“You want a glass of wine?” Chris asked, opening the refrigerator door.
“No thanks,” I replied.
“You sure?” He asked, glancing over at me.
“I’ve got a bubbly water,” I replied, holding up the can to show him. “It’s nice out, let’s sit on the porch for your interview.”
“Come on,” I pleaded. “It’ll take ten minutes.”
“I’ll meet you out there,” he said, closing the fridge door.
It was early March and we’d had a warm snap. A tease of nice weather before the next snow storm.
I sat on the deck and waited for Chris. One of our trees was surely dying, a huge old oak that offered a significant amount of shade in the summer. I’d wait and see how it fared come spring, but chances were good we’d have to take it down within a year.
Chris came outside with a roll of dog poop bags.
“Come sit for a minute,” I said.
“I’ve been meaning to do this,” he replied.
“But you said I could interview you,” I protested.
“You can, I’ll just do this at the same time.”
When I didn’t reply he said, “Turn on your tape recorder, ask me your questions.”
I watched him pull a blue bag off the roll and bend over to pick up dog poop. Walter and Artie sat near me on the deck watching the dying tree for squirrels.
I grudgingly turned on the recorder and said, “Alright, but speak up.”
Chris gave me the thumbs up sign and continued pacing the yard.
“OK, how do you feel about me continuing to interview people even after our house was haunted because of my interviews?”
“It wasn’t your fault,” he called over his shoulder.
“Those entities wouldn’t have been anywhere near us if we hadn’t gone over to the Hayes house and they wouldn’t have attached to me if I had been wearing my medallion that night,” I countered.
“We don’t know that,” he replied quietly.
“Speak up!” I called, loudly. “Whether it was my fault or not, our house needed an exorcism. How do you feel about that?”
“I’m glad you knew Biddy,” he replied.
“But what if it happens again?” I countered.
“It won’t, the priest told us what to do and you wear your medallion when you interview people,” he said, knotting a dog bag and tossing it to the back corner of the garage.
“Chris,” I said, exasperated.
“What do you want me to say? That I don’t want you doing this anymore?” He asked.
“No, I just,” I paused, considering, “People have been emailing me asking how you could possibly be OK with me continuing to interview people after I managed to get our own house haunted. I guess I want to know too, we never really talked about it, you know, if you are OK with me still doing this.”
Chris stopped pacing the yard and looked at me, “I am proud of you. I’m happy that you have something besides me and the kids. I wish you’d spend more time working on your book,” he held up his hands in defence when I began to protest then continued, “but I know you can’t focus on that right now and that this project is important to you. But,” he paused.
“What?” I prodded.
“I don’t like it. I don’t like you going to stranger’s houses and meeting them in coffee shops. Even if those strangers are our neighbors. I guess I just wish you were into something less scary, you know?”
“I know,” I said.
“But if anyone else emails you wondering whether or not I’m OK with you doing this, tell them that I am psyched about it and tell them to, what is that thing you say about taking care of your lawn?”
“You mean ‘mind your own backyard?’” I said.
“Yeah, tell them to mind their own backyard,” he said leaning down to kiss me on the cheek.
“Thanks,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” he replied. “Now get off your ass and help me pick up your dogs’ poop.”
It was Chris who introduced me to my next interviewee. One evening he was wearing a Ghosts in the Burbs t-shirt beneath his hockey jersey and a teammate asked him about it. Chris explained my blog and Mitchell asked if Chris would put us in touch. Even though they’d played in the same hockey league for over a year, it had never come up that Mitchell lived in Wellesley too and, better yet, he had a scary story to share.
We arranged to meet for lunch at Maugus on a Thursday afternoon. Chris sent nervous texts all morning repeating I didn’t have to meet his teammate if I didn’t want to but that the guy seemed cool. I told him to relax.
Mitchell S. Westcott the second looked like a 1960s astronaut. His freshly shorn brown hair swept adamantly to the right from a decisive side part. He was a trim, tight package of health, all glowing skin, rosy cheeks and smile-lined deep brown eyes. He wore a crisp tucked in button down (blue check) and light pink tie. I could picture him in a Boston high-rise office tower, cheerfully calling out good morning and shooting charming smiles to everyone he passed as young administrative assistants swooned and traded gossip about his wife.
There was something so old-fashioned about him. I couldn’t resist.
“So, Junior, what’s all this about witches?”
He laughed and said, “My brother is the only one who calls me that.”
“Do you prefer Mitchell or Mitch?” I asked.
“Mitchell,” he replied, then “What I’m about to tell you is going to sound completely ludicrous, but when Chris said you were collecting strange stories about Wellesley I felt compelled to speak with you.”
He was obviously nervous, looking down at his hands and peeling the wrapper off his root beer bottle. Seriously, he was drinking root beer. Adorable.
“I’m used to hearing ludicrous things about this town,” I said, smiling.
“We used to live next to a witch and a warlock who cursed us,” he spat before taking a chug of soda.
“Shush,” I said, leaning forward.
Mitchell shook his head, “They were really disturbed.”
“Start right at the beginning,” I urged. “How did you know they were witches?”
I imagined a coven of Wellesley women clad head-to-toe in black LuluLemon gear dancing around a Crate and Barrel fire pit on a meticulously landscaped lawn.
“At first we thought they were just odd. My wife, Maggie, even joked about them being swingers,” he said with a short laugh. “Overly friendly isn’t the right way to describe them, they were, too familiar from the start. Popping up at the back door unannounced, asking weird personal questions, especially about our kids.”
“What kind of questions did they ask you?”
Mitchell considered for a moment then said, “On move-in day I was in the garage shifting around boxes after the movers had left. I was bent over a box digging around for wine glasses when I felt a hand rest on my waist. I thought it was Maggie and said something like, ‘Hey honey,’ but it was Kate. The neighbor.”
“Uh uh,” I said, shaking my head.
“It was way too personal,” he said, “She basically had me backed into a corner. She introduced herself as Kate Dilvish and told me her husband’s name was Harry. She made this big deal about how excited he would be to meet me, which was just, awkward.
“Then she started drilling me with questions. Where had we moved from, how old were the kids, did they ever do odd jobs for money, what was my wife’s name and did she work, what did I do for a living, and on and on.”
“What do you do for work?” I asked, curiosity overtaking me.
“I’m an illustrator,” he replied.
“That’s awesome, what do you draw?”
“I work on movies,” he replied, vaguely.
I refrained from digging deeper, but again, adorable, right?
“Sorry I interrupted,” I said. “So she was digging for details, then what.”
“Thankfully, Maggie came out into the garage, though that didn’t make Kate back off at all. We talked about the neighborhood, our kids and the move. She was really, I guess the best way to describe her was animated. She actually reminded me of some of my daughter’s friends. She wanted to know all about them. Her reactions were a bit, forced, no, maybe just a bit-”
“Juvenile?” I said interrupting again.
“Yes,” he said, nodding, “That was it, she struck me as immature. Maggie didn’t think much of her, she even poked fun at me for getting uncomfortable with Kate’s personal space issue. She got a kick out of the way she said I was almost crawling the garage wall trying to get some distance from Kate.
“The next morning, bright and early Sunday there was a knock at the door. I went down, still in my pajamas [Pajamas. Adorable], and opened the front door to Kate and her husband, Harry.”
Mitchell paused, seeming to choose his next words carefully, “Harry was much older than Kate. I don’t mean to sound judgemental, to each his own, but the difference in their age was significant. He was sixty-seven and she was twenty-six. They told us. They had this thing about birth dates, sharing theirs and asking for everyone else’s.
“Again we were peppered with questions though they were vague if we inquired of them. When I asked Harry what he did for work he told me he was in ‘conflict management.’”
“Like a mediator?” I asked.
“That’s what I assumed, and Kate told Maggie that she supported Harry in his appointment.”
I made a noise, indicating how creepy that sounded.
“Yeah, we figured she felt funny about not having a job or something. At first glance they appeared relatively normal, but there was just something off about them. For example, except for when she was exercising on their side deck, Kate only wore one outfit, a denim knee-length skirt with a black tank top and green Hunter boots. Maggie pointed that out to me. No matter the weather, she was out there in that outfit. She always had this key ring hooked to her belt loop so you would hear the keys pinging together as she worked in their yard.”
Mitchell paused then said, “You probably think I’m as lurky as a peeping Tom.”
“No,” I said, smiling, “you don’t sound that lurky.”
“Geez,” he replied cringing, “I know it. I just want you to be able to picture how odd they were. I mean, there they are in a million and a half dollar home and she’s wearing the same exact clothing every single day? It was so odd,” he paused, hesitant to continue, then said, “Man, if that sounded lurky this is going to sound really creepy,” he began picking at the bottle wrapper again.
“I was just kidding with you,” I said, “You don’t seem lurky at all. You actually might be a little too upstanding.”
Mitchell smiled, “The thing is these people were impossible to ignore, I couldn’t help but pay attention to them. The first really strange thing, though, was Kate’s exercise routine. They had this room built above their garage with floor to ceiling windows on both the side facing our house and the side overlooking the woods and cemetery.”
“Whoa, back up,” I said, “Cemetery?”
“Our property backed up to Woodlawn Cemetery,” he replied.
“We’d never been superstitious,” he explained. “It didn’t phase us to have the cemetery behind the home. It’s actually quite a beautiful place.”
“Yeah, ok,” I said sarcastically.
“Point taken,” he replied. “We bought the house in May and didn’t realize just how close the gravestones were until late autumn when all the leaves had fallen. It was actually a pretty dreary view from the back of the house.
“Anyhow, I was in my office working one morning when I heard a piercing scream. It sounded like someone was being stabbed to death. I jumped up and ran over to the window and that’s when I saw her.
“Kate was in that glassed in room doing these wild movements. I don’t know how to describe it other than combat yoga. First she did aggressive fighting moves, punching and kicking and screaming, jumping around and rolling on the floor. Then she stopped and stood stock still for about five minutes. I timed it. Then it was stretching that looked like yoga, but it was extreme, it looked almost painful. Finally, she fell down on her knees and began rocking back and forth sobbing. When that was over she lit a stick of incense and walked around the room backwards, waving the thing over her head.”
“SoulCycle ain’t got nothin’ on her,” I said with a nervous laugh.
“Man, I know some people get into extreme exercise, but this was almost scary. Not almost, it was frightening. She worked herself up into a frenzy like that every single morning from eight until nine a.m. After the second day I started working at the kitchen table in the mornings.
“I told Maggie about it and she laughed it off saying that nothing about the women in the Swells surprised her anymore.”
I smiled thinking this Maggie sounded cool.
He went on, “They had people coming and going all day long. All different kinds of people, young and old, driving everything from old beat up cars to brand new Mercedes. I thought they might be therapists. Maggie still thought they were swingers.
“One afternoon Harry brought over a plate of brownies welcoming us to the neighborhood. He invited us over for drinks the following evening in their backyard. I accepted, though I had absolutely no desire to spend any time with them.
“Maggie and I ate the brownies that night while we watched a movie. The kids were both out and I don’t know why I did it, but I threw out the rest of those brownies away before they came home. They tasted totally fine, but I just didn’t want the kids eating them.
“I had the strangest, most vivid dreams that night and so did Maggie. We both dreamt of the Dilvish’s. Specifically about doors in their backyard. Then when we went to their house for drinks we saw the doors in their fence. It had three doors evenly spaced along the side facing the cemetery.”
“Oh dear,” I said, feeling the first tingle of fear.
“In typical Maggie fashion she asked, ‘What’s up with the doors?’ when we walked outside. Harry and Kate looked at one another dramatically and held their hands out for one another and touched finger tips.
“Kate explained that it balanced the property and allowed them access to forces beyond the understanding of most humans. Harry changed the subject quickly and asked if we intended to put a fence in around our yard. He mentioned our dog Snuffy.
“The thing is, I hadn’t told him our dog’s name, and I was pretty certain that Maggie hadn’t either. I told him we were in the process of getting quotes from a couple fence companies and asked him who installed their fence, just to be polite, you know? He said they’d built it themselves. Maggie made a joke about how un-handy I am around the house but I wanted to know how he knew our dog’s name. I said something like, ‘I didn’t know you’d met our Golden.’
“The creep told me that Melanie, my daughter, had introduced them,” Mitchell gave a little growl then, “The way he said it, too, ‘Melanie made the introduction, what a pleasant young woman.’ Then he asks me again if either of the kids ever did ‘odd jobs’ for money. Something about the way he asked made me want to punch him in the face. When we got home that night I told both the kids to stay away from the Dilvish’s and their house.
“I asked Mel about her conversation with Harry and she told me she’d never even met him.”
“Oh, shit,” I said.
“I had a bad feeling about them but Maggie still wasn’t convinced. She had to agree that both of us dreaming about doors in their backyard and then there actually being doors in their backyard was weird, but she reasoned that we must have seen them at some point and forgotten. Her opinion was that the Dilvish’s were socially awkward hippies. She told me to ‘stop being so square’ then reached out dramatically to touch finger tips with me.”
I snorted and almost spit out my seltzer water, “I have to meet your wife.”
“She’s pretty great,” he acknowledged. “For a time things were quiet, but when we installed the fence all hell broke loose. We chose a plastic fence that matched theirs pretty closely in style, the only difference was that theirs was made of wood. It was painted white so side by side it looked fine, you couldn’t tell much of a difference looking at it. But they completely lost their minds over it.”
Just then our food arrived. A turkey club for Mitchell and a B.L.T. and fries for me.
I asked, “So, what was the big deal about the fence?” then took a huge bite of my sandwich.
“The day it was being installed I was working in my office when I heard yelling coming from our backyard. It was Kate berating the guys installing the fence. She was screaming at them about earth energy, demanding they acknowledge the plastic fence would be around longer than the human race and that it’s toxins would leech into the earth.
“I went right outside and as I approached them she was demanding to know how they could look at themselves in the mirror each morning knowing they were agents of destruction. Her back was to me and when I called out to ask if there was a problem she spun around and, Liz, I’m telling you she looked like a completely different person. She looked older and her eyes, they were blue, usually they were blue, but I swear to God on my life, when she turned around and looked at me her irises were jet black, like her pupil had taken over.
“I tried to talk to her but she wouldn’t calm down. She actually picked up a piece of the fence, a big section of it, and threw it at me. The fence guys just stepped back and watched us, I think they were as frightened as I was.
“Just as I was about to go inside and call the police Harry ran out and wrapped his arms around her, pinning her arms to her side. He didn’t acknowledge anyone but Kate. ‘Shhh, my darling,’ he kept saying over and over, ‘You mustn’t expend, you must conceal,’ and other weird shit like that. Oh, I know what else he said, ‘Power shared is power lost, my darling.
“She finally stopped struggling against him and began sobbing. He scooped her up and carried her into their house like she was a child. I just stood there dumbfounded. One of the guys from the fence company finally broke the silence by saying, ‘Alright, Boss, you want us to take ten or should we keep moving here?’
“I told them to keep working.”
“That is freaking crazy town,” I said. “Part of me kind of loves her, or at least wants her to have her own reality show.”
Mitchell laughed but continued seriously, “I’m not embarrassed to say that it scared the hell out of me. I was already pretty wigged out by her exercise routine, but after the whole fence thing I thought she might need to be in some sort of treatment center.”
“What did Maggie say about it?”
“She was really pissed. She wanted to go right over and demand that they stay the hell off our property and away from us.”
“No, thank God. I talked her out of it. We agreed to finish the fence and keep our distance. But it was too late. There was no going back.”
“Man, what did they do?”
“It was subtle at first. The things they did weren’t so obvious. Like the door to our fence would be left open and Snuffy would get out and wander the neighborhood for a while before we even knew he was gone.”
“Wait,” I said, nervous about another mention of the dog, “I have to skip to the last page here, did they do something to him?” I demanded.
“No,” he replied, adamantly. “No way would I let that happen. The third time that fence was left open and the kids swore they hadn’t done it, I started walking Snuffy in the neighborhood instead of letting him out in the yard. Even when I was back there with him I was afraid they were going to throw poisoned meat over the fence or something.
“I was beginning to feel unsafe. Nothing in particular was happening that I could point to, but at night it felt like someone was watching us from the windows. I found things around our yard. A family of dead birds in the driveway. A bunch of black balloons stuck in one of our trees in the front yard. It was as though they’d escaped from a party, but who the hell gets black balloons? Then there were big paw prints right beneath my office window. Weird stuff like that.
“One morning I saw something that I thought was a downed branch hanging on the back of our fence at the back of the yard, bordering the trees.”
“And the cemetery,” I interrupted.
“And the cemetery,” he acknowledged. “I walked around the outside of the fence and found a plain wooden ladder leaning against it. There were symbols painted all over it and on that section of the fence.”
“Oh no,” I said, quietly, popping a fry in my mouth.
“I grabbed the ladder and brought it around to the front of the house, I considered throwing it in the trash, but then, I was so damn pissed. I knew it was them. I figured they were trying to intimidate me with their hippy bullshit, so I threw it into the middle of their driveway.”
I made a noise of concern.
“I didn’t see them pick it up out of the driveway and I didn’t see them walk around the fence, believe me I was watching. But that damn ladder came back, again and again.”
“What do you mean?”
“I broke that fucking ladder at least four times. The second time it showed up I smashed it against the driveway and broke it apart pretty well. But there it was, the next morning. Good as new.”
“No way,” I said, reaching for another fry and realizing that I’d already eaten all of them.
“They must have had several of those ladders as back ups, but I’m telling you they looked exactly the same. I’d peek around the fence for a couple days and see nothing and then, boom. There was the ladder and the paint. By about the third time I decided to set up a camera to catch them on my property, you know?
“There were a few nights with nothing. I’d fast forward through the video recording every morning even if the ladder hadn’t shown up the previous night just to see if they were lurking around out there. I had that feeling of being watched at night and I wanted proof that they were out there.
“One morning I’m fast-forwarding through the recording when the ladder appeared. I slowed down the tape and was able to see that it had been carried quickly out of the trees and leaned up against the fence. The thing was, it wasn’t the Dilvish’s who put it there.”
Mitchell looked down and pushed the plate of untouched food to the side.
“Then who was it?” I asked, resisting the urge to grab a fry off his plate.
“They were small. Really small,” he said, still looking down. “I watched that tape so many times, it may have been children, but if it was they couldn’t have been much more than four years old. Who the hell would send a four year old into the woods with a ladder in the middle of the night? I don’t know. I just, well after that I didn’t check the back fence any longer. I left the camera up, but I didn’t look at the recording.”
“What are you saying?” I asked, confused.
“I don’t think people were the ones replacing the ladder.”
“I didn’t tell Maggie what I’d seen. My plan had been to capture the Dilvish’s on camera and call the police with evidence that they were the ones defacing our fence and creeping around our property at night. I couldn’t show the police that tape.
“I was scared, I just wanted to let the whole thing drop. I wanted to ignore the stupid ladder and hoped they would eventually get over the whole fence issue.”
“But that didn’t work,” I guessed.
“No. They were just getting started. Around that time Kate put up crudely drawn images of my family facing out the window in her exercise room. I could see them clearly from my office. I talked to a police officer in town and he said it was strange but there was no way to get her to take them down. A week later little dolls appeared leaning against the window underneath each of our drawings.”
“All of that over a plastic fence?” I said, incredulous.
“I think they had us pegged from the beginning. Our house was built on spec. A builder had come in and torn down the small ranch that had been there and built our home on the property. I think they never approved of our home so they were never going to approve of us.”
“Geez,” I said. “When did you realize they were witches though? I mean the ladder and everything is weird and the dolls are absolutely terrifying, but witches?”
“It took some time to figure it all out. At first it just felt like we were living under a dark cloud. Anything and everything went wrong with the house, the brand new house.
“The basement flooded and the flood cause a leak in the foundation that let a swarm of these disgusting centipede-like bugs into the house. It was infested. The exterminator came and then about a week later there were these huge black beetles crawling all over the place. Maggie wanted to sue the builder and move immediately. I wanted out of there too, but we couldn’t move. We didn’t have the money to just buy another house, float our existing mortgage and sue the guy. And who were we going to find to buy an infested house with a foundation issue?
“Then the health issues started. Maggie twisted her knee really badly one morning after we’d had a bad wind storm. She was walking out to get the mail and tripped on a huge branch that had fallen overnight. It was so bad that she had to basically drag her way back to the house and bang on the door until I came to help her.
“Then I came down with a case of shingles. The kids were sick all the time. Nothing particularly serious but a string of cold after cold after stomach bug after flu breaks you down. We were constantly at the doctor for one thing or another.
“It was hard enough on our family and our relationships with one another but then all of a sudden no one wanted to hang out with us anymore. Friends we’d had since the kids were babies started outright avoiding us. The kids were getting picked on at school, they were becoming isolated from their friends too. A girl Melanie had known since preschool started bullying her on Facebook.
“All of it took a toll, for Maggie and I it hit our careers especially hard. The turmoil had an obvious effect on our ability to work effectively. I couldn’t draw at my usual pace for the nerve pain in my arm and poor Maggie couldn’t hobble around the hospital with her leg brace and crutches.
“All of that was tangible, though. It could have been chalked up to a rash of very bad luck. But then the haunting began.”
“Come on,” I breathed.
“Maggie started seeing things. Things that weren’t possible. She was cleaning the mirror in our bathroom and saw me standing behind her in the reflection. We had a conversation about dinner and when I suggested that we invite the neighbors over she turned around to look at me I wasn’t there. She ran downstairs and found me at my drawing table. I’d been there all afternoon.”
“Oh no,” I breathed.
“Then one night Mags was cooking and, I know this sounds straight out of a horror movie, but she was cooking chicken breasts and they, well, they crawled across the cutting board and flopped onto the floor.”
I took in Mitchell’s furrowed brow and worried eyes. Even though this was the creepiest and grossest thing I’d ever heard, I believed him.
I said, “How?”
“Magic,” he said quietly. “She wasn’t the only one seeing things, I did too, and so did the kids. Melanie opened her closet one morning and all of her clothes were red. She ran to get her mom and when she tried to show her there was nothing out of the ordinary about her clothing. It had gone back to normal.
“Your son?” I interrupted.
“Yeah, he’s Mitchell the third,” Mitchell said with a smile, “Maggie nicknamed him Tres when he was a baby and it stuck.”
“Adorable,” I commented.
“He’s a really great kid,” Mitchell replied. “He was mowing the lawn and just as he was about to go over a section he said a rabbit popped out of the ground in front of the mower. He told me he heard the mower hit it. Heard it grinding over the poor thing. But when he stopped there was nothing there. No bunny.”
“Jesus,” I said, “That is sick. I don’t even want to ask you what you saw.”
“I had to nail the basement door shut after I saw gremlin down there when I was putting away my hockey gear.”
“What?” I asked with a laugh.
Mitchell stayed silent.
“You couldn’t have,” I breathed.
“But I did. It was there. I know it was all probably some sort of conjuring or illusion. But it was real enough for me,” he paused for a moment, then said, “I was terrified of that movie when I was little. I hated those things. There is no way they could have known that, but they did.”
“They were magic,” he said, exasperated. “My dreams got so disturbing and violent that I couldn’t sleep more than an hour or two at a time. I was up around three o’clock one night when I heard a noise outside. It sounded like it came from the back of the house so I went into my office and looked out the window.
“I had a full view of the Dilvish’s backyard from there and what I saw scared me more than anything I’ve ever experienced. They were there. Standing naked, surrounded by six other people dressed in black. There were tiki torches placed around them as well. The worst part about it was that they were all perfectly still and silent, staring at the back of the fence, towards the doors.
“I watched them watching those doors on the fence for maybe, four or five minutes. Then the wind picked up. The trees began swaying and the doors blew open, all three of them at the same time. I wanted to look away then, but I couldn’t.”
“Three figures walked through those doors. The same ones I’d seen placing the ladder at my fence. The people surrounding the Dilvish’s backed up a few steps to let the creatures into the group. I watched the things circle our neighbors a few times and then the group closed back in around them. I stopped watching then.”
“Good Lord, Mitchell, I’m not going to sleep for a week,” I said.
“Tell me about it,” he replied. “It was a Black Mass, that’s how I realized they were witches. The old-fashioned kind, not the modern ones who just want to burn sage and wear eyeliner. They followed Satan.”
“How do you know that?” I asked, skeptical at the idea of devil worshippers in Wellesley. Which I admit was odd because I’d been quick to believe the story about the crawling chicken breasts. But the satanic panic of the 1980s always comes to mind whenever the specter of devil worshippers was touted.
Mitchell explained, “I took a picture of the drawings they’d painted on the fence and brought it to the library, one of your old coworkers helped me to find one of the symbols in a book of black magic.”
“Brilliant,” I said, proud of my profession. “What did the symbol mean?”
“Downfall,” he said darkly.
I shivered, “What did you do?”
“I snuck into their house.”
“No you did not.”
“I had to, we were under attack and I had to find a way to stop them. It’s not like I could call the police.”
“Couldn’t you just move?” I asked.
“They put a curse on our property,” he said quietly.
I considered then said, “But what in the world were you hoping to find in their house? What if they’d caught you?”
“I had to take that chance. I found a witch who could help us. She explained everything and it all started when they first met us. They tagged us with those damn brownies,” he said angrily.
“What do you mean?” I asked, thinking of the cinnamon buns I’d accepted from our next door neighbors as a welcoming gift months ago. I hadn’t shared them. Chris can’t have gluten and what the girls didn’t know couldn’t hurt them so I ate the pastries that morning with coffee while I watched a Supernatural re-run. There were only four of them and they were relatively small. It had been a small treat yo self moment, but what if those cinnamon buns had been tainted?
I pushed aside the idea, my neighbors were kind Buddhists after all, and forced myself to pay attention to Mitchell.
He said, “When we were in the middle of the storm with those damn people I drove up to Salem to try and find someone to help us.”
“How did you know where to go?”
“I didn’t. I googled ‘Salem witch shop’ and chose the first one that came up. It was called Crow Haven Corner. It was late September so the place was busy with a bunch of tourists. I was looking around trying to find something, anything that said ‘protection’ or ‘curse breaker’ on it when the shop owner tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to come back for a reading in her Egyptian room.”
“Oh boy,” I said.
“That was my reaction, I started to say ‘no thank you’ but she cut me off and said she was deeply concerned about my aura so the reading would be complimentary.
“Even though I was about ninety-five percent certain that this woman was a charlatan, I was desperate. I followed her to the reading room and let her give me a tarot card reading and-”
“Wait, what color was your aura?” I interrupted, curious.
“Oh, supposedly it was a ‘muddy silver’ whatever that means, mixed with shades of grey. She told me I had a buildup of fear and anger and that I’d been around serious discord and injury. The witch, Ravine-“
“Ravine?” I interrupted again.
“Yeah, I don’t think it was her given name,” he said, with a laugh, “She said my aura was a dark blob of negativity swirling angrily around me. She had to get me away from her other customers as soon as possible.
“Before this whole mess with our neighbors I’d never believed in any of this stuff. Never seen a ghost, never seen anything that I couldn’t explain, you know? But this woman, Ravine, her tarot card reading hit on everything we’d been going through.
“She turned over the first card, sat back in her chair and said, ‘It’s your neighbors, isn’t it?’”
“Get out of town,” I said.
“Yup. The cards told her that our neighbors were powerful dark witches accomplished in black magic. To top it off, she said they were devil worshipers. Devil worshipers,” he reiterated. “That’s what made them so powerful.”
“Crazy,” I said.
“That’s exactly what it was,” Mitchell agreed, “crazy. I told her I would pay any amount, do anything if she could help me. But Ravine wouldn’t accept any payment, she said that she couldn’t, that it was her duty as a witch to banish darkness whether she wanted to or not. She believed it was fate that brought me into her shop, that the ‘Goddess’ sent me and it was her duty to protect me.”
“What the hell did she do?”
“She mixed a bunch of herbs together and said a bunch of words over them. She waved her hands around and burned three sticks of sage over me. Then she hypnotized me and said that while I was under she pulled out the ‘hooks’ the Dilvish’s had planted in me with those brownies. Maggie had to go up the next day to have the same thing done. While she was there, in Salem, I broke into the neighbor’s house.
“Ravine told me exactly what to look for. She said to start in the exercise room and grab those dolls and pictures that Kate had put up against the glass. Next I had to head to the lowest part of the house. She explained that’s where the shrine would be. She suggested the basement but said it may be hidden under a trap door anywhere off the first floor.
“How did you know how long they would be gone for?” I demanded. “What if you were caught?”
‘They taught a class on herbal remedies at MassBay every Thursday morning from ten until noon. I had two hours to find what I needed and get out of there.”
“Just hearing you talk about it is giving me heart palpitations,” I said.
“Imagine how I felt,” he said with a laugh. “When I was searching for the door to the basement one of their cats sprinted past me and nearly gave me a heart attack.
“Their basement was the spookiest place I have ever stepped foot. The walls were painted midnight blue and the ceiling and floor were black. The door to their sanctuary stood out like a sore thumb, thank God. It was bright red and covered in symbols. Instead of a door handle there was a hoof.”
“Yeah, from a goat or a deer maybe,” he replied, shaking his head in disgust.
“Gruesome,” I commented.
“Mm,” he agreed. “I had to absolutely force myself grab onto the thing to yank open the door. It led to a small circular shaped room that was painted bright white, floor, ceiling, everything. It was dazzling after the darkness in the rest of the basement. I hesitated for a moment before walking in, I didn’t want my shoes to scuff the floor and leave any evidence that I’d been there so I took them off and walked in with just my socks. The floor was warm.”
“Ick, no,” I said, chilled.
“At the center of the room was a big stone bowl on a bed of pebbles. There were shelves along one wall, they were filled with white boxes. Each box was labeled and one had ‘Westcott Family’ written on it in fancy cursive lettering.”
“Get right out of here,” I demanded.
“Nope,” he replied. “It was that easy. I grabbed the box, got the hell out of that evil room, put my shoes on and headed straight for the back door.”
“Oh, thank God,” I breathed, unable to stand the idea of him alone in that house.
“That wasn’t it,” he said.
“Oh, come on!” I sighed.
“I got out of the house just fine but as I was sneaking back into my yard I saw something in the little strip of woods between our property and the cemetery. It was big, over eight feet tall. I couldn’t see it’s head but it’s legs were bent backwards, like, well like deer legs. I ran to my house, lit a fire and threw everything in there, chanting the words that Ravine told me to say.”
“Whoa,” I said, holding out my hands, “An eight foot tall deer legged monster in the backyard? In the middle of the day? What in the hell?”
“It was the only time I saw it. It may have been another illusion, but I don’t think so. I think it watched over them, an agent of the devil.”
I stared at him for a moment then said, “Please tell me you moved. Immediately.”
“We did. I put the house on the market that afternoon, Ravine had given me a potion for a quick home sale. We lived in a hotel until the house sold and we closed on our new place over in Wellesley Hills.”
I shook my head in disbelief wondering who’d bought the cursed property.
I asked, “So what was in the box?”
“One of my colored pencils, Maggie’s hospital i.d. that she thought she’d misplaced, a lacrosse ball that had belonged to Tres, and one of Melanie’s guitar picks.”
“You must have seen them again,” I said, meaning the Dilvish’s.
“No. We do all of our shopping online and have our groceries delivered by Roche Brothers. I can’t run the risk of running into them in town.”
“And that’s it, they never came after you even though they must have known you had broken into their house?”
“That was it. Ravine said that once I’d burned everything and chanted her reversal then they would be plagued with the curse and we would never have to deal with them again.”
“Well, Mitchell, you’ve managed to scared the hell out of me,” I said with a nervous laugh.
“Sorry,” he said.
“No, it’s fantastic. Just do me a favor and don’t tell Chris your story. It would be too much for him.”
“Doesn’t he read your blog?” Mitchell asked.
“No, he doesn’t like ghost stories,” I said
“You’re kidding me,” he replied pulling his jacket off the back of his seat.
“This stuff isn’t for everyone,” I said with a shrug.