ghosts in the burbs

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

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Regularly on the podcast I write short stories for listeners who support Ghosts in the Burbs at a certain tier level on Patreon. These stories always appear at the end of the episodes. Here’s a sample of the most recent set of stories. Listen to the podcast for more of these fun horror stories, and head over to Patreon for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

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Welcome to Patreon Donor stories. I’ll be releasing these extra episodes bi-weekly until Lilith’s story is complete.

But before we get to those Patreon Donor stories I’d like to offer a million thanks to… Suzanne Hartwick, Robin, Melissa Gregory, Kristin Peters, Jordon Belew, Laura Wingfield, Jill C., Karen Siefker, Nicole Iaquinto, Haley Pearson-Cox, Gena Hartman, David Kube, and Claire Dalton… for their generous support on Patreon. Without it, this podcast wouldn’t exist. If you haven’t yet head over to check out Ghosts in the Burbs on Patreon where each patron tier carries with it a small token of my thanks. The following patrons chose the $10 per month tier so that I might create a spooky story just for them.

Here goes, this next Patreon Donor story is a tribute to one of my all time favorite authors, the brilliant R.L. Stine, whose stories inspired me to become a writer. I may have gotten a little carried away, but, here goes…

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Allison Gire and Michelina Kimmel were best friends and they had a lot in common. They were both in the sixth grade, they both loved horses, they both had long hair (though Allison’s was bright red while Michelina’s was sable brown), and they both loved the comic book Murder Monster Madness.

It was a rainy summer day and the friends had been sitting on Michelina’s bed flipping through old issues of the scary comic for hours.  

“I wish we lived in Macabre Falls,” Michelina said, referring to the town in the Murder Monster Madness stories.

“Me too,” Allison said excitedly. “Then we could really hunt monsters.”

“What would you do if you ever saw a monster?” Michelina asked seriously.

“I would hit it with my softball bat over and over again and then cover it in salt and bury it in the forest,” Allison said matter-of-factly.

The girls sat quietly, considering if this would be the best method to dispatch a monster. All of a sudden they heard a loud growl.

“What was that?” Allison, said nervously.

“Maybe it was a monster,” Michelina said in a creepy voice.

There was another growl, louder this time. The girls realized it was coming from underneath the bed. They pulled their legs up and tucked them beneath them. They leaned over the edge of the bed slowly when all of a sudden a monster slid out from under the bed, screeching and swiping at them with its claws.
The girls screamed. Michelina hit the monster with her pillow and the monster broke into laughter. It rolled around the floor giggling and pointing at the two girls.

“Tara!” Michelina yelled. “You are so annoying! You know you’re supposed to stay out of my room! Get out!”

Michelina’s little sister took off the terrifying monster mask and wiggled her glove covered fingers at the girls. “You should have seen your faces!” She said as she left the room.

Once Tara was gone the girls broke into nervous laughter.

“I guess I wouldn’t be as brave as I thought,” Allison joked.

“I guess not!” Michelina laughed. “I’m so hungry. Let’s go find something to eat.”

The friends walked downstairs to the kitchen and made a snack of cheese sandwiches and chocolate milk. They clicked on the television and caught the last half of Attack of the Fifty Foot Leech.

“That was so gross!” Allison said, once the movie was over.

“Oh, it wasn’t so bad,” Michelina said with a shrug. “That actually made me hungry.”

“But we just had sandwiches,” Allison said with a laugh.

“I know,” Michelina said slowly. “Why don’t we go check the freezer in the basement. We might still have some ice pops left.”

They put their plates and glasses in the kitchen sink and then Allison followed her friend down the basement steps. Michelina flipped a switch but the overhead light didn’t reach the far corner of the room.

“This way,” Michelina said over her shoulder.

“It’s awful dark down here,” Allison complained.

“The freezer’s back here,” Michelina called, walking toward the far back corner.

Just then Allison heard a low growl behind her. She froze and turned around slowly. Standing behind her was a hideous beast. It was a little bit shorter than her with wrinkly green skin that looked like it was melting off of its body and it held sharp taloned claws overhead menacingly. It’s sharp teeth were too big for its mouth, they pointed outwards, black slime dripping from them to the ground. The thing’s blood read eyes glowed in the dimly lit room.

Allison screamed then behind her Michelina yelled, “Tara! Cut it out!”

The beast dropped its arms to its side and growled. “I thought it was time.”

“Not yet! You know the rules!” Michelina said in a strange voice.

Allison turned slowly and saw that her friend had turned into a horrifying beast. Just a slightly larger version than the one that had crept up and frightened her. “What is going on?” She demanded.

“We’re hungry,” Michelina growled.

Allison backed towards the far wall of the basement. “Ok guys, jokes over,” she said in a shaky voice as the sisters penned her in.

“I bet you wish you had your softball bat now,” the Michelina monster growled, black sludge dripping from her mouth.

“Cut it out, Michelina!” Allison screamed. “Stop fooling around.”

“We’re not fooling anyone,” Tara screached, her teeth chomping excitedly.

“You won’t get away with this!” Allison yelled through her sobs.

Just then loud footsteps sounded overhead. “Girls!” A voice called. “Where are you?” Michelina and Tara’s parents were home.

“Oh, thank God!” Allison sobbed. “Here! We’re down here!” She screamed as loudly as she could.  

The Kimmels stomped down the basement stairs and took in the scene before them.

“What in the world are you girls up to?” Mrs. Kimmel asked.

The monster sisters hung their heads guiltily.

“Now girls, you know darn well you aren’t supposed to feed without us,” Mr. Kimmel admonished.

Allison’s mouth dropped open. She watched in horror as Mr. and Mrs. Kimmel transformed into horrible, slimy monsters. Her scream was cut short as Michelina took her first bite.

 

…Meanwhile across town…

 

Pam Bayer was staying with her cousin Sara Hughes for the summer while her parents traveled through Europe. It was mid-July and they’d run out of ideas for passing the time. They’d gone swimming at the Mill Pond that morning then had bologna sandwiches for lunch and now they were sitting lazily on the porch in Sara’s back yard. They stared out into the dense woods. They weren’t allowed back inside until Aunt Martha called them in for dinner.

“This is boring,” Sara complained.

“We could walk down to the market,” Pam suggested.

“We don’t have any money, dummy,” Sara said only half jokingly.

All of a sudden there was a loud crack. The noise had come from the woods. The girls stood up, listening. A girl stepped out of the forest. She wore a white dress and black patent leather shoes.

“Hi,” she called shyly, waving at them.

Pam and Sara exchanged a look.

“My name’s Anastasia Kovaliova – Davies, I live next door.”

The cousins exchanged another look. “Next door?” Sara called back, “No one’s lived in that house in over fifty years.”

Anastasia paused then said, “We just moved in. What are you guys doing?”

“Nothing, we’re bored,” Pam replied. “We were just trying to think of something.”

“You wanna play hide and seek?” The girl asked.

Sara shrugged and said, “Why not.”

“Peachy! Today’s my birthday. This will be great fun.”

“Happy birthday,” the cousins said in unison, walking down from the porch.

“How old are you?”  Pam asked.

“Twelve,” the girl replied.

“We’re twelve too!” Sara said with a laugh.

“What a gas!” Anastasia said.

“Um, sure,” Pam said, thinking the girl talked kind of funny. “So where do you want to play hide and seek?”

“The forest,” Anastasia replied.

The cousins looked into the dense woods nervously.

“I’ll hide first,” the girl said, then she turned and took off into the woods.

“Are you sure we should be doing this?” Pam said in a low voice.

“We can’t just let her hide in there thinking we’re going to look for her and then not show up,” Sara reasoned.

They entered the woods. There was a path, but a very narrow one, the brush to either side threatening to over take it. The tree coverage was so dense that even though it was the middle of the day it felt like dusk.

They’d walked for about ten minutes when Pam spotted a flash of white through the trees. “There!” She said in a whisper, pointing.

The cousins stepped off the path and into the woods. They walked as quickly as they could, trying to keep Anastasia in sight, but the trees and brush got thicker the further in they ventured. Suddenly, the forest opened up and Pam stepped into a clearing.

“I’ve never seen this place before,” Sara said, coming up behind her.

“Where did Anastasia go? It’s like she disappeared,” Pam said nervously.

The girls scanned the clearing. There were large stones arranged in lines in the center of the clearing.

“Oh no,” Pam breathed.

“What is it?” Sara asked, suddenly spooked.

“I think this is a graveyard!” Pam whispered.

“No way, why would there be a graveyard in the middle of the woods, dummy?” Sara asked.

“Look, I’ll prove it,” Pam strode forward toward the stones. She didn’t see the twigs strewn across the ground and she tripped, falling hard on her elbows and knees. “Ow!” She grunted.

Sara rushed forward to help her. But as she bent down to help her cousin she froze, ice trickling down her back.

Pam looked up at her face. “What’s wrong?” She asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Sara pointed at the stone on the ground right next to where Pam had fallen.

Pam looked. The stone was in fact a headstone. They were in a graveyard. “I told you it was a cemetery!” She boasted.

“Read it,” Sara said in a shaky voice.

Pam looked at the stone carefully. Chiseled into its surface were the words, Here Lies Anastasia Kovaliova – Davies, July 15, 1944 – October 31, 1956.

 

…Meanwhile three streets over and two months earlier….

 

Lisa Davidson was lost in thought as she refilled the salt shakers in the greasy kitchen. The Spring formal was in two weeks and Lisa had been working extra shifts at the diner to save up for a new dress. Her parents had died in a Alaskan cruise accident years before and had left her in Uncle Jacob’s care. He was mean and boring and he acted like they didn’t have any money, even though she knew her parents had left her an inheritance.

She dreamed of walking into BeDazzled, the high end boutique in their town, and having her choice of any one of their gorgeous array of dresses. They even had dyed to match shoes.

Lisa sighed and tied an apron around her waist before slipping the order pad in it’s front pocket. She walked out of the kitchen and into the diner. It was a slow evening, which wasn’t a good sign for her dress fund.

Then a group of three girls came in and sat in one of the booths. She hadn’t seen them before, each of them carried a BeDazzled shopping bag on their arm.

Jealousy burned within her. It wasn’t fair. Here she was bringing people food for ten cent tips and these girls had all bought something at the expensive boutique.

She approached the table, her heart pounding with anger.

When she’d returned with their drinks the girl in the pink sweatshirt asked, “Where do you go to school?”

“Shadowside North,” she replied, placing their sodas on the table.

“We go to Shadowside South,” the girl replied.

Emboldened, Lisa asked, “Did you guys find anything good at BeDazzled?”

The redhead with crimped hair said, “Oh yeah! We have our Spring formal coming so of course we had to go there to pick out our dresses! BeDazzled is the best! I’m Tayna Wick, what’s your name?”

Lisa spent some time talking to the girls. Tanya especially seemed nice, and really cool. The girl wore a bright purple sweater with mustard yellow leggings and feather earrings. Still burning with jealousy she waved goodbye to the girls when they’d finished their meal. She was pleased to see they’d even left her a good tip.

Lisa went through the rest of the evening on autopilot. As she was closing down for the night she went to wipe down the table where the girls had been sitting. She bent down to pick up a napkin that had fallen to the ground and that’s when she saw it. A gleam of hot pink. It was a BeDazzled shopping bag! It had been pushed far back under the table.

But she’d seen the girls walk out of the diner. And she was certain they were all carrying their shopping bags. Had one of them left something behind? It must have been that Tanya Wick, she’d been sitting in the seat closest to where the bag had been placed. She reached to retrieve the bag and peeked inside. Something was wrapped in silver tissue paper.

She quickly tucked the bag under her arm and brought it back into the kitchen where she hung it on the rack next to her jacket. She finished cleaning then grabbed the coat and the bag and hurried out into the chilly night air.

Lisa drove to her house. Convincing herself that she would look up Tanya’s phone number in the phone book so she could return the bag to her. She parked in her Uncle’s driveway and glanced over at the bag on the passenger seat next to her.

It couldn’t hurt to just peek at what was inside, could it?

She carefully pulled the tissue wrapped package out of the bag and unwrapped it.

Inside was the most beautiful dress she’d ever seen. Gold beading made intricate designs over a silky white fabric overlaid with white lace. She checked the tag of the strapless dress, it was her size!

Lisa slowly folded the dress and re-wrapped it in the tissue paper. She carried the bag into the house and rushed up the stairs so her Uncle wouldn’t see what she was carrying. He’d just accuse her of wasting her money on clothing.

Once upstairs she took of her waitress uniform and slipped into the dress. It fit her perfectly, hugging her curves just right, the silky fabric was so soft and light. The dress looked as if it had been made for her.

She made a decision. She would keep it. Tanya seemed like a girl who could afford to buy another dress. If she came back to the diner asking for the bag Lisa would simply say she hadn’t seen any bag left behind.

Lisa hung the dress up in the back of her closet. Then she sat down on her bed and called her date from the phone on her bedside table. “I’ve got a dress! Can’t wait for formal!”

He said he wished he could see it. She replied he’d have to wait and be surprise.

On the night of the formal Lisa’s date called early in the evening to say he was going to send the limo to her house first because he was running a little late. Lisa climbed into the limo and found that privacy divider was up so she was unable to see the driver.

“We’re going to 1313 Foggy Lane,” she said in a loud voice, hoping the driver could hear her.

She watched out the window as the night passed by, she couldn’t wait to get to the formal to show off her dress. When they missed their turn she began to get concerned.

“Um, sir? We were supposed to turn back there,” she called to the driver.

The driver did not respond, instead she felt the car pick up speed.

“Sir?” She said, a note of panic in her voice.

Instead of responding to her, the partition slowly came down. In the rearview mirror she saw Tanya Wick’s face reflected back at her.  

“How do you like your dress?” Tanya asked in an icy tone.  

“Tanya! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“You didn’t mean to steal it?” Tanya barked. “Because you took that dress I missed our Spring formal last weekend and now my boyfriend is dating my best friend!”

“I’m so sorry, I-”

“Well, I hope you like that dress because it’s the last thing you’re ever going to wear!”

Lisa felt the long car accelerate even faster.

“What are you doing, Tanya? Please stop! I’ll do anything! I’ll give you back the dress!

“Too late!” Tanya yelled, before laughing maniacally. “You ruined my life and now I’m going to end yours!”

“Stop!” Lisa screamed. Out the window she saw the sign for the Shadowside Quarry speed past. Out the front window she saw the black hole of the quarry approaching, too fast. They’d never be able to stop in time. Without thinking she grabbed the handle and pushed the door open, throwing herself out of the luxury vehicle. She hit her head hard on the ground and landed in a slump, aware of a sharp pain in her ankle.

She watched as Tanya drove the limousine over the edge of the quarry. A moment later a loud boom erupted and a flash of fire lit up the nighttime sky.

Lisa looked down at her beautiful dress, now tattered and torn and she began to sob.

 

This has been Ghosts in the Burbs. Be sure to head over to GhostsInTheBurbs.com for all the links. Goodnight, sleep tight, and don’t forget your night light.

Welcome back to Lilith, a tale I’ll share a few chapters at a time until her story is complete. If you’re new to the blog, Lilith is a great place to start (you don’t need any background information to enjoy this account of demonic possession) but do go back to January 7th’s episode and begin with chapters 1-3.

Visit www.ghostsintheburbs.com for more Ghosts in the Burbs.

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Lilith (cont.)

Chapter 4

The house was so much smaller than I’d imagined it. And the yard, if you could even call it that, was nothing like it had appeared the photographs. Our new home was set back not fifteen feet from the road and it was immediately obvious that it was a very busy thoroughfare. On close inspection the land was sandy, which meant patchy scraggly grass. The hydrangea out front had been in bloom when the sale photos were taken, now its blooms were a sickly looking sepia. The unkempt rhododendron needed significant trimming. And that was just the front yard. I thought of my garden in Houston. The time I’d spent tending the beds so artfully planned along the patio.

It took me some time to even sneak a glance out the family room windows at the backyard, my eyes avoided the view as if protecting me from the inevitable. I finally had to go out, through the sliding glass door off the back of the dining room, onto the patio to see what the twins were fussing over.

A Google search later informed us that it was an Eastern Box turtle. I stared at it and told the children not to touch the dreadful thing. I had a vague recollection that they carried salmonella. Jack walked across the yard, to the back fence. If you could call it that. It was about five posts in the ground across which green plastic netting had been stretched.

“What’s back here?” He called.

The twins bound after him. “Careful!” I yelled, following them reluctantly. “There are train tracks back there. You mustn’t ever cross behind that fence. You hear me?”

“But there’s a creek,” Carrie said excitedly.

“That must be where the turtle came from!” Rosemary chimed in.

I looked where they were pointing and saw that indeed the creek was there. Wider and faster moving than had been described by The Realtor. The terror vine around my heart tightened. The house was surrounded by danger, by things that could kill my children. I wanted to grab them and run back to Texas. To bang on the door of our old home, our real home, and tell the people now living there that it had all been a huge misunderstanding.  

I turned and walked back in the house after admonishing Jack to keep an eye on the twins and stay in the backyard away from both the road and that wretched fence. I looked up to see Michael standing just inside the sliding glass door, watching me. I fixed a neutral expression on my face, though it was too late. He’d read my thoughts.

“How’s the yard?” He asked, anxiously.

“They found a turtle,” I said, forcing a smile.

“Needs a landscaper,” he replied, answering his own question.

I agreed. “I’ll add it to the list.”

The Realtor left, promising to send me a list of landscapers, handymen, plumbers, electricians. She mentioned the town dump, where people hauled their garbage on the weekends.

“It’s a real social scene,” The Realtor said, and I thought she was joking. “The kids will love the Dump Swap. People drop off toys they no longer use, it’s like a recycling program for kid stuff.”

“Is there no trash service?” I asked, unable to keep the panic out of my voice.

“Oh, there are services, but you have to pay for them,” she replied.

“Well, that’s one bill we’ll be happy to pay!” Michael said cheerily.

After she was gone I toured the upstairs and again found the space smaller than I’d imagined. Three bedrooms and one bathroom. The master suite was nice, with a generous walk in closet. The twins room was bright and cheery, Jack’s room less so.

“Where’s Lilith?” I asked, realizing I hadn’t seen her in some time.

Michael popped his head out of the bathroom doorway, he’d been testing the faucets. “I don’t know, maybe she’s checking out her new digs.”

The basement. He meant the basement. The vine tightened further around my heart. What kind of mother puts her daughter in a basement bedroom? My conscience screamed.

I descended the creaky stairs and took a moment to check on the kids in the backyard. They were kicking around a sun bleached soccer ball that must have been left behind by the previous owners. I walked through the kitchen to the basement door. It was closed. I opened it and was met with a not so subtle blast of mildew. I shoved my guilt and anger down and called to my daughter.

“Lilith? Honey, are you downstairs?”

She didn’t reply but I heard movement from below, the creaking of wooden floorboards. I went down the green carpeted steps slowly, my hand on the banister trying to think how I could fix up the worn staircase as quickly and as cheaply as possible. I would go to Home Depot in the morning and order new carpeting, the ugliest they had would be better than this. Perhaps it might even take some of the damp out of the air. And dehumidifiers. We’d need at least three.

All of this ran through my mind as I landed at the bottom of the stairs. Wood panelled walls kept the space dark though three bare bulbs blazed from the ceiling. I turned to my right and took in what the listing sheet had called the “children’s playroom.” Wood flooring worn thin, dropped ceiling, a built-in chest of drawers beside built in bookshelves. I could see that at one time it probably had been a relatively welcoming place. Now it was just depressing in a forgotten sort of way.  

“Lilith?” I called again, glancing to my left. There was a door open, to what looked like the utility room. I poked my head in, an ancient hot water heater and furnace greeted me. A washer and dryer barely fit in the small room. They looked cheap and old. I thought of my front loader in Houston, of the woman who now lived in my house and how lucky she was.

A noise startled me. A voice.

“Lilith?” I called again, though this time it came out as a demand. “Where are you?”

I stepped out of the dungeon-like utility room and stared down a short dead-end hallway. Near its end was another built-in chest of drawers beneath the stairs to the left and a closed door to the right. I walked down the narrow hallway, another bare bulb on the ceiling lighting my way. I made a mental note to hire an electrician to install a ceiling fixture in this hallway and added cheap light fixture to my Home Depot shopping list.

I put my hand on the doorknob and hesitated, listening. I knew my daughter was in there, but something didn’t feel right.

“Lilith?” I said quietly tapping on the door with my free hand before pushing it open.

And there she was, standing in the middle of what was to become her bedroom. She’d been looking down at the ground but lifted her head a moment after I opened the door.

“Mom?” She said quietly.

“What are you doing in here in the dark?” I demanded, trying to keep my voice light but failing. I felt the wall beside me and found a switch. An overhead light fixture – praise God it wasn’t another bare bulb – came to life revealing flowery wallpapered walls. There were two ground level windows on the back wall of the house offering a dreary view of overgrown shrubbery. I’d rip it out as soon as possible, hoping that would allow more natural light into the room.

“So, what do you think?” I asked laying on the forced cheer. “This is some real Nana wallpaper, huh? We’ll have to take it down, unless you’re in love with it?” I said, in a weak attempt at humor.

“What? Oh, sure. It’s okay.”

“It’s okay?” I said, my tone still forcibly light. “So you want to keep it?”

“What?”

“The wallpaper, honey? Do you want to keep it up or should I figure out how to take it down for you?” I resisted the urge to feel her forehead.

“Oh, yeah, no. Take it down for sure.”

“Is this okay?” I asked. “I mean, are you going to be all right down here? Maybe we could do something with the master bedroom, you know create a space upstairs for you with the family. Our closet is too big for us, maybe-”

“No,” she said quickly. “I like it down here. It’s cool.”

 

Chapter 5

“Good luck today girls,” Michael said before planting kisses on the twin’s foreheads.

“Hey girl,” he said to Lilith, who was sitting at the kitchen table poking at a plate of scrambled eggs. “Knock ‘em dead, you hear?”

She gave him a weak smile. She looked so tired, he wondered if she wasn’t coming down with something.

“You’ve got this,” he said, giving her a kiss her forehead. He found himself on the edge of choking up. He pushed the feeling down. “Laura, honey!” He yelled. “I’m headed out.”

“Good luck today!” Laura called down from upstairs. “Drive carefully. Love you!”

“Love you too! Jack! Where are ya?”

Jack came around the corner from the living room, lacrosse stick in hand. “Bye, dad.”

Michael strode over to the boy and ruffled his hair. “I’m off!” He said as he walked out the front door. He didn’t let the cheery expression fall until he’d pulled out of the driveway. He’d given up on the idea of taking the commuter line to work, it would mean too much time away from the family. Instead of the hour and a half commute by train, which he found out included a fifteen-minute walk to and from the office, he’d opted for the forty-five minute drive into Boston. But that drive proved to be as nerve-racking as it was rage-inducing.

On the worst days the thought, What have I done? Played over and over in his mind.

Lilith dreaded the new school, hated their new house, and was afraid of her new bedroom. She felt buried down there, so far away from the rest of her family, and she couldn’t get used to the sounds of the house settling. She didn’t dare utter a word about it, though. Her mother had been flitting around in a state of such manic fragility that she feared any extra worry might just push her over the edge.

The twins seemed impervious to their new surroundings, but then, they had each other. They never had to go into any situation alone. Jack appeared unperturbed but Lilith guessed he was just as unhappy as she was, he just didn’t want to look weak. She carried her untouched plate of eggs to the sink.

“You aren’t gonna eat those?” Jack asked hopefully.

“No, here,” she said, putting the plate back down on the table. She looked at the clock on the microwave. Five minutes until she’d have to begin her walk to school. She refused to leave a second early, couldn’t risk getting there before her first class began. The previous week, a know-it-all bore of a girl had been assigned to tour her through the massive high school. They’d had nothing in common and Lilith feared all the kids in this town would be just as serious and focused on getting into “an Ivy” as her tour guide had been.

Spotting her backpack slumped near the front door she realized she’d forgotten her glasses on her bedside table. She needed them for reading, wouldn’t be able to get through the school day without them.

Lilith would have to go back down into the basement to retrieve them.

Before leaving the bright safety of the kitchen she was sure to push the basement door all the way open, something inside her did not want it closing her off from the upper floors of the house. She’d felt the need to do the same thing the night before. Even so, she’d found it closed in the morning as she climbed to the first floor.

She rushed down the stairs, stuffing down the feeling of unease and walked purposefully towards her room past the laundry room. That door was wide open, which was something she didn’t want. She thought she’d closed it last night, but couldn’t remember if it had been open when she woke up that morning. She pulled it closed, jiggling the handle afterwards to be sure it had caught in the door frame.

On to her bedroom she went. She spotted the glasses on the table where she’d left them and strode across the room to retrieve them. As she turned to leave the room she heard the distinct click of a door handle turning and creak of the laundry room door as it opened. She froze and listened as the door continued to open slowly with an unnervingly loud creeeeeaaaak.

“It’s defective. The door handle is defective,” She whispered to herself. But she knew that it wasn’t. It took force to open it. It was in need of oiling. Her breath was shallow and she was desperate to run from the room screaming. You’re being ridiculous, she told herself.  

She heard a muffled voice calling her name from upstairs. Her mom. But she’d left the door at the top of the stairs open. Who closed it? Her mother called to her again.

“Coming!” She yelled back then sprinted out of her bedroom, past the laundry room with it’s wide open door and took the stairs two at a time before pushing the upper door open with more force than she’d intended.

“Who closed this door?” She demanded.

Her siblings and her mother stared at her, obviously startled.

“Who closed this door?” She repeated, this time slowly and deliberately.

Her family remained silent, unsure.

“Honey, it must have swung shut, or maybe one of us did it by accident,” her mother replied calmly.

“I don’t want this door shut when I’m downstairs, okay?” Lilith said, trying to sound less panicked though her heart was pounding in her chest.

“I’ll get a little door jamb for it,” Laura replied. “Um, all right guys, y’all need to get walking if you’re going to make it to school on time.”

Lilith brushed past her mother to grab her back pack and rushed out the front door. Her siblings and her mother called after her with goodbyes and good lucks. She didn’t respond. She was too distracted by the terror that had consumed her just moments before.

 

Chapter 6

I stood at the end of the short driveway and watched the kids set off on their first day of school, consumed by a combination of relief and dread. Relief that I could finally let down the mask of contentment and optimism, dread at being left alone with the weeds of worry and fear growing inside me. I watched until I could no longer see my children then turned reluctantly and took in my new home. Objectively, from this distance, I could see it’s charm. White siding, black shutters, small one-door garage, classic window boxes on either side of the front door. But as I began to approach the home my eyes adjusted, noting the chipped paint on the siding, the dying flowers in the window boxes, the rotted wood on the frame of the garage where moss had begun to grow.

Michael and I had intentionally focused our renovation budget on the home’s interior, leaving the exterior updates for a time when we had more money to spare. I wondered, not for the first time if that had been a mistake. The home’s weathered and worn appearance set the tone even before you’d gone inside, and that tone was depressing.

The screen door screeched as I pulled it open and stepped inside the house. The old hardwood floors had been sanded down and freshly stained, a vast improvement from the battered floors Kim had forwarded us photos of while we were making renovation decisions. We’d lived in the house for three weeks and the smell of fresh paint still hung in the air, though beneath it I detected a hint of mildew creeping up from the basement.

I walked the circuit of the first floor, finding contentment in the mudroom shelves, past the unappealing view of the back yard from the dining room sliding doors, and stopped in the family room. Our furniture did not suit the space. Each piece had been carefully selected to fit perfectly into our old home, our old life. This home wanted tight, tailored pieces and subdued prints that allowed the eye to pass easily. My overstuffed white couches with their bright patterned throw pillows looked as out of place as I felt.

I continued onto the kitchen, the only place I felt even remotely at home and poured myself a third cup of coffee. We’d had the previously dark wooden cabinets painted a gleaming white and replaced the old formica countertops with custom butcher block, an extravagance I’d insisted upon. We’d updated the light fixtures and installed a new double oven, though the stove was a strange electric contraption and the dishwasher was on its last legs. Again, projects for a less cash strapped time, hopefully in the near future.

I told myself that eventually I would feel just as at home in every other room in the house as I did in the kitchen. It had taken time to turn our last house into a home, this house would be the same. I pushed aside the nagging doubt that this house would never feel like a home and got to work clearing the table and wiping down the counters. I was listening to Motown and washing dishes when something made me look out the window above the sink. It was a boy. He wore a black hoodie pulled up, his hands shoved deep into jean pockets. A teenager, I thought to myself. What the hell is he doing in our backyard?

I rinsed my hands, turned off the faucet and watched him. He seemed to be walking aimlessly, kicking at the dirt, standing still then edging closer and closer to the back of the property. He must be killing time, avoiding school, I reasoned. But something about him made me feel nervous. After about five agonizing minutes he climbed over our makeshift fence and stood staring out across the creek to train tracks beyond.

He pulled the hoodie down, revealing dull, jet black hair, the kind that came from a box. Abruptly he sprinted forward and leapt over the creek. I heard the noise before I realized what was coming. It was the commuter line. The speeding grey and purple train came roaring past. Their paths converged and it took me a moment to figure out where the screaming was coming from. It was me.  

I sprinted to the sliding glass door in the dining room and ran through the backyard. Scrambling over the junky fence I slipped awkwardly on the stream bank and splashed into the water soaking my shoes and pants but not even feeling it. I was thinking that I should have grabbed my cell phone to call an ambulance, even though I knew that there would be nothing they could do to help the boy.  He must have been flattened, annihilated. Will there be anything left of him? I wondered desperately. When I took the first step onto the grey gravel around the tracks I braced myself for gore.

I looked across the tracks, afraid at what I would see. Across from me were bushes and wildflowers, but no bloody body. I looked left then right and spun around. The train was long gone. My eyes searched the ground, the brush beyond the tracks and the stone for any sign of the boy. I jogged up the tracks, then doubled back. Nothing. I stopped and scanned the area where I saw him leap towards the train, but there was nothing to indicate an accident had occurred.

I was breathing loudly and I realized I was crying. I crossed back over the creek and climbed over the green plastic fencing and ran back into my house to call the police. I reasoned the boy’s body had been dragged further down the tracks. That it had perhaps been thrown into the underbrush. The train had been going so fast.

I called 911.

“A boy!” I yelled, holding back sobs, “I saw a boy jump in front of the commuter line, it runs right behind my new house. I can’t find him. He’s gone. I saw him jump but he’s gone. I don’t know if he got dragged away or thrown but I saw him. I saw him!”

I was told to calm down. I was asked for my location. I was instructed to describe what happened and within moments I heard sirens blaring and I brought the phone to the front door with me sobbing, “They’re here, They’re here!”

A police woman bolted from her car as I opened the screen door.

“Where?” She demanded.

I ran out to meet her and lead her to the back yard, over the fence, across the stream to the tracks. The boy was still nowhere to be found. More police arrived, an ambulance, a fire truck. The MBTA (the transit authority) was contacted. They had no report of a pedestrian being hit in the area, in any area for that matter.

“Maam, are you certain you actually saw the boy get hit?” It was suggested that he had crossed to the other side of the tracks just before the train passed. A stupid stunt, a teenager testing fate.

“But I was certain, I thought I saw…” I trailed off, the fear dissolving, shame and embarrassment taking its place.

Nothing more to do, the first responders left. All the while the police woman, the first one to arrive, watched me with pity and something else. Probably veiled anger. I must have scared the hell out of her.

She was the last to leave. “You had quite a scare. Gave me one too. Are you going to be all right? Can I call anyone for you?”

“No. There’s no one,” I said automatically.

She looked at me, concern furrowing her brow.

“I just mean, we only moved here a couple weeks ago, I don’t know anyone in town.”

She nodded in understanding, though the concern didn’t leave her face. “Tell you what, you know me now. Here’s my card. You call the second you see that boy in your yard again, I hope that you don’t, but if you do you call me. Deal?”

I accepted the card gratefully and fought back tears. I sensed that she was the first person who’d actually seen me since we’d moved to town. She could see all that I was hiding, how terrified and miserable I was.

“Thank you,” I said, “I’m so sorry that I caused all of this. SHe shook her head and said, it was fine. That she would have done the same thing, anyone would. Then I watched her climb into her patrol car and back out of my driveway. She gave me a curt wave and drove away.

I fought the urge to run after the car. Beg her to stay with me until my kids got home. Unload all of my fear on her and make her tell me that everything be okay.

I walked slowly back into my house. Suddenly aware that not one neighbor had come to see if everything was all right. To ask what happened. Not one looky loo, not one “Why all the hubbub?” They must have just been watching from their windows.

“I fucking hate it here,” I said, slamming the door behind me. Then I sat on my overstuffed, ill-fitting couch and watched old episodes of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and ate cereal until the kids got home from school. That night when I told Michael what had happened I down played the whole episode. I didn’t tell him how many first responders had swarmed the road in front of our home, holding up traffic, springing into action for a non event.

“We should fence the whole property,” he said. “I don’t like the idea of some kid skulking around in the backyard, especially while you’re here alone.”

Welcome to Lilith, a tale I’ll share a few chapters at a time until her story is complete. If you’re new to the blog this is a great place to start, you don’t need any background information to enjoy this account of demonic possession. But be sure to head on back to Ghost Story number one as well. There you’ll see how this all began. 

Questions? Comments? Email ghostsintheburbs@gmail.com

Want more Ghosts in the Burbs? Head over to ghostsintheburbs.com for the links to all of my social media accounts. 

Now, we’re on to the story. It might feel a little different than what we’re used to here, but hang in there with me. It’s a New Year it’s time for a New Perspective.

***************************************

Lilith

By Liz Sower

 

Dedication

To Chris, this one’s too scary. I forgive you for not reading it.

 

Quote

Chris MacNeil:          What are you doing here?

Regan:                        My bed was shaking. I can’t get to sleep.

The Exorcist, (1973)

 

Chapter 1

 

“Hey, Mr. Arnold, it’s Jim.”

“Sure, hi Jim. What can I do for you?”

“Now it’s nothing too serious but it’ll set us back a week or so.”

“What is it?”

“Well, there’s been a small fire-”

“Oh my God, is everyone all right?”

“Yeah everyone’s okay, no one was in the house at the time. Really, it wasn’t all that bad. Miraculously, the fire was contained to the mudroom and burned itself out. Burned a hole clear through the floor down to the basement bedroom, but it didn’t travel any further than that.”

Michael Arnold let out a heavy sigh. “All right, at least no one was hurt. How’d the fire start?”

“That’s just it, we don’t know. I’ve had the fire chief over here, of course, and he brought a couple guys with him to check the place out. Gave us the free and clear, but couldn’t pinpoint just what kicked it off.”

“Was one of your guys smoking in the house?”

“Absolutely not. Never. I’d throw ‘em out on their ass myself if I ever caught one of them smoking on site.”

“Well, how are we going to take care of this?”

“I suggest you call your insurance company. I’ve started the clean up but I’ll hold off on demo until you give me the go ahead.”

“Do you have the number for the fire chief?”

“I do.”

“Fine then, I’ll give him a call and I’ll let you know what we’re going to do.”

Michael put down the phone with a heavy sigh. This was just the latest in a string of headaches. The house had been a pain in his ass since the very second they’d signed the Purchase and Sales agreement. Had the circumstances been different he would have pulled out of the deal. But his firm wanted him in Massachusetts by October at the latest and Laura insisted they move in time to have the kids start the school year with their peers.

Laura’s pull up your bootstraps response when he’d told her that the firm didn’t have a job for him in Houston any longer had nearly broken him. He’d been offered a job in the Boston office and it was clear that it was the only option available to him. They would have to move the kids from everyone they knew and loved, from a stately brick home with room to spare to a small New England cottage that their real estate agent kept referring to as a “Cape.”

It was without question that work would need to be done on the older house, but they had to be careful. The firm had offered him a job 1,800 miles away but they didn’t offer him the funds to get there. Their Houston home had been on the market for over a month now without a bite, if it didn’t sell by the time they were due up north, he didn’t know how they’d make it work.  

He arrived home later than usual that night. Dreading having to relay the news of the fire to Laura. The twins were finishing their dinner as he walked through the door.

“Daddy!” They yipped in unison before jumping up from their seats to greet him.

“Carrie! Rosemary! You sit back down and finish your dinner,” Laura scolded, before walking over to kiss Michael on the cheek.

“How was your day?” She asked, turning to grab a bottle of wine from the fridge. As she poured him a glass he hung his jacket in the coat closet, which he noticed was newly brimming with moving boxes.

“You got some packing done,” he said with a grateful smile as she handed him a full glass of wine.

“I did, we’ll be eating off paper plates from here on out,” she replied. He noticed the dark circles beneath her eyes. She hadn’t been sleeping well. She’d blamed the insomnia on Spring allergies but he knew it was the stress that kept her up at night.

“I’m sorry we can’t hire someone to pack us,” he offered, not for the first time.

She waved off the comment and set to dishing out their dinner. They sat with the twins and listened to their version of events of a dodgeball game gone awry in gym class that afternoon and discussed the paint color the girls had chosen for their new bedroom.

Lilith breezed in as Michael was rinsing dishes in the sink. His fifteen year old daughter was his favorite child, though he did his best not to let on. An independent streak ran through her that bordered on contrary and her devilish sense of humor made him proud even though he knew he had nothing to do with it. Her strengths were all Laura.

“Hi, Daddy,” she said, grabbing a paper plate and loading it down with salad and grilled chicken.

He quickly turned off the water and dried his hands. “Hey, girl. I’ll sit with you while you eat.”

“No time, I only have twenty minutes until Caitlin picks me up to go decorate the gym for Spring formal. I’ve got Algebra homework.”

“Need any help?”

“No thanks.”

Laura walked into the kitchen, having gotten the twins set up in front of the television to watch some their favorite obnoxious cartoon. “Hi, honey,” she said to their oldest daughter. “Have a piece of cornbread, it’s your favorite.”

“No carbs, Spring formal,” Lilith replied before bounding out of the kitchen and up to her bedroom.

Michael and Laura watched her go.

“Should we be worried about that?”

“I’m keeping an eye on it,” Laura said seriously. “Come on, let’s sit in the den and have another glass.”

Once settled, Michael told Laura about the small fire in the mudroom of their new home, and relayed the conversation he’d had with the fire chief. “He insisted that it didn’t appear to have been caused by cigarette, even when I pressed him on that point. Said he couldn’t honestly say what exactly had started the fire, called it ‘strange.’ But he’s mailing me his report so I can submit it with the insurance claim.”

Laura sipped her wine, considering. “Did Jim say if the built-in shelves in the mudroom had been ruined?”

“He didn’t mention them.”

“Well, what can you do? At least the fire burned itself out. They’ve got to fix that ceiling in the basement bedroom before we move though, Michael. I feel bad enough as it is having Lilith take that room.”

“I know I was thinking the same thing.”

 

Chapter 2

I never thought I’d leave Houston. The idea literally hadn’t ever crossed my mind. Every choice I’d ever made, my marriage, the pregnancies, every friendship I’d poured years into had Houston ingrained within them.

But then Michael was told there wasn’t a place for him in the firm. Boston had been a consolation prize. I allowed myself one night on the bathroom floor. One night of muffled hysterics and then I faced the move straight on. Worse things had happened to people. At least there was a job for Michael no matter how far it took us from the only city we’d ever known. The only home our children had ever known.

Michael’s new boss had reached out with a rather formal welcome email in which he boasted about his school district, his home and his proximity to the city. He lived in a small town called Wellesley and suggested that we focus our real estate search there. Almost as an afterthought the man had included his wife’s email address, “the wives can discuss yoga studios and decorators,” he’d written. I hated him immediately.

I wrote an email to his wife but it sat in my drafts folder for weeks. I couldn’t seem to find the right tone. Saying, “Please help me I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m scared to death. How cold does it get? What will the children wear? I’ve only seen snow three times in my life. I am afraid everyone will judge our accents. I don’t want to do this,” though truthful was obviously inappropriate.

I settled on a simple message. Hello. Your husband was kind enough to share your email address. We are excited about the move and looking forward to meeting you and your family. I included our children’s names and ages.

Her response was immediate. “Best of luck with the move. Once you’re settled we’ll grab dinner.”

Once we were settled. I had a feeling that I would never feel settled again.

Michael and I left the kids with my parents to spend a weekend house hunting in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The Real Estate Agent, a tall, thin woman with pin straight blond hair and sharp features gave us a tour of the Boston suburb and passed judgement on neighborhoods and elementary schools matter-of-factly. We picked up on the fact early on that some of the elementary schools in town were deemed superior to others though when I looked at their ratings online they all appeared stellar.

The home we could afford would be smaller than the one we owned in Houston. Less space, less yard, older. It was too overwhelming to even consider looking at other towns. We knew of just one family up north, Michael’s boss and his wife (I had no idea if they had children and if they did how old they were) and I couldn’t fathom choosing another town at random. We left after that weekend with our hopes dampened and our panic inflamed.

“The right house will find us,” I said.

“We’ll make it work,” Michael said.

I set to clearing out our basement and selecting friends with whom to gift the twin’s baby toys. Though they were now ten years old I’d never gotten around to giving anything away. There hadn’t been reason.

 

***

 

The listing came through in a batch of others. Daily, The Real Estate Agent sent us a scrolling feed. Though it’s contents barely changed. A price drop here, a sale pending there. But then one Tuesday afternoon in May, with the kids just weeks from wrapping up their very last school year in our hometown, a new house came on the market in Wellesley. Michael texted, alerting me to the new promising home.

In the photos it looked darling. Smaller than I had been hoping for, but charming in a New England cottage way. The Real Estate Agent called it a classic Cape and asserted that the owners had been smart about improvements over the years. Even building a master suite over the garage. There were three bedrooms on the second floor, a fourth in the basement. Had we encountered this feature earlier in our search it would have been a non-starter. But, as Michael kept telling me, time was ticking.

The photos made the home appear cared for and welcoming. The kitchen needed serious updating, but that had been the case for all of the homes in our price range. There were handsome and functional builtins lining the small mudroom. The twins could share a bedroom, Jake could have his own, Lilith could take the basement. I could do my best to turn it into a nice little suite for her. It just might work.

The Real Estate Agent told us we’d better act fast and offer over asking price, no contingencies. A seed of terror appeared in my chest.

“The first open house is tomorrow and by then it’ll be as good as gone. At this price it’ll fly,” she’d told Michael with confidence.

The seed took root.

Michael asked if she would drive by and text us a video of the property so we could get a better feel for it. She did. The video fertilized the terror plant blooming in my heart. Michael came home early so we could “discuss” the opportunity.

“Time’s ticking,” Michael said.

“I know that, but I’m not going to just jump on this because the damn real estate agent is pressuring us.”

“Kim is giving us good advice, that’s why we’re using her.”

“The train runs directly behind the house, Michael. We’ll be up all hours.”

“Kim sent me the schedule, the trains only run in the morning and evening, it’s the commuter rail. I can walk to the station, how easy is that?”

“The street looks busy,” I returned.

“The kids are old enough to know not to play close to the road.”

I looked down at the Google map he’d printed out for me. Kim had marked up the location of the schools the kids would be attending come fall. “It is pretty much smack dab in between the middle and high schools,” I said reluctantly.

“And the grocery is right there. And a Starbucks.”

“Since when do you drink Starbucks?” I asked in a tone sharper than I’d intended.

“Kim just-”

“Stop. Just stop saying Kim,” I took a deep breath knowing that the decision had already been made. “Fine,” I said. “It’s just so expensive for such an old house and I just don’t love it.”

Michael’s shoulders slumped. “Laura, I’m sorry. I’m doing the best I can. This house,” he pointed down at the listing sheet, “It doesn’t have to be our forever home but we need to move forward. The kids need to know where they’ll be living. I need to tell the firm when I’ll be in Boston.”

I stared down at the bird’s eye view of what I knew would be our new property. “Is that a stream?”

“Where?”

“Behind the house.”

“I’ll ask K- I’ll find out,” Michael said. “But Laura, we need to decide.”

“It’s close to the schools,” I said, giving in.

“It is, and we’ll fix whatever needs fixing before we move in. Fresh coat of paint, we’ll sand and stain the floors. It’ll be great. You’ll see.”

I downed a glass of wine and listened as he called The Real Estate Agent and asked her to put in our offer. I sat at my kitchen table in what I’d always thought would be our forever home and I felt the terror grow in my chest. Determined not to let a soul know about it.

 

Chapter 3

The Arnold family was crammed inside an Uber.

“Great truck,” Michael said, striking up conversation with the driver. “Does it get good mileage?”

The driver answered with few words.

“We should get one of these honey,” Michael said over his shoulder.

Laura was in the center row with Lilith. The twins and Jack in the far back. She made a noncommittal noise. She was exhausted and unwilling to engage in a useless conversation. They couldn’t afford a car like this. Their seven-year old minivan was just fine.

“Minivan’s about on its last legs,” Michael said, still trying to get the young driver to talk to him.

It was the driver’s turn to make a noncommittal noise.

“How much longer until we get there?” Lilith asked nervously.

“Just about fifteen minutes,” Laura answered, glancing over at her oldest daughter. The girl had held up better than she had expected. There had been teary goodbyes with friends, and she tried her very hardest not to think about the way her mother wouldn’t let go of Lilith as they said farewell at the airport. But Lilith seemed in relatively good spirits. God willing, this move would be easier on her than it was on Laura.

“Isn’t it great that we live so close to Boston?” Michael bellowed. Laura looked as if she’d like to punch the back of his headrest to get him to shut up.

***

Kim Benning had intended to greet the Arnolds and tour them through their new house, but she’d been held up by an overly cautious property inspector at another listing. Luckily, she’d mailed a set of keys to the new home owners just in case of this very circumstance. Actually, luck had nothing to do with it, Kim covered her bases.

She pulled her Audi into the short driveway and took in the small home. Movement in an upstairs window caught her eye. The family must already be inside. Michael had mentioned the cars weren’t due to arrive until that evening with the moving truck. She assumed the family had Ubered from Logan airport.

Kim crossed the short walkway and hopped up the two crumbling concrete and brick steps to ring the doorbell. When no one came to the door she pulled the screen open and knocked, hard. She glanced up at the windows above, unsure, a foreign feeling for her. Just as she was about to text Michael she heard a voice inside the house.

They mustn’t have heard me, she thought. Though, with the home being as small as it was, that seemed rather unlikely. She decided to try the doorknob and it turned easily in her hand. Stepping over the threshold she heard a door slam within the house. Startled she mentally scanned the floorplan in her mind. She guessed it had been the basement door that had closed with such force. The family must be checking out the lower level, no wonder they hadn’t heard her arrival.

“Hello!” She called out, walking through the small mudroom, noting the Arnold’s contractor had done a nice job cleaning up the mess the fire had caused. Laura would be pleased to see the shelves hadn’t been affected by the strange blaze.

Kim’s high heels clacked across the small dining room, she hesitated at the kitchen doorway. “Hello?”

The basement door was to her left, just past the entrance to the kitchen. She hesitated. The house wasn’t a traditional Cape, though that’s the description the previous owners had used in the listing. The rooms on the small home’s first floor flowed into one another in a circular pattern. The mudroom off the dining room (a strange choice) lead past the stairway to the kitchen which flowed into the family room at the back of the house and back again to the other end of the dining room.

The house was silent. She put her hand on the basement door.

“Down here,” a voice called, barely loud enough to hear.

Kim turned the doorknob. The light was out. She looked to her right to a bank of three switches and tested each one. The furthest from her turned the light on at the base of the stairs. Again, she hesitated. Again, she called, “Hello?”

She heard noises, footsteps and some low voices. Is the family all crammed into the bedroom down there? She thought as she stepped cautiously down the stairs.

The basement was what savvy real estate agents term “dated.” Dark wood paneled walls seemed to fight against the bare ceiling bulbs attempting to illuminate the place. A deep green, threadbare carpet gave off a musty smell. She was shocked the family hadn’t at least replaced the carpet. She understood that the eldest daughter would occupy the below grade bedroom and couldn’t imagine putting a teenage girl down there in its current state.

As she took the bottom step she heard a car door slam outside. The noise was muffled. But it was clear enough to give her pause. Who could be here now? She wondered. Maybe the contractor. She looked to her right, a den had been set up in the basement, presumably for the previous owner’s son. The poor boy. She turned to her left and approached the closed bedroom door. The voices were louder now, but not nearly enough for a family of six.

What in the hell were they doing in there?

She’d just pushed the bedroom door open when she heard what sounded like a parade of people stomp heavily across the floor above her head.

“Kim? You in here?” A voice boomed.

She stopped and stared into the empty bedroom in front of her, then quickly closed the door. Not turning her back on the room she scurried back up the stairs. “I’m down here!” She called, forcing cheer into her voice.

Mrs. Arnold appeared at the top of the steps. “Hi Kim, what are y’all doing down there?”

“Just a final top to bottom inspection, making sure the sellers left it as they said they would.”

“How’s it look?” Michael asked, coming to stand next to his tiny wife.

“Fabulous,” Kim said. “Just perfect.”

659a44970c43cb72eb8997cf430e7aa6Though Holy Death was ghost story #44 in the Ghosts in the Burbs line up, when combined with the six Out of the Swells stories it all adds up to 50 interviews. 50 tales of monsters and ghosts, mimics and demons, coffee and chardonnay.

Some of you might remember the Arnolds from Ghost Story #4 “I don’t believe sellers have to disclose previous satanic worship on the property, but a head’s up would have been nice.”

The story of that nice couple who shared their new home with their three lovely children and one demon possessed daughter has haunted me for some time and since it’s a new year I thought we all might try looking at things from a new perspective.

So, I’m going to tell you the Arnold’s ordeal from beginning to end, two to three chapters at a time, right here on Ghosts in the Burbs. I’d considered releasing it first in paperback, eBook and Audible like I did Claire, but I think Lilith should live right here. Starting January 7th I’ll release the chapters weekly, every Monday morning. 

I encourage you to check out the podcast (if you haven’t already) there I often post short horror stories at the end of the episode for Patreon patrons who have pledged $10 per month to support GITB (though throughout the telling of Lilith they’ll be given their own short episodes). They are one of my very favorite things to write.

Questions? Comments? Go to GhostsintheBurbs.com for all my social media links.

Now, I’m nowhere near done collecting ghost stories from my neighbors, there will be plenty more of that in the future.

But for now, Happy New Year and Here’s to new perspectives.

1Atop a gleaming white console table stood several bottles of expensive tequila, flanked by two breathtaking arrangements of calla lilies and snowdrops accented by red berried holly. Artfully scattered across the table were quarters, several crisp dollar bills and a sparkling glass of water. At center stage stood a two foot tall skeleton with a shriveled looking face, it’s expression somehow knowing and accusatory at once. It wore a white wedding dress and veil and stood regally amidst its offerings, a sharp-looking sith in it’s left hand.

The altar was at odds with the otherwise minimalist surroundings. The family room had an uncomfortable looking white couch, a plexiglass coffee table and a Scandinavian looking set of chairs but nothing else save for a large piece of driftwood that served as a focal point above the spotless fireplace. No art, no throw pillows, no television. Large windows and a sliding glass door bathed the room in light and offered a view of pine forest. We were close to Morses Pond in a home set back from the road, nestled at the edge of the forest.

The couple stood next to me, obviously anxious for my reaction. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do or say.

“That’s her,” Kelli said.

“Oh,” I replied doing my best to sound impressed. Biddy stood at the threshold behind us, I could feel the disapproval coming off her in waves.

Lisa nibbled at a hangnail for a moment, then said, “We’re hoping that you understand why we’ve chosen to tell you our story.”

Her wife added, “We are cautious about who we share this with, but we thought that maybe you might-”

“That you might enjoy hearing the story since you are so interested in the supernatural,” Lisa finished, pointedly.

The women watched me. I glanced between them and the altar. “Sure, yeah, I’m very interested.” I said.

Lisa turned, “We’ll have tea,” she said as she walked past Biddy.

“Let’s sit in the dining room,” Kelli suggested. Biddy and I followed her through an archway to an adjoining room with a long white lacquered table and nothing else, save for the wire and light bulb mess of a light fixture that hung over the table.

Biddy and I faced the family room which provided a good view of the strange altar. Kelli sat facing us and the picture window at our backs. She had long brown hair that she wore in the top knot their generation had perfected. Her glowing youthful looking skin couldn’t hide obvious exhaustion. Lisa returned with a white tray loaded down by white napkins, white tea cups, a white tea-pot, small white plates, and a white platter lined with those grocery store cookies with the sprinkles and frosting whose color changes every holiday. The morning was looking up.

I reached for a napkin, a plate and a cookie. The frosting was light blue, it’s sprinkles white. It was sweet enough to power the strange light above our heads and it left a distinct chemical aftertaste. It was delicious.

“So you’re praying to Santa Muerte,” Biddy said plainly as I took another big bite of cookie.

The couple exchanged a guilty look. They were young, not even thirty. Lisa had the cool chin length wavy highlighted haircut that I was always showing pictures of to my hairdresser even though I knew my hair wouldn’t ever get there. She was tall, at least six feet and angular. She was a spin instructor at bSpoke, someone had told her who I was and she’d introduced herself after class one day, asking if I might have time to listen to a story. She stressed that she and her wife Kelli weren’t have a problem or anything, they’d read the blog and thought their situation might “interest me and my friend Biddy.”

“Who’s Santa Muerte?” I asked, covering my mouth with the napkin.

Lisa and Kelli glanced behind them to the shrine. I followed their gaze. From here it looked like a hodgepodge mess, completely out-of-place in the zenned out home.

Kelli forced a smile and explained, “Santa Muerte is sort of a patron saint.”

“How in the world did you get mixed up in this?” Biddy asked.  

“We went to Mexico on our honeymoon and we took a couple of days in Mexico City before going on to Acapulco. We hired a guide to show us around and she was really keen on giving us an authentic experience,” Lisa said.

“Acapulco?” Biddy said in disbelief.

“Yeah, we didn’t realize,” Kelli said, shrugging. Not wanting to appear like a dumb American I didn’t ask for clarification here but later that day I Googled “Acapulco.” The first article that came up was titled, “Acapulco, Mexico’s ‘murder capital,’ sees steady tourism despite increasing danger.”

“We should have gone to Cabo, but we got a deal,” Lisa explained.

“I’ll bet,” Biddy snarked.

“Anyway, we thought ‘authentic experience’ meant cool local restaurants or shops, but she took us to a Santa Muerte procession. It was really cool, if a bit intense. It reminded me of those Catholic festivals they have all summer in the North End. Worshipping this Santa Muerte is a sort of offshoot of that, but instead of carrying around a statue of the Virgin Mary the people we saw on our trip were honoring a skeleton. ”

Biddy sighed.

“What’s the big deal?” I asked.

“That’s not a saint and even if it were you’re not supposed to worship saints.”

I gave her a look to say I didn’t follow. The truth was, even though I was raised Catholic I’ve never understood the whole saint thing. God seemed to get all worked up about worshipping false idols like that calf but was apparently cool with people praying to Saint Joseph if they needed to sell their house or St. Anthony if they misplaced their car keys.

“People pray to Catholic saints for intercession,” Biddy explained patiently. “They ask the saints plead their case to God, it’s like giving your prayers an extra little oomph. But when you pray to Santa Muerte, you’re asking her to answer your prayers.”

“Isn’t it basically the same thing?” I asked.

“No,” Biddy, Kelli and Lisa said in unison.

“Why not?”

“Because when you pray to Santa Muerte you’re asking her to do something for you or to get you something you want. God isn’t involved at all. The Catholic saints are considered holy, you can ask them to pray for you and to ask God to grant your prayers, but they don’t have the power to grant those prayers.”

“But Santa Muerte does?”

“Santa Muerte does,” Lisa affirmed.

“And people don’t feel comfortable asking God for the things they ask Santa Muerte for,” Kelli added.

“Such as?” I asked, curious and still a little foggy on the notion of saints.

“Well,” Lisa said slowly. “Lots of things. Like a good parking spot, or a leg up when your boss is considering a promotion. Stuff like that.”

“Hold on,” Biddy said. “You still haven’t told us how you’ve ended up with a Santa Muerte altar in your family room.”

“It was during that trip, to Mexico. The procession of Santa Muerte was so, you know, moving. It was our honeymoon and we were looking to bring back a souvenir, something special to remember the trip.”

“The statue doesn’t really fit in with your aesthetic,” I commented, helping myself to another cookie.

“We thought it would be fun to add a touch of kitsch,” Kelli replied.

“The Holy Death is not kitsch,” Biddy admonished, “Would you do the same with a menorah or, shit, I don’t know-”

“A cross?” I supplied.

“You’re right,” Lisa said quickly, glancing behind her at the statue. “It was disrespectful to treat it like some sort of tourist-y souvenir. Nevertheless, we bought the statue from a vender at the procession. Our guide explained how to pray to it, how she liked offerings of alcohol and money and that we were to provide her with water and fresh flowers. But that’s all she told us, she didn’t explain everything properly.”

“She should have told us, at the very least she should have mentioned how important it is to be consistent with the offerings,” Kelli complained.

“What did you ask her for?” I asked, beginning to feel nervous. I hadn’t felt or heard any ghosts in their home which was rare for me as of late, but not completely strange. But I could feel the pull of that statue. As unsightly as it was, I kept wanting to look at it.

“It was a complete fluke,” Kelli explained. “Our first flight to Acapulco was delayed and Lis [Leece] made a joke that we should ask the skeleton. We were going to be stuck in that airport for eleven hours waiting for the next flight out. I was just kidding around, you know, I said something like, ‘Oh, Santa Muerte, bless us with speedy travel and an upgrade.’ The thing is, that’s exactly what happened. The next thing you know, our names are being called over the loudspeaker and we’re sitting in first class seats on the next flight out of there.”

“There had been a medical emergency,” Lisa said quietly.

Kelli nodded in agreement. “We laughed it off, but when we landed there was this brutal taxi line and we tried it again. And it worked again.”

“It might have been a coincidence, but the third time…” Lisa trailed off.

Kelli said, “Yeah, um, so that night at the hotel we were hanging out by the pool and these guys were sort of harassing us, you know? Like they wouldn’t take the hint that we weren’t interested. I said to Lisa, ‘Maybe our friend could help us.’ We laughed and Lisa said-”

“I said, ‘Santa Muerte please make them go away.’ One of the guys heard me and he looked scared. Then out of nowhere his friend, who’d been going to grab another beer at the bar, tripped and fell. He sliced his hand really badly on his beer bottle.”

“They left to take him to the hospital,” Kelli said as she reached over to hold Lisa’s hand.

“But that could still be a coincidence though, right?” I suggested.

“I suppose so, but then our luck turned.”

“I got food poisoning the next night and Lisa’s passport went missing.”

“You didn’t make an offering,” Biddy guessed in a low voice.

The women shook their heads in reply.

“I was digging through the luggage for the tenth time hoping against hope that I’d find my passport and that’s when I saw the statue and, it sounds crazy, but I remembered the instructions our guide had given us. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. So I took it out and put it on the dresser in the hotel room. I placed a couple of those mini bottles of booze in front of it and then Kelli remembered that she liked to have a cup of water.”

“I felt better almost immediately,” Kelli said. “I’d been so weak and nauseous and all of a sudden I felt, well, better.”

“I checked my purse again, for like the fourth time, and there was my passport,” Lisa added. “We were still thinking that maybe it had all been a string of strange coincidences, but when we got back home we put it to the test.”

“Lisa was just finishing her training to be a spin instructor and I was working as a barista and babysitting on the side. We were making rent, but the wedding was more expensive than we’d planned and things were really tight. We set Santa Muerte up on our tiny kitchen table and surrounded her with offerings. Then I asked for money.”

“A lot of money,” Lisa corrected.

Kelli nodded. “A week later I got the letter. My parents have both passed and I don’t have much family left but apparently my mom had an estranged cousin I’d never even heard of. She didn’t have children and for some reason she put me in her will. She left me seven million dollars.”

“Holy shit!” I exclaimed. “Where the hell did she get seven million dollars?”

The couple exchanged another guilty look. “We didn’t ask.” Kelli said quietly.

“Well, all that doesn’t sound so bad. I mean, a couple of bottles of liquor and some pretty flowers isn’t too steep a price to pay for all this good luck, right?”

Biddy snorted.

I gave her a look.

“What?” She asked.

“Be nice,” I admonished.

Biddy sighed and looked at the women across the table. “I’m sorry. You’ve just gotten yourselves caught up in something…” she trailed off before saying, “I don’t know if we can get you out of this.”

“Oh, no!” Kelli exclaimed. “We don’t want out of anything. Santa Muerte has been wonderful to us. Too generous, really.”

Lisa looked terrified. She’d begun nodding her head vigorously and nibbling on a hang nail.

“I mean, how else could we ever afford a home like this? We are truly blessed.” The words were right, but Kelli’s tone wasn’t convincing.  

“I was twenty pounds overweight not six months ago and now I’m a head spin instructor at the best cycling studio in Boston,” Lisa pointed out.

“And I’m managing people twice my age and my marketing firm just landed Amazon,” Kelli pointed out.

“It was what we thought we wanted. We were planning to start a family,” Lisa said sadly.

“But we’ve put that on hold for now,” Kelli said with finality.

“Just for curiosity’s sake, what would happen if you stopped providing offerings?” Biddy asked.

“We went away for the weekend in October, to visit some college friends. I completely forgot to put out fresh flowers that Friday and refill her glass of water. When we got back home on Monday the flowers were wilted and her water had run out. It was a rough few days before things got back to normal. Actually, things didn’t really clear up for a few weeks.”

“What happened?”

“I woke up the next morning with this weird rash that ran down the side of my face, across my neck and sort of wrapped around my torso. Our dermatologist couldn’t do anything to stop the itching, she thought maybe it was shingles, but, I knew it was a punishment.”

“That’s when we went out and bought that tequila, it’s very rare. And now I have a standing order with Winston’s, they send two seasonal arrangements every week and we are sure to keep her water glass topped off.”

“Her crystal water glass,” Lisa added with a sad smile.

“And you haven’t had any trouble since then?” Biddy asked, skeptically.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Lisa said seriously. “We’ve had some warnings when things haven’t been up to the saint’s, uh, standards. We’ve had to learn as we go along. For one thing, it’s best for us to stay close to home. She doesn’t like to travel and it’s too nerve-racking to leave her home alone for an extended time. We can’t be sure that everything is as it should be.”

The saint sounded to me like a vindictive toddler. I kept the idea to myself.

“Has there been anything else? Has she manifested at all?” Biddy asked.

The women looked at her as though they were shocked at her guess.

“We’ve begun to hear things down here at night, but we’ve been too afraid to come check,” Lisa admitted.

“I’ve been getting these ideas in my mind, these, like obsessions but they aren’t mine. It feels like if I don’t get the things I all of a sudden want I’ll go crazy. It doesn’t stop until I ask her for them and make an offering,” Kelli said in a whisper.

“What are you asking her for?” I asked.

Kelli looked down at her hands in her lap. “It’s like good isn’t enough, we have to ask for perfection. We have to be the best. I have to be the top salesperson in my firm, Lisa has to be the lead instructor, the house has to be decorated flawlessly, I must drive a BMW,” her voice cracked. “I fucking hate that car.”

“She just wants what’s best for us,” Lisa pointed out quickly in a loud voice.

Choosing my words carefully, I said, “I’m not sure what you want us to do for you, but if you wanted I’m sure there are other people who would love to hear how powerful your saint is. We could put you in touch with them. Right?” I looked at Biddy. She nodded.

“Sure, I could arrange for you to meet Father-”

But she was interrupted by a loud crash. All four of us jumped. My eyes went straight to the altar. It looked exactly the same. But the large piece of driftwood that had been bolted over the fireplace was gone. It had fallen in an unlikely way, it lay halfway across the room at an odd angle.

Kelli opened her mouth to speak but quickly closed it.

Lisa stood abruptly. “You should go. You should both go now. I don’t know what we were thinking.”

Biddy stood and pushed her chair back into the table, I followed.

“I’ll email you the-” I began to say.

Lisa held up a hand. “No. Thank you. Thanks so much for coming, um I’ll see you at spin in the morning, right? Great.” She spoke quickly as she ushered us towards the front door. I looked back at Kelli to say goodbye. She was sitting very still, staring out the picture window in front of her.

Biddy and I slipped on our jackets and stepped through the front door. “Just forget this, okay? It’s just a story.” Lisa said, her voice steady, her arm on the door ready to close it.

‘I’ll do my best for you,” Biddy said.

We heard another bang come from inside the house and immediately heard Kelli give a little shriek. Lisa looked behind her and slammed the door without saying goodbye.

Biddy and I walked to my car in silence. Once inside she asked, “Did you hear anything in there?”

Pulled from my thoughts I said, “Oh, no. Weird story though, right?”

“They’re fucked,” she said, pulling her seat belt across her chest.

“Isn’t there anything they can do?”

“Oh sure, but they’ll lose everything and I’d be willing to bet at least one of them would get really sick in the process. It’ll be easier for them to just maintain the status quo at this point.”

I was silent, lost in thought as we pulled out of the driveway.

“What are you thinking?” Biddy asked.

“Oh, just that I love my spin class and I don’t want to have to change gyms, again.”