now!’”

“Oh my God.”

“The kids began to freak out and we were all talking at once. Tim silenced everyone and sent us all downstairs into the living room. He put in a call to the police and they connected him with animal control but because it was after hours he could only leave a message.

“We had the kids sit on the couch with an iPad so we could figure out what to do. He was afraid the thing was going to get into the house.”

“What exactly did he see?”

Candice sighed. “Tim said that he went out the side door next to the garage and was shining the flashlight around the edge of the driveway when he heard something behind him. He said it sounded like something had walked past him so he turned and flashed the light towards the garage but there was nothing there. He was standing there trying to figure out what it could have been when he heard a sound coming from the above the garage. He shined the light onto roof and the thing was up there. Crouched and leaning towards him, watching. He said it looked like it was ready to launch itself at him.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I breathed.

“He didn’t know if he could make it back to the door without it attacking him and he was certain that’s what it wanted to do. He wasn’t sure if the front door was unlocked so his only chance was to get back to the garage door. He threw the flashlight at the thing as hard as he could and made a break for the house. He didn’t watch to see what it did he just sprinted in and locked the door behind him.”

“What did he say it looked like?”

“He described the same animal I had seen, the one the boys had been playing with in the woods.”

“Holy shit, how did you guys sleep that night?”

“We didn’t really. The boys share bedrooms, Timmy and Christopher in one and Jason and Daniel in another so I slept on the floor of one room and Tim slept on the floor in the other.”

“Do you really think that thing was capable of getting into the house?”

“We didn’t know what it was capable of.”

“Did Sue Webb get back to you?” I asked.

“You know Sue?”

I nodded.

“She came out to the house and checked around the yard the next morning. I even walked her back to the stream where the boys had been playing with the thing.”

“Did she have any idea what it could be?”

Candice considered for a moment. “She didn’t know but it struck me that she wasn’t all that surprised by my story. I asked her if we could set some sort of a trap but apparently that is illegal in Massachusetts.”

“What about your neighbors? Did you ask them if they’d seen the thing?”

“I did bring it up with one of our nextdoor neighbors, I didn’t get specific I just asked if they’d seen any wildlife around the neighborhood recently. She said it was actually surprising how few animals she had seen. She was used to watching families of deer walking through her yard and an occasional coyote roaming around, but it had been months since she’d so much as seen a squirrel in her trees.”

“Ugh, I wonder if the thing scared those animals off or if it-”

“It killed them,” Candice said with certainty.

“What was your game plan?” I asked. “How did you get rid of it?”

“We didn’t. We moved,” Candice said, furrowing her brow.

“You just picked up and moved?” I asked in disbelief.

“What other option did I have?” She asked seriously.

Stumped, I shrugged my shoulders.

“There’s absolutely no reason to believe the new home owners will run into the same problem,” she said confidently.

“Why not?” I asked.

Candice hesitated. “Well, why should they? But if they do have a problem then they’ll just have to move as well. That’s out of our hands.”

I remembered a conversation I’d had long ago with a woman who took the same stance. The problem in her home was no longer her problem, therefore it was no longer worth her consideration. I didn’t like the viewpoint.

“That sucks,” I said quietly.

“It really did,” Candice replied.

“No, I mean it sucks that some poor family has no idea what they signed up for when they bought your old house.” I kept the edge out of my voice, but the life coach’s callousness had worn away at the sympathy I’d felt for her.

“I’m sure they’ll handle it,” Candice said confidently.

“Like you did?” I asked.

 

***

 

We move to the new house in two weeks. I’ve been saging our current home regularly and I am confident it is free and clear of all the negativity it once held. It feels light and free,  ready for a new young family. My sister sent me four new St. Benedict medals specially blessed by her priest. I’ll plant them at the four corners of the new property and sage it completely before we move anything inside. Though my dreams tell a different story, everything about the new house feels bright and happy. But I can’t help but wonder if that’s what the people buying Candice’s property felt like before they moved in.

unnamed-4Cali Smith is an acquaintance of mine. We float through the same overlapping social circles and have shared belly laughs at random get togethers. She’s a fun person to hang out with, though I don’t think I’d want her in my inner circle. She’s got an excellent sense of humor and a true flair for gossip. She knows everyone in town, what they were like back when she had kids in the same playgroup with them, where they work out, how much their house cost, and exactly why they are full of shit. She’s also a creative and unapologetic swearer, which I adore.

Cali and her husband Dex have three kids, Jonathan (“He’s a junior this year and if that boy spent as much time studying as he does amusing himself in the bathroom he’d probably score himself a free ride”), Caitlin (“She’s my easy one. Doesn’t appear to have an eating disorder or an abusive boyfriend as far as I can tell, but she’s only fifteen”), and Daisy (“She wasn’t an ‘oops’ baby she was an What in the fuck have we done? baby”). They live in a sprawling home on Cliff Road. When Cali invited me to her house for a glass of wine (“Uber over, don’t drive. We’re gonna need to hit the bottle hard for this,”) I wasn’t expecting to get dropped off at a mansion. Not a McMansion mind you, an honest to God mansion complete with a pool, tennis courts, and a guest house that was only a smidge tinier than my own home.

“Does anyone live back there?” I asked, pointing out past the floor to ceiling windows overlooking Cali’s back yard. It was late evening and the grounds were lit beautifully with landscape lighting and twinkle lights strung above the multi-level patio.

“Oh no, we just needed someplace to put the in-laws when they come like, twice a year. Heaven forbid they stay in a hotel,” Cali replied handing me a generously poured glass of Chardonnay. “Let’s sit in the library. You’ll get a kick out of it.”

I followed my hostess as we crossed the massive living room and down a long hallway past several doorways. I glanced quickly into each of the tastefully decorated rooms we passed along the way and wondered about their use.

As if reading my mind, Cali said, “Useless space, I let my decorator turn them into sitting rooms. One should probably be a gym but that just feels depressing.”

Up a half staircase we entered a large room lined with bookshelves painted kelly green and stuffed with books. A crystal chandelier hung over seating at the center of the room. I gasped.

“Cool, right?” She said.

I walked to the shelves and began scanning spines. Popular titles made up the majority but there was also one entire floor-to-ceiling section of shelves devoted to paperback mysteries and horror fiction. “You’ve read all the Sookie Stackhouses? And, oh my God! Aurora Teagarden?!”

“Have you watched the Lifetime movies? With Candace Cameron?” She asked excitedly.

In front of the bookshelves sat four wing back chairs, covered in hot pink toile and arranged around an antique coffee table. We tooks seats next to one another, facing the shelves and discussed our shared passion for cozy mysteries.

“I would live in this room,” I said feeling a twinge of jealousy.

“I was just thinking that I should spend more time in here,” she commented.

I reached into my bag then placed my voice recorder on the table.

Cali stared at it and said, “I’ve read about ghosts and monsters for years, right? But I never really believed in any of it until this thing happened with the doll.”

“Doll?” I parroted nervously.

“I promise I’m not pulling your leg and I’m not a complete wack-a-doodle, the whole thing was a nightmare, but I’m sort of almost glad that it happened? Right? Looking back on it, it was almost exciting, you know? Realizing that all this stuff, this ghost stuff, is actually, like real.”

“I know,” I said.

“Like that woman, the one you interviewed with the mimic. What was her name?”

“Lindsay?”

“Right, her. How do you go back to making the kid’s lunches and telling them there’s no such thing as monsters after you’ve actually spoken to one?”

I considered for a moment before answering. “I think it’s because I still don’t completely believe.”

“Fuck off,” she said with a snort. “Didn’t you have to have an exorcism performed on your house?”

“Yeah,” I said slowly, “but lately it just feels almost like wishful thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I totally believe all the stories I’ve heard – for the most part. And I have seen things that I can’t explain, but when I’m listening back and transcribing the interviews and I’m not right there in front of the person, it’s almost like the spell is broken and doubt creeps in. And I just start to wonder, well I get scared really that it’s all just a story and real life is as mundane as it appears to be.”

Cali stared at me. “You’re joking, right?”

“I don’t know,” I said honestly.

“So what, we’re all suffering under some delusional magical thinking?”

“No. I don’t know, I’m not making any sense. But maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s how I can go back to just making my kids lunches by returning to the safety of the idea that it’s all just make believe.”

Cali took a swig of wine. “Mm, like childbirth. Our minds couldn’t possibly hold onto the horror of it or else we’d never do it again.”

I forced a laugh and Cali stood and went to a bank of cabinets along the back wall. She opened one and pulled out a bottle of chilled wine.

“You’re kidding me,” I said.

“It’s my armageddon stash,” she replied before corking the bottle.

As she refilled our glasses she asked, “Do your girls play with American Girl dolls?”

I told her they didn’t, at least not yet.

“Caitlin was never into them, thank God. I mean, one hundred and twenty dollars for a fucking doll? Yeah, no. Not going to happen.”

My face must have betrayed my thoughts because she quickly explained, “I know we’re rich but that doesn’t mean I’m going to spoil the kids. Trust me, I didn’t grow up like this. My husband did, but I didn’t even know how much money he had until he invited me his family compound in Chatham and that was after we’d dated for, like over a year.

“Anyway, our kids don’t get everything they want just because I can pay for it. For Christ’s sake, you’d think we were sending Daisy to an Ivy League college if you saw her preschool tuition. She doesn’t need a hundred-dollar doll.

“Then again it was that pretentious preschool that got her turned onto the damn things. All of Daisy’s little friends have them and she’d been asking me for one since the start of the school year. Then out of the blue one of our neighbors, Linda Cabot, randomly stops by this past fall. We were out raking leaves,” she paused briefly again noting my expression, “Stop. We have landscapers but Caitlin and I were making piles for Daisy to jump in. Anyway, Linda Cabot appears in our backyard holding this box and says it’s a gift for my ‘darling little girl.’ Daisy opens it up and nearly had a stroke when she saw what was inside.

“Linda claimed she’d found the doll while she was cleaning out their attic. Yeah right, that woman has never cleaned her own clothes let alone an attic. And she was acting squirrely, like she wouldn’t stop asking Daisy if she wanted to ‘accept’ the doll. ‘Do you love her, Daisy? Do you want to keep her? Isn’t she pretty? She’s all yours if you will accept her,’” Cali mimicked in a creepy voice. “It was really fuckin’ weird.”

I laughed nervously. “Sounds like a scene from the beginning of a horror movie.”

“Spot on,” Cali replied, tipping her wine glass to me. “That’s exactly what it was like. She was like one of the neighbors in Rosemary’s Baby.”

“I love that you just made that reference,” I said happily.

“Have you read the sequel?”

I nodded and gave a little shrug.

“Kinda flat but still entertaining, right? Sooo, that creepy ass doll. Daisy was pumped, she recognized it and told us it’s name was Kit. Linda was fucking overjoyed that Daisy knew the thing’s name. ‘That’s right darling, it’s Kit Kittredge. She’s a lovely little girl, a little mischievous, but aren’t all little girls?’

“Christ, I wanted to hit her over the head with my rake. Total weirdo. Anyway, Caitlin had the idea to bring Daisy to the American Girl store at the mall that afternoon and have the thing’s hair done and get Daisy a new outfit for it since it was wearing what looked like some sort of an old Christening gown. It was as good a way as any to kill an afternoon and Daze was so freaking excited we hopped in the car and went.

“I’m not trying to be dramatic but that doll was a bummer from the start. This is going to sound like I am exaggerating but while the ‘hair stylist’ (Cali put the words in air quotes) was putting a barrett in the thing’s hair she jumped back from the table and said she’d gotten an electric shock from it. And then Daze wanted to have the thing’s ears pierced, right? So the stylist gets everything all ready to do that shit and then she has to run out of the room quickly to get sick. Really, I am not even kidding you.”

“Yikes,” I said taking a big gulp of wine and taking a mental inventory of the dolls in my daughters’ possession.

“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the doll at that point obvs, but looking back I totally connected a bunch of dots that didn’t jump out at us at the time. Like, I know it had something to do with the birds.”

“Oh shit,” I breathed.

“Birds started dying everywhere we went. One killed itself by slamming into Daisy’s bedroom window. She was in the room at the time and it completely bummed her out. Then one just flew into my windshield while I was pulling into the driveway – at night! It was dark and this huge black bird just smacked into the windshield. At first I thought someone had thrown something at the car so I jumped out and was ready to raise hell but then I saw it on the ground right next to my door. It was disgusting.

“Oh, and then I was out reading on the patio one afternoon and I saw Babs rolling around on the ground and she wouldn’t stop when I called to her so-”

“Wait, who is Babs,” I interrupted hopefully.

“The dog. Oh that’s right! You love dogs. She’s probably in the basement with Jonathan. Want me to have him bring her up?”

“No, no,” I said, not meaning it.

“Oh, she’s such pain in the ass. Anyway, I figured she’d found a pile of bunny poop or something so I got up to stop her from rolling in it but when I walked over I saw that it was actually a pile of three dead birds! Gak! I called Zoomin’ Groomin’ and had them come over to bathe her immediately.” Cali shivered at the memory.

“I had no reason to connect it to the doll at first, but I mean, I know a fucking omen when I see one and that was way too many dead birds for it to be a coincidence. And I couldn’t get that wack-a-do Linda Cabot out of my mind. I see her every year at our neighborhood progressive dinner, but this isn’t the kind of street where we simply pop over to each other’s houses, you know? And when she’d brought the doll over she’d taken the trouble to walk around to the back yard looking for us, she, like climbed through the landscaping and shit.

“We’d only exchanged meaningless chit chat in the past. I probably told her about my family, but why did Daisy come to her mind for that doll, right? I don’t know. Wait. Where am I in the timeline?” Cali said interrupting herself.

“Um, the doll store?” I offered.

“Yes! Right. So that was weird, that store is weird anyway, but everything about the trip was off.  And then the first night the doll was in the house? That was legitimately concerning. I was in the living room watching television and I heard what I thought was Daisy walking around in her room. I figured she was up playing when she should have been sleeping so I marched right up to tell her to get back into bed, but she was in bed. Fast asleep. That doll was in the middle of her floor so I picked it up and tucked it back into bed with her.

“The second I shut the door I heard little footsteps in her room again. I figured she’d just been pretending to sleep so I waited a second and then threw open the door hoping I’d catch her out of bed. Daisy was still sound asleep and that fucking doll was in the middle of the floor again. That time I just left the damn thing where it was. It’s not like I thought the thing was haunted right then but I was freaked out, and I’m not a dummy.”

“I don’t know, Cali,” I said with a nervous laugh. “This is just almost too much for me, which is saying a lot.”

“Shit, I know, right? It sounds like a Chucky movie, but I swear to you, I swear that everything I am about to tell you happened.”

“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” I said quickly, “Dolls are just…”

“Sorry, we could totally just get drunk and talk shit about people instead if you want,” Cali offered.

“I’d never live it down.”

“It would be amazing to tell people that I scared you, though,” she said.

“You can already tell people that. Let’s just get this over with.”

“You suuuuure?” She asked.

“Shush, get on with it.”

“If you’re sure,” she said, smiling. “So that first night was the footsteps and then the birds started turning up everywhere dead and then Daisy started talking about the doll in a really, like dreadful way. ‘Kit doesn’t like it when your impatient, mommy… Kit doesn’t understand why she can’t come to school with me… Kit doesn’t like the dog, she’s afraid Babs will hurt her…Kit likes to stay up late reading books.’

“It was annoying at first and I was just like, ‘Daisy, cut it out,’ you know? Then one night I’m in the kitchen heating up dinner and Daisy comes up from the basement, she’d been playing down there or whatever, and she goes, ‘I’m sad daddy isn’t going to be home in time to tuck me in.’ I was all ‘He’s on his way home now to have dinner with us, Daze,’ and she goes, ‘No, mommy, he’s stuck in traffic.’

“I thought she was just doing one of her weird little pretend games so I told her to get out of my kitchen and go play until dinner was ready. And then my cell phone rang,” Cali paused dramatically and raised her eyebrows up and down meaningfully. “It was Dex, he was in bumper to bumper traffic on the Pike. He was in gridlock for two hours, there was some tractor trailer accident. Whatever, but Daisy knew that. There wasn’t anyway that she could know it, but she did!”

“Cali,” I said, shaking my head.

“I swear on a stack of Bibles. When I hung up with Dex I was scared. It wasn’t just the birds or the noises coming from Daisy’s room at night, the energy in the house had shifted. It was heavy. So I finished getting dinner ready and called the kids to the table – don’t worry that’s not something we do often, only like once a week if I can pull my shit together – and I asked Daisy how she’d known her dad wasn’t going to be home in time for dinner. She goes, ‘Kit always knows where we are.’

“So I’m trying not to freak out and I’m like, ‘That’s not possible, Daisy, don’t be weird,’ and she says that Kit is ‘really good at knowing things,’ that it’s a game they play – guessing what’s going to happen next. Meanwhile that bobbed hair nightmare doll is sitting on the fucking countertop staring at all of us and Caitlin goes, ‘If Kit’s so great at guessing what’s going to happen then who’s supposed to call me tonight?’

“Daisy glanced over at the doll on the counter and without missing a beat says, ‘Brian Dodge.’ So Caitlin totally freaked out, yelling at Daisy not to lurk around and spy on her. They got into a stupid bicker back and forth and the next thing you know the bowl of limes on the counter – that was sitting right next to that evil piece of plastic – flies off the counter and lands right behind Caitlin’s chair.

“We all went completely silent and still. And we were all staring at Daisy. Jonathan was the first to speak. He asked Daisy if Kat made the bowl fall. And she was quiet for a minute and then goes, “Kit doesn’t like arguing. Her daddy used to get really mad.”

With that, Cali groaned and slumped down in her chair and held her wine glass in both hands as she took a huge gulp.

Speechless and running through scenarios in my mind of what I would do if one of the kids told me the same thing I drank along with her.

“What the fuck? Right?” She finally said. “How do you explain that? I tried to get Daisy to leave the doll downstairs that night, I didn’t want her alone in her room with the thing, but she refused and threw the most spectacular tantrum. I was so rattled I couldn’t argue with her. I thought, fine, let her have the damn thing for one more night and I’ll just get rid of it while she’s at school.

“The next day I threw a blanket over the thing so I wouldn’t have to touch it and slid it into a black garbage bag and took it out to the garbage cans in the garage. I should have brought it to the dump but the trash service was coming the next day and, you know. Whatever. The thing is, I hated even holding the bag, it felt like, and I know this sounds so cliche, but it felt like the doll knew exactly what I was doing.

“In my heart of hearts I knew that wasn’t the end of it. And this is embarrassing, but I was terrified of how Daisy would react when I told her the doll was gone. I had this spooked out paranoid feeling the rest of the day. I did a Boot Camp and some shopping before I went to pick up Daisy that afternoon. I hadn’t exactly worked out what I was going to tell her but, “Mommy threw your doll in the garbage because she thinks it’s haunted by a dead devil child,” didn’t feel quite right. So I was leaning towards pretending I had no idea what had happened to the doll.

“I was actually holding my breath as I watched the garage door go up. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen but I imagined it had something to do with the doll attacking the car. The reality was almost worse than that. The garbage cans had all been overturned, the bags torn apart and trash all over the ground. I just sat there staring, Daisy in her booster seat had a perfect view of the scene. ‘Did Babs get into the trash?’ She asked giggling.

“But then she saw it. The doll at the center of the mess. As though it had been placed there on purpose. I got out of the car and let Daisy out too. I wouldn’t let her go near the garage or that doll. I made an excuse that a rabid raccoon might be around. She freaked out. She lost her mind when I wouldn’t let her go in to the garage to get the doll. Then she started screaming at me for throwing it out. ‘You’re just like her daddy! You want to get rid of her!’

“And with that I lost my cool. I picked her up and lugged in the house and screamed at her for being a little weirdo. I said the doll was freaking everyone out and that I wanted it out of our home, which in hindsight was probably emotionally scarring but we all need something to bring to the therapist so let her add that to her list.”

“Could it have been the dog?” I asked.

“Nope, she was asleep in her little bed when we blew in the door. I can’t believe that it was a coincidence that some raccoon or whatever managed to get into our garage the same day I threw out that vile doll. I was so scared. Daisy was sobbing over the damn thing and I just made her sit on the couch. I wouldn’t let her out of my sight. I was afraid the thing was going to try and possess her or something.”

I nodded my head and held out my glass for a top off. “I would have lit that thing on fire,” I began to say but then there was a noise on the stairs off the library and we both fell silent. Then we heard footsteps in the hallway, “What the fuck is that?” Cali breathed. Then she screamed, “Hello! Who’s there?” And a young girl with tortoise shell glasses poked her head through the doorway, “What are you doing in here?” She asked.

“Oh God, honey you scared the hell out of us. Caitlin, this is Mrs. Sower. Liz, this is my oldest daughter. I’m telling Mrs. Sower about Daisy’s devil doll.”

“Nice to meet you,” Caitlin and I exchanged. Then the girl said, “Mom, don’t talk about that doll.”

“Mrs. Sower is an author, honey. She knows all about haunted dolls. Give me some space, buddy. Go do your homework.”

“It’s done.”

“Of course it is. Go watch the Bachelor or something. Mommy’s having a visit.” Caitlin hesitated, and Cali said, “Honey, it’s fine to talk about it now that the thing is long gone, it’s not listening anymore.”

Once I was sure that Caitlin was out of earshot I said, “Listening?

“Oh yeah, that little fucker was always watching us and listening to every word that we said. This was all before the garbage issue – but when Daisy was still playing with the doll she began to stick around Dex and I in the evening. Which, like whatever, but I’m not into having the kids under foot all the time so they know to do their own thing before dinner time which usually meant Daisy played in her room or in the basement.

“But all of a sudden she was sticking around and she got really into taking photos with her little iPad. I would look over and she’d be photographing me. It was cute at first, but then it started to feel lurky.

“Dex gets home around four-thirty or five most days so we usually have a glass of wine and talk shit about the day before we eat dinner. So I’d been noticing what a clinger Daze had been that week but that night I didn’t realize she had wedged herself underneath the kitchen island behind the stools while Dex and I were sitting and talking. She’d crawled under there with a blanket, the doll, and her iPad.

“Alright, so Dex and I are sitting at the kitchen table, I was listening to him bitch about this one guy at his company – I don’t remember exactly what the issue was, but he was pretty pissed about it – when all of a sudden we hear whispering. I stood up and looked around the room, the creepy thing was that Daisy was hiding, she could see me looking for her and I was calling her name and she just watched me.

“After a minute I spotted her and I was like, well really startled first of all, and really fuicking creeped out so I yelled at her to come the hell out from underneath there. So she crawls out but not before tucking the iPad beneath that damn doll. I was like, “Uh uh, you bring that out here right now and give it to me.’ So she did, and Liz, she had been recording our conversation. I scrolled through all of her photos and videos and realized that she had been sneaking around recording everyone.

“I was freaking out and Dex, who was still sitting at the table was like, ‘Calm down, it’s not a big deal she’s just taking pictures of the family,’ so I dropped the iPad down on the table in front of him and played the video Daisy had just taken of him calling one of his co-workers a douchebag. That got him. He goes, ‘Daze, nobody likes a snoop, kid,’ and she said something like, ‘It wasn’t my idea, daddy.’ Well then whose idea was it, right? We finally got her to admit why she’d been spying on the entire family. She said the doll told her to do it.”

“And you didn’t throw away the damn thing right then and there?” I said in disbelief.

Cali rolled her eyes. “Dex was all, ‘She’s just a kid… she’s going through a weird phase… maybe she’s just a creative type… Creative my ass,” Cali said with a snort. “She can barely draw a stick figure.

“So what was the final straw? I mean the garage thing but how did you finally get rid of it?” I asked.

“Right, well, by the time Dex got home the night of the garbage crisis Daisy had finally calmed down and was watching television but her eyes were almost swollen shut from crying and her voice was raspy from screaming. Caitlin was at the kitchen table pretending to do her homework, but really I think she was afraid to be by herself in the house. Oh, yeah, in the middle of Daisy’s tantruming Caitlin had told me that she’d been hearing whispering coming from Daisy’s room the past few nights, two voices mind you.

“Needless to fucking say, I was teetering on the edge of sanity and about two glasses of wine deep when Dex showed up. ‘What in the hell happened in the garage? Do we have raccoons?’ He asked as he walked through the door. Then he took quick stock of the situation and told me to come up to our bedroom to talk about what was going on. Caitlin panicked for a minute but luckily Jonathan came in right then and I told him he had to sit in the kitchen with his sisters.  

“I explained as well as I could to Dex. I hadn’t exactly been holding things back from him, but I wasn’t giving him a daily update of how weird things had gotten with Daisy. So he was all skeptical at first and I got pretty testy. Like, really Dex? Dead birds and phantom footsteps, Caitlin’s hearing whispering and the day I decide to throw the fucking doll out a raccoon trashes the garage? Not to mention the crazy attachment Daisy had to the doll.

“He agreed that we should get rid of it but wanted to call Linda to ask her if she wanted it back, you know? Which I thought was a bunch of hairy horse shit, the thing was fucking possessed. But he said maybe we could find out a little bit more about the thing if we talked to her. So I was just like, fine, if that will get this thing out of my house I’ll call her myself. I texted around for her phone number and she answered on the first ring. I cut right to the chase, I said, ‘We’re gonna need to return your doll, Linda and she got all uppity and offended and then, man I’ll tell you what, that Yankee had a mouth on her. ‘How dare I act like such an ungrateful little bitch,’ and ‘No wonder my daughter was acting strangely with a mother like me.’

“I put the phone on speaker and let Dex listen to the woman go on for a minute before she goes, ‘I’ll never take that doll back. It’s your problem now,’ and hangs up on me.

“That freaked him out. He went out and cleaned up the garage. He rebagged the doll and put it in the gun safe in the basement-”

“Please tell me it didn’t escape from a locked safe,” I pleaded.

“No, no,” Cali reassured me. “But the house was fucking creepy that night. I don’t know how to describe it other than it was heavy. Daisy wasn’t speaking to anyone, the other kids were jumpy and I was totally on edge.”

“Why did you let him bring it back into the house?” I asked.

“Dex was trying to be the rational, skeptical one, but Linda’s reaction to my phone call completely weirded him out. He was like,’I want to know exactly where that thing is and I want to make sure someone else doesn’t find it if I just dump it somewhere.’ So we decided to shelve the problem for the night and sleep on it. Or at least we tried to sleep on it. I was so creeped out I was afraid to close my eyes. I had Caitlin and Jonathan sleep in the bunk beds in the kids’ guest room, and they didn’t protest too hard. I just kept Daisy in her room. I’m not going to lie, I was afraid of her. I didn’t know if the doll had some sort of hold or influence over her, so after I put her to bed I lined up some Diet Coke cans in front of her doorway so that if she opened the door in the middle of the night the cans would wake us up.”

“That is brilliant.”

“Thanks,” she said dismissively.

“Then what?” I asked.

“Dex and I did some Googling and the thing that kept coming up were these eBay sales,” Cali said draining her glass. “There were hundreds of listings for haunted dolls – the majority of which where obvious bullshit, but there were a few that actually sounded legit. The postings sounded like they were written by people who were in our exact same situation, they somehow ended up with a severely haunted doll and they wanted someone to take it off their hands. Our only other option was to burn the thing but I remember hearing that you’re not supposed to burn a Ouija board because you could let the spirits out of it and I sure as hell didn’t want to let the spirit out of the doll, so eBay it was.”

“Did you get any interest?”

“Within twenty minutes of posting the doll we had seventeen offers. After a day we had over one-hundred. Some of the emails were from absolute sociopaths. One woman even admitted that she wanted the thing so she could send it to her boyfriend’s wife.”

“What in the world did you write in the listing?” I asked, riveted.

“Okay, so that was tricky because at first I was like just tell people they can have it, but Dex reminded me how weird I said Linda was when she gave the doll to Daisy, right? She kept saying something like, ‘Do you accept the doll,’ so we made sure to add that into the listing. We said that we wanted to gift the doll to a new owner and that the owner would need to ‘accept’ the doll both in writing and in person.”

“Eek,” I said, shaking my head at the idea of the stranger danger involved in the transaction. “Who bought it?”

“A twenty-five year old hairdresser,” she said with a laugh. “His arms were both completely covered with tattoos and he had a little mohawk. Told us he wanted to put it in his shop for ‘decoration.’ I felt like he didn’t believe us. Like it was a joke, right?

“I asked him if he was sure he wanted to take the thing and I think he saw then that we were really serious. He definitely hesitated before getting all cool and ‘Yeah, man, my clients will dig it.’

“So we gave it to him.”

“Have you heard anything from him since?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, he’s emailed a couple times. The first email he seemed excited, told us that things had been moved around his shop. He admitted he hadn’t completely believed us at first but now he did. The second email he seemed to take the whole thing more seriously. He’d been hearing voices.” Cali gave a shiver.

“But that was it for your family? You didn’t have anything else happen at the house?”

“Nothing,” Cali said, shaking her head.

“What about Daisy, though? I mean, she was obviously affected by the thing did you do anything to be sure she wasn’t, like affected by the doll?”

Cali smirked, “What do you take me for? Of course I did. I had our priest come and bless the house and I brought Daisy in three times to the church to haver blessings spoken over her. I have my eye on her, but she seems pretty much back to normal. She was freaking the fuck out after we took the doll away, you know? Right up until we gave it to that guy. Then she was just over it.”

“Crazy,” I breathed, “and everything just went back to normal once the guy took the doll?” I asked, skeptically.

“One hundred percent back to normal,” Call confirmed. She stared at her wine glass for a moment. “Huh, I kinda see what you mean,” she said. “The belief begins to wear off doesn’t it? The whole thing just doesn’t pack as much of a punch as it once did.”

“It starts to feel like more of a story than something that actually happened, right?” I agreed glumly.

 

***

 

As I rode home in the Uber, feeling buzzed and slightly creeped out I considered Cali’s story. She truly believed her daughter had befriended a possessed doll just as I believed I’d seen a small shadow figure in my basement months ago. Cali’s doll had terrorized her family and now it was gone just like my shadow figure and with them went some of the true belief in their existence.

I still loved hearing people’s stories and I knew that there were plenty more for me to discover. But I had a nagging frustration. What would it take to make me believe if I could experience it for myself and still shrug my shoulders and say, “Yeah, I talked face to face with a mimic, but have you heard the one about the woman on Cliff Road who had a haunted doll?” When would it be enough?

I tipped the Uber driver and walked up the short driveway to my little yellow house. A house that I wouldn’t be able to call mine for much longer and that night I had the first dream. I was in the new house in the kitchen rifling through the cabinets. Unable to find what I was looking for I walked down to the basement to retrieve it. I wound my way past the laundry room and the playroom to the storage area. At the shelves I reached for a box marked “kitchen.” I was about to pull it down when I heard the noise. It was coming from the crawl space beneath the family room. The home inspector had pointed out several dead mice in that space during our walk through months before. But mice couldn’t have made this noise. It was too loud, too heavy. I hesitated and stared at crack in the rough wooden doors that closed off the crawl space. I stared intently at the the rusty latch that kept them closed.

In my dream I stood very still. When no further noise was made I reached up for the box again ready to grab what I’d come for and beat feet back upstairs. And then something threw itself against those doors, the ones closing off the crawl space. The ones the previous home owners had told me were only there to keep the ground chill from creeping into the basement. The ones that were held shut by a simple hook and eye latch. In my dream I ran up the steps and out the front door. In my dream I stood in the driveway staring up at our new house and watched all of the windows change and become covered by the same rough wood that covered the crawl space. I watched as they began to rattle as if something was trying to get out of the house.

I woke up in a cold sweat. It was just a dream. I told myself. I drank too much last night and it was just a bad dream.