ghosts in the burbs

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

ISifbugmgvz01y0000000000To broadly quote Phil Dunphy, this lady knew what she was getting herself into when she hitched her wagon to a real estate man.  We’ve lived in eleven different homes and though moving is always a little bit stressful and disorienting, thankfully I love a fresh start. There is nothing more intoxicating than walking through an open house and imagining it’s potential.

Having said that, I’ll be damned if they won’t have to drag my cold dead body out of our most recent of homes. Regardless of the fact that I’m getting old and set in my ways, I simply can’t handle the stress of another move. But I do enjoy living vicariously through others and am enthralled by tales of home renovations with bumpy middle parts and happy endings. And I just loves me a real estate agent, with their talk of profitable improvements, contingencies and irrational sellers.

I recently attended the fortieth birthday party of an acquaintance where I met one of the most interesting real estate agents ever. I didn’t know many other people at the backyard event and found myself stuck talking to two women I had only a passing ‘hello’ relationship with in the neighborhood. They were regaling me with an amusing yet predictable tale of a recent girl’s night out in Boston.

“It was so much fucking fun, we ended up out until two o’clock in the morning.”

“Our first uber driver kicked us out of the car before we’d even left the city! Oh my God!”

“Then Ashley – do you know Ashley Grant? No? She is a riot, and oh my God! She barely made it into her driveway before throwing up everywhere.”

“You should come next time.”

“So what do you do? Or are you just at home?”

“I write,” I replied simply, I’ve learned to be a little vague when talking about the blog and besides that I wanted out of the conversation. While the taller and thinner of the two woman was talking I heard a voice say, “She’s right about her husband,” and you’d have to be from another planet if you thought I was going to deliver that insight to the Pretty Pony.

“What have you written?” The Pretty Pony asked, unfortunately showing interest.

“I have a blog, it’s sort of about Wellesley.”

“Oh, a blog. That’s nice. Doesn’t Rebecca do something like that?” She asked her sidekick.

Sidekick looked confused.

“So what’s it about? Fitness?” Then giving me a quick once over, Pretty Pony added, “Cooking?”

“Ghosts,”  I said simply.

“Stop. Right. There! You’re that woman?” The sidekick exclaimed.

I smiled at her but shook my head as though I didn’t know what she was referring to. I did not want to talk about ghosts with these people.

“You write about ghosts,” she insisted loudly. “In this town, right?”

I fought the urge to shush her. “Yes.”

“Ghosts?” Pretty Pony laughed. ”Oh, so it’s a blog for children.”

I kept a smile on my face and slow blinked her.

Her friend jumped in, “No, I can’t believe you haven’t heard about this! She, wait what’s your name again?” I told her. “Yeah, it’s you! She writes a blog about people who have haunted houses in Wellesley.”

I just kept smiling dumbly and gulped my wine.

“Really,” Pretty Pony said slowly, and I could tell she was reevaluating me though I had no idea whether my rank went up or down in her estimation.

I nodded. “It’s not for everyone,” I said simply.

Just then one of their friends sidled over to us. “Hi, girls,” she said in a distinctly annoyed tone. “Ugh, I never thought I’d never wrap up my last showing.” She held out her hand to me. “Hi. I’m Emily Patel.”

I introduced myself.

“Liz writes a ghost blog about town,” Pretty Pony informed her, a touch of mocking in her voice.

Wait, that’s you,” Emily stage whispered.

“Mm hm.”

“Oh my God! I can’t believe this. I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to email you. There was this awful house, this listing I had a couple months ago-”

“What listing?” Sidekick interrupted.

“Number sixteen [name of road omitted],” Emily replied. “It wasn’t exactly haunted, I don’t know what those things were.”

“What things?” Pretty Pony asked.

“I’d love to hear about it. Want to have coffee this week?” I asked, ignoring the snobby woman.

“Definitely,” Emily replied. “Oh, what a small world.”

We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to text the following morning to make a plan. Then I excused myself to the bathroom even though I didn’t have to go. Emily seemed pleasant but I’d had enough of the other two. I’d spent plenty of time with women like that in the past and I was over it. And I certainly didn’t need the dead people around them letting me in on any of their fucked up secrets.

 

***

 

Emily and I arranged to meet at her office the following Wednesday morning. Located on Central Street the window-lined real estate office was just about what you’d expect. It was the dead of summer and I was grateful to be in a climate controlled building. I checked in at the reception desk with a young man in an expensive looking suit. He phoned to let Emily know I had arrived and offered me coffee. I accepted. Keurig, Newman’s Own, regular sugar in a small paper cup. I sat in a comfortable wing back chair and waited about ten minutes before Emily appeared to receive me.

Average height and below average weight, Emily wore a black and white zebra print pencil skirt and a white button down shirt – tucked in. A multi-strand black beaded necklace and high heeled black patent leather shoes completed the fierce ensemble. I wore a blue and white striped cotton dress from Old Navy and pink flip flops and I’d slicked my hair back in a ponytail after the shower. We didn’t have air conditioning in the new house and it was just too damned hot to bother with a blow dryer. Of course, Emily’s shoulder length waves were the picture of self-care.

I followed the real estate agent past reception through a farm of pristine cubicles towards a row of four offices along the far wall. Emily’s was a corner office, the farthest to the left. She sat behind a farmhouse style desk that I recognized from trolling the Pottery Barn website obsessively and I took a seat across from her on a tasteful and expensive looking leather chair.

“Your oldest goes to [elementary school name omitted] right?” Emily stated.

I nodded and offered, “You guys are at [again, elementary school name omitted]?”

“Right, we’re on Cleveland. Where is your house?”

I gave her my address.

“I know that house. Good bones, lots of potential,” she said knowingly. “Wait, shouldn’t you guys be at [yet another elementary school name omitted]?”

I explained that my oldest daughter had qualified for the specialized services offered at an out of neighborhood elementary school. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, people in this town allude to their neighborhood elementary school as though they are indicating their child’s enrollment in an ivy league.

Emily mentioned a family friend whose youngest attended my daughter’s elementary school and we talked for a few moments about how incredibly lucky we were to live in a school district that specialized support services to each child.

“Now where did you move from?” Emily asked.

I gave her our old address.

“Oh that adorable little Cape, I walked through in the broker open. It went fast, right?”

I nodded.

“You guys customized the shit out of that place. Was the move unexpected?” She pried.

“We realized that no matter how many built in shelves we put up we couldn’t make up for lack of square footage,” I explained honestly. “That and the fact that the neighbors felt like they were up our asses backwards. There just wasn’t much privacy.” To end her interrogation I asked, “How long have you worked in Wellesley?”

“Six years this September.”

“I rented apartments in Beacon Hill for a little while,” I told her. “I loved seeing the way people decorate their homes but I didn’t have the nerves for the business, way too stressful.”

Emily laughed, “Well, nerves of steel are definitely an asset in this field.”

“I bet it’s fun to see inside all the houses, though,” I suggested.

“Oh it is, for sure. Talk about customizing the shit out of a place, you wouldn’t believe how much money people spend in this town on interiors.”

“I can imagine. So, what’s the listing you wanted to tell me about?”

“Number twelve [street name omitted]. It’s actually over in your neck of the woods.”

I considered for a moment, “I cut down that street to get over to Route Nine in the morning. I’ll have to pay attention tomorrow when I bring the kids to camp.”

“It’s not much to look at,” Emily said dismissively. “It’s a construction zone now. The original house, the one I sold, had been vacant for some time when the owner’s son put it on the market last October. It was his childhood home, his mother lived there alone for awhile but when she was moved into assisted living the house sat vacant for at least three years until the woman passed. And considering the state of the property I could tell it hadn’t been maintained for years.

Emily paused and picked at a cuticle. “You know,” she said, “It was one of those sales that I should have just known was too good to be true from the beginning. When something like that just lands in your lap, you gotta know there’s a catch.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The son, Jeffrey, called our office and I happened to answer the phone. I never do that anymore, it’s just asking for trouble. But I was the only broker in the office at the time so I took the listing.” Emily shifted and crossed her legs.

“The man seemed genuine on the phone so I proposed meeting him at the house that evening, but he insisted upon showing me the property in daylight,” Emily raised her eyebrows. “I figured maybe he was being precious about showing off the place. A lot of people think their decorating ability has something to do with a sale, and sure if a seller prefers neutrals with a touch of flair and an uncluttered environment then it’ll influence buyers positively. But trust me, no one gives a shit about the custom drapes from Italy.”

“I’m a really big fan of wallpaper,” I admitted.

Emily groaned dramatically, “Ugh, I bet your real estate agent hated you!”

I laughed, “I actually felt bad about it.”

“Well anyway I moved around my schedule and met the guy, Jeffrey, at the property around four o’clock that afternoon. It was late October so we’d completely missed the prime selling season. As you know, the market is strongest here between February and May, June at the very latest. It’s not that houses don’t move out of that timeline but the buyer pool shrinks significantly. Everyone wants their families settled before the school year.” Emily shook her head, “ Sorry I’m veering off into real estate talk.”

“I don’t mind at all, I love real estate talk. My husband is a broker,” I said.

“Oh? Where does he work?”

I told her.

“So he’s on the commercial side,” she said knowingly, though what she knew I couldn’t have guessed.

Not wanting to go too far off track I asked, “What was the house like?”

Without missing a beat Emily detailed, “Nineteen-fifties Colonial a little over two thousand square feet. Three bedrooms but only two baths, though there was the potential to add another off the master. There were minimal updates to the living areas, and gross wall to wall shag carpet in the sun room, but the kitchen had been renovated in the late nineties so it wasn’t a total wash,” Emily took a breath and considered. “It did have a finished basement and built out attic which could serve as an office or spare bedroom and the yard was good; a little over half and acre with great privacy. The yard sloped upwards dramatically in the back, and the landscaping had gone to hell but if someone was up for a project then it could have been a really cool backyard.”

“Thank God it’s off the market, it sounds like Chris’s dream project.”

“Ha, he’s got a good eye then. If you’d put a little money and work into that place you’d flip it in a second.”

“Shhhh,” I said looking over my shoulder, “He’ll hear you.”

“Haha! I’ve got to meet him,” Emily laughed.

“No you don’t,” I replied with fake seriousness. “So what was the guy like? This Jeffrey?”

“In a word? Cagey. He basically power walked me through the house and then ushered me out to the driveway to discuss the listing details. He even had all of the information I needed in a manilla file folder. I’ve worked with a lot of people and I’ve learned to manage people’s anxieties, I get it, there’s a lot of stress involved in a sale, but this guy was different, a nervous wreck. He told me that he was eager to sell the place as fast as possible. I asked if there was any other family who would be involved in decisions regarding the sale and he said he was the mother’s executor and his siblings wanted nothing to do with the home, they’d split any profit but weren’t expecting much.”

“That’s strange,” I commented, “The house must have been at least close to paid off, right?”

“One hundred percent,” Emily leaned forward. “I gave him a range, I said we could list it anywhere from one-point-one million conservatively to one-point-three depending upon whether or not he wanted to test the market. But get this, he told me to put it on the market for eight-five.”

It took a moment for me to catch up, “Wait, he wanted to put it on the market for eight million five hundred thousand dollars?”

Emily rolled her eyes and shook her head at the same time. “No. Eight hundred and fifty thousand.”

“That’s crazy,” I said simply.

“It was. I tried to convince him to at least put it on for a million. It would have flown off the market, but he refused. Said he wanted it gone, ‘tomorrow.’”

“Hmm.”

“And you know what else? He said if I could sell it within the month then he’d give me a ten percent commission. Double commission!”

“That’s awesome,” I said smiling.

“Yeah, but I hesitated. I mean why was this guy so aggressively leaving so much money on the table? I agreed to the deal, of course, knowing I could get it done. I figured it would be the quickest listing I’d ever handled, and it was, but it was hands down the worst experience of my professional life.”

“Because it was complicated or because it was haunted?” I asked.

Emily folded her hands on the desk in a practiced move. “That word,” she said slowly, “haunted. I always thought that meant ghosts, you know? I’ve never been into anything, um unnatural-

“Supernatural?” I interjected.

“Right, supernatural. I honestly didn’t even know there was anything else besides ghosts that could haunt a person. So the things in this house, I don’t know what you would call them, but they weren’t dead people and they weren’t monsters.”

“Then what were they?” I asked.

“I know this is going to sound so weird, but have you ever heard of shadows shaped like people? I mean, like a shadow in the form of a person?”

“Uh huh,” I said slowly.

“Well, that’s what was there. At least five of them, but there may have been more. I felt them all over the property, skulking around in the house, out of the house. And they’re tricky, they can look like other things or they can make you see other things. The damn things followed me home.”

“Oh dear,” I breathed.

“So you’ve heard of something like this?”

“Yeah, they’re called shadow people or shadow figures and they are about as bad as it gets, they’re right up there with Black Eyed Kids. Are you still seeing them in your house?” I asked afraid to hear the answer.

“No, no, I managed to get rid of them once I closed the deal. What are Black Eyed Kids?” She asked.

“Oh, I’ll tell you later. But how exactly did you get rid of the shadow people in your home?” I asked, shocked. From what I understood even an exorcism couldn’t get rid of these ancient beings that had in some cases been tied to aliens.

Emily actually looked guilty. “It will sound absurd.”

I stared, waiting.

“Well, I talked to them. I was able to sell them on the fact that it would be more beneficial for them to remain at their original property. You know, that they would have the opportunity to haunt more people there.”

“Emily,” I said slowly not wanting to sound too accusatory.

“I know, but I successfully brokered that deal. I’d already put up with enough in that strange house and I had no legal obligation to take those shadows home with me. They belonged to the property.”

“You sound like it was a piece of furniture or something.”

Emily shrugged.

I considered a moment. “You must be an amazing broker if you could convince shadow people to leave your home just by having a conversation with them.”

Emily smirked. “There are only four private offices in this place and we’re sitting in one of them.”

I laughed. When Emily didn’t elaborate I pressed, “So what happened?”

Emily sat back and rested her head on the chair. “That initial walk through was the only time I saw Jeffrey. I could only get him to correspond through email after that, I literally never spoke to him again. In that regard the sale was easy, I had only to interact with the eventual buyer, but it was unsettling. I never really felt like I was on solid ground.

“The owner was strange for sure, but the strangeness in the house began when I began to prep the house for sale. Jeffrey didn’t offer any push back when I suggested he put all of his mother’s furniture in storage. There was no point in staging the home or even bothering with the landscaping, the house was priced so ridiculously low it would be obvious to buyers we were going for an ‘as is’ sale.

“The first time I went to the home alone was to let in our cleaning team after the movers hauled out all of the furniture. I got there a little early to open up the place and get a lay of the land. The first thing that struck me as odd was that every single door in the house had been closed, and there were a lot of doors in there. Our heating systems are more efficient now, but back in the day people would close off rooms to keep heat in the areas of use, thus all the extra doors between rooms.

“I had this awful feeling walking through there as I opened the doors. Like there was someone standing in the rooms, waiting for me. The upstairs was even worse, unfortunately the hallway light burned out so the only light came from the cracks beneath the doorways. I ended up waiting to open those rooms until the cleaners came. I was that freaked out.

“The windows in the house were too small for the scale of the place and they were sort of set high in the walls, it made the place feel claustrophobic. So I waited in the kitchen for the cleaners to arrive, there was a bay window over the sink and it was the brightest room in the house. I was scrolling through my phone when something in the backyard caught my attention out of the corner of my eye.

“This is going to sound totally unbelievable but there were two coyotes out there in the backyard. One was sitting looking at the house, the other stood facing the woods. They must have sensed that I was looking at them because all of a sudden they both looked at me, through the window.”

“Oh no,” I said nervously.

“We stared at each other for a second and then I came to my senses and lifted my phone and began video recording them. But when I did,” Emily paused, a shiver running through her, “They started walking towards me, towards the house.”

“No,” I breathed.

“Yeah, I know it is crazy but I had this terrible feeling they wanted to attack me. I was inside the house but I was terrified they were going to launch themselves through the window or something. I kept video recording them and I banged on the window and yelled and they stopped walking toward the house and just watched me.” As she was describing the encounter Emily picked her phone up off the desk and began scrolling. “They eventually slunk off into the woods. I saw them. I swear they were there. But look.”

She handed me her phone. I touched the screen to play the video she’d pulled up. It showed a steep overgrown backyard viewed through a rather dirty bay window. The image was a bit jerky and I could hear Emily’s voice saying “Oh my God” and “Shoo! Shoo! Go away!” Then, as Emily banged on the window the camera jerked to the side for several seconds showing another angle of the kitchen, a view of the wall oven, dark wooden cabinets, and a slice of the kitchen island before it moved back to capture the backyard.

I looked up from the phone. Emily was staring at me with her eyebrows raised.

“Well?” She said.

I shook my head, confused. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see anything.”

“Exactly.”

“I don’t get it,” I said with a nervous laugh.

“I saw two coyotes in that yard. They were there and they were incredibly aggressive, that was my experience. Okay? But they didn’t show up on that video. That was freaky enough, but watch it again. Go on.”

I watched the video again but still saw only an empty backyard through a dirty window and a quick glimpse of the kitchen.

I looked up and shook my head.

Emily held out her hand, “Let me see the phone,” she insisted. She swiped the screen then held it up so I could see it. I leaned forward. Pointing to the lower right hand corner of the screen she said, “Focus here, okay?”

I squinted and watched the small screen intently, then gasped and shot back in my chair. “What was that?”

“It was one of them,” Emily said very quietly as if the being on the video might hear us.

I reached out to take the phone from her and watched the recording several more times. In the video as Emily bangs on the window and the camera pans over to the kitchen it captures the head and upper body of a shadow figure. The thing stood at the far edge of the screen next to the kitchen island. Almost as if it realized it’s image was being captured it quickly shrank back out of view.

When compared to the surroundings the thing was tall. At least seven or eight feet. Its head a dark oval, it’s shoulders narrow. It moved quickly, purposefully but almost as a dense mist.

“That thing was just standing behind you.” I said in disbelief.

“It made me see those animals in the yard even though they weren’t really there.”

“Did you watch this video right away? In the house?”

Emily shook her head insistently. “No, I didn’t watch it until later that night, to show my husband.”

“What did he think?”

“We watched the video at least five times before we even noticed that shadow man. He doesn’t like me being alone in these houses in the first place so he wasn’t exactly pleased.”

“Man,” I breathed. “What did you tell the owner?”

“Nothing,” she said dismissively though I couldn’t imagine why she wouldn’t mention it to him.

“I wouldn’t have stepped one foot back in that house after watching that video.”

“I didn’t have a choice, the broker open was scheduled only two days later. I knew that first open house would be swamped, the price would bring everyone and their sister in to get a look. Knowing I would be surrounded by other brokers eased my anxiety but I still had to go early to open the place up and arrange the sign in area and listing sheets. The day I’d seen the coyotes in the yard I’d hung around and done some work on my laptop while the cleaners worked so I knew that the place was clean and ready to show.

“The day of that first open house I waited until the very last minute to go in. Again, all the interior doors in that damn place had been closed. I am one hundred percent positive that they’d been left open when I’d locked the place up behind the cleaners. I shot off a text to Jeffrey asking as casually as I could if he’d been to the house since I’d been there last. He hadn’t.

“I walked through the first floor as quickly as possible opening doors, still with that awful feeling that someone was waiting for me in one of those rooms. Then I had to go upstairs. Luckily I’d had the bulbs replaced in the overhead lights but,” Emily shook her head, “There were three bedrooms, a bath and then the door at the base of the attic stairs. I’d opened all the doors to the second floor rooms without incident and then I opened the attic door and flipped on the light switch at the base of those stairs when I did I heard a low growl.”

Emily stopped talking, I could tell she was gauging my reaction. I said, “I would have run out of there.”

“I thought it was one of those dogs, the coyotes I saw in the backyard. That was my first reaction, I thought- I don’t know what I thought but it sounded like a dog’s growl and just as I was trying to decide what to do I heard a voice call from downstairs. It was a broker. I made a split decision to close the attic door and deal with the situation later. I pulled myself together, went downstairs and greeted the brokers who were streaming in. I excused myself quickly and made a sign that said ‘Do Not Enter – Stairway Under Construction” and slapped it on that attic door. Then I put several pieces of tape along the doorframe to reinforce the point.”

“Quick thinking, “ I commented.

Emily shrugged. “Within minutes I had about thirty brokers walking through the house and it was steady for the next two hours. They all wanted to know what was wrong with the place, why was it going on the market so cheap?”

“I was relieved at the turnout, I knew the place would be under agreement before the weekend. I just had to get through the open house, wait for an offer and get the deal done.

“I’d planned to wrap things up by noon and everyone had pretty much filtered out by that time but as I was talking to this one woman from my office I saw a guy walk in the front door and head right up the stairs. I assumed he knew he’d arrived at the tail end of things and wanted to get a quick look around before I closed up.

“I finished talking to my colleague and walked her out, I’d set up the listing sheets and sign in book in the living room in view of the front door and was gathering my things waiting for the guy to come back downstairs when I heard the attic door open. The noise was unmistakable, the door creaked horribly. I froze, terrified. Literally scared to death. The general public are looky loos, you can’t trust them to obey a sign you can only trust locks to keep them out of a particular part of the house. But brokers are professional and wouldn’t open a marked door. If nothing else they would worry there might be cameras on the premises and wouldn’t want to be caught.

“I went to the base of the stairs and called up, ‘Hello? Sir? Please close the attic door, it’s unsafe.’ He didn’t answer. ‘Sir!’ I called again, but nothing. In my mind I saw those coyotes launching themselves down the attic stairs to maul the guy. It was completely irrational, but something had growled at me. There was an animal in that attic and now I had a nosey jerk ignoring the sign I’d put up.

“I stomped up the stairs, trying to make a show of how much I meant business, but when I got up there the attic door was shut. The sign was in place and the tape along the doorframe undisturbed.”

“Oh no,” I groaned.

“I peeked my head into the two smaller bedrooms and the bath and didn’t see anyone so that left the master bedroom. I didn’t see the guy in there either, but there was a walk in closet and I couldn’t view it fully from the doorway so I crept into the room to get a better view. I was so frightened I don’t know how I made myself do it, but I couldn’t have some man lurking around in there, the open house was officially over as of five minutes ago. I had to get him out so I could get out of there.

“I was about halfway across the room when the bedroom door slammed behind me. It nearly gave me a heart attack. I spun around to look at it and I didn’t know what to do but I knew I had to act fast. I went to the door and locked the handle then I called my manager and explained the situation. That I was wrapping up a broker’s open and there was a weird guy in the house. She assured me she’d be there in five minutes with another one of our colleagues – a man.”

“Why didn’t you call the police?” I asked, shocked.

“If the guy had tried to get into the room then I would have, but I didn’t want to bring any negative attention to the house, it was for sale after all. I listened at the door and all was silent. It felt like forever but my manager was there in minutes. I heard her calling my name from the bottom of the stairs and I heard Steven, my co-worker say, ‘I’m coming up and I’ve got a baseball bat. Ms. Bennington has her phone set to call 9-1-1 if you give us any trouble.’ Then, ‘Emily, where are you?’

“I cracked the door open and saw him ascending the stairs. He held out a hand motioning for me to stay where I was and I did as he checked out each room. When he said it was alright to come out he asked about the attic. ‘Could anyone be up there?’ Not with the tape on the doorframe intact, I told him. ‘Are the stairs really under construction or is it just a mess up there?’ He wanted to know. I told him I thought there might be an animal up there and didn’t want anyone going up until I’d called animal control. He reasoned that the creep had probably heard me calling Patty, our manager, from the bedroom and had run out the front door. Then he told me to go downstairs to let her know I was alright, and  insisted on checking the attic.”

“No,” I groaned. “You let him go up there?”

“I couldn’t convince him otherwise. So I went downstairs and found Patty picking up listing sheets from the living room floor, they’d been scattered everywhere. After about five minutes Steven came downstairs. ‘All clear,’ he said, ‘But someone was up in that attic,’ and he held up one of the listing sheets.

“‘That’s impossible,’ I told him. ‘The guy I saw didn’t even stop to sign in let alone grab one of my listing sheets.’ Steven just shrugged. ‘Let’s hope this thing goes under contract fast, this place gives me the creeps.’

“They stayed with me while I locked up the house. And, you know, I saw something move a curtain in one of the master bedroom windows as I was pulling out of the driveway. It meant for me to see it.”

“Geez, Emily. This is dark.”

“Luckily, well, not luckily, but at least I only had to go back to that house one more time. A developer ended up buying the place. The day after the broker’s open he contacted me for a showing. We were out back and he was trying to determine how difficult it might be to level a section of the back yard when I looked up to the treeline at the top of the slope and saw those fucking coyotes again. I gasped and pointed at them, and said something like ‘We need to go inside, now!’ I’m sure you can guess what happened.”

“He didn’t see them,” I ventured.

“Correct. I tried my best to keep it together. I was quite certain that I was losing my mind, the coyotes just sat and watched us while the client – completely unaware, mind you – took measurements. I stood on the porch as close to the door as possible.

“Finally, the developer wrapped up his data gathering and was asking me some questions about the property line when I heard a very big and very loud bang come from inside the house. It made both of us jump, which was oddly reassuring because at least I wasn’t the only one who heard it.

“‘What in the hell was that?’ The guy asked. I had no idea. There was no furniture in the place at all, let alone anything that could have fallen and made that loud of a noise. I tried to hide how frightened I was and we went inside. Thankfully he walked through the house with me, we couldn’t find anything that could have made that loud of a bang. It was as though something large had slammed against one of the walls.

“We’d gone through everything, the attic and first and second floors but the guy wanted to see the basement. He wanted to get an idea for the foundation. I suspected at the time that he was trying to decide whether to gut renovate or demolish. I did not want anything to do with that basement. I don’t know why, I just didn’t,” Emily said defensively.

“I wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with it either,” I reassured her.  

Emily blew out a breath. “I flipped on the light and hesitated at the top of the stairs. Straining to hear or see if anything was down there. ‘Everything alright?’ the developer asked. I made some excuse about my eyes adjusting to the low light but my voice was shaking. I don’t know if the guy didn’t notice or if he just didn’t care, but down we went. The basement was pretty much divided in half; one area a finished section all wallboard and carpet, the other half unfinished concrete. That’s where the utilities were located along with the washer and dryer.

“He began taking measurements and I walked over to the door dividing the spaces to open it up and turn on the light which unfortunately hung from the ceiling at the center of the room. The room was unnaturally dark. I thought I’d remembered some ground level windows when I’d been down there briefly before, but I could barely see my hand in front of my face. I walked to the center of the room cursing whomever made such a stupid lighting arrangement.”

Emily took too calming breaths. “Sorry, this still really affects me when I think of it.”

“Take your time,” I said, meaning Let’s just stop right here.

“I was in the center of that room and I found the pull string. I yanked on it and when the light came on I saw that I was surrounded by five of those shadow people. They were around me in a semi circle and I became completely frozen in place, unable to move. I literally couldn’t move at all. I couldn’t scream, hell I couldn’t even let go of the light cord. They were so tall they had to hunch a little so their oval heads wouldn’t touch the ceiling. They began to sort of close in around me.

“Thank God, right at that moment my client dropped his heavy tape measurer on a counter in the other room. The noise of it broke the spell somehow. I realized I could move so I backed out of the room even though my legs were jelly and slammed the door. I held the knob tight as if that could somehow keep the things from getting out of that room. I was totally unaware that the client was right beside me. ‘What’s up? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,’ he said. It took me a minute to gather myself. ‘Rats! There are a lot of rats in there. We’ve got to get upstairs.’

“I didn’t know whether he believed me but after a beat he said, ‘Well that decides it. I’m goin’ into tear down mode.’We went back upstairs and outside and that was the very last time I ever stepped foot in that devil of a home. The guy paid asking price in cash with no inspection and no contingencies and that was the end of the listing.”

“So then he just tore the thing down.”

“He sure did, and he’s building a stunner. I’ve seen the plans.”

“But you said the shadows followed you.”

“It was a couple nights later, I was up in the middle of the night to get some water and as I closed my refrigerator door something moved out of the corner of my eye. It looked like a person, walking through the archway to our living room. I tried to blame it on a trick of the light from the refrigerator door, but it put me on alert.

“The next night as I was pulling my car into the garage a head poked out from in front of my husband’s dump truck and then quickly pulled back, I-”

“Wait, your garage is big enough to hold a dump truck?” I interrupted, attempting to imagine it.

“No, that’s just what we call the pick up truck my husband uses to drag stuff to the dump,” Emily said dismissively. “Anyway, I saw someone dart back behind the truck so I backed right out of there, lowered the garage door, called the police and sat in the driveway waiting for them to come.  

“You thought it might have been a person?”

Emily considered. “I hoped it might be a real person. We keep our house on lockdown. There’s no way someone could get into it from the garage without setting off our alarm system. And aside from the garage doors for the cars there is not other way out of the garage.”

“I’m guessing the police didn’t find anything.”

Emily shook her head and gave a little sniff. “I knew the shadows followed me and I knew I had to act fast. I didn’t want them to get comfortable in my home. I could feel them almost doing recognizance. Testing the perimeter of my life if you will. I thought on it for about a day and then I knew what I had to do.

“I stayed up late that night until I my husband was fast asleep. Then I gathered a couple candles and arranged them near my front door. I sat on the ground and stayed as still as I could until I could sense the things noticed what I was doing. I say sensed, but it was more like this feeling of intense dread that came over me whenever they were near.

“I told them – out loud – that I was the wrong choice for their efforts. That it was only my husband and myself in the home, that we never had guests and that we both worked sixty hour weeks. Their talents would be wasted on us. I insisted that there would be people coming and going constantly from their old address and that eventually, knowing what I did about the size of the house the developer was planning to build, chances were good a large family would purchase the property. The choice was obvious, I told them as calmly as I could muster. It would be short-sighted of them to attach to us.

“Then I blew out the candles and opened the door. I know how ridiculously dramatic it sounds but I felt they might appreciate the ritual of it. I said, ‘Goodbye and good luck,’ as firmly as I could, waited a moment and then closed and locked the door. I could feel that they’d gone. The house felt lighter and I wasn’t frightened any longer.”

“Wow,” I said in disbelief. “I can’t believe you simply convinced them to go.”

Emily smiled smugly. “I’m a really good broker,” she whispered.

 

Life became more strange and more normal at the same time. For one thing it was as though someone had turned down the dial on the anxiety that has plagued me my entire life. I was more able to be present with my children. I didn’t give a flying fuck about the social scene in town anymore, something that I had been struggling with over the past year or so. Whereas I’d been desperate to find my place in a group now all I wanted to do was hibernate.

On the other hand I was hearing disembodied voices. Not all the time, mind you, but enough to keep it interesting, which definitely added to my desire to become a hermit. Judith advised meditation practice to shut my chipmunk brain up so I could actually make use of this ridiculous and unwanted new ability. I considered taking her advice, but frankly, the idea scared me. I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts and I definitely didn’t want to turn up the volume on this audio clairvoyance thing.

And the voices were pretty useless for the most part. An older man standing behind me said, “I used to love those damn scones,” while I waited in line at Quebrada. Only there was no old man standing behind me. I heard a little girl sneeze while I was scanning the mystery section at the library. Again, no little girl. That one was creepy. Besides Claire none of these dead people seemed to want to tell me anything important, though I suppose those scones must have been important to that older gentleman.

Meanwhile, I’d been avoiding-slash-ignoring the email account tied to the blog and it was overflowing with messages. The thought of reading through all of them overwhelmed me but I finally forced myself sit still and scan through the emails. From the message titles I could see that some people were simply reaching out to comment about the stories they’d read, others wanted confirmation that the stories were indeed true, and there were several people asking to meet over coffee to share their own scary anecdotes.

But one email stood out from the rest. It’s title was a simple, “Concerning entity in Wellesley.” The body of the email hinted at a pretty nasty haunting in a nail salon in town. Curiosity got the best of me.

 

***

Several mixed-use buildings flank Central Street in-between town hall and the post office on Grove Street. A miscellany of shops occupy the first floor of these brick buildings; nail and hair salons, pizza parlors, ice cream stores and specialty gift shops. The floors above host the offices of nutritionists, dentists, and accountants and I’m pretty sure there might even be a couple apartments there as well.

Colleen Tuttle’s nail salon, Twinkle Toes, was located on the first floor of The Taylor building, a three story brick building smack dab in the middle of this collection of retail. Over email we’d arranged to meet a couple of hours before the salon was due to open and when I walked up to the shop I saw that Colleen had been waiting outside for me. I followed her inside and took in the shop’s decor as she disengaged the alarm and flipped light switches. With soft pink walls, the narrow salon was arranged so that each side reflected the other. Two manicure tables on the left perfectly mirrored two more on the right and through two artfully arranged lime green trellis curtains (tied back by navy blue rope) two pedicure chairs sat patiently across from two others at the back of the shop. It was pretty if a bit dimly lit. The Taylor building is on the shady side of the street and even the large crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling couldn’t chase away the gloom. Colleen offered me a Keurig coffee and we settled ourselves at a manicure station in front of a large window overlooking the busy street.

We chatted about our families for a few minutes, Colleen had three children ages eleven, eight and six and she’d been divorced for about two years. “This shop was part of my exit strategy,” she confided. She described her ex as a “good dad but a controlling son of a bitch about money.” She’d filed for divorce one week and opened the shop the next. “I needed a job and it felt really good to put my business degree to use for the first time in years.”

They co-parent the family with relative success. Her husband lives in town just two streets over and remarried in January. “She’s fine,” Colleen remarked of the new wife, “She’s a twenty-eight-year-old yoga instructor. Frank is nothing if not a cliche.”

“How is business?” I asked, wanting to change to subject. I was embarrassed that I’d never been in to have my nails done. The fact was I’d never even noticed the shop even though I’d driven right past it countless times.

“We have a small but loyal clientele, it’s enough to pay the rent but it’s not as great as I would like it to be. Especially now,” she glanced back at a door I’d noticed at the back of the shop. She seemed lost in thought for a moment then said, “Did you know that there are eight nail salons in this town?”

I didn’t.

“I just had to let one of our technicians go,” she admitted. Then in a tone that sounded forced she continued, “But we’re entering busy season, we just went through a little Spring slump.”

I told her I’d be in before we went on vacation in a couple weeks, and she waved the comment off.

“I’m sorry, you’re not here to talk about business. I emailed you to discuss the strange things that have been happening here.”

Colleen sat back in her chair and using both perfectly manicured hands tucked her thick shoulder length auburn hair behind her ears. “I don’t even know where to begin.”

I was about to prompt her to start at the beginning when a very loud knock caused me to jump in my seat. It sounded like it had come from the other side of the door Colleen had stared at moments before.

“What happened?” She asked, looking concerned.

She hadn’t heard the knock. Great, I thought, here we go.

I tried to think of a reasonable excuse for why I’d spazzed out.

“Sorry, I’m just a little jumpy,” I said dumbly. “Too much coffee.”

Colleen looked uncertain. “Would you prefer water?”

“No, no, please, tell me why you think this place is haunted?”

“Well, the noises for one thing. This is an old building, I know that, but there are noises that shouldn’t be there. I say I let one of the nail technicians go but really, we sort of came to an agreement that she would leave. She needed the job, but she refused to open or close the shop any longer. She said the shadows were always watching her.”

“Yikes.”

Colleen nodded. “I can’t say that I don’t know exactly what she means. And we’ve had a string of really bad luck. We are constantly blowing fuses which is so annoying because then in the middle of doing a mani pedi we have to go down to the basement to the circuit box – and no one likes going down there, especially since it flooded.

“It’s not just us, either. The skin spa upstairs? The owner came down last week and asked if I’d noticed anything strange happening in the building. She suspected there might even be a squatter living in the basement. They keep some of their stock down there and apparently some of the girls who work for her have heard strange noises and things have been moved around.”

“I don’t know what’s scarier, a ghost or a stranger hiding in the basement,” I commented.

Colleen gave a small laugh. “I think I would prefer a person. This has become unbearable.”

I forced myself to stay silent and took a sip of pretty gross coffee. She’d only had Splenda for sweetener and as I’m now off the International Coffee Delight it was like sipping on a coffee flavored medicine. I mean, I drank it. Coffee’s coffee. Anyway, I could tell Colleen was holding something back.

Colleen fidgeted and straightened an already straight container of manicure tools. As she did I heard a woman’s voice above me say, “Ask about Poppy.”

Fuck, I thought. First of all, I’d never heard one of the voices coming from above my head, second I didn’t want Colleen to know what a weirdo I was.

But I was also curious. I asked, “Do you know someone named Poppy?”

Colleen crossed her arms over her chest. “Why, what did she tell you?”

“No! Nothing, I just thought maybe-”

But Colleen cut me off before I could stumble my way through an excuse. “I didn’t want to bring her up because I am trying really hard to stay positive and not get bogged down in other people’s bullshit but if she’s back and spreading rumors then I will happily tell you what really happened here. It’s all her damn fault.”

I tried to say that I hadn’t heard any stories, but Colleen wouldn’t let me get a word in.

“She was my best friend,” Colleen insisted, “That’s what makes all of it so much worse. We hatched the whole plan for this business together over Pinot Grigio in my backyard. It’s what gave me the courage to leave Frank. She’s a creative type, you know really airy fairy. That’s why I liked her so much, we were complete opposites and I got such a kick out of her. I admit that I am a bit of a control freak and it was fun to be around someone so free. She was always into some new project. In one of her little creative phases she’d gone back to school to get her cosmetology license but she’d never even done anything with it. So when we had the idea that it would be fun to open a shop together, Poppy said we could make a killing if we opened a nail salon.

I wanted to open a specialty gift shop, but she just has this way about her. She is the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever met and she had me completely convinced. So that’s what we did. We went in fifty-fifty and opened this place. She hired and managed the nail technicians and I ran the whole business side of things and it was great, at least for a couple of months,” Colleen smoothed her hair behind her ears again.

“We’d agreed to go for a preppy aesthetic in the shop. Clean lines, bright colors, no clutter I thought the women in this town would go for it and I did a ton of market research before making any hard decisions. The thing was, Poppy’s personality can be sort of consuming and before long her quirks began to bleed into the shop.”

“What sort of quirks?” I asked faintly aware of a very soft knocking noise coming from the pedicure area.

Colleen blew out a breath. “Oh you know, first came the incense. She insisted on lighting it every evening after closing to ‘clear the day’s leftover energy’ whatever the hell that means. It was completely off brand for a preppy nail salon to smell like patchouli. I tried to compromise with scented candles, like couldn’t that burn away whatever make believe vibes she was complaining about? But she was adamant.

“In all honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable making too much of a fuss over it. All of that ‘earth goddess’ stuff was like her religion and I didn’t want to offend her. But then came the dream catchers and that I could not tolerate. I came in late one morning and she had these crappy homemade yarn messes hanging in the window and she’d even put holes in the walls to hang them throughout the shop. It was my worst nightmare. The place looked like a Grateful Dead concert. I tried to put my foot down but she convinced me to at least leave one of them up on that door.” Colleen motioned to the door at the back of the shop. “I took that one down when she ghosted on me,” she explained.

“She quit?” I asked surprised.

“No, she didn’t even bother to quit properly!” Colleen exclaimed. “She just completely bailed without explanation.”

“You didn’t talk about it at all?”

“No. She was just up and gone. No explanation, nothing. I left message after message and then I did the same on her husband’s cell. He finally called me back and told me that she never wants to speak to me again. That she’s attending a six month yoga retreat in the Adirondacks.”

“Six months? Does she have children?” I asked, feeling jealous.

“No, she said she couldn’t stand the thought of bringing beings of light into this broken world. It was another one of her eccentricities.”

“Hmm,” I considered the story for a moment. “But you went into the business fifty-fifty, doesn’t she want her money back?”

“In our short phone call I managed to ask her husband exactly that and he said she told him that I should just keep it. That she didn’t want it’s ‘stain’ on her.”

“Well, that must have been a relief,” I reasoned.

“I guess,” Colleen said slowly, “Now that I am actually saying it all out loud it just seem positively ridiculous. We were bickering over little decisions to do with the shop, like the incense and decor selections. And then Poppy began meeting some of her Tarot clients here in the evenings.”

“She did Tarot card readings?” I asked.

“Yes, I got a kick out of it before we were business partners, you know it was all in good fun and I knew that she had some clients who would come to her house to have their future read or whatever but I most certainly did not want it in this place. What if someone sued us for fraud? It was entirely inappropriate. I put my foot down about that but I know she snuck clients in here on the nights I was off. Her excuse was that her husband didn’t want desperate strangers coming to their house. Well I certainly didn’t want them coming to our place of business!”

Colleen shook her head and had to push her hair back again. “All I know is that after she held that seance things weren’t right here.”

“Seance?”

Colleen tsked. “It was last Halloween. Against my better judgement I agreed that we could throw a little party in the shop. A sort of two year anniversary for some friends and clients. Poppy was so enthusiastic it was hard not to jump on board. She insisted that people would get a kick out of it and that next year they’d be dying to get an invitation. She went all out fixing the shop up to look all witchy and I let her run with it. I even told the Hometown Weekly and the Townsman about the party hoping we might drum up a little publicity.

“We had an exceptional turn out and I had to hand it to her, Poppy could pull people on board for anything. So that night I was looking for Poppy to commend her for what a success her idea had been. I couldn’t find her and then finally one of the girls who works for us was like, ‘Oh, she’d back down in the basement.’ I was confused, ‘what did she mean, ‘back down in the basement?’ And the girl proceeded to tell me she was holding another seance.

Another seance,” Colleen reiterated. “I asked the girl how many seances Poppy had held during the party already and she was like, ‘No, not another one tonight. I don’t think you’re supposed to do than one a night.’ So she’d been holding seances in the basement without me knowing about it for God knows how long! Oh! I was so pissed. I had the damn woman from the Townsman there sipping on apple cider and Poppy was conjuring up the dead or whatever right under our feet. How would that look for a headline?

“I told our employee to keep anyone else away from the basement and I slipped through the door and down the stairs,” Colleen again glanced at the door at the back of the shop. I glance over too, half expecting to hear another knock but nothing happened.

“I’d only been down there once before, when we were first looking at the space as a possible location for the salon. The building is over one hundred years old so it has rough stone walls and a dirt floor, and as a matter of fact it’s pretty creepy down. I walked down this narrow corridor and turned to see Poppy and five other women sitting around a folding table. They were all holding hands and chanting something with their eyes closed. Christ Almighty, I was so angry I nearly gave myself a heart attack. What if the damn newspaper woman had stumbled upon that little freak show! Our reputation would have been finished.

“‘What are you doing?’ I yelled. I startled the hell out of them, most of them screamed. Poppy looked super guilty but she immediately said, ‘Don’t break the circle! Don’t get up!’ to the women. They were all looking back and forth between me and Poppy and I can’t even remember what I said I was so rip-shit, but whatever it was they all got up and slunk out of the basement leaving just Poppy and me.

“We were both freaking out but for different reasons. She went on and on about how they’d just made contact with something and breaking the circle would bring devastating consequences. She just kept yelling ‘Do you even know what you’ve done?’ I couldn’t even get her to hear my point about her complete lack of judgement and its consequences for the business. Her panic over the damn broken circle was so over the top that it scared me. That’s when I first began to worry about her sanity. I finally just said, ‘Clean this shit up and make sure you blow out all of these goddamn candles. The last thing we need is a fire!’”

“Did you ever find out what she was trying to contact?” I asked nervously.

Colleen gives a little laugh. “We talked about it the next morning, I texted that I wanted to meet her here an hour before we opened so we could come to an understanding about the business. She showed up but she was a hot mess. She said she hadn’t slept at all and that she was afraid the seance had gone horribly wrong. At that point I didn’t give a damn about her seance, I wanted her word that she would stop doing all her spiritual bullshit in our business place. She was only half listening, finally I got her to focus and she agreed but she said she would need to at least try and clear the basement, she was afraid the ‘dark thing’ might still be down there.”

“Uh oh,” I said, trying to ignore the steady knocking coming from the back of the shop. Colleen didn’t appear to hear it and I didn’t want to freak her out.

“She may have tried to clear the basement, but she obviously didn’t know what she was doing because that’s when all of the trouble started and Poppy began to unravel. I don’t think she was sleeping and she definitely gave up showering regularly. I never knew if she was actually going to show up for work. Her husband actually stopped by looking for her a couple times, I think they were having trouble, he seemed pretty amped up anyway.

“But I couldn’t really worry about her problems because the store was getting really weird. A couple times when I got here in the morning that door,” she pointed to the back of the shop, “would be wide open. We never left it open, there was no reason to. Now I have two deadbolts on it, which usually helps, but not always. The open door might not be all that weird, but things in the shop would be moved around. One morning I found a bunch of red nail polish bottles arranged in a star shape right in front of that door. I called the police, of course and they searched the shop and the basement but didn’t find anyone. So I suspected Poppy. I thought maybe she’d come in at night and done one of her little rituals but she fucking lost it when I confronted her about it. Swore up and down that it wasn’t her, that it was the ‘dark thing.’ She said she didn’t know what he wanted but that we were in really big trouble.

“Meanwhile I was trying to run a goddamn business and without explanation our clientele began to seriously drop off. My business partner was having a mental breakdown and someone was lurking around the shop at night. I asked her if it could be one of her Tarot reading clients, that maybe they’d become obsessed with her or the shop or something but she insisted that couldn’t be the case.

“There was this one afternoon, right before she disappeared. She came into the salon in her pajamas, literally scotch plaid flannel pajamas. She was so out of it, I wondered if maybe she’d begun doing drugs. I pulled her back into the break room with me to get her out of sight of clients and she just rambled about the dark thing and how it had gotten a hold of her husband and was turning him against her. She told me that no place was safe any longer, she couldn’t think straight, it wouldn’t let her sleep.

“I actually considered calling an ambulance. She was so disoriented. But when I brought up the idea she pulled herself together and insisted that she would be fine, she just needed to figure out how to clear the energy and then everything would go back to normal.

“That was the last time that I saw her. She texted me a few times over the next couple of days. Her last text said something like, ‘I can’t be a part of the business any longer. It yours now.’”

I waited for Colleen to go on, when she didn’t I said, “That’s it? You haven’t had any contact with her since then?”

“No, she just up and abandoned me.”

I looked at her, trying not to seem too judgy, but nothing about the story sat well.

Colleen watched me. “I mean again, now that I am saying everything out loud I realize I sound a little uncaring, but I was so fucking angry with her. She was married and didn’t have any kids, she could afford to just up and take off for her next half-baked project. I have a mortgage and children, I don’t have a choice. I have to make this work, I mean, as pissed as I was I guess I was sort of relieved she was out of the way so I wouldn’t have to deal with the drama any longer and I could just make the right decisions for the business. The Adirondacks for a yoga retreat for Christ’s sake.”

And then I heard a woman behind me say, “I’m right here.”

I gasped.

Colleen startled. “What?”

“Oh, shit.” The last thing I wanted to do was tell this woman that I could hear ghosts. I stumbled over my words, “I just, well maybe you should try to contact her. Maybe try reaching out again.”

Colleen considered, “But her husband said she was on the retreat, he would know.”

Don’t trust him,” the voice insisted.

“Does she have any other family nearby?” I asked.

“I think her parents live somewhere in the midwest but she isn’t on speaking terms with them. She never mentioned any siblings.”

Something banged hard on the table next to ours. Causing us both to jump.

“There it goes,” Colleen breathed.

Tell her,” the voice insisted.

“Do you know anyone else that could confirm her location-” I began, when the water turned on full force in one of the pedicure stations.

“Damn it all!” Colleen exclaimed. “Do you see? It’s just getting worse.” She stood and stomped to the back of the salon to turn off the faucet. “I don’t know where the hell Poppy is, and it doesn’t matter. Her meddling with all that spiritual stuff left me in a complete mess. How am I going to stop this? I’ll lose the business!” She was halfway back to the table when the door at the back of the shop began to slowly creak open.

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” I breathed.

Colleen froze. We locked eyes. “Is the door opening?” She asked.

I nodded my head. Then quietly I said, “What happened to you?”

“What happened to whom?” Colleen demanded, staring at the open door.

I shushed her, closed my eyes and listened.

She has to help me. The dark thing took him over. It wasn’t his fault.

I opened my eyes. Colleen looked both frightened and exhausted.

“Come sit,” I said. She looked back at the door which was now wide open. “Just leave it,” I said with a heavy sigh. “I think you to need to call the police.”

“I told you, I already did. There’s no one in the basement, I know how stupid it sounds but I really think it’s a ghost causing all of this.”

“I know,” I assured her. “But I think something bad happened to Poppy.

Colleen opened her mouth to speak, but then closed it and slumped back down into her seat.

The voice again, “Tell her! She’s listening.

“Look, at the risk of sounding like a complete wacko,” I began wishing I could just nope on out of there, “I can hear her.”

Who?

“Poppy. She’s here and she’s talking to me.”

Colleen groaned. “How much stranger is this going to get?”

“Pretty weird,” I admitted, “And I think it’s going to get really sad.”

Colleen stared at me. “If she’s here then that means…” She trailed off.

I nodded.

“What happened to her?” She demanded tears springing to her eyes.

I looked down at my lap and listened.

“The dark thing followed her home after that seance and latched onto her husband. He started spending time in their basement and the thing wouldn’t let either of them sleep. It gave her terrible nightmares, she doesn’t know what it did to him but he spent entire nights in their basement. He would become enraged if she asked him what he was doing down there. She came here that night, the one you said she seemed so out of it, she tried to do some sort of a clearing with sage. She didn’t know that he’d followed her into the shop. She was in the basement and he, oh Jesus,” I breathed. “He beat her to death.”

Colleen was fighting back sobs. “Where is she?”

I listened. “In the basement. In an old freezer that no one ever noticed down there. It’s covered with a tarp. A blue tarp.”

“How in the fuck are you doing this?” Colleen demanded.

I shrugged, embarrassed and sad for both of them. “She caused that flood in the basement. She hoped someone would discover her body.”

“And the noises and the things moving around the shop?”

“It’s all her, she’s been trying to get your attention.”

“Oh my God!” Colleen wailed. “What a horrible person I am! I was so wrapped up in this stupid nail salon. I should have known, I should have tried harder to get in touch with her. She was my best friend!”

I sat helplessly and watching Colleen sob into her hands, unsure of what to do.

After a few moments I said quietly, “You really should call the police.”

Colleen wiped her nose with the sleeve of her fitted navy blue blazer. “What am I supposed to tell them?”

There she had me stumped.

Intruder.” The voice insisted.

“You could tell them you think someone broke in again and insist that they do a more thorough search,” I suggested weakly.

Colleen stared at the open door to the basement. “Poor Poppy,” she whispered. Then to me she pleaded, “Will you stay with me. I can’t stand the thought of being here alone, with her down there.”

“But the police will wonder why I’m here.”

“I’ll tell them you were an early client, okay? Just don’t leave me here alone. I’ll say we were sitting here and we heard noises coming from the basement and that door opened again. We’ll wait outside for them.” Colleen insisted.

 

***

 

I stayed with her. We waited outside and when the police came we told them our story; that we’d been chatting over coffee before Colleen started on my nails when we heard banging on the basement stairs and then the door had swung open. We were told to wait outside while they conducted a search of the premises. The policewoman came back outside to ask if we’d closed the basement door. We told her that we hadn’t. She called into her partner, “negative” before calling for back up.

They found Poppy just where her ghost told me she’d be. When they searched the basement they found the blue tarp on the ground. Something about it’s placement caused the female officer to open the old freezer to check inside.

unnamed-1

 

Gen: u didn’t tell me u know Hillary & Vanessa!!!!

Me: (after deleting – leave me alone and stop texting me) Yeah I interviewed them

Gen: I LOVE them – they are such funny shit… We HAVE to get drinks!

(I began furiously typing and before I could hit send)

Gen: Done! Drinks on thurs – Hillary says she can’t wait to see u!

It came as no surprise that Gen ran in the same fast, money-soaked crowd as Hillary, Vanessa and Jill, but it was still startling to see those women’s names come up again. And the timing of it was weird. I suspected that the creeper Judith saw attached me had come around the same time those three witches of Wellesley had pulled the bullshit with the Voodoo dolls. I wondered if he actually was their doing. If somehow in their misguided attempts at magic they’d managed to curse me. I didn’t have to wonder for long.

 

***

 

Judith closed her eyes and stood very still. After a brief moment she gasped, her eyes flew open. “Now who in the Sam Hell has been talkin’ to Zozo?” She demanded.

Biddy and I exchanged a guilty look.

We weren’t talking to him, but we interviewed a guy who contacted him with a homemade spirit board.”

Judith tsked and shook her head slowly. “You’re walkin’ the razor’s edge, Miss Liz.”

“Should I just be done with all of this and stop interviewing people?” I asked, not entirely sure what I wanted her answer to be.

Judith raised an eyebrow. “You think it’s easy as that? No, darlin’, you’re in it now. I threw a spread for you this morning. Know what your guiding card was?”

“Tarot card?” I asked.

“Let me guess,” said Biddy. “The Fool.”

“Ha. Ha.” I said humorlessly.

“No, that we could fix. I pulled the Five of Cups,” Judith looked at us meaningfully.

“I have no idea what that means,” I replied, actually worrying cups had something to do with my increased wine intake as of late.  

Judith gave an exaggerated sigh, “The Five of Cups is complex, it has to do with losses, endings. It shows a cloaked figure gazing back, it’s a card of second-guessing. Here’s how I read it for you, honey, you refuse to stop looking backwards trying to figure out how to make what worked then work now, but what’s done is done. You’re not goin’ back to a happy on the surface, pick up the kids and drop ‘em off, go to your little aerobics class, countin’ calories and plannin’ cocktail parties life, sweety. You don’t fit there any longer, you know that.” Judith looked at me with what could have been pity. She continued, “You didn’t choose to be the scribe – you think you did, like it’s somehow your fault that you looked into the darkness. But it’s not. You were chosen to tell the truth about what is happening in this town and part of that means letting go of the past. Is any of this hittin’ home?”

I nodded and shrugged at the same time.

“Well, you’ll chew on that awhile, but I think you already know why you’ve had to shake loose of some things. The card? It’s telling you that you did the right thing, but you’ve gotta move on, stop looking back at it. Now, that’s my practical advice.” Judith pushed her sleeves up. “The next thing is a choice, sorta. You didn’t have a choice in moving to this town, it pulled you in, and you girls,” she pointed to Biddy and I with the pointer and middle fingers of her right hand, “Y’all already know, but you’re in this together. Thank God you found each other so quick.”

“But what is the point? You’re making it sounds like there’s a reason for this and, frankly I’m damn near over the whole thing,” I complained.

“Are you really?” Judith asked.

I blew out a breath. “I just don’t want anything near my family.”

“Well, that’s gonna be hard to pull off,” she said quietly.

“So I’ll stop the interviews then,” I reasoned feeling relieved and disappointed at the same time.

“Again, it’s not that easy. You’ve got skin in the game now.”

I stared at her.

“I think you know exactly what I’m about to say, don’t ya?” She pressed.

I took a deep breath but didn’t reply.

Judith smiled and tapped one of her ears. Biddy scrunched her forehead and looked at me.

I considered pretending not to know what she was talking about, but realized it was no use. “Yeah, fine. Sometimes I hear things that aren’t there.”

“How long has this been going on?” Biddy asked dropping into a chair.

I took a seat across from her and Judith sat at the head of the kitchen table.

“Honestly? I don’t know. The first time I realized I was hearing things that everyone else wasn’t was in Maine, with you,” I said looking at Judith. “But every once in awhile, I’ll hear someone talking who isn’t there. Usually it’s a voice talking directly to me, though once it was like there was a conversation in the other room but no one was there.”

“How often?” Judith asked.

“Not often,” I replied.

“Audio clairvoyance,” Biddy breathed. “That’s awesome.”

I rolled my eyes.

“But why is she getting this ability now?” She asked Judith.

“I suspect our Liz has been hearing and knowing things her whole life but honey,” she said, placing her hand over mine on the table top. “I’ve never encountered anyone so capable of denying what’s right in front of their eyes.”

“That’s fair,” I agreed.

“You’ve used it beautifully as self-protection from some hard times, but honey, you’re denying things that are meant for your good too.”

“Hearing dead people is a good thing?”

“Well,” Judith took her hand away, “We’ll get there.” She sighed and stood up. “But first, let’s get this over with.”

“What?” I asked.

“That damned basement,” she replied.

“That’s all you’re going to say about me hearing things?” I asked, frustrated. “I don’t want to be able to hear things that aren’t there. How do I stop it?”

“Oh, there’s no stopping it now. And with the hearin’ comes the knowin’ so we’ve got our work cut out for us.” Judith said, pushing in her chair.

“I have known people who, you know when they are around the paranormal for a while start opening up to it in different ways. Maybe that’s what happened,” Biddy reasoned as she stood.

Judith nodded, “Exposure can trigger latent abilities in people, I suspect that’s what happened too.”

“So I caught some sort of magical hearing by listening to people’s stories about ghosts?” I said, refusing to get up from my seat.

“It’s not Hand, Foot, and Mouth,” Biddy chided. “Being around the paranormal must have just triggered this ability in you. It’s really amazing.”

“You think psychics are bullshit,” I spat.

“No I don’t, I’m actually kinda scared of them. I mean, how do they know they are talking to ghosts and not demons, you know?”

“Oh great, so you think what I’m hearing is demons?”

“No, I just, I don’t know-”

“There aren’t any demons talkin’ to you,” Judith said, cutting off our little bicker.

“What about that creeper following me around? I asked, truly frightened.

“One step at a time.” Judith reached into her purse and took out a folded piece of paper and slid it across the table to me. “Don’t open it, yet,” she instructed.

“What’s that?” Biddy asked.

“You’ll see,” Judith replied, maddeningly. “Come on, the basement will be the easiest thing to clear up in this whole mess.”

I grabbed the paper and the voice recorder I’d placed on the table, got up and like a bratty teenager stomped over to the basement door, the two women following behind me. I held my breath as I opened door, but, as usual, nothing jumped out at me except the overwhelming feeling that something didn’t want me there. Threadbare green carpet underfoot, I slowly descended the stairs. Judith behind me, Biddy bringing up the rear.

I lead them past the laundry and storage rooms into the “finished” portion of the basement flipping light switches as I went.

We stood in a semi-circle at the edge of the space.

“Well?” I said to Judith.

“Well, what? You tell me what’s going on down here. Now’s as good a time as any to strut your stuff,” she replied.

“But I haven’t heard anything down here, I just know there’s something really off,” I said, incredibly frustrated.

“Right, darlin,’ you just know. Not everyone just knows there’s somethin’ wrong in a space.”

I looked at Biddy pleadingly. She shrugged, “Yeah, I mean, the wood paneling is a bit atmospheric, and it’s a touch creepy but other than that…” she trailed off.

“What happened down here?” Judith pressed, staring at me.

“I. Don’t. Know. That’s why I asked you to come,” I said, exasperated.

“Just try,” she insisted and closed her eyes.

I looked at Biddy and realized she was watching me intently. “Go on,” she prodded.

I rolled my eyes and shook my head. “Well, fine, I think something bad happened down here, I mean no one died, but it was something really bad.”

“To whom?” Judith pressed.

I sighed, not wanting to say what I was thinking.

“I know it’s uncomfortable, honey, but you do know. Prove it to yourself.”

“Fine, the first time I came down into this basement I just thought ‘snuff film,’ you know what I mean? It’s not just the decor,” I continued. “It’s like, I can just know there was a couch over there in the corner, an ugly plaid fabric one and something happened to this young girl, like an older guy got really forceful.”

“What happened to her?” Biddy asked.

“Ugh, I don’t know, it’ll sound weird,” I said exasperated. “Look, I interview people about their ghost stories, I was a librarian, I listen to a lot of true crime. This is all just magical thinking and my ridiculously overactive imagination.”

The two women just watched me.

“Fine, I think she was choked. Not killed but sort of strangled by that awful boyfriend.” I crossed my arms in front of me feeling like a complete and total weirdo.

Judith began to laugh. “Ho-ly shit!” She said, slapping her leg. “I told you. With the hearin’ comes the knowin’!”

“How could we possibly prove any of that to be true?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Biddy said, “It could just be her imagination.” Then looking at me she said, “Sorry.”

“Open up that paper and read what’s written on it,” Judith instructed.

So I did.

The paper had four phrases written on it: Sixteen-year-old girl. Older boyfriend. Choked on couch. Serial sexual assault.

A chill swept through my body causing head to toe goosebumps.

“What does it say?” Asked Biddy quietly.

I handed her the paper which she read then looked at me her eyebrows raised as high as they would go.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Judith said.

“So what? I’m fucking psychic now too?” I demanded close to a full blown panic attack.

“No, now calm down,” Judith said, “Don’t get too excited. You aren’t psychic but you are a damn powerful empath.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake! What in the hell does that mean?”

“You’re pretty sensitive to other people’s feelings, right? Their vibes, if you will? Like you’ve always been able to tell if someone is having a bad day or if something is wrong with them, right? And not only that but their bad feelings tend to cling to you, and I would wager a bet that you are not a fan of crowded places.”

“Well who is?” I asked, defensively.

“I bet you ‘just know’ things all the time but you chalk it up to your imagination. It’s not, honey, you’re picking up on energy, feelings, even past events that left strong impressions.”

I looked at Biddy, willing her to call it all out as bullshit. But she didn’t, instead she said, “This makes total sense.”

“It most certainly does not,” I breathed.

“It does, it’ll just take you some time to accept it. Now, as for clearing this space, there’s nothing down here that’s going to hurt you. You’re just incredibly sensitive to energy so it’ll make you feel uncomfortable. What you’ve got here is an etching. Some strong negative emotion etched itself into the fabric of place. The girl’s, for sure, but definitely that boy’s. In my meditation I picked up that this wasn’t something he only did once, but it may have been the first time he did it and his energy left a mark. It left a deep groove here in this place.”

“What do you do about that?” Biddy asked.

“Renovate,” Judith replied, simply.

And with that I began to giggle and I couldn’t stop myself. The whole thing was so ridiculous, so perfectly absurd that I couldn’t keep it together. Finally able to pull myself together, I said, “Great! I’ll just call our contractor. We’ll turn it into a playroom-slash-home gym. How very Swellesley.”

 

***

 

Once done with our field trip to my negative energy etched basement Judith asked that we take a walk to the backyard. So we did. I felt drained and, inexplicably, a touch depressed.

Our new backyard offers significantly more privacy than we’ve had in our past homes. Massive oak trees ring the backyard and the people who owned the home before us were gifted gardeners. Dispersed at the base of the trees are mature rhododendrons, varying pines, hydrangea and hostas. It’s quite pretty and peaceful. The property line in the backyard forms a sort of triangle, it’s apex sits in a swath of woods through which you can barely see another house about fifty yards away.

Judith stared hard into those woods.

“The creeper gentleman,” she said quietly, “He was sent to you. Somebody did a kind of half-assed hex and pulled up a half-assed semi-demonic creature and he is half-ass haunting you.”

Biddy tsked. “Those women are out of control.” She was referring, of course, to the three witches I’d interviewed so long ago.

“Oh good,” Judith said. “So you know who sent him. That was going to be my next question. Thing is, he wants out of here just as bad as you want him gone. You scare him actually.” She bent down and placed her right hand flat on the ground. “So why can’t he leave?” She said under her breath.

After a brief moment of silence she stood. “You’ve done something in here for protection. What did you do?”

“I planted St. Benedict medals around the property, and saged and told everything to get out of this house,” I replied, embarrassed.

Judith closed her eyes for a moment and breathed slowly. Quietly, almost to herself she whispered, “So why is this guy still allowed in the yard?” After a moment her eyes popped open. “Hold on, in what order did you do this little home spun ritual?”

“Um, I planted the medals and then saged the house while I commanded the thing to leave.”

“Ok, no, honey. You were supposed to plant the medals at the four corners after you had the house blessed! You trapped him.” With a big sigh she told me to grab a shovel from the garage so we could retrieve the medals and let the creeper go back to the darkness for good.

We located all of the medals, the one in the woods being the hardest to find. Judith did a little ritual with salt in the yard and I sent up a prayer of thanks that the landscaping kept us pretty well covered from the view of my new neighbors.  

Afterwards she lead us through the house blessing and sealing each room. We ended back in the kitchen where our discussion began.

“You’re clear, in terms of your house, anyway. The thing is, you’ve got some work to do on your own.”

“I really don’t want to hear things that aren’t there,” I said.

“Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s not that they’re not there, they are all around you all the time wanting you to hear them. It’s not just the living that want to tell you their stories. It’s the dead, too.”

Judith pinched the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger. “There’s just one more thing,” she said with a heavy sigh. “Who is Claire?”

 

***

 

(About a week later)

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this, but I am vegan, food-wise anyway. Everyday shoes are easy enough, but fancy ones are tricky. I’m not buying new one’s but I’m not letting the old leather soled kicks go either. And then there are the bags. I like a crisp canvas tote as much as the next person but, I mean, I simply can’t let go of my old Kate Spade’s, especially now. So, basically I don’t eat animals or animal products and I am conflicted over the luxuryware in my possession. Are you annoyed yet? Rolling your eyes? I would be.

I only make this random confession because Gen arranged for us all to meet at Smith & Wollensky, a steakhouse and the newest restaurant in town. I was starving and there was absolutely nothing I could eat on the bar menu.

I was nervous and knew I’d down my wine too fast. Which can be both disastrous and rather wonderful on an empty stomach. So I ordered myself a bread bowl while I waited for the women to arrive.

Gen showed up first. I was halfway through both my first glass of wine and the aforementioned bread bowl when I heard a loud, “Heeeeyyyy!”

She looked fantastic, all white jeans and gold jewelry.  

“Oh good, they’re not here yet,” she said, waving wildly at a server. “I thought I was late.”

I listened patiently as she ranted about how impossible it is to get a building permit at town hall. Apparently she wanted to add on to their kitchen but some “archaic bullshit law about setbacks” was ruining the entire design aesthetic.

“I’m gonna run to the potty before they get here, ok?” Gen stated, hopping out of her seat.

I drank more wine and said “Yes, please,” when our server asked if I needed a refill. I’d just received that new glass when Hillary, Vanessa, and Jill walked in.

They looked fantastic. Devastatingly fit, perfectly turned out, and quite a bit younger than they actually were. Hillary smirked when she spotted me.

The three women took seats at the table, Jill the only one to say, “Hi.”

As they waited for the server to come and take their drink orders they carried on a conversation as if I wasn’t there. But once their drinks were ordered Hillary asked, “See anyone interesting around lately?”

“You mean the semi-demonic creeper you guys attached to me?” I asked with forced calm. “I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“We can do worse,” Vanessa said, arrogantly.

“I’d like to see you try,” I replied, trying to keep my voice from shaking. “Such a small world, isn’t it? Who would ever think we’d have a mutual friend?”

Hillary looked confused for a moment. “Oh, Gen? She’s just a little climber. We came because we wanted to see how you were doing. How are you?”
I stared at her, trying to decide if I should fess up.

“Yeah, how are you?” Jill asked, fake concern in her voice.

Her phoniness made the decision for me. “Claire’s laughing at you,” I said before taking a sip of wine.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Vanessa demanded.

“I just heard Claire laughing,” I repeated. “At least I assume it’s her, I can’t see ghosts I can only hear them when they want me to.”

“You are so full of shit.”

Claire spoke over my left shoulder, almost causing me to spit out my wine. “She says the same thing about you.”

“Ok, whatever. You’re so weird,” Hillary insisted, though I could tell she was spooked.

“Trust me, I know,” I replied dismissively.

“Prove it,” said Jill quietly.

“How?”

“What was Claire’s favorite song?” She asked, almost in a whisper.

I almost didn’t want to hear Claire. I mean, of course I didn’t want to hear Claire. It was ridiculous, insane, that I was hearing voices. But part of me wanted to know if this new ability was real. I’d heard voices before, but they’d never responded to direct questions. I waited, half-hoping I wouldn’t here Claire’s voice again. And then the answer came.

“Ironic,” I said quickly, “Alanis Morissette.”

The three women responsible for Claire’s death all sat back in their seats as one. Jill began to cry.

It was Hillary who spoke first, she directed her words to me but she was talking to her dead ex-friend. “Listen to me you little bitch, we brought you back from the dead and we can send you straight to hell if we want to-”

“Shut up!” Jill nearly screamed, causing a couple business men at the table next to us to glance over. “Hillary, just shut the fuck up.” Then to me she said, “Oh, Claire I am so so sorry. We never should have done what we did.”

I sat listening.

“What is she saying?” Jill begged.

I shook my head not wanting to repeat what I’d heard.

“Please,” Jill pleaded.

“She said you’re just a- that you’re a follower,” I finally said, leaving out the nastiness with which Claire had accompanied the answer.

“Why are we even listening to this?” Vanessa hissed. “She’s just trying to freak us out. We bound Claire. She can’t talk to anyone but us.”

“Always Be My Baby,” I said, smiling at Vanessa.

“What?”

“By Mariah Carey. That was your favorite song that summer.”

“What in the fuck?” Hillary breathed, and I could tell that I’d convinced them.

“She’s not bound anymore,” I said. “A psychic friend of mine released her. I mean, I helped a little. Honestly, this is all really new to me, I’m kind of learning as I go.”

The women looked at me in disbelief.

“Chris too, her boyfriend? Yeah, they aren’t trapped anymore. They can move on anytime they like, funny thing is they seem to have unfinished business here. I wonder what they’re going to do.” With that I took a huge swig of wine not even bothering to try and control how hard my hand was shaking.

“Ugh, the bathroom line was so long,” Gen declared, pulling out her chair to sit back down at the table. “Hieeee girlies! What did I miss?”

unnamedOver the next week Gen Hensley became a surprisingly frequent texter. For some unknown reason the woman had taken a liking to me and I couldn’t shake her. It began when I texted her Judith Kay’s contact information and then escalated to Gen basically live texting me from the Mani Pedi. The texts were basically inane gossip; who she saw, where she went, who she saw when she was headed to wherever she going, what they were wearing, etc. It was mildly amusing at times, claustrophobia inducing at others. She didn’t ask about me or my life, thank goodness, and she never suggested that we hang out. It was as if she had simply tapped me into her stream of thought via our cell phones.

“You need boundaries,” Biddy pointed out, not for the first time.

I agreed, of course, but what was I going to do? Tell Gen to stop texting me insipid nonsense?

“Mark my words,” Biddy insisted, “You’ll be sorry you didn’t shut her down sooner.” I felt that was rather dramatic. It was just a silly text chain. Gen’s interest in me, or talking at me through text rather, would peter out eventually.

Meanwhile, I was impatiently waiting for Judith to come diagnose my paranormal problem and Biddy had someone she wanted me to meet.

“He thinks he has a demon problem,” Biddy told me over quinoa bowls at CocoBeet.

“Why does he think that?” I asked, enjoying the maple syrup drenched grains despite myself.

“Mood swings, aggression, seeing shadows, sleep paralysis, the usual,” she replied. “These are good, right?”

I nodded. “When are you meeting him?” I asked.

“Tomorrow morning, at CrepeBerry. He’s a vegetarian.”

“Hm, what time?”

“Nine-thirty.”

“And they have crepes?”

 

***

 

The next morning was a complete and utter shit show. I was so turned around and lethargic that I could barely make the kids lunches for school. I hadn’t slept well the night before. Vivid dreams kept startling me awake until I finally gave up and read until the kids woke up.

Even though I was running late I stopped for a Starbucks latte before making my way over to CrepeBerry. I scanned the cozy restaurant and spotted Biddy. Her back was to me and she sat across from an Adonis. Though seated, I could tell the man was tall. He had very dark wavy brown hair which he kept a little long and it looked as though he’d spent a week or so someplace warm and sunny. I pegged him somewhere in his early-to-mid forties.

I put my hand on Biddy’s back, said hello and then introduced myself.

“Liz, hello,” the hunk said with a wide smile and heavily lashed shark’s eyes, “I’m Jason, Jason Brock. So great of you to hash this out with me.”

His handshake was way too strong and I resisted massaging my hand after I sat.

“You look like shit,” Biddy declared, concern in her voice. “Are you alright?”

I shook my head, “Yeah, just a rough night’s sleep. Sorry I’m late, what are you guys talking about?”

“Oh, I was just saying how much I like this restaurant. I was telling Biddy that I’m a one hundred percent plant fueled athlete. It’s the wave of the future for athletics. Even Tom Brady’s doing it.”

“Who’s that?” I asked.

The two of them looked at me like I’d just thrown my coffee at the wall.

“I’m joking,” I said, rolling my eyes.

Jason laughed nervously. “Yeah, well, lately I’ve been having a hard time staying on my plan. I blame it on the trouble I’ve been having.”

“Wait,” I said. “Did Biddy tell you that I write a blog about Wellesley hauntings?” I asked.

“Oh, sure, yeah. That’s great, it sounds rad,” he said, brow furrowed.

“I just mean, is it alright with you if I record your story and share it on the blog? I would change your name and everything to keep you anonymous.”

“Oh, right, yeah sure, that’s cool.” Jason had been sitting with his elbows on the table. He removed them and then his hands together in his lap then looked between the two of us with mild concern as if we were about to conduct a job interview.   

“You wrote in your initial email that you feel like there’s a demon haunting you,” Biddy said, cutting to the chase.

“Yeah. I do,” Jason said, with slight embarrassment.

“Why do you think that?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve had these mood swings lately, bad mood swings. I’ll be fine, you know? And then all of a sudden it’s like I want to tear someone’s head off. And there are shadows in my house. I see them out of the corner of my eye. I was watching television the other night and one passed right in front of the screen and then darted into my kitchen. Oh, and a couple times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and it feels like something is sitting on my chest, I can’t move at all and it’s really hard to breath. That has been the worst. Feeling trapped like that.”

“That all sounds really awful,” Biddy said sympathetically, “And those can definitely signify demonic oppression, but why do you think a demon would be haunting you?”

“I’ve thought a lot about that, you know? Like, why me? Why now, when I’m at the top of my game?” Jason looked down at his lap. “I’m not perfect, I admit I went through some rough years, you know with my ex and the kids. But I’ve worked really hard to put all of that behind me.”

“So you think that something you did attracted a demon?” I asked.

Jason looked nervously between us then leaned forward. “Look, I’m no saint, alright? I cheated on my wife a couple times and that’s why we split up, but I’m a pretty good dad. And I’m totally clean now, but in my thirties I got into supplements that enhanced the effectiveness of my workouts.”

My mind took a minute to catch up. “Oh, steroids?”

Jason looked around nervously. “Yeah, but all that is totally out of my system. I train people now and everything I teach is based on completely clean eating and living.”

“You think using steroids somehow lead to a demonic attachment?” Biddy asked.

“I’m just trying to come clean, that’s all. I just want you to know the whole story. It feels like my past has come up to bite me.”

Biddy watched him for a moment considering. She said, “You know, the symptoms you’ve mentioned, they could simply have a medical basis. Mood swings are definitely tied to steroid use. The rest might be anxiety brought on by these big life changes you mentioned-”

“No, that’s not it. That’s not what’s happening. I’m not describing everything right,” Jason became agitated. Shaking his head back and forth. Biddy and I both sat further back in our seats.

“I don’t doubt what you’re saying. You’ve obviously experienced something disturbing. When did all of this begin?” Biddy asked soothingly.

“A few weeks ago,” Jason replied.

“So what exactly happened?” I asked, wondering why he was being so vague.

Jason blew out a breath. “I went on a date with this crazy chick. That’s the night everything started.”

I glanced at Biddy, she sighed and said, “Now we’re getting somewhere. What happened that night?”

“So this girl I do CrossFit with set us up. I wasn’t totally sold on the idea, but Caroline, the woman I work out with, pushed and pushed for it. She told me her friend was really hot and into working out and she thought we’d connect. So I gave in and agreed to text the girl and ask if she wanted to grab a drink.

“She works clients out in their home, like she’s personal coach, and her last client of the day lived in Needham so we met early, around five, for a drink at Blue on Highland. I figured if it was a total bomb I could duck out saying I had dinner reservations with a friend at seven.

“Caroline wasn’t wrong, this girl, Regan, was really hot. Not my type, you know? She was pretty tatted up and had short dyed black hair with some of those purple stripes, know what I mean? Thing was she was pretty cool to hang out with, a little intense, but we talked a lot about training and she was pretty interested in hearing all about Crossfit.

“We ordered another drink and she asked if she could read my palm. I was like, yeah, whatever and kinda laughed it off but she took my hand and told me all this wack stuff about the lines on my hands.”

“What kind of stuff?” I asked.

“Oh man, I don’t know I wasn’t really paying attention until she started wigging out about my fate line. She held her hand out next to mine to get me to see some similarity that I honestly didn’t see, but she was, like one hundred percent sure that our fates were crossing for some reason. Then she goes, ‘You have to come home with me.’”

I couldn’t help it, I laughed out loud which made Jason smile and blush a little bit.

“Ha, yeah, I know it sounds like a total pick up line, but it wasn’t like that. She was, like convinced that something special was happening. And, I mean of course I wanted to go home with her. She was sort of strange, but you know, she was hot. So I agreed to follow her home.”

“Does she live in Wellesley too?” I asked.

“No but really close by, she lives in those apartments near the Woodland Country Club. Close to that T station.”

Biddy and I indicated that we knew the ones he was referring to.

“Yeah, her place was cool, it was a two bed and she lived alone so I figured she was doing pretty well for herself. She poured us a drink and then she showed me the second bedroom. It was cool, she’d converted the room into her own workout and meditation studio. In front of the windows there was a wooden table with glittery black table cloth on it and two chairs so we sat down across from each other. She was like, ‘Don’t think I’m crazy, but I’ve been waiting to meet you.’ So I go, I know, Caroline has been trying to get us together for a while I’ve just been busy or whatever and Regan was like, ‘No, I knew about you before that.’”

“Uh oh,” I said, sucking in a breath.

Jason shook his head. “At first I thought, shit is this chick some kind of a stalker or something? But then she started talking really quickly about how the table we were sitting at had told her all sorts of things that had come to pass and that it had described a tall man with black hair whose life she would change. She was all, ‘You’re that man.’ Dude, after my dad died my mom used to go to a psychic so I totally get how some people are into that stuff, but I just never put any stock in it, right? But this chick was way into it.”

“What exactly did she tell you?”

“She was positive that she’d been told all about me and that we were supposed to meet so she could change my life. The weird thing was she knew I wasn’t believing her so she started spouting things off about my life that she shouldn’t have known.”

“Like what?” I asked, nervously.

“Like my birthday for one thing.”

“She knew your exact birthday?” Biddy asked doubtfully. “Maybe your friend told her.”

“I don’t think so, maybe but there was other stuff. She knew that I’m an only child and that my dad died from a heart attack a couple years ago. She said it all made sense that the table had told her those things because she needed those facts to make me believe her.”

“Tell me you put down your drink and got out of there,” I said.

Jason shrugged. “I was weirded out, sure but…”

“But she was hot,” Biddy interjected.

“Well that, and what she was saying was nuts. Like how could she know all of that about me?”

“Then what?” I pressed.

“Well then she was like, ‘I have to show you, you’ll believe me if I show you.’ So she told me to pick up my drink, so I did, and then she pulled the shimmery cloth off of the table and I saw that there were letters painted all over the table top.”

Biddy actually slapped her hand to her forehead at that point.

“What?” Jason said nervously. “Is that bad?”

“You tell me,” Biddy replied, rubbing her hand over her eyes. “What happened next?”

Jason looked at me, as if for reassurance but I just stared at him, fascinated.

“Well,” he continued, “She grabbed a glass that was sitting on the windowsill, turned it over and put it in the middle of the table over this little painting of a star. Then she put two of her fingers on top of the glass and told me to do the same thing.”

“No, no, no,” I breathed.

“What?” He said, obviously worried.

“Did she ask the table any questions?” Biddy asked him.

“Oh yeah, she asked it a bunch of stuff and it would spell out answers by moving the cup over the letters written on the table. I thought she was moving the cup and I said so so she had me do it on my own and I don’t know how to explain it, maybe it was the three drinks I’d had, but it felt like it was really moving on its own.  

“She made her own damn Ouija Board,” Biddy said, incredulous.

“What’s that?” Jason asked, looking genuinely perplexed.

Exchanging a glance with Biddy, I explained, “It’s a way to contact the dead and, well, other things.”

“Oh, okay, yeah I guess that makes sense because it got really creepy in that apartment after that.”

“Wait, you’ve never heard of a Ouija Board?” I asked in disbelief.

“No,” he replied, simply.

“Did you ask the table any questions?” Biddy asked.

“Yeah, sure, I asked if it knew my middle name. It did, it’s Michael,” Jason informed us. “So then I asked it who we were talking to and it did this crazy thing. It began arching the glass back and forth, back and forth between the O and the Z. It did it at least ten times. Finally I just let go of the cup, it weirded me out. And Regan goes, ‘It’s him! He’s here!’”

“Holy Mary, Mother of God,” I breathed.

“Does that mean something?” Jason asked.

“How much more time did you spend in that apartment?” Biddy asked, ignoring his question.

“Well, like I said, the place got real creepy and I just wasn’t digging Regan any more. I made an excuse that I had an early workout and got out of there.”

“How soon before you knew you had an attachment?” Biddy asked. Her demeanor had changed. Whereas she’d appeared to simply be humoring Jason prior to the table revelation, since the name had come up she was leaned forward over the table, serious, intent.

“Uh, I guess that night. I heard shuffling sounds at the foot of my bed around three o’clock. Like someone was walking back and forth, pacing. It was weird though, I couldn’t fully wake up. Like, I knew it was happening but couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it. And then the headaches started. They only lasted on and off for a couple days but they were brutal. I get them once and a while now, but it’s only when I’m doing something he doesn’t like. I’m actually surprised he’s letting me talk to you right now.”

“Oh shit,” I said, my hand automatically searching for the medallion around my neck. “Is he here now?”

Jason nodded. “He’s always here.”

“Where?” I asked.

Jason tilted his head to the side and cracked his neck, “Right behind my chair. He hovers behind me like that most of the time. It’s weird though, I don’t know why but he isn’t giving me trouble right now.”

“What sorts of trouble would he give you?” Biddy asked.

“Well, headaches definitely. They’re so bad I get to the point where I want to cut my head off. That’s usually how he’ll stop me from doing something he doesn’t want me to do.”

“What doesn’t he want you to do?”

“It’s hard to say, I think it’s that he might not want me to interact with certain people, or, I mean, forget about going to visit my mom or my friends anymore. It’s good though, he doesn’t really bother me when I sleep. Actually, I’m sleeping better than I have since my dad died. And I know he likes when I work out. It took some time to piece that one together but it’s like he’s given me more strength than I’ve ever had. My reps are up, I can lift more than I ever have in my life and I could run for hours.”

“He wants you strong,” Biddy commented.

“For what?” I asked. The two of them gave me a look. “What?” I said.

“From all reports, Zozo likes violence and forgive me for saying so Jason, but in you he basically has a loaded weapon.”

“Zozo?” Jason said, confused again.

“Yeah, that’s his name he was spelling out for you on the table,” Biddy said slowly.

“Oh,” Jason replied just as slowly. “Okay, I thought it was Oz.”

I stifled a nervous giggle.

“What do you mean, ‘by all reports,’ though. This thing has affected other people?”

“Yes, and he’s incredibly dangerous. The mood swings you mentioned, are they getting worse?” Biddy asked seriously.

“For sure. It actually reminds me of what I felt like on the uh, you know, the supplements. I’m pretty up one minute, feeling great and then bam! I’m about to tear someone’s head off for not putting the weights back properly at the gym. It feels out of control, like I could rage at any minute.”

“But you feel alright now, talking with us, I mean?” I asked.

“Yeah, the weird thing is that after I emailed you,” he said to Biddy, “I put my phone down on my bed and when I came back it was like someone had take a sledge hammer to it. It was in a million pieces. I went to get a new one and I was afraid to respond to your first reply. I deleted it. Then I got your next email asking if it was alright if she tagged along,” he pointed to me, “I didn’t respond to that one either. He did.”

“What do you mean?”

“I wasn’t going to write back to you. I’m not made of money. I knew he didn’t want me in touch with you so I didn’t write you back. I didn’t respond to the first email and neither did he. But then when I got the response from you confirming the meeting time and place I scrolled down and saw that someone, I mean he had responded to your second email. Saying it would be great if you brought her. Something like-”

The more the merrier,” Biddy and Jason said in unison giving me full body chills.

“Oh, fuck,” Biddy breathed.

“I would never write something like that, it sounds like something an old lady would say,” Jason insisted. “Look, man, I don’t know what your deal is,” he continued pointing to me again, “But I need help. I’m afraid that I’m gonna to go off one of these days so bad that someone’s going to get hurt.”

“What the hell does this thing want with me?” I said defensively.

“Later,” Biddy said giving me a hard look.

“I’ll say it again, I know I’m not a saint but I’ve tried my best to leave all of that bad shit in my past. I help people now and I’m a good dad. I don’t know why this thing is obsessed with me!”

“Look,” Biddy said firmly, “The first thing you need to realize is that all that stuff from your past is not what attracted this demon. This isn’t like some sick payback from God for past sins. For whatever reason Zozo finds a way out through the talking board – or in your case, table. He attaches to people he feels he can manipulate and ruin. He’s using those memories and the guilt you carry over past mistakes to weaken and drain you. You have to let all of that go if you even have a chance of getting rid of him.”

“What about the woman, Regan?” I said.

“Have you seen her again?” Biddy asked Jason.

“Yeah, I mean not on purpose, but I keep running into her. Like I saw her yesterday at the Starbucks near my gym and a couple days before that I ran into her at the dry cleaner.”

“She’s totally following you around,” I said.

“No, wait, do you think so?” Jason asked, looking frightened.

“I have no idea what her role is in this but if you see her stay away until we can get someone to help you. The church will consider this a priority, but for the time being I’m going to give you this.” Biddy reached down into her bag for her wallet. She unzipped its coin purse and took out a St. Benedict medal. Then she put it on the table top and slid it across towards Jason.

He stared at it. “What is that.”

“It’s a St. Benedict medal that’s been blessed by a Catholic priest. Put it in your wallet and carry it with you during the day and place it under your pillow while you sleep, okay? It’s not going to solve anything, but it will shine a little bit of light into the darkness around you.”

Jason continued to stare at the religious medal on the table.

We watched him watching it.

“Take it,” I said, fighting an inexplicable panic.

Jason began shaking his head slowly and then he grabbed his forehead, his face tight.

“Is it one of the headaches?” Biddy asked quietly.

Jason didn’t respond. Biddy snatched the medal off the table. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I just had to be sure.”

BloodyMary

Biddy: DUMB DUMB

Me: But if I hadn’t gone I wouldn’t know that there is something attached 2 me.

Biddy: eye roll emoji

Me: She knows Father MacGonagle

Biddy: Yeah, I’ll check into that…

Me: Will you just please b here with me when she comes 2 the house?

Biddy: Ugh, yes.

Me: smiley face emoji, thumbs up emoji, ghost emoji, devil face emoji

Biddy: poop emoji

I was saging the house  like it was my full time job and I had the kids sleeping on blow up mattresses on our bedroom floor. Chris wasn’t thrilled but he reassured me that he didn’t think it was my fault there was something creeping around our family again. I didn’t agree.

I installed a hook and eye latch on the basement door, placed high enough so the girls couldn’t reach it. I buried St. Benedict medals at the four corners of the property and I said out loud (when no one was home), “I command any negative spirit to leave this property.” It was pretty weak, but I felt better making an effort while I waited for Judith Kay to swoop in and save the day.

 

***

 

In the meantime, I received a text from a woman in town. She explained that a “mutual friend” had provided my phone number. She wanted to meet me to “give an interview and ask for advice.” I recognized her name immediately.

Gen Hensley’s appearance is deceiving. She appears to be a completely involved mother of two with a healthy, if a touch over-active social life. She doesn’t look like she quietly commands a group of Wellesley mothers. She doesn’t seem like a cold-hearted gossip. She doesn’t appear as though she could detach in the blink of an eye and gaslight a woman right out of her social circle. But I’ve heard a few stories, and I believe them.

What Gen looks like is a typical Wellesley mom. The dark circles under her eyes that show through concealer might indicate a sleepless night with the kids, though they more likely are the result of staying up too late with too many vodkas on the rocks (aka. Skinny Bitches). She hides a calculating mind that doesn’t miss a beat (or a social guffaw) with a tight smile and a quick laugh, but don’t let the way she quickly cozies up fool you. Gen files every tiny detail you tell away in her ex-business woman’s mind.

I’ve mentioned before that the town has five elementary schools and the townsfolk tend to identify and clique up along the district boundaries. Gen’s children attend the elementary school known for its party atmosphere. Think booze-soaked themed costume school fundraisers. A class social complete with an ice luge. Moms frequently plan “girls’ weekends,” to tropical locations or full service spa getaways. It all sounds like so much fun doesn’t it? Drunken late nights with friends, quick getaway with the girls to recharge from family life… But just like every dark tunnel has a light of hope, every bright and shiny clique has a dark underbelly.

Gen Hensley floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee in her microcosm of suburban social life. When she reached out, I knew of Gen but didn’t know her, I felt the familiar rise of good old-fashioned middle school social anxiety. The queen bee had come to call, and what the fuck was I going to wear?

 

***

 

We met at Cafe Nero (my suggestion). My friend Jennifer warned me to watch my back, she knew a couple of women who had been burned by Gen and didn’t want the woman’s conniving ways to negatively affect me or the blog. I considered canning the interview but curiosity got the best of me. She can’t be all that scary, I reasoned.

Unable to find anything in my closet that felt cool and then angry with myself for even caring what I was going to wear to meet this famously bitchy woman, I chose black workout gear and threw on a light North Face vest. Whatever.

I got to the cafe early to snag a table. After waiting about ten minutes a woman approached me, dark Gucci sunglasses obscuring her eyes. “There you are,” Gen said, in a mildly accusatory voice.

“Here I am,” I replied, forcing a smile.

“I’ll grab a drink,” she stated, placing a large Goyard tote on the chair opposite mine. “What are you drinking?” She pointed at my cup.

“Just coffee,” I answered.

She gave a little nod and strode off towards the counter. I scrolled through my phone to kill the time while I waited.

Gen gracefully took her seat across from me and popped the lid off her green tea. Now held back by her sunglasses, her shoulder length, highlighted hair was beginning to show roots. Gen was just this side of too thin in that way that ages a woman’s face prematurely. She wore white skinny jeans, a blue and white slouchy, long-sleeved St. James shirt and some kind of cool white sneaker.

We chit-chatted about mutual acquaintances and the schools our kids attended.

“Where do you work out?” She asked.

I named the gym where I’d been attending yoga classes.

“Are you headed there after our interview?”

I shook my head.

Her eyes skipped over my apparel. “So how many kids do you have?”

“Three,” I answered, after swallowing a sip of coffee.

“All girls, right?”

“Right,” I said, realizing that she had done her homework and wondering what else she knew about me. “Do you mind if I record our interview?” I asked pointing to the recorder by my coffee cup.

She shook her head. “Whatever.”

“So you don’t mind then? And is it alright if I publish your story, under a different name, of course?”

“No, that’s fine. It’s not like anyone I know will read it. So I guess I’ll just start telling you what happened. Okay, so do you remember that eclipse we had?”

“The one that happened last summer?” I asked.

“Yeah. My daughter had some friends over that day after school and then when their moms came to pick them up we ended up chatting like we always do and then my neighbor, Maeve came over and when four thirty rolled around I poured the Rose and one glass turned into another. You know how it is. I ordered pizza for the kids and chatted with my girlfriends in our sunroom.

“My daughter, Madison, was really into those Goosebumps books last summer. She tore through them. And she was always on the lookout for something scary and I think the girls were a little freaked out by the eclipse or whatever. Anyway, she and her friends came into the sunroom to show us ‘light as a feather stiff as a board,’ you know that old game, right?”

I nodded my head.

“Yeah, so they were just fooling around with that and my friends and I got into the fun and we did it too. Then Maeve asked the girls if they’d heard of Bloody Mary.”

“Oh, Gen.”

“How were we supposed to know it wasn’t just a game like that stiff as a board crap?”

“Are you about to tell me that you played Bloody Mary during an eclipse?” I asked in disbelief.

“Um, yeah. Here’s the thing, Maeve’s husband is, like way into weird stuff, like weird board games and, okay this is so embarrassing – I would die if my husband did this – but I guess the guy does like ghost hunting-”

“Wait, what is their last name?” I interrupted.

“Uh, Sayre, why do you know Maeve?”

I closed my eyes for a second and took a deep breath. “I know her husband.”

“Nick? How do you know Nick? Did he sell you a house?”

“No, I interviewed him about, well about the paranormal things he’s into, and he actually introduced me to one of my close friends.”

“Small world,” Gen said and I could tell she was filing this information away in her mind, that perhaps I was someone who actually had connections in her little social world and she might just need to adjust the way she handled me.

“So Maeve brought up the idea of Bloody Mary to your children?” I asked, not wanting to talk about Nick, or what I thought of him.

“Yeah, just for fun. We all did it when we were little girls, right?”

I shook my head.

“Well, now that I think of it, I didn’t either, but I know I talked about it at sleepover parties or whatever,” Gen admitted.

“I remember talking about it too, and I absolutely did ‘light as a feather stiff as a board,’ but Bloody Mary just felt too, I don’t know, risky. Scary actually,” I said.

“I figured it was just Maeve being strange. I thought it was just a stupid kid’s game and I know Maeve is into some really weird shit, I mean, who over the age of fifteen still talks about ghosts and seances?” Gen tossed her hair over her shoulders and I just sat quietly. Actually I’m pretty sure I did a slow blink though Gen didn’t notice.

“Ok, so get this, we were all just laughing and having a good time over that stupid feather game and then Maeve goes and tells the girls about this absurd Mary person and she dared the kids to go into the bathroom, light a candle, turn out the lights and say the name three times.”

“And they actually did it?”

“Not exactly, Madison’s little friends were too scared, and I could tell that Maeve was like, I don’t know, I just felt like she was being a prick. She made some comment about them being too scared to do the really spooky stuff. So I was like, ‘Come on, Maddi, your mom isn’t scared. I’ll do it with you.’”

“No, no, no,”I breathed.

“Yes, yes, yes,” she insisted. “I wasn’t going to let Maeve put down my daughter like that.”

“Are you guys friends?” I asked.

“Me and Maeve? Totally, she lives three doors down from us. New construction.”

Ah, I thought, So that was why she didn’t like the woman. Maeve was richer than Gen.

“What exactly did you and your daughter do?” I asked.

“I grabbed the peony & blush suede Jo Malone candle that I had in the kitchen and brought it into our powder room. [I looked it up so you don’t have to, women like Gen throw in useless information like that because they are trying to tell you something. Here’s what this incredibly specific candle description is telling us: y’all, that candle costs $470]. The girls were all giggling and excited and my girlfriends were like, ‘Oh, my God, Gen, you are too funny.’ I hustled Madison into the powder room and we did it.”

I waited for her to elaborate but she just sipped her tea and looked at me expectantly. “Right, but what exactly did you do?” I asked.

“We said her name three times, or whatever,” Gen replied, testily.

“What’s the ‘whatever’ part?”

“Here’s the thing, I was about three glasses of rose deep and I was just treating it as a joke so Madison wouldn’t get freaked out and so she could look cool in front of her friends. I may have been a little flippant.”

I forced myself to be quiet and waited for the truth of it to come.

“Ugh, fine, I think after we said the name three times, actually, I’m pretty sure Madison only said it once, but after I said it the last time I said something like, ‘Now twirl betch.’

Had I been drinking coffee at that moment it would have shot out of my nose. This was the problem with women like Gen, as nasty as they can be, their cruelty can be bitingly funny and therein lies their dangerous appeal.

Gen smiled at me as I laughed and I could sense her softening towards me a little bit.

I took a breath and pulled myself together, “So after your called Bloody Mary a betch, what happened?”

Gen’s face darkened. “Stop saying her name, okay? Here’s the thing, I thought it was nothing, like a total coincidence, right? But, we saw someone in the mirror. I mean, it was like the outline of a person, like a dark outline, but sort of cloudy, you know? She was standing right beside me. Madison screamed and I jumped away from the figure but when I looked next to me – you know, not in the reflection, but actually next to me – no one was there, but in the reflection, she was there. She was shorter than me and the longer I stared at her the clearer she became. It was only for a couple seconds, and then I flipped on the light and she was gone. Madison whipped the door open and ran out. I admit, I was pretty stunned. Everyone thought we were trying to pull one over but I could tell Maeve believed we’d seen something. She seemed, like guilty about it.”

“That was really shitty of her to let you guys do that,” I said sympathetically.

“Yeah, well, I guess it was,” Gen agreed. “But thank God Madison didn’t say the name three times. I don’t think I could handle it if she were being targeted like this.”

Just then a gorgeous leggy blond in a tight white t-shirt tucked into high-wasted army green bellbottomed capris snuck up behind Gen and squeezed her shoulder. “Hey, girl!” The beauty sang out.

Gen jumped, and then in the blink of an eye her face and voice morphed, happier, and higher pitched.

“Tinsley!”

Heeeyyyy,” the woman almost yelled. “Oh my God, we have to get coffee, soon. I am literally drowning in this kitchen renovation. If I’m not there constantly it’s like they don’t even remember my instructions. Part of it may be a language barrier if you know what I mean, but honestly, it’s no excuse.”

Gen made a soothing noise.

The women ignored me and spat privileged nonsense at each other for a few moments before Gen lowered her voice and said in a stage whisper, “Did you hear about the Silvins?”

“No!” Tinsley replied gleefully. “What?”

“Sleeping with the nextdoor neighbor,” Gen said triumphantly.

“Oh my God! Stop. Well, I mean, it’s not that shocking. Did I ever tell you what he said to me at the fall fundraiser last year?”

Gen glanced at me, apparently just remembering that I was sitting there. She gave Tinsley a look and then said, “This is Liz, Liz Sower. She blogs.”

“Oh, fashion? Home design?” Tinsley asked me.

Confused I looked at Gen.

“No, no, she’s, like, a writer. Anyway, we’re just catching up. But let’s you and me definitely grab coffee, tomorrow?”

“Done,” Tinsley said, bending down to kiss Gen on the cheek. “I’m off. Bye, Lisa, nice to meet you.”

I smiled and waved.

Gen’s face fell a little bit and I saw how exhausted she actually was. I saw no point in addressing the gross interaction with her friend so I sat and waited for her to go on with her story.

“Where was I?” Gen asked.

“You’d come out of the bathroom with your daughter and the only one who believed you was Maeve,” I reported, dryly.  

Gen squinted her eyes at me. “Right. Yeah, so that whole thing put a damper on the night. Our impromptu party broke up after that and everyone gathered up their kids to go home. Maeve held back though and waited for the rest of my friends to leave. She obviously wanted to talk about what I’d seen, so I sent Madison to watch television and Maeve and I chatted in the kitchen.

“What really pissed me off was how guilty she was acting. Like, she was all, ‘I’m sure it was just a trick of the light. It is really rare for her spirit to actually show up.’ First of all, why in the hell did she tell our children to do it if she thought it was real, and second of all, screw her. I know what I saw and it wasn’t a fucking trick of the light.”

“Did she tell you how to undo the summoning?”

Summoning?

“Yeah, that’s what you did, right? You carried out a little ritual to summon the spirit called Blo-, the spirit. Did Maeve have any way to reverse it?”

“Well, duh. No, of course she didn’t. And this is the first I’m hearing of a ritual summoning.”

“Alright,” I said, soothingly, “Well, even though you didn’t realize what you were doing, it doesn’t seem to matter. It still worked.”

Gen squinted her eyes at me again. “How do you know all of this?”

I raised my eyebrows at her, “A lifetime of reading, watching and listening to paranormal stories. And I interview people and write a blog about it.”

“It’s just such a strange hobby for a mother, I mean, no offense,” Gen said, quite offensively.

“Flippantly conjuring the ghost of a dead woman with your child is pretty strange. I mean, no offense.”

“Yeah, but that was a fluke.”

“Mmm, okay,” I said not bothering to hide my growing annoyance.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be a bitch. I’m just really fucking stressed out and I need this fucking dead woman out of my life.”

“What exactly has she done?” I asked, sighing.

Gen returned my sigh and leaned forward. “I went to my old psychiatrist, okay? I asked if I could be experiencing some sort of break from reality, or whatever, and her opinion was that I was simply in a highly suggestible state when we did the whole name in the mirror thing. And, like as a result, I’m somehow vividly imagining these scary things but it’s all like a sort of hallucination or waking dream.”

“Do you think she might be right?”

“I wish. How could I possibly hallucinate getting scratches all over my body? Or the loud noises in the middle of the night, we all hear them. My husband too. How could I hallucinate that?”

“What sorts of noises?” I asked.

“Sobbing, mostly. Paul, my husband, thinks it’s some weird animal outside. But I know it isn’t, I hear it during the day too. And it comes from everywhere, if that makes any sense, like I will be in the sunroom and think it’s in the kitchen then go to the kitchen and then I hear it coming from the damn sunroom.”

“And it sounds like a woman crying? That’s awful,” I said with a shiver.

“Yeah, like what exactly is her problem? At night I’ll startle awake because I hear a woman screaming. It’s, like the worst scream you could possibly imagine, like she just saw someone killed or something. But I’ll look over and Paul will be sound asleep. So I guess, yeah I mean there are some things that only I hear.”

“What about the scratches? When do those happen?”

“It started out that I would wake up with them, mostly on my back, but now it happens during the daytime too. Just yesterday I was unloading the dishwasher and this happened.”  Gen pushed up her sleeve and I saw four scratches across her forearm, the angry red lines had scabbed and they began with a bruise. As though someone had gripped her arm very hard and then dragged their fingernails across her arm.

“Jesus,” I breathed. “Did it hurt?”

“What do you think?” Gen snapped.

I shrugged, “I don’t know. I’ve never been scratched by an angry spirit before.”

“Well, it hurts,” Gen whined. “I just don’t understand why she’s so pissed at me.”

I tried my best to keep my expression neutral. “Does she bother you everywhere you go?”

“No, I think she’s like, trapped in my house. But regardless, I feel like I’m freaking contaminated or something.”

“I know what you mean,” I said.

“Are you being haunted by something too?” Gen asked excitedly.

I shook my head quickly. “I just mean, I know from talking to people in your position that it can be really isolating and nerve-racking and everything.” The last thing I wanted this gossipy woman knowing was that I was dealing with an attachment of my own.

“Have you ever interviewed someone haunted by this woman?”

“No,” I said simply.

“Well then let me tell you what it’s like. My husband, Paul, he usually travels every other week, so I’m on my own a lot with the kids. And come summer I’m basically a golf and sailing widow,” Gen rolled her eyes, though I could tell she was weirdly proud of this fact.

“Paul got home late last Sunday night from golf on the Cape and I was already asleep, but he woke me up all weirded out. He said that he saw me in the living room sitting in one of our armchairs drinking a glass of wine. So he called hello and then went to pour himself a glass so we could chat and when he went back to the living room I was gone. He looked everywhere for me downstairs then finally came up and found me sound asleep.

“He said the weird thing was that it looked like I was wearing a long dress and I had my hair up, he thought maybe I’d gone out to dinner with friends or something and was waiting up for him.”

“Oh man,” I breathed. “So you’re not the only one seeing her?”

“That’s the first time that he’s seen her, and my son, Ellison, saw her too. I was in the kitchen and Ellison came in after school and was like, ‘Who’s that weird woman in the garage, mom?’

“I went out to look and of course no one was there. That actually scared me, and then after Paul saw her too, I mean, she’s like escalating. I don’t understand what she wants from me! She lurks around the house, I see her there, like a shadow out of the corner of my eye. I can’t go into the basement to do laundry anymore since I saw her on the ceiling, and-”

Whoa, pump the brakes. You saw her on the ceiling in your basement?”

“Ugh, yeah. I was taking the laundry out of the washer and something made me look up for some reason and she was there, like crouched on her hands and knees, but on the ceiling, like in the corner of the room. I couldn’t see her face, she was like, almost all black and white sort of.”

“What the fuck,” I breathed.

“I know. Now I’m stuck paying the cleaning ladies extra to wash our clothes.”

Trying not to sound accusatory I said, “It seems like you’re more annoyed about having a nasty spirit terrorizing you than you are frightened.”

“Well it is annoying,” Gen began when we were interrupted yet again.

“Ha! She is so full of shit,” I heard a woman say behind me in a low voice right in my ear.

I gave Gen a surprised look then spun around. As I did I said, “Excuse me?”

But there was no one there.

“Who are you talking to?” Gen asked, eyeing me suspiciously.

Confused, I looked around a bit more then said, “Sorry, I thought I just heard a woman say something right behind me.”

Gen raised an eyebrow. “What did the woman say?”

“Nothing,” I replied hastily. Confused and a little freaked out I said, “So you were saying how annoying it is.”

“I’m not sleeping well, my husband thinks I’m crazy since I tried to explain to him what he actually saw in our living room, and I am supposed to host a Stella & Dot trunk show next Thursday night. I can’t do this right now.”

“Have you done research into this Bloody Mary?”

“No. That’s why I reached out to you.”

“Right, well, I don’t know too much about her either. I sort of remember it having something to do with Queen Mary and her children, but I don’t honestly remember the whole story. The thing is, if that were true then every single girl who’d ever done the ritual at a sleepover would be just as haunted as you are now, so I’m thinking that maybe you managed to catch the attention of some other kind of haunt. And the eclipse definitely wasn’t in your favor.”

“Well, that’s just great. The one time I ever do anything this boring and stupid I get absolutely nailed.”

“Well, this is Wellesley,” I reasoned.

“What do you mean?”

“This town is sort of weird. When I started my blog I thought I’d just hear a couple of benign haunted house stories, but this town is really strange. There are ley lines and vortexes and I’ve even talked to someone with a demon nest in their basement.”

“Alright, I’m just going to go ahead and stop you there. I have no idea what any of that is. I need this bitch out of my house by the weekend. What exactly do you suggest that I do?”

I definitely slow blinked her again. “Well, you could get in touch with a psychic to try and clear the space but honestly? Since the spirit has become physical, you know the scratches and all? I think you should probably have an exorcism done on your house at the very least.”

“Whatever it is, it needs to be done quietly,” Gen insisted.

“Sure, well I can put you in touch with a friend who does consultations for the church, but I don’t think that anything can be done before the weekend.”

“So, like the Catholic Church?”

“Well, yes,” I replied.

“Yeah, no that doesn’t work for me.”

I waited a beat but when Gen didn’t elaborate I said, “Ok, then you’d better find a powerful psychic.”

“And where might I find one of those?”

“I have someone you can talk to, but Gen,” I paused, choosing my words carefully.

“What?” She pressed.

“You might want to take this a little bit more seriously. These things, spirits like this or whatever it is, they only get more and more powerful. It could really hurt you or make you sick.”

“It’s a fucking ghost for Christ’s sake. I’m over it. I just want it done and gone.”

“I know what you mean,” I said.

 

***

 

As I dug in my bag for my car keys I was startled by someone yelling my name from across the parking lot. I looked up to see Erica Payne.

“Oh my God,” I said happily, “How are you? How is Mattie?”

“Oh we are so good. The house is really coming along and Mattie is completely back to himself.”

“I am so, so happy to hear that,” I said, really meaning it.

“I don’t know if Biddy told you, but the priest had to come three times before the attachment was completely broken and then he even had to do a little exorcism type thing on me to be sure that it didn’t jump.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

“No, it was great. I’ve never felt better, clearer. But how about you? How is your family?”

“Good, good,” I said, quickly considering whether or not to tell her about the creeper that had been following me around. If anyone would understand it would be Erica.

Before I could confess anything Erica asked, “Did I see you walking out with Gen Hensley?” I nodded and she asked, “How do you know her?”

I told her that this was my first time meeting her but did not elaborate.

“I hope you don’t think that I am overstepping,” Erica said slowly.

“Never,” I reassured her. “What’s up?”

“That woman, Gen, you just, I mean like, sorry? But you should kinda watch your back with her if you know what I mean.”

I laughed, “Oh, I think I know exactly what you mean, but how do you know her?”

“She came to my morning practice for a little while, over at Babson? So one morning she asked me if I could move the class fifteen minutes later because it was too stressful for her to rush over in time after dropping her kids off at school and I was just like, so sorry but I can’t do that. So she got sort of pushy about it, like it would be better for everyone if it were held later in the morning, and like, that totally wasn’t true, you know?

“So I tried to brush it off and be funny and was like, ‘why not skip stopping for that latte and come straight here instead,’ and ugh, that was exactly the wrong thing to say.”

I groaned, “Oh no, what did she do?”

“Well, she stopped coming and then so did her little group of friends. I saw them around town a couple times and they, like totally gave me the cold shoulder. I think she told them I did something? I couldn’t ever prove it, but I have this feeling she told people I was having an affair with one of my students. Which, gross, those guys I teach are like forty-five.”

“Mmm, gross,” I said hiding a smile.

“I hope you don’t think I’m being a gossip?”

“Not at all,” I reassured her. “Thank you for warning me but I definitely wouldn’t want to spend any more time with that woman than I absolutely had to.”