Today is Friday and every Friday, before the kids wake up, I sage the house. I’ve done this every week since that-which-we-pretend-didn’t-happen happened. Biddy told me the practice clears emotional energy left from the events of the previous week and that it was in our best interest to keep the home clear. Supposedly, negative beings are attracted to energy build up and when they can sense that a family or home has already been infiltrated, like we were, they’re more likely to see if they can do the same.
So, this morning as I wafted smoke through my window-lined office I glanced up and saw a coyote sitting in the yard. It was just staring at my house and the windows around me suddenly felt very thin.
We live near a large reservation and I’ve seen plenty of deer and bunnies and there was even a cute opossum in the garage last Spring. There are rumors of coyote all over town. I’d even glimpsed one running behind a home in our old neighborhood. But this one, my God, it was just feet from my home. Staring.
After a few frozen moments, the sage stick burning silently in my hand, I banged on one of the windows and quietly said, “Shoo.”
The wild dog looked at me. I banged again, more forcefully and then it stood and slowly trotted towards the front yard. I ran into the living room and watched it walk across the street and disappear into the woods behind the neighbor’s house.
Chris didn’t want to believe me. Honestly, the second the coyote walked out of sight into those woods, I didn’t even really believe what I’d seen. I’m going to sage the outside of the house tomorrow morning. It feels like there’s a storm brewing.
Enough about that, let’s move onto Michelle’s story.
Close to the top of Wellesley Avenue sits a small cul-de-sac that so far has managed to escape the developers’ attention. The charming street is lined with a hodgepodge of small, well-kept homes in a rainbow of colors. Nestled at the top of the circle is a small brick cottage, it’s front lawn a joy of wildflowers, it’s backyard a wall of dense forest. The home is straight out of a British cozy mystery. It’s owner is Michelle Penna, an interesting forty-something, fresh-faced woman with a terrifying story.
I met Michelle at a friend’s fortieth birthday party. She had shoulder-length highlighted blond hair and pretty smile lines around her dark brown eyes. She wore a simple black shift dress and very high, hot pink heels.
Our mutual friend introduced us by saying, “Michelle you have to tell Liz what happened to you last fall, Liz loves that kind of stuff.”
Michelle looked embarrassed so I quickly explained, “I have a blog, people in Wellesley tell me their scary stories.”
“Oh!” She said, her relief obvious, “Yeah, I had a,” she cleared her throat and tucked hair behind her ears, “Well, a stranger stalked me for a while.”
I attempted to contain ghoulish excitement. “Holy hell that is terrifying!”
Right at that moment we were interrupted by another party goer and then the passed hors d’oeuvres walked over (Philly cheesesteak egg rolls) and the conversation turned to more appropriate cocktail party topics. Eventually Michelle and I drifted apart to different circles.
Later that night she tapped me on the shoulder. “Ali just told me all about your blog,” she said pointing towards a mutual friend. “I’ve got to get home to relieve my babysitter, but I would love to tell you what happened to me, I mean, if you want to hear it. I haven’t been able to share it with many people, they’d think I’m nuts.”
We exchanged phone numbers and I enthusiastically agreed to meet Michelle at her house the following Tuesday morning. Chris came over as I slid my cell phone back into my clutch.
“Now what are you up to?” He asked.
“Nothing,” I said, innocently.
Two light pink Adirondack chairs sat in a circular patch of lush grass among the happy wildflowers dominating Michelle’s front lawn. It was the ideal place to read an Agatha Christie novel. Michelle’s front steps were impeccably crowded with overflowing pots of cheerful flowers whose names I didn’t know.
I could see into the house through the screen door. Michelle sat at her kitchen island, her back to me. I called out, “Hello!” and softly tapped at the door frame. Michelle spun around and called, “Come on in!”
I stepped into the entryway and onto a hot pink leopard print rug. The walls around me were covered in a small print wallpaper. At first glance it looked like a black and white exotic animal print, but upon closer examination I realized that small black dogs created the design.
“This wallpaper is so cool! Do you have a dog?” I asked.
“I do,” Michelle replied reluctantly. “I put him out back so he won’t be a bother. Are you allergic?”
“Thank God, no!” I replied. “Bring him in here immediately!”
Michelle laughed, “Ok, follow me.”
“I love every last thing in your house!” I gushed, peeking over at the living room as I followed Michelle past the stairs and into the kitchen. An emerald green couch, flanked by two pink buffalo-checked chairs faced a brick fireplace. The bricks were painted turquoise. Above the mantle hovered a large Gray Malin photograph; an overhead beach shot filled with sunbathers and hot pink beach umbrellas.
“Thank you,” she said over her shoulder. “Sometimes I wonder if it’s all too much.”
“No way,” I assured her.
“Grab a seat at the island,” Michelle offered walking towards a sliding glass door overlooking the backyard. She slid it open and called, “Moose! Come on, buddy!”
I was about to take a seat as she had suggested, but the second I heard the name Moose I changed my mind. I walked towards the sliding door and saw the biggest, pudgiest chocolate Labrador Retriever I’d ever seen. He walked along slowly, his tail lazily wagging until he caught sight of me. Then his pace picked up a little and his tail went crazy.
“Moose!” I called out, kneeling down.
The dog lumbered over and leaned against me throwing me off balance so that I somehow ended up with him laying across my legs on the floor.
“Moose! Off!” Michelle demanded.
“Leave him be,” I insisted, “How old is he?”
“He just turned ten,” Michelle replied, “Really, you don’t have to pet him. He’ll never leave you alone.”
“I love him,” I said, honestly.
She rolled her eyes lovingly at the dog and asked, “Can I get you some coffee?”
“Sure! Thank you.”
I sat happily on the floor snuggling Moose who appeared to be dozing off, and spotted the corner of a chicken coop in the back yard close to the woods.
“You have chickens too?” I asked/yelled.
“Yeah, I only have eight now but we used to have twelve.”
“Can I see them?” I asked.
“Of course! Come on out back, we’ll sit on the patio. Moose, off!”
I poured sugar and an interesting coconut milk creamer into my hot pink mug of coffee then followed Moose and Michelle outside to a pretty brick patio. Chickens dotted the cedar-fenced yard, clucking quietly.
“I can’t even!” I exclaimed.
“They really are a riot,” Michelle said. “They’re so funny. I open the coop for them each morning and they shuffle out and poke around the yard all day. Then they walk themselves back in every evening to roost. One of them even sleeps on Moose’s back when he’s napping in the yard sometimes.”
“I’m literally dying,” I said stupidly.
“Here, sit,” Michelle motioned to a pair of pink Adirondack chairs similar to the ones in the front yard. We sat and a white garden stool stood between us acting as a little side table. The chairs faced the yard and dark forest beyond.
“I would spend my life out here,” I commented, sipping my coffee.
“I do love it,” Michelle admitted.
“I’m sorry, I’m going on and on about your house and your animals. You invited me here for a story. Is it alright if I record our conversation so I can transcribe it for the blog?”
“Sure,” she replied.
I took my recorder out of a pocket in my rain jacket, turned it on and placed it atop the garden stool. “I don’t usually write about stories like yours, but even if it doesn’t have a ghost it sounds really creepy.”
Michelle watched the chickens for a moment then glanced over at me, “It’s a really weird story,” she cautioned.
“My favorite kind,” I assured her.
Michelle took a deep breath then whispered, “Oh, what the hell.”
I sipped my coffee, excited to hear what this remarkable woman had to say. It was summer and my two oldest daughters were at camp until three o’clock. I’d recently arranged for Kat to hang in Joey’s old daycare and match her sisters’ schedules three days a week. I was feeling relaxed for the first time in I don’t know how long.
“My story has two distinct parts,” Michelle began, “I know they’re connected even if I don’t completely understand why. But I’m certain that the stalking fueled the infestation somehow.”
A slight breeze swayed through the trees and Michelle took a orange elastic off her wrist then pulled her hair into a ponytail. She said, “It’s really complicated. My husband and I divorced six years ago. It was nothing dramatic, we just let ourselves grow in different directions. He got caught up with work and I got caught up managing our social lives; getting into the ‘right’ crowd, going on the ‘right’ vacations, making everything look perfect,” Michelle was an air quotes person, I smiled to myself. I love people who do air quotes. She continued, “We just stopped paying attention to each other unless it was to put on a show when we went out with our ‘friends.’ Predictably, he cheated with a young woman at his office and then it was over.
“It was hard, especially on the kids, but we untangled everything and sold the big house so we could each buy something smaller here in town. He’s a good dad. I like him, but we weren’t good for each other, you know what I mean? Anyway, that’s how I ended up in this house.”
“It’s a beautiful place,” I said awkwardly. The story of the end of her marriage was more terrifying than any ghost story I’d ever heard. It was so simple, so dangerous. I wanted to cross myself and knock on wood and throw salt over my shoulder to protect myself from the possibility of it.
“I love this house,” Michelle said, quietly, “But it’s taken awhile to get there. About two years ago I began to notice that things were a bit off every once in awhile. It was small things. My keys wouldn’t be where I left them, or dishes that I swore I’d left in the sink would all be clean sitting in the drying rack when I got home.”
“Uh oh,” I breathed.
“And it wasn’t the kids,” she continued quickly. “Greg, my ex, and I split time with them every week and these things would only happen when I had the house to myself.
“One day just as I opened the front door I heard that sliding glass door off the kitchen shut. I rushed right out here, thinking someone had broken in, but no one was there. It freaked me out, but I wasn’t sure if maybe I’d imagined hearing it. I hadn’t lived alone since I was- well, actually, I’d never lived alone before. I had roommates in the city after college and then I moved in with Greg. So I wondered if maybe I was just being paranoid, or forgetful.
“There were other little things, the bathroom door slammed shut once when I was in the shower. I heard footsteps in the guest bedroom above the living room. Doors that I swore I had locked would be unlocked. Eventually, I accepted that I was either losing my mind or there was a ghost in my house.”
“Wait,” I interrupted, “a ghost?”
“Yes, at the time I thought it was the only explanation. I tentatively mentioned what was happening to a couple of my girlfriends and one of them, she’s kind of a New Age type, suggested that we hold a seance. I didn’t believe in anything supernatural back then, really I was just afraid that I was getting early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia, so I was actually hoping I had a ghost. So when my friend brought over a Ouija board-”
“Michelle,” I groaned. “Tell me you didn’t.”
“I thought it would just be something amusing to do while we drank a couple bottles of wine. I even bought a bunch of candles and this pretty glitter table cloth to set the mood.”
“What happened?” I asked.
Michelle stared at the woods, she said, “We got one message, the board spelled out man and cellar, neither of which meant anything to me at the time. Oh, and it also spelled out invited.”
“Oh geez, did you look go look in the basement?”
“Yes, my friend insisted that we go down to investigate that very night, though we didn’t find a thing. After that evening things continued to happen in the house, but it all took a turn. It got, really weird. My belongings wouldn’t simply be misplaced, they’d go missing completely. The gas fireplace, which I never use, was turned on several times when I woke up in the morning and then one night I came home from having dinner with a friend and all of the doors to the house were wide open. I went directly to my neighbor’s house and asked him to walk in with me to make sure no one was in there. I was still thinking it was a ghost doing these things, and I didn’t want to go in there alone, but he insisted we call the police. I did. They didn’t find anyone and nothing was missing. But,” Michelle looked over at me, considering.
“What?” I asked impatiently.
“I keep all of my grandmother’s china on a high shelf in the kitchen and that night it was all spread out around the kitchen floor.”
“Someone smashed it all? That’s terrible!”
“No, no,” Michelle said, shaking her head. “The pieces weren’t broken, they were arranged all around the kitchen floor. It was really weird.”
I groaned, “Ok, that is much worse.”
“It was,” she agreed. “After that happened I accepted that I had a ghost in my house. I tried talking to it. I sat in my kitchen and told it that it was welcome to stay but that it had to stop messing around with my things.”
I scrunched up my nose and shook my head.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” she said, her voice raising. “My daughter told me that when she woke up in the morning she’d find the books from her book shelf situated across the floor in little stacks. She thought maybe she was doing it in her sleep and I didn’t want to scare her and tell her what else had been happening in the house. Then my son said he’d woken up and heard footsteps outside his door in the middle of the night.”
“Ugh,” I breathed.
“He told me it sounded like a small dog pacing around. He peeked his head out into the hallway and didn’t see anything so he convinced himself that he’d been dreaming. I didn’t tell him that heard the same thing several nights before.”
“Could it have been Moose?” I asked, hopefully.
“No, he sleeps next to me and I close my bedroom door at night. The fact was, things were escalating. My coffee table would be moved just enough so that I would bang my knee on it when I walked past. The shower head would be turned out towards the bathroom so when I turned on the faucet I’d got soaked. If I grabbed a Diet Coke from the fridge it would explode when I opened it like it had been shaken. It was constant.”
“What an annoying ghost,” I commented, hiding a smile.
“It wasn’t a ghost,” Michelle said, staring straight ahead.
“Oh no, don’t tell me it was your stalker,” I said, feeling the first twinge of fear.
“I was sitting at my kitchen island eating dinner one night. It was a Friday and I’d gotten home from work about an hour earlier, I was trying to relax because the kids were with Greg for the weekend.
“So, I get this text from my nextdoor neighbor, Tiff, asking if I was home. I texted back that I was there, I figured she wanted me to let her dog out or something, but she immediately replied, ‘I’m calling you. Answer the phone and agree with what I am saying, OK?’ So then I figured she was at some event that she needed to get out of and wanted me to pretend to be an urgent phone call.”
Michelle took a deep breath, “My cell phone rang and I answered it saying something like, ‘What are you stuck at a PTO mixer or something?’ But Tiff said, ‘Shut up and listen to me. There is a man in the crawl space at the side of your house. Don’t panic, just say something else about the PTO so I know you’re alright.’”
“Oh my God,” I breathed, I’d prefer ghost china plate floor checkers over this any day.
“I was so terrified that I couldn’t speak. Tiff insisted that I say something so she knew I was alright, so I whispered, “I don’t like the PTO.”
Despite how terrifying her story was, I laughed at Michelle’s response.
“Thank God for her,” Michelle said, sharing the laugh. “She’d seen the guy come out of the woods behind my house, crouch near the sliding glass door for a while then open the old root cellar on the side of my home closest to hers and walk in. She’d called the police before she called me.
“Tiff told me, ‘I’m going to ring your doorbell right now, open the door and come outside.’ So, I did. I called for Moose to follow me and the doorbell rang. I rushed out and the two of us sprinted to her house together.”
I realized that I had been holding my breath. “Who was it?” I demanded.
Michelle shook her head and took a sip of coffee. “Edward Koch, a man from my moving company.”
“What?” I said, shocked.
“He was one of the guys who’d helped move my stuff from my old house into this house. The night he was arrested he confessed to ‘watching out for me’ ever since he’d helped me move in. He told them that he was worried about me being alone so close to the woods so he checked on me whenever he could.”
“Shut up,” I breathed.
“The guy was psychotic. I told the police about all the strange things that had been happening in my home and Edward confessed to ‘letting himself in once in awhile.’” Since she’d begun to tell me about Edward Koch, the air quotes had been flying and Michelle began to show a rage that must have been simmering just beneath the surface all along. She continued, “He admitted that he may have ‘tidied up for me’ for me a few times but he absolutely denied doing anything with my china or moving any of the furniture. The detectives I spoke with told me that he’d become enraged when they accused him of turning on my gas fireplace. I guess he ranted on and on about how that was exactly why I ‘needed’ him there watching over me.”
“Oh, Michelle,” I said sadly, unable to imagine how terrifying it would be to realize that not only had someone been stalking you for months, they’d been in your home while you were there without knowing it. I thought of Chris and my girls and the dumb luck that had kept us safe all these years. I wanted to insist that Michelle come live with us in our tiny home. I wanted to scream about the state of our mental health care and legal systems. I wanted to have the super power that I’ve always wanted: the ability to touch someone’s hand and make them forget their most painful memory but hold onto any good that it brought them.
Michelle and I sat silently, each lost in our own thoughts for several minutes.
Moose walked over and sat at Michelle’s feet, his lawn patrol over. “It was awful and surreal and scary but here’s the really bad part. They swabbed him and a D.N.A. match came up. It was connected with the murder of a woman in Holliston in 2015. She was found raped and strangled in her kitchen.”
“No,” I said, quietly.
“Her name was Emily. She ran a catering company out of her home and she had two children, two girls. She was recently divorced and had used the same moving company.”
“Michelle,” I stammered, trying to process her story.
“I looked up her photo online, I look just like her.”
“My God, I am so sorry. Oh, thank God your neighbor saw him that night.”
“I know, I got lucky. As awful as it all was it woke me up. I look back at the me I was before all of that happened and I don’t even recognize myself. I drank too much and ate too much and cared too much about what everyone else thought of me and my life. I nearly had a nervous breakdown over what everyone would think about my divorce.
“Even my friends, they weren’t really friends. They were people that I partied and gossiped with. I had no idea who I was so I just relied on everyone else to tell me who they wanted me to be and as you can imagine, once my marriage fell apart, I wasn’t what those people wanted me to be any longer.
“And I was hurting, you know? My soul hurt. The circle of ‘friends’ I’d built around myself certainly didn’t want to deal with that,” Michelle picked at a cuticle absently as she spoke.
“So I had been muddling my way through that and meanwhile, Edward Koch was stalking me and I didn’t even know it. Once I’d found out about poor Emily things just snapped. It’s strange to say but it was a clean before and after. It took some time to untangle my life and it’s a total work in progress, but I don’t think I’m a total asshole anymore.”
I gave a short laugh despite fighting back tears, “You don’t come across as an asshole,” I said.
Michelle looked at me for a long minute. Longer than felt comfortable.
Finally she said, “I’m going to tell you something absolutely insane, so just remember your first impression of me ok?”
“Ok,” I agreed, crossing my fingers out of habit. Though Michelle seemed grounded, she was almost too grounded for having gone through such trauma. I was getting a vibe, but I couldn’t place it.
“Edward Koch wasn’t the only thing in my house,” Michelle whispered, as though she didn’t want Moose or the chickens to hear her.
“What do you mean?”
“He opened the path for a gremlin,” she said so quietly that I almost couldn’t hear her.
I laughed nervously, unable to think of a response.
“A real gremlin,” she insisted, leaning towards me. “It came in from the woods. His energy called the thing forward.”
I stared out at the woods and considered leaving. Immediately. When I looked back Michelle was smiling and staring at me, which made me even more uncomfortable. She said, “You are going to think I am off my rocker. I knew it. This is why I never talk about what happened.”
“Well, what did happen?” I asked cautiously. I placed my coffee mug on the garden stool next to me. I wanted to be able to jump up if I had to. Should I take Moose with me? I wondered, panicked. What about all the chickens? They’re better off here, my dogs would kill them. But they’ll absolutely love Moose…
Michelle interrupted my frantic plans saying, “Things were nuts after that man was arrested. My husband was afraid to let the kids stay with me. I suppose I was worried about it too, but I couldn’t stand being home alone. Every noise, every creak or crack was an intruder. Greg insisted that I install a security system, which I did but it didn’t make me feel any safer.
“I had the door to the root cellar sealed off so no one could get in there again. But I began having these horrible dreams that I got sealed in there by Edward. I dreamt of the sliver of light disappearing as he spackled over the door.
“I began to obsess about the space. I had these irrational circular thoughts that maybe my handyman had trapped someone in the root cellar when he sealed it off. I would wake up in the middle of the night consumed with the idea that I had to go right then to unseal the door and check. But I never went because I was terrified of being outside by myself, especially at night.
“The police found a tree set back a bit, over there,” Michelle pointed to a spot in the woods past the chicken coop, “There’s an oak tree in there and apparently Edward would climb it and watch my windows at night. They found a waterproof bag nailed to it. It held binoculars, a black facemask and a few Power Bars.”
“He was out there long enough to snack while he watched you?” I interrupted.
“Mm hmm. In court I listened to him brag about spending every moment he could making sure that I was safe. The weirdest thing was that I saw an evidence photo of the bag and its contents during the trial. The Power Bars were my favorite flavor. I never asked whether it was just a coincidence, you know? That we just happened to have the same taste for energy bars or if he actually knew that about me.”
Michelle stopped talking and stared at the trees, lost in thought again.
“What kind of Power Bar was it?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“Protein Plus chocolate mint cookie,” she said, looking over at me.
“Uck. Well, that couldn’t have been a coincidence. I can’t imagine many people eat those for enjoyment.”
Michelle began giggling and then started to full on laugh.
I smiled awkwardly.
“Oh it was all so ridiculous!” She said finally, catching her breath. “It was the most ridiculous thing that ever could have happened! A man sitting in a tree eating protein bars watching me through binoculars! And for months!” She tossed the dregs of her coffee onto the grass with a flick of her wrist. “I still get caught up in it sometimes, though. Wondering what he saw in me that made me his target.”
“The guy sounds like a budding serial killer and you were unlucky enough to match his victim type,” I reasoned.
“I know that, but it’s hard not to feel like I somehow did something to catch his attention and bring it on myself. And there he was, right there,” she pointed again to the woods, “and I had absolutely no idea.”
“What was the deal with the root cellar, though?” I asked wondering if she was ever going to tell me about the gremlin. And wondering if I even wanted to know.
“Oh, the police found black plastic garbage bags, zip ties and duct tape in there. They believe he planned to kill me and then bury my body in the root cellar.” Michelle gave an exaggerated shiver, then said, “But I was going to tell you about the little monster. The one he let into my house.”
“The gremlin,” I said, slowly.
“Yes. You know, they aren’t like the ones from the movie. They act like them though, they’re mean-spirited and they have an extremely dark sense of humor.”
“How did you know it was in your house?” I asked cautiously, wondering if the monsters were only a manifestation of post-traumatic stress.
“At first I suspected that it was just a post-traumatic stress,” she admitted.
Well, at least she considered it, I thought.
“But the problem was that some of the things that had been happening in my house when that man was stalking me continued to happen. For a time I really thought that I was losing my mind. Edward was in jail. He couldn’t be doing it. I wondered if it was me. I thought maybe I was somehow blacking out and doing these things in a sort of PTSD episode.”
“What sorts of things were happening? The furniture moving and stuff?”
“Yes, especially the couch. I came down one morning and it was facing the opposite direction. Nothing else was disturbed in the room.”
“Get out of here.”
“No, really,” she insisted, “It was as though someone had just picked it up and spun it around. There weren’t any drag marks on the carpet.”
“Oh my God, what did you do? I would have thought some other crazy person had broken in.”
“That’s exactly what I thought. I ran out and went straight to the neighbors to call the police.”
“Good girl,” I said, nodding my head.
“It was so embarrassing, really. They didn’t find anything and I know they suspected that I had moved the couch for attention or something. Even my neighbor was looking at me funny.
“So after that, when things happened I didn’t call the police anymore. I needed proof first, so I set up the cameras.”
“Uh oh,” I said quietly.
“The first thing I did was have that root cellar unsealed. I couldn’t get the damn thing out of my mind. It may have been me just fixating on it as some sort of after effect from the stalking. Whatever it was, I had to open it back up. The alarm company arranged cameras all over the exterior of the house. One was trained right on that root cellar door, two more on the back yard and one over the front door.
“I asked them to install cameras in every single room of the house too. I know the technician thought I was paranoid, but what was I supposed to do? Any time I mentioned to my ex-husband or to one of my friends that things were still happening in the house they tip-toed around mentioning medication and psychiatrists. I had to prove that something was happening in this house.
“I thought I would just capture things moving on their own or best case scenario an actual ghost fumbling around with my stuff-”
“Best case scenario?” I interrupted. “That sounds like the worst case to me.”
“No, that’s not the worst case. It can get much worse than that.”
I stared at her.
“You know what? Let’s go inside,” she said suddenly. “I’m still not comfortable being near these woods for too long.”
I was torn. Which was worse? Being inside with a couch moving gremlin, or outside where a PowerBar eating creeper once lurked? I had no choice really, so I followed her back inside, somewhat relieved when I realized Moose would tag along.
“Let’s sit in the living room,” she suggested.
“Are you sure?” I blurted.
“Yes,” she replied with a smile. “The gremlin is gone now. I promise.”
She refilled my coffee cup and grabbed a tin foil covered tray and two plates. I followed her to the front of the house and into the living room. The emerald green couch sat there, almost daring me to sit down upon it. I chose one of the happy pink arm chairs self-consciously. Michelle chose its twin.
She placed the plates on the table and unwrapped the tray and I gasped.
Michelle said, “Oh no, do you like pastries? I made these yesterday, they are cheese and raspberry danishes.”
“They’re beautiful,” I said sincerely.
“Here, have one, or two, really, I don’t want to eat them all myself.”
“Thank you,” I replied, accepting a plate. Michelle watched me take a bite and I closed my eyes and nodded. The things were delicious.
“Alright, where did I leave off? Oh, the cameras. Right, so one night I was walking up the stairs to bed and something bit me on the back of my leg.”
“It hurt so much that it almost felt like I’d been burned. I spun around and didn’t see anything but the basket on the hallway table,” she gestured towards the stairway, visible from where we were sitting. A long table ran along the wall beneath the stairs, a wicker basket filled with magazines and envelopes sat at its center. “That basket fell and spilled mail all over the floor just seconds after I was bitten.
“My initial thought was that a raccoon had gotten into the house. I was afraid it might be rabid so I called 911. They sent animal control and an ambulance which was totally unnecessary. The animal control officer was great. She looked at the bite on my leg to get an idea for the size of the animal. She took some time studying it and I could tell that she didn’t recognize the bite mark. She insisted that I show her Moose’s rabies vaccination certificate just in case the thing came out and bit him,” Michelle grimaced at the thought. “After that she searched the house, top to bottom. She didn’t find anything.
“I assured her and the paramedics that I would contact my doctor for my own rabies vaccinations and then they left.”
“How did you stay here?” I asked.
“I holed up with Moose in my bedroom. I brought a broom with me thinking that I could swat an animal away if it tried to attack me.”
“Good Lord,” I said, shaking my head.
“It was only then that I remembered the cameras. There wasn’t one facing the stairway, exactly, but one was positioned to capture the entire entryway. The alarm company arranged it so that I could log into their system and watch the feed from all of the cameras and I paid extra, a lot extra, so that none of the camera recordings in my home would ever be deleted. I wanted the ability to review any date or time any time I wanted.
“All that was well and good but that night, locked securely in the bedroom, I realized that I’d left the laptop in the kitchen and I had to go downstairs to get it. I held that damn broom out in front of me like a sword.” Michelle laughed a little. “When I got back to my room I logged in and found the footage from the foyer.
“I was able to watch the scene as I walked through the foyer though I didn’t have a view of me climbing the stairs. But I heard myself cry out when I was bitten and then there was this blur right before the mail basket fell over. I rewatched the moment several times and then tinkered around with the settings until I was able to brighten the picture slightly.
“That was the first time I actually saw it.”
“Yes. He was small. Only about a foot tall, if that. He’d knocked over the basket as he swung himself through the stair poles. Then I saw a flash of him dropping to the ground and running towards the kitchen.”
“You’re kidding me,” I said in disbelief. “You really caught one of them on tape?”
“I did. I rewound the footage further, and I actually saw him creeping along behind me in the hallway. He had followed me up the stairs.”
Here I was stuck in-between complete disbelief and sheer terror. Either this woman had completely lost touch with reality after her stalking nightmare or I was now living in a fresh new hell where gremlins existed.
“Can I see the video?” I asked.
“Oh sure. Let me grab my laptop,” Michelle said brightly.
Shit, I thought.
Michelle placed the laptop in front of me and clicked around to get to the correct file. I noticed that there were three other files alongside it in the folder named “Gremlin.” Each was titled with a date and time. I felt frightened.
I leaned forward as a black and white video began to play on the screen. The picture was quite clear, Michelle must have invested a fortune on her surveillance system. She sat on the arm of my chair and watched me watching the video. For a moment all I saw was a still view of the entryway. The perspective was set to watch over the front door and it captured most of the hallway and the very edge of the staircase and the long hall table with it’s mail basket.
I glanced up at the very table I was watching on the screen. It was chilling. Looking back down at the computer screen I watched as Michelle’s back came into view. She was walking towards the front door wearing a pair of boxer shorts and a t-shirt. She stopped to check that the deadbolt was in place then turned to walk up the steps. A few beats later I heard her say, “Ouch! Damn it all!” And a blink of an eye later the basket on the table flew off onto the ground. The entire scene took less than fifteen seconds.
“Did you see it?” Michelle asked.
I shook my head. I hadn’t seen anyone but Michelle.
“He’s fast and light, look again. Focus your attention behind me, at my feet,” she instructed. She replayed the clip. We watched and I focused on the area around Michelle’s ankles.
Then I saw it.
I gasped and pointed, but could not speak.
“You saw him,” Michelle said quietly.
“Play it again,” I demanded, then, “Please.”
She played it again and I saw the damn thing again.
He (She? It?) was small, just as Michelle had described. It, let’s just go with “it”, was right at Michelle’s ankles. I don’t know how it didn’t bump into her it was moving so close. It didn’t look like the gremlins from, well, Gremlins, it was like a small misshapen person. I couldn’t see the details of it, but it made me think of a funny-looking Ken doll with thick arms and legs and a head of bushy hair. The head was disproportionately large for its body and the thing could move. When it sort of threw itself through the stairway poles and kicked over the basket it was more of a flash than anything else.
I played the clip again. Trying really hard to explain away the little creature.
Finally I asked, “Who else have you shown this to?”
“No one!” Michelle exclaimed, standing up and walking back to her chair.
“Why not? You have proof that creatures are real! Oh my God, creatures are real. I mean I know that. I know that little man I saw in my own home and I’ve talked to people about Black Eyed Kids and lizard monsters and other stuff. But oh my God. It’s all real,” I insisted as though she didn’t know, “What are we going to do? We have to tell someone.”
I was having a moment, and I admit that it wasn’t one of my best.
“We can’t tell anyone,” Michelle replied calmly.
I stared at her for a moment and then I felt somewhat comforted by a feeling of suspicion rising within me. “You swear this is real?”
Michelle smiled, “It’s real. But what do you think people would do if I showed this around? They’d want to ‘debunk’ it or whatever those paranormal groups always say. I would be accused of trying to get attention, or being a fake.
“It’s not like people haven’t had proof of the supernatural before. There are photos and videos floating all over the internet. Believe me, I’ve spent hours on Reddit and Google, and every weirdo chatroom about cryptids. No one will believe me and I will end up looking like a total freak.”
I didn’t know what to say, but I knew she was right. I looked back down at the computer screen. “Are the other files I saw more videos of the gremlin?”
She nodded. “I recorded three other instances. The gremlin did that thing with my grandmother’s china in the kitchen again. It locked poor Moose in the root cellar and there was a situation with the chickens.”
“Did it hurt them?” I asked, worried.
“No, I don’t think so, but it ‘messed’ with them,” she replied waving a hand as if to wave away the idea.
“Oh.” I tried not to look completely disgusted.
“It was awful, it was-”
I held up my hand, “I get the idea,” I said, cutting her off. There was only so much I could handle. “But how did you get rid of it? I mean, you really got rid of it, right?”
Michelle nodded. “There’s a medium in town, I’d heard about her through my New Age-y friend.”
“The one who brought over the Ouija board?”
“Yes, same friend. I emailed Shannon, the medium, and told her about the situation in my house and I asked if she could help me. She emailed back immediately and suggested that she visit my home that very afternoon. So she came right over and eventually got rid of the thing.”
“Wait, back up. How?”
“Um, well I guess the first thing that she did was determine what kind of gremlin I had. Turns out mine was of the Sugna breed. Some gremlins are attracted to interfering with electronics or mechanical things. They ruin cell phones and televisions or create expensive problems with one’s car. My gremlin was drawn to household mischief. My feelings of confusion and frustration fueled it, but Edward Koch’s horrible intentions towards me attracted it to my property in the first place.
“He wanted to cause the worst disruption in my household, to control and watch and ultimately kill me. He spent so much time in those woods thinking about what he was going to do to me that he drew the gremlin out.”
“How in the hell did the woman know all of this?”
“She grew up in Ireland, she made it sound like all of this just common knowledge there.”
“Alright, then how did she get rid of the thing?”
“She had me get rid of all of the mirrors in my home and cover the reflective surfaces with an orange cloth. I guess the color ‘vibrates positivity’ and the little buggers hate that. Somehow, when they are out of nature they are able to live in the mirrors or other reflective surfaces, so removing the mirrors or covering them up takes away their ability to inhabit them.”
“Reflective surfaces? I mean, that could be a million things. Like silverware and the toaster and-”
“Even the silver handle on my toilet,” Michelle confirmed. “It all had to either go or get wrapped up in orange.”
“For how long?”
“Thirty-three days. Throughout that time, on every third day, Shannon came to my house and together we smudged the property line with thyme, sage and myrrh. First we walked around three times counterclockwise, then three times clockwise.
“On day twenty-seven we knew that we’d finally chased the thing out because as it was running back into the woods it flipped that patio table over and smashed it’s glass top. We were doing the smudging and we were at the front of the house, so we didn’t see the thing, just heard the crash. It was like its last act of mischief. Its last hurrah before going back into the forest.
“Shannon completed the day’s smudging and then grabbed three bottles of mead from her car. She poured it along the entire property line, setting up a barrier so that the gremlin could never come back.”
I absorbed the details of the gremlin purging ritual for a moment then said, “Man alive, Michelle, you’ve been through the ringer. You’re incredible. I would be rocking in the corner if half of what you just said had happened to me.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not all girl power rainbows here. I still have a really hard time trusting people that I don’t know. In fact, I Googled the hell out of you,” she admitted, smiling.
“Did anything good come up?” I asked, embarrassed.
“There was a really cute public access video of you and your husband talking about running the Boston marathon for Beth Israel.”
I covered my face with my hands and groaned, “The one where it looks like I am sucking on a lemon the entire time?”
“Ha, yeah I guess so, but it was sweet,” she reassured me.
We talked a bit longer then said our goodbyes. I walked out the front door and through the garden. Whereas it had felt so peaceful and beautiful when I’d first seen Michelle’s front yard, after hearing Michelle’s story I now watched my step as though the garden were full of rattlesnakes.
I got into the car and gently placed an egg carton on the passenger seat. Michelle had given me a dozen eggs from her hens. I threw them out in a garbage can in front of Roche Brothers before I got home. A gremlin/chicken hybrid running around the house would probably be the straw that broke me.