ghosts in the burbs

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

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

Several readers have asked how many chapters there are in Lilith’s complete story. And the answer is… I don’t know yet. Her story had so much to it than I realized. When we began I estimated 13 chapters, but here we are on Chapter 17… Her tale continues to unfold surely it’ll have to end at some point. For now, all I can say is that the wallpaper came down last week… this week we meet the ghost hunters.

Here we go.

 

Chapter 17

The stress of their situation took its toll. Laura began losing weight and Michael appeared to gain every ounce she lost. Jack insisted upon sleeping in their bedroom each night while Lilith flat out refused to do the same. She barely left the basement save for going to school or using the restroom. Rosemary and Carrie were watchful, quiet, secretive. Laura suspected they knew more about the strangeness in the home than they were willing to share but she didn’t have the energy to drag it out of them. Michael finally got a hold of Kim who admitted to knowing that there had indeed been a death in the house, though she claimed not to know any of the details. Her excuse for not telling the Arnolds about the home’s macabre history was that the seller could have accused her of killing the sale of the house if they’d pulled out as a result. She might have been sued.

Laura brought Lilith back to the pediatrician and got the name of yet another therapist. The results were the same. Lilith changed back into her old self when she was in the presence of other adults. Laura could only say so much about her daughter’s behavior without looking like she was suffering from Munchausen by proxy. Michael spoke with a friend back home who’d suggested they have the house tested for high electromagnetic fields. Apparently, when elevated they could cause hallucinations, hearing disembodied voices, even the feeling of being watched. Convinced this must be the key to escaping the strangeness in the home, Laura and Michael convinced themselves that these wonky electromagnetic fields must be the cause of all their problems. They spent two blissful days believing the theory until the test results came back showing that the readings on their property were on the low end of normal.

Laura still held onto a glimmer of hope that a ghost hunting team might come to their rescue. Of the three inquiries she’d sent, she received back two responses. The first came from a man named Nick Sayre. He claimed to be the lead investigator of the Metrowest Ghost Hunting Society. In his email Mr. Sayre suggested that their eldest daughter had been dabbling in the occult. He was insistent that he come to their home immediately with his own “talking board” and a professional Tarot card reader in tow. He intended to use those tools to cross examine Lilith in what he referred to as a “data gathering session.” With that completed he claimed he would be able to diagnose the family’s paranormal problems with one hundred percent accuracy. He’d added that Lilith’s name had come up in his “talking board” session that very morning and that he took it as a sign that he was uniquely suited to help the family. He wanted to get started right away. Would Laura please respond immediately with her home address and a confirmation that she would cover all travel expenses associated with her case. At this final line Laura scanned back through the wordy email to confirm that Nick did indeed live in Wellesley. What sort of travel expenses could he possibly be referring to? She wondered.  

Completely put off by the man’s pushy email and about ninety-five percent sure that she didn’t want his brand of help, Laura googled “talking board.” The search returned article upon article about Ouija Boards pushing Laura to one-hundred percent certainty that she didn’t want this Nick person anywhere near her home, let alone her daughter.

Hopelessness threatened to overtake her at that point but then she received an email from a woman named Nocturnal Druid. Of course, the woman’s name put Laura’s guard up, but her email was so thoughtful and kind that Laura went ahead and called the phone number provided in the message. The ghost hunter answered on the first ring.

Anxiously, Laura gave her a run down of the things her family had witnessed and the strange behavior Lilith was displaying.

Noc, as she’d told Laura she’d like to be called, took a deep breath before sharing her suspicion. “Listen, I’ve been a paranormal investigator for about seven years and I’ve experienced a good amount of legitimate phenomena, so I wouldn’t say this unless I was certain. If what you have told me is true, then I suspect that you’ve got some sort of demonic infestation happening in your home.”

Defeated, Laura began crying so hard she could not speak. Somewhere in the back of her mind she’d been harboring hope that there was a logical explanation for her family’s experiences. Hearing this kind and seemingly normal woman not only confirm her worst fear but to do so in such a straightforward way broke her.

Noc gave her a moment to pull herself together. “Look, it might not be all that serious, it could just be that something low level demonic has attached itself to your daughter.”

“How would that not be serious?” Laura asked.

“I’m sorry. I’m not implying that would be a good thing at all. It wouldn’t be any better, of course, it might just be easier for us to clear. But if it’s the house, the land, and the girl that need to be cleansed of demonic influence then things get complicated. Not impossible, just tricky. The truth is, I won’t know until I come and get a look at things for myself. We can do an initial intake interview in which myself and another team member come to the house, it would be best if I were able to speak with both you and your husband at the same time. If I am certain that our group is the right one for the job then I’ll pull together the whole team and we’ll come for an investigation. We’ll do our best diagnose exactly what is going on in your home and we will get you in touch with the professionals to get rid of the problem.”

“Do you use anything like Ouija Boards or Tarot cards?” Laura asked.

“Oh, God no,” Noc replied with a snort. “That would be like throwing fuel on the fire. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, it’s just I heard back from one other ghost hunter and he wanted to bring both things into the home to make his own diagnosis of our situation.”

“Please tell me you didn’t let him do it,” Noc said nervously.

“Of course not.”

“Thank God. That could have been catastrophic. Do you mind me asking who suggested doing such a thing?”

“His name was Nick, um, and his last name started with an ‘S.’”

“Sayre?”

“That sounds right, yes.”

Noc made a noise of disgust. “Well, I’m glad you didn’t let that guy into your house. He’s not ill intentioned but that doesn’t mean he can’t instigate major problems. Anyhow, would you like to set up a time for myself and my friend Patricia to come for the initial review of your situation? Patricia is our team psychiatrist. We’ve found it to be advantageous to have her attend all of our primary client meetings.”

It all sounded a little too good to be true. Laura hesitated a moment before asking, “And how much would all of this cost if we decided to move forward?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Noc responded quickly.

“Nothing at all?”

“Of course not, we offer our opinion free of charge. The honest truth is that we are grateful to people who grant us access to their haunted properties. We only ask that you grant us three full nights in the home for our investigation. One with the family there, the other two with the family off the property. Most of our clients stay in a hotel or with relatives those nights.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I’ll be able to convince my husband of that-”

“Let’s just start with with the the initial meeting and interviews, then we’ll see where things go. I could come over as soon as Monday morning.”

Laura said that sounded fine.

When they discussed it later that evening Michael was skeptical about inviting a group of so-called “ghost hunters” into their home. He was certain what they needed was spiritual warfare carried out by a true professional.

“What we need is a full fledged Catholic priest to sort out this here hell hole,” he declared after Laura said he needed to be home Monday morning to meet Noc’s team.

Laura wondered aloud where he would find a priest who would believe them, let alone come to the house.

“We’re Presbyterian, Michael-” Laura started.

“Do you even know anything about these people?” Michael demanded. “What if they’re just coming to case the joint?”

“I highly doubt they would advertise their services online only to come and rob us blind. They’d be caught instantly. I’ve read all of the customer comments and recommendations on their website. Over and over again people said how professional the group was.”

“They probably wrote those reviews themselves,” Michael said, suspiciously.

“Fine, then what’s your suggestion? What do you think we should do?”

Michael sighed. “Well why not a priest? Or a reverend, or anyone religious for Christ’s sake? Maybe we could have someone come perform a blessing.”

We,” Laura said with a humorless laugh.”Sure, ‘we’ can get right on that. I’ll just go looking for some sort of religious figure to wave his magic wand.”

“Well if it is a demon causing all of this then isn’t that what we need? A priest? What the hell can a bunch of ghost hunters do about it?”

“You’re right,” Laura conceded. “I’ll find someone religious. But I do think these ghost people could help us. Noc said they have a demonologist on the team so I have to assume he or she would have ideas. I’ll find a way to get a priest or someone out here if you agree to at least meet the ghost hunters Monday morning. Deal?”

“Deal,” Michael agreed.

 

****

 

Michael had listened to Laura’s concerns all along about his daughter and he’d accepted the fact that the twins were actually hearing footsteps coming from the attic and that one of them was interacting with some ghost boy in the yard. Jack’s scare and Lilith’s strange reaction had shoved him further out of denial that there was something frightening happening to his family. But it was a rainy Saturday afternoon when Michael became aware of just how serious the situation in his home had become. Laura had gone to the movies with Jack, Rosemary and Carrie while he hung back with Lilith who’d refused to join them. It was just as well, he was happy to hang out on the couch with a beer and the game.

Laura was, as had become the norm, worried about Lilith so Michael reassured her that he would, indeed keep an eye and ear out as he lounged around. Lilith holed up in her room, but Michael had insisted that she keep the basement door open.

He was in the kitchen refilling his bowl from a bag of microwave popcorn when he first heard the whispering. A whispered conversation, actually coming from the basement. The voices were very faint so he grabbed the remote and turned down the volume on the television then went to the top of the basement steps to listen.

He thought, Lilith must have a friend over. His next feeling was one of relief that she’d finally made a friend. That thought was followed quickly by concern that the friend might be a horny fifteen year old boy. He strained his ears trying to determine whether the second voice he was hearing was male or female. Unable to tell who exactly Lilith was speaking to he walked as quietly as he could down the steps. Still, the old stairs creaked and groaned beneath him.

He was certain Lilith and her friend would hear him coming so he was surprised that the whispered conversation continued until he was in front of her bedroom door. Michael was reaching for the door handle when he heard what he was certain was a male voice say, “Shh, he’s coming.”

“Here we go,” Michael muttered to himself, then he gave three quick raps on the door before pushing it open.

Lilith was sitting at her desk with her back to the door, her lava lamp offering the only light in the room. She turned around slowly, calmly to look at him.

Michael flipped the light switch on the wall next to the door, the overhead light illuminated the dreary space. A quick glance around the room proved his daughter was alone.

“Who were you speaking to?” He asked, trying to keep his voice steady.

“No one, daddy,” Lilith said, a smile in her voice.

Michael stepped into the room, looked behind the door and under the bed while Lilith calmly watched him from her desk.

After he assured himself that there was no one hiding in the girl’s closet he said, “I don’t want you having any friends down here unless you clear it with either me or your mother. Got it?”

Lilith nodded and began to turn her back to him.

“Know what, kiddo? I think you best come on upstairs for a bit. The games on and I’ve got some popcorn.”

She began to protest, but Michael made it clear the idea wasn’t up for discussion.

When Laura and the younger kids got back home she found Lilith and Michael sitting at opposite ends of the couch. He stood up and nodded for her to head up to their bedroom to talk.

Once they’d closed the bedroom door he told her, “We gotta find a priest or something ASAP, and call that ghost hunting group and get them over here as soon as possible.”

 

Chapter 18

The ghost hunters arrived at our home in a red VW wagon. I don’t know what I had been expecting, perhaps a Scooby Doo van, but the cute little car surprised me. They didn’t look at all the way I’d imagined them either. Actually, that’s not totally true. Patricia, the psychiatrist, was pretty much what I’d expected. She was in her late forties, with kind smile lines around her eyes, a business casual outfit, no makeup and wavy shoulder length hair parted in the middle and tucked behind her ears.

Noc, on the other hand was about fifteen years younger than I’d had her pegged after our phone conversation. Her gravely voice brought to mind a much older woman, one who’d smoked heavily. In reality, Noc was probably around my age, if not younger. She had rosy cheeks, freckles across the bridge of her nose and wore her shiny sable brown hair in a high bouncy ponytail.

I watched nervously from the window beside the front door as the women got out of the car. They appeared to be in mid-conversation and from what I could tell they were talking about our property, from their hand gestures I suspected they were discussing the train tracks and the stream that ran past the backyard.

I made a quick check on Jack, who was home from school with a low fever. I had him set up on the couch with his iPad and a bunch of cozy blankets. It was far from ideal to have him home for the conversation we were about to have with these people, but it wasn’t as if I could send him up to his room while they were there.

“They’re here!” I called up to Michael on the second floor. Then I went to the front door and welcomed the ghost hunters into our home.

After introductions were made I offered the women coffee, which they declined and we sat at our dining room table to discuss our haunting. From where I sat I could keep an eye on Jack, he appeared to be entranced by whatever game he was playing on his iPad, but Lord knew he was probably hanging on our every word.

“Why don’t I tell you a little bit about what we do,” Noc suggested. “Then we can go over what’s been happening here and determine if our team is the right one to help your family, or if there is someone we feel might be better suited to your particular case.”

Michael and I nodded in encouragement.

“Great,” Noc said with a big smile. “Well, I’m the case manager for a team of four paranormal investigators. My husband Tyler is our lead tech specialist. We all have a working knowledge of the equipment but he’s the expert. We have two investigators, Patricia here our team psychiatrist, and Maurice the demonologist. We also enlist the help of a young man who does our evidence analysis. After an investigation he reviews the hours of audio and video footage, making note of any anomalous events. Though he opts not to accompany us on our investigations.”

“How do you all get your cases?” Michael asked.

“About fifty percent come in through our website, like yours did,” Noc smiled at me before continuing. “The rest come from word of mouth referrals, past clients who’ve benefited from our help and suggest us when they hear of friends or acquaintances are dealing with disturbing paranormal phenomena in their homes or businesses.”

“And how much do you all charge for this?” Michael asked.

“Michael,” I hissed. “I told you, they don’t charge anything.”

“It’s a valid question,” Noc said, calmly. “But it’s true, we don’t charge a dime. Pardon my language in advance, please, but we believe that charging people for a paranormal investigation of their property would be outlandish bullshit. Our service points people to other people who maybe might possibly be able to help them. We’re grateful that our clients allow us into their homes. How else would we have the opportunity to experience this phenomena?”

“I don’t mean to come across as suspicious here,” Michael said, “We are just in completely new territory. But it sounds to me as though you run a pretty professional team, that’s gotta cost something.”

“I know it sounds pretty involved, and it is. Over the years our team has learned to schedule investigations around our other obligations so that our daytime professions aren’t affected. And even though Patricia and I do an initial walk through of about thirty to forty properties a year we only take on between seven and ten of those cases. A case has to be pretty extreme for us to commit. We don’t apply our expertise or resources to a home that only has occasional wall taps or slamming doors. The amount of time and effort we put into our investigations has to be worth it for us too.”

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

“Once we get a read on the situation we either refer the client out to more appropriate resources, like someone with the ability to clear negative energy from a space or perhaps mental health professionals would be their best option. Then we follow up with clients over the next month or so to be sure they are getting the help they need. But when I believe our team is the appropriate group to help the family we take the case.”

“So if you were to accept our case, what would happen next?” I asked suddenly terrified that she might refer us out to some crystal and sage yielding hippy or yet another therapist.  

“If we accept the case my husband, Tyler, and I will conduct some background research on the property’s history to prepare for an investigation. Then we will set a date for the team to come in and spend seventy-two hours here. The whole team will spend all three nights in the house and at least two of us will remain present in the home during daytime hours as well.”

“Whoa,” Michael breathed. “Seventy-two hours?”

Noc paused powerfully before responding. “We won’t short change the family or ourselves in gathering the information we need to determine exactly how to rid a home of negative paranormal activity.”

“What happens after the investigation is over?” I asked quickly.  

“We review the evidence which typically takes about a week or so. Then we would meet here and go over our findings. Patricia and I would share our conclusions and line up all of the resources we believe you need to resolve the haunting. We’d stay in close touch over the next few months to be sure you felt that everything was handled to the best of everyone’s ability.”

“This sounds too good to be true,” I sighed.

Patricia spoke for the first time, “From what Noc has told me so far, it sounds like you’re family has been under an incredible amount of strain since you moved into this house.”

Michael and I agreed that what she said was true. We told them about the fire in the house, the strange occurrences reported by the contractor, my seeing the boy jump in front of the train and the voice I’d heard behind me in the basement.

Noc began taking notes when I shared what we’d learned about the boy, Jason, who’d lived and died in the house.

“You believe his spirit has been interacting with one of your younger daughters?”

“Yes,” I replied nervously. “I know how outrageous that sounds but I think she’s been talking to his ghost.”

“And you think Lilith is staying in what was his bedroom?” Patricia clarified.

I explained the drawings I’d found beneath her wallpaper and showed them the photos I’d taken of the walls before painting over the satanic symbols.

“You see these ones?” I asked, zooming in on a grouping of symbols that we’d found when we tore down the paper on the wall behind Lilith’s desk. Noc squinted at the image of four inverted crosses arranged to form a sort of box around a pentagram. I hadn’t even really paid much attention to those symbols when we’d been dealing with the issue and painting the walls because I just wanted them covered up and gone. But then I caught a glimpse of the same exact image drawn on the back of one of Lilith’s notebooks.

“She left her science notebook on the kitchen counter and I recognized her scribbled drawing on the back as this exact image,” I said, shakily.

“Is there any way she could have seen the image before you covered it up?”

“No,” Michael said with certainty. “We did that wall in one morning. The kids weren’t even home before it was painted over.”

“Could she have seen the image on your phone?” Patricia asked me.

I shook my head. “I mean, it’s possible, but no I really don’t think she did.”

“So you believe she came across these symbols elsewhere,” Noc began making a note.

I said, “Not just her notebook. I saw a page on her desk covered in them a couple days ago and then I was putting clothing away in her closet and, well, it’ll be easiest to just show you.”

We brought the women down to the basement and I showed them the inside of my daughter’s closet.

Noc let out a low whistle. “Wow, guys. This is really something.”

“She’s covered the entire space,” Patricia breathed. “Now, you mentioned in your email that you’d sought medical help for your daughter, is that correct? Can you tell me what her doctor said about her state of mind?”

I went over the meetings with the pediatrician, the school counselor, the two therapists and a recent meeting with an adolescent psychiatrist which had resulted in a prescription for antidepressants.

Noc turned on the flashlight on her cell phone and moved it over the walls. “You did a great job covering up those symbols,” she said. “I can’t find a trace of them so your daughter definitely didn’t see them through the paint.”

“When exactly did you find these?” Patricia asked, referring to the symbols covering Lilith’s closet walls.

“Saturday afternoon,” I said. “So that’s when I found a reverend to come to the house.”

“He was a Congregationalist,” Michael added.

“And Lilith was incredibly difficult when he was here,” I added, suddenly finding myself fighting back tears.

“She swore pretty good at the man and stormed out of the house,” Michael said. “Laura followed after her. The reverend really was a nice guy, he seemed to chalk the whole situation up to teenage rebellion. He offered to bless the house for us, so I lead him upstairs to Jack’s room, you know where the thing happened with the shadow on the ceiling-”

“I haven’t told them about that yet,” I interrupted.

“Well, one thing at a time,” Michael said. “Anyhow, he began to pray and fling around holy water and damned if we both didn’t feel the entire house tremor.”

The four of us stood in Lilith’s room. I could tell that Noc and Patricia were trying to process all they had been told.

“We could show you Jack’s room next,” I offered. “And I can explain how he said the shadow climbed up the wall and then across the ceiling to hover over his bed.”

Patricia and Noc exchanged a look. “You know what, if you don’t mind, just walk us through the rest of the house and point out any place where something paranormal has occurred,” Noc suggested.

I nodded, then started to turn to walk out the door but stopped and looked right at Noc. “Are you going to take our case?” I asked.

“Bet your ass,” she said.

Michael snorted. “Atta girl.”

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

As always be sure to check out ghostsintheburbs.com for all the links.

Now, onto the story.

*****

Chapter 14

Two days later and I was back at it. Down in the basement, a new scouring tool in hand and a spray bottle of vinegar and water in the other. It was a Thursday. It was cool and grey and windy. The basement felt as dreary as ever, if not more so. I began my work on the wall behind Lilith’s bed and sprayed three strips of paper with the removal solution. The scraper allowed me to peel back a top corner of the paper with relative ease. Here goes, I thought, expecting to have to struggle to get the paper free of the wall. To my surprise it came down in just a few easy sheets revealing a grey wall behind it. A little glue and backing clung to the dull paint, but not much.

I worked my way from left to right. The second sheet of paper also came down with little trouble. I was feeling cocky and optimistic, bopping to the music streaming from my cell phone over Lilith’s small speaker as I worked. And then I pulled at the edge of the third sheet of paper.

The beautifully painted blood red symbol stood out in stark contrast to the grey wall. I stared at it, balling up the stripped wallpaper I’d just torn down in my hand. It took me a moment to realize that the intricate symbol was upside down. It took another moment to realize what that meant.

I began frantically spraying the next sheet and the next. Waiting impatiently for the solution to do its job before frantically ripping down the wallpaper. It only got worse. Revealed were inverted crosses and pentagrams, their terrible red paint seemed to glow against the grey wall. After I’d peeled every single piece of paper from that wall I stood back and tried to make sense of the scene.

It was obvious that whoever had painted those symbols had done so with loving care. The most disturbing image stood in the wall’s center. Surrounded by a circle of inverted crosses were the words “Mother Demon,” in beautiful script.

Mother of God, I breathed, taking it all in. What sort of deviants would leave something like this on their walls and just paper over it? Who in the hell were the people who had lived in this house before us?

I was hysterical by the time I got Michael on the phone. He’d been in a meeting and hadn’t returned my call for over half an hour. I demanded that he come home immediately. He told me to calm down. I hung up on him, snapped a photo of Lilith’s wall and texted it to him. He texted back “I’ll be home in forty-five minutes,” within seconds of receiving the picture.

I didn’t want to know what lurked beneath the floral wallpaper on the remaining three walls in Lilith’s room, I decided to leave them for the time being. I knew I couldn’t let any of the kids see the awful symbols so I rushed to the hardware store and asked the clerk what I should do about bright red paint that needed covering up. I left with a pack of sandpaper, two cans of primer and four cans of pale pink paint. Then I went home and waited on the couch for Michael to arrive.

“Jesus Christ Almighty,” he spat taking in the satanic markings. “The guy at the hardware store told you how to cover it up?”

“Yes,” I breathed. “But Michael, what in the hell kind of people would do something like this? Do we know anything about the family who used to live here? We have to call the real estate agent and-”

Michael suggested we talk upstairs.

I followed him into the kitchen and poured us each a cup of stale coffee. I sipped the bitter drink and waited for him to tell me what he knew. Intuition told me he’d been keeping something from me.

“You know how I met Paul for drinks at the country club the other night?”

I sat in silence. Waiting.

“Right, well I met a guy there. Really nice guy, named Tom Murphy. He actually texted me his wife’s contact information, thought you guys might hit it off. Anyhow, he knew the people who lived here before us.”

I raised my eyebrows, wondering why in the hell he hadn’t mentioned any of this before.

“Tom was in school with their son.”

“And?” I pressed.

“Well, the thing is, it sounds as though the poor kid just might have died in the house.”

“Oh, Christ,” I breathed. “Might have died? How?”

Michael hesitated. “Suicide.”

“Oh no,” I groaned. “In this house? Oh my God, those poor people.” My mind spun with questions. “Wait a minute, how is this the first we are hearing of this? Shouldn’t it have come up when we bought the house? The lawyers? Kim! Kim must have known, she’s lived in town a long time!”

“I Googled it Tuesday morning,” Michael admitted. “Massachusetts law requires only that home sellers disclose the existence of lead paint or the presence of a septic system. They don’t have to offer any other information about the home or its history. If we’d known to ask whether their had been any deaths on the property then they would have had to tell us, but since we didn’t ask they were under no obligation.”

“That is ridiculous! Have you spoken to Kim about this?” I demanded.

“I left her a message yesterday, I haven’t heard back yet.”

“And when were you going to tell me all this?” I asked, hurt that he would withhold something so important.

“I didn’t want to worry you until I knew the full story. I figured we’d discuss it when I knew exactly what we were dealing with.”

“I can’t believe this. What exactly did this Tom tell you?”

“Just that he’d known the boy and that it was rumored that the kid was into satanic worship,” Michael held up his hands, obviously trying to stop me from losing my mind. “But, Tom also said that the boy had been dealing with untreated mental health issues and that’s what lead to his death.”

I stared at my husband. Outrage draining out of me, fear quickly stepping in to replace it. “Satanic worship?”

“I know, I know. But that has nothing to do with us or the house-”

“Michael!” I yelled. “The wall behind Lilith’s bed is covered with blood red satanic symbols. I’d say it has a lot to do with us.”

“We’ll talk to Kim and get to the bottom of this.”

“Kim,” I said in a growl. “If it turns out she knew and didn’t tell us…”

Michael nodded.

“The poor boy,” I said. “Do you know anything else about what happened to him?”

Michael shook his head.

“The neighbors,” I said, looking out the side window. “I bet those motherfuckers know everything.”

“Jesus, Laura. Language,” Michael said, grinning despite himself.

With nothing left to discuss we put our cups in the sink and went downstairs to paint over the artfully drawn symbols of satanic worship on our daughter’s bedroom walls.  

 

Chapter 15

The therapist, a plain Jane of a woman with what could only be described as a bowl cut suggested that Lilith was simply struggling to acclimate to the move and was missing her friends back home but that she could not find anything clinically wrong with the girl. Laura suspected the woman’s professional knowledge was as out of date as her haircut and was livid that she’d wasted so much time waiting for an appointment with the incompetent hippy when she could have been looking for a real therapist for Lilith.

Instead of easing her mind that a professional had reviewed her daughter’s mental state, the encounter with the therapist only caused Laura’s concerns to multiply. More unsettling than Lilith’s sullenness was the ease with which she turned back into her old self as she answered the therapist’s questions. When the woman suggested Lilith sign up for a club or a sport at the high school Laura watched as Lilith smiled and actually agreed with the woman. The girl even admitted that she’d been thinking about joining the yearbook staff, which Laura knew was a blatant lie.

The second they left the office, Lilith immediately descended back into a gloomy mood.

“Honey,” Laura said, “If there is anything you want to tell me or dad, well we would just do about anything to help you. If something’s happened-”

“You want to know what happened?” Lilith whispered.

“I do honey. If something bad happened you need to tell me.”

“Something terrible happened,” Lilith breathed.

Laura braced herself. They were at a stop light and she turned to look at her daughter. Lilith was staring out the passenger side window.

“You pulled me out of my home and took me away from all of my friends and family. Then you moved me to a cheap shitty little house and sent me down into a disgusting basement bedroom. All the while all you’ve been able to think about is yourself and how lonely and depressed you are.”

“Lilith, I-” Laura began, but she stopped speaking abruptly. Lilith had turned to look at her mother. Her face was expressionless. Her eyes had gone black, the pupils seeming to have taken over the irises completely.

Laura involuntarily shoved herself against the door to get as far away from the girl as she could. A car beeped behind them, the light had changed but Laura could not take her eyes off her daughter.

Lilith slowly turned to look out the passenger side window. “You’d better get going, Laura,” she said in a voice that was not her own.

 

***

 

The footsteps had gotten worse. Rosemary and Carrie would lie awake at night listening and counting.

“I don’t understand why we don’t just go tell mom and dad,” Rosemary whispered.

Carrie propped herself up on her elbow and looked over at her sister across the room. “Because they wouldn’t believe us, first of all. And second of all Jason said not to mention it.”

“I don’t understand why you’re even talking to that guy, he’s so weird.”

“He’s just shy,” Carrie argued. “Anyway, he used to live here and he said he heard footsteps too. He told me it was a friendly ghost.”

“Whatever,” Rosemary breathed, snuggling down under the covers. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

“Oh yeah? Then who’s walking around in our attic? And who keeps on messing with the lights?”

“Dad said it’s an electrical issue and that once we have more money he’ll get it fixed.”

“Okay, sure,” Carrie replied, knowingly. “And the shadows? Do you think he can make those go away with money?”

“It’s an old house, the lighting is weird,” Rosemary countered.

“Yeah, it’s so weird that it makes shadows crawl across the dining room ceiling,” Carrie snarked.

Annoyed Rosemary sat up in bed. “Well then what do you think is going on?”

Carrie matched her twin’s posture, “This house is haunted. You might not want to believe it, but it’s true. Jason said-”

“Oh, just shut up about that weirdo. I think he’s lying, I don’t even think he goes to school with Lilith, have you even asked her?”

Rosemary shook her head. The girls were quiet for a moment.

“Lilith won’t talk to me anymore,” Carrie admitted.

“She screamed at me for going down to the laundry room to get my jeans out of the dryer. I don’t know what her problem is.”

Overhead the footsteps started up again, this time they were a bit more pronounced. The girls looked up at the ceiling.

“I still think we should tell mom,” Rosemary whispered.

“She’ll just freak out,” Carrie replied.

 

***

 

Nextdoor, Jack was wide awake. He’d never heard the footsteps, which was a blessing, but he did see the shadows. Right then he was staring at one of those small, black forms. It appeared to be standing in the corner of his small bedroom.

Jack tried his best to turn the form into something other than a shadow figure standing in the corner of his room. Maybe it was just a collection of his belongings that looked like a small shadow figure lurking the darkness. That had to be it. He’d woken up moments before, not knowing what had pulled him from sleep. When he rolled over in bed and opened his eyes he’d immediately noticed the figure watching him.

The shadow was child sized, it actually looked like a small kid about his little cousin Gracie’s age, three or four years old. But it was hunched over and it appeared to be grasping its hands together. But that didn’t make any sense because shadows don’t have hands.

Jack strained his eyes, trying to prove to himself that what he was looking at was some sort of optical illusion, but he could not. He did not know how long he and the shadow stared at each other, but it was long enough that Jack thought he might lose his mind if something didn’t happen.

But then something did happen and Jack immediately wished that things could go back to the way they had been a moment before when he and the shadow were merely in a staring contest. That hadn’t been so bad, really. But what happened next was terrible.

The shadow dropped it’s arms down by its sides and then pushed it’s hands flat against the wall. And then it began to climb, slowly. One foot moving up the wall, then one hand, then the other foot, followed by the other hand, sliding upwards methodically until the shadow made it all the way up to the ceiling. Jack stayed very still. His mind still trying to make what he was seeing out to be anything other than what he knew it was. And then the shadow continued on and it began its methodical crawl across his ceiling, maneuvering around the old light fixture before continuing on it’s course. The shadow stopped when it hovered directly over Jack’s bed.

Jack could not move, he was unable to make a sound. He refused even to blink and tears streamed from his eyes. It was a wonder he could even breath. But then the shadow spoke. It said Jack’s name. In a terrible low growl and that broke the spell. Jack began to scream and he didn’t stop screaming until his father had dragged him out of bed and into the light of the hallway.

Laura had been wide awake counting her worries when she heard Jack’s blood curdling screams. The first thing that had gone through her mind was that he had found one of his sisters dead. The scream had been so desperate that she couldn’t imagine what else could cause such terror. She leapt over Lilith who had been asleep on the floor beside her. Lilith had slept in her parents room the past two nights as she waited for the paint fumes in her bedroom to dissipate.

Michael had been sound asleep and first heard the screams in a dream in which he was locked out of their home. In the dream he frantically slammed his shoulder against the front door, desperate to get inside to his screaming son. He awoke disoriented and it took a long moment to discern the dream from reality.

Carrie and Rosemary stood in their doorway watching the scene unfold before them. They wondered if Jack had finally heard the footsteps and had freaked out over the noise. They also wondered if perhaps it was time to share their suspicions with their family. They quickly realized that it was not the time.

Lilith stood opposite the girls in their parent’s bedroom doorway. She watched her parents console her inconsolable brother and eyed the twins as they took in the scene. Then she pushed past her mother and went into Jack’s bedroom where she looked up at the ceiling above his bed. Her family watched her nervously.

“Lilith, honey, what is it?”

A smile broke out across the girl’s face. The first smile they’d witnessed on the girl in weeks.

“Hi,” Lilith said to the ceiling. “They’re ready,” she whispered before crawling into Jack’s bed and pulling the covers up to her chin, the smile never leaving her face.  

 

Chapter 16

The morning after Jack’s scare I got the kids off to school then went straight to the library and asked a librarian to show me how to search property records. I wanted information about our neighbors. I was determined to find someone who’d been in the neighborhood long enough to know about the family who’d lived in our home before us and about the boy who’d died there. As it turned out one of next door neighbors had owned their home since nineteen eighty seven.

I logged off the computer and went home to bake a batch of brownies.

There was something very wrong with my daughter and I knew in my bones that our house had somehow infected her. I no longer held hope that any child psychologist or therapist could help us. Once I’d gotten the kids settled back down after the previous night’s events (Jack in a sleeping bag next to Michael’s side of the bed, the twins back in their bedroom, Lilith in Jack’s room having refused to leave his bed) I’d sat up with my laptop researching Lilith’s “symptoms” and the strange things that had been happening in our home. I scanned a handful of articles on demonic oppression and then I began an online search for someone who might help us. It didn’t take long to unearth the websites of several area ghost hunting groups. I chose three that looked moderately legitimate and filled out the online “request a consultation” forms.

Hello, I wrote, My family is experiencing strange things in our new home. We’ve heard noises and seen shadows, photographs have moved inexplicably, and in removing wallpaper from a basement wall we uncovered paintings of inverted crosses and pentacles. My eldest daughter seems to be the most affected by these occurrences. Her mood and overall demeanor has changed and several therapists and psychologists have been unable to offer explanation or help. I am reaching out in hopes that you might offer your expert opinion and advice about our situation. Thank you in advance for your time.

In the light of day the idea of enlisting the help of ghost hunters felt ludacris. But the situation in my home was ludacris. Over breakfast the twins had admitted to hearing footsteps overhead every night at bedtime for weeks. Rosemary then tattled on her sister’s friendship with the strange boy in the hoodie who kept lurking around our home.

“Tell her how Jason told you the the house was haunted when he lived here too,” Rosemary pressed. Defensive, Carrie admitted to having discussed the strange occurrences in the house with the boy. I again warned her against spending time with him, though at that moment a weird teenager was the least of my concerns. I needed help and I would take what I could get. While I waited for a reply from the ghost people I decided to gather as much information as I could about our home and it’s previous owners.

I sat on a stool at my kitchen island with a book while I kept one eye on the side window, a plate of brownies wrapped and ready at my side. I had a good view of the neighbor’s driveway. At eleven-thirty a black Tesla pulled into the drive and a woman in her late-sixties or perhaps early seventies stepped out, retrieved the New York Times from the foot of the driveway and walked to her front door. I grabbed the plate and scurried out of my house, determined to drag every detail I could out of the woman.

The neighbor’s house was similar to ours, though it was a touch larger and had obviously been well cared for over the years. I walked up the driveway, fallen leaves swishing underfoot and was startled when the front door swung open before I’d had the chance to ring the bell.

“May I help you?” The woman asked, her politeness tinged with suspicion. She had a small frame and a blond bob streaked with grey. Her tortoise shell glasses looked expensive.

“Hi, uh, yes, Mrs. Rumsfield?”

“Yes,” the woman said, drawing out the word.

“Hello, I’m Laura. Laura Arnold, I’m your next door neighbor. We moved in this summer?”

“Oh, yes of course,” she replied, glancing over at my house. “I’ve been meaning to stop by to introduce myself, but you know how it is. Time just seems to fly. How is your family settling in?”

“Uh, fine, just fine. I’ve been meaning to come over to say hello too,” I held up the brownies. “I thought you might like a sweet, if you have time, of course.” I sensed that she had no intention of inviting me in, but then I had no intention of leaving. “These are great with tea!” I added.

“Well, alright. Please, come on in,” she relented, stepping aside.

I followed her into the kitchen. The house was bright, heavy with antique furniture and spotless. Dark bookcases overflowed with paperbacks and porcelain doo dads. Spindly dark wooden chairs held scripture-laden needlepoint pillows. The cream colored walls were decorated with an assortment of oil paintings and delicate plates.

I took a seat at a glass and iron kitchen table as Barbara Rumsfield filled the teapot and put out plates and paper napkins for the brownies.

“These are delicious,” she commented after taking a dainty bite.

I nodded. “There’s a layer of Hershey’s chocolate bar in the middle,” I replied. “That’s the trick.”

Barbara asked after my children and I asked after hers. She had one daughter, now in her forties who lived in Brookline, which I learned was a close in suburb of Boston. I asked if there were grandchildren. There were two.

Barbara got up to take the whistling tea pot off the stove. She said, “It must be tight quarters over there, with four children and all.”

Reading between the lines I knew what she meant was, If you couldn’t afford a proper sized house then why did you have so many kids? Bristling, I replied “The house is smaller than our place in Houston, but we’ve found that everyone has plenty of room.”

Barbara carried the teapot to the table. “Well, I’m sure the real estate market in Wellesley is different than you were used to in the south,” she commented, solidifying my opinion of her as a true Yankee snob.

“There is a bedroom in your basement though, isn’t there?” She asked with the practiced nonchalance of a true gossip.

I saw my chance. “Yes, my eldest daughter Lilith is using it. Actually, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh?” I noted a hint of excitement in Barbara’s voice.

“Yes, well I wondered if you might know anything about the family who used to live in our house. All of our communication went through the real estate agents so we didn’t get a chance to get to know them at all.”

Barbara visibly tensed as she poured hot water into two yellow mugs. “Oh sure, the Butlers. They moved down to Florida, right?”

“They did. Did you know them?”

“Only to wave hello. We weren’t close,” she replied.

I wrapped my hands around the warm mug. “Did you know their son?”

Barbara tisked and shook her head. “That poor boy.”

“Did your daughter know him?”

“Heavens no,” Barbara said quickly. “I mean, she knew of him, of course. That boy’s reputation proceeds him.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Well, sure,” Barbara paused and studied me for a moment. I met her gaze. “How much do you know?” She asked.

“Not enough,” I admitted.

“I don’t like to gossip,” she shared unconvincingly, “But if that boy’s behavior was any indication then I’d say there was a lot of trouble in that house.”

I sipped my tea and nodded in understanding, not wanting to say anything that might make her stop talking.

“His appearance for one thing. Dying his hair black like that, and the clothing. Black hoodies and jeans in the middle of the summer. It was obvious he was up to no good, though God only knows how he got caught up in the first place. I used to see his parents at church every Sunday. My daughter heard he was into the drugs and she and her friends said he went off the deep end after the girlfriend broke up with him – that girl was a whole other story. At any rate, he didn’t take her rejection well and I suppose that’s when he started dabbling.”

“Dabbling?”

“Yes, in the occult,” Barbara reported, her eyes twinkling. She leaned forward. “The police were involved at one point because of the missing neighborhood cats.” Barbara gave an exaggerated shiver. “I saw the cruiser in that driveway on more than one occasion and I just had to wonder whether his parents were doing anything to control his behavior at all. Their inaction was inexcusable. And look how it all turned out. The kid hung himself in the laundry room for goodness sake. Surely they could have done something to get him help before it got to that.”

I must have looked awful because she quickly recovered and said, “Oh dear, you didn’t know it happened in the house?”

“I knew he died in the house, but I didn’t have any details,” I admitted.

Barbara sipped her tea. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. I’m surprised your real estate agent didn’t let you know before you bought the house.”

“Believe me, I was surprised at that too, but apparently sellers don’t have to disclose any deaths that have occured on their property.”

“That’s a shame. Speaking of police, did I see them at your house in the past few of months?”

So the neighbors had been watching out their windows like spineless jerks, I thought bitterly. “Yes, I thought I’d witnessed a train accident. Luckily, I’d been mistaken.”

“I see. I thought I saw the police in your driveway one other time too.”

I stared at the woman for a long moment. “It’s been a really hard transition for my family,” I finally said. “No one has reached out to welcome us to this town and the people I have met haven’t even shown the smallest kindness. But the police have been a godsend. Thank you for letting me know about the Butlers. I’ll let you get back to your day.”

I stood and carried my plate and mug to the sink.

Barbara watched me then got up to walk me to the door, I thanked her again for her time and before I left she offered a piece of advice.

“It certainly wouldn’t hurt to get a priest over there to bless the property. It might grant Jason’s soul peace.”

“Who?”

Jason, the boy who died in your house.”

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

A couple reminders:

Go to Patreon.com/ghostsintheburbs to support the show. A $10 per month pledge will get you a short spooky story all your own. They truly are one of my favorite things to write.

Pop on over to Society6/ghostsintheburbs for cool merch created by graphic designer Jackie DeVore, cohost of Sirens of Scream podcast.

And, as always, check out ghostsintheburbs.com for all the links.

Now, onto the story.

***

 

Chapter 12

Though it was reassuring to know the police would be alerted immediately if a window or a door opened without our knowledge, the arming and un-arming of the security system as we came in and out of the house only served as a constant reminder of our vulnerability. The beep-beep-beep when the front door opened a little tap on the shoulder asking me to remember that a stranger had actually been in our home, standing right behind me in the basement. Punching in the security code was a personal memo to go over all the horrible things that could have happened had it been Lilith down there instead.

I was hanging on by a thread. Michael was distant. He was stressed at work and concerned about our finances and the last thing I wanted to do was to add to his burdens. I’d considered asking my mother to come up for a visit, but we didn’t have any room for her in the house and I didn’t have the money to pay for her hotel room. Next month, I promised myself.

Every morning I set out with one goal: just keep busy. Busy getting the kids ready for school, busy cleaning the house and running errands and taking walks, busy with the kids after school needs and dinner needs and bedtime needs. Busy until the blessed moment when I could take an Advil PM and lose myself in a couple hours of sleep. The cruel trick of it was that I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep, it was staying asleep that was the problem. My mind betrayed me every night, waking me up around one or two then offering punishing lists of worries that scrolled endlessly through my mind until I’d doze off into a fitful sleep just moments before Michael’s alarm sounded.

Our current state of affairs was unsustainable. I knew this deep in my bones. We were headed for a trouble, disaster if I wasn’t careful. But the only way I could see out of it was through it. So I kept busy, kept running through my lists of worries, kept looking for ways to dig us out of the hole we seemed to be sinking into.

As a rule, I did not go into the basement if Michael and the kids weren’t home. I know how hypocritical it was of me. I expected my daughter to sleep down there alone every night but I couldn’t even make myself go down to do a couple loads of laundry if there weren’t other people in the house. But the place gave me the creeps, and not only because of the break in. Ever since I’d spoken with the contractor I’d had the feeling that he didn’t like the space either – that it frightened him too. And that worried me more than anything, because if it wasn’t just my overactive imagination or my sorrow over moving up north that was creating the bad feelings within me about the house then there might actually be something very bad brewing in our home.

Go through it to get through it. It was my home. I had to find a way to love it, or at least get over the feeling that it was plotting my family’s demise. We’d renovate eventually. My parents would eventually come to visit. Someday we might even move, if not back to Houston then maybe to a different house in Wellesley. In the meantime, I’d make the house my own. For now, the basement was a run down, creep show. But we would fix that eventually, for now I just had to do the best I could. And the best I could do at that moment meant taking down that godforsaken wallpaper in Lilith’s room.

I’d put off stripping the wallpaper for far too long. But Lilith had grown so sullen and distant that I was desperate to find a way to brighten her mood. I’d tried cooking her favorite meals, asked her out to get our nails done together (she declined), I even bought her a pair of jeans I knew she’d had her eyes on in one of the little shops on Central Street. And yet, I couldn’t find a way to connect with her. Her interaction with her siblings was nothing but bickering, I’d noticed that she wouldn’t hardly even look at Michael, and when I tried to talk to her she barely said more that one or two words to me. I had absolutely no idea whether she’d made any new friends at all and, truth be told, I was afraid of the answer.

This complete change in her personality prompted me to ask her guidance counselor to suggest a children’s therapist. Our appointment with the woman was a week away and I was overwhelmed with guilt that I hadn’t sought help for her sooner. I’d been so wrapped up in my own misery that I’d let things go too far. The obvious answer was that the move had pushed her down into a depression, but my intuition told me a storm was brewing. It felt as though Lilith’s mood shift had to do with more than just the move. That there was something she simply wasn’t telling us. My chipmunk mind blared a list of horrible things that she might be keeping secret.

One week. I kept telling myself, I just had to keep busy for one week and then I’d have a therapist to help my daughter.

Fixing up Lilith’s bedroom made me feel like I was doing something positive for my daughter, and stripping the wallpaper and prepping the walls for paint had an added bonus. The strong fumes put off by the process and the low air flow in the basement meant Lilith would have to sleep on our bedroom floor for a few nights until the project was complete.

With the kids off at school and the morning mess straightened up I checked to make sure that the security system was activated then gathered my supplies. The online instructions made it sound so simple, but I had a feeling the devil was in the details with this whole project. A scouring tool, putty knife and a spray bottle of water and vinegar just didn’t seem like enough for the job, but a review of several do-it-yourself sites assured me that was all I would need. “Just scour, spray, and peel,” one do-it-yourselfer blogged. However, her suggestion to have “Plenty of old towels and plastic sheeting on hand to protect the floor and furniture from the mess,” made me suspicious of the simple instructions.

I’d told Lilith that I would be working in her room the evening before, I wanted to give her time if there was anything in her room she might like to squirrel away. My mother had been a snooper and it had always grated, making me trust her a little less that I ought to have. Whether Lilith had put anything private away I didn’t know and I wouldn’t go looking. As much as I wanted to know what was going on to make my daughter so unhappy I wouldn’t betray her trust. I also didn’t think snooping would bring any answers. Whatever was going on inside Lilith’s head she was keeping locked down tight.

Jim had completed the short list of projects I’d given him. Three new doors in three new frames stuck out like Lilly Pulitzer dresses at a funeral. The new frames did not sit flush with the old baseboard and besides that, the new additions were all white while the rest of the basement was a muddy brown. Staring at the chaotic and depressing hodgepodge I decided that even if we couldn’t afford to renovate the basement I could afford paint. I’d paint the space a gleaming white. There was no reason to wait. Sure, it would be a big project, but what else did I have going on? It wasn’t like there was anyone banging down the door to spend time with me.

Feeling better that I had yet another project to keep me busy I walked down the short hallway to Lilith’s bedroom, past the open laundry room door. Lilith had braced the door open with a full bottle of detergent. I wondered at that for a moment. The doors had been replaced, they shouldn’t need to be braced open any longer. I put my concern away, purposefully deciding not to think on it too much and opened my daughter’s bedroom door.

The bed sat slightly off center on the wall across from me. It’s pink and purple Pottery Barn bedspread and yellow sheets in a crumpled mess. To either side of it were the white bedside tables onto which I’d stenciled daisies years before. In her Houston bedroom they’d been happy bursts of color. They were lost in the new room, their brightness dimmed. Under the room’s sole window sat Lilith’s desk, it’s long armed lamp offering some light. The lava lamp her little friend had given her back home glowed quietly amid a mess of open books, papers and magazines.

I dropped the large laundry basket I’d filled with the towels, plastic sheets and wallpaper removal tools onto Lilith’s bedroom floor. Then I flipped the switch for the overhead light. The illumination did nothing to make the space feel any less dreary. What it did do was highlight the chaotic state of the bedroom. It struck me how out of character it was for my daughter to inhabit such a messy space. A cluttered desk full of projects? Sure. But empty dishes and glasses on the bedside tables and dirty clothing strewn across the floor? It wasn’t like her at all.

I pushed aside my agitation and the underlying hum of worry and set to straightening up the room. I quickly made the bed, straightened the bedside tables, then picked up discarded clothing off the floor and put it in the the pink hamper my aunt had gifted us at my baby shower. Then I gathered plates and cups and carried them out to the basement stairs deciding that I’d leave them there for Lilith to carry up when she got home from school.

Back in the room and satisfied that I could begin to prep for the wallpaper removal I plugged my phone into the speaker on Lilith’s desk for music. Then I pulled the furniture out to the center of the room, lined the floor with towels and covered everything with the plastic sheets. I’d finally begun spraying the wall behind Lilith’s bed when I heard the banging.

I quickly turned down the music and listened. There it was again, four hard bangs followed by the doorbell. I put down the spray bottle on the floor next to the scraper and ran upstairs. I couldn’t imagine who it could be. I wasn’t expecting any deliveries and God knew there wasn’t anyone who might be stopping by for a visit.

I looked out the window beside the front door and saw no one so I assumed whoever had come to call was at the side door off the mudroom. I was wrong. I pulled open the door to peek my head out, thinking that perhaps the person had given up and assumed that I was not home. But, of course, I’d forgotten about the security system so the second I opened the door I was startled by the loud beeping of the alarm warning me that the door I had opened myself was indeed open. I slammed the door then rushed to the control panel in the front entrance to stop the irritating beeping.

My nerves jangled I was too annoyed to care who had been banging on our door so I reset the damn alarm and headed back into the basement to resume work. The thing was, once I got down there my spray bottle and scraper were nowhere to be found. Everything else was exactly as I’d left it. I distinctly remembered placing the bottle down on Lilith’s floor right next to the wall scraper. But it was gone.

I retraced my steps. Had I carried it upstairs without even thinking about it? Had I left it in the front hallway? In the mudroom? No. The damn things were gone. Just vanished into thin air. Back in the basement I shoved the plastic sheets and towels aside, knowing it made no sense but having no clue how the tools could have just up and vanished. I poked my head into the laundry room, knowing it was fruitless.

Fuck, fuck, fuck! I trudged back up to the first floor and slammed the basement door behind me. How could I be so absent minded? In the kitchen I grabbed a can of seltzer water from the refrigerator and stared over towards the family room couch longingly. Then I grabbed my keys from the counter catch all, disengaged the fuckijng alarm system got in my car and drove straight to the hardware store to buy a new spray bottle and scraper.

Fuck this house, I thought.

I was shaking the new spray bottle with its solution of vinegar and water when I first noticed the family photos. I’d hung them the week before above the couch in the family room; a line of five family photos in identical white frames. Images of happier times. The children lined up at the beach, the family celebrating the twin’s first birthdays, a group shot at a neighborhood barbeque, Michael and I dressed up for a friend’s wedding, all six of us wearing Mickey Mouse ears in front of Epcot Center.

I’d hung the photos carefully with my laser leveler, measuring precisely so that the frames would be spaced perfectly. The photos were still all in a line. Still perfectly spaced, but they were all now hanging upside down. I stared at them, dumbfounded. Now, why in the world would one of the kids do that? I thought, agitated. As I was crossing the room to straighten the photos I heard the basement door click open. An icy chill of fear stole through my body. I looked at the door, it was open only an inch or so. Then I glanced back at the upturned photos.

I walked right out of that house and went to Starbucks until school let out.

 

***

I was waiting for the kids in the driveway when the younger ones came home. I’d been pretending to weed along the edge of the house, but really I was just stalling, not wanting to go inside alone. I’d spent the afternoon convincing myself that the kids had flipped the photos and we lived in an old creaky house, that’s why the doors wouldn’t stay shut.

“Hey y’all,” I called out to my three younger children. I reluctantly followed them into the house as they told me about their days. As I doled out snacks I asked if any of them had touched the frames I’d hung in the family room. They responded with a unanimous no. I showed them the photos and said that they best not be lying to me. That I’d spent a lot of time trying to get those pictures just right and it wasn’t funny for them to play a trick like that. They looked confused, not guilty.

I heard the mudroom door open and knew that Lilith was home.

She walked into the kitchen and dropped her backpack next to the basement door.

“Hi, honey,” I said as brightly as I could. “How was your day?”

Lilith ignored me and went to the sink. Unnerved by her dismissiveness I watched as she filled a glass of water. Suddenly, I remembered the dishes at the bottom of the stairs and asked her to retrieve them, adding how disappointed I was in the filthy state of her bedroom.

“If you keep leaving dirty dishes down there you’ll attract pests” I pointed out.

Lilith turned and I caught a look of pure hatred and rage on her face. It was gone as quickly as it had appeared. She said, “Okay, mommy,” in a sing-song voice then walked slowly to the basement door. “I’ll bring those up right away, how silly of me!”

I watched as my daughter disappeared down the steps, taken aback not only by the look of rage I’d glimpsed but in the completely inappropriate way she’s responded to me. I was about to call her back upstairs when I heard a loud crash.

Immediately I thought that she had fallen and landed in the pile of dishes I set out for her. I arrived at the top of the stairs and stopped short. I’d been expecting the worst, to see her sprawled out on the ground. Instead she stood looking back at me from the base of the stairs, a smirk on her face.

“Oh, my gosh, mommy. I’m so clumsy, I don’t know what happened.” Her voice wasn’t right. It was flat, lacking any emotion.

Scattered around her feet on the basement floor were the remains of the plates and glasses I’d asked her to carry up. Stunned, I could only manage to say, “Just stay put, I’ll grab the broom. I don’t want you to cut your feet.”

She began to climb the stairs, holding eye contact with me. I backed away.

“Don’t worry yourself. I’ll get the dustpan, mommy,” Lilith said, cold laughter in her voice.

I turned away from her then. I saw that her siblings had been watching the exchange with rapt attention. I new that I should light her up over so obviously smashing those dishes on purpose, but the truth was, in that moment, I was frightened of my daughter.

 

Chapter 13

“I’m telling you, Michael. It was creepy. Lilith was not herself – at all.” They were sitting at the dining room table. The twins and Jack in front of the television watching a movie, Lilith down in her bedroom, having pushed aside the towels and plastic sheets in order to work at her desk.

Michael sighed and bought himself time by taking a gulp of his drink. Whiskey, not his usual beer. “Look, I agree it sounds off,” taking in the look on his wife’s face he added, “And extremely disrespectful, but you know we do have to factor in the fact that she is a teenager now. They are supposed to back chat their parents. Maybe we’ve just been lucky with her so far, and now she’s just testing the boundaries.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Laura pressed.

“Do you want me to talk to her?”

Laura sat back in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest. “You can try. I haven’t been able to get her to say more than two words to me.”

Michael got up from the table. “Alright, we’ll have a chat,” he said, before downing the rest of his drink. But not tonight. I have that Gentleman’s Club thing that Paul invited me to.”

“How could I forget,” Laura said bitterly.  

 

When his boss invited him to a “gentleman’s night” at the Wellesley Country club, Michael had felt a spark of excited relief. He knew Laura wanted him home but he’d been desperate to escape the tension in the house, if even for a couple hours. He quickly learned that “grabbing a couple drinks” meant a very different thing in Wellesley than it did to his friends back home. In Houston, with friends he’d known for most of his life, that meant heading to someone’s backyard with a Yeti cooler full of beer to sit around the fire pit and shoot the shit, or going out to a bar and grabbing a few while keeping one eye on the game. In Wellesley it meant time spent at an exclusive country club that boasted a five year waiting list – if you were able to get three pristine recommendations by members and could afford to put up the one hundred thousand dollar buy in and pay the sizeable yearly dues.

Back home no one would have shared this financial information. It may have been heavily implied that only incredibly wealthy people could afford to join the club, but actual numbers would never have been discussed. Not so up north. Paul had outlined the finances involved in club membership at the office that morning after he’d confirmed Michael would be able to make it to the event. He did so under the guise of suggesting that Michael meet a few members to gather the prerequisite recommendations to get on the waiting list. But they both knew the club was way out of Michael’s reach. Joining the waitlist alone cost one thousand dollars and it was no guarantee of membership.

He parked his car and took in the massive building, it’s Georgian architecture aglow in the dimming light. Michael had never thought of himself as a person concerned with status. But the short time he’d spent in Wellesley had taught him that he hadn’t cared about status in Houston because he’d had it. Now that he was surrounded by such entrenched wealth, he was beginning to care about status a great deal and he found that it made him feel inferior. He had no idea what to expect as he walked through the huge doors and into the elegantly decorated club. A woman in a traditional black and white maid’s uniform greeted him and asked his business. He mentioned Paul’s name.

“Mr. Hensley is with the gentleman in the club room,” she pointed to a hallway behind her. “Straight through, you can’t miss it.”

Paintings of distinctly British looking landscapes in ornate gold frames lined the long wallpapered hallway. Sconces provided dim light and Michael fought the urge to turn and run. At the end of the hallway he could make out a dark room. As he got closer he found it to be a high ceilinged bar; all mahogany and plush leather chairs. A substantial bar stood to his left, a line of glass doors across the room lead out to a veranda overlooking the golf course, to his right a massive fireplace flickered.

He scanned the crowd. There were about thirty or so men in the room and though his eyes adjusted to the darkness it was still hard to make anyone out. Guys sat in front of the fireplace smoking cigars, others gathered around a pool table in the far corner. He decided to head to the bar for a drink when he felt a hand clap him on the back.

“There he is!” Paul said cheerily.

“Hey, man,” Michael replied, relief overtaking him. “This place is great.”

Paul accepted the compliment as if it were about his own home. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get you a drink.”

Michael followed his boss to the bar and ordered a beer. He was introduced to several men, all of which had at least twenty years on him. For the most part they were dismissive and uninterested once they learned that he was just an employee of Paul’s with no family ties to the area. Shortly he ordered another beer.

He followed the group to a table near the fireplace. There he was grateful to get a seat next to a man named Tom Murphy, who’d been the most welcoming of the group. He was a friendly guy in his late forties who worked in commercial real estate. He seemed genuinely interested in Michael’s family and their move. Michael began to feel his guard lower.

“How’s your wife handling the move?” Tom asked.

“Well, you know, it’s actually been pretty hard on her. We were in Houston our whole life, so this has been a pretty big transition. But she’s managing it.”

“Has she gotten out to meet people?”

Michael admitted that Laura had been having a hard time connecting with other women in town. “It’s probably just the kids ages,” he said, hoping he wasn’t making his wife sound desperate. “When they’re little you see the same faces all the time at pick up and play dates and everything. I’m sure she’ll get plugged in, though.” He suddenly felt ashamed that he hadn’t done more to help Laura acclimate to this new town.  

“I’ll tell you what, my wife Sara has a book club that meets once a month with a nice group of women. They go out to dinner once in a while too. I’ll email you and we’ll put them in touch.”

“That would be fantastic. Thank you,” Michael said, immensely grateful. Maybe this town wasn’t so bad after all, they couldn’t expect to just have a group of friends ready made for them when they arrived. They’d have to work at it a bit, but he suddenly felt optimistic that they would find their people.

“How’s the new house?” Tom asked.

“It’s good, it sure is a work in progress, but Laura’s great at that sort of thing. Already it’s feeling like home.”

“Where is it, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“Oh, man. You’re in the old Miller place,” Tom said in a low voice when he heard Michael’s address. “I wondered who’d bought it.”

“Oh yeah?” Michael replied, taking a gulp of beer.

“Yeah,” Tom said, fixing his expression. “I knew the Millers – the family who owned the place for years. I went to high school with their son, Jason. Poor family. I don’t think they ever got over it, I mean, how could you though, right? And having him do it right in the house.” Tom shook his head, then looked embarrassed. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s shitty of me to bring up.”

Michael, shocked and trying to make Tom’s story about his house mean anything other than what he knew it did, could not respond.

Tom leaned forward, “The seller disclosed the history, right?” Seeing the look on Michael’s face, Tom knew the answer was no. “Shit. Listen, it was a really long time ago. The kid was troubled, back then we just thought he was some sort of a devil worshipper, but now you know, with kids of my own, I can see he must have been struggling with mental health stuff.”

Michael was about to ask exactly what had happened to the boy when his boss leaned across the table.

“Hey there, Murphy I see you’ve met my newest recruit. So did you see my new ride?”

The conversation turned to cars, Michael was reeling. No matter what, he had to make sure that Laura never, ever learned that a teenage boy had died in their home, especially if the boy had died by suicide.

Why in the hell hadn’t Kim mentioned anything about this? Or our real estate lawyer for that matter? Weren’t those people supposed to dig up this sort of information? Michael took a deep breath. It didn’t matter. The history of the house had nothing to do with his family. The only thing that mattered was keeping this information from Laura. He could tell she hated the damn place enough as it was, he didn’t need to throw fuel on that fire.  

He did his best to contribute to the conversation for the next half hour or so, but it was hard to add anything meaningful. The town was a new league he hadn’t encountered. The guys spoke of couples vacations to the Amalfi coast and ski houses in Colorado. They drove six figure cars and bought their wives $80,000 SUVs. Sitting there listening to the excessive wealth swirling around him he felt a pang of sympathy for Laura and wondered at what these men’s wives were like.

None too soon the guys started to peel away from the evening. Michael walked out with Paul and a couple of his golfing buddies.

His boss clapped him hard on the shoulder as they walked outside through the club’s grand front doors. “Mikey! We’re headed over to Smith & Wollensky for a nightcap, you wanna join us?”

“Better not,” Michael said, bristling at the nickname. “Laura’s expecting me.”

Paul rolled his eyes. “Alright, man. Next time then.”

“Next time,” Michael repeated.

 

***

 

The next day was cold and dreary. Fall having arrived in full force. The kids enjoyed the colorful leaves and the crisp fall air, but to Laura in meant the oncoming winter. She worried about the snow. Icy roads, frostbitten fingers and something expensive called ice dams that could apparently happen to houses without warning.

The rain let up just after the kids got home from school. Lilith was curled up on the couch with a book, having turned down an afternoon snack. The younger kids split off to their separate activities after inhaling the ants on a log Laura had prepared for them. The house was immaculate, Laura had kept herself quite busy tidying, scrubbing, organizing. It had been too stormy that morning for her usual walk and she’d needed something to distract her mind from the worries plaguing her.

It was an immense relief to hear the kids walk in through the front door every afternoon. She knew she should be signing them up for more extracurricular activities, but selfishly she wanted them near. Safe. Close by. She was straightening the dining room chairs when she’d glanced out the sliding doors. One of the girls was in the yard, turned away to face the creek and tracks beyond it. Laura watched the girl talking and gesturing with her hands. A train passed by and Laura watched as Rosemary doubled over with laughter. Laura slid the door open and stepped out onto the rain soaked patio.

“Hey, you’d better come in and get some homework done before dinner,” she called.

Rosemary, obviously startled, turned to look at her mother. Laura looked around the yard, she realized that the girl was alone. “Who are you talking to, honey?”

“That boy,” Rosemary replied.

“What boy?”

“The one in the sweatshirt,” Rosemary gestured towards the creek. “He was just here, didn’t you see him?”

A chill overtook Laura. “You are not to speak to that boy,” she said in a voice that sounded more stern than she’d intended.

“He’s my friend,” Rosemary protested.

“No he isn’t,” Laura snapped. “Where did he go?”

Rosemary glanced back towards the creek. “I don’t know, he was just here. You probably scared him away.”

“And what does that tell you?” Laura demanded. “Did he tell you his name?”

“No.” The girl replied.

“Well, then what kind of friend is that? You are to tell me the second you see him. Do you understand me?”

Rosemary nodded sullenly. “It’s not like he’s a stranger. He knows Lilith.”

“What?”

“He’s always asking about her. Wants to know how she likes her new bedroom, I guess he used to live here.”
Laura froze. “Get inside,” she said in a low voice. “Now.”

Startled by her mother’s reaction, Rosemary did as she was told. Laura locked the sliding glass door and slid the bar in place to secure it. Then she went to the mudroom and set the security alarm. She dialed Officer Davis’ cell phone and left a message, explaining that it wasn’t urgent but they had seen the boy again. Then she made herself a tea, sat at the kitchen counter and pretended to read a magazine as she kept an eye on her oldest daughter.

IMG_5626Regularly on the podcast I write short stories for listeners who support Ghosts in the Burbs at the $10 tier level on Patreon. These stories always appear at the end of the podcast episodes. Here’s a sample of the most recent set of stories. Listen to the podcast for more of these fun horror stories, and head over to Patreon for more information.

******

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

 

But before we get to this week’s story I’d like to offer a million thanks to: Elizabeth Smith, Not a Sheep Gal, Brian Newman, Joe Ormand, Angella Zampell, Bonnie Easley, Casey Gilly, Jess Kroner, Stefanie Gunning, Christigale Mandapat, Andrea Imbaratto, and Allison Petherick for their generous support on Patreon. Without it, this podcast wouldn’t exist. If you haven’t yet head over to check out Ghosts in the Burbs on Patreon where each patron tier carries with it a small token of my thanks. The following patrons, Jonathan Ruhe and Katie Gibbons, chose the $10 per month tier so that I might create a spooky story just for them.

Theirs is a tale of escalation and differing opinions. Here goes…

 

Katie Gibbons hated Starbucks coffee. That was another thing that was going to change around here, she decided. She’d out up with it all for two long. They’d learn to compromise or this just wasn’t going to work. It had been a long, dreadful night and she’d barely slept more than fifteen minutes at a time for all the racket. Her nerves were shot and she was out of ideas.

Even now, the steady thumping beneath her feet kept her jumpy, draining what little reserves she had left. She dumped the last of the bitter drink down the kitchen sink then headed upstairs for a shower. She was sure to stomp her feet as hard as she could on the floor as she did so. Her little way of showing that she wouldn’t be bullied and she couldn’t be worn down.

She dozed off for a moment in the steamy shower and dreamed of the incident. Even in her dream it brought forth a rage she could not contain. When she came to, the shower blasting her with warm water, she felt her resolve strengthen and she knew she was doing the right thing. How else would he see the error of his ways? How else would he see reason? This had to be seen through to the end. She got dressed, dried her hair, put on her makeup and left for work.

Jonathan Ruhe was as furious as he was confused. He simply couldn’t make sense of the situation, and he was becoming more and more unwilling to see it from any other angle. Who did she think she was? What they had was a difference of opinion, hers being the wrong one in his mind, and there was no way he would give an inch now. At least he’d listened while she spouted off her illogical nonsense. She could just forget that. He wouldn’t entertain her weak arguments any longer.

They lived in a free country, goddamnit, it was his god-given right to do as he saw fit.  And the extent to which she had overreacted! His head ached. What he wouldn’t give for a steaming cup of Starbucks. That lunatic had convinced him to give up caffeine for New Years. And he’d even agreed to dry January. But this? This was going too damn far. He would not meet her half way. They were on two completely different sides of the field and this was one hill he was willing to die on. No matter what the cost.

In the car on her way to work, the events of the previous evening replayed over and over in her mind. The argument, his ridiculous reasons for feeling the way he did. The frying pan. How could he be so selfish? So closed minded? She should have known, there were red flags. Little comments here and there, and then when they went to visit his parents, well there was a lot there that should have sent up little flares as well. The way they talked about things, the implications, even though they never spelled it out. How could she have been so blind?

Jonathan woke from a fitful sleep. His neck was stiff and his wrists were beginning to chafe from the handcuffs. That self-important little brat, he thought. She has no idea what it’s like in the real world. She might as well flush money down the toilet. It was because of the way she was raised. That he knew for sure. Her father voted for Clinton for fuck’s sake. He could just kick himself for not seeing it sooner. They never should have moved in together without talking about something so important first.

He heard the front door open. Heard Katie walk across the kitchen floor above his head. He began banging on the metal pole to which he was handcuffed. After about fifteen minutes he heard the basement door open. Relief flooded through him, but he hardened his heart. He had to stand firm. He wouldn’t show weakness.

“Have you had enough?” Katie asked as she stepped off the final stair.

Jonathan glared at her

She turned towards the stairs.

“You’re being an irrational b-”

“I’d be very careful with the way you talk to me right now Jonathan.”

“You think I should be careful? You chained me to a pole in our basement and left me down here all night, Katie! You’re the one who’d better be careful!”

“You were acting like a lunatic,” Katie said, arms crossed.

“So you hit me over the head with a fucking frying pan, dragged me into our basement and chained me to a pole?”

“Don’t be dramatic, you’re not in chains.”

“This was completely uncalled for,” he spat.

“Just admit you’re wrong! She screamed.

Jonathan shook his head slowly. Then in a low, dangerous voice he said, “Everyone in the free world knows that the thermostat should never go above 65 degrees, it does not matter how cold it is outside. One keeps the temperature of ones home consistent. We keep air conditioning set at 65 degrees throughout the summer months, right? And then you are able to comfortably wear shorts and a t-shirt, correct? But then magically the calendar turns and in the winter months the outdoor temperature affects you inside? It is irrational. It is magical thinking.”

“You are the one being irrational!” Katie screamed. “First of all, stop talking to me like I’m a child – I pay half the rent here. Second of all, I heard all of this bullshit last night! And it is still bullshit. It is COLD outside in the winter and the cold air gets into the house so you have to turn up the heat to counteract it. That is not magical thinking, that is science.”

“Since when do you know anything about science? You literally believe in the five second rule!”

“Even children know about the five second rule!” Katie cried.

“Oh sure. The germs all just hold each other back and count down from five before attacking your food.”

Katie opened her mouth to argue but abruptly closed it. Then she turned and walked slowly back up the basement stairs, this time she flipped the light switch. Maybe some time in the dark would get him to see reason. She slammed the door and listened as the steady banging started up again.

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

I have some very exciting news. I’ve partnered up with the brilliant graphic designer, Jackie DeVore (who also happens to be a co-host of Sirens of Scream podcast – which you must listen to for their incredible recommendations on all things horror). Jackie created two absolutely amazing new designs for Ghosts in the Burbs that are available now on t-shirts, mugs and stickers over at the Ghosts in the Burbs shop on Society6.

You guys, they are so cool. One design is a reimagined Ouija Board with a familiar message. The other, a graphic representation of a phrase you hear at the start of almost every Ghosts in the Burbs interview. I wore the Ouija Board t-shirt to spin class a couple days ago and two people asked me about it – here’s the thing, people don’t typically acknowledge their fellow riders in a 5:45am spin class. That’s how cool this design is. So, check it out. Head straight to Society6 OR find the link at ghostsintheburbs.com.

Now, onto the story.

***

Lilith

Chapter 10

I considered calling Officer Davis to tell her what the contractor had said about the teenager causing his employee to fall from the ladder. I even took out her card, but when I went to punch in her number it dawned on me how ridiculous it would be to relay the story to her. It wasn’t necessarily the same boy. It could have been any teenager. Maybe they used our yard as a cut through. Michael was right. We needed to call the fence company. I added it to a growing list of tasks connected to the home.

With the contractor gone I set to my errands for the day. First heading out to the dry cleaners and then to the grocery before a quick stop at the library to pick up the books I’d put on hold for the kids. I snuck upstairs to the Mystery section and grabbed A Demon Summer. The Max Tudor series had been the perfect distraction, I’d begun it right before the move and was now on book four. The simplicity of life in Nether Monkslip lulled me to sleep at night, even if the tiny British town did have a suspiciously high murder rate.  

Leaving the library I found myself dreading returning to the house. But the groceries wanted refrigeration so I reluctantly returned home, promising myself I would sit on the couch and read a chapter or two after putting the groceries away.

Before settling in with the book I gathered the laundry from upstairs and carried it down to the basement, hoping to push through a few loads before the kids got home from school. I would pile the clean laundry on the dining room table as had become my routine and have Jack fold it as part of his weekly chore list. He was saving up for a Nintendo Switch. The twins were in charge of distributing the laundry to the correct bedrooms. They were pooling their money for tickets to the indoor trampoline park. A concussion trap and germ fest if I’d ever encountered one.

I set the laundry basket on the basement floor surprised to see the laundry room door closed. It was the very thing I’d called Jim over to help with, perhaps he had fixed it while I wasn’t paying attention. I reached out to turn the doorknob but found that it was stuck. Jammed. Not only would the door not budge, I could barely make the doorknob turn even a centimeter.

“Thanks a lot, Jim,” I muttered, blaming the contractor for making the door situation even worse.

I huffed back up the basement stairs and grabbed a bottle of WD40 out from beneath the sink then stomped back down. I had been looking at the bottle trying to get the red wand into place but when I looked up I was shocked to see the laundry room door was wide open. It took me a moment to process the scene. That door had been stuck tight. I’d even tried shoving it open with my hip then pulling up and pushing down on the handle to see if I could move it.

It didn’t make any sense. I’d been so taken aback by the open door that I didn’t immediately noticed the dryer. It’s door was open as well, a clean load of laundry spilling out onto the dirty concrete floor.

Annoyed I stepped into the room intending to rescue the clean laundry but I stopped dead when I heard someone behind me whisper, “Boo,” in a very low voice right before I heard the basement door at the top of the stairs slam shut.

I spun around, certain there was a man standing right behind me. I had my hands up ready to claw his eyes out if I had to, but there was no one there. I was alone. I looked around the entire room, then, convinced that the man must be hiding just outside the door I looked around for a weapon. I briefly considered grabbing the bottle of laundry detergent to splash in the man’s face but then my eyes fell on a screw driver laying on the floor next to the furnace. I moved quickly and grabbed it. It was rusted and gritty with dirt and dust.

I called out. “Come on out asshole! I don’t want to hurt you, but I will!”

No answer. The basement screamed with silence.

I forced myself to edge closer to the door. If the man trapped me in there I had no hope. I took a breath, counted down from three and burst through the doorway aiming for the stairs. I ran up them like the devil was chasing me. I saw that the door at the top was indeed shut and as I grabbed for the handle I prayed that it would open. It stuck for one dreadful moment and I screamed out loud. I tried it again harder this time and it gave way. I kept running. Out of the house and into the front yard, only then did I turn to look behind me.

There was no sign of the man and it occured to me that he might be escaping through the backyard. I was furious. I ran around the house to the backyard, the screwdriver held out before me. But I saw no one. I scanned the treeline and the yards to either side. All was quiet. I turned to look at the house behind me. It sat silent. Heavy. Overwhelmed and terrified I screamed and threw the screwdriver at it.

I had a moment of panicky doubt. Had I imagined the whole thing? No. I’d heard someone speak behind me, clear as day. A man, or a male at any rate. And that laundry door had been stuck, firmly. I reasoned that whoever was down there must have been on the other side of that door holding it closed while I went up to get the WD40. Then he’d snuck out to scare me once I’d gone back down. But where in the hell was he now?

I had to call the police. I had to go back into the house to get my cell phone and that policewoman’s card. Both were sitting in a catch-all tray on the kitchen counter. Just steps from the back sliding glass door. I could be in and out in a second. I prayed one of the kids had left the door unlatched. I was in luck.

I knew that I should be going to a neighbor’s house to call for help, but I didn’t trust the neighbors. In fact, I hated them all though I’d never met any of them. Perhaps that was why I hated them. Not one of them had stopped by to welcome us to the neighborhood. Something that would have been unthinkable in Houston. The people, whoever they were, who lived around us disgusted me.

Besides that, I didn’t want to call 911 and have some random police officer show up. I wanted the woman who’d been so kind to me the day of the train incident. Officer Davis. Miracle of miracles she answered after the first ring.

“Where are you now?” She asked calmly after I’d explained the situation.

“I’m in my front yard,” I explained.

“Do you feel like you are in danger?” She asked.

I told her that I didn’t. At least not at that moment.

“Stay right there, we’ll be there in five minutes. Do you want me to stay on the phone with you?”

I did want that, but I didn’t feel right admitting it. After we hung up I moved over a bit so I could keep an eye on the back yard. Cars rushed past me on our busy road. An urge to stick my thumb out and hitchhike away from my life bubbled up in my mind.

Officer Davis and her partner arrived in less than the promised five minutes. She touched base with me briefly as her partner, a young man in his twenties walked purposefully to the back yard, his hand resting on the gun at his side.

“I’m going to need you to wait here while we check out the house. Do you think he could still be in the basement?”

“I don’t know where else he could be unless he snuck out without me seeing. Which is possible,” I admitted.

I watched her enter the house, suppressing the urge to call her back to me. The pair were gone not ten more minutes, searching the home and the property. Unsurprisingly, they found nothing.

“I’m not crazy,” I said as Officer Davis approached me. “For one thing, I know I heard a man say, ‘Boo,’ right behind me in that basement. For another, that laundry room door didn’t open by itself – I know it was jammed shut. Someone was hiding in there. I think it might be that teenager who’s been lurking around.”

“Have you seen that kid again?”

“No, I haven’t, but I think I think a guy that worked for our contractor did.” I told her about the man’s fall from the ladder and the teenager whose scream had startled him off balance. Officer Davis was quiet, staring over my shoulder at the house. “I’m telling you the truth,” I said.

“I believe you,” she replied calmly, then watched as her partner climbed back into their car and began speaking into his cell phone. “You said you heard the door at the top of the basement stairs slam after you heard the man’s voice, correct? What I think happened is that the guy bolted up those stairs and out the door before you had a chance to react.”

“He would have had to have been superhuman. There’s no way anyone could have been so fast.”

“Maybe it wasn’t all as fast as you felt in the moment and maybe he’s familiar with the house,” she suggested.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, who’d you buy the place from? Any chance they had a teenage son? Maybe he didn’t want to move.”

I thought hard, “No, we bought the place from an older couple. They retired to Florida, I think. We never had any direct contact with them ourselves, all the communication went through our real estate agents.”

She studied me for a moment. “Well, it’s worth looking into anyway. I don’t know what this guy wants with your house or your family, but with the contractor’s story, this makes two counts of trespassing, and now one breaking and entering. It’s serious.”

I was speechless, processing her suggestion that the boy might be tied to the house in some way.

“Come on,” she said, “We’ll walk through the house, top to bottom and check every room to make sure all the doors and windows are locked. I have a feeling he slipped out that sliding glass door off your dining room. You’d be smart to put a bar across it. A security system would be an even better idea.”

I trailed behind Officer Davis and she checked every window and door in my home, proving to me that I was locked in secure and alone for now. I tried to remember everything I could about the couple we’d purchased the home from, but it wasn’t much. I decided to ask Michael that night if he knew anything more about them, perhaps they had a grandson who’d lived with them. If he didn’t know anything more I would follow up with the real estate agent. I stood inside the screen door and waved goodbye to Officer Davis and her partner, then I closed and locked the front door and slid down to the floor overcome with anger and fear.

That night was the first time Lilith came to our bedroom complaining about the noise in laundry room keeping her awake.

 

Chapter 11

Lilith’s eyes opened. It took her a moment to recognize her surroundings. Then the grey blanket of sadness fell over her, smothering her as it did every time she’d woken up since their move. She was in the basement of their new home. The basement “bedroom” if you could even call it that. She reached for her phone to check the time – 2:59 – dropped the phone beside her onto the bed and rubbed her eyes. What had woken her up? Sleep was her only escape from the loss and hopelessness that had consumed her in this awful town and she wasn’t happy that something had interrupted it.

A lava lamp, a fifteenth birthday gift from her best friend back home offered dim pinkish light from atop her desk in the corner. She could just make out the hideous floral wallpaper lining the walls. There were many reasons to hate her new bedroom. It was cold and damp even with the space heater her father had gotten for her. She worried her hair and her clothing would carry the scent of mildew that permeated the space. On top of that, she scoured the floor every night before bed for any sign of bugs or rodents. She was certain they were there, lurking in the shadows, just waiting to crawl into bed with her.

How could they have put me down here like this? Scrolled through her mind over and over as she canvased the room bent over, shoulders hunched, looking for critters each evening praying she wouldn’t find anything.

Her father tried to make it sound as though it were some prize that she was living underground. “The Princess Suite” he liked to call it. Gross. If it was so great why didn’t he and mom take it? Another familiar loop ran through Lilith’s mind, I hate it here, I hate it here, I hate them for tearing me away from my friends, I hate it here…

She was reaching again for her phone, hoping to distract herself from her misery when she heard the noise and knew instantly that it was what had woken her up in the first place. It was a banging – no, it was more of a tinny, tapping coming from the laundry room nextdoor. She lay still, listening, trying to place the steady clattering noise. It sounded as if someone was continually picking up the detergent bottle that sat on top of the dryer and then putting it back down.

Was her mother doing laundry in the middle of the night? Lilith waited for the irritating noise to stop. She heard the dryer door squeak open and then slam shut.

“She has got to be fucking kidding me,” Lilith cursed under her breath. She reached out and turned on the light on her bedside table and looked down at her slippers. She’d begun the habit of stretching socks over them, sealing them off lest some basement dwelling mouse or spider might decide they made a cozy home. She pulled off the socks and slipped her feet into the slippers. She stood and began to cross the room, ready to snap at her mother for waking her up in the middle of the night.

She was halfway across the room when she saw a shadow move in front of the crack beneath the door blocking out the light on the other side. Her mother must have noticed her light and was coming to check on her. Lilith paused, expecting her mother to either knock or open the door and poke her head in. When neither thing happened Lilith felt the first tingle of fear. What was her mother doing standing in the hallway in front of her room?

She crept forward, listening. She realized that the tapping had stopped in the room nextdoor. All was silent. She held her ear to the door hoping to hear her mother, but there was nothing. And then, louder than she would have thought possible she heard the dryer door open and close, open and close, open and close.

“Mom!” She yelled. Terrified. Had her mother finally lost it? She’d been tense and forcing fake smiles for months, since even before they moved. Maybe she’d finally snapped.

When her mother did not respond Lilith turned her door knob slowly, as noiselessly as she could. She opened the door a sliver and peeked into the hallway.

“Mom?” She whispered. No answer.

She took a deep breath and pushed open the door a little wider. Still quiet. Bracing herself she stepped out into the hallway. The laundry room door was closed. She didn’t dare open it and look inside. Instead she rushed up the basement steps to find the door at the top was closed again! She’d told them she wanted that door left open. Was that so fucking hard to do?

As she pushed the door open and stepped up onto the first floor the laundry room door clicked open, though she did not hear it.

“Mommy?” Lilith breathed.

Laura woke with a start. “Oh! Lilith, honey, what is it? Is everything alright?”

“You woke me up,” the girl said in a shaky voice.

“What?”

“You were doing laundry and it woke me up,” her voice stronger.

“Honey, I’ve been sound asleep,” Laura checked her phone. It was both too late or too early to be having this discussion. “You must have been having a bad dream,” she rubbed her eyes and threw her legs over the side of the bed to sit up. “Do you want me to walk you back downstairs?”

Lilith shook her head.

Laura looked at her daughter, realizing the girl was frightened. “Do you want me to set you up on the floor in here?”

“Um, sure.” Lilith said in a small voice.

Laura got up and grabbed a sleeping bag the hall linen closet and an extra pillow from her own bed. She arranged them beside her. Lilith slid into the sleeping bag and lay awake the rest of the night trying to make sense of what had happened. Laura lay awake as well, a sense of doom spreading in her chest.  

 

***

 

Michael vacillated between feeling furious and feeling worried. For the most part he believed his wife had heard something in the basement, but he also had to admit that she’d been wound awful tight since the move. Hell, since before the move. It hadn’t been easy on any of them, but Laura just couldn’t seem to find her groove. He didn’t understand why she hadn’t tried to reach out again to his boss’s wife, why she wasn’t making any social connections. He needed her to start trying, though. He and the kids couldn’t be her only connection to the outside world, it wasn’t healthy. For any of them.

He might have tried talking to her about it, but the truth was he didn’t want to dig up more snakes than he could kill. Even though his salary took a ding, the new job carried with it far more pressure than his position in Houston had and he was stressed to the edge most of the time now too. He didn’t know what he would do if Laura shut down completely the way she had after the twins were born. He didn’t have the bandwidth to haul her out of that deep of a hole right now. But what he could do was have a home security system installed and he’d cross his fingers that it was the godsend they needed.

And that was how he found himself standing next to a security representative in his tiny attic looking at a window that no one but an incredibly small contortionist could possibly fit through.

“Look, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out all the leaks in the ship. What we’re seeing now is a huge uptick in break-ins by addicts. These guys don’t give a damn – pardon my language – about you or your family. They’ll steal anything that’s not nailed down just to score their next fix and they don’t care who they hurt to do it.”

Michael, aware that he was given a hard scare sale, nodded his head. “Alright, but no druggie’s gonna fit through that window. He’d as soon fall off the roof and break his neck before he got the chance. Let’s skip this one, alright?”

The security expert formed his face into a look of deep concern. “It’s up to you Mr. Arnold, all I can do is give you my professional opinion.”

“I appreciate that, Rick. I agree with you on the first and second floors. But let’s leave the attic alone for now.”

The men backed carefully down the collapsible ladder to the second floor of the home and Michael folded the stairs and pushed the contraption back up into the ceiling. Rick was already headed down to the first floor, Michael about to follow when the men heard what sounded like four distinct footsteps above their heads. It was loud enough to stop Rick in his tracks.

He turned to look at Michael, “That’s strange,” he commented.

Michael stared at the ceiling above them. “No major utilities up there, right? What in the hell could have made that noise?”

Rick shrugged, “Don’t know, I didn’t see any evidence of critters, but you might want to get an exterminator up here just in case.”

Michael sighed heavily, racking up the extra expense.

“Whatever it was sounded big, anyway,” Rick commented continuing on down the stairs. “Sounded like a man stomping around!”

The comment gave Michael pause. “You know what, Rick,” he said, standing across from the man in the front hallway, “Go on ahead and put a window sensor on that attic window, yeah?”

Rick nodded and headed out the front door to gather his supplies.   

 

***

 

Rosemary and Carrie had been sitting in their bedrooms, playing games on their iPads. They’d been half listening to their father stomp around in the attic with the security guy and then close up the attic stairs when they heard the footsteps overhead.

“There it goes again,” Carrie said, staring at the ceiling.

“We should tell mom and dad,” Rosemary whispered.

“Dad just heard it,” Carrie reasoned, “He and that guy were just up there. If there had been anyone there they would have seen him.”

“Maybe the guy was hiding,” Rosemary suggested.

Carrie shook her head. “You’ve been up there, it’s tiny. Maybe it really is some animal.”

“It never sounds like an animal,” her sister countered.

“Well, if we tell them what we’ve been hearing now, mom will be mad that we didn’t say anything weeks ago.”

The girls went back to their iPads. Neither of them wanting to stir up trouble for themselves.

After a moment Carrie said, “Maybe the house really is haunted.”

“Shut up,” Rosemary replied.

“No, really, it makes sense. That’s why dad and that security guy didn’t see anything up there because it’s a ghost who’s stomping around and doing all that weird stuff around the house.”

“What stuff?” Rosemary asked, looking up from her iPad.

“Haven’t you noticed? This place is weird. I didn’t want to say anything and freak you out, but the footsteps in the attic aren’t the only weird things going on around here.”

“You’ve read too much R.L. Stine,” Rosemary joked, but she had noticed things in the house. She was an early riser. Almost always the first in the family to wake up every morning and sometimes, when she was pouring cereal in the kitchen in the morning she could feel someone watching her. She’d be certain that she’d turn around and see Jack or Carrie standing behind her. It wasn’t just spooky feelings either. Their family had been different. Mom was distracted and seemed really unhappy, and Jack had been sullen and kinda mean. Not to mention how weird Lilith had become.

The girl listened as a train blew past the house.

“I overheard mom and dad talking about the boy in the yard. Mom said he jumped in front of the train.”

“What an idiot,” Rosemary said, nervously.

“I’ve seen him too,” Carrie whispered.

“Who?”

“The boy. He’s always wearing a hoodie pulled up and hanging around the back fence.”

“Why haven’t you told mom and dad?”

“Because he told me not to.”

“You’ve talked to him?” Rosemary said, horrified. “When?”

Carrie set her iPad to the side and leaned forward. “Remember last week when we were kicking around the soccer ball in the backyard? So when you went inside to go to the bathroom the guy walked out from near the stream and he talked to me.”

“What did he say? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“He told me not to mention seeing him,” Carrie said. “He said it would freak mom out if she knew I was talking to him. I guess he used to live in our house. He asked about the basement, wanted to know how Lilith liked her new bedroom.”

“He knows Lilith?” Rosemary said, doubtfully.

“I guess. They probably go to school together.”

“I don’t know, Carrie. That is weird. You shouldn’t be talking to weird guys like that.”

“He wasn’t weird,” Carrie said, trying to sound cool. “We were just talking.”

“Yeah, well, what if he’s the one doing all the weird stuff around this house?”

“He lived here before,”Carrie pointed out, “Maybe the weird stuff happened while he was here too. The next time I see him I’m going to ask.”

Rosemary just looked at her sister doubtfully and shook her head.