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

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

 

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

 

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

 

***

 

“Who are they?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You sound like Chris.”

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

I smiled to myself. “Deal.”

 

***

 

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

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

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

“You get used to it,” I replied.

“Your side mirror disagrees.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biddy grabbed the sleeve of my shirt and tugged.

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

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

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

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

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

“The sunroom, babe,” Mattie declared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s specific,” Biddy commented.

“This place is intense,” he replied darkly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Emotional?” I said, curious.

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s through the woods?” I asked.

“Babson,” Biddy and Erica said in unison.

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

“Why not?” I asked.

Erica glanced at Mattie who was staring at his lap.

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

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

Biddy and I were silent.

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

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

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

“No,” Mattie repeated. “It was me.”

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

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

“Oh, Mattie,” Erica said quietly.

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

Mattie didn’t respond.

“That often huh?” Biddy said calmly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s Cicely?” I asked.

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

“What happened?” Biddy prompted.

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

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

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

“A big old wooden bookcase fell on her leg,” Erica explained. “She couldn’t move. It like, trapped her there. My sister carried her downstairs and the poor thing was hysterical. We were positive she had broken her leg, but the doctor in the E.R.? She said it would only end up being a nasty bruise.”

“Tell them what your sister told you,” Mattie said, looking over at Erica.

She gave a small shake of her head and closed her eyes for a moment. “Cicely told my sister that a little girl brought her upstairs and told her to sit on the floor so they could play a game. She said the girl disappeared into the wall and before Cicely could get up to look for her the bookcase fell over.”

“Uh uh,” I said, getting up from the love seat.

“Where are you going?” Erica asked in a panicked voice.

“No where, sorry. My back just isn’t great today, I just need to stand up for a minute.”

“You OK?” Biddy asked me.

“Yeah, totally, I’m just being elderly. But what in the hell? A little girl disappeared into the wall then shoved a bookcase over on top of her. That sounds dem-”

“Let’s just hear the rest of the story,” Biddy interrupted shaking her head at me.

“We felt so, I mean I felt so guilty. Like, we had no business having anyone over to the house, let alone my niece, until we were settled in here…” Erica chattered on awhile longer until Mattie finally cut her off.

“We were really lucky. Cicely was fine, but I know that having her in this house triggered its need,” Mattie looked back and forth between Biddy and I, as though we knew what he was talking about.

“How so?” I asked nervously.

“The place was fucking lit after Cicely got hurt. The knocking began, the shadows started coming around, we couldn’t sleep because of the dreams-”

“You started spending more time in the garage,” Erica added softly.

Mattie nodded his head.

“Tell us about the knocking,” Biddy said.

“It’s weird, I’m surprised we haven’t heard it yet. It usually gets more excited when people are here. But we totally blamed it on old pipes at first and then we had an exterminator come out to check if the place had mice or something. We do totally have mice, but the exterminator heard the knocking while he was here and said it wasn’t coming from any animal.

“The weirdest thing is that it comes from different parts of the house. Like I’ll be in the kitchen making dinner and I’ll hear knock knock over my head and once I stand still for a moment there will be another knock knock that sounds like it’s coming from under the sink, or the other room,” Erica explained.

“She held a séance,” Mattie tattled.

“Uh oh,” I said, glancing over at Biddy.

“There it is,” Biddy said, stone faced.

“It was just for fun, nothing serious,” Erica said quickly. “I had some of the girls I do yoga with come over for margaritas and we sat at the kitchen table and asked for the ghost to answer us with the knocks. We totally made sure to set a positive intention first and I commanded the spirits to interact in a positive way.”

“You commanded them?” Biddy was leaning forward now. I was pacing a little bit. Erica had her arms crossed over her chest and Mattie sat with an arm hanging on the back of the love seat behind his wife, his legs spread wide.

“Yeah,” Erica explained, “I think I said something like ‘I command you to come forward in communication.’ It was wild, it took a few tries but we got answers!”

“How?” I asked.

“The knocking. It answered us with knocking! Once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no.’”

“What did the knocking tell you?”

“The spirit was male and had lived and died in this house. Oh and he communicated that he was pleased that we choose to live here.”

“That’s it?” I asked skeptically.

“Well, sort of. I mean, that’s all that it communicated to us. But I took the opportunity to welcome it and share the space with us.” At this admission Mattie gave a sort of snort.

“I’m guessing things got a little crazier after that,” Biddy commented.

“That’s when the shadows came and Mattie started drinking and we stopped going in the basement and I found all those damn balloons in the room on the third floor even though there was no way they could have gotten up there on their own and something pushed me when I was walking down the stairs,” Erica began crying. “It’s totally my fault, I am so sorry, I brought it all out and I don’t know how to put it back and now Mattie is, just, babe you’re not yourself and the house is a nightmare. I can’t sleep because the dreams are so sad and violent and you guys have to make it stop or I just don’t know what is going to happen.”

Mattie put a hand on Erica’s back to stop the flow of panicked words. I looked to Biddy, hoping she would offer some advice, but instead of addressing the paranormal events in the house she asked, “What’s up with the drinking, Mattie?”

“I don’t know,” he said, taking a deep breath. “I’m no straight edge, but I’ve never felt the need to have more than a beer or two and that was only if I was out with the guys or at a game. I got drunk once in high school and hated the way it made me feel all clumsy and out of control.”

“So what’s changed?” I asked.

“He’s drinking gin,” Erica said.

I saw Biddy raise an eyebrow.

“I start drinking around one or two in the afternoon,” Mattie began.

“What?” Erica squeaked. “I didn’t know that, babe!”

“And I don’t stop until I pass out at night,” Mattie continued. “I pretty much can’t remember what happens from dinnertime onward.”        

“What else is different?” Biddy asked quickly, stopping Erica from descending into another nervous tirade.

“I don’t just forget stuff when I’m drunk. Like, the other morning, I wasn’t drunk when I followed E to her yoga class. I was hung over, but sober and I don’t remember leaving the house. But when I, like, came back to myself I was watching E. I was watching her walk away from me on the path and I was literally crouched behind a tree hiding.”

Fuck, I thought then went to sit back down next to Biddy so I could eat another scone.

“When you say, ‘came back’ what do you mean? Are you not there?” Biddy prompted.

“I don’t know, man, I just am like, aware of what I’m doing and then I’m not.”

“What is he like in the evenings?” I asked Erica.

The girl looked at her husband and grimaced, “I’m really sorry babe, but you’ve turned into a total dick. I mean, you’re OK in the mornings, but you just sit there in that living room all night and stare at the television. Unless you’re out in that garage. I mean, you are out there all the time. Babe, what are you even doing out there? I’ve heard the banging and it sounds like you’re slamming things against the walls.”

We all stared at Mattie. He rested his elbows on his knees and began cracking his knuckles.

Erica pointed at his hands accusingly, “And that too! He never used to crack his knuckles. It’s disgusting! I can’t stand it.”

Biddy and I watched the couple. Mattie was inscrutable, Erica was sidling up to hysteria.

“How are you feeling right now?” Biddy asked.

“Really fucking angry,” Mattie answered in a low voice.

“Why?” I asked without thinking.

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” he insisted.

“I think I do,” Biddy said.

“Demons,” I breathed, knowingly.

Erica gasped and Mattie looked like he was about to flip over the coffee table.

“Settle down,” Biddy said to me, annoyed. “It’s not demons. Everything isn’t always demons. Mattie you’ve got a nasty spirit attachment.”

“How do you know it’s not a demon? I mean that little girl in the attic, right?” I reasoned.

“Well yeah that thing in the attic might be a demon, but that’s a secondary problem.”

“So there is a demon!” I said.

Biddy gave me a look then continued, “Maybe, but if a demon was causing this personality change then we wouldn’t be here talking about it. If a demon had that great a hold on him then Erica would be dead by now.”

“Biddy!” I exclaimed, horrified.

“Sorry to be so blunt, but you’re lucky Matt. This spirit was obviously a raging alcoholic in life. He didn’t cross over and he still needs what he was addicted to, so he’s latched onto you and he’s not going to let go without a fight.”

“Oh my God. How is this possible?” Erica asked.

“Look, we all need energy to survive,” Biddy explained. “We eat food and recharge by sleeping, right? And then we can get spiritual energy from God or the world or people around us. Since we’re alive we can access energy many ways, but ghosts can’t do that. If a spirit doesn’t cross over into the light or becomes deceived and falls into the darkness, then it remains on our plane and it has to get energy from somewhere in order to survive. One way for it to get that energy is to latch onto a living person.”

“Who is it?” Erica asked her eyes wild. “Can you see him right now?”

I bit my lip to keep from smiling. Biddy took a breath and said, “I’m not a medium, I’ve just spent my entire life around haunted people trying to figure out what the hell was happening to them. I have absolutely no idea how or why stuff like this happens but I’ve been around long enough to connect some dots.”

“What do I need to do to get rid of this fucker?” Mattie asked.

“I know a guy,” Biddy assured him. “You need a medium and you need to sage the shit out of this place. And then he’ll go. He’ll have to.”

“What about the demon girl in the attic?” Erica pressed, looking terrified and small. “Is she going to kill us?”

“I’m sure she wants to,” Biddy said plainly.

“But she won’t,” I added quickly. “Biddy knows a priest who can come and help you. He helped my family with our haunting.”

“Everything can be fixed here, but I don’t like that whole lurking in the woods storyline, Mattie,” Biddy cautioned. “It’s not going to end well. Until the priest comes I don’t think you guys should sleep in the house. I’ll sage the place for you today while you pack and that should weaken the ghost.”

“We can stay at my sister’s,” Erica said.

“If there’s a drunk angry ghost latched on to me then I’m not going anywhere near your family,” Mattie snapped.

“Stay at a hotel then, Mattie. Erica can stay with her family, it’s not a bad idea for you two to separate temporarily. You’re relationship might actually be feeding the spirit,” Biddy suggested.

Everyone was silent, absorbing Biddy’s diagnosis.

“So that’s that then,” I said after a moment. Mattie and Erica were looking at us with a mixture of fear, skepticism and hope.

“I left my bag in the car, let me go grab the sage. I’ll do a quick walk through while you guys pack up,” Biddy said, standing.

“I have to pee,” I declared then smiled at the couple. “Shall I use the powder room we passed in the hallway?”

They both nodded. “Ok, be right back!”

“Don’t you dare leave me in this house alone with them,” I hissed once we were out of earshot. “That guy gives me the creeps.”

“He should. That’s the worst case of demonic possession I’ve ever seen.”

“Ha! I knew it!” I said loudly.

“Shhh!” Biddy said. “Shut up! I’m buying time doing this sage bullshit so we can get that girl out of this house. He’s going to kill her.”

“Oh shit, what are we going to do?”

“We are going to pretend to sage the house while she packs up her things and then we are going to make sure that she leaves here without him. Twenty bucks says he doesn’t leave this place.”

“I really do have to pee. Will you wait outside the door for me and then I’ll come to the car with you?”

“Oh, for the love of Pete,” Biddy said, rolling her eyes. “Hurry up.”

When I was done peeing I opened the bathroom door to talk to Biddy as I washed my hands. I said, “That was super smart of you to come up with that drunk ghost guy story.”

I dried my hands and flipped the light switch then stepped out into the hallway. There stood Biddy staring at me along with Erica and Mattie.

“Oh shit.”

slide-image3Today is Friday and every Friday, before the kids wake up, I sage the house. I’ve done this every week since that-which-we-pretend-didn’t-happen happened. Biddy told me the practice clears emotional energy left from the events of the previous week and that it was in our best interest to keep the home clear. Supposedly, negative beings are attracted to energy build up and when they can sense that a family or home has already been infiltrated, like we were, they’re more likely to see if they can do the same.

So, this morning as I wafted smoke through my window-lined office I glanced up and saw a coyote sitting in the yard. It was just staring at my house and the windows around me suddenly felt very thin.

We live near a large reservation and I’ve seen plenty of deer and bunnies and there was even a cute opossum in the garage last Spring. There are rumors of coyote all over town. I’d even glimpsed one running behind a home in our old neighborhood. But this one, my God, it was just feet from my home. Staring.

After a few frozen moments, the sage stick burning silently in my hand, I banged on one of the windows and quietly said, “Shoo.”

The wild dog looked at me. I banged again, more forcefully and then it stood and slowly trotted towards the front yard. I ran into the living room and watched it walk across the street and disappear into the woods behind the neighbor’s house.

Weird, right?

Chris didn’t want to believe me. Honestly, the second the coyote walked out of sight into those woods, I didn’t even really believe what I’d seen. I’m going to sage the outside of the house tomorrow morning. It feels like there’s a storm brewing.

***

Enough about that, let’s move onto Michelle’s story.

Close to the top of Wellesley Avenue sits a small cul-de-sac that so far has managed to escape the developers’ attention. The charming street is lined with a hodgepodge of small, well-kept homes in a rainbow of colors. Nestled at the top of the circle is a small brick cottage, it’s front lawn a joy of wildflowers, it’s backyard a wall of dense forest. The home is straight out of a British cozy mystery. It’s owner is Michelle Penna, an interesting forty-something, fresh-faced woman with a terrifying story.

I met Michelle at a friend’s fortieth birthday party. She had shoulder-length highlighted blond hair and pretty smile lines around her dark brown eyes. She wore a simple black shift dress and very high, hot pink heels.

Our mutual friend introduced us by saying, “Michelle you have to tell Liz what happened to you last fall, Liz loves that kind of stuff.”

Michelle looked embarrassed so I quickly explained, “I have a blog, people in Wellesley tell me their scary stories.”

“Oh!” She said, her relief obvious, “Yeah, I had a,” she cleared her throat and tucked hair behind her ears, “Well, a stranger stalked me for a while.”

I attempted to contain ghoulish excitement. “Holy hell that is terrifying!”

Right at that moment we were interrupted by another party goer and then the passed hors d’oeuvres walked over (Philly cheesesteak egg rolls) and the conversation turned to more appropriate cocktail party topics. Eventually Michelle and I drifted apart to different circles.

Later that night she tapped me on the shoulder. “Ali just told me all about your blog,” she said pointing towards a mutual friend. “I’ve got to get home to relieve my babysitter, but I would love to tell you what happened to me, I mean, if you want to hear it. I haven’t been able to share it with many people, they’d think I’m nuts.”

We exchanged phone numbers and I enthusiastically agreed to meet Michelle at her house the following Tuesday morning. Chris came over as I slid my cell phone back into my clutch.

“Now what are you up to?” He asked.

“Nothing,” I said, innocently.

 

***

Two light pink Adirondack chairs sat in a circular patch of lush grass among the happy wildflowers dominating Michelle’s front lawn. It was the ideal place to read an Agatha Christie novel. Michelle’s front steps were impeccably crowded with overflowing pots of cheerful flowers whose names I didn’t know.

I could see into the house through the screen door. Michelle sat at her kitchen island, her back to me. I called out, “Hello!” and softly tapped at the door frame. Michelle spun around and called, “Come on in!”

I stepped into the entryway and onto a hot pink leopard print rug. The walls around me were covered in a small print wallpaper. At first glance it looked like a black and white exotic animal print, but upon closer examination I realized that small black dogs created the design.

“This wallpaper is so cool! Do you have a dog?” I asked.

“I do,” Michelle replied reluctantly. “I put him out back so he won’t be a bother. Are you allergic?”

“Thank God, no!” I replied. “Bring him in here immediately!”

Michelle laughed, “Ok, follow me.”

“I love every last thing in your house!” I gushed, peeking over at the living room as I followed Michelle past the stairs and into the kitchen. An emerald green couch, flanked by two pink buffalo-checked chairs faced a brick fireplace. The bricks were painted turquoise. Above the mantle hovered a large Gray Malin photograph; an overhead beach shot filled with sunbathers and hot pink beach umbrellas.

“Thank you,” she said over her shoulder. “Sometimes I wonder if it’s all too much.”

“No way,” I assured her.

“Grab a seat at the island,” Michelle offered walking towards a sliding glass door overlooking the backyard. She slid it open and called, “Moose! Come on, buddy!”

I was about to take a seat as she had suggested, but the second I heard the name Moose I changed my mind. I walked towards the sliding door and saw the biggest, pudgiest chocolate Labrador Retriever I’d ever seen. He walked along slowly, his tail lazily wagging until he caught sight of me. Then his pace picked up a little and his tail went crazy.

“Moose!” I called out, kneeling down.

The dog lumbered over and leaned against me throwing me off balance so that I somehow ended up with him laying across my legs on the floor.

“Moose! Off!” Michelle demanded.

“Leave him be,” I insisted, “How old is he?”

“He just turned ten,” Michelle replied, “Really, you don’t have to pet him. He’ll never leave you alone.”

“I love him,” I said, honestly.

She rolled her eyes lovingly at the dog and asked, “Can I get you some coffee?”

“Sure! Thank you.”

I sat happily on the floor snuggling Moose who appeared to be dozing off, and spotted the corner of a chicken coop in the back yard close to the woods.

“You have chickens too?” I asked/yelled.

“Yeah, I only have eight now but we used to have twelve.”

“Can I see them?” I asked.

“Of course! Come on out back, we’ll sit on the patio. Moose, off!

I poured sugar and an interesting coconut milk creamer into my hot pink mug of coffee then followed Moose and Michelle outside to a pretty brick patio. Chickens dotted the cedar-fenced yard, clucking quietly.

“I can’t even!” I exclaimed.

“They really are a riot,” Michelle said. “They’re so funny. I open the coop for them each morning and they shuffle out and poke around the yard all day. Then they walk themselves back in every evening to roost. One of them even sleeps on Moose’s back when he’s napping in the yard sometimes.”

“I’m literally dying,” I said stupidly.

“Here, sit,” Michelle motioned to a pair of pink Adirondack chairs similar to the ones in the front yard. We sat and a white garden stool stood between us acting as a little side table. The chairs faced the yard and dark forest beyond.

“I would spend my life out here,” I commented, sipping my coffee.

“I do love it,” Michelle admitted.

“I’m sorry, I’m going on and on about your house and your animals. You invited me here for a story. Is it alright if I record our conversation so I can transcribe it for the blog?”

“Sure,” she replied.

I took my recorder out of a pocket in my rain jacket, turned it on and placed it atop the garden stool. “I don’t usually write about stories like yours, but even if it doesn’t have a ghost it sounds really creepy.”

Michelle watched the chickens for a moment then glanced over at me, “It’s a really weird story,” she cautioned.

“My favorite kind,” I assured her.

Michelle took a deep breath then whispered, “Oh, what the hell.”

I sipped my coffee, excited to hear what this remarkable woman had to say. It was summer and my two oldest daughters were at camp until three o’clock. I’d recently arranged for Kat to hang in Joey’s old daycare and match her sisters’ schedules three days a week. I was feeling relaxed for the first time in I don’t know how long.  

“My story has two distinct parts,” Michelle began, “I know they’re connected even if I don’t completely understand why. But I’m certain that the stalking fueled the infestation somehow.”

“Infestation?”  

A slight breeze swayed through the trees and Michelle took a orange elastic off her wrist then pulled her hair into a ponytail. She said, “It’s really complicated. My husband and I divorced six years ago. It was nothing dramatic, we just let ourselves grow in different directions. He got caught up with work and I got caught up managing our social lives; getting into the ‘right’ crowd, going on the ‘right’ vacations, making everything look perfect,” Michelle was an air quotes person, I smiled to myself. I love people who do air quotes. She continued, “We just stopped paying attention to each other unless it was to put on a show when we went out with our ‘friends.’ Predictably, he cheated with a young woman at his office and then it was over.

“It was hard, especially on the kids, but we untangled everything and sold the big house so we could each buy something smaller here in town. He’s a good dad. I like him, but we weren’t good for each other, you know what I mean? Anyway, that’s how I ended up in this house.”  

“It’s a beautiful place,” I said awkwardly. The story of the end of her marriage was more terrifying than any ghost story I’d ever heard. It was so simple, so dangerous. I wanted to cross myself and knock on wood and throw salt over my shoulder to protect myself from the possibility of it.

“I love this house,” Michelle said, quietly, “But it’s taken awhile to get there. About two years ago I began to notice that things were a bit off every once in awhile. It was small things. My keys wouldn’t be where I left them, or dishes that I swore I’d left in the sink would all be clean sitting in the drying rack when I got home.”

“Uh oh,” I breathed.

“And it wasn’t the kids,” she continued quickly. “Greg, my ex, and I split time with them every week and these things would only happen when I had the house to myself.

“One day just as I opened the front door I heard that sliding glass door off the kitchen shut. I rushed right out here, thinking someone had broken in, but no one was there. It freaked me out, but I wasn’t sure if maybe I’d imagined hearing it. I hadn’t lived alone since I was- well, actually, I’d never lived alone before. I had roommates in the city after college and then I moved in with Greg. So I wondered if maybe I was just being paranoid, or forgetful.

“There were other little things, the bathroom door slammed shut once when I was in the shower. I heard footsteps in the guest bedroom above the living room. Doors that I swore I had locked would be unlocked. Eventually, I accepted that I was either losing my mind or there was a ghost in my house.”

“Wait,” I interrupted, “a ghost?”

“Yes, at the time I thought it was the only explanation. I tentatively mentioned what was happening to a couple of my girlfriends and one of them, she’s kind of a New Age type, suggested that we hold a seance. I didn’t believe in anything supernatural back then, really I was just afraid that I was getting early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia, so I was actually hoping I had a ghost. So when my friend brought over a Ouija board-”

Michelle,” I groaned. “Tell me you didn’t.”

“I thought it would just be something amusing to do while we drank a couple bottles of wine. I even bought a bunch of candles and this pretty glitter table cloth to set the mood.”

“What happened?” I asked.

Michelle stared at the woods, she said, “We got one message, the board spelled out man and cellar, neither of which meant anything to me at the time. Oh, and it also spelled out invited.”

“Oh geez, did you look go look in the basement?”

“Yes, my friend insisted that we go down to investigate that very night, though we didn’t find a thing. After that evening things continued to happen in the house, but it all took a turn. It got, really weird. My belongings wouldn’t simply be misplaced, they’d go missing completely. The gas fireplace, which I never use, was turned on several times when I woke up in the morning and then one night I came home from having dinner with a friend and all of the doors to the house were wide open. I went directly to my neighbor’s house and asked him to walk in with me to make sure no one was in there. I was still thinking it was a ghost doing these things, and I didn’t want to go in there alone, but he insisted we call the police. I did. They didn’t find anyone and nothing was missing. But,” Michelle looked over at me, considering.

“What?” I asked impatiently.

“I keep all of my grandmother’s china on a high shelf in the kitchen and that night it was all spread out around the kitchen floor.”

“Someone smashed it all? That’s terrible!”

“No, no,” Michelle said, shaking her head. “The pieces weren’t broken, they were arranged all around the kitchen floor. It was really weird.”

I groaned, “Ok, that is much worse.”

“It was,” she agreed. “After that happened I accepted that I had a ghost in my house. I tried talking to it. I sat in my kitchen and told it that it was welcome to stay but that it had to stop messing around with my things.”

I scrunched up my nose and shook my head.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” she said, her voice raising. “My daughter told me that when she woke up in the morning she’d find the books from her book shelf situated across the floor in little stacks. She thought maybe she was doing it in her sleep and I didn’t want to scare her and tell her what else had been happening in the house. Then my son said he’d woken up and heard footsteps outside his door in the middle of the night.”

“Ugh,” I breathed.

“He told me it sounded like a small dog pacing around. He peeked his head out into the hallway and didn’t see anything so he convinced himself that he’d been dreaming. I didn’t tell him that heard the same thing several nights before.”

“Could it have been Moose?” I asked, hopefully.

“No, he sleeps next to me and I close my bedroom door at night. The fact was, things were escalating. My coffee table would be moved just enough so that I would bang my knee on it when I walked past. The shower head would be turned out towards the bathroom so when I turned on the faucet I’d got soaked. If I grabbed a Diet Coke from the fridge it would explode when I opened it like it had been shaken. It was constant.”

“What an annoying ghost,” I commented, hiding a smile.

“It wasn’t a ghost,” Michelle said, staring straight ahead.

“Oh no, don’t tell me it was your stalker,” I said, feeling the first twinge of fear.

“I was sitting at my kitchen island eating dinner one night. It was a Friday and I’d gotten home from work about an hour earlier, I was trying to relax because the kids were with Greg for the weekend.  

“So, I get this text from my nextdoor neighbor, Tiff, asking if I was home. I texted back that I was there, I figured she wanted me to let her dog out or something, but she immediately replied, ‘I’m calling you. Answer the phone and agree with what I am saying, OK?’ So then I figured she was at some event that she needed to get out of and wanted me to pretend to be an urgent phone call.”

Michelle took a deep breath, “My cell phone rang and I answered it saying something like, ‘What are you stuck at a PTO mixer or something?’ But Tiff said, ‘Shut up and listen to me. There is a man in the crawl space at the side of your house. Don’t panic, just say something else about the PTO so I know you’re alright.’”

“Oh my God,” I breathed, I’d prefer ghost china plate floor checkers over this any day.  

“I was so terrified that I couldn’t speak. Tiff insisted that I say something so she knew I was alright, so I whispered, “I don’t like the PTO.”

Despite how terrifying her story was, I laughed at Michelle’s response.

“Thank God for her,” Michelle said, sharing the laugh. “She’d seen the guy come out of the woods behind my house, crouch near the sliding glass door for a while then open the old root cellar on the side of my home closest to hers and walk in. She’d called the police before she called me.

“Tiff told me, ‘I’m going to ring your doorbell right now, open the door and come outside.’ So, I did. I called for Moose to follow me and the doorbell rang. I rushed out and the two of us sprinted to her house together.”

I realized that I had been holding my breath. “Who was it?” I demanded.

Michelle shook her head and took a sip of coffee. “Edward Koch, a man from my moving company.”

What?” I said, shocked.

“He was one of the guys who’d helped move my stuff from my old house into this house. The night he was arrested he confessed to ‘watching out for me’ ever since he’d helped me move in. He told them that he was worried about me being alone so close to the woods so he checked on me whenever he could.”

Shut up,” I breathed.

“The guy was psychotic. I told the police about all the strange things that had been happening in my home and Edward confessed to ‘letting himself in once in awhile.’” Since she’d begun to tell me about Edward Koch, the air quotes had been flying and Michelle began to show a rage that must have been simmering just beneath the surface all along. She continued, “He admitted that he may have ‘tidied up for me’ for me a few times but he absolutely denied doing anything with my china or moving any of the furniture. The detectives I spoke with told me that he’d become enraged when they accused him of turning on my gas fireplace. I guess he ranted on and on about how that was exactly why I ‘needed’ him there watching over me.”

“Oh, Michelle,” I said sadly, unable to imagine how terrifying it would be to realize that not only had someone been stalking you for months, they’d been in your home while you were there without knowing it. I thought of Chris and my girls and the dumb luck that had kept us safe all these years. I wanted to insist that Michelle come live with us in our tiny home. I wanted to scream about the state of our mental health care and legal systems. I wanted to have the super power that I’ve always wanted: the ability to touch someone’s hand and make them forget their most painful memory but hold onto any good that it brought them.

Michelle and I sat silently, each lost in our own thoughts for several minutes.  

Moose walked over and sat at Michelle’s feet, his lawn patrol over. “It was awful and surreal and scary but here’s the really bad part. They swabbed him and a D.N.A. match came up. It was connected with the murder of a woman in Holliston in 2015. She was found raped and strangled in her kitchen.”

No,” I said, quietly.

“Her name was Emily. She ran a catering company out of her home and she had two children, two girls. She was recently divorced and had used the same moving company.”

“Michelle,” I stammered, trying to process her story.

“I looked up her photo online, I look just like her.”

“My God, I am so sorry. Oh, thank God your neighbor saw him that night.”

“I know, I got lucky. As awful as it all was it woke me up. I look back at the me I was before all of that happened and I don’t even recognize myself. I drank too much and ate too much and cared too much about what everyone else thought of me and my life. I nearly had a nervous breakdown over what everyone would think about my divorce.

“Even my friends, they weren’t really friends. They were people that I partied and gossiped with. I had no idea who I was so I just relied on everyone else to tell me who they wanted me to be and as you can imagine, once my marriage fell apart, I wasn’t what those people wanted me to be any longer.

“And I was hurting, you know? My soul hurt. The circle of ‘friends’ I’d built around myself certainly didn’t want to deal with that,” Michelle picked at a cuticle absently as she spoke.  

“So I had been muddling my way through that and meanwhile, Edward Koch was stalking me and I didn’t even know it. Once I’d found out about poor Emily things just snapped. It’s strange to say but it was a clean before and after. It took some time to untangle my life and it’s a total work in progress, but I don’t think I’m a total asshole anymore.”

I gave a short laugh despite fighting back tears, “You don’t come across as an asshole,” I said.

Michelle looked at me for a long minute. Longer than felt comfortable.

Finally she said, “I’m going to tell you something absolutely insane, so just remember your first impression of me ok?”

“Ok,” I agreed, crossing my fingers out of habit. Though Michelle seemed grounded, she was almost too grounded for having gone through such trauma. I was getting a vibe, but I couldn’t place it.

“Edward Koch wasn’t the only thing in my house,” Michelle whispered, as though she didn’t want Moose or the chickens to hear her.

“What do you mean?”  

“He opened the path for a gremlin,” she said so quietly that I almost couldn’t hear her.

I laughed nervously, unable to think of a response.

“A real gremlin,” she insisted, leaning towards me. “It came in from the woods. His energy called the thing forward.”

I stared out at the woods and considered leaving. Immediately. When I looked back Michelle was smiling and staring at me, which made me even more uncomfortable. She said, “You are going to think I am off my rocker. I knew it. This is why I never talk about what happened.”

“Well, what did happen?” I asked cautiously. I placed my coffee mug on the garden stool next to me. I wanted to be able to jump up if I had to. Should I take Moose with me? I wondered, panicked. What about all the chickens? They’re better off here, my dogs would kill them. But they’ll absolutely love Moose…

Michelle interrupted my frantic plans saying, “Things were nuts after that man was arrested. My husband was afraid to let the kids stay with me. I suppose I was worried about it too, but I couldn’t stand being home alone. Every noise, every creak or crack was an intruder. Greg insisted that I install a security system, which I did but it didn’t make me feel any safer.

“I had the door to the root cellar sealed off so no one could get in there again. But I began having these horrible dreams that I got sealed in there by Edward. I dreamt of the sliver of light disappearing as he spackled over the door.

“I began to obsess about the space. I had these irrational circular thoughts that maybe my handyman had trapped someone in the root cellar when he sealed it off. I would wake up in the middle of the night consumed with the idea that I had to go right then to unseal the door and check. But I never went because I was terrified of being outside by myself, especially at night.

“The police found a tree set back a bit, over there,” Michelle pointed to a spot in the woods past the chicken coop, “There’s an oak tree in there and apparently Edward would climb it and watch my windows at night. They found a waterproof bag nailed to it. It held binoculars, a black facemask and a few Power Bars.”

“He was out there long enough to snack while he watched you?” I interrupted.

“Mm hmm. In court I listened to him brag about spending every moment he could making sure that I was safe. The weirdest thing was that I saw an evidence photo of the bag and its contents during the trial. The Power Bars were my favorite flavor. I never asked whether it was just a coincidence, you know? That we just happened to have the same taste for energy bars or if he actually knew that about me.”

Michelle stopped talking and stared at the trees, lost in thought again.

“What kind of Power Bar was it?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“Protein Plus chocolate mint cookie,” she said, looking over at me.

“Uck. Well, that couldn’t have been a coincidence. I can’t imagine many people eat those for enjoyment.”

Michelle began giggling and then started to full on laugh.

I smiled awkwardly.

“Oh it was all so ridiculous!” She said finally, catching her breath. “It was the most ridiculous thing that ever could have happened! A man sitting in a tree eating protein bars watching me through binoculars! And for months!” She tossed the dregs of her coffee onto the grass with a flick of her wrist. “I still get caught up in it sometimes, though. Wondering what he saw in me that made me his target.”

“The guy sounds like a budding serial killer and you were unlucky enough to match his victim type,” I reasoned.

“I know that, but it’s hard not to feel like I somehow did something to catch his attention and bring it on myself. And there he was, right there,” she pointed again to the woods, “and I had absolutely no idea.”

“What was the deal with the root cellar, though?” I asked wondering if she was ever going to tell me about the gremlin. And wondering if I even wanted to know.

“Oh, the police found black plastic garbage bags, zip ties and duct tape in there. They believe he planned to kill me and then bury my body in the root cellar.” Michelle gave an exaggerated shiver, then said, “But I was going to tell you about the little monster. The one he let into my house.”

“The gremlin,” I said, slowly.

“Yes. You know, they aren’t like the ones from the movie. They act like them though, they’re mean-spirited and they have an extremely dark sense of humor.”

“How did you know it was in your house?” I asked cautiously, wondering if the monsters were only a manifestation of post-traumatic stress.

“At first I suspected that it was just a post-traumatic stress,” she admitted.

Well, at least she considered it, I thought.

“But the problem was that some of the things that had been happening in my house when that man was stalking me continued to happen. For a time I really thought that I was losing my mind. Edward was in jail. He couldn’t be doing it. I wondered if it was me. I thought maybe I was somehow blacking out and doing these things in a sort of PTSD episode.”

“What sorts of things were happening? The furniture moving and stuff?”

“Yes, especially the couch. I came down one morning and it was facing the opposite direction. Nothing else was disturbed in the room.”

“Get out of here.”

“No, really,” she insisted, “It was as though someone had just picked it up and spun it around. There weren’t any drag marks on the carpet.”

“Oh my God, what did you do? I would have thought some other crazy person had broken in.”

“That’s exactly what I thought. I ran out and went straight to the neighbors to call the police.”

“Good girl,” I said, nodding my head.

“It was so embarrassing, really. They didn’t find anything and I know they suspected that I had moved the couch for attention or something. Even my neighbor was looking at me funny.

“So after that, when things happened I didn’t call the police anymore. I needed proof first, so I set up the cameras.”

“Uh oh,” I said quietly.

“The first thing I did was have that root cellar unsealed. I couldn’t get the damn thing out of my mind. It may have been me just fixating on it as some sort of after effect from the stalking. Whatever it was, I had to open it back up. The alarm company arranged cameras all over the exterior of the house. One was trained right on that root cellar door, two more on the back yard and one over the front door.

“I asked them to install cameras in every single room of the house too. I know the technician thought I was paranoid, but what was I supposed to do? Any time I mentioned to my ex-husband or to one of my friends that things were still happening in the house they tip-toed around mentioning medication and psychiatrists. I had to prove that something was happening in this house.

“I thought I would just capture things moving on their own or best case scenario an actual ghost fumbling around with my stuff-”

“Best case scenario?” I interrupted. “That sounds like the worst case to me.”

“No, that’s not the worst case. It can get much worse than that.”

I stared at her.

“You know what? Let’s go inside,” she said suddenly. “I’m still not comfortable being near these woods for too long.”

I was torn. Which was worse? Being inside with a couch moving gremlin, or outside where a PowerBar eating creeper once lurked? I had no choice really, so I followed her back inside, somewhat relieved when I realized Moose would tag along.

“Let’s sit in the living room,” she suggested.

“Are you sure?” I blurted.

“Yes,” she replied with a smile. “The gremlin is gone now. I promise.”

She refilled my coffee cup and grabbed a tin foil covered tray and two plates. I followed her to the front of the house and into the living room. The emerald green couch sat there, almost daring me to sit down upon it. I chose one of the happy pink arm chairs self-consciously. Michelle chose its twin.

She placed the plates on the table and unwrapped the tray and I gasped.

Michelle said, “Oh no, do you like pastries? I made these yesterday, they are cheese and raspberry danishes.”

“They’re beautiful,” I said sincerely.

“Here, have one, or two, really, I don’t want to eat them all myself.”

“Thank you,” I replied, accepting a plate. Michelle watched me take a bite and I closed my eyes and nodded. The things were delicious.

“Alright, where did I leave off? Oh, the cameras. Right, so one night I was walking up the stairs to bed and something bit me on the back of my leg.”

“What?”

“It hurt so much that it almost felt like I’d been burned. I spun around and didn’t see anything but the basket on the hallway table,” she gestured towards the stairway, visible from where we were sitting. A long table ran along the wall beneath the stairs, a wicker basket filled with magazines and envelopes sat at its center. “That basket fell and spilled mail all over the floor just seconds after I was bitten.

“My initial thought was that a raccoon had gotten into the house. I was afraid it might be rabid so I called 911. They sent animal control and an ambulance which was totally unnecessary. The animal control officer was great. She looked at the bite on my leg to get an idea for the size of the animal. She took some time studying it and I could tell that she didn’t recognize the bite mark. She insisted that I show her Moose’s rabies vaccination certificate just in case the thing came out and bit him,” Michelle grimaced at the thought. “After that she searched the house, top to bottom. She didn’t find anything.

“I assured her and the paramedics that I would contact my doctor for my own rabies vaccinations and then they left.”

“How did you stay here?” I asked.

“I holed up with Moose in my bedroom. I brought a broom with me thinking that I could swat an animal away if it tried to attack me.”

“Good Lord,” I said, shaking my head.

“It was only then that I remembered the cameras. There wasn’t one facing the stairway, exactly, but one was positioned to capture the entire entryway. The alarm company arranged it so that I could log into their system and watch the feed from all of the cameras and I paid extra, a lot extra, so that none of the camera recordings in my home would ever be deleted. I wanted the ability to review any date or time any time I wanted.

“All that was well and good but that night, locked securely in the bedroom, I realized that I’d left the laptop in the kitchen and I had to go downstairs to get it. I held that damn broom out in front of me like a sword.” Michelle laughed a little. “When I got back to my room I logged in and found the footage from the foyer.

“I was able to watch the scene as I walked through the foyer though I didn’t have a view of me climbing the stairs. But I heard myself cry out when I was bitten and then there was this blur right before the mail basket fell over. I rewatched the moment several times and then tinkered around with the settings until I was able to brighten the picture slightly.

“That was the first time I actually saw it.”

“The gremlin.”

“Yes. He was small. Only about a foot tall, if that. He’d knocked over the basket as he swung himself through the stair poles. Then I saw a flash of him dropping to the ground and running towards the kitchen.”

“You’re kidding me,” I said in disbelief. “You really caught one of them on tape?”

“I did. I rewound the footage further, and I actually saw him creeping along behind me in the hallway. He had followed me up the stairs.”

Here I was stuck in-between complete disbelief and sheer terror. Either this woman had completely lost touch with reality after her stalking nightmare or I was now living in a fresh new hell where gremlins existed.

“Can I see the video?” I asked.

“Oh sure. Let me grab my laptop,” Michelle said brightly.

Shit, I thought.  

Michelle placed the laptop in front of me and clicked around to get to the correct file. I noticed that there were three other files alongside it in the folder named “Gremlin.” Each was titled with a date and time. I felt frightened.

I leaned forward as a black and white video began to play on the screen. The picture was quite clear, Michelle must have invested a fortune on her surveillance system. She sat on the arm of my chair and watched me watching the video. For a moment all I saw was a still view of the entryway. The perspective was set to watch over the front door and it captured most of the hallway and the very edge of the staircase and the long hall table with it’s mail basket.

I glanced up at the very table I was watching on the screen. It was chilling. Looking back down at the computer screen I watched as Michelle’s back came into view. She was walking towards the front door wearing a pair of boxer shorts and a t-shirt. She stopped to check that the deadbolt was in place then turned to walk up the steps. A few beats later I heard her say, “Ouch! Damn it all!” And a blink of an eye later the basket on the table flew off onto the ground. The entire scene took less than fifteen seconds.

“Did you see it?” Michelle asked.

I shook my head. I hadn’t seen anyone but Michelle.
“He’s fast and light, look again. Focus your attention behind me, at my feet,” she instructed. She replayed the clip. We watched and I focused on the area around Michelle’s ankles.

Then I saw it.

I gasped and pointed, but could not speak.

“You saw him,” Michelle said quietly.

“Play it again,” I demanded, then, “Please.”

She played it again and I saw the damn thing again.

He (She? It?) was small, just as Michelle had described. It, let’s just go with “it”, was right at Michelle’s ankles. I don’t know how it didn’t bump into her it was moving so close. It didn’t look like the gremlins from, well, Gremlins, it was like a small misshapen person. I couldn’t see the details of it, but it made me think of a funny-looking Ken doll with thick arms and legs and a head of bushy hair. The head was disproportionately large for its body and the thing could move. When it sort of threw itself through the stairway poles and kicked over the basket it was more of a flash than anything else.

I played the clip again. Trying really hard to explain away the little creature.

Finally I asked, “Who else have you shown this to?”

“No one!” Michelle exclaimed, standing up and walking back to her chair.

“Why not? You have proof that creatures are real! Oh my God, creatures are real. I mean I know that. I know that little man I saw in my own home and I’ve talked to people about Black Eyed Kids and lizard monsters and other stuff. But oh my God. It’s all real,” I insisted as though she didn’t know, “What are we going to do? We have to tell someone.”

I was having a moment, and I admit that it wasn’t one of my best.

“We can’t tell anyone,” Michelle replied calmly.

I stared at her for a moment and then I felt somewhat comforted by a feeling of suspicion rising within me. “You swear this is real?”

Michelle smiled, “It’s real. But what do you think people would do if I showed this around? They’d want to ‘debunk’ it or whatever those paranormal groups always say. I would be accused of trying to get attention, or being a fake.

“It’s not like people haven’t had proof of the supernatural before. There are photos and videos floating all over the internet. Believe me, I’ve spent hours on Reddit and Google, and every weirdo chatroom about cryptids. No one will believe me and I will end up looking like a total freak.”

I didn’t know what to say, but I knew she was right. I looked back down at the computer screen. “Are the other files I saw more videos of the gremlin?”

She nodded. “I recorded three other instances. The gremlin did that thing with my grandmother’s china in the kitchen again. It locked poor Moose in the root cellar and there was a situation with the chickens.”

“Did it hurt them?” I asked, worried.

“No, I don’t think so, but it ‘messed’ with them,” she replied waving a hand as if to wave away the idea.  

“Oh.” I tried not to look completely disgusted.

“It was awful, it was-”

I held up my hand, “I get the idea,” I said, cutting her off. There was only so much I could handle. “But how did you get rid of it? I mean, you really got rid of it, right?”

Michelle nodded. “There’s a medium in town, I’d heard about her through my New Age-y friend.”

“The one who brought over the Ouija board?”

“Yes, same friend. I emailed Shannon, the medium, and told her about the situation in my house and I asked if she could help me. She emailed back immediately and suggested that she visit my home that very afternoon. So she came right over and eventually got rid of the thing.”

“Wait, back up. How?”

“Um, well I guess the first thing that she did was determine what kind of gremlin I had. Turns out mine was of the Sugna breed. Some gremlins are attracted to interfering with electronics or mechanical things. They ruin cell phones and televisions or create expensive problems with one’s car. My gremlin was drawn to household mischief. My feelings of confusion and frustration fueled it, but Edward Koch’s horrible intentions towards me attracted it to my property in the first place.

“He wanted to cause the worst disruption in my household, to control and watch and ultimately kill me. He spent so much time in those woods thinking about what he was going to do to me that he drew the gremlin out.”

“How in the hell did the woman know all of this?”

“She grew up in Ireland, she made it sound like all of this just common knowledge there.”

“Alright, then how did she get rid of the thing?”

“She had me get rid of all of the mirrors in my home and cover the reflective surfaces with an orange cloth. I guess the color ‘vibrates positivity’ and the little buggers hate that. Somehow, when they are out of nature they are able to live in the mirrors or other reflective surfaces, so removing the mirrors or covering them up takes away their ability to inhabit them.”

“Reflective surfaces? I mean, that could be a million things. Like silverware and the toaster and-”

“Even the silver handle on my toilet,” Michelle confirmed. “It all had to either go or get wrapped up in orange.”

“For how long?”

“Thirty-three days. Throughout that time, on every third day, Shannon came to my house and together we smudged the property line with thyme, sage and myrrh. First we walked around three times counterclockwise, then three times clockwise.

“On day twenty-seven we knew that we’d finally chased the thing out because as it was running back into the woods it flipped that patio table over and smashed it’s glass top. We were doing the smudging and we were at the front of the house, so we didn’t see the thing, just heard the crash. It was like its last act of mischief. Its last hurrah before going back into the forest.

“Shannon completed the day’s smudging and then grabbed three bottles of mead from her car. She poured it along the entire property line, setting up a barrier so that the gremlin could never come back.”

I absorbed the details of the gremlin purging ritual for a moment then said, “Man alive, Michelle, you’ve been through the ringer. You’re incredible. I would be rocking in the corner if half of what you just said had happened to me.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not all girl power rainbows here. I still have a really hard time trusting people that I don’t know. In fact, I Googled the hell out of you,” she admitted, smiling.

“Did anything good come up?” I asked, embarrassed.

“There was a really cute public access video of you and your husband talking about running the Boston marathon for Beth Israel.”

I covered my face with my hands and groaned, “The one where it looks like I am sucking on a lemon the entire time?”

“Ha, yeah I guess so, but it was sweet,” she reassured me.

We talked a bit longer then said our goodbyes. I walked out the front door and through the garden. Whereas it had felt so peaceful and beautiful when I’d first seen Michelle’s front yard, after hearing Michelle’s story I now watched my step as though the garden were full of rattlesnakes.

I got into the car and gently placed an egg carton on the passenger seat. Michelle had given me a dozen eggs from her hens. I threw them out in a garbage can in front of Roche Brothers before I got home. A gremlin/chicken hybrid running around the house would probably be the straw that broke me.

panasonic

Nocturnal Druid contacted me through the blog. I met her in Starbuck’s and her bouncy brown ponytail,  farmer’s tan, adorable freckles and tiny figure eight tattoo on the inside of her left wrist were a surprise. Though she appeared to be in her mid-to-late thirties, our initial phone conversation lead me to believe I would be meeting a middle-aged heavy smoker. It was during that phone call that Noc explained that though she wasn’t a Welleslian herself, she had a story about a Wellesley family that I had to hear.

“I found you through an article in Wellesley Weston Magazine,” Noc explained.

“Oh, that,” I replied, a little embarrassed. “Yeah, they published part of the Dump Swap story last October.”

“Did you really see that little ghost girl?”

“I did,” I admitted.

“Cool, not many people have seen a full-on ghost.”

I considered. Noc was a ghost hunter so she’d probably seen many strange things in her time, but despite that little ghost girl and the creatures we’d seen in our home, I still didn’t know what I thought about the paranormal. I said, “I’ve spent so many years wanting to see something that really scared me, but now that I have it’s more confusing than thrilling, you know?”

Noc nodded her head in agreement. She said, “I was on this investigation once, in an abandoned mental hospital. Those places are freakin’ terrifying at night and they’re drenched in every single bad feeling you’ve ever had. So, I’m walking down this long hallway with doors on both sides, right?  And I keep thinking that I see something out of the corner of my eye in every room I pass. But when I look in? Nothing.

“Then I’m almost to the end of the hallway and again I see something in my periphery. So I look over thinking that it’ll just be a trick of the light, you know, shadows from my flashlight or something, but it wasn’t. There was a nurse in scrubs standing right there in the middle of that room. She was as real as you are now. I made eye contact with her for like, five seconds, and then she just turned and walked to the corner of the room, out of sight.”

“And that’s when I would have wet my pants,” I blurted out.

“Ha!” Noc laughed, “I just about did and I totally didn’t sleep for weeks, I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing her. But really it left me with more questions. It didn’t add up. What the hell was that woman doing there? Was it really a woman or only, like, a memory of a woman? Or just a figment of my imagination? If that’s all it was then how did she follow me along that night, through all those rooms? I get being terrified and hallucinating, but this was complicated. ‘The ghost,’” Noc does finger quotations, “Sort of lulled me into thinking there was nothing there and then showed itself at just the right moment.”

“Like it was messing with you,” I observed.

“Exactly. What motivation would a ghost nurse have for screwing with me like that?” “Maybe she was mad you were in her space,” I guessed.

“Do you really think so?” Noc pressed.

“No,” I admitted.

Noc was silent for a moment, staring at the buzzing baristas at the coffee counter. Then she asked, “Do you believe in ghosts?”

“Ghosts?” I echoed. “Yes, I mean I don’t know anymore. The more I talk to people and now that I have some head space to really think about what happened in my house, I think ghosts might be a red herring.”

“Then what is it? What are people experiencing?”

I picked at the cardboard sleeve around my latte, considering. I had formed the beginning of an opinion about the paranormal, but I knew it wasn’t a popular one among the ghost hunting set.

Finally I said, “Sure there are ghosts, you know dead people with unfinished business or loved ones they want to watch over or whatever. But I think for the most part,  it’s all some sort of deception.”

“Mm hmm,” she prodded, “But by whom?”

“Demons,” I admitted, quietly.

“Bingo,” she declared loudly, causing a businessman sitting at the table next to ours to jump.

“Wait, you think so too?” I said quietly, surprised.

“Yes!” Noc insisted, nodding her head enthusiastically. “Granted I think there are lesser gods like the earth spirits, but we know there is a hierarchy to the demonic and they can probably make themselves, you know-”

“Look like anything they want us to see,” I interjected.

“Exactly!”

“I never talk to anyone about this,” I admitted. “I’m afraid they’ll think I’m an alarmist or a Bible thumper or something.”

“Even Biddy?”

“She keeps her cards pretty close to the chest. Honestly, I don’t really know what she thinks, other than that it is dangerous to go looking into the darkness,” I said. “What made you start to suspect the paranormal was more diabolical than ghostly?”

“How old are you?” Noc asked.

“Um, thirty-” I paused, racking my brain. “Eight. I’m thirty-eight.”

“OK, well, I’m thirty-six so we were probably on the same track in terms of popular ghost theories, you know? We’ve been fed the same story over and over. Ghosts are trapped spirits who retain the personalities they had in life.”

“That old ‘if he was a jerk in life then he’ll probably be a jerk in death’ line,” I commented.

“Totally. Except, what do we know about people who’ve had near death experiences? They typically come back saying that everything we’ve ever worried about in life simply disappears and we become peaceful and even repentant for the wrongs we’ve done. So how does an angry ‘ghost,’” more finger quotes, “stomping around in an attic jive with that?”

“I’d never really thought about it that way,” I admitted.

“Yeah, well, it’s more than just that. I’ve been an investigator for almost nine years. When I started I bought the whole dead people theory but after years of investigating I can’t make my experiences fit into that narrative any longer.

“I’m not talking about the truly residual stuff,” she said quickly, waving a hand in dismissal. “Those may really be time slips or strong emotions or energy, left behind. We’ve all walked into a room after an argument, and the vibe is just different, you know? And then all those stories about dead loved ones visiting in dreams or just as they pass over – those anecdotes are always positive and loving even if that person was a jerk in life, so that I can buy.

“But dead people intentionally interacting with the living in a negative way? That I don’t buy. Why would dead people be so petty?

“Part of it is selfish, I suppose,” she went on. “I don’t even want to entertain the possibility that I might get stuck here messing with people in the middle of the night in my old house. I mean, aren’t we supposed to transcend a bit?

“You’re biting your nails,” Noc said abruptly.

“Sorry,” I apologized quickly, “I’ve had the same suspicions and you’re making me nervous. What do you think is really happening?”

“I think we are part of a game,” she replied, lowering her voice. “The devil fell to earth with thousands of other disobedient angels, right? So if the earth belongs to the devil and it appears that he can’t reach us once we are off this field, then he’s got to do his best to catch as many of us as he can while we’re here, right? And deception, like you said, is his greatest tool.”

“Yeah, and you know what else I keep coming back to?” I asked. “Distraction. It is our way of life now, we just live distracted. So there are some people who obsess about shopping or their looks, money, work, their phones, their kids, and then there are other people, like us who are distracted by this whole other world. And no matter what we are most distracted by I think the demons are right there, able to insert their, like, influence where we are most vulnerable.”

“I’ve only read a couple of your interviews, but I just knew we were on the same wavelength!” Noc declared. “I think we are getting suspicious at this particular point in time because they’re getting lazy.”

“What do you mean? It feels like things are crazier than ever,” I said.

“Oh, I totally agree that they have been ramping up their efforts, but their techniques for scaring us are stale. They’re wearing out their gimmicks, right? I mean, how many apparitions in Civil War garb or long white nightgowned ghosts can there be? How about the haunting smell of rosewater perfume or cigar smoke, or-”

“Ghost kids rolling balls across the floor,” I added.

“You got it,” she said pointing at me.

“But wait, if you really think it is all demons then why are still ghost hunting?”

“Think about it. They can’t touch us, that’s their biggest deception; convincing everyone that they actually have any power over any of us. We don’t belong to them. Never have. I like a good scare, that’s all.”

“You best be careful,” I cautioned. “Just because they can’t get you after you die doesn’t mean they can’t make your life hell.”

“Alright, true. But, and maybe this is the distraction you were talking about, but sometimes they do something truly terrifying, and I want to be there to see it. Sometimes they actually get creative. There was one haunting in Wellesley that I investigated a while back and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. When I came across your blog I knew you’d want to hear about it.”

“I can’t wait,” I said, though honestly I was a bit hesitant. If a ghost nurse simply confused her, I thought, what did she consider truly terrifying?

“So, I’m the case manager for a team of four paranormal investigators,” Noc began. “My husband Tyler is our lead tech specialist. I mean, we all have a working knowledge of the equipment but he’s the expert. We have two investigators, Patricia our team psychologist, and Maurice the demonologist. Oh and actually, this kid does most of the evidence analysis, you know after the investigation he reviews the hours of audio and video footage, marking events for us. He doesn’t come along on investigations though.”

“Ok,” I said, “But, a psychologist and a demonologist? That’s impressive.”

“Well, our clients usually need one or the other,” she replied, “Or both.”

“Lord help us,” I sighed, then asked, “What’s the name of your team?”

“Para Investigations.”

“Nice,” I commented, “How do you get cases?”

“Ty runs the website and we field inquiries from there. People contact us through the site, they are required to leave a phone number so that I can call them after an initial email response.  I don’t trust email to get an accurate read on a situation. Some people are just looking for drama and I can only really tell if they’re seriously in trouble when I have an actual conversation with them.

“After that preliminary phone interview I set a time for an in person meeting and a walk through of the haunted property. I bring Patricia along so she can make a quick evaluation of the client’s mental state. Once we get a read on the situation we either refer the client out to more appropriate resources, like mental health professionals or other medical help and then follow up with them over the next month or so to be sure they are getting the help they need. But if I believe our team is the appropriate group to help the family we take the case.

“If we accept a case I do some background research on the property’s history to prepare and we set a date for our team to go in and investigate. And we don’t just investigate a home for only one night like most teams, we spend seventy-two hours at the place. The whole team spends all three nights together and at least two of us are present in the home during the daytime as well.”

“Like that television show,” I interrupted.

“Yeah, sort of,” Noc said with a smile. “Anyway, once the investigation is done we review the evidence and I arrange for a client meeting, typically about a week later. We go over our findings and conclusions with the family and line up all of the resources they will need to resolve the haunting, if that is what they wish to do. I stay in touch with the people over the next few months, then taper off contact throughout the following year unless they need us again.”

“Man,” I said, impressed. “Do you charge for this?”

“Never!” Noc barked causing the businessman to look over at us.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply-”

“Of course you didn’t,” she affirmed, “It’s just that charging for a paranormal investigation is such outlandish bullshit. Our service points people to other people who maybe might possibly be able to help them. We’re just grateful that our clients allow us into their homes. Honestly, we should pay them. How else would we find the so-called ghosts?”

“That’s true,” I agreed.

“I know it sounds pretty involved, and it is. Even though I walk through around thirty or forty properties a year we only take on between seven and ten of those cases. A case has to be pretty extreme for us to commit. I’m not spending three days and nights in a house that only has occasional wall taps or slamming doors. The amount of time and effort we put into our investigations has to be worth it.”

“But what about the houses with the banging and slamming doors?” I asked, feeling protective and worried for those people.

“We have their homes blessed or refer them out to a different team. I mean, we help them, we just don’t camp out and give them the full court press.”

I took a sip of my latte, considering then said, “Wow, three full nights in a legitimately haunted house. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever seen?”

“I’m about to tell you,” Noc replied with a smile.

“Oh man,” I breathed.

Noc leaned forward, “So about a year and a half ago, Ty forwarded me this email inquiry from our website. It was from a woman in Wellesley who was convinced that her house was haunted and that her oldest child was being targeted by the spirit. I responded with my usual list of questions and she emailed back immediately so I picked up the phone to call her.

“She told me about the house. They’d only lived there for a couple months and they’d done a small amount of renovations before they’d moved in. She mentioned some strange things had happened during renovations but the family had been out of state at that time and only heard about them second hand from the contractor.

“So, there were four kids in the family but the mother told me that only one of them, the oldest daughter, was being sort of ‘pursued’ by the spirit. The girl had begun fighting with her siblings and wasn’t sleeping well. She was even sleep walking and hearing voices.

“This woman was convincing enough that I agreed to check the place out, but really I thought we’d just be referring them out to a pediatric psychologist.

“But I knew we might have a real case on our hands the second Patricia and I pulled into the driveway. The home was on a busy road and it had a little stream running through the back yard. As we were walking up the front door a train blew past the back of the property. The house was right on the commuter line. There was a hell of a lot of energy swirling around and, I’m telling you, it wasn’t positive.

“The house was really small, too small for a family with four kids. Laura, the client, opened the door before I even had a chance to knock and she kind of shooed us into the living room off the foyer-”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said, holding my hand out. “This wasn’t the Arnold family, was it?”

“Yeah,” Noc said, her brow furrowed, “Michael and Laura Arnold and their daughter-”

“Lilith,” I said.

“How the hell do you know that?”

“They were like my third or fourth interview!” I exclaimed.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Noc said, laughing.

“No, really,” I insisted. “I remember they told me they’d had a ghost hunting team in at one point. You didn’t read their interview on my blog?”

“No,” Noc said, laughing, “I’ve got to read it! Did she tell you anything about my team?”

“Um,” I hedged, pretty sure that I remembered Laura telling me the ghost hunting team had made things worse. “I can’t really remember,” I fibbed, “They told me they’d consulted a ton of people though.”

“Man, she totally cut us off. I suppose I can’t blame her, we only lasted two nights in that house. I insisted on getting a priest in there to bless the place before we went any further.”

“Let me go to the bathroom before you scare the hell out of me,” I muttered, getting up from the table.

Noc nodded and picked her phone up off the table to scroll through texts.

When I came back I said, “Alright, what happened?”

“Did you meet the dad, Michael?” Noc asked.

“Yup,” I replied.

“Huge guy,” Noc commented. “Total gentle giant. The middle boy, Jack, was the only kid home that first day when Patricia and I checked out the house. He was home sick from school and he sat in an armchair with an iPad while we interviewed the parents. A couple times I wanted to suggest that he go up to his room or the kitchen or something, I mean the stuff his parents were telling us was pretty fucked up, but they didn’t seem to think it was a problem.”

“What exactly did they tell you?” I asked, wondering if she got the same story from them that I did.

“They said they’d done some improvements to the home before moving in. There’d been a small fire and a few accidents during the renovations, but nothing that triggered any alarm bells at the time. After they moved in some strange stuff began happening; unexplained knocks at the front door, some of the furniture and photographs moved around, voices.

“But it was Lilith who had them the most concerned.  Everyone but Lilith slept on the second floor, while she’d set up shop in the basement. Shortly after they moved in Lilith began hearing voices calling to her in the middle of the night and though it scared her enough to sleep in her parents room for a few nights, she’d returned to the basement and wasn’t frightened any longer.

“The dad heard her speaking to someone down there too, he distinctly heard two voices whispering back and forth and he thought she’d snuck a boy in. But when he opened her bedroom door Lilith was alone and denied speaking with anyone.

“As we listened to their story I was seriously holding onto the hope that we would only need to refer these people out to one of our pediatric psychiatrists, you know? I was scared. I had this, like, really nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“It didn’t help that that place was freaking tiny, but it was more than the lack of space that made it claustrophobic. The air was heavy, like the feeling on a really humid day only it wasn’t humid – it was cold. And those people were terrified. It actually felt like they were terrified to have us in the house. Like they shouldn’t be telling us what was happening. Patricia’s read on the family was that the parents were genuinely afraid in their living situation and that they had a true fear for – and perhaps of – their eldest daughter.”

“God,” I said, “Imagine being afraid of your own daughter.”

“Terrifying, right?” Noc agreed. “Anyway, they gave us a tour of the place. The house was a modified Cape and with three tiny bedrooms and a bath upstairs. It was all freshly painted and clean, I couldn’t honestly point to anything that screamed ‘haunted house’ but the place was saturated with something that I had never experienced before. And that was just the upper floors. When they opened the door to the basement I literally had to force myself to follow them down the stairs.

“Look,” Noc said, resting her elbows on the table, “I don’t scare easily and sure, their story was creepy, but I really don’t think that’s what had me spooked. You know what it was? It felt like the house was watching us.

“I know that probably sounds wicked dramatic,” Noc said quickly.

“Not at all, well, a little bit, but I believe you,” I reassured her. “I’ve had this image in my mind of that basement since I spoke with the Arnolds. Like it was a totally normal basement with a creepy dark bedroom shoved in one corner.”

“No, it was just the opposite,” Noc said. “The basement itself was straight from a 1980s summer camp horror movie, all wood paneling and red leather furniture and ugly afghans. The Arnold’s style upstairs was a little ‘country kitchen tchotchke,’ you know, lots of pineapple art and figurines, but this was like stepping back in time. It took up half the basement to one side of the stairway. The stairway sort of bisected the space with the wood panelled hang out area to one side and a creepy unfinished room with the boiler and laundry on the other side next to the girl’s bedroom.”

“And what was that like?” I asked.

“The bedroom? Any other house, any other family and I would have described it as totally normal. A typical teenage girl’s room, you know? Lavender walls with lots of posters and magazine pages taped to them. There was even a cork board with photos of friends. They must have been people she knew back in Chicago because Michael told us that Lilith hadn’t been able to connect with any kids in Wellesley.

“When you interviewed her did Laura tell you about the symbols she found underneath the wallpaper?” Noc asked.

“She did,” I affirmed. “She told me they were painted on the walls.”

“Right, pentagrams and inverted crosses,” Noc said, shaking her head. “The thing that struck me as odd was why would someone just paper over them, you know? She told me the story about the devil-worshipper kid who’d lived in the house before them-”

“Who’d killed himself,” I added.

“Right. But think about it, if you found that stuff painted on the wall in your basement would you just throw wallpaper over it? No. You’d either try to clean it off or at least paint over it before you did anything else.”

“Totally,” I acknowledged. “And didn’t she say the wallpaper was floral patterned?”

“Yup,” Noc said, before taking a sip of her hot chocolate. “Not really the kind of thing a loner kid suspected of Satanism would typically choose to decorate his room, huh? We assumed his parents must have put it up after he passed.”

“You’re sure that was the boy’s room?” I asked.

“Mm hm. We got confirmation from the neighbors across the street. They had a girl who was a couple years younger than the boy and they had been friendly in elementary school.”

“So sad,” I murmured.

“Unimaginable,” Noc agreed.

I sighed, “So what do you think the deal with the wallpaper was?
“I don’t know, the boys parents never returned my calls or emails so I have no idea. It’s a stupid thing to be stuck on, I mean, maybe they hired someone to wallpaper over the symbols, but something didn’t sit right.”

“Do you think the parents had something to do with the boy’s death?” I asked shocked.

“No, no,” Noc said quickly, “It’s more that I wonder if they might have been satan worshippers too.”

“Get out of here,” I said, skeptically. “Did the neighbors tell you anything else about the family?”

“They confirmed what the next door neighbor had told Laura, the kid wore black all the time and that there was heavy suspicion he had killed at least two of the neighborhood cats.”

“Ugh, is that even really a thing?”

“What do you think?” Noc replied, raising her eyebrows. “Who knows, he could have just been a troubled boy and people created rumors about him because of the way he dressed and acted.”

“But the inverted crosses,” I pointed out.

Noc nodded her head causing her ponytail to bounce, “And here’s the thing, Laura told me that the symbols weren’t just scrawled willy-nilly on the wall, they formed a pattern. Four inverted crosses created a sort of box around a pentagram.

“Laura insisted that there was no way Lilith could have seen the pattern on the wall. She immediately painted over it once she found it. And yet, she found the exact same image drawn over and over again in Laura’s school notebooks.”

“Shush,” I said, chilled.

“Laura showed me one of the notebooks. Apparently Lilith insisted they were just mindless doodles.”

“Uh uh.”

“Yeah, and really that was the detail that pushed me into taking the case. As much as I wanted nothing to do with that home, I knew we had to start our investigation immediately. So I rallied the troops and we decided to go that very weekend. We planned to stay from Friday morning around eight o’clock through the same time Monday morning.”

“Was the family home while you investigated?” I asked, surprised.

“Typically we ask the family to stay in the house the first night and request that they stay elsewhere for nights two and three,” Noc explained. “I like to compare what it’s like with the family there to the vibe when they are gone.”

“But you all didn’t make it to the third night,” I recalled.

“Nope,” Noc confessed. “That second night was,” she paused, considering, “It was the scariest night of my life.”

I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the rest of the story. I was already completely freaked out at the thought of that dark cramped basement and a daughter who wasn’t acting like herself.

“We got there a little early,” Noc continued, “Just as the kids were on their way out the door for school. That was the first glimpse I’d gotten of Lilith. She was a cute kid, tiny like her mom, you know? She had on black workout pants and a black hooded sweatshirt and she had the standard long wavy hair that all young girls seem to have now. Jet black like her mother’s. At first glimpse she just seemed like a typical surly teenager. But the way she treated her mother was a step below. It was really harsh. Dismissive almost, like Laura just didn’t matter.

“The other kids were perfectly normal, you know respectful of their parents and their interactions with one another seemed fine. But Laura and Lilith had this super tense exchange over a medication that Lilith was supposed to be taking. Everyone was in the kitchen and Laura held a pill out to her with a glass of water and Lilith stared right at her mother for a moment before saying, ‘You and I both know that pill isn’t the answer, Laura.’

“My mother would’ve raised holy hell if I had spoken to her like that,” Noc said seriously. “And in front of house guests?” She shook her head. “Anyway, the kids left for school and Laura and Michael went to work. Once they were all gone the team toured the house. We needed to set up a home base for the computer and multiple screens we use to watch live feed during the investigation.

“We decided to set up shop in the finished half of the basement.”

“Come on,” I said.

“It wasn’t ideal,” she admitted, “I try to be aware of how the environment can influence our read on a situation. The place was dark and creepy, all low ceilings and wood panelling. And damp,” she added. “But the house was so small that it was the only place we could have  some space to ourselves while monitoring the family and the house.

“Once we’d brought in all our equipment and set up home base and established the feed from the cameras placed in each room, Ty and I did the first walk through. We like to record baseline readings during the daytime and it helps to work out any kinks in the command center or cameras.”

“What exactly do you do on that initial walk through?” I asked.

“We typically work top down in a house. If there’s an attic we start there. We conduct short EVP sessions in every room and take temperature and EMF readings when the house is quiet during the daytime. There was no attic space so we began in the master bedroom.

“We started that first session by introducing ourselves to the house. I made it clear that we were there to help the family and we wanted to interact with whoever or whatever was in the house causing the disturbance. Then I invited the entity to speak into the recorder. Right off the bat, I played back the recording and we heard a deep growly laugh.

“I’ve heard creepy shit before, but this laugh was fucking terrifying. It made me almost drop the recorder. Ty took it out of my hand and listened to the laugh again. Then he turned on the recorder and asked, ‘Who is here with us?’

“The bedroom was freezing and I had this overwhelming feeling that there was something in the closet. It was totally irrational, but I couldn’t shake it. Ty wound back the recorder and we listened.

“There was a low grumbling that we couldn’t make out at first but we listened again and I heard it. It said my name. My real name. I changed my name when I was nineteen, it’s a long story but I dated this psycho guy and, well, it’s a long story. But listen, no one has called me by that name in over fifteen years.”

“Holy shit,” I said, wondering about the terrible relationship that had prompted such a unique name change and knowing that I dare not ask.

“Look, I’m not just trying to act tough when I say this, but I don’t scare easily. I’ve been through too much crap in real life not to mention the fact that I’ve been in some incredibly haunted places. But that – hearing my real name growled into a digital recorder? That scared me. I seriously considered packing up right then and there. But Ty and I talked through it and I realized that the demon was trying to get rid of me by hitting right where he knew it would hurt. That name isn’t me anymore and hearing it brought back a wave of awful memories.”

“I don’t know how you didn’t just run out of that house,” I said, recalling Biddy’s recording of the shadow figure using her real name, Bridget, in their very first meeting. This wasn’t a good sign.

“Well, I didn’t need anymore proof that we were dealing with the demonic, that’s for sure,” Noc continued. “I wanted to call in a priest right away but Ty disagreed. He argued that we needed to document as much as we possibly could. It made sense, I mean that’s what we were there for, but I had a really bad feeling about that house.

“I convinced him to hold a team meeting and let everyone vote on whether to stay or go. I lost, three to one.

“So we pressed on, methodically moving through each room on the second and first floors. We didn’t record any more EVPs so my anxiety lowered a little that is, until we went down into the basement. Maurice and Patricia were monitoring base camp so Ty and I went to the laundry room first. Aside from that oppressive feeling of being watched we didn’t find anything strange in there. Then we went into Lilith’s room.”

Noc took a deep breath before continuing, “We closed the door behind us and Ty began taking temperature and EMF readings. The room proved to be cooler than the rest of the basement and the EMF detector spiked. Of course, both of those readings could have been explained away by some naturally occurring phenomena, but when we get readings like that in an area of known activity we pay attention.

“I began the EVP session by asking if the entity who had been speaking to Lilith would like to speak with us. Things happened quickly after that. First, this big stuffed dog fell off the shelf above Lilith’s bed, making us both jump. Then Ty pointed behind me, my back was to the small half window with a ground level view of the back yard. I spun around and basically yelled, ‘What did you see?’ He began to tell me when I heard Patricia scream from the other side of the basement.

“So, we rushed out of the room and while I went right to command center, Ty blew past me up the basement stairs. I called to him but he didn’t answer me so I just focused on Patricia.  

“She was standing up at the desk with her headphones in her hands and Maurice looked stunned.”

“‘What the hell happened?’ I demanded.

“‘Did you hear it?’ Patricia asked, ‘Did you hear it say my name?’”

“Oh no,” I said quietly.

“Patricia had been listening to the audio from Lilith’s bedroom camera through her headphones so we wouldn’t pick up the recording during our EVP session. She told us that just as I asked who was talking to Lilith she heard a child’s voice say, ‘Patricia remembers me.’”

“Oh fuck,” I breathed.

“Yeah,” Noc said, “The reason Patricia began investigating hauntings was because growing up she played with an imaginary friend at their Cape house every summer. Her friend always wanted to play far out in the woods behind their house. There was an accident with an old tree house and whatever it was, it made Patricia suspicious of the girl. She began to suspect the girl was trying to kill her.”

“What in the what?” I said. “Ok, there is a lot to unpack with that whole nightmare, but you’re telling me that Patricia heard that little girl’s voice over the recording in the Arnold’s house?”

“Yup,” Noc confirmed. “It sounds impossible, but she was so rattled I knew that it was true.”

Noc looked down at the table. FInally she said, “We should have left right then. I should have insisted that leave we immediately and call the church.”

“Wait, what did Tyler see out the window in Lilith’s room? Why did he run right upstairs?”

Noc sighed, “Oh right. He saw a little gray goat walk through the yard, right past the window.”

“No way!” I exclaimed.

“He went right outside to see if maybe it was, you know, like-”

“A neighborhood goat just wondering around?” I interrupted.

She laughed, “Yeah. When he came back inside we rewound the video recording on the off chance that we may have caught the animal on tape, but the camera only caught a shadow pass by the window. Ty insisted that it wasn’t a dog. He saw it’s hooves.”

I just shook my head.

“Anyhow, Patricia was so shaken that we decided to skip the final EVP session we’d planned for the command center area. Instead, we sat in the kitchen and made our game plan for the coming night. We decided that Ty and I would camp out down in the basement while Patricia took the second floor and Maurice monitored the first.

“Typically the first night of an investigation we just get a lay of the land, you know? A feel for the house and it’s little quirks and noises. We sit and listen and might do some short EVP work but really what we want is for the the house to settle around us.

“The rest of day was quiet, but the home was oppressive. Maurice worked around the house double checking his equipment. Ty and I hung out in the basement and Patricia stayed at the kitchen table. She likes to do what she calls ‘free association writing’ during daytime investigations. She says it helps her to get in touch with the feelings the house brings out in her.

“Anyway, Laura got home from work around two thirty that afternoon and the kids rolled in a little after three.”

“Did you tell Laura about the recordings?” I asked.

“No. No way. We don’t share anything with the family until we’ve had time to prepare a full report of our findings after the investigation. That afternoon Patricia and I interviewed the little kids together. They were adorable and pretty normal, if a bit shell shocked. The twins, Carrie and Rosemary, told us that they’d heard the voices while playing video games in the basement.”

“What did the voices say?” I asked, not wanting to know.

“The girls told us the voices sang songs and told jokes,” Noc said, her eyebrows raised.

Shivers,” I said.

“Yeah, I mean, they seemed genuine. They told us they didn’t go into the basement anymore, and get this – they said they stopped ‘after Lil told us the voices were dead people.’”

“Ugh,” I groaned. “What about the little boy? I remember Laura saying Lilith attacked him or something.”

“He wouldn’t tell us a thing, but I could see that he was legitimately frightened of his older sister. He actually shushed his little sisters when they told us about Lilith and the voices. He goes, ‘You know she can hear us. Shut up!’

“Where was Lilith?”

“In her room.”

“Did you interview her?”

“Yeah, her dad made her come upstairs to speak with us but she didn’t say much. I asked her about the voices and Patricia tried to press her about how she was ‘feeling.’ She pretty much only gave one word answers, but she did ask one thing.”

Noc paused and I demanded, “What? What did she ask you?”

“She asked me if I’d spoken to the ‘scribe’ yet.”

“What does that mean?”

“We’ll get there,” Noc replied after a moment.

I sat back in my seat and said, “Alright, the build up is killing me. What happened to you in that house?”

“Sorry, I just want to give you a lay of the land. We waited for the family to go to bed that first night and we sat and listened and watched. Nothing happened. Well, we did catch Lilith standing in the middle of her bedroom for about and hour and a half in the middle of the night. She was turned away from the camera, so we couldn’t tell what she was doing. She just sort of stood there, shifting back and forth from foot to foot, her hands just hanging at her sides. So, you know, take that for whatever it’s worth I guess. I suppose she could have just been putting on a show for us, but that kid was creepy.

“When she came out of her bedroom in the morning it was Patricia and Ty manning the command center. She peeked around the basement stairs at them and said, ‘You’ve upset them.’ They asked her who she was talking about and she just stood there staring.”

“I have no idea how you all stayed in that house,” I said.

“It was stupid, we shouldn’t have,” Noc replied honestly. “The family cleared out after breakfast, Patricia and I took naps on the couch and Ty and Maurice took the first daytime shift. They reported steady knocking coming from the ceiling in the master bedroom, but other than that, nothing. When it was their turn to nap Patricia and I conducted EVP sessions in the upstairs bedrooms, but things up there had gone quiet. No more knocking, no EVP responses. So we headed to the basement.”

“Uh uh,” I said.

“We started in the command center area because we’d skipped it the night before. We got two responses. Patricia asked if her imaginary friend was with us and a woman’s voice replied ‘yes.’ Then I asked if she had a message for Patricia. The voice that we recorded, it changed, it was the same woman but she was angry. She said, ‘We almost had you.’”

“Demonic,” I said quietly.

“Yup,” Noc agreed. “The day was creepy, but as nighttime came we all started to feel, I don’t know, I guess the only way to describe it is this, like, impending doom. It felt like we were trapped in a web.

“So, darkness fell,” Noc said dramatically, “and we split up. Maurice and I at the command center, Ty on the first floor, Patricia on the second. Maurice and I watched as Ty and Patricia walked through the rooms, attempting to capture EVPs or any other indication of paranormal activity. Around nine-thirty Ty got the first hit. He held the voice recorder up to the camera in the kitchen so that Maurice and I could hear it. We,” Noc paused again, seeming uncertain of how to continue.

“What?” I prompted, “What did it say?”

She looked down at her hands on the table for a moment then said, “You know what? Let me get through the rest of the night and then I can play the recording for you. I brought the actual recording. We saved it.”

“Ok, sure,” I said, thinking, Come on, man, get to the punchline.

“Sorry I’m scattered, that night, well it had a real fallout. None of us left that house alone. Every single one of us brought something home with us that night. Things attached. Patricia still hears that woman’s voice in her house every once in awhile. She’s afraid the thing is going to go after her four-year-old daughter. Poor Maurice has a shadow figure lurking in his backyard now, he lives in Concord in a very wooded area and he won’t let his kids play out there anylonger.

“And Ty and I,” Noc took a deep breath and sighed, “We’ve had some stuff happen in our home. Our basement is basically overrun.”

I waited for her to elaborate. She didn’t.

Finally she said, “So, Maurice and I are in the basement, Ty and Patricia are upstairs. At about eleven-thirty I’m watching Ty on the computer screen sitting on the couch in the living room. But then Maurice and I hear Ty call my name from the other side of the basement, near Lilith’s bedroom.”

“How?” I said, confused.

“We assumed there must have been a delay in the feed that we hadn’t recognized before. So I got up and walked around the stairs towards Lilith’s bedroom. Mind you, the basement was pitch black. We had an electric lantern and the light from the computer screens at command center, but all of the lights in the house were out.

“I had a small flashlight and I made my way towards the bedroom slowly, I called out to Ty with no answer back, but I thought maybe he was concentrating on something or needed help. Something made me stop right in the doorway, it was, well, sheer terror.

“I froze, I wanted to call out to Maurice but I couldn’t. I was able to whisper Ty’s name again and just as I did something growled in my left ear. It said, ‘He’s dead.’”

“What?” I demanded, horrified.

“I knew, I knew right then, I mean I knew that Ty was in danger. I screamed and jumped into Lilith’s bedroom, away from that voice. I spun around so that my back wasn’t to the door and just as I heard Maurice call out to me from the other side of the basement there was this low growl from the doorway. I backed up and tripped over the bed and fell down. I screamed again and saw Maurice’s flashlight beam in the hallway. I called to him to be careful and ran out to meet him. I dragged him up the basement steps, calling out to Ty the whole time.

“He was fine, of course, but I just knew we were in trouble there. Just as we were explaining what happened, Patricia rushes down the stairs from the second floor and goes, ‘There is a fucking goat standing in the middle of the backyard. It’s staring up at the house. I just saw it out the window.’”

“Oh my God,” I said with a nervous laugh. “What a nightmare.”

“It was. I refused to let Ty out of my sight after that. We left the cameras rolling and stayed together in the family room. By the time morning came we’d decided to tell the family we were packing up to go and I intended to contact a priest to have him come and do a complete exorcism of the property immediately.  

“We had everything packed up by the time Laura came to check on us that morning at ten o’clock. She was pissed. She called us amateurs and phonies who couldn’t even stay in her home long enough to give her a straight answer. I tried to explain, but she wouldn’t listen. I tried a million times to contact her that following week, I had a priest on call to come whenever she would allow it, but she only took my call once. She told me that the activity in the house had been much worse since we left and that she was disgusted with herself for allowing us into her home. Then she hung up on me.”

“Honestly,” I said, “That is so bizarre, because when the Arnolds contacted me they wanted me to put them in touch with an exorcist. At the time I felt awful that I couldn’t help them. They had misunderstood that I was only recording hauntings in Wellesley. But why wouldn’t they just call you and ask you guys to do that?”

“I don’t know. I think that poor woman felt like we abandoned her and her family by leaving early. I know she could tell how terrified we all were that morning and it probably scared the hell out of her. Which was the last thing she needed. Maybe I could have handled it better but I was so freaked out that all I wanted to do was get out of that house.

“We did review the evidence though, and in addition to all of our personal experiences in that house our cameras recorded those tapping noises Ty and Maurice reported, a kitchen chair slid out by itself on the first night, then the closet door in the master bedroom opened – also by itself – the second night of investigation, and the camera in the kitchen caught a crystal clear EVP. It didn’t mean anything to me until I read that story you wrote in Wellesley Weston magazine and I happened to see your name.”

Noc took out a small square digital recorder with headphones and slid them across the table to me. She said, “This was recorded on that second night in the house. Ty was pursuing a line of questions with the entity. He’d recorded what we assume was a demon ask, ‘Where is the scribe?’ And then,” she paused, “Well, here, listen. You’ll hear Ty’s question, there will be a few moments of silence and then tell me what you think the voice says back to him.”

I put the earbuds in, picked up the recorder and pressed ‘play.’ I heard a man’s voice, presumably Ty, ask ‘Who is the scribe?’ then there was silence for about five seconds and a low growly voice answered, ‘Elizabeth….. Sower.’

I yanked the earbuds out. My ears and fingertips tingling like they do before I have a panic attack.

“What in the hell?” I demanded. “No way. You made that,” I insisted, hopefully, “I’ll give it to you, it’s creepy. But there is absolutely no way that you could have recorded that.”

“It’s real,” she insisted quietly, “I’m sorry.”

My mind racing I picked up the earbuds and said, “Play it for me again.”

She did. It was scarier the second time.

We stared at each other for a moment.

“Alright, let’s say I’m willing to entertain the idea that this recording is real,” I said, “What in the hell does it mean? The scribe?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Noc said, excitedly.

“But I wasn’t even interviewing people when you all were investigating that house, really, the Arnolds were one of my first interviews and it happened months after you were there.”

“They’re diabolical. Time is different to them,” she said, referring to the demons in the Arnold’s home.

I slumped in my chair and said, “I don’t know what to think.”

“Well, I think you’d better watch your back,” Noc advised.

“Great,” I said, sarcastically.

Noc turned her head to watch a group of women walk by. A blur of Chloe bags, white skinny jeans and flawless skin.

“This town,” she said, under her breath.

“What about this town?” I asked.

“It’s just a weird place, full up with type A pretty ponies,” she replied with a laugh.

“I happen to know two of those pretty ponies,” I said. “I volunteer at the food pantry every week with one of them. Every week, in her own free time, she bakes cookies or pastries for the clients to snack on while they wait in line for their turn to fill their baskets with free groceries. And the other one, with the amazing eyelashes? She started a diaper bank out of her home. I just read that she fully supplied 245 Massachusetts families with diapers last year. And, I mean, I don’t know the other girl with them, but if she’s running with that crowd, she came to play.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be a jerk,” Noc began.

“I know, and I don’t mean to be defensive. You’re right. This is a weird town and there are a lot of, what did you call them? ‘Type A pretty ponies?’” I laughed, “But most of them use their privilege for good. Maybe that’s why they’re drawn here, to balance out all this darkness. Maybe they’ll end up saving us all.”

I smiled to myself imagining a bunch of highlighted, Bar Theory’d Wellesley women chasing demons down Central Street in their LuluLemon workout gear and Lily dresses.

“Point taken,” Noc Conceded. “Do you want to keep this?” She asked, holding out the recorder.

“Absolutely not,” I said immediately.

“But it’s hard proof that this shit is real,” she argued.

“That’s the last fucking thing I need,” I replied.

ghost-caught-on-tape-ghost-caught-on-tape-4523420everybody’s got ’em, so here are my two cents:

These ghost stories run in chronological order and I often make reference to past ghostly tales in the new ghostly tales.

In other words, treat the blog posts like the chapters of a book and start at the beginning.

Perhaps take a peak at my About page and then head to my first interview (For Sale: Gorgeous Five Bedroom on Wooded Estate with Au Pair Suite [and Evil Housemate] – or – “I thought it was My Grandmother” – or – “I mean, honestly. A sleeping pill every night? With an infant? What an asshole.”), then work your way forward, it’ll help for things to make a bit more sense.

Boo. – Liz

unnamed-3There is a house on Linden Street that is no longer a home. Its fenced back yard is bordered by a large commuter parking lot, beyond which sits the Wellesley Square train station. Next door is a dated office building whose lawn boasts a large blow up snowman every winter. Across Linden Street live apartment buildings, and the usual suspects of suburban retail (the grocery store, gas station, Starbucks, California Pizza Kitchen, CVS and Talbot’s) exist within walking distance. Though surrounded by the hustle and bustle of suburban living, the large house stands apart.

From the outside the duplex (white with black shutters) looks like someone’s well-cared for home. The landscaped yard is as beautiful and controlled as any in town. The siding is a little worse for wear and the brick steps at the front door could use repointing, but by all outward appearances the house is a home.

But it isn’t. It’s an office, a rental property in fact, and Sarah Ryan is both its landlord and its tenant.

My tour of the first floor proved that, much like the house’s exterior, its interior was well-kept, if lacking personality. Alone in the center of the living room sat a massive wooden desk faced by two wingback chairs. Behind the desk chair was a grand fireplace. Light hardwood floors, pale blue walls, a worn oriental carpet and bare curtain rods decorated the large room. It’s windows overlooked busy Linden Street and there was a large poster-sized print, a foggy and depressing view of dense forest at night, mounted above the mantlepiece.

“Couldn’t you just stare at it for hours?” Sarah commented.

Sarah had installed a treadmill in the dining room. A yoga mat, several kettlebells, and a Polar Spring water bubbler kept it company underneath a small crystal chandelier.

The kitchen hadn’t been updated in at least thirty years. A modern, four person table sat out of place beneath a stained glass window. The kitchen was neat as a pin and Sarah  admitted that she had a cleaning service visit every other week.

“It’s just me and the cat, but you’d be surprised how quickly the dust bunnies multiply,” she explained.

I’d glimpsed the cat, a fat calico with huge yellow eyes, “Bertha is shy with new people,” Sarah commented.

Our tour complete, I followed her back to the foyer. She walked briskly past the stairs leading to the second floor and we returned to the living room. I took my place in a wingback at the desk while Sarah sat across from me in her ergonomic chair. We each held an ice cold Diet Coke. The desk was suspiciously free of clutter.

I asked, “What do you do for work?”

“I’m a writer,” she said, simply.

When she didn’t elaborate I asked what she was working on.

“Right now I’m writing a novel.”

Again, she offered no further explanation.

“I don’t mean to be nosey, but I write too. May I ask what your book’s about?”

“Well,” she said, glancing over my shoulder to the foyer behind me, “I had been working on a historical mystery set in Salem-”

“Awesome,” I interrupted enthusiastically.

“But,” she went on, “I scrapped it after I started working in this house. I moved in a,” she paused, “Different direction. I’m working on armageddon now.”

“Ooo, like, post apocalyptic stuff?”

“Sort of,” she said.

It was obvious she didn’t want to discuss her writing so I said, “Well, I’d love to read it when you are done.”

Sarah asked, “Are you working on anything? I mean, besides interviewing people.”

“I am,” I admitted. “I wish I made more time for it, but I’m slowly working on a mystery series about the residents of a cul de sac. Each family represents one of the seven deadly sins, and their master sin sort of informs the crime in each book.

“Just cozy mystery stuff, really. Nothing serious,” I said, feeling embarrassed as I did every time I shared my writing with someone.

“Interesting,” she replied.

“It’s just a hobby really, but look at you. You’ve got an entire house devoted to your writing. I would kill for this kind of quiet, you can’t even hear the cars driving by.”

“I know it probably seems ridiculous, me alone in this big house, but I’ve been thinking about writing full-time for a long time and this felt like the year to do it. I got engaged last winter-”

“Congratulations,” I said automatically.

“Thank you,” she replied, holding up her ring finger and a sizable cushion cut diamond set in a platinum band.

“Gorgeous,” I replied.

“Thank you,” she said again. “Paxton picked it out himself. His proposal was a complete surprise. We’d only been dating for three months.

“It was Pax who found this space for me, you know. It was his idea for me to focus on writing full-time, really. He knew I wasn’t in love with my job, I was working in the human resources department at Boston College, and it’s not like I was going to keep it up once we have kids. Writing is something I can do from home.”

As she spoke, I tried to gauge Sarah’s age. She had to be somewhere between twenty-five and thirty, but it was hard to tell. Her face was young but her outfit, a grown-up belted A-line navy blue dress and pretty sable brown pumps, was throwing me.

“I admit I have gotten more writing done here than ever before, but the house is strange,” she continued, “It might be better if I could find a tenant to share it with me, but no one has responded to my ads.”

“Tell me about the house,” I said, eager to hear her story.

“Things happen here, strange things.”

I placed the disgusting drink on a John Derian coaster atop the desk and sat back in my seat. I’d recently turned thirty-eight and something had shifted within me. I had been practicing the art of listening, or, more accurately, shutting up. I’d even downloaded the Headspace app. I was trying really, really hard not to be such a nervous, chattery wreck.

I waited for Sarah to tell me her story. She’d asked me here, after all. She’d messaged me on Twitter after seeing my business card tacked to the community board in Cafe Nero.

Sarah glanced behind me again, and I fought the urge to turn around.

She looked down at my digital recorder and using both hands tucked her pin straight, long blond hair behind her ears.

Finally, she said, “When I first began working here I planned to use the upstairs as my office and gym space and to sublet the first floor to someone willing to share the kitchen with me. But after about a month and a half I realized that I couldn’t stay up there.”

She paused again, and I maintained an expectant expression.

Sighing, she went on, “I usually get here at eight o’clock on weekdays and leave around two or three in the afternoon. Pax is pretty crazy about watching the bills and he was,” she paused, “Really angry when he got the first electricity bill. I mean, I swear I turned off all the lights when I left every afternoon, but when I got to the house a lot of mornings – not every morning, but most of them – the place was lit up like a hospital.”

Odd example, I thought then asked, “Do you live closeby?” I was wondering how they chose the house. The quiet emptiness of the place was unnerving.

“We live over in Poet’s Corner in Pax’s house. I’d been living in the South End with a couple girlfriends, but I moved out here right after the engagement,” she shrugged, “It’s nice to have a car and yard everything. We’ll pick out a new place after the wedding.”

I nodded encouragingly, though the more I heard about her personal life, the less encouraged I felt.

I asked, “Ok, then how did you end up with this house?”

“Pax spotted the For Sale By Owner sign in front one afternoon when he was out picking up our dry cleaning. He came right home and begged me to come see the house. He was so excited about it as an investment opportunity and he told me about his idea for me to use it as my writing space.

“On the car ride over I was just humoring him really, thinking the whole thing sounded crazy. I couldn’t just quit my job!

“I knew the house, I’d driven by it a million times running errands, but when he pulled into the driveway and I got my first real look at it, this is going to sound so nuts, but it was like I had a vision. I knew I could write here. I had to have it.”

“Wild,” I commented.

“It was!” She enthused. “Pax put in an offer that afternoon and the seller accepted it almost immediately. I gave my two weeks notice the next morning. Pax surprised me with this desk,” she said, smoothing a hand across the antique wooden surface.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” I said, “and unique. Where did he find it?”

“It’s been in his family for years, his grandfather was a journalist.”

“How cool,” I said, then, “Quitting your job and everything must have been exciting.”

“It was a whirlwind,” she admitted. “I mean, I didn’t have a bad feeling about it, but once everything was set in motion I definitely had nerves.”

She shook her head and again pushed her hair behind her ears before continuing.

“Like I said, the original plan was for me to use the upper floor as my office space and to find a tenant for the first level.”

“Who did you have in mind?” I asked, wondering what sort of business could use such a space.

“I thought maybe a massage therapist or esthetician might be interested in the house. We have a reasonable budget to build out the space for the right tenant. The woman who owned the home before us said that she never had any trouble finding business people to rent the space.”

“Did she tell you anything else about the house, or the property?”

“Just that she lived here for a year with her family while they were building a new home over by the middle school. They’d always intended to keep this house as a rental property.”

“Hmm,” I said, “So why did she sell it?”

“Her last tenant was some sort of money manager. He ended up skipping out on the last four months rent, he had a huge drug problem or something. She told us that she just couldn’t manage the property any longer, it had become too much work now that her kids were older and needed more shuttling around.”

“Ok, got it, so you were telling me about the lights? Right?” I prompted.

“Yeah, so, the lights were on most mornings when I came to open up the house. It was bizarre, but it didn’t scare me. I thought maybe they were on some sort of a timer that I didn’t know about. I suggested that to Paxton, but he just,” she pushed her hair behind her ears again, “He didn’t think that was possible.

“It kept happening so I removed all the bulbs from the recessed lighting on both floors and unscrewed the light bulbs from my desk lamps before I left every afternoon.”

“Wow,” I commented, “Did you talk to an electrician.”

“No, Pax didn’t want to spend the money,” she replied. “But that fixed the problem, anyway. Then after I’d solved that issue, the shower in the upstairs bathroom started up. The first morning I walked in and heard it running it really scared me. I thought maybe someone had broken into the house.

“I stood listening in the entryway for a minute then grabbed a broom from the hallway closet and snuck upstairs. The bathroom door was open so I creeped in and-”

“Dumb!” I said, before thinking. So much for being mindful.

“What was I supposed to do?” She asked, raising her well sculpted eyebrows.

“Call the police!” I said.

No. Some naked person in the shower wasn’t going to hurt me, I figured I could chase them out of here.”

I shook my head at her judgmentally.

“It didn’t matter anyway, there was no one there. I shoved the old shower curtain aside with the broom handle and found the hot water blasting, but the tub was empty.

“I hoped ignoring it would make it go away, but after a week I decided to tell Paxton. l didn’t want him to freak out again when he saw the water bill so I told him what was happening. He followed me to work the next day in his car, he wouldn’t believe me until he saw it for himself.

“We called a plumber but the guy wasn’t able to find an explanation. Whenever this happened the shower handle was always turned all the way to hot and the little plunger thing was pulled up to divert the water from the faucet to the shower head. It wasn’t an accident, it was intentional. Our plumber insisted that it had to be a person turning the water on, but that was impossible.

“We ended up shutting off the water to that tub which was a mess, the plumber had to open up the wall to do it but at least it fixed the problem. Things were quiet for several days and then the humming started. Pax said it had to be the pipes adjusting to having the water diverted, which made absolutely no sense. Pipes knock, they don’t hum.

“Right when I was finally settled into writing, I’d hear it. It was low and pretty, not mechanical, like a tiny little song. Just three notes,  Hmmm, HMMM, Hmmm,” she demonstrated, giving me goosebumps, “It was incredibly distracting.

“Another reason I knew it didn’t have anything to do with pipes, or the heating system, or anything else mechanical was that it followed me, no matter where I was in the house. I’d forget about it, you know, and then I’d hear it after I washed my hands in the bathroom. Or when I was making a sandwich in the kitchen. Or getting my jacket out of the hall closet.”

“Whoa,” I said, “You were alone in this house and there was humming following you from room to room? If it isn’t anything mechanical, then what was it?”

“The presence,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “I tried to convince myself that there had to be a reasonable explanation, I even had my hearing checked. But then one morning I was getting a snack in the kitchen when I heard the humming coming directly from inside one of the empty cabinets, and it was loud.

“I couldn’t make myself open that cabinet door, I was certain that if I did I’d find a woman crouched in there, humming that tune.”

“Eek,” I said, “What did Paxton say about that?”

“He blamed it on mice,” she replied evenly, “Thus the cat. Paxton just showed up with it one morning. I’ve never really been much of a cat person, but I suppose it’s nice to have the company.”

“Mice don’t hum,” I said, obviously.

“He thought I’d heard squeaking and panicked,” she replied, blinking hard as though she were forcing herself not to roll her eyes.  

“The lights and shower and even the humming I could rationalize away. But then there was this one day. I’d been writing all morning and I went downstairs to make lunch. When I went to walk back up I saw my desk chair sitting in the hallway at the top of the stairs.”

A chill overtook me. I reached out for the diet soda, not wanting it but needing to hold onto something.

“There wasn’t anyone in the house with me” Sarah continued, “I checked all the rooms and the front and back doors were locked. That’s when I accepted that there really was something happening in this house that I couldn’t explain.”

“Did you tell Paxton about that?” I asked.

“No,” she replied, shaking her head firmly. “I thought about it that night and when I came back the next day-”

“How did you get up the nerve to come back here?” I asked.

“I didn’t have a choice,” she replied. “I came inside and shut the door behind me and I spoke to the presence. I told it that I owned this house now and that if it had something to tell me then I would be happy to listen but it wasn’t going to scare me out of here with its parlor tricks.”

“What did it do?” I asked, shocked by her bravery.

“It started leaving things for me, little things. Six pennies lined up perfectly on my desk in the morning. Actually, it leaves pennies everywhere, but sometimes it will line them up or push them into a pretty pattern. And I think it has something to do with the birds. Mostly little sparrows, really, they absolutely infest the trees next to the house.

“One day I was writing and I heard a bump on the floor right in front of my desk. I got up to look, figuring it was that cat, but it was a little brown sparrow. Dead. Just laying there in front of my desk. It just sort of appeared out of nowhere.”

“God, Sarah, everything else aside, how in the hell are you getting any writing done?”

“I don’t know, I mean, there’s something about this house. I can focus here like I can’t anywhere else. Believe me, I’ve tried writing in Starbucks, taking some days off from this house, but I am so fuzzy and distracted everywhere else. When I am here I can write for hours.”

“That might be the most terrifying thing you’ve told me,” I said as gently as I could. “Despite the woman humming in the cabinets, a chair moving all by itself, penny patterns and dead birds appearing out of thin air you are able to focus here better than anywhere else? Doesn’t that strike you as a little odd?”

“I know it’s scary, but it’s a little bit magical, too.”

“I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head in disbelief.

“It was magical for a little while anyway. But then I found my desk chair sitting perfectly in the foyer. It hadn’t fallen down the stairs, it had been placed there perfectly, facing the front door when I came in that morning.

“That’s when I decided to move everything down here to the first floor. I can’t explain it, but something shifted after that.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I don’t hear the humming anymore, it’s really quiet.”

“Almost too quiet,” I acknowledged, realizing just how strange it was that we couldn’t hear the traffic on the busy road in front of the house.

“And my writing,” she said, pausing for a moment to straighten a pencil on the desk. “It’s become, sort of consuming.”

I stared at her, frightened to hear what she would tell me next.

“There have been couple times lately that I’ve sort of zoned out while I’m writing. I mean I’ve gotten going and lost track of the time in the past when I write, but this is different.

“I’ll be in the middle of a sentence and then all of a sudden I look up and hours have passed. I have pages and pages of story, but I have no memory of writing them.”

“What are they about?” I asked.

“Armageddon,” she replied very quietly.

“So that’s why you scrapped the historical mystery,” I said.

She nodded, “It’s not that I didn’t want to write it anymore, I couldn’t. It wasn’t writer’s block, I’m just compelled to write this other story.”

“Honestly, Sarah, I’m afraid to ask about it,” I admitted.

“It’s set in 2032. When it begins everyone around the world is so happy because there is this politician who’s brought peace to the Middle East. He’s really charming and generous and it seems like he will be the answer, you know? He gives everyone hope.

“Then the perspective shifts to downtown Boston and there is a huge explosion in the Prudential Center, it takes down the entire building and it’s followed by several other bombings throughout the city. No one knows who is responsible for it, and then the entire grid goes down. There will be so many dead. So many hurt and hungry and panicked,” Sarah blinked rapidly, holding back tears.

“Things pivot again to Wellesley and a small group of survivors. I can tell by the way they talk that there were more attacks. The sky is dark and there is ash everywhere. These people decide to move West, as far from the coast as possible. There are some things they talk about that I don’t understand, like, things that don’t exist yet.  

“It is all so vivid in my mind but I don’t know where it is coming from. I don’t ever know what is going to happen next in the story, it just appears on the page after I’ve sat working for a day.”

“Sarah, you’re being possessed,” I said, frightened.

“Not exactly,” she replied.

“What do you mean?”

“I think that I am just being, influenced, you know? Shown things,” she said slowly.

“Shown things? Do you think what you’re seeing is real? That it’s really going to happen?”

“I don’t know, maybe,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders.

“I can put you in touch with an exorcist,” I said quickly, not wanting to believe her.

“What? Oh, God, no. That stuff is, no. That’s not what I need,” she insisted.

“Sarah, this is serious. I think something might have attached itself to you. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but it’s not a ghost. I think it could be demonic,” I said as calmly as I could.

“No, you’ve misunderstood,” she said, adamantly. “It’s not demonic. I think, well, I have this gut feeling that it is angelic.”

“You think you’re channeling an angel?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yes,” she said, again pushing her hair behind her ears. “I think it might be using me to warn everyone about what is going to happen.”

“That would make you a prophet,” I said, incredulous.

“I don’t know what it makes me, but this is really happening and I don’t know if I can stop.”

“At least talk to this priest,” I begged, terrified and trying to do the math to figure out how many years we had left until 2032.

“How could he even help-” she began, but was interrupted by a loud bang from inside the fireplace behind her.

We both screamed.

“What the hell was that?” I demanded, standing up.

Slowly, Sarah turned in her chair and looked down into the fireplace grate.

“It’s a bird,” she said, standing up and edging around the desk away from the fireplace.

I peered around her chair and saw a small tuft of dull brown feathers.

“Is it dead?” I asked.

“I think so,” she replied. I could tell she was close to tears.

“Has that ever happened before?” I asked, grabbing my bag and my recorder off the table.

The look on her face told me everything.

In silent agreement we walked out of the large living room and into the foyer.

“What am I going to do?” She asked.

“Have you ever considered leaving and not coming back?”

“Of course I have,” she said, “But, when I stay away for a few days, I just, I don’t know, I like need to be back here. I’m almost desperate for the quiet and anyway, it’s more complicated than just leaving,” she paused, holding back.

“What?” I asked.

“Well, Pax put the mortgage in my name, so really it is mine, it’s my problem. I have to write and sell something. I have to make money and get back to the city. This has to work,” she said, looking down at her hands.

“No it doesn’t,” I insisted. “You can sell this house, tomorrow, you don’t have to be here. This isn’t safe, Sarah.”

“Paxton would be so angry,” she said quietly.

“Then he doesn’t have your best interests in mind,” I replied, way overstepping my boundries.

She looked at me, her eyes bright. Her hands pushed her hair back, “Do you really think I could-” but she didn’t finish the sentence. The door behind her flew open.

She spun around and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

“Paxton! Hi,” she said quickly.

“Hey, babe,” he said cooly. He was ridiculously good-looking, a total silver fox. CrossFit muscular and in his late forties if he was a day.

He glanced over at me then back at his fiance.

“I was driving by and saw a car in the driveway. Who’s this?” He asked eyeing me.

“This is Liz, the woman I told you about,” she replied in a sticky sweet voice, “The one who writes the ghost stories.”

I held my hand out for a shake but he ignored it, grabbed my arms and brought me in for a double cheek kiss.

Have I ever mentioned to you all how I feel about breaches of my personal space?

Well, I fucking hate them.

They make me anxious and angry and awkward. The trifecta of social torture.

I pulled back and resisted the urge to wipe my cheeks with the back of my hand. They had been actual kisses, not air kisses. I did my best to maintain a neutral expression.

“So you’re the little writing buddy Sarah’s told me about.”

Confused I glanced at Sarah and the look of panic on her face stopped me from answering. I just nodded my head.

“Well, I hope you girls were able to get some work accomplished, Sarah won’t let me even peek at her little story until it’s done,” he pulled her towards him in a sideways hug.

“We had a great talk,” I said. “But I’d better be on my way. Nice to meet you Paxton, and Sarah, let me know if you want to take me up on that offer.”

“Thanks, I’ll walk you out,” she replied.

“No, let me,” Paxton insisted.

“Don’t be silly,” I said, firmly. “My car is right in the driveway.”

“I’ll have to move my truck to let you go anyway,” Paxton replied.

Sarah watched our exchange with a smile plastered on her face.

I reached for the door handle but Paxton beat me to it.

“After you,” he said, then quietly to Sarah, “Be right back.”

Refusing to be rushed out of the house I held my hand out to Sarah, “It was great talking to you, let’s follow up about that idea for my blog. I’ll give you a call this afternoon once I’ve had more time to flesh it out.”

She shook my hand and gave me a small smile.

Then I walked through the door and down the steps to the sidewalk, Paxton right on my heels.

It felt like he was chasing me, about to pounce on my back any moment. The Boston girl within me took over. I spun around with my car keys fanned out between my fingers.

“Back off,” I said firmly.

He held up his hands, a huge smile on his face, “Whoa, sorry, I just want to get my car out of the way so you can leave.”

“Uh huh,” I said evenly.

We stared at each other for a minute and I said, “I’ll be sure to get in touch with Sarah this afternoon. If I can’t reach her I’ll stop by, or I can pop over at your house in Poet’s.”

His fake smile crinkled his eyes, “I’m sure that won’t be necessary. But Sarah needs to get back to her writing, we can’t have anyone distracting her. She has to focus.”

He turned abruptly and walked towards his car humming. It was that same tune, the one Sarah had hummed for me.

Hmmm, HMMM, hmmm.

unnamed-2“Let’s do this!” Biddy called, walking towards me at a fast clip.

“You know I don’t power walk,” I groaned.

“I’ll tone it down a notch,” she replied dismissively. “I’ve been dying to get over here since the weather turned.”

She paused, looking me over. “A Ghostbusters t-shirt, really?”

“I don’t have many short-sleeved shirts,” I replied with a shrug, pulling awkwardly at the top I usually wore as a nightshirt.

Biddy ignored my explanation and set off down the path.

“How’s everything at the house?” She asked.

“Besides living with three children, things are pretty calm,” I answered.

“You still doing a cleansing every month?” She asked seriously.

“Yes,” I replied, already out of breath.

“Good.”

We walked along for a while catching each other up on our lives and families. She told me about her new found obsession with needle point and I shared my rekindled enthusiasm for Supernatural reruns. She mentioned that she’d recently re-watched the pilot episode of X-Files and that it really held up over time.

We were about half-way around Lake Waban when she told me about Whitney Barkley’s haunting.

“You’re investigating again?” I asked in disbelief.

“Not exactly,” she replied, her arms pumping back and forth. “Father McGonagle asked me to conduct preliminary interviews for urgent cases.”

“So, investigating,” I said.

“Actually, it’s a lot like what you do,” she shot back. “How are your interviews coming, anyway?”

“Stranger and stranger,” I replied.

“I’m not surprised,” she said.

I told her about the last interview I’d conducted. While renovating his garage a man recovered an old black and white photo of a little boy. Since then the boy had been haunting him, not just in his home but everywhere he went. He’d asked me not to publish his story, that he just needed to talk to someone who would believe him. I put him in touch with Molly in hopes that the psychic could find out what it was the spirit wanted.

“Be careful with that psychic,” Biddy cautioned.

“She’s cool,” I replied.

“Just be careful,” Biddy replied knowingly.

We continued walking for a time, me trying to keep up, Biddy trying to hold back from her usual pace.

Out of the blue Biddy said, “Come on this next interview with me.”

“To the demon possessed Barkley house?” I laughed. “Nope.”

“Why not? You can record it and if they give permission then you’ll pop their story on the blog.”

I couldn’t come up with an excuse fast enough so she continued, “I’m going over there Tuesday morning at ten o’clock.”

I was about to argue that I didn’t want to be anywhere near anything that even might possibly be demonic when she said, “Good, I’ll see you then.”

Too out of breath to argue, I said, “Fine.”

***

“Them’s some pink arms,” Biddy commented. “You should really wear sunscreen.”

I didn’t respond.

“Alright, ready?” She asked, pushing sunglasses to the top of her head.

I nodded, and followed her up the Barkley’s front walkway.

The house was a small Tudor in a winding Wellesley Hills neighborhood. Though the day was sunny and warm, the home’s stucco and wood exterior looked dreary. The little house was set back from the road atop a small hill and I could see a dense treeline at the edge of the back yard.

Aside from those trees, the yard itself was devoid of landscaping. Instead of the rhododendron and evergreens present in the neighbor’s yards, the Barkley’s landscaping consisted of only dark mulch. I wondered if perhaps the homeowners were overhauling the gardens, which made me consider my own dog poop and toy strewn lawn. If not attractive, at least this yard was orderly.

Biddy took a deep breath and blew it out before climbing a set of stone steps to the front door. She rang the doorbell and looked back at me with a small smile. I waited awkwardly on the walkway, looking up at her.

We listened to a deep loud and steady barking from behind the doorway.

“Down, Tiny, shush!” We heard a woman scold.

The door opened and out barreled Tiny, a massive Bernese Mountain dog. He nearly knocked Biddy backwards off the steps then jumped up at me in what felt like an attempt to knock me to the ground so he could lick me to death.

“Tiny!” The woman shrieked, then, “Ed! The dog!”

A man’s voice entered the fray, yelling from inside the house, “Tiny! Cheese! Come get your cheese!”

The dog gave me one more kiss before bounding up the steps and back into the house.

“Oh, dear, I am so sorry. He has the worst manners. He’s still just a puppy even though he looks like a giant. We’ve only had small dogs in the past, so we are still learning how to train him, but he really is just a gentle giant,” the woman rambled. “Please, come in, come in!”

The bright day was immediately forgotten once I’d stepped inside the dimly-lit foyer. A stairway, far too grand for the home’s small dimensions, dominated the entryway.

“You must be Whitney,” Biddy said, extending her hand.

“Of course, yes, I’m sorry,” the woman replied apologetically. “I’m Whitney Barkley.”

“And I’m Edward,” a man said, walking towards us from the back of the house. “Edward Barkley.”

The dog sniffed at us and wagged it’s fluffy tail as Biddy introduced me to the couple. While Whitney’s was one of those off-putting finger tip handshakes, after Edward’s shake I had to suppress the urge to massage my knuckles.

We were invited into the kitchen at the back of the house where we sat around a circular shaped table set for tea and scones. Tiny sat panting on a small rug in front of the kitchen sink.

I sat between Biddy and Whitney, across from Edward. He was a trim little guy, probably in his mid-sixties. With wire framed glasses, a kind face and very little hair. He sat with his hands clasped atop the table.

To my left sat Whitney. It was as though she were in soft focus, not plump but soft around the edges. Her thick medium length brown hair waved prettily, without any frizz to speak of, and she had absolutely gorgeous skin. She wore red framed glasses that only a few years ago would have been considered lame, but now they were super hip. I pegged her somewhere in her early sixties.

It felt as though I were back in high school, sitting at the table with a set of a friend’s parents. It was hard to reconcile the reason for our visit with how positively ordinary these people seemed.

Whitney filled our cups and passed the plate of scones and quick count on my part proved we could each indulge in two. Score. Biddy retrieved a legal pad from her bag and placed it on the table in front of her. I saw that the top page was filled with notes.

I placed my recorder on the table and caught her eye, she nodded then said, “Alright, so as I explained on the phone, I’m here to document information for Father McGonagle. My colleague,” she said, motioning to me unessesarily, “Has been through a similar experience in her own home, and he helped clear the entity. Liz is gathering data about Wellesley and the uptick of paranormal activity in town.”

“We’ve read your blog,” Edward said to me.

Whitney shook her head in my direction and actually patted my hand, “Your stories are quite frightening, dear.”

Biddy cut in before I could respond, “Are you certain you’re alright with Liz publishing your story? Under assumed names, of course.”

“We are quite certain,” Whitney replied. “People need to know.”

“People need to know,” Edward echoed.

“Right, then let’s get started. Ultimately I am looking to document your experience, so tell me anything you think Father McGonagle should know,” Biddy said.

The wide-eyed Barkleys nodded their heads enthusiastically.

“What prompted you to seek Father McGonagle’s help?” Biddy asked.

“The haunting,” Whitney replied, aiming her response towards the voice recorder.

I took a bite of my pastry. My suspicion had been accurate. The scones were from Quebrada.

Meanwhile, Biddy remained silent, waiting for Whitney to offer more detail.

Edward looked at her and suggested, “Maybe we should start by explaining our move and how we ended up here?”

“Yes, that makes sense, honey,” Whitney agreed. “Our children are in college now. Brittany is a Senior at Middlebury and Ben, the baby, is a sophomore at Hobart and William Smith. I bet you girls have young children now, I know I’m probably not the first one to tell you but it goes fast.”

“Enjoy it,” Edward chimed in.

I smiled, falling in love with the sweet couple.

Whitney continued, “We used to live over in the baby belt. The kids went to Upham for elementary and we just loved our home, but it became too much upkeep once the kids were gone. We thought it would be good to pass it on to a young family and downsize.

“I’ve always been drawn to this side of town, we are near enough to the train station, so Ed takes the Commuter Line to work occasionally and I was excited to take up a new project.”

“And we’re closer to the church,” Edward added.

“That’s where I know you guys from!” I said, slapping my leg.

“You go Wellesley Hills?” Whitney asked, happily.

“Not as much as I should,” I confessed, “But yes, I knew that I recognized you all from somewhere.”

“We’re in the choir,” Edward said.

“That’s it!” I confirmed.

“How lovely,” Whitney said.

“Sorry!” I said sheepishly to Biddy. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“Not at all, dear,” Whitney replied. “It’s nice to know that you’re part of the congregation.

“Proximity to the church drew us to this side of town, and the house was a steal. Maybe that should have tipped us off. The home had been on the market for a little under three years. It wasn’t necessarily in terrible shape, but it had been empty all that time and needed some attention.

“The realtor assured us that there was nothing wrong with the property,” Whitney explained, “Buyers just weren’t interested in a renovation project and it was priced a bit too high for the developers to buy it as a tear down.”

“Damn developers,” Edward grumbled.

Whitney gave a sad smile and explained, “Our old home was demolished by the couple who bought it from us. They built a new house on the property and we’re still smarting a little bit from the loss.

“Anyhow,” Whitney continued with a sigh, “We were optimistic about a new start. The kids were supportive, of course. It was really more of a restoration than a renovation, and it went beautifully. We had absolutely no indication of any trouble with the house. Our first clue was the yard.”

“Mm hmm,” Edward agreed, reaching for his second scone.

“How so?” Biddy asked, flipping over a page in her notebook and making a note.

Here we go, I thought, taking a sip of tea.

“We spent a small fortune on landscaping. It had probably been fifteen years since anyone had even touched the yard.”

“Sorry to interrupt again,” I said, “But who lived in the house before you?”

“A widow,” Whitney answered, reaching out for her husband’s hand. “The poor woman had Alzheimer’s and lived here with assistance for several years before succumbing. We were told that her only son died in a boating accident as a teenager and there wasn’t any other family. A neighbor acted as executor of her will, and he managed the property.”

“He mowed the lawn while it was on the market,” Edward interjected.

Whitney agreed, “A good man, and kind. But,” she hesitated and glanced at her husband, “Besides the grass, the yard was a mess. The shrubbery was overgrown, and ivy had creeped to the point that it had begun to overtake the house. I was afraid there would be damage, but luckily it proved to be minimal.”

“The back of the lot was all brambles and brush under the trees. It was a hell of a job to clear it out,” Edward added.

“Once we’d finally had it cleared a landscaper drew up a plan. I wanted the yard to look like an English garden with lots of flowers in the spring and trimmed hedges and plush evergreens year-round. It just wasn’t meant to be.

“It all died. Twice over. The first time,” she paused, shaking her head sadly, “The gardeners had worked all day long and when they left everything was perfect; the pruned hedges and all the greenery around the exterior of the house and patio. We even put in a few trees. It was beautiful, but in the morning,” Whitney sighed.  

“Dead. All of it,” Edward said.

How?” I asked, then looked to Biddy, worried that I was overstepping, but she was staring at the couple, pen poised over her pad.

“The landscaper suspected that something had contaminated the tools her team used for the plantings. It was the only explanation. They came back and cleared everything out, let the ground rest for two weeks and then planted again.”

“But everything was dead the next morning,” guessed Biddy.

“All of it. Gone,” Whitney admitted.

“The landscaper’s opinion?” Biddy prompted.

“That there was something wrong with the land.”

I held back from asking another question as Biddy jotted something on her pad.

When she looked up she said, “Did you have the soil tested?”

“We did, twice,” Edward replied with a stiff nod.

“The results?” Biddy asked.

“The acidity was in the normal range, with acceptably low levels of lead and aluminum. Phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and a bunch of other mineral levels proved normal. Our sulfur levels were a touch high, but not enough to cause such widespread destruction. There was no evidence of a chemical leak or intentional contamination.”

“And you’re sure that the landscaper handled everything properly?” Biddy asked.

“Well, the second time, yes. She replaced all of their tools and even bought plantings from a different nursery. Of course, I can’t say for sure about the first time they worked on the yard, but it would be quite the coincidence if they repeated the same mistake, no? Also, I have a close friend who used the same company and her lawn is just beautiful. She has the lushest hydrangea bushes I’ve seen this side of Nantucket’s.”

“That must have been so disappointing,” I commented about the twice failed landscaping attempts.

“And expensive,” Biddy added.

Edward shook his head and Whitney popped a big piece of scone into her mouth.

“The landscaping is freaky, but I don’t know that I would have suspected anything paranormal if that had happened in our yard,” I noted, slightly confused and a touch suspicious if a bunch of dead plants prompted them to call an exorcist.

“No, no,” Whitney said quickly. “It’s only in hindsight that we recognize the problems in the yard as the first sign of evil. The have been many more clues.”

“Before we talk about what’s happened inside the house, I just want to wrap up with the property. You mentioned a sinkhole when we spoke on the phone,” Biddy said.

Edward leaned forward in his seat and said, “It was the damndest thing. I was out there playing catch with Tiny when two of the birch trees at the edge of the lawn came down. They damn near fell right on me. I had my back to the woods and had it not been for Tiny staring off behind me and then turning to run to the house I may have been killed.”

At mention of his name Tiny walked over and put his head in his Dad’s lap.

“It was a sinkhole,” Whitney explained. “Opened up right at the treeline.”

“Wait, we have sinkholes here? I thought they only happened in places like Florida,” I demanded.

“They happen all over the world,” Biddy replied without looking at me, then said to Whitney, “How big is the hole?”

“Oh, what do you think, Ed?” Whitney asked, then answered her own question, “It’s probably about nine feet across now.”

“You’ve had someone come to check it out?” Biddy asked.

The couple nodded in unison but offered no further explanation.

I had about fifty questions that I wanted to ask, the first being Why in the hell are you still living here? We could be swallowed up at any minute you lunatics! I even considered excusing myself to the bathroom then running as far away as I could.
Biddy must have sensed my unease because she said, “Don’t get worked up, we’re not falling down to hell quite yet.”

I forced a laugh and took a bite of pastry so I wouldn’t have to speak.

“Anything strange happen around the sink?” Biddy said.

The couple exchanged a look.

“What?” I demanded, unable to hold back.

“The newts, they must have been living underground and the sinkhole disturbed them. They just stream out of that hole. They’re all over the yard, I am surprised you didn’t see any on your way in here. They are disgusting little creatures and we can’t get rid of them.

“We were told that if we sprayed to kill off the insects in the yard then the newts would move on to greener pastures. But they must be getting their food nearby because they seem to like it here.

“They’re all over the place, especially at night, we don’t let the dog out back anymore. He was always swatting them around or rolling around on top of them. It was nasty. We haven’t been able use the grill either, they seem to love it in there.”

Biddy made a note on her pad, “Speaking of the grill, have you had any trouble with fire? I noticed you have quite a few fire extinguishers set out.”

I glanced around the kitchen and saw there was a small extinguisher near the stove and a larger one on the floor next to the back door.

“As a matter of fact, yes, we have had a few accidents,” Whitney said, vaguely.

“I’m as accident prone as they come,” I joked, “But even I keep our one extinguisher under the sink,” I said, remembering the large extinguisher I’d seen mounted to the wall in the hallway.

“It’s sort of a sore subject,” Whitney replied turning towards Edward.

“We’ve been cleared of all suspicion,” Edward said, “But we were the subject of an arson investigation at the end of last year. We’d had several unexplained fires and, naturally, the police became suspicious.

“We were right at this table being interviewed by the fire chief when one of those little fires set off in the study. He smelled the smoke and watched me rush in to put it out. He knew there was no way that we could have started it ourselves, we’d just finished giving him a tour of the house.”

“He’s a wonderful man,” Whitney said quickly. “He gave us a slew of fire extinguishers and even installed several extra smoke detectors for us.”

“Did he know what caused the fires?” I asked, incredulous.

“No,” Whitney replied. “But he did mention he’d encountered a home with a similar problem when he first started fighting fires down in Louisiana.”

Again, I had follow up questions, but before I could ask them Biddy said, “What else about the house concerns you?”

“It’s always cold in here,” Edward said.

“That’s true,” Whitney agreed, “Even on the sunniest day in the dead of summer the house is cold and dark.”

“Saves us on air conditioning,” Edward joked.

“The wooden plantation shutters in the family room are a problem too. They won’t stay closed. Sometimes I can get them to stay put during the day, but at night? Forget it. Neither of us want anywhere near that backyard as it is, and with the shutters open it feels as though we’re being watched, stalked really, from those trees.”

“Could we see them?” Biddy asked.

“Of course, where is my head? I should have offered you a tour right when you came in.”

The four of us got up from the table and followed Whitney out of the small kitchen, through a doorway down a short hallway which held doors to a small bath, a narrow closet and the basement. The latter had a board nailed across it, I touched Biddy’s shoulder and pointed to the door. She raised her eyebrows and continued on into the living room.

The room was a vision in beige. A wall of shuttered windows and the lofty ceiling did nothing to curb the darkness that seemed to emanate from the home. I fought the urge to flip on the table light next to me.

“You see?” Whitney said, motioning to the open plantation shutters.

“Had they been closed?” Biddy asked walking towards the windows.

“Yes, I closed them this morning,” Edward confirmed.

Biddy swung the shutters closed on the center window, “The hinges are pretty stiff,” she remarked then, “Anything else strange about this room?”

Edward gestured out the window but Whitney interrupted him before he could speak.

“The door to the study is over there,” she said quickly, motioning to the back interior corner of the room.

I followed Biddy over to the doorway to the room and peeked in over her shoulder. Floor to ceiling bookshelves and wood paneling dominated the small space. The only light came from a green library table lamp on a cluttered desk. A small, circular oddly positioned window sat gloomily between bookshelves and offered no illumination, only a sad view of scraggly trees.

“This is where the fire started?” Biddy asked.

“Yes, in the back corner, behind the desk,” Whitney answered.

I noticed that neither Whitney nor Edward came near the room. Biddy went right in to examine the floor and I had to fight the urge to grab her arm and drag her out of there.

When she came back out she asked, “Which one of you uses this as their office?”

“I used to,” Edward replied, “I work from home part-time, but I don’t use it much anymore.”

Biddy considered this for a moment but didn’t comment.

Whitney motioned to the doorway next to her and said, “This way to the dining room.”

We followed behind her, through a short hallway that lead to the front of the house and that cramped entranceway with the grand staircase. As we stood, bunched together like a family of newts, Whitney explained that nothing of note had happened in the dining room, and that the hallway leading to their master bedroom was through a door at the opposite side of the dining area.

The home’s layout was odd to say the least. Across from the dining room was a narrow sitting room, with wicker chairs that overlooked the street through a crescent shaped window. It was the last place I’d ever want to sit and relax and I noticed for the first time an underlying smell that I couldn’t put my finger on. It was sort of musty, but not in a damp New England way. More oppressive, like a hot attic in the deep south in August.

Though I was desperate to open the front door for fresh air, I smiled and nodded my head as Whitney described a leak that had happened in their master bathroom a few weeks before. She also spoke of two small fires that had happened in their bedroom.

I had a hard time paying attention. I was positioned closest to the living room and those damn windows. I had a horrible feeling that I shouldn’t turn my back to them, but I didn’t want to look either. Unable to suppress the urge, I snuck a quick peek and to my relief the shutters that Biddy had closed were still in place.

I zoned out a bit in my fear but Whitney grabbed my attention back when she said there were a few rooms she’d like to show us on the second floor.   

Inexplicably, the suggestion that we go upstairs made want to run from the house immediately.

Whitney started up the stairs, followed by Edward then Biddy who noticed my hesitation and said quietly, “I know, it’s bad up there. You don’t have to come.”

“I’m not going to stay down here all by myself,” I whispered.

Biddy shrugged and continued up the stairs. Despite my misgivings I followed her, resisting the urge to grasp onto the back of her shirt.

The dog who had accompanied us on the tour of the ground floor did not follow. He sat still at the foot of the stairs just watching us ascend.

The stairway, which looked so grand from the ground level split halfway up so that we had to turn and face the opposite direction to finish the climb. That second half was cramped and confined. When we arrived on the second floor I began to feel irritated by the Barkley’s style. Perhaps unfairly, but it was as if they had done nothing to combat the darkness that permeated the home.The cramped and windowless hallway was full of more doors than could possibly make sense. It was like a beige walled, dark-stained and shellacked choose your own nightmare game.

Whitney listed where each closed door lead. One to the attic space, one to a bed room, one to a bathroom and one to a loft area.

“Why do you keep all of the doors closed,” I asked, attempting and failing to sound nonchalant.

“We don’t, dear,” she said quietly.

“What-” I said, then realizing what she meant I shut my mouth and tried to quell the rising fear within me.  

She placed her hand on the doorknob of the fifth door and before turning the handle said, “This is where we found the markings.”

The size of the room surprised me after the cramped darkness of the hallway. A queen-size, four post bed dominated the space, and a large window, crescent shaped like the one in that off-putting sitting room, offered a dreary view of the back yard.

I flipped the light switch on the wall.

Biddy glanced at me and tried to hide a smile.

Whitney said, “Over there, on the other side of the bed, that’s where we found the demon traps.”

My mind went crazy with thoughts of silver-lined cages and demon extermination service vehicles. But before my imagination went too wild Whitney explained further.

“When we updated the heating system we pulled out all the old radiators and in this room and the bedroom nextdoor there were copper panels behind each unit with intricate markings. A friend of mine is a librarian at Wellesley College and she was able to identify the tracings.”

“Do you still have the panels?” Biddy asked.

“No, I took them to the dump to be recycled,” Edward said.

This left Biddy speechless for a moment which gave me the chance to ask, “What exactly are demon traps?”

Whitney explained, “The ‘trap’ is actually a drawing or painting, or in our case an etching of a series of interlocking V’s which are meant to call forth the protection of the Virgin Mary.”

“Do they work?” I asked, directing the question to Biddy.

“When used appropriately,” she answered vaguely, then asked, “Who uses this room?”

“The kids. Brittany sleeps in here and Ben sleeps next door when they are home from school,” Whitney replied.

“Have they experienced anything in the house?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” said Whitney. “Ben was organizing boxes in the attic for me and he said that he heard what sounded like a woman sobbing. He thought it was me, but when he couldn’t find me upstairs and then found me in the kitchen he refused to ever go in the attic again.”

Edward added, “Brittany won’t stay here anymore. She hates this house. She won’t tell either of us exactly what happened but when she was home over her Christmas break she was working at my computer in the study and something near scared her to death.”

Biddy said, “I’m so sorry.”

Whitney and Edward looked pained.

To break the silence I said, “What about the loft?”

“We don’t use the space,” Whitney replied, but did not offer further explanation.

“Then perhaps we should head back downstairs,” suggested Biddy.

I turned to walk out of the room but Whitney’s voice stopped me.

“There was something else, that I’ve never told anyone but Ed and that nice woman from animal control. I was in the livingroom reading around five o’clock one evening,” she said very quietly, gazing down at the yard from the window. “A noise outside startled me, it sounded like something heavy fell on the patio table. I thought maybe one of the lanterns had blown over.

“But when I got up to look out the window nothing was out of place. The lanterns were upright and the chairs were pushed in at the table as usual. I was looking around the yard trying to discover what made the noise when movement at the side of the house caught my attention.

“Something moved just out of my line of vision, right by the kitchen door,” she continued, “I got as close as I could to the window to try and see what was scuffling around.

“I saw it’s tail first, but I didn’t really believe what I saw. It was right next to the house, then it came into view. It was a crawling thing, low to the ground and it was, I know this sounds ridiculous, but it was at least five feet long from its snout to it’s tail. It crawled over to the patio table and pulled itself up the back of one chair with its short front legs. It’s front feet reminded me of sloth’s. It stood there at the table on it’s hind legs for a moment and let me really have a good look at it. Animal control went on the lookout for a crocodile, but that’s not what I saw. I told them to look for a huge blackish green lizard with big black eyes and a pointed tail,” she paused.  

“It had been staring at the woods but then it turned and looked right at me. It’s black forked tongue darted out and then it dropped to the ground and began slithering towards the window. I slammed the shutters closed, grabbed my phone off the couch and ran out the front door to the car. I called animal control from the CVS parking lot.”

“Jesus Christ,” I said.

“Did animal control find any evidence of the animal?” Biddy demanded.

“None,” Edward replied.

“Why did you ever come back here?” I demanded.

“We didn’t have a choice,” Whitney replied. “We slept at a friend’s house across town that night, but then in the light of day the next morning it seemed almost improbable.”

Then she said, “I’m sorry, we don’t have to stay up here, it’s freezing. Let’s go back down to the kitchen.”

I was nearest the door, but I sure as hell didn’t want to be the first one to walk back into the fun house hallway. Biddy brushed past me and I covered my hesitation by saying, “Please, after you,” to the Barkleys.

Tiny was thrilled to see us make it back from the second floor alive. He followed us happily and resumed his spot in front of the sink as we sat down at the kitchen table. Once seated I snuck a glance at the plate of scones. There was only one left.

“You can have it,” Biddy said, pushing the plate towards me.

“Are you sure?” I asked, half-heartedly.

Biddy blinked her eyes dramatically and asked, “What tipped things over the edge?”

“You mean besides the lizard the size of a crocodile that walked upright across the back patio?” I said sarcastically before taking a big bite of scone.

Edward smiled sadly and said, “It was the voices in the basement that finally convinced us to search out an exorcist.”

“Voices in the basement told you to call a priest?” Biddy asked, obviously surprised.

“No,” Whitney said, with a little laugh, “Edward began hearing people whispering in the basement.”

“And they weren’t telling me to call a priest, that’s for certain,” Edward said darkly.

“What were they saying?” I prompted.

“I couldn’t make it out at first,” he explained. “My workbench is down there with all my tools.”

“He builds the sweetest bird feeders, these perfect miniature versions of our friend’s homes,” Whitney said lovingly.

Edward gave a quick nod, “I work on ‘em whenever I get the chance and when I first heard those voices, I thought someone had left a radio plugged in down there. When I couldn’t find one I thought maybe one of the kids had left a walkie talkie or baby monitor to play a joke on me and they were just waiting for me to admit I was hearing voices so they could have a good laugh over it.

“But the kids denied doing any such thing. It got to the point that I was almost used to it. It became a sort of background noise.”

“How is that possible?” I said, in disbelief.

Biddy gave me a sharp look and began to say something but Edward spoke over her, “I’ve asked myself the same thing. It doesn’t make a lick of sense but the voices, at first anyhow, were calming. They stopped distracting me and became comforting.”

I held back from commenting again.

“That’s very common in cases like this. The entity wants something from you or wants you to do something for it so it creates a false sense of tranquility while it elicits influence over its chosen subject.” Biddy said reassuringly though it wasn’t at all reassuring to hear.

“That’s exactly what the damn thing did,” Edward replied.

“He wasn’t himself,” Whitney insisted.

“What did it want you to do?” I asked, afraid of the answer.

“I didn’t do what it wanted, in a blessed moment of clarity I realized what was happening and I boarded up the basement door to keep myself from going down there again. The whispers became faint and then almost disappeared all together

“But what was it asking you to-” I began but Biddy shook her head sharply and interrupted.

“You must be a strong person to have come to your senses like that,” she said.

“He never would have gone through with anything, really. He’s never had a violent bone in his body,” Whitney insisted.

We all stared at each other, her implication clear.

Whitney wrapped her arms around herself, Edward put an arm around her shoulders, Biddy sat stock still and I tried to chew my last bite of scone silently.

After a moment Biddy asked, “What do you think is haunting this house, Mrs. Barkley?”

“A demon,” she answered firmly. “The pit in the back yard, the fires, the demon traps. It must be demonic.”

Biddy nodded and blinked slowly then said, “Just one last question, has anyone stopped by the house? A stranger, someone you weren’t expecting?”

The Barkleys seemed to be about to say no when Whitney reconsidered, “Wait a minute, yes, that man from the gas company, what was his name?”

“Vulcan,” Edward replied.

“That’s it, Sam Vulcan. He came to the door right after we moved in, said he was from the gas company and wanted to check out the lines to be sure that everything was in working order.

“He’s returned several times since, always wanting to check something in the basement, he’s never been anything but polite, tends to overstay his welcome though.

“I mentioned it to one of the neighbors and they said they’d never seen him. Never had anyone from the gas company even come to the house, which struck me as odd.”

“What does he look like,” Biddy asked.

“Oh, quite tall and thin,” Whitney said, “I think he takes a lot of time on his appearance because he’s always tan as though he’s just come back from vacation. His hair’s too dark and too shiny, I can’t imagine it’s the color he was born with. Same thing for his eyes, come to think of it. They’re a touch too green.”

Biddy circled something on her notepad, she said, “Alright, I think that just about covers everything that I need to know, unless there is anything more you’d like to share.”

The couple exchanged a glance and Edward asked, “We were hoping there might be something you could give us, you know, to tide us over until the priest can come for the exorcism.”

Biddy paused, considering. I decided that whatever she offered them I would ask for too.

She said, “I have holy water in my car. You can sprinkle it around the windows and your bed. I also suggest you spritz some onto table salt then sprinkle that salt across the front, back and side doors.”

The couple looked grateful.

I followed Biddy to the foyer and quickly said my goodbyes to Tiny and the Barkleys then rushed out to Biddy’s car and locked the doors as she brought them the small container of holy water.

When she climbed into the car I said, “The shutters.”

“I know, I saw,” she replied.

“Please get us the hell out of here before some oversized lizard jumps onto this car.”

“Want to go grab something to eat?” She asked calmly.

“Always,” I replied.

“Let’s go to Lemon Thai,” she said.

“So what is it? A demon?” I asked.

“No, it’s more way complicated than that. I think it may be elemental, specifically salamander in nature.”

I stared at her.

“Elementals belong to one of the four elements,” she explained. “You know, earth, air, fire, and water. They are spirits that never had souls. Their mythology is old, very old. Typically they are harmless, but if humans invade their space or disrupt it in some way they can be really dangerous.”

“The landscaping,” I said.

“Yup. Salamander elementals are recognized as fire spirits. Poison and fire are their strongest marker, though I admit I am confused as to why there’s one this far north,” Biddy said, “We are more apt to see gnomes in this neck of the woods.”

“Cut it out,” I said, thinking she was making a joke.

When she didn’t elaborate I asked, “The gas company guy, what was that all about?”

“I suspect it’s the elemental, taking human form.”

“Alright, too much,” I said in disbelief.

“Some might say the same of demons and shadow people, right?” Biddy replied.

I reluctantly agreed.

“They are in danger. I don’t know how Ed was able to come out from under the influence of that thing, but I am guessing that it wants him to kill Whitney and then himself.”

“Why?” I asked, unnerved.

“Elementals can sort of collect souls, and I think that’s why that house is so fucking haunted on top of everything else that’s happening there. The thing probably wants to collect the Barkleys.”

“Can Father McGonagle help them?”

“No. Religion has no jurisdiction over elementals. I’ll have to get in touch with a shaman who can at least protect the house by make an offering to the creature. If the Barkleys want to stay in that house, which I personally think would be insane, then they will have to come to some sort of agreement with the thing.

“Even then, there is no telling whether they can trust it. I wouldn’t.”

“Why the hell didn’t you tell them they had to leave that house right away? They can’t stay there,” I insisted.

“It isn’t going to let them go willingly. If I’d tried to convince them to leave right then, it might have turned on us.”

“Well then, thanks for not saying anything,” I said, “I’d prefer not to be trapped by a lizard creature. Man, all that from just trying to fix up the place.”

“When I picked you up this morning it looked like you’ve been doing some work on the yard,” she said.

“Oh, shut up,” I replied.

unnamed-3“You want a glass of wine?” Chris asked, opening the refrigerator door.

“No thanks,” I replied.

“You sure?” He asked, glancing over at me.

“I’ve got a bubbly water,” I replied, holding up the can to show him. “It’s nice out, let’s sit on the porch for your interview.”        

Chris sighed.

“Come on,” I pleaded. “It’ll take ten minutes.”

“I’ll meet you out there,” he said, closing the fridge door.   

It was early March and we’d had a warm snap. A tease of nice weather before the next snow storm.

I sat on the deck and waited for Chris. One of our trees was surely dying, a huge old oak that offered a significant amount of shade in the summer. I’d wait and see how it fared come spring, but chances were good we’d have to take it down within a year.

Chris came outside with a roll of dog poop bags.

“Come sit for a minute,” I said.

“I’ve been meaning to do this,” he replied.

“But you said I could interview you,” I protested.

“You can, I’ll just do this at the same time.”        

When I didn’t reply he said, “Turn on your tape recorder, ask me your questions.”      

I watched him pull a blue bag off the roll and bend over to pick up dog poop. Walter and Artie sat near me on the deck watching the dying tree for squirrels.  

I grudgingly turned on the recorder and said, “Alright, but speak up.”

Chris gave me the thumbs up sign and continued pacing the yard.

“OK, how do you feel about me continuing to interview people even after our house was haunted because of my interviews?”

“It wasn’t your fault,” he called over his shoulder.

“Those entities wouldn’t have been anywhere near us if we hadn’t gone over to the Hayes house and they wouldn’t have attached to me if I had been wearing my medallion that night,” I countered.

“We don’t know that,” he replied quietly.

“Speak up!” I called, loudly. “Whether it was my fault or not, our house needed an exorcism. How do you feel about that?”

“I’m glad you knew Biddy,” he replied.

“But what if it happens again?” I countered.

“It won’t, the priest told us what to do and you wear your medallion when you interview people,” he said, knotting a dog bag and tossing it to the back corner of the garage.

“Chris,” I said, exasperated.

“What do you want me to say? That I don’t want you doing this anymore?” He asked.

“No, I just,” I paused, considering, “People have been emailing me asking how you could possibly be OK with me continuing to interview people after I managed to get our own house haunted. I guess I want to know too, we never really talked about it, you know, if you are OK with me still doing this.”

Chris stopped pacing the yard and looked at me, “I am proud of you. I’m happy that you have something besides me and the kids. I wish you’d spend more time working on your book,” he held up his hands in defence when I began to protest then continued, “but I know you can’t focus on that right now and that this project is important to you. But,” he paused.

“What?” I prodded.

“I don’t like it. I don’t like you going to stranger’s houses and meeting them in coffee shops. Even if those strangers are our neighbors. I guess I just wish you were into something less scary, you know?”

“I know,” I said.

“But if anyone else emails you wondering whether or not I’m OK with you doing this, tell them that I am psyched about it and tell them to, what is that thing you say about taking care of your lawn?”

“You mean ‘mind your own backyard?’” I said.

“Yeah, tell them to mind their own backyard,” he said leaning down to kiss me on the cheek.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” he replied. “Now get off your ass and help me pick up your dogs’ poop.”

 

***

 

It was Chris who introduced me to my next interviewee. One evening he was wearing a Ghosts in the Burbs t-shirt beneath his hockey jersey and a teammate asked him about it. Chris explained my blog and Mitchell asked if Chris would put us in touch. Even though they’d played in the same hockey league for over a year, it had never come up that Mitchell lived in Wellesley too and, better yet, he had a scary story to share.

We arranged to meet for lunch at Maugus on a Thursday afternoon. Chris sent nervous texts all morning repeating I didn’t have to meet his teammate if I didn’t want to but that the guy seemed cool. I told him to relax.

Mitchell S. Westcott the second looked like a 1960s astronaut. His freshly shorn brown hair swept adamantly to the right from a decisive side part. He was a trim, tight package of health, all glowing skin, rosy cheeks and smile-lined deep brown eyes. He wore a crisp tucked in button down (blue check) and light pink tie. I could picture him in a Boston high-rise office tower, cheerfully calling out good morning and shooting charming smiles to everyone he passed as young administrative assistants swooned and traded gossip about his wife.

There was something so old-fashioned about him. I couldn’t resist.

“So, Junior, what’s all this about witches?”

He laughed and said, “My brother is the only one who calls me that.”

“Do you prefer Mitchell or Mitch?” I asked.

“Mitchell,” he replied, then “What I’m about to tell you is going to sound completely ludicrous, but when Chris said you were collecting strange stories about Wellesley I felt compelled to speak with you.”

He was obviously nervous, looking down at his hands and peeling the wrapper off his root beer bottle. Seriously, he was drinking root beer. Adorable.

“I’m used to hearing ludicrous things about this town,” I said, smiling.

“We used to live next to a witch and a warlock who cursed us,” he spat before taking a chug of soda.

“Shush,” I said, leaning forward.

Mitchell shook his head, “They were really disturbed.”

“Start right at the beginning,” I urged. “How did you know they were witches?”

I imagined a coven of Wellesley women clad head-to-toe in black LuluLemon gear dancing around a Crate and Barrel fire pit on a meticulously landscaped lawn.

“At first we thought they were just odd. My wife, Maggie, even joked about them being swingers,” he said with a short laugh. “Overly friendly isn’t the right way to describe them, they were, too familiar from the start. Popping up at the back door unannounced, asking weird personal questions, especially about our kids.”

“What kind of questions did they ask you?”

Mitchell considered for a moment then said, “On move-in day I was in the garage shifting around boxes after the movers had left. I was bent over a box digging around for wine glasses when I felt a hand rest on my waist. I thought it was Maggie and said something like, ‘Hey honey,’ but it was Kate. The neighbor.”

“Uh uh,” I said, shaking my head.

“It was way too personal,” he said, “She basically had me backed into a corner. She introduced herself as Kate Dilvish and told me her husband’s name was Harry. She made this big deal about how excited he would be to meet me, which was just, awkward.

“Then she started drilling me with questions. Where had we moved from, how old were the kids, did they ever do odd jobs for money, what was my wife’s name and did she work, what did I do for a living, and on and on.”

“What do you do for work?” I asked, curiosity overtaking me.

“I’m an illustrator,” he replied.

“That’s awesome, what do you draw?”

“I work on movies,” he replied, vaguely.

I refrained from digging deeper, but again, adorable, right?

“Sorry I interrupted,” I said. “So she was digging for details, then what.”

“Thankfully, Maggie came out into the garage, though that didn’t make Kate back off at all. We talked about the neighborhood, our kids and the move. She was really, I guess the best way to describe her was animated. She actually reminded me of some of my daughter’s friends. She wanted to know all about them. Her reactions were a bit, forced, no, maybe just a bit-”

“Juvenile?” I said interrupting again.  

“Yes,” he said, nodding, “That was it, she struck me as immature. Maggie didn’t think much of her, she even poked fun at me for getting uncomfortable with Kate’s personal space issue. She got a kick out of the way she said I was almost crawling the garage wall trying to get some distance from Kate.

“The next morning, bright and early Sunday there was a knock at the door. I went down, still in my pajamas [Pajamas. Adorable], and opened the front door to Kate and her husband, Harry.”

Mitchell paused, seeming to choose his next words carefully, “Harry was much older than Kate. I don’t mean to sound judgemental, to each his own, but the difference in their age was significant. He was sixty-seven and she was twenty-six. They told us. They had this thing about birth dates, sharing theirs and asking for everyone else’s.

“Again we were peppered with questions though they were vague if we inquired of them. When I asked Harry what he did for work he told me he was in ‘conflict management.’”

“Like a mediator?” I asked.

“That’s what I assumed, and Kate told Maggie that she supported Harry in his appointment.”

I made a noise, indicating how creepy that sounded.  

“Yeah, we figured she felt funny about not having a job or something. At first glance they appeared relatively normal, but there was just something off about them. For example, except for when she was exercising on their side deck, Kate only wore one outfit, a denim knee-length skirt with a black tank top and green Hunter boots. Maggie pointed that out to me. No matter the weather, she was out there in that outfit. She always had this key ring hooked to her belt loop so you would hear the keys pinging together as she worked in their yard.”

Mitchell paused then said, “You probably think I’m as lurky as a peeping Tom.”

“No,” I said, smiling, “you don’t sound that lurky.”

“Geez,” he replied cringing, “I know it. I just want you to be able to picture how odd they were. I mean, there they are in a million and a half dollar home and she’s wearing the same exact clothing every single day? It was so odd,” he paused, hesitant to continue, then said, “Man, if that sounded lurky this is going to sound really creepy,” he began picking at the bottle wrapper again.

“I was just kidding with you,” I said, “You don’t seem lurky at all. You actually might be a little too upstanding.”

Mitchell smiled, “The thing is these people were impossible to ignore, I couldn’t help but pay attention to them. The first really strange thing, though, was Kate’s exercise routine. They had this room built above their garage with floor to ceiling windows on both the side facing our house and the side overlooking the woods and cemetery.”

“Whoa, back up,” I said, “Cemetery?”

“Our property backed up to Woodlawn Cemetery,” he replied.

Mitchell.”

“We’d never been superstitious,” he explained. “It didn’t phase us to have the cemetery behind the home. It’s actually quite a beautiful place.”

“Yeah, ok,” I said sarcastically.

“Point taken,” he replied. “We bought the house in May and didn’t realize just how close the gravestones were until late autumn when all the leaves had fallen. It was actually a pretty dreary view from the back of the house.

“Anyhow, I was in my office working one morning when I heard a piercing scream. It sounded like someone was being stabbed to death. I jumped up and ran over to the window and that’s when I saw her.

“Kate was in that glassed in room doing these wild movements. I don’t know how to describe it other than combat yoga. First she did aggressive fighting moves, punching and kicking and screaming, jumping around and rolling on the floor. Then she stopped and stood stock still for about five minutes. I timed it. Then it was stretching that looked like yoga, but it was extreme, it looked almost painful. Finally, she fell down on her knees and began rocking back and forth sobbing. When that was over she lit a stick of incense and walked around the room backwards, waving the thing over her head.”

“SoulCycle ain’t got nothin’ on her,” I said with a nervous laugh.

“Man, I know some people get into extreme exercise, but this was almost scary. Not almost, it was frightening. She worked herself up into a frenzy like that every single morning from eight until nine a.m. After the second day I started working at the kitchen table in the mornings.

“I told Maggie about it and she laughed it off saying that nothing about the women in the Swells surprised her anymore.”

I smiled thinking this Maggie sounded cool.

He went on, “They had people coming and going all day long. All different kinds of people, young and old, driving everything from old beat up cars to brand new Mercedes. I thought they might be therapists. Maggie still thought they were swingers.

“One afternoon Harry brought over a plate of brownies welcoming us to the neighborhood. He invited us over for drinks the following evening in their backyard. I accepted, though I had absolutely no desire to spend any time with them.

“Maggie and I ate the brownies that night while we watched a movie. The kids were both out and I don’t know why I did it, but I threw out the rest of those brownies away before they came home. They tasted totally fine, but I just didn’t want the kids eating them.

“I had the strangest, most vivid dreams that night and so did Maggie. We both dreamt of the Dilvish’s. Specifically about doors in their backyard. Then when we went to their house for drinks we saw the doors in their fence. It had three doors evenly spaced along the side facing the cemetery.”

“Oh dear,” I said, feeling the first tingle of fear.

“In typical Maggie fashion she asked, ‘What’s up with the doors?’ when we walked outside. Harry and Kate looked at one another dramatically and held their hands out for one another and touched finger tips.

“Kate explained that it balanced the property and allowed them access to forces beyond the understanding of most humans. Harry changed the subject quickly and asked if we intended to put a fence in around our yard. He mentioned our dog Snuffy.

“The thing is, I hadn’t told him our dog’s name, and I was pretty certain that Maggie hadn’t either. I told him we were in the process of getting quotes from a couple fence companies and asked him who installed their fence, just to be polite, you know? He said they’d built it themselves. Maggie made a joke about how un-handy I am around the house but I wanted to know how he knew our dog’s name. I said something like, ‘I didn’t know you’d met our Golden.’

“The creep told me that Melanie, my daughter, had introduced them,” Mitchell gave a little growl then, “The way he said it, too, ‘Melanie made the introduction, what a pleasant young woman.’ Then he asks me again if either of the kids ever did ‘odd jobs’ for money. Something about the way he asked made me want to punch him in the face.  When we got home that night I told both the kids to stay away from the Dilvish’s and their house.

“I asked Mel about her conversation with Harry and she told me she’d never even met him.”

“Oh, shit,” I said.

“I had a bad feeling about them but Maggie still wasn’t convinced. She had to agree that both of us dreaming about doors in their backyard and then there actually being doors in their backyard was weird, but she reasoned that we must have seen them at some point and forgotten. Her opinion was that the Dilvish’s were socially awkward hippies. She told me to ‘stop being so square’ then reached out dramatically to touch finger tips with me.”

I snorted and almost spit out my seltzer water, “I have to meet your wife.”

“She’s pretty great,” he acknowledged. “For a time things were quiet, but when we installed the fence all hell broke loose. We chose a plastic fence that matched theirs pretty closely in style, the only difference was that theirs was made of wood. It was painted white so side by side it looked fine, you couldn’t tell much of a difference looking at it. But they completely lost their minds over it.”

Just then our food arrived. A turkey club for Mitchell and a B.L.T. and fries for me.

I asked, “So, what was the big deal about the fence?” then took a huge bite of my sandwich.

“The day it was being installed I was working in my office when I heard yelling coming from our backyard. It was Kate berating the guys installing the fence. She was screaming at them about earth energy, demanding they acknowledge the plastic fence would be around longer than the human race and that it’s toxins would leech into the earth.

“I went right outside and as I approached them she was demanding to know how they could look at themselves in the mirror each morning knowing they were agents of destruction. Her back was to me and when I called out to ask if there was a problem she spun around and, Liz, I’m telling you she looked like a completely different person. She looked older and her eyes, they were blue, usually they were blue, but I swear to God on my life, when she turned around and looked at me her irises were jet black, like her pupil had taken over.

“I tried to talk to her but she wouldn’t calm down. She actually picked up a piece of the fence, a big section of it, and threw it at me. The fence guys just stepped back and watched us, I think they were as frightened as I was.

“Just as I was about to go inside and call the police Harry ran out and wrapped his arms around her, pinning her arms to her side. He didn’t acknowledge anyone but Kate. ‘Shhh, my darling,’ he kept saying over and over, ‘You mustn’t expend, you must conceal,’ and other weird shit like that. Oh, I know what else he said, ‘Power shared is power lost, my darling.

“She finally stopped struggling against him and began sobbing. He scooped her up and carried her into their house like she was a child. I just stood there dumbfounded. One of the guys from the fence company finally broke the silence by saying, ‘Alright, Boss, you want us to take ten or should we keep moving here?’

“I told them to keep working.”

“That is freaking crazy town,” I said. “Part of me kind of loves her, or at least wants her to have her own reality show.”

Mitchell laughed but continued seriously, “I’m not embarrassed to say that it scared the hell out of me. I was already pretty wigged out by her exercise routine, but after the whole fence thing I thought she might need to be in some sort of treatment center.”

“What did Maggie say about it?”

“She was really pissed. She wanted to go right over and demand that they stay the hell off our property and away from us.”

“Did she?”

“No, thank God. I talked her out of it. We agreed to finish the fence and keep our distance. But it was too late. There was no going back.”

Man, what did they do?”

“It was subtle at first. The things they did weren’t so obvious. Like the door to our fence would be left open and Snuffy would get out and wander the neighborhood for a while before we even knew he was gone.”

“Wait,” I said, nervous about another mention of the dog, “I have to skip to the last page here, did they do something to him?” I demanded.

“No,” he replied, adamantly. “No way would I let that happen. The third time that fence was left open and the kids swore they hadn’t done it, I started walking Snuffy in the neighborhood instead of letting him out in the yard. Even when I was back there with him I was afraid they were going to throw poisoned meat over the fence or something.

“I was beginning to feel unsafe. Nothing in particular was happening that I could point to, but at night it felt like someone was watching us from the windows. I found things around our yard. A family of dead birds in the driveway. A bunch of black balloons stuck in one of our trees in the front yard. It was as though they’d escaped from a party, but who the hell gets black balloons? Then there were big paw prints right beneath my office window. Weird stuff like that.

“One morning I saw something that I thought was a downed branch hanging on the back of our fence at the back of the yard, bordering the trees.”

“And the cemetery,” I interrupted.

“And the cemetery,” he acknowledged. “I walked around the outside of the fence and found a plain wooden ladder leaning against it. There were symbols painted all over it and on that section of the fence.”

“Oh no,” I said, quietly, popping a fry in my mouth.

“I grabbed the ladder and brought it around to the front of the house, I considered throwing it in the trash, but then, I was so damn pissed. I knew it was them. I figured they were trying to intimidate me with their hippy bullshit, so I threw it into the middle of their driveway.”

I made a noise of concern.

“I didn’t see them pick it up out of the driveway and I didn’t see them walk around the fence, believe me I was watching. But that damn ladder came back, again and again.”

“What do you mean?”

“I broke that fucking ladder at least four times. The second time it showed up I smashed it against the driveway and broke it apart pretty well. But there it was, the next morning. Good as new.”

“No way,” I said, reaching for another fry and realizing that I’d already eaten all of them.

“They must have had several of those ladders as back ups, but I’m telling you they looked exactly the same. I’d peek around the fence for a couple days and see nothing and then, boom. There was the ladder and the paint. By about the third time I decided to set up a camera to catch them on my property, you know?

“There were a few nights with nothing. I’d fast forward through the video recording every morning even if the ladder hadn’t shown up the previous night just to see if they were lurking around out there. I had that feeling of being watched at night and I wanted proof that they were out there.

“One morning I’m fast-forwarding through the recording when the ladder appeared. I slowed down the tape and was able to see that it had been carried quickly out of the trees and leaned up against the fence. The thing was, it wasn’t the Dilvish’s who put it there.”

Mitchell looked down and pushed the plate of untouched food to the side.

“Then who was it?” I asked, resisting the urge to grab a fry off his plate.

“They were small. Really small,” he said, still looking down. “I watched that tape so many times, it may have been children, but if it was they couldn’t have been much more than four years old. Who the hell would send a four year old into the woods with a ladder in the middle of the night? I don’t know. I just, well after that I didn’t check the back fence any longer. I left the camera up, but I didn’t look at the recording.”

“What are you saying?” I asked, confused.

“I don’t think people were the ones replacing the ladder.”

“I didn’t tell Maggie what I’d seen. My plan had been to capture the Dilvish’s on camera and call the police with evidence that they were the ones defacing our fence and creeping around our property at night. I couldn’t show the police that tape.

“I was scared, I just wanted to let the whole thing drop. I wanted to ignore the stupid ladder and hoped they would eventually get over the whole fence issue.”

“But that didn’t work,” I guessed.

“No. They were just getting started. Around that time Kate put up crudely drawn images of my family facing out the window in her exercise room. I could see them clearly from my office. I talked to a police officer in town and he said it was strange but there was no way to get her to take them down. A week later little dolls appeared leaning against the window underneath each of our drawings.”

“All of that over a plastic fence?” I said, incredulous.

“I think they had us pegged from the beginning. Our house was built on spec. A builder had come in and torn down the small ranch that had been there and built our home on the property. I think they never approved of our home so they were never going to approve of us.”

“Geez,” I said. “When did you realize they were witches though? I mean the ladder and everything is weird and the dolls are absolutely terrifying, but witches?”

“It took some time to figure it all out. At first it just felt like we were living under a dark cloud. Anything and everything went wrong with the house, the brand new house.

“The basement flooded and the flood cause a leak in the foundation that let a swarm of these disgusting centipede-like bugs into the house. It was infested. The exterminator came and then about a week later there were these huge black beetles crawling all over the place. Maggie wanted to sue the builder and move immediately. I wanted out of there too, but we couldn’t move. We didn’t have the money to just buy another house, float our existing mortgage and sue the guy. And who were we going to find to buy an infested house with a foundation issue?

“Then the health issues started. Maggie twisted her knee really badly one morning after we’d had a bad wind storm. She was walking out to get the mail and tripped on a huge branch that had fallen overnight. It was so bad that she had to basically drag her way back to the house and bang on the door until I came to help her.

“Then I came down with a case of shingles. The kids were sick all the time. Nothing particularly serious but a string of cold after cold after stomach bug after flu breaks you down. We were constantly at the doctor for one thing or another.

“It was hard enough on our family and our relationships with one another but then all of a sudden no one wanted to hang out with us anymore. Friends we’d had since the kids were babies started outright avoiding us. The kids were getting picked on at school, they were becoming isolated from their friends too. A girl Melanie had known since preschool started bullying her on Facebook.

“All of it took a toll, for Maggie and I it hit our careers especially hard. The turmoil had an obvious effect on our ability to work effectively. I couldn’t draw at my usual pace for the nerve pain in my arm and poor Maggie couldn’t hobble around the hospital with her leg brace and crutches.

“All of that was tangible, though. It could have been chalked up to a rash of very bad luck. But then the haunting began.”

“Come on,” I breathed.

“Maggie started seeing things. Things that weren’t possible. She was cleaning the mirror in our bathroom and saw me standing behind her in the reflection. We had a conversation about dinner and when I suggested that we invite the neighbors over she turned around to look at me I wasn’t there. She ran downstairs and found me at my drawing table. I’d been there all afternoon.”

“Oh no,” I breathed.

“Then one night Mags was cooking and, I know this sounds straight out of a horror movie, but she was cooking chicken breasts and they, well, they crawled across the cutting board and flopped onto the floor.”

I took in Mitchell’s furrowed brow and worried eyes. Even though this was the creepiest and grossest thing I’d ever heard, I believed him.

I said, “How?”

“Magic,” he said quietly. “She wasn’t the only one seeing things, I did too, and so did the kids. Melanie opened her closet one morning and all of her clothes were red. She ran to get her mom and when she tried to show her there was nothing out of the ordinary about her clothing. It had gone back to normal.

“Then Tres-”

“Your son?” I interrupted.

“Yeah, he’s Mitchell the third,” Mitchell said with a smile, “Maggie nicknamed him Tres when he was a baby and it stuck.”

“Adorable,” I commented.

“He’s a really great kid,” Mitchell replied. “He was mowing the lawn and just as he was about to go over a section he said a rabbit popped out of the ground in front of the mower. He told me he heard the mower hit it. Heard it grinding over the poor thing. But when he stopped there was nothing there. No bunny.”

“Jesus,” I said, “That is sick. I don’t even want to ask you what you saw.”

“I had to nail the basement door shut after I saw gremlin down there when I was putting away my hockey gear.”

“What?” I asked with a laugh.

Mitchell stayed silent.

“You couldn’t have,” I breathed.

“But I did. It was there. I know it was all probably some sort of conjuring or illusion. But it was real enough for me,” he paused for a moment, then said, “I was terrified of that movie when I was little. I hated those things. There is no way they could have known that, but they did.”

“How?”

“They were magic,” he said, exasperated. “My dreams got so disturbing and violent that I couldn’t sleep more than an hour or two at a time. I was up around three o’clock one night when I heard a noise outside. It sounded like it came from the back of the house so I went into my office and looked out the window.

“I had a full view of the Dilvish’s backyard from there and what I saw scared me more than anything I’ve ever experienced. They were there. Standing naked, surrounded by six other people dressed in black. There were tiki torches placed around them as well. The worst part about it was that they were all perfectly still and silent, staring at the back of the fence, towards the doors.

“I watched them watching those doors on the fence for maybe, four or five minutes. Then the wind picked up. The trees began swaying and the doors blew open, all three of them at the same time. I wanted to look away then, but I couldn’t.”

“Three figures walked through those doors. The same ones I’d seen placing the ladder at my fence. The people surrounding the Dilvish’s backed up a few steps to let the creatures into the group. I watched the things circle our neighbors a few times and then the group closed back in around them. I stopped watching then.”

“Good Lord, Mitchell, I’m not going to sleep for a week,” I said.

“Tell me about it,” he replied. “It was a Black Mass, that’s how I realized they were witches. The old-fashioned kind, not the modern ones who just want to burn sage and wear eyeliner. They followed Satan.”

“How do you know that?” I asked, skeptical at the idea of devil worshippers in Wellesley. Which I admit was odd because I’d been quick to believe the story about the crawling chicken breasts. But the satanic panic of the 1980s always comes to mind whenever the specter of devil worshippers was touted.

Mitchell explained, “I took a picture of the drawings they’d painted on the fence and brought it to the library, one of your old coworkers helped me to find one of the symbols in a book of black magic.”

“Brilliant,” I said, proud of my profession. “What did the symbol mean?”

“Downfall,” he said darkly.

I shivered, “What did you do?”

“I snuck into their house.”

“No you did not.”

“I had to, we were under attack and I had to find a way to stop them. It’s not like I could call the police.”

“Couldn’t you just move?” I asked.

“They put a curse on our property,” he said quietly.

I considered then said, “But what in the world were you hoping to find in their house? What if they’d caught you?”

“I had to take that chance. I found a witch who could help us. She explained everything and it all started when they first met us. They tagged us with those damn brownies,” he said angrily.

“What do you mean?”  I asked, thinking of the cinnamon buns I’d accepted from our next door neighbors as a welcoming gift months ago. I hadn’t shared them. Chris can’t have gluten and what the girls didn’t know couldn’t hurt them so I ate the pastries that morning with coffee while I watched a Supernatural re-run. There were only four of them and they were relatively small. It had been a small treat yo self moment, but what if those cinnamon buns had been tainted?

I pushed aside the idea, my neighbors were kind Buddhists after all, and forced myself to pay attention to Mitchell.

He said, “When we were in the middle of the storm with those damn people I drove up to Salem to try and find someone to help us.”

“How did you know where to go?”

“I didn’t. I googled ‘Salem witch shop’ and chose the first one that came up. It was called Crow Haven Corner. It was late September so the place was busy with a bunch of tourists. I was looking around trying to find something, anything that said ‘protection’ or ‘curse breaker’ on it when the shop owner tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to come back for a reading in her Egyptian room.”

“Oh boy,” I said.

“That was my reaction, I started to say ‘no thank you’ but she cut me off and said she was deeply concerned about my aura so the reading would be complimentary.

“Even though I was about ninety-five percent certain that this woman was a charlatan, I was desperate. I followed her to the reading room and let her give me a tarot card reading and-”

“Wait, what color was your aura?” I interrupted, curious.

“Oh, supposedly it was a ‘muddy silver’ whatever that means, mixed with shades of grey. She told me I had a buildup of fear and anger and that I’d been around serious discord and injury. The witch, Ravine-“

Ravine?” I interrupted again.

“Yeah, I don’t think it was her given name,” he said, with a laugh, “She said my aura was a dark blob of negativity swirling angrily around me. She had to get me away from her other customers as soon as possible.

“Before this whole mess with our neighbors I’d never believed in any of this stuff. Never seen a ghost, never seen anything that I couldn’t explain, you know? But this woman, Ravine, her tarot card reading hit on everything we’d been going through.

“She turned over the first card, sat back in her chair and said, ‘It’s your neighbors, isn’t it?’”

“Get out of town,” I said.

“Yup. The cards told her that our neighbors were powerful dark witches accomplished in black magic. To top it off, she said they were devil worshipers. Devil worshipers,” he reiterated. “That’s what made them so powerful.”

“Crazy,” I said.

“That’s exactly what it was,” Mitchell agreed, “crazy. I told her I would pay any amount, do anything if she could help me. But Ravine wouldn’t accept any payment, she said that she couldn’t, that it was her duty as a witch to banish darkness whether she wanted to or not. She believed it was fate that brought me into her shop, that the ‘Goddess’ sent me and it was her duty to protect me.”

“What the hell did she do?”

“She mixed a bunch of herbs together and said a bunch of words over them. She waved her hands around and burned three sticks of sage over me. Then she hypnotized me and said that while I was under she pulled out the ‘hooks’ the Dilvish’s had planted in me with those brownies. Maggie had to go up the next day to have the same thing done. While she was there, in Salem, I broke into the neighbor’s house.

“Ravine told me exactly what to look for. She said to start in the exercise room and grab those dolls and pictures that Kate had put up against the glass. Next I had to head to the lowest part of the house. She explained that’s where the shrine would be. She suggested the basement but said it may be hidden under a trap door anywhere off the first floor.

“How did you know how long they would be gone for?” I demanded. “What if you were caught?”

‘They taught a class on herbal remedies at MassBay every Thursday morning from ten until noon. I had two hours to find what I needed and get out of there.”

“Just hearing you talk about it is giving me heart palpitations,” I said.

“Imagine how I felt,” he said with a laugh. “When I was searching for the door to the basement one of their cats sprinted past me and nearly gave me a heart attack.

“Their basement was the spookiest place I have ever stepped foot. The walls were painted midnight blue and the ceiling and floor were black. The door to their sanctuary stood out like a sore thumb, thank God. It was bright red and covered in symbols. Instead of a door handle there was a hoof.”

“A hoof?”

“Yeah, from a goat or a deer maybe,” he replied, shaking his head in disgust.

“Gruesome,” I commented.

“Mm,” he agreed. “I had to absolutely force myself grab onto the thing to yank open the door. It led to a small circular shaped room that was painted bright white, floor, ceiling, everything. It was dazzling after the darkness in the rest of the basement. I hesitated for a moment before walking in, I didn’t want my shoes to scuff the floor and leave any evidence that I’d been there so I took them off and walked in with just my socks. The floor was warm.”

“Ick, no,” I said, chilled.

“At the center of the room was a big stone bowl on a bed of pebbles. There were shelves along one wall, they were filled with white boxes. Each box was labeled and one had ‘Westcott Family’ written on it in fancy cursive lettering.”

“Get right out of here,” I demanded.

“Nope,” he replied. “It was that easy. I grabbed the box, got the hell out of that evil room, put my shoes on and headed straight for the back door.”

“Oh, thank God,” I breathed, unable to stand the idea of him alone in that house.

“That wasn’t it,” he said.

“Oh, come on!” I sighed.

“I got out of the house just fine but as I was sneaking back into my yard I saw something in the little strip of woods between our property and the cemetery. It was big, over eight feet tall. I couldn’t see it’s head but it’s legs were bent backwards, like, well like deer legs. I ran to my house, lit a fire and threw everything in there, chanting the words that Ravine told me to say.”

“Whoa,” I said, holding out my hands, “An eight foot tall deer legged monster in the backyard? In the middle of the day? What in the hell?”

“It was the only time I saw it. It may have been another illusion, but I don’t think so. I think it watched over them, an agent of the devil.”

I stared at him for a moment then said, “Please tell me you moved. Immediately.”

“We did. I put the house on the market that afternoon, Ravine had given me a potion for a quick home sale. We lived in a hotel until the house sold and we closed on our new place over in Wellesley Hills.”

I shook my head in disbelief wondering who’d bought the cursed property.

I asked, “So what was in the box?”

“One of my colored pencils, Maggie’s hospital i.d. that she thought she’d misplaced, a lacrosse ball that had belonged to Tres, and one of Melanie’s guitar picks.”

“You must have seen them again,” I said, meaning the Dilvish’s.

“No. We do all of our shopping online and have our groceries delivered by Roche Brothers. I can’t run the risk of running into them in town.”

“And that’s it, they never came after you even though they must have known you had broken into their house?”

“That was it. Ravine said that once I’d burned everything and chanted her reversal then they would be plagued with the curse and we would never have to deal with them again.”

“Well, Mitchell, you’ve managed to scared the hell out of me,” I said with a nervous laugh.

“Sorry,” he said.

“No, it’s fantastic. Just do me a favor and don’t tell Chris your story. It would be too much for him.”

“Doesn’t he read your blog?” Mitchell asked.  

“No, he doesn’t like ghost stories,” I said

“You’re kidding me,” he replied pulling his jacket off the back of his seat.

“This stuff isn’t for everyone,” I said with a shrug.

unnamed-2And then, I was back to myself.

Instead of easing my way into things I decided to jump in with abandon. I threw a house party for thirty people. Right before I sent the Paperless Post I added bring friends! in the “note to guests” box.

I immediately felt overwhelmed and tired before anyone had even replied. But what was done was done. I needed to clean the house, buy booze and order Anna’s.

The party was epic.

***

I woke up the morning after with the familiar anxious feeling of doom that a hangover delivers. While waiting for the coffee to brew I felt stabs of embarrassment as hazy memories peeked through the dehydration and amnesia. Clips of conversations, too loud laughter, cringe-worthy over-sharing and images of what must have been absurd dancing filled my mind.

I found my phone on the floor in the living room.

I opened the camera both hoping photos might jog my foggy mind and praying there was no documentation of the night’s hijinks. There were several selfie shots of me with friends. A cute photo of Chris with his cousin and some dark blurry shots from the back porch, though I had absolutely no recollection of being outside.

I checked my text messages, a couple had come through around two ‘o clock sending thanks for a fun party. One message was from a number I didn’t recognize. It had been sent at six-twenty a.m.

Hey Liz, it read, thx for an awesome party. So gr8 2 meet u and chat. Looking forward 2 talking more about the stuff I’ve seen in the swells. Does tmrw morning still work? I can meet up after 9. Talk soon – Molly.

Molly?

I sipped my coffee and texted Leigh.

Morning! She replied immediately. SO fun last night! Molly’s that cute girl who lives on Woodland. Wavy red hair… she had on that button back sweater. 18 mo old little girl. U guys were talking 4 a while! Ha ha!

Shit. Maybe I did remember her.

I did. We talked about moving out of the city, she’d lived in the North End before coming to Wellesley. But what else had we talked about?

Ghosts. We’d talked about ghosts and Wellesley and something about her childhood. It was fuzzy, but I had the feeling it had been really interesting.

Ugh. How humiliating. I couldn’t even really remember what she looked like and I’d apparently made a date to meet up with this woman. Another round of embarrassment washed over me.

I couldn’t bail, that would be rude and weird and apparently she lived just around the corner. Something nagged at me too, something we’d discussed, I remember wanting to know more, but for some reason we were interrupted or she had to leave or – that was it! She had to go home to relieve the babysitter!  

That’s why we decided to meet for coffee Monday morning. Got it.

I texted Molly back, Tomorrow morning works for me! Cafe Nero?

Done! Be there at 9. Came the quick reply.

 

*******

 

I walked into the cafe and scanned the packed dining area. I had a rough idea of the person I was looking for, Leigh had filled in the blanks in my memory. Shoulder length, wavy red hair, tall and thin, freckled nose and dark eyes. As stand out as that sounded, I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize Molly Vail (Leigh had reminded me of her last name too).

Luckily, she spotted me first.

“Liz! Over here!” She called from a cozy corner at the front of the cafe.

“Hey,” I called with a little wave.

“Grab your coffee,” she said with a smile. “I’ll hold our seats.”

I dropped my jacket onto the cushy arm chair across from Molly and ordered a soy latte and a big blueberry muffin. I needed the carbs. I was still shaky from the weekend.

When I returned to the table Molly and I shared a laugh over the party and sitting the kids in front of the television in order to nurse our hangovers Sunday morning. Though my embarrassment over being blackout drunk at the party lingered, I felt somewhat relieved that she’d had a booze-soaked night as well.

“You have an eighteen month old, right?” I asked, breaking off a piece of muffin.

“Yes, Eliza,” she replied. “How old are your girls again? I can’t even fathom managing three kids.”

“Me either,” I said with a laugh. We chatted a bit more about the neighborhood and kid-related stuff, then Molly sighed and placed her coffee cup on the table.

“I was super nervous about talking with you this morning. But I have to tell someone and I don’t know anyone else who will understand.”

“Shoot,” I replied with a smile.

Molly pushed her gorgeous hair behind her ears and asked, “How does this work? Like, are the interviews really anonymous?”

I looked into her worried eyes and said, “They are, I mean other than the fact that this is a small town so people might put the pieces together if the story is familiar to them. But I’ve never had anyone tell me they’ve run into that problem.”

She looked out the window and said, “Well, I really want to tell you but maybe I-”

“I’ve interviewed a bunch people who didn’t want me to publish their story,” I said quickly.  “Actually, I feel like I get cornered everywhere I go now. Everyone has a ghost story, even if they say they don’t believe in ghosts. Then there are people that just wanted to talk and unload what happened to them. Some of those stories I’ve even recorded, but I won’t publish them.”

“Oh, really?”

“I don’t even know why I hold onto them,” I replied.

“That makes me feel better. But,” she said, nodding her head emphatically, “I think you should record my story and publish it. People here should know what’s happening and anyone else should know before they make the mistake of moving to this town.”

“Ruh roh,” I said with a smile.

Molly laughed, “Sorry, I don’t mean to be dramatic, I just, well, I regret moving here. There’s no chance of getting out now though. We overstretched for the house, we were so in love with it, and I thought for sure it would be our forever home.”

“Is there something in your house?”

“No, I mean, yes, sometimes. But it’s the town that’s saturated,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry, this is hard to explain. Look, I told you the other night that I’ve seen things in Wellesley, but I didn’t tell you why I see them.”

I shoved a huge bite of muffin in my mouth trying not to look too excited.

Molly sipped her coffee then said, “I grew up in Weston. When I was seven we had this huge summer storm that left about ten inches of water in our basement and I wanted to go down there to splash around even though my mother told me not to. I stepped of the basement steps into the water and immediately my entire body began to buzz. The last thing I remember was trying to let go of the stairway banister but my hand had such a death grip on it that I couldn’t. Next thing I knew I was in ambulance, a paramedic over me yelling ‘Come on, Molly. You got this girl. Come on back to us.’”

“Jesus,” I whispered.

“I know. It was a miracle,” Molly said, almost sarcastically. “I’d managed to fall backwards onto the steps. If I had gone forwards into the water that would have been the end of it. Luckily my older brother heard something that made him look down into the basement. He was smart enough to use a broom handle to lift my leg out of the water before dragging me up the steps.”

“How did he even think to do that?” I asked, imagining that I would have just grabbed someone immediately if I’d encountered the same scene.

“My pant leg was smoking,” Molly replied, raising an eyebrow. “My poor mother called the police while my brother did CPR on me on the kitchen floor. The physical recovery wasn’t that bad. I had a few broken ribs from the chest compressions and dealt with the worst headaches for a while. The doctors said that things could have been a lot worse since I’d been dead for over five minutes. They insisted that I didn’t have any brain damage, but I did, they just couldn’t see it.

“Hell, I mean, I didn’t realize it for a while. There were some, like, weird things that happened in the hospital, though I didn’t realize they were strange until later. A really kind nurse brought me a blanket when I was cold and some crayons and paper during the day. Then a sweet old woman read me a fairy tale book one night when I couldn’t sleep. I’m sure you can guess the ending to this one.”

“There was no kind nurse or sweet old lady,” I said, chilled.

“Bingo,” Molly said with a little laugh, “Over my life I’ve learned that spirits are totally harmless. They hang around and watch, they’re usually here because they are waiting for a loved one to pass so they can move on together. They keep an eye on people and help when they can, kind of like junior angels’”

“Are any of these well-meaning dead people with us now?” I asked forcing myself not to walk out of the cafe and away from this dead person magnet.

Molly smiled and looked at the long farmhouse table next to us. It could seat about ten people, but only two of the chairs were taken. She gave a small nod towards the elderly woman reading the newspaper at the far end of the table.  

“Her husband, Joe, is sitting next to her. He died about three and a half years ago of, um, eesh,” she drew in a sharp breath and grabbed her left shoulder then said, “heart failure.”

Her attention turned to the bar and she said, “There’s a guy in a black suit over there, I don’t know who he’s here with. Um,” she scrunched her forehead, then said, “Oh. He’s passed within maybe the last year, he just wants to stay.”

“And when I was in the bathroom-”

“Stop, please,” I said, laughing nervously. “I know I’ll have to go in soon and I don’t want to know if a dead person is lurking in there.”

Molly smiled and said, “Sorry, I just don’t usually get to tell anyone about the things I see. You know, you have a few spaces around you.”

“What does that mean?” I asked, completely freaked out.

“That you have some dead people around you a lot, when that happens they sort of leave this little area that I can see, I don’t know how to describe it, I call it spaces. None of them are with you right now though.”

“Thank God,” I said.

Molly scrunched her forehead again, “It’s weird though, usually if they know a medium will be around dead friends of friends of friends show up trying to get a message through. It’s odd that they aren’t with us.”

What I wanted to say was, Oh my God, am I going to die? But what I asked was, “Is that really bad that they aren’t here?”

Molly shook her head, “No, it’s just new to me. I’m used to the dead trying to get my attention when I am open like this, that’s all.

“This town is so strange,” she said, shaking her head, “I swear I see something new every day.”

I didn’t feel reassured at all, but I asked, “So you’ve seen ghosts ever since you were electrocuted in your basement?”

“Yup,” Molly replied, scrunching up her nose as though she were confessing an embarrassing habit. “Either the electricity or the fact that I was dead for a good amount of time, or the combination of the two, threw the door in my mind way open. It took me forever to learn how to close it when I needed to.

“I sort of got lucky and flew under the radar for a time. I don’t know why, but only a few of the spirits sensed that I could see them, you know? Those two women in the hospital were fine, comforting, even, but then I went home and saw a little girl in the crawl space under our basement stairs.”

“Oh, Lord,” I sighed.

“Yeah, we had a storage space under there where we kept winter gear, you know, like, hats and gloves and stuff. The space was only about four feet high at it’s highest point and it slanted downwards.

“I was rifling through a bin of hats and mismatched mittens when I heard someone quietly humming Santa Claus is Coming to Town. A jolt went through my body. It was much less painful, but it felt a lot like the jolt that electrocuted me. It started at my feet then travelled up and out through my hands. When I’d recovered I turned my head to the side and there she was, crouched in the corner, looking just as scared as I was.

“I screamed and ran upstairs. I scared the hell out of my mom which totally pissed her off. She insisted that I go back down and get my hat and mittens. I couldn’t, so she dragged me down there by the arm and made a big fuss of pushing things around in the little closet to prove there wasn’t anyone in there.

“She said something like, ‘See, I told you, go ahead, look for yourself.’ I didn’t want to but I did.

“The girl was still there, crouched in the corner. Only now she was crying.”

“I’m never opening our coat closet again,” I said.

“Yeah, I had the same plan,” Molly replied with a sad smile. “Denial didn’t work, though. Once that little girl saw that I could see her she began shadowing me all over the house. By the third time I woke up to her sitting at the foot of my bed humming a lullaby I begged my mother to bring me back to the doctor.”

“What did you tell her?” I asked.

“I told her I was having trouble with my vision, that I was seeing things that weren’t there – I said it was spots, not ghosts. I was convinced that I had major brain damage and that I was losing my mind.

“But all the scans and the tests came back normal. While I was having my blood pressure taken I did confess to this one nurse what I was actually seeing and that got me diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress, which landed me with a very kind and very ineffective therapist. I figured out how to deal with him, but I had no idea what to do about the ghost in my house.

“It was killing me, I was a nervous wreck, I’d see her scurry across the hallway from one room to the next or I’d get that electrical jolt and be too terrified to open the shower curtain.

“In a way it was lucky, really. I could have seen something really bad as my first experience, but, at the time, she was enough to drive me to the edge of sanity. Finally, out of desperation I opened up to her. I went into my basement one afternoon when my parents and brother were out and called to her.”

“How?” I asked. “Like, in your mind?”

Molly laughed, “No, no. I just stood in front of that crawlspace and said, ‘Come out and tell me what you want.’ I nearly wet my pants when I heard her answer directly behind me. She said, ‘I’ll help you if you help me.’”

“Hell no,” I said, shaking my head.

Molly laughed again, “It wasn’t like the horror movies, not that time anyway. She used to live in my house and she wanted me to find this Swiss Army knife she’d hidden in a corner of the basement and mail it to her brother. Apparently, it was her father’s and she’d snuck it out of his tool box and her brother had taken the blame. The girl, Ainsley, had died suddenly of a fever before she could confess.”

“That is so sad,” I said.

“Totally,” Molly agreed. “I did what she asked and then she helped me by explaining how ghosts work. She also told me to never go in our attic. I didn’t ask why, I just listened to her advice. A few days after I had mailed the knife to her brother she was gone.”

“So it really was just a dead little girl. I thought that was always a red flag that something sinister was trying to get your sympathy to trick you.”

“Oh yeah, I mean, that can totally happen too. It’s one of their favorite disguises. But they can’t do that with me, they can’t trick me. I see them for what they are. If I see a dead person, then it’s a dead person. If it’s something else, then I’ll see it’s true form.”

“I’m afraid to even ask,” I said, groaning.

“Yeah,” she said, slowly, “I’ve seen weird things over the years, but it was, like, once in a blue moon. Not here, Wellesley’s different.”

“How so?” I asked, tales of lay lines, demon nests, exorcisms and black eyed kids flitting through my mind.

“Well, that’s really why I wanted to talk to you. This town is a supernatural mess, something blocked me from seeing it when we were looking at houses, but once we bought the house, I just knew.

“I’m not telling you anything new, you’ve interviewed plenty of haunted people. The thing is,” Molly paused, looking uneasy, “There’s something following me. I mean, I’ve been followed by things before, ghosts and otherwise, but I can usually help them or at least shut them out completely. This thing is different. It’s tricky. It’s evil.

“The reason I had such a hard time recognizing it was because it looks human. At first I figured he was a neighbor and we were just on the same grocery shopping and school drop off schedule, you know?

“The first time I saw him was this past fall on the playground at Sprague. I was pushing Eliza on the swings and I noticed him sitting at one of the picnic tables under that little, like, permanent tent thing, you know?”

I nodded my head, picturing the structure.

“He was watching a group of boys climbing the old jungle gym, I figured he was one of their dads. It was early on a Saturday morning, like seven-thirty, and he was wearing a light grey suit with a black dress shirt and tie. He had on this straw boater hat and it was tipped down over his eyes. Not a look you see very often, you know?

“I kept an eye on him and eventually he got up and walked past the boys to the trail around the side of the school. It was odd enough that I decided to stick around until either another adult showed up or the kids left. I even considered following the boys home if they did head out just to be sure they made it safely, you know?”

“Good instincts,” I said.

“Yeah, well, they’re hard won. I lived in Baltimore for a while and I learned quickly that if you feel like something is off, then it is. The boys parents showed up about twenty minutes later so Eliza and I headed to Starbucks and I didn’t really give the guy another thought.

“That’s not true,” she said quickly, interrupting herself, “I did mention the guy to Patrick after I got home. He brushed it off and said it was probably some guy just out for a walk. I didn’t agree, but I dropped it. A couple weeks later I saw him when I parked the car at the Dunkin Donuts across from Roche Bros. It was a Wednesday around noon and the middle school kids were swarming.

“As I parked I saw him standing towards the back of the lot, staring at a group of kids messing around outside of Dunks. He had on that same damn suit and hat. No expression on his face, he was just observing them, you know? So I sat there and watched him. There was something off but I couldn’t figure out what, honestly I thought he was probably a pedafile. I actually picked up my phone to call the police when he turned and walked back behind the building.

“I know it’s stupid, but I got out of the car and followed him. I thought maybe there were kids back there and I wanted to intervene immediately knowing the cops wouldn’t be there fast enough if he was after them.

“But when I walked back there he was gone. Completely gone. I even went and looked both ways on the railroad tracks thinking maybe he’d scooted down the bank quickly, but there was just no sign of him.

“The third time I saw him I really saw him, and unfortunately he saw me too. Eliza and I were with some neighbors at the Bates playground one Saturday morning in early December. It was cold, not too cold to run the kids a bit, but we were still the only ones there, or so I thought.

“You know the fenced in part of the playground that backs up to Boulder Brook Reservation?” She asked.

I nodded my head and immediately thought of Gwen’s cryptid.

“Well, the other mom and I got talking and her kids had been on the jungle gym, but then we sort of realized at the same time that they had wandered back to that little fenced in cove in the woods. Eliza was sitting in the stroller then, thank God, having a snack.

“Karen and I – do you know Karen Howell? She’s over on Elmwood, she has girls, um, three and a half and six I think,”

I shook my head, I hadn’t met her yet.

“Oh, well, I’ll have to introduce you, she’s really funny. Anyway, Karen and I followed the little path back into the cove watching her daughters climb on the big rocks. I’d rolled Eliza over with us and was bending down to grab her a juice box when I stood and happened to look back into the woods.

He was there.”

“Oh shit,” I said.

“Yeah. He was standing, motionless next to a tree, about, maybe, I don’t know, I am terrible at gauging distances, but like fifteen or twenty feet back in the woods and he was staring at Karen’s kids playing on the rocks. Just observing again. Expressionless, that is until he saw me watching him,” Molly gave an involuntary shiver.

“When he saw me, when he made eye contact I got that old electrical jolt and then he-” she sighed then said quietly, “He smiled. It was unnatural. This sounds absolutely impossible, but his smile stretched from ear to ear, literally. His lips just kept stretching wider and wider until he had this huge thin smile, but, not a smile really, it was more like a leer. And his teeth,” Molly shivered again, “Even though he was pretty far away I could see how dirty they were. All yellow and grey.”

“What the hell did you do?”

“I froze for a moment and we just stared at each other. I wasn’t getting anything off him, like, information, you know? Usually when I see something weird I can pick up a little bit about the thing, like a sense of their intentions.

“I couldn’t sense anything from this guy psychically, but the look on his face told me everything. He was excited in a really bad way. I realized that Karen was standing right next to me looking into the trees. ‘Whatcha looking at?’ she asked.

“I glanced over at her then back at the guy and he gave this tiny little head shake and began walking, or really, like gliding backwards into the woods until he disappeared out of sight.

“I told Karen we had to get out of there immediately, that there was a man lurking in the woods. We grabbed her girls and walked right to the front of the school. Karen called 9-1-1 and I pretended like reporting the guy would matter. I knew they wouldn’t find him and I really didn’t think it was a good idea for anyone to be traipsing around in the reservation. I had no idea what that thing was capable of.”

“How can you stand seeing something like that when no one else can see it? How do you close your eyes at night?” I demanded.

“It’s taken a lifetime of practice,” she replied, picking at some of the blueberry muffin crumbs on my plate.

“So this creepy grinning man is just lurking around town spying on kids?” I said.

“He was, I mean he might still be watching them sometimes, but he has a new obsession,” Molly sat back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest, “Me.”

“Oh, no,” I said.

“I don’t think he’d ever been seen before, which makes me think that he’s new-ish, you know?”

I shook my head not understanding what she meant.

“Sorry, yeah,” she sighed, “I didn’t really get the concept until we moved to this God-forsaken town either. So, like, dead people, ghosts, whatever, the longer they stay here on this plane the more they learn to interact in a way that the living can understand or at least sense.

“At first they just sort of hang out near us and lose the time a lot and kind of pop in and out of consciousness. But then they get the hang of things and if they want to get someone’s attention they can usually figure out a way to do it. If they are experiencing a really strong emotion, like grief or anger they might even do something by accident that gets noticed.

“Like those things that ghost hunters call ‘residual hauntings?’ They are trapped souls reliving their lives over and over until a medium can get through to them to tell them that they are dead and that they don’t have to experience trauma over and over again. Otherwise, they could continue going through it indefinitely.”

“Have you done that for dead people?”

“Yeah, a few times,” she said simply.

“How the hell did they react?” I asked.

Molly laughed, “Oh, just about as you would imagine. Completely freaked out, one dead woman thought that I was the ghost. It can take some time to get through to them, the reality they’ve created for themselves has been so traumatic and so, well, real to them that it takes time for them to accept that it was all in their minds.”

“But they don’t have minds anymore,” I reasoned.

“Well, yeah, but you sort of do after you die. That’s all that you take with you, your thoughts and your memories and your grudges and grief. That’s why things like Civil War reenactments on battlefields make me sick. There are spirits trapped there, reliving the worst moments in their lives and then these yahoos come in trying to romanticize war and death and it is pure torture for the dead people there.

“If nothing else it further entrenches their false reality. If those so called ‘reenactors’ could feel for even five minutes the pure hell in those battles, they would be so ashamed.”

“Have you seen what war was really like?” I asked, fascinated.

“Senior year my dad loaded us into the car and drove to Gettysburg. We were supposed to stay for a week but I lasted only two nights. I couldn’t take it. I moved on as many as I could, but it was like an endless sea of misery.”

“Oh my God, Molly,” I said.

“Don’t get me wrong, it was really hard at the time, but it is fine now. I’ve learned to close myself off and open up if someone needs my help. It had become second nature, until we moved here. This place is saturated. Dead coming and going and the things, I mean, every monster you’ve ever heard of and then some, I’ve seen them here. The energy here, it’s calling it all in.”

“The ley lines,” I said quietly.

“Oh my God, really? Oh geez, no wonder! OK, that makes perfect sense then, I thought maybe it was the people, you know how everyone here is such a do-er? I thought maybe their energy was combining and, like, taking on a life of it’s own. Opening portals by itself.”

“Portals?”

“Yeah,” she said, scrunching her nose, “I know of three but there have to be more. The weird thing is that they are usually a way for the dead to remain, like stuck in their own reality. Like they deliver them back to the places they fixate on. In New York City I saw one in the subway. There were dead people streaming through and I glimpsed a shadow figure which is super rare, but that was New York. The energy there is extreme.

“So sure, in a big city enough energy could be generated to power a being from another dimension through a portal but it would take a lot. I mean, monsters can’t just come through willy nilly without a big push. So I guess the ley lines make sense combined with fact that the people here overflow with energy. The portals here are wide open. Anything can go in or come out.”

“Like the grinning man,” I said.

“Yeah, that freak. I don’t even know what he is, I mean his vibe reminds me a little bit of the shadow men but he’s more actualized or something. He’s hard to read but he has let some stuff slip through. Flashes of intention and I think some images of the future. I think I’ve even picked up a little bit about their plan.”

“Whose plan?”

“The demon’s,” she said simply.

I groaned.

“Sorry, but all that heaven and hell, devil and demon stuff, it’s real. Not exactly the way religions describe it, like, you’re never doomed unless you want to be or, I mean, let yourself become so deceived that you believe you are, but, yeah. It’s real.”

“Well shit,” I said. “Then how does it all work?”

“Well, the creatures we fear, all the little monsters and the things that go bump, they are the agents of the devil. Demons are there to put bad thoughts in your mind and to command the lesser beings, the monsters. The demon’s intention is to distract and deceive, they work for the devil and support him in his ultimate goal. The monsters are farther down on the totem pole. They are nuisance creatures, sort of gathering the scraps of negativity, feeding off of it.

“Some even believe that they are dead people that have become so warped in their own deception that the devil convinces them that they are monsters capable of only existing on the scraps of evil. Like an alcoholic that is so far into their addiction they can’t imagine a life without drinking, you know? They are so turned around in their dependence that they give up on the idea that they could have any other life, or death really.

“But those things have no real power, only the power we give them. So, it’s hard to explain, but they have no business being on our plane. Unless something powerful pushes them through, which the demons do when they find it beneficial for tipping a living person over the edge. But here, in this town, these monsters are sneaking in by themselves.”

“Cut it out,” I said.

“No, really, it’s not like a totally steady wave. I think they are so used to not being able to cross over unless they are pushed through that most of them don’t know they can do it on their own. But word is spreading and that is how this creeper got through.”

“So what the hell does he want?” I asked, truly frightened.

“Really bad things,” she replied, leaning forward in her seat.

“The next time I saw him, after Bates, I was in Whole Foods-”

“Stop it,” I said, loudly.

“Yeah,” she replied, wide-eyed. “I was picking out avocados and I looked up and he was right across from me, on the other side of the bin. We stared at one another for a moment and then he,” she closed her eyes tight and shook her head as if to shake off the memory, “He smiled at me. Up close it was appalling. His teeth aren’t just discolored, they are too long and perfectly straight across the tips. Cartoonish.”

“Gross,” I said.

“He followed me through the entire store. Actually, that’s not right, he walked in front of me, backwards so that he could watch me the whole time. I tried to communicate with him, tried to tell him to either tell me what he wanted or get the hell away from me. He was blocking me, a blank slate for the most part, but I cracked through a little bit. I got some images. Of creatures congregating around a portal. Things that I’ve never seen before, tiny ones and huge insects with wings and, like a million legs, and other creatures that were so tall I couldn’t see their faces. It was like a perverted Dr. Seuss book.

“He eventually disappeared, he went around the corner to the dairy aisle and when I turned to follow he was gone. It left me, sort of raw. Before that I’d noticed a much higher number of dead people in this town but this encounter made it sink in that something bigger was happening.

“I caught glimpses of him randomly a few times after that, lurking off in the distance, watching. But the next time I saw him I was in the community garden over by the golf course and that’s when he attached to me.”

“What community garden?” I asked.

“Brookside,” she said. “It’s a little plot of land for people who need gardening space. Our yard is tiny and I love growing my own vegetables in the summer so I signed up for a plot.”

“Cool,” I said, meaning it.

“The plots are set in rows and they’re each surrounded by wire fences. It’s not the most attractive set up, but once I get going tending the garden I sort of lose myself in it. Anyway, in that warm spell we had a couple weeks ago I went over there thinking that I might be able to get a jump on raking or at least straighten up a bit.

“My plot is just about dead center in the garden. It’s fussy to get in there, you know? The rows between the plots are narrow and muddy and lined on each side by the tall wire fences that surround each individual garden. Since it was so nice out I thought I’d might see some other people there, but it was just me.

“So I was pulling up some old weeds when I got the feeling I was being watched. I looked over at the storage shed at the corner of the garden and there he was.

“I felt trapped. He began gliding towards me so I scrambled out of my plot and ran down my row away from him. I felt, I mean I knew he was coming for me.

“I ended up running onto the golf course there, I had no plan for where the hell I was going, I just wanted to be out in the open. I should have run out onto Oakland Street, but I was terrified.

“Once I was in the middle of the green I spun around to confront him but he wasn’t there. At least, he wasn’t where I could see him. I screamed for him to come out, to just do whatever the fuck he was going to do already.”

Molly sighed and stared off towards the bar, her eyes sad and unfocused. She continued, “That’s when it happened.”

“What?” I said after waiting a too long moment for Molly to explain.

“Honestly, I don’t know, I passed out and woke up two hours later next to the garden shed. He was standing over me, grinning. He hasn’t left me since.”

I shook my head, speechless.

“The worst part is that I know things now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I don’t know things he does and he puts people’s skeletons in my head.”

“What the fuck are you saying?” I asked, picturing a horror show.

“Their secrets,” she said, looking down.

My mind raced. Oh shit, I thought, realizing what she meant. What freaking skeletons did I have? What the hell did she know about me.

“It’s a nightmare,” she said. “I know things that I shouldn’t. I’ll run into a neighbor at the grocery store and as I’m talking to them I all of a sudden know that they snuck money out of the offering plate on Sunday. The little boy that lives across the street from us watched his parents have sex last Tuesday night. My OBGYN wants to get a divorce and she’s spreading rumors that her husband had an affair so it doesn’t look like it’s her fault. One of the baristas at Starbucks keeps a knife in her apron and is just waiting for someone to give her an excuse to use it.”

Molly stopped, catching her breath. I just stared at her, in shock.

“Don’t worry, I don’t know anything about you,” she said with a forced laugh.

I gave my own little nervous laugh and said, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s like, this information he puts in my head, it’s not to embarrass the person I’m talking to, it’s meant to embarrass me, you know? He’s trying to make me feel uncomfortable around people.

“He gets me when my guard is down. I don’t always have my shield up when I’m just running errands.”

“Is he’s here now?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she replied.

I waited for her to explain and when she didn’t I demanded, “Well where the hell is he?”

“At the back door,” she said, nodding towards the coffee bar. “Something about the train tracks intrigues him.”

I peeked over my shoulder towards the back corner of the cafe but I didn’t see anything unusual.

“He’s with you all the time?”

“Yeah. I suppose it’s better that he’s attached to me and not lurking around playgrounds and kids, for now anyway. I just have to figure out how to get rid of him.

“He’s a pest, but from what I can tell, he doesn’t really have the power to do anything too terrible. But he’s just one of the monsters in this town.

“How many people read you blog?” She asked abruptly.

“I don’t know, a few hundred give or take,” I replied.

“It’s not enough,” she whispered, then looked at her watch. “Shit. I have to go meet with our contractor in ten minutes, but, there’s something else I wanted to tell you.

“I don’t want to freak you out,” she said, wrapping a chunky scarf around her neck.

“Too late,” I said with a laugh.

“Listen, I’m sorry, but I have to tell you something, about you. It’s important.”

“Like a reading?” I asked nervously.

“More like a message, I don’t get them often but when I have I’ve regretted not passing them on.”

“Ok, shoot,” I said with a sigh.

Molly looked down at her hands, “That thing that’s been bothering you lately, the thing you think might be a problem? It is. I mean, not yet, but it will be if you don’t stop. You’re at, like, a crossroads. You can still choose, but you don’t have many more chances to take the right path. The bad path appears relatively harmless, but it’s not, it’s a trap, a really bad one.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but I couldn’t.

“You don’t have to tell me, really, but I just had to warn you. I had a vision of you at a fork in the road. One path was really narrow but it was bright and calm, the other course was like a wide alleyway, overhead was a storm. A dark, windy storm.”

I nodded my head and began to explain when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Liz! I’ve been meaning to text you! Hi!” the woman said, reaching out a hand to Molly.

Molly stood and took her hand but didn’t say anything.

I stood to hug Jenn, “Hey Jenn, this is my neighbor, Molly,” I said by way of introduction.  

“Good to meet you! We have to get together soon,” Jenn said to me. “I’ve been reading the blog, but I want to hear everything from the horse’s mouth. I’ve got to grab a coffee quick, but let’s get together soon, OK? Nice to meet you Molly!”

Molly and I sat back down and stared at one another.

I was about to ask her a question about her message for me when she said, “Who was that?”

“Jenn McAuley,” I answered.

Molly was pale.

“What is it?” I demanded. “Did you get a vision about her or something?”

“No,” she said quietly. “Not a vision. She, well, she has something with her. Damn it, I shouldn’t have opened up this morning. I just thought it would help me to be more upfront with you. Fuck.”

“Is she alright?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything like that before. It’s huge, and it’s dark. It’s right over her shoulder. She has to get rid of it.”

“Have you read all the stories on the blog?” I asked, panicked.

Molly nodded her head.

I leaned forward and whispered, “That’s Jenn, poltergeist Jenn.”

Molly shook her head, “That thing isn’t a poltergeist.”

unnamed“Walter! Artie! Shush!” I yelled, hobbling to my front door. Another ring of the doorbell set the dogs off into a fresh round of barking. I shushed them again, unlocked the front door and peeked outside.

“Hieeeee!” Called a petite brunette woman through the crack. “Liz! Hi!” She exclaimed, stepping forward, arms outstretched. She shoved a wine bottle shaped gift bag into my right hand and a bag of Double Stuffed Oreo cookies into my left and stepped inside.

“I’m so glad I caught you at home, I hope this isn’t a bad time,” she said cheerily.

It actually was a bad time for a pop up visit, but I said, “No, no, not at all. Come in, um-”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Gwen! Gwen Tegtmeier! I live behind you guys, just a couple houses down,” she explained as she shrugged out of her jacket and hung it on the stairway banister. “I’ve been meaning to stop by for months!”

“Oh, great,” I said, “Come on in, can I get you some coffee or water?”

“No, no, no,” she replied. “I’ve just got a couple minutes,” her eyes scanned the entryway and she craned her neck into the dining room. “Oh, you’ve done a beautiful job in here! It’s so bright! I walked through during the open house it was so bland before. Now it has personality!

“So cute that you let the kids put up their art. Will this tape affect the paint, though?” She demanded with furrowed brow.

“No, I don’t think so,” I replied, suddenly unsure.

“Good, good, it’s cute,” she said.

I followed her into my family room, “OK, stop it, this rug is to die for! Oh, I could just sit in here are read for hours! Do you use the fireplace a lot?” She asked flopping down onto the couch.

“Yes, I mean just with those single burning logs though, we’re too lazy for the real thing,” I replied. I placed her gifts on a side table and gingerly took a seat across from her in an armchair.

Huh,” she said, turning her scrutiny on me, “Is your back really bothering you?”

“No,” I replied, “It’s fine, I had surgery last week so I’m still moving a bit slowly.”

“Oh, hell!” she shrieked. “What was I thinking, stopping by unannounced while you’re convalescing?” She jumped up from the couch and I slowly followed suit.

Listen, enjoy the treats, but I simply must have you over to the house. Are you up for venturing out?”

“Well, I suppose in a couple weeks or-”

“No, no sooner than that. We have something in common! I am literally a hop skip and a jump from your home and you’ve got to get some fresh air. Just go two doors down then cut through the Patterson’s back yard, they won’t mind at all. Don’t use the wooded pathway, connecting our streets, OK? Go through the Patterson’s.

“My house is the white Colonial with green shutters, number seventy-three, the last house before Boulder Brook. Are the kids at school and daycare tomorrow?”

I nodded my head and followed as she walked to the front door and slipped back into her ski coat.

“Perfect! I’ll see you at, let’s say ten thirty?”

“Ah, sure, great,” I replied, opening the door for her.

“Bring your recorder!” She called over her shoulder as she bound across the front lawn.

And with that she was gone as quickly as she’d appeared. I locked the door and shuffled back into the family room to open the canvas wine bag. Inside was a chilled bottle of Rombauer chardonnay.

****

I regret that I slowly dropped out of my little social scene after I injured my back a little over half a year ago. I tried to hang in there for a while but ultimately I had to admit that I simply couldn’t handle my life like I used to. Managing the house and every detail of three small children’s lives while maintaining my marriage and trying to ignore the chronic pain took all my energy and then some. In addition to allowing little things to fall by the wayside (like staying on top of the laundry and dishes) my mind slipped a little too. I had the brain capacity of a goldfish, forgetting appointments, double booking dates, and completely forgetting long conversations. Pain medication played a significant role and I see that now, but at the time I thought I was truly losing it.

My sanity depends largely on friendships and regular exercise, without those two things I stumble. Though it had been out of necessity, I’d let my world become small. Thankfully, the surgery took away that chronic pain, and I’d be cleared for exercise in several weeks and the pain pills were a distant memory, so things were looking up on that front. But I knew I needed to do some real work when it came to reconnecting with my friends. I’d been out of the loop for so long that I felt lazy and antisocial. If I didn’t push myself to connect again I feared that I might lose the friends I had. I was in such a weird, hermit-like headspace that I had a hard time mustering up the energy to text, let alone see anyone.

And then Gwen had breezed into my life. Even in tip top performance I don’t think that I would have accepted an invitation like the one she’d extended, but I was vulnerable and bored so I went ahead and walked two doors down then cut through the Patterson’s back yard, hoping that it was true they wouldn’t mind the trespassing.

Gwen’s house was right there, as described. A white Colonial with green shutters, number seventy-three, the last house before the Boulder Brook path.

Before I’d even pulled my hand back from the doorbell Gwen threw open the door and demanded, “Come in! Come in!”

I stepped inside and allowed her to help me out of my coat.

“Follow me, we’ll fix our coffee then sit in the sunroom.”

I did as I was told and followed Gwen into her beautiful chef’s kitchen, complete with a faucet over the gas stove for filling pots.

“Beautiful,” I said, simply.

“Oh, gosh, thank you,” she said, waving away the compliment with a hand. “This was all done before we bought the house. I am not a cook, so it is totally lost on me, but it is quite pretty.”

“How long have you lived here?” I asked.

“Oh,” she considered, yanking open the refrigerator door, “I guess it’s been about five years. Ever since my oldest, Cara, was in preschool. She’s in fourth grade now, and her younger sister Sara is in second, over at Bates, of course.”

“I have all girls too,” I commented.

“I know!” She enthused. “It’s crazy how much we have in common.”

There was that comment again, I wasn’t sure how to respond. I quickly put it out of my mind though when I saw the large bottle of International Coffee Delight Hazelnut Creamer.

“Awesome,” I said, pointing to the bottle.

Gwen smiled and put it on the counter next to two large white coffee cups. “Here you go,” she said.

I fixed my coffee and we made small talk about the neighborhood. Gwen was a real kick. She was excitable, quick talking, wordy and prone to tangents. Her voice rose and fell depending upon the topic at hand. So much so that at times I would have to watch her mouth and basically lip-read to understand what she was saying. At other moments my hands lifted involuntarily to cover my ears and I’d have to force them back down so as not to be rude.

She was like an energy drink. All fizz and pop and I’m gonna sweep out this garage right after I schedule dentist appointments for the whole family and organize that basement motherfucker! I liked her, but it was hard to keep up.

Once we’d doctored our coffees I followed my hostess into a bright sunroom. Bare trees and brambles filled the view from a huge picture window, which overlooked the entrance to the Boulder Brook Reservation. White overstuffed chairs sat facing the window and a creamy soft-knotted wool carpet lay underfoot.

“This is beautiful,” I commented, “I’m terrified I’ll spill my coffee.”

Gwen waved the comment away with a hand, and pointed to the glass coffee table which held a plate filled with cinnamon buns, “Please, have some! They’re from Quebrada!”

“I will, thank you,” I said enthusiastically.

We sat across from one another in comfy chairs. I commented on the huge black and white beach photo on the wall behind Gwen. She explained that she’d taken it out at Siasconset on their first trip to Nantucket; the photo on the wall behind me was Dionis.

Gwen tucked her legs underneath herself and asked, “Is that chair comfortable enough? Does your coffee taste all right? Did you bring your recorder?” In rapid succession.

“Yes, everything is perfect,” I replied, smiling. “It’s so nice to be out of the house. And I did, I have my recorder in my jacket pocket. Should I grab it?”

“No, no, no, you sit,” she insisted, “I’ll go grab it for you!”

I smiled and sipped my coffee and enjoyed the room. Something felt off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I chased the thought away rationalizing that I was just off my game and feeling awkward having been a shut-in for weeks. This neighbor must have a ghost story to share, and that was fun, I reasoned.

The window had pretty antique-looking tables at each side and on one of those tables sat a teddy bear. It’s body turned towards the window. A small camera on a tripod was trained on the bear’s face, another camera on a taller tripod faced out the window, sharing the bear’s perspective. I imagined it might be some sort of school project for one of Gwen’s daughters.

Gwen popped back into the room.

“Here you go!” She said excitedly, “Want me to turn it on for you?”

“Sure,” I replied, again feeling a bit off.       

“I have the exact same one!” Gwen said smiling and shaking her head. “OK, we have so much to discuss!”

“What do you want to talk about?” I asked.

“Boulder Brook,” she replied.

I looked out the window at the entrance to the trail through the reservation. The hike began in a field then looped along a rocky trek through thick woods. The path was set in what had once been Boulder Brook Farm and crumbling stonewalls were still scattered through the woods. The mile and a half long loop was surrounded on all sides by packed neighborhoods, though once inside the dense forest you wouldn’t know it. I used to include the path in my running route and I couldn’t wait to get back to doing just that.

“What’s up with the trail?” I asked.

“There’s something in there, it’s dangerous,” Gwen’s sunny demeanor was gone.

“Do you mean the coyotes?” I asked, placing my coffee on a coaster and grabbing a pink cocktail napkin and a cinnamon bun. I had a feeling things were about to get weird so I figured I might as well just tuck in.

“No, not the coyotes, though, they are a part of it I suppose. You’ve been in the neighborhood for around a year, right?”

I nodded my head in confirmation, my mouth full of cinnamon bun.

“Have you ever noticed anything strange in the area?” Before I could answer she said, “I mean outside, not in your house.”

“Well, I mean, the ice cream truck is super aggressive in the summer and there are a massive number of rabbits around here. Though I suppose they’re all over town, so that’s everywhere. We haven’t many mosquitos, everyone seems to keep up with their yards, it all seems pretty suburban,” I rambled.

Gwen shook her head; I realized I had failed the question.

“How about at night?” She prodded.

“I’m not out much at night, I can’t think of anything particularly odd,” I replied, feeling pressure to give the correct answer this time. “Wait, a couple weeks ago Chris and I were watching TV after the girls were in bed and I heard someone outside playing Mary Had a Little Lamb on a recorder. It was, like nine o’clock at night. That was really scary.”

Gwen laughed, “They give those to all the third graders, they have to learn to play them.”

“Oh, thank God,” I said, laughing along with her and feeling truly relieved. The nasal sound of the recorder floating through the night really had been chilling.

“Do you guys sleep with noise machines?” Gwen asked.

I nodded.

“Turn it off tonight, and listen,” she insisted.

I noticed for the first time that Gwen had a facial tic, her eyes occasionally blinked three times in rapid succession.

“What am I listening for?” I asked, nervousness beginning to creep up within me.

“You mentioned the coyotes, but there are less and less sightings. The night is quiet now; it wasn’t like that when we first moved to the neighborhood. Something hunted those dogs out of existence in the area,” she replied.

“Like what? Wolves? Shit, do we have wolves?” I asked, alarmed.

“No, it’s not wolves, I honestly don’t know what it is, but there is something living in the Boulder Brook reservation and it’s incredibly dangerous.” Eye blinks.

Just then the teddy bear near the window, the one being video recorded, giggled and said “Ha ha! That tickles!”

“What in the fuck is happening?” I demanded.

Gwen looked over at the bear and began laughing so hard that she couldn’t speak.

My fear grew into terror. I said so, “Gwen, you’re scaring me.”

“Oh! No, no, no, I am sorry. I am not laughing at you! Oh,” she breathed, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes. “I’m sorry but your reaction was just priceless.”

“What is that thing?” I demanded.

“That’s a BooBuddy, it’s one of the devices I use to detect changes in the environment. As a trigger object it’s been quite effective. I had been using a traditional EMF detector in here, with relatively good results, but the teddy bear exterior definitely entices the creatures to interact more often.”

I took a deep breath, “That bear is a ghost detector?”

“Kind of,” she said excitedly, “It is amazing, it can even ask questions and record EVPs, it measures changes in the electromagnetic field, and it alerts if those changes occur or if there’s any movement or temperature changes.”

“Are you a paranormal investigator then,” I asked, genuinely surprised.

Amateur investigator, I mean I am no where close to Biddy or Eric. I’ve really only done investigations at home in Pennsylvania, and here in our neighborhood.”

“You know Biddy?” I asked.

“Only by reputation,” she said quickly. “But I don’t hunt ghosts. I’m into cryptids; it’s been my passion for a long time. And,” she leaned forward and whispered, “I think there are at least two but possibly three creatures in Boulder Brook.”

“Animals can’t trigger an EMF detector,” I said, confused.

“They’re not animals,” she replied excitedly. “At least not the way we think of animals. The best way to describe them is interdimensional. They affect the environment in a unique way, EMF is just one way to detect their presence!”

“Hold on, are you saying that one of those creatures was here, just now, and made that bear go off?” I asked, goose bumps running up and down my arms.

“I asked you to be here around ten o’clock because they are usually here sometime between ten fifteen and eleven every morning. Except Mondays. I haven’t figured that out yet. It is the only time during the day that they show up. I figured it out after I set up the video recorder and trained it on the BooBear, then created a log of the disturbances.”

“So something was in this house with us just now? How do you know it wasn’t a ghost? If it was a creature or monster it would have to be invisible,” I reasoned, trying to reassure myself.

“There are so many things invisible to us, though, right? So it’s not far fetched to think that a living being could be just as hidden from our sight as a dead being or entity. It’s all connected, right? I mean you agree. Everything paranormal, demons, aliens, cryptids, ghosts. If we are on a certain plane of existence and those things are on another, or I don’t know how it works, but maybe those planes overlap sometimes.”

“I’m doing my best to follow, but I’m kind of hung up on the idea that there are invisible creatures living in Boulder Brook Reservation. I walk there all the time. High school kids party back there. I would think word would get around.”

“They’re new,” Gwen replied.

I shook my head, “What-”

“These creatures, the cryptids in the reservation,” she explained, “I only recognized the signs about a year and a half ago. Something let them in and I think I know what happened, I just don’t know who did it.”

I grabbed another cinnamon bun, decided to jump into the abyss with her and said, “Alright, start at the beginning.”

Gwen’s face brightened and she said excitedly, “Do you need more coffee?”

I shook my head.

“OK, you let me know if you do,” Gwen said before scaring the hell out of me with her story. She began, “I grew up in Bradford, Pennsylvania. I spent hours hiking and hunting in the woods with my dad. I know wildlife and I know what’s normal. What is happening here is not normal.

“OK, what I am about to tell you sounds far-fetched, but please hear me out,” she paused, her eyes blinking rapidly, then continued quickly, “When I was sixteen years old I saw a Sasquatch in the woods on a trail near my home.”

She paused again, then whispered, “Do you think I’m nuts?

I couldn’t reply my mouth was full of pastry so I just shook my head.

“Whew! Oh, it is such a relief to say it out loud!’ Gwen said, loudly. “I haven’t had anyone to talk about this with in years,’” she took a deep breath and went on, “I was on a trail near my house headed back home after a day of hiking. I came around a bend in the trail, and boom! There it was about twenty feet ahead of me. The trail rose in elevation a bit, so I was sort of below the thing looking up at it. It was standing stock-still and staring down the path back at me, I must have startled it.

“It. Was. Huge. Like a big long-armed, broad gorilla man, maybe eight feet tall; at least that’s what I estimated by how high it was compared to the tree it was standing near.

“And man, it stunk. It smelled like wet dog and skunk and poop. We stared at each other for at least thirty seconds. Long enough for me to blink my eyes hard and try and shake myself back to reality.”

Gwen grabbed a pastry and took a huge bite. She stared at me, chewing, wide-eyed.

I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I said, “No way.”

“Yes!” Gwen said with an exaggerated shiver, “It moved towards me, kind of aggressive. That made me stumble back about three or four steps, I didn’t want to turn my back to it, but I didn’t want the thing any closer to me than it already was. I was trying to decide if I should wave my arms and yell, like you’re supposed to do with bears when the creature just stopped, turned and walked off the path back into the woods.

“I froze. I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t turn back, it was getting late and I still had about half an hour’s hike to get to the road. Do you need more coffee?”  

“What? No!” I said, startled out of the woods by her question. “No, no thank you.”

“OK, let me know. So, thankfully the creature was gone for good. I just put one foot in front of the other the rest of the way home and didn’t see another sign of it, though the entire hike back I felt like I was in danger. I refused to look off to either side of the trail. I kept my head down or stared straight ahead. It felt like I was being hunted.”

“Oh my God, what if that thing had attacked you? Is there any way that it could have been a big bear or something, though?”

“It wasn’t a bear!” Gwen yelled.

I sat back in my seat and sipped my coffee, goose bumps again covering my arms. I apologized and said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to second-guess you.”

“Ugh,” Gwen said, “I don’t mean to be sensitive, but it is just so fucking dismissive of my experience.”

“I didn’t mean it to sound-”

“I know, but it does sound like that. What if I suggested that little man you saw in your basement was a raccoon or some other animal that had just gotten into your house? No. You know what you saw and I know what I saw.”

You also know an awful lot about me, I thought.

I said, “Good point, sorry. I believe you.”

“Thank you,” she said, eyes blinking furiously. “He, or she, or, I don’t know, it? It was dark brown and covered with fur, nice shiny fur, not dirty or matted or anything. It walked like a person, a bit lumbering, but I think that was just due to the length of its legs. It had very long legs a bit out of proportion to its torso and it’s arms were too long to.”

As she said this an image came to mind of the man-like entity Chris had seen in our basement months ago. Tall with arms too-long for it’s body.

Gwen was staring out the window, I looked towards the place in the woods she was staring at, half expecting to see a Sasquatch out there waving at us.

But there was no cryptid, just bare trees and scrub.

I said, “It sounds like an animal to me, some big huge animal that we just haven’t discovered yet, right?”

Gwen leaned forward and pointed at me excitedly, “That’s what they want you to think, right? That’s the most reasonable explanation, isn’t it? ‘It’s a freak ape or some form of humanoid missing link,’ they say,” she shook her head, “The truth isn’t so simple.”

“Then what is the truth?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said quietly. “After I saw that thing I became absolutely obsessed. I mean, I had never even thought about Bigfoot before! I’d seen Unsolved Mysteries like everybody else, but that stuff didn’t interest me at all, and I’d spent so much time in the woods that I found it ridiculous.

“But that day on the trail blew my mind up. I spent as much time in the woods as I could after that, looking for signs, hunting for footprints. I made casts of a couple prints and that’s where I found my first big clue. Not in the existence of the footprints, I found so many in those woods that there was no question the creatures existed. The interesting thing about the prints was that oftentimes after following them along for a time on a trail they would completely disappear. I’d follow thirty or forty footprints along the forest floor and then the trail would just end. In some cases I could explain it away by the terrain, but in others it made no sense.

“That’s when I began to suspect that these creatures aren’t anything like the animals we know, these things could disappear. I’d been hunting the creature like it was a bear or a deer. It occurred to me that maybe this huge animal was so elusive because it can go where human beings can’t. Maybe we can’t find any proof because these things can leave, like completely.

“And then there’s the scat, or lack of it really. I mean, where’s the poop?” Gwen demanded seriously.             

I nodded my head trying not to laugh.

“Alright,” Gwen continued. “So I’d been scurrying around the woods after this thing for a couple of months when I saw a flier for a discussion group at my library. A man named Stan Gordon lead the talk. He was head of a group called the Westmoreland County UFO Study Group. They were building the case that Bigfoot was tied to extraterrestrials.”

Gwen was leaning far forward in her chair with her elbows on her knees. Her face was lit with earnest excitement. I’d been happily riding along in her passion and belief, but the alien Bigfoot revelation was quite the bump in the road.

“Do you mean that Bigfoot is an alien or that he knows aliens? Like they’re in cahoots?” I asked, smiling.

“It is bat shit crazy,” she said. “I know! I thought so too! Look, I don’t totally agree with Mr. Gordon. He’s done his best to present the evidence and convince me, but no. There are too many loose ends in his theory. But, hearing that theory shook my mind up enough so that I could develop my own hypothesis.”

“Which is?” I said, feeling confused and wishing that I could close the wooded cottage style shutters on the picture window. It may have only been that Gwen’s absolute assurance in otherworldly creatures was rubbing off on me, but I had the distinct feeling that we were being watched.

Gwen sat back in her seat and whispered, “It’s all connected. I read this one flat earth theory that sort of pulled it all together, but-”

Gwen,” I interrupted with a nervous laugh.

“Oh, I know,” she said quickly, eyes blinking rapidly. “Flat earth theory isn’t a reality, but it does tie up some loose ends nicely.”

“But what is living in the Boulder Brook Reservation?” I asked. “Let’s just come back home for a moment.”

“Sorry, I tend to wander when I’m thinking about them. But I have to stress that it is all connected, only no one has all the pieces of the puzzle to prove it yet. These creatures in the reservation, of course they aren’t Bigfoot, but they are connected to them somehow. The parallels, the evidence they leave is so similar that it cannot just be coincidence.”        

I sipped the dregs of my cold coffee, waiting for some sort of straight line of thinking from Gwen.

“Do you want more coffee?” She asked.

I smiled; her inability to stay on track was more amusing than irritating. I liked Gwen. I would never in a million years have pegged her for a Bigfoot enthusiast. I realized I was actually enjoying myself for the first time in a long time.

“No more coffee, thank you. Tell me what you’ve found in the reservation that reminded you of Bigfoot.”

“OK,” she said scooching forward in her seat and smiling broadly, “First of all, have you seen the little structures in the woods? The branches built up against trees, like teepees?”

I nodded my head; I had seen these little structures set back from the trail in the reservation and in several of the other wooded trails I walked in town.  

“That is a freaking signature calling card for cryptids. I don’t know if they are, like, some sort of portal, or maybe they are like a sign to the aliens. I mean, they can’t be shelters, way too drafty, right? But those structures show up in the woods all over the Americas and have been documented in Europe as well.”

“I just assumed it was kids building pretend shelters,” I said.

“Next time you see one, take a good look. They are always tied at the top with intricately knotted grass. Very thin, like a braid, but not a braid. Those things are tall, right? And they are built with long, heavy branches. If you really take a look you will see that some of those branches are fresh. They haven’t recently fallen, they were ripped – not cut – off trees.”

“OK, that’s freaky,” I acknowledged.

“Mm hmm!” Gwen said her face absolutely glowing with enthusiasm. “Another thing to look for is the scratches. Three deep scratches along those branches and most times traced along the living tree that the structure surrounds. I’ve measured and these structures are between ten to thirteen feet tall, too tall for the Boy and Girl Scouts of America to create without the Boston Globe being called to document their brilliance. Also, the scratch marks are rather consistent. They appear to be made by an animal, not a tool or machine.”

I imagined this little woman in the woods, EMF detector in her back pocket, measuring tape in hand. I suppressed another smile.

She noticed. “What?” She asked. “I know I must sound like an absolute nut.”

“No!” I said quickly, then, “I mean, a little bit considering the topic. It’s just that listening to you talk about this, I guess it just reminds me of how much I love hearing these stories. It makes me happy that there is someone out there who gets just as excited about this stuff.”

Gwen smiled, “I told you we had a lot in common!”

I reached forward to break off another bite of cinnamon bun (yes, it was my third) and asked, “What else have you found?” I asked.

“There are the consistent EMF readings, both around the structures and also around the bear.”

I glanced over at the stuffed animal and shivered a bit. I sincerely hoped it wouldn’t speak again. I asked, “Do you think the creatures are getting into your house?”

“No, no, but I think they both unintentionally give off EMF and they are able to intentionally affect their environment. It’s sort of a way they communicate.”

“What do you think they’re trying to tell you?” I asked.

“I don’t know. It doesn’t feel aggressive, and it doesn’t seem coincidental. Every day, again, except Mondays, around the same time, that bear triggers. I can’t help but think it is intentional.

Then there are the lights. The lights were the very first things I noticed when we moved here and they triggered a memory from one of Stan’s books.

“Not every time, but many times witnesses report seeing greenish floating lights or an actual U.F.O. at the same time they see a Sasquatch. Sometimes people see all three at once. Anyhow, the first week we were here I was out in the backyard around dusk, dumping out the kiddie pool after the kids went to bed and that’s when I saw them for the first time. Three greenish lights hovering above the reservation. I estimated they were hovering about half way across the field.

“I watched them for a while, wondering what people were doing back there. The woods had been a huge part of our choosing the home, but I hadn’t considered anyone lurking in the reservation at night. It freaked me out. I was about to go in and tell my husband when the lights slowly started to climb and then shot up and out of sight. Fast.”

“Uh uh,” I said.

“Yeah, and I’ve seen them three times since. Twice I watched them hover and then blink out but one other time they shot up into the sky again.”

“Did you manage to get any video?” I asked.

“No,” she said, sighing. “I tried, I had my phone on me two of the times, but the first time I was too slow and the second time I did record the lights hovering but when I tried to look back at the video on my phone there was nothing there.

“It was like the opposite of the stuff people find with ghosts, you know? Like technology can record EVPs and some cameras can capture images that our eyes can’t see. But in this case I could see the lights clearly but the camera couldn’t record them.”

“Strange,” I commented.

Very,” Gwen agreed. “Then there are the whoops. It’s a lot like the ones I heard in Pennsylvania and the recordings I’ve listened to online. When these things communicate they call out with a ‘Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!’ noise.”

“But the ones you investigated back home were Bigfoot and we know there aren’t any of those here,” I reasoned, wondering if perhaps this was all just wishful thinking on Gwen’s part.

“No, unfortunately, they aren’t Bigfoot. They look nothing like them,” Gwen said, seriously.

“So you’ve seen one of these things?”

Gwen stood up and walked over to the window. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared out at the tree line.

I stared at her back; unsure of whether I even wanted to know what she’d seen. I had to live here, only about five houses up from the reservation. I didn’t want to know what monsters were lurking in there. But it was too late.

“It was last October. The girls and I were raking leaves in the early evening. I saw something move in the trees. See that small stone wall?” She asked motioning and turning briefly to look at me. I nodded my head and she turned back to the window.  

“I saw something duck down behind it. It was dusk and there were still a lot of leaves on the trees, the brush is pretty thick back there so I wasn’t sure exactly what I saw but it wasn’t a squirrel or anything like that. The thing was big, it had bulk.

“My first thought was that it was a dog running around off leash, but dogs don’t hide, they bound over to you or bark at you or whatever.

“I glanced at the girls, they were in the middle of the yard fooling around in the leaves, so I took a few steps towards the edge of the yard and stood still, watching. Just as I was about to shrug it off the thing peeked over the wall at me.”

“Oh no,” I said, chills running through my body.  

Gwen shook her head slightly, then explained, “It had a head like a really big fox, but without the ears. You know how fox have light eyes? It had those and they were huge. Its fur was short and really thick, it stood up a bit around it’s shoulders. It was like a dirty grey color.

“I jumped back and it stood up completely. It was only about, maybe four feet high, hunched over on two legs, short arms sort of situated closer to the front of the chest than the side. Something about it reminded me of a kangaroo.

“It was just watching me. Then one of the girls gave a shriek behind me; I could tell immediately that it was one of laughter, not fear. The thing turned it’s head toward the girls then kind of tilted it to the side and put one of it’s claws on the wall.

That snapped me out of my daze. I started towards it, waving my rake, screaming like a total nut. I think I was saying ‘Ya! Ya! Get outta here! Go on! Get!’ Meanwhile I was also calling to the girls to get inside the house immediately. I turned away from the creature once and saw they were staring at me and I screamed, ‘Inside! Now!’ and you bet that got them moving.

“I’m not much of a yeller,” she said, turning away from the window and sitting back in the comfy chair.

“What did the thing do when you screamed at it?”

“It didn’t even flinch. It just turned its head away from the girls and towards me again. I backed away from it, I told it to stay, ‘Just stay!’ I yelled at it, like it was a dog for God’s sake,” Gwen said, embarrassed.

“I backed all the way to the front door and scrambled inside. The girls were in the front hall and they were scared to death, of me, they hadn’t seen the thing, thank God. I ordered them to go up to their room and close the door behind them. I came in here and looked out the window but the thing was gone. At least it wasn’t where I’d left it. I panicked that it had come near the house so I slammed these shutters closed checked all the doors then went into the kitchen and called animal control.

“A woman came out and looked around the house, she even went back into the woods. But she didn’t turn up anything. She reasoned that it could have been a fox or perhaps even a kid dressed up in their Halloween costume, just having some fun with me.

“That thing wasn’t a child in a costume,” Gwen said darkly. “I don’t let the girls in the yard anymore. I’ve signed them up for every after school activity I can find and I take them to the library or out for a play date otherwise. I’m always sure to get home before it’s dark out and I pull into the garage and let the door close behind us before we get out of the car.”

An image appeared in my mind of the little fox-like creature slipping in as the garage door was closing. Trapping it in along with Gwen and her kids. I did my best to push the chilling thought away.

“The next day there were three little piles of rocks set at the tree line,” Gwen continued. “I noticed the piles through this window, I didn’t go outside to look, but I grabbed my binoculars so I could get a better look at them. I don’t know how, but I just knew that there was one for each of us, me and the girls

“Jesus,” I breathed.

Gwen considered. She said, “Look, you’ve been interviewing people long enough to know that there is something strange about this town, right? And you know that it wasn’t just a coincidence that you out of the blue decided to put up a flier in the library asking for people’s ghost stories. And it wasn’t a coincidence that you chose this town, that you met Nick who introduced you to Biddy who was there to keep you out of danger. You’re protected now, but you have to continue documenting what’s happening in this town.

“Do you know why this town is special?”

I shook my head, startled by how well she knew my life.

“Ley lines,” she said quietly.

“I don’t know what those-”

Yes, you do,” she interrupted loudly. “Think, on Ghost Adventures, The Ancient Ram Inn, season two, episode sixteen.”

Now I was truly frightened. This woman knew where I lived, knew way too much about my life and had the Ghost Adventures episodes memorized. I shifted forward in my seat, ready to get up and leave.

“Wait!” Gwen insisted. “Please, I’m not crazy and I’m not dangerous. I’m trying to tell you something important. You’ve been only half in and half out of this lately. I read the blog and I listen to the podcast, OK? You’re shifting your focus away from Wellesley. That is fine, but there is a reason for that too. Something doesn’t want you to keep digging.

“This town attracts a certain kind of person, right?”

“Well, yes, but isn’t it sort of like that everywhere? Like attracts like?”

“No,” she replied firmly. “The people in this town, their energy, it’s,” she paused, searching for the word.

“Strong?” I suggested.

“Well, that, yes, but it’s really intense. It is powerful enough to not only accomplish amazing things; it has the collective power to call horrible things in. Certain types of people are drawn to this town, this land. Wellesley was built along a very powerful ley line.”

Gwen paused and looked at me expectantly.

“I’m sorry, I do remember that episode of Ghost Adventures, but all I can recall is the old man who said he was attacked by a succubus every night.”

“Do you remember when he showed Zac that big book with the maps in it?”

“Vaguely,” I conceded.

“Well it was a map of British ley lines. It was first believed that their significance was only in Great Britain, but it has since been proven that they reach across the globe. They are really mystical lines I suppose that can be drawn to connect ancient monuments and megaliths. Some people believe they carry psychic or spiritual power through them. There is no coincidence that things are built where they are built, that events happen where they happen. Major events can be traced along these ley lines.

“When you draw lines connecting the locations of significant negative events and structures in North America it forms a freaking pentagram. Though the symbol itself isn’t necessarily evil or negative, the events that happened to form it are.”

“I’m not quite following,” I admitted.

“Picture a map with all of the major cities and the major tragedies in the Americas. Things that shocked the world. JFK’s assassination, then Robert Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King’s. The Oklahoma City Bombing and 911. Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew. Columbine, VA Tech Massacre and WACO can all be connected by drawing what has been called the Blood Pentagram over the maps of North and South America. It extends up into Canada and the two bottom points hit The Pyramid of Sun near Mexico city, a place that was infamous for ritual killings and the other point hits Haiti, where that devastating earthquake happened.”

“You are in this all super deep,” I said, impressed. “I mean you’ve done your homework.”

Gwen waved the comment away with a hand and continued, “Those demon nests that Gaye described in your blog post from January, I would bet money that the so-called cult leader chose followers whose families lived on ley lines. It makes too much sense, it would provide a steady flow of energy to power and connect them. Dark energy.”

“You’re making sense,” I said, begrudgingly.

“Read back through your stories from the beginning. Think about the path you’ve taken and the people you’ve met. Something is powering the paranormal activity in this town and you’re a part of that. We both are.”

“Oh Lord, Gwen,” I sighed. “I’m tired.”

“I know you are, but I also know you love this, even your own haunting.”

I smiled and agreed. It was true. This feeling, this shaky, exciting paranoia was what I’d been chasing my entire life. And now it was around me, everywhere I turned.

“I wanted to ask you,” Gwen said, “I mean, I know you don’t have any interest in actually hunting this stuff, but if you hear of anything in your interviews, anything that you think might fit into or even out of my theory, will you please tell me?”

“Of course,” I replied. “But I’m not sure I’ll know what that is, I mean other than, God forbid, someone else seeing one of these creatures.”

“No, I know you’ll know when you hear something that’s a piece of the bigger picture,” she replied assuredly. “And vice versa obviously, if something comes up on my end I will totally let you know. If we share information like that we might be able to connect some dots.

Something is happening in this town.”

I nodded my head and said awkwardly, “I should go, I have to get some stuff done before the kids get home.”

“Don’t forget your recorder,” she said picking up the device and handing it to me. “After you!” She said, motioning to the doorway into the kitchen.

I walked through then nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard a high-pitched voice giggle and say, “Oh! That tickles.”

Dread and fear flooded my body.

“Gwen,” I whispered, afraid to move, “is one of those things here?”

“No! Oh! I am so sorry,” she began breaking down into laughter again.

“What the hell, Gwen?” I demanded.

“I was checking the video recorder and I bumped the table by accident and it triggered the bear,” she explained.

“I feel like you are fucking with me,” I said, unsure and annoyed.

“No! Never! Please don’t think that!” She pleaded. “Really! I just bumped the table.”

I let out a breath and said, “That nearly scared me to death.”

“Sorry!” She said again, shrugging her shoulders. “I am such a spaz, ugh. Here, let me get your coat out of the hall closet.”

As she handed me my jacket I was again filled with terror. I honestly wanted her to walk me home. I didn’t want to step foot out of that house. The reservation was too damn close.

She must have sensed my fear because she said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. You’re wearing your necklace,” she motioned to my neck.

“What could this thing possibly do to protect me against some sort of an earless, two footed fox monster?” I replied, forcing a laugh.

“Trust me,” Gwen replied, “It’s all connected. These creatures, they’ve been here for ages waiting for their chance to break through. I can’t prove it yet, but I will. The devil may be patient,” Gwen said before closing the door. “But so am I.”

*****

I walked home, continually looking over my shoulder. Though I was absolutely exhausted from the outing I spent an hour on Google attempting to find a detailed map of Massachusetts ley lines, to no avail. After Chris fell asleep that night I turned off our noise machine. I didn’t sleep, I listened. Both wanting to hear something in the night and wanting to forget what I’d heard from Gwen.