ghosts in the burbs

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

“That child is long gone.”

“I just talked to Jamie, she got a quote from Reliable Fence and they’re just waiting for the materials to come in. She’s doing everything she can.”

“It’s too late,” Judith countered. “She said herself that the kid wasn’t the same after spending so much time in the woods. That’s not her child anymore.” 

“How so?”

“It’s a changeling.”

My hand stopped halfway to my face. I’d been about to shove the rest of a homemade peanut butter cookie into my mouth. 

“That’s really a thing?”

“Mm. That’s really a thing. Now please, to the best of your ability Miss Liz, tell me exactly how that thing presented the promise to you and exactly what you said back.”

“Um, well, she said I had to make a promise to listen to this Sheeshee even when things got really loud. That I was supposed to only listen to her even when it was really noisy. And I think I said, ‘I can do that.’”

“Huh,” Judith looked both relieved and maybe even a little impressed. “You may have managed to sidestep a serious issue.”

“You thanked her too,” Claire chimed in, “Don’t forget that.”

“Oh, right, I said thank you when I was leaving and I, like gave a little bow while I said it.”

Judith’s head dropped. “Jesus Christ, how I consistently underestimate your ability to step right into a huge pile of shit is beyond me.”

“Wait, how is thanking the thing a problem?”

“If you were to ask anyone, and I mean anyone who knew an infinitesimal amount of information about the fae, the first thing, the very first thing they would tell you is ‘never thank the fae.’ Just the act of thanking that banshee opened up an energetic agreement between the two of you.”

“Well, all I have to do is listen to her, right? It’s not like I agreed to do anything.”

“To them a thank you is a promise, an energetic bond. So yeah, you have to listen to her, and now you’re going to do her a favor in return for her restoring your abilities.”

“Oops,” Claire muttered.

“Shit,” I muttered.

“You’re indebted,” Judith said matter-of-factly.

“Well, then she can take a goddamn number. I can’t fucking open my eyes in the morning without someone wanting something from me. The kids, the dogs, the PTO, the neighbors, strangers on the internet. Fuck.”

Judith and Claire remained silent after my little outburst.

“Sorry,” I apologized. “How much trouble am I in?”

“Only time will tell what that thing wants from you, but I’d be willing to bet it’s more than just listening. No use worrying about it now,” Judith suggested sensibly. “What was it you wanted to talk to me about? Something with tunnels?”

“Yeah. Actually, not just tunnels. Something’s brewing.”  

***

I’d known Hannah Brinson from working at the library, she was a volunteer for a time, reshelving books. We hadn’t kept in touch too well, but would see each other occasionally around town and always fell back into easy conversation. We met at Starbucks to discuss what she’d described as “an issue on her property.”

“It took me two months to get up the nerve to reach out,” she admitted. 

“That’s silly,” I replied, breaking a tiny glazed vanilla scone apart to make it last longer. 

“I know, it’s just, if I tell you about this and if you come to my house and if you notice the same thing or you say it’s worse than I think it is then we’ll have to move or something and there are only like seven houses on the market right now and I swear to God they’re all either crap or over three million dollars. It’ll be a nightmare.”

I chuckled.

“What?” 

“I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing because you sound like my own inner monologue of doom. Let’s not jump the gun. I’m sure there’s a quick fix to whatever’s spooking you. What’s going on at the house?”
“We have a monster.”

I made the mistake of laughing again.

Hannah stared at me.

“Sorry. What kind of monster do you think you have?”

“How the hell should I know what it is?” She snapped, then rubbed at her eyes roughly. “Sorry. I guess it’s an outdoor monster, not like a werewolf, or a dragon, but sometimes it does seem like an animal. Sometimes it’s a dark mass, like a shadow, but solid-ish. But then when it takes form it is very solid. But then, it doesn’t stay outside, we know it’s been in the house. And it’s big. It’s head just about touches the doorframe.”

“You’re serious.”

“Liz. Yes. I’m serious.”

“Sorry. I thought you were here to talk  about the ghost.” 

“No, we don’t have a- wait,” she leaned forward. “What ghost?”

My eyes slid involuntarily over her shoulder and she spun around.

“Who’s there?” she demanded, causing the barista to glance at us suspiciously.

Quite quickly after I’d recovered my clairaudience thanks to the banshee, my ability to see the dead had returned. And though it was subtle, the fact that both abilities had been strengthened, was unmistakable. The experience of hearing and seeing ghosts was the same, but it was like, their ability to hear and see me had improved. They were quick to ask for help, thank me and leave. Claire said the fae had left a sort of shine on me, alerting the dead and everything else creeping around that I was the real deal. 

I did not like the sound of that. It sounded a lot as if I’d been marked. It sounded a lot like it would call unnecessary attention to me. 

Claire waved off my concerns. “You’re calling their attention anyway. But now the dead know you’ve been accepted by the fae.” 

It made me feel like I was in a Sookie Stackhouse novel and I remember quite well what happened to her when the wrong magical creatures got a hold of her.

All this to say, there was someone with Hannah and me in Starbucks.

“It’s a gray haired man, he’s a little stooped over, with light brown eyes, dark skin,” I told her. “He actually looks just like you… do you want to talk to him?”

Hannah scrubbed at her eyes again. “Jesus Christ Almighty.” 

“You don’t have to, I can ask her to leave you alone-”

“No, it’s fine. Is it my father?”

The ghost moved to stand beside us, chattering the whole way. 

“Yup, it’s your dad,” I relayed. “He’s worried about you. The pain in your back is only a tight muscle. You need to stretch when you get off the treadmill. He wants you to go to a yoga class but not one of those preposterous competitive classes. Go to a session that will calm you. Tim should have his blood pressure checked. Charlotte needs glasses, Jack is having a problem with a boy in his class but he feels like it would be tattling to speak up about it and Poppy ate a bunch of Q-tips this morning. She’ll be fine but it’s going to be a rough couple of nights.”

Hannah wiped at the tears rolling down her cheeks. “Ask him if Tim is okay.”

“He can hear you,” I said distractedly, trying to listen to her chatty father, “He will be fine but they are going to want to put him on medication. He should do yoga too. Or walk outside. Something to calm himself. You should walk together, as a family. You spend too much time cooped up. It’s not good for you, it’s no wonder why you’re all so stressed.”  

Hannah held up a hand. “Okay, I get it. We’ll walk. But what about our monster, what does he say about that?”

Her dad put his hands up in protest. “Not my department,” he insisted. “I’ve got my hands full with the family.”

“Looks like the monster is a me-problem,” I sighed, scrounging for scone crumbs. 

“Is my dad with us all the time?”

“Um, no. He tries to split his time between you and your siblings. And,” I listened and did my best to keep up, “your little sister never should have married Jason but what’s done is done. Cary is bored again, he’s probably going to quit his job, and um… William is, oh! Are you sure you want me to say? Okay. Yeah, William is having an affair with his business partner. Your dad is trying to intervene, but there’s only so much he can do.”

“William’s business partner is like, twenty five years older than him,” Hannah said doubtfully.

Her father let out a deep sigh. “He shouldn’t have gotten married either, I blame myself.”

As I relayed all of this Harper began giggling as she wiped away tears. “I’m the easy one.”

“You always were,” her dad said lovingly. “But you’re in quite the mess now, aren’t you? And I can’t get you out of it.”

Before I could repeat it, Hannah whispered, “You should let us figure things out for ourselves for once, dad. Get some rest.”

“And what then?” The ghost demanded. “Float away into that blazing light? Boring. I need to check on Cary, make sure he doesn’t get himself kicked out of another apartment. Tell her to the moon and back, and you,” he pointed a finger at me, “You figure out how to get rid of that thing. They’re not safe for much longer. It’s figuring them out. There’s nothing I can do. You have to help them.”

And with that, he was gone.

It took some time for Hannah to pull herself together. But eventually we got back on the topic of her home.

“So… your monster,” I prompted. “It’s outside but it can get inside. Not an animal, not a human, not vapor, but solid and almost as tall as your doorframe.”

“That’s right.”

“Weird,” I said, sipping my pumpkin spice latte.

“That’s all you have to say? What is it?”

 I shrugged. “I don’t know, um, it could be a shadow figure, maybe?”

“I looked those up, they look like people, this thing… doesn’t.”

“What does it look like?”

“When it’s not slithering around in the shadows or looking like a hooded figure down by the lake, it has a short body, long thin legs, thin short arms, tiny wings and, uh, long curved horns.”

“Jesus Christ,” I muttered just as Claire chimed in, “Uh oh.”
“What oh?” I asked.

“What?” Hannah asked, as I listened to my guide.

“What does it sound like to you?” Claire said matter of factly. 

“Well, sure, but it’s hanging out outside…”

“What is she saying?” Hannah demanded.

“Where do you live now?” I asked, ignoring her question.

“We’re right on Sabrina Lake, close to the Needham line.”

I froze. 

“Shit,” Claire muttered.

“I live over on [name of street omitted].”

“Oh sure, that’s kind of in the area right? Across the lake. Is something wrong?”

“There’s just been a lot of strange in the neighborhood lately,” I explained, vaguely.

“Explain strange.”

I hesitated. “Lost time, sinkholes filled with, uh, creatures, weird stones in the woods, time warps…”

“What in the world?”

I shrugged. “I know it sounds crazy.” 

Hannah considered. “It does, but it makes me feel better knowing I’m not the only one. I mean I’ve read your blog over the years but until things started happening at our own house, I never really thought, you know-”

“I get it. But I thought you guys were in Poet’s Corners, I must have mixed you up with someone else.”

“Oh, no we were. But we snagged this place just before the market went absolutely insane with Covid. We’d never be able to afford it now. We weren’t even looking, that’s what’s so ridiculous about the whole thing.”

“Then how’d you end up there?”

“We went to the open house…” she trailed off.

“And one thing led to another,” I guessed.

“You know how it goes better than anyone.”

“Yeah. We’ve been in our place for two years and it is the first time we’ve been in a house this long without putting it back on the market.”

“Do you think you’ll stay put?”

“Yes,” I said, knocking on the wooden table. “The space is a little tight but we’ll make it work.”

“For sure. Actually, the size of this house is one of the things that made it attractive,” Hannah confided. “It was smaller than our last place. We had too much damn room and I was sick of keeping it up. I was sick of our neighbors too.

“The lake house is a little Cape with an extension, and a good sized yard that goes down to the lake. It’s got tons of privacy which is what gave us the idea to try and put in the pool. I think that’s what caught the thing’s attention. The digging.”

“Oh no.”

“That’s bad, huh?”

“In our neighborhood? Yes.”

“Well, we didn’t finish the pool. The pool company made it seem like it would be no problem to get through the bedrock, but it was a nightmare. They tried drilling down then realized that it was more involved and when they started talking about blasting I just put the brakes on the whole thing and told them to stop and refill what they’d dug out. It would have been about twice the cost we’d anticipated, yada yada yada. 

“At any rate, the spa was already done, not that we ever use the damn thing.”

“Oh really?” I giggled.

Hannah managed a smile. “It sounds absurd! I know! I just-”

“Sorry, I don’t mean to minimize. Just the thought of a demon splashing around in your hot tub made me laugh.”

Hannah’s face fell. “So you do think it’s a demon.” 

I nodded and apologized again.

Hannah sighed. “I was just hoping maybe it was one of those weird elemental things you’re always writing about on the blog.”

“It doesn’t sound like it. Tell me what it does.”

“I first noticed it at night. I was sitting in our living room and through the window I saw something moving down by the lake. It was a little after dusk so I didn’t have a great view, but it looked like there was a tall hooded figure pacing back and forth at the edge of the water. 

“I went to the back porch and called out to what I thought was a person. It just stopped pacing and then, like sort of melted down into the ground.”

“Oof.”

“I’d been home alone, the kids were at their sports and Tim wasn’t home from work yet, it freaked me out, but it was dark-ish. I convinced myself it was a trick of the water. But then Charlotte, my oldest, saw the guy, or whatever it was the following afternoon when I sent her out to the mail before dinner.

“She came running inside all worked up. She said some guy in a costume was watching her from the trees beside the driveway.”

 “And then Tim saw it when he left for work early one morning. We park the cars facing the woods and when he turned on his headlights he saw a man in a hooded robe standing about fifteen or so feet back just staring at him. Scared the hell out of him. He got out and went looking, but again the guy just disappeared.

“He didn’t want to leave us so he came in and we called the police. They didn’t find anything. Poor Jack saw it out his window at bedtime, he said it was standing right in the yard staring at his window.”

“Good grief,” I muttered.

“Soon after that strange things began happening in the house. We were lying in bed one night and Tim and I heard footsteps on the roof. Again, we called the police and again they found absolutely nothing. We have a security system, which gave us some comfort, but it was incredibly frightening. 

“Our laundry is in the basement and that’s where I first noticed something moving in the shadows.” Hannah closed her eyes and shook her head. “Since then I’ve been washing our clothes at that laundromat on Route 135.

“There are strange noises at the house,” she went on, “Bangs and taps with no cause. Um…”

“What about that thing with wings?” I interrupted. “When did it show up?”

“I woke up in the middle of the night, I don’t know what woke me up. I looked over and that thing was standing over Tim. Just staring down at him.”

“Jesus, was he awake?”

“No, at least not until I screamed. The thing melted away like that hooded figure I saw by the lake.”

“I’m so sorry. THat is truly terrifying. Is anybody in your family acting weird?”

“Weird?”

“Yeah, like do the kids and Tim seem like themselves?”

“Oh, well sure. I mean, we are all a little on edge, but no one’s heads are spinning around if that’s what you mean.”

I smiled. “Good. So, it sounds like you are in the infestation stage headed for oppression.”

“Not sure what that means.”

“Demonic possession doesn’t just happen,” I explained. “There are stages. First it’s an infestation, like all the haunted house stuff you’re describing. Then comes oppression. You might be physically attacked and you’ll definitely have nightmares. Then-”

“Wait, Tim is having bad nightmares. He won’t tell me what they’re about, but I know they are really bothering him.”

“Okay, well, let’s get someone in there to clear the house tout de suite and we’ll put some protections around your property. It should help, if it doesn’t we’ll keep trying things until it sticks.”

Hannah smiled. “Wow, okay, so easy as that?”

“Well, I mean, not that easy, but yeah, there are people who can help you.”

“Oh! I feel so relieved.”

“There’s something else,” said Claire.

“Oh, come on?” I said, without thinking.

“What is it?” Hannah demanded.

“There’s something hidden in her home, I don’t know where, but you’ve got to get it out of there,” Claire explained. 

“There’s something in your house,” I relayed. 

“Like what?” Hannah whispered.

“You should go there,” Claire insisted. “You’re supposed to go and look.”

“You’re coming though, right?”

Claire shook her head. 

“Coming where?” asked Hannah. 

“We need to go look,” I explained, trying to hide my skyrocketing anxiety. If Claire didn’t want to go it only meant one thing. The demon had made itself right at home.

“Now?” Hannah asked.

“Yes, we have to get it out of there.” 

***

“It’s gorgeous,” I told her, as I shut my car door and approached the house. 

The home sat at the top of a rolling lawn, lined by mostly pine trees. At the far edge lay the lake. We’d been in a pretty severe drought for months and you could see how far the water level had dropped on the wooden dock pilings. 

Hannah invited me inside and offered me a bubbly water. She showed me around the small home and we ended up in the living room overlooking the water. To say I was tense would be an understatement. It felt like we were in for a jump scare at any moment. The house had adorable, cozy cottage vibes. It had a lot of personality. It should have been comfortable. On top of that, the views were perfect. But I found myself not wanting to look out any of the windows. Afraid of what might pop up.

“Well?” Hannah said anxiously. 

“Yeah, it’s spooky here, sorry. But I haven’t pinpointed anything in particular.” 

I understood why Claire didn’t want to tag along, but I felt like I was flying blind. There were no dead people around. None. So I couldn’t try and dig around for information. 

I closed my eyes and tried to focus. 

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, just give me a minute,” I said as patiently as I could. 

Silence and then a huge bang rang through the house like a door slamming shut. I nearly jumped out of my skin. 

“What the hell was that?” Hannah whispered.

“It sounded like it came from the kitchen.”

We stared at each other for a long moment, then I reluctantly led the way out of the room. 

“Does everything look okay in here? Anything out of place?”

Hannah studied the kitchen and didn’t find anything unexpected. “That’s the kind of thing that happens all the time, these loud noises with no explanation.”

“The mudroom.”

“What about it?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, trying to keep the edge out of my voice. On a scale of one to ten I was at about a twelve in terms of terror. “I just had the thought ‘mudroom’ pop into my mind. Where is it?”

Hannah pointed to a French paneled door in the corner towards the front of the house. I opened it tentatively and peered into a cramped room. One wall held hooks, the other two sliding doors that I assumed belonged to a coat closet. I took a step inside. 

“Well?” Hannah pressed.

“The rug,” I replied, pointing down.

“I know, it’s ridiculous to have a rug in a mudroom, it’ll only get ruined. I keep meaning to have it replaced with tile.”

“It looks like it’s in good shape, though.”

“Yeah, I think they probably replaced it right before we bought the house.”

“It needs to come up.”

Hannah scoffed.

“There’s something under there, we have to look.”

It didn’t take long to pull the rug up by an edge. We stared down at a two by two, hinged but handleless door in the floor, set squarely in the center of the room.

“You’re kidding me,” Hannah breathed.

I jammed the same knife we’d used to pry up the corner of the rug underneath the door, the whole while Hannah insisting that we wait until her husband got home.

Flinging the hatch up and open I gazed down into a dark space. 

“This is how it’s getting inside.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense, it’s been sealed off.”

“None of this makes any sense, really,” I countered. “I mean we’re talking about demons and ghosts and extrasensory perception… It’s all completely and totally unbelievable. But here we are.”

I used the flashlight on my phone to peer into the darkness. On the cement floor of a cement lined room sat a bundle of what appeared to be sticks, dried flowers and something… gooey. I gazed around the subterranean space as best I could, there was a ladder.

I sighed.

“Don’t even think about it,” Hannah nearly yelled.

“We have to get that creepy little bundle out of here. Do you have a dustpan?”

She did. I took it and a real flashlight down the six foot ladder and realized that the space wasn’t a room. It was the end of a tunnel and the flashlight didn’t reach the end. I took a few steps forward.

“What are you doing?” Hannah hissed.

“It’s a long tunnel,” I said, “I’m just going to see where it leads, I think it might go down to the lake.”

“What in the hell has gotten into you? Grab that weird bundle of weeds and get back up here.” 

I stopped. She was right. What was I thinking? It was completely out of character. I put that disgusting bundle into the dustpan and struggled back up the ladder with it. 

“You’re shaking,” Hannah said once I’d made it back up into the mudroom.

“Do you have someplace else you can stay until we figure out what’s going on here?” I replied.
***

“So then we went outside and I was telling Hannah I’d touch base with you and Biddy and try to come up with a plan to protect the house when who happens to pass by on a walk?”

“Kate Dilvish.” guessed Judith.

I stared at her.

“Don’t look so shocked, you know she’s lurking around.”

“Right, well. She came over and introduced herself. She was like, ‘Your name sounds so familiar.’ So Hannah mentioned my blog, and she goes, ‘Oh, sure, that must be it.’ The woman absolutely gives me the willies. And get this – she’s Hannah’s next-door neighbor.”

“Oof, that sucks.”

“What should we tell her? I mean, what can she do to protect her family from that thing?”

“Move.” Judith replied simply. 

“I don’t think she can.”

We both fell silent.

I was thinking about salt and sage and St. Benedict medals. Eventually I asked, “What are you thinking? Do you think Kate pulled that demon up?” 

Judith shook her head. “Maybe, I don’t know. Sorry, my mind wandered. I was thinking about the fae.”

“Do you think it has something to do with Hannah’s house?”

“No, no. I just, well, the thing you made a deal with was a banshee, right?”

“That’s what Claire called it.”

Judith tsked. 

“What?”

“What do banshee’s typically do?”

“Scream?” I guessed.

That earned me a look. “They do scream,” said Judith, “And when they do, it’s because they’re warning of impending death.”

Jamie Walsh is a friend of an acquaintance of mine. A woman who I know through the PTO – hold on, have I told you that I am the Communications chair for our elementary school PTO? It’s the God’s honest truth. And not to toot my own horn, but several people have told me just how perfect my gif selection is for each little section of the weekly newsletter. 

Here’s the thing, I like to volunteer, but I don’t want to be in charge of anything. I like to be a worker bee, so this has worked out to be a nice little position. I learned over the years that while it is important to contribute to my community it is equally important not to contribute in ways that make me want to pull my hair out. After trial and error I now know that I don’t want to herd cats, I don’t want to find myself besieged with requests, opinions or complaints, and I do not want to be a decision maker. But I can write and I like organizing and so, I don’t mind giving my time to that little newsletter. 

This has absolutely nothing to do with our story, it’s a piece of advice-slash-information I wish I’d received long ago; volunteer work , wherever or however you do it, is not meant to be felt as a penance or burden. Someone else will be happy to serve in the baby toddler room for an hour or two (couldn’t be me), while you might feel more comfortable working on the organization’s website for a couple hours once a year from the comfort of your own home (might be me). There aren’t bonus points or some sort of ranking system. Service is service. 

Which brings us all the way around back to Jamie Walsh. The friend of Candy, the acquaintance I know through the PTO. Jamie is in charge of a job you couldn’t pay me to do. She is one of several parent liaisons for the Wellesley Public School System. 

Let that sink in. 

When parents have a serious bone to pick with any of the ten schools here in town, she is one of the people those parents contact to facilitate effective communication between the district and the family. 

Candy asked if I might meet with her friend who had been dealing with a “situation” involving her five year old daughter. I really really didn’t want to say yes. This was shortly after that spooky meeting with Lilin and right after a weekend filled with the school auction, a 40th birthday party and a little get together at our house. I’d basically used up a year’s worth of socializing in one weekend. All I wanted to do was hibernate with the new Richard Osman mystery.

But Candy was persistent, if a little vague about the reason her friend wanted to talk to me. I gave in and agreed to text Jamie and set up a time to get together. To my chagrin she texted back damn near immediately and asked if I could meet her the next morning at her house. 

Now you know that I know I shouldn’t be going to stranger’s houses, especially strangers with something worrisomely spooky happening in their house, and especially when I have no idea what that spooky thing is. But again, I was fried. I chose the path of least resistance. She named the time (nine o’clock) and place (her house, the property bordering dense woods and rather close to a big body of water here in town – she asked that I be vague about her location).

I can’t really offer any details about her house other than it is new construction, the work completed in November of 2019 right before everything went to hell. The house is pretty, and large. The front yard rather bare bones, the backyard a marvel of meticulous and layered landscaping. 

“Our predecessors created a darling walking path that meanders just about a quarter mile into the woods then circles back to the yard. It’s beautiful this time of year with the flowering trees, but you should see it in autumn. That’s when we saw the property for the first time, it was a major reason we chose the house,” Jamie explained. 

We were in her sunroom, a screened porch off the kitchen, the room brought to you by Serena and Lily. Their Pacifica collection to be exact (I looked it up just to see how out of reach it was. It was very out of reach). Ensconced in two handsome – really it is the only word for them – lounge chairs (driftwood wicker with french blue pinstripe cushions) with our backs to the house we sat at a slight angle to one another, separated by the Blithedale side table in coastal blue. The view was as peaceful as it gets. A soft breeze moved through the trees carrying the scent of lilac bushes through the screens.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” Jamie commented. 

“Mesmerizing,” I replied. The woods were stunning. Gorgeous. Like something out of a glossy gardening magazine. But, hmmm, I don’t know, there was just something about them. The best way to describe the vibe they gave off or whatever is that I was happy to be behind the screen. I didn’t want to be any closer to them then I had to be. 

“You must spend all of your time out here,” I offered politely, sipping an incredibly strong cup of coffee wishing I’d added an extra scoop of sweetener. 

“We do, mostly to keep an eye on Quinn. I can’t keep her indoors.”

I watched the little girl swinging on the wooden play structure set at the edge of the yard. She had her back to us, swinging so she could face the forest beyond. 

“That’s awesome, I have to force my kids outside.”

“Right,” Jamie smiled sadly. “I almost wish she were glued to a screen of some kind… If I could just get her interested in something other than those woods. She’s so isolated, she won’t interact with other children, she-” Jamie cut herself off and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. We are at the crux of it, this is why I was so eager to speak with you. I know you aren’t able to access your gifts right now, but from reading your blog it seems that you have a lot of knowledge in this area and contacts you might be able to put us in touch with.”

I was struggling to listen because as she spoke the ringing in my ears grew to an all time high. I decided to tell her so she wouldn’t think I was being rude or not paying attention.

“That’s true, um, for some reason recently I lost the ability to hear and see the other side, but the level of ringing in my ears right now is definitely getting a message across. Somebody is trying to tell me something.”

“Wow, okay. That must be so frustrating. Knowing they’re right here but you can’t hear them, I mean.”

“It is,” I agreed. “When things first went quiet, it was kind of a relief. I felt like I had my life back. But you know how it is, things never go back the way they used to be. Everything gets altered. This ear ringing is a new thing, I can tell someone is screaming at me from the other side but I can’t do anything about it. I can’t help, I can’t ignore it, I’m just like, struck dumb most of the time.”

It was interesting, Jamie had such a calm aura that I found myself sharing more that I probably would have with a stranger.

“Isn’t that so true,” she reflected. “Things never do ‘go back to normal’ they might become more palatable or familiar, but it’s a constant battle to adapt.” She sighed. “Adapting to Quinn’s situation has absolutely been a struggle for us. If I could go back I’m not sure that I would have the foresight to do anything differently. Would I have discouraged her from spending time outdoors instead of in front of a screen? Of course not, but perhaps I could have been a little more attentive. I should have noticed the change sooner.”

“Change?” 

“Mmm, She isn’t the same child she was four months ago. It wasn’t an abrupt transformation, it’s more as though she’s gone through an evolution. I think she will be like you, or the way you are when you can interact with spirits. She’s been interacting with something in those woods, and I honestly can’t say that it’s been a bad thing for her. It’s just… I don’t want to be one of those people who loses their minds when they don’t understand something, or is pig-headed about taking on new information, I just want some sort of reassurance that what is happening to her is safe.” 

I studied the little girl outside. She’d stopped swinging and was staring out into the woods, her body now perfectly still. Her little legs dangling motionlessly beneath her. 

“What is happening to her?” I asked, feeling something I couldn’t put my finger on. It wasn’t fear, or dread, nothing that strong. I just felt like something wasn’t right. 

“Did Candy tell you anything?”

“No, she just said you wanted to discuss something in my wheelhouse.” 

“Candy and her business gargon,” Jamie chuckled. “But that is accurate, what is happening here is spooky and strange and that certainly falls within your wheelhouse. Quinn befriended fairies in our woods.”

“Oh dear,” I said, without thinking.

Jamie made a small noise in agreement. “We are deeply concerned. I can’t like, hand a list over to her pediatrician telling her why I am so concerned. Quinn is healthy and happy, in fact she’s downright serene, but she is not the same. She is too… still for a child her age, she’s become too perceptive, wise beyond her years.”

Jamie stared out at her daughter for a long moment. “Do you see what I mean? What parent would ever complain about that?” 

 “How did this happen?” I asked, then realized that might sound judgy. “I mean, how did it begin?”

“We moved here in January, we were over in the Bates neighborhood before that and it was a fluke that we even came to look at this house. We’ve been in Wellesley for four years and we’d done a lot of work to our house, renovations so that we could stay there for a long time. But my husband subscribes to the Zillow listings for our area, he barely checks them really, but for some reason this house caught his eye. I thought he was crazy when he told me he planned to attend the open house. Quinn is our only child, this is a five bedroom home, it is far too much room for us. 

“Despite how impractical it was he loved it, he came straight home from the open house and brought us both back to see it. I fell in love with it too, how couldn’t I? It’s quintessential Wellesley. It’s everything you picture when you hear someone say, ‘I live over in [name of neighborhood omitted].’ You think, oh, they’re next level even for this place,” Jamie’s honesty, her unflinching acknowledgement of her situation was really refreshing. 

“I couldn’t get the house out of my mind,” she continued. “I can’t fault us for not noticing how drawn Quinn was to the woods while we were touring the home. How couldn’t she be, they are simply enchanting. Our last house was surrounded by other homes, our yard was tiny

“But… I did have a feeling, there was something I just could not nail down, about those woods. Cormac didn’t share my concerns, he grew up in the sticks,” Jamie laughed. “He was delighted that Quinn could have a safe place to gain a little independence and explore. So we let her, we bundled her up and let her walk that circuitous path all by herself. 

“I shouldn’t have allowed it. That was our first mistake, five year olds should not be traipsing through the woods alone. It’s not the nineteen-eighties, not that we should have been doing it then, either, but we know better now. There’s just… there’s something about those woods, this land, it lulls you.”

I knew just what she was talking about, she’d put it perfectly. I felt lulled. But it was a superficial calm, the same kind of calm I get when I am really amped up about something and I take a prescription pill to take the worst of the edge off so that I can parent and not act like the absolute nerve end that I am. The kind of calm that I know isn’t real or lasting, it isn’t hard won, it’s just a respite. The monsters are still lurking, I’ve just managed to throw up a smokescreen momentarily.

That was the calm I felt on Jamie’s property. A dulling of the senses, a surface tranquility. Beneath which, I absolutely sensed peril. 

“Selfishly, I welcomed the time Quinn spent in those woods at first. It gave me time to focus on unpacking and arranging the house, but there were… blips of concern pretty early on. She began speaking of her nice little ladies, Aoife (ee-fa), Roisin (ro-sheen), and Eireann (erin),” Jamie’s eyes slid away from the view only momentarily and met mine. She offered a little sideways smile. “The names were cute, a little on the nose, they might as well have been called Kelly, O’Donnell and Flanagan.”

I laughed. “How Irish are you guys?”

“Very. Cormac’s parents are first generation, my mother is second. My dad’s family was British, so… yeah. I suppose Quinn had a target on her back for the wee folk. But what in the hell are they doing here?”

“Nothing surprises me anymore,” I replied. “Things are getting really stirred up. I don’t know why, but earth spirits right now? They’re really, really active.”

Jamie nibbled on a hangnail. “Well, that’s unsettling. But at the same time, it’s reassuring that we aren’t the only ones dealing with something like this.”

“You’re definitely not alone,” I said, seeing nothing reassuring about it. “What else has Quinn told you about her little ladies?”

“She just adores them. They give her little gifts so she could bring the outdoors in.”

“Uh uh,” I muttered.

“Okay, right, well, I honestly thought they were imaginary friends at first.” Jamie shut her eyes abruptly and rubbed them with the heels of her hands. “That’s not truthful. I knew something was wrong but I told myself they were imaginary friends. Our last neighborhood was teeming with children. Here we are a little isolated. I convinced myself that it was only natural for an only child to use her imagination to create playmates.

“But the things she brought home, these little intricately wound crowns made of sticks and collections of stones shaped like hearts, it just… it was obvious from the beginning that she wasn’t making or collecting these things by herself.

“And then I began finding the windows in her bedroom open. It was far too cold outside for it to be safe, but she just wasn’t affected by the chill. At all. I’d be shivering by the time I was halfway across her room in the morning, but she was perfectly comfortable. 

“Then she began to talk about Sheeshee. Sheeshee is so beautiful, Shee shee is so kind, Sheeshee says that I am special. It was that last one, “Sheeshee says I’m special,” that finally rang the stranger danger alarm bells. I tried to keep her inside, or get her to let me accompany her on these walks, but she grew utterly sullen. Mopey. Detached. 

“I went out on that walk alone, to see if I might see any, I don’t know, signs of something. I didn’t. But I felt eyes on me the entire time I was in those woods. It wasn’t frightening, but it should have been. DO you know what I mean?

“The effect this place has on you, it can feel lovely, but it dulls your senses, your judgment. That’s why I make the coffee so strong. I could nod off if I let myself, and the times when I realize I’ve been zoning out, it’s just too often. It’s like, nothing matters. How could you worry about anything really, life here is pleasant. It becomes hard to scrounge up concern for anything if you are here too long.”

We sat in silence for a time, watching Quinn. She was at the edge of the trees now, running her hands across the tops of deep green ferns. 

“You said you think that she will have abilities like mine,” I said finally. “Why do you think that? Has she mentioned seeing ghosts, or anything other than these forest entities?”

“Just the fairies,” Jamie’s voice was low, lazy. “But she knows things. Cormac’s brother… he’s struggled for years, we thought he’d had it kicked but a couple weeks ago Quinn told us he should be allowed to drive his car and a day or two later, he was in the hospital. He probably won’t ever be the same.”

“I’m so sorry,” I offered. “Has she predicted anything else?”

“Yeah,” Jamie said simply.

“Would you feel comfortable letting me talk to her?”

Without hesitation, Jamie called Quinn into the sun room and introduced us.

“Nice to meet you,” she said, sweetly.

“I was just telling Mrs. Sower about your friends,” her mom explained. “She can sometimes see things that other people can’t, just like you.”

The little girl’s huge unblinking eyes studied me for a too-long moment. “You’re blurry,” she said finally.

“What do you mean, honey?” Her mom asked gently. 

“It’s fuzzy around her,” she said, taking her eyes off me only briefly. Then to me she said, “Do you want to be blurry?”

“I don’t know,” I replied honestly. 

“She misses you.”

“Who?”

“The big girl. She looks like McKenna.”

“McKenna is her cousin, she’s fifteen,” Jamie explained. 

Quinn tilted her head. “You don’t want to talk to her anymore?”

I forced a smile as I wiped my eyes. “I do want to talk to her, but I can’t. There’s something between us.”

Quinn nodded. She looked at the space beside me and smiled. Then turned completely around and stared out at the woods. 

Her mom and I exchanged a glance. Finally, Quinn said, “Thanks, Sheeshee,” and came back to us. 

“I can help you,” Quinn said, her tiny face very serious. “I can make that fuzzy stuff go away.”

“You can?”

She nodded emphatically. “But Sheeshee needs something.”

I felt goosebumps crawl across my body. “What does she need?” 

“A promise,” Quinn said. “You have to promise to listen when she has something to say.” 

“That’s it? Just listen?”

“Yup. Just listen. She said things are gonna get really loud and lots of things will want your attention but you have to listen to her even when it is noisy.”

“Ok. I can do that,” I said, knowing in my bones that it was a terrible idea to make a deal with a fairy. 

“Fun!” Quinn said happily. She reached for my left hand and held it flat between her two tiny hands. “Oh wow! You have little friends at your house. They love the shells and houses your kids put out.” 

Her eyes had become unfocused, she gazed off in the middle distance and spoke in a quiet, dreamy voice. 

“Thank you for the wildflower seeds. Plant more. More and more and more… Never enough. Oh! Your dogs are silly! The little white one… he digs. That’s okay. But you have to make sure he doesn’t bother the bunnies.” 

She closed her eyes, her little eyebrows scrunched together. “Holly bushes will help,” Quinn’s voice became sing song. “Lots of holly. Lots of holly. Keeps the Kate away.” She giggled then fell silent. Her face relaxed but her little hands pressed into my hand like a vice. 

The ringing began in my ears. Very low at first, then progressively louder until I thought I wouldn’t be able to stand it. I fought not to pull my hand away from her. I had to take deep breaths to try and calm myself, but the noise was utterly consuming. 

And then, it stopped. I opened my eyes and saw Quinn smiling at me. She let go of my hands and her mouth moved, but no noise came out. 

Panic rose within me, I’m deaf, I thought. 

It’s okay, Quinn mouthed. It’s okay. 

I put my hands to my ears. “I can’t hear anything,” I think I said, but I wasn’t sure because, well, I couldn’t hear. The concerned look on Jamie’s face didn’t make me feel any less panicked. 

I was about to have a full blown panic attack when there was a loud – like I mean loud – whoosh, like a tornado in a tunnel and then – I could hear.

“Can you hear me? Can you hear?”

“Yes!” I said, laughing as tears streamed down my cheeks.

“Oh, thank God!” Claire exclaimed. 

There was a flurry of excited voices. 

“Shut up, shut up,” Claire’s voice broke through. “Don’t overwhelm her. Can you see us?” 

I shook my head, “No, I can only hear you.” 

“Good enough,” Claire said, her voice filled with relief.

“I’m sorry, I just, oh my God, I haven’t been able to hear them for so long,” I explained to Jamie. “Quinn, you are wonderful. Thank you, thank you so much.” 

“You’re welcome,” she said happily. “Don’t forget Sheeshee, she doesn’t like it if you don’t keep a promise.” She turned to her mom, “Can I go back outside now?”

“Sure,” her mom said. “But stay where I can see you.” 

“Okay, bye!”

“Thank you, Quinn,” I said again, but she was already through the screen door. 

“Is Quinn safe?” I asked Claire.

“Her mom shouldn’t let her out of her sight in the backyard. They might take her and keep her for their own. They don’t mean harm, but they can sure as hell cause it.” 

“You have to keep her out of the backyard-” I started.

“She’ll be so upset,” Jamie cut in.

“Listen, the fairies don’t want to hurt her, but they might do it without meaning to.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Jamie breathed. “How can I keep her safe?”

I listened and then relayed Claire’s advice, censoring the most terrifying bits. 

“It would be best if you could move to an urban area. The fae hate cities. But if you can’t do that, then you need to install an iron fence around your property. All the way around the perimeter, a gate across the driveway and everything. Its height should be a multiple of three, like, six feet, nine feet, twelve… twelve would be best.”

“That would look ridiculous,” Jamie protested. I’d managed to cut through her calm exterior, perhaps it was fear that sliced through that dulling effect. “We can’t move to the city. We can’t. Oh my God, and iron fence? That will be so exorbitant.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, meaning it. Claire kept going. “Okay, so you should plant St. John’s Wort in front of all the windows and to the left and right of the doors. Hang horseshoes over the entrances too. They can’t cross running water, so… I don’t know how you would manage that, but… Oh, okay, rig up a hose to spray water across the driveway when you are leaving your gate. Hold on, that’s unsustainable,” I protested. 

“They want that little girl,” Claire replied simply. 

“Is this real?” Jamie said in a small voice. “Quinn really is in danger?”

I nodded. 

“Why her? There are kids all over this town,” she spat. “I’m sorry, that was awful of me to say. But why her?”

“It’s just the beginning for her, she’s really gifted,” Claire explained. “She’s actually one of the new generation who chose to come to earth during the transition to help people through what’s coming.”

“She’s gifted,” I said, modifying Claire’s words. “You’re right, she will be able to do what I do, talk to ghosts I mean, but even more than that.”

“Goddamnit,” Jamie said in a quiet voice. “We never should have come here.”

“Are you alright?” I asked, ten minutes later as I beelined for my car.

“Yes, but say thank you.”

“What?”

“Turn around and say ‘thank you,’” Claire insisted. “And bow. You should probably bow.”

“Oh, okay.” I did so awkwardly. Then climbed into my car and drove down the street a ways before pulling over. I was in no state to talk and drive. 

“I think that was okay, I mean, it should be.”

“What do you mean?” I said, trying to acclimate to hearing Claire’s voice again without being able to see her.

“The banshee.”

“Oh, fuck. What in the hell is a banshee doing in Wellesley?”

“Everything is everywhere right now, the boundaries are almost nonexistent.”

“So I just made a promise to a banshee. That sounds really bad.”

“Maybe, but yeah probably. She’s a harbinger, like that old hag you saw a while back, and that demon you just spoke to. Maybe she just wants the credit when everything is finally revealed.”

“Do I even want to know what you mean by that?” 

Claire was silent. 

“Are you still here?” I demanded, afraid that my hearing might have gone again. 

“Yes, sorry. I have so much to tell you,” Claire said, and I could tell she was exasperated, impatient, scared. “Go to a nursery. I’ll tell you on the way.”

I put the car in gear. “Holly bushes?” I guessed. 

“Holly bushes,” Claire confirmed. “Kate Dilvish might be the least of your worries, but she’s a problem all the same.”

“How are the girls?”

“They’re good, really good,” I kinda fibbed. “I mean, one of them got whacked pretty hard with the family anxiety stick, but we’re managing. How about you? How are things there?”

There was a pause. “Quiet.”

“Quiet’s good.”

“Mmm. Speaking of, Biddy mentioned you haven’t heard much lately.”

I suppressed a groan. “Yeah, it’s weird, I’ve had an unexpected break.”

“But you’re still seeing spirits?”

“Oh no, nothing, no one.”

“Even Claire?”

“Even Claire.”

“Same here.” 

“Wait, what? You can’t-“

“Radio silence,” Judith confirmed.

“Oh shit,” I breathed. 

“Yup. We’re in the same boat. The energy has been wonky for months, but all of a sudden something is working very hard to block us from communicating with those on the other side. Or maybe it’s blocking them from talking to us.”

“My ears have been popping.”

“Go on,” Judith drawled. 

“I just like, know it’s Claire trying to get through to me, but she can’t. Something’s stopping her.”

“Hmmm. That sounds about right, it feels as though there is something standing between me and my guides.”

“It’s kind of nice, though, isn’t it?”

“What?”

“The quiet.”

“Nice? No. It’s menacing.”

“So what can we do about it?”

“Hell if I know,” Judith replied dismissively, “But I know someone who can still hear. Actually, she found me.”

“A medium?”

“Not exactly. But I want you to meet her. Well, she wants to meet you.”

“I don’t know.”

Judith’s sigh was heavy and covered so much more than words could. 

I relented. “Okay.”

“You’re not going to like what she has to say, and you’re not going to want to believe it, but she might be able to tell us what’s happening. We aren’t the only ones with hearing loss, so to speak.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve talked to three women and one guy in the last week, none of them have been able to access their gifts. All of them say it started happening around the last full moon.”

“Well, that’s awfully specific.”

“When did things go quiet for you?”

I told her.

So… the last full moon,” she said pointedly.

“Weird,” I commented uselessly. 

“Sure is. Anything else strange going on there?”

I filled her in on the time warps, sinkholes, elementals and quiet rocks in my neighborhood. 

“Well, at least we know your uncanny ability to find yourself in it up to your eyeballs is still intact. Anything else?”

“It’s probably nothing, but… I saw this woman, a witch who lives in town who tormented this man and his family a few years ago. I passed by her on the trail to those rocks. Maybe it was a coincidence, but-”

“No such thing as coincidences,” Judith cut in. “Did you publish the interview?”

I told her where to find it on the blog.

“I’ll read it. What are you doing tomorrow morning at ten?”

“I have a feeling you’re about to tell me.”

Judith chuckled. “You’re having me and a new friend over for coffee.”

“Why can’t we meet at Quebrada or something?”

“Too many people. She wants to talk, but she wants to do it at your place.”

“Why?

Judith huffed. “I don’t know but I bet we’ll find out.”

“Who is she?”

“Her name is Lilin Doyle.”

When Judith didn’t elaborate I forced myself to stay silent.

“She’s possessed,” Judith said finally.

“Come on.”

“Yeah, so it turns out that while the ghosts and other spirits can’t communicate right now, the demons are chattering away like there’s no tomorrow.”

“Maybe that’s why they’re so talkative,” I muttered

“Meaning?” 

“I don’t know. But you’re out of your mind if you think I am going to invite a possessed woman into my house for coffee.”

“It will be perfectly safe-”

Judith.

There was another long silence. 

“Look, you know we are in deep shit here. You know that. For some reason this woman, or whatever it is crouched down inside her has something to say and it wants you to be the one to hear it. No one ever said you signed up for this shit, but here we are, so I’m going to need you to put on your big girl pants and get involved.”

“I want a priest – not a fucking Catholic – but some priest at the house immediately after she leaves to cleanse the place.”

“Done,” Judith said quickly and I could sense the relief in her voice. Hearing that relief made me realize just how serious the situation was and it scared me more than the idea of having a demon possessed woman over for coffee and a chat. 

***

The next morning I got the girls off to school and the dogs off to their little camp. Chris typically works from home but by some miracle (or curse come to think of it) he had to be gone all day on property tours. So I had the house to myself and with nothing else to do to calm my anxiety I set to tidying. I put a mountain of dishes into the washer, wiped down the sticky countertops and lit a candle because I am sensitive to the idea that the house might smell horribly of dog and I’ve become so accustomed to the stench that I no longer notice. I prepped the coffee pot and organized a tray of coffee cups and fixings and a platter of pastries. Then I gathered the dogs’ toys into their bin, made the junk desk in the mudroom look a little less junky and ran the vacuum and fluffed and karate chopped the couch cushions. Now, I don’t know if that is something that people do anymore, but years ago I watched Kathleen Turner do it in War of the Roses and as far as I’m concerned, she is a demi-god and my guiding light. So my throw pillows will be styled this way until I’m too weak to karate chop them.

It’s a relatively small house so all of this didn’t suck up as much time as I’d hoped it would. It was only nine-fifteen. I had forty-five minutes to kill. I cleaned out my email then  scrolled around online for a few minutes and filled a JCrew cart with $768 worth of clothing and shoes I didn’t need then deleted everything in the cart and closed the laptop. I was too anxious to write so I grabbed my book (Salem’s Lot) and a bubble water, headed outside and flopped down onto one of our comfortable patio chairs. It was a mild, overcast day and I could hear the pleasant shrill of the peepers in the distance.

I was lost in the book when there was a knocking on the window behind me. A tight bang, bang, bang, just behind my head. I spun around to face the tall windows and the kitchen beyond, half expecting to see Judith standing there. I’d been so wrapped up in the book I thought maybe I hadn’t realized she’d arrived. But that was ridiculous. I had a full view of the driveway from where I was sitting. No way she could have come up to the house without me noticing. 

All of this shot through my mind in a nanosecond. The obvious realization quickly followed that there was no one in the house. I was alone. Someone had knocked on the window right behind my head but I was alone. I stood up and moved away from the house, stepping down from the patio and tried to rationalize the knocking. It could have been anything. We have two bird feeders, maybe there was a squirrel or… No. It sounded like knuckles rapping on the window. 

I was still standing there staring at the house when Judith’s car pulled up the driveway. 

“Hey,” she called, slamming the car door. 

I held open the gate for her and she came through.

“Pool looks gorgeous,” she commented. “The kids must love it.”

“Thanks,” I said distractedly. 

“What’s up?” She asked, scrutinizing me.

“It’s nothing, I just-”

We were interrupted by a car turning into the driveway. A sparkling white Range Rover zipped up behind Judith’s Jeep. The car steroe’s booming base cut through the quiet morning for a stretch before the driver cut the ignition and stepped down from the SUV. 

The woman was, well, petite. At least a head shorter than me. She had gorgeous reddish brown, I guess you would say auburn, hair cut in a shaggy shoulder length mixed layer cut. I looked it up later – it’s called a “wolf cut.” Very cool. Very perfectly imperfect. She wore a pair of cropped distressed jeans with a white button down shirt (french tucked) and expensive looking loafers. Gold watch. Pearl studs. Simple gold wedding band. 

“Hey, I’m just gonna let you do your thing,” Judith said quietly

“Meaning?” I replied, matching her tone. 

“Interview her the way you would anyone else. Lilin!” she called, “Come on back.” 

I went to the gate to allow the woman in. 

“Knock, knock, knock,” she said, smiling brightly. 

I stood back to let her into the yard. 

“Lilin, this is Liz, Liz, Lilin.”

“You have a lovely home,” the woman offered. She handed me a little brown bag, a blue and white bow tied across its handles. “Just a little something for you.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “Come on inside.”

Inside we went. I tried to act normal. Tried to appear calm and welcoming. All the while feeling deeply unsafe. I didn’t like Lilin. It was an instant dislike. Instinctive, deep. She looked normal, seemed pleasant enough. But something was off. Most likely the fact that she was possessed, or at least claimed to be. 

“Sorry, it’ll be a couple minutes for coffee,” I apologized flipping on the coffee pot. “Can I get either of you some bubbly water or flat?”

“Bubbly for me,” Judith said, as Lilin said, “Actually, a glass of Chardonnay would hit the spot.”

“A little early on a Tuesday for booze,” Judith chuckled. 

“Is it?” Lilin replied, a pleasant half smile on her face.

I pulled a wine glass down from the top shelf and poured a generous serving of Cakebread. 

“Yummy,’ Lilin drawled before taking a dainty sip. “Join me!”

“I’m sticking with coffee,” I replied.

Lilin took a large gulp of wine. “Good for you. Open your gift,” she pressed.

I did. It was the same exact candle that I had burning on my countertop. I looked up and realized that Lilin was staring at me, her expression inscrutable.

“Thank you,” I said. 

“You’re so very welcome,” she replied, grinning. “Thank you for having me.”

“Sure.” I motioned to the kitchen table. “Sit, I’ll grab some treats.” I brought the platter of tiny croissants and muffins to the table and sat down beside Judith.

“Mmm, these from Quebrada?” Judith asked, reaching for a napkin.

“Yup.”

“None for me, thanks,” declined Lilin. “Saving my calories.” 

“What on earth for?” Judith asked, popping a muffin into her mouth.

“Where’s your little recorder?” Lilin asked me, ignoring Judith’s comment.

“Oh, right, let me grab it.” I retrieved the device from an overstuffed drawer in the mudroom and settled back to the table. 

Lilin leaned forward, smiling at the tiny digital recorder. “Is it on?”

I nodded. 

“Good. Let’s start.”

The coffee pot beeped its little “I’m ready” beep and I stood. “What did you want to talk about?” I asked, putting the pot on the tray I’d prepared beforehand. 

“Whatever you want to talk about,” Lilin said sweetly.

I handed Judith a full cup of coffee then poured my own. Tension and anxiety chased away what little bit of hospitality I had left. “Look, if everything goes absolutely perfectly I have about six hours a week that aren’t sucked up by family responsibilities, so please, I’ve been in the weeds with a book for about three years. I don’t have time to just shoot the shit.”

Judith laughed.

Lilin crossed her arms. “Fine. What do you want to know?”

“Why did you want to talk to me?”

I didn’t.”

“Then why are we sitting here?” I demanded, realizing how rude I was acting but unable to control myself.

“They made me come here. They knew Judith would convince you to talk to me.”

The statement hung heavily in the air. 

“Okay,” I said finally. “So tell me what they want you to say and then we’ll call it a day.”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on, Lilin,” Judith prodded. 

“Really. I don’t know. They’ll tell me when they’re ready.”

“And how long do you think that will take?” Judith pressed.

“How long have they been telling you things?” I asked.

Lilin shrugged and downed the rest of her glass. “About a year.”

“Why you?” 

“Why not me?”

I looked down at my watch pointedly. 

Lilin tapped the side of her glass with a fingernail. “Refill?”

I shook my head. “You’re not driving away from my house drunk.”

“Goody two shoes priss,” Lilin giggled. 

“That’s me,” I said, unable to hold in a laugh.

Lilin grabbed a mug and dumped sugar and coffee into it. “Why me…” she trilled. “Welp. I think it all started when I lost the will to give a shit.” She took a delicate sip. “Not bad. Starbucks?”

I nodded.

“A year ago I had this, well I suppose you might call it an epiphany. I woke up one rainy Spring morning and I couldn’t seem to scrape up the energy to give a flying fuck about anything. I felt perfectly fine, I just didn’t have the will to participate in the life I’d created for myself. I got up, made myself a tea and crawled back into bed. My husband thought I was sick and I let him think that for a couple of days. 

“But I felt better than I could ever remember feeling. It was like all of a sudden I just,” she made a raspberry ad shrugged her shoulders, “Yeah, I just didn’t give a shit anymore. I realized just how fucking absurd all of it was. I had the presence of mind not to cut and run, though it wasn’t off the table.” 

Lilin looked up at the ceiling and shook her hair back from her face.“I decided I’d go through the motions and see where it took me. I just… watched, do you know what I mean? Really paid attention to what was going on around me for the first time, well, ever. And you know what I saw? Playacting. Altogether cringeworthy playacting at that.”

 She lowered her chin. Her face blank. “It was the thinly veiled, gloriously toxic mix of arrogance and self hatred that got me. Such a strange juxtaposition, and yet, there it was. The perpetual ranking. A relieved notch or two above this one, a gut wrenching mile below that one, and constantly scraping and scrambling to keep those pesky voices at bay.”

She sipped her coffee, daintily. 

“You know, I didn’t grow up like this. It’s true. I grew up in a tiny, simple little town. Vermont,” she tsked. “I was smart though, got myself into B.U. My mother pushed me to choose the business school. It’s where the men were. She was right, she always was, if she hadn’t gotten pregnant so young… But she did so she pinned it all on me and by god I fucking performed.” Lilin let out a bark of laughter. “I knocked that shit out of the park.” 

“I met my husband sophomore year of college, not the sharpest tack or the kindest mind you, but he was interested in me and his family had money. So I watched and emulated what the women in his life said and didn’t say and did and didn’t do and wore and didn’t wear and became the utter embodiment of old school New England wealth with all its Pino Grigio soaked summers in Chatham, winters in Stowe with the occasional jaunt to Park City, spring breaks in an acceptable part of Florida, autumns spent at booze soaked fundraisers – all the way through holding up my end of the bargain – skeletally thin, manicured, and polished to a sparkly shine. I had the two kids, the huge house, the yellow lab, etc. etc. And I had my eye on a stately five bed with a pool house on the Cape and had just about convinced my husband that it was a wonderful investment when I woke up that strange morning and it all just went and lost its appeal. 

“Don’t misunderstand, I’m still dedicated to remaining comfortably well off. I’m not about to let myself go, it’s just that, hmm, I guess I just lost the ability to give a damn about anyone else. I just want to do what I want to do. I don’t have the energy for anything that doesn’t directly benefit me. It’s nice.

“And look, I’m a rich, middle aged white woman. Perfectly turned out. Perfectly presentable. Perfectly ready to spend the fuck out of my husbands not so hard earned cash. I’m a hot comidity and I can do and get whatever the fuck I want if I’m willing to play my part. Turns out they want what I have to offer too.” She pointed a manicured finger to the floor.

“What do they want from you?” Asked Judith. 

“Don’t know and don’t care. I feel great, I look great. I’m not hungry. So I don’t care what they do when I black out. Nothing’s come back to bite me in the ass yet and they know they’ve got a good thing going with me. They’d be stupid to take it too far.”

“How often do you black out?”

“Who cares?” Lilin spat.

“Where do you live?” I asked.

Lilen met my eyes and a big smile spread across her face. “I’m off Cliff, on Rockridge Road. Know the area?”

“What did you get yourself into?” I asked quietly.

Lilen tilted her head and blinked her long lashed eyes. “What do you mean?”

“People don’t just wake up possessed. That’s not how it works. You must have done something, or something was done to you, what?”

“I never claimed I didn’t go looking,” said Lilin. “What I ‘got myself into’ is really neither here nor there. The point is, they stripped away the illusion and showed me my true worth and the shear dumb luck that I ended up in this body in this time on this earth. How silly it was of me to not take full advantage – for myself for once. I’ve allowed everyone to take advantage of me my entire life. I let my husband show me off as a prized possession, use me to run his house, raise his kids, keep him entertained. I let my kids suck the fucking life out of me, allowed other women to use me to rank themselves on the sliding scale of worth. So going dark and losing a little bit of time here and there? It’s a small price to pay. I don’t know what the fuck they’re doing when I go dark and I really don’t care.”

“We can help you,” Judith offered.

Lilin slapped her palm down on the table. “You’re not listening to me,” she hissed. She glared at us. “Open your fucking ears. You don’t…” 

She stopped talking and closed her eyes. “They want me to tell you now.”

There was a rapping on the table. Well beneath the kitchen table. I pushed my chair back without thinking as Judith did the same beside me.

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Lilin said quietly. “There’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

“About what?”

“What’s coming.”

“Do you know what’s coming?”

Lilin’s elbows slid off the table and she put her hands in her lap. She seemed to shrink into herself. “You should… you should enjoy what you can while you can.”

We all sat in silence lost in our own thoughts. 

“Who is telling you this? Who are you?” Judith said finally.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Lilin’s voice deepened.

“What difference does it make if you tell us your name?” I said impatiently. “Lilin doesn’t want to let you go so no one can make you leave.”

Lilin smiled and her eyes took on a sort of faraway look. “True,” she breathed. “Oh, what the hell. I’ll give you a tiny hint, but nothing more. She thinks I am many but I am one. One of three.”

“I’d like you to leave,” I whispered. “I want you out of my house.”

Lilin’s smile faded. “Don’t you want to know? I see it all so clearly. It’s going to be terrible.”

“No.” I stood and opened my front door. Judith stood as well. 

Lilin watched us. “Your scientists can almost see it almost as clearly as I can. They misread the signs, the reason for it all but their conclusions are correct. No one can stop what is coming. It will intensify quickly, faster than you will comprehend it. On all fronts. There will be peace in no silo. There will be no rest. You will-”

“Get out,” I said, firmly. 

Lilin stood slowly.

“The star is nearly come. The pestilence thrives. The famine was foretold with the first animal driven to extinction. War is your birthright. Death is your promise. The final end has begun, it comes too fast for regrets.”

“Please go,” I said in a shaky voice. 

Lilin walked past me out the door without another word. I closed it behind her and turned the lock. Moments later her car stereo burst to life and boomed as she slowly backed down my driveway.

“Call your priest or pastor or whoever and get them over here right now.”

“On it,” said Judith already dialing. 

“The star is nearly come,” Judith said, putting down her phone. “Do you think that means-”

“Yeah,” I said before she could finish her thought. 

I went to grab a muffin from the platter and noticed a crumpled piece of notebook paper on the floor beneath the kitchen table. I bent down to pick up the paper and smoothed it absentmindedly on the table expecting to see one of the girls’ doodles. Instead the sheet held one word in delicate cursive script. 

Balam. 

I pushed the paper across the table top to Judith and Googled. In the Lesser Key of Solomon, Balam is a powerful Great King of Hell with forty legions of demons under his command. Balam was a demon who had the power to incite rebellion. It was said he had three heads, that of a bull, a man, and a ram. This allowed him to see past, present, and future events. 

And he’d just been in my kitchen.

“She’s still in there,” Judith said. “Lilin. But he’s just about erased her.”

“I thought she didn’t want to get rid of him.”

“We weren’t talking to Lilin,” Judith said sadly. “I thought you realized that.”

I was in the basement recently folding laundry while the dogs tore into the girls’ toys and wreaked havoc. I happened to look down at one point and saw a small black box amid the mess. It took me a beat to recognize it. I think I’ve mentioned that our current house was originally our neighbor’s pool house. When we walked through the first time there were only two chairs and a pool table on the first floor. It appeared that the house sat empty for most of the year and so, the mice moved in. Our exterminator claims he’d never encountered such an infestation, which perhaps we can take with a grain of salt, but still. Yikes. 

I felt bad about it, but they had to go. I had a bout of veganism and couldn’t keep it up, now I’m a try hard vegetarian unable to pass up cheese and eggs. But the word infestation just about did me in. So, we put out poison and then at the year mark we put it out again. 

Back to the laundry in the basement and the small black box. It was one of those poison containers and it was open and it was empty. Sheer terror consumed me. I picked it up and started to run upstairs but then had to run back down because the puppy can’t get himself upstairs yet so I had to carry him. Bernie and Ivy happily followed. I called the vet and they told me to bring the dogs right in. The problem was that I didn’t know which dingbat had eaten the poison. I knew it wasn’t Ivy, she would never. But the two yoots. It could have been either – or both of them involved in a deadly folie a deux. 

As you can imagine I flew into the vet’s office like a bat out of hell. Bernie and Wallace were scooted off to the back room to be puked and monitored. While I waited for their prognosis I explained to the receptionist what happened in front of  two other dog owners awaiting their appointments. No doubt having to wait even longer now because I am an irresponsible dog owner. 

One of the dog owners was rather shocked by my use of mouse poison. She explained that she uses the Have a Heart traps and when she traps one she carries it out the woods to set it free. It was February at the time, and she’d recently done just that. Not to judge a judger, but freezing the mouse to death doesn’t seem more have a heart-ful than poisoning one, but then again, I damn near poisoned my dogs to death, so who am I to say? Anyway, she got called into her appointment and then it was just me and the other woman whose dog was sitting on her lap shaking in fear, poor thing.

Truly all of this is neither here nor there, but this whole poisoning kerfuffle led me to our next interviewee, Harper. She was there with Linda, a shitzu poodle mix, visiting the vet for tummy trouble, her bunny poop obsession (Linda’s not Harper’s) the suspected culprit. Harper was a friendly, chatty woman, by my estimate somewhere between fifty and sixty years old, with gray-flecked blond hair parted in the middle and worn in a low ponytail. I recognized the pronounced rosy hue in her cheeks, I struggle with that same red glow of rosacea.

We discovered that we lived quite close to one another. She asked where the kids went to school, hers (three teenagers) attended three different area private schools, Linda was the only dog in the family but they had two cats (Blush and Bashful – a brilliant nod to Steel Magnolias) and a bunny named Hedgehog. She suggested I bring the girls over to meet the bunny sometime. 

“Do you work outside of the home?” She asked. 

“Kind of, I’m a writer,” I admitted.

“Wonderful! What do you write?”

My eyes slid to the reception desk. I was pretty sure I’d managed to fly under the radar there despite my dogs being such frequent fliers. It truly does not matter but I didn’t really want to mix my dog life with my blog life. Dog life is so pure and lovely, I mean, not when they nearly poison themselves to death, but on most days I find them such a wonderful little escape from reality. Whereas the blog was a different kind of escape, one from the monotony of parenting and laundry and bills and silly tasks like power washing the patio and refilling the birdfeeders. But it’s not pure. Not like the dogs and their vet trips, which in my mind I label as visits with their personal physicians. 

I haven’t formulated a non awkward, non self conscious, non self-effacing response to the “what do you write” question. I usually say “ghost stories” to which most people reply, “Oh, for children?” to which I then have to fumble my way through an explanation. 

To Harper I said, “I interview people in Wellesley about their haunted houses,” trying my best to be straightforward about it. 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” she breathed, shifting Linda off her lap and sliding down the bench towards me. 

I froze a little bit, unsure. 

“Hold on, you believe in all that stuff?”

“I do,” I replied, simply. 

“Me too!” She exclaimed. “We have to go on a walk in our neighborhood. I have to show you something, you will just die.”

She pulled her phone out. “What is your phone number?” 

I hesitated. 

“Don’t worry, I’m not crazy!” She looked at the front desk for confirmation. “Jenny, tell her I’m normal.” 

“She’s fine,” the receptionist laughed. 

I gave her my number and right after she typed it in she said, “Okay, there. I texted you, so now you have my number. Can you walk tomorrow morning?”

“Um,” I began, but was saved by one of the vet’s calling Linda into her appointment. 

“We’ll text!” Linda said standing up. “Good luck with the poisoning!” She squeezed my arm and dragged Linda into an exam room.

Well. Turns out it was Bernie. My sweet dumb little bernedoodle. Poor Wallace paid for Bernie’s bad decisions, and had to take the doggie ipecac too, but only Bernie’s puke was the tell tale poisonous neon green. He’s fine and all’s well that end’s well, but it sure was quite the scare. 

I seem to be having a difficult time staying out of trouble lately. 

But if everything truly happens for a reason, then it was the near poisoning of Bernie that led me to bear witness to Harper’s oddity – the next dot on the disturbing map of Wellesley.

Just two days later I found myself on a walk listening as Harper chatted away about the recent local vote, the drama of an upcoming elementary school renovation, the Starbucks that had closed during covid and was now open again which currently lacked seating though she’d heard through the grapevine that they were ordering new tables, “…but who really knew what was going on there? I mean, what did they do with the old tables?” 

We were on a trail I knew pretty well. I usually hopped onto this particular path via a connecting path behind our house, but we’d met in front of Harper’s place and wound our way down Livingston to take a more public entrance to the trail. 

Thankfully, it was not yet buggy, that would come with the heat in a month or so, but it was muddy. I was pleased to find that Harper was a stroller, not a power walker, so I was able to keep up and occasionally contribute to her running commentary easily. We’d just climbed across a stretch of carefully placed logs in a particularly marshy area when Harper veered off the footpath into the newly budding brush.

“Ticks!” I yelled without thinking. 

“Oh, I’ll check when I get home,” she replied dismissively. “It’s over here. Come on!”

I hesitated, glancing up and down the trail as if someone would come along and rescue me, offering an, “Uh uh uh, ladies, out of the woods. You know that’s not allowed.” But no one came. So I bent over and pulled my socks up over my leggings as far as they would go in an attempt to cover as much skin as possible. 

“Over here!” 

Harper had made it quite far into the underbrush heavy woods. I trudged through the muck, wincing as thorns poked through my thin pants and made my way towards her. She was bent down, tossing handfuls of pine needles, muddy sticks, oak leaves and other muck aside.

“Oh, Harper, gross. Your hands,” I said, prissily. 

“It’s right here, I just have to…” she trailed off, too busy to finish the sentence.

I watched as she uncovered a formation of stones, ipad sized flat rectangular black stones. She kicked aside more debris to reveal a, well, a formation. Don’t hold me to this because you know numbers, measurements and such aren’t my thing, but I can gauge a four by six rug, right? And that’s about how big this thing was give or take. It was created by neat lines of those flat black rocks. 

Harper stood with her dirty hands on her hips, staring at me triumphantly. 

“How the hell did you find this?” I asked, staring around us at the wild forest. 

Confusion crossed her face only momentarily before she held out a hand. “Come here, this isn’t all.” She stepped forward into the center of the rocks. 

I stared at her mud streaked hand and shook my head, laughing nervously. 

Her arm dropped to her side. “Oh just, come here,” she said impatiently.

I sighed and took a tentative step onto the shining wet rocks, worried I might slip but my feet held firm beneath me. I looked up at Harper, at the other end of the strange little patio, she was smiling at me. A big bright smile.

She put her hands up, first gesturing to the rocks beneath our feet and then swinging them out to the woods around us. “Well?” 

I let out a little laugh, smiling despite myself. “Cool. I just, I mean, how did you find them?” 

She shook her head, “No. Listen.”

“To what?”

“Shh!” She insisted. 

I pursed my lips and quieted down. Humoring her at first and then… I heard it. Nothing. Silence. Not a bird, not a far off rumble of a truck’s engine, not the wind through the trees, or the whine of the ever present landscaper’s leaf blower. 

Silence. 

“Harper,” I began, but she shushed me again. 

“Have you ever experienced anything like it?”

I looked around us, branches moved just as they should in the breeze. A breeze that I could feel on the back of my neck. I could see the movement of the forest around us but I couldn’t hear it. 

“This isn’t good,” I whispered, carefully stepping backwards onto solid ground.

“What are you talking about?” Harper replied. “It’s amazing.”

“Can you hear me?” I asked.

Harper shook her head in frustration and stepped off the rocks. 

“You’re the first person I’ve brought out here,” she said happily.

“Really?” 

“I can never get my kids to go on a walk with me and my husband hates nature. I play tennis with my friends, we don’t walk together, so that’s why it was so weird that we met at the vet’s office. It’s like fate that I would out-of-the-blue run into a neighbor who’s interested in weird stuff.”  

“Synchronicity,” I replied quietly.

Side note, funny thing about me, in recent years loud noises have become a trigger for my anxiety. I don’t mean like sirens or booms or whatever, not like that. I mean, like constant background noise or loud voices (Like for example, my children’s or Chris’s). I’ve begun wearing ear plugs at night while I’m making dinner. I can hear everyone just fine with them in, it just takes the edge off. Dramatic? Absolutely. But is it kinder and less dramatic than me saying, “Can you please lower your goddamn voice?” every five minutes. Mmmm. Am I wound up tighter than a fucking top? You bet. 

I’ve shared this embarrassing melodrama to highlight just how sensitive my ears can be. So when I stepped into the little piece of absolute silence you’d think that it would be a dream come true. It wasn’t. Turns out the absence of noise is just as disturbing as a blaring fire alarm. 

“Isn’t it peaceful?” Harper asked excitedly.

“No,” I whispered, taking another step back. 

“Oh, go back in, stand there for a few minutes. I sit down and-”

“Harper,” I held up my hand. “Please tell me how you discovered this… thing.”

“If you just take your time with it, I know it is strange at first, it’s not like anything is ever quiet anymore. There’s always some noise in the background, but this,” she gestured again to the stone formation, “It’s magical.”

“Magical,” I repeated, “Right, but it’s not right. Who knows what it’s doing to you-”

“It feels so… neutral. I don’t see what the problem is,” she insisted. 

The rocks, the silence, whatever the hell it was, felt anything but neutral. It felt wrong. I said as much to Harper. Insisted that she shouldn’t return to the rocks alone under any circumstances. She didn’t hide her annoyance well, but she agreed that she’d stay away from them until I could try to do some research. 

“I’ll keep off them,” she said, touching the edge of one of the stones with the toe of her sneaker. 

I didn’t believe her. “Do you not want to tell me how you discovered them?” I asked bluntly. 

“No, no. To tell the truth… I don’t really know how I found them. I mean, I know how I did, but… it doesn’t make sense.”

Something caught my eye behind Harper. Movement. There was a huge, wide trunked oak tree, this part of the woods was full of them. I could swear I saw an arm, a thin, gray arm, slide out of sight behind the tree. As though someone had been holding onto the tree, hiding behind it, and slipped just out of sight. 

“We should go,” I whispered. “Now.”

Harper turned to look behind her then followed me through the underbrush back to the path without another word. We took the trail along the lake and cut up through the woods towards my own backyard. On the way Harper explained that she’d found the stones “by accident.” She was on a walk like any other walk and something, a feeling, an intense interest, “called to her ” from that place in the woods. 

The closer she got to the stones the more certain she became that there was something there, “In the earth, no, on the earth.” Only a few of the stones had been visible through all of the leaves and such. She’d brushed it all aside until she discovered the rectangular formation and as she was studying them she realized that the surrounding forest had gone silent. 

“Is it just the quiet?” I asked. “Have you ever experienced anything else on or around those stones?”

“Mmm, it’s weird, I don’t know if it’s anything.”

“What?” I pressed. We were steps from the back gate to our yard. I was nervous and itchy, and convinced I’d contracted the lyme and worried that our proximity to these strange stones might have zapped our brains. Look, I literally make it to the end of each day by the skin of my teeth. Juggling family life maxes out my brain capacity. The schedules, the PTO commitments, the goddamn emails, the random appointments and all the responsibilities, bills, chores, writing, trying hard not to poison the dogs again – it brings me to the very limit of my brain power. I cannot risk losing even a trace of it. What if the stones were radioactive or something? No. That is dumb. See what I mean? I can barely think straight. I simply cannot afford to be brain zapped by quiet stones.

I realized Harper was talking. I struggled to listen despite my anxiety spiral. 

“I just, well the time. It’s like, I lose track of the time when I’m at the stones,” she said. “That’s weird, right?”

I halted dead in my tracks and reluctantly lifted my wrist to check the time. The FitBit read eleven thirty-five. We’d left Harper’s at ten. I’d walked these paths a lot, I was familiar with the routes and I knew how long it took to get around. If we continued on back to Harpers the full loop should have taken us – even with the pit stop at the stones, forty, forty-five minutes tops. From where we stood we had a fifteen minute walk back to Harper’s house. 

“Lost time,” I breathed. “We lost an hour.”

“See what I mean!” Harper trilled. 

I pulled my phone out of my jacket pocket to confirm the time and to make sure I hadn’t missed any important calls or texts from the school. Not that that ever happens but it’s another anxiety I carry constantly. There were no missed calls or urgent texts, but the time was correct.

“This isn’t good,” I muttered. It was a massive understatement.

“Wellllll… it’s not like anything bad has happened, it’s just a quirky weird thing, right? You have a whole blog about haunted houses in this town, right? This is like that.”

“Have you read any of my posts?” 

“No, sorry, I haven’t had the chance.”

A twig snapped in the scraggly brush beside us. “We should get going.”

We weren’t far from my back yard. I suggested we cut through, that it would shorten her walk home if she used our driveway as a shortcut. 

Harper hesitated, “No, I think I’ll get my steps in, I’m aiming for 15,000.”

We said goodbye and I watched her continue on knowing that she would double back and return to the stones. 

Once inside my house, doors locked, dogs fed their lunch (yes, they’ve hoodwinked me into serving them a light lunch every damn day), and curtains at the back of the house drawn tight, I called Biddy.

“I gotta see this,” she said, after I’d relayed the morning’s events.

“We lost an hour, an hour!”

“I can be there in fifteen minutes. What time do you have to get the kids?”

I told her. 

“We could lose a couple hours and you’d still be fine,” she replied, dismissively. “I’ll be right over.”

I had no trouble finding the spot, I’d half expected to see Harper there, but the woods were empty. 

“I was on it for only a couple seconds,” I warned Biddy, “Go quick.”

“Keep an eye on your watch while I’m on them,” she suggested. “See if you can witness the actual time shift.”

It was a good idea and I tried to do it, but the second Biddy stepped onto the smooth black stones the feeling that we weren’t alone became impossible to ignore. I couldn’t help but sneak a glance around us. We appeared to be alone, but I knew we weren’t. A moment later Biddy stepped off the stones. 

“Crazy. It just goes absolutely silent.”

“I feel like we are being watched,” I told her.

She glanced around. “What time is it?”

I grimaced guiltily. 

“You had one job,” she muttered, only half kidding.

My watch read one-thirty.

“An hour,” Biddy said, incredulous. “This is wild.”

 “Let’s get out of here,” I pleaded. 

“What do you think?” She asked, once we were back on the trail and well on our way back to my house. 

“You know what I think, what do you think?”

“If you’re going to stay in this neighborhood we’d better get you a good strong tinfoil hat.”

A woman approached ahead. I clocked her outfit as she approached. Despite the cool overcast day she wore a black tank top, mid length jean skirt and green Hunter boots. A keychain tinkled at her side as she walked. We exchanged pleasantries as we passed one another and I noted that the woman’s blue eyes held mine a beat too long as if she recognized me. 

We were only a few steps past when it dawned on me who she was.

“Oh no,” I breathed.

“Do you know that woman?” Biddy asked. 

“I don’t know her personally, but I’m pretty sure I know who she is.”

I didn’t have service on the trail so I had to wait until we got back to the house to text Chris.

Do you still play hockey with Mitchell Westcott?

Just saw him Sunday night. What’s up?

I let the phone drop to my lap and zoned out for a moment, wondering what seeing that woman near those stones could mean. 

I looked back at my phone. A text bubble had appeared holding two question marks. 

Do you have his phone number? I need to ask him a question.

Mitchell’s contact information came through shortly. I sent him a long time no see, how’s your family, blah blah blah, and ended the message asking if he ever ran into his old neighbors.

Thank God, no, he responded. In fact we moved to Dover. Lord only knows what those nutballs are up to nowadays. Why? Are they stirring up trouble?

Maybe, I replied, I’ll keep you posted.

I was worried. Scared actually. I’d just passed Kate Dilvish, the devil worshiping witch who’d cursed Mitchell and his family in the woods on the trail behind my house. What in the fuck was going on?

I can’t remember if I told you guys about the skeleton woman ghost I saw when I was little? I know I told someone on a podcast, I don’t know if it was my podcast or someone elses and this definitely speaks to the fact that we’ve been having this spooky discussion for six years because things are fuzzy. But anyway, it feels relevant right now so I’m going to risk repeating myself. 

I think I was probably about ten or eleven and one night I watched this spooky kind of anthology type show. Way back then we didn’t have the access to all the gloriously spooky content that spooky minded kids do nowadays. It was 1989ish, we had the dewey decimal zeros section in the library, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, or adult horror like Nightmare on Elm Street and Stephen King books. There wasn’t really anything in between. Anyhow, I don’t know what I watched that night, I’ve searched and searched and cannot figure out what kind of show would tell a short series of unconnected scary tales. It could have been an Unsolved Mysteries episode, but I don’t think so. 

I watched this show and went upstairs to get ready for bed. My older sister hadn’t watched with me because she had homework to do or something so I poked my head into her bedroom and she asked how the show was. I said it was okay and kind of shrugged it off. I tell you all this through the fog of memory – a terrible memory of that. But this is how its always played out in my mind.

Then I went next door to my bedroom – my lamp wasn’t connected to the lightswitch so I had to cross the room to turn on the light. It was a big bedroom. My oldest sister was away at college so I’d moved into her bedroom – the largest of the three bedrooms designated for me and my siblings so I had kind of a far walk across to the lamp across the room and around my bed. It was a stupid set up. 

I was spooked spooked. I was about halfway across the room when I heard something behind me and turned around and I, I saw a woman in a long white flowing dress with her arms raised above her head sort of gliding towards me menacingly. Her face was skeletal. I started screaming and screaming and then the next thing I knew I saw my sister in the doorway. In my memory I see my sister through the skeleton woman. She was transparent. And then the woman disappeared and there was my sister saying, “Liz it’s me, it’s just me,” and I was trying to tell her what happened but I couldn’t because I couldn’t stop screaming. 

So she dragged me out into the hallway and by that time my parents had made it upstairs having heard me screaming (my mother later on admitted that my screams were so awful she thought I’d found my sister dead) my dad took me by my shoulders and gave me a little shake and I stopped screaming. We all agreed that I’d watched a scary television show and that I’d just heard my sister in the hallway and then hallucinated because the television show was so scary…

But my sister insists that she didn’t get up and come out into the hall until she heard me screaming. So…

Anyway, the incident turned into nothing more than a family anecdote, but it was traumatic and I think significant. I think before that night I saw things and heard things and knew things. I had an entire crew of imaginary friends when I was little. I just have this feeling that that skeleton woman wasn’t a hallucination. 

I think I could do then what I do now and then that spirit or demon, or whatever the hell it was, found me and scared the hell out of me and my brain decided that was enough and it threw up some very very strong walls so that nothing would get through again. 

Until I moved to Wellesley and… well, you all know the story from there. First I started hearing people who weren’t there, and then I began sort of knowing things I shouldn’t, and then finally I began to see ghosts. 

Until recently.

It started maybe about a month and a half ago, things got quiet. Blissfully so. Things have been so hectic that it didn’t occur to me to question it at first. But I kept noticing my ears ringing and that’s sort of what clued me into how quiet everything was. Over time I have learned to put up some guards for myself so that I’m not so incredibly wide open but I hadn’t been doing that. When I realized I hadn’t seen or heard from Claire in over a week I knew something was up. 

I forced myself to sit quietly and open up. Immediately I heard,

“Listen to me!”

My eyes snapped open. Whoever had spoken was obviously very upset and I expected to see an angry spirit standing in front of me, but no one was there. It wasn’t a voice that I recognized. It may sound strange given everything I’ve experienced over the past few years, but it was more frightening that I didn’t see anything. 

I forced myself to close my eyes again and attempted to open up to the other side or wherever the hell these spirits reside. Nothing happened. That’s not true, I heard a loud ringing in my right ear, like loud. But that was it. 

So I carried on with my day now very aware of how empty my world felt without all of the usual spirit interruptions. I could truly focus on conversations with friends at school pick up, I could zone out while I waited to order coffee and a scone at Quebrada, I could scroll TikTok without picking up on the emotions of the person whose video I watched. 

I made the mistake of telling Biddy and got her opinion. 

“You’re a stress case.”

“Thanks.”

Her theory was that I’d reached some sort of mystical critical level and my subconscious slammed on the breaks and threw the walls back up. SHe had a point. I’ve been on edge for a while now, but haven’t we all? I’m doing my best to manage my anxiety, but I struggled to do that before everything went wonky the world over, so… yeah. I can absolutely say that my anxiety has been wearing me down for the past few months. 

But what’s weird is that the ghosts don’t give me anxiety anymore. It has its creepy moments of course, but I’ve come to think of them as company, and I really felt their absence.  They didn’t add to my stress.

I explained this to Biddy.

“Once you get your anxiety under control, I’m sure things will go back to normal. Unless…”

“Unless what?”

“Unless you’re being shielded,” Biddy said slowly.

“From what?”

“Have you talked to Judith?” She asked, ignoring my question.

I shook my head. 

Biddy gave me an annoyingly knowing look. “Mmm-k, so we’re on the same page then.”

Anyhow, it’s too late to make this long story short, but basically, I’m not hearing or seeing ghosts at the moment – not even Claire – and frankly, I don’t have the bandwidth to dig too deeply to find the reason why. Because… As I’m sure you’ve gathered from the past couple interviews here, it’s quite possible that something big is coming and frankly, I don’t think I want a warning, or insight about it. I’m kind of happy to spend the lead up to whatever the hell is coming in blissful ignorance for as long as they let me. 

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear someone else’s spooky story. 

The cat’s been out of the bag for a while here in town, I’m the woman who writes ghost stories. But it’s still an awkward moment when a stranger puts two and two together and spots me out in the wilds of Wellesley. That’s just what happened with Dana. 

I was in Starbucks (of course). I’d ordered my drink and a set of those little egg bite things and was unloading my laptop onto a table when a woman approached me. I thought she was going to ask to use the chair across from mine, but no. 

“Excuse me,” she said, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I was behind you in line and I just-”

I gazed up at her, my face frozen into what I hoped was a pleasant expression because I wasn’t sure what she was going to say next. Had I cut her in line? Forgotten to pay? Done something unintentionally rude?

“You’re Liz, right?”

I nodded. Shit. I panicked. Is she a parent at the girl’s school? I wracked my brain trying to make a connection. Gorgeous long dark brown hair, pretty dark brown eyes, athleisure, a Chloe bag… Fuck my facial blindness. I seriously didn’t recall ever speaking to her, but that didn’t mean a damn thing. 

“I’m sorry,” she apologized again. “I don’t want to bother you, you look busy. But I’ve read your stories.”

Oh! Thank God, I wasn’t supposed to know her. 

“Uh oh,” I laughed. “Do you live in town?”

“We’re on Cottage Street, near Dana Hall.”

“Oh sure, yeah. Great neighborhood.”

“Your stories are unbelievable, I mean, they’re scary.”

“Totally, I know, sorry,” I replied awkwardly, my social anxiety beginning to rev up.

“It’s so weird, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately.”

“Oh?” I managed, my discomfort rising.

She dropped into the seat across from me. “Something really really strange is happening in my house. It’s not, like, all that interesting I guess. But-”

I took my laptop off the table and slid it back into my bag. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“You sure? I don’t want to interrupt your work.”

“Yeah, no. I’m happy to be interrupted. So what’s up? Wait – what’s your name?”

“Oh, sorry! Dana, Dana Chandra.”

“Can I record your story?” I asked.

“Sure, oh my God, so it would be on the blog?”

“Yeah, if you’re ok with that.”

She laughed. “Oh my God, yes. Sure.”

I didn’t have the little digital recorder with me so I set up my phone between us.

“Well? What’s going on?”

“Ok, yeah, sorry. This is weird to just talk about. I should explain what was happening in our neighborhood before the problem in our house for it to make sense. The two situations probably aren’t connected, but it was weird. So… okay. There were break-ins on our street this past fall. Five of my neighbors were broken into, but what was so strange was that whoever was doing it didn’t take anything.”

“What did they do?”

“They moved things. My next door neighbor came home one night to her patio furniture in her basement.”

“Oof, strange.”

“Yeah, another neighbor found all of her daughter’s clothing taken out of her drawers and neatly folded on her son’s bed. There was another guy whose bird feeders were dumped out all over his driveway and hung back up.”

“Geez, did anything like that happen to you?”

“Oh yeah, I turned on my shower one morning and got a face full of water. The shower head had been turned to face out so it would soak whoever turned it on.”

I couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “That’s the oldest trick in the book, my sisters and I used to do that to each other.”

“Really? It was the first time I’d ever heard of such a thing. My kids are too little to do anything like that, it wasn’t a trick.”

“Do you have a partner?” I asked.

She smirked. “Ansen would never intentionally create a mess. No, someone came into our house and did that. So that’s how everything began. Wait, no. When we all got together to share stories, some of my neighbors realized that things had been happening for a while. Little annoying things that they’d written off or blamed on neighborhood kids.”

“Like what?”

“Um, let me think… The net was cut off someone’s basketball hoop in their driveway, a mailbox filled with mud,  stuff like that.”

“That’s annoying, so it started kind of small and then escalated?”

“Right. The police patrolled the neighborhood and suggested that we all keep the doors locked, turn on our security systems (if we had them) and install cameras. They assured us that whoever was doing it would eventually get caught if we ‘remained vigilant.’”

“So did they catch the person?”

“Oh yeah. It was a guy two doors down from us. The craziest thing was at the neighborhood meeting he complained the loudest about what a violation it was to have someone breaking in playing these nasty tricks. He even ranted and raved about the police, he seemed more upset than anyone else.”

“It’s always the ones yelling the loudest,” I commented.

“That is so true. I only knew him well enough to wave to when we passed each other on the street, and we chatted with him at the summer block party. He seemed so normal, maybe a little tightly wound, but who isn’t? It’s just so scary to think about how little we know people.”

“How did he get caught?” I asked.

“A Ring camera. The family across the street from us was away for the weekend and he got into their house through the back patio door. He put the stopper in the kitchen sink and left the water running. The scariest thing was that he knew their code to turn off their security system. The Ring app alerted the family that there was motion sensed at their back door and they called the police. The water didn’t cause too much damage because they got there quickly.”

“Wait – he knew their security code?”

“Yes. They have no idea how he got it, but apparently it was a guessable number.”

“Even still,” I insisted. “That is terrifying.”

“I agree.” She made a noise of disbelief. “You know after he broke into their house he just went back home. Cut through the backyards so no one would see him and was watching television when the police went to arrest him. So he just broke into that house, disabled the alarm system, turned on the sink to flood the place and left.”

“The Wet Bandits.”

Dana gave me a confused look.

“Home Alone,” I offered. “Nevermind. The guy sounds a little disturbed.”

“Mmm, scary disturbed. His poor wife was completely humiliated by the whole thing. Apparently she had absolutely no idea that he was the one responsible for all of the break ins. Even their own home had been broken into – or so she thought – but it had been her husband who slashed all of their throw willows.”

“What in the hell was he thinking?”

“He never told anyone why he did it, I heard all he would say about it was that no one could take a joke anymore.”

“How in the world have I not heard anything about this?”

“They’re very wealthy and everyone in the neighborhood just wanted to put it in the past.”

“But it would have at least made it to the police blotter,” I pressed.
“They have a lot of money,” Dana repeated with a smile. 

“Man,” I breathed. “That is really freaky. What would he have gotten into if he’d kept going?”

“Yeah, who knows what he would have done next?” Dana agreed. “The police took three full gasoline canisters out of the attic above his garage.”

“Jesus.”

“I believe he’s in a sort of mental health institution out west.”

“No jail time?” 

“Money,” Dana reiterated. 

“Wow. Crazy crazy story. Thank you, I guess, for sharing this with me, but now I will be forever suspicious of my neighbors,” I laughed. 

“Right, but wait. No. That’s not really the story. Sorry, there’s more.”

“Oh right, you said that was the before. What’s going on now?”

“I don’t know if there’s any connection. I mean, of course there isn’t. But it is strange to have two unsettling things happen in our home so they are tied together in my mind. But, I guess it is sort of similar, at least it started out that way.”

“What’s been going on?”

“Well, it started with more of the same, like, finding things where they shouldn’t be. But I could rationalize it, you know? Explain it away.”

“What made you suspect something else was going on?”

“The voices.”

“Ooohhh, ok.”

“Right, it’s whispering. As though there is someone in the next room, but by the time you go to check, they’ve left.”

“Is it just chattering or have you actually heard what they are saying?”

“I haven’t, but Ansen has.”

“And?” I pressed. 

She closed her eyes and took in a breath before responding. “Kill them.”

“Oh no.”

“He’s changed,” Dana confessed, and for the first time she appeared more fearful than nervous.

“In what way?” I asked. 

“He’s angry all the time. It’s the end of the world if the sink has just one utensil in it. He snaps at the kids for making the tiniest noise. He stopped going to the office so he’s home all the time and it’s just, it’s claustrophobic. He works in our guest room now and keeps the door open like he’s trying to catch us interrupting him, we can’t get out of his way even if we try.”

“Sorry to suggest this, but could he have lost his job and just hasn’t told you yet?”

She shook her head. “I thought the same thing. Actually,” she lowered her voice. “I made up an excuse to call a woman he works with, he still has his job.”

“So you think he’s being influenced by whatever is moving things and whispering in your house.”

“Yes.”

“Hm. Is there anything that’s happened, I mean besides those break ins that might make this activity start up? Like, did you buy antique furniture or anything second hand, or did you do renovations, play with a Ouija Board? Anything like that?”

Dana considered the question. “I haven’t brought in anything new, but I did drag out some old junk. There was a bunch of old stuff in our attic just sitting there collecting dust  since we moved in five years ago. The house is so old, the attic was a dumping ground for all the families that lived there over the years.”

“How old is the house?” I asked.

“Um, it was built in eighteen fourty-seven, so actually this year it is one hundred and seventy five years old.”

“Good grief,” I laughed. “I wonder if taking out that old stuff agitated a spirit that had been living, or I mean, creeping around happily before then. But,” I hesitated. “That little, ‘kill them’ comment is scary. Have you done any research into the history of the house? Do you know if there were any accidents or deaths on the property?”

Dana shook her head. 

“Well, that might be a good place to start. You can do several things to cleanse the house, are you religious or spiritual at all?”

Dana said they weren’t. “Is that bad?”

“God no,” I replied. “It’s just if you had a belief system then you could look to it for a ritualistic cleansing practice. But since you aren’t tied to anything, some good old fashioned salt should do the trick. Put a glass of it in each room. Open the windows. Claim the space as your own. Take the glasses out after three days and rinse them down the drain visualizing all negative energy getting rinsed away with the salt.”

“That’s simple enough,” said Dana, brightening.

“Totally,” I agreed. “But, your husband needs help too, would he ever consider going to a Reiki healer?”

“No. No way.” She paused, her worried expression returning. “In all honesty, the reason I’ve been thinking of you lately, I mean I totally don’t want to overstep. But… would you consider, maybe, coming to my house and talking to the ghosts and asking them to just tell me what they want and I’ll help if I can but either way, I just need them to leave?”

Ugh. I’d known it was coming. I had to admit that she had a better chance talking to these ghosts than I did. 

“I’m so sorry,” I began.

“Oh my God, no don’t apologize, it was super presumptuous of me to even ask-”

“No, no,” I interrupted. “I would love to help you like that if I could, it’s just… I don’t know how to explain this, but I can’t hear or see ghosts right now.”

“Wait, what?” Dana demanded.

Startled, I attempted to explain, but Dana stood before I could. She pushed back her chair roughly. 

“I feel so stupid. It’s all a fake, you’re a writer for goodness sake. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Dana, wait,” I insisted, but she had already turned away. Abruptly, she spun back around. Pointing to my phone she said, “Don’t you dare publish that.” 

“Ok,” I replied, weakly.

“Actually, you know what? Publish it. Put it out there and try to explain yourself. Explain to your readers that you’ve been lying this whole damn time.” 

Then she left for good.

People waiting for their drinks were giving me the side eye. I slumped down into my seat wishing I could shrink down to nothing and pop out of existence. I reached down for my bag and began to get up, wanting nothing more than to just get the hell out of there. 

A loud ringing in both ears overtook me and I sat back down. It lasted maybe ten, fifteen seconds. I took a moment to gather my wits, muttering, “Goddamnit Claire, blowing out my eardrums doesn’t really help the situation, now does it?”

Somehow I knew it was her. Somehow I knew she was right there, stuck behind a wall most likely of my own creation, and I knew she was desperate to communicate with me. I also suspected I really didn’t want to know what she had to say.