“Let’s do this!” Biddy called, walking towards me at a fast clip.
“You know I don’t power walk,” I groaned.
“I’ll tone it down a notch,” she replied dismissively. “I’ve been dying to get over here since the weather turned.”
She paused, looking me over. “A Ghostbusters t-shirt, really?”
“I don’t have many short-sleeved shirts,” I replied with a shrug, pulling awkwardly at the top I usually wore as a nightshirt.
Biddy ignored my explanation and set off down the path.
“How’s everything at the house?” She asked.
“Besides living with three children, things are pretty calm,” I answered.
“You still doing a cleansing every month?” She asked seriously.
“Yes,” I replied, already out of breath.
We walked along for a while catching each other up on our lives and families. She told me about her new found obsession with needle point and I shared my rekindled enthusiasm for Supernatural reruns. She mentioned that she’d recently re-watched the pilot episode of X-Files and that it really held up over time.
We were about half-way around Lake Waban when she told me about Whitney Barkley’s haunting.
“You’re investigating again?” I asked in disbelief.
“Not exactly,” she replied, her arms pumping back and forth. “Father McGonagle asked me to conduct preliminary interviews for urgent cases.”
“So, investigating,” I said.
“Actually, it’s a lot like what you do,” she shot back. “How are your interviews coming, anyway?”
“Stranger and stranger,” I replied.
“I’m not surprised,” she said.
I told her about the last interview I’d conducted. While renovating his garage a man recovered an old black and white photo of a little boy. Since then the boy had been haunting him, not just in his home but everywhere he went. He’d asked me not to publish his story, that he just needed to talk to someone who would believe him. I put him in touch with Molly in hopes that the psychic could find out what it was the spirit wanted.
“Be careful with that psychic,” Biddy cautioned.
“She’s cool,” I replied.
“Just be careful,” Biddy replied knowingly.
We continued walking for a time, me trying to keep up, Biddy trying to hold back from her usual pace.
Out of the blue Biddy said, “Come on this next interview with me.”
“To the demon possessed Barkley house?” I laughed. “Nope.”
“Why not? You can record it and if they give permission then you’ll pop their story on the blog.”
I couldn’t come up with an excuse fast enough so she continued, “I’m going over there Tuesday morning at ten o’clock.”
I was about to argue that I didn’t want to be anywhere near anything that even might possibly be demonic when she said, “Good, I’ll see you then.”
Too out of breath to argue, I said, “Fine.”
“Them’s some pink arms,” Biddy commented. “You should really wear sunscreen.”
I didn’t respond.
“Alright, ready?” She asked, pushing sunglasses to the top of her head.
I nodded, and followed her up the Barkley’s front walkway.
The house was a small Tudor in a winding Wellesley Hills neighborhood. Though the day was sunny and warm, the home’s stucco and wood exterior looked dreary. The little house was set back from the road atop a small hill and I could see a dense treeline at the edge of the back yard.
Aside from those trees, the yard itself was devoid of landscaping. Instead of the rhododendron and evergreens present in the neighbor’s yards, the Barkley’s landscaping consisted of only dark mulch. I wondered if perhaps the homeowners were overhauling the gardens, which made me consider my own dog poop and toy strewn lawn. If not attractive, at least this yard was orderly.
Biddy took a deep breath and blew it out before climbing a set of stone steps to the front door. She rang the doorbell and looked back at me with a small smile. I waited awkwardly on the walkway, looking up at her.
We listened to a deep loud and steady barking from behind the doorway.
“Down, Tiny, shush!” We heard a woman scold.
The door opened and out barreled Tiny, a massive Bernese Mountain dog. He nearly knocked Biddy backwards off the steps then jumped up at me in what felt like an attempt to knock me to the ground so he could lick me to death.
“Tiny!” The woman shrieked, then, “Ed! The dog!”
A man’s voice entered the fray, yelling from inside the house, “Tiny! Cheese! Come get your cheese!”
The dog gave me one more kiss before bounding up the steps and back into the house.
“Oh, dear, I am so sorry. He has the worst manners. He’s still just a puppy even though he looks like a giant. We’ve only had small dogs in the past, so we are still learning how to train him, but he really is just a gentle giant,” the woman rambled. “Please, come in, come in!”
The bright day was immediately forgotten once I’d stepped inside the dimly-lit foyer. A stairway, far too grand for the home’s small dimensions, dominated the entryway.
“You must be Whitney,” Biddy said, extending her hand.
“Of course, yes, I’m sorry,” the woman replied apologetically. “I’m Whitney Barkley.”
“And I’m Edward,” a man said, walking towards us from the back of the house. “Edward Barkley.”
The dog sniffed at us and wagged it’s fluffy tail as Biddy introduced me to the couple. While Whitney’s was one of those off-putting finger tip handshakes, after Edward’s shake I had to suppress the urge to massage my knuckles.
We were invited into the kitchen at the back of the house where we sat around a circular shaped table set for tea and scones. Tiny sat panting on a small rug in front of the kitchen sink.
I sat between Biddy and Whitney, across from Edward. He was a trim little guy, probably in his mid-sixties. With wire framed glasses, a kind face and very little hair. He sat with his hands clasped atop the table.
To my left sat Whitney. It was as though she were in soft focus, not plump but soft around the edges. Her thick medium length brown hair waved prettily, without any frizz to speak of, and she had absolutely gorgeous skin. She wore red framed glasses that only a few years ago would have been considered lame, but now they were super hip. I pegged her somewhere in her early sixties.
It felt as though I were back in high school, sitting at the table with a set of a friend’s parents. It was hard to reconcile the reason for our visit with how positively ordinary these people seemed.
Whitney filled our cups and passed the plate of scones and quick count on my part proved we could each indulge in two. Score. Biddy retrieved a legal pad from her bag and placed it on the table in front of her. I saw that the top page was filled with notes.
I placed my recorder on the table and caught her eye, she nodded then said, “Alright, so as I explained on the phone, I’m here to document information for Father McGonagle. My colleague,” she said, motioning to me unessesarily, “Has been through a similar experience in her own home, and he helped clear the entity. Liz is gathering data about Wellesley and the uptick of paranormal activity in town.”
“We’ve read your blog,” Edward said to me.
Whitney shook her head in my direction and actually patted my hand, “Your stories are quite frightening, dear.”
Biddy cut in before I could respond, “Are you certain you’re alright with Liz publishing your story? Under assumed names, of course.”
“We are quite certain,” Whitney replied. “People need to know.”
“People need to know,” Edward echoed.
“Right, then let’s get started. Ultimately I am looking to document your experience, so tell me anything you think Father McGonagle should know,” Biddy said.
The wide-eyed Barkleys nodded their heads enthusiastically.
“What prompted you to seek Father McGonagle’s help?” Biddy asked.
“The haunting,” Whitney replied, aiming her response towards the voice recorder.
I took a bite of my pastry. My suspicion had been accurate. The scones were from Quebrada.
Meanwhile, Biddy remained silent, waiting for Whitney to offer more detail.
Edward looked at her and suggested, “Maybe we should start by explaining our move and how we ended up here?”
“Yes, that makes sense, honey,” Whitney agreed. “Our children are in college now. Brittany is a Senior at Middlebury and Ben, the baby, is a sophomore at Hobart and William Smith. I bet you girls have young children now, I know I’m probably not the first one to tell you but it goes fast.”
“Enjoy it,” Edward chimed in.
I smiled, falling in love with the sweet couple.
Whitney continued, “We used to live over in the baby belt. The kids went to Upham for elementary and we just loved our home, but it became too much upkeep once the kids were gone. We thought it would be good to pass it on to a young family and downsize.
“I’ve always been drawn to this side of town, we are near enough to the train station, so Ed takes the Commuter Line to work occasionally and I was excited to take up a new project.”
“And we’re closer to the church,” Edward added.
“That’s where I know you guys from!” I said, slapping my leg.
“You go Wellesley Hills?” Whitney asked, happily.
“Not as much as I should,” I confessed, “But yes, I knew that I recognized you all from somewhere.”
“We’re in the choir,” Edward said.
“That’s it!” I confirmed.
“How lovely,” Whitney said.
“Sorry!” I said sheepishly to Biddy. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Not at all, dear,” Whitney replied. “It’s nice to know that you’re part of the congregation.
“Proximity to the church drew us to this side of town, and the house was a steal. Maybe that should have tipped us off. The home had been on the market for a little under three years. It wasn’t necessarily in terrible shape, but it had been empty all that time and needed some attention.
“The realtor assured us that there was nothing wrong with the property,” Whitney explained, “Buyers just weren’t interested in a renovation project and it was priced a bit too high for the developers to buy it as a tear down.”
“Damn developers,” Edward grumbled.
Whitney gave a sad smile and explained, “Our old home was demolished by the couple who bought it from us. They built a new house on the property and we’re still smarting a little bit from the loss.
“Anyhow,” Whitney continued with a sigh, “We were optimistic about a new start. The kids were supportive, of course. It was really more of a restoration than a renovation, and it went beautifully. We had absolutely no indication of any trouble with the house. Our first clue was the yard.”
“Mm hmm,” Edward agreed, reaching for his second scone.
“How so?” Biddy asked, flipping over a page in her notebook and making a note.
Here we go, I thought, taking a sip of tea.
“We spent a small fortune on landscaping. It had probably been fifteen years since anyone had even touched the yard.”
“Sorry to interrupt again,” I said, “But who lived in the house before you?”
“A widow,” Whitney answered, reaching out for her husband’s hand. “The poor woman had Alzheimer’s and lived here with assistance for several years before succumbing. We were told that her only son died in a boating accident as a teenager and there wasn’t any other family. A neighbor acted as executor of her will, and he managed the property.”
“He mowed the lawn while it was on the market,” Edward interjected.
Whitney agreed, “A good man, and kind. But,” she hesitated and glanced at her husband, “Besides the grass, the yard was a mess. The shrubbery was overgrown, and ivy had creeped to the point that it had begun to overtake the house. I was afraid there would be damage, but luckily it proved to be minimal.”
“The back of the lot was all brambles and brush under the trees. It was a hell of a job to clear it out,” Edward added.
“Once we’d finally had it cleared a landscaper drew up a plan. I wanted the yard to look like an English garden with lots of flowers in the spring and trimmed hedges and plush evergreens year-round. It just wasn’t meant to be.
“It all died. Twice over. The first time,” she paused, shaking her head sadly, “The gardeners had worked all day long and when they left everything was perfect; the pruned hedges and all the greenery around the exterior of the house and patio. We even put in a few trees. It was beautiful, but in the morning,” Whitney sighed.
“Dead. All of it,” Edward said.
“How?” I asked, then looked to Biddy, worried that I was overstepping, but she was staring at the couple, pen poised over her pad.
“The landscaper suspected that something had contaminated the tools her team used for the plantings. It was the only explanation. They came back and cleared everything out, let the ground rest for two weeks and then planted again.”
“But everything was dead the next morning,” guessed Biddy.
“All of it. Gone,” Whitney admitted.
“The landscaper’s opinion?” Biddy prompted.
“That there was something wrong with the land.”
I held back from asking another question as Biddy jotted something on her pad.
When she looked up she said, “Did you have the soil tested?”
“We did, twice,” Edward replied with a stiff nod.
“The results?” Biddy asked.
“The acidity was in the normal range, with acceptably low levels of lead and aluminum. Phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and a bunch of other mineral levels proved normal. Our sulfur levels were a touch high, but not enough to cause such widespread destruction. There was no evidence of a chemical leak or intentional contamination.”
“And you’re sure that the landscaper handled everything properly?” Biddy asked.
“Well, the second time, yes. She replaced all of their tools and even bought plantings from a different nursery. Of course, I can’t say for sure about the first time they worked on the yard, but it would be quite the coincidence if they repeated the same mistake, no? Also, I have a close friend who used the same company and her lawn is just beautiful. She has the lushest hydrangea bushes I’ve seen this side of Nantucket’s.”
“That must have been so disappointing,” I commented about the twice failed landscaping attempts.
“And expensive,” Biddy added.
Edward shook his head and Whitney popped a big piece of scone into her mouth.
“The landscaping is freaky, but I don’t know that I would have suspected anything paranormal if that had happened in our yard,” I noted, slightly confused and a touch suspicious if a bunch of dead plants prompted them to call an exorcist.
“No, no,” Whitney said quickly. “It’s only in hindsight that we recognize the problems in the yard as the first sign of evil. The have been many more clues.”
“Before we talk about what’s happened inside the house, I just want to wrap up with the property. You mentioned a sinkhole when we spoke on the phone,” Biddy said.
Edward leaned forward in his seat and said, “It was the damndest thing. I was out there playing catch with Tiny when two of the birch trees at the edge of the lawn came down. They damn near fell right on me. I had my back to the woods and had it not been for Tiny staring off behind me and then turning to run to the house I may have been killed.”
At mention of his name Tiny walked over and put his head in his Dad’s lap.
“It was a sinkhole,” Whitney explained. “Opened up right at the treeline.”
“Wait, we have sinkholes here? I thought they only happened in places like Florida,” I demanded.
“They happen all over the world,” Biddy replied without looking at me, then said to Whitney, “How big is the hole?”
“Oh, what do you think, Ed?” Whitney asked, then answered her own question, “It’s probably about nine feet across now.”
“You’ve had someone come to check it out?” Biddy asked.
The couple nodded in unison but offered no further explanation.
I had about fifty questions that I wanted to ask, the first being Why in the hell are you still living here? We could be swallowed up at any minute you lunatics! I even considered excusing myself to the bathroom then running as far away as I could.
Biddy must have sensed my unease because she said, “Don’t get worked up, we’re not falling down to hell quite yet.”
I forced a laugh and took a bite of pastry so I wouldn’t have to speak.
“Anything strange happen around the sink?” Biddy said.
The couple exchanged a look.
“What?” I demanded, unable to hold back.
“The newts, they must have been living underground and the sinkhole disturbed them. They just stream out of that hole. They’re all over the yard, I am surprised you didn’t see any on your way in here. They are disgusting little creatures and we can’t get rid of them.
“We were told that if we sprayed to kill off the insects in the yard then the newts would move on to greener pastures. But they must be getting their food nearby because they seem to like it here.
“They’re all over the place, especially at night, we don’t let the dog out back anymore. He was always swatting them around or rolling around on top of them. It was nasty. We haven’t been able use the grill either, they seem to love it in there.”
Biddy made a note on her pad, “Speaking of the grill, have you had any trouble with fire? I noticed you have quite a few fire extinguishers set out.”
I glanced around the kitchen and saw there was a small extinguisher near the stove and a larger one on the floor next to the back door.
“As a matter of fact, yes, we have had a few accidents,” Whitney said, vaguely.
“I’m as accident prone as they come,” I joked, “But even I keep our one extinguisher under the sink,” I said, remembering the large extinguisher I’d seen mounted to the wall in the hallway.
“It’s sort of a sore subject,” Whitney replied turning towards Edward.
“We’ve been cleared of all suspicion,” Edward said, “But we were the subject of an arson investigation at the end of last year. We’d had several unexplained fires and, naturally, the police became suspicious.
“We were right at this table being interviewed by the fire chief when one of those little fires set off in the study. He smelled the smoke and watched me rush in to put it out. He knew there was no way that we could have started it ourselves, we’d just finished giving him a tour of the house.”
“He’s a wonderful man,” Whitney said quickly. “He gave us a slew of fire extinguishers and even installed several extra smoke detectors for us.”
“Did he know what caused the fires?” I asked, incredulous.
“No,” Whitney replied. “But he did mention he’d encountered a home with a similar problem when he first started fighting fires down in Louisiana.”
Again, I had follow up questions, but before I could ask them Biddy said, “What else about the house concerns you?”
“It’s always cold in here,” Edward said.
“That’s true,” Whitney agreed, “Even on the sunniest day in the dead of summer the house is cold and dark.”
“Saves us on air conditioning,” Edward joked.
“The wooden plantation shutters in the family room are a problem too. They won’t stay closed. Sometimes I can get them to stay put during the day, but at night? Forget it. Neither of us want anywhere near that backyard as it is, and with the shutters open it feels as though we’re being watched, stalked really, from those trees.”
“Could we see them?” Biddy asked.
“Of course, where is my head? I should have offered you a tour right when you came in.”
The four of us got up from the table and followed Whitney out of the small kitchen, through a doorway down a short hallway which held doors to a small bath, a narrow closet and the basement. The latter had a board nailed across it, I touched Biddy’s shoulder and pointed to the door. She raised her eyebrows and continued on into the living room.
The room was a vision in beige. A wall of shuttered windows and the lofty ceiling did nothing to curb the darkness that seemed to emanate from the home. I fought the urge to flip on the table light next to me.
“You see?” Whitney said, motioning to the open plantation shutters.
“Had they been closed?” Biddy asked walking towards the windows.
“Yes, I closed them this morning,” Edward confirmed.
Biddy swung the shutters closed on the center window, “The hinges are pretty stiff,” she remarked then, “Anything else strange about this room?”
Edward gestured out the window but Whitney interrupted him before he could speak.
“The door to the study is over there,” she said quickly, motioning to the back interior corner of the room.
I followed Biddy over to the doorway to the room and peeked in over her shoulder. Floor to ceiling bookshelves and wood paneling dominated the small space. The only light came from a green library table lamp on a cluttered desk. A small, circular oddly positioned window sat gloomily between bookshelves and offered no illumination, only a sad view of scraggly trees.
“This is where the fire started?” Biddy asked.
“Yes, in the back corner, behind the desk,” Whitney answered.
I noticed that neither Whitney nor Edward came near the room. Biddy went right in to examine the floor and I had to fight the urge to grab her arm and drag her out of there.
When she came back out she asked, “Which one of you uses this as their office?”
“I used to,” Edward replied, “I work from home part-time, but I don’t use it much anymore.”
Biddy considered this for a moment but didn’t comment.
Whitney motioned to the doorway next to her and said, “This way to the dining room.”
We followed behind her, through a short hallway that lead to the front of the house and that cramped entranceway with the grand staircase. As we stood, bunched together like a family of newts, Whitney explained that nothing of note had happened in the dining room, and that the hallway leading to their master bedroom was through a door at the opposite side of the dining area.
The home’s layout was odd to say the least. Across from the dining room was a narrow sitting room, with wicker chairs that overlooked the street through a crescent shaped window. It was the last place I’d ever want to sit and relax and I noticed for the first time an underlying smell that I couldn’t put my finger on. It was sort of musty, but not in a damp New England way. More oppressive, like a hot attic in the deep south in August.
Though I was desperate to open the front door for fresh air, I smiled and nodded my head as Whitney described a leak that had happened in their master bathroom a few weeks before. She also spoke of two small fires that had happened in their bedroom.
I had a hard time paying attention. I was positioned closest to the living room and those damn windows. I had a horrible feeling that I shouldn’t turn my back to them, but I didn’t want to look either. Unable to suppress the urge, I snuck a quick peek and to my relief the shutters that Biddy had closed were still in place.
I zoned out a bit in my fear but Whitney grabbed my attention back when she said there were a few rooms she’d like to show us on the second floor.
Inexplicably, the suggestion that we go upstairs made want to run from the house immediately.
Whitney started up the stairs, followed by Edward then Biddy who noticed my hesitation and said quietly, “I know, it’s bad up there. You don’t have to come.”
“I’m not going to stay down here all by myself,” I whispered.
Biddy shrugged and continued up the stairs. Despite my misgivings I followed her, resisting the urge to grasp onto the back of her shirt.
The dog who had accompanied us on the tour of the ground floor did not follow. He sat still at the foot of the stairs just watching us ascend.
The stairway, which looked so grand from the ground level split halfway up so that we had to turn and face the opposite direction to finish the climb. That second half was cramped and confined. When we arrived on the second floor I began to feel irritated by the Barkley’s style. Perhaps unfairly, but it was as if they had done nothing to combat the darkness that permeated the home.The cramped and windowless hallway was full of more doors than could possibly make sense. It was like a beige walled, dark-stained and shellacked choose your own nightmare game.
Whitney listed where each closed door lead. One to the attic space, one to a bed room, one to a bathroom and one to a loft area.
“Why do you keep all of the doors closed,” I asked, attempting and failing to sound nonchalant.
“We don’t, dear,” she said quietly.
“What-” I said, then realizing what she meant I shut my mouth and tried to quell the rising fear within me.
She placed her hand on the doorknob of the fifth door and before turning the handle said, “This is where we found the markings.”
The size of the room surprised me after the cramped darkness of the hallway. A queen-size, four post bed dominated the space, and a large window, crescent shaped like the one in that off-putting sitting room, offered a dreary view of the back yard.
I flipped the light switch on the wall.
Biddy glanced at me and tried to hide a smile.
Whitney said, “Over there, on the other side of the bed, that’s where we found the demon traps.”
My mind went crazy with thoughts of silver-lined cages and demon extermination service vehicles. But before my imagination went too wild Whitney explained further.
“When we updated the heating system we pulled out all the old radiators and in this room and the bedroom nextdoor there were copper panels behind each unit with intricate markings. A friend of mine is a librarian at Wellesley College and she was able to identify the tracings.”
“Do you still have the panels?” Biddy asked.
“No, I took them to the dump to be recycled,” Edward said.
This left Biddy speechless for a moment which gave me the chance to ask, “What exactly are demon traps?”
Whitney explained, “The ‘trap’ is actually a drawing or painting, or in our case an etching of a series of interlocking V’s which are meant to call forth the protection of the Virgin Mary.”
“Do they work?” I asked, directing the question to Biddy.
“When used appropriately,” she answered vaguely, then asked, “Who uses this room?”
“The kids. Brittany sleeps in here and Ben sleeps next door when they are home from school,” Whitney replied.
“Have they experienced anything in the house?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” said Whitney. “Ben was organizing boxes in the attic for me and he said that he heard what sounded like a woman sobbing. He thought it was me, but when he couldn’t find me upstairs and then found me in the kitchen he refused to ever go in the attic again.”
Edward added, “Brittany won’t stay here anymore. She hates this house. She won’t tell either of us exactly what happened but when she was home over her Christmas break she was working at my computer in the study and something near scared her to death.”
Biddy said, “I’m so sorry.”
Whitney and Edward looked pained.
To break the silence I said, “What about the loft?”
“We don’t use the space,” Whitney replied, but did not offer further explanation.
“Then perhaps we should head back downstairs,” suggested Biddy.
I turned to walk out of the room but Whitney’s voice stopped me.
“There was something else, that I’ve never told anyone but Ed and that nice woman from animal control. I was in the livingroom reading around five o’clock one evening,” she said very quietly, gazing down at the yard from the window. “A noise outside startled me, it sounded like something heavy fell on the patio table. I thought maybe one of the lanterns had blown over.
“But when I got up to look out the window nothing was out of place. The lanterns were upright and the chairs were pushed in at the table as usual. I was looking around the yard trying to discover what made the noise when movement at the side of the house caught my attention.
“Something moved just out of my line of vision, right by the kitchen door,” she continued, “I got as close as I could to the window to try and see what was scuffling around.
“I saw it’s tail first, but I didn’t really believe what I saw. It was right next to the house, then it came into view. It was a crawling thing, low to the ground and it was, I know this sounds ridiculous, but it was at least five feet long from its snout to it’s tail. It crawled over to the patio table and pulled itself up the back of one chair with its short front legs. It’s front feet reminded me of sloth’s. It stood there at the table on it’s hind legs for a moment and let me really have a good look at it. Animal control went on the lookout for a crocodile, but that’s not what I saw. I told them to look for a huge blackish green lizard with big black eyes and a pointed tail,” she paused.
“It had been staring at the woods but then it turned and looked right at me. It’s black forked tongue darted out and then it dropped to the ground and began slithering towards the window. I slammed the shutters closed, grabbed my phone off the couch and ran out the front door to the car. I called animal control from the CVS parking lot.”
“Jesus Christ,” I said.
“Did animal control find any evidence of the animal?” Biddy demanded.
“None,” Edward replied.
“Why did you ever come back here?” I demanded.
“We didn’t have a choice,” Whitney replied. “We slept at a friend’s house across town that night, but then in the light of day the next morning it seemed almost improbable.”
Then she said, “I’m sorry, we don’t have to stay up here, it’s freezing. Let’s go back down to the kitchen.”
I was nearest the door, but I sure as hell didn’t want to be the first one to walk back into the fun house hallway. Biddy brushed past me and I covered my hesitation by saying, “Please, after you,” to the Barkleys.
Tiny was thrilled to see us make it back from the second floor alive. He followed us happily and resumed his spot in front of the sink as we sat down at the kitchen table. Once seated I snuck a glance at the plate of scones. There was only one left.
“You can have it,” Biddy said, pushing the plate towards me.
“Are you sure?” I asked, half-heartedly.
Biddy blinked her eyes dramatically and asked, “What tipped things over the edge?”
“You mean besides the lizard the size of a crocodile that walked upright across the back patio?” I said sarcastically before taking a big bite of scone.
Edward smiled sadly and said, “It was the voices in the basement that finally convinced us to search out an exorcist.”
“Voices in the basement told you to call a priest?” Biddy asked, obviously surprised.
“No,” Whitney said, with a little laugh, “Edward began hearing people whispering in the basement.”
“And they weren’t telling me to call a priest, that’s for certain,” Edward said darkly.
“What were they saying?” I prompted.
“I couldn’t make it out at first,” he explained. “My workbench is down there with all my tools.”
“He builds the sweetest bird feeders, these perfect miniature versions of our friend’s homes,” Whitney said lovingly.
Edward gave a quick nod, “I work on ‘em whenever I get the chance and when I first heard those voices, I thought someone had left a radio plugged in down there. When I couldn’t find one I thought maybe one of the kids had left a walkie talkie or baby monitor to play a joke on me and they were just waiting for me to admit I was hearing voices so they could have a good laugh over it.
“But the kids denied doing any such thing. It got to the point that I was almost used to it. It became a sort of background noise.”
“How is that possible?” I said, in disbelief.
Biddy gave me a sharp look and began to say something but Edward spoke over her, “I’ve asked myself the same thing. It doesn’t make a lick of sense but the voices, at first anyhow, were calming. They stopped distracting me and became comforting.”
I held back from commenting again.
“That’s very common in cases like this. The entity wants something from you or wants you to do something for it so it creates a false sense of tranquility while it elicits influence over its chosen subject.” Biddy said reassuringly though it wasn’t at all reassuring to hear.
“That’s exactly what the damn thing did,” Edward replied.
“He wasn’t himself,” Whitney insisted.
“What did it want you to do?” I asked, afraid of the answer.
“I didn’t do what it wanted, in a blessed moment of clarity I realized what was happening and I boarded up the basement door to keep myself from going down there again. The whispers became faint and then almost disappeared all together
“But what was it asking you to-” I began but Biddy shook her head sharply and interrupted.
“You must be a strong person to have come to your senses like that,” she said.
“He never would have gone through with anything, really. He’s never had a violent bone in his body,” Whitney insisted.
We all stared at each other, her implication clear.
Whitney wrapped her arms around herself, Edward put an arm around her shoulders, Biddy sat stock still and I tried to chew my last bite of scone silently.
After a moment Biddy asked, “What do you think is haunting this house, Mrs. Barkley?”
“A demon,” she answered firmly. “The pit in the back yard, the fires, the demon traps. It must be demonic.”
Biddy nodded and blinked slowly then said, “Just one last question, has anyone stopped by the house? A stranger, someone you weren’t expecting?”
The Barkleys seemed to be about to say no when Whitney reconsidered, “Wait a minute, yes, that man from the gas company, what was his name?”
“Vulcan,” Edward replied.
“That’s it, Sam Vulcan. He came to the door right after we moved in, said he was from the gas company and wanted to check out the lines to be sure that everything was in working order.
“He’s returned several times since, always wanting to check something in the basement, he’s never been anything but polite, tends to overstay his welcome though.
“I mentioned it to one of the neighbors and they said they’d never seen him. Never had anyone from the gas company even come to the house, which struck me as odd.”
“What does he look like,” Biddy asked.
“Oh, quite tall and thin,” Whitney said, “I think he takes a lot of time on his appearance because he’s always tan as though he’s just come back from vacation. His hair’s too dark and too shiny, I can’t imagine it’s the color he was born with. Same thing for his eyes, come to think of it. They’re a touch too green.”
Biddy circled something on her notepad, she said, “Alright, I think that just about covers everything that I need to know, unless there is anything more you’d like to share.”
The couple exchanged a glance and Edward asked, “We were hoping there might be something you could give us, you know, to tide us over until the priest can come for the exorcism.”
Biddy paused, considering. I decided that whatever she offered them I would ask for too.
She said, “I have holy water in my car. You can sprinkle it around the windows and your bed. I also suggest you spritz some onto table salt then sprinkle that salt across the front, back and side doors.”
The couple looked grateful.
I followed Biddy to the foyer and quickly said my goodbyes to Tiny and the Barkleys then rushed out to Biddy’s car and locked the doors as she brought them the small container of holy water.
When she climbed into the car I said, “The shutters.”
“I know, I saw,” she replied.
“Please get us the hell out of here before some oversized lizard jumps onto this car.”
“Want to go grab something to eat?” She asked calmly.
“Always,” I replied.
“Let’s go to Lemon Thai,” she said.
“So what is it? A demon?” I asked.
“No, it’s more way complicated than that. I think it may be elemental, specifically salamander in nature.”
I stared at her.
“Elementals belong to one of the four elements,” she explained. “You know, earth, air, fire, and water. They are spirits that never had souls. Their mythology is old, very old. Typically they are harmless, but if humans invade their space or disrupt it in some way they can be really dangerous.”
“The landscaping,” I said.
“Yup. Salamander elementals are recognized as fire spirits. Poison and fire are their strongest marker, though I admit I am confused as to why there’s one this far north,” Biddy said, “We are more apt to see gnomes in this neck of the woods.”
“Cut it out,” I said, thinking she was making a joke.
When she didn’t elaborate I asked, “The gas company guy, what was that all about?”
“I suspect it’s the elemental, taking human form.”
“Alright, too much,” I said in disbelief.
“Some might say the same of demons and shadow people, right?” Biddy replied.
I reluctantly agreed.
“They are in danger. I don’t know how Ed was able to come out from under the influence of that thing, but I am guessing that it wants him to kill Whitney and then himself.”
“Why?” I asked, unnerved.
“Elementals can sort of collect souls, and I think that’s why that house is so fucking haunted on top of everything else that’s happening there. The thing probably wants to collect the Barkleys.”
“Can Father McGonagle help them?”
“No. Religion has no jurisdiction over elementals. I’ll have to get in touch with a shaman who can at least protect the house by make an offering to the creature. If the Barkleys want to stay in that house, which I personally think would be insane, then they will have to come to some sort of agreement with the thing.
“Even then, there is no telling whether they can trust it. I wouldn’t.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell them they had to leave that house right away? They can’t stay there,” I insisted.
“It isn’t going to let them go willingly. If I’d tried to convince them to leave right then, it might have turned on us.”
“Well then, thanks for not saying anything,” I said, “I’d prefer not to be trapped by a lizard creature. Man, all that from just trying to fix up the place.”
“When I picked you up this morning it looked like you’ve been doing some work on the yard,” she said.
“Oh, shut up,” I replied.