ghosts in the burbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?” She asked, looking concerned.

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

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

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

Colleen looked uncertain. “Would you prefer water?”

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

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

“Yikes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No! Nothing, I just thought maybe-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She quit?” I asked surprised.

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

“You didn’t talk about it at all?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She did Tarot card readings?” I asked.

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

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

“Seance?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, she just up and abandoned me.”

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

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

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

I gasped.

Colleen startled. “What?”

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

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

Don’t trust him,” the voice insisted.

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

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

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

“There it goes,” Colleen breathed.

Tell her,” the voice insisted.

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

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

“Oh, sweet Jesus,” I breathed.

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

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

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

I shushed her, closed my eyes and listened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who?

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

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

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

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

I nodded.

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

I looked down at my lap and listened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There she had me stumped.

Intruder.” The voice insisted.

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

unnamed-1

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

Biddy and I exchanged a guilty look.

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

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

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

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

“Tarot card?” I asked.

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

“Ha. Ha.” I said humorlessly.

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

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

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

I nodded and shrugged at the same time.

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

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

“Are you really?” Judith asked.

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

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

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

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

I stared at her.

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

I took a deep breath but didn’t reply.

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

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

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

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

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

“How often?” Judith asked.

“Not often,” I replied.

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

I rolled my eyes.

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

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

“That’s fair,” I agreed.

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

“Hearing dead people is a good thing?”

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

“What?” I asked.

“That damned basement,” she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You think psychics are bullshit,” I spat.

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

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

“No, I just, I don’t know-”

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

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

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

“What’s that?” Biddy asked.

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

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

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

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

“Well?” I said to Judith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To whom?” Judith pressed.

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

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

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

“What happened to her?” Biddy asked.

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

The two women just watched me.

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

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

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

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

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

So I did.

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

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

“What does it say?” Asked Biddy quietly.

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

“Pretty cool, huh?” Judith said.

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

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

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

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

“Well who is?” I asked, defensively.

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

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

“It most certainly does not,” I breathed.

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

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

“Renovate,” Judith replied, simply.

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

 

***

 

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

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

Judith stared hard into those woods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

(About a week later)

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

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

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

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

She looked fantastic, all white jeans and gold jewelry.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are so full of shit.”

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

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

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

“Prove it,” said Jill quietly.

“How?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sat listening.

“What is she saying?” Jill begged.

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

“Please,” Jill pleaded.

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

The women looked at me in disbelief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hm, what time?”

“Nine-thirty.”

“And they have crepes?”

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s that?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why do you think that?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A few weeks ago,” Jason replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What kind of stuff?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh oh,” I said, sucking in a breath.

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

“What exactly did she tell you?”

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

“Like what?” I asked, nervously.

“Like my birthday for one thing.”

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

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

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

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

“But she was hot,” Biddy interjected.

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

“Then what?” I pressed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, no, no,” I breathed.

“What?” He said, obviously worried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” he replied, simply.

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

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

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

“Does that mean something?” Jason asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Jason nodded. “He’s always here.”

“Where?” I asked.

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

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

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

“What doesn’t he want you to do?”

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

“He wants you strong,” Biddy commented.

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

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

“Zozo?” Jason said, confused again.

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

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

I stifled a nervous giggle.

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

“Oh, fuck,” Biddy breathed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He stared at it. “What is that.”

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

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

We watched him watching it.

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

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

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

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

BloodyMary

Biddy: DUMB DUMB

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

Biddy: eye roll emoji

Me: She knows Father MacGonagle

Biddy: Yeah, I’ll check into that…

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

Biddy: Ugh, yes.

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

Biddy: poop emoji

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Just coffee,” I answered.

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

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

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

“Where do you work out?” She asked.

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

“Are you headed there after our interview?”

I shook my head.

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

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

“All girls, right?”

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

She shook her head. “Whatever.”

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded my head.

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

“Oh, Gen.”

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

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

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

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

“Uh, Sayre, why do you know Maeve?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head.

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

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

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

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

“And they actually did it?”

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

“No, no, no,”I breathed.

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

“Are you guys friends?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the ‘whatever’ part?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tinsley!”

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

Gen made a soothing noise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confused I looked at Gen.

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

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

I smiled and waved.

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

“Where was I?” Gen asked.

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

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

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

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

Summoning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, but that was a fluke.”

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

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

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

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

“Do you think she might be right?”

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

“What sorts of noises?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Jesus,” I breathed. “Did it hurt?”

“What do you think?” Gen snapped.

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

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

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

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

“I know what you mean,” I said.

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

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

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

“No,” I said simply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the fuck,” I breathed.

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

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

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

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

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

But there was no one there.

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

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

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

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

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

“Have you done research into this Bloody Mary?”

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

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

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

“Well, this is Wellesley,” I reasoned.

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

“So, like the Catholic Church?”

“Well, yes,” I replied.

“Yeah, no that doesn’t work for me.”

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

“And where might I find one of those?”

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

“What?” She pressed.

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

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

“I know what you mean,” I said.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I groaned, “Oh no, what did she do?”

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

“Mmm, gross,” I said hiding a smile.

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

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

unnamed-5[Something to note: The psychic, we’ll call her Judith Kay, had the best Southern lilt and I am burdened with the Upstate New York twang, so I certainly wasn’t able to recreate her gorgeous way of speaking. Also, the psychic asked that I refrain from detailing her physical appearance in this story so that she could remain truly anonymous.]

 

It was close to six-thirty as I slowly wove along the tree-lined road but it felt much later. Branches met overhead and blocked out the final moments of daylight. I wasn’t exactly a stranger to that part of the world, one of my sisters lived just miles from my destination, but I hadn’t explored the densely forested town on my own. It was my sister who’d orchestrated the whole event, she’d put me in touch with psychic medium Judith Kay and what had begun as an interview morphed into me tagging along on one of the woman’s “walks” (a nighttime exploration of a haunted home in which she determines what is causing a paranormal disturbance and then prescribes the antidote).

“Like Aimee Allen!” I’d blurted out to her on the phone.

“Kind of honey, but usually I get rid of the creepies myself.”

I’d excitedly trekked two hours up to North Berwick, Maine earlier that afternoon and had spent some time hanging out at my sister’s place excitedly discussing what the night would bring. But as the hour approached I began to lose my nerve. This next interview wasn’t really an interview, I would actually spend time in a severely haunted home as the psychic did her thing. She’d assured me on the phone that she would never allow anything to either affect me when I was in the house or follow me home from it. It goes without saying that I didn’t mention what I was doing to Biddy.

The twenty-minute drive included just three turns from my sister’s house, but I was half convinced I was lost. Just as I was about to call it a night and turn the car around the headlights fell upon a sign declaring, “Welcome to Moosewood Farms.”

“Shit,” I said under my breath as I turned into the development. The neighborhood was an oasis in the middle of dense forest. Large homes with generous lawns seemed to watch me suspiciously as I scanned the mailboxes for number seventeen. Several of the yards boasted large ponds that swirled discreetly in tame New England landscaping. Nestled at the inside curve of the development and sided by what appeared to be a section of marshy woods to the right, and a good sliver of forest to the left, number seventeen was a stunner. A three-floor colonial with a pretty front porch, the home was yellow with white trim. Two white rocking chairs flanked the front door, patiently waiting for Spring to arrive. The windows glowed warmly in the dusk and it appeared that every single light in the house was on at full blast.

I turned in and immediately made note of the empty driveway. It meant that Judith hadn’t yet arrived. Social anxiety overcame me. I had never met these people and I had no idea what Judith had told them about me.

As I sat in my awkward panic the front door opened and a pretty woman waved to me to come inside.

“Shit,” I muttered again as I returned her wave.

I took the key from the ignition, grabbed my bag and stepped out into the driveway. What had at first appeared to be a cozy marshy wood seemed significantly more threatening once outside of the safety of my car.

At least I’m not putting the kids to bed, I thought, putting things in perspective.

“Come on in!” The woman called to me, pulling her boyfriend-style sweater tight to stave off the chill in the air. “Judith texted, she’s running about fifteen minutes late.”

“Okay, great!” I called back, not meaning it at all.

I climbed the steps to the porch and introduced myself to the woman.

“I’m Kate,” she said. She had long dark brown hair and those damn bangs that I’ve always coveted. The grey cashmere sweater covered a crisp white t-shirt and she wore perfectly distressed boyfriend jeans and spotless keds. As I had so many times before I wondered how some women know how to put together an outfit. I was wearing skinny jeans (that if I am honest had become way too tight as of late), a navy blue pullover sweater with a ruffled collar and Uggs. I can’t help it, they’re just so damn comfortable.

Clothing issues aside I found myself hesitating to enter the woman’s home.

“They haven’t bothered anyone but us,” Kate said with a shake of her head.

I looked at her, confused.

“The ghosts, or whatever is here. They only appear to my family.”

“Oh!” I replied quickly. “No worries. I just, you know feel funny being here without Judith.”

“I’ll make us some tea while we wait for her,” she said, closing the door and locking it, eliminating any means of escape. “This is my husband, Steve.”

I exchanged hellos and a handshake with a cute, bespectacled guy in his mid-forties.

Following her to the kitchen I took in the home’s cozy warmth. Colorful walls were lined with family photos (it looked like the couple had two teenage boys) and the first floor flowed from an adorable seating area with leather couches and a kitchen table to the kitchen itself and then on to the dining room where you could continue to complete the circular path. Dark wood, pretty mirrors and a beautiful hutch displaying attractive tchotchkes set a warm, modern farmhouse vibe.

“Your home is absolutely beautiful. How long have you lived here?”

The couple looked at each other and I immediately recognized the hive mind that Chris and I share as they tried to calculate the answer via telepathy.

“Almost ten years,” Steve decided.

I looked at the happy family photos lining a sideboard in the dining room. “You have two boys?” I asked.

“Yup, nineteen and fifteen,” Kate replied. “Our oldest son,” she continued, pointing to a photo of a teenage boy in a football uniform, “He recently had a difficult falling out with an old friend.”

“They played football together in high school,” Steve interjected.

Kate nodded, her mouth turned down, “I’m sure it has nothing to do with it, but our problems began right after they had their disagreement.”

“It’s gotta be a coincidence,” Steve insisted in a way that made me think that it wasn’t a coincidence at all.

“Totally,” Kate agreed, her eyebrows scrunched. She then busied herself making two cups of tea while Steve and I chatted about my sister’s family and whether there were any small world degrees of separation between us. I described my blog and asked permission to start recording the night and he happily agreed.

We sat on the couches in the kitchen area and when I had a piping hot decaf black tea in hand I asked, “Do you know Judith well?”

“No, not at all really,” Kate replied, “A woman at our church put us in touch. We’ve spoken briefly on the phone, she didn’t want too much information about our situation. She asked only for our address,” Kate paused, then looked at her husband and said, “We have no idea what to expect tonight.”

Steve put his hand on her leg and gave it a squeeze.

“That’s a good sign,” I said, reassuringly. “When she says something that lines up with what you’ve been experiencing you’ll know that she’s the real deal.” I stopped myself from asking what was going on in the house though I was dying to know.

As if reading my mind, Steve said, “I wish we could tell you, it sounds like you’ve talked to a lot of people in our position.”

“I would love to hear what you think is going on in our house,” Kate said. “It is such a relief to talk to someone who doesn’t think we are crazy.”

“Or lying,” Steve added.

“So what has been-” I began to ask when the doorbell rang. Startled, a generous splash of hot tea landed on my lap.

Steve got me a paper towel and Kate answered the door.

“Hello!” Judith bellowed as she stepped inside and wrapped her arms around Kate in a bear hug. “Now who do we have here?”

I waved the paper towel in my hand awkwardly and she smiled and said, “There’s my Liz,” before walking over to Steve to give him a politician’s handshake, grasping his right elbow with her left hand as she shook with her right.  

She stepped back and closed her eyes. Bringing her hands in prayer form first to her chest, then her mouth and then her forehead she took three long deep breaths as Kate, Steve and I stared at her unsure of how to act.

Judith’s eyes snapped open and her hands fell to her sides. “Well, well, well,” she said, her eyes scanning each of us. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.

“Now, who’s staying behind with me?” she asked.

The couple exchanged a look and Kate spoke up, “I’ll stay.”

“Are you sure you want to?” Steve asked.

“Yes, you go to the hotel with the boys. I don’t mind.”

“It won’t take but two shakes of a lamb’s tail,” Judith assured Kate. “Then you’ll be off to the hotel and the spirits will have a chance to settle down once I’m gone.”

Judith clapped her hands together, “Alright, daddy. Gone with you to the boys. Ladies, let’s get to work. We’ll start in there.”

Steve gave Kate a kiss on the cheek, and duly dismissed walked through the kitchen towards what I assumed was the door to their garage. Kate and I exchanged nervous smiles and and followed the psychic into the family’s television room, located off the kitchen seating area.

“Fabulous rug,” Judith said pointing at the grey-toned animal print. “There’s a woman here, but I think she might be a relative of yours. Listening, listening, okay, yup. Got it. It’s your grandmother, your mom’s mom. Alright? And she comes and goes between you and your sisters. She’s worried, honey, really worried. She can come into this room but she doesn’t dare go into the rest of the house. Why is that, maam? Okay, mmm hmmm, she says he has control of the property but there’s something, okay, sure, yup, there’s a religious something or other in here. On the mantle-”

We all looked up at the fireplace mantle.

“Oh my God,” Kate breathed. I put a cross, from an old necklace, I put it up there last week.” She walked over and reached up onto the mantle and pulled down a tiny gold cross. “How could you know that?”

“I didn’t honey, your grandma told me. And know that this is a safe room for you and your family. Get a few more of those crosses and get them blessed at your church. Put them in the four corners of the room. The rest of the house needs more than a blessing, but you were able to protect this room on your own. Good girl.

“Thank you,” Judith said into the corner of the room, “Sure, I’ll tell her. Your grandma thinks your boys are the handsomest she’s ever seen.” Kate smiled and blinked back tears.

“Alright, ladies, let’s move on, find out who the controlling jerk is.”

Into the kitchen we followed. Judith stood still with her eyes closed for a long moment. I realized I was holding my breath. “What’s with the flowers?”

“Oh! I can’t keep fresh flowers anymore. Since everything, you know, started happening flowers just wilt within hours if I bring them in here.”

“Mmmm,” Judith groaned. “I don’t like it,” she glanced over at me for a moment and scrunched her eyebrows then looked over to Kate. “It’s heavy in here, honey. He’s messing with water, or something connected to him is. What’s been going on with the water?”

“Everything on this floor leaks, the kitchen sink, the toilet in the powder room. It’s been an ongoing problem for the past two months. Once one issue is fixed another crops up. I just had the plumber in here yesterday for the dishwasher.”

Judith closed her eyes again, “Water, water, water. He doesn’t care about the water, but it amuses him to see you scurry and fret. Hmm.”

We followed Judith around the entire first floor. Through the eating area and into the dining room. All the while she mumbled things to herself about heavy energy and dark spots. “They’re floating in the air and I think they are his little helpers,” she said at one point. “Relentless and draining, you’re lucky none of you have gotten sick yet. That’s what they want. I don’t know what he wants, yet. But he’s pulled these things inside, recruited them, again, it amuses him to see your family struggling.

“Gorgeous part of the country, this,” Judith said abruptly changing the topic. “Lots of forest. Passed a horse farm on the way here. Do you know which tribe was on the land?”

Kate looked as confused as I was. I was trying to figure out what sort of tribes horse farmers formed when Judith clarified, “Native Americans. Was it the Wampanoag?”

“Oh, I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t know,” Kate admitted.

They both turned to look at me and I shrugged my shoulders.

Judith stared out one of the dining room windows into the front yard. “He says the land is healthy but that something- No, no they aren’t involved in that. Okay, thank you. He says that something caused a tear in the fabric and that’s how it all got in.”

“Who says?” I asked.

“The Native American gentleman in the front yard,” Judith replied, pointing out the window.

Kate and I exchanged a look. She said, “We’ve all seen someone walking in those marshy woods next to the driveway. My youngest, he called the police one night. He was sure it was someone skulking around but they didn’t find anyone.”

Judith nodded, “It’s him, he’s harmless, and he’s just watching. Wants to be sure that what’s in this house doesn’t infect the neighborhood.”

Kate gave what could best be described as a little whimper.

Judith shook her head and looked down at her feet. “There are two here, two masters. I don’t get it- yet. One wants control over this household but I don’t know about the other one,” she glanced behind me and I looked over my shoulder. “They can’t hide forever. I’ll figure it out.

“Alright, the basement. It’s a finished space, is that right?” Kate nodded her head. “And the mirror,” Judith tsked. “There’s a large mirror down there, isn’t there?”

“Uh, yes,” Kate said, sounding apologetic. “When the boys were little they would put on plays, you know or rock band performances in front of it, or whatever.”

“Mmm hmm,” Judith affirmed. “How much time does the oldest boy spend down there?”

“None, anymore at least. They used to play their video games and use the exercise equipment, but now-”

“How often do they see things?” Judith asked.

“Um, well they’ve told me about the shadows, my youngest says he’s caught the shadows watching him. He said they remind him of little kids peeking around corners.”

“More than one shadow spying on him?”

“That’s what he said.”

Judith nodded confidently. “Let’s go down there so I can get a look at ‘em.”

Kate walked back to the kitchen and to a door across from the island. She undid a chain lock at the top of the frame, then an eye and hook below that and finally the dead bolt. After a slight hesitation she pulled the door open and quickly flipped a light switch, bathing the wide carpeted staircase with light.

“Do you mind if we keep the lights off?” Judith asked.

After a moment’s hesitation Kate flipped the switch again. “No, it should be fine.”

She lead the way, Judith went next and, filled with dread, I brought up the rear.

After a quick beat my eyes adjusted to ambient light filtering in from flood lights in the backyard. The basement was above-grade in the back so there was a regular sized door through which one could access the backyard. Three full-sized windows lined the same wall. Divided nicely into areas of interest it appeared that the basement was a teenager’s dream hangout. There was a large sectional facing a huge television. A bunch of electronics on a table below lead me to believe the boys had gaming stuff. Though, which system I had no idea, even in my prime I never did beat Super Mario Brothers. An array of workout equipment stood tauntingly in one of the basement’s corners and a long dining room style table took up a large space, creating the perfect place to do homework with friends.

Kate and I followed Judith as she completed the circular path and stopped in front of a big wall-length mirror. I’m not good at any sort of estimation but the mirror was floor to ceiling and was at least as, well, like if another me stood on my head and we laid down on the floor, that’s how long it was.

Judith stared at the mirror eerily for too long and then sucked a breath in through her teeth. “There you are you little buggers,” she said quietly. “Now how did you get in here?”

She bent down, closer to the glass and watched the reflection near her feet. After a time of nodding her head and listening to something that Kate and I could not hear, she stood and stepped back, away from the mirror.  

“Little demons,” she declared quietly. “They tagged along with the one in charge, but they aren’t powerful enough to get past the first floor so they’ve taken control of this space.”

“But how did they get into the mirror?” Kate asked, desperately. “And why?”

“We’ll get there, honey. These prideful little creeps can’t stop themselves from spilling everything they know.” Judith paused and watched the mirror, her eyes moved around as though she were following something moving around. She shook her head and gave a small laugh. “They’re just about as low on the totem pole as you can get – and that’s good news. Really. It means that whoever is the big bad living upstairs can’t be that powerful. He wouldn’t be hanging out with these guys if he were. They’re creating the small disturbances, little scares, bad feelings, the water. They do it because they get a kick out of it. But those low vibration emotions, fear, annoyance, frustration? He, the big man on campus here, yeah he feeds off those. Get a little oomph out of ‘em.

“I’ll have no trouble getting rid of these guys, but you’ve gotta get rid of this damn mirror. Immediately. I’m surprised these little gremlins are the only thing it’s let into your house. You let these little demons use it to enter your space much longer and something else is going to notice what they’re doing and try it for themselves.”

“Is this where the big bad guy came in too?” I asked.  

Judith looked at me, she seemed to be sizing me up. “No, he walked right in through the front door. Which is very interesting. He just let the little guys know about this secret passage, if you will, and he feeds off the bad emotions they create.”

“He’s a demon too?” I asked.

“Yup,” she said. “Let’s get back upstairs and head up to the second floor, shall we?”

We did. Kate and I followed Judith as she walked through all four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Aside from commenting on how heavy the energy was on that floor and how exhausted the family must be she did not see anything spooky, save for some more of those floating dark spots she’d seen on the first floor.

We stood in the the master bedroom, the final room on the second floor tour when Judith said, “Can you feel it?”

“What?” Kate and I asked in frightened unison.

“It’s like he’s pushing down on us. I can barely catch my breath.”

“Sometimes at night I wake up and it feels like there is a stack of encyclopedias on my chest,” Kate said quickly. “I wake up because I can barely breath.”

“That’s him. He is oppressive. To women, that is. To men he is an instigator. How are the guys doing here? On edge?”

Kate nodded.

“Quick tempered, yeah?”

“Very,” Kate confirmed, “And that is not like them at all. Especially my oldest, we can’t say anything to him without him flying off the handle. He’s either off brooding in his room or yelling at his brother. He is a completely different boy.”

“Well he’s got a demon whispering in his ear, honey. He’s quite deceived.” Judith looked up at the ceiling above her head. “Speaking of, how do you get to the third floor?”

Kate hesitated. “I hate it up there.”

“I can imagine,” Judith said, “You’ve got a demon nesting in your attic.”

We stood silent, processing what Judith had just said. Finally, Kate moved towards the door, “Follow me.”

Down the hallway, past the stairs and around a corner Kate stopped in front of a door that I hadn’t noticed on our first pass.

“We renovated last year, the builder left it unfinished so that we could decide what to do with the space. We got the idea in our heads that it would make for a good guest room and there was even room to build an office up there. I’m afraid that when we renovated we somehow invited all of this in,” Kate admitted staring at the door handle.

“No, honey, that is not at all what happened,” Judith reassured her. Judith looked up at the ceiling again then said quietly, “It was that boy on his football team, Mark? No Mike. Michael. He put the hex on your family.”

Kate stared at Judith. “How could you possibly know that?” She said in disbelief.

“Sometimes it takes a little while for the picture to solidify, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got the gist of it now. A nasty little boy that one, always has been.”

“It’s true,” Kate said enthusiastically, grasping her hands together in front of her, “We always knew he was trouble. They’ve been on the same football team since they were in eighth grade and there was no way to keep my son from having to interact with him. His mother,” Kate paused, and I saw she was trying to hold back from saying anything uncharitable, but her need to share her burdon won out, “She’s a real piece of work, makes little digs about everything but does it in a sweet way so you don’t even realize she’s done it until you’ve walked away from the conversation. Anyhow, her son has been caught in trouble a million times. Smuggling beer on the away bus for the ride home, pot, then there was some issue with him writing something about a girl in the locker room and his parents always pull strings to get him out of it. It’s a private school so I’m sure they’re donating money,” Kate rolled her eyes. “Anyway, my son was at a graduation party at the boy’s house, against my better judgement of course, but he was eighteen, and we have to loosen our grip. Anyhow, I know something happened at that party-”

“Ouija,” Judith interrupted.

“What?!” Kate demanded.

“There was a Ouija board at that party,” Judith closed her eyes and breathed deeply before continuing, “The kids were drinking beer and smoking pot but nothing outrageous. And then that boy started talking about Satanism. Not with that word, but that’s what he was getting at, your son and a friend gave him a hard time about it, just poking fun, but that boy took it personally. So he took out his Ouija Board and summoned whatever spirit he’s got attached to him and began telling the kids things that he shouldn’t know. Um, Oh!” Judith gasped making Kate and I jump. I put my back against the wall, my heart pounding.

“What? Oh my God, what did you see?” Kate demanded.

“It’s face,” Judith said, slightly out of breath. “I’m getting too close and it doesn’t want me to know how it got in here. It likes it here too much, its,” she paused, staring at the ceiling, “It’s put in too much time laying the groundwork.”

“Groundwork for what?” I asked.

Judith looked at me and then at Kate. “Let’s get this over with,” she said, nodding to the door.

Kate hesitated before reaching up to undo the hook and eye latch near the top of the door.

“I’ll go first,” Judith assured her. Kate followed and again I reluctantly brought up the rear.

Beyond the door was a steep carpeted staircase. Kate had turned on a light and a ceiling fixture at the top of the stairs illuminated a small hallway. We were halfway up the stairs when a low growl followed by a heavy bang as though something had slammed against a wall stopped us in our tracks. Kate and I screamed and Judith said loudly, “That’s enough!”

I didn’t know if she was talking to us or the entity but I forced myself to stay silent, too scared to either climb further or go back downstairs alone I froze, my back pressed up against the wall once again.

“I’ve never heard a bang that loud,” Kate whispered.

“What about the growl?” I asked.

What growl?” She demanded, her voice shaking.

“You heard that too?” Judith asked, peering down at me.

“Didn’t you?”

“Of course I did, but I’m clairaudient,” Judith replied.

I shrugged my shoulders, “What difference does it make? Something just growled at us!”

Judith stared at me for a long moment. I stared back hoping she would say we should retreat back down to the second floor.

She turned and looked back up to the third floor landing, “Let’s go.”

Too frightened to revolt I followed.

At the landing there was a small bathroom in front of us, an office space to our left and a large bedroom to the right.

“Let’s start in here so I can get my bearings,” Judith instructed.

We entered a large room with high ceilings and a pretty crescent-shaped window overlooking the front yard. A bright overhead light produced no safety or warmth. Just stark reality.

Bare but for a large wooden desk and floor to ceiling bookshelves lining one wall, the carpeted room held nothing outright ominous, but the feeling in the room was repellent.

“I hate it in here,” Kate said, giving voice to my own thoughts.

Judith held a hand behind her neck. “He’s here, not here here, he’s in that other room,” she motioned across to the door, “But I can feel him trying to block me. He’s pretty damn strong. Even to choose this place to nest, up here, I mean. They usually stay close to the earth. This one is different. What in the hell did that boy get himself into?”

“My son didn’t get into anything-”

“I meant his friend,” Judith said soothingly. “Your boy got caught in the crossfire.” She rubbed the back of her neck, “Alright, let’s just be quiet for a couple minutes and let me see what I can see.”

Kate and I stood next to each other, staring at the psychic. From where we stood I had a clear view of the doorway, though I didn’t want to look straight at it for fear I would see something terrible, and I kept hearing little ticking noises coming from the room across the hallway.

“His nails,” she finally said. “It likes to click them together, like this,” she held her hands together as though in prayer and tapped her fingers together.

“Is that what that little ticking noise is?” I asked, horrified.

Judith looked at me and nodded her head. Then she glanced at the area over my shoulder again like she had been doing all night.

“What did you see?” I demanded.

“It’s not important right now-” Judith began.

“Why are you rubbing the back of your neck like that?” Kate interrupted.

“It’s him,”Judith replied, nodding her head towards the door. “I’m feeling what he’s doing to your son.”

“He does that all the time now, he rubs the back of his neck like that. He says it hurts, we’ve even had an MRI done but it didn’t show anything.”

Judith was silent, a sad look on her face.

“What is it? Kate asked, panicked.

After a heavy sigh, Judith said, “I’m not going to pull any punches, alright? This is bad, it’s very very bad. Had I known what was happening I would have brought a priest with me and I certainly wouldn’t have let you come, there’s enough going on in this home already,” she said looking at me.

“Tell me what is happening,” Kate pleaded.

“Let’s go into that room so I can be sure,” Judith said, sounded very unsure.

Feeling guilty, as though my presence was making things worse somehow, I followed the two women across the hallway, but I didn’t step foot into the guest room with them. I stood in the doorway, overcome with the creeps.

Judith stood in the center of the room. “I don’t like that closet, honey,” she said very quietly.

Kate and I looked over at the closet door.

“He’s in there. He’s in there and it is exactly where he wants to be.” Judith was tapping her nails together like the demon.

“Well can we get him out?” Kate asked, her voice shaking.

Judith looked at her and then squinted back over at the closet door. “Give me a minute.”  Again she grabbed the back of her neck but this time she gave a real wince of pain.

“Are you alright?” I asked.

Judith shushed me. Kate had backed towards the door and was standing close to me. We watched the psychic and I became aware of the ticking noise again. “Do you hear that?” I whispered.

“What?” Kate said in a low voice.

I shook my head, not wanting to again bring up the fact that I was hearing things she wasn’t.

“No sir!” Judith said loudly, causing Kate and I to jump about three feet into the air. “No sir and not today. You did not come to stay, you came to pass. You will not leave that little hell hole you’ve created for yourself until you are driven back to hell and in Jesus holy name I command you to leave the boy. You will leave that boy be!”

And with that the closet door slammed open so hard that it almost swung back shut completely.

So I ran. I ran down those stairs back to the second floor and kept on running until I was out the front door and onto the porch. The only thing that stopped me from jumping in my car and driving away was the almost complete darkness in that yard and the memory that Judith had seen a Native American ghost skulking about not long before.

Unsure what to do next I stood there, frozen at the top of the porch steps trying to get the courage to either stay or go. Judith appeared in the doorway.

“Come back in, he’s bound upstairs for now. We need to talk.”

I stood still, unwilling to go back into that house.

“You’re in it now, you might as well come in here and listen to what we’re going to do about it,” she reasoned.

Against my better judgement I followed her back into the house and into the kitchen where Kate was at the island assembling all of the fixings for tea. I noticed that her hands were shaking.

I sat across from Kate at one of the stools at the island and placed my voice recorder on the gleaming granite. Judith stood at one end of the island, her hands flat on the countertop.

“Well?” I prompted.

“Plain and simple? It’s a hex, and an incredibly sophisticated one at that.”

“That boy did it?” Kate asked, and for the first time I saw a little spark of anger within her.

Judith nodded in confirmation. “That boy managed to summon a mid-tier demon and direct him towards your oldest son. It could be dumb luck but I don’t think so. I’m thinkin’ there’s someone in his family that turned him onto the occult and coached him, maybe an aunt.”

“What does it want?” I asked.

“It wants complete control of the boy,” Judith said, her eyebrows raised, “and it’s gettin’ pretty damn close.”

“Jesus Christ Almighty,” Kate breathed.

“When I was finally able to see what it’s been up to I realized that this wasn’t about your family at all. It’s about your son. The demon, I won’t say it’s name but I’m pretty sure it’s one that you would recognize, it stands behind your boy and sort of sticks it’s fingers into the base of his skull. He can implant thoughts in his head and can even get him to speak for him.” Judith held her hand up like it was inside a sock puppet and opened and closed her fingers. “You mentioned your boy hasn’t been himself, right? Well, that’s why. Because he truly isn’t himself sometimes.”

Kate folded her arms across her chest and looked like she was fighting back tears.

“You can do something about it, though, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, sure. I’ve bound him in that closet for the time being and I’ll get Father McGonagle on the horn tonight. He’ll be up here quick to get started with that exorcism,” Judith said confidently.

“Exorcism!” Kate said in disbelief.

“Father McGonagle, from Massachusetts?” I said at the same time.

Judith gave me a look and then said to Kate, “Honey, it’s the only way. It’ll be a hell of a time getting this thing back down to hell, but it can be done. Father McGonagle is the best I’ve seen and it’s blessed to have him so close by. I’m not saying there won’t be scars. Your son will have to look over his shoulder the rest of his life. He won’t be able to do anything that might allow the darkness back in. You see, once it’s had a person it’s always trying to get back inside. It’s like there’s a little stain on the light inside them and the demons can see it.”

I watched Kate as Judith delivered the horrible news. She was handling it quite well. She asked, “What do you mean by doing anything to let the darkness in? He’s not going to get into the occult for goodness sake.”

“It doesn’t have to be that obvious,” Judith explained, “Drinking alcohol, doing drugs, promiscuity, greed, even just getting overtired, you know most people can get away with that stuff without attracting too much attention from down below but since your boy has been marked now, if he is in a weakened state the demon will take a shot at him and try to get back in.”

“Well, fuck,” Kate breathed, making me laugh nervously. “You know this priest can get rid of the thing? For sure?”

“I do,” Judith said simply.

“What about those things in the basement?” Kate asked.

“Oh, they’ll hightail it out of here the second they catch wind of the church. Just get rid of that mirror. But don’t just haul it to the dump, destroy it. You don’t want some poor sucker bringing it to their home.”

“It’s as good as gone,” Kate said.

“There was something else here tonight,” Judith said, turning to look at me. “I couldn’t figure it out at first, I could tell there was some sort of a connection but it didn’t make any sense. At first I thought maybe you were somehow connected to the family and that was why that thing seemed to hover around you, but upstairs, when I saw that it was just as scared of the demon as we were, I realized that it didn’t have anything to do with this home. No, no, no. That’s when I realized that skinny creeper belonged to you.” Judith pointed a finger right at me.

“What in the hell are you talking about?”

“You’ve got your own little attachment, honey.”

“You let her bring another demon into my house?” Kate demanded.

“There’s a fucking demon attached to me!” I exclaimed, horrified.

“Stop!” Judith said firmly. “No, you don’t have a demon,” she said to me, before turning to Kate, “and yes, Liz brought it in here but it will leave with her because it wants nothing to do with the demonic mess in this house. I’m just tryin’ to tell you girls that this was one confusing storm of a night and I’m happy I’ve finally got it sussed out.”

“Nothing is sussed out!” I said in low grade panic, “What in the hell is attached to me.”

Judith shook her head for the millionth time that night, “I don’t know honey, at first I thought it might be alien-”

Kate gave a little “Oh, dear,” as I said, “Hell no.”  

“But,” Judith held her hands in front of her, “I don’t think that anymore. It’s some kind of an entity. It might even have been human once. I’m too drained right now so let’s say a damn prayer and close up shop for the night. We’ll all need our rest for what’s to come.”

 

****

 

Judith and I waved to Kate as she backed down the driveway and away from her demon infested home. “Liz and I are gonna have a little chat but you get going to your family,” Judith had told her.

She leaned against my car and sighed. “In these sleepy towns the kids are doin’ one of two things, smokin’ crack or worshippin’ satan.”

“That’s not true,” I said defensively, thinking of my nephews.

“Not your family, honey. Your sister keeps an eye, but the same can’t be said for everyone. But there are enough of these kids and they’re causin’ a real ruckus,” she took a good look at me. “How long you been hearing things?”

“I think tonight was the first time,” I said.

“Hmm, well I’d bet the farm that it won’t be your last. You’re just starting to crack open. I think that’s why this thing is so keen on hanging around you. Your family is in a new house, yes.”

I nodded.

“Yeah, that house chose you baby girl. You’re in for a wild ride.”

“Is it safe for me to stay at my sister’s house tonight? I don’t want to bring this thing, whatever it is, to her house if it will put them in any danger.”

“Oh sure, I’ve protected her house and I know she’s had the priest out for a blessing. Your creep can’t follow you in there. He’ll just hang around the perimeter. Don’t worry, he’s not interested in your sister’s family.”

I was about to ask another question when she turned to look at the marshy wood behind her and asked,  “You seeing something behind me?” And turned to look at the marshly wood.

“No, I’m just afraid of those woods,” I admitted.

“You should be, darlin,’” Judith said, opening her arms to give me a hug. “Get in your car and lock your doors. I’ll call you Monday and we’ll deal with your little friend. Don’t worry, he’s just doin’ reconnaissance right now.”

Judith gave me a hug and as she unlocked her car door she called to me, “And honey, stay out of your basement.”