Welcome to Lilith, a tale I’ll share a few chapters at a time until her story is complete. If you’re new to the blog this is a great place to start, you don’t need any background information to enjoy this account of demonic possession. But be sure to head on back to Ghost Story number one as well. There you’ll see how this all began.
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Now, we’re on to the story. It might feel a little different than what we’re used to here, but hang in there with me. It’s a New Year it’s time for a New Perspective.
By Liz Sower
To Chris, this one’s too scary. I forgive you for not reading it.
Chris MacNeil: What are you doing here?
Regan: My bed was shaking. I can’t get to sleep.
The Exorcist, (1973)
“Hey, Mr. Arnold, it’s Jim.”
“Sure, hi Jim. What can I do for you?”
“Now it’s nothing too serious but it’ll set us back a week or so.”
“What is it?”
“Well, there’s been a small fire-”
“Oh my God, is everyone all right?”
“Yeah everyone’s okay, no one was in the house at the time. Really, it wasn’t all that bad. Miraculously, the fire was contained to the mudroom and burned itself out. Burned a hole clear through the floor down to the basement bedroom, but it didn’t travel any further than that.”
Michael Arnold let out a heavy sigh. “All right, at least no one was hurt. How’d the fire start?”
“That’s just it, we don’t know. I’ve had the fire chief over here, of course, and he brought a couple guys with him to check the place out. Gave us the free and clear, but couldn’t pinpoint just what kicked it off.”
“Was one of your guys smoking in the house?”
“Absolutely not. Never. I’d throw ‘em out on their ass myself if I ever caught one of them smoking on site.”
“Well, how are we going to take care of this?”
“I suggest you call your insurance company. I’ve started the clean up but I’ll hold off on demo until you give me the go ahead.”
“Do you have the number for the fire chief?”
“Fine then, I’ll give him a call and I’ll let you know what we’re going to do.”
Michael put down the phone with a heavy sigh. This was just the latest in a string of headaches. The house had been a pain in his ass since the very second they’d signed the Purchase and Sales agreement. Had the circumstances been different he would have pulled out of the deal. But his firm wanted him in Massachusetts by October at the latest and Laura insisted they move in time to have the kids start the school year with their peers.
Laura’s pull up your bootstraps response when he’d told her that the firm didn’t have a job for him in Houston any longer had nearly broken him. He’d been offered a job in the Boston office and it was clear that it was the only option available to him. They would have to move the kids from everyone they knew and loved, from a stately brick home with room to spare to a small New England cottage that their real estate agent kept referring to as a “Cape.”
It was without question that work would need to be done on the older house, but they had to be careful. The firm had offered him a job 1,800 miles away but they didn’t offer him the funds to get there. Their Houston home had been on the market for over a month now without a bite, if it didn’t sell by the time they were due up north, he didn’t know how they’d make it work.
He arrived home later than usual that night. Dreading having to relay the news of the fire to Laura. The twins were finishing their dinner as he walked through the door.
“Daddy!” They yipped in unison before jumping up from their seats to greet him.
“Carrie! Rosemary! You sit back down and finish your dinner,” Laura scolded, before walking over to kiss Michael on the cheek.
“How was your day?” She asked, turning to grab a bottle of wine from the fridge. As she poured him a glass he hung his jacket in the coat closet, which he noticed was newly brimming with moving boxes.
“You got some packing done,” he said with a grateful smile as she handed him a full glass of wine.
“I did, we’ll be eating off paper plates from here on out,” she replied. He noticed the dark circles beneath her eyes. She hadn’t been sleeping well. She’d blamed the insomnia on Spring allergies but he knew it was the stress that kept her up at night.
“I’m sorry we can’t hire someone to pack us,” he offered, not for the first time.
She waved off the comment and set to dishing out their dinner. They sat with the twins and listened to their version of events of a dodgeball game gone awry in gym class that afternoon and discussed the paint color the girls had chosen for their new bedroom.
Lilith breezed in as Michael was rinsing dishes in the sink. His fifteen year old daughter was his favorite child, though he did his best not to let on. An independent streak ran through her that bordered on contrary and her devilish sense of humor made him proud even though he knew he had nothing to do with it. Her strengths were all Laura.
“Hi, Daddy,” she said, grabbing a paper plate and loading it down with salad and grilled chicken.
He quickly turned off the water and dried his hands. “Hey, girl. I’ll sit with you while you eat.”
“No time, I only have twenty minutes until Caitlin picks me up to go decorate the gym for Spring formal. I’ve got Algebra homework.”
“Need any help?”
Laura walked into the kitchen, having gotten the twins set up in front of the television to watch some their favorite obnoxious cartoon. “Hi, honey,” she said to their oldest daughter. “Have a piece of cornbread, it’s your favorite.”
“No carbs, Spring formal,” Lilith replied before bounding out of the kitchen and up to her bedroom.
Michael and Laura watched her go.
“Should we be worried about that?”
“I’m keeping an eye on it,” Laura said seriously. “Come on, let’s sit in the den and have another glass.”
Once settled, Michael told Laura about the small fire in the mudroom of their new home, and relayed the conversation he’d had with the fire chief. “He insisted that it didn’t appear to have been caused by cigarette, even when I pressed him on that point. Said he couldn’t honestly say what exactly had started the fire, called it ‘strange.’ But he’s mailing me his report so I can submit it with the insurance claim.”
Laura sipped her wine, considering. “Did Jim say if the built-in shelves in the mudroom had been ruined?”
“He didn’t mention them.”
“Well, what can you do? At least the fire burned itself out. They’ve got to fix that ceiling in the basement bedroom before we move though, Michael. I feel bad enough as it is having Lilith take that room.”
“I know I was thinking the same thing.”
I never thought I’d leave Houston. The idea literally hadn’t ever crossed my mind. Every choice I’d ever made, my marriage, the pregnancies, every friendship I’d poured years into had Houston ingrained within them.
But then Michael was told there wasn’t a place for him in the firm. Boston had been a consolation prize. I allowed myself one night on the bathroom floor. One night of muffled hysterics and then I faced the move straight on. Worse things had happened to people. At least there was a job for Michael no matter how far it took us from the only city we’d ever known. The only home our children had ever known.
Michael’s new boss had reached out with a rather formal welcome email in which he boasted about his school district, his home and his proximity to the city. He lived in a small town called Wellesley and suggested that we focus our real estate search there. Almost as an afterthought the man had included his wife’s email address, “the wives can discuss yoga studios and decorators,” he’d written. I hated him immediately.
I wrote an email to his wife but it sat in my drafts folder for weeks. I couldn’t seem to find the right tone. Saying, “Please help me I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m scared to death. How cold does it get? What will the children wear? I’ve only seen snow three times in my life. I am afraid everyone will judge our accents. I don’t want to do this,” though truthful was obviously inappropriate.
I settled on a simple message. Hello. Your husband was kind enough to share your email address. We are excited about the move and looking forward to meeting you and your family. I included our children’s names and ages.
Her response was immediate. “Best of luck with the move. Once you’re settled we’ll grab dinner.”
Once we were settled. I had a feeling that I would never feel settled again.
Michael and I left the kids with my parents to spend a weekend house hunting in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The Real Estate Agent, a tall, thin woman with pin straight blond hair and sharp features gave us a tour of the Boston suburb and passed judgement on neighborhoods and elementary schools matter-of-factly. We picked up on the fact early on that some of the elementary schools in town were deemed superior to others though when I looked at their ratings online they all appeared stellar.
The home we could afford would be smaller than the one we owned in Houston. Less space, less yard, older. It was too overwhelming to even consider looking at other towns. We knew of just one family up north, Michael’s boss and his wife (I had no idea if they had children and if they did how old they were) and I couldn’t fathom choosing another town at random. We left after that weekend with our hopes dampened and our panic inflamed.
“The right house will find us,” I said.
“We’ll make it work,” Michael said.
I set to clearing out our basement and selecting friends with whom to gift the twin’s baby toys. Though they were now ten years old I’d never gotten around to giving anything away. There hadn’t been reason.
The listing came through in a batch of others. Daily, The Real Estate Agent sent us a scrolling feed. Though it’s contents barely changed. A price drop here, a sale pending there. But then one Tuesday afternoon in May, with the kids just weeks from wrapping up their very last school year in our hometown, a new house came on the market in Wellesley. Michael texted, alerting me to the new promising home.
In the photos it looked darling. Smaller than I had been hoping for, but charming in a New England cottage way. The Real Estate Agent called it a classic Cape and asserted that the owners had been smart about improvements over the years. Even building a master suite over the garage. There were three bedrooms on the second floor, a fourth in the basement. Had we encountered this feature earlier in our search it would have been a non-starter. But, as Michael kept telling me, time was ticking.
The photos made the home appear cared for and welcoming. The kitchen needed serious updating, but that had been the case for all of the homes in our price range. There were handsome and functional builtins lining the small mudroom. The twins could share a bedroom, Jake could have his own, Lilith could take the basement. I could do my best to turn it into a nice little suite for her. It just might work.
The Real Estate Agent told us we’d better act fast and offer over asking price, no contingencies. A seed of terror appeared in my chest.
“The first open house is tomorrow and by then it’ll be as good as gone. At this price it’ll fly,” she’d told Michael with confidence.
The seed took root.
Michael asked if she would drive by and text us a video of the property so we could get a better feel for it. She did. The video fertilized the terror plant blooming in my heart. Michael came home early so we could “discuss” the opportunity.
“Time’s ticking,” Michael said.
“I know that, but I’m not going to just jump on this because the damn real estate agent is pressuring us.”
“Kim is giving us good advice, that’s why we’re using her.”
“The train runs directly behind the house, Michael. We’ll be up all hours.”
“Kim sent me the schedule, the trains only run in the morning and evening, it’s the commuter rail. I can walk to the station, how easy is that?”
“The street looks busy,” I returned.
“The kids are old enough to know not to play close to the road.”
I looked down at the Google map he’d printed out for me. Kim had marked up the location of the schools the kids would be attending come fall. “It is pretty much smack dab in between the middle and high schools,” I said reluctantly.
“And the grocery is right there. And a Starbucks.”
“Since when do you drink Starbucks?” I asked in a tone sharper than I’d intended.
“Stop. Just stop saying Kim,” I took a deep breath knowing that the decision had already been made. “Fine,” I said. “It’s just so expensive for such an old house and I just don’t love it.”
Michael’s shoulders slumped. “Laura, I’m sorry. I’m doing the best I can. This house,” he pointed down at the listing sheet, “It doesn’t have to be our forever home but we need to move forward. The kids need to know where they’ll be living. I need to tell the firm when I’ll be in Boston.”
I stared down at the bird’s eye view of what I knew would be our new property. “Is that a stream?”
“Behind the house.”
“I’ll ask K- I’ll find out,” Michael said. “But Laura, we need to decide.”
“It’s close to the schools,” I said, giving in.
“It is, and we’ll fix whatever needs fixing before we move in. Fresh coat of paint, we’ll sand and stain the floors. It’ll be great. You’ll see.”
I downed a glass of wine and listened as he called The Real Estate Agent and asked her to put in our offer. I sat at my kitchen table in what I’d always thought would be our forever home and I felt the terror grow in my chest. Determined not to let a soul know about it.
The Arnold family was crammed inside an Uber.
“Great truck,” Michael said, striking up conversation with the driver. “Does it get good mileage?”
The driver answered with few words.
“We should get one of these honey,” Michael said over his shoulder.
Laura was in the center row with Lilith. The twins and Jack in the far back. She made a noncommittal noise. She was exhausted and unwilling to engage in a useless conversation. They couldn’t afford a car like this. Their seven-year old minivan was just fine.
“Minivan’s about on its last legs,” Michael said, still trying to get the young driver to talk to him.
It was the driver’s turn to make a noncommittal noise.
“How much longer until we get there?” Lilith asked nervously.
“Just about fifteen minutes,” Laura answered, glancing over at her oldest daughter. The girl had held up better than she had expected. There had been teary goodbyes with friends, and she tried her very hardest not to think about the way her mother wouldn’t let go of Lilith as they said farewell at the airport. But Lilith seemed in relatively good spirits. God willing, this move would be easier on her than it was on Laura.
“Isn’t it great that we live so close to Boston?” Michael bellowed. Laura looked as if she’d like to punch the back of his headrest to get him to shut up.
Kim Benning had intended to greet the Arnolds and tour them through their new house, but she’d been held up by an overly cautious property inspector at another listing. Luckily, she’d mailed a set of keys to the new home owners just in case of this very circumstance. Actually, luck had nothing to do with it, Kim covered her bases.
She pulled her Audi into the short driveway and took in the small home. Movement in an upstairs window caught her eye. The family must already be inside. Michael had mentioned the cars weren’t due to arrive until that evening with the moving truck. She assumed the family had Ubered from Logan airport.
Kim crossed the short walkway and hopped up the two crumbling concrete and brick steps to ring the doorbell. When no one came to the door she pulled the screen open and knocked, hard. She glanced up at the windows above, unsure, a foreign feeling for her. Just as she was about to text Michael she heard a voice inside the house.
They mustn’t have heard me, she thought. Though, with the home being as small as it was, that seemed rather unlikely. She decided to try the doorknob and it turned easily in her hand. Stepping over the threshold she heard a door slam within the house. Startled she mentally scanned the floorplan in her mind. She guessed it had been the basement door that had closed with such force. The family must be checking out the lower level, no wonder they hadn’t heard her arrival.
“Hello!” She called out, walking through the small mudroom, noting the Arnold’s contractor had done a nice job cleaning up the mess the fire had caused. Laura would be pleased to see the shelves hadn’t been affected by the strange blaze.
Kim’s high heels clacked across the small dining room, she hesitated at the kitchen doorway. “Hello?”
The basement door was to her left, just past the entrance to the kitchen. She hesitated. The house wasn’t a traditional Cape, though that’s the description the previous owners had used in the listing. The rooms on the small home’s first floor flowed into one another in a circular pattern. The mudroom off the dining room (a strange choice) lead past the stairway to the kitchen which flowed into the family room at the back of the house and back again to the other end of the dining room.
The house was silent. She put her hand on the basement door.
“Down here,” a voice called, barely loud enough to hear.
Kim turned the doorknob. The light was out. She looked to her right to a bank of three switches and tested each one. The furthest from her turned the light on at the base of the stairs. Again, she hesitated. Again, she called, “Hello?”
She heard noises, footsteps and some low voices. Is the family all crammed into the bedroom down there? She thought as she stepped cautiously down the stairs.
The basement was what savvy real estate agents term “dated.” Dark wood paneled walls seemed to fight against the bare ceiling bulbs attempting to illuminate the place. A deep green, threadbare carpet gave off a musty smell. She was shocked the family hadn’t at least replaced the carpet. She understood that the eldest daughter would occupy the below grade bedroom and couldn’t imagine putting a teenage girl down there in its current state.
As she took the bottom step she heard a car door slam outside. The noise was muffled. But it was clear enough to give her pause. Who could be here now? She wondered. Maybe the contractor. She looked to her right, a den had been set up in the basement, presumably for the previous owner’s son. The poor boy. She turned to her left and approached the closed bedroom door. The voices were louder now, but not nearly enough for a family of six.
What in the hell were they doing in there?
She’d just pushed the bedroom door open when she heard what sounded like a parade of people stomp heavily across the floor above her head.
“Kim? You in here?” A voice boomed.
She stopped and stared into the empty bedroom in front of her, then quickly closed the door. Not turning her back on the room she scurried back up the stairs. “I’m down here!” She called, forcing cheer into her voice.
Mrs. Arnold appeared at the top of the steps. “Hi Kim, what are y’all doing down there?”
“Just a final top to bottom inspection, making sure the sellers left it as they said they would.”
“How’s it look?” Michael asked, coming to stand next to his tiny wife.
“Fabulous,” Kim said. “Just perfect.”