ghosts in the burbs

A blog about the people who live in Wellesley, MA and the ghosts (and monsters) who haunt them.

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Gen: u didn’t tell me u know Hillary & Vanessa!!!!

Me: (after deleting – leave me alone and stop texting me) Yeah I interviewed them

Gen: I LOVE them – they are such funny shit… We HAVE to get drinks!

(I began furiously typing and before I could hit send)

Gen: Done! Drinks on thurs – Hillary says she can’t wait to see u!

It came as no surprise that Gen ran in the same fast, money-soaked crowd as Hillary, Vanessa and Jill, but it was still startling to see those women’s names come up again. And the timing of it was weird. I suspected that the creeper Judith saw attached me had come around the same time those three witches of Wellesley had pulled the bullshit with the Voodoo dolls. I wondered if he actually was their doing. If somehow in their misguided attempts at magic they’d managed to curse me. I didn’t have to wonder for long.

 

***

 

Judith closed her eyes and stood very still. After a brief moment she gasped, her eyes flew open. “Now who in the Sam Hell has been talkin’ to Zozo?” She demanded.

Biddy and I exchanged a guilty look.

We weren’t talking to him, but we interviewed a guy who contacted him with a homemade spirit board.”

Judith tsked and shook her head slowly. “You’re walkin’ the razor’s edge, Miss Liz.”

“Should I just be done with all of this and stop interviewing people?” I asked, not entirely sure what I wanted her answer to be.

Judith raised an eyebrow. “You think it’s easy as that? No, darlin’, you’re in it now. I threw a spread for you this morning. Know what your guiding card was?”

“Tarot card?” I asked.

“Let me guess,” said Biddy. “The Fool.”

“Ha. Ha.” I said humorlessly.

“No, that we could fix. I pulled the Five of Cups,” Judith looked at us meaningfully.

“I have no idea what that means,” I replied, actually worrying cups had something to do with my increased wine intake as of late.  

Judith gave an exaggerated sigh, “The Five of Cups is complex, it has to do with losses, endings. It shows a cloaked figure gazing back, it’s a card of second-guessing. Here’s how I read it for you, honey, you refuse to stop looking backwards trying to figure out how to make what worked then work now, but what’s done is done. You’re not goin’ back to a happy on the surface, pick up the kids and drop ‘em off, go to your little aerobics class, countin’ calories and plannin’ cocktail parties life, sweety. You don’t fit there any longer, you know that.” Judith looked at me with what could have been pity. She continued, “You didn’t choose to be the scribe – you think you did, like it’s somehow your fault that you looked into the darkness. But it’s not. You were chosen to tell the truth about what is happening in this town and part of that means letting go of the past. Is any of this hittin’ home?”

I nodded and shrugged at the same time.

“Well, you’ll chew on that awhile, but I think you already know why you’ve had to shake loose of some things. The card? It’s telling you that you did the right thing, but you’ve gotta move on, stop looking back at it. Now, that’s my practical advice.” Judith pushed her sleeves up. “The next thing is a choice, sorta. You didn’t have a choice in moving to this town, it pulled you in, and you girls,” she pointed to Biddy and I with the pointer and middle fingers of her right hand, “Y’all already know, but you’re in this together. Thank God you found each other so quick.”

“But what is the point? You’re making it sounds like there’s a reason for this and, frankly I’m damn near over the whole thing,” I complained.

“Are you really?” Judith asked.

I blew out a breath. “I just don’t want anything near my family.”

“Well, that’s gonna be hard to pull off,” she said quietly.

“So I’ll stop the interviews then,” I reasoned feeling relieved and disappointed at the same time.

“Again, it’s not that easy. You’ve got skin in the game now.”

I stared at her.

“I think you know exactly what I’m about to say, don’t ya?” She pressed.

I took a deep breath but didn’t reply.

Judith smiled and tapped one of her ears. Biddy scrunched her forehead and looked at me.

I considered pretending not to know what she was talking about, but realized it was no use. “Yeah, fine. Sometimes I hear things that aren’t there.”

“How long has this been going on?” Biddy asked dropping into a chair.

I took a seat across from her and Judith sat at the head of the kitchen table.

“Honestly? I don’t know. The first time I realized I was hearing things that everyone else wasn’t was in Maine, with you,” I said looking at Judith. “But every once in awhile, I’ll hear someone talking who isn’t there. Usually it’s a voice talking directly to me, though once it was like there was a conversation in the other room but no one was there.”

“How often?” Judith asked.

“Not often,” I replied.

“Audio clairvoyance,” Biddy breathed. “That’s awesome.”

I rolled my eyes.

“But why is she getting this ability now?” She asked Judith.

“I suspect our Liz has been hearing and knowing things her whole life but honey,” she said, placing her hand over mine on the table top. “I’ve never encountered anyone so capable of denying what’s right in front of their eyes.”

“That’s fair,” I agreed.

“You’ve used it beautifully as self-protection from some hard times, but honey, you’re denying things that are meant for your good too.”

“Hearing dead people is a good thing?”

“Well,” Judith took her hand away, “We’ll get there.” She sighed and stood up. “But first, let’s get this over with.”

“What?” I asked.

“That damned basement,” she replied.

“That’s all you’re going to say about me hearing things?” I asked, frustrated. “I don’t want to be able to hear things that aren’t there. How do I stop it?”

“Oh, there’s no stopping it now. And with the hearin’ comes the knowin’ so we’ve got our work cut out for us.” Judith said, pushing in her chair.

“I have known people who, you know when they are around the paranormal for a while start opening up to it in different ways. Maybe that’s what happened,” Biddy reasoned as she stood.

Judith nodded, “Exposure can trigger latent abilities in people, I suspect that’s what happened too.”

“So I caught some sort of magical hearing by listening to people’s stories about ghosts?” I said, refusing to get up from my seat.

“It’s not Hand, Foot, and Mouth,” Biddy chided. “Being around the paranormal must have just triggered this ability in you. It’s really amazing.”

“You think psychics are bullshit,” I spat.

“No I don’t, I’m actually kinda scared of them. I mean, how do they know they are talking to ghosts and not demons, you know?”

“Oh great, so you think what I’m hearing is demons?”

“No, I just, I don’t know-”

“There aren’t any demons talkin’ to you,” Judith said, cutting off our little bicker.

“What about that creeper following me around? I asked, truly frightened.

“One step at a time.” Judith reached into her purse and took out a folded piece of paper and slid it across the table to me. “Don’t open it, yet,” she instructed.

“What’s that?” Biddy asked.

“You’ll see,” Judith replied, maddeningly. “Come on, the basement will be the easiest thing to clear up in this whole mess.”

I grabbed the paper and the voice recorder I’d placed on the table, got up and like a bratty teenager stomped over to the basement door, the two women following behind me. I held my breath as I opened door, but, as usual, nothing jumped out at me except the overwhelming feeling that something didn’t want me there. Threadbare green carpet underfoot, I slowly descended the stairs. Judith behind me, Biddy bringing up the rear.

I lead them past the laundry and storage rooms into the “finished” portion of the basement flipping light switches as I went.

We stood in a semi-circle at the edge of the space.

“Well?” I said to Judith.

“Well, what? You tell me what’s going on down here. Now’s as good a time as any to strut your stuff,” she replied.

“But I haven’t heard anything down here, I just know there’s something really off,” I said, incredibly frustrated.

“Right, darlin,’ you just know. Not everyone just knows there’s somethin’ wrong in a space.”

I looked at Biddy pleadingly. She shrugged, “Yeah, I mean, the wood paneling is a bit atmospheric, and it’s a touch creepy but other than that…” she trailed off.

“What happened down here?” Judith pressed, staring at me.

“I. Don’t. Know. That’s why I asked you to come,” I said, exasperated.

“Just try,” she insisted and closed her eyes.

I looked at Biddy and realized she was watching me intently. “Go on,” she prodded.

I rolled my eyes and shook my head. “Well, fine, I think something bad happened down here, I mean no one died, but it was something really bad.”

“To whom?” Judith pressed.

I sighed, not wanting to say what I was thinking.

“I know it’s uncomfortable, honey, but you do know. Prove it to yourself.”

“Fine, the first time I came down into this basement I just thought ‘snuff film,’ you know what I mean? It’s not just the decor,” I continued. “It’s like, I can just know there was a couch over there in the corner, an ugly plaid fabric one and something happened to this young girl, like an older guy got really forceful.”

“What happened to her?” Biddy asked.

“Ugh, I don’t know, it’ll sound weird,” I said exasperated. “Look, I interview people about their ghost stories, I was a librarian, I listen to a lot of true crime. This is all just magical thinking and my ridiculously overactive imagination.”

The two women just watched me.

“Fine, I think she was choked. Not killed but sort of strangled by that awful boyfriend.” I crossed my arms in front of me feeling like a complete and total weirdo.

Judith began to laugh. “Ho-ly shit!” She said, slapping her leg. “I told you. With the hearin’ comes the knowin’!”

“How could we possibly prove any of that to be true?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Biddy said, “It could just be her imagination.” Then looking at me she said, “Sorry.”

“Open up that paper and read what’s written on it,” Judith instructed.

So I did.

The paper had four phrases written on it: Sixteen-year-old girl. Older boyfriend. Choked on couch. Serial sexual assault.

A chill swept through my body causing head to toe goosebumps.

“What does it say?” Asked Biddy quietly.

I handed her the paper which she read then looked at me her eyebrows raised as high as they would go.

“Pretty cool, huh?” Judith said.

“So what? I’m fucking psychic now too?” I demanded close to a full blown panic attack.

“No, now calm down,” Judith said, “Don’t get too excited. You aren’t psychic but you are a damn powerful empath.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake! What in the hell does that mean?”

“You’re pretty sensitive to other people’s feelings, right? Their vibes, if you will? Like you’ve always been able to tell if someone is having a bad day or if something is wrong with them, right? And not only that but their bad feelings tend to cling to you, and I would wager a bet that you are not a fan of crowded places.”

“Well who is?” I asked, defensively.

“I bet you ‘just know’ things all the time but you chalk it up to your imagination. It’s not, honey, you’re picking up on energy, feelings, even past events that left strong impressions.”

I looked at Biddy, willing her to call it all out as bullshit. But she didn’t, instead she said, “This makes total sense.”

“It most certainly does not,” I breathed.

“It does, it’ll just take you some time to accept it. Now, as for clearing this space, there’s nothing down here that’s going to hurt you. You’re just incredibly sensitive to energy so it’ll make you feel uncomfortable. What you’ve got here is an etching. Some strong negative emotion etched itself into the fabric of place. The girl’s, for sure, but definitely that boy’s. In my meditation I picked up that this wasn’t something he only did once, but it may have been the first time he did it and his energy left a mark. It left a deep groove here in this place.”

“What do you do about that?” Biddy asked.

“Renovate,” Judith replied, simply.

And with that I began to giggle and I couldn’t stop myself. The whole thing was so ridiculous, so perfectly absurd that I couldn’t keep it together. Finally able to pull myself together, I said, “Great! I’ll just call our contractor. We’ll turn it into a playroom-slash-home gym. How very Swellesley.”

 

***

 

Once done with our field trip to my negative energy etched basement Judith asked that we take a walk to the backyard. So we did. I felt drained and, inexplicably, a touch depressed.

Our new backyard offers significantly more privacy than we’ve had in our past homes. Massive oak trees ring the backyard and the people who owned the home before us were gifted gardeners. Dispersed at the base of the trees are mature rhododendrons, varying pines, hydrangea and hostas. It’s quite pretty and peaceful. The property line in the backyard forms a sort of triangle, it’s apex sits in a swath of woods through which you can barely see another house about fifty yards away.

Judith stared hard into those woods.

“The creeper gentleman,” she said quietly, “He was sent to you. Somebody did a kind of half-assed hex and pulled up a half-assed semi-demonic creature and he is half-ass haunting you.”

Biddy tsked. “Those women are out of control.” She was referring, of course, to the three witches I’d interviewed so long ago.

“Oh good,” Judith said. “So you know who sent him. That was going to be my next question. Thing is, he wants out of here just as bad as you want him gone. You scare him actually.” She bent down and placed her right hand flat on the ground. “So why can’t he leave?” She said under her breath.

After a brief moment of silence she stood. “You’ve done something in here for protection. What did you do?”

“I planted St. Benedict medals around the property, and saged and told everything to get out of this house,” I replied, embarrassed.

Judith closed her eyes for a moment and breathed slowly. Quietly, almost to herself she whispered, “So why is this guy still allowed in the yard?” After a moment her eyes popped open. “Hold on, in what order did you do this little home spun ritual?”

“Um, I planted the medals and then saged the house while I commanded the thing to leave.”

“Ok, no, honey. You were supposed to plant the medals at the four corners after you had the house blessed! You trapped him.” With a big sigh she told me to grab a shovel from the garage so we could retrieve the medals and let the creeper go back to the darkness for good.

We located all of the medals, the one in the woods being the hardest to find. Judith did a little ritual with salt in the yard and I sent up a prayer of thanks that the landscaping kept us pretty well covered from the view of my new neighbors.  

Afterwards she lead us through the house blessing and sealing each room. We ended back in the kitchen where our discussion began.

“You’re clear, in terms of your house, anyway. The thing is, you’ve got some work to do on your own.”

“I really don’t want to hear things that aren’t there,” I said.

“Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? It’s not that they’re not there, they are all around you all the time wanting you to hear them. It’s not just the living that want to tell you their stories. It’s the dead, too.”

Judith pinched the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger. “There’s just one more thing,” she said with a heavy sigh. “Who is Claire?”

 

***

 

(About a week later)

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this, but I am vegan, food-wise anyway. Everyday shoes are easy enough, but fancy ones are tricky. I’m not buying new one’s but I’m not letting the old leather soled kicks go either. And then there are the bags. I like a crisp canvas tote as much as the next person but, I mean, I simply can’t let go of my old Kate Spade’s, especially now. So, basically I don’t eat animals or animal products and I am conflicted over the luxuryware in my possession. Are you annoyed yet? Rolling your eyes? I would be.

I only make this random confession because Gen arranged for us all to meet at Smith & Wollensky, a steakhouse and the newest restaurant in town. I was starving and there was absolutely nothing I could eat on the bar menu.

I was nervous and knew I’d down my wine too fast. Which can be both disastrous and rather wonderful on an empty stomach. So I ordered myself a bread bowl while I waited for the women to arrive.

Gen showed up first. I was halfway through both my first glass of wine and the aforementioned bread bowl when I heard a loud, “Heeeeyyyy!”

She looked fantastic, all white jeans and gold jewelry.  

“Oh good, they’re not here yet,” she said, waving wildly at a server. “I thought I was late.”

I listened patiently as she ranted about how impossible it is to get a building permit at town hall. Apparently she wanted to add on to their kitchen but some “archaic bullshit law about setbacks” was ruining the entire design aesthetic.

“I’m gonna run to the potty before they get here, ok?” Gen stated, hopping out of her seat.

I drank more wine and said “Yes, please,” when our server asked if I needed a refill. I’d just received that new glass when Hillary, Vanessa, and Jill walked in.

They looked fantastic. Devastatingly fit, perfectly turned out, and quite a bit younger than they actually were. Hillary smirked when she spotted me.

The three women took seats at the table, Jill the only one to say, “Hi.”

As they waited for the server to come and take their drink orders they carried on a conversation as if I wasn’t there. But once their drinks were ordered Hillary asked, “See anyone interesting around lately?”

“You mean the semi-demonic creeper you guys attached to me?” I asked with forced calm. “I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“We can do worse,” Vanessa said, arrogantly.

“I’d like to see you try,” I replied, trying to keep my voice from shaking. “Such a small world, isn’t it? Who would ever think we’d have a mutual friend?”

Hillary looked confused for a moment. “Oh, Gen? She’s just a little climber. We came because we wanted to see how you were doing. How are you?”
I stared at her, trying to decide if I should fess up.

“Yeah, how are you?” Jill asked, fake concern in her voice.

Her phoniness made the decision for me. “Claire’s laughing at you,” I said before taking a sip of wine.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Vanessa demanded.

“I just heard Claire laughing,” I repeated. “At least I assume it’s her, I can’t see ghosts I can only hear them when they want me to.”

“You are so full of shit.”

Claire spoke over my left shoulder, almost causing me to spit out my wine. “She says the same thing about you.”

“Ok, whatever. You’re so weird,” Hillary insisted, though I could tell she was spooked.

“Trust me, I know,” I replied dismissively.

“Prove it,” said Jill quietly.

“How?”

“What was Claire’s favorite song?” She asked, almost in a whisper.

I almost didn’t want to hear Claire. I mean, of course I didn’t want to hear Claire. It was ridiculous, insane, that I was hearing voices. But part of me wanted to know if this new ability was real. I’d heard voices before, but they’d never responded to direct questions. I waited, half-hoping I wouldn’t here Claire’s voice again. And then the answer came.

“Ironic,” I said quickly, “Alanis Morissette.”

The three women responsible for Claire’s death all sat back in their seats as one. Jill began to cry.

It was Hillary who spoke first, she directed her words to me but she was talking to her dead ex-friend. “Listen to me you little bitch, we brought you back from the dead and we can send you straight to hell if we want to-”

“Shut up!” Jill nearly screamed, causing a couple business men at the table next to us to glance over. “Hillary, just shut the fuck up.” Then to me she said, “Oh, Claire I am so so sorry. We never should have done what we did.”

I sat listening.

“What is she saying?” Jill begged.

I shook my head not wanting to repeat what I’d heard.

“Please,” Jill pleaded.

“She said you’re just a- that you’re a follower,” I finally said, leaving out the nastiness with which Claire had accompanied the answer.

“Why are we even listening to this?” Vanessa hissed. “She’s just trying to freak us out. We bound Claire. She can’t talk to anyone but us.”

“Always Be My Baby,” I said, smiling at Vanessa.

“What?”

“By Mariah Carey. That was your favorite song that summer.”

“What in the fuck?” Hillary breathed, and I could tell that I’d convinced them.

“She’s not bound anymore,” I said. “A psychic friend of mine released her. I mean, I helped a little. Honestly, this is all really new to me, I’m kind of learning as I go.”

The women looked at me in disbelief.

“Chris too, her boyfriend? Yeah, they aren’t trapped anymore. They can move on anytime they like, funny thing is they seem to have unfinished business here. I wonder what they’re going to do.” With that I took a huge swig of wine not even bothering to try and control how hard my hand was shaking.

“Ugh, the bathroom line was so long,” Gen declared, pulling out her chair to sit back down at the table. “Hieeee girlies! What did I miss?”

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