unnamed-2

 

Before our story, an old fireside tale:

In a dark, dark wood, there was a dark, dark house.

And in that dark, dark house, there was a dark, dark room.

And in that dark, dark room, there was a dark, dark cupboard.

And in that dark, dark cupboard there was a dark, dark shelf.

And on that dark, dark shelf, there was a dark, dark box.

And in that dark, dark box, there was –

something unspeakable.

 

Chris and I dragged the girls up to Lake Winnipesaukee over Columbus day weekend. I’d booked a quaint VRBO online but when we drove up to the small home Chris refused to step inside. He insisted it looked like a good place to get strangled. I’m telling you, he doesn’t do creepy. We didn’t stay there – of course, we paid for it, we just ghosted.

Instead we found a room at the two-hundred year old Wolfeboro Inn, which I thought was fantastic. Chris didn’t sleep. Nothing in particular happened, he just convinced himself that the place was haunted. Our second night in town we stayed at a sort of condo community right on the lake. It being October and “off season” the vacation town was quiet. That night I took a turn not sleeping. I was certain no one would hear us scream when the undead backwoodsmen broke in and dragged us down to the lake.

I know, we’re quite the adventurous travelers. Despite the accommodations kerfuffle we loved the lake and had been looking forward to visiting again next summer. We were even big talking about how great it would be to buy our own lake house.

That is, until I spoke with Jane. The week after we returned I mentioned our trip as I was restocking shelves in the food pantry. As it turned out, Jane had a whopper of a story about the lake. It was so disturbing, in fact, that there is no chance in hell I’ll ever go back there. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I’ll ever step foot in New Hampshire again.

 

***

 

Though we’ve worked together almost every Monday at the food pantry for the past three years I haven’t spent much time with Jane outside of our volunteering. So I invited her over to the house for tea to tell me her story.

“Oh, wow,” Jane breathed as she entered my kitchen.

I’m so used to my house that I tend to forget it is a lot to take in upon first glance. Our last house was all grey. Grey walls, grey pillows, grey furniture grey blankets, grey everything. It was nice and all, but with this new home, a little yellow Cape Cod, I couldn’t bring myself to grey everything out again. And so the pendulum swung real hard in the other direction. The house is a hodge podge of color. The walls in my kitchen and dining room are covered in lime green leopard print wallpaper (there’s oversized navy blue zebra print wallpaper in the powder room) and the butcher block countertops in the kitchen don’t match, I liked both stains so I did one on the island and another on the counters. The mud room ceiling is painted a bright pink called Strawberry Shortcake. My office is lined in a colorful floral wallpaper that I’ve nicknamed, “Oh, Nana.” There is a cozy emerald green wingback chair with a matching footstool in the living room. There are pink garden stools and blue and white Oriental vases and lamps and cheetah print carpeting. Kids art and toys everywhere and so are Walter and Artie (the dogs). I admit it, it’s a lot.

In addition to the kaleidoscope that sort of smacks you over the head, the art in my dining room is, at first glance at least, unsettling. It’s a painting of a woman from the neck down in a blue and white striped 1950s house dress and sparkly high heels. Her bejeweled arm hangs at her side casually grasping an axe. The artist, Kelly Reemsten, created a whole line of paintings of women in gorgeous dresses holding different household tools or climbing step ladders, doing traditionally masculine activities as they glow with femininity. They’re really quite beautiful. This one with the axe just spoke to me.

“Too much?” I asked Jane.

“No, no,” she insisted. “Let me just get my bearings.”

I gave her the short tour of the first floor and explained the renovations we’d had done since moving in a year and a half prior.

“So that’s the Clubhouse up there?” She asked when we wandered back into the kitchen.

I nodded and filled mugs with hot water from the Poland Spring bubbler.

“Can I take a peek?”

She climbed about halfway up the ladder. “I don’t get it,” she called down to me. “How in the hell did someone get up there without you noticing?”

“Chris thinks it must have happened during that little block party, which is just about the creepiest explanation because that means we know the person who put it there.”

Jane hopped down and accepted a mug from me. “Have you set up cameras?”

I shook my head.

“You’d better. Even if just one outside the front and back doors. You have an alarm system, right? Just call ADT and ask them to set up a couple motion triggered cameras.”

She had a point. “That’s not a bad idea. I know I should do it, but actually catching someone really freaks me out.”

“Do you think it was, like a paranormal phenomena?”

I smiled. “No. Ghosts don’t use paint and duct tape.”

“Scary,” Jane said, staring up at the space.

“Come on, let’s sit in the living room,” I suggested. “I’m dying to hear your ghost story.”

We sat in deep navy blue chairs angled to face one another. In-between which was a window overlooking our tiny back yard. I flipped the switch on my digital recorder and placed it on the green lacquer tray atop the large circular wicker table in front of us.

“Cozy room,” Jane commented.

“Thanks,”I replied. “So… what happened at the lake?”

She took a small sip of her tea and then placed the mug on the tray to cool. “You know, I’ve wanted to tell someone about this for a long time, but Paul felt it was safer to keep it a secret. But after reading your blog…” She trailed off.

“It’s crazy how many people have stories,” I offered.

“The cabin has always been there, a bad memory right in the back of my mind and when you mentioned you’d brought your family to the lake it all came back to me,” she shivered. “Listen, you can’t ever go there again, alright? To the lake, I mean. It isn’t safe.”

“What the hell happened?” I asked nervously.

“We inherited a house from my great uncle Frank. I barely knew the man. I was probably, I don’t know maybe four or five years old the last time I saw him. He had some sort of a falling out with my mother. She never told me what it was about, but they stopped speaking at some point and then he fell out of our lives. Until his lawyer called to tell me that I was the sole beneficiary of his will.

“I was only twenty-five years old. Paul and I had just gotten married and then about a month later I found out that a forgotten uncle left me a really nice little sum of money. It was like something out of a fairy tale. And then there was the house,” Jane leaned forward to retrieve her tea cup. She quietly held it in her hands for a moment before taking a small sip. “I don’t know if it is just hindsight, but I knew that house was trouble the second I found out it would be mine. The money was thrilling, of course, but the house? ‘You will take possession the property on Winnipesaukee and everything residing upon it,’ the lawyer told me as though I’d better not argue the point.

“I’d never been up to the lake. Paul had though, his family had spent a week there on summer vacation when he was ten and he remembered it fondly.  

“We picked up my check and the keys to the cabin at the lawyer’s office in Boston. At the time we were living in the Back Bay, you know before it was a good idea to live in the Back Bay. You wouldn’t believe the rats,” she shivered again. “The idea of a cozy cabin on the lake was an impossible luxury. Something for real adults, not us.

“And so, we drove up north and I felt, I don’t know, I think I was overwhelmed with the possibility of it all. But Paul was so excited. He kept saying, ‘Can you believe it? Our own vacation house?’ He began to jokingly call me Buffy and refer to himself as Chaz. The ride up was beautiful, late October and perfect for leaf-peeping. The house was in a town called Wolfeboro.”

“That’s where we stayed!” I said, excitedly.

“You were at the Inn, right?”

I nodded.

“It’s safe enough there, I suppose with all the people around. But it chills me to think that you were there with your children,” Jane said darkly. “You didn’t go into the woods at all did you?”

Guiltily I admitted that we had taken a few steps down a trail but turned back when we realized the girls weren’t into it.

“Thank God for that. Those dark woods,” she looked down at her cup. “You know what? I actually dreamed of those woods last week, it would have been right before you were to go up to the lake. It likes to remind me that it’s there. Wouldn’t it have just loved for you to stay at that cabin,” she said more to herself than to me.

“What would have loved us to stay?” I asked, spooked.

Jane gathered herself, and ignoring my question, she continued, “It took us a few shots before we found the narrow dirt road that was a sort of driveway to the cabin and by the time we did it was dark out. The entrance was overgrown and there was no mailbox to mark the address, we only had the lawyer’s terse directions to go by.

“The driveway was about half a mile long, and the woods to either side had almost completely overtaken it. I wish I could describe to you just how dark it was. Trees closed in overhead and there was no room between our tiny Volkswagon and the forest to either side, branches and brambles scraped along the car. Halfway down the road I desperately wanted to turn around but that would have been impossible. We didn’t even know if we were on the right path, we just had to keep moving forward hoping the path would end. Finally, we emerged from the woods and there was the lake, black and huge right in front of us. The day had been cloudy so there was no moonlight or stars to offer any illumination. The driveway curved and then the high beams lit on the house.”

Jane looked out the window at my little fenced in back yard and the little red house directly beyond that with it’s own little fenced in yard. She said, “It’s good to have neighbors so close. Seclusion is dangerous. The cabin was secluded. The second I saw that house, sitting alone in those awful woods, I knew. I knew in my heart that the place was bad. Paul did too, but he made a joke about Freddy Krueger and I forced a laugh and pushed aside my fear.

“There wasn’t anything particularly strange about the house. It was a small one-story cabin that faced the lake. It had been painted dark brown, which just added to the gloom, though there was a row of small rectangular windows set high up along the back wall that let a modest amount of light inside during the day.

“We got out of the car and I actually felt unsafe. I said so. It was as though we were being watched. Paul said we were city slickers and would have to get used to the quiet. He  grabbed a couple things from the trunk and we approached the house. The key that the lawyer had given me didn’t work, someone had poured liquid cement in the keyhole. It didn’t matter, the door swung open with a little push.

“Inside the house,” Jane paused, considering, “it was dark. Even after turning on every lamp, the place was cold and dark. The walls were painted what must have once been a robin’s egg blue but it had dulled over time to a dingy blue grey. From what I understood, my great uncle hadn’t used the cabin very much in his final years and the lawyer had suggested we hire a cleaning service to open the house for us before we arrived. We took his advice, so the cabin was clean, though quite worn, dingy even.

“A small kitchen lined the front wall of the house, with low cabinets beneath crank windows overlooking a porch and the lake, though we didn’t see the view until morning. There was a kitchen table, a couch and some worn out chairs in that main living area. On the left side of the house were the cabin’s only other rooms, the bathroom to the back of the house and the bedroom to the front. The bedroom had those awful crank windows too. I can’t see those today without thinking of that terrible place.

“A porch extended the length of the house out front with steps leading to a sparse lawn and the narrow beach beyond. We only stepped out there for a minute that first night. Neither of us wanted to be outside for long, inside the cabin wasn’t much more welcoming but at least there was light.

“Paul went out to grab the rest of our things from the car and I stood in the doorway watching him. I swear it was as though the woods had closed in around us as we were inside the house. I never went into those woods, the whole time we were there. I had to dump some branches and debris from gardening in the woods several times, but I never went further than a few feet back, it was just too…”

“Dark?” I guessed.

Jane smiled though her eyes were worried. “This is harder to talk about than I thought it would be. I’d thought I’d pushed these memories down, but talking about the cabin is bringing it all back.

“I really wanted to love the place and I tried at first. We spent a month of weekends there, but every time we went up things got worse. That first night though, something woke me up at three o’clock in the morning. It was a noise, a soft creaking from out in the living room but I couldn’t place it. I stayed in bed, listening, too afraid to investigate. Somehow I fell asleep and in the morning, Paul was up before me and when I met him at the kitchen table he said, ‘We really shouldn’t leave these windows open at night, who knows what critters could crawl in.’

“I hadn’t opened those windows. In fact I had made darn sure they were closed tight before we went to bed. That had been the noise I’d heard, the little cranks turning as the windows opened.”

“Oh, Jane,” I breathed. “Uh uh.”

“We did everything we could to keep those windows shut. There were four of them and they opened at random. Never during the daytime, only in the middle of the night. We’d wake up to the soft creaking noise and just know.

“We tried to enjoy ourselves at the lake and we made the best of it during the daytime. We didn’t discuss how unsettling the place was at night. I think we both felt that if we acknowledged it, then it would make it real and we’d have to do something about it.

“So we set to work on the yard. It was late fall and we wanted to do as much work on the exterior of the house as we could until the cold chased us indoors. We made plans to paint and brighten up the interior that winter, but that never came to be. My first job was to dig out a garden bed beneath the front of the porch while Paul cleared leaves and debris from the small yard and beach.

“That first morning I was digging up the garden, turning the soil when I hit something with my shovel. It was a small silver box that had been taped shut with electrical tape. I called Paul over and we carried it inside to clean it off. It was really a pretty little thing with delicate carvings engraved all over. We pried it open and inside there were some random trinkets. A small geode, some white ribbon, um, what else… I think just a tiny crucifix and a bunch of old acorns.”

“Nope,” I said.

“I know. It was strange, but I didn’t automatically think there was anything spooky about the box. I assumed a child had gathered a bunch of treasures then buried and forgot about them. It never occurred to me that it might have been placed there for protection. I put everything back in the box, besides the acorns, and then arranged it on a shelf in this rather grand cupboard in the living room.”

I tsked and shook my head.

“It was a colossal mistake opening that box,” Jane admitted. “In fact, bringing that box inside the house was the worst mistake of my life, though it took time to understand what I had done.

“We were packing to leave Sunday morning after our second night in the house. I was so relieved to be getting back to the city and away from that awful place. Paul was just shutting the trunk when we heard a car slowly crunching down the driveway towards us. We looked at each other and Paul cracked, ‘Welcome Wagon?’

“It was a beat up old pickup truck, the driver was this tiny little woman, perfectly turned out in a power suit and heels. She introduced herself as Nancy Kline, a local real estate agent who represented Home Away Builders. They were interested in acquiring our property so they could build a resort community with little individual cabins and an activity center.

“I told her we hadn’t even had time to settle in but that we’d talk over the idea. She gave me her card and we chit chatted a bit. ‘Dark back here, isn’t it?’ She commented. Then she said something about how Home Away would be able to fix that by clearing out the underbrush and cutting the treeline back from the waterfront.

“Just as she said it there was this loud grumbling that came from the woods behind the house and then we heard what sounded like a big tree crack and fall to the ground. We all stood stock still, petrified. Paul said something like, ‘Maybe the trees will do the work for them,’ and we all laughed nervously.

“Nancy offered a quick goodbye then hopped back in her truck and got out of there. As we watched her go I said we ought to consider the builder’s offer. Paul brushed the comment aside, ‘Where’s your sense of adventure, Buffy?’ He asked. We drove back to Boston and I simply did not stop thinking, or dreaming about that cabin until we drove back up the following Friday. I was consumed by the place, and not in a good way.

“That trip we made sure to get up there before dark. We didn’t discuss it at the time, but we were thinking the same thing. We did not want to be outside that house, near those woods for even a second in the dark.

“When we went inside we discovered that all the windows were open.”

“No way,” I breathed.

“Yup, even the bedroom windows. We searched the house top to bottom to be sure no raccoons or anything else had gotten in and that’s when Paul first noticed the fact that we hadn’t heard any animals around at all, not even birds chirping near the house. The woods around the cabin were exceptionally quiet except, of course, for the occasional cracking branches. It was strange.

“Once we’d determined there wasn’t anything in the house we settled in, built a fire and cooked dinner. We were on our third glass of wine in front of the fireplace when we heard the scratching. Something was outside scratching along back of the house, beneath one of those high windows.

“I immediately said, ‘Don’t go out there,’ to Paul. He told me not to worry, that it was the last thing he wanted to do. We tried to guess what it was. It was far too loud and the claws sounded way too long to be a raccoon. Could it be a mountain lion? Maybe a moose’s antlers? We had no idea. Paul got up and banged on the window. The noise stopped and we were absolutely silent for a long moment, listening. Finally, Paul shrugged and said, ‘I guess that scared it away,’ and then the window above him smashed into a million pieces. I screamed and Paul sort of threw himself onto the ground to avoid being hit by the glass. As he did I saw something pass in front of that window, and it was big. Really big.

“It was too dark to truly see it, and thank God for that. What I saw was taller than the window and the window was at least six feet off the ground. Paul insisted that it must have been a moose that had smashed the window with its antlers. But what I saw-” Jane took a breath. “It wasn’t a moose, it didn’t have antlers for one thing, it had horns. Short horns atop a sort of figure-eight shaped head. And the body – it was immense, the thing had been bending down to peer into the window,” Jane shuddered.

“Oh my God,” I breathed, wanting to move away from the window in my own living room.

“We didn’t sleep that night. I was certain that the thing would smash through the larger windows along the front of the house, especially the ones in the bedroom. That next morning, like clockwork two of the windows above the kitchen cabinets had been cranked open and that was when I made the decision to sell the place to the resort builders. I never wanted to come back there again. Paul wanted to discuss it after we’d had some sleep, but when he went out back to investigate the side of the house where we’d heard the scratching he changed his mind. The massive claw marks on the wood beneath the window convinced him. We had to get rid of the place.

“As we stared at the scratches on the wood I happened to look down at the ground, I don’t know why we hadn’t checked before, I suppose we were too freaked out by the claw marks to notice. There were prints in the dirt, but they weren’t footprints, they were hoof marks. Paul tried to convince both of us that it must have been a moose. He argued that it had simply scratched its antlers against the house and his banging on the wall startled the animal.

“The thing is, the scratches on the house? They were sort of systematic, or I suppose intentional – a pattern. And they were in threes, all hash-marked beneath that one window. Like something was marking the house – for what God only knows. I knew what I had seen move past the window that night but I was too frightened to press the point with Paul. I begged him to leave immediately. He finally agreed that we probably wouldn’t get any sleep if we stayed another night but he insisted that we board the window up before we left.
“I didn’t tell him how ridiculous I thought that was, I mean, for Christ’s sake! The windows had been opening by themselves! What was one more open window. But I knew that if I argued about it he’d just dig his heels in. I was so desperate to get out of there that I told him to go on ahead to the hardware store in town to buy plywood for the window. Meanwhile, I would stay behind to pack everything we’d brought to the house, which wasn’t much, but I had no intention of ever returning to that place.

“I will never forget watching Paul disappear down the driveway in our little car. I set to work packing our things which didn’t take me long at all. I tried to sit and read to pass the time until Paul came back but I couldn’t concentrate so I ended up pacing around the cabin, attempting to calm my nerves. That’s when I noticed the box I had uncovered in the garden, sitting there on the cupboard shelf. It sounds absurd, but I was overcome with the need to bring it back outside. It didn’t belong there.

“I grabbed that silver box and carried it out onto the front porch. I was afraid to walk out onto the yard, but something inside me knew that the thing I’d seen the night before was somehow tied to that damn box. I’d left the shovel leaning up against the house on the porch, so I grabbed it and marched down the steps to the front yard. I just started digging a hole near the area where I’d found the thing.

“I cursed my uncle for leaving me the house and I wondered, not for the first time, if perhaps he had done it as a final swipe at my mother. She had passed away several years before that, but maybe leaving me that horrible place was his final way to hurt her somehow.

“I dug down about two feet and threw the box into the hole. As I did I heard a loud crack come from the woods to my left. I turned and stared into the forest. It was really windy and it being late fall, the leaves were only about half down which made it difficult to see far past the tree line. But in all the movement a big fallen tree branch caught my attention. It was laying on the ground at an odd angle and I stared at it, trying to understand how it could be. And then something above it moved.  

“It was the thing, the one I’d seen the night before. I thought that it was leaning out from behind a tree to watch me, with all the leaves and the underbrush swirling I couldn’t completely make it out at first. But then it began to stand up. What I had thought were fallen tree branches were its legs. They unfolded as it stood, it was at least twice as tall as me. Ten feet tall if anything and, though there were branches swaying in front of it’s face, I glimpsed the short horns again and saw its huge black eyes for the first time. It’s body was a mottled brown and grey. It’s thin shoulders were rounded, slumped forward and as it watched me it lifted one of its long arms to grab onto a branch at least fifteen feet off the ground.

“It yanked it’s arm down and ripped the branch right off the tree. I screamed and it crouched back down quickly, you know how when kids hop around with their hands between their feet like they are frogs? That’s how it sat, very still, only now instead of just watching me it was more as if it were poised, ready to launch itself out of the woods.

“I backed away and stumbled up the porch steps. As I did it leaned its long body out of the woods, I think so that it could get a better look at me,” Jane closed her eyes and said quietly, “Those tiny horns on it’s head made it look like a grey demon. I don’t remember opening the door but I found myself inside the cabin with the shovel still in my hands and then I began shaking uncontrollably. It was almost more terrifying that I didn’t have my eyes on the thing anymore. I didn’t know if it was going to come crashing through the windows or just wait outside and attack Paul when he got back. I grabbed my purse and decided that everything else we’d brought to that horrible house was replaceable. This was before I had a cell phone so all I could do was wait for Paul to return. I hid in the bathroom, it was closest to the front door and had only one small high window. It was another half an hour before I finally heard the car bumping down the driveway.

“I stood on the toilet watching out the window and I waited until the entire car was beyond the trees. Then I dashed out of the house and sprinted towards Paul. I was screaming hysterically but I didn’t even realize it. Paul jumped out of the car, terrified. I screamed at him to get back in the car and get us out of there. He tried to calm me down and that’s when I really lost my mind.”

Jane actually smiled at the memory, she shook hair from her face and said, “I think I started screaming at him ‘Now! Go now! It’s coming you asshole! It’s coming!’ That got him moving. We peeled out of there and didn’t stop driving until we made it to a rest stop halfway back to Boston.”

“What did he say?” I asked

“He was scared. He didn’t know what to do, neither of us did. Should we call the police? Animal control?”

“What did you do?” I asked.  

“For a time, nothing,” Jane admitted. “Aside from drinking too much cheap wine every night and rehashing it all we didn’t do anything but try and process what had happened. Going back to the cabin was out of the question, but I began to feel responsible for the property. I felt obligated to keep people away from it.

“Whatever that thing had been, it was evil. It wasn’t any kind of animal I’ve ever heard of. I’ve had a long time to think about this and I believe it was more than just some monster. It felt primal. I’ve come to the conclusion, though it really isn’t anything more than a guess that it was some kind of an earth spirit or even an ancient god.”

“How the hell can you protect people from that?”

“I found a shaman and asked that if he couldn’t chase it from the property to at least contain it. He warned me that if the thing truly was a powerful ancient, there would be nothing he could do to restrain it. Even trying to do so might put us all at risk. Instead, he placed a boundary around the property to dissuade people from entering the area.

“Who knows how it works but he told us that if someone were to wander onto the property they would become overwhelmed with an urge to turn around and go the other direction. I hired a work crew to dig up the dirt driveway and put down topsoil in hopes that the forest would simply reclaim the path after a time. By now, I imagine you wouldn’t even know a path had ever existed there.

“Boaters can probably glimpse the cabin through the trees, but I don’t think anyone would want to dock and check it out.”

“So the cabin is just sitting there empty, in those dark woods,” I said, the image of the dark house vivid and chilling.

“Yes. Oh, and that real estate agent, the one representing the builders, she dug up our phone number and tried to make another offer for the property. I won’t say that it wasn’t tempting to just sell it and be done, but I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. Who knows what that thing would have done if those people went in and began digging up the property and taking down trees.
“I actually went a step further and hired a lawyer to help me track down the owners of the properties abutting my great uncle’s and over the years, Paul and I used the money I inherited to buy up acreage near the property. It drives the yuppies crazy. We get offers all the time but no one has business living there. Everyone is safer with a buffer around that property.

“The land has been put in a trust, that Paul and I control, it can never be sold and it must always remain free of development of any kind. And I mean no development, no nature trails, no fences, nothing. I hear we have a lot of enemies who blame us for halting economic development in that town and a lot of fans who consider us conservationist warriors. I don’t care what any of them think. They are safer for what we have done.”

“So you’ve never gone back?”

“Never,” Jane said resolutely. “Except in my nightmares.”

unnamed-1I did the right thing. I pulled one of those awkward K turns and followed Lindsay back to her house. I’m sure you can imagine her response when I pulled my ginormous car into the driveway behind her Mercedes SUV. Her initial, “Um, excuse me but I think you have the wrong house,” was followed by obvious annoyance and then alarm when I insisted that she not go into her home.

Maddeningly, Lindsay began repeating, “Maam, I feel unsafe,” over and over no matter what I said. So I finally yelled, “Lindsay, shut up. I just spent forty-five minutes in your sunroom talking to the monster that came with the pearl necklace you bought at auction.” She shut up. Eventually I was able to convince her to follow me to the Starbucks in Linden Square. Biddy met us and took it from there, but not before she revelled in an “I told you so” moment.

You guys, I talked to a monster and it cured my insomnia. I feel great. Whoever left that fake voodoo doll in my home can bring it. I talked to a monster for fuck’s sake. And now people are coming out of the woodwork to tell me their stories.

It’s awesome.

It’s terrible.

I admit, it’s getting a little out of control. But I haven’t had this much purpose, this much drive in a long time and I’ll take it. I’m OK with the minutia of daily life because there is something wonderfully terrifying happening and I’m in it. My childhood dreams are coming true. Though instead of Nancy Drew I think I’ve willed myself into the Bess role. Biddy might be George, or maybe she’s Nancy. I don’t know, let’s not overthink it. At any rate, it’s October, our high holy season, so I’m leaning in.

***

However, I do have one confession to make. I’ve been going to yoga. It turns out it’s worth the hype. I’ve heard for years that it would help my back but it sounded too damn boring to even consider. In reality it’s quite entertaining. I love the way the instructors talk. They say things like, “Now, reach your arm back and grab your toes, but only if they’re available to you,” and “Bring your leg into tree pose. You are rooted, you are strong. You are a tree. Now reach, reach to the sky and listen. What is the sky telling you?” It is really quite lovely.

So, I was in a class last Friday when the instructor, Alston (a silver fox type who could have been anywhere between forty-seven and seventy-seven years old), ended the class and we did that thing where you relax for ten minutes – which really is so incredibly relaxing – and then as everyone was rolling up their yoga mats he asked, “Has anyone heard about this blog of Wellesley hauntings.”

I gasped, and he looked right at me and said, “You’ve read it!” Before I could answer a woman in the back row called out, “My girlfriends and I drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out where all the houses are!” Another woman chimed in, “I only made it halfway through one story, it was too scary.” A third said, “Are they really true?”

I listened, shifty eyed and wishing that I could make like a tree pose and leave as three of my classmates debated the probability of the blog’s authenticity. The instructor chimed in here and there as the rest of the class whipped out their cell phones and googled the blog.

“Have you read it?” He asked me. I froze for a moment before admitting, “I’m Liz.”

He yelled. He yelled in the small, peaceful yoga room, “The universe is a bewildering tease! I knew we were meant to meet!”

Pandamonium, the kind that can only break out after middle aged women have been lead in a calming practice by an incredibly good-looking older gentleman, broke out. There were “Oh my God’s,” and “Who is Liz’s” and some shaking heads. There were questions, one about Mattie Payne, another about my St. Benedict medal.

A suburban women’s exercise class is a sure fire way to disseminate information. I’d been found out. It was exciting and scary and overwhelming and the instructor wanted me to come to his house for advice about an “ethereal conundrum.” He’d consulted his spirit guides, and my blog came up in three different synchronicities; a conversation, a business card, and a gut feeling to mention the blog in class that morning. He’d made up his mind to contact me that afternoon but that still small voice moved him to mention the blog after class.

“The universe delivered you in my moment of need,” he declared.

He insisted that we seize the opportunity our spirit guides had gifted us. I was high on relaxation fumes  and I wasn’t due to relieve Kat’s babysitter for another hour and a half so I agreed. He unhooked his phone from the speaker and called his wife in front of me.

“Siggy! Spirit answered. You’ll never believe who is coming over. That woman Liz from my dream… No, no the other one, the one from the blog.”

Okay, that was a sizeable red flag (I mean, how many women did this guy dream about?) but I found him so earnest and enthusiastic that I couldn’t wait to hear what the old hippie had to say. And these weren’t strangers, I knew his wife, Sigourney. She was an instructor at the studio too and I’d taken her class several times. She was prone to over sharing about past physical ailments of the gastrointestinal kind. Clean eating and bone broth had been her dual saviors and she preached their magical healing properties. Yes, I tried them, it didn’t stick. Anyhow, I went ahead and got into my car and followed my yoga instructor to his home.

Alston and Sigourney Mercer lived in an enormous mansion. The real old-fashioned kind, with groundskeepers and maids. It was a mammoth brick house set far back from Pond Road on Lake Waban (whose banks the Mercer’s shared with Wellesley College). The property was all trees and landscaping in front and wide open rolling green lawn extending gently down to the lake in back. I parked behind Alston in the driveway and followed him up wide, leaf strewn steps to the front door.

Once inside, we set our shoes (pricey leather flip flops, his and slide on cheap Champion sneakers from Amazon, mine) neatly onto a cowhide print mat. As I took off my rain jacket, Alston rang a large gong standing to the right of the doorway. Naturally, I screamed and crouched down on the ground.

“I’m sorry if I startled you,” he said softly. “As I’ve progressed in my practice I’ve become prone to absorbing other people’s energies, both emotional and physical. I’ve adopted this practice to scatter the energy that attaches to me during class.” He considered me for a moment. “Did the tightness I was feeling in my lower left back belong to you?”

I stared at him and stood back up.

“I thought so,” he nodded his head knowingly. “I can feel that your body is beginning to let it go, you’ve learned what you needed to from the pain. Just be patient as your body catches up with your mind.”

Sigourney saved me from a reply as she walked out of their immense open concept kitchen towards us. Her hair in a long braid down her back she wore an an oversized grey cashmere sweater and grey yoga pants. Her feet were bare. My best guess pegged Sigourney somewhere in her mid-forties though clean eating and Botox may have shaved off a few years.

“I knew there was something special about you,” she declared softly. “Alston often has meaningful dreams but this one seemed especially powerful.”

“Thanks for inviting me over,” I replied, dodging her comment. “Your home is beautiful.”

“Are you allergic to dogs?” She asked.

“No, thank God,” I replied.

“Baci! Bella! Come.”

Two glorious dogs entered the scene from stage left.

“What!” I gushed idiotically.

“Our silly Goldendoodles,” Sigourney said lovingly, as I bent down to scruff their huge curly-q heads.

“Let’s sit in the cove,” Alston suggested, smiling down at the dogs.

“The Cove” was an area in their kitchen. It contained the largest couch I’ve ever seen, a big half circular thing in soft grey leather. It’s shape mirrored by the outward bend of a window-lined wall overlooking the lake. It seemed that every home I’d been to lately had incredible views. In the “baby belt” (the part of town in which I lived) the only vista was of hodgepodge fences and toy strewn yards.

We sat, Alston and Sigourney at the couch’s apex (her legs draped over his lap) me to their left (wedged between the two hundred-pound dogs who guarded me on either side like stone lions).

“So, what can I help you with?” I asked wishing we could just talk about the dogs.

“Well, I fear we’ve gotten in a little bit over our heads,” Sigourney replied sheepishly. It was my first time experiencing a sheepish attitude. Turns out it’s like obscenity, you know it when you see it and it makes you distinctly uncomfortable.

“Siggy is in touch with Spirit,” Alston declared.

“Okay,” I said slowly.

“It’s true, through meditation I’ve opened my mind so that I am in a constant feedback loop with my spirit guides,” she explained.

“And that’s good?” I guessed.

“Absolutely, but,” she hesitated looking to Alston for reassurance, “Well, recently there’s been a lapse in communication. Some new energy came on the scene and it was very positive at first-”

“Indeed, by all appearances they were good spirits. You see, Siggy’s abilities are a blessing, and she has worked hard to-“

“Manage them,” Sigourney cut in. “But something happened. These new ‘energies’ caused me to completely lose touch with my spirit guides. It’s besides the point, though I could really use their guidance right now, but I think they were chased away.”

“By whom?” I asked, mentally patting myself on the back for using the word whom and then immediately panicking that I hadn’t used it properly.

Alston released a deep breath, “The fairies.”

I pinched my lips together willing myself not to giggle.

Rubbing Sigourney’s foot absently Alston said, “They are not what they initially presented.”

Stalling until I could trust myself to speak, I blinked slowly and nodded my head. Then I asked, “So they were nice to you at first but now they are causing problems.”

“To put it lightly,” Alston confirmed.

As Alston took another deep breath Sigourney launched into an explanation, “We have many spirits here with us. I’ve always been open to that, you know, open to the other world’s alongside ours. But since I’ve been meditating upon intentionally opening myself up further I’ve begun to attract [dramatic pause] other things. There have been a few negative encounters, but before the fairies came my spirit guides always enveloped me in a golden light of protection.”

“Hmm,” I said, meaning Oh, for fuck’s sake.

“I’m not a medium or anything,” Sigourney continued. “I am just in tune with the energies that surround us and I’ve been gifted with the ability to read other people’s energy fields.”

If that were true then she must have seen my energy field turn cloudy and dark. I don’t dig people who claim this ability. If it’s true then it’s intrusive, if they’re lying or are just good at picking up on other people’s moods then making this magical claim is manipulative at best.

I changed the subject. “Can you see ghosts?”

“Oh sure,” she replied as though that were a given.

“So you’re intuitive and you can see ghosts and sense otherworldly energies. Then you’re a medium,” I pointed out.

“Well, I suppose you could say I’m a self-taught medium, not a natural one.”

“Okay, what about the fairies, can you see them?” I asked, looking back and forth between the couple’s concerned faces.

“Yes,” they replied in unison.

One of the dogs gave up sitting and collapsed on the couch, dropping it’s massive head on my lap. I really just wanted to talk about the dogs. “So what have the fairies done to make you think they are bad?” I asked.

“They weren’t bad at first,” Sigourney replied defensively. “They were nice and, sort of playful. When I experienced them the first time in my meditation they were like little orbs of light in a rainbow of brilliant colors. They became more actualized the more I noticed them and over time they began to take shape.” She looked over at Alston guiltily.

“Can you see them too?” I asked.

He nodded his head seriously.

“They look like tiny little stick figures now, about two feet tall, and-” Sigourney hesitated, “They’ve lost those brilliant hues.

“They remind me of tiny birch trees,” Alston added, “Their weird heads are sort of a part of their bodies if that makes any sense.”

It did in a really creepy way.

“I invited them into our world, into our home. They were just so sweet in my meditations and I intuitively knew that they wanted to bring me gifts.”

“Gifts?”

“Yes, they told me they had been attracted to my open vibrations and if I were to give them safe harbor they would bring blessings that I had never even dreamed of.”

Oh man, I thought. “Where’d they come from?” I asked.

“They said they came from the woods but you really can’t believe anything they say,” Sigourney replied with a nervous laugh.

“That’s where I first encountered them,” Alston explained. “In the woods around the house. Siggy had told me all about them, it was exciting. We thought… well we first met at a yoga retreat and we connected over our shared interest in energy work. I truly believe that if we can just get out of our own way, there are energies that we can tap into that will completely heal and help us.”

“You mean like Reiki?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” Alston replied slowly. “Yes, indeed there is space for energies to heal people of their diseases, and that is wonderful. But that is not our calling. We are interested in tapping into energies in the universe to strengthen and guide us along our path to fulfilling our life purpose.”

I wasn’t following.

“We wanted to tap into the power of the universe,” Alston said trying to explain.

I still wasn’t following.

“We thought we could manifest everything we ever wanted if we could just align ourselves with the one true source of universal power.”

“Like the Secret,” I said.

“No,” Sigourney said, obviously offended. “That is abundance work. It’s beginner level. We were looking to find something to bring us up to the highest vibration possible.”

“Like the fairies?” I guessed, completely confused.

“Not specifically the fairies, but I cast a wide net in my meditation and they showed up. And they told me they could do for us what we could not do for ourselves. They would deliver our dreams to us if we would feed them,” Sigourney admitted.

“Oh God, please tell me they don’t eat small animals or something,” I pleaded.

No, nothing like that. It was energy, emotional energy they wanted. It was a trade off, you see. They guided good fortune and positive events to us and in turn we allowed them to feed off our energy.”

I shook my head. I didn’t completely understand what the hell they were talking about but I got enough to know it was a bad idea.

I decided to get away from the airy fairy talk and back onto firm footing. I said, “Okay, so you saw them in the woods?”

“Yes,” Alston replied quickly. “I was practicing Tai Chi in the yard one morning,” he motioned towards a spot in the woods that lined the yard. “We created a small patio area back just beyond the treeline for my practice.

“It was this past summer probably late July, just after dawn. The woods were beginning to wake up but it was still rather dark. I was staring out at the water when I heard a loud shuffling behind me. I often hear shuffling in the underbrush and it’s usually just squirrels or chipmunks scurrying around, but this was different. The noise came towards me, right up behind me and then stopped. I had the feeling that whatever it was was watching me and that I was in danger.

“I was immediately gripped with a fear. I turned slowly and saw three of them there, standing right on the edge of the patio. At that point they were still projecting an image of color, those three were a dim purple, with spindly legs and arms. They wore sort of interested expressions and they were just watching me.

“I still felt frightened but I suspected these were the spirits Siggy had been in communication with so I asked, ‘Are you Sigourney’s friends?’ They nodded their heads at me as one. In fact, all of their movements were aligned. I introduced myself and thanked them for their presence and then, and I’ll always regret doing this, but I told them I was a willing host and that they were welcome on our property.”

“Uh uh,” I breathed.

“They seemed harmless,” Alston said defensively.

“You said you were terrified of them,” I pointed out.

“You’re right,” he acquiesced, “I should have trusted my first instinct that morning, I-” he paused and glanced over at Sigourney before admitting, “I truly thought they were they to kill me and I think they would have if I hadn’t been so, uh, welcoming.”

Sigourney looked down, she was crying.

“What exactly have these things done to you guys?” I asked.

“They’ve taken over everything,” Sigourney whined. “We can’t do anything without them interfering.”

She wiped tears from her cheeks and took her own cleansing breath, “I let them in completely and their meddling was very positive, at first. People began showing up to my yoga classes and asking me to be their life coach. Opportunities came up out of nowhere, an editor contacted me and wanted me to write a book on my yoga lifestyle. I was able to fall into meditation upon a moment’s notice, I could manage poses that should have taken me years to master. It was a whirlwind.”

“What about you?” I asked Alston. “Did they give you good luck too?”

He nodded. “You name it. Our investments grew, a knocking noise in the Wrangler that I’d been meaning to have looked at just stopped. Problems disappeared and good things happened in their place. I no longer have to take a medication for high blood pressure that I’d been on since I was thirty. My hair is growing back, getting thicker-”

“Yeah,” Sigourney interrupted enthusiastically. “I can’t gain weight now even if I try. I’m in better shape than I ever have been and I can eat like a pig and it doesn’t affect me at all.”

“So then what’s the downside of all of this?” I asked. Careful not to talk too loudly or move, the dogs were asleep and I didn’t want to disturb them even though they were putting off an incredible amount of heat.  

“It wasn’t just positive emotions that they wanted to feed off.”

“Then why were they doing such good things for you?” I asked.

“I think they are somehow vulnerable in a way that I don’t understand and they need, like, a home base. It’s like they need the protection of a host. I invited them here and they are willing to make our dreams come true, but they thrive off negativity and the more of it they get the more powerful they become.”

“But where do they get negative energy?” I pressed. “You guys seem thrilled about what they’ve done for  you.”

“We are sort of the yin so they can yang. It’s like, when they do good for us it gives them license to do bad to others. For some reason it has to be a balance, because they create positivity in our lives they are given the permission or ability to balance that out by creating negativity and chaos in other people’s lives,” Sigourney explained.

“How did you figure that out?”

“It took us longer than I’d like to admit,” Alston said heavily. “I did notice that people around us, especially acquaintances, you know people that we come in contact with often enough but aren’t close with, there just seemed to be a lot of bad luck swirling around our outer circle of friendships.”

“For example?” I said, subtly trying to make a little space for myself in-between the heater dogs.

“Um, well for instance, our favorite barista, she had a black eye this one morning and I asked her what had happened. She told me that she’d been in a car accident that had totalled her car. Then I saw another accident that same day in the parking lot at the studio. It was one of my students and wouldn’t you know it, she got a black eye. Then when the gardner showed up with a black eye and a dented fender I recognized the synchronicity for what it was and I began to pay attention,” Alston said.

“It’s the three’s,” Sigourney pointed out. “They create chaos in groupings of three and they seem to like to play around with different topics or, like methods. Three black eyes from three car accidents, or three broken bones from three bad falls.”

“Couldn’t you just be reading into those things a little bit? I mean it could just be weird coincidences, right?”

Alston took a deep breath, gaining patience. Sigourney said, “It wasn’t like that. I know we aren’t explaining it well because some of it is simply intuition but I think the best example is the boat,” she looked to her husband to explain.

“Right,” he agreed nodding his head, “Do you remember that huge wind storm we had this summer?” I didn’t remember. “It hit the lake hard and all of the neighbors lost trees and had some pretty significant property damage. Our boat took on a lot of water and the insurance company declared it totaled so we got the full amount for it.”

“Okay,” I said slowly, suspecting these people just had a bad case of magical thinking.

“The engine had died earlier in the summer. To replace it would have cost a fortune. The boat needed other work that we’d been putting it off. We basically got to just buy a new boat because of that storm. The thing is, our closest neighbors, over there to the right. They lost their boat, falling trees caused major damage to their roof and they were without power for two weeks.”

“Storms are weird,” I said. “Couldn’t you just chalk it up to luck of the draw?”

“No,” the couple said as one.

“What we gain, other people lose.”

I wasn’t convinced.

“The better our fortune, the more grand the gift the fairies give us the worse the punishment for the people we come in contact with,” Sigourney said firmly.

“But not your close friends and family,” I said, “Why?”

The husband and wife exchanged a glance and Sigourney began to cry again.

“We made a deal,”Alston said blowing out another cleansing breath. “As we came to realize that they needed us in order to receive the negative energy they craved, I asked that they keep our close friends and family out of their scope.”

“What did you give them a list or something?” I asked with a laugh.

The Mercers just stared at me.

“Please tell me you added my name to that list,” I said quickly.

“Oh, of course we did! Right after Alston called me this morning I requested your safe passage here,” Sigourney said in a tone meant to be reassuring. She sighed, “The fairies are getting more… creative. I am so grateful for all they have done for us and I certainly don’t want to cut off this positive energy flow. But we just aren’t sure that it is the best thing to continue on at this level. We, I mean I thought that maybe you or one of your friends might know how to sort of curb their power a bit.”

“Wouldn’t it be safer for everyone if you just got rid of them?” I asked.

“We tried that already,” Alston admitted.

“And they wouldn’t go?”

“No, they went, but we just, well I missed them,” an edge had crept into Sigourney’s voice.

I stared at her. When she didn’t elaborate I sighed heavily and said, “Out with it. What happened?”

Alston shook his head and looked down at his lap. Sigourney prattled, “We, you know, we got a little overwhelmed because it felt like things were a bit out of control. I mean I had to let the staff go because it was becoming an insurance liability with the rate at which people were getting injured here.”

“We stopped mail delivery so now I have go to the post office to pick everything up. It isn’t safe for strangers to come onto the property,” Alston added.

“What about me?” I blurted.

“Oh no, I told you, we have you covered,” Sigourney waved away my concern. “But, we reached a point where, though we were so grateful for all they had done for us we felt it best to part ways.” She spoke about it as if it were a matter of firing a landscaping company didn’t work out.

“So where’d they go?” I asked.

“I moved them onto a couple that we know.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“It was a gift, really. The husband ended up getting elected.”

“Did they know they had the fairies with them?” I asked.

“Neither were enlightened enough to see them, you understand. But they were totally the type of people fairies are attracted to. The couple was very goal driven and focused on success. It seemed like a nice match.”

“Then why did you change your mind and bring them back?” I asked, my view of this zen couple having completely deteriorated.

“I missed their company for one thing,” Sigourney said, “And I realized that ultimately it was too… dangerous for them to attach to people who didn’t know what they were dealing with.”

“The woman’s mother was living in their guest house. She fell down the basement stairs and they didn’t find her for over forty-eight hours. Her back was broken and she swore that someone pushed her,” Alston said, the edge now in his voice.

“Guys, you know these things aren’t fairies,” I insisted.

“Of course they are, I see them. We see them. They are fine, we just need to find a way to tone things down a bit, maybe put a few more safety nets in place. They are still being incredibly generous with us-”

“But if they have to maintain a balance of bad and good energy output-” I began.

“Right, of course, we don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone, but when they first started helping us we were really benefiting from the small blessings they provided and it only caused minor disturbances with other people. Stubbed toes, lost contact lenses, minor illnesses, you know just little extra upsets.”

“They might little upsets when they happen to other people, but do you want them to happen to you?” I asked.

“Of course not,” Sigourney said quickly, “and we don’t want them happening to anyone else. The thing is, these fairies are here and they’re not all bad it’s just that the speed at which things have escalated might be a little concerning. At first it was yoga poses and good luck, but now… Someone just reached out to me from the Gaiam Network. They want me to have my own lifestyle program, kind of like the Kardashians but for spiritual people. It is everything I’ve ever dreamed of. Think of how many people I could reach, showing them the benefits of clean living and yoga. I could expand my influence and together we could begin to heal ourselves and the planet.”

“Sigourney,” I said, shifting in the seat hoping that the dogs would move over a bit. They basically had me pinned in place and I would never even consider shoving them off the couch but I was steps from having a panic attack. “Okay, so you’re telling me that these spirits cause serious problems for anyone who comes into your orbit. If you had a television show do you think they would be able to affect the people who watch you?”

She was silent. Alston said, “I hadn’t even considered that.”

“I just have to learn to contain them,” Sigourney said quickly. “ Maybe I could even change them.”

Alston appeared to be getting more and more uncomfortable with the conversation. I asked him, “Do you think she can control them?”

He took one of his maddening cleansing breaths then turned to his wife, “I trust your intuition and your abilities one hundred percent, Sig. It’s just-”

Sigourney snatched her legs back off of his lap and pushed away from him a bit. “It’s just what?” She challenged.

“I know you hold incredible intuitive power but I am afraid that your vision might be clouded on this one. I’m just not sure that these things are what they appear to be.”

“That’s ridiculous, you’ve seen them yourself. What else could they possibly be?” Sigourney demanded.

“Demons for one thing,” I pointed out.

“Demons? Why is everyone so convinced that every spirit is a demon?”

I made eye contact with Alston, then said calmly, “Maybe demons is a strong assumption, but there are levels, you know higher and lower negative entities. I’m only drawing upon the stuff I’ve heard on the Dead Files, okay, but it sounds to me like these are almost like tiny little energy vampires. They’re getting off on your excitement over these ‘blessings’ or whatever you want to call them, but I think they really want bad things to happen. If it truly comes down to a fifty-fifty positive-negative energy swap then think about it – they are making your dreams come true, you’re getting a television show, right? Then won’t they have to ruin someone else’s career or dreams in order to even out the energy?”

Alston had been staring at his hands in his lap, he looked up and said, “It’s true, Sig. And, the other thing that’s bothering me is their appearance. Why do they look so scary now? I’m sorry honey, but I think they tricked you into thinking they were these beautiful glowing creatures but now they walk around here looking like freaky little evil twigs.”

“Walk around here?” I asked, startled.

“Yeah, you never know when they’ll just be standing there, watching. And Sig, honey, I’ve never really gotten a loving vibe from them.”

Sigourney’s arms crossed over her chest, “How long have you doubted them?”

Cleansing breath. “Since I saw them in the forest, every fiber of my being wanted to get away from them. I felt, in my bones I felt that they wanted to hurt me. But I sort of fell for it when they acted kind because I think I was just so relieved they weren’t there to kill me.”

Sigourney looked really pissed. Alston looked relieved and worried at the same time. I felt like a marriage counselor.

“Have you ever gotten a bad vibe from them?” I asked.

Sigourney uncrossed her arms. “There was this one time when I was down on the dock. I was leaning over the water to grab Bella’s tennis ball and when I pulled myself back up they were there, two of them standing right behind me. I swear the look on their faces wasn’t right, but then they started glowing pink and I figured they were just there to watch us play catch. They’ve always seemed to get a kick out of the dogs.”

Chilled I said, “To quote Oprah quoting Maya Angelou, ‘when someone shows you who they are believe them the first time.’ Trust me, those things are nothing but bad news.”  

“How do we get them out of here?” Alston asked.

I’d begun to shrug my shoulders and mention Biddy as my go-to fixer when Sigourney growled, “We are not kicking them out of this house. Where will they go?”

“Honey, we need help. This has gone too far.”

“Too far? You didn’t think things were going too far when you filled up your yoga classes or when you stopped having to take that little blue pill.”

“For Christ’s sake Sig, they are running us. I can’t even have the damn trash service to the house anymore after that poor man’s arm got caught in the truck. I’m spending half my days running garbage to the dump the other half tip-toeing around this house trying to avoid those freaky little bastards.”

“Shhhhh!” Sigourney hissed. “Be quiet, what if they hear you?”

I interrupted the quarrel. “Where are they right now?”

“In the theater-“

“The theater?” I asked.

“We have a little home theater in the basement, it’s small,’ Sigourney said dismissively, “just sixteen recliners.”

What in the hell had these people done for work before becoming yogis? I thought, not for the first time.

Alston explained, “I put the television on for them, it will hold their attention for a few hours.”

When I realized he wasn’t kidding I asked, “What do they like to watch?”

“Real Housewives,” Sigourney replied, “of Atlanta mostly, though New Jersey sometimes does the trick.”

I held back nervous laughter and considered the couple for a moment, their faces clouded with worry and what I hoped was a little guilt.

“So what do you want me to do?” I asked. “If you don’t want to get rid of them-”

“We do, we want to get rid of them,” Alston held up a hand, silencing his wife, “This has gone far enough. Honey, we’re in over our heads.”

Sigourney looked like she had a whole lot more to say but she kept her mouth shut.

I wanted out of there. I offered to put them in touch with Biddy. They, well Alston thanked me and walked me to the front door alongside the dogs. I was jumpy, worried that I was going to run into one of the little stick creatures. It was the same feeling I used to have when walking down Marlborough Street in the Back Bay. Only then it was the fear of encountering a rat that made me skittish.

I rang the gong after I put my shoes on, making Alston laugh. As I walked to my car I checked my phone to see if I’d missed any texts while I’d been in the house. When I looked up from the phone I saw that my car looked funny, it was sort of leaning to one side. On closer inspection I found that both of the tires on the driver’s side were completely flat.

Son of a bitch, I thought.

I froze, unsure what to do. I decided I would call AAA and wait in the car. I didn’t really feel like dealing with the Mercers. As I was searching through my bag for my wallet so I could pull out my AAA card Alston and Sigourney rushed out of the house.

“What’s wrong?” Sigourney called, worry in her voice.

“It’s nothing, my tires are flat, I’ll just call AAA.”

“No!” The couple yelled.

“What do you want me to do?”

“You can’t have those people come here, it’s not safe for them,” Alston insisted. “I’ll put the spare on and then you can drive it to a shop.”

“It’s two flat tires, I only have one spare,” I said, feeling trapped and increasingly panicked.

“Then I’ll go buy you another spare,” he said quickly. “It will only take a moment you can wait inside with Siggy.”

“No, no way. Why did this happen? I thought you said you put me on your stupid protection list,” I snapped Sigourney.

“I did, I did. I guess maybe they just wanted to cause some mischief.”

As she said that the front door to the house slammed shut and we heard the deadbolt click into place.

“Damn it,” Alston said, “They’ve locked us out again.”

“You people are crazy, I’m calling AAA and I’m getting my car fixed and I’m getting the hell out of here.”

“You can’t, it’s not safe,” Alston pleaded.

“We could just make a swap,” Sigourney said quietly.

Alston considered her for a moment, “How about Bill? He’s been such a shit about fixing that pothole.”

Sigourney nodded in agreement. She walked back to the house and sat criss cross applesauce on the steps, held her hands in front of her heart and closed her eyes.

“What in the fuck is she doing?’ I demanded.

“Shhh, just give her a second. She just needs to offer the fairies an alternative.”

“To what?”

“The AAA tow truck guy.”

I stared at him and then I climbed into my car and shut and locked the doors. To distract myself I Googled “yoga studios near me” as I waited for help to arrive.

images“Must we document every conversation?” Biddy asked sighing.

“Yes,” I replied dumping two sugar packets into my coffee.

She watched me for a moment then said, “It’s not a Voodoo doll.”

A tightness that I had been carrying in the space between my neck and shoulders relaxed an infinitesimal amount. Picking up my coffee cup I asked, “Then what the hell is it?”

“Just a painted doll. This woman I know from my past life, she sort of fancies herself as an expert on Hoodoo. I showed her the doll and she said it’s just a doll. You’re not cursed, but someone wants you to think you are.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know, who?”

I took a turn sighing. Biddy leaned forward and said in a low voice, “I’ve got a theory. It’s the town.”

“Wellesley?”

“Yes. If the stories you’ve documented tell us anything it’s that something about this town attracts intense people. Mostly yuppie types, right? But energy is energy, it isn’t good or bad until someone taps into it. We know this place attracts go-getters and overachievers. But what if it attracts the opposite too?”

“Boring losers?” I said without thinking.

“Mean,” Biddy chided. “No, bad people with bad intentions. We’re obviously a magnet for evil spirits, even monsters. Why wouldn’t the energy here attract bad people too?

“Not everyone I met when I used to ghost hunt wanted their home cleared of evil entities. Some people actually want to harness that power, work with it, aim it. So what if someone aimed it at you? Or at least wanted you to think they did.”

The miniscule easing around my shoulders re-tightened as I considered the implications of Biddy’s theory. “So a stranger really did break into my house? It seems so improbable.”

“Have you had any parties lately, like for the kids where someone might have slipped away and put that doll in the attic?”

I began to shake my head then remembered. “We had this impromptu block party actually. Everyone ended up on our front lawn, watching the kids ride their bikes in the street. People were in and out of the house to use the bathroom, I guess I wasn’t really paying attention.”

“So it could be someone you know.”

I stared at her, completely freaked out.

“It’s just an idea,” Biddy continued, eyeing me, “On the other hand, maybe the doll was just a prank.”

I shook my head,  “I don’t think so. It’s too much.”

“Maybe it’s someone who reads the blog and wants to insert themselves in the narrative.”

“If they live in this town then they already are a part of it,” I said.

“Regardless, hold off a bit on interviewing anyone else until we know what’s going on. Take a break. Get some sleep or something. You look like hell.”

I smiled. “I would if I could.”

“Of course you can,” Biddy said, annoyed. “Just stop interviewing people.”

“No, I mean sleep. I can’t sleep,” I explained. “But I’m not going to quit interviewing people. It’s sort of the only thing I have besides the kids. What else am I going to do? Go to a spin class? I already volunteer enough and I can’t just sit around waiting to pick the kids up from school so I can wait to put them to bed and then wait for them to wake up and do it all over again.”

“Get a hobby.”

“Is that what you would do?” I asked, seriously.

Biddy eyed me, “No. I waited until my entire life almost fell apart before turning my back on ghost hunting.”

I waved the comment away, “No one’s life is falling apart. So some weirdo is trying to scare me. So what,” I paused, considering whether I should tell Biddy more. I said, “There was one weird thing, though.”

“What?” Biddy asked quickly.

“Molly Vail, that psychic I interviewed a while back. I had coffee with her yesterday and she mentioned Voodoo. She said she’d had a dream about me. I was standing on the banks of a river. A bad storm was approaching and-” I stopped, taking in Biddy’s crossed arms and raised eyebrows. “She’s the real deal,” I insisted.

“Uh huh,” Biddy replied. “Go on, so you were on the banks of a river in this woman’s dream.”

“Whatever. She said that there were spirits in the water, watching me and waiting for the storm to come and raise the water so they could reach me. Then three woman walked out of the woods behind me with a Voodoo doll and placed it next to me.”

Biddy didn’t say anything.

“Sort of a coincidence, don’t you think? That she had a dream about me and a Voodoo doll?”

“What did she say it meant?”

“She didn’t know, but she thought it was some sort of a warning.”

“Well at the very least you’d better stay away from ghost filled rivers,” Biddy said looking down at her watch. “I have to scoot.”

“Where are you headed?” I asked.

“Spin class,” she replied making me laugh out loud. “What’s on tap for you today?”

“I’m actually going to meet a woman with a monster story.”

“Where? Here?” Biddy asked.

“No, her house. She lives over on Bristol Road.”

“You’re not supposed to go to people’s houses alone,” Biddy pointed out.

“It’ll be fine,” I said.

 

***

 

Lindsay Deardon is a very specific type of woman. One which I typically avoid like the plague. I’m not being judgy, well maybe a little, but I’m quite certain that I’m not her type either. Whereas I am all mirrored behavior and self deprecation, she is deliberate and confident. I avoid awkward silences like they are an email from the PTO. Lindsay takes a moment to think before she speaks. She chooses words carefully. I ramble nervously. She’s all control and calculation, scanning through her steel trap-like mind for measured and appropriate responses. Lindsay does not giggle. And if passive aggression were an art form, Lindsay would be a master creator.

I wasn’t exactly in peak performance when I met Ms. Deardon. My insomnia had been tapping me on the shoulder every night at three-thirty a.m. for weeks. Up for the day I ran from vague but nagging fears by watching Ghost Adventures re-runs and highlighting self-help books until the sun came up. I’d become so tired in fact that I was losing the ability to interact properly with people. I couldn’t recall simple words like “driveway” or “sneaker.” I’d find myself in the kitchen standing over the girls’ half-packed lunches having realized that I had zoned out thinking about some imagined conversation with an acquaintance who’d offended me long ago. I was half in the world, half in my scrambled brain. It was worse than having an infant. At least an infant keeps you on some sort of a schedule. This fog of exhaustion was all-encompassing.

I’ve been depressed before. I’ve been really tired for long periods of time before. This was different. It felt as though something was keeping me from myself. Distracting me, running me. It was aggressive. Relentless.

And it was in that mental state of tired confusion that I met Lindsay.

She lived in a very expensive part of town among brick mansions and storybook style estates, complete with English gardens and discreet guest homes hidden by impeccable landscaping. Hers was a massive grey colonial with a winding shell driveway, a gorgeous detail I hadn’t seen this side of the Sagamore bridge. Huge, I mean colossal maple trees shaded the yard and the house, their leaves browned and curled at the edges. We’d had a humid summer and a fungus had taken hold of all the maple trees in town. It crimped and browned their leaves making the autumn landscape a dull sepia.

Black shuttered windows watched me park my Suburban and crunch across the driveway in brand new Uggs. I’d returned to my roots. Re-adopting an old uniform; skinny jeans, button down, green quilted down vest, and obnoxiously cozy boots. I climbed the granite steps and rang the doorbell. A pretty young woman with a bouncy ponytail, black framed glasses and business attire opened the door and said, “Good day, Maam.”

Having never met Lindsay before I mistakenly assumed that this woman was her. A parent I knew from Joey’s pre-K class had put us in touch with one another. Joey’s friend’s mom read the blog. She’d grown up in Wellesley alongside Lindsay, the two carpooled to an early morning boot camp on the Boston Common twice a week and Lindsay had asked her if she knew anyone discreet that might help her with a tricky paranormal situation. My name came up and a terse email exchange ensued. I was to report to Lindsay’s home on that day at that time and listen to her story. Advice would be appreciated.

I’m self-aware enough to know that no one should accept advice from me, but I figured I’d record the story and point her in the direction of one of Biddy’s old friends.

So the woman who was not Lindsay, whose role in the home was never explained or addressed but who I decided must be some sort of a housekeeper/personal assistant lead me into a grand sitting room towards the back of the house. There sat the real Lindsay in a crisp white button down shirt, impossibly skinny skinny jeans, and emerald green ballet flats. She wore her long thick highlighted blond hair in perfect beach waves that needed a good tousling. A thick slab of bangs swept across her forehead. Tasteful diamond studs, a big diamond pendant and a ring finger dripping with diamonds displayed tiny and not so tiny exclamation points of wealth. She was thin, pilates thin and she was pretty, and she was really fucking rich. She was wearing lipstick.

My hostess looked up from the October issue of Vogue and stood as the housekeeper/personal assistant person announced my arrival.

Lindsay thanked me for coming. “Would you like anything to drink?” She asked. “Sparkling water? Kombucha?” I declined and she said to the P.A., “Please close the doors behind you Rebecca. That will be all for today.”

Lindsay indicated that I take a seat across from her on a full-sized pink linen couch the twin to the one on which she perched. A gold-framed glass coffee table sat prissily between us, holding a green lacquer tray atop which sat a pile of home decorating books, a candle and a small orchid. The candle had never been lit.

The walls around us were a stark white and aside from ornate golden wall sconces to each side of the French doors, the room’s windows provided the only decoration, a view of the rolling back yard edged by dense forest. I could see the edge of a brick patio bordered by healthy hydrangea and there was a, well I wouldn’t call it a shed because it was beautiful and built to look like a small replica of the house itself. It was set back into the woods in a little carved out cove, shaded by trees.There was even a shell covered walkway leading from the patio to the tiny house. It was absolutely adorable, enchanting even.

“It’s just a play house for the girls,” Lindsay said dismissively when she noticed me looking at the structure.

I commented on how sweet that was and said something about how my girls would love a playhouse like that.

“They’ve maybe used it twice in the past year. It’s a den of spider webs,” Lindsay replied, obviously annoyed about it, though I couldn’t tell if she was annoyed that they’d used it only twice or that they’d played in it at all.

I pulled the digital recorder out of my vest pocket. Prior to meeting this woman who looked like she stepped out of an episode of Guiding Light, I’d been feeling pretty good about the fact that not only had I showered and dried my hair that morning, I had on blush and real clothing, not work out clothes. Lindsay’s sleek no nonsense perfection made me feel like a bulky clod.

I showed her my digital recorder and turned it on before placing it on the coffee table between us. As I did I notice the rug under our feet. It was so pretty. A soft green with specks of gold threads running through it. I became self-conscious of my stupid boots.

“Where shall we begin?” Lindsay asked as though she were heading a board meeting.

“I don’t know much about your situation,” I replied taking a deep breath. It was all I could do not to just walk out of that room. It is hard to explain and I am sure it is all wrapped up in my own projections and neurosis, but women like Lindsay – self-possessed, pulled together, direct – make me want to run in the opposite direction. I find them too strict and they find me too flighty. I’ve been trying to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable but it’s a real work in progress.

Lindsay crossed her legs and played with the gargantuan eternity band on her left hand. She was looking out the window as she said, “I don’t even know what you’re doing here. I don’t know what you could possibly do for me, I don’t know if anyone can do anything.”

I made myself remain silent. Trust me, that’s really hard for me to do.

Finally, just as I was about to either explode or fill the silence with nervous chatter, Lindsay said, “Someone, or rather, something is trying to ruin me.”

I was surprised. “How?”

“It is pretending to be me and doing and saying things that I would simply never do.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” I said.

“It began with that goddamn necklace,” she spat as though I should know what she was talking about. When I didn’t offer the understanding she expected she elaborated, “The pearl necklace, from the auction in Stowe. That’s what the thing escaped out of and I need you or someone you know to tell me how to put it back.”

“Look,” I offered, creeped out. “Just tell me everything. Then we’ll figure out how to fix things.”

“That woman with the sailor’s valentine. What ended up happening to her?” Lindsay asked abruptly. “Did you do anything to help her?”

My mind caught up and I said, “Oh, you mean Pam. I called her a few days after I left her house and apologized for running out on the interview. I did some research and found a medium in Cambridge who was able to bind the entity and remove it from the house. I think Pam sold the valentine eventually, I know she got rid of it somehow anyway.”

“You bound the spirit of the little girl?” Lindsay demanded, disgusted.

“It wasn’t really a little girl,” I replied trying not to sound defensive.

Lindsay looked back out the window towards the playhouse.

“I don’t know what is happening to you but I’m happy to listen and if I can I’ll put you in touch with someone who will help. I promise I won’t just leave you hanging.”

Lindsay looked at me and swept her bangs to the side with a flick of her head. “It began at this auction, in Stowe. I’ve found unique trinkets there before and I really needed some small pieces for the built-ins in Cooper’s office.

“On that visit last Spring I found these beautiful antique rose quartz urns for the mantle at the beach house. They were a steal. I should have left it at that but this necklace caught my eye, a long strand of Tahitian multi-colored pearls. It was a piece I could only wear on island, of course, you know for cocktails.”

I could see Lindsay in my mind’s eye. On a perfectly weathered deck overlooking an expanse of beach plum bushes and scrub, the ocean not far off in the distance. The collar of her crisp white button down popped, white jeans, and rich leather sandals, one hand fingering the pearls the other holding a crisp glass of Frosé.

“It was a ridiculous impulse buy,” Lindsay interrupted my daydream with feigned embarrassment. “I even bought them with my secret stash so I wouldn’t have to explain the expense to Cooper. He can be so tedious about money. Though never if it has to do with sailing or golf, of course,” she said with a forced laugh.

“I didn’t wear them right away, you know. The season wasn’t right. I shoved them to the back of my necklace drawer and only found them when I was packing for an early summer weekend on Nantucket. My girlfriend held a three night fortieth birthday bash on the island. The necklace was perfect for the cocktail hour on the first night.

“It would be dishonest to say that I didn’t notice anything strange about the necklace at first,” Lindsay’s head gave another twitch, again knocking her sweepy bangs to the side. “For one thing I know that I packed them in a box towards the bottom of my suit case. The luggage was packed to the gills, there’s no way it could have shifted on the flight over. But that box was right on top when I unzipped my bag. Everything else was in place. And when I, well, this probably sounds like a stretch, but I took a shower and when I came back out to the bedroom the pearls were there. Laid out on the bed like they were waiting for me. I asked Coop if he’d put them out for me, he hadn’t. Of course he didn’t, that wouldn’t be like him at all.

“It was so strange, they were beautiful, stunning. Even more so than I had remembered. When I put them on I had a sort of hot flash. The hotel was frigid, Cooper is very particular about air conditioning, but I was so hot it felt like I was standing in front of an oven. The feeling was intense, but it passed quickly.

“Everything else was normal that night, though I had an incredibly vivid dream that someone was standing over me in my bed, watching me, sort of studying me. I know now that wasn’t a dream. It was there. And it was studying me. The first time I suspected something wasn’t right was the next morning. Cooper and I had slept in and when we went down to the hotel restaurant for brunch my friend, Ainsley, made a comment about how ‘wasted’ I’d been the night before. I’d had two glasses of wine, but I wasn’t drunk. I don’t get drunk, only idiots drink their calories.

“I asked what she was talking about and she said, ‘I never thought I’d ever see you at the Box.’ I’ve never been to the Chicken Box. Filthy dive bars aren’t my scene. I’d been in bed by ten o’clock.”

“That’s weird, could she have seen someone that just looked like you?” I asked.

“I tried to convince her of just that, but she wouldn’t hear it. I assumed she had been the one who was wasted that night but then one of my other friend’s husbands came over to our table and started chanting ‘Chug! Chug! Chug!’ It was so obnoxious. He said he’d seen me there too and that I had engaged in some sort of a drinking contest with a bachelorette party.”

“Oh man,” I laughed.

Lindsay wasn’t amused. “The idea is absurd, I didn’t know who they’d seen but it wasn’t me. The rest of that weekend on Nantucket was strange. There were a couple other instances of friends claiming they’d seen me laying out at the beach or waiting in line for ice cream. Again, things that I simply don’t do. We made a joke of it, that I had a look-alike on the island. ‘The trashy doppleganger,’ we called her.

“Everyone had a good laugh over that but then it began happening when we got back to town. I was at SoulCycle one morning, Back Bay not Chestnut Hill, and the woman who is always at bike fifteen asked to trade with the woman next to me. Then this woman, Jill, she’s an acquaintance at best, started going on and on about what a great time she’d had over brunch the day before.

“Frankly, I was dumbfounded. I don’t talk to people at SoulCycle. I’m there to work out for Christ’s sake, I’m not the work out buddy type.

“I tried to politely make it apparent that I was there to have a moment to myself when she said, ‘Let’s do it again. I can’t today because I have a parent teacher conference and I can’t go there smelling like booze.’

“‘I’m sorry, you must have me confused with someone else,’ I told her. She laughed out loud, I mean she threw her head back hysterically, drawing looks from the other women in class,” Lindsay’s eyes were wide, as though she couldn’t believe the woman’s gall to actually laugh out loud. “The instructor came in so we couldn’t speak any further though the woman leaned over and said, ‘You’re a riot, Lindz.’

“No one calls me that,” Lindsay said, and I could tell that she meant it. She twitched her bangs out of the way again. “I rushed out of class before the last five minutes. I couldn’t deal with talking to that loud woman again.”

“What did you think was happening?” I interrupted. “A look-a-like on Nantucket is one thing, but this woman knew your name.”

Lindsay considered for a moment, and crossed her legs in the opposite direction. She attempted to push her bangs behind her ear but they were just a touch too short. She closed her eyes, obviously agitated. “I don’t know what she, I mean what I thought. I was just annoyed. I am a bit of a home body and when I go out to do something I want to do it, I don’t understand why everything has become social hour,” she took a deep breath.

“These coincidences began happening more often. People who I’d only known in passing became increasingly familiar with me.  It was very uncomfortable. The barista called out my order as I walked in the door. I only drink green tea but she insisted that I’d raved over the salted caramel mocha,” Lindsay shivered then bang twitched.

“I was more upset by the intrusion of it all. My life is simple,” she waved a hand around the room as if indicating the subdued elegance was a reflection of minimalist living. “I keep a very small inner circle, now everyone and their cousin was approaching me with inside jokes and proposals of playdates or cocktails.

“After about two weeks of this nightmare I visited my psychiatrist. I want you to understand that I was given a clean bill of health. She suggested that I’d been under a great deal of stress, the children had been home all summer. I needed time to decompress and regain my space.

“I took a weekend at the Whiteface Lodge, by myself. No Cooper, no children. Just me, yoga and silence. That was the weekend that it took over my life.”

“What did?”

“The mimic. I slept at the Lodge, in a way that I simply hadn’t slept in forever. I came back refreshed and ready to put my life back in order. I’d done some research and decided to drop SoulCycle and apply for a membership at an exclusive yoga community in Wayland. I’d had an epiphany on that trip, I needed less busyness in my life, more stillness.”

I had no idea what this woman was talking about, it seemed all she had was restrictive stillness but I nodded my head pretending to understand.

“I returned from my retreat last Monday morning. The kids were already off to school and Cooper was at work, of course. Rebecca was nowhere to be found. I checked my planner but found nothing about a day off for her. So it was just me at the house. I set my bags at the basement stairs for Rebecca to take care of the next morning, then I texted her and she said she’d requested the day off on Friday and that I had approved the absence. I had no recollection of that, but let it slide. I went to the workout room in the basement to do some meditation, re-center myself. We have a sliding glass door that overlooks the backyard in that room. I pulled out my yoga mat and began my meditation and a noise outside caught my attention. It sounded as though someone had thrown a rock at the glass doors.

“I stood to look and see what it could have been. Movement by the playhouse, back towards the woods caught my eye. I watched for a moment, unsure of what I had seen. I was about to sit back down when I saw her, it, open the playhouse door wave to me and then slam it shut. It was me. It was me in that little house. I can’t even describe the way it felt. It was like I was having a waking dream.”

“Oh my God,” I said, unable to think of a better response. Honestly, I didn’t know how to take Lindsay’s story. To me she seemed like a complicated bundle of narcissism and agoraphobia. It was almost too perfect that the monster haunting her was herself. “Did you go out to the shed?” I asked.

“Of course not. I ran upstairs and pressed the panic button on our alarm system and went to our safe room.”

“There’s a safe room in this house? Can I see it?” I asked without thinking.

Lindsay looked at me as though I’d just asked to sit next to her in spin class. “Sorry,” I said quickly. “I just haven’t ever seen one before, I thought they were an urban legend.”

Lindsay ignored my apology, and with a bang twitch continued, “The police came immediately and searched the grounds. They found no one. But they did retrieve the strand of pearls from the play house. That’s when I knew the mimic was tied to them somehow. Perhaps they were cursed by some native, I don’t know how it all works with those people.”

“What people?” I challenged her.

“You know, those religious types.”

“Oh, sure, I know exactly what you mean,” I said, my patience completely worn thin by this uppity bitch. “So you saw your doppelganger in the perfect little duplicate of your house. What happened next? She attended a PTO meeting? Or signed you up to volunteer somewhere?”

Lindsay slowly tilted her head to the side and gave a little smile. Then she regained resting bitch face and said, “The weekend when I was away she threw a party at my house, invited everyone we know, my husband’s colleagues, all of our neighbors, the kid’s friend’s parents. Apparently it was quite the bash. And I am almost completely certain that it was with my husband that night and then again on Sunday morning.”

“Well, I mean, wasn’t he at the party?” I asked dumbly.

She looked up at the ceiling in exasperation, “Yes, he was at the party. But I think it was with him. Do you understand what I mean?”

“Oh, shit,” I said, getting her point. “That is disgusting. I’m sorry.”

“It is humiliating. He was all, affectionate when he came home Monday night,” she shook her head quickly as if to shake off the memory.

“So she, I mean it, is just running around interacting with everyone as though it is you?”

“Yes, so what do you think Biddy would try to do if she were to try and get rid of it?”

“I don’t know I would have to ask her,” I said, surprised at hearing my friend’s name. I hadn’t mentioned her, though I guess Lindsay had read the blog.

“Well, think. Take a guess,” Lindsay pressed.

“It’s not a spirit or a demon, at least I don’t think so,” I said. “It seems like a kind of monster, or a strange being you know? And if it is the result of some sort of curse then I guess she’ll have to reach out to someone who can counteract it.”

“She is able to commune with witches?” Lindsay asked in an amused tone.

I paused, looking at her. Lindsay wore the same small smile she had moments before.

“Biddy knows a lot of people from her ghost hunting days,” I said cautiously. “Um, I know this is silly but how do I know that I’m talking to the real Lindsay right now?”

Lindsay tilted her head again and her smile widened. “Good girl.”

I laughed nervously.

Lindsay lifted her hands and scruffed her perfect bangs up and off her forehead. “I was beginning to think you were a complete idiot. Ugh,” she said, annoyed, “I don’t know why she wears her hair like this. It is incredibly impractical.”

“What?” I said, quietly.

“Our Lindsay is such control freak. But we both know that an expensive keratin treatment does not guarantee a cute fringe, now does it?”

Lindsay’s face had transformed. Where there had been tightness around her eyes and a pinched sense about her lips, there was a softening. A calm amusement.

The mimic watched me watch it.

“How’d I do?” It asked watching me intently. “From that dumb look on your face I’d say I was pretty convincing. I thought you’d figure it out sooner, though. Do you honestly think Lindz would ever tell anyone that this is happening to her? No. She’d go to her grave first. I expect she soon will, actually. A few more little nudge nudges from me and then I’ll be rid of her. She’s got a good gig going here but she won’t let herself enjoy it. She’s so fucking repressed.”

The thing tucked it’s legs beneath itself on the couch, then shook a finger at me, “No shoes on the sofa!” It giggled then said, “It didn’t take you very long to hate her did it? Oh, this one is as elitist as they come. You want to know what she thinks about you? It’s quite incredible really, I know exactly what she knows. I have all her memories in here,” the thing tapped it’s head gently, “I can form her opinions as though they are my own.”

I stared at her. At it.

It watched me, “You know, Miss Liz, I’ve been wanting to meet you. You’re pretty much what I expected. Gullible, a smidge vague, though that’s probably from that bad case of insomnia.” It winked at me, again. “I don’t know why they’re so worried about you, you’re not much to be worried about.”

I grabbed the recorder off the coffee table and held it out in front of me like a weapon as I stood up and backed away from the thing. My mind swirled with far fetched ideas, trying to convince myself that I was speaking with a mentally unstable woman, not a monster. But I wasn’t sure which scenario was more terrifying.

“Quit messing around,” I said, like a complete and total idiot.

“Oh, no.” It said in a low voice. “I am not messing around. I am as serious as a knife through your eye.” It stood up causing me to back up so quickly that I knocked over a side table, and watched as it’s lamp fell and smashed on the hardwood floor.

The mimic tsked and exclaimed, “Oh boy, Lindsay is not going to be happy about that!” Then it began to laugh hysterically. One hand over it’s mouth, the other on it’s stomach.

I bent down without taking my eyes off the monster and grabbed my bag, then I began to back towards the exit.

“Leaving so soon? Well, I must say this was fun. A word of advice, if I may? Stop these ridiculous little interviews. I might not think you’re a threat but I’m not the one you need to be worried about. They don’t want you connecting any more dots my dear.”

I’d backed into the French doors at that point and was feeling around for one of the knobs. I found one, turned it, pulled and bolted for the front door. The mimic called, “Sweet dreams!” before snorting with laughter.

I jumped out the door and slammed it behind me making a run for the car. Once safely locked inside I was shaking so badly I could barely get the key in the ignition. I gunned it out of the driveway, spraying broken sea shells behind me. Maddeningly, traffic kept me from turning immediately onto Cliff Road off Bristol.

I waited in an impatient panic for a break in traffic, trying to convince myself that it had all been a mean prank. I’d almost sold myself on the idea when Lindsay, the real Lindsay, turned off Cliff Road and onto her street. She drove past me without looking, in a blinged out Mercedes wagon headed towards her house.

digging_basement_under_house_17438_560_374Before we address the dead body in Adrienne’s basement, I’ve got to tell you about my current drama. Remember that doll I found in the kids’ Clubhouse? I threw it out. I mentioned that I’d found one exactly like it on the front steps too, right? Well, I threw that one out as well, but the third time the doll turned up I finally caught on to the game. It was the same damn doll. A girl superhero action figure, the size of a Barbie, painted all black.

Yes, I’ve called Biddy and yes she’s pissed that I didn’t call her when the thing turned up on my porch the first time. I honestly wasn’t too concerned about it. Okay, lie. There was serious panic tip-toeing around my mind but I was wrapped in the embrace of my old friend, Denial. I know people knock it, but Denial is a wonderful ally. It’s a handy little cheerleader when I know deep down that I am in deep shit. My friend Denial got me through all the time the girls spent in the NICU, it got me through running marathons, it even made that tapping demon situation soft and fuzzy around the edges. Denial can even handle more than one issue at a time. Take now for instance, it’s lulling my tenacious back problems into soft focus even as it’s whispering “Don’t worry about it,” whenever I think about that weird doll.

The thing about Denial is that she isn’t the strongest of buddies. Eventually she takes off and then that pain in the ass Anxiety turns up like a bad penny. Anxiety is like one of those North Face puffer vests; stifling, zipped too damn tight, tummy-tee short and swishing around maddeningly with every move. But as annoying as the vest of Anxiety is, at least it eventually prompts me to action. Luckily I have another old buddy waiting for me, impatiently holding out her hand to get tagged in. When Anxiety has overstayed her welcome, Rage comes to call. And Rage is the slow burn that gets shit done.

Denial is gone and Anxiety was driving me to distraction, but like the ballsy fiercely loyal friend in a children’s story about bullying, Rage showed up just in time to deal with the strange man in my front yard.

After I put the kids to bed last night I took the garbage out and there was a man sitting on one of the beach chairs the girls had dragged out of the garage earlier that that afternoon.

He was just sitting there, smoking a cigarette and staring at the woods behind our neighbor’s home across the street.

“Hey there,” I called, trying to hide my surprise and annoyance.

He flicked his lit cigarette into the road and then stood, put his hands in his pockets and began to stroll out of the yard. He glanced back slowly at me over his shoulder and replied, “Hey there.”

Fear, perhaps irrational perhaps not, shot through me. Rage showed up immediately, her braided pigtails bouncing with excitement. Unwilling to let the weirdo simply creep off down the road I called, “Nice night for a walk.” Which, in hindsight was not the best Rage has ever come up with, but she was called up so fast I’m sure she was just trying to assess the situation.

The man stopped and without turning to look at me said, “Nice night for a ghost story,” before continuing down the road towards Boulder Brook park.

I stood there frozen watching him walk away until he turned onto the path into the woods. I finally came to my senses, dropped the garbage bags in the driveway and ran back inside the house. Chris was out late at hockey which meant I was alone with the girls for another two hours. I set the alarm and turned on every light in the house. Then I texted Biddy and sat on the couch pretending to read an Agatha Christie, my great uncle Eddy’s old billy club at my side.

When Chris got home he asked if the garbage bags thrown in the driveway were a message that he needed to help out more at home. I told him I saw a weird bug in the driveway and panicked. I’m meeting Biddy for coffee tomorrow morning, I’m not expecting good news.

 

***

Ok, back to Adrienne, to recap she is passionate about the apocalypse and she just shared that she and her husband found a body in her basement. Alright? And scene:

“No you did not!” I breathed.

“We most certainly did,” Adrienne insisted.

“How did you miss that in the inspection?” I asked, only half-kidding.

Adrienne leaned forward, “Here’s the thing, we were in the process of digging out the basement in order to build a secure bunker. It had poured concrete flooring and after we broke that up and hauled it out we intended to go down another seven feet.”

“That’s a pretty major project,” I commented.

“Yeah, it took us about six months of weekends just to break up that concrete and drag it out of there.”

“You guys did it all on your own?”

“We were building a secret bunker, so, yeah,” Adrienne looked at me like I was a complete moron. I saw her point.

She continued, “So I was working in a far back corner, we’d finally begun making some progress. I was about two feet down in the dirt when the smell hit me. At first I thought maybe I’d uncovered a sewage line so I switched the shovel out for a rake. Of course we mapped out exactly where all the utilities and everything were on the property, but the house was old and I didn’t want to take a risk of puncturing something unexpected. I slowly raked aside some more dirt and uncovered the edge a blue tarp.”

“Oh, shit,” I breathed. “This is like an episode of Forensic Files.”

“I don’t know what that is,” Adrienne said.

“It’s a T.V. show, like Cold Case Files or Dateline.”

Adrienne shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t watch much television.”

Oh, whatever, I thought, suppressing another eye roll. I asked, “Well then what did you think when you saw the tarp? I mean, if I even see a blue tarp for sale over at Green’s Hardware I immediately think, dead body.”

“It gave me pause,” Adrienne admitted. “I figured maybe someone had buried a pet beneath the flooring.”

“Gross,” I interrupted.

“Uncovering a dead dog would have been problematic all on it’s own, but something about the tarp,” she paused, “Made me cautious. So I stopped and waited for Elliot to get back downstairs before digging any further. Though I did have to move over towards the bulkhead to wait for him. The smell became close to unbearable.”

“See he’d been carrying concrete and dirt out in buckets to the back yard-”

I interrupted again, “Sorry, to be stuck on the logistics, but there must have been a ton of dirt and concrete to get rid of if you’re digging out an entire basement. Where did you put it all? How do you keep the neighbors from noticing?”

“Excellent question,” Adrienne said, as though I was a student in an Apocalypse Prep For Beginners course. “This house was over in the Cliff Road area close to the edge of town. We had two acres set back from the road and surrounded by forest, there was even a sizeable stream that ran through the property,” she shook her head in dismay at what I suppose was disappointment in losing such a choice piece of end times acreage. “We created neat piles of debris approximately twenty feet back into the woods.”

“No wonder you’re in such good shape,” I replied.

“It’s better than CrossFit,” she conceded. “So anyway, Elliot was barely down the bulkhead stairs when he goes, ‘What in the hell is that smell? Did we hit a sewer line?’ I brought him back into the basement and pointed to the edge of the tarp.

“He grabbed the rake and pulled more dirt away uncovering the whole thing. It was about six feet long and it was obvious that it was wrapped around something body-shaped. ‘It’s gotta be someone’s dog,’ Elliot said hopefully. But then we saw hair mixed in with the dirt near one open end of the tarp, blond hair.”

“Are you serious?” I demanded.

“Yeah,” Adrienne said simply. “What a total punch in the face. All that work for nothing.”

“What did you do with the body?” I asked, almost afraid of the answer.

“We called the damn police, we had no choice,” she sighed disgustedly. “We had people swarming all throughout the house, forget the work we’d done on the basement, we’d made a ton of modifications to the upper floors as well. Wasted. We knew we had to move and start again from square one but we couldn’t do anything until the investigation was over and we were allowed to fix the basement. It was a fucking nightmare. Not to mention how hard it is to sell a house where a body’s been found. It’s impossible! People are so fucking superstitious. We’ve got a renter in there now.”

“Do they know about the body?” I asked.

“No, I don’t think so. They haven’t ever brought it up anyhow.”

“And about that body,” I prompted.

“It was a woman. She was screwing around with a married man, the wife found out then killed her and they buried her body in the basement.”

“Well, that’s a bit of a twist,” I said. “Isn’t it usually the guy who murders his mistress?”

“I suppose,” Adrienne pouted. “People need to learn to manage their own shit.”

“What happened next?” I asked, eager to get to the ghost.

“So the house was processed as a crime scene for over a week. We had to clear out of there and stay in a hotel, which is probably the most vulnerable place to be in the event of a disaster by the way.”

My mind flittered to all the people caught in the path of a relentless hurricane season and I remained silent, not trusting myself to withhold snark.

“So the body, the woman, her name was Catherine Platt. She had an affair with this guy, Paul Whitfield. He sold the house to the people who we bought it from. The jackass was married and his wife Georgia found out about the affair so she invited Catherine to the house (apparently they were in the Juniors together or some shit) and poisoned her coffee. Then she calls the husband and tells him what she’d done. He gets home and the assholes decide to try and cover it all up.

“You’ve gotta give them credit. If we hadn’t dug that basement out no one would ever have found her.”

“People must have been looking for the poor woman,” I argued. “How did they get away with it?”

Adrienne shrugged, “Part dumb luck part evil genius I suppose. There were rumors in town that Catherine had run off with her therapist, or that she’d escaped back home to L.A. Multiple theories shifted attention away from the fact that a couple women in their spin class overheard Georgia invite Catherine over for coffee on the day she went missing. Georgia must have been a convincing actress because she never fell under suspicion.

“The police found Catherine’s Land Rover parked over at Morses Pond. The gossip mill filled in the blanks. Her husband actually became suspect number one. That dip shit was also cheating with some chick in his office. The perfect storm of messy lives and gossip protected the Whitfields and they almost got away with murder.”

“Until your doomsday prep plans came along,” I commented.

“Exactly. You know the police actually did search the house, but obviously they missed something. They think the couple stashed the body way back in the woods for a time before burying it in the basement.”

“When did all this happen?” I asked.

“The nineties.”

“And when did you find the body?”

“A little over four years ago.”

I was surprised that I hadn’t heard anything about it before, but it had probably gone down just before we’d moved to town. I made a mental note to ask some friends what they knew about the murder.

After a moment I said, “That poor woman.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Adrienne replied, shifting in her chair.

“Come on, drinking poisoned coffee then getting wrapped in a tarp and buried two feet below someone’s basement floor is pretty brutal,” I insisted.

“True,” Adrienne replied. “But what’s worse is having the ghost of that woman think you’re the one who killed her.”

“Oh no!” I said enthusiastically, failing to hide my excitement.

“I don’t care if you believe me or not, it happened,” Adrienne said defensively.

“Tell me what happened already and I’ll tell you if I believe you,” I said, impatiently.

“Alright, obviously the plans for the basement were off. We had to move, everyone and their sister had been in there and we couldn’t risk having our fallout shelter so public. It really sucked. That place would have been the perfect hold out,” she sighed.

I ate another Munchkin. Stuffing sass.

“So we had to get the house ready to put on the market.”

“How long had you been living there?” I asked.

“About two years. Once the police finally cleared out we began getting the house ready for a sale. That’s when the ghost came around.”

“So, wait. Nothing strange happen in the house beforehand?”
“Not that we noticed,” she replied, thoughtfully.

“Weird, I feel like it would make more sense if the ghost caused problems until you found her body.”

“Yeah, well if this woman was anything in life like she was in death? I don’t blame those people for getting rid of her.”

“Jesus,” I said, “Harsh.”

“I know, but I have wondered if there was more to the story about her death. Maybe it wasn’t just revenge on the wife’s part. Maybe they had to get rid of her. I’m telling you, the way she came after me I would have done anything to get rid of her.”

“What did she do?” I asked.

“Little things at first. A couple days after we moved back in I was in the basement making a list of the supplies we’d need to lay a new floor. I had my measuring tape with me and I know that I put it down for a minute on the stairs so I could make note of a measurement. I went to pick it back up but it was gone.

“I began looking all around the floor, thinking maybe it had fallen and I had kicked dirt over it by accident. Then all of a sudden I heard the swoosh noise. You know that noise a metal measuring tape makes when you let the ruler slide back in? That sound came from the back corner of the basement. Where we found the body.”

“Yikes,” I breathed.

“I went right over and there was my tape measurer. Sitting right in the center of the depression where the body’d been. Look, I’m not a jumpy person but that doesn’t mean I was cool with hanging out in that part of the basement. I hadn’t even been back there since the day we called the police. There was no logical reason for the tape measurer to be there. But it was.

“I chalked it up to a fluke. Maybe I’d been distracted with the construction plans and had dropped it.”

“But the noise of the measuring tape recoiling,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, that I couldn’t ignore, though I tried to. I think she was just testing the waters then, getting her sea legs. I can imagine there’s a bit of a learning curve for ghosts,” Adrienne said thoughtfully. “They probably have to practice moving small stuff first before they get the hang of it.

“So those first weeks back in the house minor things like that kept happening, minor but irritating nonetheless. Like, any time I used anything electrical, my spin toothbrush, the toaster oven, the computer, it blew a fuse. And it was only me, it never happened to Elliot. I began having to ask him turn things on for me just so I could get through my day. Then the lightbulbs started exploding. I could use lights during the day for the most part, in my office or bedroom, though never in the basement. But at night, if I flipped a switch or turned on a lamp the bulb would make this popping noise and blink out. It was ridiculous. I had two different electricians to the house – I even had one of them come at night so they could see exactly what was happening – neither one could explain it.

“Then she started moving things. Big things. I woke up one morning and our dresser, it’s just about waist high with three drawers, about this wide,” Adrienne held her arms out indicating an approximate width that appeared to be a little over a yard, “It was pushed up against my side of the bed. It took me a moment to get it when I opened my eyes. The dresser was right there in front of me, and everything on top, a lamp some books and a couple picture frames, were exactly as I’d left them.”

“Where does the dresser usually sit?” I asked.

“On the other side of the room, on the wall across from Elliot’s side of the bed.”

I just shook my head.

“We hadn’t talked about it before then, but Elliot was like, ‘We can’t ignore what’s happening any longer.’ We were a ways from being able to sell the house, there was still a lot of work that needed to be done before we could put it on the market. It had to be especially perfect seeing as a body had been found in the basement.”

“What did you decide to do?” I asked nervously.

“Elliot bought a Ouija board.”

I had no words, so I stuffed one of the last Munchkins into my mouth.

“We did some research online. It seemed like a lot of people with ghosts try to sage ‘em outta there or use salt to banish them. But I found a couple websites that warned against doing either of those things because it was possible to inadvertently trap the ghost rather than dispel it. And apparently that really pisses them off.

“We decided to contact the ghost directly and find out what the hell it wanted.”

“And?” I prompted.

“We put a lot of thought into it. We drew up a questioning strategy to dig out as much information as we could from the spirit. We believed that only then could make an informed plan of attack.”

“Know your enemy,” I commented, imagining Adrienne and her husband sitting in a police interrogation room, a Ouija board on a table between them.

Adrienne slurped the last of her Dunkachino obnoxiously, “Precisely,” she said pointing a finger at me. “We needed to know who the ghost was, what it wanted, and where it spent most of the time in the house. We developed a line of questioning regarding its past life too.  We planned to dig out facts, names and dates that we could verify and validate.”

Adrienne stared at me, I think hoping that I would praise her for the ridiculous plan. I said, “Had either of you ever used a Ouija board before?”

“Of course not,” she snapped. “Why would we? It’s spiritualist bullshit.”

“But it was the first thing you chose to contact the ghost in your house,” I pointed out.

“Well we needed the right tool for the job,” she replied.

“So how did that work out?”

Adrienne pushed her sleeves up and crossed her arms across her chest. “It made things a million times worse,” she admitted.

“How so?”

“The ghost ignored most of our questions, it was almost completely uncooperative. She told us her name, though. Catherine, the woman we found in the basement, which wasn’t a shock but it was,” Adrienne paused, searching for a word. She landed on “disconcerting.”

“What else did the board tell you?”

“We wanted proof that it was Catherine, so we asked how she died. She actually wrote out ‘bad coffee’ on the board.”

“Holy hell, that is incredible!” I exclaimed.

“It was pretty amazing. Elliot and I weren’t pushing the planchette. It was her. What I really wanted to know was why she was still there, I thought it might give us a clue as to how to get rid of her. I asked, ‘why are you stuck in the house?’ And she wrote ‘not house.’ It didn’t make any sense because she sure as shit had been spending time there. I pressed for specifics and she wouldn’t reply. Elliot finally got frustrated and demanded to know what she wanted.”

Adrienne began to pick at the cardboard of the empty munchkin box. “When he asked her what she wanted the planchette slid across the board towards me and it didn’t stop until it was in my lap.

“I grabbed it and threw the thing across the room. And then the lights went out and the security alarm sounded. We scrambled up the basement stairs-”

“Wait,” I demanded, “You were using the Ouija board in the basement?

“Well yeah, we set it up right over where we’d found her body,” Adrienne replied scrunching her eyebrows, “It made the most sense.”

I shook my head, frightened by her dumb bravery.

“So we got upstairs and the alarm was deafening, I swear she somehow made it louder than usual. I ran straight to the second floor to check on Duke but not before noticing that all the doors to the first floor were wide open.”

“Shit,” I said. “But who the hell is Duke?”

“Our son.”

“You have a child?” I said trying to hide the surprise and horror from my voice.

“Yeah. Why else would we be in the suburbs?,” she replied.

“How old is he?” I asked, afraid of her answer.

“Five, he just started kindergarten.”

“What elementary school does he go to?” I asked trying to sound nonchalant.

“I’d rather not say,” Adrienne replied.

“My daughter just started kindergarten at [school name omitted],” I said, prying subtly.

“It’s not that one,” she said waving the question away. I sighed with relief, I certainly don’t want to seem too judgy, but I also didn’t need Max hanging out with this woman’s child.

“Anyhow, that night, after Elliot went around and closed and re-locked all the doors we just called it a night.”

“You didn’t close the board?”

“What do you mean?”

“I thought you said you did research!” I replied, irritated.

“Most of that stuff just seemed like hocus pocus,” Adrienne said dismissively. I rolled my eyes but didn’t comment further. “Catherine was much harder to live with after that night. For one thing opening all the doors at once like that? That was one of her favorite tricks. She did it at least once a day and at completely random times, you never knew when it was coming. And it was as though she knew exactly how to drive us crazy.

“She put my wedding ring in the toilet. She managed to burst a pipe in the ceiling that was directly above our coat closet downstairs where I keep all of my shoes. My keys stopped working even after I had new ones cut, even after I had the locks changed on all the doors.”

“Why was she picking on you? You found her body, if it weren’t for you then her killers would never have been caught,” I said.

“It took me a while to figure it out too,” Adrienne admitted. “I began to see her, just glimpses at first. She loved standing in the corner of our bedroom. Elliot couldn’t see her, but I could. I didn’t sleep.”

“What did she look like?” I asked.

“She was wearing what I assumed she died in, workout clothes. Black yoga pants, obnoxious neon Nikes and a camouflage LuLu Lemon shirt.”

I glanced down at my own outfit, the only difference was that my shirt was pink.

“I suppose you could spend eternity in a worse outfit,” Adrienne laughed. “I honestly felt like I was being stalked. And it was me, it wasn’t Elliot, or Duke thank God. She haunted me. I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone what was happening. I couldn’t do any real research either, she glitched our computer up it up whenever I tried to use it. I tried using a library computer and ended up causing a power outage.”

“Did you try the salt and sage?” I asked dumbly.

“I went a step further. I called a priest,” Adrienne said darkly. “He said he’d be happy to come to the house and perform a blessing. So there he was on our front step and I couldn’t get the door open. I opened the window and told him to go around to the side door. He was good natured about it at first, but as he watched me through the glass struggling with the second door he began insisting that he’d come back at a better time.

“I was freaking out. Trapped. I motioned for him to go back to the other door so I could talk to him through the open window. I rushed back only to see him getting back in his car. I called to him, ‘Father! Wait!’

“He waved and called back, ‘I’ll do my best to find someone to help you.’”

“Oh shit,” I said, unconsciously feeling for my necklace.

Adrienne shook her head, “And then I had a full blown panic attack. I wanted to jump out the window into the yard but the screen wouldn’t budge. So I ran to the kitchen to get a hammer to smash the door handle off the side door and as I rushed around the corner to the mudroom I almost crashed right into her.”

“The ghost?”

Yes. She was standing in front of the door with a smirk on her face. And she, like said, but not out loud it was like she thought the words and I could hear her thinking. I know it sounds ridiculous. But she goes, ‘I’ll never quit paying you back for what you did to me.’ Then all the doors on the first floor flew open with a huge crash and she disappeared, leaving the alarm blaring.”

“So she did think you killed her.”

“Yeah,” Adrienne said quietly. “We tried the damn Ouija again. I spelled out ‘I am not Georgia’ on the board thinking maybe the message would get through to her that way. It didn’t work. So I sent Duke to stay with my parents in California for two weeks hoping I could somehow solve the problem by the time he got back.”

“Elliot suggested we hold an auction to unload the house but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t the house that mattered. The ghost was attached to me. The little jump scares she enjoyed torturing me with were one thing, but then she began influencing me.”

“Mm mm,” I murmured.

“I began to black out. I would find myself in my car and have absolutely no idea why I was there or where I had been.”

“Oh no,” I breathed.

“It was really scary. She started to jump me like that more and more, and when she did she caused all sorts of problems. One day she went and bought a shit-ton of dresses and old lady slacks and cardigans at Talbot’s. All final sale, mind you.”

“She must have wanted to live through you,” I commented.

“No, it wasn’t like that. She didn’t want to be alive again, she wanted to fuck up my life.”

“So how did it all end? How did you get rid of her?”

“That’s almost the craziest part of the whole story. I was in the library with Duke. We were in the children’s room and there was this woman there. She kept looking over at me. As we were leaving she followed us out to the parking lot. She was really sweet, had a two year old little girl with her. I figured she thought she recognized us, but then she goes, ‘Excuse me, I don’t want to be strange, but do you believe in ghosts?’”

“No freaking way! Was she psychic?”

“Yeah, she could see Catherine. She said she usually didn’t stop people to tell them about their ghosts unless she thought they might be in danger. When we were in the library she’d had a vision of what the ghost had been doing to me. She asked if I wanted help.

“Wow,” I said in disbelief. “Could she get rid of it? What did she do?”

“She was really persistent. She came to the house and spoke with Catherine a few times. She even brought print outs of newspaper articles and explained to her what had actually happened. Eventually Catherine accepted the fact that I really wasn’t Georgia and moved on.”

“That is truly incredible,” I said. “What a godsend.”

“Molly was amazing, you should meet her actually.”

“Wait, Molly? Not Molly Vail,” I asked, shocked.

“Yeah, that’s her. You know her?”

“Shut the front door!” I exclaimed. “Her story is on the blog.”

“Small world,” Adrienne replied obviously not as impressed as I was with the coincidence.

 

***

I texted Molly the second I got into my car.

Just met your friend Adrienne. Crazy story! How are you?

What synchronicity! Been meaning to get in touch, she texted back. Can you do coffee in the morning?

Sure, I replied suddenly overcome with anxiety.

OK good. Cafe Vanille 9am?

I texted the thumbs up emoji.

How much do you know about Voodoo? Molly texted seconds later.

d6391c0b-c847-477d-832a-f4f318fd3949_1.01af5aa40e57dd6ecd99110a88e53235The Boston Marathon is pure love. It is a 26.2 mile wall of strangers supporting and challenging runners to dig in until they take a left on Boylston Street. We lived in Boston for thirteen years and have been out in Wellesley (also a part of the marathon route) for three. Every time I’ve gone to cheer on the runners I’ve had to blink back tears as I join the line of spectators. The vibe is so incredibly strong, you can feel pure love and hope emanating off every single person along the course.

I simply love the marathon. Chris and I ran it together twice, once before the bombings and once after.

The year of the bombings I was pregnant with Joey and I had the marathon playing on the television as background noise like I do every Patriot’s Day. Though we lived in Beacon Hill at the time I didn’t hear the bombs go off. But I did notice the live marathon feed change to a strange view of the freeway and then within moments my phone rang, it was Chris calling to say he was alright and that he would he would walk home along Comm. Ave. I didn’t get the chance to ask him what had happened, he just hung up. Then the panicked Facebook messages began rolling in.

“Has anyone heard from so-and-so?”

“Was so-and-so at the finish line?”

“I can’t get in touch with anyone, they’re blocking cellphones!”

On that day Chris worked at 745 Boylston Street, the office building is about a block up from Marathon Sports where the first bomb went off and right next door to Forum where the second bomb detonated about 15 seconds later. When he heard the loud booms he thought one of the ever-present construction cranes had come down. But then he went to the window and looked down at Boylston Street.

At that very moment eight-year-old Martin Richard, 23-year-old Lingzi Lu, and 29-year-old Krystle Campbell were dying, seventeen other people were so horrifically injured that they lost limbs, and countless others suffered devastating burns and lacerations.

No one works Patriot’s Day in Boston. Except Chris. He was alone in the office but for one other woman and the building’s doorman. An angel of a man who stopped Chris and his co-worker from leaving the building through the front door and walking straight into a bloody, heart-wrenching nightmare. As it is Chris still can’t shake the image of a policeman running, a toddler in his arms, blood draining from her ears.

We didn’t know anyone who got hurt that day. We know people who had crossed the finish line half an hour or so before the bombs went off. We know people who had been cheering on loved ones and strangers from those two blocks but had left before the madness. We were a hairsbreadth from tragedy, but it didn’t touch us. But if Patriot’s Day in Boston emanates love every year, the four confusing days after the 2013 Boston Marathon radiated fear and rage.

Preppers often times have a trigger event. This was mine.

There are three (okay, five) Rubbermaid containers sitting in my basement, their contents patiently awaiting calamity. Could those plastic boxes have done a damn thing if Chris had walked down to watch the runners before he came home that day? No.

But I heard a new term in those four days of madness: Shelter in place.

Now that was something I could control.

Thus, my five plastic containers. Enclosed within are candles and waterproof matches, batteries and a solar powered radio-slash-cell-phone-charger-slash-flashlight contraption. There’s a Bear Grylls fire starter and a Swiss Army knife. A much bigger knife, crank walkie talkies, a massive first aid kit plus extra medical supplies, lots of kids tylenol and advil and plenty for the adults too, and even a stash of canned foods. Dinty Moore Stew, beans, peanut butter, jelly, candy and a lot of water. And since I was a little girl and read of sailors developing scurvy on long boat trips, I’ve had this thing about access to vitamin C. So little cans of tropical fruit are included as well.

Preppers exist on a paranoia continuum. To the left are those who stock extra batteries for flashlights in case of an overnight power outage, to the right are wackadoos who build bunkers in remote northern locations. I suspected that I might be crossing into serious paranoia territory, and then I met Adrienne Raczki.

She sent an email introducing herself as a  fellow Welleslian and asked if I might be interested in discussing something “truly terrifying.” She gave no further details but attached a giph of Dan Ackroyd in the Twilight Zone movie saying “You wanna see something really scary?”

How could I possibly say no to that?

Adrienne suggested that we meet at the Dunkin’ Donuts near Newton Lower Falls and informed me that she’d be wearing a pink Patagonia vest. I didn’t know what I would be wearing, but let’s be honest it would probably be workout clothes since my jeans had been a bit too tight lately.

I sat at the only free table in the corner of the shop, next to two men who were in the midst of a heated discussion about their business. One of the guys went on and on about everyone at the company being fed up with Kevin and his lack of focus. I reached into my bag and flipped on my voice recorder. I know it probably seems like, well maybe illegal but at the very least inappropriate, but I sort of like to study the way people talk to each other, it helps me write more realistic conversations and here I was alongside the perfect example of an argument. I would be turning the recorder on soon enough, I just turned it on a bit early.

“We’re all sick of your shit, Kevin,” the guy insisted loudly.

For his part, Kevin was agonizingly calm and even said a few things about constructive feedback. I wondered why they chose Dunks to have such a private talk.

A moment later I spotted Adrienne. Beneath the pink Patagonia vest she wore a white long sleeved t-shirt. A cute pair of distressed boyfriend jeans, a pair of well loved white Chuck Taylors and long highlighted hair completed the active lifestyle look. I guessed that she was in her very early thirties. She waved to me from the door and held up one finger, indicating she’d just be a minute while she placed her order.

I continued listening to the colleagues’ maddening back and forth and then groaned a little bit when I saw Adrienne approaching the table with a huge drink in one hand and a box of Munchkins in the other.

“Hieeeee!” She said cheerfully, placing an extra large iced Dunkachino and donuts on the table.

“Help yourself,” she said, indicating the box of Munchkins.

“Oh man, thank you. I don’t want to be that person but I’m trying really really hard to stay away from sweets.”

She smiled, “Oh, I totally get it. Sorry to provide temptation.”

“Well, I mean, I’ll have one,” I replied, sipping my black coffee.

We began to chat about the blog, Adrienne was pretty concerned about keeping her identity secret, but after a minute she sighed loudly and said, “Excuse me for a minute,” then she leaned towards the table next to us and with all the authority in the world said, “Hey, man. Settle the fuck down. There are people here trying to enjoy their coffee,” she paused for the briefest of moments then continued, “And Kevin, why are you letting this dickhead talk to you like that?”

The angry guy was about to say something when she cut him off, “We’ve heard enough from you today angry smurf. Don’t back chat me.”

The two stared each other down for a moment while Kevin and I stared at them staring at each other.

Angry smurf began a reply, “Mind your own business you nosey-”

“Finish that sentence,” Adrienne said calmly, slowly standing up.

The angry man looked like he was considering his options.

“Fuck this,” he finally said, shoving his chair back so hard that it fell over.

We all watched him storm out the door.

Kevin cleared his throat and said, “Thanks for your help. I was letting him blow off a little steam before I fired him.”

“Dumbshit,” Adrienne said without missing a beat. “Where’d you go to business school?”

With that Kevin actually laughed, “Enjoy your coffee, ladies,” he said before picking the chair up off the floor and leaving.

Then Adrienne turned to me, “Good riddance, huh?”

I was speechless, halfway between thanking her and getting up to leave myself.

“Sorry to be so aggro, but guys like that are the worst,” she said in a peppy voice.

A woman who had been watching the exchange as she waited for her order came over and high-fived Adrienne.

“Stuff like that happens to you all the time, doesn’t it?” I asked.

“I guess so, I’ve never been good at ignoring bullshit,” she said simply.

“That’s amazing.”

“Well, moving on,” she said, popping a Munchkin in her mouth, “As long as you’re sure that this story won’t be connected back to me in any way, then I have a ghost story for you, but I came to it by way of the apocalypse.”

Again, I was speechless.

“My husband and I are preppers.”

It took me a moment to understand what she was saying, at first I thought she was referring to being preppy. Then her meaning dawned on me.

“Oh!” I said, “You mean like stocking food for disaster?”

“Not just food,” she replied, stirring the massive Dunkachino with a straw. “All sorts of supplies. It’s about independence, really. The ability to take care of your own. You know, people in this country are asleep, we’ve allowed the government to run us all into a forever war so they can keep us in a state of perpetual state of fear and confusion. If we feel that there are bad guys swarming all the time then we won’t think clearly. They can’t have us thinking for ourselves,” she paused, sizing me up.

“Go on,” I said.

“Well, I mean have you thought about it at all?”

“What?” I asked, confused.

“The state of everything,” she insisted, her peppy demeanor gone. “This slow march towards disaster that we’ve all signed on for. You’re educated, you have access to resources, you recognize that there is darkness here. But what are you doing to prepare for the end days?”

“Good question,” I said, afraid she was about to whip out a Bible. “What are you doing to prepare for it?”

“Everything I can,” she replied excitedly pulling her chair in closer to the table. “I grew up in California where it felt like disaster was hiding around every corner. The mudslides and rolling blackouts, wildfires, riots. Not to mention the threat of the big one, the earthquake that would kill us all.

“Then this one Sunday in church our preacher referred to armageddon in his sermon. I’d never heard the term before. I read a lot so I went to the library and checked out a Time Life book on the subject.

“I read it once then flipped back to the front page and read it again, only that time I took notes. It made so much sense, I realized that all the disaster around me was a part of a bigger picture. We were being given a glimpse, a warning of what was to come. Little frightening messages of the inevitable.

“So I began reading the newspaper every day, then two or three a day. There were signs from all over the world, right there in black and white. Proof of our imminent advance towards the apocalypse but no one was talking about it.”

I didn’t know what to say so I sipped my coffee.

“So I decided to be prepared,” Adrienne concluded.

“But isn’t the whole point of the apocalypse that no one makes it out alive?” I asked.

“No, no, no, no,” Adrienne said rapidly. “I’m not a religious nut. I’m not talking Jesus coming down on a flaming horse and branding us all, I’m talking about the clearing of the planet. The book of Revelation is allegory. A warning, an incredibly forward thinking one.”

“You really think something like that is going to happen?”

“Yes,” she replied simply. “And I’ve been preparing for it since I graduated from college.”

“How in the world did you end up in Wellesley?” I asked, thinking this wasn’t exactly the ideal place to prepare for the end of the world.

“My husband grew up here but we met in college. We both got our Bachelor’s in Horticulture at Oregon State. I met Elliot in the program while we were worked a farm about half an hour from campus. We got to talking and it turned out we were both interested in the end times.”

“What are the chances of that?” I mused.

“I know, right?” She agreed with a big smile.

“But still,” I pressed, “Why did you guys move back here? I would think you’d be better off riding out the apocalypse in the mountains or something.”

“Uh uh,” she replied firmly. “The government’s entrenched in the mountains. Trust me, you don’t want to be anywhere near them when it all falls apart. It’s going to be hard enough to keep from getting drafted no matter where you are.

“Ultimately, we chose Wellesley to be close to Boston, we’re foodies.”

I tried really hard to maintain a neutral expression, that word tended to give me the eye rolls.

“We couldn’t move to New York, you’d have to be an idiot to live there,” Adrienne declared. “Sure it’s the ideal place to experience food but the place is a death trap. I shudder to imagine what will become of those people. Boston’s fine,” she waved a hand dismissively, “We blend in here and it’s easy to escape.”

“Hmm,” I said considering. The traffic around here on a Tuesday was maddening enough, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like during a world-wide emergency. But I thought better of pointing it out and asked, “What exactly do you think is going to happen?”

“A large scale trigger event, I’d say it’s a toss up between climate change initiating a technology fueled financial meltdown and plain old fashioned nuclear war.”

“What about an outbreak?” I asked.

Adrienne shook her head knowingly, “Illness in itself won’t elicit enough panic to cause full scale disaster. Of course, disease will come after the initial event. The outbreaks we’ve seen around the world are a PG-rated preview of what we’ll encounter when the system collapses. The main event hasn’t happened yet so the government will continue to allow certain structures to remain in place to contain disease.

“But, when an outbreak occurs when half of our medical professionals are already dead, when we have no electricity and people are already weak from lack of proper nutrition, that’s the outbreak that will imprison the sick in hospitals in order to protect the healthy.”

As I tried to digest the image of the possibility Adrienne whispered, “You know to stay away from hospitals, right?”

“I love hospitals,” I replied shaking my head.

“Oh man,” Adrienne sighed. “Look, that’s fine for now, I guess, but you do realize that you’re completely giving up all freedom the second you walk through those automatic doors.”

I looked at her skeptically, I’m perfectly happy to give up my so-called freedom to medical professionals. Afterall, what good is freedom if you’re hurt or dead?

“Think about it,” Adrienne insisted pointing a finger at the table. “Imagine how it will all play out. Let’s say the war is on and the enemy decides to weaken our systems by releasing biological warfare on the civilian population.

“In wartime, the kind of future war that we will be facing anyway, even the flu will be used as a biological weapon. So let’s say the agent is released and someone in your family comes down with symptoms. You don’t want to contaminate everyone else in the house so you all decide it’s best for the infected family member to go over to Newton Wellesley Hospital, just to get some fluids and medicine. Let’s imagine it’s your husband. He’ll get the rest and treatment he needs and be back with the family within a week, right?”

“Right,” I agreed.

“Wrong!” Adrienne said loudly. “He’s not coming back home. The hospital goes into lockdown mode with military personnel guarding all entrances. They’ve successfully contained a portion of the diseased population and those people will not be allowed back out if there is even the slightest chance they might infect healthy citizens.

“Chris ain’t leavin’ that hospital, it’ll be just you and the kids.”

“They won’t be allowed to do that,” I said, weakly, the idea of being separated from Chris driving a spike of fear in my heart.

“It’s martial law, Liz, they can do whatever they want.”

Adrienne took a big sip of her coffee drink.

I suddenly realized that I had a Munchkin in my hand. My God, I thought, How many of these have I eaten?”

“What’s your antibiotic situation like?” Adrienne asked.

“I don’t have one,” I admitted.

“What if you or one of the kids gets an ear infection in that first winter? Or you slice your hand collecting firewood?”

“My doctor’s not going to just right me and open-ended prescription just in case of natural disaster or nuclear war,” I argued, thinking of Joey’s frequent ear infections and feeling panic rise within me.

“There are other ways of getting meds,” Adrienne said, her eyebrows raised, “Comprende?”

“You mean order then from Mexico?” I said, laughing nervously.

Adrienne’s eyebrows stayed up. She finally said, “Have you done anything to prepare? For even the smallest of emergencies?”

“Oh sure,” I replied giving her a quick overview of the contents in my basement Rubbermaid bins.

“Okay, first of all, you should never tell anyone exactly what you have stockpiled and where.”

“So that was a trick question?” I said, irritated with the know-it-all sitting across from me.

“No, it’s fine to tell me. I have my shit together, but don’t go telling other people you have water and supplies in your basement.”

“Trust me, it’s not something that I’d bring up at the block party,” I replied.

“Good,” she said, ignoring my sarcasm. “What about cash? It will matter, in the early days at least. Though when it sinks in that things are never going back to normal we’ll have to rely on trade. Water will obviously be incredibly valuable, especially if we are in a fallout situation and are unable to safely collect rainwater or anything from streams or lakes.

“The thing about water, though, is that it will basically be priceless. So it shouldn’t be used for trade unless you are desperate for medication. But even then, you might be bringing hell down on your own head if you let the wrong people know that you have safe drinking water. And let’s be honest, at that point the people who are willing and able to trade valuable medications are going to be the type of people who will rain down hell.”

Adrienne laughed conspiratorially and I forced a smile then said, “I’ve stocked up on packs of Starbucks Via instant coffee. I can’t imagine being without coffee and I actually thought they might be a good thing to trade with people.”

“Huh,” Adrienne said, “Yeah, that’s brilliant. I may have to steal that idea from you!”

“Steal away,” I replied, feeling proud for getting an answer right.

“I didn’t hear you mention any weapons though, do you have a gun?”

I shook my head. Then Adrienne shook her head back at me and asked, “Then how are you going to deal with the zombies?”

I began giggling nervously. This woman was serious and I am fucking serious when I tell you that I hate zombies. Not that I think they could actually exist, it’s the idea of them that gets me. People losing all semblance of humanity, irrational, violent, unwavering in their hunger for destruction. It frightens me deeply. There are glimpses of it within normally rational people. Like when the news films a group of crazed sports fans rocking a car until it flips over as the larger group watches on and cheers. What in the fuck is that, right? It’s terrifying. I did not like where this conversation was headed.

Adrienne must have noticed my obvious discomfort because she quickly explained, “When I say zombies, I don’t mean the ones we see on television. I’m referring to the real walking dead. The carriers, the people who didn’t prepare, the injured or sick. They’re as good as dead, so I call them zombies. When the world is falling apart you’ll have to be able to recognize who those people are and cut them off.”

“That’s pretty cold,” I chided. “So you’ll shoot anyone you think might be too weak to survive?”

“No, not exactly. But if someone comes in between me and my family and survival then I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“I’ll be sure to stay clear of you in the event of an emergency then,” I said seriously. “I wouldn’t want there to be any confusion about my intentions.”

“Look, I’m not saying I’m going to go out and just pick people off that might be a threat. But people will be desperate and irrational. I’m simply ready to protect my family if I need too.”

“Sounds a little paranoid,” I commented.

“I’d call it prepared. Look, everyone has different priorities. I take responsibility for my family and their future in the event of an emergency. To survive armageddon one will need to make hard decisions. Otherwise, you’ll end up becoming a zombie swept up in the initial harvest,” she replied, matter-of-factly.

“Dark,” I said.

“It sure will be,” she agreed. “Do a quick Google search for “refugee camp conditions,” and see how long you can read first hand accounts before you have to turn away. Part of surviving is taking control of your own survival.”

“But those people didn’t have a choice, they were fleeing war or some other disaster. It’s not a matter of taking control, those people were caught in the crossfire and it’s not their fault.”

“I know that, I’m just giving you an example of what it will be like if you allow the government to round you up with the promise of food, water and shelter. If you fall for it you might as well sign the death certificates for yourself and your whole family.

“Self-sufficiency is the only way to survive what’s coming.”

“I don’t know if I want to survive in that kind of world,” I said honestly.

“Yes you do,” she replied.

We sat in silence, each lost in our own thoughts. I couldn’t help but imagine my girls, dusty and too-thin playing in a tent, amongst a never-ending sea of duplicate structures.  I felt sick that I had never truly allowed myself to imagine what it must be like to be chased from home. Fuck worrying about armageddon. There was enough hell on earth already.

I finally said, “Well, you’ve managed to completely freak me out, do I dare even ask about your ghost story?”

“Yes!” Adrienne exclaimed, “I’m sorry, I could talk about prepping for hours. But what I really wanted to talk to you about was what happened in my old house. I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard scarier stories, but this was the craziest thing.

Crazier than what we’ve already discussed? I thought. “So what happened?” I asked with a sigh.

“It all started when Elliott and I found a body in our basement.”

unnamed

My world is rather small and I don’t travel very far from the Swells, so here we are, headed to Nantucket again. Let’s brave the Cape traffic and shoot for Hyannis where our ferry boat awaits.

August in Nantucket is humid, if you brought your hair dryer you’re a rookie. When it isn’t engulfed by dewy fog, the sun beats down relentlessly on the island and the surrounding ocean sparkles a deep dark navy, hiding great whites stalking seals its depths. Lines are long and service is slow and you can’t move very far without running into someone else’s child in mid tantrum. This is the stuff of forced family fun. The stuff you do “for the kids.” The stuff that pushes cocktail hour back to four p.m.

Each August Chris and I schlep the kids to the island for a week of beaching and eating and biking and whining and crying and laughing. We made a new discovery this trip, a “kid’s camp” run through one of the large hotels. From nine A.M. through noon the girls did crafts, went turtling in Madaket, hopped aboard the old fashioned fire truck for a ride to the Aquarium, and sifted through the sand all under the watchful eyes of a group of college kids. It was brilliant.

One morning after I’d returned from my walk to Jetties Chris and I were enjoying a coffee in a cozy little nook in the hotel lobby when I heard someone call, “Sower!”

I looked up from my computer and Chris from his iPhone to see Blue Seven beaming at us. We jumped up to greet our old friend.

“How long has it been?” Blue demanded.

“The wedding!” I replied, in disbelief.

We invited Blue to sit with us for a cup of coffee and caught up on kids and jobs. Blue looked exactly like I remembered him. Salty and scruffy and slightly sunburned. A lifetime of laughter and squinting at the horizon had carved deep smile lines around his eyes. At twenty-nine, he’d looked his current age of thirty-nine. In another ten years of chartering fishing trips I imagined he would appear a genial sixty years old.

After catching each other up on our current lives, and listening to Chris and Blue retell the same silly stories I’d heard dozens of times Blue asked, “What’s this I hear about your ghost stories? Jess won’t start talking about them, she’s pushing them on all our friends.”

I shook my head, embarrassed, “It’s just a little writing project, really.”

“Not true,” Chris insisted, “Liz is onto something. Wellesley is almost as haunted as Nantucket.”

“Did I ever tell you about my family’s place?” Blue asked with a twinkle in his eye.

“Wait!” I insisted excitedly. I dug through my bag to find my voice recorder, then uncovering it I held it up, “Tell us the story! Can I record it? Is that weird?”

Blue cleared his throat and smiled, “Will you change my name?”

“Of course,” I assured him, pressing the record button.

“Alright, but don’t tell Jess. She’ll flip when she hears this on the podcast.”

“Deal,” I said.

“You all came to the house after the wedding, right?”

We did. We’d continued the party on his parent’s lawn late into the night. The house was a grand three-story Federal style home of white clapboard, black shutters and shingles, greyed by the sea air. Built by a whaling captain in 1774, the property had a sprawling front yard and an ominous widow’s walk reminding passersby on Centre Street of the island’s grim past.

Blue’s grandfather bought the place in 1920 and it’s been a beacon, calling the family together every summer since. The house was magnificent, for sure, but it was also worn down and drafty, creaky and a touch moldy. The first floor was a hodge podge of well-loved furniture, old rugs and built-in bookcases jammed with James Pattersons, Harry Potters, yellowing Readers’ Digests and a legion of dog eared paperbacks. The home’s upkeep was a labor of love and necessity, to truly fix it up would cost a small fortune, so fresh band-aids were applied each season to the home’s most egregious issues.

Blue’s an excellent storyteller. So I’m going to let the salty old dog’s words speak for themselves. Besides, if I’d transcribed our entire conversation, with all Chris’s ‘Cut it out, man’s’ and my ‘Uh uh’s’ we’d be here forever. Not to mention the fact that we drifted off into tangents a lot, like all conversations with good old friends tend to do.

Blue began, “When we were kids we’d drag our sleeping bags up to that old death trap of an attic. If you opened the portholes at night it brought in an awesome cross breeze, made it the coolest place in the house. We cleared out a corner near one of the windows and made a little bedroom there.

“You know the widow’s walk, yeah? That’s where I saw my first ghost. It was a wicked humid night, probably July. You know what actually? It must have been fourth of July week because my cousins, Chris, you remember Janie and Adam, they were there. So I’m about ten and it’s the middle of the night and I wake up to pee. We’d pee out the window on the far side of the attic so we wouldn’t have to climb back down the ladder in the middle of the night. Mom threw an absolute fit when she realized we were doing that,” Blue guffawed at the memory.

“Yeah, so I’m doing my business out the window when I hear footsteps above my head. I figured that one of my cousins had climbed up onto the widow’s walk. You’d think we’d have been up there all the time but the thing was a wreck. The spiral staircase shook as you climbed up, felt like the damn thing would come tumbling down around you and it wasn’t worth it anyway, the deck itself was a splinter-filled mess. Gramps made a big deal of having a carpenter check it at the beginning of each summer, but I didn’t see the guy do a damn thing. He’d just climb up there for ten minutes then come back down and declare the broken deck ‘sound.’

“We weren’t supposed to be up there and when I heard the footsteps that night I was kinda surprised. I figured Adam might have filched some cigs from his parents so I stood at the base of the spiral trying to decide if I should go up or not when I realized that the footsteps I was hearing were pacing back and forth along the walk.

No one in their right mind would do that. You go up there and you take a look and you stand still and count the minutes ‘til you can get back to safety. Hearing someone clomping around up there scared me. But it totally scared me in a little kid way, yeah? I was afraid all Adam’s stomping around would break the walk apart and then we’d all get in trouble for sneaking out there at night. It didn’t even register that Adam was in danger, I was more concerned with my dad taking away attic privileges and that’s what pushed me up those stairs.

“I had it in my head to tell Adam off and maybe even take a puff or two of his cigarette. I tried to climb those stairs as quietly as I could, which was damn near impossible. I’m lucky the bolts didn’t come right out of the ceiling. The eye hook on the trap door was latched which gave my ten-year-old mind a little pause, but then I thought maybe Adam had managed to lock himself out and that’s why he was making such a ruckus. For a minute I was psyched to be the one to save the day.

“I unhooked the latch and pushed the heavy door up and out above my head until the hinge caught and held it in place. The pacing had stopped and I figured Adam was out of sight behind the trap door where I couldn’t see him. I whispered his name a couple times and he didn’t answer.
“I had the creeps real bad. I could sense someone standing just out of sight on the other side of that door, yeah? But something in me did not want to see who it was. I knew Adam would never let me live it down if I just turned and scooted back down those stairs. So I made myself crawl out onto the porch.

“When I stood and turned and saw who was there I freaking froze, man. I have never in my entire life been so terrified. I couldn’t move. I don’t even think I was breathing.

“It was a man, I swear on my daughter’s life, he was as real as you and me. He looked like Abraham Lincoln without the hat. No, seriously. He was really tall and skinny and he had a beard and his hair was too long and sort of flattened down around his head. We stared at each other for what felt like forever and then he goes, and I’ll never forget this, ‘They’re dead. Every one of ‘em. They’re all gone down to sea.’”

“Then he starts pacing again. He walked straight towards me so I broke for that trap door, man. I crawled in there so fast I don’t know how I didn’t kill myself on those stairs and when I yanked that trap door closed I got a mean handful of splinters. Actually had to go to the doctor to dig some of ‘em out. Yeah, I slid down the rest of those stairs screaming and crying. I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

“Adam and my sister met me at the bottom of the stairs and dragged me over to our sleeping bags telling me to shut up so I wouldn’t wake up our parents. I told them what I’d seen and they believed me. If they hadn’t I think I would have lost my little mind. Janie had the idea to go to the library and try to find out how to get rid of ghosts. We stole table salt from the kitchen and sprinkled it across the last step up to the widow’s walk and since we couldn’t get our hands on any sage we burned a couple of dried leaves up there and shared a cigarette in the attic, blowing the smoke up to that hatch hoping it would clear the ghost away.

“You know what? I told mom about it years later and she some research. You’re not going to believe this, so, not the guy who built the place but the second captain to own the house, right? He’d lost his entire crew on a whaling trip and then lost his mind. He was supposed to go but sent his brother in law instead or something tragic like that. Man, can you imagine? Stuck out on that walk, having to relive that forever?”

 

***

 

Blue was chock full of stories. His next involves another sea captain’s mansion. Today a hotel, the Jared Coffin House is the oldest mansion built on island. A three-story brick Greek-Revival style estate that sits atop Broad Street. The original structure boasts thirty guest rooms, one can only imagine how grand it must have been when sea captain Jared Coffin built it for his family in 1845.  

“When I was fourteen I landed a job as a bellhop at the Jared Coffin.” Blue began, “It was the summer before I snagged the job as striker on the Emily Marie.”

“But that’s your boat’s name,” I interrupted.

“Mm hmm,” Blue said with a smile. “I’ll tell you that story next, it’s not a ghost story but it’s pretty fucked.”

“It’s scarier than a ghost story,” Chris commented.

“Yeah, true. But so I got this bellhop job at the hotel. It was mostly dragging luggage up and down three flights for summer people, but I had to help the cleaning staff a lot too. There was this Irish girl, she was real cute, a tall freckled brunette. Mary. I think she was eighteen, totally out of my league, but I hopped to anytime she needed help carrying towels or lugging the vacuum to the third floor.

“This one day I’m coming out of a room after dropping bags and she runs right into me and knocks me clean over. She stumbled a bit but just kept on running down the hallway to the stairs. I went after her and when I got down to the first floor I saw she’d run right out the front doors onto the sidewalk.

“My first thought was that one of the guests had made a move on her, or worse. I’m telling you, she was shaking and insisting that she wouldn’t go back inside. When she wouldn’t tell me what happened I went into get another one of the cleaning girls. I didn’t want to get her in trouble by telling their manager, but I knew that if she didn’t go back in and finish her shift she’d be out a job.

“The girl, ah, Shelby it was, was mad at me at first, she thought I was the one to get her worked up. Mary finally calmed down a bit and told us what she’d seen. She had been making one of the twin beds in room three-oh-one. Said she was trying to rush since she’d had the creeps the second she walked in there. Near the small bathroom there was a closet door and as she was shaking a pillow into a new case that closet door creaked open. She tried to ignore it by thinking the old building was just making itself more comfortable but then as she threw the pillow onto the bed the closet door creaked back closed. She was on the other side of the room and had to pass that closet to get back out to the hallway.

“She said she had this awful feeling someone was hiding in there even though she knew that wasn’t possible. The manager had told her to open the room and she was afraid of having her hours cut if she made a fuss and it turned out to be nothing, so she decided to crawl across the beds to the hall door and then prop it open. That way at least someone would hear her scream if she was attacked.

“As she crawled across the first bed she heard something shuffling and scratching across the floor beneath it. She said it sounded big. Too big to be a mouse. She freaked out and jumped onto the other bed and just as she did she felt something grab at her ankle. She said it felt like it had claws. Then, get this, the closet door slammed open and as she bolted for the door she caught a glimpse of a small woman crouched in the corner of that closet. The woman had on a dirty white dress and two long skinny braids and, listen here, she had black teeth.

“I didn’t know if she was freaking out or what but that girl was scared to death. We finally got her to go back inside and luckily it was a slow time of day you know afternoon in the middle of the week. Everyone was at the beach, so I told her I’d go up and help her finish the room. Shelby sort of bullied her into it, lecturing on about how Mary couldn’t afford to get fired.

“I don’t know why I agreed to go back up there with her. I guess I thought it was all probably too good to be true, yeah? But I went up. Mary was shaking, man, literally almost unable to walk down the hallway when we got up to the third floor. I went ahead of her, and I tried to hide it but I was spooked. As I turned the knob on that door all the hair on my arms stood straight up.

“I was scared and excited, man, I thought that maybe I was about to see a ghost again. But when I opened the door all there was was a seriously trashed hotel room. The sheets had been torn off the beds and thrown on the ground all crazy-like and the beds themselves had been sort of pushed around away from the wall. One of the pillows had been ripped open so there were down feathers still floating in the air.

“It was like walking into an after party if the guests just disappeared into thin air. I could only stand there and stare. Mary was behind me peeking in over my shoulder and I was about to say, ‘Are you pulling my leg?’ half hoping the whole thing was a prank, when the closet door started to open with this slow creeeeaak that I will never in my life forget. I slammed the door so hard and took off down the hall. Mary chased after me screaming, ‘I told you!’ I didn’t even think about it, I just went straight to my boss and told him there was a crazy lady in room three-oh-one and that she’d scared Mary and then trashed the place.

“He started to go up there but I stopped him. I glossed over what had happened to Mary (I left out the part about the claws on the floor) but I told him we had to call the police. There was no way I was going back up there with a crazy lady in the closet.

“Yeah, what did the police say? At first they thought it was a prank. When my boss finally convinced them that he was being serious they said they’d send someone over to check it out. You know who showed up? The sheriff. He listened to the story then brought my boss up so they could have a look for themselves. When they got back downstairs my boss looked like he was about to pass out and the sheriff left us with a word of warning to stay away from that room, then he asked to talk to Mary’s manager. We were all in the back office and he calls her in and gave her a really hard time about trying to open that room up again. She had no idea what he was talking about, it was her first summer at the hotel. So the sheriff goes ‘Under no circumstances is that room to be used.’ He said he’d be sure to call the hotel owner and the past manager to let them know how irresponsible it had been for them not to pass on the rules about three-oh-one. Then he left. Leaving the four of us there staring at eachother.

“On the Bible. On the Bible that’s exactly how it went down. I didn’t go near that room again and I hated to even be on that floor. But a couple weeks later I was manning the reception desk. Sometimes the overnight guy needed time off so I would snag the shift if I could since it paid time and half. So around two-thirty in the morning this guy comes downstairs complaining about a loud party or something in the room above his. He said there must be a big dog in the room above theirs too because they kept hearing it scratching on the floor.

“He was in room two-oh-one. Directly below that devil of a room. No! Of course I didn’t go check it out! I moved him to another room. I made up some story about a high ranking government official staying in the hotel and gave them vouchers for free breakfast for the rest of their vacation. I thought for sure I’d get canned the next morning but when I told the story to the day receptionist she just goes, ‘Quick thinking.’”

 

***

 

Blue’s ghost stories kept me up reading late into the night for distraction for the rest of our vacation, but his last story frightened me for a different reason.

“Oh yeah, the Emily Marie. She’s a beaut, a Crosby Hawk with a twelve foot beam. We can have 4 rods fishing at once, you know, you’ve been out with me Chris. Couple stripers, right? Some blues too. Yeah, I started on the Emily Marie as a striker. Oh, it’s like a helper, I guess. You know for the captain but also the guests. I did all the lugging and managed the gear and cleaned fish. All that shit. I started on the boat in ‘96 the summer after my freshman year at BU. I spent the next three summers doing the same thing then after I graduated I had no job and no idea how I was going to find one so I worked for Dave again. Dave Nevers, the captain.

“He was as salty as they came, man. Good guy, knew his stuff on the water, but his home life was a mess. Big drinker, he’d put away six/eight beers on a three hour charter and the guests were none the wiser. I think that’s why he hired me, you know, just in case. There were a couple close calls, but nothing too bad. For the most part he managed the drink well enough, his problem was women. The boat was named after his wife. I met her when I was twenty and she was the hottest forty year old woman I’d ever seen. I could barely even make eye contact with her.. She really was something, looked like a pin up girl. Thing was, Dave slept around, he couldn’t help himself. You know guys like that, yeah? Dead set on pressing the self destruct button just to see what it’s like to watch their lives burn to the ground. That was Dave.

“She eventually found out, the island’s so damn small you can’t keep anything a secret. And that’s what got her, the humiliation of it. He hadn’t even tried to save her the embarrassment. He just carried on as though no one would talk and he got away with it for a long time but then he made the mistake of hooking up with one of her little sister’s friends and that was the end of it.

“The thing about Emily was that she was patient. She didn’t even tell him that she knew what he’d done. She just hopped a Cape Air to Boston then jumped on a flight back home to NOLA. She went and bought herself a curse from a genuine Voodoo queen.

“Yup, she didn’t want to kill him but she wanted him to feel just as humiliated as she did and she wanted him to suffer. It started out slowly, he rolled his ankle and then got a mean case of poison ivy when he was weed whacking the yard, even breathed the stuff in. It was nasty. What else, I mean it was ridiculous. HE was walking around with a nasty rash all over is face and arms and legs, he had to wear a boot for the ankle, and then that’s right! His hair started to fall out and I mean fast. It was patchy. He was one of those guys who always wore a hat, but the poison ivy drove him so made that he couldn’t tolerate wearing it anymore.

“We joked about his stroke of bad luck and all the while Emily never let on until things started happening with the boat. Weird things. Crazy asshole charter guests, the anchor line broke like every time we put it down, gas leaks, stuff like that. She eventually told him what she’d done and he was completely freaked out. He tried to convince himself the curse wasn’t real but then we hit a totally unexpected storm one morning, it came out of nowhere and we damn near capsized. It was a charter trip and we had three guys with us. That’s what convinced him he had to get off the water. He sold me the boat for a thousand bucks and made me promise I wouldn’t change the name. Said it was bad luck. I swear. I tried to argue with him that it wasn’t enough money but he was desperate to get off the island and away from that woman.

“I didn’t know if I believed in the curse or if his karma just came back around good and strong, but the creepiest thing was about a week after I’d started taking out charters on my own I was cleaning out one of the cabinets in the center console and I found this little action figure wedged back behind the first aid kit. It was like a little G.I. Joe Someone had painted it black and wrapped it in red twine.

“I just threw it right over the side, you know I hate when people litter in the ocean, man, but I didn’t want that thing in the boat. Curse or no curse I didn’t want anything to do with that nonsense.”

“Wait,” I interrupted, “An action figure? Painted black?”

“Yeah, it’s old black magic voodoo shit. Even though I didn’t completely believe in it I asked around and this girl I was friends with new all about it.”

Instead of sharing the nervous laughter with Blue and Chris I was silent.

“What’s up?” Blue asked. “Did one of your haunted neighbors find a doll or something?”

I shook my head.

Chris and Blue stared at me.

“It’s nothing. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence,” I said, feeling panic rise.

 

***

 

You see, a week or so before we left for vacation something weird happened. We’ve been doing more work on the house. We pushed a wall back and took over half of our tiny garage space to make more space in the kitchen for storage and such. When our contractor, Eric, took down the original wall and ceiling in the process of these renovations he created an opening that allowed us to glimpse the previously enclosed and unused attic space above the garage.

The house is rather small for the five of us (and two dogs and a fish) so I hated the idea of closing off this little attic again. Eric put up walls and flooring and built a wooden ladder off our mudroom so the girls could climb up to play in this attic space that we’ve nicknamed the Clubhouse. It is a hard place to describe, so I’ll take a video of the space and post it to my Ghosts In The Burbs instagram so you all can see what I’m talking about.

I need you to understand the layout because I found something up there the other night.  Something that shouldn’t have been there. My girls can barely climb up and down the ladder into the space, Joey basically has an all-out panic attack every time she attempts it. The girls aren’t capable of carrying anything up there. I have to hand their toys up to them.

The other night Chris was out at a late client dinner, the kids were all in bed and the dogs and I were sitting on the couch watching This is Us (just kidding, I was watching the episode of Hollywood Medium with Corey Feldman – gets me every time). I thought I heard the big girls banging around upstairs a couple times but when I peeked/stormed into their bedroom they were sound asleep. I kept the volume on the television low so that I would hear the girls if they were messing around but after a few moments I realized that the noise I was hearing wasn’t coming from upstairs, it was coming from that attic space above the garage.

I muted the television and listened. I heard a soft sort of banging noise that wasn’t familiar. It wasn’t exactly consistent, but it was persistent. I kept hearing the sound but it wasn’t in any sort of a pattern. And no, it wasn’t at all like the tapping that happened in the house back when we had our little demon kerfuffle. It sounded like someone or something was making the noise.

I got up and stood in the doorway between the living room and kitchen to see if I could explain away the noise, hoping that maybe it was the ice maker or the air vents. I took a step into the kitchen but froze when I realized that the noise was definitely coming from the Clubhouse. I looked back at the dogs asleep on the couch and felt it best to leave them be. They’re so used to strangers coming in and out with all the work we’ve been doing that they would likely want to befriend an intruder at this point.

I grabbed my phone off the coffee table and punched 9-1-1 into the call screen but held off on pressing send. I held the phone in one hand and grabbed our fire poker from the fireplace with the other, then I tiptoed into the kitchen towards the noise. Once at the bottom of the ladder I flipped the switch to fill the attic with light and called “Hello?!” There was no answer but the noise stopped for a moment which scared the ever living hell out of me.

When it started back up again I forced myself climb up the ladder, phone in my back pocket, fire poker in my right hand. Deep down I knew that it couldn’t be a person, but something was making that noise and I was in that irrational state of being furious that I was frightened. In all honesty, I was also pissed that Chris wasn’t home to deal with it and I was even more pissed that I wasn’t able to sit quietly in front of the damn television for even ten minutes.

I crawled awkwardly to the first level of the attic, it opens to a space about nine feet by five feet (this is the part above the garage) and then there is another area about nine by nine that sits raised up a foot or two (that’s the part above the kitchen). You’ll have to see the video for this to make any sense, but the noise was coming from the far back corner of the raised section.

There was something moving, swinging in that back corner. I climbed onto the upper level space and crawled back to see what it was. There was a doll, an action figure about the size of a barbie, it was one of those new Super Hero Girl dolls and it was hanging from the ceiling by a string. Someone had painted it black. It was was getting blown about by the air vent and banging against the vaulted ceiling and back wall awkwardly.  The red string holding it was stuck to the ceiling with duct tape. I gave it a hard yank and pulled it down.

I sat there staring at the painted figure in my hand. The red string around its waist was tied in a perfect bow.

The next morning I asked Eric if he’d noticed it up there the day before, he hadn’t. I could tell by their reaction that the big girls hadn’t left it up there either because they asked if they could paint their dolls too when I showed it to them. Chris insisted that it must have been the girls since they were into action figures and were always “taping shit onto other shit.” Even though I knew it wasn’t one of the girls’ dolls I didn’t argue because I didn’t want him to feel as scared as I was. Because the thing is, I’d found another doll exactly like it on our front steps just a few days before.

3-wptrail_zps80ad07ddI seldom check the Ghosts in the Burbs Facebook account because honestly, I just don’t like Facebook anymore. The election ruined it for me, so I avoid it and constantly toy with the idea of deleting my account. I dislike it for all the usual reasons, it’s addicting and a time suck, blah blah blah, but I also find it sort of guilt inducing. Messenger reminds me of when we all used to actually call each other and leave voicemail. My mailbox was forever full and it always felt like a ticking time bomb of things I was supposed to do and forgot about. Messenger makes me feel the same way; disorganized, lazy, and irresponsible.

However, I checked the Ghosts in the Burbs account last week and found that I’d received a message (sent about three weeks prior) from a woman named Erica.

 

Hi neighbor! My husband and I live in Wellesley and I really think that we need help with our house? I don’t know how people usually arrange to meet with you, but if you could message me back as soon as you get this I would appreciate it. It’s sort of urgent!!! Thanks!!! – Erica

 

I responded after a day’s hesitation (being contacted by a stranger on Facebook is simply creepy, you’d think the same would be true for Twitter, but it’s not). Erica’s reply was exclamation point laden and desperate. She explained that her house was “all-out haunted” and that the haunting was changing her husband’s personality. She asked me to come to her house “ASAP.” After a few messages back and forth, in which I tried to feel out whether or not she was a serial killer, I agreed to the visit. After setting the date and time Erica asked if there was any way that I could bring Biddy along with me. I told her that I’d try.

 

***

 

“Who are they?”

“They live over near the dump,” I replied.

“Great, but who are they?” Biddy pressed.

“Slow down,” I insisted, unable to keep up with Biddy’s pace. “Their names are Erica and Mattie Payne and they just bought a haunted house. She thinks the ghost is changing her husband’s personality. Erica asked if I could bring you to the interview, I’m sure she wants your expert opinion.”

“I guess I could come along. No, I shouldn’t. I don’t know,” Biddy stopped abruptly and looked at me.

I swatted gnats away from my face and took a second to catch my breath. “You’re doing pre-exorcism interviews for the Catholic Church,” I said, trying not to sound whiny or accusatory.

“I know, but once I pass that information off I’m done with it. It’s the Church’s problem after that.”

“It’s just an interview. Maybe you can give them some advice. You totally helped those poor lizard monster people.”

Biddy looked down at the muddy trail considering, “You shouldn’t be going to a stranger’s house alone.”

“You sound like Chris.”

Without a word Biddy resumed her power walk and I scurried to catch up. “I’ll go,” she called over her shoulder. “But only as moral support.”

I smiled to myself. “Deal.”

 

***

 

Our little town is home to three colleges; MassBay Community College, Wellesley College and Babson. The schools maintain beautiful campuses and provide us with a little culture, some youthful energy and a glut of babysitters.

Erica and Mattie Payne’s home lived on a long, winding dead-end street behind the Babson campus. It wasn’t my first time driving on the wooded street, I’ve delivered the lawn signs for the autumn food pantry drive a handful of times and one of the Payne’s neighbors was a faithful supporter.

“I don’t know how you get around in this boat,” Biddy commented as we turned onto the road.

“You get used to it,” I replied.

“Your side mirror disagrees.”

“Shush. That was the tree’s fault. There, that’s the house.”

We pulled into a long weathered driveway, cracked and bumpy from old tree roots. Number 44 Skyline Drive was an aged Victorian. It’s roof spotted with green mold, the front porch in need of a good scraping.

We stepped out of the car as a young man walked out of a detached garage set back from the house. He lifted a hand to wave and called hello.

“Now who is this hot tamale?” Biddy said in a low voice.

“Liz! Biddy!” The man called picking up his pace. “I’m Mattie. Mattie Payne. Thanks for coming. E’s been kinda freaked out and it sounds like you guys know what’s up. Come on in.”

He turned and followed a cracked walkway then bound up the steps to the front porch.

Biddy grabbed the sleeve of my shirt and tugged.

I looked over and she raised her eyebrows and mouthed, “Hubba hubba.”

“Cut it out,” I whispered, trying not to laugh. I had to agree though, Mattie was quite the site. In his late twenties, he had that tousled naturally highlighted hair that young people in California always seem to have. He wore a casual three-day beard and a worn cotton t-shirt that, well sat really nicely on his frame.

“E!” Mattie boomed as we stepped onto the porch. “They’re here!”

The foyer was stereotypical for a Victorian with all the floral wallpaper and dark wood one might expect. I closed the door behind me and heard a loud high-pitched, “Yay!” Erica bound down the grand stairway beaming, a long blond ponytail bouncing along behind her.

“You’re really here!” She said excitedly embracing Biddy and I in a group hug. “Thank you so much for coming, really this has been like, well it’s just a hot mess. Come in. Mattie, where should we go?”

“The sunroom, babe,” Mattie declared.

“Oh, yeah! Totally. Ok, you guys go sit. You’re always drinking something hot during your interviews,” she said to me, her smile bright, “I made a pot of tea and I even went and got scones at Quebrada. Good, right?”

“Thank you,” I said, returning the smile. Erica couldn’t have been more than twenty-five or twenty-six. Mattie maybe a couple of years older. They were gorgeous and young and completely out-of-place in the run down house. I couldn’t wait to hear how they’d ended up there.

Mattie lead us to a large screened in sun porch. The structure was surrounded by a tight overgrown lawn beyond which brooded dense mature forest. From this viewpoint I noted that the detached garage was much larger than it appeared to be from the front of the house. The long building could fit two cars easily and it extended twice that length right to the edge of the woods.

The porch housed two old white wicker love seats who faced one another with a glass-topped wicker coffee table in-between. Biddy and I sat next to one another as Mattie plopped down across from us. The faded floral fabric of the seat’s pillow was soft and comfortable and several fans moved the Febreze and mildew tinted air pleasantly. It should have been cozy, but the encroaching forest blocked out the sunny day, leaving us in gloom.

“How long have you lived here, Mattie?” I asked, placing my voice recorder on the table between us.

“Eight and a half weeks,” he replied, without missing a beat.

“That’s specific,” Biddy commented.

“This place is intense,” he replied darkly.

“Tea!” Erica announced loudly as she entered the room. She placed a tray onto the coffee table then bounced onto the love seat next to Mattie, folding her long legs beneath her.

“It feels dark in here. Is it too dark in here?” She demanded nervously.

Biddy and I assured her the light was fine then helped ourselves to cups of tea. I snagged a small heavenly currant scone too.

Mattie and Erica watched us intently. I noticed for the first time that the glowing couple wore faint dark circles beneath their eyes. I saw too that Erica’s ponytail, though bouncy and long, was a little bit stringy, maybe even greasy.

Biddy sat back and sipped her tea. I held my tea cup in both hands and balanced the scone on a napkin on my knee. Already my back was protesting the cramped seat but I was determined to ignore it.

“So,” I said, “What’s going on in your house?”

The couple exchanged a look and Erica placed a hand on one of Mattie’s incredibly toned arms. “There’s a ghost in our house,” she whispered dramatically.

When she didn’t elaborate I asked, “What’s the ghost up to?”

Erica took a quick glance over at Mattie, who was startlingly expressionless, then said, “I think that the ghost is like, attached to Mattie? He’s not himself. He doesn’t drink but ever since we moved in he drinks, you know? And then there are the noises at night and, babe, you’re always in that garage and sometimes when I am talking to you you aren’t you. I think the ghost wants to take him over. I think it can, like step into him sometimes.”

Her words came out in a rush, like a breath that had been held for too long.

Biddy placed her tea cup onto the table. She was staring at Mattie.

I said, “Well that sounds pretty scary. Mattie, do you agree? Do you think there is a ghost influencing you.”

Mattie used both hands to push perfectly disheveled hair back from his forehead. It was a dramatic gesture, almost forced. He said, “Something’s happening here, for sure. Yeah, I mean, sometimes I don’t feel like I’m alone, man, but I don’t know.”

“Tell us about moving into the house,” Biddy suggested.

“Oh! That was so exciting. So, I’m a yoga instructor and Mattie is a creator. He sold an amazing app that helps people, well no you explain it, babe,” Erica said squeezing his leg.

“The app assists users in tracking productivity in all areas of life. Financial, emotional, recreational, spiritual. It allows the client to set goals and then creates an individualized program to support them in reaching those goals in a specified timeframe.”

“Emotional?” I said, curious.

“Yes. For instance, a user may track progress made in therapy appointments. A goal may be identified to resolve an emotional issue within a set period of time and the app tracks progress toward the desired outcome. Say, for example, you have a childhood trauma that you need to resolve. The app helps you to stay on task and focused so you can set a timeframe in which to heal. The same can be done with family building, relationship creation, financial goals, etc.”

“Wow, that sounds really, futuristic,” I said, avoiding looking over at Biddy.

“We just hit number forty-five on the iTunes App Store charts,” he said.

“Impressive! And where do you teach yoga, Erica?”

“I guide in person on the lawn at Babson. We both went to Babson, did I tell you that? So, that’s where we met! After graduation we moved into the city, but the campus sort of called us back, didn’t it babe? I’ve been vlogging my yoga practice for years and then an opportunity arose at the college. I guide practitioners every weekday morning on the south campus lawn.” As she said this, Erica pointed towards the forest.

“What’s through the woods?” I asked.

“Babson,” Biddy and Erica said in unison.

“Jinx!” Erica said laughing. “Seriously though, that’s really why we bought the house, to be close to the college. Mattie and I carved a path through the woods that leads directly to the spot where I teach. It’s amazing. I mean, it was amazing. I don’t like walking back there alone anymore.”

“Why not?” I asked.

Erica glanced at Mattie who was staring at his lap.

“I sort of feel like someone’s watching me or like, following me or something. One time, I-”

“I’ve followed her before,” Mattie said, almost defiantly.

Biddy and I were silent.

“You were just making sure I was safe,” Erica said soothingly.

“No,” Mattie said leaning forward to rest his elbows on his lap.

We all stared at him and I suddenly felt a little bit afraid. I chattered, “You must have wanted to see if you could catch someone creeping around back there.”

“No,” Mattie repeated. “It was me.”

“‘You had one of your episodes, you just wondered out there and didn’t-”

“Stop!” He said in a firm, low voice causing us all to jump as though he’d yelled. “Last week, Tuesday morning, when you were on your way back from your session? Yeah, I watched you. I was there. I didn’t mean to be, I mean, I didn’t intend to be there off the trail, but I was. When I came to myself I was crouched behind a tree watching you walk along the path.”

“Oh, Mattie,” Erica said quietly.

“How often does this happen?” Biddy asked. “You coming to yourself and being somewhere you didn’t intend to be, I mean?”

Mattie didn’t respond.

“That often huh?” Biddy said calmly.

No one spoke. The only noise was the whirring of the fans and the drone of a lawnmower somewhere in the neighborhood.

“You guys think something in the house is influencing you?” I asked.

“No, the ghost is making him do those things,” Erica insisted.

“Before we all jump to conclusions why don’t you guys tell us why you chose this house. I mean, I know it’s close to the college but how in the hell did you end up here?” I asked. Mattie was wound tighter than me watching my kids at the public pool on a Saturday morning. I needed to slow things down if we were going to get the full story out of them.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Biddy nodding her head.

“There wasn’t much on the market last winter and the commute from the city was killing my vibe every morning, right? So this house came up as a rental and it was so much bigger than any of the other houses we’d looked at, and it had so much charm and we just fell in love with the idea of it, so we asked the owners to sell it to us. They agreed to sell to us, but we had to push our move in date back to June so they could clean the place out.

“We were so excited. I know it’s a total fixer upper but we figured we would live here forever. There’s plenty of room for a family,” Erica stopped herself and glanced nervously at Mattie.

“After what happened with Cecily, I’ll never allow another kid in this place,” he said firmly.

“Who’s Cicely?” I asked.

“My niece,” Erica replied quietly. “We had this housewarming party right after we moved in. Our parents came and so did my sister and my brother-in-law. My niece, she’s seven, she was so excited, she called this place ‘the dollhouse.’ I decorated the backyard with all these balloons and we cooked out and had a cake and everything. The house was fine before the party. I never would have invited them all over if I thought something was wrong.”

“What happened?” Biddy prompted.

“So we were hanging in the back yard, Mattie and my brother and the dads were tossing around a football and I was sitting with the moms and my sister. None of us realized that Cicely was gone for a little bit, but then I think my mom noticed. We just figured she was exploring the house so my sister and I went inside to find her.

“We called her name a few times but when she didn’t answer us I got a little worried. I mean, the house was empty but we didn’t really know it top to bottom, right? So my sister went back outside to see if maybe Cecily was out in the yard somewhere. And then, I don’t know, it seemed like we all felt the panic come up at the same time and we split up. The guys searched outside, I went down to the basement, and my mom and sister checked upstairs.”

“They found her on the third floor,” Mattie said. “We should have heard her screaming, but we didn’t.”

“A big old wooden bookcase fell on her leg,” Erica explained. “She couldn’t move. It like, trapped her there. My sister carried her downstairs and the poor thing was hysterical. We were positive she had broken her leg, but the doctor in the E.R.? She said it would only end up being a nasty bruise.”

“Tell them what your sister told you,” Mattie said, looking over at Erica.

She gave a small shake of her head and closed her eyes for a moment. “Cicely told my sister that a little girl brought her upstairs and told her to sit on the floor so they could play a game. She said the girl disappeared into the wall and before Cicely could get up to look for her the bookcase fell over.”

“Uh uh,” I said, getting up from the love seat.

“Where are you going?” Erica asked in a panicked voice.

“No where, sorry. My back just isn’t great today, I just need to stand up for a minute.”

“You OK?” Biddy asked me.

“Yeah, totally, I’m just being elderly. But what in the hell? A little girl disappeared into the wall then shoved a bookcase over on top of her. That sounds dem-”

“Let’s just hear the rest of the story,” Biddy interrupted shaking her head at me.

“We felt so, I mean I felt so guilty. Like, we had no business having anyone over to the house, let alone my niece, until we were settled in here…” Erica chattered on awhile longer until Mattie finally cut her off.

“We were really lucky. Cicely was fine, but I know that having her in this house triggered its need,” Mattie looked back and forth between Biddy and I, as though we knew what he was talking about.

“How so?” I asked nervously.

“The place was fucking lit after Cicely got hurt. The knocking began, the shadows started coming around, we couldn’t sleep because of the dreams-”

“You started spending more time in the garage,” Erica added softly.

Mattie nodded his head.

“Tell us about the knocking,” Biddy said.

“It’s weird, I’m surprised we haven’t heard it yet. It usually gets more excited when people are here. But we totally blamed it on old pipes at first and then we had an exterminator come out to check if the place had mice or something. We do totally have mice, but the exterminator heard the knocking while he was here and said it wasn’t coming from any animal.

“The weirdest thing is that it comes from different parts of the house. Like I’ll be in the kitchen making dinner and I’ll hear knock knock over my head and once I stand still for a moment there will be another knock knock that sounds like it’s coming from under the sink, or the other room,” Erica explained.

“She held a séance,” Mattie tattled.

“Uh oh,” I said, glancing over at Biddy.

“There it is,” Biddy said, stone faced.

“It was just for fun, nothing serious,” Erica said quickly. “I had some of the girls I do yoga with come over for margaritas and we sat at the kitchen table and asked for the ghost to answer us with the knocks. We totally made sure to set a positive intention first and I commanded the spirits to interact in a positive way.”

“You commanded them?” Biddy was leaning forward now. I was pacing a little bit. Erica had her arms crossed over her chest and Mattie sat with an arm hanging on the back of the love seat behind his wife, his legs spread wide.

“Yeah,” Erica explained, “I think I said something like ‘I command you to come forward in communication.’ It was wild, it took a few tries but we got answers!”

“How?” I asked.

“The knocking. It answered us with knocking! Once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no.’”

“What did the knocking tell you?”

“The spirit was male and had lived and died in this house. Oh and he communicated that he was pleased that we choose to live here.”

“That’s it?” I asked skeptically.

“Well, sort of. I mean, that’s all that it communicated to us. But I took the opportunity to welcome it and share the space with us.” At this admission Mattie gave a sort of snort.

“I’m guessing things got a little crazier after that,” Biddy commented.

“That’s when the shadows came and Mattie started drinking and we stopped going in the basement and I found all those damn balloons in the room on the third floor even though there was no way they could have gotten up there on their own and something pushed me when I was walking down the stairs,” Erica began crying. “It’s totally my fault, I am so sorry, I brought it all out and I don’t know how to put it back and now Mattie is, just, babe you’re not yourself and the house is a nightmare. I can’t sleep because the dreams are so sad and violent and you guys have to make it stop or I just don’t know what is going to happen.”

Mattie put a hand on Erica’s back to stop the flow of panicked words. I looked to Biddy, hoping she would offer some advice, but instead of addressing the paranormal events in the house she asked, “What’s up with the drinking, Mattie?”

“I don’t know,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I’m no straight edge, but I’ve never felt the need to have more than a beer or two and that was only if I was out with the guys or at a game. I got drunk once in high school and hated the way it made me feel all clumsy and out of control.”

“So what’s changed?” I asked.

“He’s drinking gin,” Erica said.

I saw Biddy raise an eyebrow.

“I start drinking around one or two in the afternoon,” Mattie began.

“What?” Erica squeaked. “I didn’t know that, babe!”

“And I don’t stop until I pass out at night,” Mattie continued. “I pretty much can’t remember what happens from dinnertime onward.”        

“What else is different?” Biddy asked quickly, stopping Erica from descending into another nervous tirade.

“I don’t just forget stuff when I’m drunk. Like, the other morning, I wasn’t drunk when I followed E to her yoga class. I was hung over, but sober and I don’t remember leaving the house. But when I, like, came back to myself I was watching E. I was watching her walk away from me on the path and I was literally crouched behind a tree hiding.”

Fuck, I thought then went to sit back down next to Biddy so I could eat another scone.

“When you say, ‘came back’ what do you mean? Are you not there?” Biddy prompted.

“I don’t know, man, I just am like, aware of what I’m doing and then I’m not.”

“What is he like in the evenings?” I asked Erica.

The girl looked at her husband and grimaced, “I’m really sorry babe, but you’ve turned into a total dick. I mean, you’re OK in the mornings, but you just sit there in that living room all night and stare at the television. Unless you’re out in that garage. I mean, you are out there all the time. Babe, what are you even doing out there? I’ve heard the banging and it sounds like you’re slamming things against the walls.”

We all stared at Mattie. He rested his elbows on his knees and began cracking his knuckles.

Erica pointed at his hands accusingly, “And that too! He never used to crack his knuckles. It’s disgusting! I can’t stand it.”

Biddy and I watched the couple. Mattie was inscrutable, Erica was sidling up to hysteria.

“How are you feeling right now?” Biddy asked.

“Really fucking angry,” Mattie answered in a low voice.

“Why?” I asked without thinking.

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” he insisted.

“I think I do,” Biddy said.

“Demons,” I breathed, knowingly.

Erica gasped and Mattie looked like he was about to flip over the coffee table.

“Settle down,” Biddy said to me, annoyed. “It’s not demons. Everything isn’t always demons. Mattie you’ve got a nasty spirit attachment.”

“How do you know it’s not a demon? I mean that little girl in the attic, right?” I reasoned.

“Well yeah that thing in the attic might be a demon, but that’s a secondary problem.”

“So there is a demon!” I said.

Biddy gave me a look then continued, “Maybe, but if a demon was causing this personality change then we wouldn’t be here talking about it. If a demon had that great a hold on him then Erica would be dead by now.”

“Biddy!” I exclaimed, horrified.

“Sorry to be so blunt, but you’re lucky Matt. This spirit was obviously a raging alcoholic in life. He didn’t cross over and he still needs what he was addicted to, so he’s latched onto you and he’s not going to let go without a fight.”

“Oh my God. How is this possible?” Erica asked.

“Look, we all need energy to survive,” Biddy explained. “We eat food and recharge by sleeping, right? And then we can get spiritual energy from God or the world or people around us. Since we’re alive we can access energy many ways, but ghosts can’t do that. If a spirit doesn’t cross over into the light or becomes deceived and falls into the darkness, then it remains on our plane and it has to get energy from somewhere in order to survive. One way for it to get that energy is to latch onto a living person.”

“Who is it?” Erica asked her eyes wild. “Can you see him right now?”

I bit my lip to keep from smiling. Biddy took a breath and said, “I’m not a medium, I’ve just spent my entire life around haunted people trying to figure out what the hell was happening to them. I have absolutely no idea how or why stuff like this happens but I’ve been around long enough to connect some dots.”

“What do I need to do to get rid of this fucker?” Mattie asked.

“I know a guy,” Biddy assured him. “You need a medium and you need to sage the shit out of this place. And then he’ll go. He’ll have to.”

“What about the demon girl in the attic?” Erica pressed, looking terrified and small. “Is she going to kill us?”

“I’m sure she wants to,” Biddy said plainly.

“But she won’t,” I added quickly. “Biddy knows a priest who can come and help you. He helped my family with our haunting.”

“Everything can be fixed here, but I don’t like that whole lurking in the woods storyline, Mattie,” Biddy cautioned. “It’s not going to end well. Until the priest comes I don’t think you guys should sleep in the house. I’ll sage the place for you today while you pack and that should weaken the ghost.”

“We can stay at my sister’s,” Erica said.

“If there’s a drunk angry ghost latched on to me then I’m not going anywhere near your family,” Mattie snapped.

“Stay at a hotel then, Mattie. Erica can stay with her family, it’s not a bad idea for you two to separate temporarily. You’re relationship might actually be feeding the spirit,” Biddy suggested.

Everyone was silent, absorbing Biddy’s diagnosis.

“So that’s that then,” I said after a moment. Mattie and Erica were looking at us with a mixture of fear, skepticism and hope.

“I left my bag in the car, let me go grab the sage. I’ll do a quick walk through while you guys pack up,” Biddy said, standing.

“I have to pee,” I declared then smiled at the couple. “Shall I use the powder room we passed in the hallway?”

They both nodded. “Ok, be right back!”

“Don’t you dare leave me in this house alone with them,” I hissed once we were out of earshot. “That guy gives me the creeps.”

“He should. That’s the worst case of demonic possession I’ve ever seen.”

“Ha! I knew it!” I said loudly.

“Shhh!” Biddy said. “Shut up! I’m buying time doing this sage bullshit so we can get that girl out of this house. He’s going to kill her.”

“Oh shit, what are we going to do?”

“We are going to pretend to sage the house while she packs up her things and then we are going to make sure that she leaves here without him. Twenty bucks says he doesn’t leave this place.”

“I really do have to pee. Will you wait outside the door for me and then I’ll come to the car with you?”

“Oh, for the love of Pete,” Biddy said, rolling her eyes. “Hurry up.”

When I was done peeing I opened the bathroom door to talk to Biddy as I washed my hands. I said, “That was super smart of you to come up with that drunk ghost guy story.”

I dried my hands and flipped the light switch then stepped out into the hallway. There stood Biddy staring at me along with Erica and Mattie.

“Oh shit.”

slide-image3Today is Friday and every Friday, before the kids wake up, I sage the house. I’ve done this every week since that-which-we-pretend-didn’t-happen happened. Biddy told me the practice clears emotional energy left from the events of the previous week and that it was in our best interest to keep the home clear. Supposedly, negative beings are attracted to energy build up and when they can sense that a family or home has already been infiltrated, like we were, they’re more likely to see if they can do the same.

So, this morning as I wafted smoke through my window-lined office I glanced up and saw a coyote sitting in the yard. It was just staring at my house and the windows around me suddenly felt very thin.

We live near a large reservation and I’ve seen plenty of deer and bunnies and there was even a cute opossum in the garage last Spring. There are rumors of coyote all over town. I’d even glimpsed one running behind a home in our old neighborhood. But this one, my God, it was just feet from my home. Staring.

After a few frozen moments, the sage stick burning silently in my hand, I banged on one of the windows and quietly said, “Shoo.”

The wild dog looked at me. I banged again, more forcefully and then it stood and slowly trotted towards the front yard. I ran into the living room and watched it walk across the street and disappear into the woods behind the neighbor’s house.

Weird, right?

Chris didn’t want to believe me. Honestly, the second the coyote walked out of sight into those woods, I didn’t even really believe what I’d seen. I’m going to sage the outside of the house tomorrow morning. It feels like there’s a storm brewing.

***

Enough about that, let’s move onto Michelle’s story.

Close to the top of Wellesley Avenue sits a small cul-de-sac that so far has managed to escape the developers’ attention. The charming street is lined with a hodgepodge of small, well-kept homes in a rainbow of colors. Nestled at the top of the circle is a small brick cottage, it’s front lawn a joy of wildflowers, it’s backyard a wall of dense forest. The home is straight out of a British cozy mystery. It’s owner is Michelle Penna, an interesting forty-something, fresh-faced woman with a terrifying story.

I met Michelle at a friend’s fortieth birthday party. She had shoulder-length highlighted blond hair and pretty smile lines around her dark brown eyes. She wore a simple black shift dress and very high, hot pink heels.

Our mutual friend introduced us by saying, “Michelle you have to tell Liz what happened to you last fall, Liz loves that kind of stuff.”

Michelle looked embarrassed so I quickly explained, “I have a blog, people in Wellesley tell me their scary stories.”

“Oh!” She said, her relief obvious, “Yeah, I had a,” she cleared her throat and tucked hair behind her ears, “Well, a stranger stalked me for a while.”

I attempted to contain ghoulish excitement. “Holy hell that is terrifying!”

Right at that moment we were interrupted by another party goer and then the passed hors d’oeuvres walked over (Philly cheesesteak egg rolls) and the conversation turned to more appropriate cocktail party topics. Eventually Michelle and I drifted apart to different circles.

Later that night she tapped me on the shoulder. “Ali just told me all about your blog,” she said pointing towards a mutual friend. “I’ve got to get home to relieve my babysitter, but I would love to tell you what happened to me, I mean, if you want to hear it. I haven’t been able to share it with many people, they’d think I’m nuts.”

We exchanged phone numbers and I enthusiastically agreed to meet Michelle at her house the following Tuesday morning. Chris came over as I slid my cell phone back into my clutch.

“Now what are you up to?” He asked.

“Nothing,” I said, innocently.

 

***

Two light pink Adirondack chairs sat in a circular patch of lush grass among the happy wildflowers dominating Michelle’s front lawn. It was the ideal place to read an Agatha Christie novel. Michelle’s front steps were impeccably crowded with overflowing pots of cheerful flowers whose names I didn’t know.

I could see into the house through the screen door. Michelle sat at her kitchen island, her back to me. I called out, “Hello!” and softly tapped at the door frame. Michelle spun around and called, “Come on in!”

I stepped into the entryway and onto a hot pink leopard print rug. The walls around me were covered in a small print wallpaper. At first glance it looked like a black and white exotic animal print, but upon closer examination I realized that small black dogs created the design.

“This wallpaper is so cool! Do you have a dog?” I asked.

“I do,” Michelle replied reluctantly. “I put him out back so he won’t be a bother. Are you allergic?”

“Thank God, no!” I replied. “Bring him in here immediately!”

Michelle laughed, “Ok, follow me.”

“I love every last thing in your house!” I gushed, peeking over at the living room as I followed Michelle past the stairs and into the kitchen. An emerald green couch, flanked by two pink buffalo-checked chairs faced a brick fireplace. The bricks were painted turquoise. Above the mantle hovered a large Gray Malin photograph; an overhead beach shot filled with sunbathers and hot pink beach umbrellas.

“Thank you,” she said over her shoulder. “Sometimes I wonder if it’s all too much.”

“No way,” I assured her.

“Grab a seat at the island,” Michelle offered walking towards a sliding glass door overlooking the backyard. She slid it open and called, “Moose! Come on, buddy!”

I was about to take a seat as she had suggested, but the second I heard the name Moose I changed my mind. I walked towards the sliding door and saw the biggest, pudgiest chocolate Labrador Retriever I’d ever seen. He walked along slowly, his tail lazily wagging until he caught sight of me. Then his pace picked up a little and his tail went crazy.

“Moose!” I called out, kneeling down.

The dog lumbered over and leaned against me throwing me off balance so that I somehow ended up with him laying across my legs on the floor.

“Moose! Off!” Michelle demanded.

“Leave him be,” I insisted, “How old is he?”

“He just turned ten,” Michelle replied, “Really, you don’t have to pet him. He’ll never leave you alone.”

“I love him,” I said, honestly.

She rolled her eyes lovingly at the dog and asked, “Can I get you some coffee?”

“Sure! Thank you.”

I sat happily on the floor snuggling Moose who appeared to be dozing off, and spotted the corner of a chicken coop in the back yard close to the woods.

“You have chickens too?” I asked/yelled.

“Yeah, I only have eight now but we used to have twelve.”

“Can I see them?” I asked.

“Of course! Come on out back, we’ll sit on the patio. Moose, off!

I poured sugar and an interesting coconut milk creamer into my hot pink mug of coffee then followed Moose and Michelle outside to a pretty brick patio. Chickens dotted the cedar-fenced yard, clucking quietly.

“I can’t even!” I exclaimed.

“They really are a riot,” Michelle said. “They’re so funny. I open the coop for them each morning and they shuffle out and poke around the yard all day. Then they walk themselves back in every evening to roost. One of them even sleeps on Moose’s back when he’s napping in the yard sometimes.”

“I’m literally dying,” I said stupidly.

“Here, sit,” Michelle motioned to a pair of pink Adirondack chairs similar to the ones in the front yard. We sat and a white garden stool stood between us acting as a little side table. The chairs faced the yard and dark forest beyond.

“I would spend my life out here,” I commented, sipping my coffee.

“I do love it,” Michelle admitted.

“I’m sorry, I’m going on and on about your house and your animals. You invited me here for a story. Is it alright if I record our conversation so I can transcribe it for the blog?”

“Sure,” she replied.

I took my recorder out of a pocket in my rain jacket, turned it on and placed it atop the garden stool. “I don’t usually write about stories like yours, but even if it doesn’t have a ghost it sounds really creepy.”

Michelle watched the chickens for a moment then glanced over at me, “It’s a really weird story,” she cautioned.

“My favorite kind,” I assured her.

Michelle took a deep breath then whispered, “Oh, what the hell.”

I sipped my coffee, excited to hear what this remarkable woman had to say. It was summer and my two oldest daughters were at camp until three o’clock. I’d recently arranged for Kat to hang in Joey’s old daycare and match her sisters’ schedules three days a week. I was feeling relaxed for the first time in I don’t know how long.  

“My story has two distinct parts,” Michelle began, “I know they’re connected even if I don’t completely understand why. But I’m certain that the stalking fueled the infestation somehow.”

“Infestation?”  

A slight breeze swayed through the trees and Michelle took a orange elastic off her wrist then pulled her hair into a ponytail. She said, “It’s really complicated. My husband and I divorced six years ago. It was nothing dramatic, we just let ourselves grow in different directions. He got caught up with work and I got caught up managing our social lives; getting into the ‘right’ crowd, going on the ‘right’ vacations, making everything look perfect,” Michelle was an air quotes person, I smiled to myself. I love people who do air quotes. She continued, “We just stopped paying attention to each other unless it was to put on a show when we went out with our ‘friends.’ Predictably, he cheated with a young woman at his office and then it was over.

“It was hard, especially on the kids, but we untangled everything and sold the big house so we could each buy something smaller here in town. He’s a good dad. I like him, but we weren’t good for each other, you know what I mean? Anyway, that’s how I ended up in this house.”  

“It’s a beautiful place,” I said awkwardly. The story of the end of her marriage was more terrifying than any ghost story I’d ever heard. It was so simple, so dangerous. I wanted to cross myself and knock on wood and throw salt over my shoulder to protect myself from the possibility of it.

“I love this house,” Michelle said, quietly, “But it’s taken awhile to get there. About two years ago I began to notice that things were a bit off every once in awhile. It was small things. My keys wouldn’t be where I left them, or dishes that I swore I’d left in the sink would all be clean sitting in the drying rack when I got home.”

“Uh oh,” I breathed.

“And it wasn’t the kids,” she continued quickly. “Greg, my ex, and I split time with them every week and these things would only happen when I had the house to myself.

“One day just as I opened the front door I heard that sliding glass door off the kitchen shut. I rushed right out here, thinking someone had broken in, but no one was there. It freaked me out, but I wasn’t sure if maybe I’d imagined hearing it. I hadn’t lived alone since I was- well, actually, I’d never lived alone before. I had roommates in the city after college and then I moved in with Greg. So I wondered if maybe I was just being paranoid, or forgetful.

“There were other little things, the bathroom door slammed shut once when I was in the shower. I heard footsteps in the guest bedroom above the living room. Doors that I swore I had locked would be unlocked. Eventually, I accepted that I was either losing my mind or there was a ghost in my house.”

“Wait,” I interrupted, “a ghost?”

“Yes, at the time I thought it was the only explanation. I tentatively mentioned what was happening to a couple of my girlfriends and one of them, she’s kind of a New Age type, suggested that we hold a seance. I didn’t believe in anything supernatural back then, really I was just afraid that I was getting early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia, so I was actually hoping I had a ghost. So when my friend brought over a Ouija board-”

Michelle,” I groaned. “Tell me you didn’t.”

“I thought it would just be something amusing to do while we drank a couple bottles of wine. I even bought a bunch of candles and this pretty glitter table cloth to set the mood.”

“What happened?” I asked.

Michelle stared at the woods, she said, “We got one message, the board spelled out man and cellar, neither of which meant anything to me at the time. Oh, and it also spelled out invited.”

“Oh geez, did you look go look in the basement?”

“Yes, my friend insisted that we go down to investigate that very night, though we didn’t find a thing. After that evening things continued to happen in the house, but it all took a turn. It got, really weird. My belongings wouldn’t simply be misplaced, they’d go missing completely. The gas fireplace, which I never use, was turned on several times when I woke up in the morning and then one night I came home from having dinner with a friend and all of the doors to the house were wide open. I went directly to my neighbor’s house and asked him to walk in with me to make sure no one was in there. I was still thinking it was a ghost doing these things, and I didn’t want to go in there alone, but he insisted we call the police. I did. They didn’t find anyone and nothing was missing. But,” Michelle looked over at me, considering.

“What?” I asked impatiently.

“I keep all of my grandmother’s china on a high shelf in the kitchen and that night it was all spread out around the kitchen floor.”

“Someone smashed it all? That’s terrible!”

“No, no,” Michelle said, shaking her head. “The pieces weren’t broken, they were arranged all around the kitchen floor. It was really weird.”

I groaned, “Ok, that is much worse.”

“It was,” she agreed. “After that happened I accepted that I had a ghost in my house. I tried talking to it. I sat in my kitchen and told it that it was welcome to stay but that it had to stop messing around with my things.”

I scrunched up my nose and shook my head.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” she said, her voice raising. “My daughter told me that when she woke up in the morning she’d find the books from her book shelf situated across the floor in little stacks. She thought maybe she was doing it in her sleep and I didn’t want to scare her and tell her what else had been happening in the house. Then my son said he’d woken up and heard footsteps outside his door in the middle of the night.”

“Ugh,” I breathed.

“He told me it sounded like a small dog pacing around. He peeked his head out into the hallway and didn’t see anything so he convinced himself that he’d been dreaming. I didn’t tell him that heard the same thing several nights before.”

“Could it have been Moose?” I asked, hopefully.

“No, he sleeps next to me and I close my bedroom door at night. The fact was, things were escalating. My coffee table would be moved just enough so that I would bang my knee on it when I walked past. The shower head would be turned out towards the bathroom so when I turned on the faucet I’d got soaked. If I grabbed a Diet Coke from the fridge it would explode when I opened it like it had been shaken. It was constant.”

“What an annoying ghost,” I commented, hiding a smile.

“It wasn’t a ghost,” Michelle said, staring straight ahead.

“Oh no, don’t tell me it was your stalker,” I said, feeling the first twinge of fear.

“I was sitting at my kitchen island eating dinner one night. It was a Friday and I’d gotten home from work about an hour earlier, I was trying to relax because the kids were with Greg for the weekend.  

“So, I get this text from my nextdoor neighbor, Tiff, asking if I was home. I texted back that I was there, I figured she wanted me to let her dog out or something, but she immediately replied, ‘I’m calling you. Answer the phone and agree with what I am saying, OK?’ So then I figured she was at some event that she needed to get out of and wanted me to pretend to be an urgent phone call.”

Michelle took a deep breath, “My cell phone rang and I answered it saying something like, ‘What are you stuck at a PTO mixer or something?’ But Tiff said, ‘Shut up and listen to me. There is a man in the crawl space at the side of your house. Don’t panic, just say something else about the PTO so I know you’re alright.’”

“Oh my God,” I breathed, I’d prefer ghost china plate floor checkers over this any day.  

“I was so terrified that I couldn’t speak. Tiff insisted that I say something so she knew I was alright, so I whispered, “I don’t like the PTO.”

Despite how terrifying her story was, I laughed at Michelle’s response.

“Thank God for her,” Michelle said, sharing the laugh. “She’d seen the guy come out of the woods behind my house, crouch near the sliding glass door for a while then open the old root cellar on the side of my home closest to hers and walk in. She’d called the police before she called me.

“Tiff told me, ‘I’m going to ring your doorbell right now, open the door and come outside.’ So, I did. I called for Moose to follow me and the doorbell rang. I rushed out and the two of us sprinted to her house together.”

I realized that I had been holding my breath. “Who was it?” I demanded.

Michelle shook her head and took a sip of coffee. “Edward Koch, a man from my moving company.”

What?” I said, shocked.

“He was one of the guys who’d helped move my stuff from my old house into this house. The night he was arrested he confessed to ‘watching out for me’ ever since he’d helped me move in. He told them that he was worried about me being alone so close to the woods so he checked on me whenever he could.”

Shut up,” I breathed.

“The guy was psychotic. I told the police about all the strange things that had been happening in my home and Edward confessed to ‘letting himself in once in awhile.’” Since she’d begun to tell me about Edward Koch, the air quotes had been flying and Michelle began to show a rage that must have been simmering just beneath the surface all along. She continued, “He admitted that he may have ‘tidied up for me’ for me a few times but he absolutely denied doing anything with my china or moving any of the furniture. The detectives I spoke with told me that he’d become enraged when they accused him of turning on my gas fireplace. I guess he ranted on and on about how that was exactly why I ‘needed’ him there watching over me.”

“Oh, Michelle,” I said sadly, unable to imagine how terrifying it would be to realize that not only had someone been stalking you for months, they’d been in your home while you were there without knowing it. I thought of Chris and my girls and the dumb luck that had kept us safe all these years. I wanted to insist that Michelle come live with us in our tiny home. I wanted to scream about the state of our mental health care and legal systems. I wanted to have the super power that I’ve always wanted: the ability to touch someone’s hand and make them forget their most painful memory but hold onto any good that it brought them.

Michelle and I sat silently, each lost in our own thoughts for several minutes.  

Moose walked over and sat at Michelle’s feet, his lawn patrol over. “It was awful and surreal and scary but here’s the really bad part. They swabbed him and a D.N.A. match came up. It was connected with the murder of a woman in Holliston in 2015. She was found raped and strangled in her kitchen.”

No,” I said, quietly.

“Her name was Emily. She ran a catering company out of her home and she had two children, two girls. She was recently divorced and had used the same moving company.”

“Michelle,” I stammered, trying to process her story.

“I looked up her photo online, I look just like her.”

“My God, I am so sorry. Oh, thank God your neighbor saw him that night.”

“I know, I got lucky. As awful as it all was it woke me up. I look back at the me I was before all of that happened and I don’t even recognize myself. I drank too much and ate too much and cared too much about what everyone else thought of me and my life. I nearly had a nervous breakdown over what everyone would think about my divorce.

“Even my friends, they weren’t really friends. They were people that I partied and gossiped with. I had no idea who I was so I just relied on everyone else to tell me who they wanted me to be and as you can imagine, once my marriage fell apart, I wasn’t what those people wanted me to be any longer.

“And I was hurting, you know? My soul hurt. The circle of ‘friends’ I’d built around myself certainly didn’t want to deal with that,” Michelle picked at a cuticle absently as she spoke.  

“So I had been muddling my way through that and meanwhile, Edward Koch was stalking me and I didn’t even know it. Once I’d found out about poor Emily things just snapped. It’s strange to say but it was a clean before and after. It took some time to untangle my life and it’s a total work in progress, but I don’t think I’m a total asshole anymore.”

I gave a short laugh despite fighting back tears, “You don’t come across as an asshole,” I said.

Michelle looked at me for a long minute. Longer than felt comfortable.

Finally she said, “I’m going to tell you something absolutely insane, so just remember your first impression of me ok?”

“Ok,” I agreed, crossing my fingers out of habit. Though Michelle seemed grounded, she was almost too grounded for having gone through such trauma. I was getting a vibe, but I couldn’t place it.

“Edward Koch wasn’t the only thing in my house,” Michelle whispered, as though she didn’t want Moose or the chickens to hear her.

“What do you mean?”  

“He opened the path for a gremlin,” she said so quietly that I almost couldn’t hear her.

I laughed nervously, unable to think of a response.

“A real gremlin,” she insisted, leaning towards me. “It came in from the woods. His energy called the thing forward.”

I stared out at the woods and considered leaving. Immediately. When I looked back Michelle was smiling and staring at me, which made me even more uncomfortable. She said, “You are going to think I am off my rocker. I knew it. This is why I never talk about what happened.”

“Well, what did happen?” I asked cautiously. I placed my coffee mug on the garden stool next to me. I wanted to be able to jump up if I had to. Should I take Moose with me? I wondered, panicked. What about all the chickens? They’re better off here, my dogs would kill them. But they’ll absolutely love Moose…

Michelle interrupted my frantic plans saying, “Things were nuts after that man was arrested. My husband was afraid to let the kids stay with me. I suppose I was worried about it too, but I couldn’t stand being home alone. Every noise, every creak or crack was an intruder. Greg insisted that I install a security system, which I did but it didn’t make me feel any safer.

“I had the door to the root cellar sealed off so no one could get in there again. But I began having these horrible dreams that I got sealed in there by Edward. I dreamt of the sliver of light disappearing as he spackled over the door.

“I began to obsess about the space. I had these irrational circular thoughts that maybe my handyman had trapped someone in the root cellar when he sealed it off. I would wake up in the middle of the night consumed with the idea that I had to go right then to unseal the door and check. But I never went because I was terrified of being outside by myself, especially at night.

“The police found a tree set back a bit, over there,” Michelle pointed to a spot in the woods past the chicken coop, “There’s an oak tree in there and apparently Edward would climb it and watch my windows at night. They found a waterproof bag nailed to it. It held binoculars, a black facemask and a few Power Bars.”

“He was out there long enough to snack while he watched you?” I interrupted.

“Mm hmm. In court I listened to him brag about spending every moment he could making sure that I was safe. The weirdest thing was that I saw an evidence photo of the bag and its contents during the trial. The Power Bars were my favorite flavor. I never asked whether it was just a coincidence, you know? That we just happened to have the same taste for energy bars or if he actually knew that about me.”

Michelle stopped talking and stared at the trees, lost in thought again.

“What kind of Power Bar was it?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“Protein Plus chocolate mint cookie,” she said, looking over at me.

“Uck. Well, that couldn’t have been a coincidence. I can’t imagine many people eat those for enjoyment.”

Michelle began giggling and then started to full on laugh.

I smiled awkwardly.

“Oh it was all so ridiculous!” She said finally, catching her breath. “It was the most ridiculous thing that ever could have happened! A man sitting in a tree eating protein bars watching me through binoculars! And for months!” She tossed the dregs of her coffee onto the grass with a flick of her wrist. “I still get caught up in it sometimes, though. Wondering what he saw in me that made me his target.”

“The guy sounds like a budding serial killer and you were unlucky enough to match his victim type,” I reasoned.

“I know that, but it’s hard not to feel like I somehow did something to catch his attention and bring it on myself. And there he was, right there,” she pointed again to the woods, “and I had absolutely no idea.”

“What was the deal with the root cellar, though?” I asked wondering if she was ever going to tell me about the gremlin. And wondering if I even wanted to know.

“Oh, the police found black plastic garbage bags, zip ties and duct tape in there. They believe he planned to kill me and then bury my body in the root cellar.” Michelle gave an exaggerated shiver, then said, “But I was going to tell you about the little monster. The one he let into my house.”

“The gremlin,” I said, slowly.

“Yes. You know, they aren’t like the ones from the movie. They act like them though, they’re mean-spirited and they have an extremely dark sense of humor.”

“How did you know it was in your house?” I asked cautiously, wondering if the monsters were only a manifestation of post-traumatic stress.

“At first I suspected that it was just a post-traumatic stress,” she admitted.

Well, at least she considered it, I thought.

“But the problem was that some of the things that had been happening in my house when that man was stalking me continued to happen. For a time I really thought that I was losing my mind. Edward was in jail. He couldn’t be doing it. I wondered if it was me. I thought maybe I was somehow blacking out and doing these things in a sort of PTSD episode.”

“What sorts of things were happening? The furniture moving and stuff?”

“Yes, especially the couch. I came down one morning and it was facing the opposite direction. Nothing else was disturbed in the room.”

“Get out of here.”

“No, really,” she insisted, “It was as though someone had just picked it up and spun it around. There weren’t any drag marks on the carpet.”

“Oh my God, what did you do? I would have thought some other crazy person had broken in.”

“That’s exactly what I thought. I ran out and went straight to the neighbors to call the police.”

“Good girl,” I said, nodding my head.

“It was so embarrassing, really. They didn’t find anything and I know they suspected that I had moved the couch for attention or something. Even my neighbor was looking at me funny.

“So after that, when things happened I didn’t call the police anymore. I needed proof first, so I set up the cameras.”

“Uh oh,” I said quietly.

“The first thing I did was have that root cellar unsealed. I couldn’t get the damn thing out of my mind. It may have been me just fixating on it as some sort of after effect from the stalking. Whatever it was, I had to open it back up. The alarm company arranged cameras all over the exterior of the house. One was trained right on that root cellar door, two more on the back yard and one over the front door.

“I asked them to install cameras in every single room of the house too. I know the technician thought I was paranoid, but what was I supposed to do? Any time I mentioned to my ex-husband or to one of my friends that things were still happening in the house they tip-toed around mentioning medication and psychiatrists. I had to prove that something was happening in this house.

“I thought I would just capture things moving on their own or best case scenario an actual ghost fumbling around with my stuff-”

“Best case scenario?” I interrupted. “That sounds like the worst case to me.”

“No, that’s not the worst case. It can get much worse than that.”

I stared at her.

“You know what? Let’s go inside,” she said suddenly. “I’m still not comfortable being near these woods for too long.”

I was torn. Which was worse? Being inside with a couch moving gremlin, or outside where a PowerBar eating creeper once lurked? I had no choice really, so I followed her back inside, somewhat relieved when I realized Moose would tag along.

“Let’s sit in the living room,” she suggested.

“Are you sure?” I blurted.

“Yes,” she replied with a smile. “The gremlin is gone now. I promise.”

She refilled my coffee cup and grabbed a tin foil covered tray and two plates. I followed her to the front of the house and into the living room. The emerald green couch sat there, almost daring me to sit down upon it. I chose one of the happy pink arm chairs self-consciously. Michelle chose its twin.

She placed the plates on the table and unwrapped the tray and I gasped.

Michelle said, “Oh no, do you like pastries? I made these yesterday, they are cheese and raspberry danishes.”

“They’re beautiful,” I said sincerely.

“Here, have one, or two, really, I don’t want to eat them all myself.”

“Thank you,” I replied, accepting a plate. Michelle watched me take a bite and I closed my eyes and nodded. The things were delicious.

“Alright, where did I leave off? Oh, the cameras. Right, so one night I was walking up the stairs to bed and something bit me on the back of my leg.”

“What?”

“It hurt so much that it almost felt like I’d been burned. I spun around and didn’t see anything but the basket on the hallway table,” she gestured towards the stairway, visible from where we were sitting. A long table ran along the wall beneath the stairs, a wicker basket filled with magazines and envelopes sat at its center. “That basket fell and spilled mail all over the floor just seconds after I was bitten.

“My initial thought was that a raccoon had gotten into the house. I was afraid it might be rabid so I called 911. They sent animal control and an ambulance which was totally unnecessary. The animal control officer was great. She looked at the bite on my leg to get an idea for the size of the animal. She took some time studying it and I could tell that she didn’t recognize the bite mark. She insisted that I show her Moose’s rabies vaccination certificate just in case the thing came out and bit him,” Michelle grimaced at the thought. “After that she searched the house, top to bottom. She didn’t find anything.

“I assured her and the paramedics that I would contact my doctor for my own rabies vaccinations and then they left.”

“How did you stay here?” I asked.

“I holed up with Moose in my bedroom. I brought a broom with me thinking that I could swat an animal away if it tried to attack me.”

“Good Lord,” I said, shaking my head.

“It was only then that I remembered the cameras. There wasn’t one facing the stairway, exactly, but one was positioned to capture the entire entryway. The alarm company arranged it so that I could log into their system and watch the feed from all of the cameras and I paid extra, a lot extra, so that none of the camera recordings in my home would ever be deleted. I wanted the ability to review any date or time any time I wanted.

“All that was well and good but that night, locked securely in the bedroom, I realized that I’d left the laptop in the kitchen and I had to go downstairs to get it. I held that damn broom out in front of me like a sword.” Michelle laughed a little. “When I got back to my room I logged in and found the footage from the foyer.

“I was able to watch the scene as I walked through the foyer though I didn’t have a view of me climbing the stairs. But I heard myself cry out when I was bitten and then there was this blur right before the mail basket fell over. I rewatched the moment several times and then tinkered around with the settings until I was able to brighten the picture slightly.

“That was the first time I actually saw it.”

“The gremlin.”

“Yes. He was small. Only about a foot tall, if that. He’d knocked over the basket as he swung himself through the stair poles. Then I saw a flash of him dropping to the ground and running towards the kitchen.”

“You’re kidding me,” I said in disbelief. “You really caught one of them on tape?”

“I did. I rewound the footage further, and I actually saw him creeping along behind me in the hallway. He had followed me up the stairs.”

Here I was stuck in-between complete disbelief and sheer terror. Either this woman had completely lost touch with reality after her stalking nightmare or I was now living in a fresh new hell where gremlins existed.

“Can I see the video?” I asked.

“Oh sure. Let me grab my laptop,” Michelle said brightly.

Shit, I thought.  

Michelle placed the laptop in front of me and clicked around to get to the correct file. I noticed that there were three other files alongside it in the folder named “Gremlin.” Each was titled with a date and time. I felt frightened.

I leaned forward as a black and white video began to play on the screen. The picture was quite clear, Michelle must have invested a fortune on her surveillance system. She sat on the arm of my chair and watched me watching the video. For a moment all I saw was a still view of the entryway. The perspective was set to watch over the front door and it captured most of the hallway and the very edge of the staircase and the long hall table with it’s mail basket.

I glanced up at the very table I was watching on the screen. It was chilling. Looking back down at the computer screen I watched as Michelle’s back came into view. She was walking towards the front door wearing a pair of boxer shorts and a t-shirt. She stopped to check that the deadbolt was in place then turned to walk up the steps. A few beats later I heard her say, “Ouch! Damn it all!” And a blink of an eye later the basket on the table flew off onto the ground. The entire scene took less than fifteen seconds.

“Did you see it?” Michelle asked.

I shook my head. I hadn’t seen anyone but Michelle.
“He’s fast and light, look again. Focus your attention behind me, at my feet,” she instructed. She replayed the clip. We watched and I focused on the area around Michelle’s ankles.

Then I saw it.

I gasped and pointed, but could not speak.

“You saw him,” Michelle said quietly.

“Play it again,” I demanded, then, “Please.”

She played it again and I saw the damn thing again.

He (She? It?) was small, just as Michelle had described. It, let’s just go with “it”, was right at Michelle’s ankles. I don’t know how it didn’t bump into her it was moving so close. It didn’t look like the gremlins from, well, Gremlins, it was like a small misshapen person. I couldn’t see the details of it, but it made me think of a funny-looking Ken doll with thick arms and legs and a head of bushy hair. The head was disproportionately large for its body and the thing could move. When it sort of threw itself through the stairway poles and kicked over the basket it was more of a flash than anything else.

I played the clip again. Trying really hard to explain away the little creature.

Finally I asked, “Who else have you shown this to?”

“No one!” Michelle exclaimed, standing up and walking back to her chair.

“Why not? You have proof that creatures are real! Oh my God, creatures are real. I mean I know that. I know that little man I saw in my own home and I’ve talked to people about Black Eyed Kids and lizard monsters and other stuff. But oh my God. It’s all real,” I insisted as though she didn’t know, “What are we going to do? We have to tell someone.”

I was having a moment, and I admit that it wasn’t one of my best.

“We can’t tell anyone,” Michelle replied calmly.

I stared at her for a moment and then I felt somewhat comforted by a feeling of suspicion rising within me. “You swear this is real?”

Michelle smiled, “It’s real. But what do you think people would do if I showed this around? They’d want to ‘debunk’ it or whatever those paranormal groups always say. I would be accused of trying to get attention, or being a fake.

“It’s not like people haven’t had proof of the supernatural before. There are photos and videos floating all over the internet. Believe me, I’ve spent hours on Reddit and Google, and every weirdo chatroom about cryptids. No one will believe me and I will end up looking like a total freak.”

I didn’t know what to say, but I knew she was right. I looked back down at the computer screen. “Are the other files I saw more videos of the gremlin?”

She nodded. “I recorded three other instances. The gremlin did that thing with my grandmother’s china in the kitchen again. It locked poor Moose in the root cellar and there was a situation with the chickens.”

“Did it hurt them?” I asked, worried.

“No, I don’t think so, but it ‘messed’ with them,” she replied waving a hand as if to wave away the idea.  

“Oh.” I tried not to look completely disgusted.

“It was awful, it was-”

I held up my hand, “I get the idea,” I said, cutting her off. There was only so much I could handle. “But how did you get rid of it? I mean, you really got rid of it, right?”

Michelle nodded. “There’s a medium in town, I’d heard about her through my New Age-y friend.”

“The one who brought over the Ouija board?”

“Yes, same friend. I emailed Shannon, the medium, and told her about the situation in my house and I asked if she could help me. She emailed back immediately and suggested that she visit my home that very afternoon. So she came right over and eventually got rid of the thing.”

“Wait, back up. How?”

“Um, well I guess the first thing that she did was determine what kind of gremlin I had. Turns out mine was of the Sugna breed. Some gremlins are attracted to interfering with electronics or mechanical things. They ruin cell phones and televisions or create expensive problems with one’s car. My gremlin was drawn to household mischief. My feelings of confusion and frustration fueled it, but Edward Koch’s horrible intentions towards me attracted it to my property in the first place.

“He wanted to cause the worst disruption in my household, to control and watch and ultimately kill me. He spent so much time in those woods thinking about what he was going to do to me that he drew the gremlin out.”

“How in the hell did the woman know all of this?”

“She grew up in Ireland, she made it sound like all of this just common knowledge there.”

“Alright, then how did she get rid of the thing?”

“She had me get rid of all of the mirrors in my home and cover the reflective surfaces with an orange cloth. I guess the color ‘vibrates positivity’ and the little buggers hate that. Somehow, when they are out of nature they are able to live in the mirrors or other reflective surfaces, so removing the mirrors or covering them up takes away their ability to inhabit them.”

“Reflective surfaces? I mean, that could be a million things. Like silverware and the toaster and-”

“Even the silver handle on my toilet,” Michelle confirmed. “It all had to either go or get wrapped up in orange.”

“For how long?”

“Thirty-three days. Throughout that time, on every third day, Shannon came to my house and together we smudged the property line with thyme, sage and myrrh. First we walked around three times counterclockwise, then three times clockwise.

“On day twenty-seven we knew that we’d finally chased the thing out because as it was running back into the woods it flipped that patio table over and smashed it’s glass top. We were doing the smudging and we were at the front of the house, so we didn’t see the thing, just heard the crash. It was like its last act of mischief. Its last hurrah before going back into the forest.

“Shannon completed the day’s smudging and then grabbed three bottles of mead from her car. She poured it along the entire property line, setting up a barrier so that the gremlin could never come back.”

I absorbed the details of the gremlin purging ritual for a moment then said, “Man alive, Michelle, you’ve been through the ringer. You’re incredible. I would be rocking in the corner if half of what you just said had happened to me.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not all girl power rainbows here. I still have a really hard time trusting people that I don’t know. In fact, I Googled the hell out of you,” she admitted, smiling.

“Did anything good come up?” I asked, embarrassed.

“There was a really cute public access video of you and your husband talking about running the Boston marathon for Beth Israel.”

I covered my face with my hands and groaned, “The one where it looks like I am sucking on a lemon the entire time?”

“Ha, yeah I guess so, but it was sweet,” she reassured me.

We talked a bit longer then said our goodbyes. I walked out the front door and through the garden. Whereas it had felt so peaceful and beautiful when I’d first seen Michelle’s front yard, after hearing Michelle’s story I now watched my step as though the garden were full of rattlesnakes.

I got into the car and gently placed an egg carton on the passenger seat. Michelle had given me a dozen eggs from her hens. I threw them out in a garbage can in front of Roche Brothers before I got home. A gremlin/chicken hybrid running around the house would probably be the straw that broke me.

panasonic

Nocturnal Druid contacted me through the blog. I met her in Starbuck’s and her bouncy brown ponytail,  farmer’s tan, adorable freckles and tiny figure eight tattoo on the inside of her left wrist were a surprise. Though she appeared to be in her mid-to-late thirties, our initial phone conversation lead me to believe I would be meeting a middle-aged heavy smoker. It was during that phone call that Noc explained that though she wasn’t a Welleslian herself, she had a story about a Wellesley family that I had to hear.

“I found you through an article in Wellesley Weston Magazine,” Noc explained.

“Oh, that,” I replied, a little embarrassed. “Yeah, they published part of the Dump Swap story last October.”

“Did you really see that little ghost girl?”

“I did,” I admitted.

“Cool, not many people have seen a full-on ghost.”

I considered. Noc was a ghost hunter so she’d probably seen many strange things in her time, but despite that little ghost girl and the creatures we’d seen in our home, I still didn’t know what I thought about the paranormal. I said, “I’ve spent so many years wanting to see something that really scared me, but now that I have it’s more confusing than thrilling, you know?”

Noc nodded her head in agreement. She said, “I was on this investigation once, in an abandoned mental hospital. Those places are freakin’ terrifying at night and they’re drenched in every single bad feeling you’ve ever had. So, I’m walking down this long hallway with doors on both sides, right?  And I keep thinking that I see something out of the corner of my eye in every room I pass. But when I look in? Nothing.

“Then I’m almost to the end of the hallway and again I see something in my periphery. So I look over thinking that it’ll just be a trick of the light, you know, shadows from my flashlight or something, but it wasn’t. There was a nurse in scrubs standing right there in the middle of that room. She was as real as you are now. I made eye contact with her for like, five seconds, and then she just turned and walked to the corner of the room, out of sight.”

“And that’s when I would have wet my pants,” I blurted out.

“Ha!” Noc laughed, “I just about did and I totally didn’t sleep for weeks, I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing her. But really it left me with more questions. It didn’t add up. What the hell was that woman doing there? Was it really a woman or only, like, a memory of a woman? Or just a figment of my imagination? If that’s all it was then how did she follow me along that night, through all those rooms? I get being terrified and hallucinating, but this was complicated. ‘The ghost,’” Noc does finger quotations, “Sort of lulled me into thinking there was nothing there and then showed itself at just the right moment.”

“Like it was messing with you,” I observed.

“Exactly. What motivation would a ghost nurse have for screwing with me like that?” “Maybe she was mad you were in her space,” I guessed.

“Do you really think so?” Noc pressed.

“No,” I admitted.

Noc was silent for a moment, staring at the buzzing baristas at the coffee counter. Then she asked, “Do you believe in ghosts?”

“Ghosts?” I echoed. “Yes, I mean I don’t know anymore. The more I talk to people and now that I have some head space to really think about what happened in my house, I think ghosts might be a red herring.”

“Then what is it? What are people experiencing?”

I picked at the cardboard sleeve around my latte, considering. I had formed the beginning of an opinion about the paranormal, but I knew it wasn’t a popular one among the ghost hunting set.

Finally I said, “Sure there are ghosts, you know dead people with unfinished business or loved ones they want to watch over or whatever. But I think for the most part,  it’s all some sort of deception.”

“Mm hmm,” she prodded, “But by whom?”

“Demons,” I admitted, quietly.

“Bingo,” she declared loudly, causing a businessman sitting at the table next to ours to jump.

“Wait, you think so too?” I said quietly, surprised.

“Yes!” Noc insisted, nodding her head enthusiastically. “Granted I think there are lesser gods like the earth spirits, but we know there is a hierarchy to the demonic and they can probably make themselves, you know-”

“Look like anything they want us to see,” I interjected.

“Exactly!”

“I never talk to anyone about this,” I admitted. “I’m afraid they’ll think I’m an alarmist or a Bible thumper or something.”

“Even Biddy?”

“She keeps her cards pretty close to the chest. Honestly, I don’t really know what she thinks, other than that it is dangerous to go looking into the darkness,” I said. “What made you start to suspect the paranormal was more diabolical than ghostly?”

“How old are you?” Noc asked.

“Um, thirty-” I paused, racking my brain. “Eight. I’m thirty-eight.”

“OK, well, I’m thirty-six so we were probably on the same track in terms of popular ghost theories, you know? We’ve been fed the same story over and over. Ghosts are trapped spirits who retain the personalities they had in life.”

“That old ‘if he was a jerk in life then he’ll probably be a jerk in death’ line,” I commented.

“Totally. Except, what do we know about people who’ve had near death experiences? They typically come back saying that everything we’ve ever worried about in life simply disappears and we become peaceful and even repentant for the wrongs we’ve done. So how does an angry ‘ghost,’” more finger quotes, “stomping around in an attic jive with that?”

“I’d never really thought about it that way,” I admitted.

“Yeah, well, it’s more than just that. I’ve been an investigator for almost nine years. When I started I bought the whole dead people theory but after years of investigating I can’t make my experiences fit into that narrative any longer.

“I’m not talking about the truly residual stuff,” she said quickly, waving a hand in dismissal. “Those may really be time slips or strong emotions or energy, left behind. We’ve all walked into a room after an argument, and the vibe is just different, you know? And then all those stories about dead loved ones visiting in dreams or just as they pass over – those anecdotes are always positive and loving even if that person was a jerk in life, so that I can buy.

“But dead people intentionally interacting with the living in a negative way? That I don’t buy. Why would dead people be so petty?

“Part of it is selfish, I suppose,” she went on. “I don’t even want to entertain the possibility that I might get stuck here messing with people in the middle of the night in my old house. I mean, aren’t we supposed to transcend a bit?

“You’re biting your nails,” Noc said abruptly.

“Sorry,” I apologized quickly, “I’ve had the same suspicions and you’re making me nervous. What do you think is really happening?”

“I think we are part of a game,” she replied, lowering her voice. “The devil fell to earth with thousands of other disobedient angels, right? So if the earth belongs to the devil and it appears that he can’t reach us once we are off this field, then he’s got to do his best to catch as many of us as he can while we’re here, right? And deception, like you said, is his greatest tool.”

“Yeah, and you know what else I keep coming back to?” I asked. “Distraction. It is our way of life now, we just live distracted. So there are some people who obsess about shopping or their looks, money, work, their phones, their kids, and then there are other people, like us who are distracted by this whole other world. And no matter what we are most distracted by I think the demons are right there, able to insert their, like, influence where we are most vulnerable.”

“I’ve only read a couple of your interviews, but I just knew we were on the same wavelength!” Noc declared. “I think we are getting suspicious at this particular point in time because they’re getting lazy.”

“What do you mean? It feels like things are crazier than ever,” I said.

“Oh, I totally agree that they have been ramping up their efforts, but their techniques for scaring us are stale. They’re wearing out their gimmicks, right? I mean, how many apparitions in Civil War garb or long white nightgowned ghosts can there be? How about the haunting smell of rosewater perfume or cigar smoke, or-”

“Ghost kids rolling balls across the floor,” I added.

“You got it,” she said pointing at me.

“But wait, if you really think it is all demons then why are still ghost hunting?”

“Think about it. They can’t touch us, that’s their biggest deception; convincing everyone that they actually have any power over any of us. We don’t belong to them. Never have. I like a good scare, that’s all.”

“You best be careful,” I cautioned. “Just because they can’t get you after you die doesn’t mean they can’t make your life hell.”

“Alright, true. But, and maybe this is the distraction you were talking about, but sometimes they do something truly terrifying, and I want to be there to see it. Sometimes they actually get creative. There was one haunting in Wellesley that I investigated a while back and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. When I came across your blog I knew you’d want to hear about it.”

“I can’t wait,” I said, though honestly I was a bit hesitant. If a ghost nurse simply confused her, I thought, what did she consider truly terrifying?

“So, I’m the case manager for a team of four paranormal investigators,” Noc began. “My husband Tyler is our lead tech specialist. I mean, we all have a working knowledge of the equipment but he’s the expert. We have two investigators, Patricia our team psychologist, and Maurice the demonologist. Oh and actually, this kid does most of the evidence analysis, you know after the investigation he reviews the hours of audio and video footage, marking events for us. He doesn’t come along on investigations though.”

“Ok,” I said, “But, a psychologist and a demonologist? That’s impressive.”

“Well, our clients usually need one or the other,” she replied, “Or both.”

“Lord help us,” I sighed, then asked, “What’s the name of your team?”

“Para Investigations.”

“Nice,” I commented, “How do you get cases?”

“Ty runs the website and we field inquiries from there. People contact us through the site, they are required to leave a phone number so that I can call them after an initial email response.  I don’t trust email to get an accurate read on a situation. Some people are just looking for drama and I can only really tell if they’re seriously in trouble when I have an actual conversation with them.

“After that preliminary phone interview I set a time for an in person meeting and a walk through of the haunted property. I bring Patricia along so she can make a quick evaluation of the client’s mental state. Once we get a read on the situation we either refer the client out to more appropriate resources, like mental health professionals or other medical help and then follow up with them over the next month or so to be sure they are getting the help they need. But if I believe our team is the appropriate group to help the family we take the case.

“If we accept a case I do some background research on the property’s history to prepare and we set a date for our team to go in and investigate. And we don’t just investigate a home for only one night like most teams, we spend seventy-two hours at the place. The whole team spends all three nights together and at least two of us are present in the home during the daytime as well.”

“Like that television show,” I interrupted.

“Yeah, sort of,” Noc said with a smile. “Anyway, once the investigation is done we review the evidence and I arrange for a client meeting, typically about a week later. We go over our findings and conclusions with the family and line up all of the resources they will need to resolve the haunting, if that is what they wish to do. I stay in touch with the people over the next few months, then taper off contact throughout the following year unless they need us again.”

“Man,” I said, impressed. “Do you charge for this?”

“Never!” Noc barked causing the businessman to look over at us.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply-”

“Of course you didn’t,” she affirmed, “It’s just that charging for a paranormal investigation is such outlandish bullshit. Our service points people to other people who maybe might possibly be able to help them. We’re just grateful that our clients allow us into their homes. Honestly, we should pay them. How else would we find the so-called ghosts?”

“That’s true,” I agreed.

“I know it sounds pretty involved, and it is. Even though I walk through around thirty or forty properties a year we only take on between seven and ten of those cases. A case has to be pretty extreme for us to commit. I’m not spending three days and nights in a house that only has occasional wall taps or slamming doors. The amount of time and effort we put into our investigations has to be worth it.”

“But what about the houses with the banging and slamming doors?” I asked, feeling protective and worried for those people.

“We have their homes blessed or refer them out to a different team. I mean, we help them, we just don’t camp out and give them the full court press.”

I took a sip of my latte, considering then said, “Wow, three full nights in a legitimately haunted house. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever seen?”

“I’m about to tell you,” Noc replied with a smile.

“Oh man,” I breathed.

Noc leaned forward, “So about a year and a half ago, Ty forwarded me this email inquiry from our website. It was from a woman in Wellesley who was convinced that her house was haunted and that her oldest child was being targeted by the spirit. I responded with my usual list of questions and she emailed back immediately so I picked up the phone to call her.

“She told me about the house. They’d only lived there for a couple months and they’d done a small amount of renovations before they’d moved in. She mentioned some strange things had happened during renovations but the family had been out of state at that time and only heard about them second hand from the contractor.

“So, there were four kids in the family but the mother told me that only one of them, the oldest daughter, was being sort of ‘pursued’ by the spirit. The girl had begun fighting with her siblings and wasn’t sleeping well. She was even sleep walking and hearing voices.

“This woman was convincing enough that I agreed to check the place out, but really I thought we’d just be referring them out to a pediatric psychologist.

“But I knew we might have a real case on our hands the second Patricia and I pulled into the driveway. The home was on a busy road and it had a little stream running through the back yard. As we were walking up the front door a train blew past the back of the property. The house was right on the commuter line. There was a hell of a lot of energy swirling around and, I’m telling you, it wasn’t positive.

“The house was really small, too small for a family with four kids. Laura, the client, opened the door before I even had a chance to knock and she kind of shooed us into the living room off the foyer-”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said, holding my hand out. “This wasn’t the Arnold family, was it?”

“Yeah,” Noc said, her brow furrowed, “Michael and Laura Arnold and their daughter-”

“Lilith,” I said.

“How the hell do you know that?”

“They were like my third or fourth interview!” I exclaimed.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Noc said, laughing.

“No, really,” I insisted. “I remember they told me they’d had a ghost hunting team in at one point. You didn’t read their interview on my blog?”

“No,” Noc said, laughing, “I’ve got to read it! Did she tell you anything about my team?”

“Um,” I hedged, pretty sure that I remembered Laura telling me the ghost hunting team had made things worse. “I can’t really remember,” I fibbed, “They told me they’d consulted a ton of people though.”

“Man, she totally cut us off. I suppose I can’t blame her, we only lasted two nights in that house. I insisted on getting a priest in there to bless the place before we went any further.”

“Let me go to the bathroom before you scare the hell out of me,” I muttered, getting up from the table.

Noc nodded and picked her phone up off the table to scroll through texts.

When I came back I said, “Alright, what happened?”

“Did you meet the dad, Michael?” Noc asked.

“Yup,” I replied.

“Huge guy,” Noc commented. “Total gentle giant. The middle boy, Jack, was the only kid home that first day when Patricia and I checked out the house. He was home sick from school and he sat in an armchair with an iPad while we interviewed the parents. A couple times I wanted to suggest that he go up to his room or the kitchen or something, I mean the stuff his parents were telling us was pretty fucked up, but they didn’t seem to think it was a problem.”

“What exactly did they tell you?” I asked, wondering if she got the same story from them that I did.

“They said they’d done some improvements to the home before moving in. There’d been a small fire and a few accidents during the renovations, but nothing that triggered any alarm bells at the time. After they moved in some strange stuff began happening; unexplained knocks at the front door, some of the furniture and photographs moved around, voices.

“But it was Lilith who had them the most concerned.  Everyone but Lilith slept on the second floor, while she’d set up shop in the basement. Shortly after they moved in Lilith began hearing voices calling to her in the middle of the night and though it scared her enough to sleep in her parents room for a few nights, she’d returned to the basement and wasn’t frightened any longer.

“The dad heard her speaking to someone down there too, he distinctly heard two voices whispering back and forth and he thought she’d snuck a boy in. But when he opened her bedroom door Lilith was alone and denied speaking with anyone.

“As we listened to their story I was seriously holding onto the hope that we would only need to refer these people out to one of our pediatric psychiatrists, you know? I was scared. I had this, like, really nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“It didn’t help that that place was freaking tiny, but it was more than the lack of space that made it claustrophobic. The air was heavy, like the feeling on a really humid day only it wasn’t humid – it was cold. And those people were terrified. It actually felt like they were terrified to have us in the house. Like they shouldn’t be telling us what was happening. Patricia’s read on the family was that the parents were genuinely afraid in their living situation and that they had a true fear for – and perhaps of – their eldest daughter.”

“God,” I said, “Imagine being afraid of your own daughter.”

“Terrifying, right?” Noc agreed. “Anyway, they gave us a tour of the place. The house was a modified Cape and with three tiny bedrooms and a bath upstairs. It was all freshly painted and clean, I couldn’t honestly point to anything that screamed ‘haunted house’ but the place was saturated with something that I had never experienced before. And that was just the upper floors. When they opened the door to the basement I literally had to force myself to follow them down the stairs.

“Look,” Noc said, resting her elbows on the table, “I don’t scare easily and sure, their story was creepy, but I really don’t think that’s what had me spooked. You know what it was? It felt like the house was watching us.

“I know that probably sounds wicked dramatic,” Noc said quickly.

“Not at all, well, a little bit, but I believe you,” I reassured her. “I’ve had this image in my mind of that basement since I spoke with the Arnolds. Like it was a totally normal basement with a creepy dark bedroom shoved in one corner.”

“No, it was just the opposite,” Noc said. “The basement itself was straight from a 1980s summer camp horror movie, all wood paneling and red leather furniture and ugly afghans. The Arnold’s style upstairs was a little ‘country kitchen tchotchke,’ you know, lots of pineapple art and figurines, but this was like stepping back in time. It took up half the basement to one side of the stairway. The stairway sort of bisected the space with the wood panelled hang out area to one side and a creepy unfinished room with the boiler and laundry on the other side next to the girl’s bedroom.”

“And what was that like?” I asked.

“The bedroom? Any other house, any other family and I would have described it as totally normal. A typical teenage girl’s room, you know? Lavender walls with lots of posters and magazine pages taped to them. There was even a cork board with photos of friends. They must have been people she knew back in Chicago because Michael told us that Lilith hadn’t been able to connect with any kids in Wellesley.

“When you interviewed her did Laura tell you about the symbols she found underneath the wallpaper?” Noc asked.

“She did,” I affirmed. “She told me they were painted on the walls.”

“Right, pentagrams and inverted crosses,” Noc said, shaking her head. “The thing that struck me as odd was why would someone just paper over them, you know? She told me the story about the devil-worshipper kid who’d lived in the house before them-”

“Who’d killed himself,” I added.

“Right. But think about it, if you found that stuff painted on the wall in your basement would you just throw wallpaper over it? No. You’d either try to clean it off or at least paint over it before you did anything else.”

“Totally,” I acknowledged. “And didn’t she say the wallpaper was floral patterned?”

“Yup,” Noc said, before taking a sip of her hot chocolate. “Not really the kind of thing a loner kid suspected of Satanism would typically choose to decorate his room, huh? We assumed his parents must have put it up after he passed.”

“You’re sure that was the boy’s room?” I asked.

“Mm hm. We got confirmation from the neighbors across the street. They had a girl who was a couple years younger than the boy and they had been friendly in elementary school.”

“So sad,” I murmured.

“Unimaginable,” Noc agreed.

I sighed, “So what do you think the deal with the wallpaper was?
“I don’t know, the boys parents never returned my calls or emails so I have no idea. It’s a stupid thing to be stuck on, I mean, maybe they hired someone to wallpaper over the symbols, but something didn’t sit right.”

“Do you think the parents had something to do with the boy’s death?” I asked shocked.

“No, no,” Noc said quickly, “It’s more that I wonder if they might have been satan worshippers too.”

“Get out of here,” I said, skeptically. “Did the neighbors tell you anything else about the family?”

“They confirmed what the next door neighbor had told Laura, the kid wore black all the time and that there was heavy suspicion he had killed at least two of the neighborhood cats.”

“Ugh, is that even really a thing?”

“What do you think?” Noc replied, raising her eyebrows. “Who knows, he could have just been a troubled boy and people created rumors about him because of the way he dressed and acted.”

“But the inverted crosses,” I pointed out.

Noc nodded her head causing her ponytail to bounce, “And here’s the thing, Laura told me that the symbols weren’t just scrawled willy-nilly on the wall, they formed a pattern. Four inverted crosses created a sort of box around a pentagram.

“Laura insisted that there was no way Lilith could have seen the pattern on the wall. She immediately painted over it once she found it. And yet, she found the exact same image drawn over and over again in Laura’s school notebooks.”

“Shush,” I said, chilled.

“Laura showed me one of the notebooks. Apparently Lilith insisted they were just mindless doodles.”

“Uh uh.”

“Yeah, and really that was the detail that pushed me into taking the case. As much as I wanted nothing to do with that home, I knew we had to start our investigation immediately. So I rallied the troops and we decided to go that very weekend. We planned to stay from Friday morning around eight o’clock through the same time Monday morning.”

“Was the family home while you investigated?” I asked, surprised.

“Typically we ask the family to stay in the house the first night and request that they stay elsewhere for nights two and three,” Noc explained. “I like to compare what it’s like with the family there to the vibe when they are gone.”

“But you all didn’t make it to the third night,” I recalled.

“Nope,” Noc confessed. “That second night was,” she paused, considering, “It was the scariest night of my life.”

I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the rest of the story. I was already completely freaked out at the thought of that dark cramped basement and a daughter who wasn’t acting like herself.

“We got there a little early,” Noc continued, “Just as the kids were on their way out the door for school. That was the first glimpse I’d gotten of Lilith. She was a cute kid, tiny like her mom, you know? She had on black workout pants and a black hooded sweatshirt and she had the standard long wavy hair that all young girls seem to have now. Jet black like her mother’s. At first glimpse she just seemed like a typical surly teenager. But the way she treated her mother was a step below. It was really harsh. Dismissive almost, like Laura just didn’t matter.

“The other kids were perfectly normal, you know respectful of their parents and their interactions with one another seemed fine. But Laura and Lilith had this super tense exchange over a medication that Lilith was supposed to be taking. Everyone was in the kitchen and Laura held a pill out to her with a glass of water and Lilith stared right at her mother for a moment before saying, ‘You and I both know that pill isn’t the answer, Laura.’

“My mother would’ve raised holy hell if I had spoken to her like that,” Noc said seriously. “And in front of house guests?” She shook her head. “Anyway, the kids left for school and Laura and Michael went to work. Once they were all gone the team toured the house. We needed to set up a home base for the computer and multiple screens we use to watch live feed during the investigation.

“We decided to set up shop in the finished half of the basement.”

“Come on,” I said.

“It wasn’t ideal,” she admitted, “I try to be aware of how the environment can influence our read on a situation. The place was dark and creepy, all low ceilings and wood panelling. And damp,” she added. “But the house was so small that it was the only place we could have  some space to ourselves while monitoring the family and the house.

“Once we’d brought in all our equipment and set up home base and established the feed from the cameras placed in each room, Ty and I did the first walk through. We like to record baseline readings during the daytime and it helps to work out any kinks in the command center or cameras.”

“What exactly do you do on that initial walk through?” I asked.

“We typically work top down in a house. If there’s an attic we start there. We conduct short EVP sessions in every room and take temperature and EMF readings when the house is quiet during the daytime. There was no attic space so we began in the master bedroom.

“We started that first session by introducing ourselves to the house. I made it clear that we were there to help the family and we wanted to interact with whoever or whatever was in the house causing the disturbance. Then I invited the entity to speak into the recorder. Right off the bat, I played back the recording and we heard a deep growly laugh.

“I’ve heard creepy shit before, but this laugh was fucking terrifying. It made me almost drop the recorder. Ty took it out of my hand and listened to the laugh again. Then he turned on the recorder and asked, ‘Who is here with us?’

“The bedroom was freezing and I had this overwhelming feeling that there was something in the closet. It was totally irrational, but I couldn’t shake it. Ty wound back the recorder and we listened.

“There was a low grumbling that we couldn’t make out at first but we listened again and I heard it. It said my name. My real name. I changed my name when I was nineteen, it’s a long story but I dated this psycho guy and, well, it’s a long story. But listen, no one has called me by that name in over fifteen years.”

“Holy shit,” I said, wondering about the terrible relationship that had prompted such a unique name change and knowing that I dare not ask.

“Look, I’m not just trying to act tough when I say this, but I don’t scare easily. I’ve been through too much crap in real life not to mention the fact that I’ve been in some incredibly haunted places. But that – hearing my real name growled into a digital recorder? That scared me. I seriously considered packing up right then and there. But Ty and I talked through it and I realized that the demon was trying to get rid of me by hitting right where he knew it would hurt. That name isn’t me anymore and hearing it brought back a wave of awful memories.”

“I don’t know how you didn’t just run out of that house,” I said, recalling Biddy’s recording of the shadow figure using her real name, Bridget, in their very first meeting. This wasn’t a good sign.

“Well, I didn’t need anymore proof that we were dealing with the demonic, that’s for sure,” Noc continued. “I wanted to call in a priest right away but Ty disagreed. He argued that we needed to document as much as we possibly could. It made sense, I mean that’s what we were there for, but I had a really bad feeling about that house.

“I convinced him to hold a team meeting and let everyone vote on whether to stay or go. I lost, three to one.

“So we pressed on, methodically moving through each room on the second and first floors. We didn’t record any more EVPs so my anxiety lowered a little that is, until we went down into the basement. Maurice and Patricia were monitoring base camp so Ty and I went to the laundry room first. Aside from that oppressive feeling of being watched we didn’t find anything strange in there. Then we went into Lilith’s room.”

Noc took a deep breath before continuing, “We closed the door behind us and Ty began taking temperature and EMF readings. The room proved to be cooler than the rest of the basement and the EMF detector spiked. Of course, both of those readings could have been explained away by some naturally occurring phenomena, but when we get readings like that in an area of known activity we pay attention.

“I began the EVP session by asking if the entity who had been speaking to Lilith would like to speak with us. Things happened quickly after that. First, this big stuffed dog fell off the shelf above Lilith’s bed, making us both jump. Then Ty pointed behind me, my back was to the small half window with a ground level view of the back yard. I spun around and basically yelled, ‘What did you see?’ He began to tell me when I heard Patricia scream from the other side of the basement.

“So, we rushed out of the room and while I went right to command center, Ty blew past me up the basement stairs. I called to him but he didn’t answer me so I just focused on Patricia.  

“She was standing up at the desk with her headphones in her hands and Maurice looked stunned.”

“‘What the hell happened?’ I demanded.

“‘Did you hear it?’ Patricia asked, ‘Did you hear it say my name?’”

“Oh no,” I said quietly.

“Patricia had been listening to the audio from Lilith’s bedroom camera through her headphones so we wouldn’t pick up the recording during our EVP session. She told us that just as I asked who was talking to Lilith she heard a child’s voice say, ‘Patricia remembers me.’”

“Oh fuck,” I breathed.

“Yeah,” Noc said, “The reason Patricia began investigating hauntings was because growing up she played with an imaginary friend at their Cape house every summer. Her friend always wanted to play far out in the woods behind their house. There was an accident with an old tree house and whatever it was, it made Patricia suspicious of the girl. She began to suspect the girl was trying to kill her.”

“What in the what?” I said. “Ok, there is a lot to unpack with that whole nightmare, but you’re telling me that Patricia heard that little girl’s voice over the recording in the Arnold’s house?”

“Yup,” Noc confirmed. “It sounds impossible, but she was so rattled I knew that it was true.”

Noc looked down at the table. FInally she said, “We should have left right then. I should have insisted that leave we immediately and call the church.”

“Wait, what did Tyler see out the window in Lilith’s room? Why did he run right upstairs?”

Noc sighed, “Oh right. He saw a little gray goat walk through the yard, right past the window.”

“No way!” I exclaimed.

“He went right outside to see if maybe it was, you know, like-”

“A neighborhood goat just wondering around?” I interrupted.

She laughed, “Yeah. When he came back inside we rewound the video recording on the off chance that we may have caught the animal on tape, but the camera only caught a shadow pass by the window. Ty insisted that it wasn’t a dog. He saw it’s hooves.”

I just shook my head.

“Anyhow, Patricia was so shaken that we decided to skip the final EVP session we’d planned for the command center area. Instead, we sat in the kitchen and made our game plan for the coming night. We decided that Ty and I would camp out down in the basement while Patricia took the second floor and Maurice monitored the first.

“Typically the first night of an investigation we just get a lay of the land, you know? A feel for the house and it’s little quirks and noises. We sit and listen and might do some short EVP work but really what we want is for the the house to settle around us.

“The rest of day was quiet, but the home was oppressive. Maurice worked around the house double checking his equipment. Ty and I hung out in the basement and Patricia stayed at the kitchen table. She likes to do what she calls ‘free association writing’ during daytime investigations. She says it helps her to get in touch with the feelings the house brings out in her.

“Anyway, Laura got home from work around two thirty that afternoon and the kids rolled in a little after three.”

“Did you tell Laura about the recordings?” I asked.

“No. No way. We don’t share anything with the family until we’ve had time to prepare a full report of our findings after the investigation. That afternoon Patricia and I interviewed the little kids together. They were adorable and pretty normal, if a bit shell shocked. The twins, Carrie and Rosemary, told us that they’d heard the voices while playing video games in the basement.”

“What did the voices say?” I asked, not wanting to know.

“The girls told us the voices sang songs and told jokes,” Noc said, her eyebrows raised.

Shivers,” I said.

“Yeah, I mean, they seemed genuine. They told us they didn’t go into the basement anymore, and get this – they said they stopped ‘after Lil told us the voices were dead people.’”

“Ugh,” I groaned. “What about the little boy? I remember Laura saying Lilith attacked him or something.”

“He wouldn’t tell us a thing, but I could see that he was legitimately frightened of his older sister. He actually shushed his little sisters when they told us about Lilith and the voices. He goes, ‘You know she can hear us. Shut up!’

“Where was Lilith?”

“In her room.”

“Did you interview her?”

“Yeah, her dad made her come upstairs to speak with us but she didn’t say much. I asked her about the voices and Patricia tried to press her about how she was ‘feeling.’ She pretty much only gave one word answers, but she did ask one thing.”

Noc paused and I demanded, “What? What did she ask you?”

“She asked me if I’d spoken to the ‘scribe’ yet.”

“What does that mean?”

“We’ll get there,” Noc replied after a moment.

I sat back in my seat and said, “Alright, the build up is killing me. What happened to you in that house?”

“Sorry, I just want to give you a lay of the land. We waited for the family to go to bed that first night and we sat and listened and watched. Nothing happened. Well, we did catch Lilith standing in the middle of her bedroom for about and hour and a half in the middle of the night. She was turned away from the camera, so we couldn’t tell what she was doing. She just sort of stood there, shifting back and forth from foot to foot, her hands just hanging at her sides. So, you know, take that for whatever it’s worth I guess. I suppose she could have just been putting on a show for us, but that kid was creepy.

“When she came out of her bedroom in the morning it was Patricia and Ty manning the command center. She peeked around the basement stairs at them and said, ‘You’ve upset them.’ They asked her who she was talking about and she just stood there staring.”

“I have no idea how you all stayed in that house,” I said.

“It was stupid, we shouldn’t have,” Noc replied honestly. “The family cleared out after breakfast, Patricia and I took naps on the couch and Ty and Maurice took the first daytime shift. They reported steady knocking coming from the ceiling in the master bedroom, but other than that, nothing. When it was their turn to nap Patricia and I conducted EVP sessions in the upstairs bedrooms, but things up there had gone quiet. No more knocking, no EVP responses. So we headed to the basement.”

“Uh uh,” I said.

“We started in the command center area because we’d skipped it the night before. We got two responses. Patricia asked if her imaginary friend was with us and a woman’s voice replied ‘yes.’ Then I asked if she had a message for Patricia. The voice that we recorded, it changed, it was the same woman but she was angry. She said, ‘We almost had you.’”

“Demonic,” I said quietly.

“Yup,” Noc agreed. “The day was creepy, but as nighttime came we all started to feel, I don’t know, I guess the only way to describe it is this, like, impending doom. It felt like we were trapped in a web.

“So, darkness fell,” Noc said dramatically, “and we split up. Maurice and I at the command center, Ty on the first floor, Patricia on the second. Maurice and I watched as Ty and Patricia walked through the rooms, attempting to capture EVPs or any other indication of paranormal activity. Around nine-thirty Ty got the first hit. He held the voice recorder up to the camera in the kitchen so that Maurice and I could hear it. We,” Noc paused again, seeming uncertain of how to continue.

“What?” I prompted, “What did it say?”

She looked down at her hands on the table for a moment then said, “You know what? Let me get through the rest of the night and then I can play the recording for you. I brought the actual recording. We saved it.”

“Ok, sure,” I said, thinking, Come on, man, get to the punchline.

“Sorry I’m scattered, that night, well it had a real fallout. None of us left that house alone. Every single one of us brought something home with us that night. Things attached. Patricia still hears that woman’s voice in her house every once in awhile. She’s afraid the thing is going to go after her four-year-old daughter. Poor Maurice has a shadow figure lurking in his backyard now, he lives in Concord in a very wooded area and he won’t let his kids play out there anylonger.

“And Ty and I,” Noc took a deep breath and sighed, “We’ve had some stuff happen in our home. Our basement is basically overrun.”

I waited for her to elaborate. She didn’t.

Finally she said, “So, Maurice and I are in the basement, Ty and Patricia are upstairs. At about eleven-thirty I’m watching Ty on the computer screen sitting on the couch in the living room. But then Maurice and I hear Ty call my name from the other side of the basement, near Lilith’s bedroom.”

“How?” I said, confused.

“We assumed there must have been a delay in the feed that we hadn’t recognized before. So I got up and walked around the stairs towards Lilith’s bedroom. Mind you, the basement was pitch black. We had an electric lantern and the light from the computer screens at command center, but all of the lights in the house were out.

“I had a small flashlight and I made my way towards the bedroom slowly, I called out to Ty with no answer back, but I thought maybe he was concentrating on something or needed help. Something made me stop right in the doorway, it was, well, sheer terror.

“I froze, I wanted to call out to Maurice but I couldn’t. I was able to whisper Ty’s name again and just as I did something growled in my left ear. It said, ‘He’s dead.’”

“What?” I demanded, horrified.

“I knew, I knew right then, I mean I knew that Ty was in danger. I screamed and jumped into Lilith’s bedroom, away from that voice. I spun around so that my back wasn’t to the door and just as I heard Maurice call out to me from the other side of the basement there was this low growl from the doorway. I backed up and tripped over the bed and fell down. I screamed again and saw Maurice’s flashlight beam in the hallway. I called to him to be careful and ran out to meet him. I dragged him up the basement steps, calling out to Ty the whole time.

“He was fine, of course, but I just knew we were in trouble there. Just as we were explaining what happened, Patricia rushes down the stairs from the second floor and goes, ‘There is a fucking goat standing in the middle of the backyard. It’s staring up at the house. I just saw it out the window.’”

“Oh my God,” I said with a nervous laugh. “What a nightmare.”

“It was. I refused to let Ty out of my sight after that. We left the cameras rolling and stayed together in the family room. By the time morning came we’d decided to tell the family we were packing up to go and I intended to contact a priest to have him come and do a complete exorcism of the property immediately.  

“We had everything packed up by the time Laura came to check on us that morning at ten o’clock. She was pissed. She called us amateurs and phonies who couldn’t even stay in her home long enough to give her a straight answer. I tried to explain, but she wouldn’t listen. I tried a million times to contact her that following week, I had a priest on call to come whenever she would allow it, but she only took my call once. She told me that the activity in the house had been much worse since we left and that she was disgusted with herself for allowing us into her home. Then she hung up on me.”

“Honestly,” I said, “That is so bizarre, because when the Arnolds contacted me they wanted me to put them in touch with an exorcist. At the time I felt awful that I couldn’t help them. They had misunderstood that I was only recording hauntings in Wellesley. But why wouldn’t they just call you and ask you guys to do that?”

“I don’t know. I think that poor woman felt like we abandoned her and her family by leaving early. I know she could tell how terrified we all were that morning and it probably scared the hell out of her. Which was the last thing she needed. Maybe I could have handled it better but I was so freaked out that all I wanted to do was get out of that house.

“We did review the evidence though, and in addition to all of our personal experiences in that house our cameras recorded those tapping noises Ty and Maurice reported, a kitchen chair slid out by itself on the first night, then the closet door in the master bedroom opened – also by itself – the second night of investigation, and the camera in the kitchen caught a crystal clear EVP. It didn’t mean anything to me until I read that story you wrote in Wellesley Weston magazine and I happened to see your name.”

Noc took out a small square digital recorder with headphones and slid them across the table to me. She said, “This was recorded on that second night in the house. Ty was pursuing a line of questions with the entity. He’d recorded what we assume was a demon ask, ‘Where is the scribe?’ And then,” she paused, “Well, here, listen. You’ll hear Ty’s question, there will be a few moments of silence and then tell me what you think the voice says back to him.”

I put the earbuds in, picked up the recorder and pressed ‘play.’ I heard a man’s voice, presumably Ty, ask ‘Who is the scribe?’ then there was silence for about five seconds and a low growly voice answered, ‘Elizabeth….. Sower.’

I yanked the earbuds out. My ears and fingertips tingling like they do before I have a panic attack.

“What in the hell?” I demanded. “No way. You made that,” I insisted, hopefully, “I’ll give it to you, it’s creepy. But there is absolutely no way that you could have recorded that.”

“It’s real,” she insisted quietly, “I’m sorry.”

My mind racing I picked up the earbuds and said, “Play it for me again.”

She did. It was scarier the second time.

We stared at each other for a moment.

“Alright, let’s say I’m willing to entertain the idea that this recording is real,” I said, “What in the hell does it mean? The scribe?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Noc said, excitedly.

“But I wasn’t even interviewing people when you all were investigating that house, really, the Arnolds were one of my first interviews and it happened months after you were there.”

“They’re diabolical. Time is different to them,” she said, referring to the demons in the Arnold’s home.

I slumped in my chair and said, “I don’t know what to think.”

“Well, I think you’d better watch your back,” Noc advised.

“Great,” I said, sarcastically.

Noc turned her head to watch a group of women walk by. A blur of Chloe bags, white skinny jeans and flawless skin.

“This town,” she said, under her breath.

“What about this town?” I asked.

“It’s just a weird place, full up with type A pretty ponies,” she replied with a laugh.

“I happen to know two of those pretty ponies,” I said. “I volunteer at the food pantry every week with one of them. Every week, in her own free time, she bakes cookies or pastries for the clients to snack on while they wait in line for their turn to fill their baskets with free groceries. And the other one, with the amazing eyelashes? She started a diaper bank out of her home. I just read that she fully supplied 245 Massachusetts families with diapers last year. And, I mean, I don’t know the other girl with them, but if she’s running with that crowd, she came to play.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be a jerk,” Noc began.

“I know, and I don’t mean to be defensive. You’re right. This is a weird town and there are a lot of, what did you call them? ‘Type A pretty ponies?’” I laughed, “But most of them use their privilege for good. Maybe that’s why they’re drawn here, to balance out all this darkness. Maybe they’ll end up saving us all.”

I smiled to myself imagining a bunch of highlighted, Bar Theory’d Wellesley women chasing demons down Central Street in their LuluLemon workout gear and Lily dresses.

“Point taken,” Noc Conceded. “Do you want to keep this?” She asked, holding out the recorder.

“Absolutely not,” I said immediately.

“But it’s hard proof that this shit is real,” she argued.

“That’s the last fucking thing I need,” I replied.

ghost-caught-on-tape-ghost-caught-on-tape-4523420everybody’s got ’em, so here are my two cents:

These ghost stories run in chronological order and I often make reference to past ghostly tales in the new ghostly tales.

In other words, treat the blog posts like the chapters of a book and start at the beginning.

Perhaps take a peak at my About page and then head to my first interview (For Sale: Gorgeous Five Bedroom on Wooded Estate with Au Pair Suite [and Evil Housemate] – or – “I thought it was My Grandmother” – or – “I mean, honestly. A sleeping pill every night? With an infant? What an asshole.”), then work your way forward, it’ll help for things to make a bit more sense.

Boo. – Liz