Before we address the dead body in Adrienne’s basement, I’ve got to tell you about my current drama. Remember that doll I found in the kids’ Clubhouse? I threw it out. I mentioned that I’d found one exactly like it on the front steps too, right? Well, I threw that one out as well, but the third time the doll turned up I finally caught on to the game. It was the same damn doll. A girl superhero action figure, the size of a Barbie, painted all black.
Yes, I’ve called Biddy and yes she’s pissed that I didn’t call her when the thing turned up on my porch the first time. I honestly wasn’t too concerned about it. Okay, lie. There was serious panic tip-toeing around my mind but I was wrapped in the embrace of my old friend, Denial. I know people knock it, but Denial is a wonderful ally. It’s a handy little cheerleader when I know deep down that I am in deep shit. My friend Denial got me through all the time the girls spent in the NICU, it got me through running marathons, it even made that tapping demon situation soft and fuzzy around the edges. Denial can even handle more than one issue at a time. Take now for instance, it’s lulling my tenacious back problems into soft focus even as it’s whispering “Don’t worry about it,” whenever I think about that weird doll.
The thing about Denial is that she isn’t the strongest of buddies. Eventually she takes off and then that pain in the ass Anxiety turns up like a bad penny. Anxiety is like one of those North Face puffer vests; stifling, zipped too damn tight, tummy-tee short and swishing around maddeningly with every move. But as annoying as the vest of Anxiety is, at least it eventually prompts me to action. Luckily I have another old buddy waiting for me, impatiently holding out her hand to get tagged in. When Anxiety has overstayed her welcome, Rage comes to call. And Rage is the slow burn that gets shit done.
Denial is gone and Anxiety was driving me to distraction, but like the ballsy fiercely loyal friend in a children’s story about bullying, Rage showed up just in time to deal with the strange man in my front yard.
After I put the kids to bed last night I took the garbage out and there was a man sitting on one of the beach chairs the girls had dragged out of the garage earlier that that afternoon.
He was just sitting there, smoking a cigarette and staring at the woods behind our neighbor’s home across the street.
“Hey there,” I called, trying to hide my surprise and annoyance.
He flicked his lit cigarette into the road and then stood, put his hands in his pockets and began to stroll out of the yard. He glanced back slowly at me over his shoulder and replied, “Hey there.”
Fear, perhaps irrational perhaps not, shot through me. Rage showed up immediately, her braided pigtails bouncing with excitement. Unwilling to let the weirdo simply creep off down the road I called, “Nice night for a walk.” Which, in hindsight was not the best Rage has ever come up with, but she was called up so fast I’m sure she was just trying to assess the situation.
The man stopped and without turning to look at me said, “Nice night for a ghost story,” before continuing down the road towards Boulder Brook park.
I stood there frozen watching him walk away until he turned onto the path into the woods. I finally came to my senses, dropped the garbage bags in the driveway and ran back inside the house. Chris was out late at hockey which meant I was alone with the girls for another two hours. I set the alarm and turned on every light in the house. Then I texted Biddy and sat on the couch pretending to read an Agatha Christie, my great uncle Eddy’s old billy club at my side.
When Chris got home he asked if the garbage bags thrown in the driveway were a message that he needed to help out more at home. I told him I saw a weird bug in the driveway and panicked. I’m meeting Biddy for coffee tomorrow morning, I’m not expecting good news.
Ok, back to Adrienne, to recap she is passionate about the apocalypse and she just shared that she and her husband found a body in her basement. Alright? And scene:
“No you did not!” I breathed.
“We most certainly did,” Adrienne insisted.
“How did you miss that in the inspection?” I asked, only half-kidding.
Adrienne leaned forward, “Here’s the thing, we were in the process of digging out the basement in order to build a secure bunker. It had poured concrete flooring and after we broke that up and hauled it out we intended to go down another seven feet.”
“That’s a pretty major project,” I commented.
“Yeah, it took us about six months of weekends just to break up that concrete and drag it out of there.”
“You guys did it all on your own?”
“We were building a secret bunker, so, yeah,” Adrienne looked at me like I was a complete moron. I saw her point.
She continued, “So I was working in a far back corner, we’d finally begun making some progress. I was about two feet down in the dirt when the smell hit me. At first I thought maybe I’d uncovered a sewage line so I switched the shovel out for a rake. Of course we mapped out exactly where all the utilities and everything were on the property, but the house was old and I didn’t want to take a risk of puncturing something unexpected. I slowly raked aside some more dirt and uncovered the edge a blue tarp.”
“Oh, shit,” I breathed. “This is like an episode of Forensic Files.”
“I don’t know what that is,” Adrienne said.
“It’s a T.V. show, like Cold Case Files or Dateline.”
Adrienne shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t watch much television.”
Oh, whatever, I thought, suppressing another eye roll. I asked, “Well then what did you think when you saw the tarp? I mean, if I even see a blue tarp for sale over at Green’s Hardware I immediately think, dead body.”
“It gave me pause,” Adrienne admitted. “I figured maybe someone had buried a pet beneath the flooring.”
“Gross,” I interrupted.
“Uncovering a dead dog would have been problematic all on it’s own, but something about the tarp,” she paused, “Made me cautious. So I stopped and waited for Elliot to get back downstairs before digging any further. Though I did have to move over towards the bulkhead to wait for him. The smell became close to unbearable.”
“See he’d been carrying concrete and dirt out in buckets to the back yard-”
I interrupted again, “Sorry, to be stuck on the logistics, but there must have been a ton of dirt and concrete to get rid of if you’re digging out an entire basement. Where did you put it all? How do you keep the neighbors from noticing?”
“Excellent question,” Adrienne said, as though I was a student in an Apocalypse Prep For Beginners course. “This house was over in the Cliff Road area close to the edge of town. We had two acres set back from the road and surrounded by forest, there was even a sizeable stream that ran through the property,” she shook her head in dismay at what I suppose was disappointment in losing such a choice piece of end times acreage. “We created neat piles of debris approximately twenty feet back into the woods.”
“No wonder you’re in such good shape,” I replied.
“It’s better than CrossFit,” she conceded. “So anyway, Elliot was barely down the bulkhead stairs when he goes, ‘What in the hell is that smell? Did we hit a sewer line?’ I brought him back into the basement and pointed to the edge of the tarp.
“He grabbed the rake and pulled more dirt away uncovering the whole thing. It was about six feet long and it was obvious that it was wrapped around something body-shaped. ‘It’s gotta be someone’s dog,’ Elliot said hopefully. But then we saw hair mixed in with the dirt near one open end of the tarp, blond hair.”
“Are you serious?” I demanded.
“Yeah,” Adrienne said simply. “What a total punch in the face. All that work for nothing.”
“What did you do with the body?” I asked, almost afraid of the answer.
“We called the damn police, we had no choice,” she sighed disgustedly. “We had people swarming all throughout the house, forget the work we’d done on the basement, we’d made a ton of modifications to the upper floors as well. Wasted. We knew we had to move and start again from square one but we couldn’t do anything until the investigation was over and we were allowed to fix the basement. It was a fucking nightmare. Not to mention how hard it is to sell a house where a body’s been found. It’s impossible! People are so fucking superstitious. We’ve got a renter in there now.”
“Do they know about the body?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so. They haven’t ever brought it up anyhow.”
“And about that body,” I prompted.
“It was a woman. She was screwing around with a married man, the wife found out then killed her and they buried her body in the basement.”
“Well, that’s a bit of a twist,” I said. “Isn’t it usually the guy who murders his mistress?”
“I suppose,” Adrienne pouted. “People need to learn to manage their own shit.”
“What happened next?” I asked, eager to get to the ghost.
“So the house was processed as a crime scene for over a week. We had to clear out of there and stay in a hotel, which is probably the most vulnerable place to be in the event of a disaster by the way.”
My mind flittered to all the people caught in the path of a relentless hurricane season and I remained silent, not trusting myself to withhold snark.
“So the body, the woman, her name was Catherine Platt. She had an affair with this guy, Paul Whitfield. He sold the house to the people who we bought it from. The jackass was married and his wife Georgia found out about the affair so she invited Catherine to the house (apparently they were in the Juniors together or some shit) and poisoned her coffee. Then she calls the husband and tells him what she’d done. He gets home and the assholes decide to try and cover it all up.
“You’ve gotta give them credit. If we hadn’t dug that basement out no one would ever have found her.”
“People must have been looking for the poor woman,” I argued. “How did they get away with it?”
Adrienne shrugged, “Part dumb luck part evil genius I suppose. There were rumors in town that Catherine had run off with her therapist, or that she’d escaped back home to L.A. Multiple theories shifted attention away from the fact that a couple women in their spin class overheard Georgia invite Catherine over for coffee on the day she went missing. Georgia must have been a convincing actress because she never fell under suspicion.
“The police found Catherine’s Land Rover parked over at Morses Pond. The gossip mill filled in the blanks. Her husband actually became suspect number one. That dip shit was also cheating with some chick in his office. The perfect storm of messy lives and gossip protected the Whitfields and they almost got away with murder.”
“Until your doomsday prep plans came along,” I commented.
“Exactly. You know the police actually did search the house, but obviously they missed something. They think the couple stashed the body way back in the woods for a time before burying it in the basement.”
“When did all this happen?” I asked.
“And when did you find the body?”
“A little over four years ago.”
I was surprised that I hadn’t heard anything about it before, but it had probably gone down just before we’d moved to town. I made a mental note to ask some friends what they knew about the murder.
After a moment I said, “That poor woman.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Adrienne replied, shifting in her chair.
“Come on, drinking poisoned coffee then getting wrapped in a tarp and buried two feet below someone’s basement floor is pretty brutal,” I insisted.
“True,” Adrienne replied. “But what’s worse is having the ghost of that woman think you’re the one who killed her.”
“Oh no!” I said enthusiastically, failing to hide my excitement.
“I don’t care if you believe me or not, it happened,” Adrienne said defensively.
“Tell me what happened already and I’ll tell you if I believe you,” I said, impatiently.
“Alright, obviously the plans for the basement were off. We had to move, everyone and their sister had been in there and we couldn’t risk having our fallout shelter so public. It really sucked. That place would have been the perfect hold out,” she sighed.
I ate another Munchkin. Stuffing sass.
“So we had to get the house ready to put on the market.”
“How long had you been living there?” I asked.
“About two years. Once the police finally cleared out we began getting the house ready for a sale. That’s when the ghost came around.”
“So, wait. Nothing strange happen in the house beforehand?”
“Not that we noticed,” she replied, thoughtfully.
“Weird, I feel like it would make more sense if the ghost caused problems until you found her body.”
“Yeah, well if this woman was anything in life like she was in death? I don’t blame those people for getting rid of her.”
“Jesus,” I said, “Harsh.”
“I know, but I have wondered if there was more to the story about her death. Maybe it wasn’t just revenge on the wife’s part. Maybe they had to get rid of her. I’m telling you, the way she came after me I would have done anything to get rid of her.”
“What did she do?” I asked.
“Little things at first. A couple days after we moved back in I was in the basement making a list of the supplies we’d need to lay a new floor. I had my measuring tape with me and I know that I put it down for a minute on the stairs so I could make note of a measurement. I went to pick it back up but it was gone.
“I began looking all around the floor, thinking maybe it had fallen and I had kicked dirt over it by accident. Then all of a sudden I heard the swoosh noise. You know that noise a metal measuring tape makes when you let the ruler slide back in? That sound came from the back corner of the basement. Where we found the body.”
“Yikes,” I breathed.
“I went right over and there was my tape measurer. Sitting right in the center of the depression where the body’d been. Look, I’m not a jumpy person but that doesn’t mean I was cool with hanging out in that part of the basement. I hadn’t even been back there since the day we called the police. There was no logical reason for the tape measurer to be there. But it was.
“I chalked it up to a fluke. Maybe I’d been distracted with the construction plans and had dropped it.”
“But the noise of the measuring tape recoiling,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, that I couldn’t ignore, though I tried to. I think she was just testing the waters then, getting her sea legs. I can imagine there’s a bit of a learning curve for ghosts,” Adrienne said thoughtfully. “They probably have to practice moving small stuff first before they get the hang of it.
“So those first weeks back in the house minor things like that kept happening, minor but irritating nonetheless. Like, any time I used anything electrical, my spin toothbrush, the toaster oven, the computer, it blew a fuse. And it was only me, it never happened to Elliot. I began having to ask him turn things on for me just so I could get through my day. Then the lightbulbs started exploding. I could use lights during the day for the most part, in my office or bedroom, though never in the basement. But at night, if I flipped a switch or turned on a lamp the bulb would make this popping noise and blink out. It was ridiculous. I had two different electricians to the house – I even had one of them come at night so they could see exactly what was happening – neither one could explain it.
“Then she started moving things. Big things. I woke up one morning and our dresser, it’s just about waist high with three drawers, about this wide,” Adrienne held her arms out indicating an approximate width that appeared to be a little over a yard, “It was pushed up against my side of the bed. It took me a moment to get it when I opened my eyes. The dresser was right there in front of me, and everything on top, a lamp some books and a couple picture frames, were exactly as I’d left them.”
“Where does the dresser usually sit?” I asked.
“On the other side of the room, on the wall across from Elliot’s side of the bed.”
I just shook my head.
“We hadn’t talked about it before then, but Elliot was like, ‘We can’t ignore what’s happening any longer.’ We were a ways from being able to sell the house, there was still a lot of work that needed to be done before we could put it on the market. It had to be especially perfect seeing as a body had been found in the basement.”
“What did you decide to do?” I asked nervously.
“Elliot bought a Ouija board.”
I had no words, so I stuffed one of the last Munchkins into my mouth.
“We did some research online. It seemed like a lot of people with ghosts try to sage ‘em outta there or use salt to banish them. But I found a couple websites that warned against doing either of those things because it was possible to inadvertently trap the ghost rather than dispel it. And apparently that really pisses them off.
“We decided to contact the ghost directly and find out what the hell it wanted.”
“And?” I prompted.
“We put a lot of thought into it. We drew up a questioning strategy to dig out as much information as we could from the spirit. We believed that only then could make an informed plan of attack.”
“Know your enemy,” I commented, imagining Adrienne and her husband sitting in a police interrogation room, a Ouija board on a table between them.
Adrienne slurped the last of her Dunkachino obnoxiously, “Precisely,” she said pointing a finger at me. “We needed to know who the ghost was, what it wanted, and where it spent most of the time in the house. We developed a line of questioning regarding its past life too. We planned to dig out facts, names and dates that we could verify and validate.”
Adrienne stared at me, I think hoping that I would praise her for the ridiculous plan. I said, “Had either of you ever used a Ouija board before?”
“Of course not,” she snapped. “Why would we? It’s spiritualist bullshit.”
“But it was the first thing you chose to contact the ghost in your house,” I pointed out.
“Well we needed the right tool for the job,” she replied.
“So how did that work out?”
Adrienne pushed her sleeves up and crossed her arms across her chest. “It made things a million times worse,” she admitted.
“The ghost ignored most of our questions, it was almost completely uncooperative. She told us her name, though. Catherine, the woman we found in the basement, which wasn’t a shock but it was,” Adrienne paused, searching for a word. She landed on “disconcerting.”
“What else did the board tell you?”
“We wanted proof that it was Catherine, so we asked how she died. She actually wrote out ‘bad coffee’ on the board.”
“Holy hell, that is incredible!” I exclaimed.
“It was pretty amazing. Elliot and I weren’t pushing the planchette. It was her. What I really wanted to know was why she was still there, I thought it might give us a clue as to how to get rid of her. I asked, ‘why are you stuck in the house?’ And she wrote ‘not house.’ It didn’t make any sense because she sure as shit had been spending time there. I pressed for specifics and she wouldn’t reply. Elliot finally got frustrated and demanded to know what she wanted.”
Adrienne began to pick at the cardboard of the empty munchkin box. “When he asked her what she wanted the planchette slid across the board towards me and it didn’t stop until it was in my lap.
“I grabbed it and threw the thing across the room. And then the lights went out and the security alarm sounded. We scrambled up the basement stairs-”
“Wait,” I demanded, “You were using the Ouija board in the basement?”
“Well yeah, we set it up right over where we’d found her body,” Adrienne replied scrunching her eyebrows, “It made the most sense.”
I shook my head, frightened by her dumb bravery.
“So we got upstairs and the alarm was deafening, I swear she somehow made it louder than usual. I ran straight to the second floor to check on Duke but not before noticing that all the doors to the first floor were wide open.”
“Shit,” I said. “But who the hell is Duke?”
“You have a child?” I said trying to hide the surprise and horror from my voice.
“Yeah. Why else would we be in the suburbs?,” she replied.
“How old is he?” I asked, afraid of her answer.
“Five, he just started kindergarten.”
“What elementary school does he go to?” I asked trying to sound nonchalant.
“I’d rather not say,” Adrienne replied.
“My daughter just started kindergarten at [school name omitted],” I said, prying subtly.
“It’s not that one,” she said waving the question away. I sighed with relief, I certainly don’t want to seem too judgy, but I also didn’t need Max hanging out with this woman’s child.
“Anyhow, that night, after Elliot went around and closed and re-locked all the doors we just called it a night.”
“You didn’t close the board?”
“What do you mean?”
“I thought you said you did research!” I replied, irritated.
“Most of that stuff just seemed like hocus pocus,” Adrienne said dismissively. I rolled my eyes but didn’t comment further. “Catherine was much harder to live with after that night. For one thing opening all the doors at once like that? That was one of her favorite tricks. She did it at least once a day and at completely random times, you never knew when it was coming. And it was as though she knew exactly how to drive us crazy.
“She put my wedding ring in the toilet. She managed to burst a pipe in the ceiling that was directly above our coat closet downstairs where I keep all of my shoes. My keys stopped working even after I had new ones cut, even after I had the locks changed on all the doors.”
“Why was she picking on you? You found her body, if it weren’t for you then her killers would never have been caught,” I said.
“It took me a while to figure it out too,” Adrienne admitted. “I began to see her, just glimpses at first. She loved standing in the corner of our bedroom. Elliot couldn’t see her, but I could. I didn’t sleep.”
“What did she look like?” I asked.
“She was wearing what I assumed she died in, workout clothes. Black yoga pants, obnoxious neon Nikes and a camouflage LuLu Lemon shirt.”
I glanced down at my own outfit, the only difference was that my shirt was pink.
“I suppose you could spend eternity in a worse outfit,” Adrienne laughed. “I honestly felt like I was being stalked. And it was me, it wasn’t Elliot, or Duke thank God. She haunted me. I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone what was happening. I couldn’t do any real research either, she glitched our computer up it up whenever I tried to use it. I tried using a library computer and ended up causing a power outage.”
“Did you try the salt and sage?” I asked dumbly.
“I went a step further. I called a priest,” Adrienne said darkly. “He said he’d be happy to come to the house and perform a blessing. So there he was on our front step and I couldn’t get the door open. I opened the window and told him to go around to the side door. He was good natured about it at first, but as he watched me through the glass struggling with the second door he began insisting that he’d come back at a better time.
“I was freaking out. Trapped. I motioned for him to go back to the other door so I could talk to him through the open window. I rushed back only to see him getting back in his car. I called to him, ‘Father! Wait!’
“He waved and called back, ‘I’ll do my best to find someone to help you.’”
“Oh shit,” I said, unconsciously feeling for my necklace.
Adrienne shook her head, “And then I had a full blown panic attack. I wanted to jump out the window into the yard but the screen wouldn’t budge. So I ran to the kitchen to get a hammer to smash the door handle off the side door and as I rushed around the corner to the mudroom I almost crashed right into her.”
“Yes. She was standing in front of the door with a smirk on her face. And she, like said, but not out loud it was like she thought the words and I could hear her thinking. I know it sounds ridiculous. But she goes, ‘I’ll never quit paying you back for what you did to me.’ Then all the doors on the first floor flew open with a huge crash and she disappeared, leaving the alarm blaring.”
“So she did think you killed her.”
“Yeah,” Adrienne said quietly. “We tried the damn Ouija again. I spelled out ‘I am not Georgia’ on the board thinking maybe the message would get through to her that way. It didn’t work. So I sent Duke to stay with my parents in California for two weeks hoping I could somehow solve the problem by the time he got back.”
“Elliot suggested we hold an auction to unload the house but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t the house that mattered. The ghost was attached to me. The little jump scares she enjoyed torturing me with were one thing, but then she began influencing me.”
“Mm mm,” I murmured.
“I began to black out. I would find myself in my car and have absolutely no idea why I was there or where I had been.”
“Oh no,” I breathed.
“It was really scary. She started to jump me like that more and more, and when she did she caused all sorts of problems. One day she went and bought a shit-ton of dresses and old lady slacks and cardigans at Talbot’s. All final sale, mind you.”
“She must have wanted to live through you,” I commented.
“No, it wasn’t like that. She didn’t want to be alive again, she wanted to fuck up my life.”
“So how did it all end? How did you get rid of her?”
“That’s almost the craziest part of the whole story. I was in the library with Duke. We were in the children’s room and there was this woman there. She kept looking over at me. As we were leaving she followed us out to the parking lot. She was really sweet, had a two year old little girl with her. I figured she thought she recognized us, but then she goes, ‘Excuse me, I don’t want to be strange, but do you believe in ghosts?’”
“No freaking way! Was she psychic?”
“Yeah, she could see Catherine. She said she usually didn’t stop people to tell them about their ghosts unless she thought they might be in danger. When we were in the library she’d had a vision of what the ghost had been doing to me. She asked if I wanted help.
“Wow,” I said in disbelief. “Could she get rid of it? What did she do?”
“She was really persistent. She came to the house and spoke with Catherine a few times. She even brought print outs of newspaper articles and explained to her what had actually happened. Eventually Catherine accepted the fact that I really wasn’t Georgia and moved on.”
“That is truly incredible,” I said. “What a godsend.”
“Molly was amazing, you should meet her actually.”
“Wait, Molly? Not Molly Vail,” I asked, shocked.
“Yeah, that’s her. You know her?”
“Shut the front door!” I exclaimed. “Her story is on the blog.”
“Small world,” Adrienne replied obviously not as impressed as I was with the coincidence.
I texted Molly the second I got into my car.
Just met your friend Adrienne. Crazy story! How are you?
What synchronicity! Been meaning to get in touch, she texted back. Can you do coffee in the morning?
Sure, I replied suddenly overcome with anxiety.
OK good. Cafe Vanille 9am?
I texted the thumbs up emoji.
How much do you know about Voodoo? Molly texted seconds later.