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.”
“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/