Life became more strange and more normal at the same time. For one thing it was as though someone had turned down the dial on the anxiety that has plagued me my entire life. I was more able to be present with my children. I didn’t give a flying fuck about the social scene in town anymore, something that I had been struggling with over the past year or so. Whereas I’d been desperate to find my place in a group now all I wanted to do was hibernate.
On the other hand I was hearing disembodied voices. Not all the time, mind you, but enough to keep it interesting, which definitely added to my desire to become a hermit. Judith advised meditation practice to shut my chipmunk brain up so I could actually make use of this ridiculous and unwanted new ability. I considered taking her advice, but frankly, the idea scared me. I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts and I definitely didn’t want to turn up the volume on this audio clairvoyance thing.
And the voices were pretty useless for the most part. An older man standing behind me said, “I used to love those damn scones,” while I waited in line at Quebrada. Only there was no old man standing behind me. I heard a little girl sneeze while I was scanning the mystery section at the library. Again, no little girl. That one was creepy. Besides Claire none of these dead people seemed to want to tell me anything important, though I suppose those scones must have been important to that older gentleman.
Meanwhile, I’d been avoiding-slash-ignoring the email account tied to the blog and it was overflowing with messages. The thought of reading through all of them overwhelmed me but I finally forced myself sit still and scan through the emails. From the message titles I could see that some people were simply reaching out to comment about the stories they’d read, others wanted confirmation that the stories were indeed true, and there were several people asking to meet over coffee to share their own scary anecdotes.
But one email stood out from the rest. It’s title was a simple, “Concerning entity in Wellesley.” The body of the email hinted at a pretty nasty haunting in a nail salon in town. Curiosity got the best of me.
Several mixed-use buildings flank Central Street in-between town hall and the post office on Grove Street. A miscellany of shops occupy the first floor of these brick buildings; nail and hair salons, pizza parlors, ice cream stores and specialty gift shops. The floors above host the offices of nutritionists, dentists, and accountants and I’m pretty sure there might even be a couple apartments there as well.
Colleen Tuttle’s nail salon, Twinkle Toes, was located on the first floor of The Taylor building, a three story brick building smack dab in the middle of this collection of retail. Over email we’d arranged to meet a couple of hours before the salon was due to open and when I walked up to the shop I saw that Colleen had been waiting outside for me. I followed her inside and took in the shop’s decor as she disengaged the alarm and flipped light switches. With soft pink walls, the narrow salon was arranged so that each side reflected the other. Two manicure tables on the left perfectly mirrored two more on the right and through two artfully arranged lime green trellis curtains (tied back by navy blue rope) two pedicure chairs sat patiently across from two others at the back of the shop. It was pretty if a bit dimly lit. The Taylor building is on the shady side of the street and even the large crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling couldn’t chase away the gloom. Colleen offered me a Keurig coffee and we settled ourselves at a manicure station in front of a large window overlooking the busy street.
We chatted about our families for a few minutes, Colleen had three children ages eleven, eight and six and she’d been divorced for about two years. “This shop was part of my exit strategy,” she confided. She described her ex as a “good dad but a controlling son of a bitch about money.” She’d filed for divorce one week and opened the shop the next. “I needed a job and it felt really good to put my business degree to use for the first time in years.”
They co-parent the family with relative success. Her husband lives in town just two streets over and remarried in January. “She’s fine,” Colleen remarked of the new wife, “She’s a twenty-eight-year-old yoga instructor. Frank is nothing if not a cliche.”
“How is business?” I asked, wanting to change to subject. I was embarrassed that I’d never been in to have my nails done. The fact was I’d never even noticed the shop even though I’d driven right past it countless times.
“We have a small but loyal clientele, it’s enough to pay the rent but it’s not as great as I would like it to be. Especially now,” she glanced back at a door I’d noticed at the back of the shop. She seemed lost in thought for a moment then said, “Did you know that there are eight nail salons in this town?”
“I just had to let one of our technicians go,” she admitted. Then in a tone that sounded forced she continued, “But we’re entering busy season, we just went through a little Spring slump.”
I told her I’d be in before we went on vacation in a couple weeks, and she waved the comment off.
“I’m sorry, you’re not here to talk about business. I emailed you to discuss the strange things that have been happening here.”
Colleen sat back in her chair and using both perfectly manicured hands tucked her thick shoulder length auburn hair behind her ears. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
I was about to prompt her to start at the beginning when a very loud knock caused me to jump in my seat. It sounded like it had come from the other side of the door Colleen had stared at moments before.
“What happened?” She asked, looking concerned.
She hadn’t heard the knock. Great, I thought, here we go.
I tried to think of a reasonable excuse for why I’d spazzed out.
“Sorry, I’m just a little jumpy,” I said dumbly. “Too much coffee.”
Colleen looked uncertain. “Would you prefer water?”
“No, no, please, tell me why you think this place is haunted?”
“Well, the noises for one thing. This is an old building, I know that, but there are noises that shouldn’t be there. I say I let one of the nail technicians go but really, we sort of came to an agreement that she would leave. She needed the job, but she refused to open or close the shop any longer. She said the shadows were always watching her.”
Colleen nodded. “I can’t say that I don’t know exactly what she means. And we’ve had a string of really bad luck. We are constantly blowing fuses which is so annoying because then in the middle of doing a mani pedi we have to go down to the basement to the circuit box – and no one likes going down there, especially since it flooded.
“It’s not just us, either. The skin spa upstairs? The owner came down last week and asked if I’d noticed anything strange happening in the building. She suspected there might even be a squatter living in the basement. They keep some of their stock down there and apparently some of the girls who work for her have heard strange noises and things have been moved around.”
“I don’t know what’s scarier, a ghost or a stranger hiding in the basement,” I commented.
Colleen gave a small laugh. “I think I would prefer a person. This has become unbearable.”
I forced myself to stay silent and took a sip of pretty gross coffee. She’d only had Splenda for sweetener and as I’m now off the International Coffee Delight it was like sipping on a coffee flavored medicine. I mean, I drank it. Coffee’s coffee. Anyway, I could tell Colleen was holding something back.
Colleen fidgeted and straightened an already straight container of manicure tools. As she did I heard a woman’s voice above me say, “Ask about Poppy.”
Fuck, I thought. First of all, I’d never heard one of the voices coming from above my head, second I didn’t want Colleen to know what a weirdo I was.
But I was also curious. I asked, “Do you know someone named Poppy?”
Colleen crossed her arms over her chest. “Why, what did she tell you?”
“No! Nothing, I just thought maybe-”
But Colleen cut me off before I could stumble my way through an excuse. “I didn’t want to bring her up because I am trying really hard to stay positive and not get bogged down in other people’s bullshit but if she’s back and spreading rumors then I will happily tell you what really happened here. It’s all her damn fault.”
I tried to say that I hadn’t heard any stories, but Colleen wouldn’t let me get a word in.
“She was my best friend,” Colleen insisted, “That’s what makes all of it so much worse. We hatched the whole plan for this business together over Pinot Grigio in my backyard. It’s what gave me the courage to leave Frank. She’s a creative type, you know really airy fairy. That’s why I liked her so much, we were complete opposites and I got such a kick out of her. I admit that I am a bit of a control freak and it was fun to be around someone so free. She was always into some new project. In one of her little creative phases she’d gone back to school to get her cosmetology license but she’d never even done anything with it. So when we had the idea that it would be fun to open a shop together, Poppy said we could make a killing if we opened a nail salon.
“I wanted to open a specialty gift shop, but she just has this way about her. She is the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever met and she had me completely convinced. So that’s what we did. We went in fifty-fifty and opened this place. She hired and managed the nail technicians and I ran the whole business side of things and it was great, at least for a couple of months,” Colleen smoothed her hair behind her ears again.
“We’d agreed to go for a preppy aesthetic in the shop. Clean lines, bright colors, no clutter I thought the women in this town would go for it and I did a ton of market research before making any hard decisions. The thing was, Poppy’s personality can be sort of consuming and before long her quirks began to bleed into the shop.”
“What sort of quirks?” I asked faintly aware of a very soft knocking noise coming from the pedicure area.
Colleen blew out a breath. “Oh you know, first came the incense. She insisted on lighting it every evening after closing to ‘clear the day’s leftover energy’ whatever the hell that means. It was completely off brand for a preppy nail salon to smell like patchouli. I tried to compromise with scented candles, like couldn’t that burn away whatever make believe vibes she was complaining about? But she was adamant.
“In all honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable making too much of a fuss over it. All of that ‘earth goddess’ stuff was like her religion and I didn’t want to offend her. But then came the dream catchers and that I could not tolerate. I came in late one morning and she had these crappy homemade yarn messes hanging in the window and she’d even put holes in the walls to hang them throughout the shop. It was my worst nightmare. The place looked like a Grateful Dead concert. I tried to put my foot down but she convinced me to at least leave one of them up on that door.” Colleen motioned to the door at the back of the shop. “I took that one down when she ghosted on me,” she explained.
“She quit?” I asked surprised.
“No, she didn’t even bother to quit properly!” Colleen exclaimed. “She just completely bailed without explanation.”
“You didn’t talk about it at all?”
“No. She was just up and gone. No explanation, nothing. I left message after message and then I did the same on her husband’s cell. He finally called me back and told me that she never wants to speak to me again. That she’s attending a six month yoga retreat in the Adirondacks.”
“Six months? Does she have children?” I asked, feeling jealous.
“No, she said she couldn’t stand the thought of bringing beings of light into this broken world. It was another one of her eccentricities.”
“Hmm,” I considered the story for a moment. “But you went into the business fifty-fifty, doesn’t she want her money back?”
“In our short phone call I managed to ask her husband exactly that and he said she told him that I should just keep it. That she didn’t want it’s ‘stain’ on her.”
“Well, that must have been a relief,” I reasoned.
“I guess,” Colleen said slowly, “Now that I am actually saying it all out loud it just seem positively ridiculous. We were bickering over little decisions to do with the shop, like the incense and decor selections. And then Poppy began meeting some of her Tarot clients here in the evenings.”
“She did Tarot card readings?” I asked.
“Yes, I got a kick out of it before we were business partners, you know it was all in good fun and I knew that she had some clients who would come to her house to have their future read or whatever but I most certainly did not want it in this place. What if someone sued us for fraud? It was entirely inappropriate. I put my foot down about that but I know she snuck clients in here on the nights I was off. Her excuse was that her husband didn’t want desperate strangers coming to their house. Well I certainly didn’t want them coming to our place of business!”
Colleen shook her head and had to push her hair back again. “All I know is that after she held that seance things weren’t right here.”
Colleen tsked. “It was last Halloween. Against my better judgement I agreed that we could throw a little party in the shop. A sort of two year anniversary for some friends and clients. Poppy was so enthusiastic it was hard not to jump on board. She insisted that people would get a kick out of it and that next year they’d be dying to get an invitation. She went all out fixing the shop up to look all witchy and I let her run with it. I even told the Hometown Weekly and the Townsman about the party hoping we might drum up a little publicity.
“We had an exceptional turn out and I had to hand it to her, Poppy could pull people on board for anything. So that night I was looking for Poppy to commend her for what a success her idea had been. I couldn’t find her and then finally one of the girls who works for us was like, ‘Oh, she’d back down in the basement.’ I was confused, ‘what did she mean, ‘back down in the basement?’ And the girl proceeded to tell me she was holding another seance.
“Another seance,” Colleen reiterated. “I asked the girl how many seances Poppy had held during the party already and she was like, ‘No, not another one tonight. I don’t think you’re supposed to do than one a night.’ So she’d been holding seances in the basement without me knowing about it for God knows how long! Oh! I was so pissed. I had the damn woman from the Townsman there sipping on apple cider and Poppy was conjuring up the dead or whatever right under our feet. How would that look for a headline?
“I told our employee to keep anyone else away from the basement and I slipped through the door and down the stairs,” Colleen again glanced at the door at the back of the shop. I glance over too, half expecting to hear another knock but nothing happened.
“I’d only been down there once before, when we were first looking at the space as a possible location for the salon. The building is over one hundred years old so it has rough stone walls and a dirt floor, and as a matter of fact it’s pretty creepy down. I walked down this narrow corridor and turned to see Poppy and five other women sitting around a folding table. They were all holding hands and chanting something with their eyes closed. Christ Almighty, I was so angry I nearly gave myself a heart attack. What if the damn newspaper woman had stumbled upon that little freak show! Our reputation would have been finished.
“‘What are you doing?’ I yelled. I startled the hell out of them, most of them screamed. Poppy looked super guilty but she immediately said, ‘Don’t break the circle! Don’t get up!’ to the women. They were all looking back and forth between me and Poppy and I can’t even remember what I said I was so rip-shit, but whatever it was they all got up and slunk out of the basement leaving just Poppy and me.
“We were both freaking out but for different reasons. She went on and on about how they’d just made contact with something and breaking the circle would bring devastating consequences. She just kept yelling ‘Do you even know what you’ve done?’ I couldn’t even get her to hear my point about her complete lack of judgement and its consequences for the business. Her panic over the damn broken circle was so over the top that it scared me. That’s when I first began to worry about her sanity. I finally just said, ‘Clean this shit up and make sure you blow out all of these goddamn candles. The last thing we need is a fire!’”
“Did you ever find out what she was trying to contact?” I asked nervously.
Colleen gives a little laugh. “We talked about it the next morning, I texted that I wanted to meet her here an hour before we opened so we could come to an understanding about the business. She showed up but she was a hot mess. She said she hadn’t slept at all and that she was afraid the seance had gone horribly wrong. At that point I didn’t give a damn about her seance, I wanted her word that she would stop doing all her spiritual bullshit in our business place. She was only half listening, finally I got her to focus and she agreed but she said she would need to at least try and clear the basement, she was afraid the ‘dark thing’ might still be down there.”
“Uh oh,” I said, trying to ignore the steady knocking coming from the back of the shop. Colleen didn’t appear to hear it and I didn’t want to freak her out.
“She may have tried to clear the basement, but she obviously didn’t know what she was doing because that’s when all of the trouble started and Poppy began to unravel. I don’t think she was sleeping and she definitely gave up showering regularly. I never knew if she was actually going to show up for work. Her husband actually stopped by looking for her a couple times, I think they were having trouble, he seemed pretty amped up anyway.
“But I couldn’t really worry about her problems because the store was getting really weird. A couple times when I got here in the morning that door,” she pointed to the back of the shop, “would be wide open. We never left it open, there was no reason to. Now I have two deadbolts on it, which usually helps, but not always. The open door might not be all that weird, but things in the shop would be moved around. One morning I found a bunch of red nail polish bottles arranged in a star shape right in front of that door. I called the police, of course and they searched the shop and the basement but didn’t find anyone. So I suspected Poppy. I thought maybe she’d come in at night and done one of her little rituals but she fucking lost it when I confronted her about it. Swore up and down that it wasn’t her, that it was the ‘dark thing.’ She said she didn’t know what he wanted but that we were in really big trouble.
“Meanwhile I was trying to run a goddamn business and without explanation our clientele began to seriously drop off. My business partner was having a mental breakdown and someone was lurking around the shop at night. I asked her if it could be one of her Tarot reading clients, that maybe they’d become obsessed with her or the shop or something but she insisted that couldn’t be the case.
“There was this one afternoon, right before she disappeared. She came into the salon in her pajamas, literally scotch plaid flannel pajamas. She was so out of it, I wondered if maybe she’d begun doing drugs. I pulled her back into the break room with me to get her out of sight of clients and she just rambled about the dark thing and how it had gotten a hold of her husband and was turning him against her. She told me that no place was safe any longer, she couldn’t think straight, it wouldn’t let her sleep.
“I actually considered calling an ambulance. She was so disoriented. But when I brought up the idea she pulled herself together and insisted that she would be fine, she just needed to figure out how to clear the energy and then everything would go back to normal.
“That was the last time that I saw her. She texted me a few times over the next couple of days. Her last text said something like, ‘I can’t be a part of the business any longer. It yours now.’”
I waited for Colleen to go on, when she didn’t I said, “That’s it? You haven’t had any contact with her since then?”
“No, she just up and abandoned me.”
I looked at her, trying not to seem too judgy, but nothing about the story sat well.
Colleen watched me. “I mean again, now that I am saying everything out loud I realize I sound a little uncaring, but I was so fucking angry with her. She was married and didn’t have any kids, she could afford to just up and take off for her next half-baked project. I have a mortgage and children, I don’t have a choice. I have to make this work, I mean, as pissed as I was I guess I was sort of relieved she was out of the way so I wouldn’t have to deal with the drama any longer and I could just make the right decisions for the business. The Adirondacks for a yoga retreat for Christ’s sake.”
And then I heard a woman behind me say, “I’m right here.”
Colleen startled. “What?”
“Oh, shit.” The last thing I wanted to do was tell this woman that I could hear ghosts. I stumbled over my words, “I just, well maybe you should try to contact her. Maybe try reaching out again.”
Colleen considered, “But her husband said she was on the retreat, he would know.”
“Don’t trust him,” the voice insisted.
“Does she have any other family nearby?” I asked.
“I think her parents live somewhere in the midwest but she isn’t on speaking terms with them. She never mentioned any siblings.”
Something banged hard on the table next to ours. Causing us both to jump.
“There it goes,” Colleen breathed.
“Tell her,” the voice insisted.
“Do you know anyone else that could confirm her location-” I began, when the water turned on full force in one of the pedicure stations.
“Damn it all!” Colleen exclaimed. “Do you see? It’s just getting worse.” She stood and stomped to the back of the salon to turn off the faucet. “I don’t know where the hell Poppy is, and it doesn’t matter. Her meddling with all that spiritual stuff left me in a complete mess. How am I going to stop this? I’ll lose the business!” She was halfway back to the table when the door at the back of the shop began to slowly creak open.
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” I breathed.
Colleen froze. We locked eyes. “Is the door opening?” She asked.
I nodded my head. Then quietly I said, “What happened to you?”
“What happened to whom?” Colleen demanded, staring at the open door.
I shushed her, closed my eyes and listened.
“She has to help me. The dark thing took him over. It wasn’t his fault.”
I opened my eyes. Colleen looked both frightened and exhausted.
“Come sit,” I said. She looked back at the door which was now wide open. “Just leave it,” I said with a heavy sigh. “I think you to need to call the police.”
“I told you, I already did. There’s no one in the basement, I know how stupid it sounds but I really think it’s a ghost causing all of this.”
“I know,” I assured her. “But I think something bad happened to Poppy.
Colleen opened her mouth to speak, but then closed it and slumped back down into her seat.
The voice again, “Tell her! She’s listening.”
“Look, at the risk of sounding like a complete wacko,” I began wishing I could just nope on out of there, “I can hear her.”
“Poppy. She’s here and she’s talking to me.”
Colleen groaned. “How much stranger is this going to get?”
“Pretty weird,” I admitted, “And I think it’s going to get really sad.”
Colleen stared at me. “If she’s here then that means…” She trailed off.
“What happened to her?” She demanded tears springing to her eyes.
I looked down at my lap and listened.
“The dark thing followed her home after that seance and latched onto her husband. He started spending time in their basement and the thing wouldn’t let either of them sleep. It gave her terrible nightmares, she doesn’t know what it did to him but he spent entire nights in their basement. He would become enraged if she asked him what he was doing down there. She came here that night, the one you said she seemed so out of it, she tried to do some sort of a clearing with sage. She didn’t know that he’d followed her into the shop. She was in the basement and he, oh Jesus,” I breathed. “He beat her to death.”
Colleen was fighting back sobs. “Where is she?”
I listened. “In the basement. In an old freezer that no one ever noticed down there. It’s covered with a tarp. A blue tarp.”
“How in the fuck are you doing this?” Colleen demanded.
I shrugged, embarrassed and sad for both of them. “She caused that flood in the basement. She hoped someone would discover her body.”
“And the noises and the things moving around the shop?”
“It’s all her, she’s been trying to get your attention.”
“Oh my God!” Colleen wailed. “What a horrible person I am! I was so wrapped up in this stupid nail salon. I should have known, I should have tried harder to get in touch with her. She was my best friend!”
I sat helplessly and watching Colleen sob into her hands, unsure of what to do.
After a few moments I said quietly, “You really should call the police.”
Colleen wiped her nose with the sleeve of her fitted navy blue blazer. “What am I supposed to tell them?”
There she had me stumped.
“Intruder.” The voice insisted.
“You could tell them you think someone broke in again and insist that they do a more thorough search,” I suggested weakly.
Colleen stared at the open door to the basement. “Poor Poppy,” she whispered. Then to me she pleaded, “Will you stay with me. I can’t stand the thought of being here alone, with her down there.”
“But the police will wonder why I’m here.”
“I’ll tell them you were an early client, okay? Just don’t leave me here alone. I’ll say we were sitting here and we heard noises coming from the basement and that door opened again. We’ll wait outside for them.” Colleen insisted.
I stayed with her. We waited outside and when the police came we told them our story; that we’d been chatting over coffee before Colleen started on my nails when we heard banging on the basement stairs and then the door had swung open. We were told to wait outside while they conducted a search of the premises. The policewoman came back outside to ask if we’d closed the basement door. We told her that we hadn’t. She called into her partner, “negative” before calling for back up.
They found Poppy just where her ghost told me she’d be. When they searched the basement they found the blue tarp on the ground. Something about it’s placement caused the female officer to open the old freezer to check inside.