ghosts in the burbs

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

Before I tell you how the story ends I wanted to say… I am incredibly appreciative of the support I’ve received from all of you over the years. The kind email messages, the ridiculously positive reviews, and all of the interaction on social media encouraged me to keep writing. Without all of that the blog and podcast never would have become what they did. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I honestly never thought anyone would read or listen to these ghost stories but because people like you have been vocal about the it and have shared it with friends – word spread like wildfire! 

It’s true. Ghosts in the Burbs is coming to an end. It was a difficult decision and not one I took lightly. I’ve realized that I simply can’t put in the massive amount of attention and time Ghosts in the Burbs deserves any longer. The stories will live on forever, or at least until the robots come to save us from ourselves and shut down the internet, but I have no intention of taking the stories down. They’ll be right where you’ve always found them. 

I thought this ending would take three episodes to tell. But I was wrong, again. This is it. The very last episode. People ask me all the time “Are these stories real?” The honest truth is that every single one of these characters told me their stories. They walked right into my mind and started talking about their houses and their lives and the scary thing that was happening to them. And as I was writing what I thought would be part two of a three part ending, a very scary man walked into a basement in my mind and ended everything right there and then. I wished for another chapter, but stories are like that. Things don’t always go the way you want them to.

And I know I have to close this door so I can open a different one for all of the other ghosts and monsters stomping around in my mind to spill out into the world. So while it is true that the podcast and blog are coming to an end, I still intend to write. From here on out you’ll find me at lizreadsandwrites.com and on instagram @lizreadsandwrites.

But first, we have a three and a half year long story to bring to an unsatisfying conclusion. We’re onto the very last ghost story. #49 The Final Interview Part 2 – The End

[Author’s note: In the previous post (The Final Interview Part 1), our haunted neighbor was referred to as Bonnie. I have changed Bonnie’s name in this episode to Sarah. Thank you Sarah Miller for your kindness and your incredible support of the podcast.]


***

The girls were down for the night, if not yet asleep they were at least quiet in their beds. Chris and I sat in cozy chairs in our kitchen, me sipping coffee, him Chardonnay. 

How long do you think you’ll be? You’re wearing that saint necklace right? Will you be able to tell if something attached to you or whatever? Are you scared? You’re sure this is safe?

I answered his nervous questions as best I could. It would probably take a couple hours. I had on the necklace plus a bracelet of St. Benedict medals that I’d dipped in Holy Water. I was pretty sure I’d be able to tell if someone was attached to me. Afterall, I always knew when Claire was around, if someone else wanted to tag along then I could deal with it before I came home. I was scared. No, I wasn’t sure if it was safe. 

Speaking of Claire, she was there with us. Standing near the door in our mudroom. The protections around my home never applied to her because I wanted her there. She’d taken on the role of guide for me, and though she wasn’t always around she stayed close when I interacted with the dead, and provided snarky commentary when I interacted with the living. But if I asked her to scram and give me some space, she did. 

“Will Claire go with you?” Chris asked. 

Claire smiled. I do hate missing an episode of Goldrush.

I laughed. “She’s coming,” I told him.

“What did she say?” 

“She likes watching television with you.” 

“What does she want to watch?” he said hesitantly. “I’m open to suggestions, but I can’t watch anything scary.” 

Out the picture window headlights flashed across our front lawn. “Judith’s here,” I said, standing up. I brought my mug to the sink while Chris went to answer the door. 

“Christ Almighty, how many dogs do you have?” Judith crowed, her voice nearly drowned out by excited barking. She and Chris exchanged a hug. Holding him out at arms length she asked, “You ready for this? Did she spray you down with Holy Water?”

Like a deer in headlights Chris stammered, “Uh, I wasn’t planning to-”

“She’s joking,” I said, giving him a kiss goodbye.

He chuckled in relief. “I still don’t understand why you have to go do this at night.”

“It’s when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest,” Judith said in a low voice. 

I could tell Chris was trying to manage his expression.

“She’s joking,” Claire and I said in unison. 

“Oh! So Claire’s tagging along then,” Judith said happily having heard the ghost’s voice. 

Hi Judith. Claire replied. 

Judith gave her a nod. “Let’s get goin’, this is going to be a nasty one.”

Chris gave each of us a hug and told me to keep my phone on and text if “anything happens.” 

As we drove to Sarah and Ed Miller’s home Judith filled me in on her current cross stitch project (a jack o’ lantern surrounded by zombies), her dog’s current health issues (food sensitivities and a pain in the ass raw food diet), and the current state of her marriage (rocky). 

“Anyway,” Judith continued, “The therapist says we need to honor each other’s communication styles.’” She glanced over at me. “Are you picking anything up?”

Startled I said, “About your marriage? God no.

Judith let out a bark of laughter. “No, not about my marriage. About where we’re going. About the couple, the house, anything?”

“Oh,” I said relieved. “No, I mean not really. Though my anxiety is at about an eleven on a scale of one to ten.”

“I’m not feelin’ too settled either,” Judith replied. The Miller’s lived on Ledgeways Street, a wooded winding road off Cliff. Judith squinted at a black mailbox. “And… there it is.” Judith pulled into a curved gravel drive in front of an imposing brick colonial with black shutters and a red door. To the right the driveway branched off to a freestanding three car garage.

We sat in silence each consumed by our own thoughts and worries. Finally I unclicked my seatbelt and said, “Ready?”

I just about hit the roof of the car when Claire whispered, You’re not going to like what you find in there, right beside my left ear as if she were leaning forward from the back seat. Turning to look I saw she wasn’t there, and yet I heard her voice again. I’ll go back to the house and watch that stupid show with Chris. If anything happens I’ll tell you.

“Wait, what? Claire? Wait.”

“What did she say?” Judith asked.

“You didn’t hear her?”

Judith shook her head.

“She’s going back to the house she said she’d tell me if anything happens. Why would anything happen at my house?”

“One of my guides just took off too,” Judith admitted. “I knew this was going to be a nasty one.” She took the key from the ignition and shifted in her seat to look straight at me. “You’re gonna take the lead in there.”

“Ha.”

“Yup. I’ll be right there with you, but the only way to learn it is to do it.”

“I don’t know if I’m particularly interested in building this skill set,” I replied.

“You don’t have a choice,” Judith replied.

“Yes I do,” I argued.

“No you don’t, and I’m supposed to train you.”

“Says who?”

“That guide who just took off. Things have… changed.”

I looked from her to the woods surrounding the house. I didn’t need to hear dead people to know that there was something very wrong with the place. “I don’t want to go in there.”

“Me either,” Judith replied opening the car door and stepping onto the gravel drive. 

I did the same, eyeing the dark woods around us. I could feel that we were being watched by angry eyes. I glanced at the house, movement in the dormer at the center of the third floor caught my eye. 

But my attention was pulled away from the window when the front door opened wide, spilling warm light onto the lawn. “Hi,” Sarah called in a small voice. “Come on in. You must be Judith.” She stepped out onto the front stoop and extended a hand. Judith accepted it and followed the woman inside. Hesitantly I left the car and forced myself to follow them. 

In the brightly lit kitchen after we’d said a round of hellos and Judith and I had turned down polite offers of coffee, seltzer water and wine, we explained our intentions. We would walk through the house to discern the nature of the haunting. The information we gathered would help us determine who they needed help from. A priest? A Voodoo practitioner? A Wiccan Priestess? Only walking through the house and meeting their spooks could tell us that. Sarah filled me in about the  footsteps in the attic, the disembodied voices throughout the house, her terrifying sleep paralysis, and the boy in the hoodie over the coffee meeting we’d had earlier that week and I in turn had filled in Judith. 

Judith said, “We’ve got a good idea about what’s going on here, but have you been bickering?” 

The couple looked guilty. 

“How about the kids?”

“They have, it’s driving us crazy.” Sarah admitted. 

Judith nodded her head and turned her attention to me as though she expected me to say something. 

“So then, let’s go ahead and take a look around the house,” I said, dumbly.

“What would you like to see first?” Ed asked.

I looked at Judith hoping she would answer and was met with raised eyebrows. I realized she’d meant it when she said I would be taking the lead. 

I hesitated. “Uh, hang on a second okay?” I closed my eyes and took several calming breaths as I’d been coached to do by Judith and despite everything in me screaming that it was a very bad idea, I dropped my guard and opened up my all of my senses and I listened. I listened for the dead, for the sound of unsettle and for the thing that I knew was there but didn’t want to acknowledge. 

The rooms around us on the first floor vibrated with the dispersed energy of an argument. No arguments. Nasty ones. The basement beneath our feet pulsed with fear and excitement, radiating an evil I hadn’t known existed until that moment. The detached three car garage held a playful sort of danger, and image of teenage boys playing with knives entered my mind. The second floor felt somehow bleak and intentional at the same time. There were two dead people in the attic. Wanting to talk.

“Let’s start in the attic,” I said.

The couple looked at eachother. “Why do you want to start there?” Sarah asked, her voice shaky. 

“There are two dead teenagers up there and they have something to say, but they absolutely refuse to come downstairs.”

“We’ve seen them,” Ed said, incredulously. “The kids too, they say the ‘big kids’ have warned them to stay upstairs. Away from the basement.”

“Then up we go!” Judith said sounding positively gleeful. 

We climbed two flights of stairs and stepped into a beautifully finished attic. To one side of the house was a bedroom with three twin beds built right into the wall under the eves. Cheerful royal blue striped bedspreads gave the room a nautical vibe. To the other side a playroom stuffed to the gills with brightly colored toys sat quietly waiting for us. I noted the dormer windows in both rooms, it was through one of those that I’d seen movement from the driveway. 

“Do your kids play up here a lot?” I asked, trying not to sound as concerned as I felt. 

“They did when we first moved in but now they avoid it. [Name omitted] saw what she described as two “big kids” up here who told her things about the house and they warned her to never go into the woods out back.”

“They’re right about that,” Judith muttered. 

“What’s wrong with the woods?” Ed asked looking at Judith who in turn looked at me.

“Uh, I’m not sure yet,” I said. I glanced around us in the annoyingly dim lamp light and listened. “Wait here, okay?” I left the playroom and walked across the hall to the far end of the bedroom. 

You should go, the boy said. He knows why you’re here.

Tell them the woods aren’t safe, the girl added. 

It’s the garage they should avoid, the boy argued. 

“Why won’t you guys go downstairs?” I asked. 

We don’t want him to trap us. That’s what he wants. A collection, the girl explained. 

We don’t want to end up like them, the boy said. 

“Why can’t he come up here?” I asked. 

We don’t know, they said in unison. 

“Has he attached to these people?” 

To the mother, he will collect her then move onto the kids. It’s all about the kids, it always has been, the girl said sadly.

It’s the first wave, the boy added.

“The first wave?” 

They nodded.

“Can I help you?”

They shook their heads. We are fine here.

“It sounds like you’re just as trapped up here as they are in the basement.”

Where would we go? The boy asked. 

“Across,” I said, feeling an overwhelming rush of sadness and loss. 

We are safe here, the girl repeated. Tell them not to go into the woods.

“You can leave anytime you want,” I argued. “You have the power to make that decision.”

Not while he’s here, the boy said. The garage isn’t safe. Be careful. 

And with that they were gone. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around to see Judith standing behind me. 

“Sorry,” she said.

I wiped my eyes. “Someone is trapping souls in the basement and there’s something else in the garage.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know… but I do somehow. How does that make any sense?”

“There’s something here that feels like unfinished business to me. Or at least it’s something you’ve encountered before. One thing’s for sure, it doesn’t want you here.”

I laughed. “Well that makes two of us.”

Ed cleared his throat, he and Sarah stood anxiously in the doorway. I smiled awkwardly, “We need to go down to the basement.”

Sarah sucked in a breath. 

“You don’t have to come down with us, but that’s where Judith and I need to go next.”

“Do you know who’s haunting us?” Sarah asked. 

“Well to start with, there are two teenagers up here, it’s where they feel safest. They don’t mean you or your children any harm, they’ve actually been trying to warn you all to keep you safe.”

“Did you get them out of here?” Ed asked. 

“No, they said they can’t leave until the other, uh, issues are cleared up.”

“This is just about the cutest darn guest room I’ve ever seen,” Judith declared, her voice bright. “I feel like I’m in a real live Pinterest post.”

“Thanks,” Sarah said with a small smile. “My mom is an interior designer, it was her idea.”

“Now that is a good mom to have,” Judith declared. “My mom’s a nutritionist, and that’s as agonizing as you can imagine and then some. Shall we?”

We trudged down the soft carpeted steps. On the second floor Ed said, “Uh, there is one room that’s an issue on this floor.”

“Oh?” I said, sensing exactly the room he meant and not wanting anything to do with it. 

“Yes, it’s the office at the end of the hall,” he pointed. 

Hesitantly I looked in the direction he indicated. The hallway was well lit. There was no reason for there to be a shadow blocking the view of the last door on the left. But there was. And that shadow slipped into the room and out of sight. 

“Did you see it?” Sarah whispered. 

Trying very hard to keep the accusation out of my voice, I said, “You didn’t say anything about shadow figures.”

“I thought I was imagining things,” she replied defensively.

“I think I’ll take that coffee now,” Judith said easily. “Sarah, you and Ed go on and brew up a pot. We’ll be down in two shakes.”

The couple didn’t need any further prompting. They took off down the stairs leaving Judith and I alone in the long hallway. 

“Was that a real shadow figure?” I hissed.

“I don’t know. But that’s not even the worst of it.”

“What in the hell is this place?”

“I don’t think it’s necessarily the place or even the people, though I might be wrong. There’s something bigger at play.”

“I’m not stepping foot into that room,” I said, crossing my arms. 

“That makes two of us,” Judith agreed.  

We stood listening for several moments. “Are you getting anything?” Judith asked. 

“Beside pure terror?” I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. It was a text from Biddy. 

Hey. Are you going to that haunted house tonight? Just got a weird phone call, all static. Something about it made me think of Poe. I haven’t had any trouble from him in a long time. Be careful, got a bad feeling about that house. Could they have shadow figures?

“Is it from Chris?” 

“No, Biddy. She got a weird call. Said it made her think of Poe.”

“The shadow figure she had attached to her?”

I nodded. 

“Well, shit.”

“Could Poe be here?” I asked in disbelief.

“I don’t think so, but maybe one of his buddies is,” she closed her eyes in concentration.

“Shadow figures are just about as bad as it gets right?”

“Right. Shush and let me focus.”

I sent a quick reply to Biddy, letting her know that I was indeed at the haunted house and that it was much worse than we’d thought.

Be careful. She texted back. I’m spooked. 

Still looking down I said, “Biddy is creeped out. I think we should…” but I trailed off. Looking up from the phone I saw that Judith had made it almost all the way to the last door on the left. 

“Judith!” I whispered. “Get back here.”

“It’s not a shadow figure, but he can make himself look like one. He wants us out of here,” she said in a low voice.

“Well then let’s give him what it wants,” I hissed. “Come on!”

Judith took a small step forward. “He’s planning something. No, he’s part of a plan and he’s proud of that. It isn’t about these people, about the Miller’s though he, no they, draw energy from their fear. This house is just a base. There are many.” 

“Judith!” I said, trying to build up the nerve to walk down the hall and pull her back. 

“Jason,” she said. “It’s Jason.” She turned back to look at me, a look of horrible understanding on her face. “You know him. He’s the boy who-”

The lights flickered and I let out a little squeak without meaning to. Judith stood in front of the door now, peering in. “My God,” she said, her voice shaking. The door in front of her slammed shut with enough force to knock it off the hinges. Judith threw herself back into the wall behind her then scrambled back along the hallway towards me. 

“Go!” She said. 

I turned and started down the stairs, stepping directly onto something small, my right foot slipped out from under me and I slid down several steps before stopping myself with the handrails. All at once, I let out a sort of “whoops!” and heard Judith say, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Liz, are you alright?” as the small thing I’d stepped on shot out and bounced off the wall across from the stairs almost hitting Ed, who peered up at us in horror. 

“What happened? Are you alright?” Sarah asked, holding tight to her husband’s arm. 

Judith and I pushed past them into the dining room. Sarah hot on our heels. 

White as a sheet, Judith insisted, “You mustn’t let anyone in that office. At least until we get a team here to clear it out.”

“Of course, never let anyone in there. We keep that door closed and locked so the kids won’t wander in.”

“So you opened it for us tonight?”

“No. I thought about it but figured you would ask us to unlock it if you wanted to go in,” she paused. “Was that door open?”

“Where did you find this?” Ed said suddenly, standing behind his wife. He held up the rectangular plastic box that I’d slipped on. 

“It was on the stairs, I’m sorry, did I break it?”

Sarah stared at the box in horror. “That’s impossible,” she whispered.

“We haven’t seen this in at least a month,” Ed said firmly, setting the thing down on the table. Seeing it close up I realized that it was an old garage door opener. “I backed over this damn thing with my car, threw it in a garbage bag and drove the pieces to the dump myself.”

I giggled nervously like a dolt. “Why would you do that?”

“I had to disconnect the automatic door openers. The garage doors were keeping us up at night, opening and closing. The electrician said she’d never seen anything like it, couldn’t replicate the problem and told us that she couldn’t find a thing wrong with the system.”

“I asked her to come back at three in the morning to see for herself,” Sarah added. “Of course she didn’t. She looked at me like I was nuts.”

Ed nodded, staring down at the grey plastic box. “I unplugged the units, but it didn’t make a difference. Every night like clockwork at three a.m. those doors would go up and down steadily for half an hour. So I dismantled the system but it didn’t make a damn difference. I found this on a shelf in the garage a couple days later, realizing it was the last of the garage door system. I admit I went a little crazy,” Ed said looking embarrassed, “But I was at my whit’s end. It was creepy. That door slowly opening and closing by itself.”

“I’ll bet,” I said with a shiver. 

“This went on from three until about three-thirty?” Judith asked. 

Like clockwork,” Sarah insisted. “Most nights I couldn’t fall back to sleep. I didn’t know what was scarier, a ghost doing it or some neighborhood kids screwing around out there. We’d seen them on the trail out back and I worried it might be them lurking around.”

“What trail?” I asked as Judith said, “What kids?”

“There’s a path in the backyard that leads to a walking trail around Rockridge Pond. The teenagers must have a hang out in the woods, I’ve seen a couple boys back there a few times.”

“Rockridge Pond,” I said, my slow mind catching up. I turned to Judith, “The kids, you remember Eric, the guy who was on Biddy’s old investigating team? That’s where he saw them for the first time – the path around Rockridge Pond.

Judith remained silent. She peered at the Miller’s, seeming to study them. “Why do you two ended up here?”

They stared back at her.

“Come on now,” she pressed. “You’ve got ghosts in your attic, an evil dead boy in your office, Black Eyed Kids in your backyard and I’m not ready to say what I think is in your basement. What have you been up to?”

“Nothing,” Sarah said, her voice edged with hysteria. 

“We are good people,” Ed said, pointing to his wife and then at himself. “And our kids are too young to be involved in the occult if that’s what you’re implying.”

“We’re Presbyterian for heaven’s sake,” Sarah insisted.

Judith eyed them. “I believe you, but you know I had to ask.”

“It’s not them,” I said, the basement pulling on me.

“Then they have the worst luck I’ve ever encountered,” Judith muttered. 

I walked to the back of the house, and open layout, the kitchen overlooking a sectional-filled living room. Sarah, Judith and Ed followed, fanning out along the marble topped kitchen island. I closed my eyes. The basement pulsed. The teenagers panicked above us. The office was empty now, the boy had gone to the basement. Black eyes watched us through the windows. A thought came to me.

“The house you first stayed in when you moved to Wellesley, the one where the paranormal activity began,” I said, opening my eyes. “Who did you rent it from?”

“A couple named Michael and Laura Arnold,” Ed replied.

“Lilith,” I whispered.

“Bingo,” Judith said. “That’s what I was trying to tell you upstairs.” 

Three loud knocks reverberated throughout the kitchen. The four of us jumped and moved instinctively away from the source of the noise, crowding together near the refrigerator. 

“It’s the basement door,” Sarah said, pointing towards a door at the far corner of the living room. 

“Does that happen often?” Judith asked.

Sarah nodded. “Sometimes.”

“Well, we sure as hell aren’t going out to that garage, we know what’s out there. Looks like the basement’s calling,” Judith said, moving across the room. She turned to look back at me. “Come on.”

I forced myself to follow her, every cell in my being screaming at me to turn and run out the front door. My phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out and looked down at a text from Chris. Everything alright? Just got a little spooked here. When do you think you’ll be home?

I texted back, Don’t worry, Claire’s watching TV with you. Home in half an hour. 

“Is that Biddy again?” Judith asked.

“No, Chris. Said he’s a little spooked.”

Judith raised her eyebrows. “Same thing Biddy said, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

We moved in front of the door. For the life of me I didn’t know how I’d gather the courage to walk through it. 

“There’s a switch on the left right inside the doorway,” Ed called. 

Judith gripped the door handle and yanked it open. “You first,” she said, motioning me forward. Our eyes met. “You know it’s you they want to talk to.”

I reached out and flipped the light switch bathing the hardwood stairs in bright light. I walked through the door and onto the first step. Down we went. 

At the base of the stairs I turned and stepped into a finished basement. As I did a floor lamp set beside a leather couch flickered on and the overhead light shut off. There was someone sitting on that couch, I took a tentative step forward to get a better look at him.

The man was handsome in a Hollywood way, tight and toned with chiseled features and bright blond hair. He may have been thirty and he may have been fifty, from moment to moment my perception changed. An ankle rested on one knee revealed bumblebee striped socks beneath straight leg jeans. He wore a grey long-sleeved Allman Brothers t-shirt, the sleeves pushed up. A tattoo of a red Bic lighter seemed to almost glow on his left forearm. He bit his lip and smiled with sickening charm. “Hello, Scribe,” he said.

I couldn’t speak.

He looked me up in down and tilted his head to the side. “I don’t get it,” he said, “You go to spin class five days a week.”

“Fuck you,” I said without thinking.

The man smirked and stood. “You wish.”

He was tall, intimidatingly so. Somehow I managed to stand my ground. 

He pointed up, “They did their best to get you to understand,” he watched me look at the ceiling. “Not those idiots you idiot. Higher than that. They’re the ones who influenced you to talk to all those little people, but no matter how many clues we let slip you just never put it together.” There was laughter in his voice. “But you did follow the calling to become the Scribe, so I guess  that’s something…” He crossed his arms over his chest and in my own voice he said, “I created a little sign and pinned it to the library’s community message board. I promised free coffee and muffins in exchange for a scary tale.” His smile widened alarmingly and his voice changed back. “Would you like to hear a really scary story, Miss Liz?”

I took a step back because somehow he’d come closer without moving. 

“Once upon a time there was a little town. It was a proper little town and it’s proper little people had proper little lives. They were busy bees, those little people. Filling their days with the business of wealth, with their high powered careers, shuttling the children to and from safe places, volunteering their time indignantly, sweating out their manufactured stress and anxiety at spin class,” he gave an exaggerated wink. “Those little people cherished their little lives and they thought about their little lives and they protected their little lives and they refused to accept anything that might interrupt those little lives. 

“And then one day a great king looked up from his throne and surveyed the domain above him. Where might I go where no one would notice? Where might I go where the proper little people would refuse to acknowledge my presence? Where might I go to create a safe place for me and mine? He asked himself. And he saw the proper little town with it’s proper little people and he saw an opportunity.”

“What makes this town so different than any other?” I asked, my voice shaking.

“The land. The land is good.” He laughed, “Well… the land is good for us. It is very bad for proper little people.” 

“Who are you?”

“I’m the one who was sent to start the little fires. And it was my job to distract you.” His face changed, slowly at first then faster and faster. He was Biddy, then Judith, Becca with the problem in her basement, Jenn who’d been attacked in her own home by a religious zealot, Lindsay or perhaps her mimic, then Tom Murphy, quick as a flash he was Hillary, Vanessa and Jill. He became every single person I’d interviewed in Wellesley and finally, his face was Laura Arnold’s for a too-long moment before returning to its original sickeningly handsome form. 

Without meaning to I’d backed myself against the wall, I was near enough to the stairs to run up but unable to move. 

He raised his eyebrows up and down. “You’ve documented all the little games we’ve played with all the proper little people here. You’ve been a good scribe,” he said almost apologetically. “But you chased the wrong story, Liz. You chased distraction.”

The boy in the hoodie stepped out of the shadows. Expressionless he stared at me. 

“Do you remember Jason?” The man asked. “Or I should say, does your tiny proper little mind understand who he is yet?”

The boy named Jason pulled down his hoodie and put his hands in his pockets. 

“Jason’s sacrifice opened a door, one that won’t be closed.” 

“You’re the one who haunted Lilith and her family? The boy who died in their house?” 

The devil clapped slowly. “Yes, Jason’s the boy who sacrificed himself so that all this could be possible,” he spoke as though he was talking to an idiot. “Isn’t it brilliant? The rest of it, the ghost and monster theatrics were all in good fun. But it’s the girls like Lilith, and the boys like Jason that we want. Well, not like Jason, he’s dead, but there are little live boys to ignite. We’ve set these little fires everywhere. And they walk and talk and look like all the other little boys and girls in your little town. They live in your cozy little homes, play field hockey for your cozy little high school, ride their bikes down your cozy little streets. And they’ll do that and they’ll do that and they’ll do that until I tell them to do something else.”

“Jesus Christ,” I breathed. 

The man winced. “He’s not invited. Now run along and tell those assholes upstairs what lives in their basement. And tell them if they don’t get the fuck out of this house I’ll take their children as soon as they come of age.”

Legs shaking I backed my way up the stairs right into Judith. 

“What is it? What did you see?” She asked. “At least go all the way down and see if you can get a good read on the space.”

“What?” 

“You’ve gotta at least step off the stairs and look,” she whispered.

“I just did-”

She looked at me, “Are you alright?”

“We have to go right now.” I grabbed her arm and dragged her up the stairs, refusing to turn my back on the basement I climbed backwards, certain that man would come and drag us both back down there. 

Once through the door I slammed it and moved away across the kitchen. 

“That didn’t take long,” Ed said. 

To Judith I said, “You didn’t hear any of that? You didn’t see him?”

She shook her head. 

I closed my eyes, unable to look at the Miller’s. “You all need to get out of this house, now. And you can’t come back.”

“Now, hold on a minute-”

“Ed,” I said, quietly, “Your children are in real danger. You need to leave tonight and not come back. Do you understand?”

“Why?” Sarah asked.

“There’s a devil in your basement and he’s orchestrating everything, every single thing that is happening in this town and he wants your house so you’d better give it to him.”

“The Devil is in our basement?”

“Not The Devil, a devil. Hell has a hierarchy. I don’t know, we don’t have time to explain it right now. You can come to my house-”

Liz,” Judith interrupted. 

“Just for tonight, we will find you a place tomorrow, but you cannot stay here tonight and your children can never come here again. Ever.”

***

People approach me with their paranormal horrors all the time, and it is wonderful. There are so many stories I haven’t shared with you. Like the woman who brought home a chest of drawers from the dump swap only to find it infested with a strange mold that made her break out in hives and caused such paranoia that she believed her husband was an alien sent to deliver messages about the solar system to the Town Council. And there was the woman at a PTO fundraiser who drunkenly shared that she knew for a fact she was hanged for treason in a past life. She even showed me the birthmark on her neck to prove it. I’ve kept some of these stories in confidence and others simply because they were too wild or disjointed to even begin to relay (like the woman who swore her kitchen contractor was a psychic vampire hell bent on draining her life force and strong arming her into oak cabinets). 

And listening to these magical stories is fun and spooky and exactly what I’ve always wanted. And in my retelling of those stories, if I have one regret, it is that in all the snark and descriptions of my neighbors and community I fear it didn’t come through that I was poking fun at myself too. Afterall, I live here, I’m right up in it, I get Botox, wear Lululemon sometimes, carry a designer bag, and drive a massive SUV.

I would love to continue interviewing neighbors about their hauntings and share their stories, if only it were as simple as that. But I find myself in a situation that neither a house cleansing nor a St. Benedict medal will cure. The interviews aren’t the point, they never were. I was chasing ghosts and monsters while a devil quietly carried out his terrible orders. 

This blog (and podcast) has always been about me listening to other people’s stories and retelling them with a little snark and a lot of side notes so we could enjoy a good safe scare together. Tidy little hauntings for us to dip in and out of when we wanted, with a “nope” and a little shake of the head before we carried on with our lives. But there is something very wrong in this proper little town and I don’t have a tidy ending to relay.

And so… I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t do both things – I can’t interview neighbors and share their stories with you and listen to the dead and demonic. And it seems that I don’t have any choice in the latter. 

So I’m going to leave Ghosts in the Burbs right here before it gets tainted or stale. Before it turns into something different than what I intended it to be. I do hope to keep telling stories, And I’ll quietly edit the book I’ve written about a haunted cul de sac and pray I find someone to publish it. But for now, I need to step back from this beautiful whirlwind that we created together.  

And who knows, maybe someday I’ll find myself on the other side of the table, being interviewed by a writer looking for a safe scare. 

And she’ll describe me as a rather scattered middle-aged woman, with the basic brown shoulder-length highlighted hair that is so common in the burbs and nails bitten down to the quick. She’ll say I told her my story in a disjointed, winding way that was as hard to follow as it was to hear in my raspy vocal fry.

She may say all of that and more, but above all, I hope she’ll tell you that I scared her. 

And now, it is with gratitude and love that I say for the last time, This has been Ghosts in the Burbs. Good night, sleep tight, and don’t forget your nightlight.

So here’s how it finally happened. I was in Bruegger’s Bagels (of all places). I’d just polished off a nice bagel sandwich and was breaking off pieces of a pumpkin bagel and dipping them in a pumpkin spice coffee because when I get close to bagels I can’t and won’t stop devouring them until I have a proper stomach ache. And when it is fall I can’t stop won’t stop with pumpkin everything. I was feeling good for the first time in several days. I’d been battling the worst headache for longer than I ever had, but when I woke up that morning it was gone. After dropping the girls off at school I went straight to Bruegger’s intending to work on the first draft of my book for a few hours, editing and rewriting a few scenes. 

So when a woman came over and stood beside the small corner table where I’d set up my little office I did my very best to hide the irritation I felt when I looked up to greet her. She was in her twenties, dressed rather nicely in a forest green belted dress and heels. Her hair swept into a flawless bun. From the expression on her face I could tell she thought recognized me from somewhere. Now, I don’t think I’ve mentioned my slight facial blindness issue before, have I? It is the most annoying thing ever because it makes me seem like a self involved jackass – as if I need any help with that. But the maddening thing about this is that I have no control over it. 

Facial blindness is this weird thing where your brain doesn’t recognize faces. Even ones that should be familiar. In severe cases, people don’t even recognize their own reflections. Now, have I ever gotten an official diagnosis? No. But do I completely and totally not recognize people who I’ve spoken with several times? Yes. And it’s not like the whole “I’m so bad at remembering people’s names,” thing. It’s not that. I’m pretty good at doing one of those little memory tricks with people’s names. But if I don’t recognize someone then trying to pull up their name with a trick is impossible. Here’s an example of how embarrassing this can be. Chris and I met a really cool couple on the playground a while back, it was a weekend afternoon and our kids played together nicely and they lived in the neighborhood. We chatted for at least an hour and a half and I did the name trick for them – in this case linking one with a Friend’s character, the other with a famous comedian and their kids names got the same treatment. Great, right? Look at me being so social and proactive.

Well, then about a week later I’m out in the front yard with the girls and a car slows down in front of our house. A blond woman rolls down the window and says, “Hey! So this is where you guys live! How are you?” 

I literally had absolutely no idea who she was, and when this happens I’ve learned to stamp down the social panic and try my best to draw clues out of the person who moments before I would have considered a complete stranger. The woman finally mentioned one of her kids by name (luckily it was a rather uncommon name) and just like that my mind connected her name and her husband’s name and I was able to determine who she was – but I still didn’t recognize her. 

Super weird, right? Even weirder is that it doesn’t last forever. Depending upon the person and if it’s in the same location it’ll take me a few times talking with them before my brain sort of, like, imprints on them and then I’ll recognize them forever. If they have some great defining feature like red curly hair or pretty, straight white teeth the imprint may happen sooner. But if they are like most people then it’ll take me several conversations and some real attention on my part. IN the case of the playground woman, because I have no home base for her, like school or the library, I don’t know that I will ever recognize her.

You guys, I swear it’s a real thing. Brad Pitt has it. 

Anyhow, back to this nicely dressed, eager looking young woman interrupting my editing time in Bruegger’s. I could see by the look in her eyes that she knew me. I scanned through the possibilities. Did I know her from my time at the library? The food pantry? One of the kids’ schools? 

“Hi!” I said in what I hoped was a friendly tone. 

“Oh my God, I’ve been looking for you,” she whispered. 

“Oh?” I said, now feeling panic rise that I should definitely know this woman. 

“Yes. I’ve been trying to get someone’s attention. I just, I don’t know why I knew you would be different, but you are and, oh my Lord. You have no idea how long it’s been.” At that she began sobbing.

I glanced around us to see if anyone else saw what was happening. A couple business men sat at a table with coffee, talking at each other with genial aggression. Three young mothers and their tiny children created a flurry of movement and noise at the long table in front of the windows. The employees continued fulfilling orders. No one noticed the drama playing out at my little table. 

“Uh, I’m so sorry, that I don’t…” I trailed off not wanting to offend the poor woman by saying I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I began to stand up but the second I did I became overwhelmingly dizzy and had to sit back down. 

“I have to tell you something,” the woman insisted, “I might not have another chance.”

I’d closed my eyes to wait for the dizziness to pass and when I opened them and looked back up at her she sort of, like, wavered. Like when you see heat rising from hot blacktop in the summer, only her entire body did that while everything around her remained steady. 

“Oh, shit,” I breathed. “You’re a-”

“You can hear me? You can still hear me?” She asked. 

I nodded and looked around again to see if anyone was watching us. I began to gather my things off the table. “Let’s go outside and-”

“No!” She exclaimed stepping closer to me.
I pushed my chair back against the wall and a look of utter sadness passed across her face. 

“I’m sorry,” I said in a low voice, feeling badly for hurting her feelings. “I am just not used to this yet.”

“Please don’t go anywhere, I have to tell you and then you have to tell them. I didn’t do it. I didn’t. It was an accident.”

I pulled my seat forward and looked back down into my bag on the floor. 

“Oh, no! Please! Listen!” She was crying now. 

“I am going to put in my headphones, okay and take out my phone. I can hear you and I will listen and have a conversation, but I don’t want these people to think I am talking to myself, okay?” I pushed the chair across from me out with my foot. “Can you sit down? Or is that, like not possible for you?”

She sat down in the chair. It was absolutely, positively surreal. 

I slid the airpods into my ears. “Okay,” I said, my voice shaking, “I’m listening.”

“My name is Chelsea Coltz. Will you write that down?” She watched as I reached for my planner. “It’s C-h-e-l-s-e-a, C-o-l-t-z-as-in-zebra. That’s correct,” she said, watching me write. “I’ve thought about what I would tell someone if I could just get them to listen. I’ve practiced it for so long,” she began. She went on to tell me that she lived in the house next door with her husband. That they were blissfully happy save for the fact that they could not get pregnant. They’d tried for nineteen months – she was very specific about this – and they’d made an appointment with a reputable specialist in Boston. Her cousin had consulted with the man and was pregnant within two months of following his instructions. 

“Why would I do it when we had that appointment in three weeks? It’s absurd!” She insisted. 

“What do they think you did?” I asked, then quickly looked down at my phone screen remembering that no one else could see this woman but me. 

Chelsea told me that she’d been tidying the kitchen. She’d baked a roast for her husband and his parents the night before and the carving knife had been left to dry in the counter. As she carried it across the kitchen to the knife drawer her foot caught on the edge of the crochet rug that lay in front of the kitchen sink. She tripped and slammed her hand down on the counter to catch herself. In doing so she managed to slice her right wrist open. She panicked. Blood was everywhere, she wasn’t thinking straight. She didn’t want to bleed all over the rug, which had been a Christmas gift from her mother-in-law. She gathered her skirt around her injured wrist and ran outside, planning to go to the nextdoor neighbors for help, but she’d lost too much blood by the time she made it across the yard. She had to sit down to wait for the dizziness to pass. She told me that she must have closed her eyes and lost consciousness. 

And when she came to her husband could neither see nor her. Her mother walked right through her. Her sister sat crying in her sewing chair while Chelsea uselessly screamed “I’m right here!” Over and over. But the baby, her cousin’s baby saw Chelsea at her wake in their front parlor. She got the little girl to giggle by making silly faces and that’s how she knew that eventually she would find someone who could see and hear her, and that person could carry her message. 

“So you see, I didn’t kill myself,” she sat back in the chair – though how that was possible I honestly haven’t a clue – and folded her hands in her lap. Her demeanor changed considerably. Her face softened and she smiled at me shyly. 

“I apologize,” she said, “I didn’t ask your name.”

“Liz,” I told her, but she was looking past my shoulder out the windows at the front of the bagel shop. 

“Oh my word,” she breathed. “Philip, oh my word!” 

I turned to look behind me to see who she saw, but the only person on the sidewalk in front of the shop was a middle aged woman with an elderly Golden Retriever. I turned to look back at Chelsea, but she was gone.

I sat there for quite some time wondering if it had all really happened. 

“You’re lucky in one regard,” Judith said during a very long phone call about the incident.

“How so?” I asked. 

“When I see ‘em I usually feel how they did when they died. Drowning victims are the worse. Lord above, save me from drowning. I’ll take a broken neck any day, at least it’s fast.”

I shuddered at the thought of having to feel what it must have been like for Chelsea to grow weak from loss of blood. Judith was positively joyful over the fact that I could not only hear ghosts now but could see them too. She claimed to have known all along this was where my whole debacle was leading. 

“You’re too damn open. You’re too damn stubborn to listen to reason. And you are too damn interested in the dark. You got exactly what you wanted.”

Not true, I argued. True, she insisted. And I began to doubt myself, not that that’s anything new, but was this what I wanted? I went back and scanned through the blog. I read through over three and a half years of stories and I don’t know if I can say with full sincerity that I didn’t go into my search for local ghost stories without any intention of getting in on the action. I wanted to listen to other people’s terror, sure. Safely. Over coffee and pastries. In looking back at those stories I found myself cringing at how relentlessly snarky I’ve been in my descriptions of people. Yikes. 

I barely recognize the woman who blogged those early stories. So much has happened over the past three and a half years. Thankfully, life knocked me down a peg or two since the beginning and I hope it’s made me kinder and more able to point that judgy ass finger at myself. Rereading some of those posts was a great reminder to not be an uppity snob for sure. But it also forced me to be honest with myself. I was a bored mom with very small children when I began writing. Of course I wanted something magical and spooky to happen in my life. That’s why I didn’t stop interviewing people when the tapping started in our last house or when I began to actually hear ghosts or when I started having those awful dreams. 

And here I am right smack dab in the middle of the story. 

It started a few days after I met Chelsea. Let me be clear, I’m not, like seeing dead people everywhere I go. No, it’s more like, they see me, the ones who are looking anyway. And when they do, they are incredibly eager to chat. Judith explained that the dead who still hang around either want to stay here in order to cause a little chaos, or because they are afraid of what might be waiting on the other side for them. But there are other dead who stick around because they have unfinished business and that business is usually in the form of an undelivered message. And for most of those dead people it doesn’t matter who they give the message to, it’s just the opportunity to have someone listen and validate their concerns that allows them to pass onto the other side. Whatever that is.

So that’s what I did for Chelsea. I listened to her and that was all she needed to move on. 

But the other dead. The ones who stick around for chaos, they’re in no rush to go anywhere. And just like I appear differently to the dead who have something to get off their chests, apparently I’m a beacon for the troublemakers too. 

My first experience with one of those creepers was at the kindergarten social. Each autumn there is a parent party for every grade level at our elementary school. The adults get together at someone’s house (in this case mine) to get to know one another, eat finger foods and drink a little too much. This party was actually the first one I’d attended, let alone hosted, in which I wasn’t drinking. So I was a little more, uh, attentive than I might have been in the past and the second that couple walked through my front door I knew something was off. 

They were a pleasant couple, just moved to Wellesley the previous spring, their oldest in kindergarten their youngest at the same pre-school as Kat. We were all surprised we hadn’t crossed paths yet. Chris and I chatted with them briefly before getting pulled to different hosting duties. I had this sort of, I don’t know, ping about them though. Especially her. She was lovely and friendly and social, but I could feel the tension rolling off her in waves. Actually, not just tension. Fear. I could sense his anxiety too, but could tell it had to do with whatever she was worried about. It was not his own, it was more of a sympathetic anxiety if that makes any sense. 

So I kept my eye on them throughout the evening and I didn’t see anything odd. The night wore on and the crowd thinned. I’d just grabbed a bottle of wine to top off some glasses in the living room when I came around the corner and saw him. He stood beside the woman, let’s call her Bonnie, and he stood out from the crowd in a navy blue hoodie. His very dark eyes and the most evil smile I’ve ever seen peeked out beneath the hood. When I locked in on those dark eyes he pulled that hood down, revealing dull, jet-black hair. The kind that comes from a box. Then his entire body wavered the same way Chelsea’s had. A wave of dizziness washed over me and I had to lean against our dining room table until it passed. 

As luck would have it, Bonnie saw the whole thing. I looked at her and saw a flash of terror in her eyes.

“Now no one will believe I’m not drinking,” I said with a nervous laugh after she came over to see if I needed help. The ghost disappeared the second I looked away from it and that frightened me more deeply than seeing it in the first place. Where had it gone? And how in the hell did it get into my house? There are protections along my property line and at all of the doors into my home to keep just that from happening.

I excused myself to check on the girls and found them all sleeping peacefully. The rest of the night was a blur. Everyone seemed to decide at once that midnight was the collective curfew and our remaining guests filtered out. The kitchen was empty and I approached Bonnie as she placed an empty wine glass on the counter.

“Hey, I hope I’m not overstepping here,” I said awkwardly. “But I saw someone standing next to you in the dining room.” 

She looked confused. “Oh, I’m still not sure of everyone’s name,” she replied. “What did he look like?”

I shook my head. “It wasn’t one of the other parents,” I said in an apologetic tone. 

Her eyes went wide. “Fuck.” She breathed. 

“Why don’t we grab coffee tomorrow,” I said quickly. “I might be able to help you.” 

“I’m so sorry,” she said in a low voice. “I didn’t know he could follow me.”

I spent the next hour saging our own house and spraying salted holy water in every single corner. Even though I was bone tired I didn’t fall asleep until well after three o’clock. I was pretty certain the ghost had left with her, but I couldn’t be sure. 

Over coffee at Cafe Nero the following morning I learned that Bonnie picked up her ghost when they first moved to Wellesley. Her family had lived in a short term rental for three months while the renovations were completed on their new home. She told me the place had been “classically haunted.” A lot like the home where she’d grown up, in fact. The rental had been all footsteps in the hallway at night and disembodied voices during the day. But the most alarming thing was that she could feel herself change the longer they stayed in the house. She became less patient and kind with her family, more angry and depressed. “And I’m drinking like a fish,” she added. She blamed it on the stress of the last move and the anticipation of the next one. She was sure that it would resolve once they had moved into their new home. 

It hadn’t. Things got worse. She and her husband bickered constantly. The kids had nightmares and refused to sleep alone in their new bedrooms. She experienced sleep paralysis several times and then one night she woke up and saw a young man in a hoodie standing beside her bed. Just as he had when I saw him, he took off the hood to reveal jet black hair. He stood over her for far too long with an evil grin on his face. 

“Is he here now? Can you see him?” Bonnie wanted to know when she was done giving me the rundown. 

I shook my head, grateful that I couldn’t. “I am really new to this, but if you’re open to it I know a couple of people who can help you.”

“I am willing to do whatever it takes to get rid of this asshole.” 

So I called Judith. She agreed to come do a walk through Bonnie’s home the following weekend to diagnose her ghost issue and put together a plan of action to resolve it. She would do it on one condition. I had to tag along.

A few days ago, I was in line at an excellent deli, The Linden Store, to pick up lunch. It’s a classic deli set up where, in what feels like utter chaos, you wait and wonder whether or not it’s your turn to order, then when you finally get up the courage to raise your hand after someone calls “who’s next?” you end up offending three people who believe they were there before you. Then you place your order and stand and worry that they might not really use the gluten free bread for your oldest daughter’s sandwich, your social anxiety screaming at you the entire time “You’ve already pissed off three people you dumb ass. Just leave it be. Smile, take whatever they give you and make a PBJ at home if it’s the wrong bread.” You fret during the five to ten minute wait, pay for the sandwiches as if you haven’t a care in the world and then wonder and worry your way out to the car where you check the bag and, just as they do every single time, you find that the did indeed use gluten free bread. So you roll your eyes at yourself and your mind goes, “Okay cool, hang on and let me find something just as ridiculous for you to agonize over.” Of course, in this whole scenario, by “you” I mean “me.” 

Anyhow, it was during that five to ten minute wait while I was in the throes of the will they or won’t they use the right effing bread drama, when I noticed the man. He caught my attention the first time because he was facing away from the deli counter, out at the throngs of people ordering sandwiches. It struck me as odd, but I quickly returned to fretting over the bread. And then after I’d accepted the third of the four sandwiches I’d ordered, the guy caught my attention again because I almost backed right into him. He stood his ground, never moving his gaze away from the front windows. I said a quick, “Oops, excuse me,” but he didn’t respond or even acknowledge me. So I stood there, my attention pulled between the fourth sandwich and the guy. 

The crowd moved, bringing us closer together. Now he was right beside me and he definitely didn’t look like he was waiting for a sandwich. He seemed absolutely oblivious to everyone around him. And then I got really scared. “Oh, my God. He’s a ghost.” I thought. I clutched the sandwiches to my chest and tried to shrink away from him, but there were too many people. I considered putting the sandwiches on the potato chip stand and leaving, but I’d come that far, I couldn’t just jump ship. I didn’t want to have to make four PBJs so I tried to ignore him but kept sneaking glances.

And then I had this overwhelming urge to find out if he was real. If my hand would feel super cold if I touched him or if it would go straight through him like in the movies. I thought, “Maybe he has a message for me. Maybe Judith is right.” I looked around to see if anyone was watching. I shifted the sandwiches in my arms and then quick as a flash I stuck my finger out and poked him really hard in the shoulder. 

… And it hurt because he was solid

“Oh!” The man exclaimed, lifting his hand to rub the spot I’d poked. 

“Oh my God,” I replied. “I’m so sorry.”

He looked at me with concern for a brief moment before looking back up at the window and waving to a man walking through the door. He gave me another glance before moving towards his friend. 

And then I died. I dropped dead of embarrassment right there on the floor of The Linden Store and I am writing this to you from beyond the veil doomed to an eternity of shame. Seriously, though. On a scale of the most embarrassing things I’ve done, this one really ranks up there. Lower than having to explain to the ride operators why I forcefully shoved the guy dressed up as Jason from Friday the 13th off a carnival ride when he jumped out to scare my sisters and I (in my defence, it was really startling and I am a fighter not a flighter)… and a little higher on the scale than the time I got caught lying about having seen The English Patient. But that was years ago and in my defense, no one would shut up about that fucking movie. 

Since seeing Kyrie’s ghost in Starbucks reality and I have been on shaky ground. Judith says I need to meditate more often. Imagining a golden light descending from the heavens and creating a sort of bubble of good, protective energy around me. I’ve tried, I really have, but my imagination goes wild when I try to visualize things. When I close my eyes I see an army of little ghost emojis attacking the bubble, testing it’s boundaries and finally breaking through. Biddy gave me a little metal spritzer bottle filled with holy water. But I don’t trust myself to carry it around. Poking that poor man in the chest was bad enough. I can’t run the risk of spraying some poor unsuspecting person in the face with Holy Water. 

It’s back to school season and I’ve got a lot on my mind. Once things settle down into a routine, I’m sure I’ll get it sorted out. But for now, most of the time I’m just waiting and wondering for the next ghost to show up. And, you know, it’s September and I’m on the hunt for spook – but the safe kind, someone else’s. Well, I found spook but it wasn’t safe.

I got a call from a man named Joe Murphy – yup he called my cell phone. I let it go to voicemail, I’m not a lunatic. But the message was quite friendly and his business like tone held an edge of desperation. I was intrigued. I returned the call, praying to be sent to his voicemail so that I could leave message instructing him to text me, but alas, he answered. 

Now, I know that I’ve gotten myself into a bit of hot water going to people’s haunted houses in the past, but this guy lived right in my neighborhood and after we connected some dots I realized that our kids knew each other. They’d spent some time together playing on a nearby elementary school playground. I knew his wife, just from those playground sessions and he sounded incredibly relieved to know that I was somewhat in their social circle.

“Carrie insisted you were a normal Wellesley person,” he told me on the phone, “But I was worried you might be…” he trailed off, perhaps catching himself before saying what he really thought. “Anyhow, Carrie is, uh, out of town with the kids right now. They’re at my in-laws in Andover. We actually had them start school there last week. We didn’t know how long this whole thing would take to sort out and we agreed they shouldn’t be in the house any longer. So she’s not around but would you feel comfortable meeting me at the house?”

Ugh. I know. Sounds like the perfect start to a true crime story and I can hear a bunch of you screaming “Stay out of the forest!” at me right now. For all I knew Carrie and the kids were dead in the basement of Joe’s house. Their bodies arranged around a card table at an endless game of Monopoly. Or shoved in the extra freezer everyone around here seems to have. Or chopped up, their body parts distributed carefully into three black garbage bags, Joe waiting for a quiet moment to dump them into MOPO. 

So, yeah, the thought that meeting him at the house might be dangerous crossed my mind. But I did research before I agreed to meet him and everyone I asked knew him and his wife. It was confirmed that Carrie and the kids were alive and well in Andover, Massachusetts. One of my friends said, “Oh my God, wait until you see the house.” Was it a stunner? I asked. “Yeah, no, it’s freaking enormous.” 

I made plans to meet him at his home at eight forty-five on a Tuesday morning in early September. He was adamant that he only had an hour to “Go over everything.” He had an important meeting in Newton and simply could not be late. Fine by me. 

So I met Joe Murphy at his ginormous house on a crisp, sunny September morning. I hadn’t seen a ghost since the last interview. I hadn’t heard a ghost in I don’t even know how long and I was hoping he’d have a really good spooky story for me, because in my mind it was basically Halloween and I was in the mood to get creeped out. 

And I was curious about something. That last name, Murphy… does it sound familiar to you? It did to me. Even though Murphys are a dime a dozen around these parts, I couldn’t help but wonder if there might be a connection.

Joe greeted me at a front door fit for a castle and ushered me inside to a grand and bare front hall. An incredibly elaborate chandelier hung overhead, proud and lonely looking. Joe informed me that the light had been shipped from Spain after he and Carrie had “fallen in love with it” on an anniversary trip. 

I slipped off my sneakers and padded along behind him, past a massive formal dining room with beautiful bowed picture windows overlooking the front yard. Elegant upholstered chairs sat primly around a long gleaming mahogany table and a massive matching armoire stood solemnly against the far wall, empty save for one golden serving dish. I followed Joe to the back of the house and into an enormous kitchen. It’s marble topped island roughly the size of my own kitchen. There were more drawers and cabinets than I could ever imagine filling and I fought the urge to start pulling them open just to prove that they were all empty. 

Joe went to a floor-to-ceiling built in refrigerator asking, “Can I get you a Perrier?”

“Sure, thank you,” I said, standing next to the island and taking in the room. It extended to one side into a wide open family room, where a big sectional couch sat bare. The far wall was a long line of french doors leading out onto a brick patio. Aside from a very large flatscreen television above the fireplace there was nothing on the walls. No evidence whatsoever that a family lived there. Let alone a family with children.

“Do you mind if we sit outside?” Joe asked, handing me a fancy bubbly water. “I don’t know if it’s a great idea to talk in here. I would like the opportunity to point out the locations we’ve seen him in the house, it seems as though that’s what the professionals do on the ghost hunting shows, right?”

“Totally,” I said, smiling, wondering if I’d finally found someone who loved ghost hunting reality television as much as I did.

“I streamed a few episodes when I was trying to determine where to look for help. Absolute trash television, but it did validate the fact that other people have problems like ours.”

With some difficulty, I held back my TedTalk about the validity, importance, and superiority of those so-called trash television shows and listened as he went on. 

“I don’t want to talk about him in the house though. When we do it seems to call him out. Why don’t I show you where we’ve seen him and then we’ll sit on the patio to gameplan.”

“Um, okay sure,” I said, not at all sure. The house just felt like a big, brand new empty house to me. I didn’t get any spooky vibes save for the fact that there was zero sign of the fact that a family of five lived there. 

Joe walked swiftly back the way we’d entered the kitchen. I began to follow him then almost plowed right into his back when he stopped abruptly and turned to say, “Again I’ll just point out the hotspots. Let’s save the questions until we get outside, alright?”

Hackles beginning to rise, I nodded my head in agreement. I followed Joe around the sparse home. Every once in a while he would stop and say something like, “Over here, he poked his head out around the corner at [child’s name omitted] and beckoned her to follow him,” or “In that corner there, Carrie saw him crouched, his head resting on his knees,” “I saw his leg move under that bed, like he was trying to pull it under before I saw him,” or “[Child’s name omitted] said he was sitting at their playtable over there by the window. She described his shirt, down to the muddy work boot. It was exactly the man Carrie and I had seen. There’s no way she could have known that.”

Spooky, right? The second floor held a totally different vibe from the first. Up there I saw evidence of family life, but just. I didn’t see a thing on the walls, not a taped crayon drawing, not a scenic watercolor over the guest room bed. Just pristine white walls everywhere. But if the second floor was unnerving, it was the basement that really got me. 

We descended in silence due to the plush cream wall to wall carpeting. The space was gorgeous, built in bookshelves and drawers would have been ideal for kids toys and books, had there been any to store. We walked past rather formal sitting area arranged in front of a fireplace and turned a corner. The room opened, to the left sat a colorful playmat, train table, and small art easel beside one of those plastic log cabins for toddlers you usually see in backyards. But to the right? Guys there was a legit glassed in, fully loaded home gym. It even had a sauna and one of those stair stepper machines you see at real gyms.  

Gesturing to the two mirrored walls of the gym area Joe said, “I was working out last night and you see that play house thing?” We both looked at the small log cabin. “He was in there, watching me.”

I sucked air through my teeth and stepped back.

Joe shoved his hands in his pockets. “I gotta hire someone to drag it out of here for me.”

I was about to suggest that we just drag the damn thing out of there right then and there when he continued, “I came down this morning, intending to break it down and haul it out of here, but he was sitting in one of those chairs when I turned the corner.”

“Can we go back upstairs now,” I asked. 

“I’d hoped to show you the storage room too…” 

“I have a really good imagination,” I said, forcing a nervous laugh. 

He looked at what must have been the storage room door set beside the gym. “Alright then, let’s go up.” 

We sat outside at a ridiculously nice outdoor table. Joe retrieved his phone from his back pocket and began scrolling through text messages. He began to type a response while saying, “So, uh, what else do you need to know?”

I remained silent for a minute. Waiting for him to turn his attention back to the conversation. When he finally looked up from his phone he wore an expression that clearly said, “Well, what are you waiting for?”

“Hey, before you tell me about the haunting, by any chance do you have any relation to Tom Murphy?”

“Ha, yeah, you got me. He’s my cousin. That’s who told me about you.”

“Oh, wow. You should have said something. Why didn’t you?” I asked, genuinely perplexed.  

“I didn’t know about everything that went down with Tom until I let on about what had been happening in our house. It sounds like it was a real mess and I didn’t know if you’d be put off by my connection to him.”

I shook my head adamantly. “Not at all, Chris and I absolutely love Tom. We were just so relieved that everything worked out. How is he, I haven’t talked to him or Jenny in ages. Oh, and how are the girls? Meg sat for us a couple times, she must be away at school now.”

“They’re all great,” Joe said, his face softening. “I had no idea any of that had gone down. You know, that night – after your husband helped them get rid of that thing? It was my wife’s surprise thirty-fifth birthday party. Tom just told me that, but that night I never would have known they’d had any trouble that day. Then again, I didn’t know much at that party. Worst blackout I’d had since college,” he laughed. “Anyway, our family owes you a great deal of thanks for speaking up when you did. You and your husband really showed up when Tom needed it.” 

I waved away his comment. “Everything would have worked out whether I’d been there or not,” I said, but that was probably untrue. I think Tom was well on his way to being completely possessed and my have hurt someone had he not opened up and told me the story of those haunted bunk beds. “I’m embarrassed and a little guilty we’ve lost touch.”

“No need for that, Tom only has great things to say about you and your husband. Trust me, I got an earful when we talked about our situation.” 

I smiled. “Well, please say hello from me next time you see him.” 

Memories flooded my mind. That day, a little over three years ago, when I’d called Chris in a panic worried that Tom was about to use the red handled paint scraper in his back pocket to do something unthinkable, Chris, as is so often the case, was the one to calm the situation down. “Do not call the police. Liz, just don’t. I’ll call Tom right now, I’m leaving work.”

He asked Tom to meet him at the Whole Foods of all places, Chris said the more crowded the better just in case I was right and Tom was under the influence of something out of his control. Kat and I waited in the car out in the parking lot. Me panicking. Kat sleeping. 

Tom handed over the paint scraper, not even realizing he’d had it in his back pocket, if you can believe it. He had no memory of putting it there. Hadn’t felt it poking into his bum as he rode in the car or sat with me in Starbucks. Chris told me later that Tom seemed genuinely frightened. They called his brother, Pete and the three of them went out on Pete’s boat that very afternoon – despite my angry protests that Chris had no business going anywhere with a man who didn’t realize he had a weapon in his back pocket. What else was he carrying around that he didn’t know about? They dumped the bunk bed in a never to be named body of water right here in Wellesley. Crisis averted.

And years later, there I sat in front of Tom’s cousin wondering if perhaps a bent towards the paranormal ran in their family. 

“Tom reassured me that you would keep my family anonymous if I agreed to be a part of your little research project.”

“I’ll make up a name for you or a reader will offer their name as an alias,” I replied, evenly.

Joe, who’d been peeking at his phone, looked up. “People do that?”

“Yes,” I said simply.

Why?

I let out a genuine laugh at his confusion. “I don’t know. I guess it’s a way for people to be a part of the story of this strange little town.”

He stared at me and I could see his mind working overtime, calculations tallying behind his eyes. “How many people read your blog?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, vaguely. “A few. Not everyone likes spooky stuff, right?”

“Sure, sure, but you could monetize. People do that don’t they? My wife spends God knows how much time on fashion blogs or whatever, they’ve got ads.”

I smiled. 

“I mean, I’m just a private equity guy. I’m not an expert, but you must spend a lot of time on this, a few hours to interview people, time to transcribe the recording,” he pointed to the recorder on the table. “If you need to talk to someone who knows about that stuff, I’m sure I could find someone knowledgeable. Maybe you could dig up a little fun money if nothing else. You should look into it.” 

I watched him as he again looked at his phone and began scrolling. 

“Go ahead and tell me about your ghost,” I said, finally. “And we’ll see if I can dig up one of my contacts to help you.”

He looked at me, perhaps confused that I’d ignored his opinion of my blog. I got the sense he wasn’t used to people ignoring his opinions. “Yeah, so, I just wanted to move. Leave the house and that guy to someone else to deal with. I only got half my wish. Carrie agreed to sell the house, but not until we make sure its safe for another family to move to. So, here we are.”

Oh, I thought, So that’s why this place is so barren. 

“We’ve got an offer accepted on new construction over on Bristol. We close October fifteenth, so I’m under the gun. I gotta put this one on the market, but Carrie won’t come home, not to this house and not to the new one unless I can guarantee that guy is gone.” 

In the bright daylight I could see just how worn out the guy looked. Dark circles under his eyes along with a sort of puffiness hinted at a hangover. 

“It must be really spooky staying here alone. How do you sleep at night?”

“Like a log. Too soundly, actually,” he forced a laugh. “I’ve been sleepwalking.”

“Oh, man. A lot?”

His eyes darted to the trees at the edge of the yard. “Uh, yeah. Most nights.” 

“That’s not good. Especially with a man lurking around your home.”

“The Flannel Man.”

“What?”

“The Flannel Man, that’s what the kids call him. The Flannel Shirt Man.”

“Shivers,” I whispered. 

“Yeah, so what are we going to do about it? What do you suggest?”

“Are you scared of this thing? I mean, does it bother you that there’s a Flannel Man haunting your home?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, we gotta sell the place and I can’t do that until we get rid of him.” 

“Joe, from the little bit you’ve told me you couldn’t pay me to stay here alone. In fact, I don’t even want to go back inside your house. And you’re telling me that you are sleeping like a log at night.”

I watched his eyes stray to the cell phone screen. I knew he was itching to pick the thing up. 

“Why do I get the feeling you’re holding something back, or that there’s something else that you’re not telling me?” 

He huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. “This isn’t my area of expertise,” he said, frustrated. “I just want to wash my hands of this place. My luck has turned to shit since we moved here.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Things at work have just gotten so,” he let out a growl of frustration. “I can’t make it two seconds without bumping into a fucking moron. And then, this house is one headache after another. Not just the haunting, the place makes me want to jump out of my skin.”

I considered what he’d said before asking, “How long have you lived here?”

“A little over three years. We actually moved in the weekend before Carrie’s surprise birthday party. She says this house was the shittiest birthday present she ever got.”

“It’s new construction, though right? And it’s still had problems?”

“Yeah, plenty. But more than that, we bought all new furniture when we moved in but I made Carrie return it all. I couldn’t stand it.”

“Couldn’t stand the furniture?”

“Yeah, it was too much. I couldn’t sleep with all that shit in there.”

“The furniture.”

“Yeah. The furniture.”

“What was your old house like? The one before you moved to this one?” I asked.

“Typical starter. Three bedroom, nineteen forties colonial over on Hundreds.”

“Did you mind furnishing that house?” 

“No, that place was fine. Carrie did a good job sprucing up the place up. We sold it fifty over asking. Made about ninety-five on it after the broker fee.”

“Huh, so even though this house is bigger it made you feel… what?”

“Trapped,” Joe said, simply. “You gotta be a little jealous of the guy, whoever he is or was.”

“The Flannel Man? How so?”

“Well, the plaid shirt, axe, all that. He must have been an outdoorsman.”

“Axe? You didn’t say anything about an axe.” 

“Yeah I did.”

I shook my head. “Who do you think sees the Flannel Man the most? You?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess you could say that.”

A terrible idea began to grow in my mind. “Do you ever hear anything outside? Back there?” I asked, gesturing to the band of trees separating their yard from the house behind it.

“You mean besides that jackass chopping trees down in his backyard at all hours of the night? I’ve complained to the damn neighborhood association, but the asshole denies it. Says I’m hearing things. I’ve tried to get it on video, but the trees are thick back there and I can’t get a bead on him.” He ran a hand through his thick salt and pepper hair. “We’ve just gotta sell this place and start fresh. I honestly don’t give a shit if it’s safe for the next family. I need a break, I feel like I’m this close to just snapping.”

Slowly I said, “Joe, I don’t think moving to a new house is going to help.”

“What are you saying? No. The new house will be great, we just need a fucking clean slate,” he said, his eyes flashing with anger. 

“I don’t think it’s the house that’s the problem.” 

Joe went very still and then in the blink of an eye he slammed his fist down on the metal table top causing me to jump back, pushing my chair away. I snatched my recorder and held it tight. 

“The new house will be great,” he said in a low voice. “You’ll see.”

I stood up and began backing to the edge of the yard. “You’re right,” I said, “I think it’s the house. You know, you can get a minister in and have him give it a simple blessing. That should put Carrie’s mind at ease.”

Joe tilted his head down, absently rubbing his hand. “A minister,” he said, in a gravelly voice.

“Alright, then. I know you have a meeting to catch and my friend Biddy is expecting me at Cafe Nero. So…” I was at the edge of the house, I could make it to the front yard in no time if I had to run. It flashed through my mind that attack victims often scream their heads off and still no one comes to investigate or help. 

Joe stood. 

I didn’t hesitate. I ran to the front yard, jumped into my car and peeled out of the driveway.  I called Chris and then searched my phone for an old number. “Tom,” I said, when he answered the phone with a cheerful hello. “I’m so sorry, but it’s not over. I think it jumped.”

source: Wellesley History WordPress

“So what’s changed? What are you doing differently?”

I considered, not sure if I wanted to admit the to the major change in my life. Well, major for me anyway.

“Come on, are you doing a different exercise, are you meditating… I don’t know, are you using a different deodorant?”

I shrugged. “I stopped drinking wine a few weeks ago.”

Judith’s eyebrows rose. “And did you replace it with something stronger?”

“No!” I said, with a nervous laugh. “I just sort of quit drinking altogether. For now, anyway.”

Judith watched me, waiting for an explanation.

“It just wasn’t working anymore, you know?”

“What do you mean exactly?”

“Well, it messed with my sleep, I always felt puffy and tired and, well I just feel better without it.”

“Anything else?”

It was no use leaving out details when you were talking to a psychic. “Well, I saw this show, Seatbelt Psychic. Save you seen it?”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, of course not,” the psychic tsked. 

“Well the guy seems really legit,” I watched Judith roll her eyes, “It’s entertaining anyway. And this one woman he did a reading for had a ghost haunting her and he told her that ‘spirits like the spirits.’ You know, that alcohol can lower your vibration or whatever and that staying away from it can raise your vibration so the ghosts won’t be so attracted to you.”

“Vibration?”

I gave my shoulders a little shimmy and winked at her. “Yup, vibration.”

Judith shook her head but smiled despite herself. “So you think this Seatbelt Psychic has the answers to all your problems.”

“Well, I stopped drinking and then I stopped hearing voices,” I pointed out. 

She considered for a moment. “True enough, but now you’ve got a hive of ‘em in that weird crawl space beneath your family room, so…” She held her hands out and moved them up and down as if balancing my break from wine with the ghost colony beneath my house.

“Ugh, I don’t want to start drinking again. I really feel so much better without it.”

“That’s not what I’m suggesting. How much were you drinking anyway?”

“I don’t know, a couple glasses of wine a night. Three. Usually three.”

“No wonder you feel better.”

“What do you think I should do?” I asked anxiously. “I think those ghosts are really angry with me.”

“Uh, ya think? You’re blocking them out when they’re coming to you for help.”

“No offence, but I don’t want to do what you do. I don’t want to work for dead people.”

Judith let out a bark of laughter. “I’ve never really thought of what I do in exactly those terms.”

“It was fine hearing voices here and there, but I’m not interested in having the dead and Lord knows what else seek me out. I have three kids, four elderly dogs, a husband, a blog and I like going to spin class, okay. I’m not asking for much.”

“You looked into the darkness darlin’ and it looked right on back and liked what it saw,” Judith said matter-of-factly. “You repressed the ability for most of your life and when it started to seep through the cracks you managed to shut it down again, hard. Well, they’re sick of waitin.’” She shrugged. “Whether you want to or not, the dead want to talk to you. It’s best to listen.”

“But how? I can’t hear them anymore.”

“Why is that little thing here?” Judith asked pointing to my digital recorder.

I eyed the device wearily, “I’ve been recording some of my conversations,” I admitted. “Voices, uh, EVPs have been coming through pretty often.”

“But you say you don’t want to hear the dead anymore.”

“I just don’t want them camping out under my family room,” I said. 

“Well, then you’d better find a way to turn your abilities back on. Because you’re right, they’re good and pissed.” 

***

Each season a new magazine of activity offerings arrives in the mail from the Wellesley Recreation Center filled with yoga retreats and writing courses, Zumba classes and puppy training sessions. There, kids can learn to bake, play badminton, decorate gingerbread houses in December, fairy houses in August and conduct science experiments with Legos year round. But before it was a rec center, the Warren building was a school. 

The original schoolhouse there was built in seventeen ninety-six. seventeen ninety-six. You guys, George Washington was president. For almost 200 years children attended school on the property. Over time six buildings were built and razed to create bigger, safer, better schools; the last of which, built in the nineteen thirties, is the Warren Building we know today (source: https://wellesleyhistory.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/north-school/). 

In nineteen eighty seven the school house closed. It became a creative space for artists for a few years before becoming the Warren Recreation Center. With gyms and art rooms, play spaces and kitchens, it is a haven of learning, fun and creativity, making it an ideal place to dump the kids for a few blessed hours. The playground is top notch too. Oh, and it just so happens to be located on the Crosstown Trail, which you might recognize from our very first ghost story. 

A facility like that needs a large staff. Program directors, groundskeepers, lifeguards, custodians, office staff, teachers, coaches, park rangers, camp counselors. This summer, Kyrie (last name omitted) worked as a camp counselor for Camp Littles, a summer program for the four and five year old set. She lead them in songs, taught them how to draw dinosaurs and write their names in sidewalk chalk, and chased them through the sprinkler on especially hot days. And in the Warren Building that sat witness to so many years of life Kyrie managed to catch the attention of a ghost. 

Kyrie is nineteen years old. I met her for coffee at Starbucks (“The Newton Lower Falls one. The one on Central doesn’t have nitro and I’m in no mood to deal with the scene on Linden Street”). She wore her long hair in a high, loosely braided ponytail. Her baggy white t-shirt was expertly french tucked into absurdly short jean shorts. Just looking at them made me feel very old and very stuffy. Her skin glowed with youth but her weary eyes carried the deep blue bags of a much older woman.

She spoke mostly in questions. “Hi?” in greeting, “I’m getting a nitro brew with heavy cream?” her Starbucks order, and when I asked where she went to college she replied, “I go to Merrimack?” 

We sat in a tight secluded corner table at the Starbucks on the edge of town. I personally liked this Starbucks the least out of the three in close proximity to my home but, whatever. The coffee was hot and we’d just returned from family vacation so I was exhausted.

“So, is the blog like, your job?” 

I smiled and suppressed a laugh at the girls’ ill concealed condescension. “I guess so,” I replied, trying to shift to a more comfortable position on the hard wooden bench.

“Cool, I have this friend? She has this like, fashion blog and she makes enough to cover her car payment every month.”

“Neat,” I replied.

“Yeah, so she was the one who told me about your Ghosts in the Burbs situation. I sort of like, confessed what has been happening with me? And she was like, you should totally get in touch with this woman, she’s fully into weird stuff, maybe she could help you. So I looked up your blog and actually read a lot of it. Weird, right?”

I wasn’t sure if she meant my blog was weird, I was weird, or the fact that her friend had suggested she contact me was weird. So I decided to just smile and nod. The poor thing was a nervous reck. As she sipped her coffee I noticed that she’d bitten her nails down to the quick. Her crossed legs bounced ceaselessly beneath the table. 

“So what is happening to you?” I asked.

Kyrie glanced around the room which was empty save for a man sitting at the far side of the bench reading a paperback. “I’m being haunted,” she whispered. 

“Who is haunting you?” I asked. 

She opened her mouth to speak, closed it, repeated the process then leaned forward and asked, “Can you really hear dead people?”

“I could for a while, but I’ve sort of lost the ability,” I admitted. 

She slumped back in her chair and I saw tears spring to her eyes. 

“I’m sorry,” I said, meaning it, “But if you tell me what’s happening maybe I can put you in touch with someone who can help you even if I can’t.”

Kyrie wiped her eyes with her finger tips, careful not to smudge her waterproof mascara. “I don’t even know where to begin, because it’s like a complete and total nightmare? I have to go back to school in two weeks, okay? She cannot follow me there. She can’t!

“Who can’t go with you?”

“Her! She is with me all the time now and I don’t know how to get rid of her. But I have to. I’m living in a suite this semester with five other girls. They will notice something’s up.”

“Okay, tell me about her.”

“So like, this is my first summer being a camp counselor, right? For the preschoolers at the Warren Building. My friend Shelby was all, ‘You just play with them all morning and then you can go to the pool or whatever for the rest of the day. It’s the best job.’ My only other option was an unpaid internship at my dad’s office and like, no thank you. He leaves for work at seven o’clock in the morning. Anyway, I can do an internship next summer, I don’t even know what I want to do when I graduate.” 

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do either. It took me about fifteen years and twelve different jobs to figure it out.”

Her eyes went wide. Now instead of feeling bad about her own situation, she appeared to feel bad about mine. “Yeah, I mean I’m probably going to pursue something in fashion or finance or whatever. But I like, know for sure that I want to move to New York.”

“Cool,” I said with a smile. “So, the girl who is haunting you…”

“Right, okay, so she totally came from the Warren Building.”

I waited for her to elaborate. “And, she follows you?”

“Ugh, yeah, like all the time.”

“How can you tell?”

Kyrie looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully. “Like,” she said slowly, “Well, like at first I would be home and I could feel someone standing right behind me, right? And I’d turn around and no one would be there. Then sometimes things would happen around me.” 

She paused. I just waited, thinking about how young she was and how even if it killed me, I would make damn sure my girls would learn to talk clearly, with strong voices that held no shimmer or hint of any sort of raspy whine. And then I wondered about my own voice and hoped I was leading by example.

“Okay, honestly? I didn’t know I was being haunted or whatever, until she started coming to me in my dreams. She like, introduced herself to me and then she showed me what happened to her.”

“Wow,” I said, “That’s pretty intense.” 

“Tell me about it. Weird stuff was happening at the camp. Things fell right in front of me for no reason, or off shelves beside me. It made me look like a total klutz but it wasn’t me! She was trying to make me look stupid. Then this one night I dreamt about her.”

“What does she look like?” I asked. 

“Um, well she’s eighteen and she has long hair like me only hers is dark brown, not light brown. She’s about my height and she has brown eyes too. She… well she looks like me kinda but different. Her eyes are small and they’re like, beedy you know? Oh, and she parts her hair in the middle. I part mine on the side,” Kyrie turned her head so I could get a better look, “And she tucks it behind her ears. It’s sort of severe, but she must like it.” She shrugged as if she were talking shit about a girl she didn’t like at school.

“Do you think she’s here now?”

Kyrie stilled and looked as if she were concentrating. “Uh, she might be. I don’t know, it can be hard to tell in a group of people?”

“What did she show you in your dream?”

“The first time I dreamt about her I was in the Warren Building getting ready for the kids to arrive. I was in the drama room, getting out the costumes and then she was like, in the doorway and I knew she wanted me to follow her. So I did and we went down the hall to the gym, until then it was super vivid and real, you know? But then things got, like, sharp. I don’t really know how to explain it, but something changed and the hallway looked different. I started to get scared and I realized I was dreaming. She stopped and turned around to look at me and motioned me forward, but I forced myself to wake up.

“It was like that for a few nights and I would always wake myself up before I got to the end of the hallway and then this one day at camp I was alone in the drama room for real, cleaning up after the kids left and I glanced up and I freaking saw her reflection in the mirrors along the wall. She was standing by the door just like in my dreams. I turned to look at the door and she’d disappeared.”

“Spooky,” I said. I’d recently gone with the girls to see one of their little friend’s plays in that very room. It’s located on the ground level at the end of a long hallway and there is only one way in and one way out of that room. I definitely wouldn’t like the idea of being in there alone. “Did you ever follow her the whole way down that hall in your dreams.”

“Yeah, I finally made myself do it. She lead me down to the gym and across to this closet where we keep all the scooters and dodge balls. She stood there for a long time just staring into that closet looking like, furious. I asked her to tell me why we were there and she looked at me and held out her hand. I took it and she showed me how she died.”

“Wow, have you ever seen ghosts before? Or had dreams like that?”

“No!” She replied a little too loudly. 

“Just wondering,” I said, thoughtfully. “I figured you might be some kind of medium but you hadn’t realized yet.”

“Yeah, no. This is the first time in my life anything like this has ever happened to me. And I’m not one of those basic drama girls who walk around talking about vibes,” she insisted, a look of disgust on her face,  “You are literally like, maybe the second person I’ve told.”

I took a breath and sent up a prayer that I would make it through my daughter’s adolescence without one of us burning down our home in a blind rage. “So, she showed you how she died.”

“Yeah, okay, so here’s the thing. She and a bunch of her friends broke into the school – it was an elementary school when she was alive – and they were playing hide and seek in the dark with a bunch of boys that they were all into. So, one of her friends was searching for a hiding place with her and the girl was like, you should totally go in that closet, I’ll go in this one. They’ll never find us.” Kyrie paused dramatically and let out a small laugh of disbelief before continuing, “So she goes in and it sounds like her friend went into the other closet and then she hears people talking in the gym, right?  She hears them giggling and then she hears something, like a metal bar or something, slide into place between the door handles.

“She like, started to freak out and went to push the closet doors open but they wouldn’t budge. She called out that it wasn’t funny and to let her out or she was going to get them all in trouble but all she could hear was laughing on the other side of the door. Then one of her friends yelled, ‘Maybe you’ll remember this next time you start spreading dirt about one of your friends,’ through the crack in the door, and she started to really freak out. She had a freaking temper tantrum in that closet. It was really hard to watch, actually.” Kyrie made a worried face. 

“Everything went silent outside the door and the girl started to hyperventilate. And then I’m pretty sure she had an asthma attack. I, um, I like, watched her die. I, uh, I tried to help her, but it was like I was frozen in place, just sort of hovering beside her and I could only watch.” 

“My God,” I said, “That’s horrible. I’m so sorry you had to see that.”

Unable to speak Kyrie wiped her eyes and nodded. 

  “And after that night she showed you other,” I searched for the word, “Images from her life?”

“Yeah, in my dreams,” Kyrie said shortly.

“Did the ghost continue to make things happen to you?”

She thought about it. “Uh, no.”

I could tell she was holding something back. 

In a sort of pout, Kyrie asked, “So, like why do you think she chose me? I don’t understand why she latched onto me.” 

“Well, it sounds like you remind her of her when she was alive,” I pointed out.

“I’m nothing like her,” Kyrie said, for once losing the tinge of raspy whine from her voice.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, she’s the worst. But I just want her gone and-.” Kyrie continued her complaints about the girl but I had a hard time paying attention. I was distracted by a young woman standing too close to Kyrie’s chair though there was plenty of room for her to stand elsewhere. The rest of the tables had filled up with what must have been the lunchtime rush so I assumed the girl was waiting for our table. The room as a whole was making me feel claustrophobic. This may have been Kyrie’s favorite local Starbucks, but I’d never felt comfortable there. The flow was simply awful.

I realized that I’d missed the bulk of Kyrie’s rant. 

She turned her head briefly, glancing at the busy cafe then said, “So what do you think?”

“Um, well, I think it’s sad. Maybe the girl just needs someone to know what really happened to her.”

“Well, yeah…” Kyrie replied, playing with her braid. She lowered her voice and said, “The thing is, she wasn’t a good person.”

“How so?” I asked. 

“She’s shown me other things in my dreams, things that she did when she was alive. And for real? Sometimes I get these like, urges to do really awful stuff.”

“Like what?”

She shrugged in a very teenager-y way. “Just stuff. You know, I think those girls were right about her. They may have been mean, but I think she started it. I think she sort of like, manipulated them and turned them against each other. But then they realized what she had been doing? And locking her in that closet was their revenge. I honestly don’t think they meant to kill her, you know? But maybe it was better that they did. I don’t know what she would have been capable of if she had lived.”

“Being a mean girl shouldn’t get you killed,” I pointed out.

“Oh, yeah no totally. But she wasn’t just a mean girl. She screwed with people – including her so-called friends – just to amuse herself. She liked to see what she could make people do, and not just with kids her age. I’ve seen this little boy in a few of my dreams and I’m pretty sure she was like, his babysitter? I think she was grooming him…”

“Oh, dear,” I said quietly.

“No, not like sexually,” she whispered. “I mean, like she was teaching him how to hurt people without getting caught.”

“She sounds like a sociopath,” I said. The young woman behind Kyrie was standing so close now that I didn’t know how she wasn’t asking her to back up. It was so distracting I was ready to say something. And besides, a table had opened up to our left, the woman should have taken it. Now I suspected she was listening to our conversation. 

Kyrie studied my face for a moment then turned around. She sort of rolled her eyes and said, “Anyway, I think she was a psychopath, actually and I am freaked out that she might turn me into one. I have these ideas – and I know they aren’t my ideas because they are absolutely terrible – but I am afraid that one of these days I won’t be able to stop myself from following through on them.”

“Give me an example,” I pressed. 

“Okay well like, the other day I went to get a pedicure, right? And the girl next to me left her tip on the little desk thing where they keep all the pedicure tools, right? And this voice, like my voice but not me, in my head was like, take that cash and stash it in your nail tech’s drawer. I was literally about to do it thinking it would be funny to cause a fight between the people in the salon but you know I obviously didn’t.”

“What a shit-stirrer,” I said, thinking back to the girls – and women – I’d known who, like Kyrie’s ghost, seemed to get a kick out of turning people against each other. Girl’s who’d passed notes in middle school asking you to check boxes of seemingly inane likes and dislikes and hiding one or two snarky lines in there and then showing the object of that snark the checked boxes. Women who asked what you thought of so and so’s interior design at the autumn grade social and then passing along your comments so they’d be sure to get back to so and so.

Most of these girls and women were simple gossips, throwing shade in hopes none might come their way. But I’d met a few of the dangerous ones in my time. Ones who could turn their emotions on and off with frightening ease, making you wonder if you’d ever had a genuine interaction. One’s so adept at gaslighting their chosen victim, it could only be a skill they’d perfected over a lifetime. 

Oh, but I digress. 

“You need someone to remove the spirit attachment,” I said simply.

“What do I have to like, drink some disgusting tea or something?”

I laughed out loud. Kyrie was endearing. I suspected that for all her vocal fry and Kardashian-esque mannerisms there was a smart, kind, driven young person beneath the facade. I could see her living in New York as she’d hoped, working (I prayed) not in finance or fashion, but in something less soul crushing. “No tea,” I said, “Probably some like, energy work. Maybe a Reiki practitioner could sort it out.” Now she had me going in with the “likes.”

Kyrie made a face. “Whatever. I think my mom and her friends do that sometimes.”

“Oh, then perfect,” I said, smiling. 

“Oh, I don’t want to go where they go. Don’t you know someone?”

“I know someone who might,” I said. I was getting antsy and desperately wanted to leave the cafe at that point. Taking a break from drinking h sort of turned up the volume on life, in good ways, like waking up actually feeling rested and losing the puffiness in my face, and in some not really bad, but challenging ways. Crowds were like that. I’d be standing behind someone in line at the grocery store or wherever and I could feel a sort of vibration coming off of them, like I could read the temperature of their mood and if I wasn’t careful I would begin to feel as though their mood was my mood. 

This wasn’t entirely new to me, I’ve always been affected by people in that way, but it turned out the wine must have been dulling that sense, or maybe just feeling rather junky most of the time had me focused on how crappy I felt that I was able to ignore extreme emotions in others. Not anymore. And being in tight quarters with a group of people had become overwhelming to say the least. There was a man sitting to our left on his computer and he was really anxious about something. Something that felt like it was spiraling out of control. How did I know that? I don’t know. But I could feel it and I was trying not to let the feeling seep into me. 

But the biggest ping I was getting was from that damn woman crowding Kyrie. It was unrest, agitation, and a more than a little anger that rolled off her in waves. I kept thinking there’s a seat by the window, just take it! But she must have been waiting for a certain seat. The girl was so close at that point in our conversation that I I could see the young woman’s hair actually draped over the back of Kyrie’s head. It was so distracting that I was about to say something.

And then the woman turned around and stared straight at me. She was about the same age as Kyrie, pretty, but with dark. Close set eyes that were far too small for her face. 

“Um, hello,” I said, awkwardly. 

Kyrie turned around then looked back at me. Confused, she asked, “Who are you talking to?”

I looked between the two young women and a horrible realization finally dawned on me. “You can’t see her?” I asked in a small voice.

“See who?” 

The young woman put a pale hand on Kyrie’s shoulder and I sucked in a breath. 

“Oh, Kyrie. Oh, no,” I said in a low voice. “Can you feel that?”

Kyrie’s face changed. Her lips pursed and she scrunched her forehead then she shook her head. 

“You didn’t feel that?” I pressed skeptically, my eyes never leaving the ghost’s face. 

“No, but…” Kyrie trailed off and crossed her arms over her chest. 

“What?” I demanded, filled with pure terror. 

“It’s just that I got one of those ideas, you know? The ones that aren’t mine?”

“And?”

“I just had this like, overwhelming feeling to start telling people that I met with you and that you told me that your whole blog thing is fake. That you just made it all up and you’ve never even interviewed anyone.”

I let out a nervous laugh. “She’s right behind you,” I whispered to Kyrie. “I can see her.”

She jumped up and pushed her chair back. The ghost moved along with her effortlessly. “Oh my God!” she hissed, then glanced around at the people sitting near us and lowered her voice. “What is she doing?”

I watched as the ghost of a young woman stepped closer to Kyrie and wrapped her arms around her in a tight embrace. 

“She’s hugging you,” I said, horrified. “Please. Sit back down”

“What in the actual fuck!” Kyrie yelled, causing several people to look over at us. 

“Just sit down,” I demanded.

“You said you couldn’t hear ghosts anymore!” Kyrie hissed, pushing her chair against the wall before sitting in it. The ghost stood vigil over her, her hand again on Kyrie’s shoulder. 

“I can’t hear ghosts anymore. But apparently I can see them now.” I glanced between Kyrie and her ghost. “I don’t know what to do,” I said, pushed to the point of tears.

“Are you for real with all of this?” Kyrie asked, sounding every bit the teenager she was. 

“Yes.” 

The ghost opened her mouth and spoke, but of course I couldn’t hear what she was saying. 

“She’s saying something but I can’t hear her,” I admitted. 

“This is like, the most fucked up thing that has ever happened to me!” Kyrie exclaimed. 

“Same,” I agreed. 

“Well, what am I supposed to do?” 

I picked up my phone with trembling hands. “Let me call my friend. This is way out of my league.”

I pressed Biddy’s name on my phone and watched the specter stare back at me. In the blink of an eye the ghost leaned down with a horrible snear and screamed right in my face. I gasped and pushed myself back against the wall, grateful that I couldn’t hear the rageful wail.

“Go on, open it.”

I glanced back over my shoulder at Biddy who stood behind me holding a bottle of holy water out in front of her like a weapon. 

“You should open it, you’re the ghost hunter,” I snapped. 

Ex-ghost hunter,” she corrected. “And I’m not worried about ghosts. I think there’s a fifty-fifty chance that this will turn out to be a rat infestation.”

I took a step away from the wood panel covering our basement crawl space. “Gross,” I said, with a shudder. “But that wouldn’t explain the dreams.”

“You read too many horror novels. You’re bound to have nightmares.” She gave me a little shove forward. Then said, “Wait, is your recorder on just in case there is a dead person in there?”

“Yes,” I said, holding it up to show her. “Are you sure this is a good idea? EVPs were what got you into all that trouble in the first place. Should I be doing this in my own home?”

“What else are we going to do? You’ve got to find out why you’re dreaming about that crawl space, right?”

I nodded. “Maybe we should call Judith.”

“Why? You’re the one who hears ghosts,” Biddy reasoned. 

“Not recently,” I said. 

“Well, then what’s the worst that can happen? We’ll record voices, or we won’t. You’ll hear something or you don’t. The only way you’ll know for sure is if you look in there.”

I pushed past my hesitation and unslid the four bolts holding the wood panel in place. I grabbed the two handles attached to it then whispered, “Three, two, one,” pulled back removing the panel from it’s home and leaned it against the wall at our feet. 

Biddy and I stood stock still. Waiting for either a rat or a ghost to pop out of the dirt floored crawl space beneath my sunroom. The space I’d been dreaming about for months. The dreams, which had been only occasional at first had become more and more frequent and disturbing. Dead people lined the walls of the crawl space in my dreams. And they were angry, angry at me as far as I could tell. But as the dreams became more frequent, my ability to hear the dead speak became less and less so. Even Claire seemed to have disappeared from my life, or perhaps I just couldn’t hear her any more. I didn’t exactly know why, but I had a strong suspicion it was connected to that crawl space. I also didn’t know if I should just let things be. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted my so-called clairaudience to return. (My So-Called Clairaudience will be the title of my autobiography…™). 

At any rate, there Biddy and I stood. In front of a four by four foot hole in my basement wall, that began at waist height. The space beyond it, a dirt-floored fifteen by fifteen foot space was dark and silent. I reached into my back pocket to grab the My Little Pony flashlight I’d swiped from my daughters’ bedroom. 

I shined the light into the space and saw… nothing. Nothing but concrete walls, dirt floors and yup, a dead mouse at one corner. 

“Told you there’d be rats in there,” Biddy said, coming forward to stand beside me. 

“That is not a rat.”

We stood next to each other staring into the darkness. “Well are you going to say anything?”

I took a deep breath, held the recorder out in front of me and said, “Hello? Is there anyone here with us?”


***

Before I share what my digital recorder captured, I want to tell you about a very strange chat that I had with Amelia Barns, an ex-docent at the historic Coughlin House in Brewster, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. Amelia grew up on the Cape with her family in neighboring Dennis. About two years ago, just after she’d completed her freshman year studying art history at UMass Amherst, she visited the Coughlin House, a mid-seventeenth century saltbox. She was nineteen years old, leaning towards a minor in architectural history and interested in historic home restoration. According to Wikipedia, a saltbox house is a traditional New England style of house with a long, pitched roof that slopes down to the back. It has just one story in the back and two stories in the front. The flat front and central chimney are recognizable features, but the asymmetry of the unequal sides and the long, low rear roofline are the most distinctive features of a saltbox, which takes its name from its resemblance to a wooden lidded box in which salt was once kept. I’ve posted a photo of one on Instagram and Twitter in case you haven’t had the chance to see this particularly spooky type of house. 

“I walked through the front door and I knew in my bones that I’d been there before,” she told me. “No, that’s not right.” She paused, watching three chickens cluck around near our feet. “It wasn’t just that I’d been there before – I’d lived there. I’d grown up there. I’d had a family there. And I’d seen and done terrible things there.” 

Amelia and I sat across from one another at a picnic table in front of the Snowy Owl, a coffee shop in Brewster. She’d emailed me just a week prior in hopes of telling me her story if ever I were to venture to her neck of the woods. As luck-fate-coincidence would have it, Chris and I intended to spend a weekend on the Cape over the kids’ Spring break. We arranged to meet for coffee near our hotel and as an added bonus, the aggressively organic coffee shop kept a chicken coop around back. About a dozen plump little chickens had run of the place. 

“I don’t quite understand,” I said, to Amelia’s claim to having grown up in the historic home.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” She asked. The woman was just twenty one years old but she spoke and carried herself like a mature adult. She wore her medium length hair in an unflattering low ponytail and it looked as if she’d raided her grandmother’s stash from Talbot’s.  

I considered, wondering if perhaps the mature clothing made sense given the question. “I don’t know. No more or less than I believe in anything else I suppose,” I answered. 

Amelia nodded her head slowly. “Well, when I walked into that house I had this intense feeling of deja vu, and as I walked further inside this like, dormant bank of memories unfolded before me. Not in a flood, it was more moment by moment, like, ‘Oh, right, I remember this and that’ way. Like if you’ve ever been back to your elementary school and you see things there that you haven’t thought about in years. The memories were there, you just hadn’t thought about them in so long that you didn’t realize they were there at all.”

“What did you remember about the house?” I asked.

“First off, as I stood in the foyer I realized that I knew the layout of the house. And it wasn’t like I’d maybe been there once a long time ago and had just forgotten. And it wasn’t that I only knew what lay behind every door, I had memories attached every single room. Memories of my family – only it wasn’t my family, you know? Like, I knew my mother, I mean not my real mom now but the woman who’d been my mother a long time ago, used to sew by the front window in the living room because it had the best light in the afternoon. I knew the floorboards in the kitchen would be a different width than those in the rest of the house because my father, my old father, had to replace them when a crawl space flooded beneath that part of the house. I knew the second stair would creak and the basement was lined with large stones that I’d helped my father clear from the back yard. I knew where to find the stone onto which I’d carved my old name.”

“Wow,” I said, impressed. “What was your old name?”

“Emaline Coughlin.”

“Geez,” I said, slightly distracted by a chicken beneath our table. The things were cute from a distance but I didn’t really want one crawling over my feet. “So you were a part of the original family who built the house.”

Amelia nodded her head. 

“And you’re totally certain that you didn’t have any knowledge of that house’s history before you went there that first time? Could you have maybe gone there on a fieldtrip when you were little?”

“No. The house didn’t open as a museum until twenty-seventeen. The state bought it in the nineteen fifties and registered it as a historic landmark, but restoration didn’t begin until twenty-fifteen. Prior to that, the home was locked the windows boarded. So no, I couldn’t have seen it, on a field trip.”

“A family vacation?” I suggested weakly.

“No, I asked my mom. She’d never been there either. There’s nothing really special about the place other than being a good representation of an early colonial New England home. The only reason I sought it out that summer was because I was interested in historic restoration. I thought perhaps it might be something I would pursue as a career.”

“Well then, wow,” I said with a smile. “That really is absolutely amazing. I can’t imagine what that would be like. Recovering memories from a past life like that.” 

“To say it was unnerving would be an understatement.” Amelia watched as a barista shoo’d a chicken out of the cafe. “I wish I’d never stepped foot into that house. I wasn’t even supposed to remember, none of us are. But there’s something very wrong with that property, at first I thought it was a sort of time portal. But that was a trick, it’s not a time glitch.  I was drawn back to that home.”

“Why?”

 “That thing needed to be brought up and I was the only one who knew it was there. By releasing those memories in dribs and drabs it kept me coming back, like an addict. It was the perfect way to keep me there long enough to set it free again.”

“I’m afraid to ask,” I said, with a small laugh. 

Amelia sighed. “I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m sorry. So, over time I remembered the entire past life I lived in that house. It was relayed to me in bits and pieces, over about a year and a half. If I’d remembered it all at once I would have walked out immediately and never gone back.” 

“So they weren’t all good memories.”

“No. But the trick it pulled was to give me the nice ones first. I didn’t get the whole picture until it was too late.” 

I waited for her to say more. When she didn’t I prompted, “Too late for what?”

Amelia pinched her lips together. “This is harder than I thought it would be. I’ve never talked about this with anyone, I mean, who in the world would believe me? I heard about your blog from a girlfriend, after I read a couple stories I thought I might finally be able to offload the whole mess.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Sorry, I don’t mean it like that. It’s just… this has been a lot to keep to myself. It’s all so bunched up and swirled in my mind…” She trailed off then shook her head as if to clear her mind. “Okay, so I had memories of a past life but they all came after I went to the house for the first time. All but one. I’ve had a recurring dream my entire life. In it I’m in the woods in the middle of the night. It’s freezing cold and raining and I’m shoveling dirt back into a hole that I know I just dug. My mother’s there with me, not my mom, my old mom. She’s rushing me and telling me we need to get inside before the sun comes up, before anyone sees us. She says, ‘It’s buried now with him, it’s over.’ 

“We pat down the dirt and cover it with branches and wet leaves and herbs. My mother sprinkles water over the ground and then we walk the path back to our house. We pass a shed along the way, my father’s shed. When we come out of the woods I see the backside of a saltbox house. My house. The Coughlin House.”

“You’ve always had that dream?”

“For as long as I can remember. As stupid as it sounds, I didn’t put it together until I began spending a lot more time at the Coughlin House. Really, it was quite a while before I went out to the backyard. Obviously, I should have put two and two together much sooner. How many saltbox houses do you come upon nowadays, right?” 

“I’m sure you were overwhelmed with all those other memories of the house.”

“True, I was. And I was studying to be a tour guide and managing all of my course work at the same time. I had a lot going on.” 

“Yeah, so how did you end up becoming a docent at that house?” I asked, thinking such a small museum wouldn’t have many openings. 

Amelia groaned. “When I first realized I had lived a life in that house almost four hundred years ago I became absolutely obsessed. Completely and totally. I didn’t leave the people at the Brewster historical commission alone until they agreed to give me an internship. I spent every single weekend there, rain or shine. I drove three hours each way from UMass to Brewster every Friday night and then back every Sunday afternoon. It became an obsession. 

“When I wasn’t showing the house or giving tours I was deep in research in the historical commission. If my parents hadn’t put me straight I probably would have quit school to spend all my time there.”

“Did you tell your parents anything about the memories of living in that house?”

“No,” Amelia said, letting out a humorless laugh. “Absolutely not. They just thought I was taking my history obsession too far. They sat me down for a little talk once my first semester Sophomore year grades came back. I figured out how to juggle it all, but school definitely came second.”

“I can imagine.”

“The memories, the way they would come to me out of thin air was addicting. I wouldn’t remember anything new for a few weeks and then I’d be walking a tour group through the place pointing out the architectural details of the stairs when all of a sudden an image of my father from that previous life would pop into my head and I’d see him chasing my brother up those stairs, both of them laughing.”

“Wow.” 

“Yeah, the good memories were magical. I learned to continue on with the tours even while catching glimpses of my past life. But when I began to remember the darker things it was much harder to keep going in front of the guests with my rehearsed speech.”

“I’ll bet,” I said, gently shooing a chicken away from my bag.

“Memories from my past life weren’t the only things in that house. And my old family wasn’t the only one that lived there either. There were hundreds of years of life lived in that home and some of those lives imprinted. Ghost floated around, just carrying on with the day as if they’d never died.”

“Wait, you saw ghosts there too?” 

Amelia nodded, her face serious. “In that way I do think that place is like a time warp.”

“Like residual hauntings,” I commented.

“Exactly, it was as if time overlapped there. One afternoon I was closing up the house and I walked into the kitchen to see a farmer in overalls sitting at the table. He looked at me like I was an alien and then he just sort of dissipated. To him I was probably the ghost.”

“Wow. I bet one of those ghost hunting shows would kill to get inside that house.”

  Amelia leaned forward and grabbed my arm which had been resting on the table holding my coffee cup, “You can’t tell them. Do a lot of people read your blog? Could they find out about the house? You have to change my name, the house’s name, and you have to move it to a different town, okay?”

I yanked my arm back, sloshing coffee in the cup. “Sure.”

“Sorry,” she said quickly. “But no one like that, like ghost hunters or whatever, can know about that house. I’ve even thought about-” she pursed her lips. Obviously, stopping herself from finishing the thought. “It’s extremely important that no one go looking for this house. Barely anyone visits it as a historical landmark anymore. It was busy when they first opened it to the public but now it’s an occasional group of retirees or some historical buff who comes to complain about anything he perceives as a ‘lack of authenticity’ in the restoration. It’s better if people think it’s just a boring old house. If word got out about what it really is…” she trailed off.

“So what is it?” I asked pointedly.

“It may be a place where time warps, or like overlaps, but I think that aspect of it is harmless. But there is something there that’s timeless, that lived alongside all the lives and all the times in that place until my family – the one that I remembered – restrained it. In my past life I caged that evil, but I didn’t put an end to it. I don’t think that’s possible. The land, it’s land called me back using that house and it tricked me into freeing it. It was sending me that dream my whole life, like it knew I would come home. It held back everything it didn’t want me to remember until the first archaologist’s shovel hit the dirt and then it all came back to me. I didn’t have a chance to resist it. I did exactly what it wanted me to do.”

Behind Amelia the chickens had congregated in front of their coop and an image from Pet Cemetery popped into my mind. “What exactly did you dig up?” I asked. 

“My father. My old father. But I didn’t know that was what we were digging up until it was too late. I was out behind the Coughlin House one afternoon, picking up bits of litter that had blown into the yard and I found myself back by the treeline. I looked up at the back of the house and it was like a snapshot from my dreams. It took me so long to recognize it because the woods were much wilder in the past, they used to completely surround the house. But there was no doubt it was the same home. I immediately began looking for the path from my dream, but the scrub brush was so dense that I couldn’t find it. But I knew it was there and down that path was a shed and just past that shed was the place where my mother and I had buried whatever or whoever we buried in my dream.

“I asked the director if the woods behind the house had been searched for artifacts. They hadn’t and she was hesitant to do so, no one in their right mind would trek into the Cape Cod woods unless they had a very good reason.”

“Ticks,” I commented with a shudder. 

“Exactly,” Amelia replied. “No one would go with me, so I went in alone. And I found the shed, or at least what was left of it. And from there I was able to find the place where I’d dug and then filled in a hole while my mother looked on.”

I made a face. “Oh dear.” 

“I went back for a shovel and dug around. It didn’t take me long, because in my dreams I’d seen a distinctive tree, so I dug down about two feet and found a skeletal arm in tattered clothing.”

Amelia,” I said with a nervous laugh.

“I still didn’t know everything, Amelia pressed on. “It kept the worst of it from me even then. I think because it knew that if I dug too deep and saw the bottles of holy water and the dried sage and the rosaries wrapped around his neck and hands then I would have covered it right back up and kept the secret. It needed someone else to do the digging. 

“After I uncovered the arm I put down the shovel and went to the Coughlin House to tell the director what I found. She called the police and they cordoned off the area. An expert of some sort came and determined rather quickly that the skeleton was hundred of years old, so the next call went to a team of archaeologists.”

“That must have been a huge, to-do,” I commented. 

“It was, and the Coughlin House got a lot of attention.” She shook her head emphatically, “I swear I didn’t know until that woman’s shovel hit the dirt, I had no idea what I’d done.”

While Amelia took a moment to compose herself, I considered getting another coffee. 

“Sorry,” she said after a long moment. “I just feel so responsible.”

I dismissed the woman’s guilt with a wave of my hand. “It sounds like you didn’t know you were doing anything wrong.”
“That’s not exactly true. I knew I wasn’t remembering everything and I wouldn’t let it drop until I knew. It all came back to me in a rush when that archaeologist began digging. It was as though the entire truth of it downloaded instantly into my mind. I don’t know if that thing did it on purpose just to screw with me or if it couldn’t hold back the memories any longer once it was free. Either way everything went black, I fainted. I wasn’t out long. But when I came around the director was beside me and I knew everything. It was too late. There was no way to stop them and I made an absolute ass of myself trying to get the archaeologists and the museum people to understand what they were doing. I was asked to leave the site, actually I was told to leave. It was humiliating. But if they’d seen what I’d seen, if they knew what they were releasing…”

“And that was…” I prompted, feeling impatient

Amelia sighed heavily. “It’s ancient. We knew more about these things back then and we’ve forgotten all of it. I have a hazy memory of my mother speaking with two Native American women at our kitchen table, I believe they were telling her what she needed to do to contain the creature, but the memory never fully returned so I can’t be sure. What I do remember is being told that before my family cleared the land and built our house it was understood that the area was bad, that something there preyed upon people. Turned them bad.

“My father was well-respected in the community. He’d made a good living, we were considered rich at that time.” Amelia sounded proud, if not a little arrogant. “But troubles came soon after we began to clear the land. A family friend, a man who we were very close with who’d always worked for my father, fell from the roof of the house and died. Mother had a miscarriage that almost took her life. Father made a bad investment with a con man and lost a great deal of the family’s money. And then he began to drink. And when he drank he became violent. 

“But all of that wasn’t him. It was the thing that crawled inside him. Father signed his fate when he chose that plot of land, the thing put eyes on him and it went to work right away. My father began spending a great deal of time out in the wood shed. He stopped caring for himself. He chased off all the good will he’d spent his life building within the community and he became paranoid, certain that we were all plotting against him.” 

It didn’t escape my attention that Amelia had begun to speak as thought these events had actually happened to her. It was spooky, actually. 

“Okay, so how did your past life father end up in a hole that you dug?” I asked.

“Mother killed him.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling increasingly nervous around the young woman. Her demeanor had changed as she spoke about her past life and it was spooking me out.

“Father built the shed back, away from the house. It was his place, none of us were ever to go inside. No one we knew had sheds to themselves. There was no time for such things. But father built the shed and told us that none of us were to ever step foot inside. He scared us off the woods as well, told us there were things that would carry us away, rip us apart and eat us. The thing that came up from the ground must have needed him alone, isolated in order to gain control. 

“He’d been spending more and more time in the shed. Mother and I had to do everything for the family. The miscariage that almost took her life weakened her. She never fully recovered.  I had two younger siblings. Winter was coming, without his help we wouldn’t have enough to survive. Unless… well unless he wasn’t draining our resources. Everyone had to contribute if we were to survive. 

“Don’t get me wrong, my mother didn’t kill him for not contributing to the well being of the family. He became infected in that shed. Infected by whatever it was that came out of the ground. We saw it in his eyes first. The whites of his eyes developed a brownish tinge, his gums went grey. He became confused. And the confusion made him violent. 

“There was no one to turn to for help, either. Men could do what they wanted in their own homes and punish their children and their wives as they saw fit. We couldn’t burden another family. He was our problem to solve. We sat at the dinner table one night. It had become rare that he would join us, which was a relief not only because he’d become so frightening but also to conserve resources. 

“But that night he came in and slumped down in his seat at the head of the table. He’d developed a smell,” Amelia made a face. “It was loamy and brackish like stagnant salt water. It wasn’t easy to eat anywhere near that smell, even though we were all starving. We’d gone down to two meals a day in hopes of maintaining the stores through the winter. It was early October. The nights were beginning to get cold. 

“He insisted on keeping the back door open when he was in the house. All the heat went out the door but he would become frighteningly agitated if he couldn’t see the path to his shed. It all started because my little brother went and closed the door. The baby was so small and he was worried about her. My father flew into a rage. He backhanded my brother so hard across the face that he fell and didn’t move. Father began to scream and ramble and then he began  tearing apart the kitchen. He knocked over the baby’s basket, then picked up a chair and smashed it down onto the ground right beside it.

“I stayed very still, waiting until I could scoop up the baby and flee to the front of the house. My mother watched him and she didn’t make a move until she was certain she could bring him down. There was a carving knife on the table. She stood and crept silently behind him while my father tore at the herbs she’d so carefully hung to dry from a line tacked to the wall. It was so fast, he didn’t even know what had happened. I don’t know that he felt it at all.

“She stabbed the knife right into the side of his neck. The blood was immediate, it was everywhere at once. It took him a horrible amount of time to go down. I think the thing within him gave him more strength than a man could possibly have. But eventually he went down. Not before spraying the whole room with his blood. It was tinted more brown than red like his eyes. It smelled of the brackish water too. The stains didn’t come out of the baby’s blanket or our clothing. They were buried along with him. 

“As he lay dying my mother wrapped a cord around his wrists, binding them. Blessed salt water was sprinkled on him there and again after we’d placed his body in the grave. Sage was tucked into his clothing, tossed into the grave and then scattered atop the dirt that covered him. Every Sunday morning my mother went out and sprinkled fresh sage and salt water atop the grave. Even in the snow.” 

“How did you get away with it?” I asked, horrified. 

“The town had seen how erratic he’d become. He was so lost that he was a liability to all and they knew it. We said he left us. No one asked questions because they were almost as relieved as we were that he was gone.”

I sat, watching the chickens cluck along aimlessly, somehow knowing to avoid the dangers of the parking lot. “And you never had to deal with the creature again?”

“No we trapped it inside his dead body. That’s why my mother bound his hands with the cord and dressed him with the salt water and sage before he died. If she’d waited until afterwards it would have been too late. The creature would have escaped and looked for another host, possibly my little brother.”

“Why not you or your mom?”

“It only infects men.”

“How do you know that?”

“The Native Americans told us.”

I watched her. “It was planned, the murder?”

She hesitated. “We knew what we had to do to put it down.”

“To put your father down.”

“That wasn’t my father anymore,” she said quietly.

“And now the thing is free, looking for another host,” I said. 

“Yeah.”

“Did you warn anyone?”

“Who would listen?” She said simply.

“Aren’t you going to do anything about it?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been back since the day they dug him up. I’ve had some contact with the historic society, the people I’ve spoken with seem normal enough so far. I was hoping you might know what I should do.”

I just shook my head. “No. You stopped it once. You’ll have to do it again.” I reasoned. 

“My mother killed my father the last time that thing got loose. That’s how we stopped it. I’m not going to kill anyone,” Amelia stopped speaking abruptly and stared off towards the woods behind the chicken coop. “Unless, Tom,” she said quietly, almost to herself.

“Who’s Tom?” 

“What? Oh, he’s just an ex-boyfriend. I-”

“Amelia,” I pressed.

She closed her eyes for a moment then looked back at me. “It’s nothing, I just thought of something stupid.”


***

Back upstairs at my kitchen table, armed with coffee heavy with vanilla soy creamer and Truvia we stared at the device between us. I’d rewound the recording, but still shaken by the events in the basement I hesitated to press play and listen to what we’d captured.  

After a sip of my chemical laden coffee I said, “Ready?” 

Biddy nodded. 

I heard my voice say, “Hello? Is there anyone here with us?”

Then Biddy chimed in, “Who is making Liz dream about this crawl space?”

A pause. And then a cacophony of voices came through the recorder. Startled, I pushed myself back from the table. I could make out snip its of sentences, but so many voices seemed to be competing to be heard it was difficult to hear any individual person. 

Biddy reached out and turned it off. 

We looked at each other. 

“Okay, I think it’s time to call Judith.”