ghosts in the burbs

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

9d064555-834e-4f12-adcd-e21f04211efd_1.8d5d3394df9a1b9479ff74689760f01f“Can you come down here for a minute?” The man called from the bottom of the basement stairs. “There’s something I want to show you.”

I groaned as I got up from the desk in my office.

“Sure!” I called back as I crossed the foyer to the basement door. “But I don’t think I want to see anything down there.”

The man smiled up at me. “Oh, it’s nothin’ a little poison won’t take care of, just something you should be aware of.”

I hesitated in the doorway when I saw that he had unlatched and opened the doors to the crawl space beneath our family room.

“Come on over, I’ll show you what we’re dealing with.”

I tried to shake off the fear, but it only increased as I walked closer to that dark, cave-like space.

I stood next to the exterminator and peered into the darkness.

The man moved his flashlight beam first along the dirt floor, “See there, you’ve got a few dead bodies,” and then up to the ceiling which had been lined with insulation held in place by clear plastic stapled to the wood beams. “See those dark trails running to and fro?” He asked. “That’s feces and urine. They’re tracking it all throughout their home. You’re home.” He had a beautiful Irish accent, which I wouldn’t dare try to emulate, and he pronounced ‘urine’ as yoo-rYn..

Disgusted I stepped back. “Are there a lot of them?”

He nodded, gravely.

“What are we going to do?” I asked. Feeling a stab of guilt. I knew we had to kill the things, we couldn’t just let them completely infest the house, but still… they were just doing their little mouse thing.

“They’ll be dead and gone within five days,” the exterminator assured me.

“Do I have to worry about the dogs or the kids?” I asked, referring to the poison he intended to use to massacre the family sharing our home.

He assured me that the girls and the dogs would be perfectly safe, “even if one of the dogs ingested a poisoned mouse.” Gross.

“Sorry little guys,” I whispered into the crawl space. I thanked the exterminator and began my retreat, eager to get back to my office.

“Hold on now,” he said, “I still gotta show you the spiders. In my twenty-two years at this job I’ve never seen anything like it.”

We’d had critter infestations in past homes. In fact in our Beacon Hill condo we’d had a nasty mouse problem. When Max was a toddler and Joey an infant I was straightening up and reached down to retrieve their pajamas from the bedroom floor. As I picked up the little bundle of clothing I heard two little thumps as something dropped out of the bundle onto the ground. It was two small, dead mice. Chris had reasoned that someone in one of the other condos must have put out poison and the mice had crawled into the baby clothes to die.

Needless to say, it was one of the last nails in the coffin of city living.

Alas there are mice in the burbs too.

We hadn’t taken my psychic pal Judith’s advice and renovated the basement so it still held a spooky vibe. I would have loved to redo the place, thereby eliminating the negative feelings that had etched themselves into the material space before we’d owned the house, but we simply didn’t have the funds lying around to do it.

The basement was overly sectioned. One room for the laundry and furnace and such, one wood-paneled room that had been the previous owners children’s den, and then a large storage space where we’d thrown unopened moving boxes and a bunch of other stuff we didn’t need. That’s where the crawl space lived and I barely ever went into that portion of the basement. I kept that door shut, a hook and eye latch carefully in place so that the girls wouldn’t wander in there either. But the exterminator reminded me of the place and it occurred to me that in Judith’s walk through and spiritual cleansing of my home I hadn’t shown her the room.

So after the exterminator pointed out an absurd amount of spider webs in a far corner of the basement I’d gone back upstairs to my office and said quietly, “Is it just critters down there or do I need to be worried about something else?”

A brief silence and then Claire’s answer. “I don’t go down there.”

“Why?” I asked.

But our conversation was interrupted by the exterminator who needed me to sign a consent form to deploy his death traps throughout my home.

When I tried to bring the issue up again Claire was silent. Whenever she wanted to speak she did, but when I needed information she’d only answer if she felt like it. Maybe that was unfair, maybe she couldn’t for some reason. Or maybe the problem was me, maybe I wouldn’t hear her. Still. There was obviously more than bad memories affecting my basement. It would have to be sorted out and I was overwhelmed with life as it was. Add it to the fucking list, I thought.

 

***

 

Before the basement could be dealt with I was due to meet with a woman who had a paranormal story to share.

Jess Curtain and I were cut from very different cloth. The nurse was a tight little bundle of energy and spunk, optimism and make it work-ness. She wore her highlighted brown hair in a swishy bob. Her tortoise shell glasses looked like an expertly placed punctuation mark on an outfit that screamed effortless style (a double pocket light pink button down silk shirt and bootcut jeans with cheetah print kitten heels). Her whole persona threw me for a loop because, like an idiot, I’d for some reason expected her to show up in scrubs.

It was a chilly autumn morning and I’d intended to go for a walk after interviewing Jess over coffee at Quebrada. So I had on workout gear and a baseball hat. It was a Saturday and Chris was treating the kids to a Whole Foods breakfast and a trip to the dump followed by a shopping spree at BJs; their idea of a killer outing.

“I’m so glad this worked out,” I said to Jess as we arranged ourselves in front of the windows at Quebrada’s new bar seats. I was happy we weren’t sitting at the back tables, walking in I’d been reminded of the recent conversation with the Jessica Heng. Despite her warning, or perhaps threat, Biddy and I had neither seen nor heard anything from the woman. Her stunned and confused ex-fiancé claimed that he hadn’t seen her since that day we met either.

“Sorry it was such a cluster fuck trying to find a time that worked with both of our schedules,” Jess apologized. “Working nights makes it difficult for me to be a part of regular society.”

“I’m sure,” I replied.

“Anyway, I can’t believe how long it took me to find your blog,” she said.

I smiled and sipped my coffee not sure what she meant.

“A guy I used to work with emailed me the link last week. For real, I read it in two days.”

“Oh, wow,” I said, thinking of the punctuation and grammatical errors that must have overwhelmed her over the course of those two days.

“When I read the About page I just knew that we were cut from the same cloth. I read the Fear Street series growing up too. I was absolutely obsessed. How old are you?”

“Almost forty,” I replied.

“When’s your birthday?”

My brain took a moment to retrieve the information. Jess spoke quickly, jumping from topic to topic, rapid firing questions and then offering intense revelation. I gave her my birthdate.

“Aries,” she said confidently. “Makes sense. I’ve been wanting to talk about what happened for a long time but most of the people I know don’t believe in this stuff, and I have to be careful with confidentiality and everything. I live over in Poets’ Corner, where are you?”

I was as vague as I could be without being rude, giving her a cross street we were close to. My run in with the demon possessed Ms. Heng had reminded me that I should be more careful in sharing personal details about my life.

“I told you I’m a nurse, right?”

I nodded.

“Good, well, that’s when everything happened, when I was on overnights with a patient, Shelly. You’ll change her name, right? She lived over near the dump in a brick split level. Below grade was pretty much it’s own living area. Like a little efficiency, it even had a separate entrance and a little patio out back.

“The house was nice enough, a rental for her. The place was a dark and dreary, but the woods in that area are pretty intense, the important thing was that it was clean. I won’t take a job in a dirty house.”

“Oh,” I said, trying to keep up. “When you said overnights I was picturing you in a hospital.”

“No, not anymore. I’ve been a terrible sleeper my whole life so I was drawn to the night shift while I was in nursing school. Worked on Med Surg for years at Brigham and Women’s but two years ago I transitioned into home healthcare. It lets me really meet a patient’s needs. Most of the time I help people recover at home from surgery, or I help get them through their cancer treatments. I’ve built a good reputation so I can be selective in choosing patients. It was Shelly’s daughter who contacted the service.”

“What did she need help with?”

“The daughter made it sound as though Shelly was rapidly descending into full-blown Dementia and that she wanted someone in the house at night to make sure she didn’t hurt herself or wander off.”

“The poor women,” I said.

“I know, it’s a fate worse than death. I don’t typically assist patients with advanced Alzheimer’s or dementia. The risk for them is too great, they’re much better off in a secure environment. Houses can be dangerous for confused people. The daughter was insistent and I asked to meet Shelly before I accepted the job. She was perfectly lovely and seemed pretty with it.

“I thought, you know an overnight nurse is pretty expensive if you don’t have a person who needs actual medical assistance, but it was their money and I didn’t have any other pressing patients. If I did, I would have given them priority.”

“How many nights a week did you stay with her?”

“Six.”

“Wow,” I commented.

“Yeah, it paid really well,” Jess sighed. “But on with the spooky stuff, right? So, the first night I’m there I was in my room on the ground level, you know in that little efficiency, reading. It was probably about one in the morning and I hear someone walk into the kitchen and turn on the faucet. I figured Shelly was getting herself a glass of water. I didn’t want to crowd her so I just listened. But the water stayed on for too long so I went up to check that all was well – oh, so there was a short staircase from the efficiency that led up to the kitchen.

“Anyhow, she wasn’t there but the thing that concerned me was that the kitchen light was off. I’d left it on just in case she got up. I turned off water, flipped the light back on and went to check on her. She was sound asleep. It put me on alert, I thought, okay I get why the daughter wants me here.

“Next night, same exact thing. This time I stood at the bottom of the stairs, listening. When I thought it had been long enough I went up. No Shelly, light’s off again and the damn faucet was on full blast. I peeked into her room and sure enough, there she was, sound asleep.”

“Third night. Same song, same dance. But this time I went right up there the second I heard what I thought were her footsteps. I heard the faucet turn on as I was halfway up the stairs, I fully thought I’d see her standing there so when I turned the corner and saw a dark empty kitchen and that faucet running, it stopped me. Gave me a chill. I turned the water off and just stood there for a second trying to figure it out. Then I went down the hall checked her room, can you guess?”

“She was sound asleep,” I said.

Jess put her finger on the tip of her nose. “Bingo.”

“Spooky,” I said, smiling.
“Damn straight. I psyched myself up and thought, all right, I was forged in a fire greater than this. You know, by some fluke, I was on shift the day of the marathon bombings, covering for a nurse on maternity leave. We took thirty-one trauma patients that day. A ghost who likes to play at the kitchen sink isn’t going to ruffle my feathers. At least, it shouldn’t have. But turns out ghosts require a different kind of brave. I need another coffee, you?”

“Oh, yeah, sure.”

“I’ll grab you one, do you like Hazelnut?”

“I do, here,” I said, grabbing my wallet.

“No, it’s on me. It feels so good to tell someone about this,” Jess said waving my money away. “I’ll be back in two shakes.”

I looked out the window as Jess purchased the coffees and tried to process what she’d shared so far. Then I checked my phone and saw that Chris had texted several photos of the girls sorting recycling at the dump.

“Here you go, I put soy milk and sugar in it.” Jess placed the coffee in front of me and climbed into the tall chair.

“Thank you! Perfect.”

“Where did I leave off? Uh, yeah the kitchen faucet. So that’s how it started. That night, the one where I realized it wasn’t Shelly who’d been turning on the water, I turned on every single freaking light in the basement and jumped at every creak and bump.”

“Did you ask Shelly about it?”

“Well, that was tricky. I didn’t want her to think I was lurking around at night. But after that I asked if she’d been up to get water in the middle of the night. I didn’t mention the previous two nights with the faucets, I just said I thought I’d heard the water. She claimed she’d slept through the night, that she’d been sleeping so much better just knowing that I was in the house with her. And this I’ll never forget, she said, ‘You’ve quieted things down.’”

“Uh oh.”

“That’s what thought. So I asked what she meant but she didn’t really answer. Just sorta ignored the question. Thing was, the more time I spent with her, even though it was just for about a couple of hours at night and one or two in the morning I just wasn’t seeing the tell-tale signs of Dementia. And morning and evening can be the most disorienting times for people with the disease. She was pretty sharp when we watched Wheel and she wasn’t a bad poker player either. Besides that I didn’t notice many instances of confusion, or time slips and she recognized me and referred back to earlier conversations we’d had.”

“What had the daughters told you about her condition?”

“Ah, the daughters. Well, the eldest, Marny was the one who’d contacted me and I’d interviewed at her house with the younger sister Alexis. They weren’t exactly on the same page where their mother was concerned but they agreed she should have someone in the house with her at night. Marny was convinced her mother was beginning to ‘lose her mind’ – her words, not mine – but Alexis was of the opinion that their mom was lonely and still getting used to the new house. At the time I thought maybe she was in denial.”

“Oh,” I said, “so it was a recent move. I was going to ask.”

“Oh, yeah. They’d moved mom out of the house they grew up in over in Dover, dad had died about three years prior, so they wanted mom close by ‘To keep an eye on her’ again, the daughter’s words, not mine. As I mentioned, the house was a rental. Marny was building a guest house on their property, I guess Shelly had refused to move into the main house with her. So that was the compromise. Apparently, the old family home sold faster than they thought it would so the rental house was a short-term solution until the guest house was complete.”

“How long-”

“Had she lived there?” Jess finished the sentence for me. “Six months.”

“And had she been-”

“Displaying any signs of confusion before she moved into that house?” Again, Jess completed my thought. “No, at least according to her daughters.”

“Did you mention the kitchen faucet thing to them?”

“No. At least not right away.”Jess seemed to hesitate.

“And then?” I prompted.

“Then things got really creepy,” she admitted. “The whole kitchen thing happened the first week I was there. Then one night during my second week at the house I must have dozed off while I was reading because the next thing I know, Shelly is gently rubbing my arm to wake me up.

“‘Did you see him?’ She wanted to know. ‘See who?’ I asked once I’d shaken off the sleep. ‘The little boy, he walked past my room and I followed him down here. Where did he go?’”

“Oh no,” I groaned.

“Mm, well, here’s the thing. It was startling, for sure. But remember why I was there – to take care of someone who supposedly had dementia, right? We walked through the basement checking the rooms and doors and then did the same upstairs. I was finally able to convince her that it had been a dream. She did say one thing that gave me pause, though. She sad she’d seen the boy before. In the garage once, in the middle of the day.”

I let out a breath. “I’m guessing it didn’t end there.”

“Not even close. Soon after I was up having a midnight snack in my little living area at this cute cafe table. I had my back to the kitchen area and all of a sudden the damn faucet turned on. That gave me a jolt. I shot up to turn it off and when I did I heard the door at the top of the stairs – the one that lead right into the first floor kitchen – slam shut.

“I bolted up the steps not even sure who or what I thought I’d catch and when I got up there I saw that the damn faucet had been turned on up there too. And yes, Shelly was right where she was supposed to be, tucked in tight fast asleep in her bed.

“So now I’m fully unsettled, right? I went back downstairs and grabbed my book and camped out in the living room the rest of the night on the main floor. Lights ablaze. This is going to sound cliché, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched.”  

“I’ll bet,” I said.

“That next morning over coffee I asked Sherry if she’d noticed any issues with the plumbing. No, she hadn’t really, except for the faucets. Said that sometimes she’d come home and they’d be on. She told me it was one of the reasons her daughters got so worked up about her being alone at night. ‘What if you’d left the stove on by accident instead, mom?’ They’d asked. She was pissed they wouldn’t believe her that she hadn’t left the water running.”

“And now she was seeing little boys running through the house at night,” I commented.

“You know it. Classic escalation, right?”

“You seem to be pretty familiar with hauntings. None of this seems like a surprise to you.”

“Yeah, no. I love this stuff, have ever since I was a little girl. I’d just never experienced anything paranormal myself, you know? It scared me more than I thought it would.”

“I know exactly what you mean.”

“Yeah, um, so do you really hear spirits?” Jess asked, cautiously.

“Sometimes,” I said.

Jess watched me, an expectant look on her face.

“I haven’t heard anything recently if that’s what you’re asking.”

“I just wondered, you know…”

“Sure. Usually, in busy places like this I’ll hear someone. But there hasn’t been anything of note so far.”

“Would you tell me if there was?” She asked.

I smiled, “Maybe. Probably.”

“Do you watch Ghost Adventures?” She asked abruptly.

“Do you mean it?” I said.

“Yeah, I think that’s the best reality show about the paranormal out there. I mean, best show ever, really.”

“I one hundred percent agree with you.” I said, trying not to completely geek out.

“Would you ever go to one of those really haunted locations they investigate? Like the Washoe Club or Bobbie Mackey’s?”

“Absolutely not.”

“But what if you heard something incredible, you know, that could prove those things are really there.”

“Those things are there whether I hear them or not,” I said.

“True. And I guess no matter how much proof you have barely anyone will believe you. Even if I’d managed to record that ghost boy or the faucet turning on by itself, there would still be people who thought I’d faked it.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “There will always be skeptics.” I said simply.

“Well. I know what happened in that house, and it cured me of my skepticism completely.”

“What else happened?”

Jess took a deep breath. “Objects began to move on their own. I went up one morning and there were four of Shelly’s little porcelain figurines lined up on the floor right at the top of the steps. I noticed them when I was halfway upstairs, it stopped me cold. I stepped around them and found Shelly, who was just walking out of her bedroom and showed them to her. She was pretty pissed. She was really into those Hummel things. Told me that most had been packed away awaiting the move to the guest house, but she’d brought her favorites to the rental because she didn’t want anything to happen to them while they were in storage.”

“Oof, figurines moving on their own. I don’t like it,” I said with a nervous laugh.

“Neither did I,” Jess said, seriously. “I was jumpy in that house as it was. That little ghost trick sent me over the edge. You’ve mentioned a couple of times in your blog how kid ghosts might not actually be kid ghosts, right?”

“Well, yeah, I mean who knows, right? They could very well be demons or some other negative entity pretending to be a child. But from there my mind starts to freak out, like what if everything is demons just pretending to be ghosts. Tricking us all for some scary reason.”

Jess looked at her coffee and gave a subtle nod. “That thought kept sneaking up on me. Like, if it was just some kid’s ghost being all mischievous then why did I feel so threatened? More importantly, why did I have such a strong intuition that Shelly was in danger? Like the thing was after her? There was no logical reason for me to think that, a faucet and some figurines don’t spell out sinister intentions, but the feeling I had. It was tense, anxious.

“And then it wasn’t long after that I heard the voice over the baby monitor.”

I let out a whistle. “Baby monitor?”

“Yeah, it was just the simple old school kind. You know, only sound, no video or anything. Shelly agreed to put the transmitter on her nightstand and I kept the receiver with me so I could hear if she needed anything.”

“I was watching a movie on my iPad, I’d stopped reading at night at that point, I needed more company than that. So I’m watching the movie and I hear static come across the monitor. I listened for a minute, nothing. I went back to the movie but with one ear on the monitor just in case.

“A few minutes later I hear my name. It startled me a little, but I assumed it was Shelly and that she needed help. I was alarmed, actually. She’d never used the monitor to call for me before so I was afraid she was in trouble. I rushed upstairs and, dun dun duuuuun, the kitchen faucet was on full blast. I don’t know how I hadn’t heard it. Along with that the kitchen lights were off. It scared me. I basically ran to Shelly’s room and there she was sitting up in bed staring at her closet.

“I asked if she was alright and she said, ‘Did you hear that?’ I told her that yes, I’d heard her call for me over the baby monitor. But that’s not what she’d meant. She hadn’t called for me. But she’d heard someone in her closet.”

“Yeesh,” I breathed. “What exactly did she hear?”

Jess reached up and rubbed the back of her neck. “She said she woke up to her closet door sliding open and then she heard a little boy say, ‘We can’t wait for you to join us, Shelly.’”

“Oh, shit,” I said, laughing nervously.

“Yeah. I immediately clicked into calm nurse in a crisis mode and told her to get up out of bed. I had to get us both away from that closet and I didn’t like the vibe on that main level. So we went down to the basement and watched Moonstruck until morning.”

“And then what did you do?”

“I wasn’t about to mess around. I called Marny at seven and asked her to come over right away. I laid everything out for her and told her that in my professional opinion, from what I had observed in my time with Shelly, she wasn’t experiencing the initial stages of Dementia. What she was going through was a haunting and the house was not a safe place for her to be. I had serious reservations about her even spending time alone there during the day.”

“How did the daughter react?” I asked.

“Defensive, at first. Which I’d fully expected. But she asked a bunch of questions and I think she really took us seriously when I told her that Shelly and I had discussed it and we both felt that the best plan of action was for her to go live with Marny and her family until that guest house was complete.”

“And that was that. Shelly didn’t stay there another night. She moved out of that house and in with her daughter to wait for the builders to finish the guest house. She’d been adamant about maintaining her independence up until that point, but that little house or whatever was in it chased her out.”

“Crazy,” I said.

“Yeah, sorry there’s no big scary reveal here. It was just a regular old haunting, I guess.”

“Those are the scariest ones,” I commented.

“True,” she conceded.

“So that house must still be a rental, right?”

“Yup. I drove by it not long ago and there was a Suburban parked in the driveway and a bunch of kids stuff, you know bikes and scooters strewn around.”

“Great,” I breathed.

“So, you still haven’t heard anything, right?”

It took me a moment to realize what she was asking. I’d thought she’d meant about the rental. “Oh, you mean have any ghosts chimed in on your story?”

“Have they?”

“No,” I said, apologetically.

But I wasn’t telling the truth. Around the time we’d been debating whether it had been ghosts or demons pretending to be ghosts haunting the rental house, Claire had spoken up.

“It’s getting worse,” she’d commented.

I don’t know why I didn’t tell Jess. Maybe because it scared me and by not telling her I could pretend things weren’t escalating in Wellesley.

hall-of-shadows“Are you hearing anything now?” Adam asked excitedly.

I told him I hadn’t and that I usually didn’t, that it was a rare occurrence as of late. It was a lie. As I’d watched the man and his fiancé walk through Quebrada’s front door Claire had cautioned, “Be careful with those two.”

The truth was that Claire had stuck around after that night in Smith and Wollensky’s when I’d broken the news of her freedom to the three witches who’d bound her in between. After that night she’d told me that there had been a chance to move on and her boyfriend had taken it but she had chosen to stay behind. She said Wellesley was just getting good and that I was just getting started.

Wonderful.

The dead were speaking, but not very often and when they did it wasn’t all that informative or helpful. Claire’s voice rose above the rest and when she felt like it she could be rather chatty. But she was respectful when I needed space and irritatingly silent when I needed an answer.

But as far as Adam Harrison and his wife to be, Jessica Heng, were concerned it was neither here nor there. The twenty-somethings had been drilling me about the blog and the people I’d interviewed for about ten minutes and I didn’t much care for being on the other end of an inquiry.

I attempted to take charge of the conversation. “How long have the two of you lived in Wellesley?”

The couple side-eyed each other and Jessica fielded the question. “We moved from the Back Bay about a month ago.”

“My husband and I lived on Marlborough Street for a while when we were your age, I loved it.”

Adam’s smile didn’t meet his eyes. “The city’s great, but things were getting too-”

“We needed a change of scenery,” Jessica finished for him.

“Well, good for you,” I said dumbly. “Did you guys grow up in the area?”

Nope. Jessica was from New Hampshire, Adam from Pennsylvania.

Perhaps I was projecting my own hesitation to leave Boston, but I wanted to know why this painfully hip couple had moved themselves out to one of the most suburban of suburban communities when they could be living in a cool apartment in the city. But I wasn’t sure how to ask. And they weren’t giving any details.

“So, Biddy’s still coming, right?” Adam asked.

“Oh, yeah. She’ll be here,” I affirmed.

Adam had contacted me through the blog, he said that he was a “huge fan” of the stories and that he’d recently turned his fiancé onto them. In his email, Adam described her as a “paranormal enthusiast” and said that they’d encountered something on an overnight in a famous haunted location he was “looking for insight about next steps in dealing with the fallout from that night.”

Initially, I hesitated to reply to the email. Something felt off from the get-go but a back and forth exchange with him made me feel that the couple truly was looking for advice about how to handle whatever it was that had been happening to them since they’d visited what Adam had described as the “second most haunted place in the United States.”

We agreed to meet at Quebrada on a Thursday morning.

“One more thing,” Adam wrote, “Do you think you could ask Biddy to come? We’re in it sort of deep and I’d appreciate hearing her opinion too.” I told him I’d ask.

I broached the topic on a morning walk. We’d gotten in the habit of walking around Lake Waban once a week after dropping the kids off at school. On that particular day it was freezing cold and I was in no mood to embrace an active lifestyle.

“It’s a couple who say they visited some famous haunted place and have been having problems ever since,” I huffed, trying as always to keep up with my athletic friend.

“An attachment?” Biddy guessed.

“I don’t know,” I said, conserving my breath.

“If people had any idea how dangerous it is to visit those places they wouldn’t step foot near them.”

“Really?” I said, forcing out my words. “I thought they were all hype and orbs.”

“Some are just fluff, but some are the real deal. Did he say where they went exactly?”

“Second most haunted place in the country,” I replied.

Biddy considered for a moment. “So these jackasses either went to an old prison or an asylum,” she declared.

 

***

 

“We went to an abandoned insane asylum in upstate New York,” Jessica admitted, “Adam wants to hear your friend Biddy’s professional opinion of the place.”

I sucked air through my teeth but forced a smile.

“That bad, huh?” Adam asked slumping in his chair.

I nodded and sipped my coffee. Willing Biddy to appear.

While we waited for my friend to arrive we chatted about the couple’s favorite area restaurants. Chris and I have a sitter every Thursday night, have for the past few years, and we never deviate from our three favorites – well favorite is a stretch, we don’t deviate from the three closest restaurants in town. I think it’s boring in the safest most lovely way but other people tend to find us boring in the most predictable, well, boring way. Jessica and Adam found it predictable boring and I could tell they felt bad for me. This suburban wife, aging along and looking forward to her one night out a week. Well, joke was on them. To me, getting old and boring is such a relief.

Finally, Biddy arrived. She breezed in in her usual fashion, dropping her coat, hat and mittens on the table before bounding over to the counter for a coffee.

Jessica and Adam sat taller in their chairs when Biddy joined us. I hid a smile over her effect on them. If they were even a tiny bit full of shit she was going to eat them alive.

“So, what’ve we got here? An attachment?” She asked bluntly.

The couple was visibly shocked.

“We’re not exactly sure what’s happening,” Jessica hedged.

Biddy looked at me pointedly. “You guys visited some famous haunted prison or something, right? And now you’re having trouble in your home?”

Adam spoke up, “It was [the name of the haunted location omitted due to the location’s strict requirements regarding articles written about the property. Going forward I’ll refer to it as The Asylum].”

Biddy let out a low whistle as I exclaimed, “Not really! You guys actually went there?”

“You know about it?” Jessica asked, and in that short sentence I heard her implied surprise that someone as lame as me could have anything in common with her.

“Of course I do, I mean not to toot my own horn, but I have, like a PhD in reality ghost hunting shows. That place is really dark,” I said.

Adam looked at his partner, “See, I told you she knew all about this stuff.” Jessica looked skeptical.

“So you’ve watched a couple of television shows, that doesn’t mean you can help us,” she snapped.

“Maybe, but Biddy is an ex-professional paranormal investigator,” I pointed out defensively. “Not only that, she works with the Catholic Church to determine exorcism eligibility.” I stopped myself from adding, And, I have learned a lot from those ghost hunting shows.

“What brought the two of you to The Asylum?” Biddy asked calmly.

Jessica crossed her arms tightly over her chest. Her dark shiny hair cascaded over one shoulder, her cashmere sweater looking expensive and judgy the way only quality cashmere can.

Adam gave her a nervous look, he began to speak but Jessica beat him to the punch. “I’ve just always been interested in the paranormal, you know? I watch all those shows too,” she said, giving me a pointed look. “But I did some actual ghost hunting when I was a teenager in abandoned houses, and Adam knew that I like that stuff so when our friend got married in Rochester I mentioned that The Asylum was close by and Adam surprised me with a private overnight ghost hunt.”

“I had no idea what I was getting us into,” Adam added guiltily, “I completely misread the situation. I was expecting a haunted inn.”

“Did the two of you sleep there?” Biddy asked.

“We didn’t get much sleep,” Adam replied.

Biddy sighed loudly, “But you did treat The Asylum as though it were a bed and breakfast?”

“Pretty much,” Adam replied, looking guilty. “But it was a big night for us,” he grabbed his fiancé’s right hand and gave it a squeeze.

Jessica held up her free hand to show us sparkly diamond ring.

My eyebrows shot up before I could stop them from doing so. “You got engaged there?”

“Right before we went in, I got down on one knee and proposed,” Adam said, proudly.

“Look, I know it probably sounds weird, but Adam knew how much I love haunted places, it was really romantic,” Jessica explained.

“Sure. So were you guys a part of a tour group, or…” I trailed off trying to figure out exactly what these two had been up to.

“No, I paid the owner so we could have the place to ourselves,” Adam replied.

“Are you into ghost hunting too?” I asked, shocked.

“No, but I mean I like horror movies, so…”

“Let me get this straight, the owner of the The Asylum allowed the two of you to stay alone on the property for the entire night?” Biddy asked in disbelief.

The couple nodded in sync.

“I’m really surprised at that,” she said, crossing her legs.

“I don’t understand why you guys are so shocked and offended by all of this,” Jessica said cooly.

“Because it’s shocking,” I said simply.

“It’s not that we’re offended,” Biddy added with another sigh, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to give you a hard time, your story is bringing out the know-it-all mother in me. I apologize.”

“I didn’t realize what a huge deal it was that we stayed there overnight all by ourselves,” Adam said with obvious concern.

“It really wasn’t that big of a deal,” Jessica complained.

“Well, something must have happened, or you wouldn’t have contacted Liz,” Biddy reasoned.

The couple side-eyed each other again.

Jessica spoke. “We saw some stuff, yeah. I mean, I know this is all my fault, but-”

“Let’s go back, walk us through what happened that night, start to finish,” I interrupted, impatiently.

Jessica gave me a look, then said, “Adam told me before we left for our friend’s wedding that he’d rented out The Asylum for us. We’d have the place to ourselves overnight from seven to seven Sunday evening through Monday morning. I was thrilled, it was beyond anything I could have imagined. So I started researching the place, I’d seen it on Ghost Hunters, and Ghost Adventures, oh, and The Ghosts Detectives went there too, so I was pretty familiar with the place. I re-watched all the episodes and made a list of hotspots that we couldn’t miss. And I actually reached out to T.A.P.S. to ask them exactly what gear I should bring with me. The guy who emailed me back was super helpful, if a bit condescending, he thought I was in over my head, but whatever.

“I got a hold of the floor plans and ordered the suggested gear off Amazon. I felt we were prepared for anything.”

“We packed a blow up mattress and sleeping bags too,” Adam added.

“Well, it sounds like you really knew what you were doing,” Biddy said to Jessica.

The woman shrugged, “Yeah, well like I said, I did some amateur ghost hunting in high school and I’ve always wanted to explore a famous haunt. This was my chance.”

“What’s that guy’s name, the tall one, the shadow figure people always see there…” I asked, wracking my brain.

“Roy?” Jessica said with a smile.

God, you didn’t make contact with him did you?” I exclaimed.

Jessica’s smile disappeared and her face went steely.

Adam shifted in his seat, “Um, yeah I think we did. We got a couple of EVPs of a guy answering our questions. Uh, we didn’t record any visual evidence though, right babe?” He asked, putting his arm around the back of Jessica’s chair.

She blinked and looked over at him. “Uh, no. Nothing on tape.”

I waited for them to continue but they sat. Adam looking concerned, Jessica looking a little confused.

“So, then what?” I prompted.

“Well, things weren’t happening like I’d hoped,” Jessica said slowly. “Sure, we got a few Class-A  EVPs that may have been Roy, but other than that the place was quiet. I didn’t want to miss my chance, I just wanted to really experience something that night, you know?”

“What did you do?” Biddy asked, her voice almost sad.

“Adam was such a good sport about it,” she turned and smiled at her fiancé, “He even agreed to this little ritual thing that I put together.”

“Here we go,” I said.

“What kind of a ritual?” Biddy asked with another sigh.

“It was just-” Jessica faltered. “I had this idea, you know? Like that we should mark the occasion, and I made a little ritual out of it. I hoped it would be like an offering, that it might sort of, like turn the place on.”

I grimaced. Adam said quickly, “It wasn’t like we drank each other’s blood out of wine glasses.”

I blanched, “That’s not what I was picturing at all, but yikes. What exactly did you do?”

“It was nothing. We gave ourselves little stick and poke tattoos, that’s all.” Jessica pushed up her sleeve and showed us the inside of her wrist. On it was an obviously amateur tattoo of a triangle.

I was speechless. This preppy woman marked herself and her fiancé with homemade tattoos on an old abandoned, dirty insane asylum. It didn’t add up.

Adam held out his arm to show us the triangle on his inner wrist. His was slightly different, it was upside down and it had a circle around it.

“What in God’s name would possess you to do that?” Biddy asked.

Jessica’s face fell. She looked down at the table. Adam watched her nervously.

“We thought it was romantic,” he offered.

“Kind of unhygienic though, yeah?” I said. “But, um I guess I kind of understand why you would want to do something to call out the paranormal activity. It just sounds so extreme.” I was shocked by the change in Jessica, worried that Biddy had been to harsh.

“Was that it? You just gave each other those little tattoos, you didn’t do anything else to, what did you call it? ‘Turn on the location?’” Biddy asked, obviously skeptical.

“Jess did some work with her Ouija board,” Adam admitted.

“By yourself?” Biddy asked the woman.

Jessica nodded.

“Oh, God,” I said. “And then what happened?”

Jessica looked me square in the face. Her eyes fixed on mine, her lips pursed. I met her gaze for a moment but looked away, over to Adam and when I glanced back her way she looked furious.

Adam cleared his throat and put his hand over Jessica’s on the table. “Yeah, so it was really scary.” Jessica looked down at his hand then back up at me, before looking down again.

“What was really scary?” I asked warily.

“Uh,” Adam said, nervously. “Well, we’d set ourselves up for the night in the electrotherapy room.”

I made a noise of disbelief.

Adam pressed on, “I got to work setting up the blow up mattress and everything while Jess, you did your thing with the board, right babe?” She tilted her head slightly in assent, he continued. “Uh, yeah, so while you were doing that-”

Biddy cut off Adam’s nervous description of the night. “Sounds like you must be pretty familiar with a Ouija board.”

“It’s just another way to connect with the other side. I use voice recorders, electromagnetic sensors and other tools to connect with spirits. The board is no different, it’s gotten a bad rap with people who don’t understand it. But that’s their problem, they’re missing out on an excellent way to gather information and make real connection with the dead.”

“Who did you connect with that night?” Biddy asked.

Jessica considered for a moment. “One of my spirit guides was there, he’s a Native American chief who has advised me many times in the past and there were a couple of residents who’d lived in The Asylum that came through.”

“What did they have to say?” Biddy prompted.

Jessica shrugged. “They told me their names and ages and I asked if they felt trapped, which they did. I asked them if there was anything else in The Asylum besides people who have not properly crossed over and,” Jessica glanced at Adam, “That’s when things got a little intense.”

“The heavy footsteps started up on the floor above our heads, I’m not going to lie, it scared the hell out of me. I don’t know what freaked me out more, though, the idea that it was a ghost doing it or the chance that it might be an actual person up there. We were in such a secluded place. All of a sudden it occurred to me how dumb it was for us to be there by ourselves,” Adam admitted.

“The vibe completely shifted, it’s true. It began to feel unsafe, but it was the spirits who were creating the atmosphere, not anyone living. We were safe, for the most part. I did see shadows at the edge of the room, though, or it might have just been one shadow lurking around, but it was something,” Jessica said.

“We finally dozed off around three, the footsteps were still happening above us but we were too exhausted to stay up.”

“Didn’t it occur to you to just leave?” I asked.

Adam glanced at Jessica. She said, “Why would we do that? We’d come to witness paranormal activity, I wasn’t going to walk out when something that incredible was happening right there in front of us.”

“I woke up for some reason when it was just starting to get light out and that’s when I saw him.” Adam said, shifting nervously in his seat. “I turned over in bed to face Jessica and there was a man there, standing at the head of our blow up mattress, he was sort of bent over her with his face over hers and he was moving his mouth like he was talking but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or not so I reached out to touch Jess, and the guy turned to look at me. His face was, well he looked like a Halloween mask, like the scariest old man monster mask I’ve ever seen and I screamed which woke Jess up and he disappeared and, babe I didn’t tell you this. But when you woke up you said, ‘How dare you? We were almost done.’”

“What?” Jessica said. “I don’t remember that, why didn’t you tell me?” The woman’s defensiveness dropped and I saw fear in her for the first time since we’d begun talking about their night in The Asylum.

“Since then,” Biddy asked quickly, “What have you experienced?”

“Well, we started hearing those heavy footsteps on the ceiling in our apartment as soon as we got back home, but our place was on the top floor. So it wasn’t a neighbor or anything walking around on the roof,” Adam said.

“And I began seeing the shadow soon after we got back home too,” Jessica admitted. “It slinks around and sort of morphs up from the ground behind you. You feel it tower over you and then when you turn around it, like darts away.”

“You see it too?” I asked Adam. He nodded.

“So you guys moved to try to get away from it?” Biddy asked.

Jessica nodded. “Yeah, but it’s only made it worse. I think we were safer in the city surrounded by so many people, you know? But in the house, we’re just sort of isolated and I think it feels safer there to express itself, or whatever.”  

“I did some research online and there are thousands of people who go ghost hunting in places like The Asylum but they don’t bring anything home with them. I don’t understand what we did wrong,” Adam complained.

Biddy held out her hand and counted down on her fingers, “You slept overnight in an extremely haunted location that is fairly accepted to be demonically influenced, thus allowing the entity access to your subconscious as you slept. You,” she said nodding in Jess’s direction, “opened yourself completely with a Ouija Board, and you did an ancient bloodletting ritual-”

“Wait, now that is a bit extreme,” Adam insisted. “We just gave each other stupid little tattoos.”

“Tattooing is an ancient act of bloodletting. I’m sure you were aware of that,” again, Biddy nodded towards Jessica. “That was the whole point, wasn’t it? And did you even notice that if you were to lay your two tattoos over each other they create a pentagram?” Biddy spat. I could tell she’d left you jackass off the end of the sentence.

Jessica let out a bark of laughter then clapped her hand over her mouth.

We all stared at her. “Sorry,” she said, looking horrified. “I don’t know why I laughed, I guess I’m nervous.”

To fill the ensuing silence I said, “Is that true about your tattoos? Jesus, guys what are you playing at?”

Jessica shoved her seat back from the table abruptly. Startled I said, “Whoa, are you okay?”

She stood and made a beeline to the bathroom at the back of the bakery.

Babe,” Adam called, his voice filled with worry and warning, but she didn’t respond. To me he said, “You have to stop doing that.”

“Doing what?” I asked nervously.

“Mentioning God,” he ran both hands through his hair roughly. “Look, I needed you both to see her, to find out if I’m just overreacting. But you saw how she act whenever anyone mentions God or Jesus or whatever, right? And sometimes she just does that now, laughs at inappropriate times. I, well, a couple of nights ago I woke up and found that she wasn’t in the bed beside me. So, I got up to look for her, because, well, because I’m worried about her and I found her downstairs staring at our basement door. I was like, ‘Babe, it’s the middle of the night, what are you doing?’ She wouldn’t look at me so I was about to say something else when I heard our dog. I could hear his nails clicking on the stairs on the other side of the door. ‘What the fuck, Jess?’ I said and pushed past her to open the door and let Fenway out. I think she, like, locked him down there for some reason. I don’t know. It sounds insane but I think, I think she might be, you know-” he looked at us, pleadingly.

“You think she’s possessed,” Biddy said.

He nodded gratefully, “Yeah, I really do. I thought, I mean I hoped that moving out of the city would solve the problem. Like maybe it was just a coincidence and the apartment was haunted, right? But it’s only gotten worse.”

“Wait, she doesn’t know you think she’s possessed?” I asked in a low voice, suddenly aware of a table full of mom’s from my daughter’s elementary school near us.

“No,” Adam said quickly.

“What does she think we’re here to help you with? A haunting?” Biddy asked.

“She’s just as freaked out as I am, when she’s, you know herself. But she thinks it’s a ghost or something that followed us back. I told her you guys would put us in touch with a ghost hunting team that could clear our house.”

“I suppose I could get clearance from the Church for a pre-interview,” Biddy said, considering the options.

“But couldn’t this be her pre-interview or whatever?” Adam asked, sounding panicked. “Isn’t this enough to get her an exorcism? I don’t know how much more I can take and I seriously don’t know what she’s capable of at this point.”

“Yeah, I guess I could treat this as an interview,” Biddy turned to me, “Can I have your audio recording once your done transcribing this?”

“Sure,” I replied.

“The thing is, Adam, you have to tell her,” Biddy said firmly.

“Tell her what?” Jessica said, gracefully taking her seat.

We fell into an awkward silence.

“Is there something you need to tell me, Adam?” She asked in a low voice.

“Babe,” he said in what was close to a whine. “It’s just…”

Biddy jumped in, “Adam was just telling us that you haven’t been yourself since you returned from your overnight in The Asylum. Would you agree?”

“I may be a little on edge,” Jessica conceded, “But so have you, Adam.” She was calm. Too calm.

“Since you left The Asylum, have there been any instances where you might not quite remember everything clearly?” Biddy asked. “Adam mentioned an incident in which you found yourself in front of your basement door in the middle of the night.”

“Oh. Is that what Adam mentioned?” Jessica went stony. Her eyes squinted slightly, almost in amusement but she looked furious.

“Babe, I just think that maybe there might possibly be, like, something else going on besides just a haunting at our place, right?”

She stared at him icily.

“No one thinks you’re at fault,” I tried to reason. “I mean you did do that ritual thing, but you weren’t asking to be possessed or anything.”

“Wasn’t I?” She said, still looking at Adam.

“Oh,” I said dumbly. “Well, were you? Were you asking to be possessed?”

“What do you think, Liz?” She said, her tone mocking. “You’ve interviewed enough freaks. What’s your expert opinion?”

I met her gaze straight on. “I think you’ve got a big problem on your hands.”

“I’ll refer you to one of my contacts at the Church,” Biddy said directly to Adam.

“Not interested,” Jessica said, her voice low and deep.

“Jess,” Adam said, shocked.

“Fuck off, Adam, and stop whining. It’s pathetic.” With that she took off her engagement ring and plopped it into her fiancé’s coffee cup. “I’ll see you two around,” she said looking carefully at Biddy and then at me.

Then she got up and walked out the front door without looking back.

1a6e5e16bf1d95d8d0b8a2aa56e4739fI climbed several steps to the side porch of the cottage style home. Though it was only around five-thirty the grey cloud muted daylight was rapidly fading. The home’s weathered shingles were a faded brown, turned even darker by the rain that had saturated them over the past few days.

I peeked in through the side door, it’s pretty window a decoration of clear and frosted glass. Beyond it, the dimly lit kitchen looked inviting and warm. I was about to raise my hand to knock when I heard a car pull into the driveway behind me. I turned and saw a black SUV parking in front of the detached garage.

I waved before shoving my hands down into the pockets of my raincoat, defense against the chill that had finally descended over New England after a relentlessly hot summer.

“Hey!” Brian called happily as he bound up the steps to give me a bear hug. “Hop in there,” he insisted pushing open the porch door. “Sorry, I got caught up at a client’s.”

I slid off my sneakers and threw my coat on a hook by the door as Brian flipped light switches.

“What’s Chris’s ETA?” He asked happily.

“He’s shooting for six-thirty,” I said.

“Man, it’s been way too long since we’ve hung out.”

“Agreed,” I replied, smiling.

“I’m glad I didn’t lose you guys in the divorce,” Brian replied with forced cheer.

I waved the comment away with a hand. “Wild horses couldn’t drag us away from you,” I reassured him. “I’m just sorry we haven’t seen each other more over the years.”

“No apologies necessary. Life is crazy with these kids.”

“How are the boys doing?”

“Good, they’re good. They hate splitting time between our houses, but what can you do?” Brian shrugged. “It’s Teddy’s first year at the high school.”

“That’s impossible,” I said, feeling guilty. The last time I’d seen the boys they’d been toddlers. “And Jack?”

“Sixth grade. Your girls?”

“First, pre-k and daycare,” I listed.

“I hope we don’t look as old as we sound.”

“Well, I certainly don’t,” I joked.

“You still hittin’ the sauce?” He asked walking over to the refrigerator.

I nodded and he retrieved glasses from their undermount beneath the kitchen cabinets and poured us each a glass of wine.

We sat in wooden stools at the kitchen island and Brian agreed to allow me to record our conversation with my digital recorder. “The house is beautiful,” I said, meaning it.

An architect, Brian’s style leaned hard towards modern farmhouse. Exposed wood beams, clean white subway tile, framed vintage maps and cozy furniture created a Joanna Gaines-esq haven.

“It was one of the things Melissa and I fought the hardest about. She loved shiny metal and glam. I hate that shit.”

“I’m so sorry you guys split up.”

Brian shrugged. “What’s done is done. Enough of that. You’re here for a scary story and I know we gotta wrap it up before Chris gets here, yeah?”

“For sure,” I said remembering how much I liked Brian and his laid back manner.

“I ordered sushi, it should get here around the same time as Chris.”

“Thank you, that sounds great.”

“You want anything to eat now?”

“No, no. The wine’s all I need.”

Brian, Chris and I worked at the same commercial real estate company way back when we were in our early twenties. The place was flush with money and brokers looking to spend it. Our co-workers threw epic Christmas parties and even rented out an entire club one year for Halloween. We all lived in the Back Bay at the time, Brian with his now ex-wife Melissa were newly married and the four of us would often grab drinks together on Thursday nights. It was so fun and so out of touch and when I look back I can barely recognize the people we were. But seeing Brian brought back a tide of vivid memories. He and Melissa had been the perfect couple. I could picture the night they told us they were expecting. We were at a client cocktail party and Melissa ordered a soda water with lime. We knew immediately.

As luck would have it our families landed in the same town. Job changes and real life caused us all to grow apart but we had run into each other here and there in town, each time pledging to grab dinner and catch up some night. And then Chris heard through a mutual friend that the Keaton’s were getting a divorce and though I hadn’t truly known the couple for years I insisted that it must be a cruel rumor. I could still see them in my mind’s eye at our Thursday night dive bar holding hands and laughing.

But it was true. And I pushed Chris to reach out to Brian to check in and offer moral support. Melissa and I had coffee one morning this past summer and I immediately saw the change in her. She’d fallen down the hole of competitive suburban bullshit. She sprinkled names of other competitive Wellesley women and casually dropped both her past and future vacation locales into the conversation. Not once did she ask after Chris and she only inquired about the ages of our kids to find out whether or not we had any shared social ties.

Chris reported back that Brian hadn’t changed a bit. Still as jovial and generous as we’d remembered, Brian invited us to his new house. “Liz has that blog, yeah? I have a story for her. You guys should come over for dinner,” he’d suggested.

Chris, not wanting to hear our old friend’s scary story but knowing it was unfair to keep me from it, suggested he give us time for an interview before meeting up for dinner.

“So is this house haunted?” I asked Brian, pointing at the countertop.

From behind me I heard a drawn out, “Yessssssssss.” I spun around as Brian answered my question.

“Thank God, no! No, the thing I’m going to tell you about happened in New Hampshire while I was camping with friends. What’s up?” He asked, “You okay?”

“Um, sure. Yes, I’m fine I just thought I heard something. Uh, have you read my blog?” I asked.

Brian sucked air in through his teeth. “Sorry to say I haven’t. I’ve never been able to handle scary stuff. But I know Melissa read a couple of your stories.”

“Oh, no need to apologize. I know it’s not for everyone. I just wondered if you were familiar with the interview format,” I said, half relieved that he hadn’t read the stories and appeared to have no idea about my new found ability to hear dead people. “Basically, you tell me your story and I sit here listening and getting creeped out and saying annoying things like, ‘nope,’ and ‘uh, uh.’”

“Got it. I can do that.” Brian sat in his seat, his hands shoved between his knees. “So should I just start?”

I nodded, completely freaked out by the hiss of a voice I’d heard moments before but not wanting to frighten my old friend.

“Hold on!” Brian declared, slapping a hand on his knee causing me to almost jump up onto the kitchen island. “Do you ever write about stories that don’t happen in Wellesley? My story happened on Mount Washington, in New Hampshire. Damn it, why didn’t I mention this before?”

“Oh,” I breathed, my heart racing. “Absolutely. A scary story is a scary story, right?”

Brian blew out a breath. “Yeah, and this one was pretty frightening. To me at least. I’m sure you have a higher threshold, but it’s been, well it’s just been a lot.”

“I can’t wait to hear what happened,” I encouraged, scanning the room and trying not to be obvious about it. Recently I’d begun to be able to sort of cast my hearing out, if that makes any sense. It’s a way of making myself available to anyone with a message. Conversely, I’d also been working on closing up shop where this otherworldly hearing was concerned. That was more difficult, especially if I wasn’t completely focused on it. Like if I was in the middle of a conversation, or tired and distracted, or in the middle of a task, which was basically all the time.

So as I listened to Brian I opened myself up and cast out my hearing. Even though all was silent, I was on edge. That hiss had come from someone or something in the house and I was certain it wouldn’t be the last thing it had to say.

“Shoot,” Brian breathed, “All right, here I go. So it all started with a camping trip last fall. I went up to Mount Washington with a couple of buddies,” Brian began. “Something we’d done together I’d say, at least ten times. But this time,” Brian looked down at his lap and shook his head, “I gotta say, it was a bad plan from the start. First off, it was far too last minute to safely plan a hike that time of year. The weather turns on a dime up there and we were right up against the end of the season. But Mike emailed us Thursday afternoon to tell us he scored a reservation at the Dungeon-”

“Wait,” I said, holding back a laugh.

“Great name, huh?” Brain’s eyes crinkled with his smile. “It’s a hiker refuge in the basement of the AMC’s Lakes of the Clouds Hut.”

“Sounds dreamy,” I commented with a grimace. “What’s the AMC?”

“Uh,” Brian looked at the ceiling, obviously trying to recall what the abbreviation stood for. “The Appalachian Mountain Club.”

“Go it, and the hut dungeon?”

“Huh, yeah it’s exactly what it sounds like. The fall had been rainy so the place was extra rank. Luckily Paul, my other buddy, has a severe mildew allergy. He took one look in there and nixed the plan.” Brian considered for a moment. “At the time I was psyched that we had to find alternative shelter but had we stayed there none of this would have happened.

“It was freezing and getting close to evening so we needed to set up camp ASAP. We’d treked up the Tuckerman Ravine and we were pretty beat. I was ready to get a fire and dinner going.”

“I’ve always wondered about Mount Washington, what’s the hike like?” I asked. “Is it difficult?”

Brian considered. “Eh, no it’s moderate.  It takes about three to four hours, depending on how fast you climb and how many stops you make. I’d say it’s about four and a half miles, give or take.”

“We have different definitions of moderate,” I commented.

Brian looked down at his lap with a smile. “Maybe I’m downplaying it a bit. In the summertime, well actually just in July and August? It’s a good day’s hike. June and September, the bookends? Eh, you’re probably gonna see some ice. The rest of the year, though, you’re taking your chances. Those mountains have teeth, there’s a lot of ways they can kill you. Hypothermia is its softest trick but it can be just as deadly as a bear attack,” he said seriously.

I laughed nervously at this remark expecting him to crack a smile. He didn’t.

“Have you been up there?” He asked.

“Not to the actual mountain but we’ve taken the girls to Bretton Woods the past couple years to go skiing.”

Brian beamed. “You’ve already got ‘em on skis? That’s great!”

“Max is into it but the boots have been a real barrier to entry for Joey. We’ll see how it goes this season,” I laughed. “But we’ve stayed at the Mount Washington Hotel every time, love that place. I even saw a huge black bear from the back porch! It was amazing.”

Brian nodded, “Melissa and I took the kids there a couple times when they were little, it’s a great place for family vacation.”

Faintly, I heard a woman’s voice say, “He’s better off.”

I fought to keep my expression neutral. The voice I’d heard had become a familiar one. One that had been commenting on my life and the people around me more and more frequently.

Getting back onto sure footing I said, “So you guys made it up the mountain and your accommodations weren’t exactly up to your gold standard, what did you end up doing?”

“Well, that was tricky. The general AMC rule is that you can camp anywhere that’s two hundred feet from a trail or water source, a quarter mile from any established campsite or shelter, and is not above treeline. And then on top of those guidelines, there are several areas that have special protection where there is no camping allowed, yeah? And the Tuckerman Ravine happens to be one of those protected areas.”

“Did you have to hike much further to set up camp? You must have been exhausted.”

Brian looked at me with a mischievous smile, “There aren’t too many people up there that time of year enforcing the rules. We were respectful, of course, but we didn’t kill ourselves playing by the book.

“I think it was Mike who spotted the narrow trail. The weather was turning again, we needed to get beneath the treeline and set up camp before the rain hit. It had drizzled some on the climb, but at that point we knew we had to get a fire goin’ before the rain killed our chances.

“We found Crawford Path which took us past the Lakes of the Clouds. I’d seen the lakes before but the storm rolling in was black and the wind had picked up. It looked so choppy and mad that if the Loch Ness Monster had poked his head up out of the water I wouldn’t have been surprised.”

“Sounds like the stage was perfectly set for a good scare,” I commented.

Brian gave a small smile. “I’ll never forget that walk to the campsite. Mike leading the way, Paul behind him, me bringing up the rear. It’s the order in which we were affected. Weird, huh?”

“What do you mean?”

Brian drew in a breath. “Mike’s gone, Paul won’t walk again after the crash, and my marriage is over, that gutted me, ruined me.”

“Brian, you’re not ruined,” I said sadly, “I’m so sorry.”

My old friend was silent. I could tell he was holding it together as best as he could.

I stood, went to the refrigerator for the wine and refilled our glasses. I clinked my glass into his and took a sip. “I’m sorry we weren’t there for you.”

Brian took his own sip. “You’re here now. Sorry to be such a downer, seeing Chris brought up so many happy memories and seeing you-” he took another gulp of wine to save himself from having to speak.

“Tell me what happened to your friends,” I said, wishing Chris were there with us. He always knew the proper midwestern thing to say to a grieving person.

Brian smiled sadly. “Mike died last Spring, only a couple months after that night on the mountain. He used to skate once in a while in a league and he had a brain aneurysm during a hockey game. Died right on the ice. Left behind three little kids. Then Paul, God he’s lucky he’s even alive. He was an orthopedic surgeon at Beth Israel, and was heading home real late from call and he must have been way overtired, the poor guy was driving with his lights off. A tractor trailer side swiped him on the pike, slammed him right into the guardrail. I’ve seen photos of the car, it doesn’t look like anyone could have survived. But the amount of pain that guy’s had to endure? I know sometimes he wishes he didn’t survive.  

“Compared to them? I sound like I got off scot free, but when I found those texts on Melissa’s phone, Liz it was like a knife to my chest. I thought I was having a heart attack.”

“Jesus, Brian,” I breathed.

“We didn’t tell anyone, I didn’t want it to get back to the kids. She was in a serious relationship with a trainer she met at Orange Theory.”

“Fucking fuck,” I breathed in the least helpful, most un-midwestern way.

“Fucking fuck,” Brian mimicked. He shook his head as though shaking bad thoughts away.

“Mike’s dead, Paul lost the ability to walk and to do his job, and my wife left. The thing hit us all where it would hurt the most. It took Mike from his kids, stole Paul’s career, and killed my marriage.”

“What the hell happened on that mountain?” I breathed.

“Be careful,” the familiar voice whispered to me. I closed my eyes and gave a small shake of my head.

“Well, we followed the main trail down under the treeline and just as it was starting to rain again Mike spotted the path. We figured we’d hike on a bit into the woods, far enough at least to be able to say we made an effort on the off chance a ranger came by to make sure we weren’t disregarding the guidelines.   

“The forest up there is craggy, yeah? The ground is rocky and the trees are tough, like they’ve put up a good fight to claim their spot. It’s pretty but it took some searching to find the right spot to set up camp. We found a small clearing near an arrangement of huge boulders. It gave us some good coverage from the wind. It looked like a good spot, yeah? But it didn’t feel right. And right away Mike tripped over a tree root and sliced his forehead open on one of those boulders. Paul carried a first aid kit and put a couple butterfly strips across the cut, but he said Mike would probably need stitches to really close it up. I did my best to get the fire going while Paul tried to get the wound to stop bleeding, but what I really wanted to do was get us packed up and head down off the mountain. But we were losing daylight, quickly.

“So, I built the fire in front of the boulders and we arranged our tents around it in a semi-circle.”

“You guys had tents even though you thought you’d be staying in that hut dungeon?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Brian laughed, “I think we all knew deep down that wasn’t gonna work out. The tents are small, yeah? Not a big deal to lug. And then everything basically went to shit. I tweaked my back slipping in the mud while I was gathering firewood. Paul twisted his ankle pretty badly trying to see if he could climb up to the top of those boulders. It was a stupid thing, but,” Brian shrugged, “You know, there wasn’t much to do and the weather turned.

“We each brought a part of the meal. Mike beer, Paul hot dogs, me chili. Melissa packed it for us. We sat close to the fire and tolerated the freezing rain for as long we as could, but it was brutal. I could tell Mike’s head was killing him. I needed to lie down to rest my back and Paul kept leaning over to rub his ankle. We were all pretty beat up so we finally gave in and retreated to the tents for the night.”

“Soaking wet, though?” I commented with a shiver.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Brian insisted. “If you’ve got good gear, you barely feel it.”

“Yeah right,” I said doubtfully.

“Maybe it was a little damp,” he admitted. “But we were all fried. I fell asleep to the rain beating on my tent, it was so loud I wouldn’t have known if there’d been an explosion outside. But then I woke up with a start at two o’clock. It had stopped raining and the forest was quiet. It was disorienting, I didn’t know what had woken me up. And, well I admit, it was freezing. I was lying there, trying to warm up and will myself back to sleep when I heard a twig snap outside of my tent. I listened for a moment, then I realized I was holding my breath. ‘Guys?’ I called in a low voice, hoping it was just one of them coming back from taking a leak.

“Neither of them answered. But then I heard this huff, from right next to my head. It was like, you know how a bull will huff air out through its nose?”

“Yeah, I mean, I can imagine from seeing it on television,” I said.

“Right, just like that, and it was right outside the tent right near my head. I immediately thought, ‘Oh, fuck it’s a bear.’ I grabbed my cell phone as quickly as I could from my vest pocket and found our group text. ‘BEAR’ I wrote to the guys. Paul wrote back immediately. ‘KEEP STILL’.

“As the texts were sent and received we heard Mike’s phone ding. He hadn’t put the damn thing on silent. More twigs snapped as whatever was outside my tent followed the noise towards Mike’s tent. I slid out of my sleeping bag as quietly as I could and grabbed my knife from my backpack. I lifted my hand to start sliding the zipper down on the tent when the thing growled, low and long. I froze and held my breath. My phone lit up with a text seconds later and I flipped it over so the light wouldn’t show. More twigs snapped. The animal was walking around our campsite, checking it out. I snuck a glance at my phone.

“‘NOT A BEAR’ Mike had texted. I sent back a couple question marks. ‘BIGGER’ he wrote back.” Brian ran a hand through his hair then picked up his wine glass. “I wish I could tell you that I’d done something brave, yeah?  But I just sat in my tent cowering, praying that whatever was outside would just leave.

“Crazy thing was, that’s just what it did. It huffed around the campsite for about, God I think it was at least ten minutes. We were texting back and forth the whole time, all the while Mike was insistent that we not go outside. ‘Just stay put’ he kept writing whenever Paul or I would suggest trying to scare the thing away. At one point the thing slammed itself against Paul’s tent and he screamed. I didn’t blame him, I’m pretty sure I screamed too after I heard him yell.

“I’ll tell you, at that moment, I thought that was it. That the thing would go after Paul and we’d have no choice but to try and kill it with our useless knives. But nothing happened, the thing didn’t react and that’s when I started to get really scared. We were sitting ducks, it was like it was toying with us. But it was only matter of minutes before we heard it plod back down the trail away from the campsite. We texted each other and agreed to wait until we were really sure it was gone. Mike had a slight view of the path and he said he’d peeked out when he felt the thing was far enough away and saw it’s back.”

“What was it?”

“He didn’t know. He wouldn’t describe it to us, he just kept saying ‘it was big, too big.’”

“Wait,” I said, holding up my hand, “Is this a Bigfoot story?” I asked, cracking a smile.

Brian let out a bark of laughter. “No! Oh I wish it were,” he shook his head smiling sadly, “but no, it’s not a Bigfoot story.

“Oh, bummer,” I said. “What did you guys do? Did you just pack up right then and leave?”

“God, no!” Brian said forcefully. “We would have had to take the same path we’d just listened to it clomp on down. Besides that the heavy rain from earlier in the night had created a film of ice over everything, it would be treacherous getting down the mountain in the daylight let alone in the middle of the night. So we decided to take shifts, to really get the fire going again and for one of us to stay up and keep a lookout. I volunteered for the first shift, I couldn’t stand the idea of getting back into my tent and not being able to see what was around me.

“I stayed up from around two thirty until a little after four when I started to get scared I’d fall asleep and get hypothermia out there. I woke Paul up and he sat out until five thirty then Mike got the last shift. I guess the sun began to come up a little before seven, later Mike told us he had planned to let us sleep for a little longer and let the sun defrost the trail a bit before we broke camp.

“Right before the sun was up, Mike said he heard something coming down the path towards us, clomping along loudly just like that thing had done the night before. He stood up and strained to see what was coming he was about to yell and wake us up when something came into view.”

Brian was squinting his eyes, looking out the window over his kitchen sink, not really seeing his home but remembering the mountain. He put his wine glass down on the countertop and said, “It was a little boy. A little boy in overalls and a long sleeved t-shirt and no shoes.”

“What?”

“That’s what Paul and I said when Mike told us what he’d seen,” Brian said, “We were like, what are you talking about? But Mike swore that what he saw was a little boy, about six or seven years old with very dark black hair that had been slicked back as though it were wet.”

The voice behind me whispered, “See?” Chilled, I ignored her and tried to focus on Brian’s story.

“So Mike said that he watched the boy walk slowly down the trail towards our campsite and he told us that he was more frightened than he’d ever been in his life but he tried to convince himself that the boy might be lost and need help. He called out to him, ‘Hey, buddy! Are you okay?’ But the boy didn’t respond. Paul said he woke up when her heard Mike call out, ‘Kid! Are you lost?’

“Mike started walking toward the boy, not wanting him anywhere near the camp but knowing how ridiculous it was to be frightened of a child. He talked to him the whole while but the kid wouldn’t answer him. They were about fifteen feet apart when the boy stopped and knelt down on the ground, Mike said he sorta crouched down and hid his head in his knees. At that point Mike figured the boy was real in trouble. People do crazy things when they’re in the late stages of hypothermia, yeah? They hit a point when they start taking their clothing off because they start to actually feel hot even though they are freezing to death.

“‘We need to get you over to the fire, kid, come on,’ Mike told him. He bent down to touch the boy on the shoulder and that’s when the kid growled at him. That same low growl that we’d all heard the night before. He jumped back, screamed and by the time Paul had gotten out to see what was going on the boy had disappeared. Just like that, he was gone.

“Paul heard the growl too. At first we tried to explain the whole thing away as some sort of a hallucination brought on by Mike being freezing cold and sleep deprived, but if it were Mike’s hallucination then how could Paul have heard that growl? When I came out of my tent they were both standing there, staring out into the woods. ‘He was just here, man. Right there!’ Mike was saying, pointing to the ground. They caught me up to speed and we decided to just break camp and hike out of there as fast as we could. Whatever was happening was bad news. If it was some prank by another hiking group then we didn’t want anything more to do with it, and if it was something big and hulking that could look like a boy and disappear into thin air then we really wanted nothing to do with it.

“It took way too long to get off that mountain. The ground was slick with melting ice and Paul’s ankle slowed us down. I wasn’t doing much better, I basically had to will myself not to let my back completely seize up until we got back to the car. We didn’t talk much on the hike down but I tell you our heads were on a swivel.”

I shook my head and rolled the stem of my wine glass between my fingers, thinking. “What do you think it was up there?”

“I was hoping you could tell me,” Brian said

“Geez, I don’t know. If I had to guess then I’d bet that it was some sort of a shape shifter. Or maybe an elemental? You know, like an earth spirit? But, why do you think it had anything to do with all the trouble that’s happened since?”

“We didn’t talk about it after we came back. We came to a silent agreement that it would be best if we didn’t think about it anymore, yeah? But the day before Mike’s, uh accident, the day before he died he texted Paul and I and said, ‘I think I’ve figured it out – that kid, the one I saw in the woods. I saw him today. Someone must have been pranking us, someone who knew we were camping up there and had their kids with them on the hike.’  

“It was reassuring, even started to be funny. Like, hey man, someone really got us! Next level scared the shit out of us up there. We texted all day trying to figure out who we knew that might have pranked us like that.”

I smiled but shook my head slightly.

“I know,” Brian said quietly. “We were grasping at straws but what choice did we have? The idea that Mike was seeing the kid from the mountain was too upsetting to contemplate. And then,” Brian, cleared his throat, “Mike had the aneurysm that night and Paul and I didn’t talk about the boy again until he called a couple months later and asked if I remembered our last text chain with Mike. He wanted to know if I thought it was possible that Mike had actually seen the kid from the mountain. I asked him why and he beat around the bush a while, yeah? But finally he said he’d been seeing a kid the last few days that sounded a lot like the one Mike had seen on the mountain.”

“And then he had his accident,” I guessed.

Brian nodded.

“What about you? When did you see him? Right before you found out about Melissa?”

“I never saw him,” Brian said simply.

“But then, I mean, you’re sure your divorce was this kid – or whatever the thing was – you’re sure it’s his fault?”

“Yeah, I have no doubt. Melissa would never have-”

But Brian was interrupted by very loud knock at the door, which of course startled us both. Actually, I was so startled I just missed knocking my wine glass onto the floor.

“Hello!” Chris boomed, letting himself into the house. “Hey man!” He said cheerily to Brian before giving me a kiss on the cheek. “You guys look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he joked. “Must have been quite the story.”

A glass of wine was poured for Chris, dinner arrived and we talked about less frightening things. After we’d each had a cup of coffee we cleared the table said our thanks and began the process of saying goodbye to our old friend, all of us promising to stay in closer touch.

“I don’t want to be an annoying old lady, but can we say hello to Jack before we go?” I asked, sliding into my rain jacket.

“Oh, man, he won’t be home for another hour if you can believe it. Hockey practice.”

“Oh, well then how about Teddy?” I asked.

“You need to leave,” the familiar voice whispered in my ear. I shook her off.

Brian smiled. “He’s staying at Melissa’s tonight.”

Confused I began to ask a question but stopped myself.

“What?” Brian asked, his smile fading.

“It’s just,” I looked at Chris apologetically, “There was a boy in the kitchen when I came up to the house. I was just about to knock when you pulled into the driveway.”

The color drained from Brian’s face.

“Maybe I was mistaken,” I said, knowing that I hadn’t been.

Chris was looking back and forth between us, first in confusion and then with growing concern.

“What did he look like?” Brian asked with forced cheer. “Maybe one of the boys had to stop back home for something.”

I hesitated. “I couldn’t really see him all that well, he was just a boy with dark hair like yours.”

“No,” Brian breathed.

“What’s wrong?” Chris demanded.

“No, stop. We are just wound up from your story. I’m sure you’re right. One of the boys must have forgotten something and came home to pick it up.” I reasoned.

“The boy had dark hair?” Brian asked.

Reluctantly, I nodded my head.

“The boys are towheads, like Melissa.”

2770

I hesitated. “No, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“You haven’t heard anything other than dead people though, right?” Biddy pressed.

“You say that as if it’s no big deal.”

“Don’t be dramatic.”

I huffed. “Just because I haven’t heard a demon talking to me doesn’t mean that I can’t or won’t.”

“In this town?” Biddy snorted. “No chance.”

“Wait! I take it back. I did hear a demon! I heard it growl when I went to that house in Maine with Judith.”

Biddy shrugged. “What’s a little growl?”

I just stared at her.

“Look,” she said, “It’s not my first time meeting the woman. I did an initial sort of evaluation and she wasn’t too wonky. The church wants me to record her story.”

“That’s strange,” I said, surprised.

“The Church is really interested in this woman’s history and what happened to her. I’m sure you’ve noticed the uptick in demonic activity, right?” Biddy said eyebrows raised. “Well, the Church is trying to connect dots and figure out its origins. Instead of putting out all these little fires they want to be proactive and find out if there is anyway to stop the infestations at the source.”

“The source? What do you mean? Hell?”

Biddy tsked. “No, not hell. Someone is pulling the demons up at an alarming rate. The woman we need to interview was a part of something as a child that opened doors to the other side. The church wants to know how they did it, why they did it and if it can be undone.”

I looked at her nervously.

“Come on,” she insisted. “What else do you have to do tomorrow while the kids are in camp?”

“I was going to go to a spin class.”

Biddy was silent for a beat. “I’ll pick you up at nine-forty-five.”

 

***

 

I climbed into Biddy’s Jeep to find a Venti soy latte with one shot of vanilla waiting for me in the cup holder.

“Thank you!” I said, smiling.

“Don’t mention it. I think this woman lives over near Dana Hall.”

“You haven’t been to her house yet?”

“No, I met her at the church.”

My radar went on high alert. “Is this woman possessed?”

“No,” Biddy said slowly.

“Then what exactly is going on with her?”

“Nothing now anyways. She was a part of a meditation experiment when she was young.”

“Fucking Swellesley,” I breathed. “Honestly, how do all of these weirdos end up here?”

“Speaking of, did you read the Swellesley Report this morning?”

“No, let me guess another coyote sighting?”

“No it was something in the blotter. A woman called the police because a bunch of kids did a ding dong ditch and when she opened the door they threw food at her!”

“No!” I said laughing. “Oh! I would have been so pissed!”

Biddy agreed. “I would have chased those little fuckers down.”

“I’m sure you would have,” I replied.

“Here we are,” Biddy said, pulling into a long driveway.

She parked in front of the garage. We both stared at the stately brick home in front of us.

“If nothing’s going on with this woman then why did she reach out to the Catholic Church?”

Biddy shrugged. “Maybe she wanted to clear her conscience, you know confess.”

“You think I’m going to hear something, don’t you?” I said.

“You could, but I sincerely hope not. Look, you’re better at this than I am. You get people to open up and this woman’s a tough nut. I think I might make people defensive.”

I snorted.

“I really don’t think you’ll hear anything bad,” Biddy said seriously. “But if you do, then we’ll just leave. Deal?”

“Deal,” I sighed.

Biddy kept staring straight ahead. “Besides, I can’t imagine there are many dead people hanging around demons.”

I turned to face her.

She took the key out of the ignition. “I have holy water,” she said dismissively and opened her car door.

I followed suit, curious despite my fear.

We crossed the brick walkway in silence. As Biddy reached out to ring the doorbell the front door swung open abruptly causing us both to jump.

There, gazing down at us with an accusatory glare stood the Pretty Pony, the woman I’d met a few weeks prior at a friend’s fortieth birthday party. I fought with all my might to maintain a pleasant, neutral expression.

“I was going to call,” the woman said, stepping aside to let us into her home. “You’re a bit late.”

Biddy made a show of looking at her watch. “By two whole minutes, so sorry to keep you waiting. This is my colleague, Liz Sower.”

I smiled and shook Pretty Pony’s outstretched hand. “I’m Tippy Sloane. How do I know you? You look so familiar. Do you do pilates at LifeTime?”

I shook my head. “We met at Amanda’s birthday party.”

Tippy looked as me skeptically. Then, “Oh, right! You have a blog or something.”

I nodded.

“I mentioned Liz in our last email. She documents paranormal occurrences in Wellesley.”

“You want to put my story on your blog?” Tippy asked.

I nodded and said, “Only if it’s all right with you. I would change your name to keep you anonymous, of course. But I don’t have to publish your story if you’d prefer that I didn’t.”

Tippy chewed on the inside of her lip for a long moment. “No. It’s fine. I can’t imagine that many people I know read it anyway.”

“Your friend I met at the party does,” I pointed out as evenly as I could. “So does Emily.”

“They don’t know anything about my past. No one here does, not even my husband,” Tippy snapped.

“Alright then, as long as you’re fine with it I’ll publish the story.”

“I’m fine with it.”

“Okay,” I said feeling defensive. The woman was a tough nut.

Biddy and I followed Tippy into her chef’s kitchen for Nespresso and then out to her deck, which overlooked a pine tree forest. I was asked to leave any details about the house out of this story but I can say that it felt as if the place had just been staged to go on the market. The home was flawlessly decorated and it was so spotless I wouldn’t have been surprised if the cleaners had left just moments before we arrived.

We sat in wicker chairs with patterned cushions around an immense white stone pedestal table. Though the humidity had been brutal all summer there was a slight breeze and the pine forest smelled fresh and cool.

“Are you too hot? I can turn on the fans,” Tippy offered.

Biddy and I assured her we were comfortable. Though I was intrigued by the retro white metal things placed unobtrusively at either end of the deck.

“If the bugs come out I’ll turn them on,” Tippy said.

Biddy took a digital recorder from her bag and I asked if it was all right if I recorded the interview as well.

“Is that really necessary?”

“Um, I’ll only use my recording to transcribe the interview and then I’ll erase it. But Biddy, you need to give yours to the Church, right?”

Biddy nodded.

Tippy shifted in her seat, agitated. “Promise me you’ll erase it. It’s fine if the Church has a recording, but I don’t want another copy floating around.”

I kept from pointing out that publishing her story on my blog would create a public copy of the tale. “I’ll erase it immediately,” I assured her.

That settled, the recorders were switched on and placed on the table.

Tippy stared at the devices, her elbows rested on the chair arms, hands folded lightly over her flat stomach, legs crossed.

“So you want me to tell you about the church?”

“Please,” Biddy replied.

Tippy took a deep breath and tilted her head back to look at the black and white striped umbrella shading us from the sun. Blowing out the breath she fixed her gaze squarely on me and said, “My parents became official members of the Church of the Fallen Star in 1984-”

“Uh oh,” I said without even really meaning to. Biddy gave me a look. “Sorry to interrupt already, but ‘Fallen Star,’ isn’t that another name for-”

“Satan? Yes. But as far as I can tell my parents didn’t know that. I honestly don’t even  think that most of the congregation knew what the church was doing behind the scenes.”

“Where did you grown up?” I asked.

“I don’t want you to write that, okay? The Catholic Church already knows, right? So I don’t want to say the name of the town on the recording.” Tippy looked at Biddy for reassurance.

“That’s totally fine,” she said soothingly.

I apologized and made a mental note to stop interrupting the woman so much.

“No, it’s fine. I just wouldn’t ever want someone to read your blog and get the stupid idea to go looking for those people. Okay?”

“Okay,” I affirmed.

“All right, fine. So the thing is, for the most part this place was just like any other church. My sister and I attended Sunday school while my parents were at service. We had picnics and volunteer hours and spring carnivals. But then the fall of my freshman year in high school the church began offering meditation classes.

“The reverend’s wife ran the sessions. She was this mousy little woman with short curly hair and big glasses. She never wore makeup and she was like, the most harmless looking person you could imagine. No one could have suspected what she was up to.

“My parents were happy I was spending more time at the church and they had my little sister sign up too even though she was a couple years younger than everyone else. Not many kids at the church were interested in meditation so there were only six of us in the class and we met twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays after school.”

I had another question. I didn’t want to jump in again so I sort of raised my hand.

“Yes?” Tippy said with forced patience.

“Uh, how old were you guys?”

“I was fourteen and my sister was twelve.” She paused. “Anything else?”

I shook my head and snuck a glance at Biddy. Her subtle look let me know that she also thought Tippy was a complete and utter jerk.

“The so-called meditation class was pretty boring at first, just a lot of breathing exercises and sitting still. But then Mrs. Crowe-”

“The reverend’s wife?” I interrupted not caring anymore if it annoyed Tippy. I wanted to be sure I had all the players straight.

“Yeah, Eliza Crowe, the Reverend Liam Crowe’s wife. She began to teach us about visualization. But not the kind where you visualize yourself reaching a goal or doing something you’ve always wanted to accomplish. She told us exactly what to visualize and her instructions were detailed and specific. She referred to it as ‘taking our nature walk.’”

“The sounds pleasant,” I said lightly.

“It was at first,” Tippy said quietly. “We’d begin by imagining ourselves in a pretty field of wildflowers. We were to take in every detail, the way it smelled, the buzz of the insects, the feel of the breeze, et cetera. Then once we’d all arrived in the field together-”

“Um,” I said, interrupting again, “What do you mean ‘arrived together?’”

“It’s hard to explain. We’d sit together to meditate and Mrs. Crowe would lead us in the visualization and eventually we could all see each other in the field. Then once we all tuned in enough to make contact with one another Mrs. Crowe would turn our attention towards this huge mountain range off in the distance and we’d begin walking towards it together.”

I glanced at Biddy and she gave me an almost imperceptible shake of the head. She asked, “What happened when you reached the mountains?”

“Well, that actually was a challenge at first. For a while it took a really long time to get to them but then we somehow realized that if we sang songs together the journey was much quicker.”

“What songs did you sing?” I asked, imagining church hymns.

Tippy smiled sadly. “We took turns choosing the songs. Like every nineties church girl I was embarrassingly excited about Amy Grant. My sister loved R.E.M. but this one guy in the group was obsessed with The Beatles and when we sang those songs? We got to the mountain in record time.”

“Crazy,” I said.

“What happened when you arrived at the mountain?” Biddy asked again.

“As we got closer to it we would begin to make out the cave entrance.”

“Oh no,” I said out loud without meaning to.

“It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. As long as we went in together the creatures stood back in the shadows, and just watched us pass.”

I laughed nervously and Biddy gave me a look.

“I’ve never told anyone about this but I realize it’s a lot to take in,” Tippy sighed. “All of that visualization of the field and the journey? It was just to get us inside the cave. I don’t know why we had to take that route every time, like why couldn’t we just imagine ourselves in the cave from the beginning, right? But that’s just how it worked.

“And once we got good at moving through those initial steps quickly we spent the majority of our time together in that cave.”

“What went on inside the cave?” Biddy asked.

“We met The Elder. He was the whole point of the exercize. We went to the cave where he existed and we would listen to him talk for what felt like hours about the state of the world and role he wanted us to play in the future.

“He didn’t, like, live in the cave. He told us it was just a meeting point. A place where our realities could co-exist. He said he had information that he had been asked to pass along to us about our role in what was coming.”

“What did he tell you was coming?” I asked nervously.

Tippy sat silently for a moment. “I honestly can’t remember any of the details, but it was all about what he called ‘The End,’ and it filled me with absolute dread.”

“This went on throughout the fall of my Freshman year and then one day it changed. When The Elder was done talking with us we always left the cave together and traveled back out the same way we came in. We couldn’t just pop out of the meditation and be back in the church with Mrs. Crowe. We had to travel through tall grass back to the field of wildflowers and up until that point I had always felt safe.

“But for some reason that day I glanced behind us as we were leaving the mountains. I don’t know why it hadn’t ever occured to me to look back before but when I did I saw the tall grass behind us rippling as though something was moving through it. Following us. Then I glimpsed one of the things from the cave, crouched down, scurrying on its hands and feet like an animal and I realized that the grass was teeming with them.

“I panicked and started running towards the field of wildflowers and my friends began yelling and running with me trying to get me to stop. Then they began to panic when we all realized that though we were sprinting we weren’t getting any closer to the field. That had happened on the way to the mountain of course, but never on our way home from it. It finally occurred to me to start singing. I began screaming the lyrics to Yesterday, the only Beatles song I could think of. The others caught on and then just like that we were back in the field of wildflowers and Mrs. Crowe was calmly telling us to awaken.

“I told her what I’d seen and she tried to brush it aside as my imagination. The others were freaked out too, but they were scared at how hard it had been for us to get back to the field of wildflowers, none of them had actually seen those creatures following us. We’d all caught glimpses of them in cave before but in that dim light you couldn’t see how horrifying they actually were. I couldn’t convince any of them that what I’d seen was real.” Tippy shivered at the memory.

“I quit right then and there. I told Mrs. Crowe that I didn’t want to be a part of the class anymore and I swore to myself that I’d never go back again. But I was only able to stay away for a week. One afternoon I got home from school and the Reverend was there, sitting in our living room talking to my mom. He’d been telling her all about the elite catechism Melanie and I had been involved with. He told her that Eliza, his wife, saw incredible potential in me and my sister and that he hoped I’d return to the ‘Meditation and Stress Management’ course to further my studies.

“The Reverend caught my mom off guard so she was embarrassed that she didn’t know I’d been skipping the class. My sister and I hadn’t told either of my parents anything about the class and they hadn’t asked about it either. Melanie was still going, and while she was there I hung out in the church parking lot doing homework until she came out so we could walk home together. She was mad at me for not going and I was angry at her for not listening to me.

“My mother promised Reverend Crowe that I would be back in class the very next day ready to participate and continue the course.”

“But they couldn’t make you meditate again, right?” I said, hopefully.

“Of course they could,” Tippy snapped. “What we were doing was not meditation. We were entering an alternate reality or maybe it was a parallel reality, I don’t know. Whatever it was it didn’t depend upon me wanting to go there. I’d already traipsed through that place enough times that it left its mark. When I was around the others all it took was Mrs. Crowe’s gentle voice describing the field and inviting us to enter and I would be there right alongside my friends.

“Spending so much time in that place did something to me. I can’t speak for the others, but it must have changed them too. I began to know when something was going to happen before it did.”

“Like what?” Biddy asked.

“I can’t prove any of this, of course, but I began to be able predict things. I knew that my father would break his arm fishing. I knew before we went to the grocery store that they would be out of the brand of bread we usually bought. I knew my best friend’s grandmother was going to die on March third. Things like that.

“The Elder began to tell us things and instead of forgetting them the moment we came out I started to remember them faintly. It was more like I remembered the gist of what he was talking about and what he was talking about was the end of the world. And he told us that we were helping to usher in a new dawn. Eventually, instead of just hiding in the shadows, the creatures would gather around behind us as we sat listening to The Elder preach. It became apparent that specific creatures were assigned to each of us and they would sit crossed-legged right behind each of us as we listened to the sermons about the end times. They began to always follow along behind us in the tall grass but none of the others found it at all alarming or if they did they didn’t let on.

Tippy went silent for a moment. “I didn’t grasp how serious it all was until the Reverend began a meditation course for our parents. He said it was a special curriculum that the church was planning to roll out to the congregation and we were the lucky chosen families to get first crack at it. After a few weeks we were given instructions to meditate as a family. I hadn’t told anyone that I was beginning to know things before they happened and I hid how terrified I was because my parents and my sister were all so happy about the whole thing. I could tell my dad was proud that our family had been chosen to take part in the Reverend’s project.

“Things weren’t as intense when we meditated as a family but then we were invited to meditate with the entire group in the church. Mrs. Crowe called it a ‘special evening of relaxation and spirituality.’” Tippy rolled her eyes. “We all entered the field, we walked to the cave, we sat and listened to The Elder. But on our way out one of the creatures jumped onto Mikey’s back. He was the boy who loved the Beatles. It happened so fast, I almost convinced myself that I hadn’t seen it. The creature jumped onto his back and then sort of disappeared into him.

“When Mrs. Crowe called us to awaken I immediately looked at Mikey who was sitting across from me in between his parents. I asked if he was alright and he looked down at his hands and started opening and closing them into fists, then he looked up at me and began to laugh. The laughter caught on until everyone in the room except me was laughing as if they were all in on some kind of joke.

“Over the next few weeks people in the group – parents and kids – got jumped like that. By all outward appearances they were the same, if you didn’t know what had happened to them you might not suspect anything was wrong. But inside they were completely different. Cruel, cunning and determined to be ‘positive’ and ‘productive.’ Those became the buzz words, ‘positivity and production.’ Those creatures took them over, pushed their personalities aside and were in complete control of their bodies.

“I was terrified, I tried to suggest that there might be something strange going on in the meditation group but my parents wouldn’t hear it and my sister said she would tell the Reverend if I kept bringing it up. It was as if they were all under a spell. I couldn’t get through to any of them. Out of the six kids in the group and the twelve parents I was the only one who seemed to think anything was wrong with the whole thing. So I did my best to push down the terror I felt and fall in line.

“Reverend Crowe told us at this one meeting that he was so thrilled with our progress that he was going to make the program available to the entire congregation. Having been the first group to make it successfully through the program he said we would be a part of spreading the ‘positivity.’ He intended to split the congregation up into six groups and each of our families would be in charge of leading a group through the process of visualization and meditation.

“My mind was spinning. I knew that more of those creatures would escape through those innocent people. My family hadn’t been jumped yet but I knew it was just a matter of time. That very night a creature jumped my father. After that I kept my mouth shut about my doubts. I could tell he was watching me, almost daring me to say something against the process.

“I made up my mind to leave about a week later when my little sister was jumped. I hated the idea of abandoning my family but really, they weren’t my family any longer. I didn’t know if they were trapped in their bodies with the creatures or if the creatures had completely eliminated all traces of them but I wouldn’t let it happen to me. I ran away in the middle of the night with a backpack of clothes and one hundred and twelve dollars. I was fifteen years old.”

“Where did you go?” I asked.

Tippy met my eyes for a moment then she looked down at the table. “Here and there. I eventually ended up in a stable situation so I was able to get my GED. I put myself through college working as a receptionist at a law firm and that’s where I met James, my husband.

“I haven’t spoken to my family in over twenty years. I subscribe to our hometown newspaper online and I saw an obituary for my father two years ago-”

“I’m so sorry,” Biddy said, sympathetically.

“Don’t be. That man wasn’t my father any longer.”

“What about your sister?” I asked.

The mask of bitchy detachment Tippy wore cracked for a moment and a glimmer of sadness broke through. “I try not to think of her.”

“What about the church?” Biddy asked. “Any news of it?”

“Have you heard of [church name omitted]?”

‘Stop it, no,” I breathed.

Tippy nodded her head. “They’ve gone mega-church, there’s no stopping them.”

“They have a podcast!” I said, shocked.

“Persuasive, aren’t they?”

“Were there any after effects when you left home? Did you escape completely?” Biddy asked.

“My dreams have never been the same,” Tippy said with a humorless laugh. “I dare not allow myself a quiet moment to reflect, if I do I find myself thinking about that field of wildflowers and that’s dangerous.”

“What about the premonitions?” Biddy asked.

“Sometimes,” Tippy replied quietly.

Biddy looked at me meaningfully.

“What?” I asked, defensive.

“Have you heard anyone?”

“Oh! No, not at all, at least not today, but um, listen,” I said hesitantly. “I would feel weird not telling you this. I can sometimes hear people, um, who have passed.”

Tippy looked confused.

“She can hear dead people,” Biddy said bluntly.

Tippy’s eyebrows raised. “Oh?”

“Yes, and that night at the birthday party, when we were talking in the backyard? Well, I heard a man’s voice tell me, ‘She’s right about her husband.’ I couldn’t think of any tactful way to let you know what I’d heard, you know? I don’t want to overstep, or comment on your marriage at all, but knowing you now, I would feel guilty if I didn’t tell you what the voice told me,” I rambled.

I glanced at Biddy, she was staring at Tippy anxiously.

Tippy sat frozen. “What did the voice say?”

“It said, ’She’s right about her husband.’ Sorry, it’s so private. I just wanted to pass along what I heard because…” I trailed off. Tippy’s hands had begun shaking violently and the look of sheer terror on her face was enough to shut me up.

“Oh my God,” she breathed. “Oh my God, they’re here.” She began rocking back and forth. “I should have known! I knew it, I knew it was all too good to be true. I knew they’d never let me go.”

“Tippy,” Biddy said sharply. “What are you saying?”

The woman smiled horribly, clutching her hands to her chest, tears springing to her eyes. The affected tone gone from her voice. “He’s one of them.”

“What if the voice just meant your husband’s cheating on you, that’s how I took it,” I said like a complete idiot.

Tippy shook her head violently, “No. No, I saw a text on his phone last summer from a man named Durlish. It was only numbers and I began to suspect something was up. He’d started at a new gym and he knows I abhor meditation but he’d been trying yoga classes. They got to him. Oh my God, what am I going to do? I can’t start over again! I have children!”

Biddy tried to calm Tippy down saying we really had no idea what the voice I heard was referring to.

“What did it sound like?” Tippy demanded. “The voice, what did it sound like?”

“Oh, um, it sounded like a man, I’d say an older man actually.”

Tippy threw her hands up and exclaimed, “It was my dad! The voice you heard, it must have been my dad! He’s safe, now that he’s dead he must be safe. Oh thank, God.” Then she buried her face in her hands and began to sob.

I looked over at Biddy and mouthed, What the fuck?

She just shrugged and shook her head.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You should come next time.”

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

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

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

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

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

Sidekick looked confused.

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

“Ghosts,”  I said simply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just kept smiling dumbly and gulped my wine.

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

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

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

I introduced myself.

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

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

“Mm hm.”

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

“What listing?” Sidekick interrupted.

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

“What things?” Pretty Pony asked.

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I gave her my address.

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

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

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

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

I gave her our old address.

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

I nodded.

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

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

“Six years this September.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh? Where does he work?”

I told her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s crazy,” I said simply.

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

“Hmm.”

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

“That’s awesome,” I said smiling.

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

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

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

“Supernatural?” I interjected.

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

“Then what were they?” I asked.

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

“Uh huh,” I said slowly.

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

“Oh dear,” I breathed.

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

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

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

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

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

I stared, waiting.

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

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

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

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

Emily shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh no,” I said nervously.

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

“No,” I breathed.

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

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

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

“Well?” She said.

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

“Exactly.”

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

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

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

I looked up and shook my head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did he think?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Quick thinking, “ I commented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh no,” I groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Geez, Emily. This is dark.”

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

“He didn’t see them,” I ventured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So then he just tore the thing down.”

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

“But you said the shadows followed you.”

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

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

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

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

“You thought it might have been a person?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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