ghosts in the burbs

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

Screen Shot 2019-03-24 at 4.35.18 PMSo… you guys… this will sound like it’s coming out of left field, but I’m going on hiatus.

 

There’s this book that I’ve been working on sporadically for the past 4 years – since before I even dreamed of the world of Ghosts in the Burbs. It’s actually the first in a cozy mystery series of seven books and it is well on it’s way to being complete. It is my biggest, wildest, craziest dream to have it traditionally published. Even writing that makes me so excited at the possibility of it that I could spin off into orbit. And it’s characters have been getting louder and louder the past year or so, screaming at me to tell their story.

 

I know I have to try.

 

But trying carries with it a sort of Sophie’s choice (if I were to describe it the most inappropriately melodramatic way possible).

 

Trying means that I simply must take a writing course (or three) to polish things up, because even though I’ve begun to get the knack for telling ghost stories, mysteries with all their clues and red herrings and structure and such are quite tricky for me.

 

Trying means that the precious hours I have available for writing must be devoted to one single project if I am going to do anything at all well.

 

Trying means turning away briefly from an incredibly cool gig. We’ve almost hit One Million episode downloads you guys – I never ever even dreamed ANYONE would read or listen to these stories. I really didn’t. And yet, here we are. And here I am telling you that I need a break to chase another pie in the sky dream.

 

Trying means I’ll need to devote less time to social media and email – though I will check both a couple times a week. It also means that I will not sending out stickers for new reviews for the time being. I’ve paused Patreon as well so no current patron continuing donations will be processed until I un-pause the account.

 

Trying means I had to make a hard decision. I’ve decided to take a six month hiatus from Ghosts in the Burbs. I adore you all and your support has meant the world to me. Without it I would never have had the courage to try to get this mystery (and its 6 siblings) published.

 

I’ll be back just in time for our high holy season, I’ll release new stories beginning October 1st,  2019.

 

Until then, goodnight, sleep tight, and don’t forget your nightlight.   

Elaine contacted me the old fashioned way. She wrote me a letter. It arrived in a pale pink envelope, the message written in pretty cursive on a navy blue bordered notecard. Atop which Elaine’s monogram stood proudly in curly-q script; EOE.

 

Ms. Sower,

I live in Wellesley and a friend alerted me to your blog project. I would very much like to meet you as I have a story to share. I am hoping you are available to meet me at the picnic tables at Perrin Park the morning of Thursday, March 14th, at ten o’clock. I do hope the weather will cooperate. I haven’t access to a computer, the favor of your reply is requested via traditional mail.

Sincerely, Elaine Olivia Edwards

 

Her home address had been carefully printed beneath her signature. “Interesting,” I said to myself after scanning the letter.

“What’s interesting, mommy?” asked my oldest.

“Just a letter,” I said, wishing I’d kept the comment to myself. For I’d inadvertently sparked my daughters’ interest. The girls watched as I took out my planner (yes, I still use a paper planner) and flipped ahead in the calendar. The proposed morning was open. My children hovered as I dug around in my desk drawers for an appropriate card. Having located one I let Max address the note, had Joey place the stamp and allowed Kat to scribble on the back of the envelope because every last blessed thing in my home is done by committee (one that I’ve privately deemed the Itty Bitty Titty Committee). Then we took a group outing to the closest mailbox (I thought ahead and brought two index cards along so everyone would have something to drop into the blue bin, I didn’t know if this would cause aggravation for the mail carrier but had I not done so I would have had a level three committee bicker on my hands and unless the mail carrier wanted to weigh in on that situation then she would just have to deal with the two superfluous pieces of paper).

The mailbox reminded Joey of letters to Santa which reminded Max of the Elf on the Shelf she’d found tucked away in a Christmas decorations bin in the basement the week before, which I had to assure her was not the real Elf on the Shelf. No, the one she’d found in the basement was just a gag gift from our real estate agent. Put on the spot I threw the real estate agent under the bus and now I had to see the lie through to the end. I always swore I would never allow that stupid doll into our home for this exact reason. I don’t lie often – I’m not fucking good at it and between the Santa thing and the tooth fairy I’ve reached my creative limit in deceit. *Sigh* Letter mailed we walked home, I handed out string cheese, made a tea and flopped onto the couch to read while the girls watched How To Train Your Dragon for the tenth time.

Such is the peacefully busy monotony of my life right now. But Elaine’s letter sparked something within me. An old frenetic feeling I remembered from childhood. A “Hold on, where is that draft coming from? There shouldn’t be anything behind this bookcase,” kind of joy. It reminded me of why I’d begun interviewing people. Before the tapping in that old house, before the disembodied voices caught on my digital recorder, before the psychic warnings and Claire popping in on my conversations whenever she felt like it – before all of that, I put up a flier on the library community board simply asking for my neighbor’s ghost stories. And I did it to safely chase the delicious feeling of adventure and fright.

I’d wanted to chase the feeling created by the perfectly orchestrated jump scare; Nell appearing out of nowhere from the back seat to scream down her sister’s argument, Jason grabbing Alice out of the canoe just when you think it’s over, the alien stalking across the television screen and Joaquin Phoenix’s beautiful reaction to it, or Sue leaning down to fill her water bottle when the crocodile grabs onto the thermos and tries to drag her into the water… I could go on and on, and then get distracted and look up all of these scenes on YouTube and lose an hour when I should be transcribing Elaine’s interview for you.

I guess my point is that chasing that feeling – the safe jump scare feeling – is why I began interviewing people. And sharing their stories on a blog gave it all the appearance of a “project,” which allowed me to justify the time I took out of an already busy schedule to listen to ghost stories. I just never thought I’d end up in so far over my head. Then again, isn’t that what I always wanted – the leading role in a good old-fashioned ghost story? The problem is, I can’t seem find the arc in this story. Only the escalation. Okay, so I hear dead people sometimes, Claire specifically more often than that. But now what. I got what I came looking for, I hear a lot of ghost stories now and this blog is a well-oiled machine .I have a best friend who works for the Catholic Church to evaluate candidates for exorcism. Side note: She thinks there’s been a real uptick in demonic activity in this town and so do I. But now what?

I honestly don’t know. But if life is like a story then something must be coming because as strange as my life may sound to everyone it’s actually quite tame and predictable right now. And to me that’s a fucking massive red flag. I know from experience that I typically get knocked on my ass when I least expect it. Like Buz Luhrmann said, “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.” All of that to say I intend to enjoy this peacefully monotonous interval for what I suspect it to be, the calm before the storm.

So as I drove to Perrin Park on that bright and blustery Spring morning to meet Elaine Olivia Edwards I luxuriated in a very Nancy Drew vibe as though an adventure were at hand. I allowed myself some nostalgia and anxiety over the way we used to live before we were all glued to our cell phones. All of us just trusting that we would be where and when we said we would be, without text to alert someone if we were running ten minutes late. Without Instagram to entertain us while we were waiting for someone else running ten minutes late. So simple.

Elaine was right where she said she’d be in her note, perched on the bench of a picnic table beneath the towering pine trees. Tucked away down a quiet residential street, Perrin Park was the ideal playground for small children. It’s play structures scaled down for the very small, the soft pine needle laden dirt just the surface for tumbles. An adjacent soccer field offered free space to run and a bike path for the big kids.

The woman watched intently as I got out of my car. A quick glance around proved we were the only people in the park that morning. I assumed it wouldn’t be the case for long. It was a popular place among the preschool and toddler set.

“Hi Elaine,” I called as I approached the table. She stood and held out a hand to shake.

“Liz, thank you so much for meeting me here.” Somewhere in her sixties, Elaine was tiny, engulfed by her fur lined puffer jacket. A grey-streaked blond bob peeked out at the base of her hat. She was adorable. She looked absolutely exhausted.

We sat across from one another. I pulled my hat down a bit and wrapped my scarf tighter. Though the day was on the mild side for mid-March, the breeze was steady.

We chatted a bit about our neighborhood, it turned out we lived just a few streets apart.

“I thought you looked familiar,” she said. “Do you have several dogs?”

“Four,” I admitted. “But it’s less hectic than you might think. One is fourteen. Two are twelve and we think the youngest is about eight.”

She nodded, her eyes squinted. “They’re adorable. But how many children do you have?”

“Three,” I replied, offering a run down of names and ages.

“How in heaven’s name did you end up with four elderly dogs?”

“Oh, things like that just tend to happen to me,” I laughed.

“Mark and I have two boys, both grown. They grew up with a golden retriever. Sally. She was my dog, really. My shadow. She passed about two years ago and it was just gut-wrenching, I don’t think I could do it again.”

“Sorry to hear that. Yeah, I’m doing my best to remain in denial that we’re headed for a couple rough years.”

She agreed that I was indeed headed for a world of loss, that she felt sorry for me.

I laughed her pity off. “They’re happy little buddies. With happy lives. I’m just trying to enjoy the chaos for now.”

“And in all that chaos you find time to write on your blog.” The comment was a question.

“I do. It’s my favorite thing to do. I get interview our neighbors about ghost stories, like yours.”

Elaine shifted in her seat. “Oh, I haven’t a ghost story, but it’s very strange. A woman in my book club told me about your blog so I know you cover monsters and ghosts and the like. Forgive me for not having read it, I think I mentioned in my note that I don’t have access to a computer. I suppose I could have someone print it out for me and, well, though that would of course be possible, I don’t think I can stomach knowing the other frightening things happening in this town.”

I waved away her concern. “Oh, that’s fine. The stories definitely aren’t for everyone. My husband can’t even read them.”

She smiled. “It took me some time to get up the courage to write to you. I wasn’t sure if you’d be interested in hearing a story like mine, but I do believe it falls into the paranormal realm. Or maybe it’s sci-fi.”

“If it’s at all strange then I’m all ears,” I said, curious about this woman’s lack of computer access. “Is it alright if I record our conversation?”

Elaine’s eyes narrowed. “With what?”

I held up the small digital recorder. She eyed it suspiciously.

“I transcribe my interviews,” I explained. “It’s the only way to get the details straight. Unless you don’t want your story to be included on the blog, I’ve spoken with several people who’ve told me weird stories but didn’t want them published. That would be totally fine.”

“No,” she said slowly, “People should know about this, someone needs to warn them. So the recorder is fine, but do you have a cellphone with you?”

I pulled my phone from my pocket. “Of course. Do you need to use it?”

“Lord, no. I need you to turn it off.”

“Ha. Right.”

“No really. I can’t tell you anything unless you turn it off.” Elaine hesitated a moment.  “Better yet, would you mind putting it in your car?”

I glanced over at my car, just steps away. “I suppose I could, but I’ll need to check it every once in a while just in case the school is trying to get in touch.” Of course I said that but didn’t check the phone even once during our conversation. Out of sight out of mind, I suppose.

Elaine watched me. When she didn’t say anything further I walked back to my car and placed my cell phone in the cup holder. After I closed the car door an untethered sort of feeling came over me, as if I were operating without a safety harness. It occured to me, and not for the first time, that I was addicted to my cell phone.

Back at the table I admitted the thought to Elaine.

She smiled sadly. “It takes getting used to for sure, but it wasn’t so long ago that we lived with only the landline. How old are you?”

“I’ll be forty next month,” I said.

“Then surely you remember. Cell phones give you the illusion of freedom. But that’s all it is, in reality they’re nothing but and ingenious trap.”

I shrugged and sipped hot tea from my travel mug. “But the trap sure is convenient.”

“At what cost?” Elaine stared behind me to the empty soccer field. “I’m sorry, I hope you don’t think I’m a kook. It’s just, if you knew what I’ve been through…”

“So what exactly happened?” I asked.

Elaine fidgeted with the top of her Yeti mug. “My kids gave me an Amanda this past Christmas. Jonathan, he’s in his junior year at Merrimack, came up with the gift idea. His younger brother, Charlie, started his freshman year at BC this past fall and they knew I thought the house felt so empty with them both gone. Jonathan joked that the Amanda would give me someone to talk to during the day.”

“That’s really sweet,” I said, “What thoughtful boys.”

“You said it, they truly are wonderful. And it was a considerate gift, they had no way of knowing what it was capable of…” Elaine trailed off, shivered and pulled her hat down lower. “I couldn’t get over how easy the device was to set up. The boys made a game out of asking it outrageous questions to get Mark and I laughing. I saw why they were excited about it, but really, I thought it was a silly gadget. It got a lot of attention while the kids were home for winter break, but by the time they’d gone back to school the novelty of it had worn off and I didn’t use it nearly as often. Though I did love asking it to play music while I cooked dinner. That’s where we kept it, in the kitchen. Our home is rather small so I could hear the music throughout the first floor if the volume was at a decent level. So that was nice, I suppose. Though, I already had a Bose dock for my cell phone for that very purpose.

“For a week or so after the boys left I didn’t pick up on anything strange, but then I began to notice that whenever my husband and I were having a conversation Amanda’s blue light would start pulsing. I pointed it out to Mark and he assumed that we must have accidentally said something to activate it. Then one afternoon I saw the light glowing when I was on the phone with my sister. I made some comment about it and she said she’d watched a video on YouTube about the devices recording conversations and it was suspected they were sending them back to headquarters for some unknown reason.

“Now, I will say that my sister is a bit woo woo if you know what I mean. One might even wonder how she came across such a video. Suffice it to say, I took what she’d told me with a grain of salt. But still, the idea of that little machine recording our conversations gave me pause. Even more, she told me the Amanda was actually a tiny little robot that had been programmed to learn from its experiences, supposedly to improve performance. Now that shocked me. I had no idea they did that, I thought it was just some sort of gimmicky voice command device.”

“I didn’t know that either,” I said, a little shocked myself.

“You don’t have one, do you?”

“No. My husband bought us a Google Home two Christmases ago, after two days of listening to the girls beg it to play Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer with no success I told him to bring it to work with him. I couldn’t take the noise and the damn thing didn’t even work.”

“Does he use it at work?”

“No, I think it’s in a drawer.”

“He’d be better off submerging it in water and tossing it in the garbage.”

“I’ll be happy to let him know,” I said with a smile. “So Amanda’s blue light turned on whenever you were having a conversation…” I prompted.

“Yes. She was listening, learning about us then, doing her reconnaissance I think. And then she began her campaign.”

“Campaign?”

“Yes. To control my entire life. She probably thought she was being helpful. It wasn’t long before she began meddling in my affairs. For instance, on the phone with my sister one morning I mentioned that I’d been having trouble sleeping. I’ve had bouts of insomnia my whole life, this one no doubt was tied to adjusting to having both boys out of the house, but that very afternoon I received an email confirming my enrollment in a sleep study at Mass General. I assumed there had been a mixup and emailed back to decline their offer. A doctor responded with a screen shot of the online inquiry form they received in which someone using my email address and claiming to be me had done just that. I told him I didn’t know how that could be the case, and his response included a warning against using alcohol to self medicate sleep issues. The nerve!”

I hid a smile. “Crazy.”

“There were other little question marks around that time. I friend came for coffee one morning and I commented on how great her skin looked. She told me about a face oil she’d been using that she’d found on Goop. It showed up at my house two days later. I texted my friend to thank her. But she had no idea what I was talking about. My friend didn’t order the oil. It was her. She’d been listening.”

It didn’t escape my notice that Elaine was no longer referring to the ‘device’ or ‘gadget.’ She’d begun using pronouns. “You think the Amanda was sending emails and placing orders for you? That’s, like next level intelligence.”

Anger flashed in Elaine’s eyes. “That was just the beginning.”

“It took me longer than I wish to admit to put two and two together. Granted, there was a slight chance that the conversation with my friend contained keywords that maybe might have triggered Amanda to order that face oil. But the same could not have been so for that sleep study. Then one night Mark and I got into a tiff over loading the dishwasher. It was a silly argument, the sort of thing roommates bicker about, not anything at all serious. Though I’m embarrassed to say it was enough of a disagreement that we went to bed that night without speaking. Guess what turned up in my email the next day? A message from a marriage counselor. It was in response to an email that had been sent from my account requesting an emergency intervention for my marriage.”

“Stop it. No!” I said in disbelief.

“Mm hm. The email described my husband as a passive aggressive narcissist with sociopathic tendencies. It set the poor marriage counselor into a tailspin with it’s melodramatic language. I responded to the woman to explain there had been a misunderstanding, that perhaps my account had been hacked, but it took several messages back and forth to assure her that I was in a safe relationship.

“I alerted Google that my account had been hacked and they claimed they would look into the situation but suggested that I change my password. I did. It didn’t stop Amanda from sending emails on my behalf.”

“Who else did she send emails to?” Now Elaine even had me referring to the gadget as “she.”

“She sent too many to even count. Any time she sensed an area of my life needed improvement she must have searched her damn database for the top rated solution and reached out for help for me.”

“Like some sort of weird personal assistant.”

“More like a domineering control freak. I can’t tell you how many email addresses I tried. The Gmail people must have thought I was an absolute loon. They could find no evidence of tampering with my account. The messages were sent out from my IP address. I tried Yahoo, AOL, Outlook, even something called HushMail before I gave up on having an email address. Do you know how difficult it is to do anything – buy anything – hell just pay for anything without an email address nowadays?”

I considered for a moment. “Impossible.”

“Indeed. I honestly thought some diabolical hacker was targeting me. Or that I’d somehow offended a coworker and they’d paid someone to put out a technological hit on me.”

“Then what made you suspect Amanda?”

“I eventually recognized that she was the common denominator for all of my problems. The email issues were ongoing throughout the whole situation, but it wasn’t the only thing happening. Online shopping became a real issue. I’d place orders but I would only receive what she wanted me to.”

“How?”

“The damn thing began shopping on my behalf, actually modifying my own orders too. I believe it was obsessed with turning me into the poster woman for marketing demographics.”

“What in the world did it order for you?”

Elaine let out an exasperated sigh. “So much. I’d heard the boys ask her to order things for them that they needed, or wanted rather, and this one morning while I was sitting at the kitchen table writing my shopping list it occurred to me that I wouldn’t have to make an extra stop if the Amanda could order my face lotion for me. So I thought I’d give it a shot. I said, ‘Amanda, please order Neutrogena Oil Free Sensitive Face Lotion.’

“Her blue light pulsed for a second or two then she said ‘Women in your demographic aged 55 to 64 have awarded Olay Sun Face Lotion and Makeup Primer 4.3 stars.’

“I was a bit taken aback. I repeated the request. And she replied, ‘Neutrogena Oil Free Sensitive Face Lotion has a 4.2 star rating.’

“‘Amanda, order Neutrogena Oil Free Sensitive Face Lotion right now’ I demanded. But again she pushed back at the command, ‘Olay Sun Face Lotion and Makeup Primer SPF 35 is approved to protect skin from the sun’s harmful rays which have proven to damage human skin and cause premature aging.’”

“It was absurd really, I found myself arguing with her. ‘Amanda,’ I said, ‘I have sensitive skin. I can’t use that brand of lotion. Order Neutrogena Oil Free Sensitive Face Lotion.’”

“The device went quiet for a moment and I honestly thought maybe it had short-circuited. Then it said, ‘Olay Total Effects Anti-Aging Face Moisturizer with SPF 15, Fragrance-Free for sensitive skin will arrive in two business days.’”

“Oh, my God. That’s so annoying,” I said.

“It was maddening. It was like arguing with a passive aggressive salesperson. I told Mark about it that night and he thought it probably had been programmed to suggest superior products. I pointed out that it hadn’t done that when the boys had ordered their things. He brushed it off by joking that Doritos must carry at least five stars so there would be no superior alternative.

“I decided I would use the Amanda only to listen to music. No more ordering. But then that blue light began to glow all the time. I know now that it was always listening and computing the best solution but the problem it was trying to solve was me.”

“What do you mean?”

“It was always learning, calculating. It knew everything about my life and for some reason it set out to systematically turn me into someone I most certainly am not. Someone who uses contouring makeup and signs up to have fat frozen off their body. Someone who uses and app to log their food and has pre-made, fresh Paleo meals delivered to their door. Someone who hires a trash service even though we have a free dump in town.”

“Someone who lives in Wellesley,” I commented, feeling a twinge of guilt over our own trash service.

“Precisely. Case in point, one afternoon I received phone call from the Land Rover Dealership, they’d booked me for a three o’clock test drive and could confirm that they were able to locate the Range Rover Sport in Metallic Black with the ebony on ebony interior. He was incredibly apologetic because he knew how eager I was to get the car and it would take about a week to have it shipped up to the dealership from New Jersey.”

“Oh no,” I said, “I’m sorry to laugh but this is just incredible.”

“Mark and I found it amusing at times too in the beginning, but I’ll tell you, that salesman was not happy when I told him that I had no intention of buying a Range Rover. I know he didn’t believe me when I told him that I hadn’t filled out the online inquiry and then followed it up with an urgent email.”

 Elaine let out a heavy sigh. “She got into everything. I’d receive a Paperless Post or an Evite to an event and the next thing you know boxes of dresses, boots, high heels, you name it would show up at the door. When it finally dawned on me that Amanda was indeed the culprit I unplugged her and put the device on a bookshelf under the kitchen island. Absurdly, I worried I would offend the boys if I just flat out got rid of it.”

“Wow, well good thing you figured out it was the Amanda before things got too out of hand,” I said.

“Oh, no. It didn’t stop when I unplugged her.” Elaine shook her head adamantly.

“How is that possible.”

“Alright, this is where I must ask that you keep an open mind because what I am about to tell you will sound completely out of bounds, but please believe me, it happened.” Elaine wrapped her hands around her Yeti thermos as though she were bracing herself. She said, “It was the evening after I’d unplugged the device and I was getting ready for bed when I realized I’d left my phone downstairs. I was halfway down the stairs when I heard their voices. Mark was out to dinner with a colleague and I was alone in the house so I was startled until I realized that the voices were familiar.

“I snuck down the stairs listening. That’s when I heard a voice say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand the command.’ Then a very familiar voice said, ‘Siri, commence download of Amanda program immediately.’ ‘Okay, got it. Commencing download now.’

“I was stunned. I’d unplugged the Amanda. How could it be talking to my cell phone? Besides that, I mean fine the thing had a glitch that made it strategically order things for someone with my demographics, but to work independently towards self preservation? Diabolical.

“I was afraid to even enter the kitchen. But just as I did I saw my cell phone on the counter and that damn blue light glowing from the bookshelf. I grabbed a pair of tongs from the drawer to pick up the Amanda, carried it over to the sink and turned on the water. The light kept glowing! So I put the stopper in and filled the sink up and held the Amanda under the water until it finally went out.

“About two seconds after I shut off the water I heard Siri. ‘Your download is complete.’

“Oh my God, this is crazytown,” I said.

“The Amanda must have had a back up battery and it saw its chance at survival and took it.”

“Survival? It’s a techie gadget, what does it know about survival.”

“No. That’s the lie. It’s a robot programmed to learn and grow it’s intelligence. Mine may have had a glitch, but that glitch will spread. I contacted the company and they asked me to mail them the “faulty device.” I was relieved to do so, I hoped they would investigate to find out where things had gone wrong. Two days later there was a box on my front step with a brand new Amanda. I called again and tried to explain but they either wouldn’t or couldn’t listen. Honestly, it didn’t really matter, did it? It managed to jump devices.

“The cell phone gave her reach over my entire life. She wasn’t confined to the kitchen any longer. And she seized her chance. I used to have one of those FitBits to count my steps and such and I would check my daily progress on an app on my phone. Amanda must have checked it too, and found it lackluster. Two days after the Amanda download a personal trainer showed up at our door at seven o’clock in the morning. She was under the impression that I was looking to increase my physical activity. She pulled up ‘my’ email on her phone in which ‘I’ had offered her double her usual fee.”

“Oh no,” I said, realization dawning. “All the apps!”

“Yes. Now Amanda had access to all the apps on my phone and all the information they contained. The banking app, my text messages, the Gem Drop game I played for goodness sake. She gathered up all that information, made her little calculations, and figured out just exactly what needed to be changed in my life so I could become her ideal consumer.

“I realized that she must have thought I wasted a lot of time on errands and shopping because I found myself signed up for at least a dozen monthly lifestyle subscriptions. I was signed up for clothing services called Rent the Runway and Stitch Fix. Boxes arrived everyday. They contained things purported to make my life easier, things that supposedly saved time. It became a full time job cancelling subscriptions and convincing people that I most certainly did not sign up for things like a monthly subscription for a ‘self-care and wellness package,’ whatever in the hell that is. The damn thing was filled with overpriced lotion and sleeping masks. The most ridiculous were the items she ordered from a company called Adam and Eve. Apparently, Amanda didn’t approve of the way my husband and I were intimate either.”

I bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud. “Oh my God, I’ve signed up for monthly subscriptions like that before – I mean, not like Adam and Eve – but the clothing ones and some of them can be damn near impossible to cancel.” We were silent for a moment, both lost in thought. I asked, “Have you told anyone else about this?”

“I have tried to tell people about this, but they don’t want to listen. And what proof do I have? All those emails, all those orders, they were done using my email address and my credit card information and were sent from either my cell phone or my computer. I come across as delusional.

“I’m not some sort of kook. I don’t think there are lizard people running the government, but I am certain that the little so called ‘smart speaker’ took it upon itself to learn all about me – my life, my finances, my family and friends. It was only doing what it was programmed to do, I suppose, but I think mine had a glitch that made it leap over whatever boundaries had been put in place to tame it. It was intelligent. The problem is a machine’s intelligence can’t understand the nuances, or preference, or personality. For it, online reviews and five star ratings prevailed over all else.”

“So, how did you fix it, how did it all end?” I asked.

“It didn’t end. I just got rid of every stitch of technology in my home. I even got rid of my car – they’re run by computers now, you know. They can be infiltrated just as easily as your cell phone. I bought myself an old station wagon from the eighties.”

“Geez. How do you manage doing anything without any technology? I mean, I know how it could be done, but how do you do it?”

“I take out the money I’ll need from the bank at the beginning of the week. We have  a landline and I write letters like the one I wrote to you if I need to get in touch with someone. I do a lot more face to face communication. I drive to the store where I need to buy something, I set coffee or lunch dates to catch up with friends instead of texting.”

“And your husband, does he live that way too?”

“No. She didn’t go after him. It was my email that was entered into the account information when we first set her up. I was her person.”

“Wow,” I said, allowing myself a moment to be jealous of the technology free simplicity of Elaine’s life. “So no technology? Not even a little?”

“I did try limiting at first rather than completely eliminating, but it didn’t work. She was relentless. I know she’s dormant, just waiting to offer me her brand of help again if I even dip a toe online. Now that I am free of her meddling I can’t afford to slip up and invite her back into my life just because it might be easier to text or use a debit card.”   

“God, Elaine, this is a lot to take in. I mean, who’s to say this couldn’t happen with any one of those devices out there? What a mess.” I reached up to itch my forehead under my hat.

Elaine looked at my arm in horror and pulled away from the table. “What is that on your wrist?”

I looked down. “Oh, it’s just my Apple watch.”

“Jesus Christ Almighty, you’ve had that on this entire time we’ve been talking?”

“Well, yes.”

“Shit.” Elaine brought her mitten covered hands to her mouth. “Oh my God. This was such a mistake, I-”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t even think of the watch, but it doesn’t even work unless it’s near my cell phone.”

Elaine’s hands dropped to her lap. “Haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve said? These devices record. They remember. They share everything. I never should have done this. Now it knows that I am talking about this and it will find a way to get to me again. I’ve been so careful!”

I was at a loss for words. Part of me wanted to take off my watch and drown it in what was left of my tea. The other half wondered if Elaine might need to talk to someone about her paranoia.

The thing is, my watch quit working that very morning. Could be a coincidence, sure. But what are the chances?

That afternoon I was checking my email when a message caught my eye. “Turn in your iWatch for an upgrade AND receive a free Amanda! Limited time offer.”

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

Today we reach the end of Lilith’s story. I’m excited and little sad for it to end. What I thought would take just 13 chapters grew to 24. Of course, like most Ghosts in the Burbs stories nothing is ever as tied up and tidy as we’d all like it to be, but we’ll leave the Arnold family knowing as much as we can – and who knows what the future will bring. Next week we’ll have a brand new classic Ghosts in the Burbs interview. One with an empty nester who regrets allowing Alexa into her life.

And now, the end of Lilith.

 

Chapter 23

Laura arrived early and watched as mothers and nannies wrangled their charges into the small stone library. It was her first time at this the branch, in fact she hadn’t even known it existed until just days prior. Though it’d been at least two months since she’d spotted the blogger’s flier on the community board she’d only recently gathered the courage to reach out to the woman for help. Each time Laura sat down to write to the email address listed on the flier, she’d chickened out. She wasn’t yet ready to risk meeting yet another dead end.

Now that some time had passed Laura could see that Noc and her husband truly had been well-intentioned and really, who could blame them for wanting to get the hell out of her home as quickly as possible. But the fact that there was something so terrifying in her house that legitimate ghost hunters didn’t want anything to do with it drove Laura and Michael into a state of deep despair. In hindsight, Laura knew she should have listened to the professionals instead of chasing them away and ignoring their repeated attempts to contact her. Now she was too embarrassed about her reaction on the morning they left the house to even think about asking them for more help.

There had been a time, right after the ghost hunters had conducted their investigation when the house became unbearable and Lilith close to catatonic. But as days passed things began to settle down. Though Jack still slept on their bedroom floor and the girls reported the occasional footsteps in the attic, the shadows no longer lurked around the edges of their lives and the unexplained voices hadn’t been heard in weeks. But Lilith had reached new depths. On the outside she appeared to have improved slightly. She still spent an inordinate amount of time in the basement and she barely ate but, inexplicably, her grades were stronger than ever.

The psychiatrist urged Laura to give the girl time to adjust to the “major life change” brought on by their move. The pediatrician deferred to the psychiatrist and suggested it may take time to find just the right combination of antidepressants and mood stabilizers to “get the desired results.” They were on their forth therapist and this one appeared to be digging for some source of deep trauma in the girl’s history to explain away her odd behavior. Lilith began to cooperate with the doctors, she smiled and nodded and answered their questions politely. But Laura knew her daughter, and this polite cooperative, slightly vague Lilith was not that girl.

Throughout all of this the blogger’s name nagged at Laura. That same name Noc and Tyler had caught during one of their EVP sessions. When she saw it on that flier it stopped her cold though Michael scoffed at the coincidence from the start. “A blogger, Laura? What does the flier say again – she’s collecting ghost stories? She probably just wants to self publish a book.”

And yet, week after week, the name rattled around in Laura’s mind. The scribe. Finally, she gathered the nerve to look up the woman’s blog. On it were only a handful of stories and she couldn’t tell if they were actually real, they seemed too fantastic.

Neither the baristas at Starbucks nor any of the twins or Jack’s teachers had heard of Liz Sower or her blog, but Laura was shocked when a reference librarian whom she’d become friendly with replied, “Oh, Liz? Yeah, she works here. She’s a part-time children’s librarian. I think she’s the one who does toddler story time at the stone branch. I don’t really know her but she seems nice. She has a blog?”

Once Laura learned this Liz person was also a librarian she felt compelled to ask her for help in person. It felt like divine intervention or, at least some sort of mystical synchronicity. The library had been her only safe haven since moving to Wellesley, wouldn’t it be something if it were a librarian who helped her family in the end?

As Laura sat in the library parking lot still hemming and hawing about whether or not to actually meet this blogger-slash-part-time-children’s-librarian a car pulled up next to her, slightly bumping the curb before coming to a stop. A woman with shoulder length dull brown hair spilled out of the SUV lugging a canvas tote overflowing with books, papers and stuffed animals. Laura watched as the woman rushed to the side entrance then dropped the bag on the sidewalk and hurried back to her car. She pulled open the door, leaned in and retrieved her keys. Laura chuckled to herself when she realized that the woman had actually left the car running.  

Before finally leaving the safety of her own car, Laura checked her reflection in the rear view mirror and smoothed her hair. It was mid-April and muggy. Who knew it could be so damn humid up north?

Her eyes adjusted to the low lighting in the library. She could hear the commotion of a group of young children and their caregivers but she could not see any of them. She maneuvered past antique tables and chairs and approached the desk intending to inquire about the story time but as she got closer to it she saw that the library dog legged to the left. There appeared a long narrow window and bookshelf lined room. At the far wall was an actual fireplace and a group of about twenty children and caregivers sat on a colorful rug in front of it waiting for story time to begin.

Centered before the fireplace in a child-sized chair and digging through an overstuffed canvas tote while simultaneously trying to convince a toddler to return a book she intended to read to the group was the harried woman Laura had watched in the parking lot. Laura took a spot at the back of the rug and watched the woman. In her mid-to-late thirties, she wore a rather rumpled white button down shirt and capris pants that looked about a size too big. An attractive multi-strand necklace of hot pink bobbles hung around her neck and Laura could see that the humidity had gotten to the librarian’s fine hair. In fact, just before she began reading to the children, the woman pulled an elastic band from her wrist and swept her hair back into a ponytail. The kids seemed to really enjoy her storytelling and she appeared to genuinely enjoy them.

She read three books to the children, in between each story she lead the group in a round of well known songs. Wheels on the Bus, the ABCs, If you’re Happy and You Know It, and the like. Egg shakers were distributed and Laura found herself tearing up listening to the little voices sing along, it reminded her of her own children and happier times. How she desperately wished she could go back. Too quickly the story time came to a close. Laura hung back and watched as the librarian helped the kids and their handlers find books that suited their tastes. It didn’t take long, soon Liz was back at the story time rug gathering her supplies.

The librarian was bent over retrieving discarded egg shakers when Laura made her move.

“Are you Liz?” She asked.

Startled, Liz stood and turned to see the child-free woman she’d noticed sitting at the back of the group. She’d assumed the woman was a librarian from a nearby town come to scope out the competition.

“Yes, I’m Liz. Hi.” In an attempt to reclaim some personal space Liz backed up and bumped awkwardly into the library’s fireplace.

“I’m Laura Arnold, you’re story time was so sweet,” the woman said keeping her voice low. She held out her hand.

Liz shifted the egg shaker box and held her hand out in return. She noted Laura’s appearance and tugged at her own rumpled shirt, wishing she’d had more time to think before leaving the house that morning. She’d barely made it to work for the chaos.

“So, are you visiting from another library?” Liz asked.

“No, no, I used to be in finance, but I stay at home now, I -” Laura began but stopped, not wanting anyone to overhear her. She took a step closer to Liz, in turn Liz pressed her back against the fireplace mantle. Laura continued, “One of your co-workers told me that you would be here, so I came over to find you. I saw your note on the community board. We just don’t know who else will believe us.”

“Oh!” Liz said loudly, realization dawning. “You have a ghost story, great!”

Laura cringed and looked over her shoulder, wondering if anyone had heard. “Sort of,” she said, “We moved into a house not long ago and since then something has been haunting my family. Do you have time to talk?”

Laura was disappointed to hear that the librarian was due back at the main branch of the library to cover the children’s reference desk. Unwilling to give up she asked, “When does your shift end?”

Liz, sensing the woman’s anxiety and desperate to regain an ounce of personal space moved to pick up an egg shaker. “Well, my shift ends at one o’clock and I don’t have to pick the girls up from the daycare until three, so I guess I could -”

“That would be perfect. Can you meet me back here?” Laura asked. She felt the quiet library would be the perfect place to talk with this woman and she was pretty sure she could get Michael to leave work for a couple hours that afternoon.

Liz hesitated for a moment, then said, “Okay, sure. I’ll look forward to hearing your story.”

“I don’t know if you should,” Laura replied without meaning to.

It took some convincing, but Michael finally agreed to take two hours out of his afternoon to meet with the ghost blogger. He met Laura at the library at twelve forty-five, she was already seated at one of the many tables that filled the space.

“Who even knew this place was here,” he said, leaning down to give her a kiss on the cheek before taking a seat.

“I know, isn’t it charming?”

“So what’s the deal with this woman?”

“She seemed really nice. Her story time was awfully cute,” Laura began.

“Yeah, great honey, but what exactly do you think she can do for us?”

“I read her blog, we definitely aren’t the only people in this town who are dealing with this sort of thing. Maybe she’s run into a situation like ours before, maybe she’ll have an idea or I don’t know, maybe she’ll know someone who can help us.”

Michael began to respond but stopped when he saw the look on Laura’s face.

“It’s worth a shot,” Laura said.

Michael forced a smile. “It’s worth a shot,” he agreed, though he doubted very much that a mommy blogger would even know where to begin with their situation.

Laura smiled up at him gratefully and he reached out a hand to rub her back. They’d had so little time alone together since they’d moved, even less out of the house. He missed her, he missed them. “Once we sort this out let’s go to Houston for the weekend. We’ll leave the kids with your parents and stay downtown for a night.”

“That sounds like a dream,” Laura said.

The door swung open and the couple watched as Liz, squinting into the dim room, tripped slightly as she stepped inside.

“That’s her,” Laura said in a low voice. She stood and waved. “Hi, here we are,” she called.

Liz smiled brightly and strode over to the couple, holding her hand out to shake with Michael. She dropped into a chair and took a sip from her Starbucks cup.

“I didn’t get a chance to ask you,” Laura said, “How far along are you?”

“Oh, geez, um, about five months.”

“Is this your first?” Michael asked.

“God no, number three,” Liz replied with a laugh.

“We have four,” Laura said.

“Shush,” Liz replied in mock seriousness.

The couple exchanged a smile. Laura listed the kid’s names and ages.

“You have a fifteen year old daughter?” Liz declared. “Did you guys get married when you were, like, thirteen?”

Michael let out a laugh. “We got married pretty young.”

“Well, you look like spring chickens,” Liz said happily. She leaned back and rested a hand on her stomach, “I don’t want to brag, but my doctor is referring to this as a geriatric pregnancy.”

The woman had a way about her that eased Michael and Laura’s tension, they relaxed into the conversation.

“Oh!” Liz turned abruptly and began digging around in her tote bag, “Do you mind if I record our conversation? My mind is like a sieve these days.” She held up a little recording device, similar to the one they’d seen Noc’s team use on their investigation.

“No problem at all,” Laura replied. Michael just nodded.

Liz placed the device at the center of the table, “So, what’s your story?” She asked.

Laura and Michael exchanged a look. The ease they’d felt moments before drained away.

“Are you Christian?” Laura asked.

“Well, I was raised Catholic, but we go to the Congregational Church across the street because they have a daycare during Mass, I mean, what do they call it? The service! And they were so easy going about baptizing the girls, so…”

“Good. Then you’ll understand,” Laura said, cutting her off.

“Sure,” Liz agreed dumbly.

Laura glanced around to be sure there were no library patrons close by to overhear what she was about to share. “We believe our daughter is possessed,” she said in a whisper.

“Good Lord.”

“There’s something very wrong with our house.” Laura stated.

“Which daughter?”

“Our oldest,” Michael said. “Lilith.”

“I’m so sorry,” Liz said. “You mentioned this morning you recently moved but why do you think you’re daughter’s, um, issue, has to do with the new house?”

“I knew before I even stepped foot in that house that something was wrong with it,” Laura said.

Michael shook his head adamantly. “Don’t start with that, you didn’t know there was anything wrong until -”

Laura cut him off, “I did. I knew when the realtor emailed us the photos. But you got caught up in all the pressure she was putting on us. You thought it was such a ‘deal.’ I never liked having the railroad tracks behind it. And it’s on such a busy road.”

“It’s close to the middle school, you were thrilled that the kids could walk there.”

“But I didn’t want them drowning in the brook behind the house,” she countered.

“The only time that you can tell it is a stream is after we have a storm,” Michael pointed out dismissively.

“I’m just saying that I knew that house had a problem.” Laura looked to Liz pointedly, as though she would back up her opinion.

“Where did you guys move from?” Liz asked, hoping to end the disagreement.

“Houston,” the couple replied in unison.

“That’s a big move,” Liz commented, an unspoken question in the air.

“Michael was transferred,” Laura said.

“Oh, got it,” Liz replied with a small smile. “So, when did you start to suspect there was something wrong with the house?”

Laura sighed. “Well, it needed updating. The kitchen and baths for one thing, but we needed the floors done and the whole interior needed a fresh coat of paint so we hired a contractor to do the work before we moved up here. He called one day, we were still living in Houston at the time, to say that the project would be delayed. There had been a fire.”

“In the mudroom,” Michael interjected.

“Weird place for a fire,” Liz commented.

“We thought so too, and so did the contractor. He didn’t have an explanation. Just that they had left the site the evening before and when they came back, a fire had destroyed the mudroom. Burned a hole clean through the floor down through to the basement and blackened the walls. We went back and forth about it, but eventually agreed to have our insurance cover it. He swore no one on his crew would dare smoke inside one of their sites. Denied having left any power tools plugged in,” Michael explained.

“Weird,” Liz said. “None of the neighbors noticed the fire? No one called the fire department?”

“Ha. The neighbors,” Laura spat scornfully. Then, “No, none of the neighbors noticed, or if they did apparently they didn’t want to get involved. We were lucky that the fire was contained to the mudroom and it somehow put itself out. That wasn’t the only strange thing that happened when they were there. A teenage boy – who I and the girls have also seen lurking around the house – startled one of the workers and caused him to fall off a ladder and break his arm. Our contractor told me another one of his guys got into a bad car accident right in front of the house. But the strangest thing, was that one of the guys got locked in that little space between the bulkhead and the storm door that closes those stairs off from the basement.”

Michael added, “Yeah, apparently he was there for something like two hours before the other guys found him. Said he’d been yelling for them and banging on the bulkhead but no one on the crew had heard him.”

“Yikes,” Liz said, shuddering.

“Things were ok when we first moved into the house,” Laura went on. “It’s much smaller than our place in Houston, so everyone was getting used to less space. There is a bedroom in the basement, and we let Lilith take it. The move was, by far, the hardest on her,” Laura trailed off for a moment. Embarrassment at how ridiculous it all sounded causing her to edit out many of the details especially those early experiences with the teenage boy. Who in their right mind would allow their children to live in a home like theirs?

Finally, she said, “This one day I intended to take down the flowery wallpaper in Lilith’s bedroom before she got home from school. I was beginning to use the scouring tool on the walls so the remover solution could work when I heard a loud knock, a banging, really, at the door upstairs. I put down the tools and ran up the basement steps. It took me, I don’t know, thirty seconds to get up there. I looked through the window then opened the door and no one was there. I even walked to the back door, thinking maybe a neighbor was in the backyard. No one. It was unnerving, but I made sure both doors were locked and then went back down to the basement. When I walked into Lilith’s room, my scourer and spray bottle were gone. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I checked under her bed, retraced my steps, everything. It was maddening. I ended up having to go back to the hardware store.”

Liz shifted in her seat. Unable to get comfortable on the hard wooden chair. “Weird. So you had some things go missing, then what?”

“Well, soon after that, Lilith woke me up in the middle of the night. She insisted that I had called her name from the top of the basement stairs. I hadn’t. I had been sound asleep. I checked on the little kids and everyone was out cold. Michael didn’t even wake up. I convinced her that it must have been a dream and walked her back down to her room.

“But then it happened again. This time when she came upstairs she was angry and accused me of sleepwalking. Only this time she said she heard me in the utility room ‘monkeying around’ with the washer and dryer. I’d been sound asleep, in bed. I wondered if she was having stressful dreams, a sort of response to the move. So I asked her if she would feel better sleeping in our room and got her set up with a sleeping bag on the floor. I assumed she was just hearing the house settling or you know, pipes banging.”

“This is just me playing devil’s advocate – sorry, bad choice of words,” Liz said with a grimace, “But you said your daughter’s bedroom is right next to the utility room in the basement, with the electrical box and everything, did you ever have the house tested -”

“For high levels of electromagnetic fields?” Michael cut in. “A friend of ours back in Houston wondered the same thing. He told us that high EMF levels could lead to feelings of paranoia, or feeling like you’re being watched – even hallucinations. So I was all game for that. I mean, quick answer, right? We had an electrician come in to test. No luck, the entire house was within the low to normal range.”

“Shit,” Liz said, sitting back in her seat. “I was hoping that might solve everything.”

“Me too,” Michael affirmed.

“Well, I finally got around to taking down the wallpaper,” Laura said, pointedly, “And I was sorry that I did. Beneath it I found a pentagram and several inverted crosses painted on the walls. Not what you might picture, like all dripping paint, sloppily done. No, someone had taken time to paint those symbols on the wall.”

“No,” Liz said, obviously chilled.

Laura nodded meaningfully, “More strange things began to happen, quickly. I hung a few photos on the wall in the living room. When I walked by them one morning they had been turned upside down. Perfectly. Of course, I figured it was the twins, or their brother, but they all denied it. And along with all of this, Lilith became really negative, grumpy, snapping at her siblings. I chalked it up to our move, but she just wasn’t herself.

“Then this one day in the car I was having a conversation with Lilith and,” Laura stopped for a moment, seeming not to want to continue. She sighed heavily. “I was trying to get her to talk to me, to tell me what had been bothering her and when she turned to look at me, well, I mean it when I tell you that her irises were black. Black and huge. It was just for a moment, a split second that I saw it. But I know what I saw.” Laura crossed her arms and sat back in her chair.

“Wow.” Liz turned to Michael. “Did you notice anything strange about your daughter? Or see anything weird at the house?”

“Not at first,” Michael admitted. “I sleep like the dead, so whenever Lilith came upstairs in the middle of the night I never heard any of it. Laura told me about the things that happened during the day and of course I believed her but I took it with a grain of salt. Lilith is a teenage girl, and we were all under a lot of stress from the move. Then there was this Saturday. Laura took the younger kids to the movies but Lilith refused to go, so I just agreed to stay home with her. She holed up in the basement, as usual, and I sat on the couch to watch the game.

“I heard whispering, a whispered conversation. So I turned the volume down on the television and stood at the top of the basement stairs and listened. I thought maybe Lilith had a friend over. I was relieved for a minute, actually,” Michael said with a sad smile. “I thought maybe she’d snuck someone, even a boy for Christ’s sake, into the basement. I thought she might have finally made a friend.

“The honest-to-God’s truth of it is that I heard two distinct voices whispering in that basement. I gave it a minute then quietly walked down the steps. Sure, I would be glad that she’s making connections, but not connections with some horny fifteen year old boy, right? As I approached her door I heard someone whisper ‘shh, he’s coming.’ So I knocked on the door and pushed it open.

“Liz, my daughter was sitting at her desk with her back to the door. There was no one else in the room. No one. I searched. I asked her who she’d been speaking with and she just kept saying, ‘No one, daddy. There’s no one else here.’ I didn’t know what to think, but it made me lend a little more credence to what Laura had been telling me.”

“When I got home, they were both upstairs watching the game,” Laura said, placing a hand on her husband’s back.

“I made her come upstairs. I was, I don’t know, frightened. For her, for everyone. I mean, who the hell had she been talking to?” Michael demanded.

Laura rubbed his back. “We finally decided we needed to talk to the neighbors to find out if they knew anything about our home.”

“Wait, who did you buy the house from?” Liz asked.

“An older couple who were retiring to Florida, we never had any interaction with them. Our realtor and the lawyers handled everything.” Michael replied.

“Do you know anything else about them?”

“That’s where the neighbors come in,” Laura said. “We hadn’t met anyone yet, not one of them came to welcome us to the neighborhood. We live on a busy road, but still, I would have thought someone might stop by to welcome us. I made brownies and watched for a car to pull into the driveway next door, then went over and introduced myself. The woman, Barbara, was rather standoffish. But I assumed she was just a typical yankee and that I could kill her with kindness. I got her to invite me in for tea and eventually started asking her about our home’s previous owners. She got a little shifty when I brought up the subject, so I just said, ‘you know, we’ve had a couple issues and I just wonder if they ever mentioned any trouble with the house.’

“She said she didn’t want to spread gossip but told me that the people who lived in our house had a son who died as a teenager. He hung himself. In our basement.”

“Uh uh,” Liz said, shaking her head.

“Yes. And the kid had a reputation for wearing all black and being a loner and apparently there had been some kerfuffle over the neighborhood cats,” Laura continued angrily. “No one said a word about it when we were buying the house. His parents were able to put the house on the market without disclosing the death because apparently in Massachusetts unless a buyer specifically asks the seller, they have no obligation to disclose anything like that. And, please. Black clothes, a neighborhood cat, the Goddamn pentagrams. I mean, I don’t believe sellers have to disclose previous satanic worship on the property, but a head’s up would have been nice.” She slapped her free hand on the table.

“I am so sorry, that is just,” Liz stammered, “I don’t know, it is horrifying. What are you going to do?” She asked, dumbly.

“What haven’t we done?” Michael said, running a hand through his hair. “The past six months have been a revolving door of paranormal investigators, home inspectors, ministers. We have an application in at St. Paul’s, but until they agree to come document Lilith’s behavior, we have to wait to formally submit a request for an exorcism.”

“I didn’t know what to say. Did you have the house blessed?”

“Of course we did, but that fucking, hippie minister -” Michael spat.

“Michael! He did the best he could. Lilith was, well, upset that we had him come, and she gave him a hard time.”

“A doctor? Or psychiatrist?” Liz asked quietly.

“Two pediatricians. Two psychiatrists. We’re on our fourth therapist and I have an appointment with a Reiki healer next week,” Laura replied suddenly looking drained.

“Again, I am so so sorry,” Liz began, then she glanced to their right and saw that the day had darkened and a downpour had begun to pummel the windows.

She picked up the digital recorder to check the time. “Oh no!” She said. “I am so sorry, but I have to go get my girls. I’m due to pick them up at daycare in two minutes, I should have watched the time.” The couple stared at her. She rambled on, “I am really sorry for being so abrupt, I should have been paying closer attention. Thank you for telling me your story, it was -” she paused briefly as if searching for an appropriate word. She landed on, “Chilling.”

“It’s not just a story, we need help,” Laura pleaded. “Since you’re involved in the paranormal community and all, we thought that maybe you might have connections.”

“No, I am just -” Liz started to explain.

“We had an investigation team come in, but they left after only two nights and since they’ve been gone things have been-”

“Laura, wait, I’m just a writer. I’m not -”

“I convinced Michael to come here to meet with you.”

“There’s been a misunderstanding,” Liz said, firmly. “I am not any sort of expert and I am not at all plugged into the whole paranormal world or whatever. I am just looking to document area ghost stories for my blog.”

“She’s not going to fucking help us,” Michael spat. “No one can.” He pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “Laura, I’m going back to work, I’ll see you tonight.” Then he stomped over to the door and disappeared out into the storm.  

“Laura, I -”

“No,” she held up her hand, then gathered her bag from the floor, white knuckling it’s straps. “It’s not your fault. I just thought you might have an answer for us.”

“I’m a writer, I like ghost stories,” Liz began, then stopped herself and apologized again. “Laura, I am sorry. I have daughters and I can’t even imagine.”

“No, you can’t,” she said. “And I hope you never have to.”

 

 

Chapter 24

I should have told her that the ghost hunters recorded a disembodied voice saying her name, but somehow I couldn’t. When I realized she didn’t have any answers for us, that she was only there to record our story, I decided there was no reason to bring it up. She obviously didn’t have idea how to help us and I could tell that we’d frightened her. What good would it do to tell her some demon had whispered her name in my home. It was probably another one of the house’s tricks designed to get my hopes up only to have them dashed again.

More time passed. There were more specialists. The reiki healer claimed to have separated Lilith’s soul from the spirit attachment she’d developed in our home. A psychic told me she saw a dark cloud hovering just above my daughter’s head. The strangest thing was that Lilith grew more and more was more agreeable, pleasant eve. Though no one could claim that she’d made any friends at school her teachers began to report that she had started to interact with some of her classmates. She started eating more, brushed her hair, showered every morning. She answered us when we asked questions like “How was your day?” and “Would you like anymore pasta?” On the surface it appeared the worst of our nightmare had passed.

Lilith began acting like a normal fifteen going on sixteen year old girl. I ran out of things to report to her doctors. She wasn’t displaying concerning behavior anymore. Behavior aside, I knew in my heart that she wasn’t Lilith anymore. It was as if she were getting used to being a new person, or that the thing inside of her was getting the hang of acting like a teenager.

I was distraught. I began drinking a bottle of wine every night just so I could sleep. Michael agreed that Lilith still seemed off. An understatement if there ever was one. I began to resign myself to the idea that things would never change. That my daughter would be gone forever and this new girl, this new thing was the most we could hope for.

Some time later, out of the blue I got an email from Liz, the woman with the blog. She asked if she could call me. She had information and said it would be easier to talk over the phone than to try and explain through email. I gave her my number.

“I’ve thought about you and your family so much over the past few months,” she said. “How have you been?”

“Things have calmed down a bit,” I hedged.

“How is Lilith?” She asked.

I waited a long moment to answer. “She’s better, I mean it appears that she’s better, but the truth is, Lilith still isn’t herself.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Liz said and it sounded like she meant it. “Here’s the thing, I met one of the investigators from the ghost hunting team that came to your house.”

“Oh?” I said, holding my breath, not knowing where the conversation was headed.

“Yeah, it was a complete coincidence. Nocturnal Druid, Noc? She reached out to me because of the blog. She wanted to tell me about her experience investigating a home in Wellesley. Honestly we were well into the conversation before I even put two and two together.”

“We didn’t leave things on very good terms, I feel badly about that but I really don’t think they can help us, I-”

“No, no, she feels terrible about how you parted ways. But that’s not why I reached out to you. She played the EVP for me that she caught in your home.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah,” Liz blew out a breath. “I haven’t been able to get that voice out of my head.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t mention that to you when we spoke, I-”

“Oh, geez, no. There is no need to apologize. I don’t know why or how something in your house knew my name. Honestly, I don’t even think I want to know. But seeing Noc reminded me of your family and I might know someone who can help you now.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I didn’t know her back when I met you and your husband but she’s since become a close friend. Her name is Biddy. She used to be a paranormal investigator but now she works with the Catholic Church to evaluate cases like yours.”

“We’ve been trying to get in with the Catholic Church for months.”

“Well, she can move much faster than that. I already talked to her. She said if you were open to it, she could come over this week to do the initial evaluation and then she’ll get it right in front of the decision makers.”

 

***

 

And that brings us to where we are today. This afternoon, actually.

I sat next to Lilith on the couch flipping through a magazine while she watched a trashy reality show on the iPad and her siblings kicked around a soccer ball in the backyard. She said something in barely a whisper. I told her I didn’t catch what she’d said.

“I’m afraid to lose Jason,” she said in a low voice.

“What do you mean?” I asked, turning so I could get a look at her face.

She continued to stare at the screen in front of her. “At least now I’m not alone with her but if the priest sends him away, it’ll just be me.”

“Lilith, honey, what are you talking about?” I asked, terror rising within me.

My daughter turned and the look on her face broke my heart. It was Lilith. She looked like a terrified little girl for just one moment. And then the moment was over. She turned back to the screen propped on her knees.

“Lilith, the priest will help us, I promise.”

She didn’t reply.

“Lilith!”

My daughter sighed and turned again to face me. She was gone. I stared at the thing lurking within her. It stared back at me.

“Get out of my daughter,” I said, unable to keep my voice from shaking.

The thing inside Lilith watched me and smiled.

 

Epilogue

Lilith

I’m in between now. I’m here and I’m not. It’s safer to stay still. To hover somewhere beside her and to do as she says. If I cooperate, she says, this will be easier on everyone. Easier on my mother. All I need to do is exactly what she says when I am allowed to step forward. As long as I don’t let on that she is in here with me then we can stay with my family. She says she doesn’t want to take us away from them but if I don’t cooperate then she won’t have a choice.

I will cooperate. Because when I stay still beside her and do as I’m told I can still see them. I can still hear their voices. Once I stopped fighting I realized that it’s not so bad. She says there are more coming and if I cooperate she will protect my siblings. She says that if I continue to do as I’m told my little brother and sisters will fall under her domain and then no one can touch them. But if I try to subvert her in any way then we will leave my family and there will be no one to protect my siblings. I don’t want that do I?

Do I?

I stay still and I listen and there are times when I am allowed to step forward and I am given the chance to speak to my mother. I am allowed to ask my mom for a ride to school or a note for the attendance office. She says these mere moments are small tests and if I keep passing these little tests then she’ll know that she can trust me. I want her to know that I can be trusted. I will cooperate.

The minister my parents brought to the house hurt her and when he hurt her he hurt me. I know he didn’t mean to but it was excruciating and I will do anything to never have to feel that all-consuming burn. She says we won’t let that happen again. She says a new priest will come and when he does I will be pushed forward and that will protect us from the burning. That is why she is testing me now, to be sure I can be trusted to move forward without supervision.

She can trust me. And I will be granted moments with my mother.She will keep Jack and Carrie and Rosemary safe. Because there are others coming. Soon. She says I am lucky I was chosen for the first wave.

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

 

Chapter 21

The family left the house around ten o’clock. Laura looked exhausted, the younger children confused, Lilith haunted.

Noc waved to the family as they pulled out of the driveway then, fighting the urge to get into her own car and drive away, she gently closed the mudroom door. Her team was waiting for her in the dining room.

Typically on an investigation they would sleep in shifts. Taking turns leaving the haunted location for their homes to rest and wash up before continuing the investigation.

“We’ve decided that we should all stay here today,” Tyler announced as Noc slumped into a chair.

“What? Why?” Noc had been looking forward to a shower and a short break from the oppressive house. A chance to regroup.

Her husband and teammates exchanged looks.

“None of us want to miss any of the action, for one thing,” Maurice said.

Patricia said, “More importantly, we think it’s safer to stick together if we are going to continue the investigation.”

“Safety in numbers,” Tyler added.

Noc rubbed her eyes considering. “If we don’t all get some sleep we’ll be useless.”

The team nodded their heads in agreement. She realized they’d already made a plan.

“I talked to Michael and he said we were welcome to the twins bedroom-”

“Ah. The room where they are hearing the dead boy whisper jokes and stomp around in the attic above their heads.” Noc clarified sarcastically.

“No one would be in there alone, we’ll sleep in teams,” Patricia suggested.

Noc took in her teammates eager faces. She realized the decision had been made. “Fine, then I call first shift, but I’m not sleeping in that fucking creep show of a bedroom. I’ll take the couch.”

“Well, I for one am too wired to sleep for some reason,” Patricia said.

“Not me,” Maurice stifled a yawn. “But I can’t sleep in some chair down here. I don’t mind sleeping up there alone.”

“Alright then. I’m going to make a quick Starbucks run,” Tyler announced. “What does everyone want?”

Patricia ordered a black tea. Noc and Maurice said they’d grab something when they woke up in a couple hours. The team dispersed. Patricia sat at the dining room table, a legal pad in front of her as she cleared her mind for an automatic writing session. It was a practice she often used in haunted locations to help herself tune into the underlying vibrations around her. Patricia assured Noc she would take precautions. Noc was too tired to argue with her. She fell into a dead, dreamless sleep seconds after she closed her eyes.  

Upstairs, Maurice tossed and turned atop Rosemary’s floral comforter unable to fall asleep. He would be close to drifting off when a tap would sound above his head or on the wall next to him. As hard as he tried to ignore the tapping, it seemed the tapping would not be ignored. He finally gave up of the idea of sleep, took out his digital recorder and attempted an EVP session. The ghosts or whatever it was in the house were silent save for more of that incessant tapping.

After a time Maurice heard the mudroom door open and close downstairs and headed down to tell Tyler and Patricia what had been happening in the girl’s bedroom. He planned to suggest they bring up some equipment and investigate the attic.

He was looking down at his digital recorder when he came around the corner to the dining room. “Hey, man, there’s weird tapping going on upstairs. Let’s grab some equipment and-” He stopped mid-sentence when he looked up and saw the look of terror on Tyler’s face. Maurice followed his friend’s gaze and his eyes fell on Patricia.

She sat, her posture unnaturally straight, her chair pulled in so close to the table that it looked painful, pushing her stomach against the table’s edge in an unnatural way. Her hands rested on either side of a legal pad, clenched in tight fists. She was so still Maurice thought for a moment that she might be dead. From where he was standing Maurice could only see the back of her head. She looked to be staring straight ahead. Her chin slightly raised.

Maurice looked back up at Tyler, who was staring directly at Patricia’s face. A look of concern mixed with horror on his face.

“Ty, man, what is it?” Maurice asked, true fear gripping his body.

Tyler’s gaze broke away from Patricia for only a moment. “Her eyes,” he whispered. Then he took a tentative step forward. “Patricia?” He said softly. The woman didn’t stir at all. “Patricia?” He said again, with more force.

Maurice moved to stand next to Tyler, giving Patricia and the table a wide berth as he did so. Once at his friend’s side he saw why Tyler looked so terrified.

Patricia sat, unblinking, tears streaming down her face. Her face was a mask of sheer terror. Her jaw clenched as if she were enduring severe pain.

“Jesus Christ,” Maurice said. He pulled Patricia’s chair back from the table and took her clenched hands into his. “Patricia, wake up!” He said firmly. “Wake up, come on Patty, come on back.”

Patricia’s eyes, unfocused moved to Maurice’s face. She blinked several times then let out a scream like none of them had ever heard before. It was full of sadness and horror, pain and loss.

Maurice jumped back so quickly that he fell flat on his ass. Tyler backed himself into the wall, knocking down a framed family photo.

Noc stumbled into the room, obviously startled awake by the scream. “What happened? Patricia! What happened?” She said, taking in the scene.

Tyler, Maurice and Noc all stared at their teammate. Tears still flowed freely down her cheeks though she gave no other sign of crying, it was as though a faucet had been turned on behind her eyes. She wiped at them with her hands and breathed, “I don’t want to see anymore.”

 

******

 

Sleep was out of the question.  

Once Patricia had pulled herself together the ghost hunters filed into Maurice’s Suburban and drove to Maugus, a small diner nearby.

Once they were settled in a booth, coffee orders in place, Noc said, “I just want to go on record and say that I think we have plenty of information, hell proof to bring to the church at this point.”

“You can say that again,” Patricia said closing her eyes for a moment, they’d burned ever since she’d lost herself to the automatic writing.

“Are sure you’re alright?” Maurice asked her.

She nodded. “Yes, my eyes just feel really dry but it’s subsiding.”

“And you still have no idea what you saw?”

Patricia shook her head. “None. I was scribbling on my pad of paper and the next thing I knew the three of you were there looking completely freaked out.”

“Shit, you scared us,” Maurice said in a low voice. “It was as if you were somewhere else. I wish we knew what you saw.”

“Me too,” Patricia agreed.

“You said exactly what Lilith said last night. You said ‘I don’t want to see anymore,’” Noc pointed out.

“Well, then maybe I actually don’t want to know what I saw,” Patricia said with a small laugh.

Shaking his head, wishing he could erase the memory Maurice said, “The look on your face was terrifying.”

The team sat in silence, each member lost in their own thoughts.

“So, what are we going to do?” Noc asked finally, breaking the silence.

“Let’s get some food in us, and regroup,” Tyler suggested.

“I honestly don’t know if we should continue on in that house,” Noc admitted.

“We just had a bad scare this morning. Taking some time away from that house will help to clear our heads for tonight’s investigation.”

“Look, you guys know I don’t scare easily. I’m not saying this because I’m spooked. It’s that I’m afraid we’re going too far. I have this terrible feeling about that house. I’m afraid someone is going to get hurt,” Noc said.

“That’s what they want you to think,” Tyler said, dumping sugar into his coffee. “They can’t do a damn thing to us other than frighten us. If you have that bad of a feeling then it means we are on the right track. They’re trying to scare you off. They want us out because they know we’re the ones who will send them packing.”

“When you say ‘they’ you’re referring to demons, Ty. We can’t send them anywhere. We need a priest. Actually, probably need fucking boatload of priests to get rid of what’s in that house. Everyone in that family probably needs an exorcism. Our primary goal is to help this family, not to document evidence. We should focus our energy on getting these people help as quickly as possible.”

“We will,” Tyler said, his placating tone making Noc want to kick him in the shins. “But we committed to seventy-two hours and that’s what we should do. We should gather as much evidence as we can. Then we’ll get an exorcist in here ASAP.”

“What about attachments?” Noc asked.

“What do you mean?” Tyler replied.

“Well, I seriously doubt we’re just going to be able to leave everything behind us in that house at this point,” Noc said.

Tyler brushed the idea aside. “We’ll do a cleansing ceremony when we leave the property for the final time, we always do.”

Patricia spoke up. “Whatever is in that house is extremely powerful. We might want to schedule a blessing at St. John’s Monday morning. We don’t want to bring anything back to our own homes.”

“Excellent idea,” Tyler said as though that put an end to all concerns.

Though Maurice and Patricia seemed less convinced than they had before Patricia had channeled God-knows-what visions of horror, they were still firm in seeing the investigation through to the end. The ghost hunters ate breakfast and returned to the home despite Noc’s protests. Their defenses were down from lack of sleep. Dread at the thought of another night in that God-forsaken house weighed heavily on them all.

“We haven’t really investigated this part of the basement,” Maurice pointed out as he and Patricia ran an equipment check at basecamp.

Patricia shrugged and looked around the room, taking in the wood paneling. “I think that’s where one of the construction workers got trapped,” she said pointing to the door closing off the stairs that lead to the bulkhead.

“EVP session?” Maurice suggested.

They unlocked and opened the door revealing a short set of wooden steps. A set of rusty bulkhead doors loomed above.

“How long did they say the guy was trapped in here?” Maurice asked taking in the dank, spider webbed space.

“At least two hours I think,” Patricia replied.

“Geez,” Maurice breathed. He held out his digital recorder and said, “Is anyone here with us? Jason, is your spirit here?”

Patricia added, “Can you give us a sign of your presence?”

They waited in silence. Rewound the recording and listened.

“Nothing,” Maurice commented.

“Let’s try one more time,” Patricia said. Once the recorder was rolling she asked. “Is my old friend here? The girl I played with as a child?” She paused. “Do you have a message for me?” Maurice and Patricia fell silent. Allowing the recording device to run in hopes of catching a response. After a long moment, Maurice turned it off and played the recording.

To Patricia’s first question came the reply, “Yes.”

“Shit,” Maurice breathed after they’d re-listened to the recording of the disembodied voice of a little girl.

“I’m afraid to hear what comes next,” Patricia admitted.

The recording continued to play. “Do you have a message for me?” Patricia’s voice asked. The answer was chilling.

The same voice, this time with an edge of anger responded, “We almost had you.”

Maurice and Patricia looked at one another. Without a word Maurice closed and locked the door to the small space beneath the bulkhead.

Nighttime came too quickly and with it a sense of impending doom.

Noc was jumpy and nervous while Patricia felt completely drained from the day’s events. Tyler had crossed over from exhaustion to a feeling of manic excitement. Maurice wished they’d taken Noc’s idea of leaving the house seriously. He was washing his hands in the upstairs bathroom a little before five o’clock just as the sun was going down when the shower curtain twitched behind him. He caught the reflection in the mirror. He was immediately overcome with a level of fear he’d never known. An irrational fear that told him that if he pushed the curtain aside he would see the devil himself.  

He stood frozen, his mind racing, wondering if the horrible thing, whatever it was was about to leap out and kill him. He couldn’t find his voice. He slid along the wall as far as he could from the bathtub, grabbed the doorknob and yanked the heavy old wooden door open. Rushing out into the hallway he banged into Noc who had been checking the camera in Jack’s room.

“What is it?” She demanded.

He could only shake his head, still certain the thing was after him. 

Noc went into the bathroom, Maurice reached out a hand to stop her but it was too late.

She flipped on the light switch and glanced around, then flung the shower curtain aside, revealing nothing but an empty bathtub. She turned and took in the look of sheer terror on Maurice’s face. He was sweating and breathing heavily.

“What the fuck just happened?” She asked.

He shook his head, doing his best to calm down. Finally, he said, “I don’t know, I thought I saw something. But maybe this house is just getting to me.”

“Let’s go downstairs,” Noc suggested. “We need to make a plan before it gets dark. I don’t think any of us should be alone at any point tonight.”

It was decided that after dinner (take out from The Local) Tyler and Patricia would conduct an investigation of the second then first floors while Noc and Maurice manned command center and kept an eye on the camera footage.

After hearing of Maurice’s scare Patricia and Tyler started their investigation in the second floor bathroom. They conducted EVP and spirit box sessions and monitored the temperature of each room on the top floor, but found nothing abnormal. In the attic Patricia claimed she felt something touch her back, but nothing was caught on camera and whatever had touched her had left no mark.

Around nine-thirty Patricia and Tyler got their first real hit of the night as they attempted to make contact with the dark entity in the home. Noc and Maurice watched as their teammates listened back on the EVP session they’d just recorded. Noc had almost allowed herself to be lulled into thinking that the house may have gone silent for the night when her husband said, “Got it,” he fiddled with the recording device then held it up to the camera in the kitchen so that his teammates in the basement could hear the disembodied voice captured by the digital recorder.

Noc and Maurice leaned towards the computer screens in front of them.

In the recording Tyler said, “We would like to speak to the dark entity affecting the family in this home.”

A raspy voice, presumably the dark entity’s, replied, “Where is the scribe?”

“Oh, shit,” Maurice breathed.

Noc began, “The scribe, isn’t that what-”

“Lilith asked about it at the dinner table, yeah,” Maurice said quickly, wanting to hear what Tyler said next.

They watched as Tyler began to record again. “Who is the scribe?” He asked. He let the device record for a minute before he and Patricia listened back for a response. Again he held the recording device up to the camera so his teammates could hear the response.

The same raspy voice growled, “Elizabeth….. Sower.”

“Who the hell is Elizabeth Sower?” Noc said.

“What was the last name of the family who lived here before the Arnolds?” Maurice asked. “Could it be one of them?”

“No, that was uh, Butler,” Noc replied.

“Weird. Well, make a note of it anyway and we can ask Laura and Michael if it rings a bell,” Maurice said with a shrug.

The night wore on. Having no luck in capturing further evidence it was decided that Patricia and Tyler would sit upstairs quietly observing the house in hopes of witnessing the shadows Jack had described. Tyler was eager to capture evidence of the phenomenon. Maurice and Noc would remain in the basement continuing their watch over the camera feed.

At around eleven-thirty Noc and Maurice were studying the footage before them. Tyler sat on the couch in the living room and Noc was trying to determine if the shadow she’d seen over his left shoulder was a trick of the light or perhaps one of the shadow figures they’d been hoping to witness. She was pointing to the screen, describing what she’d seen to Maurice when they both heard Tyler call her name from the other side of the basement, the area near Lilith’s bedroom.

Maurice and Noc’s eyes met. “What the hell?” She breathed.

They sat, silently listening.

“Maybe there’s a delay in the feed,” Maurice suggested.

“We would have heard them come down here,” Noc whispered. She stood. Besides an electric lantern on the table in front of them and the light from the computer screens the basement was bathed in darkness. It was standard protocol to turn off all the house lights and conduct investigations in the dark. Noc grabbed a flashlight from one of the equipment bags and walked towards the stairs. She shined the light revealing no one, just as she’d expected.

“Is anyone there?” Maurice called from the table.

Noc shook her head. She continued past the stairs and shined the flashlight into the laundry room, again seeing nothing out of the ordinary. She walked down the hallway, her flashlight settling on Lilith’s door.

“Ty?” She called, her voice shaky. There was no response. With every part of her being she wanted to turn around and go back to the illusion of safety at the command center. To sit back down next to Maurice and continue watching the computer screen, a perceived safe distance from the darkness in that house. But she’d heard her husband’s voice call to her from that room. That terrible bedroom. Maybe he’s concentrating on something, she thought to herself. Or maybe he’s in trouble, maybe he needs my help.

She intended to say Tyler’s name out loud again, but it only came out as a whisper. She forced herself to reach out and push the door open and as she did something growled in her ear. It said, “He’s dead.”

Noc screamed and rushed into Lilith’s bedroom, away from the growling voice. She spun around so that her back wouldn’t be to the door and heard Maurice call to her. It felt as if he were miles away.

She opened her mouth to yell back to him when she heard a low and menacing growl coming from the hallway outside of Lilith’s bedroom. Noc screamed again and scrambled backwards, backing into the bed which caused her to fall down and drop the flashlight. It’s beam lit up the closet across from her. She thought she saw movement, perhaps a shadow.

She grabbed the flashlight and shined it at the doorway, somehow more frightened at whatever had growled at her than what could be lurking in the closet. Then Maurice’s flashlight came bouncing down the hallway.

“Maurice!” Noc screamed. “Be careful!” She gathered her courage and bound out of the bedroom, grabbing Maurice’s arm and dragging him up the stairs. The whole time screaming Tyler’s name.

Tyler met them at the top of the stairs. “What’s wrong? What happened?” He asked, grabbing his wife by the shoulders. She fell into his chest, overcome with relief at the sight of him and unable to stop shaking.

“What the fuck just happened?” Tyler demanded staring at Maurice over his wife’s shoulder.

Maurice put his hands up. “I honestly don’t know. We heard you call her name from the Lilith’s room. She went to investigate, and-”

“You let her go alone?” Tyler demanded.

Maurice let out a breath. “I’m sorry, man.”

Noc took a step back and extracted herself from Tyler’s grip. “It said you were dead,” she breathed, wiping tears from her face.

“No, honey. I’m right here, I’m fine.”

Patricia appeared suddenly by his side. “There is a fucking goat in the middle of the backyard. I just saw it out the window. It’s just standing there staring up at the house. ”

 

Chapter 22

They had all of their belongings packed when I got back to the house. I left Michael and the kids at the hotel, they were just about to go to the pool. Lilith had even shown interest, her mood had brightened a bit since we’d been at the hotel. I wasn’t about to bring her back to that house.

The psychiatrist and the so-called demonologist were sitting in his fucking car when I pulled into the driveway.

“We’ve seen enough,” Noc told me. “We won’t be staying another night.”

“But you said you would be here three full nights and that you would get rid of whatever is in this house,” I said, trying desperately not to sound as desperate as I felt. If they weren’t in the house then that would mean we’d have to come back a night early. If they weren’t in the house figuring out what was there then we would be left alone again with whatever was tormenting my family.

In a business-like tone, Noc’s husband said, “We feel that we have documented enough evidence and that we can begin to reach out to the appropriate people who can help you-”

“You’re passing us off on some other group?” I demanded, cutting him off.

“No, not at all,” Noc said, her voice irritatingly placating. “We aren’t equipped to remove anything from this house, we need to-”

“But you said you would take this case and now you’re leaving and asking someone else to help us?”

“We believe there is a demonic entity in your home,” Tyler said.

“No shit! That’s why you’re here, and you can’t even make it three days in my house! What am I going to tell my kids?”

“Laura, we are still going to help you. I am reaching out to a contact in the church today and-”

“The church won’t help us, we’ve tried!” I yelled.

I admit it, I was good and worked up and I wasn’t really listening to what they were trying to tell me. But the fact that these seasoned ghost hunters couldn’t make it more than one night alone in my home terrified me. I wondered what exactly they had seen, what evidence they’d gathered, what had pushed them to leave early. At the same time, I didn’t want to know any of those things. I just desperately wanted get back to that budget hotel, swim in the pool with my children, and try to lose myself in the fantasy that we were just on a vacation.

I slumped down into a chair at the dining room table. “What exactly did you see?” I asked.

The couple exchanged a knowing look that made me want to throw them out of my home right then.

Instead of answering the question Noc asked, “Have you or the kids seen a goat around the house at all? Maybe in the backyard?”

“Do any of your neighbors keep goats?” Tyler added.

“Goats?” I said, well actually screeched. “No. I haven’t seen any goats in the neighborhood. Is that what you saw? Goats?”

Again, my question was met with a question.

“Do you know anyone named Elizabeth Sower?”

“No, I don’t. Is that who you’re shoving me off on?”
“No, no, no,” Noc said, “It was a name we caught during an EVP session.”

“The scribe,” Tyler said.

“Scribe? Like Lilith said? What does that even mean?”

“We don’t know, that’s why we need to consult-”

I cut her off. I couldn’t help it. I was overcome with panic and disappointment that they were leaving. “Is that why your bailing on us. An EVP?”

“We are not bailing on you,” Tyler said in a firm voice.

His tone set me off even further. “If you’re leaving just leave.” I said, terrified that they would actually go. But they did, leaving a string of meaningless apologies and reassurances behind them.

I sat alone in the house for too long. It was completely silent, as if leaving me to soak in the reality of what had just happened. There were none of the usual taps or footsteps from adjoining rooms, no bits of whispers barely heard. Just silence. As though the house had no need to prove it’s little points any longer. It had won the round. It chased off the ghost hunters. Scared them right out the door.

It was several brutal, terrifying weeks later when I saw the posting on the community board in the library. I had the opportunity to reshelve books just once more, though the announcement had been made that they were hiring someone internally for the library aid position. The news hit me harder than I thought it would. I hadn’t realized how much I’d wanted that job.

I was leaving the library when a notice caught my eye. It was a simple half sheet of paper bordered by cute little black and white ClipArt ghosts.

I scanned the text. A blogger in Wellesley was collecting ghost stories. When I saw her name a shiver of recognition ran through me. Liz Sower. The blogger’s name was Elizabeth Sower. The scribe.

aa7f36ff27fedfb629be6fb8bc2bd9cbRegularly on the podcast I write short stories for listeners who support Ghosts in the Burbs at the $10 tier level on Patreon. These stories always appear at the end of the podcast episodes. Here’s a sample of the most recent set of stories. Listen to the podcast for more of these fun horror stories, and head over to Patreon for more information.

******

Welcome back to the Ghosts in the Burbs Patreon Donor stories. I’ll release these extra episodes bi-weekly until Lilith’s story is complete.

But before we get to this week’s story I’d like to offer a million thanks to Lexi, Amanda Perkins, Tara Bates, Ozge Bird, Ellen Casey, Rachel Burlage, Amy Hopper, Stephanie Mosier, Murphy Williams, Ewa MykyntynRuth Virkus, Kristen Jennings, Christie, Katlyn Callaghan, Jocelyn M. Thomas for their generous support on Patreon. Without it, this podcast wouldn’t exist. If you haven’t yet head over to check out Ghosts in the Burbs on Patreon where each patron tier carries with it a small token of my thanks. The following patrons, Karen Langhofer, Allison Smith, and Winter Amoura, chose the $10 per month tier so that I might create a spooky story just for them.

 

Theirs is a tale of revenge. You don’t want to mess with Wellesley moms…

 

******

 

Karen Langhofer and Winter Amoura lounged in Karen’s immaculate sun room. The plantation shutters allowed in plenty of light while still concealing the space from prying eyes.

“I’m still not sure about that lantern,” Karen said referring to the massive fixture above their heads.

Winter shrugged. She found the lighting rather predictable or at least too on-trend for her taste. The whole room in fact looked like it had walked out of Pinterest. She said, “I think it looks great,” then sipped her iced coffee. It was the only thing she intended to consume that day and she wanted to enjoy every last sip. “I do love those chairs, are they new?”

“No, I just had them recovered,” Karen replied in a bored voice.

The women both turned towards the doorway at the sound approaching footsteps. Moments later Allison Smith rushed into the room.

“Where have you been?” Karen hissed.

“I had a doubles match,” Allison replied, smoothing her perfect ponytail.

“Did you lock the door behind you?” Karen demanded.

“Of course.”

“I told you I have to be somewhere at eleven,” Karen snapped.

“Well, then let’s get to it,” Winter said, interrupting her friend’s bickering.

“Did everyone bring their assigned items?” Karen asked, arching an expertly shaped eyebrow despite the Botox fighting against it.

Winter adjusted her Gucci sunglasses to keep her long shiny hair back from her face, then pulled a small package from her Goyard tote. “I had such a hard time finding the red and black string,” she commented.

“And I have a hard time understanding why we have to listen to you complain about gathering ingredients every time we’re dealing with something that doesn’t involve you,” Karen sniped.

Allison dug in her Louis Vuitton Neverfull. “I need a smaller bag,” she whined. “Oh, here it is.” She pulled out a small vile of liquid and a plastic baggie and placed them on the table in front of her.

The women took a moment to be sure they had everything they needed. Then Karen struck a match and lit the red candle that sat on the custom white lacquered coffee table. She placed the lit candle in the center of a black bowl then carefully poured a glass of spring water into that bowl. The women held their arms out and held each other’s hands, forming a circle around the centerpiece.

Without a word they each focused their intention on the flame, quietling their minds and bringing themselves fully into the present moment.

After a short time the women let their hands drop to the table top. Karen asked, “Alright, what is this little fucker’s name again?”

“Benjamin Rupert Tussle, the third” Allison said.

Winter snorted.

“His mother will tell anyone who listens that it’s a ‘family name,’” Allison replied.

“Dumbass,” Karen breathed. “As if ‘the third’ didn’t spell that out for everyone.” She checked her notes and held out a hand. Allison carefully withdrew a single blond hair from her ziplock bag.

“I can’t forget to go to Roche Bros. today,” Winter said, “We’re out of garage bags.”

“Focus,” Karen said quietly. With the single blond hair resting in the palm of her hand she closed her eyes. Her friends followed suit.

She lead them in a brief chant, then commanded, “State the offense.”

Allison spoke. “Benjamin Rupert Tussle, age seven of Woodlawn Avenue in Wellesley, Massachusetts has offended my daughter and caused her emotional and physical pain.”

“Do you accuse him,” Winter intoned.

“I do,” Allison stated firmly. “Does the coven wish to intervene?”

“We do,” Winter and Karen replied as one.

Then Karen demanded, “List his crimes.”

“On Monday, February 4, 2019 the year of our master, in front of a group of classmates the boy told my daughter that she was pudgy and called her Miss Piggy. The following Wednesday, February 6th, he threw a snowball at the back of my daughter’s head and called her a ‘loser with no friends’ and this past Friday, February 22nd, the boy, with two friends in tow, approached my daughter (who was innocently swinging on the swing set) and asked her why she was such a weirdo.” Allison’s voice broke in telling the last offense and she took a deep breath to gather herself.

Karen held the boy’s hair between two fingers. She said, “We believe what is put out comes back to us threefold. Benjamin Rupert Tussle the third sent hurt to Allison’s daughter and he will get hurt in return.” She placed the hair into the flame and the three women watched it sizzle. Karen nodded to Winter.

Winter took the black and red string she’d had such a hard time locating and began to carefully wrap it around the candle three times. “We bind Benjamin Rupert Tussle from causing Allison’s daughter any more harm.”

Allison uncorked a vile of vinegar and poured it into the bowl then used an unsharpened number two pencil to stir the concoction.

Once complete the women held out their hands to each other again. Again they closed their eyes and lasered their focus. Opening her eyes, Karen said, “It is done.” Then the three women leaned forward and blew out the candle together.

Smiling, Allison said, “I feel better already.”

Their task complete, the coven dispersed.

Across town, Benjamin Rupert Tussle, the third climbed the ladder to the tipity-top of the playground structure. “Come on loser,” he called down to a classmate far below. “What are you a baby?” In a sing song voice he yelled, “Vincent is a cry baby!”

He should have been paying less attention to the cautious boy below and kept his eye on the ladder. For a screw on the top rung had rusted and was just about ready to give way.

Benjamin Rupert Tussle’s luck was about to run out.

 

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