Welcome back 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, Lilith is a great place to start (you don’t need any background information to enjoy this account of demonic possession) but do go back to January 7th’s post and begin with chapters 1-3 then catch on up with us.
I have some very exciting news. I’ve partnered up with the brilliant graphic designer, Jackie DeVore (who also happens to be a co-host of Sirens of Scream podcast – which you must listen to for their incredible recommendations on all things horror). Jackie created two absolutely amazing new designs for Ghosts in the Burbs that are available now on t-shirts, mugs and stickers over at the Ghosts in the Burbs shop on Society6.
You guys, they are so cool. One design is a reimagined Ouija Board with a familiar message. The other, a graphic representation of a phrase you hear at the start of almost every Ghosts in the Burbs interview. I wore the Ouija Board t-shirt to spin class a couple days ago and two people asked me about it – here’s the thing, people don’t typically acknowledge their fellow riders in a 5:45am spin class. That’s how cool this design is. So, check it out. Head straight to Society6 OR find the link at ghostsintheburbs.com.
Now, onto the story.
I considered calling Officer Davis to tell her what the contractor had said about the teenager causing his employee to fall from the ladder. I even took out her card, but when I went to punch in her number it dawned on me how ridiculous it would be to relay the story to her. It wasn’t necessarily the same boy. It could have been any teenager. Maybe they used our yard as a cut through. Michael was right. We needed to call the fence company. I added it to a growing list of tasks connected to the home.
With the contractor gone I set to my errands for the day. First heading out to the dry cleaners and then to the grocery before a quick stop at the library to pick up the books I’d put on hold for the kids. I snuck upstairs to the Mystery section and grabbed A Demon Summer. The Max Tudor series had been the perfect distraction, I’d begun it right before the move and was now on book four. The simplicity of life in Nether Monkslip lulled me to sleep at night, even if the tiny British town did have a suspiciously high murder rate.
Leaving the library I found myself dreading returning to the house. But the groceries wanted refrigeration so I reluctantly returned home, promising myself I would sit on the couch and read a chapter or two after putting the groceries away.
Before settling in with the book I gathered the laundry from upstairs and carried it down to the basement, hoping to push through a few loads before the kids got home from school. I would pile the clean laundry on the dining room table as had become my routine and have Jack fold it as part of his weekly chore list. He was saving up for a Nintendo Switch. The twins were in charge of distributing the laundry to the correct bedrooms. They were pooling their money for tickets to the indoor trampoline park. A concussion trap and germ fest if I’d ever encountered one.
I set the laundry basket on the basement floor surprised to see the laundry room door closed. It was the very thing I’d called Jim over to help with, perhaps he had fixed it while I wasn’t paying attention. I reached out to turn the doorknob but found that it was stuck. Jammed. Not only would the door not budge, I could barely make the doorknob turn even a centimeter.
“Thanks a lot, Jim,” I muttered, blaming the contractor for making the door situation even worse.
I huffed back up the basement stairs and grabbed a bottle of WD40 out from beneath the sink then stomped back down. I had been looking at the bottle trying to get the red wand into place but when I looked up I was shocked to see the laundry room door was wide open. It took me a moment to process the scene. That door had been stuck tight. I’d even tried shoving it open with my hip then pulling up and pushing down on the handle to see if I could move it.
It didn’t make any sense. I’d been so taken aback by the open door that I didn’t immediately noticed the dryer. It’s door was open as well, a clean load of laundry spilling out onto the dirty concrete floor.
Annoyed I stepped into the room intending to rescue the clean laundry but I stopped dead when I heard someone behind me whisper, “Boo,” in a very low voice right before I heard the basement door at the top of the stairs slam shut.
I spun around, certain there was a man standing right behind me. I had my hands up ready to claw his eyes out if I had to, but there was no one there. I was alone. I looked around the entire room, then, convinced that the man must be hiding just outside the door I looked around for a weapon. I briefly considered grabbing the bottle of laundry detergent to splash in the man’s face but then my eyes fell on a screw driver laying on the floor next to the furnace. I moved quickly and grabbed it. It was rusted and gritty with dirt and dust.
I called out. “Come on out asshole! I don’t want to hurt you, but I will!”
No answer. The basement screamed with silence.
I forced myself to edge closer to the door. If the man trapped me in there I had no hope. I took a breath, counted down from three and burst through the doorway aiming for the stairs. I ran up them like the devil was chasing me. I saw that the door at the top was indeed shut and as I grabbed for the handle I prayed that it would open. It stuck for one dreadful moment and I screamed out loud. I tried it again harder this time and it gave way. I kept running. Out of the house and into the front yard, only then did I turn to look behind me.
There was no sign of the man and it occured to me that he might be escaping through the backyard. I was furious. I ran around the house to the backyard, the screwdriver held out before me. But I saw no one. I scanned the treeline and the yards to either side. All was quiet. I turned to look at the house behind me. It sat silent. Heavy. Overwhelmed and terrified I screamed and threw the screwdriver at it.
I had a moment of panicky doubt. Had I imagined the whole thing? No. I’d heard someone speak behind me, clear as day. A man, or a male at any rate. And that laundry door had been stuck, firmly. I reasoned that whoever was down there must have been on the other side of that door holding it closed while I went up to get the WD40. Then he’d snuck out to scare me once I’d gone back down. But where in the hell was he now?
I had to call the police. I had to go back into the house to get my cell phone and that policewoman’s card. Both were sitting in a catch-all tray on the kitchen counter. Just steps from the back sliding glass door. I could be in and out in a second. I prayed one of the kids had left the door unlatched. I was in luck.
I knew that I should be going to a neighbor’s house to call for help, but I didn’t trust the neighbors. In fact, I hated them all though I’d never met any of them. Perhaps that was why I hated them. Not one of them had stopped by to welcome us to the neighborhood. Something that would have been unthinkable in Houston. The people, whoever they were, who lived around us disgusted me.
Besides that, I didn’t want to call 911 and have some random police officer show up. I wanted the woman who’d been so kind to me the day of the train incident. Officer Davis. Miracle of miracles she answered after the first ring.
“Where are you now?” She asked calmly after I’d explained the situation.
“I’m in my front yard,” I explained.
“Do you feel like you are in danger?” She asked.
I told her that I didn’t. At least not at that moment.
“Stay right there, we’ll be there in five minutes. Do you want me to stay on the phone with you?”
I did want that, but I didn’t feel right admitting it. After we hung up I moved over a bit so I could keep an eye on the back yard. Cars rushed past me on our busy road. An urge to stick my thumb out and hitchhike away from my life bubbled up in my mind.
Officer Davis and her partner arrived in less than the promised five minutes. She touched base with me briefly as her partner, a young man in his twenties walked purposefully to the back yard, his hand resting on the gun at his side.
“I’m going to need you to wait here while we check out the house. Do you think he could still be in the basement?”
“I don’t know where else he could be unless he snuck out without me seeing. Which is possible,” I admitted.
I watched her enter the house, suppressing the urge to call her back to me. The pair were gone not ten more minutes, searching the home and the property. Unsurprisingly, they found nothing.
“I’m not crazy,” I said as Officer Davis approached me. “For one thing, I know I heard a man say, ‘Boo,’ right behind me in that basement. For another, that laundry room door didn’t open by itself – I know it was jammed shut. Someone was hiding in there. I think it might be that teenager who’s been lurking around.”
“Have you seen that kid again?”
“No, I haven’t, but I think I think a guy that worked for our contractor did.” I told her about the man’s fall from the ladder and the teenager whose scream had startled him off balance. Officer Davis was quiet, staring over my shoulder at the house. “I’m telling you the truth,” I said.
“I believe you,” she replied calmly, then watched as her partner climbed back into their car and began speaking into his cell phone. “You said you heard the door at the top of the basement stairs slam after you heard the man’s voice, correct? What I think happened is that the guy bolted up those stairs and out the door before you had a chance to react.”
“He would have had to have been superhuman. There’s no way anyone could have been so fast.”
“Maybe it wasn’t all as fast as you felt in the moment and maybe he’s familiar with the house,” she suggested.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, who’d you buy the place from? Any chance they had a teenage son? Maybe he didn’t want to move.”
I thought hard, “No, we bought the place from an older couple. They retired to Florida, I think. We never had any direct contact with them ourselves, all the communication went through our real estate agents.”
She studied me for a moment. “Well, it’s worth looking into anyway. I don’t know what this guy wants with your house or your family, but with the contractor’s story, this makes two counts of trespassing, and now one breaking and entering. It’s serious.”
I was speechless, processing her suggestion that the boy might be tied to the house in some way.
“Come on,” she said, “We’ll walk through the house, top to bottom and check every room to make sure all the doors and windows are locked. I have a feeling he slipped out that sliding glass door off your dining room. You’d be smart to put a bar across it. A security system would be an even better idea.”
I trailed behind Officer Davis and she checked every window and door in my home, proving to me that I was locked in secure and alone for now. I tried to remember everything I could about the couple we’d purchased the home from, but it wasn’t much. I decided to ask Michael that night if he knew anything more about them, perhaps they had a grandson who’d lived with them. If he didn’t know anything more I would follow up with the real estate agent. I stood inside the screen door and waved goodbye to Officer Davis and her partner, then I closed and locked the front door and slid down to the floor overcome with anger and fear.
That night was the first time Lilith came to our bedroom complaining about the noise in laundry room keeping her awake.
Lilith’s eyes opened. It took her a moment to recognize her surroundings. Then the grey blanket of sadness fell over her, smothering her as it did every time she’d woken up since their move. She was in the basement of their new home. The basement “bedroom” if you could even call it that. She reached for her phone to check the time – 2:59 – dropped the phone beside her onto the bed and rubbed her eyes. What had woken her up? Sleep was her only escape from the loss and hopelessness that had consumed her in this awful town and she wasn’t happy that something had interrupted it.
A lava lamp, a fifteenth birthday gift from her best friend back home offered dim pinkish light from atop her desk in the corner. She could just make out the hideous floral wallpaper lining the walls. There were many reasons to hate her new bedroom. It was cold and damp even with the space heater her father had gotten for her. She worried her hair and her clothing would carry the scent of mildew that permeated the space. On top of that, she scoured the floor every night before bed for any sign of bugs or rodents. She was certain they were there, lurking in the shadows, just waiting to crawl into bed with her.
How could they have put me down here like this? Scrolled through her mind over and over as she canvased the room bent over, shoulders hunched, looking for critters each evening praying she wouldn’t find anything.
Her father tried to make it sound as though it were some prize that she was living underground. “The Princess Suite” he liked to call it. Gross. If it was so great why didn’t he and mom take it? Another familiar loop ran through Lilith’s mind, I hate it here, I hate it here, I hate them for tearing me away from my friends, I hate it here…
She was reaching again for her phone, hoping to distract herself from her misery when she heard the noise and knew instantly that it was what had woken her up in the first place. It was a banging – no, it was more of a tinny, tapping coming from the laundry room nextdoor. She lay still, listening, trying to place the steady clattering noise. It sounded as if someone was continually picking up the detergent bottle that sat on top of the dryer and then putting it back down.
Was her mother doing laundry in the middle of the night? Lilith waited for the irritating noise to stop. She heard the dryer door squeak open and then slam shut.
“She has got to be fucking kidding me,” Lilith cursed under her breath. She reached out and turned on the light on her bedside table and looked down at her slippers. She’d begun the habit of stretching socks over them, sealing them off lest some basement dwelling mouse or spider might decide they made a cozy home. She pulled off the socks and slipped her feet into the slippers. She stood and began to cross the room, ready to snap at her mother for waking her up in the middle of the night.
She was halfway across the room when she saw a shadow move in front of the crack beneath the door blocking out the light on the other side. Her mother must have noticed her light and was coming to check on her. Lilith paused, expecting her mother to either knock or open the door and poke her head in. When neither thing happened Lilith felt the first tingle of fear. What was her mother doing standing in the hallway in front of her room?
She crept forward, listening. She realized that the tapping had stopped in the room nextdoor. All was silent. She held her ear to the door hoping to hear her mother, but there was nothing. And then, louder than she would have thought possible she heard the dryer door open and close, open and close, open and close.
“Mom!” She yelled. Terrified. Had her mother finally lost it? She’d been tense and forcing fake smiles for months, since even before they moved. Maybe she’d finally snapped.
When her mother did not respond Lilith turned her door knob slowly, as noiselessly as she could. She opened the door a sliver and peeked into the hallway.
“Mom?” She whispered. No answer.
She took a deep breath and pushed open the door a little wider. Still quiet. Bracing herself she stepped out into the hallway. The laundry room door was closed. She didn’t dare open it and look inside. Instead she rushed up the basement steps to find the door at the top was closed again! She’d told them she wanted that door left open. Was that so fucking hard to do?
As she pushed the door open and stepped up onto the first floor the laundry room door clicked open, though she did not hear it.
“Mommy?” Lilith breathed.
Laura woke with a start. “Oh! Lilith, honey, what is it? Is everything alright?”
“You woke me up,” the girl said in a shaky voice.
“You were doing laundry and it woke me up,” her voice stronger.
“Honey, I’ve been sound asleep,” Laura checked her phone. It was both too late or too early to be having this discussion. “You must have been having a bad dream,” she rubbed her eyes and threw her legs over the side of the bed to sit up. “Do you want me to walk you back downstairs?”
Lilith shook her head.
Laura looked at her daughter, realizing the girl was frightened. “Do you want me to set you up on the floor in here?”
“Um, sure.” Lilith said in a small voice.
Laura got up and grabbed a sleeping bag the hall linen closet and an extra pillow from her own bed. She arranged them beside her. Lilith slid into the sleeping bag and lay awake the rest of the night trying to make sense of what had happened. Laura lay awake as well, a sense of doom spreading in her chest.
Michael vacillated between feeling furious and feeling worried. For the most part he believed his wife had heard something in the basement, but he also had to admit that she’d been wound awful tight since the move. Hell, since before the move. It hadn’t been easy on any of them, but Laura just couldn’t seem to find her groove. He didn’t understand why she hadn’t tried to reach out again to his boss’s wife, why she wasn’t making any social connections. He needed her to start trying, though. He and the kids couldn’t be her only connection to the outside world, it wasn’t healthy. For any of them.
He might have tried talking to her about it, but the truth was he didn’t want to dig up more snakes than he could kill. Even though his salary took a ding, the new job carried with it far more pressure than his position in Houston had and he was stressed to the edge most of the time now too. He didn’t know what he would do if Laura shut down completely the way she had after the twins were born. He didn’t have the bandwidth to haul her out of that deep of a hole right now. But what he could do was have a home security system installed and he’d cross his fingers that it was the godsend they needed.
And that was how he found himself standing next to a security representative in his tiny attic looking at a window that no one but an incredibly small contortionist could possibly fit through.
“Look, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out all the leaks in the ship. What we’re seeing now is a huge uptick in break-ins by addicts. These guys don’t give a damn – pardon my language – about you or your family. They’ll steal anything that’s not nailed down just to score their next fix and they don’t care who they hurt to do it.”
Michael, aware that he was given a hard scare sale, nodded his head. “Alright, but no druggie’s gonna fit through that window. He’d as soon fall off the roof and break his neck before he got the chance. Let’s skip this one, alright?”
The security expert formed his face into a look of deep concern. “It’s up to you Mr. Arnold, all I can do is give you my professional opinion.”
“I appreciate that, Rick. I agree with you on the first and second floors. But let’s leave the attic alone for now.”
The men backed carefully down the collapsible ladder to the second floor of the home and Michael folded the stairs and pushed the contraption back up into the ceiling. Rick was already headed down to the first floor, Michael about to follow when the men heard what sounded like four distinct footsteps above their heads. It was loud enough to stop Rick in his tracks.
He turned to look at Michael, “That’s strange,” he commented.
Michael stared at the ceiling above them. “No major utilities up there, right? What in the hell could have made that noise?”
Rick shrugged, “Don’t know, I didn’t see any evidence of critters, but you might want to get an exterminator up here just in case.”
Michael sighed heavily, racking up the extra expense.
“Whatever it was sounded big, anyway,” Rick commented continuing on down the stairs. “Sounded like a man stomping around!”
The comment gave Michael pause. “You know what, Rick,” he said, standing across from the man in the front hallway, “Go on ahead and put a window sensor on that attic window, yeah?”
Rick nodded and headed out the front door to gather his supplies.
Rosemary and Carrie had been sitting in their bedrooms, playing games on their iPads. They’d been half listening to their father stomp around in the attic with the security guy and then close up the attic stairs when they heard the footsteps overhead.
“There it goes again,” Carrie said, staring at the ceiling.
“We should tell mom and dad,” Rosemary whispered.
“Dad just heard it,” Carrie reasoned, “He and that guy were just up there. If there had been anyone there they would have seen him.”
“Maybe the guy was hiding,” Rosemary suggested.
Carrie shook her head. “You’ve been up there, it’s tiny. Maybe it really is some animal.”
“It never sounds like an animal,” her sister countered.
“Well, if we tell them what we’ve been hearing now, mom will be mad that we didn’t say anything weeks ago.”
The girls went back to their iPads. Neither of them wanting to stir up trouble for themselves.
After a moment Carrie said, “Maybe the house really is haunted.”
“Shut up,” Rosemary replied.
“No, really, it makes sense. That’s why dad and that security guy didn’t see anything up there because it’s a ghost who’s stomping around and doing all that weird stuff around the house.”
“What stuff?” Rosemary asked, looking up from her iPad.
“Haven’t you noticed? This place is weird. I didn’t want to say anything and freak you out, but the footsteps in the attic aren’t the only weird things going on around here.”
“You’ve read too much R.L. Stine,” Rosemary joked, but she had noticed things in the house. She was an early riser. Almost always the first in the family to wake up every morning and sometimes, when she was pouring cereal in the kitchen in the morning she could feel someone watching her. She’d be certain that she’d turn around and see Jack or Carrie standing behind her. It wasn’t just spooky feelings either. Their family had been different. Mom was distracted and seemed really unhappy, and Jack had been sullen and kinda mean. Not to mention how weird Lilith had become.
The girl listened as a train blew past the house.
“I overheard mom and dad talking about the boy in the yard. Mom said he jumped in front of the train.”
“What an idiot,” Rosemary said, nervously.
“I’ve seen him too,” Carrie whispered.
“The boy. He’s always wearing a hoodie pulled up and hanging around the back fence.”
“Why haven’t you told mom and dad?”
“Because he told me not to.”
“You’ve talked to him?” Rosemary said, horrified. “When?”
Carrie set her iPad to the side and leaned forward. “Remember last week when we were kicking around the soccer ball in the backyard? So when you went inside to go to the bathroom the guy walked out from near the stream and he talked to me.”
“What did he say? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“He told me not to mention seeing him,” Carrie said. “He said it would freak mom out if she knew I was talking to him. I guess he used to live in our house. He asked about the basement, wanted to know how Lilith liked her new bedroom.”
“He knows Lilith?” Rosemary said, doubtfully.
“I guess. They probably go to school together.”
“I don’t know, Carrie. That is weird. You shouldn’t be talking to weird guys like that.”
“He wasn’t weird,” Carrie said, trying to sound cool. “We were just talking.”
“Yeah, well, what if he’s the one doing all the weird stuff around this house?”
“He lived here before,”Carrie pointed out, “Maybe the weird stuff happened while he was here too. The next time I see him I’m going to ask.”
Rosemary just looked at her sister doubtfully and shook her head.