ghosts in the burbs

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

Kelly has pretty black hair, a sweet sense of humor, deep worry lines across her forehead and dark circles beneath her eyes. Wrung out describes her best.

I spoke with her over Zoom so I got a glimpse of her home office. Lining the wall behind her were medium height bookshelves crammed to the gills with books and topped with all manner of houseplants. Above them hung a triptych of canvas prints, a scene of birch trees in winter. The walls were lined in a subtle geometric wallpaper in black and white. It was really pretty.

In her initial email she apologized at least four times for bothering me with what she described as the “oddities plaguing [her] new home.” She knew of me through Janet who knew me through Nick Sayre’s wife Maeve. I was hesitant. I wasn’t in the mode to deal with the type of woman who I assumed ran in that crew. The pandemic if nothing else has allowed me space to offer up my “no thank you” with much greater ease. If only because I only have so much energy to go around. 

But as I read on I found that Kelly was looking for me to “simply point her in the direction of someone who deals with time warps.” 

I wrote back immediately and asked if she could chat as soon as possible. 

Time warps, you guys. I’ve heard just about everything at this point, but time warps? Not so much and I’m here for it. The only thing I know about weird time stuff is that it is more prevalent in extraterrestrial cases than it is in supernatural ones. 

I know this because one afternoon during the holiday season I spent a day wrapping presents and bingeing alien documentaries. Halfway through Two-Faced I picked up my phone, hopped online and joined MUFON. 

If you’re wondering whether I think the whole violent aliens doing reconnaissance on earth now so they can find our weak spot is a government conspiracy put in place to bring on the new world order, well… I’m not totally sold, but I’m listening. Anyway… MUFON is a whole vibe and it’s kind of been the only thing that’s gotten me through the past two months. 

So… reading those two little words “time warp” made my heart sing. 

I think I was expecting Kelly to share an abduction story. But I got nothing of the sort. Zero aliens.

What she told me made me wonder if everything that’s been happening this past year is changing things. Not in the way we’ve watched obsessively on the news. It’s bigger than that, we’re fucking up on a much higher level. 

We’ve been at war before, or I mean constantly. There have been earthquakes and ongoing famine and poverty and more war, and on and on forever. But sickness and lack of resources and natural disasters have been contained to certain parts of the planet. And war, even the world wars, discharged an immense amount of energy. Even if it was all sadness and fear, even hate. Everyone cheered and grieved and felt loss and determination and despair together. They all agreed upon their hellish circumstances.

But it’s totally different now. It’s as though we’ve gotten ourselves stuck in this round robin of gas lighting the shit out of one another. We can’t agree on reality anymore. Some people don’t believe there’s a problem, that everyone is overreacting while nurses and doctors have literal sores on their faces from protecting themselves from the disease that’s required freezer trucks to store our dead. There are pretty pictures of tropical vacations on social media alongside go-fund-mes for a family who must raise money for a triple funeral after Covid ripped through. Scientists say the fourth wave will be THE wave while legislatures are removing mask mandates. 

It’s like being in a war and half the people scoff and say of the casualties, they were [insert age or pre-existing health condition here], if the bullet didn’t get them they would’ve died soon at some point anyway.

This is not a rant about right and wrong even though it probably sounds like one. I haven’t completely figured out what I’m getting at… It feels like these opposing forces are so out of hand and there is no way all of this won’t have a significant energetic fallout. It’s like when you white knuckle it through the holidays, doing all the things and being everything to everyone and meeting all the expectations and then having to take to the bed for all of January because every ounce of your energy is just spent. You went too far. 

There’s this saying that I try to keep in mind when I’m spiraling out and making bad choices like eating all the food and drinking all the drinks and let the devil intervene, please when I’m clicking add to cart for just one more pair of jeans from JCrew – the saying is: 

Extremes create their opposite. The wise avoid them. I think it’s attributed to Carl Jung but I first read it in a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

Anyway, my mind is a scattered mess, but that phrase just keeps pinging because the thing is, we haven’t just gone to one extreme – we’ve scattered to all of them. So what exactly is the opposite of this

Time will tell. And maybe that’s why I feel as though my conversation with Kelly might be a small clue about where we’re headed. Or it could have nothing to do with anything. It could just be another weird little story from this weird little town. 

I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

“It’s going to sound fishy, but our divorce really was pretty amicable. We just chose a really shitty time to go through with it. It hasn’t been easy to split up and divide all of our things into two new homes, not to mention selling our old place during a pandemic. The kids wanted us to wait until things settled down, but thank the Lord we didn’t. Can you imagine? If we’d waited we’d still be waiting.

“It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. If it had been we’d still be together. There wasn’t some inciting event we just grew apart. I was the one who brought up divorce, but we were both thinking it. I was worried about him. I still am. We were together for thirty two years. He isn’t used to doing things on his own.” Kelly chuckled. “I still take care of all the bills, how’s that for co-dependence? He’s a good man, he was – is an incredible father. I just needed space. He needed it too, I just had to give him a nudge to realize it. 

At any rate, we sold the big house and bought two smaller places just a couple streets apart. It was easier for us. We couldn’t live together anymore. With the kids out of the house and no shared cause it just seemed to drag out the cranky old foggie in both of us and we are too damn young for that. I got controlling and manic and he got passive and lazy.

“I’m simplifying, but that’s the Cliff Notes version. I don’t want you to think that our relationship had something to do with what’s been happening in my home. He’s not the kind of man to play practical jokes.”

“What exactly has been happening?” I asked.

“I’d had my eye on this little neighborhood for years and the stars aligned and we scooped up two little cottages. I wondered if I’d feel spooked all by myself in the woods like that, but no. It’s wonderful. Of course, Mason’s ended up on my couch more than once. He gets spooked easily, checks the locks at least five times before turning into bed – especially if he watches anything remotely scary before bed. 

“We’d always lived in one of those kid centric neighborhoods, but neither of us ever really felt at home there. Don’t get me wrong, we had a gorgeous house with a pretty good sized yard for the area, yada yada yada. But I hated how the house never got completely dark at night because of the streetlights. The constant traffic in a busy young neighborhood, the fucking leomonade stands every which way in the summer. 

“I just wanted a little peace and quiet. We’d raised the kids, I wasn’t in the mood to cater to other people’s children. I sound like a witch, but you’ll see. It gets old.” 

“Trust me, I get it.”

Kelly snorted. “Where do you live?”

I told her. 

Her smile vanished. “How long have you lived there?”

“Uh, about four months. We did a Covid move too and I don’t have another one in me. Please don’t tell me we’re on top of an ancient burial ground or something.”

“No, no, it’s just… We’re neighbors. I’m on [name of street omitted] and my husband is on [again omitted].”

“Sorry, I’m awful about paying attention to my surroundings…”

“It takes time to learn a new neighborhood, but we’re closeby.”

“Okay… so why did you all of a sudden look really worried?”

Kelly took a long moment before answering. “I’m pretty sure that what is happening is focused on my property for whatever reason, but I would hate to think of children being anywhere near it. I had a fence put it to keep people out, but-”

“I’ve got a pretty good antenna for weird,” I assured her. “I haven’t noticed anything off about our place yet.”

“Good. Just keep an eye on your kids, those woods…”

“Don’t worry, I’m a helicopter.”

“Do you know about the Baker Estate?” She asked.

“No.”

“Look it up, you’ll get a kick out of it. Your house is definitely on that land.”

I made a note to do so.

“All right, I’ll stop stalling,” said Kelly. “Okay, what I’m talking about here is not deja vu. At all. It’s not just a feeling – things actually happen. It could have been going on before I actually paid attention to it, I was pretty stressed out with the split and Covid and everything. Regardless, the first thing that happened – that I noticed, anyhow, were the kayaks. We have two kayaks and I ended up with both of them by accident in the move. Mason needed his one weekend so I dragged it out of my garage and put it in the driveway for him to make it easy for him to grab.  

“I put that kayak in the driveway. I know that I did. I had a nastly scratch on my arm to prove it. It was buried beneath some boxes and I scratched myself on one of the grill tools as I was trying to get it out. I was in a rush to meet my friend for a walk. That kayak was in the driveway when I left. 

“I got a text from Mason while I was on my walk, he wanted to know if I’d hidden a key outside so he could get into the garage to grab the kayak. Long boring story short, the kayak wasn’t in the driveway. We assumed someone had stolen it. It was the only thing that made sense. It didn’t even occur to me to look in the garage because I knew I’d dragged that damn thing out and besides, the house was all locked up.

“I didn’t realize until about a week later that the kayak hadn’t been stolen at all. It was in my garage. In the exact same place, under the exact same boxes near that stupid grill fork thingy. I’d gone out to grab paper towels – that’s where I keep the extras. The back stock. 

“Wait, have you watched The Home Edit?”

I told her that I had and I’d gone through a brief obsession with organizing over the winter holidays.

“Me too! I dove in this past fall and bought all the special plastic bins. Now I have all my extras nicely organized in the garage on some metal shelves. It’s so nice, isn’t it? The control of it all. That’s what I do love about that house, as weird as it is, it is my own perfect little fiefdom. What I say goes. 

“Anyhow, it was the darndest thing. Gave me the biggest shock to see that kayak in the exact place I knew that it couldn’t possibly be. I just couldn’t figure out how it happened. The D-word began stomping around my mind immediately. Wouldn’t that just be my luck? I get divorced, organize my little cottage just so and get wacked with dementia. Not that it’s completely off the table at this point but I really don’t think the problem is my mind. It’s the house, or more accurately, where it is located. 

“The kayak was weird. If it was a one off, I could have chalked it up to a fluke. Mason swore up and down that he wasn’t playing a prank or anything of the sort, and I believed him. We don’t have keys to one another’s homes – it’s a boundary we agreed upon when we split up. 

“Probably because I was paying closer attention, but I started to notice things were off around the house. Out of place. I’d wake up and the curtains in my bedroom would be wide open. Now that was spooky. I don’t drink, if that’s what you’re thinking, so it’s not as though I was suffering the wine forgets. My bedroom is on the first floor, there is no way I would tuck into bed with the curtains wide open. I feel safe in my home, but the woods around the house can feel a little ominous at night, especially with the amount of true crime I watch.

“It wasn’t just the curtains, other things were out of place too. I would make a coffee at the Keurig, press the button and walk away and then when I came back there was no mug beneath the machine. One time the machine was unplugged and I knew that I heard it do that thing when it sort of spits at the end of the brewing cycle. Oh! And oh my God, this one time, I would not have believed it if it hadn’t happened to me. I swear on a stack of Bibles dipped in truth serum – I woke up. Went to the laundry room and pulled a clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt out of the dryer. Took a shower and changed. 

“After breakfast I went to the bathroom to pee and almost fell over when I caught my reflection. I was in my pajamas! The ones I’d worn to bed. And I had bed head! It was as though I hadn’t showered or changed or anything. I checked the dryer and there were the clothes I’d changed into. That day I climbed right back into bed and binged three seasons of Schitt’s Creek.”

“Get out of here.”

“Really really, I swear. I’ve tried to explain it away – like maybe I dreamed about getting ready that morning, but I know that’s not right. It was real and somehow I sort of slipped back in time to before I’d done it. But that doesn’t make sense either. I experienced my morning in detail.”

“That is really freaky.” 

Honestly, at this point in our discussion I felt pretty skeptical. The kayak thing was weird. But I have half cups of coffee all over my house and there is forever one left cooling beneath the Keurig because I get distracted and forget that I brewed a cup. The fact that he thought she got ready for the day and then realized she hadn’t made me worry for her mental state. But it just didn’t sound like anything truly wonky was happening to her. And then she told me about the book club thing. 

Kelly continued, “It occurred to me that maybe I was losing my grip on reality because of the whole quarantine situation coupled with the stress of my divorse. Perhaps living in such isolation was doing a number on my brain. Maybe I was just losing track of everything because the days bleed into each other and nothing much changes from day to day. 

“I have asthma. It never really affected my life in a negative way until this stupid virus came along. But now I have to be so careful. I haven’t seen the kids in weeks. When the weather was good we visited outside and we were able to do the same for the holidays, but now I just don’t think it’s a good idea until the weather shifts. I don’t like the sound of these new variants. 

“Mason carries a little extra weight and if he were to get sick… I just, I want to be sure I am healthy enough to help him if need be. So isolation. Lots of isolation. I do still walk outside with a friend who is equally as cautious because her son has a heart condition, and I have a couple zoom meetups with friends every week. I’m only working part-time right now, I manage a handful of portfolios, but that doesn’t require much interaction with clients, so… I can go a while without interacting with anyone. I have the groceries delivered too.”

Kelly shook her head in frustration. “I’m sorry. See? I’m losing my social skills too. Here I am rambling on about grocery delivery. 

“Okay, so I tried my best to shrug off these little quirky one-off incidents. The clothes in the dryer situation, really weird but it could have been a dream. And the coffee thing – I drink it constantly, constantly, so it’s quite likely that I would get a little forgetful or scrambled. 

“But the reason I reached out, the thing that prompted me to try and find some sort of answer to this, is what happened last Thursday. It isn’t just affecting me anymore. I’m the only one noticing it, but it is starting to involve other people who aren’t anywhere near my home. 

“I had book club last Thursday night. We have it every Thursday night at the same exact time, have been for years. Only now it’s over Zoom. We read Gone Girl for this particular meeting, have you read it?”

“It’s one of my all time favorites,” I replied. “I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked it up which was a real gift.”

“I’ll bet. I had a pretty good idea of the plot, but it was still a great read. Our Zoom chat about it was fun, everyone liked the book which isn’t always the case and we even planned to have a watch party for the movie. I signed off and went to bed, everything was normal. Until the following evening. My friend Eve texted me at seven-fifteen “Are you joining us tonight?” 

“I didn’t know what she was referring to, though I assumed I hadn’t written an event in my calendar. When I texted her back apologizing for spacing on plans she texted, ‘It’s Thursday silly, book club! Hop on now, need me to send you the link?’

“I… I was certain there was a misunderstanding. How could it be? It was Friday, I mean I was pretty sure that it was Friday, I hadn’t really checked. I’d done a little work that day, texted with the kids, watched a movie while I ate lunch. There was no reason to think it wasn’t Friday, but there was that text from Eve.

“I joined the Zoom call with the same exact link I’d used the night before. My friends were all there. Only, they were wearing different clothing and some of them had set up in different rooms. Eve was in her kitchen but the night before she’d been in her office. Even weirder, they were talking about a book we hadn’t read yet. The week before we’d talked about reading Murder on the Orient Express. But Gone Girl won out. 

“That was a simple fact. I know like I know that we chose Gone Girl and pushed Agatha Christie off. We’d all discussed the damn book already!

“I was able to keep up with the conversation, but it was like an out of body experience. At the end of that call someone came up with the idea of having a virtual watch party – for the new movie based on the book. You know, the one with Johnny Depp?”

“I loved that movie.”

“Me too. Michelle Pfeiffer can do no wrong.” 

I nodded in agreement. 

“Do you see how strange that is? It was a repeat of the night before, but it wasn’t. It was like what might have happened in an alternate reality, just a slightly altered one though. Nothing earth shattering, just a tiny difference of choice. Agatha Christie instead of Gillian Flynn. A book club reads one book instead of the other one. What’s the point of that? What am I supposed to glean from it – if anything.”

“I don’t know.”

“Me either. I had a drink that night and I hadn’t drank in years. There was a bottle of champagne buried in the fridge, a housewarming gift from one of the neighbors and I poured two glasses in a pretty crystal champagne glass that we got as a wedding gift. I couldn’t blame the book club incident on dreams or even dementia. I don’t think that’s how memory disorders work. 

“The next day was Friday. I called my husband first thing and asked him what day it was and then I checked the television because I didn’t want to trust that my computer wasn’t somehow off. It was a normal day. I asked Mason to come over for dinner that night. I just didn’t want to be alone.”

“Did you tell him what was going on?” 

“No, I didn’t want him to worry until I knew exactly what he should be worried about. No need in both of us hashing out the what ifs. I made an appointment with my doctor for next Wednesday, but I’m afraid she won’t be able to do anything for me. When the whole book club thing happened I was just about numb with terror that I’d somehow jumped all the beginning stages of Alzheimers and tipped straight over into the point of no return. 

“But I can’t even be sure that’s the problem. My Amazon Prime is all messed up too. I go to finish a movie I’ve ordered and there’s no record of me renting it. Meanwhile other movies show up in my feed that I know I haven’t seen in years. Sure that could be a computer glitch, but with everything else that’s going on I just can’t trust that it’s as easy as that.

“It’s affecting my work too. I finished a report Saturday morning and sent it off to the client. I triple save my work, one to the computer, one to Google Docs, one to the flash drive. It’s overkill, but I’ve been burned. In this case, I should have had the email attachment to go back to. 

“Gone. All of it gone. The client emailed me asking when she might expect the information. She’d never received the email and I had no record of it in my sent folder. The file did not exist on my computer or anywhere else. How far is this going to go? I had to redo all that work. It’s maddening. I can’t count on anything. A day or two will pass and it’s fine and then all of a sudden there’s another blip.”

“That’s awful. I’m sorry. Do you have any idea at all what might be causing it?” 

“I don’t know, maybe a time warp? I don’t know if that’s the right phrase for it though. It’s almost as if I’m slipping in and out of different versions of my life. Maybe because I’ve been so isolated and everything is so damn monotonous right now, maybe I’m slipping in between options. 

“Either that or there’s a portal on my property. But if that’s the case then I don’t understand the rhyme or reason of it because I just seem to zoom forward through some mundane event and then return back to do it over. As if one day of quarantine isn’t enough, I have to repeat things. It’s maddening.

“The mail carrier came twice yesterday. Twice. The second time I saw her walking away from the mailbox I rushed out. It was the same exact mail, but when I went to look for the pile of the first batch, it was gone. That’s what’s so weird. Sometimes I think I’m just repeating and other times it’s like I’ve slipped into this slightly tweaked version of my life. But who knows at this point which version isn’t the tweaked one.”

“I’ve never heard of anything like this. It’s kinda like Groundhog Day, but not really.”

“That’s the worst part. Grabbing the mail twice is one thing, but I mean no offense, this could just be the first go ‘round for us. I might have to do this again tomorrow. Or, I might meet up with you and you want to talk about the time I saw a ghost in my grandmother’s potting shed.”

“Wait, did that really happen?”

“Yes. It was the neighbor from down the street, he’d been hit by a car while he was riding his bike home from school. It was awful.”

“Sorry,” I said, uselessly. “I’m not sure what to suggest. Maybe you should talk to a scientist, or like a math person?”

“I’ve thought the same thing, but what scientist would believe me?”

We talked in circles about her situation. My usual bag of tricks – blessed medals, ex-ghost hunters, messages from beyond – offered nothing. I did offer to put her in touch with Judith, hoping she might have some experience with Kelly’s situation. 

I couldn’t get Kelly’s story out of my mind. I half wanted to ask if I could sleep over in her home to see if I could experience the time slips for myself. How amazing would it be to glimpse an alternate reality? 

But the more I thought of it the less appealing it sounded. With my luck I’d end up in a loop of remote learning with the kids, or the witching hour between three and five o’clock when I shuffle around agitated and exhausted. Trying to dredge up the energy to make dinner and interact with the kids, when all I want to do is put on my pjs and read. 

Yeah. I don’t want to time slip just to redo a load of laundry or tidy the fucking kitchen one more time. 

Once around is enough for me right now. 

All my thinking about Kelly’s situation is what led to my earlier rant about reality. We are all stressed to capacity in a million different ways. What if Kelly’s stress reaction tore a rip in time. Or charged a portal that was already there but needed the right amount of energy to set it loose. She was playing it down, but a divorce and a major move during the pandemic? That ranks way up there on the life stress scale. 

What if the time slips are Kelly’s fallout from all this insanity. 

I can’t help but wonder what mine might be. 

Fear and stress and change affect all of us differently, right? But for most of us, when it’s prolonged it leads to hypervigilance, which healthline.com describes as “a state of increased alertness. If you’re in a state of hypervigilance, you’re extremely sensitive to your surroundings. It can make you feel like you’re alert to any hidden dangers… Often, though, these dangers are not real.”

But when none of us can agree on reality, who is to say what’s real and what isn’t.

It’s not something you get used to, seeing the dead, though it does become less… unnerving over time. Personally, the thing that discombobbles me the most is the fact that, to me at least, they look alive. It’s not until I really focus on them that I understand that I am actually looking at a ghost. It’s like there’s a little something off with the space around their bodies – not their bodies, because they don’t have bodies anymore – but like the space around them is a teeny bit blurry, fuzzy. And when I look straight at them, their coloring is ever so slightly muted – it reminds me of the way soap operas looked when I was younger. Hazy. Pretty and pastel-ish. But what really gives them away is their expression when they realize that I can actually see them. That expression, one that goes from alarm to hope rather quickly, tells me that I’m dealing with a dead person. 

Sometimes they talk to me, sometimes they don’t. But I can tell that I make them curious. All of this has taken time and patience and not a few awkward and frightening encounters to understand, but I admit that I’ve grown to really like most dead people. For one thing, they’re as real as you’re going to get. No use in putting on airs when you’re dead. They know how to cut straight to the punchline. Sure there are complete jerks on the other side, as in life so in death and all that, but it seems, from what I’ve experienced anyway, that everyone gets taken down a peg or two in passing. 

But just when I thought I had the whole spotting dead people thing in the bag, I got taken down a peg or two myself. Sometimes what looks like a dead person isn’t. They’re something else, but not just one something else, that would be too easy. A lot of beings like to mask themselves as dead people for a lot of different reasons. So though I often can’t see past their dead person suit to what they really are unless they decide to reveal themselves, I’ve figured out one of their tells. It’s their reaction to me. When the dead aren’t surprised to see me or when they aren’t surprised that I can see them – that’s when I need to worry. 

The first time I encountered a being from the other side dressed up as a dead person they latched onto me and gave me horrible nightmares for a couple weeks before I finally admitted to Judith that I needed help. Judith is blessed/cursed with the ability to see what beings really are whether they want her to or not. 

“That’s not a ghost, you lunatic,” she admonished the second I walked into her house.

I looked from her to the ghost. “I tried to get rid of it, but-”

“And how exactly did you do that?”

I grimaced. “By releasing it to the light?”

“And how did that work out for you?”

I side eyed the spirit who giggled. 

“Did you wonder why a ghost would be giving you violent nightmares?”

I shrugged. “I thought they did that sometimes.”

“Of course they do, but not like that.” She sighed heavily and retrieved a small vial of brick dust from a drawer in her kitchen. “I can’t believe you brought a fucking imp into my house.”

“Sorry.”

I was still learning all these nuances when I spoke with Liliane Donnelley MacMillen. I wasn’t in the mood to interview anyone, my life was full enough at that point, but the woman was persistent. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. This woman I knew loosely through spin class gave Liliane (Lily to acquaintances, Lil to her close friends) my phone number. I’d only recently run into the dead woman at Bruegger’s and was beginning to see dead people everywhere in addition to having them speak to me. I was a touch stressed. 

I tried to do the gentle, “I’m sort of drowning in the kids’ nonsense and trying to finish a book right now…” but she would not be detoured. 

“If you could find twenty minutes, maybe after drop off in the morning? I could meet you anywhere. I’m desperate for your professional advice.”

Maybe a phone call? I suggested. 

“I’d really prefer to talk to you in person. This is a sensitive subject.” 

Fine. Twenty minutes at the Starbucks in Linden Square after drop off Thursday morning. And to be clear, it was an interview, no one in their right mind would call me a professional any advice I had to offer should be taken with a gallon of salt, and I intended to record the interview on the blog. I hoped that last part would deter her. 

It didn’t. 

There was a dead woman in the Starbucks when I got there. Behind the counter.

“This is my grandson,” she said beaming. “Will you tell him how proud I am? Oh, and tell him that he should switch majors.”

Fuck. 

After an awkward exchange with the barista I grabbed my venti soy pumpkin spice latte and holed up at one of the tables beside a window overlooking the entrance to the shopping center. 

And waited. 

Lily was seventeen fucking minutes late. 

When she blew in through the doors I knew it was her without even knowing who the hell she was. 

“Oh my God! Liz? You’re Liz, right?” She unwound the massive scarf from around her neck and slumped into the chair across from me. “You have no idea the morning I ‘ve had.” Pulling her leather gloves off by the fingertips she launched into a very Wellesley monologue about pool closing schedules, landscaping trouble and kids riding lessons. 

“What are you drinking?” 

I told her. 

“Oh my God, you are just so on brand! Okay, let me get a coffee. Be right back.”

I sat and stewed and looked at my watch and knew that I’d be stuck in this woman’s clutches for at least another hour. I considered sneaking out knowing I didn’t stand a chance against a woman like Lily. Her personality was too strong. 

“She’d better have a doozy of a scary story,” I grumbled. 

“Just you wait,” Claire replied.

Lily’s voice rose above the coffee shop din. 

“Oh no! But coconut milk is listed on the board behind you, so…” 

The barista whose grandmother wanted him to major in anthropology explained the unfortunate coconut milk situation that everyone was doing their best to face bravely. 

“Soy milk is fiiiiiinnnnne,” Lily whined, “But someone should really cross it off your little list up there so no one accuses you of false advertising, right?”

The nineteen year old young man apologized again. 

Lily caught me watching the interaction. “No coconut milk!” She stage-whispered. “Can you even?”

I shrunk down in my seat not wanting to be associated with her. A woman behind Lily in line caught my eye and smirked. 

“You’re wearing your medal today, right?” Claire said. She’d materialized beside me, casually sitting on the window ledge. 

“Yes. Why?”

“You’re gonna need it.” 

Lily whooshed back to the table a whirlwind of blond highlights, eyelash extensions and faux leather leggings. 

“No coconut milk. Can you believe it?” She sipped daintily from a small cup. “I look forward to this little treat every morning.”

“What did you get?” I asked politely.

“Usually I get a tall dark roast with a splash of coconut milk and half a Splenda.”

“Some treat,” Claire snorted. 

I pulled the digital recorder out of my tote, flipped it’s switch and placed it on the table between us. “I’m sorry to rush you but we’d better get started-”

“One hundred percent. I have to be somewhere by ten.” Lily eyed the recorder. “Okay. I feel like you are literally not going to even believe a word of this, any normal person would think I was an absolute loon,” she glanced around. “Should I just say it?”

“Um, sure.”

She leaned across the table. “There is a ghost following me.” 

“I believe it,” I assured her. “I’ve had something similar happen.”

Lily sighed dramatically. “You’re for real, right? This isn’t some sort of an avant guard role play punked situation, is it?”

“What?”

“Well, are you?”

“Am I what?”

“For real? I just don’t want to be set up.”

Stunned, I simply asked, “Have you read my blog?”

“No. That’s not really my thing.”

“Okay.” I rubbed my eyes. “Here’s how it works. I interview you about your haunting and record our conversation with this digital recorder. After that I transcribe our conversation onto my blog and people who are into this kind of thing read it.”

“Huh, I thought blogs were, like over.”

“Look, I’m really tired. I really wanted to take a nap while the kids are at school, so if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your story then I’m totally cool with-”

“No, no. It’s fine. Besides, I don’t know who else to talk to about this.”

“Okay.”

Lily used the edge of her finger to push her long eyelashes up. “I’ll trust the process.”

“Good.”

I waited for her to speak. She didn’t, she just sipped her coffee and looked at me expectantly. 

“So what’s going on?”

“I just told you,” she said, as if I were a simpleton, “a ghost is following me everywhere.”

“How do you know that?”

“I can hear her.”

“What does she say?” 

“She doesn’t say anything, I hear her walking around and stuff.”

That gave me a little chill. “When did you start to hear her?”

“The night we did the corn maze.”

“That’s unexpected,” Claire commented. 

“Totally,” I replied without thinking.

“Hm?”

“Sorry, I meant spooky. What were you doing in a corn maze?”

“I’m the [name of women’s group omitted at interviewee’s request] social chair so I organized an autumn girls’ night at the Extreme Haunted Halloween Maze in [name of town omitted at interviewee’s request for some reason]. It was just supposed to be a silly night. Of course, it was my turn to be designated driver so it wasn’t all that silly for me, but whatever.”

“I’ve never been to an extreme haunt. I don’t think I could handle it.” 

“Really? I’d think that would be right up your alley.”

“No. Too scary.”

“Honestly, it was more annoying than anything else. After the first time a kid in disgusting make up jumped out at us it was, like, okay enough. We get it. By the time we made it all the way through I had a migraine from bracing myself for the next weirdo to pop out.

“The girls pregamed in the parking lot beforehand.” Lily rolled her eyes and twitched her head, swishing a stray blond strand off her shoulder. “I was so bummed but at least I didn’t draw Tequila Tuesday, that would have really sucked. Whatevs. Nothing was really all that freaky in the maze. I mean, like besides the entire thing being utterly grotesque.” Lily stared out the window, seeming to replay the memory in her mind. “But there was this one actor that actually did creep me out.” 

“What was so spooky about her?”

Lily blinked and looked back at me. “She didn’t jump out and scream like the rest of the actors or whatever you call those people. I didn’t even notice her at first, I just felt someone beside me and I thought it was one of my friends until I looked over.” Lily shivered. “She was just quietly walking alongside me, staring at the ground.  

“I was like ‘Jesus! Back off!’ She looked up and just smiled at me. But then one of my friends walked right into me and I turned around for a sec. When I looked back, that woman was gone.”

As Lily spoke, the woman who’d been behind her in the Starbucks line moved closer to us. I’d clocked her a few minutes prior because she hadn’t ordered a coffee and her outfit was a touch dramatic. She had on a gray fitted top tucked into a long gray skirt that skimmed the floor. Her brown hair was tied at the nape of her neck in a tight bun. 

Now before I state the obvious, I have to say, we’re in Wellesley. Most women run around in LuluLemon or designer jeans but some of them really go after it and wear designer everything head to toe. I figured she was one of those, especially since she was so thin. 

But when she moved to stand behind Lily I knew I’d been wrong. 

“What did she look like?” I asked, knowing the answer already. 

“Did you see the Haunting of Hill House? Wait, of course you did,” she snarked. “She looked like their housekeeper. The one in the bun.”

“Mrs. Dudley?”

“I don’t know, probably.”

The woman behind stared at the  ground and began pacing. 

Anyway, I saw her one more time before we left that corn maze situation. We hung out and tailgated for an hour so after that stupid maze so everyone could have another drink or two before we went home. As I was getting into the car she was at the edge of the field. She was just in front of the corn stalks watching us. 

“I pointed her out to one of my friends, Rachel Trelling, do you know her?”

I shook my head. 

“Really? Everyone knows Rachel.”

I just shrugged.

“Anyway, I was like, ‘Give it a break already, right?’ But Rachel couldn’t see her. I mean that weirdo was, like right there. I just figured Rachel was tipsy and not paying attention. She’d sort of a drunk, I mean don’t tell anyone I said that, but I had to almost carry her to her front door after our last book club. Like, maybe that was funny in our twenties, but after thirty-five, it’s just not a good color on anyone.”

The woman behind Lily had stopped pacing. She still stared at the ground and held her hands behind her back. I could see her in profile and a small smile stretched her lips. 

“Have you ever seen spirits before? Like, maybe when you were little?” I asked her. 

“No. I mean, maybe.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“My grandparents’ house, when I was five-ish. There was this man in their garage… Whatever, I was little. All kids see ghosts, right?”

“Not really,” I pointed out. 

“So what are you saying?”

“That you might have abilities.”

“Abilities? Like what, I’m psychic? Yeah, no. That’s not real.”

The woman behind her began pacing again. 

“Okay. So what happened next?” I asked. “I’m assuming you saw her again.”

“No, I haven’t seen her again, remember? I’ve heard her stomping around a lot, but mostly I just, like know she’s there. Does that make any sense?”

“Only for someone with abilities,” Claire commented, saying out loud exactly what I was thinking. 

“But it started right away, so that’s why I’m pretty sure it had something to do with that corn maze bullshit. After I relieved the babysitter that night all I wanted to do was shower to get that itchy farm smell off me, pop a Xanax and crawl into bed. I was dozing off when I heard someone in the hallway right outside my bedroom. The footsteps were heavy so I assumed it was my husband, Chase. He’d been out at a client dinner night so I was expecting him home late. I waited for him to come into the bedroom, but when he didn’t I got up and poked my head into the hallway. There wasn’t anyone there. 

“I checked on the kids and they were sound asleep. The whole thing really freaked me out but I tried to convince myself that I was only half asleep and dreamt that I heard the noise. We have ADT, but our sitter is kind of an idiot so I did kinda worry that someone might have gotten into the house while she was there. 

“I double checked the security system then watched the camera footage on my phone. But I didn’t see anything, so I tried to settle back down to sleep. 

“And then I heard it again. Footsteps up and down the hall, like someone was-”

“Pacing?” I guessed.

“Exactly. I was too afraid to open the bedroom door, so I texted Chase, and luckily he was just over at Smith and Wollensky’s. He came right home and checked everything out. But he didn’t find anyone so poked fun of me for getting scared at a kid’s Halloween maze.” Lily smiled at the memory but quickly her face fell.  

“The next night he was there when I heard the pacing in the hallway,” she hesitated, “but he couldn’t hear them.” 

“I was like, ‘How can you not hear that?’ I made him check all the doors, the basement, even the backyard. He was so annoyed.

“The next night was even worse. Now the pacing footsteps were in our bedroom. Right at the end of our bed. It sounded like someone with short chunky heels just walking back and forth back and forth.”

As Lily spoke the woman nodded her head and continued to pace. 

“That is why I look like such hell right now. I haven’t slept through the night since then… I can’t continue to walk around looking like this. These bags under my eyes are my worst nightmare realized.”

“Has there been anything else? Besides the footsteps I mean.”

“Well yeah. It was probably the fourth or fifth night after that stupid fucking maze. I woke up because it felt like someone sat down on the bed, down by my feet. But there was no one there. There was an indentation on the covers like someone was sitting there, but there wasn’t anyone there.

“I was so scared I couldn’t move. I don’t know how but at some point I must’ve dozed off because the next thing I knew my phone alarm was going off and it was time to get up.”

“Did you tell your husband?”

“No. He already thinks I’m crazy,” Lily rolled her eyes. “But that’s not the worst of it. Four nights ago I was listening to an audiobook trying to fall asleep when I felt her sit down on the bed, this time right beside me. I tried to sit up and I just couldn’t. I couldn’t move at all. My body was completely frozen. I tried to yell out for Chase, but I couldn’t make a sound. 

“I felt her get up off the bed and then all of a sudden it felt like there was a truck on my chest. It was so heavy it pushed me down into the bed and I could barely breath.” 

“That is terrifying.” I said, watching the bun woman stop and stand directly behind Lily.

“It’s happened every single night since. I’ve tried to stay awake, but I just can’t and at a certain point I doze off and it happens.”

“What do you think she wants?” I asked, my eyes moving between Lily and the woman.

“How the fuck should I know?”

The woman had aged. When I’d first spotted her I would have guessed she was in her forties. Now she looked closer to eighty. The change had been subtle, but definite. She reached out a hand and gripped Lily’s shoulder. Lily shivered and slid her jacket back on. 

“How long has this been going on, I mean since you first saw her at the maze?”

She looked up, calculating the days. “We went to that stupid maze not last Saturday but the one before it, so, almost two weeks I guess.”

“It escalated really fast,” I commented. 

“Is that bad?”

“I’d say so,” Claire said in a low voice. 

“It’s not great. I don’t know if I can help you get rid of her, but I’ll try. If I can’t do it then I have a friend who can help.”

“How can you do anything about it?” Lily asked suspiciously.

“Uh, I can see her.”

“You can see who?”

“The woman. She’s standing right behind you. She’s been pacing the entire time you’ve been talking to me.”

“Be careful,” Claire cautioned. 

 The woman reached out her other hand, which now resembled a sort of claw and gripped Lily’s other shoulder. Lily wrapped her arms around herself as if she were freezing. 

“Okay, you know what? I really don’t need this right now. I’m dealing with enough shit. What do you think you’re psychic or something?”

“No, I can just see the dead and I can talk to them. But the thing is the thing attached to you isn’t a dead person.”

“Oh really? What is it? A bigfoot? Great. How much do I owe you? Or do you invoice me once you’ve taken out the essential oils and crystal enemas. Jesus. What was I thinking?”

Lily stood and stormed out of the cafe. The woman, or whatever the hell she was remained behind for a long moment, staring me down, her face now gaunt and grey, with dark circles like bruises beneath her eyes. 

“What the hell are you?” I said under my breath. 

Her lips opened into a slow smile revealing a line of black jagged teeth. 

I pushed my chair back. 

She turned slowly and disappeared into a crowd of women in workout gear. 

I sat stunned for a moment then slid into my jacket. “What was that thing?” I asked quietly. 

That was an old hag,” Claire answered.

“There’s no chance it could start following me around, is there?”

“I don’t think so, but if it does then I’m off like a prom dress.”

I hid a giggle and left the Starbucks. Once we were in the car I asked, “What’s going to happen to her?”

“She’ll die,” Claire said, matter-of-factly.

“But she has kids!” 

Claire sniffed. “Yeah and when I was a teenager my best friends killed me then trapped my soul so they could be rich and thin. Shit happens.”

“I didn’t know if it would be weird to ask you to meet up with me, I suppose we could have just zoomed-”

“No! I’m so happy you did. I’ve been going stir crazy.”

“Same. You just never know how people feel about being out now.”

“Totally. But I would have told you if I was uncomfortable. Besides, we need to take advantage while we can. Seems inevitable the numbers will climb.”

Erica nodded, her face shield reflecting both me and the forest around us. “Did you hear they had a scare in Dover?”

I expressed that I had by wincing.

“Thank God. I mean, not thank God, the poor man, but at least it wasn’t…”

“I know, right?”

She shifted, causing her beach chair to creak. We were sitting an appropriate distance apart in the shade at Morses Pond on a cool fall afternoon. A crisp wind blew in over the water chilling the air and causing the last leaves on the trees to whisper around us. 

“Let’s try not to talk about it. Let’s pretend to be normal, shall we.”

My mask hid my smile but I agreed to try. 

Erica named a street and pointed vaguely across the pond, asking if I’d spent any time there. As it turned out, I had. It was a part of a tiny neighborhood that grew out of the steep western banks of Morses Pond (MOPO to those of us in the know). The neighborhood’s windy roads, along which only about fifteen or so homes squatted, were cracked and narrow. The enclave’s four intertwined streets were an utter hodgepodge of run down lake shacks, gleaming modern waterfront architecture, and the predictable New England waterside cottage found round these parts. 

From the sounds of it, Erica’s was one of the latter. 

“I’d had my eye on that neighborhood for years, but it just didn’t make sense for our family until the kids were out of the house for good. It felt like kismet, the house came on the market the same exact week our youngest daughter signed a lease on an apartment in the South End.

“There were the holidays to consider, the house was far too tight to comfortably accommodate all three kids, plus us, plus the inevitable significant others – but the holidays only come twice a year, right? And Bill and I had outgrown our neighborhood. We had no desire to be those empty nesters keeping up a massive house and yard we no longer needed. Let me tell you, full on suburban living is a young woman’s game.

“We didn’t want to leave town, but we wanted a more tranquil, less neighbor dense living situation. The pond felt like the right setting, and the house. Oh, it was just adorable.

“You never know what you’re going to get over there, but the previous owners had done all the heavy lifting. Winterizing what had once been a summer cabin and turning into this perfectly outfitted little cottage – total Coastal Farmhouse vibe. So different from my style and I loved it! The kitchen, living and office area all faced the lake, then there were two bedrooms and a huge bathroom up front. But the biggest draw was the deck. It wasn’t anything crazy, it just extended out over the water and it was up so high it felt like you were in a tree house.”

Erica went on to say she’d been thrilled to rid them of a lifetime of family acquired clutter. Gone went the old field hockey sticks and soccer balls, the detritus of their children’s adolescence and the good intentioned though useless exercise equipment bought on hope and impulse. Bunk beds gathering cobwebs in the basement were gifted to a young family two doors down from their old house. Basically anything that didn’t fit her perfect vision for their new home, their new lifestyle was sold, given away or sent to the dump swap. 

“It felt like a new beginning and with the money I made selling all of our old crap I bought the furniture I really wanted. The perfect rugs. I even bought all new dishes and tableware. Nothing extravagant, it was just nice to have matching sets instead of cracked crap mugs the kids dragged home over the years. 

“I knew I was padding the nest in an attempt to distract myself from what was happening. We moved in just a few months before the news broke on the second outbreak. When they were just finishing the final rounds of the vaccine. When all that election mess was finally sorted out and we were hopeful for all of five minutes that things just might get back to some semblance of normal.

“Jesus, I thought there’d be more fires and bigger storms. Drought. All of it, but I didn’t think of disease, did you?”

“Not really,” I said, absently adjusting my silicone gloves. “I’d read something like a sort of ‘what if’ article some time ago, but I never thought it would actually happen.”

Erica nodded. “Lord, the way we all panicked over the virus. Can you even imagine if we’d known then what was coming next?”

“Every time my toes itch I’m certain I’m a goner.”

Erica nodded knowingly. “Have you seen those photos out of Ireland?”

“And Japan,” I added. “It’s so weird that it hits islands so hard, right?”

“I just read that Nantucket is an absolute ghost town. It’s only a matter of time. Something about the sea air.” She paused, staring out at the water. “All conversations lead back to it lately, don’t they?”

I held up my hands. “Hard not to when we’re decked out in all this gear.”

“So true. Hard to concentrate on anything else lately. Sorry. Back to my perfect little cabin by the lake. Well, it was perfectly perfect for about a month. The little creaks and groans didn’t bother me. Regardless of the renovations, we were in an old house. An old house on the water for that matter. There was bound to be an adjustment period.

“Anyhow, Bill used to travel for work, Connecticut and New York. He was gone most of the week then home Friday through Monday morning. It worked for us. It’s nice to miss each other, right? 

“He drove back and forth and during the first pandemic it was fine because all three states allowed for travel between them. But once the state borders shut down his job went online like everything else. At least, about half of it did. Who knows if the rest of it will ever come back.” She paused again, lost in thought.  

I shifted in my chair again, despite the cool air I felt sweaty and confined in my protective gear. The movement pulled Erica out of her thoughts.

“Sorry. The point I was trying to make before I rambled off again is that I was alone a lot. I was used to that, but there were other things to get used to at the new house, weird noises mostly. Wind coming off the pond does funny things. 

“We had this next door neighbor. Awkward guy. Would walk out to his car and really make an effort not to look over at me. I wasn’t having it. It’s close quarters over there. I don’t want to be all bestie-bestie with every neighbor but I’m not going to ignore the fact that they’re there, either. I made a point to call out ‘hello!’ to him and once in a while he’d begrudgingly return the greeting. He had no interest in us whatsoever until I started cleaning up the yard along our shared property line. 

“I had our landscapers pull out all these scraggly evergreens and put in more attractive plantings. I don’t know shit about gardening, but I’ve always liked those bushes that are a cross between a hydrangea shrub and a tree? Know what I mean?

“He got so peeved about those bushes. Came over and berated the landscapers, ranting about mature plantings and keeping things in line with the neighborhood aesthetic. If overgrown, dead leaf strewn neglect was the look he was going for in his yard, that’s fine. But I let him know in no uncertain terms that I was well within the bounds of my own property and I wasn’t interested in his design input.  

“He stood in his driveway and stared daggers at my landscapers everyday as they did the work. I just stood in my own driveway and sipped coffee and waved at him. ‘Lovely day for yard work!’ I called out. He just grumbled and stomped inside. 

“Then I know he started throwing his dog’s poop bags in our yard after that. I just ignored him. Now that drove him crazy. Jerk. So when things started happening around the house I totally suspected him.”

“What happened at the house?”

“The very first thing that got my hackles up was this one night I was out on the back deck drinking my SleepyTime tea and reading before bed when I heard a knock at the front door. Three knocks, actually.”

“What time was it?”

“It was late, after midnight.”

“Eek. Were you home alone?”

“Oh yeah,” Erica raised her eyebrows. “I was spooked, but at the same time I wondered if maybe one of the neighbors needed help or something.”

“Uh uh.”

She chuckled. “Naive, I know. I went to see who was there, but when I looked out the peephole there was no one there. Side window too. No one. I even opened the door and-”

“Erica! No!”

“Ha! You’re right. I just didn’t feel like I had any cause to be too concerned at that point.”

“Your next door neighbor was harassing you.”

She tilted her head side to side. “Yeah, but that all seemed in good fun. He needed an enemy and I was up for the role. All things considered though, you’re absolutely right. I could have ended up on a Dateline episode. But I convinced myself I must have imagined the knocking. It was breezy that night. It could have been anything, but something about it felt off enough that I double-checked the doors and windows before I turned in for the night.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have dug up the yard. I didn’t connect the two things because the plantings had been done earlier in the week, and that satchel they found just seemed like someone’s old junk.”

“Satchel?”

“It was a burlap sack about the size of a shoe bag cinched with twine. They found it buried in the dirt under one of those scraggly bushes they were taking out.”

“Did you open it?”

“Of course.”

And?”

“Some dried flowers, a rusty old set of Rosary beads, a little vile of something or other, um… a couple pennies and what else… oh! There was a folded-up piece of paper but it pretty much crumbled apart when I tried to unfold it.”

“Sounds like it might have been a part of some sort of ritual, like an offering or something.”

“Well now it does, after everything that happened, but at the time I thought it was like a break up thing. You know? Like, some lovesick teenager buried it after a bad break up.” 

“What happened after the phantom knocking at your door?”

“All hell broke loose. I remember vividly that it was a Tuesday late afternoon in the fall. Bill was off on business. I’d just finished a review – I’m a book reviewer, I told you that, right?”

I acknowledged that she had.

“Thank God for eReaders. No one wants hardcover now, too much risk of infection. Genre sales are soaring. I bet your blog readership is way up.”

I shrugged. “I haven’t been able to put any new content out since May. Just too much…”

“Jesus, that’s when everything went to shit, huh? I just don’t understand, I thought we knew how to kill bacteria, right? How can it resist everything they try? Have you seen the photos?”

For the second time I told her I had. I didn’t want to talk about the photos. I wish I’d never seen the images of those black veins, the flaking skin. The finger nails peeled back on a woman’s hand, her voice over reassuring people that it didn’t hurt. “You lose feeling quickly,” she’d assured her YouTube Channel subscribers. That was in May. Now the comments were filled with condolences for her family members. As if they could possibly be around to read them. 

“Where was I?” Erica said, pulling me back into the present. “That ill-fated Tuesday. Late afternoon. I’d been working all morning and needed to get away from my desk. So, I was in the kitchen waiting for the water to boil staring out at the lake trying to decide whether to do laundry or go for a walk when I heard someone call my name. It was a woman. She goes, “YooHoo! Erica!” It sounded like it came from the back deck, but I was staring right out at the deck and there was no one there.

“I went outside, thinking maybe someone was at the shore or beneath the deck on our little patch of lawn. I tried to shrug it off when I didn’t find anybody, you know sound travels funny over the water. Maybe I’d heard someone across the lake, and just thought it was close by.

“But I wasn’t back inside two minutes when there was a crash underneath my feet. It sounded like something massive had fallen in the basement. I ran down there and one half of the sliding glass door that faces out beneath the deck had been smashed. 

“That basement was the only part of the house that hadn’t been touched. We planned to renovate it eventually, but as it stood it was a dank little nightmare room. As I stared down at all the glass trying to figure out what had caused the break, a shadow crossed over the floor as if someone had walked past the door outside.”

Erica shivered. “When I looked up there was no one there. I sprinted up those old stairs and closed the basement door and dragged one of the armchairs in front of it. I had a window replacement company over within an hour. They couldn’t find any evidence of what had smashed that window. The whole thing scared me enough that I had the sliders replaced with two heavy steel doors later that week.

“At that point I thought the neighbor was fucking with us. I called ADT and had them install the whole shebang. We even put cameras on the front and back doors. wanted to catch that jerk red handed. Part of me was just hoping it was that guy, but you know what? I knew. I knew it wasn’t him. The house had begin to feel, really close. If that makes any sense. 

“And yet again, there was no one there. I stuck my head out to see if I could see anyone, but then slammed and locked that door pretty quick. I checked the camera footage. It caught the noise of the handle juggling and me opening up the door, but that was it. No one else. That spooked me. I told Bill as soon as he got home and showed him the recording and he brushed it aside saying it must have been a critter. Maybe a chipmunk, too small to make it on screen. I had to admit that it was possible, the camera didn’t show the actual door, and we were overrun with those little creatures. Still… I had a bad feeling.

“The next morning Bill woke up before me. I was pouring my coffee when I caught what I thought was his reflection behind me in the microwave door. I saw him walk by the window out on the deck. I went out to join him but he wasn’t out there. I was about to go down the stairs to see if he was by the water when I heard him say, ‘It’s freezing out there, whatcha doing?’ He was standing in the doorway.

“That’s when I really started to think we were probably, maybe pretty definitely being haunted. It scared the daylights out of me, yes. But in a funny way, I was kinda excited about it too. I believe in all that stuff, always have, I’d just never experienced any of it. So I called an old friend of mine who I knew would be into it too. She came right over that Monday afternoon with her Tarot cards and some sage.” I could tell by her eyes that Erica was smiling at the memory.

“It was all in good fun. Honestly, we were bored to death. There hadn’t been anything exciting to do in months so we made a nice little fuss over it. I got one of those fancy little cheese boards from Wasik’s, cracked open a bottle of wine and lit some candles. Well, she got her hot little hands on a set of Tarot cards and wanted to try and communicate with whoever was haunting the house.

 “I don’t know much about Tarot cards. I’ve had my fortune read a couple times but I’ve never played around with them, so I can’t tell you exactly what cards she pulled, but they weren’t the good ones. That I know for sure. They were all like, watch out! And loss ahead! Devil, hell, uh oh!”

I snorted at her interpretation. “That’s not good.”

“Not at all, but you know what? It was fun, and fuck all if I could remember the last time I’d actually had fun. It felt exciting and silly.    

“Turned out those damn cards were probably trying to warn us off. But we didn’t stop there. Cindy, my friend, suggested that we try to reach out to the spirits. She said that if they had a message then all we had to do was acknowledge it and then they’d settle down and quit creeping around.”

“What did you do to try and communicate?”

“Honestly? Not much. We just closed our eyes and tried to open our minds. That was what Cindy said we should do. I sorta sat there with my eyes closed thinking nothing would come of it and wishing we could just pour another glass of wine already, but after we ‘meditated on our intention of opening up to all messages’ Cindy said something like, ‘You are welcome to come to us and communicate any way possible.’

“I was like, are you sure that’s a good idea? But she insisted that we shouldn’t limit ‘them’ that we should remain open to all possibilities and by inviting them in we’d show them that I was cool with sharing the space. ‘But I’m not cool with sharing the space,’ I pointed out, and she just shushed me. ‘We’ll deal with it after,’ she said. ‘But let’s at least see if we can get anything to happen.’

“Well, we sure fished our wish. As I took the last sip of wine from my glass,” here Erica paused dramatically, “The fucking basement door swung open and hit the wall so hard that it knocked a picture frame right off. Once we’d calmed down Cindy was like, ‘That’s the message! We have to go down there.’ 

“I did not agree. ‘Have at it,’ I told her. But she insisted that we’d asked for communication and we got it, so how could we just ignore it.”

“What did you find down there?”

“Well, those heavy steel doors we’d had installed? So much for them keeping us safe. They were wide open. Those doors had been dead bolted and I’d dragged an old wooden deck chair in front of them too. The chair was turned over and looked like it had been tossed aside.

“’What exactly do you think the spirits were trying to tell us with this?’ I asked Cindy. She didn’t know. She was like, ‘I didn’t think anything would actually happen.’ Great, right? ‘We could sage?’ She suggested. ‘No. No more.’ I told her. We’d already bitten off way more than we could chew. We shut the doors, righted that chair, went upstairs and had another glass of wine. 

“I think that’s what it had been trying to do the whole time. You know, knocking at the door, calling my name. It was trying to find a way in. And then by screwing around with Cindy’s halfcocked plan we went and did just that and invited it in.”

“What was it? A ghost?”

“I don’t know what the hell it was other than scary as hell. It could mimic our voices. I heard Bill calling for me from the basement more than once – when he was out of town. One morning I went out on the deck with my coffee and there were wet footprints leading up to the door, as if someone had gone for a swim, climbed up onto the deck – and not by the stairs, mind you, the railing was wet, the stairs bone dry – and then walked up to the back door.”

She shivered. “The tipping point was this one night I was tucked into bed trying to read myself to sleep when I heard Cindy talking in my kitchen. It was like listening to her talk on the phone, like I was hearing only half of a conversation. It was so strange, so disorienting that I called out, ‘Cindy?’ And she answered me. 

“‘Yes, Erica?’ she called back. I was halfway to my bedroom door saying, ‘What are you doing in my kitchen?’ When she answered, ‘Come and see.’

“Frightened does not even begin to describe the way I felt in that moment. I pushed our dresser in front of the bedroom door,” Erica laughed, “Obviously pushing furniture in front of doors is my go to move. So as I shoved it against the door, ‘Cindy’ or whoever or whatever the hell was in my house said, ‘Aren’t you coming?’ And it’s voice changed as it said the words. It got deeper

“As I was trying to decide what to do next it knocked on the bedroom door. Three fucking knocks. Just like that first time I heard it. I said something totally useless like, ‘Go away,’ and it made this noise. Not a growl exactly, more like a gravely belch. Gross, right?”

“Yikes.”

“I crawled out one of the windows and ran to this house down the street – a nice young family with kids. They didn’t seem at all surprised to see me. Said the last people who owned our house ran into trouble too. Can you fucking believe it? I had my cell with me and called Cindy to come and get me. I stayed at her house that night and arranged for a room at the Embassy Suites in Newton. Bill wasn’t thrilled, but he believed me and we put the house right on the market and stayed in that hotel until we got our new place.”

“Good for you,” I said, meaning it.

“So far there hasn’t been any strangeness in the new house. Whatever was there stayed there, thank heavens.”

“Where did you move, if you don’t mind me asking.”

She chuckled. “We’re right back where we started. In a big house in the old neighborhood. I supposed everything happens for a reason. All the kids are home with us now, one of the boyfriends too. We agreed that it’s better to be together when the bug arrives. They’re not playing around with the new quarantines, I don’t want to risk being separated.”

“You know,” she said, “I shouldn’t be on Twitter, but sometimes you do find out about things sooner there. There’s a doctor in Iceland that’s been tweeting out an S.O.S. She thinks they’ve encountered something new – another bug. Says the effects resemble mad cow disease. ‘Swiss cheese brain’ she tweeted. Only difference is with this new one people remain able bodied for far longer and their behavior gets erratic, violent.” She crossed her arms, crinkling the plastic protective covering over her jacket. 

“You see ghosts, right?” She said pointedly. “Are they giving you any hints as to what’s coming?”

I reached up to make sure my head covering was still fastened tightly at my neck. “They’ve gone silent for the most part,” I replied honestly. “They seem as stunned as we are.”

“Now who in the hell is this handsome gentleman?”

I knelt down to greet a goofy dog with the most adorable snaggletoothed smile I’d ever seen.
“This is Silo,” Steve laughed. “We’re watching him while the Briley’s are on vacation.”

“Lucky,” I gushed. “What kind of dog is he?”

“Uh, I think she said he’s a bulldog lab mix?” 

“I want one.”

“You have a problem,” Steve sat down in the Adirondack chair opposite mine. “How many do you have now anyway? Five?”

“No. Four and three of them are at death’s door. I don’t have a problem, I’m basically a saint.” 

“Chris is the saint,” Steve laughed. 

“No arguments there.” I gave Silo one more head scratch before sitting back in my own chair.

“Is it cool if we keep our masks on out here?” Steve asked. 

“Of course.”

“Thanks, we’re doing our best to be careful when we can. We pretty much haven’t left the house since March… obviously because of finances but also because of Diane’s health.”

“Oh no, what’s going on?”

He grimaced. “It’s nothing too serious. But her pregnancy with Robbie stressed her heart, so the doctor keeps a watch.”

“Shit, I didn’t know that. How is she feeling?”

“Fine mostly but she’s on a new medication that screws with her sleep, which is the last thing we need right now. There’s already enough to keep us up at night.” 

“Totally. Tell her I’m thinking of her and can’t wait to grab a coffee once we’re in between worldwide disasters.”

“I’ll tell her.” Silo nudged his leg and Steve scratched his head absently. “You guys okay?” 

I shrugged. “We’re good, just a little over the edge with the move. Hoping the girls will get some time in school before everything shuts down again. How’s it going for your kids?”

“Good. St. Paul’s is managing to keep them in school for now anyway.”

“Fingers crossed.”

“And toes.” 

“Ok, the boring kid talk’s out of the way. Let’s talk about you and your spoooooky vacation.”

Steve smiled. “I don’t even know if I believe what happened anymore. Diane just wants to put it behind us, but I can’t. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in ghosts, it’s just that I haven’t really thought about them since I was young, you know? Besides watching the occasional scary movie as an adult, the idea of anything supernatural just faded from my mind. But holy shit, it really is real.”

“It’s crazy, right?”

Steve studied me for a moment. “Can you really talk to them?”

I nodded.

He glanced around. “Is there anyone here now?”

I scrunched my nose. 

“Oh man, don’t tell me.” He patted his lap. “Up, Silo. You can protect me.” The dog happily obeyed and settled himself in. 

We were sitting in the shade of my front yard one early morning quite recently. The air was cool and crisp, the sky a grumble of gray clouds. Steve and his wife were old acquaintances through Chris’s work. We’d shared a handful of dinners and holiday party cocktails with them over the years. 

Steve’s brand of brokerage was office leasing, a corner of the real estate world utterly decimated by the current Covid-19 work-from-home era. He had a new stay at home beard and his formerly light brown hair was trending toward gray. He and Diane sent their children, Dana, now a fourth grader and Robbie in first grade, to a private Catholic school here in Wellesley. 

As luck would have it Chris had to catch up with Steve on a deal that linked them. Knowing my interest in such things Steve began telling Chris about the strange thing that had happened to them over the summer in a cabin on Lake Winnipesaukee. Chris directed him my way, though the little bit Steve relayed had Chris checking on our girls in the middle of the night. 

“So you know how it’s been,” Steve began, “Work went from full throttle to dead in the water in an instant. I know there are so many people that have it a lot worse than we do. We have savings, we’ll be fine. It’s not knowing how long this is going to last that’s so stressful. Sorry. I’m off track. 

“The point is that, like everyone else, we hadn’t been out of the house since March and then remote summer school nearly pushed Diane over the edge, so I knew we had to get out of town. We needed something to break the monotony of waking up with the same worries every morning. 

“In truth, I knew we’d wake up with the same worries, but at least we’d be in a different place. Afterall, wherever you go, there you are, right?

“So, a colleague of Diane’s mentioned his sister had just finished a rental cabin on Lake Winnipesaukee. The woman was panicked that she hadn’t been able to rent the place out all summer because of the virus. We gathered that she was struggling to cover the cabin’s mortgage on top of her own and, long story short, she gave us a really good deal. We went up the second to last weekend in August.

“Have you been up there?” He asked. 

“Believe it or not we were up there the week right after you guys. It was the best vacation we’ve had in I don’t even know how long.”

“It’s a gorgeous place,” he agreed. “It’s the perfect setting for either a relaxing vacation or a horror movie.”

“Turned out to be the latter?” I guessed. 

“You got it. The house was great, though. I think we were actually the first ones to stay there since it was updated. There was a photo album on the coffee table that documented the renovation and, I’ll tell ya, it wasn’t a pretty site before she did the work. It was basically a shack.

“The property was set pretty far back from route 25 at the end of an absurdly long shared driveway. A little remote, but that’s what we’d been hoping for. The place had a nice wraparound porch overlooking the lake and a private covered dock the kids could jump off. 

“We arrived late in the day so we didn’t have too much time to explore. But Dan and Robbie got in a quick swim and we grilled burgers. Diane and I had a drink by the lake while the kids skipped rocks. We just… we felt normal for the first time in months. No masks, no news, no Zoom calls. Just us, outside, on the lake, together. It was really nice.”

Steve smiled down at Silo snoring softly. “He’s a goof.”

I smiled, though my attention was pulled behind Steve and across the street where our neighbor’s kids were playing rather crazily. I silently wished them into their back yard. After saying hello to Steve, Chris brought our own girls to the playground so I could hear Steve’s story in peace. It was such a treat to be without the children for the morning that I felt irrationally resentful of the neighbor’s kids intruding upon the morning. 

 “We didn’t sleep very well that first night,” Steve went on, pulling my attention back. “Nothing too weird, just lots of knocks and groans that kept waking both of us up. Beside that, Diane was worried about the kids sneaking out and going down to the lake in the middle of the night. In the morning she told me she kept thinking she heard them on the porch but every time she checked… nothing. 

“The kids found a trail out behind the house. It went pretty far back into the woods then looped around back to the far side of the yard so we let them explore as long as they promised they wouldn’t leave the trail. 

“I think it was the third day we were there that they started talking about the neighborhood kids. That’s how they refer to their friends at home so we assumed there were other kids on vacation on the lake and they met up on the trail. 

“Anyhow, that third day things shifted. The first couple nights we’d all hung outside well after dark, but that night felt different. We all felt it. The kids didn’t want anything to do with hanging outside come dusk, not even on the porch. Once we were done grilling we all just went in and holed up in the house. There weren’t any shades or curtains on the windows on the first floor and it got really creepy at night. I felt like we were being watched. 

“I know that might sound like I’m trying to make it seem extra spooky, but that’s just what it felt like. Diane agreed. And with the way the kids were acting, they agreed too.

“Then one morning we were down at the lake and the kids were jumping off the dock and Robbie started waving towards the woods. He yelled something like, ‘We can’t play now. Maybe later.’ I looked over and there wasn’t anyone there. ‘Who you talking to, buddy?’ I asked him. He looked at me and then back to the woods but he didn’t say anything. He just jumped back into the water. I didn’t think much of it until I caught Dana watching the whole interaction. She looked, well, scared. 

“That afternoon I had a Zoom call for work with a couple of the guys on my team so Diane took the kids out on the trail behind the house. I was set up at the kitchen table and the call had just started when I heard the back door open. I assumed one of the kids came back to use the bathroom. I was staring at the screen when I saw…” Steve trailed off. He rubbed his face with both hands and shook his head. 

“There was a little girl. I watched her on the screen walk through the kitchen and right up behind me. I honestly thought it was one of the kids’ new friends. I actually smiled and held up a finger to let her know I’d be with her in a minute because I was in the middle of explaining something about a deal. But as soon as I was done I turned around there was no one there. I checked the house, no little girl. The thing that really shook me was that the back door was locked. Dead bolted actually.”

“Oh no. Did any of the people see her-”

“On the Zoom?” Steve finished. “No.”

“Shivers. As if we needed another reason to hate Zoom calls.”

“So true,” he laughed. “I convinced myself that it was a weird fluke, though. What else was I going to do? I didn’t tell Diane when they got back from their woods walk, but then that night she went sleepwalking.”

“Uh uh.”

“Yeah. She woke me up in the middle of the night in an absolute panic. She said she’d been dreaming that there was a little girl in our room. That the girl told her she had to show her something in the woods. In the dream the girl asked her to come with her. She followed her out of the house back to the trail. And that’s where she woke up.”

“Oh my God, no.”

“Yeah. She cut her foot pretty badly on a rock and it woke her up. She’d made it pretty deep back into those woods and apparently it took her forever to limp back to the house. She said it felt like she was being watched the whole way back.” 

“Was it the same girl?”

“You know it. At least when Diane told me about the girl in her dream the description matched the little girl I saw behind me on the Zoom call.”

I let out a low whistle. “So you packed up and left the house.” 

Steve chuckled. “I am very sorry to say that we did not. Oh man, saying it all out loud sounds like we were the dummies in a bad horror movie. But you know how crazy things have been. Everyone’s been having vivid weird dreams during this whole quarantine business began and we felt like maybe we were just decompressing from the stress of the past few months.”

“I do kind of get that, though if I come-to in the woods in the middle of the night I’m packing it in there and then. But yeah, I have been having wicked vivid dreams for months,” I admitted. “Last night a group of these very hip, sorta fashionable killers for hire were chasing me through a mall and then-“ I stopped myself.  “Sorry. That’s boring. Go on.”

“No, I’ve had some doozies over the past couple of months, too. Still, we should have left that cabin, but we didn’t. We chalked it up to stress-“

“Even though it was the same little girl.”

“Again, I know we sound like dumb dumbs, but yes. Even though it appeared we’d encountered the same little girl, we didn’t leave. We did, however, line up empty White Claw cans in front of the kids’ doors after they went to bed so we’d be sure to hear if they tried to leave their rooms in the middle of the night.”

“Brilliant.”

“The idea of them out in those woods at night, let alone down by the water.” He shuddered. 

“So you just pressed on with your vacation.” 

“We did. The morning after Diane’s sleepwalking episode, was a rainy one. I was cleaning up my email. The kids were playing with their Legos in the sunroom and I was at the kitchen table so I could hear snippets of their conversation. At least… well I know for a fact that I heard two voices talking back and forth. I was only half listening but then something stood out. I heard Robbie say something about “drowning children” and that caught my attention. I stopped what I was doing and listened. 

“He said something like, “Breathing in the water feels like tiny knives through your chest but then everything will go very still and you can see and you can hear but you can’t feel anything. Then you’ll begin to know things.” 

I stood up to go look in on them but movement outside the window caught my eye. It was Diane and Dana. They were wheeling the bikes into the garage to get them out of the rain. I hadn’t heard them go out so I just assumed they were inside with us.

I went into the sunroom and found Robbie in there all alone with his Legos. When he looked up and saw me standing there he looked scared.

“‘Who were you talking to?’ I asked. His eyes moved to the doorway and he didn’t speak for a minute. ‘Robert, I asked you a question.’ He looked back at me and said, ‘Nobody, daddy. It was just pretend.

“‘Where did you hear about drowning?’ I asked, and then he really looked frightened. But then Diane and Dana walked in so he didn’t answer. I told Diane about it later on and she sort of dismissed it saying, ‘You know how weird kids can be.’ I let it go but it was such a disturbing thing for him to be talking about while he was playing. And so specific.

“That night I was tucked in reading and Diane was washing her face and getting ready for bed. I must have started to doze off because I half woke up when I felt Diane get into bed beside me and crawl under the covers and everything. I fell back to sleep and then the next thing I know I hear Diane scream. 

“The most disorienting thing was that from the sound I could tell she was downstairs. I looked over and the blanket was pulled up on her side of the bed perfectly, like she hadn’t been there at all. I ran to the hallway and found her at the bottom of the stairs heading up to me. 

“‘There’s someone outside,’ she said. Well, whispered really. Somehow her screaming hadn’t woken up the kids. We checked outside, all around the house. There wasn’t anyone there. It wouldn’t make sense for there to be anyways, all the way down that dirt road at night. 

“But Diane insisted that she saw someone standing in the back yard right in front of the trail into the woods. She’d been checking all the doors before bed to make sure they were locked and something triggered the back flood lights so she went to look, thinking it was a moose or deer or something. 

“But it was a kid, a little girl. The little girl. We looked and looked but didn’t find anything or anyone. We went up to bed, fully on edge and I only thought to ask her why she’d gotten back out of bed to check when we were laying down. 

“She hadn’t. She hadn’t gotten in bed at all. She’d gone down to check the doors one more time before turning in. I couldn’t convinced myself that I’d been dreaming. I know I felt someone climb into that bed beside me. And it wasn’t my wife. 

“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We let the kids go for one more swim the next morning, packed up and went home. They didn’t protest at all, that was the clincher for me. It was time to go and we all knew it.”

“Geez, Steve, that is one nightmare of a vacation. Definitely beats the New Years Eve I found lice in the girls hair and we had to pack up and leave a ski resort.”

Steve gave an exaggerated shiver. “No thanks. I’d take the ghost girl over that anyday.”

“I wonder what she wanted.”

He shrugged. “Who knows, maybe she lived there years ago. It bothers me though, thinking about her. I’m still not sleeping well. The whole experience left me with nightmares. I wake up at least twice a night thinking I hear that little girl telling me to ‘wake up.’”

“Oh no.”

“I dream about her a lot too.”

“What are the dreams about?”

“Oh nothing, talking about dreams is boring, right?” He said with a nervous laugh.

“Not always.”

“Hm. Well, I dream about following her down that trail through the woods. She always says, ‘We’re almost there. You’ll find us.’”

“Is that it?” I asked, though my eyes shifted across the street, my attention again pulled by the neighbor kids. 

Steve shook his head. “Sometimes. But the worst nights are the ones I dream of the hole in the ground.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

“Yeah, it looks like it might have been a sinkhole. She stands there and points to it and says, ‘We promised him we wouldn’t tell. We’ll say it was an accident.’” Steve stared at the dog as though he’s not really seeing him. “And then I wake up.” 

A car sped by and one of the children began crossing the street towards us. 

“What does she look like?”

“The little girl? Well, she has dark skin and black hair. She’s probably about six or seven. Cute.”

The six or seven year old little girl had made it across the street and was approaching us. The neighbor kids didn’t appear to notice that she’d walked out of their yard and away from their game.   

Steve turned his head and looked in the direction I was staring. “Cute kids, are your girls friends with them?”

When he turned back I met his eyes. “Remember when you asked me if there were any ghosts around?”

His expression changed from pleasant confusion to realization and his face fell. 

“Can you see me?” The little girl with black hair asked. 

I nodded. 

“You can hear me too?”

“I can.”

“He keeps shutting me out,” she complained. 

“He doesn’t know he has the ability to talk to you yet,” I explained to her. 

“Tell him.”

“You’re speaking to her aren’t you?” Steve asked. 

I pressed my lips together. 

“What is she saying?”

“This isn’t the first time this has happened to you is it?” I asked.

He rubbed his eyes. “It’s like I was saying, when I was younger… I mean, I grew out of it.”

“But you didn’t,” I said gently. 

“Tell him we need to go back to the lake. We’ve waited long enough, the boys and I. We need to be brought up.”

Let’s head way back in time. Before we met the three witches of Wellesley, before the knocking in my home, long before I was hearing voices and seeing ghosts. What follows is one of the earliest interviews I conducted and I’ve held it back because the interviewee asked me to do so – until recently. 

I bumped into her when I was out walking a couple of our dogs this week. 

Pulling a handkerchief up over her mouth and nose she said, “You’re moving again? I can’t believe it!”

We caught up and compared notes over our kids’ remote school experiences, agreeing that the teachers were knocking it out of the park and our kids had adjusted as well as could be expected though we were hanging on by a thread.

“Hey, do you still have the recording of that interview I did with you?”

I did have it. 

“You should publish it. Especially now. I’m seeing way too many ads on social media trying to rope people into businesses like Summer Figure, using the whole ‘work from home’ hook. Granted I used the money I made selling that crap to leave Michael. But I left that company when I found out how awful it was for the majority of women who sign on.”

“You guys split up?”

Her eyes smiled. “Officially divorced as of about three weeks ago.”  

“That’s great!” I enthused, then realized I sounded too happy. “I mean, sorry to hear that.”

“It’s the best decision I ever made. Anyway, release that interview if you need content. It feels like a different life, maybe it would help someone from spinning their wheels as long as I did. Just change my name, okay?”

Okay.

But it didn’t feel that simple. My anxiety began to spike when I thought back to the moment in time in which I interviewed Rachel Dalton. Back then the kids were little, I had a job as a part-time librarian, a relatively new group of friends and who I did fun things like dinner parties and girl’s nights and concerts – all of which usually centered around drinking or shopping or talking about dieting. In truth, I was sort of regressing. Dipping into the toolbox I’d built for myself in high school and running myself ragged to “have fun!” And making sure everyone around me was having fun! Which meant shopping and spending and buying and vacationing to ensure that other people approved of the way I was “having fun!”  

Fuuuck. It’s exhausting to even type it out.

Truth was I was a bundle of anxious nerves and I was probably incredibly annoying to be around, A) because I was so desperately needy to the point of utter co-dependance and B) because I drank excessively to calm myself the fuck down and that never worked so I was usually hung over and cranky or wasted and a loud mess. Oof. It’s hard to remember that time without serious twinges of embarrassment and regret. 

I’ve actually written the good part of a book called The Wine Lies about that time in my life. As in “here are ten lies The Wine whispers in your ear that are difficult to spot but easy to fall for.” Who knows if it will ever see the light of day but it helped me to process everything. 

Anyway, I’m rambling because to go back into that time, that flailing scramble, that anxiety soaked day-to-day brings up a lot of stuff for me. 

But, go back we must so you will understand the entirety of Rachel’s story. 

So… Rachel. The first time I met her was at a cocktail party at her house that involved plenty of cocktails but wasn’t really a party, it was more of a ‘get drunk and buy stuff from my direct sales business. Rachel was a #bossmom. I was invited to the evening through a friend who sorta knew her through Wellesley Mothers Forum and thought we should go for the free drinks and the fact that there would be a raffle for a pair of what sounded to me like knock-off Spanks. 

So I pulled on my name brand Spanks, downed an Atkins Shake (because I was deep into disordered eating at that point in my life and swimming in a social scene that normalized it), chased the chemical wash down with half a glass of Chardonnay and left the kids with Chris, all fuzzy warm with the knowledge that I’d have a sober ride home from a friend who had to work the next day.

We arrived at a mansion styled as a Cape House complete with window lined cupolas, whale topped weather vanes, and weathered wood shingles. It was the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week and the landscapers had outdone themselves, strategically placing autumnal gatherings of cornstalks, pumpkins and other such stuff along the walk to the front door. The porch was a freaking riot of white pumpkins. A fall-themed Pinterest board come to life. 

Anyhow, we mingled and ooh’d and ahh’d over the home’s interior design though secretly I felt like it looked like every other massive home I’d seen in the neighborhood. The furniture and art were beautiful, but like it’s Pinterest board exterior, the inside looked a little too staged. Anyone could have lived there, the home’s inhabitants’ personalities were nowhere to be found. I spotted the hostess several times, her head thrown back in laughter or her brow furrowed in concentration, arms crossed, head nodding along in an aggressive active listening stance. Finally the time came for the real reason for the party. 

Ting, Ting, Ting. “Ladies!” Rachel sang out and she tapped a fork against her goblet of red wine. “Ladies! Can I please ask you hotties to gather around in the den. I won’t take more than a moment of your time to tell you about my little entrepreneurial debut.”

The chatter died down a smidge.

Ting-Ting-Ting-Ting-Ting. “Ladies! It won’t be more than a moment! I am so excited to share the products and the opportunity with you!” 

Those of us who’d quieted down had tight smiles plastered on our faces, feeling empathic embarrassment for our hostess. 

A bark of laughter followed by titters came from the kitchen island. 

“Kelly Mosler,” Rachel boomed. “Why don’t you lead the charge.” 

The woman who caused the ruckus while ignoring the hostess’s requests blushed and led the way into the den, the rest of us giggling along behind her. 

Women settled into couches and chairs and sat on the floor listening as our hostess extolled the virtues of Summer Figure, a “wellness system” that combined a “breakthrough” protein powder meal replacement regime with a waist tightening undergarment “proven to melt off stubborn baby weight and improve posture.” Something was mentioned about improved circulation and adrenal glands too. I don’t know, I was pretty tipsy by that point. True to her word Rachel kept it short and sweet and left us wanting more. I bought the diamond level package and was about to sign on to be a Junior Team Member when Anne, who’d driven me to the party, gently put a hand on my arm and said, “Liz, no.”

I spoke to Rachel for a while that evening. She was quite interested in the interviews I’d just begun and even asked if she could buy an ad spot on the blog. I gave her my email and she promised to get in touch.

Nothing of note happened that night. It was an evening stored in a file of many similar ones in my past when a lot of money was spent on useless shit, a ton of wine was guzzled to drown out ever present anxiety, and surface relationships were forged that went only as deep as the next good time.   

But I know I made a connection with Rachel that night. Even if it was a shallow one in which she saw me as a person who could advertise her powders and corsets. By the way, that powder tasted fine enough but made me so bloated I needed the damn “waist tightening garment” just to fit into my jeans until I stopped drinking the stuff. 

At any rate I did speak with Rachel for a good amount of time and we exchanged emails. 

That’s why it was so odd when, about a week later I received this message:

Hello Liz,

Our mutual friend, [name omitted], shared your email address with me and suggested that I get in touch with you regarding a situation I am currently facing. I don’t want to go into depth over email, but if I might treat you to a cup of coffee at Starbucks some morning this week I would be endlessly appreciative. Any advice you could offer would be so appreciated. Thank you in advance for your time. Looking forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely, 

Rachel Dalton

Weird, right? At first I assumed she’d just forgotten meeting me, that perhaps she’d had a bit too much to drink at her party, but then… I’d ordered her products, surely she would have recognized my name from her customer list? My inbox had been inundated with Summer Figure emails morning and night since I’d attended that party. Regardless, I was intrigued. 

So what exactly was this “out of the ordinary situation” she needed my advice about? As I mentioned this was very early on in my whole paranormal journey. Not only did I have no idea what I was getting myself into, I had no business offering anyone advice. A) Because drinking close to a bottle of wine a night does not a good advice giver make and B) I wasn’t taking this whole supernatural stuff seriously yet. I was still in looky-loo mode, talking to people about their very real problems as if I were watching a reality television show. 

Despite my dangerous ignorance, I was excited for the chance to interview Rachel. I texted my friend Anne, with whom I’d attended the cocktail party, and asked for intel. The gist of her reply was that Rachel ran hot or cold and she made me swear I wouldn’t agree to be a part of Rachel’s “downline.” She also said she’d thrown out all of the protein powder she bought because it made her break out.  

And so I met up with Rachel on a quintessential chilly New England morning just after Thanksgiving at Quebrada. I bought myself a slice of pumpkin bread and a large cup of hazelnut coffee and sat at a table near the back of the cafe waiting for Rachel who turned up fifteen minutes late. 

I barely recognized her as she pushed through the door a frazzled, anxious, apologetic mess. Absolutely nothing like the grab-privileged-life-by-the-balls woman I’d met just a week earlier.  

“Hi? Liz?” She rushed over to me and I nodded and waved.

“Oh my God, oh my God! I am so so so so sorry.” Rachel dragged the chair out across from me and gently took a seat as if she were in pain. “I got stuck in a conversation with my youngest son’s teacher..”

“It’s really no problem,” I assured her. “I was happy to sit here and enjoy my coffee.”

“Oh shoot! I’m sorry, I was supposed to treat you to coffee! Ugh. We’re just worried that Jack isn’t hitting all of his milestones. He’s three and he’s identifying only about seventy-five percent of his letters, I just don’t know…”

“That’s pretty outstanding for pre-K,” I offered, feeling a smidge triggered as my own three and a half year old had only recently begun speaking, and even then it was in catch all terms like “ka-duh” which had to be interpreted on a case by case basis.

Rachel shrugged and shook her head. “We just don’t want him falling behind before he’s even hit kindergarten, you know?”

“Sure. You want to grab a coffee before we talk?”

“Oh I couldn’t make you wait any longer,” she insisted.

“I have to pee anyways,” I said. “Go grab a drink, I’ll meet you back here.”

“Oh my God, thank you. I only had half a cup before running out of the house and I feel like a zombie.”

Back at the table Rachel shoved a plate of miniature blueberry scones towards me, “Help yourself!”

As I did she burst out with a litany of apologies again over being late that morphed into a confession that she was so relieved that I seemed to be “normal.” Her friend told her about me and “totally only had positive things to say about me and everything” but she still worried that I’d be weird.

“Umm-” I said stalling, absolutely shocked that she truly had zero memory of talking to me at her house. 

“I mean, no offence,” she prattled on, “I’m sorry. I’m just nervous. And relieved! Relieved that you seem so nice.”

 I shifted uncomfortably. I had to mention meeting her, if I didn’t all the weirdness would crash back onto me for not saying something if it ever came out that not only had I been to her house and that I’d ordered her crappy protein powder stuff. 

“So, the thing is, we’ve already met.”

Rachel froze. Like froze froze. A look of sheer panic on her face. And then her eyes began to fill with tears. 

“It is no big deal at all!” I assured ehr quickly. “You had so many people at your house for that awesome cocktail party. I just didn’t want it to be awkward if you realized later or, whatever, that we’d met!” 

She wiped at her eyes quickly. “Which party?”

“Uh, the one you had at your house last week where you told us about your Summer Body business.”

“Did I sell you that crap?” Her voice was shrill. 

I nodded.

Rachel covered her face with her hands. Her voice muffled, she wailed, “Oh my God, oh my God. This had grown so out of control. What am I going to do?” 

I glanced around us to see if anyone was watching her meltdown. They were.

“I’m guessing this has something to do with why you asked me to meet you here?”

She scrubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands and sniffled. “It has everything to do with why I asked you to meet me.” 

“Okay…”

“I went to this weekend retreat in New Hampshire. I was… I don’t know what I was trying to do. I guess I just wanted some sort of direction, you know? Like, I love my children but I just needed something other than momming in my life, right?”

“I totally get that,” I assured her.

“So I saw this flyer at my pilates studio for an ‘empowerment weekend’ last Spring and I figured that it might be exactly what I was looking for. It was a chance to totally detox from everything – the booze, the cell phone, the carbs – and get realigned. I was hoping for some kind of revelation, I think. Like a sign that said, ‘This, this is the thing you are meant to be doing.’

“I am totally grateful for everything in my life, I don’t know… I just wanted something meaningful but I didn’t know what it was supposed to be.”

I nodded in understanding. 

“I know better than to do things like that. After what happened at yoga… it’s just that I know I can’t get too focused or I lose control of it. So I signed up for the retreat weekend and-”

“Wait, why can’t you do yoga?”

“Oh, yeah… so, like I have this thing? Where I’m sort of really, like powerful when I put all of my focus on something.”

I waited for her to elaborate. Instead she broke off a piece of scone and popped it into her mouth. 

“Powerful how?” I prompted. 

She smiled. “My grandmother was really witchy, you know? At least that’s what we called what she could do. Like she could predict the weather, or knew when something big was going to happen. Oof, and God help you if you ever got on her bad side. One time I took gum from her purse without asking and that night I broke out with a case of hives like you wouldn’t believe. 

“Anyhow, I sort of inherited her way of being able to, like affect things.” 

“That is unbelievable, how cool. But what happened when you did yoga?”

Rachel crossed her arms. “It was completely unintentional, honestly. I’d only taken a few classes and I hadn’t had any issues, but after a few sessions I got really good at totally zoning out during Savasana and when I’m really in a state like that I tend to affect the people around me. It’s like… well it’s like my mood or whatever spreads out, like I’m contagious. The good thing was that everyone else in the class ended up in a pure state of relaxation for like three hours before we all came out of it. But the bad thing was that, you know, people had things to do. They couldn’t just zone for three hours. They had to like, pick up their kids or get back to work after class.”

Stunned, I asked, “How do you know you made that happen?”
She shrugged again. “Stuff like that just happens to me. Which is why I should have known better than to go to the retreat, but I swear, I thought it would just be like clean eating and journaling. I had no idea we’d be doing intention setting or visualization or anything.”

“Uh oh.” 

“Yeah, and since then things have gotten really… weird.” She took a sip of her coffee. “That’s why I reached out. I need help reeling this ability or whatever back in. What do you think I should do.”

“Did that yoga relaxation thing happen again at the retreat?”

“No, no. I don’t do yoga anymore. At the retreat I sort of created an alternate me. I mean not another me, really, but there’s a part of me that I can’t control. And I need to know how to control it because it’s taking over everything. I am literally blacking out and doing things that I have zero memory of and if I don’t find a way to stop it people are going to start noticing.”

“What the hell happened at that retreat?”

Rachel’s shoulders slumped miserably. “Okay. So the retreat was held in this breathtaking little camp on a lake… ugh, for the life of me I can’t remember what the hell the name of the place was. That’s another thing. I can’t remember anything lately. Anyway, there were about twenty women there. Three of them were our leadership counselors and the whole theme of the weekend was creating your ideal self. We did all these exercises and group discussions The whole first day was designed to really get down to the way your life wasn’t working, know what I mean? Like down to the amount of time you were spending on social media, or if you needed to change your hair color. They wanted you to list every single thing you were unhappy with in your life, even the littlest things that irked you and then we were supposed to think about what the opposite of those shitty things were.”

“Sounds nice. Sorta like KonMari-ing your life.”

“Yeah totally. But it wasn’t just surface stuff. Shit I’m not explaining myself well.”

“What were some of the things you wanted to change?” I asked to keep her on track. 

“I wanted more than the groundhog day of getting the kids up and fed and dropped off and picked up and entertained… more than just worrying about my weight and my next hair appointment and whether my Botox needed to be retouched. I wanted more.”

“What did you do before you had kids?” I asked. 

“I was a business manager for a designer for a while and then, I don’t know, just some stuff here and there, but nothing meaningful. Back then it was like I was just killing time until I got married and had kids and then I went and got married and had kids and, like oh my God I love them so so so much and I adore being a mom, but it’s just…” She scrunched her eyes closed. “I must sound like a monster.”

“Not at all. I one hundred percent get what you’re saying. You needed something fulfilling outside of motherhood.”

“Oh my God, exactly. Yes! Thank you! Something fulfilling outside of motherhood,” she repeated trying it on for herself. “That’s just what I should say to Michael. I can’t make him understand. He jst all, ‘What’s the problem? You’ve got a nanny so you can work out and drink coffee all day.” She laughed humorlessly. 

“Anyway, what was I saying about the retreat? Oh yeah. So the first day was a disassembling of our lives. We tried to think of all the little bits and bots that make up our days and why we either wanted to keep them or kick ‘em to the curb.

“Then the second day we began by deleting those things from our consciousness that no longer served us and in the afternoon we affirmed everything we believed would lead us to our best lives.”

“Geez, how did you manage to do that?” I asked, thinking of the many many bits and bots I’d like to can. 

“Meditation and then a couple hours of visualization.”

“Hours?”

“Uh huh, the entire afternoon was spent in a silent visualization session.” 

“Holy hell I would lose my mind.” 

Rachel considered. “It was actually nice. All that uninterrupted quiet and imagining what could be.” 

“Can I ask what you visualized?” 

She smiled sadly. “I was really smart once. I was a finance and entrepreneurship double major and I graduated with honors. Ha. Actually, I was Michael’s accounting tutor, that’s how we met. He wouldn’t have graduated without me.

“Now he’s got this amazing career and I’m taking pilates classes and driving the kids to tumbling.” She paused. “That’s not true. I don’t even drive them, the nanny does.”

“None of that disappeared,” I said, gently. “You’re still smart, you still have that degree. And you might not remember doing it, but you were kicking ass pretty hard at that cocktail party, every single person there bought something from you.”

Rachel flushed in embarrassment. “Oh my God, I can’t believe I did that.”

“I’m telling you, everyone seemed into it. I was pretty tipsy but you almost had me convinced to join your team. Be grateful I didn’t. I was a history major in college and I failed math 101 twice.”

She laughed. “God. If I just hadn’t gone to that retreat none of this would have happened.”

“So what exactly did happen?”

“I visualized a life where I was free. To do what I wanted and spend what I wanted and make my own decisions.” She caught the look of confusion on my face. “I know I look like I have all of that, but it’s sort of an illusion. Like, the way I think of it is that Michael is rich, the boys and I are like his employees. I’m middle management, so I get to make decisions for them but not much else. He only gives me money for what he deems essential. Of course, he’s super generous, he gives me way more than I need for groceries and house bills, he’s not restrictive. Like, he considers it essential that I don’t ‘let myself go,’ so any and every exercise class, spa treatment, shopping trip for clothes or bags is game. I need to look good, you know? I’m a reflection of him, of his success.  

“But other stuff that I’ve wanted to do in the past, he just won’t greenlight. Like there was this course I wanted to take over at Babson and… ugh, it got ugly. I finally gave up.

“Whatever. What I think happened at that empowerment weekend released a part of my personality and then it took on a mind of its own. At first I would find myself in the middle of doing things that I didn’t remember starting. Like, I’d realize I was scrolling through business opportunities for stay at home moms. It was like, one minute I was on the Nordstrom site filling my cart and the next thing I know I’m on some woman’s blog.

“Then little chunks of time got fuzzy and I started getting emails from people I didn’t have any recollection of reaching out to. They were filled with responses to a laundry list of questions about their home-based businesses. Then one day I opened my email to a flurry of these Congratulations messages about becoming the newest member of the Summer Figure Team. After I read through them it did seem like something I could do, you know? I have a really big network.

“But when I realized I’d spent fifteen hundred dollars to become a bronze level #bossmom I literally had a panic attack. Where the hell did I come up with the money? I have a separate account from Michael and he transfers money into it every month for the expenses I outline for him. I spiraled out when I saw how much it cost to join this business. Like, did I spend the grocery money? How was I going to pay my car bill? 

“But when I checked my account I found that somehow I was able to cover all the bills. I went back through the statement and saw that I had cancelled a bunch of subscriptions and memberships and I’m pretty sure I skimped on groceries a couple weeks because it didn’t appear that I had a shortfall anywhere. 

“I managed to game the system.” Rachel smiled. “I was sort of impressed with myself, even though it completely freaked me out. But then time started to go from a little fuzzy here and there to completely gone. I lost hours. But somehow no one seemed to even notice. It was like everyone just went along with whatever the hell I was doing. The part of me that broke off was managing my life and I just went dark.

“It’s really scary. When I wake back up to my life I don’t remember anything. Not the time with the kids, not all the sales that I’m racking up. It took me forever to realize that I’d started jogging again. I was sore to the point I thought I had some sort of disease before I recognized the feeling from way back when I was too poor to afford a gym membership in my twenties. Squats, pushups and running. Apparently, I went back to my old workout routine so I can save the money on memberships.”

“And your whole Summer Figure business, you don’t have any recollection of it?”

“None. But you know what? I haven’t been able to tell anyone this, and I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging because I can’t really take any credit for it, but I’ve managed to get pretty high up the pyra-, wait I guess we’re not supposed to call it that. I’ve climbed the ladder rather quickly. I’m a top tier sales team member.”

“No way. You should be proud even if you can’t remember any of it.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know how much longer I can hide all of this from Michael.”

“So he doesn’t know anything?”

She shook her head. “No. And he can’t find out.”

“How did you manage to throw that party?”

“He was on a golf weekend.”

“It was a Tuesday.”

Anger flashed across her eyes, but she smiled and said, “He just loves his golf.”

“Wow. What are you going to do?”

She looked at me as if I’d just slapped her. “That’s what I was hoping you could tell me.”

It was my turn to look horrified. “I don’t know. Maybe just talk to your husband and explain what’s happened-”

“No! If he finds out I’ve been hiding this from him… oh my God if he found out the amount of money I’ve made? And kept it from him? I could lose everything.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, okay? But, like, your problem doesn’t feel too mystical to me. Would you ever consider going to a therapist?”

“Michael doesn’t believe in-”

“I’m not saying he should try it, you should. You’re making money, right? You could pay for it without him knowing. I could give you the name of my therapist, she is so kind and understanding. Maybe she could-”

“I thought you would have some like, psychic or magical person for me to go to so I could get my chakras managed or something!”

I shook my head. 

Tears rolled down Rachel’s cheeks. She closed her eyes for the briefest of moments and when she opened them something had shifted. She didn’t look so frightened. She brushed the tears away calmly and smoothed her hair. 

“It was really nice of you to meet with me.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t-” “Not at all! This was super helpful and informative.” Rachel’s bright smile contrasted with her bloodshot eyes. “Now, enough about me. How are you liking your meal replacement powder, you chose pumpkin spice flavor right? It’s my favorite too.”