ghosts in the burbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

I expressed that I had by wincing.

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

“I know, right?”

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

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

My mask hid my smile but I agreed to try. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened at the house?”

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

“What time was it?”

“It was late, after midnight.”

“Eek. Were you home alone?”

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

“Uh uh.”

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

“Erica! No!”

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

“Your next door neighbor was harassing you.”

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

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

“Satchel?”

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

“Did you open it?”

“Of course.”

And?”

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

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

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

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

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

I acknowledged that she had.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you do to try and communicate?”

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

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

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

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

“What did you find down there?”

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

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

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

“What was it? A ghost?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yikes.”

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

“Good for you,” I said, meaning it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Now who in the hell is this handsome gentleman?”

I knelt down to greet a goofy dog with the most adorable snaggletoothed smile I’d ever seen.
“This is Silo,” Steve laughed. “We’re watching him while the Briley’s are on vacation.”

“Lucky,” I gushed. “What kind of dog is he?”

“Uh, I think she said he’s a bulldog lab mix?” 

“I want one.”

“You have a problem,” Steve sat down in the Adirondack chair opposite mine. “How many do you have now anyway? Five?”

“No. Four and three of them are at death’s door. I don’t have a problem, I’m basically a saint.” 

“Chris is the saint,” Steve laughed. 

“No arguments there.” I gave Silo one more head scratch before sitting back in my own chair.

“Is it cool if we keep our masks on out here?” Steve asked. 

“Of course.”

“Thanks, we’re doing our best to be careful when we can. We pretty much haven’t left the house since March… obviously because of finances but also because of Diane’s health.”

“Oh no, what’s going on?”

He grimaced. “It’s nothing too serious. But her pregnancy with Robbie stressed her heart, so the doctor keeps a watch.”

“Shit, I didn’t know that. How is she feeling?”

“Fine mostly but she’s on a new medication that screws with her sleep, which is the last thing we need right now. There’s already enough to keep us up at night.” 

“Totally. Tell her I’m thinking of her and can’t wait to grab a coffee once we’re in between worldwide disasters.”

“I’ll tell her.” Silo nudged his leg and Steve scratched his head absently. “You guys okay?” 

I shrugged. “We’re good, just a little over the edge with the move. Hoping the girls will get some time in school before everything shuts down again. How’s it going for your kids?”

“Good. St. Paul’s is managing to keep them in school for now anyway.”

“Fingers crossed.”

“And toes.” 

“Ok, the boring kid talk’s out of the way. Let’s talk about you and your spoooooky vacation.”

Steve smiled. “I don’t even know if I believe what happened anymore. Diane just wants to put it behind us, but I can’t. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in ghosts, it’s just that I haven’t really thought about them since I was young, you know? Besides watching the occasional scary movie as an adult, the idea of anything supernatural just faded from my mind. But holy shit, it really is real.”

“It’s crazy, right?”

Steve studied me for a moment. “Can you really talk to them?”

I nodded.

He glanced around. “Is there anyone here now?”

I scrunched my nose. 

“Oh man, don’t tell me.” He patted his lap. “Up, Silo. You can protect me.” The dog happily obeyed and settled himself in. 

We were sitting in the shade of my front yard one early morning quite recently. The air was cool and crisp, the sky a grumble of gray clouds. Steve and his wife were old acquaintances through Chris’s work. We’d shared a handful of dinners and holiday party cocktails with them over the years. 

Steve’s brand of brokerage was office leasing, a corner of the real estate world utterly decimated by the current Covid-19 work-from-home era. He had a new stay at home beard and his formerly light brown hair was trending toward gray. He and Diane sent their children, Dana, now a fourth grader and Robbie in first grade, to a private Catholic school here in Wellesley. 

As luck would have it Chris had to catch up with Steve on a deal that linked them. Knowing my interest in such things Steve began telling Chris about the strange thing that had happened to them over the summer in a cabin on Lake Winnipesaukee. Chris directed him my way, though the little bit Steve relayed had Chris checking on our girls in the middle of the night. 

“So you know how it’s been,” Steve began, “Work went from full throttle to dead in the water in an instant. I know there are so many people that have it a lot worse than we do. We have savings, we’ll be fine. It’s not knowing how long this is going to last that’s so stressful. Sorry. I’m off track. 

“The point is that, like everyone else, we hadn’t been out of the house since March and then remote summer school nearly pushed Diane over the edge, so I knew we had to get out of town. We needed something to break the monotony of waking up with the same worries every morning. 

“In truth, I knew we’d wake up with the same worries, but at least we’d be in a different place. Afterall, wherever you go, there you are, right?

“So, a colleague of Diane’s mentioned his sister had just finished a rental cabin on Lake Winnipesaukee. The woman was panicked that she hadn’t been able to rent the place out all summer because of the virus. We gathered that she was struggling to cover the cabin’s mortgage on top of her own and, long story short, she gave us a really good deal. We went up the second to last weekend in August.

“Have you been up there?” He asked. 

“Believe it or not we were up there the week right after you guys. It was the best vacation we’ve had in I don’t even know how long.”

“It’s a gorgeous place,” he agreed. “It’s the perfect setting for either a relaxing vacation or a horror movie.”

“Turned out to be the latter?” I guessed. 

“You got it. The house was great, though. I think we were actually the first ones to stay there since it was updated. There was a photo album on the coffee table that documented the renovation and, I’ll tell ya, it wasn’t a pretty site before she did the work. It was basically a shack.

“The property was set pretty far back from route 25 at the end of an absurdly long shared driveway. A little remote, but that’s what we’d been hoping for. The place had a nice wraparound porch overlooking the lake and a private covered dock the kids could jump off. 

“We arrived late in the day so we didn’t have too much time to explore. But Dan and Robbie got in a quick swim and we grilled burgers. Diane and I had a drink by the lake while the kids skipped rocks. We just… we felt normal for the first time in months. No masks, no news, no Zoom calls. Just us, outside, on the lake, together. It was really nice.”

Steve smiled down at Silo snoring softly. “He’s a goof.”

I smiled, though my attention was pulled behind Steve and across the street where our neighbor’s kids were playing rather crazily. I silently wished them into their back yard. After saying hello to Steve, Chris brought our own girls to the playground so I could hear Steve’s story in peace. It was such a treat to be without the children for the morning that I felt irrationally resentful of the neighbor’s kids intruding upon the morning. 

 “We didn’t sleep very well that first night,” Steve went on, pulling my attention back. “Nothing too weird, just lots of knocks and groans that kept waking both of us up. Beside that, Diane was worried about the kids sneaking out and going down to the lake in the middle of the night. In the morning she told me she kept thinking she heard them on the porch but every time she checked… nothing. 

“The kids found a trail out behind the house. It went pretty far back into the woods then looped around back to the far side of the yard so we let them explore as long as they promised they wouldn’t leave the trail. 

“I think it was the third day we were there that they started talking about the neighborhood kids. That’s how they refer to their friends at home so we assumed there were other kids on vacation on the lake and they met up on the trail. 

“Anyhow, that third day things shifted. The first couple nights we’d all hung outside well after dark, but that night felt different. We all felt it. The kids didn’t want anything to do with hanging outside come dusk, not even on the porch. Once we were done grilling we all just went in and holed up in the house. There weren’t any shades or curtains on the windows on the first floor and it got really creepy at night. I felt like we were being watched. 

“I know that might sound like I’m trying to make it seem extra spooky, but that’s just what it felt like. Diane agreed. And with the way the kids were acting, they agreed too.

“Then one morning we were down at the lake and the kids were jumping off the dock and Robbie started waving towards the woods. He yelled something like, ‘We can’t play now. Maybe later.’ I looked over and there wasn’t anyone there. ‘Who you talking to, buddy?’ I asked him. He looked at me and then back to the woods but he didn’t say anything. He just jumped back into the water. I didn’t think much of it until I caught Dana watching the whole interaction. She looked, well, scared. 

“That afternoon I had a Zoom call for work with a couple of the guys on my team so Diane took the kids out on the trail behind the house. I was set up at the kitchen table and the call had just started when I heard the back door open. I assumed one of the kids came back to use the bathroom. I was staring at the screen when I saw…” Steve trailed off. He rubbed his face with both hands and shook his head. 

“There was a little girl. I watched her on the screen walk through the kitchen and right up behind me. I honestly thought it was one of the kids’ new friends. I actually smiled and held up a finger to let her know I’d be with her in a minute because I was in the middle of explaining something about a deal. But as soon as I was done I turned around there was no one there. I checked the house, no little girl. The thing that really shook me was that the back door was locked. Dead bolted actually.”

“Oh no. Did any of the people see her-”

“On the Zoom?” Steve finished. “No.”

“Shivers. As if we needed another reason to hate Zoom calls.”

“So true,” he laughed. “I convinced myself that it was a weird fluke, though. What else was I going to do? I didn’t tell Diane when they got back from their woods walk, but then that night she went sleepwalking.”

“Uh uh.”

“Yeah. She woke me up in the middle of the night in an absolute panic. She said she’d been dreaming that there was a little girl in our room. That the girl told her she had to show her something in the woods. In the dream the girl asked her to come with her. She followed her out of the house back to the trail. And that’s where she woke up.”

“Oh my God, no.”

“Yeah. She cut her foot pretty badly on a rock and it woke her up. She’d made it pretty deep back into those woods and apparently it took her forever to limp back to the house. She said it felt like she was being watched the whole way back.” 

“Was it the same girl?”

“You know it. At least when Diane told me about the girl in her dream the description matched the little girl I saw behind me on the Zoom call.”

I let out a low whistle. “So you packed up and left the house.” 

Steve chuckled. “I am very sorry to say that we did not. Oh man, saying it all out loud sounds like we were the dummies in a bad horror movie. But you know how crazy things have been. Everyone’s been having vivid weird dreams during this whole quarantine business began and we felt like maybe we were just decompressing from the stress of the past few months.”

“I do kind of get that, though if I come-to in the woods in the middle of the night I’m packing it in there and then. But yeah, I have been having wicked vivid dreams for months,” I admitted. “Last night a group of these very hip, sorta fashionable killers for hire were chasing me through a mall and then-“ I stopped myself.  “Sorry. That’s boring. Go on.”

“No, I’ve had some doozies over the past couple of months, too. Still, we should have left that cabin, but we didn’t. We chalked it up to stress-“

“Even though it was the same little girl.”

“Again, I know we sound like dumb dumbs, but yes. Even though it appeared we’d encountered the same little girl, we didn’t leave. We did, however, line up empty White Claw cans in front of the kids’ doors after they went to bed so we’d be sure to hear if they tried to leave their rooms in the middle of the night.”

“Brilliant.”

“The idea of them out in those woods at night, let alone down by the water.” He shuddered. 

“So you just pressed on with your vacation.” 

“We did. The morning after Diane’s sleepwalking episode, was a rainy one. I was cleaning up my email. The kids were playing with their Legos in the sunroom and I was at the kitchen table so I could hear snippets of their conversation. At least… well I know for a fact that I heard two voices talking back and forth. I was only half listening but then something stood out. I heard Robbie say something about “drowning children” and that caught my attention. I stopped what I was doing and listened. 

“He said something like, “Breathing in the water feels like tiny knives through your chest but then everything will go very still and you can see and you can hear but you can’t feel anything. Then you’ll begin to know things.” 

I stood up to go look in on them but movement outside the window caught my eye. It was Diane and Dana. They were wheeling the bikes into the garage to get them out of the rain. I hadn’t heard them go out so I just assumed they were inside with us.

I went into the sunroom and found Robbie in there all alone with his Legos. When he looked up and saw me standing there he looked scared.

“‘Who were you talking to?’ I asked. His eyes moved to the doorway and he didn’t speak for a minute. ‘Robert, I asked you a question.’ He looked back at me and said, ‘Nobody, daddy. It was just pretend.

“‘Where did you hear about drowning?’ I asked, and then he really looked frightened. But then Diane and Dana walked in so he didn’t answer. I told Diane about it later on and she sort of dismissed it saying, ‘You know how weird kids can be.’ I let it go but it was such a disturbing thing for him to be talking about while he was playing. And so specific.

“That night I was tucked in reading and Diane was washing her face and getting ready for bed. I must have started to doze off because I half woke up when I felt Diane get into bed beside me and crawl under the covers and everything. I fell back to sleep and then the next thing I know I hear Diane scream. 

“The most disorienting thing was that from the sound I could tell she was downstairs. I looked over and the blanket was pulled up on her side of the bed perfectly, like she hadn’t been there at all. I ran to the hallway and found her at the bottom of the stairs heading up to me. 

“‘There’s someone outside,’ she said. Well, whispered really. Somehow her screaming hadn’t woken up the kids. We checked outside, all around the house. There wasn’t anyone there. It wouldn’t make sense for there to be anyways, all the way down that dirt road at night. 

“But Diane insisted that she saw someone standing in the back yard right in front of the trail into the woods. She’d been checking all the doors before bed to make sure they were locked and something triggered the back flood lights so she went to look, thinking it was a moose or deer or something. 

“But it was a kid, a little girl. The little girl. We looked and looked but didn’t find anything or anyone. We went up to bed, fully on edge and I only thought to ask her why she’d gotten back out of bed to check when we were laying down. 

“She hadn’t. She hadn’t gotten in bed at all. She’d gone down to check the doors one more time before turning in. I couldn’t convinced myself that I’d been dreaming. I know I felt someone climb into that bed beside me. And it wasn’t my wife. 

“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We let the kids go for one more swim the next morning, packed up and went home. They didn’t protest at all, that was the clincher for me. It was time to go and we all knew it.”

“Geez, Steve, that is one nightmare of a vacation. Definitely beats the New Years Eve I found lice in the girls hair and we had to pack up and leave a ski resort.”

Steve gave an exaggerated shiver. “No thanks. I’d take the ghost girl over that anyday.”

“I wonder what she wanted.”

He shrugged. “Who knows, maybe she lived there years ago. It bothers me though, thinking about her. I’m still not sleeping well. The whole experience left me with nightmares. I wake up at least twice a night thinking I hear that little girl telling me to ‘wake up.’”

“Oh no.”

“I dream about her a lot too.”

“What are the dreams about?”

“Oh nothing, talking about dreams is boring, right?” He said with a nervous laugh.

“Not always.”

“Hm. Well, I dream about following her down that trail through the woods. She always says, ‘We’re almost there. You’ll find us.’”

“Is that it?” I asked, though my eyes shifted across the street, my attention again pulled by the neighbor kids. 

Steve shook his head. “Sometimes. But the worst nights are the ones I dream of the hole in the ground.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

“Yeah, it looks like it might have been a sinkhole. She stands there and points to it and says, ‘We promised him we wouldn’t tell. We’ll say it was an accident.’” Steve stared at the dog as though he’s not really seeing him. “And then I wake up.” 

A car sped by and one of the children began crossing the street towards us. 

“What does she look like?”

“The little girl? Well, she has dark skin and black hair. She’s probably about six or seven. Cute.”

The six or seven year old little girl had made it across the street and was approaching us. The neighbor kids didn’t appear to notice that she’d walked out of their yard and away from their game.   

Steve turned his head and looked in the direction I was staring. “Cute kids, are your girls friends with them?”

When he turned back I met his eyes. “Remember when you asked me if there were any ghosts around?”

His expression changed from pleasant confusion to realization and his face fell. 

“Can you see me?” The little girl with black hair asked. 

I nodded. 

“You can hear me too?”

“I can.”

“He keeps shutting me out,” she complained. 

“He doesn’t know he has the ability to talk to you yet,” I explained to her. 

“Tell him.”

“You’re speaking to her aren’t you?” Steve asked. 

I pressed my lips together. 

“What is she saying?”

“This isn’t the first time this has happened to you is it?” I asked.

He rubbed his eyes. “It’s like I was saying, when I was younger… I mean, I grew out of it.”

“But you didn’t,” I said gently. 

“Tell him we need to go back to the lake. We’ve waited long enough, the boys and I. We need to be brought up.”

Let’s head way back in time. Before we met the three witches of Wellesley, before the knocking in my home, long before I was hearing voices and seeing ghosts. What follows is one of the earliest interviews I conducted and I’ve held it back because the interviewee asked me to do so – until recently. 

I bumped into her when I was out walking a couple of our dogs this week. 

Pulling a handkerchief up over her mouth and nose she said, “You’re moving again? I can’t believe it!”

We caught up and compared notes over our kids’ remote school experiences, agreeing that the teachers were knocking it out of the park and our kids had adjusted as well as could be expected though we were hanging on by a thread.

“Hey, do you still have the recording of that interview I did with you?”

I did have it. 

“You should publish it. Especially now. I’m seeing way too many ads on social media trying to rope people into businesses like Summer Figure, using the whole ‘work from home’ hook. Granted I used the money I made selling that crap to leave Michael. But I left that company when I found out how awful it was for the majority of women who sign on.”

“You guys split up?”

Her eyes smiled. “Officially divorced as of about three weeks ago.”  

“That’s great!” I enthused, then realized I sounded too happy. “I mean, sorry to hear that.”

“It’s the best decision I ever made. Anyway, release that interview if you need content. It feels like a different life, maybe it would help someone from spinning their wheels as long as I did. Just change my name, okay?”

Okay.

But it didn’t feel that simple. My anxiety began to spike when I thought back to the moment in time in which I interviewed Rachel Dalton. Back then the kids were little, I had a job as a part-time librarian, a relatively new group of friends and who I did fun things like dinner parties and girl’s nights and concerts – all of which usually centered around drinking or shopping or talking about dieting. In truth, I was sort of regressing. Dipping into the toolbox I’d built for myself in high school and running myself ragged to “have fun!” And making sure everyone around me was having fun! Which meant shopping and spending and buying and vacationing to ensure that other people approved of the way I was “having fun!”  

Fuuuck. It’s exhausting to even type it out.

Truth was I was a bundle of anxious nerves and I was probably incredibly annoying to be around, A) because I was so desperately needy to the point of utter co-dependance and B) because I drank excessively to calm myself the fuck down and that never worked so I was usually hung over and cranky or wasted and a loud mess. Oof. It’s hard to remember that time without serious twinges of embarrassment and regret. 

I’ve actually written the good part of a book called The Wine Lies about that time in my life. As in “here are ten lies The Wine whispers in your ear that are difficult to spot but easy to fall for.” Who knows if it will ever see the light of day but it helped me to process everything. 

Anyway, I’m rambling because to go back into that time, that flailing scramble, that anxiety soaked day-to-day brings up a lot of stuff for me. 

But, go back we must so you will understand the entirety of Rachel’s story. 

So… Rachel. The first time I met her was at a cocktail party at her house that involved plenty of cocktails but wasn’t really a party, it was more of a ‘get drunk and buy stuff from my direct sales business. Rachel was a #bossmom. I was invited to the evening through a friend who sorta knew her through Wellesley Mothers Forum and thought we should go for the free drinks and the fact that there would be a raffle for a pair of what sounded to me like knock-off Spanks. 

So I pulled on my name brand Spanks, downed an Atkins Shake (because I was deep into disordered eating at that point in my life and swimming in a social scene that normalized it), chased the chemical wash down with half a glass of Chardonnay and left the kids with Chris, all fuzzy warm with the knowledge that I’d have a sober ride home from a friend who had to work the next day.

We arrived at a mansion styled as a Cape House complete with window lined cupolas, whale topped weather vanes, and weathered wood shingles. It was the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week and the landscapers had outdone themselves, strategically placing autumnal gatherings of cornstalks, pumpkins and other such stuff along the walk to the front door. The porch was a freaking riot of white pumpkins. A fall-themed Pinterest board come to life. 

Anyhow, we mingled and ooh’d and ahh’d over the home’s interior design though secretly I felt like it looked like every other massive home I’d seen in the neighborhood. The furniture and art were beautiful, but like it’s Pinterest board exterior, the inside looked a little too staged. Anyone could have lived there, the home’s inhabitants’ personalities were nowhere to be found. I spotted the hostess several times, her head thrown back in laughter or her brow furrowed in concentration, arms crossed, head nodding along in an aggressive active listening stance. Finally the time came for the real reason for the party. 

Ting, Ting, Ting. “Ladies!” Rachel sang out and she tapped a fork against her goblet of red wine. “Ladies! Can I please ask you hotties to gather around in the den. I won’t take more than a moment of your time to tell you about my little entrepreneurial debut.”

The chatter died down a smidge.

Ting-Ting-Ting-Ting-Ting. “Ladies! It won’t be more than a moment! I am so excited to share the products and the opportunity with you!” 

Those of us who’d quieted down had tight smiles plastered on our faces, feeling empathic embarrassment for our hostess. 

A bark of laughter followed by titters came from the kitchen island. 

“Kelly Mosler,” Rachel boomed. “Why don’t you lead the charge.” 

The woman who caused the ruckus while ignoring the hostess’s requests blushed and led the way into the den, the rest of us giggling along behind her. 

Women settled into couches and chairs and sat on the floor listening as our hostess extolled the virtues of Summer Figure, a “wellness system” that combined a “breakthrough” protein powder meal replacement regime with a waist tightening undergarment “proven to melt off stubborn baby weight and improve posture.” Something was mentioned about improved circulation and adrenal glands too. I don’t know, I was pretty tipsy by that point. True to her word Rachel kept it short and sweet and left us wanting more. I bought the diamond level package and was about to sign on to be a Junior Team Member when Anne, who’d driven me to the party, gently put a hand on my arm and said, “Liz, no.”

I spoke to Rachel for a while that evening. She was quite interested in the interviews I’d just begun and even asked if she could buy an ad spot on the blog. I gave her my email and she promised to get in touch.

Nothing of note happened that night. It was an evening stored in a file of many similar ones in my past when a lot of money was spent on useless shit, a ton of wine was guzzled to drown out ever present anxiety, and surface relationships were forged that went only as deep as the next good time.   

But I know I made a connection with Rachel that night. Even if it was a shallow one in which she saw me as a person who could advertise her powders and corsets. By the way, that powder tasted fine enough but made me so bloated I needed the damn “waist tightening garment” just to fit into my jeans until I stopped drinking the stuff. 

At any rate I did speak with Rachel for a good amount of time and we exchanged emails. 

That’s why it was so odd when, about a week later I received this message:

Hello Liz,

Our mutual friend, [name omitted], shared your email address with me and suggested that I get in touch with you regarding a situation I am currently facing. I don’t want to go into depth over email, but if I might treat you to a cup of coffee at Starbucks some morning this week I would be endlessly appreciative. Any advice you could offer would be so appreciated. Thank you in advance for your time. Looking forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely, 

Rachel Dalton

Weird, right? At first I assumed she’d just forgotten meeting me, that perhaps she’d had a bit too much to drink at her party, but then… I’d ordered her products, surely she would have recognized my name from her customer list? My inbox had been inundated with Summer Figure emails morning and night since I’d attended that party. Regardless, I was intrigued. 

So what exactly was this “out of the ordinary situation” she needed my advice about? As I mentioned this was very early on in my whole paranormal journey. Not only did I have no idea what I was getting myself into, I had no business offering anyone advice. A) Because drinking close to a bottle of wine a night does not a good advice giver make and B) I wasn’t taking this whole supernatural stuff seriously yet. I was still in looky-loo mode, talking to people about their very real problems as if I were watching a reality television show. 

Despite my dangerous ignorance, I was excited for the chance to interview Rachel. I texted my friend Anne, with whom I’d attended the cocktail party, and asked for intel. The gist of her reply was that Rachel ran hot or cold and she made me swear I wouldn’t agree to be a part of Rachel’s “downline.” She also said she’d thrown out all of the protein powder she bought because it made her break out.  

And so I met up with Rachel on a quintessential chilly New England morning just after Thanksgiving at Quebrada. I bought myself a slice of pumpkin bread and a large cup of hazelnut coffee and sat at a table near the back of the cafe waiting for Rachel who turned up fifteen minutes late. 

I barely recognized her as she pushed through the door a frazzled, anxious, apologetic mess. Absolutely nothing like the grab-privileged-life-by-the-balls woman I’d met just a week earlier.  

“Hi? Liz?” She rushed over to me and I nodded and waved.

“Oh my God, oh my God! I am so so so so sorry.” Rachel dragged the chair out across from me and gently took a seat as if she were in pain. “I got stuck in a conversation with my youngest son’s teacher..”

“It’s really no problem,” I assured her. “I was happy to sit here and enjoy my coffee.”

“Oh shoot! I’m sorry, I was supposed to treat you to coffee! Ugh. We’re just worried that Jack isn’t hitting all of his milestones. He’s three and he’s identifying only about seventy-five percent of his letters, I just don’t know…”

“That’s pretty outstanding for pre-K,” I offered, feeling a smidge triggered as my own three and a half year old had only recently begun speaking, and even then it was in catch all terms like “ka-duh” which had to be interpreted on a case by case basis.

Rachel shrugged and shook her head. “We just don’t want him falling behind before he’s even hit kindergarten, you know?”

“Sure. You want to grab a coffee before we talk?”

“Oh I couldn’t make you wait any longer,” she insisted.

“I have to pee anyways,” I said. “Go grab a drink, I’ll meet you back here.”

“Oh my God, thank you. I only had half a cup before running out of the house and I feel like a zombie.”

Back at the table Rachel shoved a plate of miniature blueberry scones towards me, “Help yourself!”

As I did she burst out with a litany of apologies again over being late that morphed into a confession that she was so relieved that I seemed to be “normal.” Her friend told her about me and “totally only had positive things to say about me and everything” but she still worried that I’d be weird.

“Umm-” I said stalling, absolutely shocked that she truly had zero memory of talking to me at her house. 

“I mean, no offence,” she prattled on, “I’m sorry. I’m just nervous. And relieved! Relieved that you seem so nice.”

 I shifted uncomfortably. I had to mention meeting her, if I didn’t all the weirdness would crash back onto me for not saying something if it ever came out that not only had I been to her house and that I’d ordered her crappy protein powder stuff. 

“So, the thing is, we’ve already met.”

Rachel froze. Like froze froze. A look of sheer panic on her face. And then her eyes began to fill with tears. 

“It is no big deal at all!” I assured ehr quickly. “You had so many people at your house for that awesome cocktail party. I just didn’t want it to be awkward if you realized later or, whatever, that we’d met!” 

She wiped at her eyes quickly. “Which party?”

“Uh, the one you had at your house last week where you told us about your Summer Body business.”

“Did I sell you that crap?” Her voice was shrill. 

I nodded.

Rachel covered her face with her hands. Her voice muffled, she wailed, “Oh my God, oh my God. This had grown so out of control. What am I going to do?” 

I glanced around us to see if anyone was watching her meltdown. They were.

“I’m guessing this has something to do with why you asked me to meet you here?”

She scrubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands and sniffled. “It has everything to do with why I asked you to meet me.” 

“Okay…”

“I went to this weekend retreat in New Hampshire. I was… I don’t know what I was trying to do. I guess I just wanted some sort of direction, you know? Like, I love my children but I just needed something other than momming in my life, right?”

“I totally get that,” I assured her.

“So I saw this flyer at my pilates studio for an ‘empowerment weekend’ last Spring and I figured that it might be exactly what I was looking for. It was a chance to totally detox from everything – the booze, the cell phone, the carbs – and get realigned. I was hoping for some kind of revelation, I think. Like a sign that said, ‘This, this is the thing you are meant to be doing.’

“I am totally grateful for everything in my life, I don’t know… I just wanted something meaningful but I didn’t know what it was supposed to be.”

I nodded in understanding. 

“I know better than to do things like that. After what happened at yoga… it’s just that I know I can’t get too focused or I lose control of it. So I signed up for the retreat weekend and-”

“Wait, why can’t you do yoga?”

“Oh, yeah… so, like I have this thing? Where I’m sort of really, like powerful when I put all of my focus on something.”

I waited for her to elaborate. Instead she broke off a piece of scone and popped it into her mouth. 

“Powerful how?” I prompted. 

She smiled. “My grandmother was really witchy, you know? At least that’s what we called what she could do. Like she could predict the weather, or knew when something big was going to happen. Oof, and God help you if you ever got on her bad side. One time I took gum from her purse without asking and that night I broke out with a case of hives like you wouldn’t believe. 

“Anyhow, I sort of inherited her way of being able to, like affect things.” 

“That is unbelievable, how cool. But what happened when you did yoga?”

Rachel crossed her arms. “It was completely unintentional, honestly. I’d only taken a few classes and I hadn’t had any issues, but after a few sessions I got really good at totally zoning out during Savasana and when I’m really in a state like that I tend to affect the people around me. It’s like… well it’s like my mood or whatever spreads out, like I’m contagious. The good thing was that everyone else in the class ended up in a pure state of relaxation for like three hours before we all came out of it. But the bad thing was that, you know, people had things to do. They couldn’t just zone for three hours. They had to like, pick up their kids or get back to work after class.”

Stunned, I asked, “How do you know you made that happen?”
She shrugged again. “Stuff like that just happens to me. Which is why I should have known better than to go to the retreat, but I swear, I thought it would just be like clean eating and journaling. I had no idea we’d be doing intention setting or visualization or anything.”

“Uh oh.” 

“Yeah, and since then things have gotten really… weird.” She took a sip of her coffee. “That’s why I reached out. I need help reeling this ability or whatever back in. What do you think I should do.”

“Did that yoga relaxation thing happen again at the retreat?”

“No, no. I don’t do yoga anymore. At the retreat I sort of created an alternate me. I mean not another me, really, but there’s a part of me that I can’t control. And I need to know how to control it because it’s taking over everything. I am literally blacking out and doing things that I have zero memory of and if I don’t find a way to stop it people are going to start noticing.”

“What the hell happened at that retreat?”

Rachel’s shoulders slumped miserably. “Okay. So the retreat was held in this breathtaking little camp on a lake… ugh, for the life of me I can’t remember what the hell the name of the place was. That’s another thing. I can’t remember anything lately. Anyway, there were about twenty women there. Three of them were our leadership counselors and the whole theme of the weekend was creating your ideal self. We did all these exercises and group discussions The whole first day was designed to really get down to the way your life wasn’t working, know what I mean? Like down to the amount of time you were spending on social media, or if you needed to change your hair color. They wanted you to list every single thing you were unhappy with in your life, even the littlest things that irked you and then we were supposed to think about what the opposite of those shitty things were.”

“Sounds nice. Sorta like KonMari-ing your life.”

“Yeah totally. But it wasn’t just surface stuff. Shit I’m not explaining myself well.”

“What were some of the things you wanted to change?” I asked to keep her on track. 

“I wanted more than the groundhog day of getting the kids up and fed and dropped off and picked up and entertained… more than just worrying about my weight and my next hair appointment and whether my Botox needed to be retouched. I wanted more.”

“What did you do before you had kids?” I asked. 

“I was a business manager for a designer for a while and then, I don’t know, just some stuff here and there, but nothing meaningful. Back then it was like I was just killing time until I got married and had kids and then I went and got married and had kids and, like oh my God I love them so so so much and I adore being a mom, but it’s just…” She scrunched her eyes closed. “I must sound like a monster.”

“Not at all. I one hundred percent get what you’re saying. You needed something fulfilling outside of motherhood.”

“Oh my God, exactly. Yes! Thank you! Something fulfilling outside of motherhood,” she repeated trying it on for herself. “That’s just what I should say to Michael. I can’t make him understand. He jst all, ‘What’s the problem? You’ve got a nanny so you can work out and drink coffee all day.” She laughed humorlessly. 

“Anyway, what was I saying about the retreat? Oh yeah. So the first day was a disassembling of our lives. We tried to think of all the little bits and bots that make up our days and why we either wanted to keep them or kick ‘em to the curb.

“Then the second day we began by deleting those things from our consciousness that no longer served us and in the afternoon we affirmed everything we believed would lead us to our best lives.”

“Geez, how did you manage to do that?” I asked, thinking of the many many bits and bots I’d like to can. 

“Meditation and then a couple hours of visualization.”

“Hours?”

“Uh huh, the entire afternoon was spent in a silent visualization session.” 

“Holy hell I would lose my mind.” 

Rachel considered. “It was actually nice. All that uninterrupted quiet and imagining what could be.” 

“Can I ask what you visualized?” 

She smiled sadly. “I was really smart once. I was a finance and entrepreneurship double major and I graduated with honors. Ha. Actually, I was Michael’s accounting tutor, that’s how we met. He wouldn’t have graduated without me.

“Now he’s got this amazing career and I’m taking pilates classes and driving the kids to tumbling.” She paused. “That’s not true. I don’t even drive them, the nanny does.”

“None of that disappeared,” I said, gently. “You’re still smart, you still have that degree. And you might not remember doing it, but you were kicking ass pretty hard at that cocktail party, every single person there bought something from you.”

Rachel flushed in embarrassment. “Oh my God, I can’t believe I did that.”

“I’m telling you, everyone seemed into it. I was pretty tipsy but you almost had me convinced to join your team. Be grateful I didn’t. I was a history major in college and I failed math 101 twice.”

She laughed. “God. If I just hadn’t gone to that retreat none of this would have happened.”

“So what exactly did happen?”

“I visualized a life where I was free. To do what I wanted and spend what I wanted and make my own decisions.” She caught the look of confusion on my face. “I know I look like I have all of that, but it’s sort of an illusion. Like, the way I think of it is that Michael is rich, the boys and I are like his employees. I’m middle management, so I get to make decisions for them but not much else. He only gives me money for what he deems essential. Of course, he’s super generous, he gives me way more than I need for groceries and house bills, he’s not restrictive. Like, he considers it essential that I don’t ‘let myself go,’ so any and every exercise class, spa treatment, shopping trip for clothes or bags is game. I need to look good, you know? I’m a reflection of him, of his success.  

“But other stuff that I’ve wanted to do in the past, he just won’t greenlight. Like there was this course I wanted to take over at Babson and… ugh, it got ugly. I finally gave up.

“Whatever. What I think happened at that empowerment weekend released a part of my personality and then it took on a mind of its own. At first I would find myself in the middle of doing things that I didn’t remember starting. Like, I’d realize I was scrolling through business opportunities for stay at home moms. It was like, one minute I was on the Nordstrom site filling my cart and the next thing I know I’m on some woman’s blog.

“Then little chunks of time got fuzzy and I started getting emails from people I didn’t have any recollection of reaching out to. They were filled with responses to a laundry list of questions about their home-based businesses. Then one day I opened my email to a flurry of these Congratulations messages about becoming the newest member of the Summer Figure Team. After I read through them it did seem like something I could do, you know? I have a really big network.

“But when I realized I’d spent fifteen hundred dollars to become a bronze level #bossmom I literally had a panic attack. Where the hell did I come up with the money? I have a separate account from Michael and he transfers money into it every month for the expenses I outline for him. I spiraled out when I saw how much it cost to join this business. Like, did I spend the grocery money? How was I going to pay my car bill? 

“But when I checked my account I found that somehow I was able to cover all the bills. I went back through the statement and saw that I had cancelled a bunch of subscriptions and memberships and I’m pretty sure I skimped on groceries a couple weeks because it didn’t appear that I had a shortfall anywhere. 

“I managed to game the system.” Rachel smiled. “I was sort of impressed with myself, even though it completely freaked me out. But then time started to go from a little fuzzy here and there to completely gone. I lost hours. But somehow no one seemed to even notice. It was like everyone just went along with whatever the hell I was doing. The part of me that broke off was managing my life and I just went dark.

“It’s really scary. When I wake back up to my life I don’t remember anything. Not the time with the kids, not all the sales that I’m racking up. It took me forever to realize that I’d started jogging again. I was sore to the point I thought I had some sort of disease before I recognized the feeling from way back when I was too poor to afford a gym membership in my twenties. Squats, pushups and running. Apparently, I went back to my old workout routine so I can save the money on memberships.”

“And your whole Summer Figure business, you don’t have any recollection of it?”

“None. But you know what? I haven’t been able to tell anyone this, and I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging because I can’t really take any credit for it, but I’ve managed to get pretty high up the pyra-, wait I guess we’re not supposed to call it that. I’ve climbed the ladder rather quickly. I’m a top tier sales team member.”

“No way. You should be proud even if you can’t remember any of it.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know how much longer I can hide all of this from Michael.”

“So he doesn’t know anything?”

She shook her head. “No. And he can’t find out.”

“How did you manage to throw that party?”

“He was on a golf weekend.”

“It was a Tuesday.”

Anger flashed across her eyes, but she smiled and said, “He just loves his golf.”

“Wow. What are you going to do?”

She looked at me as if I’d just slapped her. “That’s what I was hoping you could tell me.”

It was my turn to look horrified. “I don’t know. Maybe just talk to your husband and explain what’s happened-”

“No! If he finds out I’ve been hiding this from him… oh my God if he found out the amount of money I’ve made? And kept it from him? I could lose everything.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, okay? But, like, your problem doesn’t feel too mystical to me. Would you ever consider going to a therapist?”

“Michael doesn’t believe in-”

“I’m not saying he should try it, you should. You’re making money, right? You could pay for it without him knowing. I could give you the name of my therapist, she is so kind and understanding. Maybe she could-”

“I thought you would have some like, psychic or magical person for me to go to so I could get my chakras managed or something!”

I shook my head. 

Tears rolled down Rachel’s cheeks. She closed her eyes for the briefest of moments and when she opened them something had shifted. She didn’t look so frightened. She brushed the tears away calmly and smoothed her hair. 

“It was really nice of you to meet with me.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t-” “Not at all! This was super helpful and informative.” Rachel’s bright smile contrasted with her bloodshot eyes. “Now, enough about me. How are you liking your meal replacement powder, you chose pumpkin spice flavor right? It’s my favorite too.”

“They told me we should walk around the side of the house to the back deck so we don’t have to go inside,” Biddy explained, her voice muffled behind a mask.

“What are their names again? Sarah and…”

“No Sally. Sally and Frank Oak.”

“Got it.”

We stepped off the driveway and onto the grass and walked alongside the cheery looking yellow house. Movement in the adjacent yard caught my attention.

“I think I just spotted their neighbor’s dog. I wonder if it’s okay that it went into the woods like that. Should we-”” 

“Enough with the dogs, Liz. Reel it in,” Biddy huffed, not even sparing the adorable dog a glance.  

The couple greeted us and we climbed a quick set of steps up to a deck lined with overflowing pots of hydrangea and sea grass. I handed out everyone’s ice cream treats and after a round of introductions we settled in and an awkward silence fell.

“Your yard is beautiful.” 

“Thank you. We haven’t spent much time out here since everything…”

“That’s Boulder Brook, right?” I chattered to fill a long silence, even though I knew that we were indeed sitting along the top edge of Boulder Brook Park. 

We all eyed the woods as the couple nodded their heads.

“So much privacy,” I rambled on, wondering why Biddy wasn’t chiming in to help me out. These were her friends after all. I continued my chit chat. “We’re actually moving in October. Across town, to a more woodsy area. The house sorta backs onto marshland. I actually saw a baby snake when we were there for the inspection.”

“A baby snake?” Biddy said, skeptically.

“Yeah, it was tiny. It stuck it’s tongue out.” 

“We’ve been here almost twenty years and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a snake in the yard,” Sally offered.

“I’ve seen ‘em a handful of times while mowing the grass,” her husband informed us, an edge of know-it-all in his voice. 

In the resulting silence I shoveled a spoonful of chocolate ice cream into my mouth so I wouldn’t start talking about how concerning it was that we hadn’t had much rain as of late.

“I suppose we should explain what’s been happening here so you can, uh,” Frank waved his plastic spoon in the air, “diagnose the problem.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“I told Biddy everything,” Sally said, this time it was her voice that held a distinct edge.

My eyes slid to Biddy, who offered me a tight smile before suggesting it would be best for me to hear the story from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. 

The couple exchanged their own unreadable glance. 

“Well, I suppose the fox was the first thing to go wonky, right?” said Frank.

“The fox,” Sally confirmed. 

“Wonky how?”

Frank considered. “For one thing it wasn’t afraid of us.”

“The first time I encountered it,” said SalIy, “I was shoveling the deck last winter and I looked up and saw it sitting at the edge of the yard over there. Watching.”

“It did that a lot and it wouldn’t even flinch if you yelled at it,” Frank added. “All times of day too.”

“Weird, but maybe it was just used to people,” suggested Biddy. “The entire edge of Boulder Brook is lined by houses, right?”

“Sure, and we did guess that maybe someone had been leaving food out and it was waiting for us to do the same,” Frank conceded. 

“That’s not good,” I said before taking a rather large bite of my Butterfinger infused Blizzard (chocolate ice cream, extra candy please). 

I’d volunteered to pick up Dairy Queen for everyone on the way over. Truth be told, it was actually about twenty-five minutes out of the way, but it was the beginning of summer and I was feeling festive. Besides, we were in the middle of a heat wave and if we were forced to sit outdoors as we listened to Biddy’s old bridge buddies’ creepy story then I wanted ice cream. 

Sally scooped Oreo cookie blizzard (with vanilla ice cream) from her own blue cup. “The animal control officer suggested that if we simply ignored the fox it would eventually get the idea to look for food elsewhere.”

“We took a picture and posted it on What’s Up Wellesley to see if anyone else had seen the fox in the neighborhood. It wasn’t just the way it was acting, the thing looked weird.” Frank placed the empty plastic bowl (formerly holding a banana split) at his feet. I was impressed that he hadn’t given himself an ice cream headache at the rate in which he’d taken it down. 

“What was so weird about it?” Biddy asked, a spoonful of – I kid you not – cotton candy blizzard with added gummy bears, hovered before her mouth. I’d told her I didn’t think they had gummy bears at DQ and she assured me, “those sneaky bastards have ‘em, you just have to ask.” 

“It looked like it had mange, and it was a really big fox. The first time I saw it I thought it was a coyote.”

“Mmm,” his wife agreed. “Long tail, but not fluffy.”

“When did this all start?”

“The end of February, just a couple weeks before we went into quarantine.”

“And you’re still seeing this fox?”

“Not exactly,” Sally admitted. “It changed. We didn’t know right away that’s what was happening, but by the time that meter reader came I put two and two together. Though it took Frank some time to accept what was happening.”

Frank’s jaw clenched, but he didn’t say a word. 

“Meter reader?” I prompted.

Biddy’s eyes slid to me and I saw humor in them.

The couple appeared frustrated. Sally, upset. Frank, agitated. 

“Look, I get how weird it is to talk about this stuff,” I offered, attempting to reassure them. “But trust me when I say I’ve heard just about everything. Well, I’ve never heard of someone having a problem with a meter reader, but there’s a first time for everything, right?”

“Sorry,” Sally glanced at her husband before continuing. “I know this has been a really hard time for everyone and we’ve been very lucky. Our children are out of the house, one is in Boston with his fiance and the other in Vermont. All of them are healthy, thank God. We’ve both been able to work remotely, and I know that not everyone has that option, so all things considered the quarantine hasn’t been too bad for us. It’s just that right as the quarantine began, we were in the middle of-”

Frank shifted in his seat. Sally spared him a glance then went on, “We were separating and had decided to put the house on the market. But then all of this started up and…”

“First the quarantine put the sale on hold and now we feel obligated to sort this… other situation out before we move forward with the sale and divorce,” Frank concluded for his wife.

“Oh man,” Biddy groaned. “I’m so sorry you guys, I had no idea.”

Sally’s mouth formed a tight smile. “No one does.”

“Geez, that’s rough,” I said, thinking that I was having a hard enough time being stuck in quarantine with my own husband and children and I generally liked them. 

“Yes, well,” Frank cleared his throat, “There are plenty of people who have it worse off than we do right now-”

“I wasn’t comparing our situation to anyone else’s, Frank. I was simply trying to put things in perspective so they might understand why this has been so specifically stressful for us,” Sally interrupted. 

Frank squinted and his left eye twitched, as he controlled himself from responding. 

“I can’t remember where I saw it but there was this movie,” Biddy said as she dug around in her ice cream cup, obviously searching for gummy bears, “where a documentary filmmaker was in Alaska and he befriended a fox. It followed him around like a dog.”

I snorted, “You mean the one where the guy and his girlfriend were eventually eaten by a bear?”

“Oh, right!” Biddy exclaimed. “Sorry, bad example.” 

Frank drew in a deep breath through his nose. “This animal didn’t act as if it had simply become accustomed to people. It was watching us, studying us. I was over in the side yard one evening smoking a cigar away from the house when I heard something moving in the woods. I turned on my cell phone flashlight and caught its eyes reflecting the light, who knows how long it had been there watching me. But the strangest thing was that it’s eyes reflected red.”

“Some animals do though, right?”

Frank shook his head. “Some do, yes. But not foxes. They should reflect green or yellow. It’s cats that reflect red.”

“Spooky.”

“How do you know that?” asked Biddy. 

“I do some hunting.”

Biddy tsked her disapproval which led to yet another awkward silence. 

“So what’s the story with the meter reader?” I asked.

“Oh, well that was the second visit,” Sally clarified. “It was the first attempt that allowed her to come onto our property. That’s what I think anyway,” she sighed. “This will sound nuts until you hear the whole thing, but, all right. Here goes. My first real interaction with the thing that is sometimes a fox and sometimes a person, was when it took the form of a boy scout.”

“Creepy,” I muttered.

“Yes. I just happened to look out the window and saw him standing at the corner of our property, all done up in his uniform. He was staring at the house. 

“This was just before we went into quarantine, people were still going about their business, but it was around the time when the stores began selling out of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. What I mean is, we were just beginning to be on high alert. Anyhow, I opened the front door and called out to the boy to ask if he needed anything. He smiled and asked if he could ‘enter the property.’ That’s just what he said, ‘May I enter your property?’

“I waved him over to the house and said, ‘sure come on over,’ then asked if he was selling something. He didn’t respond but as he walked towards me he never took his eyes off mine.”

“How old do you think he was?” Biddy asked.

“Perhaps seven, maybe eight? Very young. He was about to walk up the front steps when I stopped him. ‘Wait there, okay?’ I told him. ‘We’re being careful about the virus. What can I help you with?’

“He told me he would like to come in. I said that was not possible but that I would be happy to place an order with his troop. He didn’t like that. ‘I’d like to come into your house, let me in.’”

“Oh boy,” Biddy sighed. 

“Of course I didn’t let him,” Sally insisted. “Aside from the fact that I don’t care for pushy children-”

“Same,” I chimed in.

“He was a very odd child,” she continued. “He held eye contact for far too long and didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was angry with me for not allowing him inside. I told him firmly that I was happy to speak with him on the front step. Without even responding to me he simply turned and walked away. It was shocking, but I did wonder if perhaps he had some social challenges, you know? Anyhow, I went back to making my tea and… I’m sure this sounds like a strange but benign interaction, but the reason I tied it to the fox was that when I looked out the window over our kitchen sink,” Sally pointed to a window at the back of the house, “I saw the fox slinking across the lawn. It hesitated for a moment and looked right at me, before it darted back into the woods.

“At that point I suspected the two were connected, but it took Frank some time to believe me.”

“Who could blame me. So we had a weird kid show up at the house? I couldn’t see what that had to do with the fox,” he grumbled. “But then the meter reader showed up a few days later and by that time we were in quarantine. You remember how seriously everyone was taking it. People weren’t visiting with one another and no one was stopping by each other’s houses. But even more certain was the fact that the local government had basically shut down operations. 

“So this one afternoon the doorbell rang and it was a woman in a uniform. We have the Nest system here so I spoke to her through the camera at the front door. I asked what she was doing at the house and she just said, ‘I will come inside.’ I pressed her for more information and now I realize that I was asking leading questions and she answered accordingly. I asked if she needed to take some sort of reading and she nodded and said that it had to be done indoors, ‘at the lowest level.’ 

“I told her that was not possible. It was the first I was hearing of it for one thing and besides she would have to arrange for a safe visit. She wasn’t wearing a mask so I certainly wasn’t just going to let her into the house like that. She tried asking again, I think she said, ‘I will not be kept out,’ or something like that. 

“I was very clear that she would not be entering our home and that I intended to file a complaint with the town regarding her conduct. She just stood there. I told her to move along and eventually she turned and walked off, without another word. I watched her go until she was out of sight and then Sally yelled to me from the kitchen.” Frank turned to his wife.

“The fox was back. Only this time it was sitting right here, at the base of the deck steps. Too close to the house. I banged on the window and it barely flinched. Frank opened the door and shooed it away, but the thing was definitely reluctant to leave.”

“Black eyed kids?” Biddy said turning to me, a question in her voice. 

I scrunched my nose. “I doubt it. Same MO but more like some sort of a shape-shifter, right?”

“What the hell is a black eyed kid?” Frank demanded.

“Um, something really bad. It’s a kind of entity but no one really knows whether it’s demonic or alien-”

“Aliens?” Sally’s voice cracked.

“Yeah, but I honestly don’t think that’s what you’re dealing with here. I’m getting more of an elemental vibe.”

The couple looked dumbfounded. 

Biddy cleared her throat. “Keep going with your story. Frank, what happened after the meter reader?”

“There was one more visit to the house, but I should say that even before that there were too many strange things happening here.”

“Like what?”

“We felt – or feel watched, all the time. It’s unsettling, even inside the house you get a sense that you are not alone.”

“Have you actually seen or heard anything in the house?” Biddy asked.

“Heard, no. But I have seen a mist. Maybe not a mist, but it’s like black tendrils of smoke around the windows in the basement.”

“Inside or outside,” I asked, trying to keep my tone even.

“Outside. Is that bad?” Sally asked.

“Well, it would be worse if you saw it inside,” Biddy assured her, before placing her empty ice cream cup on the deck.

“I haven’t seen the mist but I have heard things,” said Frank. “I’ve been sleeping in the guest bedroom on the first floor and every night I hear something outside the window.”

“You never told me that,” said Sally. 

“I didn’t want you to worry.”

“I think it’s a bit late for that, Frank.”

“What exactly did you hear,” I asked. 

“Picking, like someone is picking at the edge of the window frame. I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t ventured out to check. I figured the alarm system would alert us if anything actually got inside.”

“Okay, and there’s been one more visit from this fox, boy scout, meter reader thing?”

“Yes, and it was the most disturbing,” Sally confirmed. 

“It was one of our neighbors, an old neighbor from across the street actually,” Frank said. “The family moved rather abruptly this past December. I was watching television one evening when I heard tapping on the sliding glass door. It startled the hell out of me.”

“I was in the kitchen reading when I heard him yell,” Sally added. “I went to see what was going on and Frank was just standing there staring out the sliding glass doors.”

“It was Bill, our old neighbor. He was on our deck. It was so strange that I almost opened the door. I thought maybe he was in trouble. He waved and then pointed to himself and then to me, as if he were asking to come in. ‘What are you doing out there?’ I called. We hadn’t seen hide nor hair of them since they’d moved. We were neighbors for over fifteen years and then they just picked up and left, no explanation, didn’t even say good-bye. 

Bill,” Frank held up his hands and made air quotes, “said, ‘I’d like to come in.’” 

“‘Where’s your mask?’ I asked him. The guy goes, ‘I need to enter the lowest level of your dwelling.’ Now, that raised the alarm bells. ‘No, Bill.’ I said. ‘We aren’t accepting any visitors with the virus, we’re being careful.’ Inside I knew that it wasn’t him, his eyes weren’t right, but I couldn’t completely accept that. ‘Get your phone,’ I told Sally thinking we were going to have to call the police. The guy looked menacing. 

“Then he put both hands on the glass door, just held them there for too long. I told him to step away from the house or we would be forced to call the authorities. He pulled his hands back and slapped them hard against the glass. ‘What’s beneath doesn’t belong to you,’ He yelled.”

“I dialed the police,” Sally said. “Told them a neighbor was threatening to break in.”

“I yelled at him to get off our property,” Frank went on. “He banged against the glass again, it’s a wonder he didn’t smash that door. Then he stalked off across the yard and walked right into the woods.”

“When was this?” Biddy asked. 

“Last weekend,” said Sally. “That’s why I texted you to ask for help. It has been aggressively trying to get inside the house ever since. We feel trapped.” Sally’s voice was tinged with hysteria. 

“We feel like we can’t trust anyone,” Frank added. “The quarantine complicates everything, we have nowhere else to go. We’re not going to stay in a hotel. Not with the virus. Our age puts us in a higher risk group.” 

“Mmm.”

“Oh! Are you getting a message from your guides?” Sally asked hopefully.

I looked up from my mostly melted Blizzard. “Uh, sorry. No, I just…” All three of them were staring at me expectantly. “I found a big chunk of Butterfinger in my ice cream.”

Biddy pursed her lips but could not hide her smile. 

I could feel my face turning red. “But, the thing is, Claire, my guide as you called her, she isn’t here, and that is telling.”

“How so?” Frank asked. 

“Well, she’s told me in the past that when she was trapped in what she calls the ‘in-between’ she saw creatures there. Horrible creatures, I guess, and I know they really frighten her, so…”

“So you’re saying there is a horrible creature on our property. Stalking us?”

“Uh…” I looked down at the dregs of my Blizzard longingly then put the cup on the deck. “Not exactly. But the thing is, it is significant that there are no dead people here. I haven’t seen a ghost since we parked out front. There should at least be somebody hanging around the block and I tend to attract their attention because of my abilities. I haven’t seen a creature or anything, but the lack of ghosts tells me that is probably what we’re dealing with.” 

“A creature,” Frank said, skeptically. 

“Well, yeah. I suppose ghosts can change appearance somewhat, demons too. But I would see those things or like, sense them. But your house, actually your whole property feels like it’s in some sort of void. Whatever is here is powerful enough to keep other entity’s away. And that means it’s pretty ancient.” 

Biddy shifted in her seat. “Oof.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” Sally said, though I suspected she knew exactly what I was saying. 

“A shapeshifter,” Biddy said, matter-of-factly.

“You used a different word earlier though,” Frank pointed out.

“Elemental,” I offered. “It’s a sort of catch all term for earth based entities.”

“I’m scared,” Sally whispered, eyeing the edge of her lawn. “Maybe we should go inside.”

Biddy shook her head. “I’m more worried about Covid.”

“We don’t have Covid,” Frank insisted. 

“Said every person whose ever transmitted Covid,” Biddy snarked. 

“It’s not here now, I’d be able to sense it,” I reassured the couple. “But you’ve actually interacted with it three times now, right? That’s all?”

“Yes, not counting it peeping on us through the porch door.”

“And every time it asked to come inside, huh?”

“Yes,” Frank affirmed. 

“Kinda sounds like a vampire,” Biddy remarked. 

“Vampires are real?” Sally’s voice was tinged with hysteria. 

I gave Biddy a look. 

“Well it is a shapeshifter and it obviously needs an invitation to get inside, I’m just saying-”

I cut her off, “Vampires aren’t real.”

“Says who?” 

I sighed and turned back to the couple. “The type of creature who’s stalking you exists under their own set of laws. Like, a set way of moving through our reality.”

“Then can we use those laws to keep it away from our house?”

“Sure. There are ways to create boundaries around your actual house, but the only problem with that is that you eventually have to leave home. My guess is that it’s probably been on this land for like, ever.”

“Then why did it start harassing us now? We’ve lived here for almost twenty years!” Sally nearly screeched.

Biddy shifted uncomfortably. “These things can be drawn to negativity and contention. I’m guessing you guys didn’t start outwardly expressing your frustration with one another until the kids were out of the house.”

The couple looked guilty. 

“So what do we do? Have the house blessed or dance around with crystals or something?” Frank demanded.

“Sorry, I’m not explaining myself well. You probably would have a good shot at protecting the house if you did so weekly, but this thing, it’s been here forever. You’ll never get it off this land.”

“What about an exorcism?” Sally asked in a small voice.

“Elementals aren’t governed by religion,” Biddy said simply. 

“But if we protect the house then aren’t we safe?”

“What happens when you’re not in the house?” 

“But it hasn’t approached us anywhere else,” Sally insisted.

“Not that you know of, if this thing can imitate animals and humans it can be anyone,” Biddy said. 

“Like your neighbor,” I pointed out. 

Frank began asking a question but my attention was pulled to the lawn behind them. A large animal had come into the yard and was slinking its way towards us. 

“Oh shit,” I breathed. 

Biddy, Frank and Sally followed my gaze. Walking alongside the deck towards the stairs was the largest fox I’d ever seen. Its fur patchy and tight, the too long tail devoid of the typical fox’s poof of fur whipped back and forth in a sort of reptilian manner. 

It sat at the base of the steps. Staring right at me. 

“I see what you mean, that thing is huge.” I stood slowly, never taking my eyes off the animal.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Frank demanded sounding both livid and terrified at once. 

I quickly took in the concerned faces around me then turned back to the fox whose front paws were now on the first stair. It’s head was lowered, ears back and it’s eyes… they didn’t look right. 

Sally stood abruptly. “I’d like to go inside.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Biddy agreed. 

“Slow down,” I said in a low voice. They froze. “Go, now,” I insisted, “Just move slowly.”

They moved to the back door. I stood still and didn’t take my eyes off the creature that was looking less and less like a fox by the second. It’s burnt sienna body glistened like scales, the tail seemed to have lengthened even further and it’s face sharpened.

“Liz, come on,” Biddy urged.

“You are not allowed inside,” I said to the creature, my voice shaking. 

In the blink of an eye it was on the deck, right in front of me. I jumped back and made slow and careful steps to the house. Biddy grabbed my arm and pulled me inside just as Frank slammed the glass door shut. 

“What did you see out there? Biddy asked. 

“I can still see it,” I said shakily. “It’s right there. It was a big fox at first but it’s not anymore. It changed.”

“Into what?” Frank asked, his eyes searching the yard as if he might catch a glimpse of the thing that was standing just feet from him. 

“It almost looks like a little dragon,” I told them. 

Frank huffed. “Why can’t we see it? How do we know you aren’t just making this up?”

I looked away from the creature pacing back and forth on the other side of the sliding glass door. “If you really think that then why don’t you go out on the deck?”

“This is crazy,” he spat.

Sally backed away from the door. “What does it want from us?” 

“I left my mask outside!” Biddy exclaimed. 

“I told you we don’t have Covid,” Frank snapped. 

“You can’t know that for sure!” Biddy’s voice was shrill. 

“Listen to me,” I said quietly, using the old teacher trick of lowering my voice to get everyone to quiet down so they could hear me. “That thing out there would like nothing more than to kill you so it could take possession of the land beneath our feet. It has wandered this area forever and when it’s around it causes, uh…” I closed my eyes to concentrate. Malice rolled off the creature in waves and with it information about it’s intentions. “Discord.”

I took a breath and looked to Biddy hoping she might back me up. She looked terrified. Of Covid or the creature I couldn’t be sure. 

I sighed. “The long and short of it is that you guys need to move, like now. That thing isn’t going to stop trying to get in here and you definitely don’t want it inside this house.”

The couple looked stricken.

Frank rubbed a hand across his forehead in frustration. “How can we in good faith sell this place to someone knowing what’s out there?” 

“It’s focused on you two, on your anger towards one another, in fact I’m pretty sure it’s been throwing fuel on that fire. Sell this place to a young family. It will lose interest and move on to another house in the neighborhood. That’s what it does.”

“I gotta get out of here,” Biddy muttered.

“You can’t go!” Sally exclaimed. “It’s not safe out there!”

“I don’t know if it’s safe in here!” Biddy snapped back.

“We can leave,” I told her, “It’s fine. That thing isn’t interested in us.”

Sally slumped onto the couch. “You can’t just leave us here.”

“Well it’s all these flashbacks. You never know when anything’s taking place. Then in the first 20 pages alone I counted 3 flashbacks, 1 flash forward and on page 8 you have a flash sideways!”  – Elizabeth Farmer, Funny Farm

This quote sums up our next round of neighbor interviews best in that, we’re abandoning all semblance of timeline. This fall there will be some new stories, a few old ones revisited and maybe even some ancillary neighbors who we’ll get to know much better. New Episodes Begin this Friday September, 4th 2020 – in the meantime head over to www.ghostsintheburbs.com for all the links to my social media, a list of spookily distracting podcasts, and some new merch just in time for our high holy season.

Before I go, I have a quick story for you, shared with me by a neighbor who wishes to remain 100% anonymous. Her sister, who lives in New England and vacations on a lake though I can’t say exactly which one or where, rented a new house this year. Like, the lake house itself was rather old but it was a new rental for them. So anyway, the first night in the house she and her husband get woken up by their five year old (she also has a 12 year old and a 15 year old – I know, they’re in for the loooong haul, right?). The five year old was like, I don’t like that man climbing on the drawers.

Yikes.  

They get the little boy to settle back down and the next morning their 15 year old told them he thought the 5 year old was up and banging around in the middle of the night, as if he was climbing on the furniture.

Shivers. 

Second night in the house, 5 year old wakes up again and again is like, I can’t sleep because that man is staring at me. They’re like, what man? And he points up to his dresser and says, why can’t you see him? So of course they bring him to sleep in their room… Next morning 12 year old says she was up in the middle of the night and on her way back to her room after getting a glass of water she passed 5 year olds room and saw an old man crouched on top of the dresser in there but got so frightened that she just went back to her own room and hid under covers. 5 year old says, “See! I told you!” 

Parents are sufficiently freaked out, but what are they going to do? They’ve rented the house. There’s no getting the money back. Well… That day happens to be a stormy one so they’re stuck inside and can’t go out on the lake, 12 year old is pawing through the bookshelves while the rest of them are agonizing their way through another round of Candy Land and she pulls out a photo album from among the books flips through, gasps, carries it over to her little brother shows him the page – 

Now, let’s all go ahead and say it together:

The boy recognized a photo of an old man dated 1973! 

My neighbor said they packed up and left that very afternoon. Good for them, right? Not so fast. 

That night five year old wakes up screaming. 15 year old gets to his room first and then he starts screaming. Parents and 12 year old arrive moments later to find 15 year old struggling to pull five year old down from the top of his bookshelf – my neighbor’s sister said it was like he was having a tug of war with an invisible person. 

Wear a mask. Wash your disgusting hands. And when in doubt break out that sage. I’ll meet you back here in a couple days, unless of course that old man on top of  your dresser gets to you first…