ghosts in the burbs

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

A terrifying  monster named the Rake initially gained momentum and notoriety as a Creepypasta. Similarly to Slenderman, the Rake may have begun in an author’s imagination but like pesky tulpas tend to do, it appears to have broken through into our reality because enough people believed. Like so many paranormal oddities, the Rake found its way to Wellesley. But before I tell you that hot mess, I thought it might be fun to go back to the Rake’s origin story – the CreepyPasta that unleashed this particularly scary monster into the world. So that we may all land on the same page before our next neighbor shares her harrowing encounter with the Rake, I’m going to read you the CreepyPasta that started it all – with a little side commentary because, as you’ve probably noticed, I have a hard time not interrupting. The link is in the show notes. So without further ado, here is, The Rake, first posted to Reddit almost exactly 12 years ago on April 27th 2009.

During the summer of 2003, events in the northeastern United States involving a strange, human-like creature sparked brief local media interest before an apparent blackout was enacted. Little or no information was left intact, as most online and written accounts of the creature were mysteriously destroyed.

Primarily focused in rural New York state and once found in Idaho, self proclaimed witnesses told stories of their encounters with a creature of unknown origin. Emotions ranged from extremely traumatic levels of fright and discomfort, to an almost childlike sense of playfulness and curiosity. While their published versions are no longer on record, the memories remain powerful. Several of the involved parties began looking for answers that year.

In early 2006, the collaboration had accumulated nearly two dozen documents dating between the 12th century and present day, spanning 4 continents. In almost all cases, the stories were identical. I’ve been in contact with a member of this group and was able to get some excerpts from their upcoming book. [Okay, so then they just jump right into the excerpts here – ]

[and first one is called] A Suicide Note: 1964

“As I prepare to take my life, I feel it necessary to assuage any guilt or pain I have introduced through this act. It is not the fault of anyone other than him. For once I awoke and felt his presence. And once I awoke and saw his form. Once again I awoke and heard his voice, and looked into his eyes. I cannot sleep without fear of what I might next awake to experience. I cannot ever wake. Goodbye.”

Found in the same wooden box were two empty envelopes addressed to William and Rose, and one loose personal letter with no envelope:

“Dearest Linnie,

I have prayed for you. He spoke your name.”

[the second excerpt] A Journal Entry (translated from Spanish): 1880

“I have experienced the greatest terror. I have experienced the greatest terror. I have experienced the greatest terror. I see his eyes when I close mine. They are hollow. Black. They saw me and pierced me. His wet hand. I will not sleep. His voice (unintelligible text).” [shiver’s “wet hand” yikes]

[third] A Mariner’s Log: 1691

“He came to me in my sleep. From the foot of my bed I felt a sensation. He took everything. We must return to England. We shall not return here again at the request of the Rake.”

[and the final and most chilling excerpt] From a Witness: 2006

“Three years ago, I had just returned from a trip from Niagara Falls with my family for the 4th of July. We were all very exhausted after a long day of driving, so my husband and I put the kids right to bed and called it a night.

At about 4am, I woke up thinking my husband had gotten up to use the restroom. I used the moment to steal back the sheets, only to wake him in the process. I apologized and told him I thought he got out of bed. When he turned to face me, he gasped and pulled his feet up from the end of the bed so quickly his knee almost knocked me out of the bed. He then grabbed me and said nothing.

After adjusting to the dark for a half second, I was able to see what caused the strange reaction. At the foot of the bed, sitting and facing away from us, there was what appeared to be a naked man, or a large hairless dog of some sort. Its body position was disturbing and unnatural, as if it had been hit by a car or something. For some reason, I was not instantly frightened by it, but more concerned as to its condition. At this point I was somewhat under the assumption that we were supposed to help him. [yeah…. no…]

My husband was peering over his arm and knee, tucked into the fetal position, occasionally glancing at me before returning to the creature. [what the hell, right? That’s quite the useless reaction]

In a flurry of motion, the creature scrambled around the side of the bed, and then crawled quickly in a flailing sort of motion right along the bed until it was less than a foot from my husband’s face. The creature was completely silent for about 30 seconds (or probably closer to 5, it just seemed like a while) just looking at my husband. The creature then placed its hand on his knee and ran into the hallway, leading to the kids’ rooms. I screamed and ran for the lightswitch, planning to stop him before he hurt my children. When I got to the hallway, the light from the bedroom was enough to see it crouching and hunched over about 20 feet away. He turned around and looked directly at me, covered in blood. I flipped the switch on the wall and saw my daughter Clara.

The creature ran down the stairs while my husband and I rushed to help our daughter. She was very badly injured and spoke only once more in her short life. She said “he is the Rake”.

My husband drove his car into a lake that night, while rushing our daughter to the hospital. They did not survive.

Being a small town, news got around pretty quickly. The police were helpful at first, and the local newspaper took a lot of interest as well. However, the story was never published and the local television news never followed up either.

For several months, my son Justin and I stayed in a hotel near my parent’s house. After we decided to return home, I began looking for answers myself. I eventually located a man in the next town over who had a similar story. We got in contact and began talking about our experiences. He knew of two other people in New York who had seen the creature we now referred to as the Rake.

It took the four of us about two solid years of hunting on the internet and writing letters to come up with a small collection of what we believe to be accounts of the Rake. None of them gave any details, history or follow up. One journal had an entry involving the creature in its first 3 pages, and never mentioned it again. A ship’s log explained nothing of the encounter, saying only that they were told to leave by the Rake. That was the last entry in the log.

There were, however, many instances where the creature’s visit was one of a series of visits with the same person. Multiple people also mentioned being spoken to, my daughter included. This led us to wonder if the Rake had visited any of us before our last encounter.

I set up a digital recorder near my bed and left it running all night, every night, for two weeks. I would tediously scan through the sounds of me rolling around in my bed each day when I woke up. By the end of the second week, I was quite used to the occasional sound of sleep while blurring through the recording at 8 times the normal speed. (This still took almost an hour every day)

On the first day of the third week, I thought I heard something different. What I found was a shrill voice. It was the Rake. I can’t listen to it long enough to even begin to transcribe it. I haven’t let anyone listen to it yet. All I know is that I’ve heard it before, and I now believe that it spoke when it was sitting in front of my husband. I don’t remember hearing anything at the time, but for some reason, the voice on the recorder immediately brings me back to that moment.

The thoughts that must have gone through my daughter’s head make me very upset.

I have not seen the Rake since he ruined my life, but I know that he has been in my room while I slept. I know and fear that one night I’ll wake up to see him staring at me.”

Properly spooky little monster story, huh? I definitely don’t like the idea of something crawling “quickly in a flailing sort of motion along the side of the bed.” Yeesh. The description of this thing brings the Windigo to mind, who (in the folklore of some northern Algonquian peoples) is a cannibalistic giant; a person who has been transformed into a monster by the consumption of human flesh. The Algonquin originally lived in the dense forest regions of the valley of the Ottawa River and its tributaries in present-day Quebec and Ontario, Canada. That’s not too far from northern New York, though it is incredibly far from Idaho. But I Googled it and northern Idaho and upstate New York kinda have similar climates. 

Come to think of it, Wellesley has hot humid summers and bitterly cold winters too. Maybe that’s why one of those awful creatures made it so far south. Or maybe they have nothing to do with one another and a Rake is just a Rake. A Windigo a Windigo. I’ve shared a few images of the Rake on my instagram account so you could take a look for yourself. 

Of course, I gotta mention that it kinda sorta totally looks like an alien, but I will refrain from commenting further. 

Anyhow. Let’s meet a Wellesleyan who can give us their own account of this creature, whatever the hell it is.

Luna Bellamy. Hmmm… how to describe her? Well there’s no doubt she’s from the north east. Chilly. Intelligent, I bet she went to a really good really expensive college. Great short layered haircut, no haircolor. Rich skin, she’s definitely been fraxeled and injected. Slow to laugh, too serious for my taste. Opinionated as all get out but somehow reserved at the same time. Like, getting her full story out was like pulling teeth, but she shared her take on the covid vaccine without hesitation. 

“It’s great we have it but I don’t believe their storyline for a second. Either ‘they’ already knew something like this was coming and had the vaccine in the works, or ‘they’ have the ability to create any vaccine this quickly and they’re not sharing that fact because it would cost them too much money. Say bye bye to Cancer or HIV and they say bye bye to a lot of money.”

Hmm. Well, that made me feel frightened and sad and if it were true, incredibly angry and well, right back to frightened. 

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist or some Q person,” she assured me. “I just don’t see how anyone could take the mixed bag of messages we’ve been force fed the past year at face value. There’s more to the story. For one thing, that’s no natural virus. That thing was man-made. Which is fine, we all know they’re doing it. I just don’t care for having smoke blown up my ass about handwashing and Clorox wipes when we’re dealing with a biological weapon.”

You should have heard her opinion on Megan and Harry. But we don’t have time for that. We want to hear about the Rake. 

Luna lives in a heavily forested part of town that borders Dover. Yup, that Dover, the one with the infamous Demon. High strangeness all around indeed. 

Her house is located on my favorite street in town. I personally wouldn’t want to live there, but it is the coolest. It is a winding tree-lined spooktacular road that weaves it’s way past a farm (whose cows hang in the freaking woods you guys), then meanders along Lake Waban for a titch, before entering dense forest. Only a handful of driveways pop off this glorious road leading to utter fortresses. If I may share a ridiculously nerdy thing I like to do when I need inspiration or to get in a spooky mood for writing, I drive up and down this road blasting Peer Gynt Suite No.1, Op. 46: In the Hall of the Mountain King. I don’t know why it works, but it does. It’s like this weird hack. When I do it, not always, but most of the time I will see flashes of a story from start to finish as if I’m watching the trailer for it. I can’t recognize faces worth a damn and directions might as well be in another language, but give me a made up name and about fifteen minutes in the car to imagine with that song playing in the background and I have a spooky story to show for it. Brains are so weird. 

Anyways… I’ve always wondered about the people who live on that creepfest of a road. Luna and her family have lived there for about fourteen years and nothing of note happened aside from the occasional coyote sighting. Until this past March.

“A good portion of the siding was ripped off the side of the house. We didn’t hear it happening and we don’t often go in that portion of the yard in the winter. I didn’t notice it until we had that warm snap in March and was cleaning up the yard, so who knows when it actually happened. But it was unsettling. At the time we believed it was something only a person could accomplish. 

“I have a fifteen year old and a twelve year old. Boy and girl in that order. They swore up and down that they didn’t do it, I never really thought they had, but I had to ask even though it would have been out of character for either of them to be that destructive. My husband John and I were left with the unsettling idea that someone came up the driveway, which is about seventy five feet long mind you, or they’d come from the woods, which I don’t have to tell you are very heavy in that part of town. 

“I reported it to the police, a nice young man came out and took a look around but he didn’t find anything of note. He reminded us to keep the alarm system armed and suggested it might be some girls from the college screwing around. 

“Wellesley College girls never struck me as the sort who get a kick out of vandalism, but what do I know,” Luna said dryly. “The visit from the police left us with zero sense of relief, but I was glad that the incident was on record. We used our alarm system absolutely religiously, mostly for peace of mind, but in all those years that we lived there we’d never needed it until that thing began coming around. 

“One thing I found odd, something that I believe proves that this thing, whatever it is, has intelligence is that until we discovered the vandalism to our home, we had no problems whatsoever with our security system. But the week following the discovery of the ruined siding the alarm company called three separate nights because the system kept indicating that the sliding doors in our sunroom had been compromised. 

“The doors held firm but we did find streaks of mud on them indicating it had been trying like hell to get inside. We were told that it was probably several raccoons causing trouble even though the marks were far too large to be made by such small animals. The police suggested we install cameras for peace of mind, which we did. 

“Whatever that thing is, it is not an animal. It has… powers.”

“What kind of powers?”

The seconds ticked by as Luna considered the question. Finally, she said, “I apologize. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks. I’m sorry if I am scattered, but it’s happened so fast and there are things that, in hindsight, I see were connected.”

“You’re not scattered at all,” I told her.

She laughed and rubbed her eyes. “Trust me. I’m scattered. Sorry. Okay. So the thing ripped off the siding and then tried to get in through the sliding glass doors. It was all very unnerving, but we are practical people. Naive as it may have been, I still felt safe in our house. The alarm system was doing its job and the police showed up quickly when they were alerted by our security company. 

“And then… one morning I was upstairs getting ready for the day. John and the kids were out running errands so I was home alone. I’d just turned off my hair dryer when I heard the alarm panel in our bedroom alert. It wasn’t it’s usual, beep beep, that it makes when a door opens or even the crazed beeping it does when the alarm trips. It sounded different – glitchy. So I went to check. 

 “When I opened the bathroom door, it was freezing. I could feel a breeze just streaming through the bedroom. The alarm panel was going nuts so I attempted to enter in our code but it wouldn’t accept it. My cell phone rang and I knew it was the alarm company letting me know they were sending someone out. I stepped out into the upstairs landing as I answered the call and I could see that the front door was wide open – that’s why it was so damn cold. I told the dispatcher to send the police right away and I holed up in my bedroom until they arrived.”

“Oof, that is really scary. How long did it take them to get there?”

“Not that long but far too long, if you know what I mean. I finally got the alarm to stop that incessant beeping and dragged an armchair in front of the door because I could hear the thing stalking through the first floor. It shuffled around in the foyer for a time and came halfway up the stairs. The poor woman on the phone with me from the alarm company, she must have thought I lost my mind.”

“Holy shit. What did you think was out there?”

“Honestly, I thought it might be a bear. I know how absurd that sounds but it was large and the way it’s footsteps sounded… big paws and big claws. That’s all I could think.

“The police – three of them – checked the house top to bottom. They didn’t find a thing. But what truly threw me off kilter was the fact that someone – or whatever that thing was – had opened every single door and window on the first floor. The policemen were on high alert. In fact, at first I don’t think they believed me that there was anyone in the house. I don’t fault them for it, the situation was ludicrous. But I insisted they speak with the alarm company dispatcher so she could provide her take on the situation. Once she weighed in they understood that it wasn’t some sick bid for attention.”

“Did they find any sign of the intruder?”

“Mud had been tracked into the foyer. It was assumed that was its means of entrance, but there were no marks on the windows or the mudroom or sliding glass doors. The damn thing just came in, opened the house then disappeared into thin air.”

“What did they tell you to do?”

Luna smirked. “Keep the alarm set.”

“So scary.”

“It gets worse. I was backing out of my garage one night and was about to put it in drive when something in the backup camera caught my attention. Something ran behind the car. I looked behind me and couldn’t see anything, the back up lights weren’t bright enough, so I looked at the screen again and saw eyes reflected in the car’s lights.”

“Oh no…”

“There are bushes beside the driveway so I couldn’t see the thing, just the eyes. I thought it might be a coyote until it moved forward out of the bushes,” Luna shifted in her seat, distinctly uncomfortable at the memory. “You are familiar with the idea that a car’s night camera display is black and white, yes.? Well, when it came out of those bushes… Jesus. It almost glowed.”

“What did it look like?”

“It looks like a person with a long misshapen head. It has a smooth body and moves like a person walking on their hands and feet, but the head,” she shivered, “The neck looks hyperextended so that the creature can look straight forward. I couldn’t really see it’s feet, but it has a sloped back, like a sway back horse. 

“I should have thrown the car in reverse and hit the damn thing, but I was so shocked by it all I could think of was getting the hell away so I tore out of the driveway.”

“The Rake,” Claire whispered. She’d been silent for a time and I assumed she’d been just as enthralled as I was by Luna’s story. 

“What’s a Rake?” I asked.

“Are you getting something from the spirits?” Luna asked nervously.

“My guide just mentioned a name, um, just one second, okay?”

“It’s a monster,” Claire continued.

“What does it do?”

“Not sure.”

“How do you know it’s a Rake?”

“I saw one inbetween a long time ago and her description sounds like the thing I saw. It shouldn’t be down here though.”

“What do you mean ‘down here?’”

“What is the ghost saying?” Luna asked impatiently.

“She knows that the monster on your property is called a Rake and she just said it doesn’t belong here, one more second, okay?”

“They are ancient and there aren’t many of them. They come from up north.”

“An elemental?”

“No. Powerful like an elemental and ancient like one. But it has no actual tie to the earth, it’s self-serving. It’s like a demon mixed with an earth spirit.”

“Oh…” 

“Well?” Luna insisted.

“It sounds as though the thing stalking your house is a mix between an earth spirit and a demon.”

“But what does it want? No. How do I get rid of it?” 

I paused and listened to Claire’s advice. 

“You’re probably not going to like this,” I said after a long moment. “But you basically have to move. At least across town, if not further. These things claim a territory for themselves and stay within certain boundaries. And they like the woods, so if you were to move to a more populated area you’d be much better off.”

“I hate neighborhoods,” Luna complained. 

I shrugged. “Sorry.”

“I suppose that isn’t the worst thing. But I just have to be sure – if we move, will it still be able to get in my head.”

I blinked. “Wait, what?”

“It’s not just stalking our home, it communicates. I thought the ghost would know that.”

“What exactly does it communicate?”

“Warnings.”

“About what?”

Luna looked uncomfortable. “I’m sure it’s just trying to scare me.”

I raised my eyebrows but remained silent and waited. 

Luna crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m going to be completely honest with you, I am afraid that if I tell you everything you will think I am either lying or delusional.”

“I promise I won’t think that,” I said simply. 

She studied my face briefly then looked away. “I don’t want these images in my mind any longer. They are so vibrant that it’s as if the tragedy’s have already happened. I have no proof, but I know it is getting into the house and putting things into my mind as I sleep. John and the kids aren’t affected by it – thank God – I am the one it wants to torment.”

“Hold on, so it’s showing you things? Like psychically?”

“I suppose that’s what you would call it. I hate to use the word premonition, but I believe that’s what it’s transmitting to me.” 

“A harbinger,” Claire said quietly. 

“Harbinger… that’s bad, right?” 

“Very. Think Mothman.”

“Mothman’s real?”

Claire remained silent.  

“I don’t know all of these terms,” Luna said, obviously frustrated.

“Sorry. The Mothman was a creature that showed itself to a bunch of people in this town called Point Pleasant, West Virginia.”

“I saw the movie, I meant the other word you used – harbinger.”

“Oh, right. It’s something that does just what you are describing. It alerts people to future events. Like the Mothman with the bridge collapse or like hearing a Banshee signals death is coming.

“Of course, it doesn’t mean what they show you will actually happen. This thing could be a trickster,” I went on noting the shade of green Luna’s face had taken on. “That bridge collapse might have had nothing to do with Mothman, and Banshees are just a folktale.”

“No they’re not,” Claire chided. 

“What exactly is it showing you?” I asked, ignoring her. 

“Tsunamis. In extremely vivid and painful detail.”

“Can you tell where it happens?”

“Not it. There’s more than one. Two on the east coast and one on the west. Simultaneously.”

“But how could that-”

“I keep seeing these things that look like small submarines hit the ocean floor and it causes shockwaves that trigger the tsunamis.”

“Fuck.”

“No one makes it. New York… my God, so many people die, they drown right in the buildings. And Florida, I mean, it simply disappears. It’s just not there anymore the force of the water is too great. And California – the tsunami is only the beginning, earthquakes get triggered and they fan out halfway across the country.”

“Maybe it’s just trying to scare you,” 

“No.”

“If what it’s showing you is coming – I’m not saying that it is – but if it is showing you the future then it can’t be all bad if it’s trying to warn you. Maybe it wants you to tell people.”

“I didn’t say it was warning us.”

I blinked. “But you said-”

“I misspoke. I should have said threatening, rather than warning. There is malice behind these premonitions, or whatever you want to call them. Besides, who could I tell? Who would believe me? What use is a warning like this” Even if I could get someone in our government to believe me, how could anyone stop someone from using such a weapon against us? It might even trigger us to take the first shot.”

“Then why?”

“I don’t know that’s why I got in touch with you.”

“It’s excited about the negative energy created by what’s to come. That’s how harbingers feed, and they extend the energy source back by creating fear before the actual event,” Claire explained. 

“So you’re saying this is actually going to happen?” I screeched.

“Oh my God, is that what the ghost just said?”
“Don’t play dumb,” Claire admonished, “You’ve sensed something big coming for a while now.”

“Well, sure, but I thought it would be another nightmare virus stain or terrorist attack.”

“But that’s what she just described to you – an attack on our country.”

“So it’s real. This is really going to happen,” Luna’s voice was shaky. 

“Maybe it’s just trying to scare you,” I suggested uselessly for the second time. 

“We have to move,” Luna said, more to herself than to me.

“Yeah, you probably should before that thing can show you anything else.”

“No, I mean yes of course, but we need to get away from the coast.”

“Tsunamis can’t reach this far inland, can they? We’re like, what, sixteen, seventeen miles from Boston?”

“The water doesn’t make it this far, but the survivors do. There’s more, afterwards, I mean. It will be awful.” Luna grabbed her purse off the picnic bench and slung it over her shoulder. “You should think about leaving too. The earthquakes make it about halfway across the country, but maybe Illinois or Missouri will be safe. Safer. Once the survivors fan out though…” She stood. “You should think about moving too.” 

Swinging her leg over the bench to stand she turned to go. Almost as an afterthought she looked back at me. “Thank you. I needed confirmation. Tell your ghost that I appreciate her.”

Then she walked to her car and drove away.

“Oh my God,” I groaned.

“Crazy, right?”

“So that’s all going to happen. Why didn’t we think to ask her when?”

Claire sniffed. “Eh, it’s probably only 50/50.”

“What? You made it sound like a sure thing.”

“Nothing’s a sure thing.”

“Claire, that woman is going to move to Missouri!” “Meh, it’ll be good for her.”

[follow me on Instagram @ghostsintheburbs for up to date info on the podcast & blog ]

When you think of the Queen Mary, if you think of the Queen Mary, you probably think of it’s history. The flouncy fabulousness of its original purpose as a luxury liner catering to the rich. Or perhaps you think of it’s role as a war ship in World War II and the bloodshed it both witnessed and caused. Maybe you think of it’s present, docked at the port of Long Beach, California. Or maybe the Queen Mary brings death to mind. It wouldn’t be surprising. There have been multiple deaths recorded on board the Queen Mary since its launch in 1936.

You can find countless websites with all the lurid details of the Queen Mary’s tragic past. I found the following on TopTenz.net.

At least 49 people have died on the ship since it served as a luxury cruise liner, along with countless other military personnel who passed away during the war. One report was that of a man who was crushed to death in the engine room (nicknamed Half Hatch Harry, the 18-year-old crew man crushed to death by door number 13 is said to haunt shaft alley). Just think about that for a second. The story goes, he and his fellow crewmates were screwing around jumping back and forth in front of the door as it closed and he got caught and crushed as it sealed shut. 

It’s not just his death that must haunt that space, but the consciences of all those who saw it happened. Those men who jumped in time just before him, the guy who pulled the lever to begin the closing, the one who leapt just before him, the men who had to collect his remains, the doctor who declared him dead. All those feelings have to leave a mark too. 

Several children are said to have passed away by drowning in the pool. There have been documented murders that took place aboard the Queen Mary years ago too. There’s so much more, and it all adds up to the great ship’s reputation as one of the most haunted places in America. Now layer on the fact that it’s also a hotel and tourist attraction.

If you want you can stay the night in one of 347 original state rooms and suites. Personally, I would not stay in Suite B-340. In all honesty I wouldn’t stay in any of the rooms, but there have been so many complaints of paranormal activity in that specific room it became off-limits to guests for a time. It was the usual ghosty stuff, faucets turned on and off on their own and the toilet flushed by itself too, there were footsteps and that old feeling of being watched by unseen eyes. But after receiving so many requests to stay in that room they decide to re-open it to guests.  For just $499 per night you may experience the haunting for yourself, the ship will even provide you with some ghost hunting equipment, a Ouija board crystal ball and Tarot cards.

The ship is chock full of ghosts, too many to detail here without taking up a ton of time, but perhaps that’s why one of them followed today’s interviewee home. Maybe things were getting a little too cramped on board and they jumped ship. 

Gunner Darknight (obviously not his real name though he did request that I use this as his alias) has been ghost hunting for years, methodically checking infamous haunted locations off his bucket list one vacation at a time. He’s slept in Lizzy Borden’s bedroom, not once but four times.

“Oh, she did it all right, and I would have done the same. That dad was one sick bastard.”

He used to say that Bobby Mackey’s Music World was the scariest location he’d ever visited – though he now claims that his own home is the worst haunt he’s ever experienced. But at Bobby Mackey’s it was the dark shadow figures that had him so shook. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that there is something demonic at that bar and it has nothing to do with Pearl Bryan’s murder – if it ever even happened, I’m certain the whole beheading nonsense was just that – nonsense. But the place used to a slaughter house and the actual suicide of that girl Johanna may have thrown fuel on the fire. But it’s the hunters who’ve stirred the pot since then that keep that place active. Either willingly or unwittingly, somebody opened a door to a really bad place there. I was alone at that well and this darkness just wrapped itself around me, up until that point in my life I’d never felt such dread. It’s pure evil.”

His favorite haunted hotspot is Savannah, Georgia. “The ghosts there are just fun, man. It’s like they know what’s up, they’re there to haunt and we’re there to get the chills and they just don’t disappoint. I got to hang in the Pirates’ House basement for a few hours by myself, and the EVPs were off the charts.” 

I had to look that one up. According to VisitSavannah.com, “a saloon and rest stop for seafarers from abroad, The Pirates’ House still stands today as one of Savannah’s most well-known restaurants. However, The Pirates’ House can’t escape its dark past. Many were brutishly shanghaied down in the boarding house basement and forced to serve on the sea.”

“But you want to hear about the ship,” Gunner said, his voice growing grim. A charmingly large guy, like an ex football player put out to pasture, Gunner falls somewhere between fifty and sixty years old. A scruffy bearded, retired police officer, who proudly refers to himself now as a house husband, who just so happens to be married to my hairdresser. 

I asked him why so many people in law enforcement get into investigating the paranormal. It’s a thing I’ve noticed over the years on my beloved ghost hunting shows.

“We’re people who like answers,” he replied without missing a beat. “And I bet you can’t find one cop who hasn’t run into something totally unexplainable on the job. Paramedics and firefighters too. We just have exposure to too many people and too many places. Sooner or later something happens that you can’t explain and I think it lights a fire in a lot of us.” 

“That makes a lot of sense,” I said. 

“What about you? Why are you into this stuff?” 

I hadn’t shared with his wife that I could see spirits, and since everything around us was spirit free for the time being, I didn’t feel the need to tell him either. So I said, “You know, to start out, I don’t really know how I became so obsessed with the paranormal. I just always have been. The only thing that can explain it is that the spookier it is the more calming it is for me, if that makes any sense. I can’t tolerate watching any sort of drama on TV, it’s too uncomfortable for me. I’ll be up all night with the worries. But show me a horror movie and I’ll doze off like a baby.”

Gunner laughed at the idea. “I totally get that. I’m happiest traipsing through an abandoned insane asylum at midnight with one of my buddies.”

“Are you an anxious person?” I asked. 

“Uh, yeah, you might say that.”

“I’ve been reading about how some people’s baseline gets set high in childhood and because of it they need to seek out highly charged situations to feel normal.”

“That tracks,” he said with a grin, “How about you? You a worrier?”

I held up my hands, showing off my bitten nails. 

He threw his head back in laughter then held up his own bitten fingers. 

“Twinsies,” I laughed. 

“I suppose so. Not many people I know get the draw to ghost hunting. It’s always nice to meet someone who’s into it too. Jane’s a good sport,” said Gunner, “She’ll travel wherever I want to go, but she’s in the spa and to bed by nine when we’re at a hotspot. Ear plugs in, eye mask firmly in place.”

“She mentioned she didn’t want to see anything she couldn’t unsee,” I said smiling.

“Sure, sure,” Gunner said, his face falling. “There are times when I wish I’d taken a page out of her book.”

“Like on the ship?”

“Yes. Do you know much about it?”

“I’ve watched the Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters, Holtzer Files, and the BuzzFeed Unsolved investigations and, listened to a handful of podcasts about the hauntings.”

“Just to chat with me?”

“No, no, I just love this stuff.”

“You really do. That saves me some explaining.” He squinted his eyes for a moment, as if my admission had solidified something. “It was a birthday present from Jane, given on the condition that she didn’t have to tag along. She visited her sister in Santa Monica while I spent the weekend on the boat. 

“We planned the trip around the first date Suite B-340 was available. I got a reservation for November 2019, right before COVID. Good and bad luck depending on how you look at it.”

“You stayed there alone?”

“Oh yeah, and it didn’t disappoint. I searched that room top to bottom for any funny business. You know, little tricks to thrill the guests, and I gotta say, that place was clean. Just as I was dozing off that first night the faucet in the bathroom turned on full blast. Startled the hell out of me. I read about that happening in that room and I skimmed past it, not really clocking it as anything too spooky, but it really got me. 

“I checked beneath the sink to make sure they hadn’t rigged it up to go off, but I didn’t find anything that would indicate a set up.”

“It sounds like you were pretty skeptical.”

“More like, suspicious. That place makes a lot of money from it’s reputation, I could understand if the owners might be tempted to boost the hit ratio for the ghost hunters, you know? From what I could tell, the place was legit. 

“Welp, I had two nights to do the whole horse and pony. Most unsettling feelings came up near door thirteen where that poor man was crushed to death. It’s true that you get more in  tune to vibes the more haunted places you go to and the vibes in there were bad. Not evil, just bad bad feelings. Loss, disbelief – that sort of thing. 

“The story about the POWs being held in the hull of the ship was new to me – I hadn’t heard about that until I took the tour. Talk about torture. I’m sure there are worse ways to go, but being cooked to death ain’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy. Nasty EVPs down there. The kind that make you hope the whole residual haunting thing is real – that it’s just energy causing the disturbance rather than people getting trapped in their very worst moments not realizing that they’re dead, that it’s over.”

“It’s awful to think about,” I said, not wanting to tell him that was exactly what happens to some poor souls. 

“All of that was spooky, but it was the pool area that got me into deep water so to speak.”

“Jackie?” I guessed.

“Bingo.”

One of the most famous ghosts on the Queen Mary is Jacqueline Torrin a little girl who was around five or six years old when she tragically drowned in the second class pool. There are many reports of a little girl splashing in the water (though there is no actual water in the pool now) and calling out for her parents. She’s even said to play hide and seek with guests. Some people believe that Jackie had a friend named Sarah who also drowned in the exact same pool in 1949. Several people have heard the girls singing. A spookfest for sure, and a sad one at that. 

But you all know my stance on little girl ghosts. They’re never really little girl ghosts. I know people who will swear up and down that there are child spirits who interact with the living in these haunted places. 

Maybe I haven’t been to that ship myself, but I would be a million dollars that “Jackie” (and around her name I put air quotes) isn’t the ghost of a little girl. If it were then why the hell hasn’t anyone tried to move her on? No. She’s a distraction, a temptation to look into deep darkness. 

Just ask Gunner. 

“I saved the pool deck for my second night on the boat because I wanted to really devote a lot of time to it. I got lucky and was there with a small group – only three other people. We were all taking turns asking questions. The first hour was pretty quiet. One of the women had brought toys with her, a ball and a teddy bear, and she was pretty focused on getting Jackie or Sarah to move one of them. 

“At one point one of the tour guides came down to hang with us, actually what she said was she wanted to ‘check to make sure we were all okay.’ There had been some ‘incidents’ in recent weeks and if the negative encounters continued the staff were considering closing the pool area to investigators until they were certain things were safe.”

“Ooo, did she say what had been going on?”

“I tried to pry the details out of her, but she was a little squirrely.”

“Huh.”

“I pressed her though, asking if we should be on the lookout for anything. ‘Watch the tone of the EVPS,’ she advised, and ‘be sure to do a cleansing when you step off the ship.’  Now I never put much weight on the idea of personal spiritual cleansing or even of doing the whole protection ritual before going into a haunted environment. After all, I wanted to experience ghosts, why would I protect myself? And a cleansing after the fact? Why would any ghost want to come home with me? But the specificity of her suggestion, that the second we leave the boat we should do a cleansing ritual, that made me think.”

“Kinda ominous,” I agreed.

“She wouldn’t provide any further details and I found that frustrating, but I let it go. She hung with us for a time then went on her way. After she did one of the guys there was like, anyone up for shaking things up a bit? Sound like there might be more than just Jackie down here. The guy he was there with suggested we do some provoking to see if we could shake something loose. I told them I’d pass but they could go for it. At that point the woman who’d been there bowed out, I think the tour guide’s warning freaked her out. 

“The one guy, I’ll call him Baseball Hat and the other one Tattoos – I didn’t catch their names – so Baseball Hat starts provoking right outta the meathead playbook, didn’t have an original thought in his head. So I just hung back and observed. I will say that even if he was a cheeseball, the guy did manage to turn the vibe. It got real spooky real fast. 

“He played back his recordings and got a couple weird EVPs. One was this strange popping sound that none of us had heard in real time and the other was whispering, a whispered conversation. None of us could make out the words, but there were definitely two people, or spirits, talking to one another. 

“The guys took off after another half hour or so. I went with them to use the facilities then decided to give the pool area another shot. When I got back down there I was pretty fired up to find the place empty. I jumped right into an EVP session. Actually, here,” he picked his phone up off the table and opened his recording app. “You have headphones?”

“Yeah, but do I want to listen to this?”

He pursed his lips and tilted his head side to side. “It’s not the clearest recording I’ve captured, but it’s the weirdest.”

I reached into my coat pocket and unwound my headphones from around my phone and let Gunner plug them into his phone. He pressed play. 

“A little louder,” I instructed. 

“That good?”

“Yeah, better.”

I listened to Gunner speak into the silence. He introduced himself. He asked if there were any spirits who would like to speak with him. He said, “Jackie, if you really are here, you don’t have to stay, honey, you can move on.” 

I met his eyes as I listened and smiled. There was silence then a strange noise. A sort of hiss then a pop. I said, “Did you hear that when you were recording this?”

He shook his head. “Keep listening.”

“I’d like to speak to the spirit causing concern. It sounds like you are new around here. Why are you here?” His questions were followed by more silence. 

“It’s getting colder in here, is that you? Are you making it cold in here?”

A response in the form of nonsensical mumbling.

I met Gunner’s eyes again. His face was grim.

There was a loud metallic bang on the recording. 

“Are you trying to intimidate me?” Gunner’s voice demanded. “You’re gonna have to do more than that.”

More mumbling and then one word: ask. It was clear as day.

“Give me a sign of your presence.”

Distant tapping.

Gunner fell silent on the recording, and then there was a glitchy kind of static and I heard him grunt. Then the recording ended. 

I pulled out my earbuds. “What was that?”

“One thing I know I’m freezing my ass off asking questions into the darkness, the next thing I know I’m flat on my back looking up at a couple women asking me if I’m okay.”

“Oh no…”

“I blacked out. I have the sense that something rushed me, but I don’t really have a memory of it.”

“Not good.”

“No.”

“I feel like a lot of amateur ghost hunters go to places like that and don’t really experience anything at all. But you seem to have experienced a lot.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Have you ever thought you might have abilities?”

“I sure as hell hope not,” he said, emphatically. “Visiting haunted locations is one thing, but who in their right mind would want to see or hear ghosts all day?”

I smiled. “But you did see and hear them for a time, right?”

“Yeah, until I called in the big guns and cleared ‘em out of my house for good.”

“So, what followed you home?”

Gunner fiddled with his empty coffee cup. “Something really really nasty. I shoulda’ taken that guide’s advice and done some sort of spiritual cleansing when I got off that ship. Too stubborn,” he muttered. 

“When did you know you had a problem?”

“On the plane ride home.”

“Uh uh.”

“To be frank, I had a creepy feeling ever since I left that pool deck. I chalked it up to visiting a good haunt, but even my wife noticed I was jumpy. For one thing, I couldn’t sleep. We had two nights in L.A. before we headed back east and I tossed and turned all night. The second I’d start to drift off I’d startle awake. Thinking I’d heard something, or that I’d felt someone shake me.

“I dozed off on the plane for about an hour and my wife said I was mumbling the whole time. She didn’t want to wake, wanted to let me get some sleep after those nights of tossing and turning.”

“What were you saying in your sleep?”

“I was apologizing over and over again. ‘I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.’”

I scrunched my nose. “Not good.”

“Not good,” he agreed. “And it got much worse. First night at home. We go to bed and I crashed. It was such a relief, until I woke up across the street in our neighbor’s yard. The guy was yelling my name for a full minute, he was about to have his husband call the police. Embarrassed doesn’t begin to describe what it felt like. There I was in these guys’ yard, like an oaf, just wandering around in my tighty whities.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Quite the image, huh? They’ll never let me forget it either,” Gunner guffawed. “Every time they see Jane now they ask if she’s keeping a close eye on me.

“That felt like a fluke. No… it didn’t, but I did my damndest to chalk it up to one. Jane made me a doctor’s appointment, they took blood work and I ended up on a low sodium diet which sucked, but the doc diagnosed the sleep stuff as stress related. Jane made me start taking walks with her in the morning. 

“At that point the feeling of being watched was with me all the time. Then a couple weeks after we got home I was in my office working on my puzzle when I heard the hiss and pop – same one from the EVP session. I’ll tell you what, that stopped me cold. I froze up. I couldn’t move even though I would have sworn on a Bible that there was someone standing right behind me. I mean I just knew it. 

“After a second or two someone tapped on the window beside me and I spun around. But of course there was nothing there. I got up and checked outside to make sure but all was clear. Eventually I grabbed another tea and sat back down to my puzzle to try and cool down. The blood pressure was definitely up. 

“God, you know I was probably sitting there for at least five, ten minutes before I felt the tug on my pant leg.”

“Nooo…”

“She was under my desk. Crouched down. Her hand over her mouth like she was trying to not to laugh out loud.”

“A little girl?”

“It sure looked like a little girl but that thing didn’t have an ounce of human in it.”

“I both could and couldn’t believe my eyes, it was like my brain couldn’t catch up. We just stared at each other and then she started to crawl out from under the desk… but she wasn’t using her hands to crawl,” Gunner shook his head at the memory. “She sort of wrapped her hands around her neck and crawled out on her elbows and feet.”

“What the fuck.”

“That got me moving. The wife and I stayed at the Residence Inn over in Needham that night. Now, I know better than to think that evil bastard was gonna stay in my house. I knew damn well it was connected to me, but I just felt I could keep a better eye on a hotel room than the whole house.”

“Makes sense.”

“I went sleepwalking again that night.”

“In the hotel?”

“Ayup. The poor night manager found me apologizing to thin air on their pool deck.” He let out a sigh. “Like a stubborn idiot, I waited too long to reach out for help. It’s not like I didn’t know what I should do, I just didn’t want to admit I needed it.

“Through the ghost hunting network I knew this demonologist guy and I reached out to him the next morning.”

“Someone local?”

“Yeah, actually he lives here in town. Nick, Nick Sayre.”

I sucked in a breath. 

“I take it you know him.”

“Mm hmm. Didn’t know he’d become a demonologist.”

“Well that’s what he calls himself. He wasn’t much help, truth be told. Came to the house and wanted to investigate. Caught a good EVP though.”

“What did it say?”

You asked for this.”

I let out a low whistle.

“Guessing maybe that’s why I was apologizing so much in my sleep. My story is fair warning to all those ghost hunters out there. You ask one of these things to show you a sign of their presence? You better be specific unless you want them coming up with their own answer for you.

“Long story short, that Nick guy put me in touch with a woman named Biddy who had some connections with the church.”

“Stop it.”

“You know her?”

“She’s one of my closest friends! How have we not met each other yet?”

“Huh. Small world. She’s one smart lady, doesn’t mess around. I gave her the lay of the land and was ready to go through the whole dog and pony with the Catholics but she thought I should try a Wiccan priestess first.”

“Cool. Did it work?”

“Like a charm. Haven’t seen hide nor tail of that nasty thing since.” 

“Well there’s absolutely nothing around you now, that’s for sure.”

“Oh really? How can you tell?”

“Um,” I hedged, realizing that I’d put my foot in my mouth.

“Are you psychic?”

“No, nothing like that…”

“Then what?”

“Promise you won’t think I’m crazy?”

“Depends what you say next”

I took a deep breath. “I’m a medium and not only are there no spirits around you, this entire coffee shop is empty. It’s weird.”

Gunner sat back in his seat and his face lit up with a huge smile. “Well, I can explain that,” he said, pulling a necklace from beneath his shirt, at the end of the silver chain was a teenie tiny bottle. A teenie tinier cork stopper on top of it held a red powder securely inside. 

“Brick dust!” I said in realization.

He laughed. “Ayup, I guess that’s confirmation the stuff really works.”

“It sure does. It even kept my guide away.”

He tucked the necklace back into his shirt. “No more ghost hunting for me.”

“I’m sorry,” I replied.

“You’re never too old to try something new,” he said, waving the comment away. “Now aliens, aliens are a whole other ballgame.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

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

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

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

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

“What exactly has been happening?” I asked.

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

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

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

“Trust me, I get it.”

Kelly snorted. “Where do you live?”

I told her. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t worry, I’m a helicopter.”

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

“No.”

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

I made a note to do so.

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

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

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

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

“Wait, have you watched The Home Edit?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get out of here.”

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

“That is really freaky.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I loved that movie.”

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

I nodded in agreement. 

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

“I don’t know.”

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

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

“Did you tell him what was going on?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait, did that really happen?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once around is enough for me right now. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And how exactly did you do that?”

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

“And how did that work out for you?”

I side eyed the spirit who giggled. 

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

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

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

“Sorry.”

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

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

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

Maybe a phone call? I suggested. 

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

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

It didn’t. 

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

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

Fuck. 

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

And waited. 

Lily was seventeen fucking minutes late. 

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

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

“What are you drinking?” 

I told her. 

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

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

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

“Just you wait,” Claire replied.

Lily’s voice rose above the coffee shop din. 

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

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

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

The nineteen year old young man apologized again. 

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

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

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

“Yes. Why?”

“You’re gonna need it.” 

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

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

“What did you get?” I asked politely.

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

“Some treat,” Claire snorted. 

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

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

“Um, sure.”

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

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

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

“What?”

“Well, are you?”

“Am I what?”

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

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

“No. That’s not really my thing.”

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

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

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

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

“Okay.”

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

“Good.”

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

“So what’s going on?”

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

“How do you know that?”

“I can hear her.”

“What does she say?” 

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

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

“The night we did the corn maze.”

“That’s unexpected,” Claire commented. 

“Totally,” I replied without thinking.

“Hm?”

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

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

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

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

“No. Too scary.”

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

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

“What was so spooky about her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mrs. Dudley?”

“I don’t know, probably.”

The woman behind stared at the  ground and began pacing. 

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

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

I shook my head. 

“Really? Everyone knows Rachel.”

I just shrugged.

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

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

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

“No. I mean, maybe.”

I raised my eyebrows.

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

“Not really,” I pointed out. 

“So what are you saying?”

“That you might have abilities.”

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

The woman behind her began pacing again. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pacing?” I guessed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you tell your husband?”

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

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

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

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

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

“How the fuck should I know?”

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

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

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

“It escalated really fast,” I commented. 

“Is that bad?”

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

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

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

“Uh, I can see her.”

“You can see who?”

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

“Be careful,” Claire cautioned. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pushed my chair back. 

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

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

That was an old hag,” Claire answered.

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

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

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

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

“But she has kids!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I expressed that I had by wincing.

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

“I know, right?”

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

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

My mask hid my smile but I agreed to try. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened at the house?”

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

“What time was it?”

“It was late, after midnight.”

“Eek. Were you home alone?”

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

“Uh uh.”

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

“Erica! No!”

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

“Your next door neighbor was harassing you.”

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

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

“Satchel?”

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

“Did you open it?”

“Of course.”

And?”

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

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

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

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

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

I acknowledged that she had.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you do to try and communicate?”

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

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

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

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

“What did you find down there?”

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

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

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

“What was it? A ghost?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yikes.”

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

“Good for you,” I said, meaning it.

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

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

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

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

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

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