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[This story contains sensitive discussion of suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day everyday. They are there because many people have suicidal thoughts. Many people have lost a loved one to suicide. The first step is the hardest, but you are worth it. If you are in need, Call 1-800-273-8255 and speak with a compassionate person.]

 

We have a few items to discuss before we meet our next non-Wellesley resident.

Firstly, I’ve gone and changed my mind. Charging a dollar for these Out of the Swells stories began to feel soooo… tedious. So, I’m not going to do it. I’ll just post ‘em here once a month as promised, for FREE, like library books.

Let’s get set, shall we? Though, travel was at the height of tediousness recently, wasn’t it? With all the religious intolerance and xenophobia and such.

Head over to ghostsintheburbs.com where I’ve included links to the donation pages at The American Refugee Committee and the ACLU. Send your dollars their way. RESIST.

We need to recognize someone this week. Ms. Gaye Forren was the very first to donate $5 per month to the podcast, buying the golden, once in a lifetime, no it’s not a pyramid scheme opportunity to have her name used as an alias for one of my haunted friends. I’m saying it loud and proud and have repeated it every day since I transcribed this interview: THANK YOU GAYE! The friend your moniker represents is a complicated one. She’s a touch… conflicted, anxious and fancy, but aren’t we all these days?

Alright, we have a trip to make. Though I warn you, it won’t be a relaxing one.

*****

Now that I’m able to reflect on my haunting with some perspective, I see that all it added up to was tapping, a couple creatures and a few scratches. Some experts came, did their thing and it was over. At the time I was terrified, but looking back it all feels more exciting than dire. Compared to an unexpected phone call on a Tuesday morning from a friend bearing news of illness, or a letter bringing final warning before collections, or even an ingrown toenail, paranormal tapping is positively mundane. Really sometimes I scare myself more than any entity ever could.

Chris had the day off on Monday and I took advantage of the time to go grocery shopping by myself. Today (Wednesday) when I got in the car I happened to look in the back of the truck as I was buckling the girls into their seats.

There were the groceries.

It took me a moment to understand what I was looking at. I actually had to search my memory to figure out where they had come from.

I got straight A’s in grad school and now I can’t even remember to take the groceries out of my car when I get home from the grocery store.

I use an app to track my spending and I even dragged and dropped the Whole Foods expense into the “groceries” category.

But I left the groceries in the back of the car and that scares the hell out of me.

They’re still there. I dropped off the kids at school, left a message for my psychiatrist that we might need to tweak my prescription a pinch and then went to Cafe Nero to drink coffee and pretend to read a book.

I’m trying to shrug it off, but I’m rattled.    

Those groceries. They feel like the canary in the coal mine, it’s lifeless eyes staring at me from the back of my car. I can’t even fucking remember what I bought.

***

I listen to a weekly podcast called One Bad Mother. Without Biz and Theresa’s humor and honesty I wouldn’t have survived my first five years of motherhood. The hosts maintain a voicemail box where listeners may leave a parenting rant and Biz and Theresa listen to one of these rants at the end of each episode. A mother may call in with a detailed fail involving a holiday event, or a father will reveal his hapless trip to Target with infant twins and toddler in tow. These parents lament their inability to remain patient, calm and kind in the face of childrens’ outrageous irrationality.

These rants strike close to home for me, and the insightful hosts brought something interesting to my attention. Many of the anecdotes often end with something like, “My father’s funeral was last week, so I’m just trying to deal,” or “I had a medical procedure and it’s really slowed me down,” or “My friend was just diagnosed with cancer and it’s thrown me for a loop.”

Most often, these throw-away confessions come out just before the caller thanks the show hosts and tells them they’re “getting really good at this.” No one ever leads with their life shattering news. It’s treated as an afterthought, as though, if they lead with their heartache it would relay weakness or, even worse, the possibility that they are the only ones dealing (or not dealing so well) with their life circumstances. The rants are shared in an effort to unite, but only at an arm’s length. We are allowed to empathize and feel for them in their “failure” but we are not invited into their true pain.

We are supposed to buck up and deal with pain by ourselves, aren’t we? It’s to be private. I am the guiltiest of this practice.  You may see me tear up but I’d be more likely to wear a “Make America Great Again” hat before you’d ever see me lean into a full-on ugly cry.

My little grocery experience was an amusing “rant,” no? What I didn’t mention was the undercurrent of anxiety and agitation I’d been managing for months. I was two weeks away from back surgery when this grocery thing happened. Two weeks away from having to give up control over my life for another six weeks and have to *cringe* depend upon others for help. Two weeks away from make-it-or-break-it-will-it-or-won’t-it-this-had-better-fucking-work stakes. Two more weeks of pain to hide from friends and family with Oh, I’m totally fine’s and I’m just so excited to get it over with’s. And it was definitely throwing me off my game.

*****

t was during these two weeks that I visited my old neighborhood, Beacon Hill. Since moving I’ve had a really hard time visiting the city. Memories of my pre-kid life and the independent, no-strings-attached person whom I used to be slaps me across the face around every corner.

It has gotten easier but when I visit I can still see the old me in my mind. Jogging down Comm. Ave. before grabbing a latte and a pumpkin spice scone. Fighting back tears as I walk through the Common, headed home from a job I hate and am tied to because I’ve run up credit card debt buying expensive bags and shoes. Walking Walter in the Public Garden, adoring him and attempting to stop him from attacking other dogs. Strolling along the Esplanade when a phone call confirms that yes, I am indeed pregnant. A year later compulsively walking, Max tight in the Baby Bjorn, climbing Beacon Hill, winding through the alphabetical streets that intersect Commonwealth Avenue, afraid to be alone in the apartment. Two years after that shoving a double stroller through tight sidewalks and again fighting back tears wondering why I ever thought I could handle being a mother once, let alone twice.

These images stabbed too deeply when we first moved to the suburbs three years ago. I still dream that Chris and I will retire to our old neighborhood, but who am I kidding? By the time we are ready to retire Beacon Hill will be surrounded by marshland once again.  

Anyhow, I was in the neighborhood one Saturday afternoon in January to meet with an old friend. After Max was born, Gaye Forren and I had been in a Great Beginnings class for first time moms at the ill-fated ISIS Maternity. She was the only other mom in the fifteen person class feeding her child formula and I was drawn to and reassured by her apparent confidence in early motherhood. I cried every time it was my turn to talk during circle time and I remember feeling overheated, stuffed like a sausage into my clothing and desperate for someone to tell me for sure whether or not they thought I might have postpartum depression, which, looking back, I most certainly did.

To my hot mess, Gaye was cool as a cucumber. It wasn’t ever that she seemed like she had it all figured out, it was more like she was letting motherhood in whereas I was running from it as though it were hunting me.

When I first knew Gaye she had brown, shoulder length hair with some cute sweep to the side bangs. She was post pregnancy plump and rocked skinny jeans and flowy tops with ease. I saw her in makeup once, when the moms from the class all went out together for drinks, but I thought she was much cuter in a ponytail and no makeup.

The Gaye I met that Saturday at Tatte on Charles Street was a brand spanking new Gaye. I spotted her from the table I’d been holding for us, though I almost didn’t recognize her. Her chestnut colored hair was long, ombre and beach waved, she slipped out of her hunter green Canada Goose Kensington, before gracefully taking a seat. She was a tornado of wealth: Lululemon workout gear, Hermes saddlebag, Tom Ford sunglasses, and Valentino sneakers. I had to look that last one up when I got home. They were so fabulous – bright white and studded with a metallic band across their top.

I’m both embarrassed and proud to say that I felt like a proper dick head in my blue striped button down and black pullover sweater. All brought to you by a 40% off J Crew promo code. I did carry the old Louis Vuitton catch all that Chris got me when we were childless and care-free, but truthfully it made me feel like even more of an ass.

Anyhow, there we were. Stark examples of the roads we’d each taken, one that lead to suburban preppy comfort, the other to chic urban affluence. Though we’d once had an easy rapport, there now was an awkward “this wasn’t such a good idea” vibe that felt, well, super fucking awkward.

“How are the suburbs treating you?” Gaye asked. “Is it worth the yard and garage like everyone says it is?”

I laughed, though I definitely detected mean-girl sarcasm in her tone.

“Honestly?” I replied, “It didn’t feel worth it for a while, but we found our groove. We’ve got a fun group of friends, and the yard is awesome, especially for the dogs, but we don’t have a garage, I mean we do, but not one you can fit a car into. And, hey, once we hit kindergarten school is officially free, ha ha.”

Then I forced myself to take a sip of coffee to stop my oddly defensive rambling.

“I’ve just never minded street parking, and we pretty much walk everywhere anyhow,” she replied, scanning the cafe. “I can’t imagine having to drive everywhere.”

“So, what’s new with you?” I asked, having already had my fill of the superior urban mommy passive aggression.

“We’re waiting to hear from Beacon Hill Nursery School and Kingsley Montessori for Brooks, I’m hoping he can get into a three’s program for the fall. We’re giving Whitaker one more year at Park Street School, then I suppose we’ll go for BB&N,” she said casually.

“I’d love to give Max another year of preschool too, but the school system is pretty strict about holding kids back,” I replied, though I was doing some quick math in my mind.

The preschools she’d mentioned cost approximately $20,000 per school year, and the Kindergarten at BB&N? That one started at $32,000 – and these tuition costs were before all the “extras” children were expected to take. It was imperative that gifted (and not-so-gifted) offspring specialize in a language and an instrument, take supplemental STEM courses, and incorporate mindfulness lessons into their busy schedules. That last one was added to the roster once wealthy, well-meaning families became aware that this high-stakes education game had kids burned out by the time they were eighteen. Since it would be ridiculous to rethink their crowded schedules, the mindfulness skill set was added to the roster.

I’m not without fault here, Max attended an expensive private preschool for a year before we left the city. It may sound crazy from the outside but it’s hard to pass up the Kool Aid when you’re in the Jonestown of the competitive urban private school environment. Tier 1 colleges were a mere fifteen-to-seventeen years away and private schools invoke the college application specter early on.

Gaye had changed. Whereas I’d known her as someone who rolled her eyes at the mention of Baby Einstein videos, the fact that she’d mentioned these exclusive, price-tagged schools felt like a micro-aggression after I’d made the comment about “free kindergarten.” I mean, maybe I shouldn’t have made the comment. I remember the sticker shock when we were looking at preschools for Max and even if you could afford to pay you weren’t guaranteed a spot. So maybe I’d been making a little dig at the city, but I’d reacted defensively towards her, well her fabulousness.

 I decided to change the subject.

“Enough kid talk, it’s boring,” I said, only half-kidding. “When I read your message on Facebook it seemed like you were rattled, but maybe I read too much into it?”

“No, you’re right I was, I mean, I am rattled,” she said, lifting a hand to her face and nibbling on the edge of her thumbnail. “I’d seen a few posts about your ghost stories and you were the first person who came to mind when things started happening in the brownstone.”

“If you are about to tell me that you moved into a haunted Beacon Hill brownstone I will lose my mind,” I said loudly, unable to contain my excitement.

Gaye smiled and looked like the Gaye I remembered for a moment; open and amused at life. She said, “Yeah, our place is really haunted, like, too haunted.”

“Holy shit,” I said loudly, causing people in line to look over at our table. I scooched my chair closer to hers and exclaimed, “Do you even understand that this is, like, my Holy Grail? A haunted Beacon Hill brownstone? It’s the story I’ve been waiting to hear my whole life!”

“No,” she said shaking her head, “you wouldn’t want to live there. I actually think we’re in trouble. That’s why I messaged you, I need advice.”

“I’m sorry,” I apologized, feeling like a jerk. “It’s just that I have been obsessed with this idea since I first walked through the neighborhood. This place is crazy dense with history, who’s haunting you? Some Boston Brahmin pissed that you’ve let all the staff go?

“Wait!” I demanded, cutting Gaye off before she could reply. “Which slope are you on? Was your place part of the Underground Railroad? Holy shit. This is amazing.”

“Stop,” Gaye said, holding up her hand. “No, it’s nothing like that.  The ghosts, they just used to live in the house. I’m pretty sure that I know who they are, I just don’t know how to make them leave.”

        “Yeesh,” I said, then, “What does Andrew think about it?” I asked, referring to her husband, a man I’d met once in passing when Gaye and I’d run into eachother at Starbucks long ago. I’d disliked the man immediately. A moment after Gaye introduced us he’d taken out his phone to scroll through urgent Sunday morning business.   

“He thinks that I’m overreacting. Actually, I feel like I have to watch what I tell him or I could find myself one step away from the looney bin.”

“No,” I said, unsure.

Gaye laughed and looked up with eyes filled with tears, “Not really, but he won’t hear me when I tell him that we have a major problem. That house is proof that Andy’s a heavy hitter in the private equity world. In his mind there neither can nor will be anything wrong with the house. And he travels so much for work that he isn’t there enough for me to prove to him that something really is happening. Meanwhile, I am living in a nightmare.”

“Look,” I said quickly, “Chris has the kids this afternoon so I have plenty of time to talk. Why don’t we go grab a booth at 75 Chestnut and you can tell me over a glass of wine.”

“Excellent idea,” she said.

I called Chris to let him know I’d be home later than expected and he was his usual easy going self about the change in plans. He asked me where we kept the extra diapers, which brought out my usual impatient how in the hell do you not know that? self.

With Chardonnay in hand, Gaye opened up about her home.

“The brownstone is up Mount Vernon, just past Louisburg Square. It’s on the shady side of the street, so at first I assumed that’s why it felt so gloomy all the time. And the people that lived there before us,” Gaye shuddered, “they owned five long-haired cats and every single room was covered in the same exact floral wallpaper.”

Gaye went on to explain the extensive renovations undertook to modernize and reconfigure the space, “Actually, the kitchen was originally ground level so that obviously wouldn’t work. We ended up moving it to the first floor and created a great open concept for dining and entertaining and we put a playroom and exercise area on the ground level. The second floor has two bedrooms and a bathroom for the kids, and then our master, bath and office are on the third floor. There’s an old maid’s quarters in the fourth floor space and we’ll do something with it eventually, but for now it’s just storage.

“Oh! And there is this adorable patio in the back, but we’ll never use it for anything. I landscaped the hell out of it because, you know, rats.”

I nodded my head in acknowledgement. When Chris and I lived in the city we never took an apartment below the third floor. It wasn’t a guarantee, but at least you had a better chance of only being infested with mice if you lived on an upper floor, rather than both mice and rats.

“So, the planning and watching the transformation was all fine. When we did the renovations and then all the decorating the house was filled with people. I did notice some strange things the few times I was there alone but I shrugged them off as tricks of the light from all the construction gear or the house settling into it’s new dimensions.

“But shortly after we moved into the brownstone it was immediately apparent that recessed lighting and a ‘neutral design palette’ weren’t going to disperse the gloom.”

“Do you have any pictures of the renovation?” I asked, absolutely dying to see the transformation almost as much as I wanted to hear her ghost story. Just so we’re clear. We are talking about a 5,000 square foot home in the heart of Boston’s most expensive neighborhood.

“Oh, sure,” she said taking her phone out of her pocket. I watched her scroll for a moment and then accepted, well, snatched the phone from her hand.

I scrolled through several photos of the home in it’s pre-renovation existence and smiled, the wallpaper truly was bizarre. I quickly shot past images of the home in mid-renovation and then gasped when the post renovation first floor shot blazed onto the screen. I used pinchy fingers to enlarge the picture and study the perfection it captured. Gleaming glossy whites and bright greys, pops of navy and pink coming from art and a few key accent pieces. The rug! It was the most neutral and the most striking animal print ever.

I kept scrolling, each photo more beautiful than the last. The kids’ rooms were minimalistic, not a toy or lone shoe in sight, which was boring, but the master bedroom had a crystal chandelier, and the bathrooms are just what you would expect, five-star hotel quality marble and shiny white tile.

I scrolled past the final home photo to one of Gaye with four other women, who pretty much looked exactly like her. All thin-thinner-thinnest with long ombre hair, bright white smiles, perfect makeup, and pricy clothing.

I handed the phone to her and asked, “Who are these gorgeous women?”

She looked at the photo and a cloud of emotion (anger? sadness?) passed across her face, gone as quickly as it appeared.

“They’re a few friends from Park Street, their children are in the same class as Whitaker.”

“Cool,” I said, then, “you guys knocked it out of the park with your house!”

“Appearances can be deceiving,” she replied.

“Sure,” I agreed, feeling a sudden sadness overtake me. “Tell me what’s happened.”

“To understand what’s going on, I actually have to tell you about the house’s history. I contacted one of those ghost hunting groups in New Hampshire – anonymously, of course – and asked them what I should do if I suspected my house might be haunted. They suggested that I conduct some research on the previous homeowners to see if there had been any recorded deaths or crimes in the home.”

“That’s really good advice,” I said.

“Right? The property record search was easy enough, the home was built in 1855, and believe it or not, only six other families owned it before us.”

“Wow,” I commented, “that’s incredible.”

“It is,” she said, quietly. “I mean, those families inside our walls, Brahmins first and now, us. I went to the BPL (http://www.bpl.org/) hoping to find information about the families. I found some of it there, but they pointed me to several other sources and after just a few weeks I had a pretty complete and horrific picture of what has happened in our home.”

“What do you mean?”

“In shorthand? There have been two murders and two suicides there. The home has been broken into three times, the last break in was in 2011 in which the people we bought the home from were tied up and held at knife point while their fourteen year old son was taken around the house to show the robbers where all of the family’s valuables were kept.

“In 1979 The Globe reported that the homeowner committed suicide because he was being blackmailed. Three kids under six, anything and everything anyone could ever want and he cheats on his wife and gets blackmailed and then kills himself. Can you even imagine?” she said incredulously.

“Complicated,” I said, simply.

“Well, totally,” she acknowledged.

“That was the second suicide in the house, the first happened in the basement kitchen on October 30th, 1929. Can you guess what happened?” She asked, sipping her wine.

“The crash,” I answered.

“The crash,” she repeated. “Or, the day after the crash to be exact.”

“OK, this is all super dark, but what exactly happened to make you look into the house’s history?”

She took a gulp of wine then met my eyes, “The people you’ve interviewed, do you believe them? I mean, like, were they all just delusional weirdos?”

 I paused for a moment before replying, I didn’t want to snap at Gaye and shut her down, but the ease with which she’d simplified a person’s suicide had raised my hackles to begin with, now she was suggesting that paranoid nutcases had taken me for a ride.

I took a drink then said, “I believed them.”

She sighed, “Ok, good, because, I have actually tried really fucking hard to find another explanation for what is happening in my house, and I can’t. Unless the explanation is that I am crazy.”

I realized that she wasn’t being a bitch, she was just scared. I said, “I won’t think you’re crazy and I didn’t think the woman who told me she’d been visited by aliens her entire life was crazy either. I was judgy at first for sure, but then I had to have my home exorcized.”

 Gaye’s eyes filled with tears again and she motioned to our server for another round, “Did you drive here or Uber in?” She asked me. I told her I’d Uber’d (I was on way too much pain medication to be driving, though I didn’t mention that) and she said, “Good.”

“Out with it,” I said.

“The house is gloomy, I told you that, but it’s more than just a feeling, it settles into your bones. I can’t be there for long or I get, like, really depressed.

The idea that we would have cocktail and dinner parties at the home drove our entire plan for the first floor. It’s perfectly arranged for parties, but I’ve never invited anyone over to the house.

“It makes Andrew so angry. He keeps insisting that we host a cocktail party so he can have some of the guys from his office over with their wives, but I just keep making excuses that I would be embarrassed if they came before it was perfectly decorated. I actually lie and tell him that we host play dates and that my friends come over for coffee all the time. He’s barely ever home, so it’s not like he would ever know anyway.

“But I have a woman who comes to help with the kids after school. She just makes dinner and helps me with the baths and bedtime. I know she feels it too, she won’t let the boys go down into the basement playroom anymore for some reason, she’ll only let them play in their rooms. Actually, she even keeps them at her feet in the kitchen while she makes dinner, it’s like she won’t let them out of her sight,” Gaye’s heavily botoxed forehead twitched slightly in a ghost of emotion.

“Have you asked her why?”

“No, I mean, sort of, but there is a language barrier. That’s why we hired her, to teach the kids Spanish while she’s watching them.”

Got it, I thought, then said, “Gaye, out with it. What did you see?”

“The first thing I saw were the feet,” she replied.

I imagined a set of sovereign feet trotting across that animal print rug. I was at a complete loss for words.

“The door to the laundry room got locked somehow. It was the kids’ naptime and Maria needed to do laundry. As I was trying to jimmy the lock with a bobby pin I heard something from the other side of the door. Maria heard it too.

“We both panicked and thought that maybe one of the kids wasn’t sleeping, that they’d snuck into the laundry room and locked themselves in. I dove to the ground to look underneath the door and called the boys names.

“I saw someone, but it wasn’t either of the boys. As I was peering under the doorway a set of men’s dress shoes clapped across the floor right towards me. I scrambled backwards immediately. Maria was standing right there and she heard the footsteps too – it wasn’t just me.

“I yelled at her to get the kids. We took them outside and I called the police from the sidewalk. They came and got the door open but there wasn’t anyone in there. The only way out of that room is through the door.”

“Oh my God, that is absolutely terrifying,” I said.

“It was, and I’ve seen him again. He was the first man to commit suicide in the brownstone, the one from the 1920s,” she paused. “He has the bullet wound still, I mean his ghost has it.”

“Holy shit,” I said.

“He walks around like we’re not even there, but one time I think he actually saw me. I was in the attic putting Christmas ornaments away and there he was was. I heard footsteps and turned around to see him walking up the attic stairs. He stopped short when he got to the top,” Gaye gave a little laugh, “I had a Nutcracker in each hand and I put them out in front of me, as if they would protect me somehow.

“He looked right at me, he seemed confused for a moment then blinked hard. When he opened his eyes he just shook his head and then called out to someone. I could see that he was calling out but I couldn’t hear him. We’ve been in the house for almost two years now and I’ve seen him, I don’t know, maybe ten times.”

No,” I breathed.

“Yes, and he is the least scary one,” she said.

“Who are the others?” I demanded.

“Oh, we have a proper little plague of ghosts,” she said sadly. “The other man who killed himself in the Eighties, his name was John Appleton. I don’t actually see him in the house, I dream about him, it’s always the same dream. He’s sitting in our living room, only it doesn’t look like it does now. Somehow I just know that’s how it used to look. He’s in a high wingback chair in front of the fireplace with a newspaper in his hands. He shakes it at me and says something, he’s not angry but he seems insistent, but I can’t hear him over the shaking of the paper. I try to go closer and he sort of disintegrates.

“I hate going to sleep, but the ghosts I’m most afraid of are the woman and the boy who were murdered there in 1897. One of the family’s maids let some men into the house in the middle of the night. They intended to rob the home and they told her they would cut her in on the deal. She let them in through the patio door, but before they left they killed her. Didn’t want to leave any loose ends, which is sick enough, but the family’s little boy, he’d heard the maid wake up and came downstairs to ask for water.”

“No.”

“Yes,” she confirmed. “He was eight years old.”

“What the fuck?” I breathed.

“I read the transcripts of their trial, it was chilling. The men explained that they simply didn’t want to leave any witnesses.”

“Do you see the little boy?” I asked.

“No, worse,” she replied.

“What could be worse than that?” I demanded.

“Whitaker sees him.”

“Uh uh,” I replied.

“Actually, he plays with the boy. He’d been pretend playing since we moved into the house and he was always talking about Henry. I figured he’d come up with an imaginary friend and I thought it was adorable. I didn’t give it another thought until my experiences in the house made me look into it’s history and I found out that the boy killed in 1897 was Henry Emerson.

“I asked Whitaker what he could tell me about his friend or if he could draw me a picture and he did. The picture was the normal circle head, shirt, pants and shoes that he draws to represent a person, but he scribbled red on the upper left hand side of the figure’s chest.”

“Don’t even tell me,” I said.

“You guessed it,” she replied. “The men shot Henry in the chest. In their testimony one of them explained that ‘It just didn’t seem right to shoot a kid in the head.’”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I intoned.

“Yeah, I’ve tried asking those three to get rid of the ghosts, and either they don’t want to or they can’t,” Gaye said bitterly. “I don’t let either of the boys sleep alone in their rooms anymore. I ordered toddler beds for the master bedroom.

“Still, in the middle of the night I’ll wake up to Whitaker laughing or talking to someone. I know it’s that little dead boy.

“And that woman,” she spat. “She just fucking lurks around. At first I thought that maybe she was looking out for the boy, but I’ll be doing my hair and all of a sudden I’ll see her behind me in the doorway and she looks disgusting. They shot her in the face and she is just covered in blood. I don’t know if Whitaker has seen her, I think he would have said so. She might just creep around me.

“I don’t think that boy will do anything to Whitaker, I mean, I don’t think he can. But sometimes Whit talks in a funny way, and then there were a couple times when he almost looked, like, different. It’s just a flash, but his face changed.”

“You have to leave that house,” I insisted.

“We can’t. There’s no way,” she said sadly then downed the remainder of her wine.

“Then what is the plan? What does Andrew say about all of this? I asked.

“I haven’t actually told him everything,” she replied.

“Why not?” I asked, trying not to sound too judgy.

“He wouldn’t believe me, and he’s stressed enough as it is. This house was a stretch to begin with and then we did all the renovations on top of it. It’s just, you know, I mean everyone stretches for their mortgage, right? But, it’s just that everything else piles on, the tuition, the cars, you know how it is.”

I nodded sympathetically, “I get it, life is hard enough without piling on a ghost infested house.”

“Exactly,” she agreed. “But, Andrew, hasn’t been himself lately. Actually, hasn’t been since we moved into the house. He’s distracted. I mean, it could be about money, at least I think it is. Everyone knows we’re due for a correction in the market. We can’t just keep climbing like this forever.”

“History don’t repeat itself, it rhymes,” I said quietly.

“Who said that?” she asked.

“Jay-Z quoting Mark Twain,” I replied.

 “Right, that song from Great Gatsby,” she said, smiling.

“Look,” I said, “I don’t want to freak you out even more than you already are, but have you ever considered that you might be some sort of a medium? Maybe these ghosts are drawn to you because you can help them somehow.”

“That is ridiculous,” she said, picking at a hangnail.

“I know this woman, Biddy Quinn, she used to be a paranormal investigator. She’s sort of famous in the field and I would be happy to call her for you.”

“God, if anyone ever found out, I would absolutely die,” Gaye said in a forced whisper.

“You have to do something, you can’t just keep going on like this,” I argued.

Gaye looked at me with wide eyes and began nibbling on her thumb nail.

“Just let me call her and explain what’s happening and ask what she suggests. You don’t even have to talk to her if you don’t want to, but really, she’s wonderful. She helped me when I had a problem in my house.”

“What? You had something in your house?” Gaye demanded.

“Yes,” I said, shaking my head. “I thought that’s why you were telling me all of this.”

“No, I’ve never actually read your blog, I hate scary stuff. I just knew that you were into it so I thought I could ask for your advice.”

I rolled my eyes, “Well, that’s my advice. I think you should seek out an expert and I happen to know one.”

“OK, talk to her, but don’t use my actual name,” she agreed.

******

After we settled up with the server, Gaye told me she had to rush across the park to her son’s school. She needed to attend a lecture titled Opportunity, Instruction, and Discipline: A Study in Early Reading Achievement, Home Literacy and Your Toddler.

I gave an involuntary shiver.

“What?” she asked, slipping into her gorgeous jacket.

“I’m a librarian,” I said.

“Oh right, so you know how important this stuff is,” she said seriously. “Do you want to come?”

“No way,” I answered. “Just read to your kids, Gaye. Don’t ruin it for them with all that bullshit.”

“Ugh,” she said. “I know, you’re right. It’s just that if I don’t go the teachers will think I’m not involved and the other moms will think I don’t give a shit about my kids and then I’ll have to make twice the fucking effort just to prove them wrong.”

I decided not to overstep my bounds and call out the bullshit of that logic too. I said, “Let’s share an uber, I’ll drop you off then head home. It’s too windy out to trudge across the Common.”

She agreed and as we headed outside to meet the car she asked, “What’s going on with you? I noticed earlier that you’re walking kind of funny.”

“Thanks,” I said with an embarrassed laugh.

“No, I don’t mean it in a critical way, you just seem like you’re in pain, what’s wrong?”

“I’m having surgery in two weeks for a couple slipped discs in my back,” I explained.

“Oh, God! I am so sorry! Are you OK? Here I’ve been rattling on and on and I haven’t even once asked about you,” Gaye exclaimed.

“Don’t worry about it, I’m totally fine. I’m just excited to get it over with,” I said.

“Well, you’ll let me know if you need anything?” She asked.

“Sure, but really, it’ll be fine.”

I changed the subject and before I knew it we were parked in front of the school.

“You know what?” Gaye said, looking out the window at a group of Kensington-clad women gathered around the school entrance. “I can’t fucking stand any one of those women. They’re a bunch of phony gossipy jerks. If I’d run into them ten years ago at a party I would have steered way clear. Now I dress the same, I talk the same, I have the same insane level of debt, and I drive the same car. I’m just as big of a jerk as any of them and I am fucking terrified of being pushed out of their group.”

“Gaye-” I began, sympathetically.

“It is what it is,” she said, placing a leather-gloved hand on the door handle.

“You can call me anytime, really, text me at three a.m. I mean it,” I said.

“Thanks, Liz, for listening,” she replied looking back at me.

Then she pulled her sunglasses down and shoved the door open. I watched her saunter towards the school, hands in her pockets. When the women saw her they waved enthusiastically. She casually raised one hand in return.

trump_crowd-1144x763

There is a medium whose show I watch and re-watch obsessively. Her night vision testimony of haunted locations is convincing enough, but she works alongside an ex-homicide detective from Jersey. Just try telling this guy you floss your teeth every night and he’ll spot your bullshit from a mile away. No way would this guy fall for some charlatan psychic.

The thing about this show, as opposed to the dozens of other ghost hunting shows I watch, is the vast array of supernatural creatures this woman interacts with. Of course she encounters ghosts and shadow figures and demons, but she also confronts tiny floating light thingies that want you to die. Black blobs creep across floors and crawl along ceilings. Dog men lurk in the woods alongside dead people who’ve learned to project altered images of themselves in order to intimidate the living. Some entities who used to be human are so desperate to be alive again that they latch onto unsuspecting homeowners and slowly suck the life out of them. Which means that headache might not be a headache. That depression might not be a chemical imbalance. It could be a dead murder victim determined to feel alive again by any means necessary.

Most often, she suggests salt to rid these people of their tormentors. Plain old salt.

Only once have I seen her advise someone to get out of their home immediately to escape a horrible fate, but otherwise she pulls from a bag of tricks and gives the ethereally afflicted true hope. A couple of times she’s handed over a tiny bottle of brick salt with the claim that one drop of the stuff would remove any and all spirits, even the good ones, forever.

Hell truly may be unique to each individual. Some miserable spirits are condemned to relive the worst moments of their lives. Some simply confined to the location of their horrible, tortuous ends. If what this woman says is true then I could get stuck cleaning my house and be completely unaware that I am dead. I could end up loading and unloading my dishwasher forever and as time moves on and I stay stuck the new residents of my home might call on a powerful medium who could sprinkle brick dust and then I would be left to float around in the ether forever.

Like every other person claiming intimate knowledge of the afterlife, it’s all just theory and interpretation, but she’s pretty damn convincing. I’ve seen the veil go thin and when it did it wasn’t a ghost who peeked through. I’ve heard of hauntings both wonderful and terrible and for the most part these tales have had happy endings. A trick at the end to save the day. Some salt to beat the ghost. Everyone, the living and the dead and even the creeps followed the rules.

But our next ghost story has more evil than even our television medium could imagine and there is no happy ending. In fact, this story doesn’t have an ending at all, we meet our heroine somewhere in the depressing middle.

***

If you saw Margot Tatum getting her nails done at Mani Pedi or picking up an arrangement at Winston’s you might assume she lead a charmed life. You might take in her effortless Eileen Fisher jersey tunic, leggings and leather booties and pledge to KonMari your wardrobe. Her prematurely grey hair might throw you but when you noticed the smooth skin around her huge bright blue eyes you’d realize she was probably only around her mid-forties.   

Her oversized diamond studs would attest to wealth, while the small gold wedding band confirmed style. Her friendly nature would put you at ease and her intelligence would bring to mind an Ivy League education and a daily read-through of the New York Times. You would never guess the truth about Margot Tatum’s troubled life.

Her story begins, “On Christmas Eve in 1972 my grandfather killed my uncle. You see, Uncle James was involved in a cult whose members believed they were part of a Christian army. They thought that LSD allowed them to witness and even participate in the battle between angels and demons. James had been home for only a week and the family was hopeful that he’d escaped the cult for good. He was only seventeen, but apparently James’ brain had been, I suppose one might say fried, by the sheer amount of acid he’d ingested during his time in the Vermont-based cult.

“That Christmas Eve my dad and my grandmother were in the living room drinking hot chocolate and playing checkers. My grandfather had just gone outside to get more firewood and they believed Uncle James had gone to bed for the night. He hadn’t. He’d dropped acid and performed a ritual in his bedroom.

“After calling upon the angels in this misguided rite James went downstairs, entered the living room and made a series of strange hand gestures aimed towards my grandmother before walking into the kitchen. My dad said that when my uncle returned he had a knife in each hand and a dishtowel wrapped around his head, covering his mouth. He launched himself at my grandmother in silence. My dad did his best to stop him but James was too strong. Luckily, my grandfather saw them struggling through the picture window, he grabbed the ax he’d chopped wood with earlier in the day, ran inside and wacked James in the back of the head. Later, they all agreed that had grandpa not reacted so quickly both my dad and Nana would have been killed.”

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

“I’m sorry, I know it is a dreadful story,” Margot apologized. “But, that’s not the worst of it. James died on the living room floor as they waited for an ambulance to arrive, but before he slipped away he cursed our family. He believed my grandmother, his own mother, was a demon named Beleth. He cursed us to remember her power. And we have, every single December since that terrible night.”

“Oh my God,” I breathed. “This happen here? In this house?” I asked, afraid of her answer.

She nodded and added another spoonful of sugar to her coffee cup.

I knew Margot from the handful of times she’d volunteered at the food pantry. The week prior she’d overheard my conversation with another volunteer and suggested that I come to her house for coffee and a “grim story of the occult.”

I’d always been intimidated by this impeccably dressed woman with the tortoise framed reading glasses and streamlined style. But, I eagerly accepted the invitation and went to Margot’s house in mid-December, happy for the distraction from the holiday blitz. The weather was mild but grey skies had persisted for days. I parked at the end of Margot’s cul de sac and approached her home, a small cottage bordered on one side by the Brook Path (http://www.wellesleyma.gov/Pages/WellesleyMA_Trails/gistrailmap.pdf). As I walked up the worn brick pathway to the front door I was startled by a little girl who appeared at the side of the house nearest the brook.

“Hey there,” I said, wondering if perhaps this was Margot’s daughter.

“Are you the one visiting Go?” The girl asked me.

“Yup, that’s me,” I replied.

“Will you please tell her that Peach goes next?” She requested.

“Sure thing,” I said. The girl turned and walked back the way she’d come.

What a little weirdo, I thought with a smile, but she was quickly put out of my mind as I rang the doorbell to be met with a chorus of barking.

The door opened and out bound three Brussels Griffons. Each one cuter than the next. I could have died right there from the sheer delight of seeing their small Ewok faces and regal beards.

“Dogs!” I exclaimed like and idiot.

“Boys!” Margot demanded. “Inside!” She stood back and I followed her in with the three handsome gents. “I’m so sorry,” she apologized, “I lost track of the time. I intended to put them in the sunroom before you arrived.”

“Don’t you dare!” I said. “They made my day!”

We spent the next fifteen minutes discussing the dogs. I sat on the floor of the kitchen, fussing over George, Clifford and Ben while Margot brewed a pot of coffee.

It was with slight disappointment that I stood and followed her into the small living room. She placed the tray carrying the pot and cups at the center of a small table between two wingback chairs. A fire burned in the fireplace and the softly lit room was classic and a touch formal, like it’s owner. A picture window overlooked the sloping lawn, the public Brook Path and it’s brook just visible beyond a row of mature trees.

After Margot poured us each a cup of coffee so strong it had grounds floating in it, she’d shared her family’s violent and bizarre history.

Despite wanting to flee the home immediately I forced myself to say, “Your poor father.”

Margot sipped her black four-sugar coffee thoughtfully before replying, “If it had ended there, with the death of a mentally ill and addicted boy, then it would have been only tragic. But it’s what came after that made it a true nightmare.

“The curse,” she said quietly, “It worked.”

I placed my coffee (having made due with one sugar and a little milk) on the table between us. “How?” I asked.

“Every December since that night a horrible tragedy has come upon one of my family members. Usually one of us dies, but there have been other things. Sometimes, she gets creative.”

“Who?”

“Beleth. I’ve done some research and the cult that my uncle was involved with, they didn’t really know what they were worshipping in their acid-fueled rituals. I believe most of them honestly strove to serve angels, but in truth, they did the bidding of demons. That night, when James attacked my grandmother, Beleth was there making him see what she wanted him to see.

“She needed a sacrifice. In the end it didn’t matter who it was, in fact, I think it worked out better that it ended up being my uncle. His curse unleashed her, it took off the restraints, at least it does once a year.”

“Every December?” I asked, finding it hard to accept but even harder to believe that this straight-laced woman could make up such a story.

“There has been so much death. We’ve never kept an animal alive for more than a year or two. I begged my daughters not to get these damn dogs,” she said, affectionately rubbing one of their heads as they sat at our feet, “But after my husband died, the girls didn’t want me to be alone.”

“I’m so sorry about your husband,” I said. “I had no idea.”

“I was lucky to have him for as long as I did. I knew I would lose him, but it was still a shock.”

“Oh, was he ill?” I asked, assuming cancer or some other drawn out nightmare.

“No, no, he was fanatical about his health. He was training for a triathalon last winter and was hit by a snow plow. It was early morning, the driver just didn’t see him.”

“I, I am so very sorry,” I said shocked.

“Thank you, it was a horrible loss. There have been so many losses, everyone goes. Everyone but the eldest child. They are left to carry the curse.”

“Again, I don’t know what to say, or, I mean, what to ask. But, how do you know this is the curse? How did you figure it out?” I didn’t want to offend her in her grief, but, what in the hell was she talking about?

“The truth is, it took a while, several years really to realize that the curse clung to our family. My dad told me that the first few winters after James’ death tragedy struck but everyone was still in such shock and mourning that no one put the pieces together.”

“What happened those first winters?” I asked.

“That first year my great grandmother died on Christmas Eve, not too much of a shock really, the woman was eighty-five, but the circumstances were strange. She fell down her basement stairs and broke her neck. I guess that happens to elderly people, but she fell backwards and she had been confined to a wheelchair for years. There was no explanation as to how she ended up on the stairs in the first place.

“The next year it was my father’s youngest sister, Jenny. There was a bad storm that Christmas and she’d taken a plate of cookies to our neighbors up the street. When she didn’t come back my grandparents called the neighbors but they hadn’t seen her. My father went to look for her in the storm, though she wasn’t found until morning. She had drowned in the brook, in only three feet of water. The official explanation was that she’d been turned around by the storm and confused by hypothermia and tripped into the water.”

“Jesus Christ Almighty, that stream? Out there?” I demanded shakily, pointing out the picture window.

“Yes, I moved back into the house after my father passed last year. He died right after my husband, within a week actually. I was surprised, really, I thought my dad would go first, but truly, there’s no telling who she’ll take in any given year or if she’ll just allow us to carry on under her dark cloud.

“Shortly after my father’s death it became apparent that a member of the family must occupy the house. If, for no other reason than to protect others from this curse. I attempted to put the house on the market and our real estate agent nearly lost an eye during the first, and only, open house. She tripped on this rug,” Margot gestured to the Oriental carpet and continued, “Hit her head on the corner of the table there.”

I winced at the glass coffee table’s sharp edges.

“There are no coincidences where this home and our family are concerned. I took the incident as a message that one of us must reside in the home order to contain the torment. It’s my turn now, I suppose.”

Before I could even respond she forged ahead with a continued account of family misfortune.

“Oh, let’s see, who else has been taken? Ah, my mother died of a massive heart attack when I was a teenager. It was totally unexpected, she was a vegetarian who meditated every morning and practiced yoga. My youngest brother, Michael, hit his head too hard while we were sledding. He was just three. I lost my sister Kim to heroin several years ago. She’d always been a little wild, drinking too much in high school and smoking pot, but heroin? I would never have guessed it in a million years. Our deacon found her on Christmas morning in the basement of our church.”

“Margot,” I said, desperate to stop her litany. “How can you have handled all of this tragedy? And, forgive me, but there are only so many Christmases. Simple math won’t allow for a family death every year. You’d have to have dozens of siblings and relatives.”

More chilling than this account of Tatum family deaths was the seeming casualness with which they’d been reported. I wondered if Margot were highly medicated, then realized that she must be. Without the help of an SSRI, no one could handle this level of personal loss without succumbing to simply rocking in a corner for the rest of their days.

“We haven’t had a death every year,” she said. “There’s always a cooling off period after she’s fed. But even the years that we don’t have a loss, Beleth is active and the curse takes different forms.”

“How so?” I asked, a sick thought popping into my mind that perhaps on the off years the living must go out and butcher non-Tatums. I braced myself for her answer.

“Unquestionably, I have the worst luck of anyone I’ve ever known. I’ve broken my jaw, both hands and my elbow, twice. My SAT scores were lost so I had to take the test over, causing me to miss the due date for college applications. I’m on the no fly list because a terrorist sympathizer from the United Kingdom shares my name. I have hit five dogs with my car, and I can’t even count the squirrels. I don’t cook, there is no point and frankly, it’s dangerous. I’m color blind. I’ve personally funded my dentist’s retirement. I just got diagnosed with Fibromyalgia whatever the hell that is. When I had the twins the doctor’s hand slipped and-””

I held up my hand, unwilling to hear the rest of the sentence. I asked, “Have you done anything to counteract this curse?”

Margot sat back in her chair, obviously irritated by my interruption, “The house is blessed monthly, an exorcism performed each year in November. Though these things anger the demon, my father did them and I feel an obligation to continue the traditions.

“The most disturbing element in this whole ordeal is not the curse. Yes, it is strong and it has wreaked outright havoc within my family, but it’s not the worst of the problem. The ritual that my Uncle James performed in his bedroom on that Christmas Eve, it took my father years to understand it. He traveled across the country to speak with James’ fellow cult members and some the families left behind.

“What my Uncle did was beyond a simple generational curse. The ritual he performed before attacking my grandmother breached the divide between this world and the afterlife. It ruptured something that cannot be resealed. It goes without saying that the cult he was involved in was not truly in the business of Christian warfare or battling demons. Cursing families was not the ultimate goal. The sacrifices of cursed family members feed the pit every year, not just when a life is claimed. The tear in the abyss is powered by all sorts of darkness and depravity.

“Illness and injury, car accidents, quick and deep burns on the stove, slips of the knife while cutting carrots, windows smashing on fingers. Political arguments that tear families apart, a dirty look given at just the right moment when a person is at their weakest, hate speech overheard and internalized by a child. They, Beleth and her comrades desire more, more disease, more torment, more hate, more fear.  Not to mention the entities.”

“Oh, shit,” I sighed, feeling my neck to be sure the trusty old blessed medallion was where it should be.

“I’m sorry, I thought you assumed this was of the paranormal vein,” she said quickly.

“Oh, I did,” I replied, nodding my head, “I just thought we were already well into that.”

“Well, we are, but there is one more piece of this puzzle. These entities entered our lives through the curse. If they are allowed to they have the ability to take us over completely.”

“As in possession?” I asked.

“Mmm, more like, acute influence. They can put thoughts into one’s mind and confuse up from down. Right from wrong. Take my sister. She was a brilliant social worker. She did more good in her life than anyone I’ve ever come across, and yet she died of a heroine overdose in the basement of our childhood church? She helped people with drug addiction, she wasn’t a drug addict herself.

“Our biggest fears, our greatest weaknesses, the good that we do, it is all fodder for these beings. There is a touch of dark humor or, maybe it’s irony to the destruction they influence.”

“How do you know that these entities exist? Couldn’t it just be the demons themselves?” I asked, reaching down to pick up one of the dogs, weak protection against this woman’s sickening autobiography.

“The demons seek blood and sacrifice but for that they need, oh, the word negativity doesn’t suit, really, but that’s what it is. I think that these other beings are from hell for sure, but they are not of the same rank and power. They are like minions, pests. And they look totally different.”

My mind said, Best of luck, catch ya on the flip side, Margot. But my mouth asked, “You’ve seen all of these things?

“I have, yes. The demons only in dreams and they look like you and me only not. They are beautiful and charming and wicked. I don’t how else to describe them, but I hate seeing Calvin Klein ads, the models are a close comparison.

“As for the other beings, they exist in the basement, I hear them. I have seen them, sometimes they are like lights flickering out of the corner of your eye. Other times they are shadows that dart across doorways or slink near the floorboards. I know they live here and I think it’s their home base.”

She paused and sipped her coffee then said, “I’ve read some of your stories, on your blog.”

“Oh?” I replied, thrown by the change of subject.

“Yes, several of them were quite disturbing, even familiar. Let me ask you, though, you understand that there is evil in this world, right?”

“I do,” I said simply.

“Well, as far as I’ve been able to tell, evil nests. It needs a home base to work from, a place of rest and recuperation so it may power the destruction it intends. This home, the basement in particular is one of those nests, and I am the keeper of the nest now. I am sort of its overseer. If I leave this house, if I sell it and let someone else move in here then there would be no gatekeeper. We are not the only family that this happened to. I carried on my father’s research and I’ve tracked down as many of the cult member’s families that I could. I believe that there was a pact within the cult because they all returned to their homes that Christmas in 1972. Before returning home the cult members meditated for a full seven days on a steady intake of LSD and they all received the same message and the same instructions. Go home and kill the demon in your house. But first, carry out a ritual to open the home to ‘angels.’”

“But there weren’t any angels,” I guessed.

“That’s right, there were no angels, but there were many demons. Our demon, the one assigned to my family, or to Uncle James was Beleth. There are homes like mine all over the country. The cult, it’s goal, were these nests. The curses unleashed power that provides the constant sacrifice necessary to feed the nests.

“I have visited some of these families and some homes that were quite active. The evil entities actually managed to take hold of family members and violence was carried out on strangers. In other words, sacrifices are made outside of the immediate family, saving the members of the cursed family, for a time anyway.

“I almost fell into the trap myself. When I was eighteen I vandalized my principal’s car, I actually spray painted the interior in pink and purple stripes. It was a small car, a sedan, I’ve never been good at recognizing car brands or, makes? Models?” Margot shrugged her shoulders. “I even slashed the tires, well, I suppose I popped them. Slashed sounds so dramatic. I just stuck knives into each wheel.

“I haven’t the faintest idea what came over me, I had no problem with the man, I’d hardly ever interacted with him. The destruction was utterly unlike anything I’d ever imagined, let alone done. But then nothing bad happened to anyone in my family that Christmas, and I put two and two together. For a short time I thought I’d found the key to breaking the curse. A little mean trick was all it would take. The thing I didn’t know was that my principal was gay and closeted, he thought someone who knew his secret had ruined his car. He must have thought they intended to out him as well, so he killed himself that New Year’s Eve.  

“I should really say that I did that. I killed him.”

“You didn’t know,” I breathed.

“I knew I was doing evil to someone else and I was thrilled that I caught a break for my family because of it. My actions lead to his death, but we were given a reprieve for a full year.”

I was speechless.

“What frightened me the most was that it felt good. The worst part of it all is that letting go and giving in to the pull to enter into the darkness felt like gently falling, floating even. When I was spray painting that car I was joyful. When I found out he had killed himself I had to leave the room because I got the giggles.”

Aside from the crackle of the fire, the room was silent The dog on my lap was warm and cozy, though I was chilled to my very core.

Margot shrugged her shoulders again, “Thankfully, something inside me knew it was wrong, and that it hadn’t completely been me who caused that damage. I’ve had the opportunity and urge many times since to be,” she paused, looking at the fire, “destructive, but I’ve held myself back. Good works can suppress those urges.”

I thought of the food pantry and wondered of her other acts of service, but what really intrigued me were the evil “urges” she’d had and managed to suppress. I was about to ask what those urges were when she leaned forward, urgent and insistent.

“Heaven help us, it’s looming on the horizon. I can feel things stirring up, they have been for months now. This past year has been particularly active, and I’ve seen things that I hadn’t come into contact with before. The energy is, I don’t know, you can’t call their energy high, because it simply isn’t. It is low, very low, but it has, I suppose magnified. Very negative. And there are different beings around now. The light flickers and the shadows are here but my dreams are filled with horrible creatures and insects. Huge insects that are imaginary but are as real as spiders or beetles.

“And,” she paused, looking at me with sad eyes.

“What?” I asked. “What is it?”

“They seem to be waiting at the gate, waiting just beyond the fold. They are coming. The darker ones, and the angrier and more contentious the world becomes it makes it possible for these more depraved beings to slip through.

“All I know about is this one cult. This one batallion of demons and their appointment. But there must be more. My time is short, I can feel it and I am doing everything I can to weaken the nest in this home. I try to do good, to spread love. But I am only one person and my life has been so dark. And now the world seems to be darkening more rapidly than ever before.”

I nodded my head and became aware of a hum beneath my feet. Like that of a large machine steady in its work.

“I can show you if you’d like,” Tatum offered quietly. “It’s not that you can really see anything down there, but you will be able to feel it. The energy.”

“Oh, fuck no,” I said. “I’m sorry, I mean, no thank you. I just got evil out of my own home, I am not messing with it any more.”

“That’s right, your tapping and those silly little creatures,” she said, almost dismissively. “Are you sure you want to keep doing these interviews? Let me tell you, once it has a hold of you, it doesn’t let go. That tapping may be gone and those beings are out of your house now, but once you look it looks back and never looks away. I have no choice, I can’t escape it.”

“There must be something that can be done to protect you,” I argued.

“I’m telling you that I’ve pursued the usual avenues. I’m doing the best that I can. But I am my father’s only living child. Now that Bruce is gone it’s just me and the girls. I don’t know if I told you that, I have twin girls, Olivia and Chloe. They are in their gap year now, abroad in Africa building a well in a small village. When I die they will be alone. I don’t know if both of them will make it, only one of them needs to survive to carry this on. Olivia is the oldest sibling, by seven minutes. My dad was the oldest sibling. I am the oldest. It would fit the pattern that she will be the last one standing.

“It was wrong of me to have children, I know that. I knew it at the time. But there was a pull there and I am certain it was Beleth. I don’t really have complete control over my life. I just don’t. But I can control the things they are exposed to. They’ve been in church school since before they could walk. They went to Catholic school all the way through. They were never allowed out of my sight. They’ve done more good in their eighteen years than most people have in a lifetime.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “You were dealt a terrible hand. I can’t imagine it.”

Margot gave a short laugh, “Yes, well, we are all fighting a terrible battle, aren’t we? I trust that you won’t share any of this with the women at the pantry?”

“Of course not, but the blog-”

“Oh yes, please do transcribe our talk onto your blog. People need to know the truth. ‘Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ Evil is here and it’s closing the gap. Lulling us into complacency. We mustn’t be deceived.”

I placed the dog on the ground and stood, “Thank you, Margot. Again, I am so sorry, for all of your loss and for this, burden.”

Margot smiled and placed a hand on my shoulder, I fought not to pull away, “You are a reporter, Liz. Be sure to pray. You will witness plenty that is far more frightening than my tale and I wish you the best.”

I followed my hostess to her front door, the dogs at our feet.

“Oh, I’m sorry I totally forgot to tell you, the little girl playing in the yard, before I came in. Um, I don’t know if she was playing some sort of a game or something but she said, ‘Peach goes next.’”

“What did you say?” Margot demanded.

“She asked me if I was going to visit Go and to tell her that Peach goes next,” I explained. “I just assumed she meant you and it was a nickname.”

“It is a nickname,” she replied.

“Sorry I didn’t tell you before, I got distracted by the dogs.”

Margot grabbed me by the arm so that I couldn’t walk out the door. “What did the girl look like?” She demanded.

I looked down at Margot’s hand on my arm and choose not to react angrily. The poor woman had been through enough.

After I quickly described the little girl Margot said simply, “You met my sister.”

“Wait, I thought you only had one sister and that she had passed?” I replied shaking my head.

“She has. She’s dead. But she’s the only person who’s ever called me Go.”

“Well then who is Peach?” I snapped, yanking my arm away.

“Chloe, my daughter, that’s her nickname.”

“Maybe I misheard her, I’m sure I did, “I rambled. “There’s no way-”

I was cut off by the sound of a phone ringing in the adjacent room.

White as a ghost, Margot took a deep breath and urged, “You should go. Now.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, wanting desperately to run from this nightmare.

“Just go,” she said slamming the door behind me.

 

 

** COVER IMAGE CREDIT: http://theresurgent.com/trumpism-is-a-cult-stop-pretending-its-not/

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Welcome to Out of the Swells! While Wellesley remains the most haunted place on earth, it isn’t the only spooky place around. So… let’s travel Out of the Swells, we’ll be reasonable and jet set just once a month. Premium Members will find future Out of the Swells ghost stories on Podbean for $1 per month. But this first episode is as free as a relative’s advice over the holiday break. I’ll be sure to let you all know when a new story is released – this first Out of the Swells tale will be the only one I post on the blog. If you like it and want to hear future tales, hop on over to Podbean.

Not to worry though, there will be plenty of Ghosts in the Burbs stories right here on the blog and podcast. I’ve set the schedule at two per month, and it’s a resolution I am determined to keep.

Now, throw on your cashmere wrap and put your kids in front of an educational app. Let’s hop aboard the Highline ferry.  

Here’s Out of the Swells Ghost Story #1 – There Once Was a Nanny From Nantucket

* * * * * * *

 

I am drawn to Nantucket like a toddler with a fork is drawn to a light socket. The island is picturesque and historic and all weathered grey shingles and cobblestone streets, a New England Yankee’s dream. It’s also touristy and a touch claustrophobic. Nantucket is what 1980s movies told us summer was supposed to be. It’s ice cream every night, sailor’s rope bracelets on sunburned arms, gold bangles, painted pink toenails and a place where my deep love of navy blue and white striped clothing is accepted, no, celebrated with love and approval. It’s hydrangea and white roses, crushed seashell driveways and weather vanes. It’s an ice-cold beer in a plastic cup. Giggling, sandy haired, sun kissed children with dirty feet and sticky lollipop hands. It’s a weeklong binge of French fries and burgers, oysters and fried fish, and finishing off the kid’s leftover chicken fingers as we try to manage the logistics of a week that is always far too short. It’s too many glasses of Chardonnay and late night ice cream cones, dehydration and recalling the previous night over coffee with embarrassed laughter.

On island, email goes unanswered and Chris puts down his cell phone and lets his beard grow. Though I always wish I’d lost those last ten pounds Nantucket makes me magically forget the extra weight as I watch my daughters awkwardly splash around on boogie boards and discover hermit crabs in delight.

Nantucket isn’t all happiness and light. It has a darker side. As you walk the streets countless widow’s walks hover above where wives watched and waited for loved ones who would never return from sea. Peek into the beach plum bushes, but don’t get too close, there you’ll find deer ticks that spur stories of friends who’ve suffered terrible bouts of Lymes disease. Over your morning coffee read the Inquirer and Mirror and learn about the opioid epidemic claiming the island’s young people the way the whaling boats stole it’s husbands years ago.

At one time the island was primarily home to Native Americans. The native Nantucketers were a part of the Wampanoag Nation, and you can probably guess their fate. English settlers came seeking land and an escape from Puritanism. They discovered whaling and then a trade ship with an infected crew docked on the island and quicker than you can say ‘louse-borne illness,’ the Native American population was decimated.

The victor’s have told Nantucket’s history. But even if the complete story isn’t so well-known the memory is there, the love and rage, the satisfaction and remorse. Stepping off the ferry boat you can feel it, the untold history whisping around you in the thick fog.

***    

We spend two weeks on island each summer. When Chris and I were childless and carefree we ferried to ACK as often as we could; staying in cheap bed and breakfasts, sharing bathrooms with other guests and creeping past inn keepers’ bedroom doors at two in the morning giggling and dizzy from too many shots of tequila.

An old family friend who we spent time with each summer messaged me on Facebook to inquire about our vacation timing. A friend of hers had a summer nanny whose “crazy-ass” Nantucket haunted house story I just had to hear.

A part of me wanted to wave off, I was desperate for time away from real life. Vacations were not really vacations anymore. On this particular trip, our two older girls had their blow up toddler beds set up alongside each other in the walk-in closet and the baby’s pack ’n play lived in the bathroom. We’d slept until about quarter to five each morning, which we considered a success. I was exhausted and frazzled but, in the end, the pull of a Nantucket haunted house story was too strong for me to dismiss.                

My friend, who had been enthusiastically following the blog, told me that she’d put the nanny and I in touch if I promised that she could come along on the interview. Her second condition: I couldn’t use her real name for the blog post; she insisted that I create a fabulous pseudonym. I agreed.

And so, “Buffy Von Carmichael” and I arranged to meet the nanny, Ashley, for a drink at CRU oyster bar. On an island where the summer population carries a look-at-me, don’t-look-at-me, why-aren’t-you-looking-at-me vibe, CRU is a scene unto itself. Perched at the edge of docks where multi-multi-million dollar boats preen, the restaurant’s upscale, on-trend coastal preppiness makes diners feel as though they too are on-trend.

[Don’t bother calling for a reservation, they will claim they’re booked through Labor Day. But go ahead and show up with your friends and apologetically ask for a table. Allow the host to act shocked that you would even think a place so incredibly incredible could possibly have a table available last minute, then wait patiently as they pretend to look around and seek out a corner for you. Finally, act shocked and grateful when you’re party is seated within ten minutes.]

Buffy and I secured a spot on the patio. We sat next to each other on a navy blue sofa and Buffy placed her clutch on a wooden wingback chair to reserve it for our storyteller.

I took my recorder out of my own clutch (a monogrammed straw purse with multi-colored pompoms) and when a tanned and toned young man came to take our drink order I requested a glass of Chardonnay, just the house wine, nothing fancy.

Buffy requested a Triple Eight blueberry vodka on the rocks. A delicious drink that I’d made the mistake of loving too much our first night on island. I don’t drink hard alcohol, college ruined it for me, but this blueberry vodka tasted nothing like vodka and, caught up in island induced happiness and the novelty of drinking something other than Chardonnay, I drank too much of it, lost the time and threw up before going to bed with the spins.   

“Watch out for that stuff,” I commented.     

Buffy waved away the warning and scanned the crowd, “Nobody,” she sighed.  

I rolled my eyes. Buffy is an unapologetic snob, a quality that on her is somehow endearing. I asked her for a bit of backstory as we waited for Ashley to arrive.

“Ok, so you remember that woman at Orange Theory who always holds onto the handles during the sprints?” I made an annoyed sound to indicate that I knew just whom she was talking about. “Right, so she used Ashley as a babysitter during the school year, Ashley’s a junior at Wellesley.”

“Oh, so she’s in college,” I confirmed.

“Right, and she works during the summer for families in town. She specializes in vacations.”    

“Hold on a minute,” I said, putting my drink on the table. “Babysitters ‘specialize’ now?”

“Oh yeah,” Buffy said, nodding her head knowingly. “My neighbor has a girl working for her who only does carpools. You can hire her to drive your kids around from activity to activity but she doesn’t really babysit. One of my sitters, whom I pay twenty dollars an hour mind you, doesn’t ‘do’ bedtime. She will only ‘babysit’ when the kids are in bed. Says she has to focus on her academics.”

“The end is nigh,” I commented.

“Indeed,” Buffy agreed. “So our Ashley is a vacation nanny. She comes out for a month or more with a family, lives with them and basically does everything with the kids. I would kill for that kind of setup.”

“I painted my house and waitressed on the lunch shift in college, why wasn’t I smart enough to be a vacation nanny?” I complained.

“I know. I walked dogs for Christ’s sake. These girls are way savvier than we were. The Orange Theory woman told me that Ashley’s been doing this every summer since she graduated from high school and families pay over six thousand a month depending upon how many kids are in the family and how ‘hands on’ they need her to be.”

“Stop it,” I demanded.

As we discussed our ideal job description for a vacation nanny Buffy looked up and waved. I turned around to see an Abercrombie and Fitch model approach us. Her dark skin and incredibly long wavy brown hair swayed as her long legs carried her toward us. She wore adorable scallop edged hot pink shorts and a strappy silk cami. Her youthful body was so toned that this bare outfit didn’t even look sexy, just fresh. She had the darkest brown eyes I’ve ever seen and she smiled happily at us as she approached.

“Hi Mrs. Von Carmichael,” she said cheerily, “Thanks so much for reaching out. It’s so great to have a kid-free night!” Then she turned to me and held out a hand, “You must be Mrs. Sower, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Hi Ashley,” I said, shaking her hand, impressed by her maturity. Buffy motioned to our waiter and Ashley put in a drink order, a white wine spritzer – Chardonnay, not Pinot Grigio. I was, again, impressed.

The girl cut right to the chase, “You want to hear my ghost story,” she said to me. I nodded my head and began to answer but she held up a hand, “Sorry, but I only have until eight thirty. I have a really early morning with the kids.”

I glanced over at Buffy and held back from saying ‘hashtag job description’ and instead said, “Sure, thanks so much for taking time off to share your story.”

“Of course. I’m actually kind of relieved to tell someone who will believe me,” she replied.

“No one believes your story?” I asked.

“Oh, they do,” she said, tilting her head as though considering. “My friends are totally entertained by it, and they acknowledge that I believe that it happened, but I don’t think I’ve told anyone who really believes it, you know?”

“I get that,” Buffy said, leaning forward. “I once saw Cher walking down Newbury Street. She was wearing black jeans and a blond wig. I know it was her, but no one believed me.”

Ashley and I stared at my friend.

After a beat I nodded my head and said, “Right, I think this stuff is kind of hard for people to accept.”

“Yeah, well, there are a lot of things I find hard to accept lately,” Ashley replied, raising her eyebrows.

Buffy and I exchanged a look after the girl refused to elaborate.

“The election?” Ashley finally said.

Of course, I realized, she goes to Wellesley.

“Oh, that,” Buffy said, dismissively. “There’s no way he can win.”

“Stranger things have happened,” I said.

Buffy waved a hand and downed the rest of her drink. “Impossible things aside, what’s your ghost story, Ashley?”

“I nannied for a family last summer. They rented a house off Cliff Road, and the place was really haunted, like, horror movie haunted,” the girl replied.

“I heard voices and footsteps, I saw a, like, monster and something sat on the end of my bed,” she paused, pushing Pantene-quality hair behind an ear, then continued, “There were other strange things, but the worst part was the sense that I was always being watched.”

“How long did you stay in that house?” I demanded.

“A couple weeks in July. After the first week I wanted to go home, but I had committed to nannying for this family and they were paying me a lot of money. I was supposed to stay the whole month, but I couldn’t.”

“I wouldn’t have even lasted a day if even one of those things happened,” I commented.

“Well, right, but it took me awhile to understand what was going on. At first, I was so busy getting used to the family and learning their routines and stuff, but the more time I spent in the house, the more obvious it became.”

“Hold on, back it up,” Buffy demanded. “Start at the very beginning. Who were you nannying for, what happened first, and go from there.”

I looked at my friend and thought that I should bring her with me on every interview. Then I looked back to Ashley and nodded encouragingly.

“Ok, so the family had two kids, a nine-month-old little girl named Daisy and a little boy named Charlie who was three-and-a-half. Wait, you can change the names, right?” She asked me.

“Absolutely,” I confirmed.

“Ok, good, thank you. So, the Roberts were referred to me by the couple I’d nannied for the previous summer. The mom, Michelle, was probably in her, like, early thirties but the dad, Carter, was way older, probably in his late forties. They were both pretty cool. I’ve been sitting for families since middle school so I’ve seen it all. These guys actually spent some time with their kids.

“Some parents don’t, you know? They just want the kids dressed up and cute to show off when their friends are over, but otherwise, they want me to keep them out of the way. My first summer nannying out here the parents left me with their ten-week-old baby for two days without even checking in once. They needed a ‘romantic getaway,’ so they stayed at the White Elephant for the weekend. I sent them text updates the whole time but they never responded.”

Though there was so much to unpack in this opening monologue, I couldn’t help but to get caught up on the emphasis on how old forty seemed to her. A glance at Buffy gave me the impression that she was stuck on the same thing.

Ashley went on, “But this couple was pretty chill, but they went out every single night and they drank, and I mean a lot. No matter how late they were, though, Michelle woke up at seven every morning for a run and then yoga in the back yard.”

I sipped my drink, trying to look neutral. I didn’t want to let on how dreamy this sounded.

Ashley shook her head and shifted in her seat, “I was there as a safety measure more than anything else, you know? I took the kids to the beach in the morning to keep the house quiet and we’d be back a little before lunchtime. Michelle hung with us the rest of the day until about four o’clock when cocktail hour started. Mr. Roberts was in Boston most of the week for work, and he golfed mornings when he was on island, but when he was there he hung out with us in the afternoons.

“I was alone with the kids morning and night. Even when the Roberts finally got home at night they were so drunk they’d be totally passed out so I couldn’t rely on them at all.”

“Alright, so the parents partied hard. What about the ghosts?” Buffy said impatiently. I stifled a laugh and had to stop myself from spitting out my drink.

Ashley stared at Buffy for a moment but chose to direct her answer to me. “I’m trying to impress upon you that, for all intents and purposes, I was alone much of the time, especially at night and that made what happened all the more terrifying.”

I looked between the two alpha women with amusement and asked, “Where exactly is this house?” All intents and purposes and impressions aside, I wanted the exact home address so that we would never stumble upon the listing and rent it.

“It’s right off of Cliff Road just a bit out of town, near Steps Beach,” she said, before taking a sip of her cocktail.

“The house number?” I asked as casually as possible.

“I don’t know if I should say?” Ashley said.

To this, Buffy moaned, “Oh, come on.”

 “Well, I can’t exactly remember, but if you must have it I’ll look back at my emails,” she snapped back.

“We simply must,” Buffy replied.

“Anyhow,” I said, giving Buffy a look and willing her to be less aggressive. “You were left alone with the children a lot which sounds like a huge responsibility. What did you notice about the house that was strange?”

“The first thing I noticed were the voices,” Ashley replied quietly. “You know those noise machines that you put in kid’s rooms to help them sleep?”

“I swear by them,” I said.

“The Roberts had two of them in each of the kids’ rooms and they insisted on playing the white noise at full blast. It seemed like overkill to me at first, but the kids were both pretty good sleepers, even the baby.

“This one night, after we’d been there for about a week, I was up giving Daisy a bottle in the middle of the night when I first heard the whispering. Those noise machines were almost deafening, but as I was putting her back into the crib I thought I heard someone having a conversation. It sounded like a man and a woman. It was a weeknight so I knew that Mr. Roberts wasn’t home and anyway it was, like, three o’clock in the morning. Michelle had been out that night with friends and she was home but passed out.

“I stood by the door listening for a minute and then stepped out into the hallway. I closed the door behind me as quietly as I could and just stood still, but I didn’t hear anything else. I peeked in on Charlie, his room was just across the hall from Daisy’s and he was sound asleep, so I tiptoed down into my room and grabbed my cell phone and dialed in 911, but I didn’t press send. I had to check to make sure no one was in the house and I wanted to be able to call the police if someone was there.”

“Ashley!” I scolded, “You should have called the police immediately if you thought someone was in the house!”

“I know, but it was my first week with this family. What if the police woke everyone up in the house and it turned out to be nothing? I figured I could look downstairs and if I didn’t see anything then, there had to be another explanation.”

“I’m guessing there was another explanation,” Buffy said, leaning forward in her seat.

“Um, yeah. I checked the entire downstairs, even the closets. The house was gorgeous on the outside but it hadn’t been, like, updated in forever. Inside it was all dark wood and low ceilings.

“I checked the first floor, and luckily the basement door was padlocked. The Roberts’ real estate agent left a note for us with a list of the ‘property’s charming quirks.’ She warned us that the sea grass and beach plum bushes that surrounded the yard were infested with deer ticks and she also mentioned that we were not to go into the basement. It was the homeowner’s private storage area. I checked the basement door that night and the padlock was in place, so I didn’t give it another thought.

“I had a really strange feeling, like you know how when you walk into a room after someone’s had an argument and there’s, like, a vibe?”

Buffy and I nodded our heads. “You can’t be married with kids and not know about angry vibes,” Buffy quipped.  

“Yeah, so I went back upstairs and peeked in on the kids again. Charlie was still sound asleep and when I looked into Daisy’s room I couldn’t see her in the crib from the doorway so I walked over to the crib and saw that she had just snuggled her way into the corner. I was shifting her away from the crib bars when I heard that low conversation again. It was definitely two people arguing.

“Again, it sounded like it was coming from directly below Daisy’s room, which would have been the family room. I was trying to listen closely when the bedroom door click shut behind me.”

“911!” I exclaimed.

“Well, duh. I had my phone right out in front of me with my finger on the call button, but I walked over to the door to lock it before I called the police when the thought hit me that someone could be going into Charlie’s room.”

“Holy shit, that is awful,” I said, thinking of my girls.     

“It was,” Ashley said, taking a sip of her drink. “I grabbed the door handle, it was one of those old ones where you press a lever down and a bar lifts, you know?” I nodded in encouragement. “Right, so I pulled the door open as fast as I could and jumped into the hallway. I figured that I would startle whoever was out there. I was about to scream my head off and press the call button on the phone, but there was no one there.

“I threw open Charlie’s door and again, no one. I checked behind the door, under his bed, in the small closet. I even tried the window. I was certain that someone had been in that room, or in the hallway. The floors creaked so badly that they couldn’t have gotten down the stairs so fast.”

“Tell me you woke the mother up,” Buffy said.

“No, I didn’t,” Ashley replied. “Again I looked in on both kids, I even checked to make sure they were breathing. Then I sat down in the hallway in-between their rooms with my phone. I ended up falling asleep. Michelle woke me up as she was headed out for her jog.

“What did you tell her?” I asked, thinking how freaked out I would be if I ever found one of our babysitters asleep in our hallway in the morning.

“I tried not to, like, freak her out, but I mean, I had to explain and not seem like some sort of freak show.”

“What did she say?”

“She was weirdly chill about it.”

“That’s fucked up,” Buffy said.

“Totally. I would have called the police that morning to have the house checked out,” I agreed.

“Yeah, but you put your ADT on when you’re home during the day,” Buffy said to me dismissively. “I would have been freaked out by the fact that a babysitter was sleeping in the hallway.”

“That stupid alarm system is worthless, there’s this one window in our basement that keeps tripping it and, well, whatever, never mind. I would definitely have called the police and I would have been pissed at you for not calling them the night before,” I said to Ashley pointedly.

“Yeah, but, she wasn’t. She thanked me for watching after the kids and gave me the morning off so I could sleep. She said the voices I heard were probably just picked up by the sound machines from another house.”

“That’s not how those things work!” Buffy said in disbelief.

“I know, but I didn’t want to disagree with her,” Ashley explained.

“She was way too chill,” Buffy said.

“Right? It was weird,” Ashley replied. “It was almost, like -”

“Pathological,” I interrupted.

“Totally,” Ashley agreed. “It was like she wouldn’t allow anything in that would disrupt the story she’d created about their family. They were rich and relaxed and their children were to be the same way. She was way into appearances, but I could tell she didn’t want anyone to think that she was.”

Buffy and I nodded with both guilt and understanding.

“So the morning after hearing the voices I tried, but I couldn’t sleep. I would start to doze off and then get startled awake by someone calling my name. The first few times I thought Michelle had changed her mind and needed my help or that the kids had snuck upstairs. But every time I opened my eyes, I was alone. I was beginning to get super creeped out, but since I’d barely slept the night before I pinned it on exhaustion.”

“That afternoon Carter came back from the city, it must have been a Thursday. Michelle joked with him about my night and he poked fun at me, said something like, ‘At least there’s one responsible adult in the house.’”

“Gross,” I said.

“Right? That night Michelle and Carter were out as usual and I was falling asleep when my bedroom door latch clicked and the door creaked open. I had my back to the door and I heard heavy footsteps walk into the room. I stayed still for a minute, not sure if I should just pretend to be asleep.

“You know, I’ve had a couple lurky dads in my time. Once in high school a dad was driving me home and he put his hand on my knee and asked if I wanted to grab a ‘brewski’ with him sometime.”  

“No!” Buffy and I yelled at the same time.

“Yeah, it was disgusting. Carter didn’t seem the type, but you just never know, so when I felt someone sit down at the end of my bed I popped right up but,” Ashley paused.

“What?” I demanded. “What did he do?”

“That’s just it, it wasn’t Carter. There was no one there. I know I heard someone open my door, walk into the room and sit on the end of my bed, but there wasn’t anyone there.”

“Oh fuuuuuck,” Buffy said, keeping her eyes on Ashley while motioning to our server for another round of drinks.

“I got up went into Daisy’s room, picked her up out of her crib and rocked her in an old chair in Charlie’s room until I fell asleep. The Roberts woke me up at two o’clock when they peeked in on the kids after getting home from whatever party they’d been at.”

“What did you tell them?” I asked.

“I said that I’d heard weird noises and didn’t want to leave the kids alone,” she said.

“How did they react?”

“The same, they made a joke of it.”

“What the hell was wrong with them?” Buffy demanded, as though the girl could answer.

“They were drunk,” Ashley answered simply before ordering a club soda from our waiter.

Duly cautioned, Buffy switched to wine and I downgraded to a spritzer.

“Then what?” asked Buffy.

“So then I began to feel like I was being watched all the time. Like, constantly. The first week I was there I would sit out in the backyard and read or whatever, but after that night I didn’t go anywhere by myself. Even that back yard creeped me out. It was surrounded by tall sea grass and beach rose bushes -”

“Lymes disease,” Buffy interrupted.

“Totes,” Ashley agreed, sagely. “There was a house-wide porch on the back of the home, and past the beach grass the yard overlooked the ocean, like, between Jetties and Steps. It should have been beautiful but it just wasn’t. It was depressing.

“When the kids napped I tried to stay close to Michelle but, like, out of her way and when the kids were up I kept us out of the house as much as I could.

“This one weekend Carter was all pissed off because we’d forgotten one of the beach chairs at Jetties the day before. He stomped around the house looking for more chairs and then Charlie said, ‘Maybe they’re in the basement.’ Carter hooked into the idea and got a screwdriver to unscrew the metal latch that held the padlock to the doorframe.”

“Charlie followed him right down the stairs and I went after him, I was terrified to let him go down there alone.

“He wouldn’t have been alone,” I protested, “His dad was with him.”

“Same difference,” she countered.

“Yeesh,” Buffy said, making a face.

“That basement hadn’t been used for storage like the real estate agent had written in her note. It looked like no one had been down there in fifty years.

“It was positively dank. I tried to hold Charlie’s hand but he pulled free and ran to his dad, who’d crossed the dirt floor to the far side of the basement.

“‘Carter, don’t!’ I called before I could stop myself. He just looked back over his shoulder, amused in his stupid, arrogant way and said something about the ‘fucking beach chairs.’ Then he pulled a door open to this little storage area there was-”

“A ghost!” Buffy exclaimed.            

“Shut up!” I said, nudging her shoulder, causing her wine to spill.

Ashley snorted and said, “No ghost, just an empty, dark closet with a small wooden box sitting at the center of the floor.”

“Oh, shit,” I said.

“Charlie rushed right into the closet and scooped up the box. Carter had already turned away to continue his stupid search for the chairs and I went over to Charlie and reached out to take the box from him. He pulled it close to him and he goes, ‘No! It’s mine. She said it would be here.’”

“Nope,” I said, shaking my head.

“Who said it would be there?” Buffy demanded.

“Aunt Lydia,” Ashley replied.

“Who the fuck is Aunt Lydia?” Buffy demanded.

“Charlie said it was the sad lady who talked to him in his bedroom,” Ashley explained.

“Nope,” I said again, downing my useless wine spritzer.

“It was super fucking creepy,” Ashley said giving an exaggerated shiver. “I asked Charlie what was in the box and he said it was Aunt Lydia’s circle.”

At this, Buffy guffawed.

“Cut it out,” I said, trying not to laugh.

Aunt Lydia’s circle is the new name for my lady parts,” she said laughing.

Ashley looked at us like we were just as bad as the Roberts and pressed on with her story, “Anyway, I got Charlie to come back upstairs with me when I promised him I’d help open the box.”

“What was inside?” I asked.

“An Indian Head penny from 1860,” she replied.

“Spooky,” I said.

“Aren’t those things valuable?” Buffy asked.

“Yeah, I think so,” I said.

“Google it,” Buffy insisted.

Ashley sighed and I said, “Let’s stay on track, Ashley has an early morning with the kids.”

Buffy gave me a look just this side of an eye roll and I returned it with a headshake.

“Anyway, Charlie was obsessed with that thing. He never let it out of his sight. He said the sad woman told him it would ‘take him happy from the gloom.’ He talked about that a lot, the gloom.

“Michelle and I were in the backyard with the kids one afternoon. We’d set out a beach blanket for Daisy and Charlie ran around on the lawn with a beach ball. Michelle went inside to get a diaper and some wipes when I looked up at the house and saw a figure in one of the second floor windows. My window. It wasn’t human. It had a small baldhead and a long skinny body. It was so hunched forward that it almost had to look up to look down at us, you know?

“I stood up slowly and was about to start screaming for Michelle to get out of the house when Charlie looked up to see what I was looking at. When he saw the creature in the window he started screaming for his coin. I looked away from the window and scooped Charlie up but I could barely contain him.

“Just then Michelle walked out of the house and asked what the hell was going on. Charlie was struggling so hard against me that I was forced to put him down. He ran straight towards his mom – towards the house. I yelled for him to come back, to get the hell away from the house.

“Michelle snapped at me to calm down. ‘You’re getting Charlie all worked up,’ she complained as he went on and on about his coin. I picked up Daisy off the blanket and told her what I’d seen. She thought I was completely crazy. She thought I was having some sort of panic attack or something. She asked me if I was missing my family, if maybe I needed a night off, if I would like something to drink.”

“Oh, man,” I said.

“I did my best to calm down and agree that I had just seen some kind of trick of the light. I told her that what I really needed was ice cream cone, that it would make me feel much better. All I wanted was to get as far away from that house as I could.

“She was icy to me after that. I think she was annoyed that I was, like, losing my mind on her perfect vacation. She told Carter and he made angry jokes about it. He even jumped out of the bathroom to scare me as a prank when they had some of their friends over.”

“What an asshole,” Buffy said.

“You know what? He was an asshole, they both were. They were so concerned with partying and looking good and they didn’t even give a damn about their kids. Sure, they spent time with them, but as soon as one of the kids had a problem, or Michelle started to get bored. She was off with a magazine.”

Buffy and I were silent. Mom guilt overtook me. I felt bad about being so jealous of this flighty woman and her family. I wondered if Buffy was thinking the same thing. She wasn’t.

“They’ll be divorced by the time the boy is five,” she said with conviction. “They may be assholes, but that’s how adults act when they are deeply unhappy. They try to distract themselves so they don’t have to contemplate reality.”

“You’re so right,” I said, impressed by her insight.

“But they have kids,” Ashley insisted. “Don’t they care about their happiness?”

“Honey, I’m not saying it’s right, but being a grown up is complicated and shitty. You’ll see,” Buffy said firmly.

“Yeah, well, all of that aside, what the hell happened with that creature in the window?” I asked, wondering what was going on in Buffy’s personal life.

“There was definitely more than one thing going on in that house. I think Charlie was talking to a ghost, but that thing in the window wasn’t a ghost. It was, like, able to do stuff. It could mimic things.”

“What things?”

“Voices, for one thing. I can’t tell you how many times thought I heard Carter talking in the house in a room only to find that not only was he not in the house, he wasn’t even on the island.

“Then it began to mimic me. I didn’t realize it at first but there were a couple times when Michelle would start talking to me about something and I would have no idea what she was referring to. Like she’d ask if I’d had time to grab the dry cleaning or if I’d picked up the green tea we’d discussed.

“At first I thought she was just being absent minded, but there was this one time when I walked downstairs after having taken a nap and Michelle goes, ‘Back so soon? I thought the humidity might be too much for you.’

“I hadn’t any idea what she was talking about, but I didn’t want to be rude so I just gave a kind of noncommittal reply and she went on this bent about how ridiculous it is that people think running just consists of throwing on a pair of sneakers and heading out the door.  

“She pointed to my feet and said, ‘Do you even wear sneakers? I only see you in those flip flops.’ She was so, like, annoyed with me.”

“She probably felt challenged by the cute young babysitter taking up running all of a sudden when it was so obviously her thing,” Buffy reasoned.

“But that’s just it, I didn’t go running. I’ve never gone running for exercise. I hate it. I had no idea what she was talking about. But she’d had a full conversation with me, but it wasn’t me. The thing had pretended to be me just to make her mad. Oh, God, I almost forgot this, too: a couple days later I was in my room and I heard something fall down the stairs and whatever it was fell hard. Then I heard Daisy start shrieking.”

“Oh God, don’t even tell me,” I said.

“I ran out of the bedroom right over to the stairs screaming Daisy’s name and Michelle appeared at the bottom of the steps shushing me.

“She had Daisy in the Baby Bjorn, the baby was sound asleep. I made a stupid excuse saying that I must have heard a baby crying outside, but I know what I heard. I heard Daisy fall down those stairs.”

“Jesus,” Buffy breathed.

“A few days after that Mr. Roberts was supposed to be in Boston, it was a Tuesday, and I will never forget it. I was up really early with the kids and I decided to give them their breakfast on the porch because I knew Michelle hadn’t gotten home until after three the previous night.

“I got the kids all set up on the lawn chairs and went back inside to grab my coffee and when I came back out Charlie was saying, ‘Dada! Dada!’ and was pointing to the side of the house. I started to say, ‘Daddy’s at work,’ when the door to the outside shower opened and out stepped Carter, fully dressed in Nantucket reds and a polo.

“I almost dropped my coffee. I raised my hand to wave and began to say, ‘What are you doing back so soon?’ or something like that when he motioned for us to follow him. Charlie started to jump up to run to Carter, but something, I don’t even know what, made me grab his arm so he couldn’t go off the porch.

“Carter just smiled and kept walking towards the back of the lawn. I called to him again, but he didn’t look back at us. He walked right on through the hydrangea bushes into the sea grass and beach plums.        

“Charlie kept calling to him but I just stared. It was, surreal. He just kept going. I rushed the kids inside and Charlie went absolutely ape-shit that I wouldn’t let him go to his father. You know what I honestly thought? I thought that he was going to keep walking until he made it to the ocean, then just keep heading out. I thought he was going to commit suicide,” Ashley shivered.

I had goose bumps on my arms and Buffy whispered, “What the fuck was wrong with him?”

“Nothing,” Ashley replied. “There was nothing wrong with Carter. Once I got the kids inside I brought them upstairs and woke Michelle up, which was nearly impossible. Once I got her to listen to me she was so pissed. She wanted to know what time it was! She insisted that Carter was back in the city; she wouldn’t even go downstairs to look out the window.

Ashley screwed up her face in disgust. “Her breath reeked and she still had her makeup on from the night before, she was such a hot mess. Her husband was walking out to sea for all we knew and she was pissed that I’d woken her up!

“I made her call him. I found her cell phone in her purse and stood there while she called his cell phone and when there was no answer I insisted that she call his office. I had to know if he was in Boston.

“But,” Ashley paused, placing her drink on the small table between us before continuing, “he answered the phone. I could hear him saying, ‘Hey, Mish, what are you doing up so early you little drunk?’”

“No way,” I whispered.

“It was awful,” Ashley confessed. “I looked absurd. I know she thought there was something wrong with me, like I’d cracked under the pressure of nannying for them or being away from home or something.

“She stayed on the phone for a minute and laughed with Carter about my freak out. She said something like, ‘don’t stay away too long, it sounds like you’ve got a twin walking around the island and you know I get lonely.’”

“Ugh, gross,” I said.

“I know, right? When she hung up the phone I told her I wanted to leave. First of all I was fucking terrified, but I was just as humiliated.”

“Oh shit! You bailed on the nannying gig?” Buffy said in awe as though this were the wildest thing that Ashley had told us.

“What was I supposed to do? Things were totally fucking escalating. I’ve seen horror movies, I wasn’t about to be the fucking final girl.”

“Good point,” I said.

“What the hell is a final girl?” Buffy asked.

“I’ll explain later,” I said impatiently. “But, that’s it? You just left?”

“I did. I took a ferry off island that afternoon, I couldn’t stay there another second.”

Ashley said she hadn’t had any contact with the family since that day and had no idea what became of them or the rest of their vacation. She asked me if I knew what the thing was that had haunted the cottage and I gave a vague ‘maybe just ghosts,’ answer.

I asked her if she’d had any lingering effects after her brush with the paranormal.

“Besides the dreams, no,” she replied. When I asked her to elaborate she looked at her cell phone and said, “I really ought to get home. I need to go to bed.”

We watched her slip through the crowded patio, each processing the girl’s story in our own unique way.

“Carter, I mean, Mr. Roberts, has some secrets in his closet,” Buffy said knowingly.

No, you don’t think-” I began.

“Mm hmm,” she replied, raising her eyebrows as she sipped her drink.

“You’re too jaded,” I countered, more hopeful than certain.

“Where there’s smoke there’s fire,” she intoned.

“Just because she called an adult by his first name doesn’t mean anything chancy happened,” I snapped.

“Mm hmm,” Buffy replied.

That’s your take-away from her story?”

“Not my only take away,” she said. “I’m wondering why you pretended not to know what was haunting that house.

I looked at her for a moment and said, “I didn’t want to scare her.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about scaring me. What was it?”

“Something that can mimic, and I mean actually impersonate someone? It had to be really fucking powerful. I doubt there were any ghosts in that house. My guess is that Aunt Lydia’s Circle was cursed and a demon or whatever got that little boy to take it out of the place it had been hidden away.”

“Yeesh,” Buffy said.

“Yeah, well, either that or it was some sort of a Native American something or other.”

“Well if that’s the case, then good for them. They deserve a little revenge,” Buffy replied.

“True, but either way, I mean demon or not, those things don’t just haunt you and let you go.”

“Well, then maybe it will haunt the stick out of her ass,” Buffy replied.

Our server returned and asked if we would like our check.

“No,” I told him, “I’ll take a Triple 8 on the rocks.”

Buffy laughed and said, “I’ll have the same thing as Lydia,” then she asked, “So, what the hell is a ‘final girl’ anyway?”

 

i’ve been lazy about transcribing, posting and recording… but i’ve been killing it on the interview front. four interviews in the bag. keep your closet doors closed. don’t trust your neighbors. and for f*ck’s sake, humor me and check under your bed before you tuck in tonight. 
fuck. 

unnamedI’ve been sitting on this story for a while now. Jill called me in late July to unloaded it and I’d decided to bury it out of fear and spite, but in the process of clearing out my own demons, I came to realize that secrets are really dangerous.

We had to do some soul cleansing in preparation for the exorcism of our home. Demons thrive on shame and worry, the nasty byproducts of secrets, among other things, and our priest advised us to come clean.

I have your pretty run of the mill secrets. Occasionally, I don’t return the grocery cart to the holding pen, I just leave it in the parking lot. I pick my nose in the car. Sometimes I fantasize about running away to begin a new life, alone, waitressing in Colorado. I wet my pants quite frequently while walking the dogs or getting the kids out of the car, and it’s not the uh oh! I was laughing too hard and a little pee came out kind of wetting my pants. No, I’ve ruined two pairs of Uggs. The flat tire on Chris’s car didn’t just happen out of nowhere, I hit that curb pretty damn hard. I’ve had Botox three times and I’ll keep getting it until the relentless aging process calls for bigger guns. Sometimes I nap while the kids are at school instead of doing housework. I’m a gossip. I’m an angry mom. You can all attest to the fact that I use the Lord’s name in vain and I swear relentlessly. Oh, and I’ve never seen Top Gun, though I lie and tell people that I have if the subject comes up. It’s just too annoying to listen to people’s incredulousness and insistence that I simply must see it.

There is my list of relatively harmless little deceptions and white lies, but, as the preacher says, “lies aren’t color coded in the bible.”

Our exorcist insisted that bringing hidden things, no matter how insignificant they may seem, into the light would snatch them back from demons and drain their negative power. The technical term for all you Catholics out there is confession, and it was supes fun to tell the priest all my little offenses. But I had this one nagging secret that I’d kept for a while.

I didn’t think it was my sin to confess. It was a secret that I’d been holding for someone else and as I aired my own dirty laundry, I realized that that someone had put me in the role as confessor. A role that I had absolutely no right to and one that had put my soul in grave danger.

***

When Jill called me in late July and asked me to meet her for coffee about thirty minutes away in Newton I tried as politely as I could to make excuses. After I’d listened to her and her besties tell me their ghost story I’d never wanted to see any of them again, let alone catch up over coffee. Of course, I’d seen the three women around town a few times, from afar in Whole Foods or driving by in their souped up SUVs on Washington Street. That was as close I ever wanted to get to those witches again.

And I use that word respectfully. Those women conjured their dead friend and used her spirit like she was a genie. I didn’t believe that was the only dabbling they’d done in the dark arts. I simply couldn’t believe they could be that successful with such a powerful spell out of the gate and then just give up magic for good.

Hillary, Jill and Vanessa frightened me, and after I’d had some time to process their tale, I began to fear they would regret telling me their ghost story. To begin with, the story itself didn’t add up. What if they noted my obvious suspicion and realized what a mistake it had been to share it with me?

Hillary, Jill and Vanessa’s story of the drowning of their friend Claire on Morses Pond is Ghosts in the Burbs story number eight, If You Go Out In The Woods Today  on the blog and podcast. Go back and listen if you haven’t heard it yet and ask yourself if their story sounds genuine.

I did just that before I met with Jill. I wanted to refresh my memory. It made the truth, or at least what Jill claims to be the truth, all the more chilling.

When she reached out to me this summer it was right around the time that I’d hit rock bottom with my back. It was the days of only sleeping until about one o’clock in the morning before I had to get up and pace downstairs until morning. I was highly medicated and beginning to notice strange tapping noises in our home. I was in no shape to take on Jill’s stress.

She left me three messages and texted several times before I got back to her. I tried to beg off, but she was insistent. She said it was a matter of “life and death.”

I didn’t have one ounce of patience for melodrama, but she sounded so desperate that I agreed to meet her.

Jill thanked me over and over in a text and insisted that we meet in Newton. She didn’t want to risk being seen together.

“Whatever,” I texted back, to exhausted to argue.

****

“You look great,” Jill said as we sat down at the sticky, crumb-covered high top table. “Are you doing Paleo?”

I laughed, “No, it’s just nerves.”

“Well, they look good on you,” she replied pushing Tory Burch sunglasses to the top of her head. “I’m a nervous eater, I just stuff my face with carbs. It’s why I’m up seven pounds.”

“Oh, shush,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Well, I mean, I really can’t gain weight unless I try super hard. It was one of the things we asked for in the conjure. But, that’s sort of why I asked to meet you here.”

“Jill,” I grumbled, “I told you on the phone that I can’t deal with anyone’s ghost story right now. I’ve got my own stuff, I -”

“You’re the only one who I can tell,” Jill pleaded. “Please, just listen.”

“Fine,” I said taking a sip of weak, luke-warm Dunkin Donuts coffee. “What’s the problem?”

Jill leaned forward, her flawless skin glowing under the harsh fluorescent lights, “The story we told you wasn’t one hundred percent true.”

“No shit,” I replied.

“So you did know,” she declared, slapping a hand lightly on the table top.

“Yes,” I said simply, shifting in my seat. My back alternated between a dull throbbing and sharp pains that travelled down my left leg. In no mood to drag the story out of her, I’d listen as she’d asked me to, but I wasn’t up for an interview.

“Vanessa said you didn’t buy it, but Hillary insisted we were fine. When we told you about Claire and, like, what we’d done, we thought maybe it would make things settle down.”

“Did it?” I asked.

“No,” she replied shaking her head. “But we hoped it might help.”

“Why did you think telling me your ghost story would help things?”

“Confession is supposed to help,” she explained.

“Only if you confess everything,” I said quietly.

“Right, and that’s why it didn’t work,” Jill said nodding her head.

Her doe eyed, innocent look grated on me. Whereas Hillary was the quintessential Queen Bee and Vanessa an unapologetic bitch on wheels, Jill’s innocent front offended me the most. She was the girl in the power group in high school who would be kind to you in gym class but giggle and whisper along with the other mean girls as you passed their lunch table. Her sticky sweet act made her the most dangerous, you’d never see the knife coming.

“Ok, so we didn’t exactly tell you everything that happened the night Claire died,” she acknowledged.

“What were you all smoking pot in the woods that night or something?” I said getting increasingly uncomfortable.

“It wasn’t drugs,” Jill said quietly.

“Ok, well, I don’t understand why I’m the one that has to hear this,” I complained.

“She’s getting worse. Besides the three of us you know the most, our husbands don’t even know what we did after she died. I have to try and see if this will work.”

“Jill, I don’t want to know, if you need to confess go to a priest,” I said about to get up.

“Liz, please, she won’t let me,” Jill pleaded. “Besides, you already know too much. It will be safer for you if you know everything.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Jill. What did you guys do to her?”

“It really was an accident, really! We didn’t kill her on purpose – “

“Stop,” I demanded, panicking. “Please, don’t tell me any more.”

“I have to, you already know too much and I think she might come to you for help or, maybe use you to get to us.”

“Fuck,” I said, both resigned to my fate and grossly curious as to what had actually happened that night in the woods.

Jill took a sip of coffee (two Splendas and skim milk) and began her story.

“At the beginning of that summer we’d set up a little bonfire spot in the woods. It was hidden away in this valley, near a stream. We had a couple of cases of beer with us that night and were drinking around the fire the way we had done a million times that summer.

“Vanessa started to head back into the woods with Philip to make out, but Claire stood up and said that we needed to get going or we were going to miss curfew. We were supposed to be home by eight-thirty.

“Vanessa was drunk, and she told Claire to relax and stop being such a goody two shoes. Claire snapped back at Vanessa and told her to stop being such a bitch,” Jill paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “So Vanessa stomped over to Claire saying something like ‘What did you call me you little priss’ and then she shoved her.

“It was like it happened in slow-motion. We all watched as Claire lost her balance and fell backwards, she landed hard and hit the back of her head on a rock. And then she had, like, a seizure or something. Her whole body was writhing around on the ground and her arms and legs were flopping around. It was awful.

“Chris jumped up and pulled Claire onto his lap, she flopped around for a bit more and then went still. He got hysterical. He screamed her name over and over and then he started screaming at Vanessa. ‘What did you do? You stupid bitch! Look what you did to her!’

“Hillary had knelt down beside him to feel Claire’s wrist and Frank stood over her watching. All the while Philip began screaming back at Chris and Vanessa was yelling right along with them. John, my husband, walked over to Philip and put his hand on his chest to stop him from attacking Chris.

“Finally Hillary screamed louder than everyone else. She told us all to shut up so she could concentrate. She bent down to check Claire’s pulse again and she told us she couldn’t feel anything. Claire was dead.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I lamented.

Jill nodded her head and pressed on with the nightmare, “We all just stood there silent, watching Chris as he rocked back and forth holding Claire on his lap. They’d been together since we were in, like, sixth grade, you know? He was really her best friend.

“Anyway, I don’t know who spoke first, but I think John said he’d walk through the trails to a neighborhood and call the police. That started a whole new round of yelling. Philip had stolen the beer from his parents house and they would have kill him if they found out. Vanessa started freaking out because she had pushed Claire and even though she hadn’t meant to, she had killed her.

“Finally, Hillary broke through all the yelling, ‘Shut the fuck up so I can think!’ She screamed at us. We all shut up, hoping that she would take control. She did. She told us exactly what to do, and we did it. Chris didn’t want to, but Hillary finally convinced him that it was the only way.

“We each chugged another beer because part of our alibi was being too drunk to notice that Claire wasn’t with us. Hillary insisted the beer was an extra precaution in case we were breathalyzed. She poured a beer on the rock where Claire’d hit her head, to wash away the blood. Then she had us wait about fifteen or so minutes until it was dark out then Philip, John and Frank carried Claire’s body to the boat and as we were pulling away they tossed her out of the back to make it look like she’d hit her head on the dock.”

“Oh my God, Hillary is a sociopath,” I said.

“You have no idea,” Jill replied.

“What about Chris, how did he go along with this?” I demanded in disbelief.

“Frank and Philip talked him through it. Along with Hillary they convinced him that it wasn’t worth the trouble we would all get into if we told the truth. Claire was dead, why should anyone else’s life be ruined?”

“Said every teenager in a made for T.V. movie,” I remarked sarcastically then stood up. Jill looked up nervously and asked if I was going to leave.

“No,” I said, leaning my elbows on the table. “It’s my back, I can’t stay in one position for too long. It’s nothing.”

“You should do yoga,” Jill said knowingly, “It’ll really loosen you up.”

“I’ll have to look into that,” I said. “Anyway, how the hell did you get the police and everyone to believe you? I mean, I could tell you were all hiding something when you all told me the story.”

“They believed what they wanted too,” Jill said sadly. “It was strange. It was almost like it was supposed to happen the way it did. Like we didn’t have any choice but to follow Hillary’s lead. And it worked. She saved all of us from a mountain of trouble.”

“It does seem too perfect, how could seven teenagers keep a secret like that?” I asked, “Especially if they were drunk.”

Jill just looked at me and shook her head. Something bubbled up in the back of my mind. A little detail that the women had told me that night back in the fall.

“Hillary said she got that book, the one with the spell in it, after Claire died, right? But if you’re telling me the truth, as you know it anyway, then there is no way anyone could have believed you. Maybe Hillary wasn’t surprised by the accident, maybe she expected it.”

“How could she have known Vanessa would push Claire?” Jill demanded. “No, there’s no way, I mean… No. There’s absolutely no way,” she trailed off.

I stared at her for a moment and said, “Hillary’s book had a spell in it strong enough to conjure a dead girl, what if she needed a sacrifice to make that spell work?”

“It’s not possible,” Jill said, though I could tell she wasn’t so sure.

“There are lies within your lies,” I replied. “You guys even lied to me about what you ‘wished’ for or whatever when you conjured her spirit.”

Jill looked down at her coffee cup smiling sadly, “We were so young,” she began, “We thought we knew what we would always want. We asked to marry our boyfriends, we asked to be rich and thin and pretty forever. We wished for the number of children we would have in the future. We wished for good grades and good colleges and nice cars and health. We knew that it was everything that Claire would have wanted too.”

“You told me that you all asked to live near each other too,” I said.

“No, we didn’t ask for that, it was part of the conjure. We have to stay close to each other whether we want to or not. We realized that when we went to college. Things get, bad, when we are apart for too long. Vanessa and I ended up transferring so that we could be near Hillary at B.C.”

“And forgiveness?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” Asked Jill, confused.

“You guys told me you conjured Claire so you could ask for her forgiveness,” I said.

“Oh that,” Jill looked down at the table, “No, we didn’t ask for forgiveness. That was a fib, we, well we thought that making Claire’s death count for something would sort of, like, atone for everything.”

“Atone?” I repeated.

“Yeah, like, make up for the fact that we’d covered up the way she really died.”

“Jill – “ I began.

“I know,” she said, cutting me off. “Listen, we were young and completely self involved. I know that now. But believe me, we’ve suffered for what we did, more than you can even imagine.”

“Am I supposed to feel badly for you and your ghoul friends?” I demanded.

“No, no not at all. I, just, I was hoping you could help. That you might know what to do,” she stumbled.

“Ok sure, I know exactly what to do. Go tell the police what you all did so Claire’s poor family knows the truth. There’s my advice. Either you can do it or I will,” I threatened.

“It’s not that simple,” Jill replied. “Claire doesn’t want that now. I think there was a window in time where if we had fessed up we could have been released from all of this and Claire could have moved on, but that window has passed. Believe me, I’ve tried to go to the police. I tried to confess, really.”

“What the hell do you mean, ‘tried to confess?’ That’s bullshit.”

“You don’t understand. She won’t let me tell the truth now, none of us can. I got into a car accident on the way to the police station and when I finally got there I got so dizzy I couldn’t even stand,” Jill explained.

“Please,” I said, rolling my eyes, “You were just scared to death of being found out.”

“No, it wasn’t that. I wanted to tell the truth, I tried and because of that I wasn’t allowed to sleep for a week. If it were all that simple I would have done it years ago. And don’t get any ideas, you can’t go to the police either. Trust me, she’ll retaliate. Her power has grown like crazy. We didn’t know that would happen, but somehow she is drawing power from us, or maybe she’s just gotten used to being dead.”

“Or maybe her power comes from blind rage at you for putting her in this position,” I countered.

“Maybe,” Jill replied.

I sat back down in the tall chair, my leg both numb and throbbing. The nerves in my back caused the pain to travel, making me antsy and exhausted.

“Jill, what is it then? What exactly is she doing, just tell me so I can go home and forget about you and your friends.”

“She’s always there now, everywhere I go. I can’t look in mirrors anymore, if she isn’t directly behind me in the bathroom then she’s peeking around a doorway in the background. That’s her favorite trick. Staying just out of sight so you have a moment of relief, thinking that she might not be there before you spot her.

“The worst though was last week I was out walking our dogs around the pond -”

“Morses Pond?? I asked in disbelief.

“Yeah,” she said, then seemed to realize, “Well it’s a good place to walk the dogs.”

“Ghoulish,” I spat.

“I suppose,” she acquiesced. “But that’s not the point. I was walking the dogs and ended up running into my daughter’s first grade teacher. As we were chatting Claire stepped out of the woods behind the woman and just stood there, right over her shoulder staring at me. She doesn’t usually come so close. Do you have any idea how hard it was to carry on a normal conversation with that woman? I couldn’t let her think I was a crazy person.”

“God help us,” I sighed. “Jill, I am sorry but you all made your bed -”

“Yeah, fine, but it’s not just Claire,” Jill leaned forward, whispering, “I think I am beginning to see other things. Things that aren’t from our, like, realm. I think she’s letting things in. It wasn’t part of the conjure, I mean, it’s not something that we counted on.”

“So it was all alright when you were getting everything you needed from her and she was just lurking around outside, but now that she’s pushing back a bit you can’t take it?” I said sarcastically.

“No!” Jill said, annoyance briefly showing through her botox. “She’s taken things too far. It was under control at first, we could manage her. Yes, we saw her once in awhile, at the edge of the field while I played field hockey, or a glimpse in the stands at Vanessa’s volleyball game. But then she, came closer. And she was so angry. I mean, it was all an accident. Even if we didn’t completely tell the truth to our parents and everyone, Vanessa didn’t mean to kill her, it just happened. What was the use in ruining everyone else’s life over an accident?”

I stared at the woman for a moment and asked quietly, “And how’s your life turned out now, Jill? You and your friends trapped her ghost so you could use her energy for a stupid wish list and when things got a little too real you gathered your little coven and bound her tighter.”               

“We are not a coven,” Jill hissed shaking her perfectly highlighted hair.

“You are the definition of a coven,” I said sitting back in my seat, attempting to find a more comfortable position.                         

“Why are you so mad at me?” She demanded.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Jill. I’m not mad at you, I am afraid of you and your friends. I just want you to cut through the bullshit and tell me why you dragged me here.”

“There’s no reason for you to be afraid of us, we’d never hurt you,” she said reaching her hand out to touch mine.                     

I yanked my hand and my coffee back and said, “Oh really? Is that why we’re meeting in a Dunkin Donuts in Newton? Because you’re so sure of our safety? What would Hillary and Vanessa do if they knew you told me all of this?”

“I’m doing this for all of us, but they think we need to go back into the woods to bind her again. I don’t. I think we need to confess. We can’t live on the same street forever, we’ll drive each other crazy, we’re already beginning to.”

“So you really have to stay together? How bad was it when you all went away to college?” I asked.

Jill considered for a moment then said, “When we separate, she is able to, like, draw us down easier.”

“Coven,” I spat before taking a sip of my coffee.

Jill ignored my comment, “She can latch onto us if we are alone.”

“Well, you’re alone now, is she here?” I asked.

Jill gave a small nod and her eyes darted to the windows behind me.

A chill consumed my body and I turned quickly to see a large Dunkaccino display.

“There’s no one there,” I said pretending to be annoyed so she wouldn’t see how terrified I actually was.

“I told you, no one else can see her.”

“Oh, Jill,” I said, sighing.

“Just wait, I know you’re skeptical, I get that but just look at this, please.”

She looked down at her phone. Punched the security code, swiped around a bit then handed the phone to me.

I hesitated but she forcefully shoved it towards me so I took it. I looked down at the photo on the screen then looked back up at her.

“It’s not photoshopped,” she said quietly.

I looked back down to a photo of three smiling little girls; their blond, brunette and auburn hair tousled by the wind. They looked to be about seven years old and wore big smiles and soccer uniforms.

Arms around one another they stood on a grassy field, a colorful fall forest behind them. At the end of the line, to the blond girl’s right hand side, stood an older girl, a young teenager. Her black hair remained untouched by the wind and cascaded down over a navy blue short-sleeved polo shirt. She wore khaki shorts and worn-in boat shoes, but no smile.

“No,” I said, moving my fingers to enlarge the image. As the image enlarged I realized that I could actually see the autumn leaves behind, or I should say through, the teen. I dropped the phone on the table as though it were one of the Angus Steak and Egg sandwiches marketed on a poster behind Jill.

“It’s her,” Jill said, sitting back in her chair and reaching for the phone. “That’s concerning enough, but look in the backgrough, by the treeline.”

She moved her fingers over the screen to select and enlarge a portion of the photo and handed the phone back to me. Again I hesitated to take it and again she shoved it towards me.

I sighed huffily as I accepted it. I looked at the enlarged area and saw a teenage boy at the treeline. Though the image was a bit blurry, it was still clear that it was a young man with dark brown hair. He too wore shorts and a short sleeved polo.

“Lurky,” I said, looking up. “Who the hell is that?”

Jill paused, “It’s Chris.”

“Oh, come on,” I said, attempting to hand the phone back.

“Look at his feet,” Jill said.

“What about his feet?” I demanded looking back at the photo.

Then I saw it, “They’re not there,” I said quietly.

“They’re not there,” Jill repeated. “I don’t think she has enough power yet to bring him back completely, but once she does, I just don’t know what they’ll do to us.”

***

I sat in my car and watched Jill pull out of the parking lot in her Land Rover. She was talking, either to herself or to someone or something that only she could see. I didn’t trust her or her story but I fully believed that she and her friends had done something wonderful and terrible and had completely lost control of it.

Did I go to tell the police? No. What proof did I have? It was my word against theirs. I publish ghost stories on a blog and podcast, I’m not exactly the most credible source. I mean, really, who is to say that I haven’t made all of this up? Maybe I just have an overactive imagination. Who knows what they could tell the police about me.  

At any rate, that’s the “true” story as it was told to me and this was my confession of Jill’s confession. I’m telling you this because our priest said that I have an obligation to share the truth because I shared the lies. So, do with the so-called “truth” what you will.

There was a time when I would have thought, what difference does it make. We all make up stories to support our version of events. We excuse ourselves from the worst offenses and justify wrongs.

We don’t have to invite everyone, we all just have to promise not to post any pictures to Facebook afterwards so they don’t find out. It’ll be fine.

Maybe my daughter threw a candy bar into my bag in the grocery and I didn’t realize until I got home. What am I supposed to do, drive back and pay for a one dollar chocolate bar? It’s fine.

I know I said I’d help out at the kids’ holiday fundraiser but I have so much wrapping to do. There’ll be plenty of volunteers there, they won’t miss me, they’ll be fine.

Sure he’s a bigot and a racist, but he’ll be good for the economy, right? It’ll be fine.

Slippery fucking slope, huh?

It all matters – every word, every deed, every opportunity to do the right thing – now more than ever. Look beyond the veil with me, be honest with yourself and tell me, who’s winning? Can’t you see the demons high fiving, the devil looking on and nodding his head with a knowing smile?

Even though my little spiritual warfare seems to be behind me, for now, I can’t say the same for everyone else. So I can listen. I can be here.

I won’t turn away. I’m a little shaky and knocked down a peg or two for sure, but I’ll be here just the same. A tiny library flier took me this far, I can’t imagine where we’ll go from here.

foxhouseSo a couple weeks ago I had every intention of sharing a classic haunted house story with you. Way back at the beginning of the summer I met with a young woman named Lydia who’d nannied for a family on Nantucket and experienced a crazy haunting. It seemed like a great story for October. Nothing like a good safe scare to kick off the high holy season.

But I’ve been distracted. You know, I honestly considered ghosting out on the blog and podcast. Just walking away from it without explanation and hoping that somehow everyone would understand. But it didn’t feel right and at the same time I didn’t know how to move forward with this project.

Please indulge me for a moment and let me have a middle class white girl break down. My day to day stresses me out enough. I have my hands full without having to manage creepy shit in my home on top of everything else. For example, am I messing up my children? Am I causing irreparable damage when I lose my mind because they took Sharpies and methodically blacked out page after page in my day planner? Defying all parenting advice, I allow them to watch more than two hours of television every day – without exception. And God help them, they are like me. They like Scooby Doo and the scary parts of Disney movies. They’re drawn to it and, in all honestly, I can’t wait to watch Ghostbusters with them in a couple years, then Gremlins and Jaws… But, what if they end up where I am now, too damn close to darkness and unable to look away.

And what about my marriage? I love my husband more than life. I quite literally could not exist without him. Despite that, most of the time now I am a complaining whiny bitch and he is so strong and kind that he can take it and still love me. But how long can someone put up with that before they just simply can’t?

What about the damn house and the cars and the dogs and the groceries and the twenty-percent-off coupon for Pottery Barn (do I really need any more throw pillows? Yes). How about the extra fifteen pounds that I have to lose and what in the mother fuck am I supposed to bring to an “upscale potluck?” I mean give me a small break. Then there’s my back and our families and the fact that one of my sisters isn’t even talking to me right now because she thinks that I am channeling a fucking demon who is influencing me to interview people and record their ghost stories.

No really.

She hasn’t spoken to me since last Spring. She said that the last time we were together the demon latched on to her for a bit then made her dog depressed.

No really.

So I have regular, mundane, relentlessly boring, Groundhog Day level issues that I’m already trying to navigate. I despise the term but they are “First World” problems and most days I feel like I am barely treading water trying to stay ahead of them.

Do I deserve this absolutely charmed life that I live? No. I did nothing to earn it, I just lucked out and go it. So why did I peer into the darkness? Was I daring it to come and get my lucky self? Maybe. Was I really thinking that it was all simply a fairy tale, nothing that some creaky floorboards and an overactive imagination couldn’t explain? I admit it, yes, I thought it was all way too good to be true. Like those “You’ve been pre-selected for a free cruise” postcards. Complete bullshit, but fun to imagine.

The problem was that when I peered so dismissively at the darkness it looked back and laughed.

And now, there is tapping in my home. It is steady and persistent and intelligent.

Look, I admit it, for the last podcast I layered EVPs into the recording of Eric’s story. It was schtick-y, I know, but kind of creepy, right? And around that time I began to entertain the idea of somehow writing these stories, I mean just making them up instead of actually interviewing people. Truth be told it takes a ton of time to meet up with people and hear their stories. Transcribing the interviews and then adding in all the side commentary takes an even bigger chunk of time that I simply don’t have. I thought that it would be just so much easier to make everything up, and frankly, I was beginning to really get spooked.

Something had to give for time’s sake and for my sanity’s sake. I toyed with the idea of continuing with the podcast, but dropping the blog. I simply am not at a time in my life right now where I can be relied upon to consistently use proper punctuation and tense. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is. As for creating these stories rather than collecting them, I imagined that it might offer a certain level of protection. I still love a good scare, but not a real scare. God bless the Internet; I can’t tell you how thrilling it has been to discover that there are other people out there who like this stuff too. In real life I don’t have anyone to talk to about ghosts or the last episode of The Dead Files. But sharing these stories connected me with people who are actually as enthusiastic about Ghosts Adventures Aftershocks as me.

Anyhow, the idea of making ghost stories up or somehow distancing myself a bit from them is moot. Apparently I was too late. The tapping in Emily and Chad’s interview? That was real.

I didn’t even know about it until a listener tweeted, “Tapping! I heard tapping!”

I went back and listened to Emily and Chad’s story and there it was. Persistent, intentional tapping. It was undeniable and it was what I had been hearing in my home for several weeks. Easily explained away, until it wasn’t.

Of course, we’ve all heard of this paranormal tapping. The taps in sets of three that always seem to be on the list of things plaguing a haunted home. I’d heard about these taps on countless reality television shows but, trust me, it is different when you hear them in your own home.

So, after I listened to my recording of Chad and Emily’s story I Googled “paranormal tapping” and came across a Wikipedia page for the Fox sisters. I’d forgotten about those ladies. Leah and Maggie Fox claimed that the raps and knockings in their family home weren’t random and they weren’t some sort of elaborate trick. No. They were the workings of Mr. Splitfoot and through him Leah and Maggie claimed they could communicate with the dead. The women travelled the country and then the world to prove that the dead remained near the living and they had something to say.

It was the late 1800s and people devoured their message. The women had a major role in the development of Spiritualism – the religion that began with table raps, expanded to automatic writing and graduated to the Parker Brothers Ouija Board we know today. They made it OK for people to contact the deceased. Their revelation hit just before thousands of people lost loved ones to war and it was through their method that countless people attempted communication with those who’d crossed to the other side.

The Fox sisters gave people hope. No longer did one have to rely on blind faith to be reunited with loved ones after death. The Fox sister’s otherworldly communication techniques allowed the living to reach out for answers to what is (ironically) the most important question in life – what happens after we die?

These women made people believe in the unbelievable, and then… they confessed that it all had been an elaborate prank. They admitted that the mysterious rappings began with an apple, some string and a gullible mother. But then, strangely, the siblings recanted their recant. As they reached old age they admitted that they had actually lied about lying. I don’t know what to believe, but like most things in life I assume it was complicated.

Perhaps the women had begun their communications with Mr. Splitfoot as a childhood prank, but Mr. Splitfoot didn’t take kindly to be called a fraud. He kept speaking to people and he kept rapping and that kept people seeking answers. What had begun as an apple on a string bounced against the floorboards became modern Spiritualism.

The Fox sisters aside, other people heard knocking in response to their questions. So who or what were all those people really communicating with? I suppose we could find one clue in the fact that Mr. Splitfoot was a nickname for the Devil.

 

***

 

Like the Fox sisters, my ghost story began with tapping. Not so much on the walls but inside them. It was unsettling, sure, though denial made it possible to ignore for a while. But after I saw a shadow figure in our basement, Chris had an ADT security system installed.

It was like bringing a knife to a gunfight.  

Almost as soon as the installation team left the alarm began to randomly go off without any apparent cause. The system sent us a text every time the alarm triggered and without fail, the texts indicated that the sensor attached to the basement window, the one under our porch (which is only about a foot high), had been tripped.

No one could possibly fit underneath our porch to trip the alarm.

ADT replaced the sensor twice, but it kept happening. I finally told them to just remove it since no one could break into the house that way anyhow. The problem was, the alarm kept going off and we kept getting those damn texts;” ADT Pulse Alert: 3:30 AM Burglary Alarm. Basement Window 3. Proceed With Caution.” The company returned to the house four times trying to “diagnose the problem.”

Chris insisted it was a fixable issue. I knew it wasn’t. I knew exactly what the problem was. I saw a shadow figure near “Basement Window Three” while I was doing laundry. I couldn’t very well tell the kind people from ADT that so every time they came I pretended to be just as perplexed as they were and thanked them for trying.  

Something followed me home and it’s wasn’t a friendly ghost. I’m almost certain that the dark entity at Emily and Chad’s house latched onto me and hitched a ride to our house. I never told Chris that I wasn’t wearing my blessed medallion that night. I haven’t admitted that all of this is my fault, but I know that it is.

At first the tapping was only occasional. Three little taps, just loud enough to catch your attention. Then they began happening throughout the day. At random times, sort of, but at times when the thing doing the tapping was almost trying to distract or add to the chaos. Like, when I was trying to get the girls ready for school in the morning and rushing around and the dogs were asking to be let out and the microwave was beeping and we were already fifteen minutes late. Right in the middle of all that craziness, right when I simply couldn’t handle one more thing. That’s when I’d hear the tapping.

We’d only lived there for about four or five months and we’d had a lot of work done to the house. Our old radiators had been ripped out and we put in a new heating system and central air, so I figured it was all that new stuff settling. Like pipes or something. But then this one rare morning when I had the house to myself it became obvious that it wasn’t pipes.

I was in our upstairs bathroom tweezing my eyebrows and leaning right up to the mirror when I heard three knocks right behind the mirror. Like, right behind the mirror. It startled the hell out of me. I jumped back and stood there staring for a moment trying to explain it away when I heard another three taps, this time above my head. On the ceiling. With just one tweezed eyebrow I ran out of the house and sat in Starbucks until it was time to pick up the kids from daycare and school. I took them to Perrin Park until Chris got home. I didn’t mention any of it to him.  

Later that week I was in the basement doing laundry. There’s a carpeted play area separated by a door from the unfinished part of the basement. There we store unopened moving boxes and other unnecessary junk and that’s where we have the laundry hooked up.

I’d left Kat in her bouncy seat in the playroom while I switched the load over. Next to the washer and dryer sits the boiler, behind which is a cramped little storage space that is too spidery and damp to actually store anything. I compulsively listen to podcasts during the day as I complete all the menial tasks that are parenthood. I only keep one headphone in, though, so I can hear Kat if she fusses. Anyhow, I was listening to Last Podcast on the Left with one ear, keeping the other ear out in case Kat needed me while I transferred towels from the washer to the dryer. Just as I slammed the dryer door shut I heard a little, like, hum. It sounded like, hmmmmmmmm.

I stood very still for a moment then took out the earbud. I wasn’t sure if the noise had come from the podcast, or Kat, or the dryer, but it was strange. I didn’t hear anything more so I went to clean the lint trap and as I pulled it out of the machine I saw something move behind the boiler out of the corner of my eye.

Look, I acknowledge that I was three-kids-and-two-dogs-and-a-move sleep deprived. I also admit that I was taking nerve pills and valium for two herniated discs in my back. Regardless, I saw something and it wasn’t one of the dogs.

It was a shadow in the shape of a small person. A small man. He was sort of hunched over, and he was looking back at me.

Honestly, I just stared. I didn’t move. I didn’t understand what I was seeing and my mind was trying to create an alternate reality. Because there couldn’t really be a shadow shaped like small man crouched behind my boiler. That would be fucking ludacris. So I stared and I stood very still and refused to believe my eyes, until he lifted up one of his small arms and his tiny hand pointed to the door. And then, I mean even if I was somehow imagining the shadow man and hallucinating, I didn’t hallucinate the fact that the fucking door started to slowly close. By itself.

A chill like I have never felt went through my body. Actually, it wasn’t a chill, it was more like the feeling that you get when you’ve stayed in one position too long and your arm falls asleep and it’s all pins and needles until it wakes up. I had that feeling from head to toe. I was frozen in place for way too long and when I finally did bolt for the door I was certain the shadow thing was going to stop me.

But it didn’t do anything. It let me leave.

No one believed me and really, I didn’t blame them. I even let Chris half convince me that I must have hallucinated. Which, really wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities what with my back problem and all the medication I’d been on.

I was able to put most of my fear away and pop it on the denial shelf in my brain but there was this one nagging detail. The door. Mistaking a shadow for a tiny man, sure, maybe that is possible. But that fucking door started to close by itself after the thing pointed to it.

I didn’t see anything else for a while. So I convinced myself that I hadn’t seen what I knew that I saw because no one else really believed it, and if I really did see it then there wasn’t enough nerve pills or Valium in the world to numb my panic. Denial became safety in the make-believe.

Chris didn’t believe me until he saw something for himself. He didn’t see the little shadow man though, he saw an actual man, or the apparition of a man I suppose.

We’d been arguing over nothing all morning. Which had pretty much become the norm. I hated not getting along with him, but it was like every single little thing that he did drove me insane. Anyway, that morning he was bringing up a bunch of stuff from the basement. I’d refused to go back downstairs and I wouldn’t let the girls go either.

He was stomping up and down the stairs carrying up toys and laundry up and I was trying to give him some space, but I was worried. I was scared really; I didn’t want him down there either. I was in the kitchen, near the door to the basement. Chris was headed back down the stairs when I heard him yell, “Hey!”  

Immediately, I had that pins and needles feeling all over. I went to the top of the stairs and was about to call down to him when he appeared at the bottom of the steps and yelled, “Press the panic button. Now!”

I stared down at him as he sprinted up the stairs two at a time. He pushed past me and hit the panic button on the alarm system.

The girls were all in the living room watching television. He ran in and grabbed Max and Joey, and I scooped up Kat, who was screaming and red faced from the loud alarm.

“What is happening?” I called over the din.

“Someone broke into the basement!” He yelled back. “Get the girls outside!”

We brought the girls out through the front door and across the street. Chris went back inside the house even though I begged him to stay with us. I stood there with the three girls, helpless watching him run back into the house.

Two police cars pulled in front of the house just as Chris walked back out our front door.   

“He must’ve climbed back out through a basement window,” he said.

“Was it broken?” I asked.

No, it hadn’t been broken.

Chris told the police that he had been coming around the corner to collect laundry when he saw a guy, a really tall guy, walk into the bathroom. Chris said the guy hadn’t stopped when he yelled at him so he made the decision to get us out of the house before going back in to find out what the hell the guy was doing down there. But by the time he’d gotten us outside and returned to the basement the man was gone.

We have those tiny little quarter-sized ground-level windows in our basement. Someone could not climb into one of those windows without breaking it. It would be impossible, especially for a big guy. And if they’d opened a window, let alone broken one the alarm would have gone off.  

But Chris was insistent that he’d seen a man – a very tall man – walk into the basement bathroom. He said he watched his hand come out and reach back to pull the door closed behind him.

The police didn’t find anything. As chance would have it our backyard neighbor was out planting mums. She didn’t see anyone come past the fence. The man simply disappeared.

After that, I set up sleeping bags for the girls to sleep in our room. When we talked about it that night after the girls were asleep Chris mentioned that the guy’s arms had been long. Too long for his body. He also told me the man had been so tall that he had to duck into the bathroom to avoid hitting his head on the frame. He hadn’t mentioned either of these details to the cops.

So a tiny shadow person and a big long-armed apparition lived in my home.

I became a sort of prisoner to the house. I couldn’t leave the girls there alone and I couldn’t take them out many places. There was only one of me and three of them. It was too much, especially with my back. I didn’t want to go to friend’s houses because I didn’t want to contaminate them. I’d become almost pathologically afraid of being alone, yet I was becoming increasingly isolated.

The tapping became constant. It was to the point that I almost didn’t even notice it anymore.

There were other things. Strange things. There was this one drawer that refused to stay shut on a side table in our family room. I’d come down every single morning and the bottom drawer of this two drawer cabinet would be open so far that it was about to fall out. The girls couldn’t open it by themselves, it sticks and you have to – well, whatever, they couldn’t open it. I’d never opened it in the middle of the night and neither had Chris. It simply was open every morning.

The batteries in the television remote went missing. No matter how many times I replaced them, they disappeared. The first few times that it happened I tore the house apart and couldn’t find them anywhere. At first I blamed the girls, but then I started hiding the remote from them. It didn’t make a difference. When I’d dig it out in the morning the batteries would still be gone.

All of these little things add up to family life, right? Just weird annoying things that happen when you have small children. Sleep deprivation could make me lose batteries a million times over. One of us could be opening a random drawer in our sleep. The shadow figure could have been a figment of my imagination or of my lack of sleep. Chris could have seen a burglar that had a super villain level ability to escape through tiny windows. The taps? Just taps. And none of it is particularly scary. Just strange.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just family life and sleep deprivation.

The tiny shadow man waits just around corners sometimes so that when I’m not paying attention I almost run into him. He’s there then he’s gone faster than I can process it. It is truly terrifying.

Twice Chris saw the outline of a man in our bedroom window as he pulled into the driveway in the evening. We didn’t call the police the second time, we knew they wouldn’t find anyone.

The upside to all of this was that terror, true chilled to your core, catch your breath, try not to wet your pants terror, beats the Atkins diet any day of the week. Bye bye baby weight. Another good thing about hearing unexplained tapping noises in your home and/or seeing a tiny shadow man traipse around your house tends to put things in perspective. Traffic couldn’t stress me out anymore and I thoroughly enjoyed a long wait in line at Roche Bros. or Starbucks. I liked being surrounded by normal people and I tried to distract myself from my own worries by imagine theirs.

The woman in the LuLu Lemon workout gear was counting the calories she’d had for breakfast and trying to decide if she could treat herself to a skim milk latte or if she should save all her calories for wine. The middle aged man in the sport coat who was still wearing his sunglasses couldn’t remember if he’d cleared the search history on his laptop. His daughter had brought it back to college with he couldn’t let her find out that he’d recently searched for a divorce attorney. The teenage girl was hoping that she didn’t run into any of her mom’s friends because they would ask her how the college search was going and she didn’t know how much longer she could keep lying to everyone. Her mother thought she had a chance at Brown, but she’d secretly signed papers for the Army. I wished for these normal worries.

I should have called Biddy when I first saw that thing in my basement. I should have asked for her help immediately, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until Jenn dropped by unexpectedly to welcome us to the neighborhood and check out our new digs that I accepted my desperate need for help. The second she stepped into our entryway she turned to me and said, “You let something in didn’t you?”

I didn’t even try to pretend. I told her everything and then I called Biddy. I don’t have the mind space to wonder how Jenn knew that we had a malevolent spirit in our home the second she walked in and right now I don’t want to know.

So, do I believe in ghosts now? It’s complicated. I don’t know about ghosts, but I know for sure that there is darkness. I know what I’ve seen in my home. I know what my husband saw. I know what I’ve heard and I know what the people that I’ve interviewed have experienced. But ghosts? They’re a red herring.

*****

“When did you begin to notice a problem in your home?”

“Well, we, I mean my husband and I, we heard the tapping noises first.”

“And when did you hear them?”

“First it was only at night and only once in a while, but then it began happening when I was home alone during the day.”

“What did the tapping sound like?”

“It was faint, always three taps in a row, evenly spaced. Sometimes we’d hear it once, sometimes we’d hear the tapping for an hour or so. It’s sort of inside the walls, but no matter where you are in the house is sounds like it is close by.”

“And you had the house checked out for plumbing issues, yes?” He asked, turning towards Biddy for confirmation. She nodded her head in affirmation.

“Good, that’s good,” he said and smiled reassuringly. “What was the next occurrence that caused you concern?”

I hesitated before answering him, “I saw a shadow. In the basement. I was doing laundry and just out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. When I looked I saw a tiny man, I mean, not an actual man, it was a shadow shaped like a man and it was looking back at me,” Chris reached over and took my hand. “It made the basement door close by itself.”

“And you are certain this wasn’t a person, an intruder, perhaps?” The man asked.

“Yes,” I said, unwilling to elaborate.

“I’m sorry that happened, dear,” he said kindly. “Did the shadow man try to engage you? Did he move toward you, or, perhaps did you hear any noise or words come from him?”

“No,” I replied.

“And Chris? Have you seen this ‘shadow man?’”

“No, not the shadow guy, but I’ve seen something else. It’s a tall man with long arms. It had to duck to walk into the basement bathroom and I’ve seen it in the windows.”

“Tell him about the scratches too,” I prompted. Chris looked at me and gave a small head shake.

“It’s alright,” Biddy prompted, “he’s heard just about everything before.”

Chris sighed and said, “I’ve been scratched on my back several times. A couple of times in my sleep so we might explain that away, but it’s happened during the day too.”

“I think it was the shadow man that was doing it, but I can’t be sure, of course,” I added.  

“Were you ever scratched?” Asked the man.

“No, never scratched,” I said.

He nodded his head and exchanged a look with Biddy.

“What?” I demanded, looking between them. “Is that significant?”

“It would be more significant if you had been scratched, yes. So the fact that you have not been touched is a good thing. Other than you being scratched, Christopher, the paranormal activity has been just visual and auditory, yes?”

“Yes,” Chris answered firmly.

“Good, good,” the man replied while making a note in his bi-fold.

“Don’t you think that the entity is amping up to aggressive contact, Father?” Biddy asked.

The priest removed his glasses and sighed. He said, “Unfortunately, yes. I feel strongly that your home needs an exorcism. I believe there is a demonic entity in this home and that your family is under oppression. Without swift action your family could be in serious physical and spiritual danger.”

I reached for Chris’s hand and looked at him, “I am so sorry, it’s all my fault,” I began, but Chris shook his head and put his arm around me.

“What do we need to do?” He asked.

The exorcist closed his bi-fold and said, “Have faith. Things are going to get much worse before they get better.”

black-eyed“How are the renovations coming?” Biddy asked grabbing her latte off the table.

“You know, they’re coming,” I answered vaguely.

“You look like you haven’t slept in weeks,” she commented.

“Don’t pull any punches,” I replied, laughing, “The house is great, it’s just a bigger project than we’d expected so it’s been a touch overwhelming.”

That was an understatement. I wasn’t sleeping well, Chris and I were either walking on eggshells around one another or bickering like PTO co-presidents trying to choose an autumn fundraiser theme. On top of that, I’d begun biting my nails again. A habit I hadn’t entertained since middle school.

I’d reached out to Biddy for Emily (who suspected she needed her home cleansed of an evil entity) and then Biddy had reached back out to me. She wanted to catch up and discuss what had happened in Emily’s house. I hoped Biddy might fill me in on the banishment ritual that her old paranormal contacts had performed on the Hayes’ house so I brought along my digital recorder.

I began to ask her a question about Emily’s home when Biddy interrupted, “How are the girls?”

“Good,” I said, nodding my head. “They’re really good.”

“Even with all the construction?” She prodded.

“Yeah, really it’s just Chris and I that are stressed about it. We just,” I hesitated, choosing my words carefully, “we’re just getting used to the house, I think.”

Biddy tilted her head up a bit, jutting out her chin, “What is it?”

“It’s the electricity,” I sighed. “We’ve had a guy out and he couldn’t find anything wrong. The lights, I mean, not just the lights, the power to the whole house will go off out of nowhere then not even a minute later it turns back on. Anything electrical freaks me out especially since the house so old.”

“Anything else?” She asked, her eyes attempting to maintain a contact that mine could not return.

“You mean besides fearing an electrical fire?” I said with a smirk. “No, I just haven’t had insomnia like this since after Joey was born. I’m having these super realistic dreams of mundane nonsense. Like, I’m in college and forgot that I had a final, or I’m at the grocery store, checking out three full carts of Pirate’s Booty when I realize I forgot my wallet. Just stupid dreams, but they get my mind going and then I wake up and worry my way through the rest of the night. I’m sure it’s just the stress from moving and construction and the kids. Life stuff, I -”

“Let me send my electrician over,” Biddy interrupted. “He’s used to me calling and having him double-check old houses. I’ll get him over next week.”

“We’re away next week,” I said.  

“Where to?”

“Nantucket,” I replied.

“Even better. I’ll send him over while you’re away and he can fix whatever needs fixing. When you come home you can light that place up like a Christmas tree if you want.”

I accepted the offer gratefully.

“So that’s it, huh? Electricity on the fritz and some stress dreams?” She asked.

“Yup,” I said, picking at a cuticle, “That’s the gist of it.”

“Uh huh,” Biddy took another sip of her drink and seemed to consider for a moment before saying, “Eric, the tech guy from my old ghost hunting team, wants to talk to you about something that happened to him, but I don’t know if it’s such a good idea. You seem like you’re burning it at both ends.”

“No, not at all! I’m looking for a story for the blog,” I said quickly.

We chatted awhile about Emily’s successful house clearing, of which there wasn’t much to report. Biddy explained that Emily sensed a decrease in activity before the priest came to bless the house. Jane, Biddy’s psychic friend told her that though she could feel there had been something dark in the home at one point, it was no longer there. She reasoned that perhaps it had been too attached to their previous property to truly travel with Emily’s family. Whatever the case, Emily’s home was clear of negative energies.  

***

“Now, who are these handsome gentlemen?” Eric demanded, handing me a rectangular white box before bending down to greet my dogs.

“That’s Walter and Artie,” I answered, holding the door for Eric to come in.

“Which is which?” he asked.

“Walter’s the pudgy one,” I explained.

“Well, they’re a perfect pair,” Eric enthused. “My grandmother had Westies, one of them used to actually dig moles right up out of the ground.”

“Yeah, they’re supposed to be critter catchers but these guys haven’t had much luck,” I said. “Thanks for coming over during the Kat’s nap, I was afraid I’d miss the chance to talk with you. What’s this?” I asked, indicating the box he’d given me.
“Russell Stovers,” he said, looking up at me with a big smile.

“Cut it out!” I exclaimed, ripping off the paper. “It’s the Nut, Chewy, Crisp assortment! These are the freaking best. Thank you!” I gushed, genuinely thrilled.

“You really know your stuff,” he observed with a laugh. “I love ‘em too and I didn’t want to come empty-handed,” he stood and looked around, “So you’re doing some work, huh?”

“It’s a work in progress,” I replied, motioning to the plastic sheeting taped over several doorways. “We can sit in the yard, it’ll be much more comfortable than this construction zone. What can I get you to drink? I have coffee, sparkling water, tea -”

“Sparkling water would be perfect,” he replied.

I poured him the water, grabbed my own coffee, the box of candy and the baby monitor and lead Eric outside. We arranged ourselves on two Adirondack chairs and the dogs happily sat near our feet. It was early August and rather warm but a big old maple tree shaded us from the sun and a light breeze kept us cool.

This was my first time meeting Eric. You know those guys who have an intensely loyal labrador retriever named Chief who follows them around without question? Eric was that kind of guy; a self-assured, quietly confident alpha.

He wore a striped polo shirt tucked into khaki shorts held up by an embroidered nautical flag belt. The worn in Sperry’s were a given. I could picture him on a dock, loading a Yeti cooler onto his Boston Whaler, or grilling ribs in the backyard, or patiently standing in a long line at Starbucks with a smile on his face.

All of this was a total shock to me. I’d pictured a totally different Eric. The only thing I knew about him beforehand was that he was the “tech guy” on Biddy’s old paranormal team. I had imagined a tall, dark-haired thin man with densely drawn arm tattoos. The Eric of my imagination wore black t-shirts, torn skinny jeans and Vans. As usual, reality was so much more interesting than my imagination.

After chatting a bit about my choice of audio recorder (a little SONY digital voice recorder that I could tell he found lacking) I asked him what he did for work. I wondered what sort of “tech guy” he actually was.

“I’m an information security analyst for a financial company in Boston,” he told me.

“So do you, like, make sure spies don’t hack people’s 401K’s or something?” I kidded.

“Something like that,” he said, reaching for a chocolate.

I followed suit and grabbed a caramel before admitting, “I use the same password for everything.”

“Me too,” Eric replied, “I use my dog’s name.”

“Really?” I asked.

“No, not really,” he laughed. “Change your passwords, you’re going to get hacked you dingbat.”

I rolled my eyes and laughed despite feeling like an idiot, “Anyway, tell me about hunting ghosts.”

“I don’t hunt ghosts anymore,” he said seriously.

“Oh, I thought you were in charge of all of the technology for Biddy’s old group,” I said, a bit confused.

“I was. I began working with Biddy years ago helping her to set up video and voice recorders so she could document her ghost hunts. I got into the whole technology side of it, we were one of the first groups to use the Ghost Box. I met Frank Sumption at a paranormal conference back in 2002 and he gave me one of his first ‘Frank’s boxes.’ It completely blew my mind and made me a believer.”

“Is that the thing that scans through radio stations and lets ghosts carry on conversations?” I asked. I’d seen these devices used on Ghost Adventures and while they made for exciting television, I highly doubted they were paranormal walkie talkies.

“Technically speaking, an AM FM portable radio is modified to scan through the AM frequencies,” he explained. “An investigator may ask any spirits present to answer questions and since it is believed that spirit responses travel in the same frequencies of AM stations we’re able to actually receive answers to our questions. In other words, we can hold real conversations with ghosts.”

“Mmm,” I said, impartially.

“I get it, it sounds like junk science until you witness it for yourself. I know Biddy’s told you about Poe, right?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” I replied, jarred at hearing the name of the shadow figure that had trailed Biddy for most of her life.

“I caught Poe’s voice multiple times on the Ghost Box, in multiple locations, on multiple dates. His voice is very, refined. It’s unique, unmistakable, really” Eric insisted.

“I know,” I said, quietly.

“Oh, did Biddy play some of my recordings for you?”

“No I, well I caught his voice, I mean his laughter on the recording of our interview,” I admitted.

“No fucking way,” Eric said, obviously impressed.

“Yeah, his voice was definitely distinct. I can imagine hearing it on the Ghost Box must have been terrifying,” I said.

“Oh, it was, I can play some of the recordings for you if you like,” he offered.

“No thank you,” I said firmly. “But, is that what you wanted to talk about? Digital voice recordings?” I asked.

“No. Sorry I got sidetracked. I didn’t always believe in the paranormal. I loved science fiction as a kid and I’ve always been into technology, so hooking up with Biddy’s team just began as a hobby. Once I realized there was more to it than creaking old houses and faulty electricity, I started to take it seriously.”

“From what Biddy told me you guys had a lot of success hunting ghosts,” I remarked.

“Looking back on it, I think they had success hunting us,” he said. “But it’s not the ghosts I wanted to tell you about,” he took a sip of water before continuing, “You know, I haven’t told many people about this. Biddy’s a good friend, and she told me about your blog so I asked her to put us in touch. I think people need to know about the kids.”

“Kids?” I asked, praying he wasn’t about to go off about the so-called Indigo Children that were all the rage a few years ago.

“Yeah, the first time I saw them I was on a run around the Rockridge Pond Trail right off Cliff Road, do you know it?”

Wellesley was crisscrossed with walking and hiking trails and I’d jogged or walked the dogs on many of them, but I hadn’t heard of Rockridge Pond and I told him so.

“Good,” he said firmly, “Keep it that way. I saw them there first. I’ve thought so many times about that morning. It was a Saturday and I have a usual weekend running route, but for some reason I changed it up that day, it was a last-minute decision to turn off the road. I’ve wondered if they did something to make me turn onto that path. Really, they must have, it felt like a set up.”

“Hold on, who are you talking about?” I asked.

“Right, I don’t want to jump too far ahead, but it was the kids. The Black Eyed Kids, that’s where I saw them for the first time, on that path. Have you heard of them?”

“Mm hmm,” I managed to mumble. I did know about the Black Eyed Children, though I wished that I’d never heard of them. Part of the lore of these Black Eyed Kids is that they will only appear to you if you know about them. So, let me just give you a warning, dear creeped out reader: if you do not want to know about them and test that part of the lore, stop reading now and come back for the next story. Earlier this summer I interviewed a nanny in Nantucket and she had an awesome haunted house story. If you don’t want to tempt fate, skip the rest of this tale.  

But for those of you who plan to ride this out, the phenomena of the Black Eyed Children is well documented and pervasive. The first documented encounter appears to be from Brian Bethel in 1998. The journalist’s story spread across the internet after an email detailing his encounter went viral as it was forwarded by friends, friends of friends, and so forth.

As the story goes, Bethel was on his way to pay a bill when he pulled his car over in front of a movie theater to use the light from a street lamp to write a check. Two kids approached his car and knocked on his window. He was immediately filled with intense fear. Not the kind of fleeting fear that occurs when someone startles you, no, he said it was a dread like he’d never felt before.

One kid asked if Bethel would give them a ride to their mother’s house. The boy insisted that “it wouldn’t take long,” they just needed money to see a movie at the theater. “We’re just kids,” the kid insisted before raising his face and showing Bethel his black eyes. No pupils. No irises. Just blackness. Appropriately, Bethel freaked out. The boy continued, “We can’t come in unless you tell us it’s OK.” Like the smartest man in a horror movie, Bethel pealed out of there and looked in the rear view mirror only to see that the two kids had disappeared.

Google “Black Eyed Kids” or “BEK” and you’ll find countless stories of encounters with these beings. I would love to lump these creatures in with tales of the Slenderman or Dogmen. Sure, totally credible sources who have absolutely no reason whatsoever to tell these horrifying stories have reported seeing all of these creatures, but I prefer to believe that it is all fiction because if it isn’t, if there really are Black Eyed Children and packs of Dogmen in the woods, then we simply are not safe. Ever.

And here was Eric. Physically fit, technologically minded, preppy and apparently of sound mind telling me that he’d had an encounter with Black Eyed Kids. Safety is a facade.

“You really have heard of these things?” Eric asked, a bit shocked.

“I’ve read a few stories about them,” I replied. “I know enough about them to know that I never ever want to be anywhere near one.”

Eric looked at the old tree above us for a moment, then said, “Biddy told me you were interested in the paranormal, but, forgive me, you don’t really seem the type.”

“Right back ‘atcha,” I countered with a smile. “You look like you should be golfing.”

“And you look like you should be driving that Suburban parked out front to the local chapter of Oprah’s book club. I’d even bet that you’re the only one who actually read the book,” he shot back with a smirk.

“You got me,” I said laughing, then I grabbed another chocolate and asked, “So what happened?”

“It was last fall and I was out for my run this one Saturday morning. I usually run out to Natick Center then come back and finish with a loop around Lake Waban.”

“That’s far,” I commented. “Are you training for something?”

“Always,” he answered. “Do you run?”

“Not recently,” I replied. Between our recent move and a family trip to Nantucket I’d thrown my back out to an extent that I had never done before. I was literally sleeping on my kitchen floor. It was the hardest, smoothest surface in the house and it allowed me to sleep until about three a.m. each night. I was on serious nerve pills and muscle relaxers. Though I’d been a faithful (slow and awkward) jogger for the past fifteen years or so, I had two marathons under my belt. I used to think of myself as physically able to conquer discomfort. But I had been proven wrong, I hadn’t been able to jog in a couple of months. The pain had been too great.

“A break is good every once in a while,” he replied kindly, sensing there was more to the story.

“Sometimes,” I half-heartedly agreed.

“Well, that morning I decided to change up my route. I planned to run out and back on Cliff Road and then maybe stop at Starbucks before heading home.”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“In a neighborhood off Central Street, over near E.A. Davis,” he replied with a wave of his hand. “It was one of those perfect running mornings, you know? A crisp, overcast fall morning with a slight breeze and my legs felt great. It was effortless.”

I just nodded my head, surprised to find myself holding back tears. I really missed running.  

Eric continued, “So I’m running out on Cliff Road and I see this trail sign for Rock Ridge Pond. Have you been there?”

I shook my head no, I hadn’t ever even heard of it and told him so.

“Yeah, me neither,” he replied. “I figured I’d take a quick detour and check it out. The leaves had all begun to turn so it was a good day for a trail run.

“The path is rather wide at first, tree-lined and totally covered overhead and then it opens to a small clearing with this random granite table and benches. I remember wishing I had my phone with me. With the fall foliage and the pond in the background it would have made for a spooky photo.

“I stopped for a moment, getting my bearings. There were a few paths I could take. Two looked like they led back into neighborhoods, but a third appeared to skirt the pond so I chose that one. It was narrow, and I was watching my feet as I ran since the ground was covered with rocks and tree roots. The trail has a couple of little wooden walkways to keep you from stepping into muck. I’d just crossed the second walkway and was headed up a short incline when I looked up and saw this little boy sitting on the ground, hunched over next to a cluster of trees. One of his legs was pulled to his chest and the other was straight out.

“It gave me a real start. I actually stopped short and just stared for a minute, trying to catch my breath. I figured that he’d fallen and maybe hurt his leg or something, but there was something off about him. He must have heard me coming, but he didn’t move a muscle. It even crossed my mind for a moment that he might be deaf.

“‘You alright there, buddy?’ I called to him. I was probably about twenty, maybe twenty-five feet away from him. His head tilted to the side a bit and he said something, but he didn’t look up and I couldn’t hear him. Something made me not want to get anywhere near this kid. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I was actually terrified. But, like an idiot, I shook the feeling off and convinced myself that it was just a kid and he might need help.”

“Here we go,” I said, wanting him to stop the story right there and talk to me about Ghost Boxes again.

“Yup, here we go,” he agreed, “I took a few steps forward and called to him again, ‘Hey, buddy, what’s up?’ The kid just shook his head back and forth. At this point that twinge of fear I had turned into annoyance. I’d been having an awesome run, why the hell had I turned down this path, you know? I kept walking towards him and the little fucker just sat there stock still.

“I considered turning around but, you know what? I honestly thought that maybe it was one of those television What Would You Do? set ups. Like a camera was going to pop out of the woods and some reporter would accuse me of being a spineless bastard.”

Eric and I laughed at this for a moment and I agreed, “I live in constant fear of undercover investigations. That’s why I always return my grocery cart to the holding pen.”

“Well, if that had been the case then it would have accounted for the way the whole scene just didn’t feel right,” said Eric. “As I got closer to him I noticed his clothes. They weren’t right either. He reminded me of a kid from the 1950s. He looked like he could have fit in on the set of Stand by Me with his white t-shirt, too-short jeans and Chucks.”

“Stop it,” I said, recognizing the outdated clothing as a signature mark of the Black Eyed Kids.

“I know, it was unsettling and confusing. He mumbled something again and I said, ‘Kid, I can’t hear you. Do you need any help?’ I was still walking towards him, and I got within about ten feet of him when another boy steps out from behind the trees.”

“Oh no,” I said quietly.

“Yeah, it startled the hell out of me. I think I said something like, ‘What the hell is this?’ The other kid, the one that came out from behind the tree, said to the ground, ‘Hello, sir. Can we use your phone to call our mom?’”

“No, no, no,” I said, groaning. “Are you for real with this, or are you pulling my leg?”

“No, I’m dead serious. I’ve been to the ParaCon events, I’ve read the stories on CreepyPasta (http://www.creepypasta.com/). The second that kid spoke, I knew exactly what was happening. And if the creepy kid on the ground was Will Wheaton in Stand By Me, then this out-of-the-woods bastard was Kiefer Sutherland.”

“What did you say to him?” I asked. “Or, I mean, did you just turn around and run away?”

“That’s what terrifies me the most about the entire experience. I didn’t react at first. Somehow, I couldn’t. It was as if I were watching it happen to me. The boy on the ground tilted his head up a bit, but I didn’t look at him. I had my eyes on the older one. He looked like he was maybe fourteen. He hadn’t looked up, he was still staring at the ground and said, ‘My brother’s had an accident, sir. I’d like to call our mother. May I please use your phone?’ He reached out one of his hands and then took a step towards me. That snapped me out of my daze. I didn’t want that kid anywhere near me.

“I backed away a couple of steps and held my hands out in front of me. I said that I hadn’t brought my phone on the run but that I’d be happy to jog back to the road and knock on a door so someone could call for help. I don’t know why I was holding up a facade like this was all normal, but something inside told me to play it cool.

“The older kid started shaking his head back and forth slowly then goes, ‘Sir, we won’t be allowed in. Please, let us use your phone.’ All of a sudden it occurred to me that there might be more of them there in the woods. I wanted to turn and look behind me, but I was terrified to take my eyes off those two freak shows.”

“Oh God, I hadn’t even thought of the possibility of more of them,” I said, horrified.

“I’ve spent so much time thinking about that day, about those few moments. Sure, the kids were weird and dressed oddly, but, I mean, the terror I felt is almost indescribable. The evil emanating off those kids, or whatever the hell they were, it was real. My reaction was primal.”

“How did you get out of there?” I demanded, peeling the wrapper off of a chocolate.

“I was backing up slowly and the older boy kept walking towards me, still staring at the ground. I kept my eye on the little one, but he was sitting still. ‘Look guys, it’ll take me ten minutes tops to get back to that neighborhood. I’ll grab some help and be right back,’ I said. Then I was about to turn and sprint the hell out of there when the little one looked up.”

“The eyes,” I said, shaking my head back and forth.

“Those eyes,” he agreed, leaning down to scratch Artie’s back.

“All black?” I asked.

“Yeah, completely. When you read about it, or see those drawings or Photoshopped pictures of the Black Eyed Kids they really look creepy. But, I still haven’t been able to find one that shows what they actually look like. The kid’s entire eyeball was black. He looked like a totally normal teenager, but his eyeballs were black.

“They weren’t shiny, they didn’t have a glow or anything, they were just completely and totally black, like they’d been replaced by dull marbles. I for sure screamed. The older one started walking forward quickly and he looked up too. Same thing, black marble eyes.

“Then he goes, ‘Sir, my brother has had an accident. May we use your phone?’ I just turned and ran. I don’t even remember getting out of the woods, I was back out on Cliff Road sprinting for my life. I ran over the bridge, crossed over Washington Street and ran straight into Maugus. It was the first place I came to that was filled with people and I just ran in the door then bent over with my hands on my knees sucking wind. I’m sure everyone there thought that I was a lunatic.

“A waitress came over and asked if I was alright. I just nodded and took a seat at the counter. I drank two cups of coffee and sat there for maybe, I don’t know, forty-five minutes before I was able to muster the courage to go back outside and run home. Thank God Noah was still there, he usually plays tennis Saturday mornings with a friend of ours, but the woman had cancelled on him.”

“Who’s Noah?” I asked.

“My husband,” Eric replied.

“And what did he think about all of this, I mean, you told him, right?”

“I think he was pretty skeptical of it all, but he could see how freaked out I was. He suggested that I take a shower and then the two of us head back out on Cliff Road to see what we could find,” Eric said and then picked Artie up to sit on his lap.

“Which you certainly refused to do,” I said, firmly.

“Of course! There was no way I was going back out there!” He insisted.

“Have you gone back since?” I asked.

“Hell no,” he said, scratching under Artie’s chin.

“Just to play devil’s advocate, here. Do you think there is any chance that you maybe – “ I began.

“Got punked?” He finished for me.

“Well, yes. I mean, considering your experience in the paranormal and the fact that you knew about these Black Eyed Children, maybe your mind was ready for it and these kids, were like, just playing a sick joke.”

“Yup, by that evening I’d convinced myself of exactly that. I know that was what Noah thought too, and by the next morning we were actually joking about it. He leaves for work early and that morning he left me a little post-it note with a smiley face drawn on it with huge black eyes.”

“Funny,” I commented, smiling.

“He’s a wise-ass,” Eric chuckled. “Over the next week I just convinced myself that it had all been some post-Halloween prank by a couple of asshole kids. I went from feeling embarrassed, to amused, to impressed by how they had managed to pull off the whole creepy scene.”

“So is that what you think it all was? A couple of terrifyingly brilliant pranksters?” I asked.

“No. That’s not what it was, at all. It was two Black Eyed Kids and they locked in on me for some reason and this past year has been a fucking nightmare.”

“Oh no, please don’t tell me these things are real,” I begged.

“Liz, they’re real. It’s all real. I mean, I don’t know about bigfoot or the whole cryptozoology thing, but all the paranormal stuff  you’ve heard of? It’s real and I have seen very few examples of it being positive.”

“Did you see them again” I asked, referring to the kids and ignoring his statement about all things paranormal. I was freaked out enough as it was.

“I saw them two more times,” he replied. “Almost exactly a week after my run, on that following Saturday, Noah and I were headed back from dinner. We pulled onto our street and the headlights flashed on the two kids, just standing in the neighbor’s yard across the street from our house.”

“What in the fuck?” I demanded.

“They were just standing there, staring at the ground. ‘Look at these two kids, what are they doing out so late?’ Noah said, sounding worried. I fucking flipped out. ‘Noah, it’s them!’ I literally screamed, ‘Drive, just drive!’ He didn’t, he pulled into our driveway and cut the engine. I was about to have a fucking panic attack and I told him so. I begged him not to open his door, and he looked at me like I was having some sort of mental breakdown. I suppose I was, but it was for good reason.

“He told me to calm down and just stay in the car. He was going to ‘go have a ‘chat with the youngsters and tell them to scram,’ and yes, he really talks like that. He’s a ninety-year-old trapped in a forty-seven-year-old’s body. At any rate, he opened the door and I clamped down on his arm and pleaded with him to close it and drive away. He wrenched his arm out of my hand and told me to pull myself together.

“He got out of the car and turned to walk across the street to the neighbor’s yard, but he stopped short. I yelled to him, ‘What? What the fuck is it? Are they there? Where are they?’ He just stood there looking up and down the street for a minute then turned to me and said, ‘They’re gone.’”

“Oh, God,” I said. “That is almost worse than if they had just, like, bum-rushed him.”

Eric nodded his head in agreement and said, “It took him a while to convince me that they were actually gone. He kept saying that they must have run back through the neighbor’s yard, but I knew that wasn’t the case. I felt like a paranoid fool, but I knew I hadn’t seen the last of them. The next morning I woke up with my first headache.”

“Oh no, so that part of the lore is true?” I demanded.

“Well, in my case it was, anyways. Not everyone gets sick after they’ve encountered these kids, believe me, I’ve done the research. But I was one of the unlucky ones. The headaches came first. The one that happened after we saw them in our neighbor’s yard lasted for three days. It wasn’t bad enough to stop me from going about my day, but it was ever-present and nothing touched it. I couldn’t get rid of it.

“Noah finally convinced me to go to the doctor that Tuesday afternoon, and she suggested that the migraine was stress induced and gave me a prescription for 800mg Advil. I didn’t bother filling it. I knew it wouldn’t help. And, at any rate, that first headache was gone by the next afternoon.

“Then Noah had a business trip. He had to go to Austin for two nights. He’s an engineer and they have an office down there and – well, nevermind that has nothing to do with anything. Anyhow, he went away for two nights, the Wednesday and Thursday night after we had seen the kids in the neighbor’s yard. He was worried about leaving me alone. He did believe that I’d seen something that frightened me, but I suspect he also believed that I was having some sort of mid-life crisis. He suggested that I reach out to Biddy and tell her what I’d seen, but honestly I was too embarrassed at that point to tell anyone else.

“You know what I thought, really? I wondered if maybe I was losing it a little. I’d been ghost hunting for years and nothing had ever really scared me. Sure, EVPs always gave me the creeps and there were a couple experiences in those abandoned lunatic asylums we’d traveled to for investigations that scared me. But other than that, I was a total bystander. I was the documenter. The recorder of everything. It kept me at arm’s length, know what I mean?”

I knew exactly what he meant, I just nodded my head and sipped my cooling coffee.

“Yeah, well, I bet you do,” he said with small laugh. “Your interviews let you just dip a toe in, huh? I guess I thought that maybe it had all caught up to me and that, after having witnessed so much and filled my head with that darkness, I was sort of, I don’t know, I guess I thought it was some sort of late onset paranoia.”

“Who could blame you for that?” I asked. “The very little that I know about the things that Biddy was able to document terrifies me and you were right there alongside her. I would think something might be wrong with you if you didn’t eventually become a little paranoid.”

“That’s true, I suppose. I wish that had been what was happening to me, that I’d just stuffed all the scares down for years only to have them burst out in a mess of paranoia. But no. The kids were real. The first night Noah was away I was an absolute basket case, I had two extra couple of beers and slept in our guest room because it had only one window and is located at the back of the house. It somehow gave me a sense of safety.

“When I woke up the next morning and nothing had happened, I again thought that I’d indeed had a stress response and some sort of paranoid delusion. That day was normal and so was the evening. Then, I was walking up to bed that night and I was about halfway up the stairs  when behind me I heard someone knocking at the front door.

“I froze. I just stood there, completely still, hoping that I hadn’t heard what I’d heard and if I did that whoever had knocked would just go away. It was about ten o’clock at night. Who the hell would be knocking at our front door?”

“Oh my God, my heart is literally racing right now just hearing this,” I blurted, crinkling another candy wrapper.

“I was in an immediate state of panic hearing that knock at the door. It was overblown and irrational. I knew those fucking kids were out there, I just fucking knew it. I just didn’t know what the hell to do about it. I’d read all the stories, I knew you weren’t supposed to let them in, and of course I wasn’t going to let them in. I needed to get them to stop coming around. I needed to get rid of them. I almost wished for a gun.”

“Oh, shit!” I whispered.

“No, obviously, I would never, I was just cornered and fucking overcome with irrational fear. I waited there for a few moments, who knows how long, it felt like forever, and then the knocking, well more like banging on the front door came again. I almost jumped out of my skin, but at least it startled me out being frozen in fear. I stomped back down the steps and looked out through the peephole.

“There they were. The little one was at the door, the older one was standing about ten feet behind him on our walkway. Both were, of course, staring down at the ground.

“‘Get the fuck off my property!’ I screamed at them through the door. ‘I’ve already called the cops!’ I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s what came out.”

“I would have been rocking in the corner terrified,” I replied.  

“Believe me, I wanted to, but once I confirmed that it was actually them out there I didn’t want to take my eyes off of them. What if they tried to break in? What if one of them came around to the back porch? I couldn’t remember if I’d deadbolted the back door.

“Our house is old, we have these two long, thin windows on either side of the front door. After I yelled at the kid I heard him say, ‘Sir, can we come in please? My brother and I must call our mother. She will be very concerned.’

“I know I sound like a complete and total lunatic, but I screamed, ‘Get the fuck out of here, I know what you are.’ At this, he leaned over, looked in one of the side windows and tapped on the glass. I was filled with a terror I have never felt before. I jumped back, but immediately looked out the peephole again. The younger one had stepped back from the window and was still looking at the ground. But the older one, I could just make him out in the front porch light. He was looking up at the door and I could see the light reflected off of his black eyes.

“All of a sudden I was calm, it was like I’d pushed the panic away and knew what I had to do. Loudly, but calmly I said something like, ‘I’m not opening the door for you. I will never let you in. You must leave my property now, you are not welcome here.’ This made the younger one look up at the peephole. He stared at me even though I know he couldn’t see me, but he did, he stared at me for an agonizingly long time and then he turned back to his ‘brother’ or whatever the thing was. The older one nodded his head and the younger one walked towards him, once he’d reached him the older one turned away from the house too and they walked back down the front walkway, took a right at the street and I watched them from our side windows until they were out of sight.”

“But then what?” I demanded. “I mean, it is real then, it’s all real? They found you and came to your house and you saw their eyes again. How did you sleep? What the fuck did you do?”

If I’m being honest here, I was almost outraged at him. I mean, how could he come to my house and tell me that these things were actually real? I’d heard and accepted a lot, trust me. Aliens, ghosts, even those fucking things that Peyton claimed to have in her basement. But Black Eyed Kids? Jesus Christ Almighty. I mean for the love of all that is holy, how could this be?

“I grabbed my car keys and cell phone, sprinted for my car and got the fuck out of there,” he explained, almost defensively. “I called Biddy immediately and told her what was happening and she told me to check into a hotel and she’d come see me first thing in the morning.

“She calmed me down, told me to get some sleep and advised me not to call the police, which I had been considering. They certainly couldn’t help and anyhow, and she pointed out that I wouldn’t want to endanger anyone else by exposing them to those things.”

“Oh no, I hadn’t even thought of that,” I admitted.

“Yeah, me either,” Eric agreed before taking a deep breath. “Biddy showed up the next morning with her psychic friend, Jane, who gave me a reading, which was pretty disheartening. But ultimately it was good to know what I was dealing with and that things were going to get a lot worse before they got better. The three of us put together a plan, which included having a priest to the house to perform an exorcism as well as having a medium come to place protections all over the property. Biddy also reached out to a Voodoo practitioner that she knew from New Orleans. The woman came up straight away and performed a ceremony over me and Noah.”

“Whoa, wait a minute, Voodoo?” I said surprised.

“Yes, well, no one is sure what these kids are really, so Biddy thought it best to pull out all the stops. If they are demons, then the priest would get rid of them. Some sort of entity? Then that’s what the medium was for, and the voodoo? Well that was a ‘cover your ass’ move. Once Biddy mentioned to the Voodoo practitioner what we were up against, the woman’s response let her know that we needed all the help we could get.”

“Thank God for Biddy,” I said.

“Amen,” Eric replied.

“But how did it get worse?” I asked. “If all these people worked to protect you, then what got worse?”

“See this scar?” He asked, leaning down so that I could see the top of his head. He looked back up at me and said, “The headaches didn’t go away. The migraines got so bad that I couldn’t leave my bed for days. My doctor ordered an MRI since I’d never had an issue with headaches before, and it showed two bright spots on my brain. Two good-sized dots, like eyes.”

My own eyes instantly filled with tears and I felt sick to my stomach, “Oh, Eric, no,” I managed to say.

“Oh, don’t worry. It was nothing good old-fashioned brain surgery couldn’t take care of. And it wasn’t cancerous, thank God. But if we hadn’t caught it those two bright spots would have eventually done me in.”

“Thank God,” I said, dumbly because I didn’t know what else to say.

“As far as I’m concerned I got off pretty lightly. You’ve read some of the other accounts from people who’ve been chosen by these so-called ‘children,’ right? If I hadn’t known Biddy, if she hadn’t leveraged her network so quickly, then I could have been in for years of health issues. That seems to be their calling card.”

“So, you think you were chosen, that they sought you out specifically?” I asked.

“Definitely,” he said firmly.

“The people that read your blog, they know this stuff is real, right? You’re clear on that?” He asked, looking hard at me.

“I don’t know, really. I think people read it for entertainment. But yeah, I mean, I get emails all the time from people asking if I’m just making these stories up or if I’m actually interviewing people,” I explained.

He nodded his head and put Artie back down on the ground before saying, “I think you need to make it very clear that not only is this story true, there are stories like it all over the country. There’s a reason the paranormal has become so popular. It’s not just because of all the ghost hunting shows or the internet. Things have been ramping up since the seventies. The only thing that we know for sure is that we have absolutely no idea what the things we call ‘paranormal’ really are.”

“You sound like Biddy,” I commented.

“That’s because we spent years working together trying to figure out what the hell is going on out there and all we have is evidence that there really is something happening and it can be dangerous. You know what happened with her and Poe. These, so-called, Black Eyed Kids found me. Nick Sayre is fucking obsessed with his Ouija board and that shit is going to get him or his family killed, or worse.

“Over the years, the people who we’ve hunted ghosts with have committed suicide, had horrible accidents, suffered from deep depressions, alienated their loved ones, become obsessed with chasing bumps in the night. And yet, can any of them say they’ve ever really accomplished anything or moved the field forward? No. We have EVPs, blobs of light caught on film, the occasional apparition, scratches in sets of three on our backs, personal stories, and a fuck ton of people scurrying around in the dark, every single one of them certain that they will be the one to piece it all together.”

“I guess that about sums it up,” I said. “So we’re just a bunch of assholes chasing this distraction and we’ll never get anywhere.”

“No. We might be a bunch of assholes, sure, but there is something out there that wants us to keep looking and it gives us tiny little breadcrumbs that lead to nowhere. Whatever it’s plan is, whatever it wants, it’s working. There are more people looking into the darkness than ever before.”

***

I waved to Eric from the doorway and ushered Walter and Artie back inside. I checked my phone and saw that I’d missed a call. Jenn, my old home invasion poltergeist acquaintance had left a message. She’d heard I’d moved to the neighborhood and wanted to drop off an housewarming present. In her message she invited herself over for a coffee and tour of our new home.

I found myself smiling at the idea. It would be nice to do something so normal and neighborly. With everything that had been going on at the house I’d sort of dropped out of my little social scene. I began to call her back when I heard Kat babbling from upstairs, awake from her nap. I’d have to reach out to Jenn later and invite her over, but not until we got back from Nantucket.

We were headed back to the island for a week’s vacation. I was thrilled to get away from real life and onto island time. The house we rented had a washer and dryer, which was good, because I hadn’t done laundry in, I don’t know, two weeks maybe. I just couldn’t make myself go back into the basement. Not after I’d seen that shadow behind the boiler.

unnamed-1Lord help me, they are the the bees knees. Once upon a time I lifted a bag of laundry and my back got really, really pissed off. I was able to talk it down, assure it that we were young, springy and totally capable of moving forward. Things were cool for a bit. We fought once in a while, but I’m sort of an alpha and I got pretty cocky. Now, six years, five moves, two marathons and two kids later, that shit’s come home to roost. My alpha ass is relying on nerve pills and sleeping face down on my kitchen floor. But I have a story. One that frightened me to my core. I will share it,  but this medicine makes me fuzzy and interview transcription is not a fuzzy headed game. Don’t worry, I’m still the alpha, mother fucker, and my uppity back will feel my wrath. Give me a week. The black eyed kids can wait. They’ve been waiting all along…

587-79Before I share this next story, I have to tell you that my husband’s name is Chris. He’s given me the go-ahead to use his name, though he never really told me not to, and it’s not like most of you don’t know us anyway. Besides, I will get too agitated if I have to keep referring to him as “C,” and so will you. The poor man was actually with me for this interview and he is traumatized. Which means, it’s gonna be a good one. So, on with the story.

The night started as a simple weeknight dinner at The Cottage with Chris’s collegue Chad and his wife, Emily. Chris and I were running about five minutes late and as I panned the bar area I spotted the Hayes couple immediately. Emily wore a kelly green sheath dress with gold Jack Rogers. A little bit of my ever-present social anxiety disappeared.

Trust me, I know that, at least socially speaking, I am a thirty-seven-year-old eighth grader, but I just like to feel as though I fit in. I was wearing bright pink sandals with a navy blue, sleeveless dress with scalloped edges. A stack of mismatched gold bangles and a pair of big gold beaded earrings completed my go-to cocktail party outfit, and it seemed a safe bet for this dinner. Chris worked with Chad, whose family had recently moved to Wellesley, and I didn’t really know what to expect from the couple. In small town fashion, I’d actually met his wife, Emily, at Perrin Park, though we’d only spoken for a few minutes.

We ordered drinks and made small talk by the bar about kids and neighborhoods while Chad went to check on the status of our table. Emily was fun to talk to and I immediately felt at ease around her. Whereas I typically dread the couple-on-couple dinner date because it so often felt like a blind date mixed with a job interview mixed with a marriage therapy session, I was already thinking that I might have found a new friend.

After only ten minutes of conversation I was planning to invite her to my squad’s next playgroup. She seemed like she might fit right in, and as any mom knows, if you are lucky enough to find a playgroup where everyone has roughly the same vibe about parenting, you do not upset the apple cart (or apple sauce squeeze-pack box, as it were). A free-range parent among helicopters will absolutely kill the vibe and vice versa. Our little playgroup had a sip wine and if they keep interrupting us while we’re talking turn on Paw Patrol vibe.

We hung at the bar for about fifteen minutes and when we were seated the conversation turned, as it so often does, to explanations of how everyone ended up in the suburbs with kids. Chad and Emily had met at Michigan State, she was from Ohio, he from Indiana. I tried not to spaz out and scare them away, but I just LOVE mid-Western people. LOVE them. They have a calm, reasonable assurance about themselves and a spot on sense of humor. Just about every mid-Westerner that I have befriended has unfolded like a rare buy-all-five-items Stitch Fix. In my experience, they have a refreshing lack of neurosis, a fantastic sense of humor, knowledge about interesting things like pontoon boats, and wild college stories.

I tried my best not to fan girl out. Chris started talking some sports ‘n such with Chad and the conversation split, with Emily and I discovering just how compatible we were and the guys talking about, well, I don’t really know what. Emily informed me that after college she and Chad moved to Manhattan, where he worked in Real Estate and she in some finance something or other. They had their three children in the city, Michael, her now seven-year-old, Benjamin the five-year-old and Margaret, the baby, coming in at three years.

After Maggie was born Emily wanted out of the city. She explained that ultimately it was the never-ending public restroom lines that did her in. She couldn’t take it anymore. After having her third, she was always scouting out the next bathroom and lived in fear of wetting her pants.

I had found my soul mate. I had to play it cool.

“I think you’re my soul mate,” I told her, after taking a huge sip of Chardonnay.

“Don’t jinx us,” she replied, sipping red wine. “Give me your back story.”

So I told her about our post college move from upstate New York to Boston, our slow crawl from Brighton, to Brookline, to the Back Bay, then finally to Beacon Hill and then, our inability to hold onto the dream. I glossed over the many careers I’d had, and she actually shrieked when I told her that I was a former librarian. Chad tried to break into our conversation to find out what was so thrilling and she actually shushed him and then peppered me with questions about librarianship.

I had a warm and fuzzy feeling that just grew and grew throughout the dinner. These people were funny and they laughed and drank and told interesting stories. We’d found new friends! New friends!! My friends are really just about the most important part of my life. I realized when the girls were babies that if we were going to survive parenthood, then we needed to establish a solid network of solid couples for Chris and I to lean on and find a way to laugh at the craziness with. We found those people, and here were two brand spanking new friends to add to the circle. I had to stop myself from asking the waiter to take a photo of the four of us.

We were eating dessert when Chris asked, “How long have you guys been here in town? A couple months, right?”

Chad looked at his wife and replied, “We’ve been in Wellesley about four months and we’re already on our second house.”

“How?” I asked, looking between them.

“You think our move was complicated?” Chris commented. “Wait until you hear what these guys have been through.”

I waited expectantly, but they just exchanged a sideways glance and looked back Chris and I.

“Was it that bad?” I asked.

“It was pretty ridiculous,” Emily confirmed. “We were only in the house for about two months when we called our real estate agent and asked her to find us a new home,” she paused and drained her wine glass. “It just became un-livable, we tried to make it work but we couldn’t.”

Chad nodded his head in agreement. Chris and I waited for further explanation, but when none came I demanded, “What was it? You can’t leave us hanging like that, was there fecal matter in the water or something?”

Chad snorted and a little bit of his vodka tonic came out his nose. Emily laughed and said, “I wish it had been as easy as shit in the water. No, it was just – ”

“We had ghosts,” Chad blurted.

“Chad!” Emily growled, thoroughly annoyed. “They’re going to think we are crazy.”

“Oh, shit,” Chris said in anticipation of my freak out.

“Shut the fuck up!” I declared, slapping my hand on the table. “You seriously moved into a haunted house?”

“Yes,” Emily admitted, embarrassed.

“I must know everything!” I practically shouted.

This cinched the deal, I was in friend love, and I didn’t care who knew it.

Chad looked at his phone, it was around nine o’clock, “We have to relieve the au pair,” he said. “How late do you guys have the sitter tonight?”

“Until ten thirty,” I answered.

“Why don’t you come over to the house, it’s just around the corner. We’ll have a drink and tell you our ghost story and I can show Chris that new grill we were talking about.”

Chris started to decline the offer but I put my hand on his arm to stop him and said, “We would love to!”

As we followed the Hayes’ car out of the parking lot Chris grumbled, “Let’s hope you didn’t just sign us up to swing.”

Stop it,” I said, tisking and rolling my eyes.

 

 

***

 

The Hayes’ au pair was waiting in the family room when we got to the house. She was a tall, thin, leggy blond with a huge smile and bright green eyes. One look at this girl and I was ready to shove Chris out the door and into the car.

 

Emily introduced us to Alison, the twenty-year-old girl from Denmark. After shaking hands Chris enthused, “I’ve always wanted to travel to Europe.”

I had to stop myself from saying, “Settle down; we are not getting an au pair.”
Of course, the hubs has never given me cause to worry. My aversion to au pairs is about my own insecurities, paranoia and fear of aging. I simply don’t want to be replaced with a newer, less bitchy model. So I certainly wasn’t going to move a newer, less bitchy model into my home for the same reason I don’t stock Oreo cookies and Parliament Lights in the house: temptation.

Anyhow, gorgeous Alison filled Emily in on the kids’ evening activities then excused herself to her suite above the garage. The guys went to the backyard to see the aforementioned grill while Emily and I headed for the kitchen to pour drinks. We walked through the cozy family room with its overstuffed sectional couch (grey) and colorful throw pillows. Family photos decorated the walls alongside framed kid’s artwork.
“Wait,” I said, following Emily through a set of double doors. “When did you guys move in?”

“About a month and a half ago,” she replied over her shoulder.

“How are you this settled? We’ve been in our house for a couple months and I’m still using a moving box as a night table.”

Emily waved off the comment, “Half of our stuff was still packed in the basement of the old house. The move was easy.”

I just made an affirmative noise. Two moves, with three young children in less than four months. How had she managed all of this? The rooms looked freshly painted (white on white, all of the color in the home came from artwork and accents). The floors were newly refinished (in a dark chocolate colored stain).

When I stepped into the kitchen it instantly became my favorite place in the whole world. The cabinets were a gleaming, glossy navy blue, set off by white walls and countertops. A large center island, and a long farmhouse style table (above which hung a crystal chandelier) completed my new happy place. I saw a hand towel draped over the oven’s handle that read, “It’s not drinking alone if the kids are home.”
I pointed to it and asked, “Alright, can we go steady?” Emily laughed and we set about pouring drinks.

As I happily watched her pour some peanut M&Ms into a big navy blue and white striped bowl I said, “OK, I’m going to come clean. I blog about ghost stories in Wellesley. I am a total freak.”

No,” Emily said in excited disbelief.

“I do,” I admitted, hoping this didn’t end the magical night. “You wouldn’t believe how haunted this town is.”

“Oh, I believe it,” she said. “You can totally tell my story on your blog, it’s a doozy. I used to love watching those reality T.V. ghost shows. I can’t anymore. That shit is real and it is nothing compared to what we went through.”

I couldn’t believe it. First of all, hashtag soul mates. Second of all, I’d never had a haunted friend before. It was amazing. I asked her if I could record the story (fate allowed that I’d left my little digital recorder in the car) and she enthusiastically agreed.

 

***

 

 

We met up again with the guys on the deck and each of us sank into one of four (navy blue and white striped cushioned) lawn chair set cozily around a circular table on their patio. Chris shook his head when he saw me set the recorder on the little garden stool between Emily and Chad’s seats.

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m sure it won’t be that scary.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Chad said ominously. “I haven’t slept through the night since we moved to Wellesley.”

“None of us have,” Emily agreed.

“Shit,” Chris said, surrendering to his fate. “Then we’re going to have to call an Uber because I’m not listening to this sober.”

“Deal,” I agreed then asked, “So what the hell happened?”

With her wine glass gripped between her hands, Emily began, “We bought a brand new house off Cliff Road. When Chad found out he could transfer to the Boston office we had, like, one weekend to come up here to find a house. We needed to buy a place in time for the school year to start for Michael, so we wouldn’t have any time for renovations prior to moving in, and most of the houses we saw definitely needed work. Then we saw the house. It was pretty much only framed, but we looked at the plans and it seemed like it would be perfect.”

“The lot was huge,” Chad chimed in. “Big backyard surrounded by woods.”

“I was never really, like, jazzed about the place, but I figured that was because when we saw it, it was basically a construction zone,” Emily continued. “It seemed like the ideal; a quiet neighborhood, bedrooms for everyone and then some. The five of us had been sharing one bathroom in the city. We were moving for space and suburbia. The house had three and a half baths, it was luxurious.”

“Was it a tear down?” Chris asked, referring to the town trend of demolishing smaller homes to build larger, more modern digs.

“Yeah, there had been an old ranch style house on the property that the developer took down in order to build the house.”

“We moved in the middle of August and I knew by the end of our first day there that something wasn’t right,” Emily confessed.

“I thought it was just the stress of leaving city life and diving into suburbia,” Chad said in agreement. “But it was undeniable, from the first time we stepped foot in that house, something didn’t want us there.”

“Like a bad vibe?” I asked.

“No,” Emily explained. “More than that. Weird things started happening right away. The day we moved in I was unpacking kitchen stuff while Chad and the movers were unloading the truck. The kitchen opened up to the living room, so I guess you would call it a “great room.” The boys were on the couch watching a movie on the iPad and Maggie was toddling around, bugging them every once in a while and playing with her Paw Patrol figures [See what I mean?!? She’s perfect for our playgroup.] I was unwrapping our wine glasses and happened to look out one of the kitchen windows when I saw Maggie walking through the backyard towards the woods. It took a minute to realize what I was seeing. I snapped at her brothers about opening the sliding door that lead out to the porch, but they seemed as surprised as I was. I rushed out to get her and walked her back to the house. I asked who’d open the door and she said it was the ‘pretty lady.’”

“Oh fuck,” Chris said, before draining his glass.

“What pretty lady?” I asked.

“That’s what I asked,” Emily said. “Maggie told me that a lady in the yard opened the door for her. It fucking freaked me out. Our movers were there, but they were a group of young guys. I was thinking that maybe there was a weird neighbor around. I mean, we were technically in a neighborhood, but the house was basically surrounded by woods.”

“We had an alarm system installed the next day,” Chad interjected.

“I insisted on having cameras installed too,” Emily continued. “I was so freaked out. It was, like, a total culture shock moving out of Manhattan and into this huge, secluded house. When we were in the city, listening to our neighbors stomp around overhead or overhearing their arguments through the vents used to aggravate the hell out of me. But this house made me miss that claustrophobia. I couldn’t keep track of the kids unless I gated half the house off. It was just too drastic of a change. Our apartment was tiny. There I couldn’t have lost one of the kids if I had tried.”

“We had this huge two car garage,” Chad said, putting his arm over Emily’s shoulders.

Tons of storage space. Anyway, I was stacking boxes with Kevin, one of the movers. We were taking loads from the truck and stacking boxes on one side of the garage. We were in and out, you know, passing each other as we went back and forth. On one of my trips from the van I slipped on the floor and almost dropped the box. Someone behind me said, ‘Nice catch, man.’ I thought it was Kevin. I put the box down and turned around to say something but Kevin wasn’t there, I was alone. I walked out of the garage and saw him coming out of the truck with another box.”

“Oh dear,” I said quietly.

“I didn’t mention that to Em, I tried to convince myself that I’d just imagined the voice. But, I heard it a few more times before we got out of that house.”

Emily nodded her head in agreement and said, “The next morning I was sitting at the kitchen table making out a list of stuff I needed to pick up at Target. This is weird, it’s hard to explain without sounding stupid, but I took a sip of my coffee, went to write something down then heard one of the kids call to me so I turned around to yell back to them. When I reached for my coffee cup again it had been turned around so the handle was facing away from me. I went to grab the handle while I was looking back at my list and my hand just grabbed at air.”

“No way,” I said, goosebumps tingling my arms.

“That was the calm before the storm,” Emily continued. “I’d say little weird stuff like that happened for about a week or two,” she looked at Chad for confirmation and he nodded his head. “Then I was on our back deck once, the house had this two level deck in the back yard and a wrap around front porch in the front, which were totally beautiful, but I never wanted to spend any time on either of them, there was something, like, off-putting about that yard.

“Anyway, I was dragging some pots around on the deck in the back trying to decide where I wanted them when someone banged on the underside of the porch, seriously, like, right beneath my feet. The top level was probably, I don’t know, five feet off the ground? It was so loud that I screamed. The two older kids were at school, and Maggie was inside for her nap. I had the baby monitor with me in my pocket. I backed towards the sliding glass door to go inside and all of a sudden the baby monitor went crazy with loud static and those beep-boop noises you hear when you put two walkie-talkies too close to each other.

“I had the worst feeling I think I’ve ever had in my life – well up to that point anyways. I ran upstairs to Maggie’s room as fast as I could and yanked her door open. I just ran over to her crib and grabbed her then ran out to the car and went to J.P Licks on Central Street. I called Chad to tell him what happened – “

“Yeah, I was glad you got right out of there, but so pissed that you hadn’t immediately called the police,” Chad interrupted. “I thought we’d missed the chance to catch whoever was sneaking around outside the house.”

Emily glanced over at him and said forcefully, “I called them from the ice cream shop and met them back at the house. One of them walked around the property while the other checked out the house. Then they asked to see our video footage. In my panic I had completely forgotten about the cameras we’d set up around the outside of the house after Maggie walked out into the back yard by herself.”

“Did they catch anything?” Chris asked. I looked over at him, I knew he was hoping it had been a person doing the porch banging.

“Nothing,” Chad said. “Well, the cameras didn’t catch a person, but when we watched the moment the banging happened, you could see Em jump up and scream and run into the house, and then there was a sort of glitch in the recording. It got staticy for a moment before returning to normal.”

“Fuck,” I said quietly.

“After that, I hated the house,” Emily insisted. “After only two weeks I was constantly looking over my shoulder. Obsessively checking the door locks and windows. I didn’t let Maggie out of my sight and I could tell that the boys were a bit nervous too. Michael began coming into our room in the middle of the night. He insisted that he heard someone banging around in the attic.”

“That fucking attic,” Chad chimed in.

Emily looked at him and repeated, “That fucking attic.”

I felt Chris’s hand tighten on my own and glanced at him, I knew he shouldn’t be listening to this, but this story was too good to abandon.

“What was in the fucking attic?” I asked.

“I’m going to need another drink,” Chris said. Emily started to get up but he motioned for her to stay seated. “I’ll get the refills, kitchen is through there, right?”

Emily began to protest but I said, “Let him go, he doesn’t want to hear this part.”

“Smart man,” Chad said, “I’ll come with you, I don’t like this part either.”

We watched the guys walk inside and I had a twinge of regret, I didn’t know if I wanted to hear this either.

Emily said, “Your husband is really sweet.”

“He is,” I agreed. “He’s my favorite. Now quick, what happened in the attic?”

She smiled and began, “So, the house was freaking massive. Way too big for us. Each of the kids had their own damn bedroom, and then there was our master and a guest room to boot. The third floor was an unfinished attic that the developer said he’d come back to finish for us when we were ready. The door to the attic was right next to our bedroom, it lead to a full set of stairs to the upper floor.

“When we looked at the plans for the house I thought the attic would make a cool office someday but once we’d moved into the house, there was something absolutely repellent about the space. I never even wanted to open the door, let alone climb those stairs.

“So when Michael started to complain about someone stomping around in the attic in the middle of the night, I had no desire whatsoever to check it out. I sent Chad. He wasn’t particularly psyched about going up there either, but he did, and of course, he didn’t find anything.

“This happened a few nights in a row and then I just gave in and said Mikey could sleep in his sleeping bag on our bedroom floor. Then one night the stomping woke me up. I tried to wake Chad but he was sound asleep and so was Mikey. I didn’t want to wake him so I tiptoed out of the room and stood in front of the attic door, just listening. There wasn’t any noise, but I had this, like, overwhelming urge to go up there.”

“Nope,” I said.

“Well, right, I mean, totally. But, this feeling completely overwhelmed the fear. I put my hand out to turn the doorknob and it turned itself. I felt it slip under my hand.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I said before draining my wine glass.

“Even worse,” Emily continued, “Was that as I snatched my hand away from the door knob someone, or something banged really hard from the other side of the door. I screamed and woke everyone in the house. Chad ran out into the hallway in his boxers all disoriented.

“I told him that someone was in the attic. I ran into our bedroom as he swung the attic door open, and I grabbed my cell phone and herded the kids into Maggie’s room and locked the door. I called the police, but before they arrived Chad had already come downstairs to say that he hadn’t found anyone up there.”

“What did the police do?” I asked.

“They looked around the entire house and even searched the yard and they didn’t find a blessed thing. They were wonderful, I mean, they didn’t make me feel like I had overreacted at all, but they couldn’t really give us any answers either. It was the second time we’d called 911 since moving into the house and they suggested that perhaps we were just hearing the new house ‘settling.’

“I didn’t buy it for a second, but what could I say? ‘No Officer, it’s definitely a ghost, could you please call the exorcism team?’ All we could do was be embarrassed and thank them. But the next day I got a padlock for the attic door and prayed that would be the last of it.”

“But it wasn’t,” I guessed.

“Not by a fucking long shot. Oh good,” she said, brightening. “Here come the guys.”

I smiled at Chris as he sat down and he just shook his head at me and handed me a fresh glass of wine.

“Thanks,” I said, accepting the drink, knowing that I owed him big time for making him listen to this terrifying story.

“You owe me big time,” he said as he sat back down and asked, “Did I miss the worst part?”

“One of them,” Emily said apologetically. She turned to Chad and said, “I just told her about the attic, when we had the police come.”

Chad took a sip of his beer and replied, “That night sealed the deal for me, I had the alarm company back out and had cameras installed everywhere. I was convinced that we had some insane neighbor who was screwing with us. I mean, I tried to convince myself that was what it was. But how the hell could I protect these guys from something I couldn’t see?”

“That’s awful, man,” Chris said.

Chad nodded his head in agreement, “We were all on high alert, and nothing really happened until – “

“The book club,” Emily finished for him.

“Shit, right!” Chad said enthusiastically. “That woman, what the hell was her name?”

“Colleen Barron,” Emily answered, rolling her eyes. “I’d attended the fall kick off for the neighborhood book club a week after we moved in and, like an idiot, I signed up to host the September get together. I’d figured that it would motivate me to pull the house together quickly.

“We were in pretty good shape, on the first floor anyway. The kid’s rooms were coming together slowly, and we still had a ton of boxes in the basement, but on the surface, we were pretty settled in. I couldn’t back out of hosting because we’d experienced a few weird things, so I had to just buck up and do it.

“About ten women came from the neighborhood, we were supposed to discuss Primates of Park Avenue, but everyone just ended up chatting and drinking too much. Honestly? It was great, I felt more like myself than I had since we’d moved. I even dared to think that maybe everything we’d been experiencing had just been, like, stress induced.

“The evening was wrapping up and these two women hung behind at my kitchen island. Once everyone else had stumbled out, one of them, Colleen, said, ‘Please don’t think I’m a wacko, but, I am a psychic medium.’

“My heart fucking dropped. She seriously popped my denial balloon with that crazy ass declaration. I just knew what she was about to tell me. I mean, I didn’t exactly know, but that’s what popped right into my mind when she said she was a psychic – ‘She knows about the ghosts.’

“What did she tell you?” I asked, enthralled by this story, but wanting Chris to call an uber immediately. I had to pee but I didn’t want to go inside alone, and I didn’t want to have to ask anyone to come with me either.

“She tiptoed around the issue by asking me how our move had gone and how we were settling into the house. I asked her to just cut to the chase, you know? What did she know? She said that the second she walked into the house she’d noticed a shadow lurking at the base of the staircase. It watched her the whole night and when I asked her where it was at that moment, she said ‘it’s gone back under the porch.’”

“Fuuuuuuuck,” I said slowly.

“Yeah. Then she went on to tell me that there was a woman there too, whom she’d spoken to in my bathroom. This ghost woman was so confused about the house that it was hard for Colleen to completely understand what had happened to her but she knew that the woman hid in the attic most of the time. Apparently there was also a man who sort of lurked around outside and in the garage and he was super angry. He had some sort of connection with the woman.

“She warned me that there might be more going on in the house but that the dark shadow under the porch was blocking her from seeing the full picture. She also said, ‘I really don’t like those woods back there, honey,’ referring to our back yard. I wanted to know how the fuck this could be happening in a brand new home, and she pointed out that there had been a house on the property before ours. It had been torn down to build our home.

“Then the other woman, Becky, the one that had stayed behind with Colleen, chimed in and told me about this website, diedinhouse.com. They said I should start my research there,” Emily said before taking a sip of her drink.

“I’ve checked that site before every single move!” I exclaimed.

“What in the hell is diedinhouse.com?” Chris demanded.

“It tells you who’s died in your house,” I replied, trying really hard not to follow it with ‘Duh.’

Chris looked at me as if seeing me for the first time, “I can’t imagine what goes on in that head.”

I rolled my eyes, and asked Emily, “Anyway, you checked the website and what came back from their search?”

“A murder/suicide,” Emily replied.

“What?” I demanded. “How is that possible?”

“The owner of the company, the guy that started the website, he actually called me. He left a message on my cell phone saying that one of his employees brought my search results to his attention and he asked me to call him back.”

“Nuh uh,” I said in disbelief.

“Yup. When one of their background checks turns up something particularly nasty, like a murder or a meth lab, he calls the client personally. He said it’s only happened a handful of times but he wanted to walk me through the search and, get this, ‘point me in the direction of some further research strategies if we planned to move forward with the home purchase.’”

“What did he say when you told him you were already in the house?” Chris asked.

“He was silent for a moment then suggested that I still do the research in case ‘anything came up in the future.’” Emily laughed, mirthlessly.

“Ok, so did you start packing immediately?” I asked.

“No, but we should have,” Emily admitted. “I followed the guy’s advice and did the research. Apparently, there was a man and a woman who lived in the original little ranch house on the property. In the winter of 1967 the man lost his mind, tied his wife up in their family room, stabbed her to death and then hung himself in the basement. But before he hung himself, the newspaper delivery boy came to the door to collect his dues for the month. The guy was covered in blood when he answered the door and killed the kid to keep him quiet. He carried the boy’s body out to the woods before he hung himself.”

“We asked a few of the neighbors if they had ever heard anything about the murders but none of them had lived there long enough to know anything about it,” Chad said. “We did find out that the home had been a rental property since the seventies until it was bought to be redeveloped. One woman in the neighborhood had lived there for about ten years and she told us that the renters had turned over constantly. No ever lived there for more than a year as long as she could remember.”

“What did your developer say about all this?” Chris asked leaning forward.

“You don’t have to disclose deaths in Massachusetts,” Chad answered with an angry laugh.

“I thought there was at least a seven year rule,” I said.

“Nope. Trust me, we talked to a lawyer, sellers do not have to disclose if there have been deaths on a property,”

“That sucks, man,” Chris said. “How did you get out of it?”

“We’d only been there for a little over a month, we were going to take a hit moving so quickly, but Em wanted nothing to do with the place.”

“I tried to get a couple priests out to bless the place, but I just didn’t have any luck,” Emily said, defensively.

“What was the final straw?” I asked.

The couple exchanged a look, Chris took a huge gulp of his beer and I leaned forward in my seat.

Emily began, “We were just trying to digest the information about the deaths in the house and figure out what to do. There was weird shit happening, like, constantly. I was climbing the stairs one night on my way to bed and when I looked up I saw a shadow hovering at the top step. It was fucking huge. I had to go up there to get to the kids, but I was so scared I couldn’t move. Eventually it just, sort of disappeared, well, not disappeared, it was almost like it got sucked backwards.”

“No way,” Chris said quietly.

“We heard walking in the attic, too,” Chad added. “Always around the middle of the night. One Saturday morning I finally made myself go up there to take a look. No one was there, but I found a pile of our stuff in one corner.”

“We’d been misplacing things since we moved in the house, or, at least that’s what we thought,” Emily explained. “Sometimes they would show up randomly in another room from where we’d left them. The kid’s sneakers behind the bathroom door, or my keys in the fruit bowl – usually, it was easily explained away. But some stuff actually did go missing and it was so annoying. We tried to blame the kids for it, but they swore they hadn’t been taking things.”

“Yeah, so… the pile in the attic,” Chad said trailing off.

“Shut the fuck up,” I said, excitedly. “The things you lost were in a pile in the attic?”

“Yes. The door had been padlocked, no one had been up there since that freaky night but there was a pair of my sunglasses, one of our remote controls, a few plates, and, what else?” He asked Emily.

“A couple toys and there were some books that I know I hadn’t unpacked from the boxes yet,” she confirmed.

“Yeah, I would have been out of there immediately,” I said.

“Right, well, that was scary, but that wasn’t what made me call the realtor,” Emily said slowly. “There was this one night. The kids were asleep and we were watching television in the living room. I thought I saw something, like, out of the corner of my eye outside near the sliding glass door.”

“I’d noticed it a few minutes before,” Chad affirmed. “But I looked out and nothing was there, so I tried to ignore it so we could have a normal night for once.”

Emily continued, “Right, I mentioned it, but sort of dismissively. I felt the same way, I just wanted to drink a glass of wine and zone out watching Game of Thrones.”

“You truly are my people,” I said.

“For Pete’s sake just let them finish the damn story,” Chris pleaded.

Emily smiled and continued, “I was making a comment about needing to get curtains for the sliding glass door when we heard a light tap-tap-tap at the front door. It was so faint, but we both heard it, and we froze.”

“I muted the television and we listened in silence before it dawned on me to go take a look on the computer to check out the camera feed from outside,” Chad said.

“Yeah, and I followed him,” Emily went on. “I didn’t want to be left alone, I had this feeling of, like, overwhelming anxiety.”

“So I grabbed the laptop from the kitchen and we sat back down on the couch. I pulled up the camera feed for the front and back doors and it was clear – no one was out there. We watched it for a couple of minutes, reasoning away the noise we heard, when all of a sudden someone started banging on the front door,” said Chad.

“It was so loud I jumped and nearly knocked the computer off his lap,” Emily went on. “It startled us so much that it took us a moment to see, or, I mean, not see what was on the computer screen. Someone was banging on the front door but there was no one at the front door.”

“It was the damnedest fucking thing,” Chad affirmed. “My brain couldn’t catch up with what was happening. I sat there like an idiot listening to this banging and staring at the computer screen. It was impossible. Then all of a sudden it stopped. Silence.”

“That was even worse,” Emily insisted. “We didn’t move, we just stared at the computer screen and waited.”

“Then it came to the porch again, to the sliding glass door. I thought the glass was going to shatter it was banging so hard. Em ran upstairs to grab the kids and get them in one room and I stayed downstairs and called the police and told them someone was trying to break into the house, even though I knew that wasn’t what was happening. I didn’t know what the fuck I was dealing with. So the cops came again and walked through and around the house, and again they didn’t find a thing,” Chad said with irritation.

“Right, but this time they really checked the backyard near the tree line” Emily said. “One of the officers, this older man, he went into the backyard while we were talking to the female cop in the kitchen. When he came back, he was acting, I don’t know, like, strange. I even asked, ‘what is it, what did you see?’ He wouldn’t answer me, he just shook his head.”

“Yeah and I totally saw him exchange a look with the other officer,” Chad affirmed. “The next morning, Em called our real estate agent and asked her to show us everything on the market.”

“What did you tell her?” I asked.

“I said that we didn’t like being in such a remote spot, that it was too much of a culture shock for us, moving to the suburbs from the city, blah, blah, blah. I told her we wanted a smaller, older house in a more populated neighborhood. I tried to play it off like we were a picky couple from Manhattan. We looked at a few places and I called the owner of diedinhouse.com to do a personalized records search for me, and we landed in this house,” Emily explained, pointing to their home.

“It was built in 1933, was not constructed upon Native American burial grounds, and, according to public records, no one has ever died on this property. We are the fourth family to occupy the home,” Chad concluded as though reading from a report.

“But what about your other house?” Chris asked. “How’d you get rid of it?”

“After we moved our things out, I finally found a Unitarian minister to come over and bless the property,” Emily replied. “We put the house on the market and it sold in about two months to a family relocating from Connecticut.”

“And nothing followed you from that house?” I asked.

The couple did that sideways glance at each other again and then looked back at me.

“Aaaaand, that’s where I tap out,” Chris said. He put his drink on the side of his chair and took his phone out of his back pocket. “I’m calling an Uber, and then I’m going to wait in the driveway. Chad, man, that shit is fucked up, but I will see you tomorrow in the office. I’ll swing by to grab my car in the morning.

“Emily, you have a lovely home, we need to have you over soon and get the kids together. Peace out,” And with that he stood, shook Chad’s hand, gave Emily a kiss on the cheek and turned to me. “See you out front in ten minutes.”

We all watched him walk around the side of the house and I said, “OK, so what followed you here?”

“It wasn’t just the dead people at that house, there was something else, something dark. That medium from the book club said so too. Em thinks the murders and the suicide attracted something to the property and it might have latched onto us.”

“What’s happened at this house?” I demanded.

Emily glanced at Chad, “Nothing major, just stuff out of the corner of my eye, you know, weird feelings. It could totally just be, like, posttraumatic stress. But Alison said she saw something from her window the other night, and – ”

“I have someone that I can put you in touch with,” I interrupted, thinking of Biddy. “She knows people who can get rid of these things.”

“We would really appreciate it,” Emily said. “I mean, this house has a totally different vibe, but I just want to be sure.”

“I would feel the exact same way,” I said, wanting to get out of there, immediately. “I’ll call this woman first thing in the morning and have her get in touch. She will know exactly what to do.”

 

***

 

I followed the couple inside and placed my wine glass and Chris’s beer mug into the sink. I asked to use the restroom, said good-bye to the traumatized couple and met Chris in the driveway just as the Uber was pulling up.

“Sorry,” I said a bit sheepishly. I knew he was pissed, and it was totally called for.

We crawled into the black Suburban and turned to our cell phones. I was searching for Biddy’s contact information when it hit me

“Oh shit,” I said, realization dawning.

“What now?” Chris demanded.

“It’s nothing. I just forgot something,” I replied, my hand at my neck. I’d taken off my blessed St. Benedict medal when I was getting dressed because it didn’t look right with my outfit.

“There’s no way I’m sleeping tonight,” Chris complained.

“I know, I’m sorry, but, it’s fine. Everything’s going to be fine,” I said, trying to convince myself.

7858dab6-9685-4f2c-8163-6a5d696e91b7We moved into our house. I didn’t know I had a dream home until I moved into this one. It’s in an incredibly populated neighborhood, and yet, there is wildlife. Coyotes in the neighbor’s yard, chipmunks up the wazoo and more bunnies than could possibly be safe. Though, you know my prepper obsession and I bet those little hoppers would be good eatin’ during the zombie apocalypse.

Bunnies, chipmunks and squirrels – fine. But there are snakes. Little snakes and big snakes. Black snakes and snakes the color of the grass.

My cousin-in-law (who just so happens to live only five doors down from our new little bungalow) is from New Orleans and her parents live in a suburb of the city. Her father woke up to get a drink in the middle of the night, put his bare foot on the floor to get out of bed, and STEPPED ON A SNAKE. He stepped on a freaking snake. I’ll give you a moment to run around the room waving your hands in the air screaming “NOOOOO!!” like me.

A snake. On the floor. In the bedroom. In the dead of night.

The older I get the more aware I am of my own weaknesses. I know that I could survive worse, but I don’t know who I would become after stepping on a snake in the dark. From that point forward I might have to wear my knee-high Sorels twenty-four hours a day. I might have to build a house on stilts, everything inside whitewashed so that nothing could go unnoticed. People might get sick of me warning them about this horrible thing that could happen to them in the middle of the night. I might wear a headlamp at all times and carry a walking stick to test the ground before I took a step.

Please don’t think me flippant. I am aware of the hellish things we do to one another. Sometimes it’s easier to worry about the little things. Things that are really neither here nor there and will probably never even happen. I can’t consider the real terrors around us if there is any chance of making it through the day. Lord, help me I can’t even look at the news, Twitter, or Facebook lately because when I do, I can’t stop crying. The real monsters in our world have awaked more monsters and there seems no end in sight.

Bedtime floor snakes are improbable. Ghosts are an intriguing distraction. And Aliens? Well, that shit’s fucked up.

From: fbeacon1973@verizon.net

To: ghostsintheburbs@gmail.com

Dear Liz,

I work at Town Hall across from the main branch of the library. I’ve walked past your “ghost stories wanted” flier for months now and have finally mustered up the courage to contact you. Though my tale does not contain ghostly apparitions, I do believe that it falls into the paranormal realm. I have been visited by extraterrestrials since I was a little girl and have been taken several times. I assure you that I am not mentally ill and that my experiences are real. I feel compelled to tell you my story so that you may document these occurrences. Would you consider meeting me in the library? I spend most every weekday lunch in the periodical room. I do hope you’ll consider meeting with me.

Sincerely, Frankie Beacon

Well, I thought after reading the email, Why not?

Truth be told, I’ve never been all that interested in aliens. I’ve heard plenty of sighting stories on paranormal podcasts and seen them reenacted on the History Channel, so I know a little bit about the topic. But these tales always felt a little too vague for me. Like, I saw lights in the sky then I lost the time for a few minutes and now I think I have a chip in my earlobe. Worse are the psychic healers who claimed to contact their “sky friends” for career or nutritional advice.

I have to admit that I feel the same way about tales of Bigfoot encounters. Witness stories always boil down to, “We heard loud noises, then something threw rocks at us, then we were scared and we left the woods.”

Don’t get me wrong, if I found myself gazing up at a U.F.O. or getting hit by a Bigfoot-thrown rock I would definitely lose the time and run away too. But that kind of scary story just isn’t my cup of tea. In spite of all that, something about this woman’s email intrigued me, and I love visiting the library, so I emailed her back to set a lunch date.

***

The Wellesley Free Library’s periodical room is a window lined happy place. There you can find both current and back issues of all your favorite magazines and newspapers and even borrow those magazines and newspapers for free. Or you can enjoy the atmosphere and catch up on celebrity gossip, devour the chilling drama that is our current political experience, or find recipes and outfit ideas as you sip coffee (I’ve said it before, and you know I’ll say it again, you can enjoy hot beverages *and food* in the library).

It was a bright summer morning when I entered the periodical room. With my Linden Street sandwich in hand I scanned the room’s tables for a woman who might look like she had been abducted by aliens and I walked right past Frankie. She stood and gave a small wave and motioned me over to her table.

Whereas I had been looking for a nervous nail-biter, makeup free with sensible shoes and the pale glow a town office job might grant, Frankie was the polar opposite. She had straight, light brown, shoulder length hair with a nice little swoosh of bangs. I’ve always wanted bangs, and they’ve been an immediate mistake every damn time I’ve tried them out.

Frankie wore a long-sleeved navy blue and white striped St. James shirt with coral capris. A thick stack of gold bangles encircled one thin wrist, and she wore gold boat shoes on her feet. If her email address gave away her birth year, then she was about forty-three years old, though I would have pegged her around thirty-five. Her face was more striking than pretty, and it had a light tan, as though she’d spent the weekend on island.

I walked back towards her and we shook hands. I noticed her wedding rings immediately. On each side of a massive diamond solitaire sat two eternity bands set with beautifully bulky diamonds. We took seats across from one another at a table, unwrapped our lunches (a Starbuck’s latte and a Honey Special on a wrap for me, and a veggie packed homemade salad with grilled chicken and a water bottle for her) and we made some small talk about our excellent library before I took out my digital recorder.

“Ok,” I said, with a smile. “So what’s all this about aliens?”

Frankie considered me for a moment and glanced around. In the room with us were one older gentleman sitting in a leather chair in the corner, and a couple of college-aged girls at a nearby table, with headphones in their ears and heads bent down over laptops.

I realized Frankie was getting cold feet. All of a sudden I had an overwhelming urge to know this completely normal-looking woman’s tale of alien abduction.

“Look,” I said, attempting to keep her from bolting. “I’ve had three women tell me that they conjured the ghost of their dead friend and used her spirit to grant wishes like a genie. I know a guy who obsessively uses the Ouija board and talks to dead people. There’s a woman here in town that is looking for an exorcist to cast a demon out of her daughter. Trust me, whatever your story is, it takes a lot to freak me out.”

Frankie smiled at me and shook her head as if to clear it. She placed her two, perfectly manicured hands flat on the wooden table and said, “It’s not just about the aliens, it’s complicated.”

“My two older kids are in school until three o’clock and I have a babysitter for the little one until two-thirty. I’ve got time,” I assured her.

Frankie nodded her head then began, “There are a lot of ways to control people,” she motioned to her aluminum water bottle. “Take water, for example, who the hell knows what they are pumping into it. I collect rainwater and purify it, it’s all that I drink.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say, but I wished I hadn’t brought along my Starbucks latte.

She noticed my hand grip the caffeinated treat a little tighter then said, “Look, they’ve convinced you to spend a fortune on that drink. It’s just a little indulgence, right? But how do you feel when you go without it? They’re floating all these fancy terms like “sugar addiction” and “caffeine addiction” to distract you from what they are really getting you hooked on. Sugar addiction my ass. Do you have any idea what’s really in that drink?” She demanded.

“Well, it’s just soy milk,” I began dumbly.

“Don’t even get me started on the soy,” Frankie pushed herself back from the table, her gold bracelets jingling. She gathered herself and continued, “Look, I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. It’s not any of our faults, but they,” Frankie pointed at the ceiling, making me look up and wonder what problem she had with the reference area on the floor above us. “They taught the government everything they know.”

“Frankie,” I said, trying to hide my annoyance by unwrapping my sandwich. The last thing I felt like doing was speaking to a hardcore conspiracy theorist. “I’m not following.”

“Sorry,” she said again, pushing her perfectly sweeping bangs back from an incredibly wrinkle-free forehead. “It’s just that I am relieved to have someone to talk to about this. Not many people want to hear it.”

“Well, I’m grateful that you want to share this with me,” I said, not feeling at all grateful. “In your email you mentioned that you first encountered aliens in your twenties.”

“Well, yes, the first time I actually spoke to an alien I was about twenty-three, but I’ve been visited since I was a girl. They’ve always been here, watching me. The house I grew up in is over by the Wellesley Country Club. I still live in that neighborhood. When I was little I spent most afternoons sneaking around the golf course, playing by the tree line. That was where I first became aware of them.”

“How did you know they were there?” I asked.

“I noticed the whistling first,” Frankie said. “Soft whistles, three at a time, just barely audible. I first heard it when I was playing around the golf course. But then it followed me home. If the whistling occurred and I happened to be with someone else, only I could hear it.”

“That’s strange,” I said simply.

“It’s one of the ways that they communicate with each other. They can speak our language, but they are so much more evolved than we are.”

“Then what?” I asked, taking a bite of my sandwich.

Frankie sat back in her seat and stared at me, her icy blues maintaining eye contact for far too long. My internal stranger danger alarm went off as shrill as my two-year-old’s time out clock, but I tried to hold her gaze as I chewed my apparently alien-influenced food.

“I’m getting a seriously skeptical vibe from you right now,” she said quietly.

“No, I’m sorry if I am putting off that ‘vibe,’” I replied, putting down my coffee. “Look, I’ve never met anyone who has actually encountered an alien. Basically, Signs is my only real point of reference.”

“There have been hundreds of documented cases from around the world – of both sightings and abductions. The effectiveness of their cover up is insane. You talk about it and automatically you’re labeled a nutjob,” Frankie paused. “Have you heard of Barney and Betty Hill?” she asked.

“The names are familiar,” I said, wracking my brain.

“Theirs is the most famous, the most documented case of alien abduction,” Frankie began. “It happened in New Hampshire, south of Lancaster. They were driving home from a vacation at Niagara Falls when Betty thought she saw a shooting star, but then she realized it was moving upwards. They pulled into a rest area to walk their dog and watched as the object moved closer and closer to them. As it grew near, they could see that it had all these multi-colored lights.

“They were sufficiently freaked out, got back in the car and attempted to drive away, but the sky object in front of them got closer and closer until it hovered in the air directly in front of and above their car. Barney stopped the vehicle, and, rather incredibly, got out and used his binoculars to get a better look at the thing. He regretted it immediately. He panicked, got back in the car telling his wife they were about to be captured and turned around to drive away. Then the Hills lost the time,” Frankie said, her eyebrows raised as she sat back in her seat.

I hadn’t realized that I had been holding my breath and leaning far forward. I took a breath, and asked, “Is that it?”

“I wish that was it,” Frankie said with a loud, barking laugh that startled me. “Oh no, there was more, a lot more. They got home that night around dawn, totally freaked out. Their clothing was torn and there were weird markings on the car trunk, and these markings? They drove their compass bananas.”

“What about the dog?” I asked.

“The dog?” She asked, genuinely perplexed.

“Yeah, their dog, was it ok?”

“God, I don’t know,” Frankie said in utter annoyance. “But another problem was that Barney had a strong feeling that he’d been diddled with, though he couldn’t find any evidence.”

“Diddled with?” I asked, wondering if that was some sort of alien term, and still wondering about the dog.

“You know,” Frankie said, gesturing to her crotch. “Diddled with.”

“Oh,” I said, suppressing a giggle.

“The Hills actually reported the incident to a nearby Air Force base. Then, about ten days after the event, Betty began to remember,” Frankie whispered, causing me to lean forward again. “You can go online and listen to the accounts that Betty and Barney gave under hypnosis. Apparently, the aliens walked the couple around the spaceship and spoke with them before they got started on the medical examinations. The recording of Betty’s panicked voice, begging one of the aliens not to stick a needle in her naval cuts through you like a knife.”

“No way,” I said, disgusted.

“Scientists, researchers, a ton of government officials – they all took this couple seriously. Enough to spend a lot of time and money documenting what happened to them.”

“Who were these poor people? I mean, why them?” I asked, thinking this sounded a lot more like an urban legend than a “well documented” alien abduction case.

“The Hills were very well-known in their community. Betty was a social worker and Barney worked for the Post Office. They were active Unitarians, belonged to the NAACP and he sat on the local board of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. These were normal people, with no reason to call that sort of attention upon themselves,” Frankie explained.

I still felt doubtful and nodded my head. Actually, it wasn’t so much doubt as it was the feeling that she was peppering me with details to sell me on this story. I’m married to a real estate broker. Trust me, I know when someone is trying to sell me on something.

“It wasn’t just that,” Frankie continued, eyebrows raised. “The aliens told the Hills that they were from the zeta reticuli system.”

“Pretend I don’t know what that means,” I replied, annoyance surfacing.

“It’s a binary star system in the southern constellation of Reticulum,” Frankie said slowly, her own annoyance coming through. “But that’s not what matters, what matters is that we didn’t discover the zeta reticuli until 1969. The Hills were taken in 1961.”

“Ok,” I admitted. “That’s weird, and a little creepy.”

“Look, I’m not even doing their story justice, Google it when you get home. It will make for unsettling reading.”

“I already find it very unsettling.”

“You mean if it’s real, “ Frankie replied, sitting back and folding her arms over her chest.

I was beginning to feel like I was in some sort of debate and it was not at all enjoyable. What the hell had I been thinking meeting with this woman? I knew from my podcasts that these alien people always got their panties in a bunch if you didn’t immediately freak out when they told you aliens were real.

“Well,” I stalled, not wanting to offend her, but also wanting out of the conversation.

“If the Hill’s story was the only case, then I would be skeptical too,” Frankie pressed on. “If I hadn’t seen these things with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it either. But whether you want to believe it or not, aliens exist and they have a plan in place. No, not only is it in place, it’s in motion,” her bracelets jingled again as she pointed a finger at the tabletop.

Her salad sat untouched in front of her, and frankly, that irritated me. I wanted to enjoy my lunch and instead I felt like I was scarfing down my sandwich in front of an angry college professor. Besides that, if she really had a story I wanted details and not some generalized rant, so I asked, “You said that aliens have been visiting you almost your entire life. What happened besides those whistles you heard?”

Frankie took a long sip of her rainwater (which forced me to suppress a gag) and began, “I heard the whistling and other noises in the woods around the golf course. You know how when you walk down a forest path you hear things skittering away from you, chipmunks and squirrels and such? Well, I would hear the skittering, only it wasn’t going away from me, it was coming towards me, but I never actually saw anything or anyone.

“It felt like I was being watched constantly. One night I woke up around two in the morning. I had that feeling of being watched, and for some reason, something made me look over at my window. That was the first time I saw one of them,” she paused, dramatically.

I just stared at her and took a sip of my delicious, addictive latte, unwilling to keep dragging the story out of her.

“It was an alien, though I didn’t know it at the time. We stared at each other for almost a full minute and then he turned away from the window.”

“What did he look like?” I asked, imagining a green being with big black eyes set in a ball-shaped head. I wondered for a moment how I might react to such a thing and decided it would be with rage, not fear. I haven’t the time for that shit.

“He looked like,” she again took a long freaking pause before continuing, “He looked like a muscle head. You know the type? Like a bouncer at a college bar. He had jet black hair and looked almost human, but his forehead and eyes were larger than they should have been.”

“How do you know this wasn’t just some weirdo Peeping Tom?” I asked.

“My bedroom was in the attic,” Frankie explained.

“Oh,” I said, dumbly.

“Yeah, it was pretty scary. I desperately wanted to believe it was a dream, but then it happened again the next night, only there were two of them silently looking in on me. I actually threw one of my stuffed animals at the window and screamed for them to get out of there. They just slowly turned away from the window and disappeared into the darkness.

“The third night I was ready for them. I had my dad’s camcorder and my Polaroid camera. I tried to look like I was sleeping and then the second I had that feeling of being watched I jumped up and screamed, ‘I’ve got you creeps!’

“But it was just the one with the dark hair again. He gave this awful smile, he didn’t have any teeth,” Frankie shudders, remembering. “Then he turned away like he had the other times.”

“Did you tell your parents that there were men looking in your window at night?” I asked.

“No, I knew they wouldn’t believe me,” Frankie said, sensibly. “That’s why I tried to get them on film.”

“Did you record them?” I asked.

“No, they can’t be recorded,” she explained, shaking her head. “When I reviewed my film, it was just a shaky shot of my window and the audio of me yelling.”

I just nodded, feeling disappointed but not surprised.

Frankie nodded her head back at me, “I know, I was bummed too. After that I didn’t see them anymore, but over the next few years every once in a while I would get that feeling again, of being watched. I saw the black-haired guy once on the sidelines when I was playing field hockey in high school and then again near the stage at my college graduation.”

“No shit?” I said.

“No shit,” she confirmed. “Both times the shock of seeing him almost stopped me dead. He looked exactly the same. He wore the same outfit and his face had that same flat affect. Then after college I moved back in with my parents for a couple of years while I got my Masters from Babson.”

“What did you Master in?” I asked, curious.

“Accounting,” she replied.

“Cool,” I said, taking another bite of lunch.

“Nothing happened the first few months, but then one night he came again. Only this time, he came inside.”

“No,” I said, having to forcefully stop myself from saying ‘that’s what she said.’

“Yup. I woke up just like I had all those years before with that creepy feeling and as I turned to look at the window he was coming through it. Not like, crawling in through the window, he was gliding through the wall and window, as though they weren’t even there.

“I scrambled back toward my headboard and looked around for anything that I could use as a weapon. He was gliding towards me really slowly, so slowly that I had time to realize that I didn’t have anything to fight him with, so I stood up on the bed and I think I said something ridiculous like, ‘Let’s go mother fucker!’” With this, Frankie actually cracked a smile.

“Atta girl!” I said with a laugh, surprised by her bravery.

“If you were cornered like that you’d do the same,” she said confidently.

I disagreed, but asked, “How the hell did he react to you?”

“He gave me that awful toothless grin again then said, ‘Frankie, Frankie, calm down, I’m just here to talk.’ I stayed there, standing on the bed with my back against the headboard as he explained who he was and why he’d been watching me since I was a little girl.”

“Fuck,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s one thing to have seen this guy when I was little and then think I spotted him a couple other times in my life. I could explain that away to over-active imagination. But this man was in my bedroom, calmly telling me that I was one of the ‘different ones’ and that’s why they were interested in me. That’s why I hadn’t been taken.”

“Different how? And taken where?” I demanded.

“That’s exactly what I asked,” she said. “He told me that we are all being studied and that some of us are different. When confronted, those of us who don’t automatically retreat, those of us who instead take a stand, we are the ones they want to learn more about. He said that he needed me to cooperate.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” I said, taking the last bite of my sandwich. Frankie’s salad still sat untouched.

“It wasn’t good, but at least I can’t remember all of it,” she said, sadly.

“What the hell happened?” I asked.

“He told me that he was going to bring me to the ship where my mind could be examined. They were willing to manage my memories so that I didn’t have to recall the events, but I had to agree to go with them. I told him he could fuck off, that I wouldn’t go anywhere with him,” she paused.

“What did he do?” I asked, hoping she would say he just melted back through the wall again.

“He didn’t say anything for a moment, then he put that gross smile back on his face and told me that if I did not cooperate he would kill my parents and my cat and then kill me. I told him to fuck off again. That he’d have to kill me first to get to my family and he said, ‘No, Frankie, you’re not listening. If you do not cooperate, I will kill you last. Your parents and your pet die first. Then you get to die.’”

“Oh God, so what did you have to do?” I asked, not wanting to know.

“I cooperated. The last thing I remember is stepping off the bed and having him take my left hand in his. His hands felt like fine grit sandpaper. It was repulsive.”

I asked, “You said you can’t remember all of it, but what do you remember?”

“Not much,” Frankie admitted, looking up at the ceiling. “I remember being super cold, like shaking freezing, but I also remember being blisteringly hot. I remember what I think was a mirror and seeing a distorted reflection of myself in a black room sitting on a steel bench next to an extremely skinny man. He was holding onto my upper arm, really tightly, and he was, like, swaying back and forth. Weird other flashes came, but I didn’t remember all of it right away, they came back over the next few days.”

“The morning after it happened, I tried to convince myself it had been a dream. Then I got into the shower and that’s when I first noticed the marks on my upper arm,” Frankie pushed up the her shirt sleeve and pointed to a cluster of three marks on her right arm. They looked like little blue tattoo dots patterned as the three points of a triangle. “I think the alien made these marks as he was holding my arm, studying me.”

“Did you ever see that guy again, the window guy?” I asked, really really not wanting to believe this story.

“Oh yeah, he comes around every once in a while to tell me things, or ask me things. I’ve lost memories several times over the years, too. It is pretty awful, actually. He always visits when I am in a really stressful time in life. Like when I was getting my Masters degree, or when I moved to California for a while on my own, the night before a big interview, things like that. That’s part of the data they are trying to gather, the way we all react to different types of stress.”

“But, why would they want to know that?” I asked.

“They’re trying to figure out how to take us out for good,” she said.

“Take us out?” I asked.

“Yes, there’s an end date,” Frankie said.

“To what?” I demanded.

“To this,” she motioned around us. “They’re gathering data so they can most effectively end us. All that nonsense you hear about aliens abducting people to study our biology? It’s bullshit. They created us, they know exactly how our bodies work. And anyway, all they would have to do is study a couple of our bodies if they needed to understand our biology. No, they are studying what will most effectively bring an end to all of us without having to take out the entire planet. The first time they tried was with the big flood, but it didn’t work, a small faction helped us to survive.”

“Big flood? Do you mean like Noah’s Ark?” I asked, feeling myself about to fall down a deep, deep rabbit hole.

“Yes, exactly. They created us and then lost control. We became too aggressive. We are the perfect killing machines, we are too smart for our own good, and we can adapt to anyplace, anything. We survive too well. Then anytime we get a new piece of technology, we warp it into something that can be used to war with each other, or them,” Frankie was whispering now, leaning towards me.

“Well, why don’t they just kill us all?” I asked.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, they lost control of us and already tried that once and failed. We survive to well, heal too well. We are really hard to kill. Think about it, we can send one another into battle and then we know how to heal ourselves if we get hurt so that we can go back out and fight again. There are too many of us now, so they’ve changed tactics.

“We are on our way to destroying this planet and they won’t allow that. They created everything here. Look at every other species on this planet, how did human beings make such a huge jump mentally and emotionally speaking in evolutionary terms? It doesn’t make sense. But that’s besides the point, they’re developing a way to exploit our greatest weakness.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“They’re studying fear,” she replied. “It’s something that they don’t have. They evolved differently, they didn’t have to fear being chased by a bear or eaten by an alligator. They realized that, for us, fear is an incredibly strong emotion and they are studying how to use it against us. They abduct certain people to study how and why fear is triggered and then they study people like me who react with aggression rather than fear.”

“Fear,” I repeated.

“Just look at the news,” Frankie insisted quietly. “It’s starting. I mean, it’s already started. The most brilliant thing they’ve done is to push the fear of germs and disease, because, you know, we’re killing the effectiveness of antibiotics by overusing them. And once we do that, a lot of us will die off pretty quick once there’s a bad cold and flu season.

“They influence the news too. You know how everyone complains that there’s only bad news and fear based mongering now, and of course the internet is theirs and theirs alone.”

“Brilliant,” I said, meaning it.

“Isn’t it? They are very patient, and really, the way things are going, they only need to wait a couple more decades. Look at what we’ve turned religion into. Look at politics around the world. We take good things, powerful ideas and then twist them and create division, hate, fear. You see how it’s all escalating,” she sat back in her seat. “Once we’ve gone and taken ourselves out for the most part, they’ll come through in one final sweep, to take out the final survivors.”

“Maybe another flood,” I said.

“Or a bad cold and flu season,” she agreed, those damn eyebrows raised yet again.

“Are you even allowed to be telling me this?” I asked. “I mean, they threatened to kill your entire family.”

“I can’t keep it anymore, it’s too much,” she replied. “I don’t care what happens to me.”

“What about your husband?” I asked, my eyes flickering to the immense diamonds on her left hand.

“I can’t burden him with this,” Frankie said.

“But what about me?” I demanded loudly, making one of the college girls look up from her laptop and over to our table. “What if they don’t want me to know?”

“You’ll be fine,” Frankie said. “Things will wrap up soon anyways.”

I just stared at her.

“Wait, do you have children?” She asked, as though the idea had just dawned on her.

“Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I snapped.

***

The rest of the day I was absolutely terrified to look up at the sky. I kept Kat securely strapped on me in her front pack and sat Max and Joey in front of the television after school. I wouldn’t let them outside to play. When they complained about it I lied and told them that I’d seen a snake in the backyard. I’d deal with the fallout from that lie later.

It wasn’t until my husband got home from work that night, when I was having a glass of Chardonnay and telling him all about Frankie’s aliens that I began to realize just how far down the rabbit hole I really had fallen with her.

You know, crazy disguised as conviction can be very compelling. After spending just a little over an hour with Frankie, I’d spent the rest of my day terrified. Looking over my shoulder, questioning everything that I’d ever known to be sure, because this woman was so convinced of something so outrageous that she was able to convince me of the same.

Maybe crazy is too strong a word, but Frankie certainly wasn’t grounded in reality. But, then again, am I grounded in reality? I’m grounded in my reality. My reality is one of a safe, non-alien-abduction childhood. I live in a secure home with my family; I lock my doors (most) nights and think that’s enough to keep the bad guys (and snakes) out.

That’s my reality. But what if there is another reality?

I woke up around two o’clock that night. I don’t know what woke me. I got up and checked on the girls, then went downstairs for a glass of water. The dogs followed and asked to go outside. Icy terror filled me for a moment at the thought of letting them out under the immense night sky. Then I shook it off, opened the back door and forced myself to step out onto the porch with them.

I saw stars and sky through the dark trees above me. No aliens. No circular craft. No big-eyed muscle heads watching me from the branches above.

I thanked God for my quiet life of shuttling tiny people to and from get-togethers with other tiny people. For picking up dog poop in the back yard. For feeling bored and tired in the afternoons and going to the same restaurant on a date night every Wednesday. I thanked Him for my family and my friends who will surely intervene if I ever wander too far down a conspiracy theory void.

I called to the dogs and opened the door to let them back in. Just as I was about to step my smug ass back into my supposedly safe and secure home I heard three low whistles behind me. They were so soft that I would have missed them had the night not been so quiet.