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 entry and begin with chapters 1-3.
A couple reminders:
Go to Patreon.com/ghostsintheburbs to support the show. A $10 per month pledge will get you a short spooky story all your own. They truly are one of my favorite things to write.
And, as always, check out ghostsintheburbs.com for all the links.
Now, onto the story.
Though it was reassuring to know the police would be alerted immediately if a window or a door opened without our knowledge, the arming and un-arming of the security system as we came in and out of the house only served as a constant reminder of our vulnerability. The beep-beep-beep when the front door opened a little tap on the shoulder asking me to remember that a stranger had actually been in our home, standing right behind me in the basement. Punching in the security code was a personal memo to go over all the horrible things that could have happened had it been Lilith down there instead.
I was hanging on by a thread. Michael was distant. He was stressed at work and concerned about our finances and the last thing I wanted to do was to add to his burdens. I’d considered asking my mother to come up for a visit, but we didn’t have any room for her in the house and I didn’t have the money to pay for her hotel room. Next month, I promised myself.
Every morning I set out with one goal: just keep busy. Busy getting the kids ready for school, busy cleaning the house and running errands and taking walks, busy with the kids after school needs and dinner needs and bedtime needs. Busy until the blessed moment when I could take an Advil PM and lose myself in a couple hours of sleep. The cruel trick of it was that I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep, it was staying asleep that was the problem. My mind betrayed me every night, waking me up around one or two then offering punishing lists of worries that scrolled endlessly through my mind until I’d doze off into a fitful sleep just moments before Michael’s alarm sounded.
Our current state of affairs was unsustainable. I knew this deep in my bones. We were headed for a trouble, disaster if I wasn’t careful. But the only way I could see out of it was through it. So I kept busy, kept running through my lists of worries, kept looking for ways to dig us out of the hole we seemed to be sinking into.
As a rule, I did not go into the basement if Michael and the kids weren’t home. I know how hypocritical it was of me. I expected my daughter to sleep down there alone every night but I couldn’t even make myself go down to do a couple loads of laundry if there weren’t other people in the house. But the place gave me the creeps, and not only because of the break in. Ever since I’d spoken with the contractor I’d had the feeling that he didn’t like the space either – that it frightened him too. And that worried me more than anything, because if it wasn’t just my overactive imagination or my sorrow over moving up north that was creating the bad feelings within me about the house then there might actually be something very bad brewing in our home.
Go through it to get through it. It was my home. I had to find a way to love it, or at least get over the feeling that it was plotting my family’s demise. We’d renovate eventually. My parents would eventually come to visit. Someday we might even move, if not back to Houston then maybe to a different house in Wellesley. In the meantime, I’d make the house my own. For now, the basement was a run down, creep show. But we would fix that eventually, for now I just had to do the best I could. And the best I could do at that moment meant taking down that godforsaken wallpaper in Lilith’s room.
I’d put off stripping the wallpaper for far too long. But Lilith had grown so sullen and distant that I was desperate to find a way to brighten her mood. I’d tried cooking her favorite meals, asked her out to get our nails done together (she declined), I even bought her a pair of jeans I knew she’d had her eyes on in one of the little shops on Central Street. And yet, I couldn’t find a way to connect with her. Her interaction with her siblings was nothing but bickering, I’d noticed that she wouldn’t hardly even look at Michael, and when I tried to talk to her she barely said more that one or two words to me. I had absolutely no idea whether she’d made any new friends at all and, truth be told, I was afraid of the answer.
This complete change in her personality prompted me to ask her guidance counselor to suggest a children’s therapist. Our appointment with the woman was a week away and I was overwhelmed with guilt that I hadn’t sought help for her sooner. I’d been so wrapped up in my own misery that I’d let things go too far. The obvious answer was that the move had pushed her down into a depression, but my intuition told me a storm was brewing. It felt as though Lilith’s mood shift had to do with more than just the move. That there was something she simply wasn’t telling us. My chipmunk mind blared a list of horrible things that she might be keeping secret.
One week. I kept telling myself, I just had to keep busy for one week and then I’d have a therapist to help my daughter.
Fixing up Lilith’s bedroom made me feel like I was doing something positive for my daughter, and stripping the wallpaper and prepping the walls for paint had an added bonus. The strong fumes put off by the process and the low air flow in the basement meant Lilith would have to sleep on our bedroom floor for a few nights until the project was complete.
With the kids off at school and the morning mess straightened up I checked to make sure that the security system was activated then gathered my supplies. The online instructions made it sound so simple, but I had a feeling the devil was in the details with this whole project. A scouring tool, putty knife and a spray bottle of water and vinegar just didn’t seem like enough for the job, but a review of several do-it-yourself sites assured me that was all I would need. “Just scour, spray, and peel,” one do-it-yourselfer blogged. However, her suggestion to have “Plenty of old towels and plastic sheeting on hand to protect the floor and furniture from the mess,” made me suspicious of the simple instructions.
I’d told Lilith that I would be working in her room the evening before, I wanted to give her time if there was anything in her room she might like to squirrel away. My mother had been a snooper and it had always grated, making me trust her a little less that I ought to have. Whether Lilith had put anything private away I didn’t know and I wouldn’t go looking. As much as I wanted to know what was going on to make my daughter so unhappy I wouldn’t betray her trust. I also didn’t think snooping would bring any answers. Whatever was going on inside Lilith’s head she was keeping locked down tight.
Jim had completed the short list of projects I’d given him. Three new doors in three new frames stuck out like Lilly Pulitzer dresses at a funeral. The new frames did not sit flush with the old baseboard and besides that, the new additions were all white while the rest of the basement was a muddy brown. Staring at the chaotic and depressing hodgepodge I decided that even if we couldn’t afford to renovate the basement I could afford paint. I’d paint the space a gleaming white. There was no reason to wait. Sure, it would be a big project, but what else did I have going on? It wasn’t like there was anyone banging down the door to spend time with me.
Feeling better that I had yet another project to keep me busy I walked down the short hallway to Lilith’s bedroom, past the open laundry room door. Lilith had braced the door open with a full bottle of detergent. I wondered at that for a moment. The doors had been replaced, they shouldn’t need to be braced open any longer. I put my concern away, purposefully deciding not to think on it too much and opened my daughter’s bedroom door.
The bed sat slightly off center on the wall across from me. It’s pink and purple Pottery Barn bedspread and yellow sheets in a crumpled mess. To either side of it were the white bedside tables onto which I’d stenciled daisies years before. In her Houston bedroom they’d been happy bursts of color. They were lost in the new room, their brightness dimmed. Under the room’s sole window sat Lilith’s desk, it’s long armed lamp offering some light. The lava lamp her little friend had given her back home glowed quietly amid a mess of open books, papers and magazines.
I dropped the large laundry basket I’d filled with the towels, plastic sheets and wallpaper removal tools onto Lilith’s bedroom floor. Then I flipped the switch for the overhead light. The illumination did nothing to make the space feel any less dreary. What it did do was highlight the chaotic state of the bedroom. It struck me how out of character it was for my daughter to inhabit such a messy space. A cluttered desk full of projects? Sure. But empty dishes and glasses on the bedside tables and dirty clothing strewn across the floor? It wasn’t like her at all.
I pushed aside my agitation and the underlying hum of worry and set to straightening up the room. I quickly made the bed, straightened the bedside tables, then picked up discarded clothing off the floor and put it in the the pink hamper my aunt had gifted us at my baby shower. Then I gathered plates and cups and carried them out to the basement stairs deciding that I’d leave them there for Lilith to carry up when she got home from school.
Back in the room and satisfied that I could begin to prep for the wallpaper removal I plugged my phone into the speaker on Lilith’s desk for music. Then I pulled the furniture out to the center of the room, lined the floor with towels and covered everything with the plastic sheets. I’d finally begun spraying the wall behind Lilith’s bed when I heard the banging.
I quickly turned down the music and listened. There it was again, four hard bangs followed by the doorbell. I put down the spray bottle on the floor next to the scraper and ran upstairs. I couldn’t imagine who it could be. I wasn’t expecting any deliveries and God knew there wasn’t anyone who might be stopping by for a visit.
I looked out the window beside the front door and saw no one so I assumed whoever had come to call was at the side door off the mudroom. I was wrong. I pulled open the door to peek my head out, thinking that perhaps the person had given up and assumed that I was not home. But, of course, I’d forgotten about the security system so the second I opened the door I was startled by the loud beeping of the alarm warning me that the door I had opened myself was indeed open. I slammed the door then rushed to the control panel in the front entrance to stop the irritating beeping.
My nerves jangled I was too annoyed to care who had been banging on our door so I reset the damn alarm and headed back into the basement to resume work. The thing was, once I got down there my spray bottle and scraper were nowhere to be found. Everything else was exactly as I’d left it. I distinctly remembered placing the bottle down on Lilith’s floor right next to the wall scraper. But it was gone.
I retraced my steps. Had I carried it upstairs without even thinking about it? Had I left it in the front hallway? In the mudroom? No. The damn things were gone. Just vanished into thin air. Back in the basement I shoved the plastic sheets and towels aside, knowing it made no sense but having no clue how the tools could have just up and vanished. I poked my head into the laundry room, knowing it was fruitless.
Fuck, fuck, fuck! I trudged back up to the first floor and slammed the basement door behind me. How could I be so absent minded? In the kitchen I grabbed a can of seltzer water from the refrigerator and stared over towards the family room couch longingly. Then I grabbed my keys from the counter catch all, disengaged the fuckijng alarm system got in my car and drove straight to the hardware store to buy a new spray bottle and scraper.
Fuck this house, I thought.
I was shaking the new spray bottle with its solution of vinegar and water when I first noticed the family photos. I’d hung them the week before above the couch in the family room; a line of five family photos in identical white frames. Images of happier times. The children lined up at the beach, the family celebrating the twin’s first birthdays, a group shot at a neighborhood barbeque, Michael and I dressed up for a friend’s wedding, all six of us wearing Mickey Mouse ears in front of Epcot Center.
I’d hung the photos carefully with my laser leveler, measuring precisely so that the frames would be spaced perfectly. The photos were still all in a line. Still perfectly spaced, but they were all now hanging upside down. I stared at them, dumbfounded. Now, why in the world would one of the kids do that? I thought, agitated. As I was crossing the room to straighten the photos I heard the basement door click open. An icy chill of fear stole through my body. I looked at the door, it was open only an inch or so. Then I glanced back at the upturned photos.
I walked right out of that house and went to Starbucks until school let out.
I was waiting for the kids in the driveway when the younger ones came home. I’d been pretending to weed along the edge of the house, but really I was just stalling, not wanting to go inside alone. I’d spent the afternoon convincing myself that the kids had flipped the photos and we lived in an old creaky house, that’s why the doors wouldn’t stay shut.
“Hey y’all,” I called out to my three younger children. I reluctantly followed them into the house as they told me about their days. As I doled out snacks I asked if any of them had touched the frames I’d hung in the family room. They responded with a unanimous no. I showed them the photos and said that they best not be lying to me. That I’d spent a lot of time trying to get those pictures just right and it wasn’t funny for them to play a trick like that. They looked confused, not guilty.
I heard the mudroom door open and knew that Lilith was home.
She walked into the kitchen and dropped her backpack next to the basement door.
“Hi, honey,” I said as brightly as I could. “How was your day?”
Lilith ignored me and went to the sink. Unnerved by her dismissiveness I watched as she filled a glass of water. Suddenly, I remembered the dishes at the bottom of the stairs and asked her to retrieve them, adding how disappointed I was in the filthy state of her bedroom.
“If you keep leaving dirty dishes down there you’ll attract pests” I pointed out.
Lilith turned and I caught a look of pure hatred and rage on her face. It was gone as quickly as it had appeared. She said, “Okay, mommy,” in a sing-song voice then walked slowly to the basement door. “I’ll bring those up right away, how silly of me!”
I watched as my daughter disappeared down the steps, taken aback not only by the look of rage I’d glimpsed but in the completely inappropriate way she’s responded to me. I was about to call her back upstairs when I heard a loud crash.
Immediately I thought that she had fallen and landed in the pile of dishes I set out for her. I arrived at the top of the stairs and stopped short. I’d been expecting the worst, to see her sprawled out on the ground. Instead she stood looking back at me from the base of the stairs, a smirk on her face.
“Oh, my gosh, mommy. I’m so clumsy, I don’t know what happened.” Her voice wasn’t right. It was flat, lacking any emotion.
Scattered around her feet on the basement floor were the remains of the plates and glasses I’d asked her to carry up. Stunned, I could only manage to say, “Just stay put, I’ll grab the broom. I don’t want you to cut your feet.”
She began to climb the stairs, holding eye contact with me. I backed away.
“Don’t worry yourself. I’ll get the dustpan, mommy,” Lilith said, cold laughter in her voice.
I turned away from her then. I saw that her siblings had been watching the exchange with rapt attention. I new that I should light her up over so obviously smashing those dishes on purpose, but the truth was, in that moment, I was frightened of my daughter.
“I’m telling you, Michael. It was creepy. Lilith was not herself – at all.” They were sitting at the dining room table. The twins and Jack in front of the television watching a movie, Lilith down in her bedroom, having pushed aside the towels and plastic sheets in order to work at her desk.
Michael sighed and bought himself time by taking a gulp of his drink. Whiskey, not his usual beer. “Look, I agree it sounds off,” taking in the look on his wife’s face he added, “And extremely disrespectful, but you know we do have to factor in the fact that she is a teenager now. They are supposed to back chat their parents. Maybe we’ve just been lucky with her so far, and now she’s just testing the boundaries.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Laura pressed.
“Do you want me to talk to her?”
Laura sat back in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest. “You can try. I haven’t been able to get her to say more than two words to me.”
Michael got up from the table. “Alright, we’ll have a chat,” he said, before downing the rest of his drink. But not tonight. I have that Gentleman’s Club thing that Paul invited me to.”
“How could I forget,” Laura said bitterly.
When his boss invited him to a “gentleman’s night” at the Wellesley Country club, Michael had felt a spark of excited relief. He knew Laura wanted him home but he’d been desperate to escape the tension in the house, if even for a couple hours. He quickly learned that “grabbing a couple drinks” meant a very different thing in Wellesley than it did to his friends back home. In Houston, with friends he’d known for most of his life, that meant heading to someone’s backyard with a Yeti cooler full of beer to sit around the fire pit and shoot the shit, or going out to a bar and grabbing a few while keeping one eye on the game. In Wellesley it meant time spent at an exclusive country club that boasted a five year waiting list – if you were able to get three pristine recommendations by members and could afford to put up the one hundred thousand dollar buy in and pay the sizeable yearly dues.
Back home no one would have shared this financial information. It may have been heavily implied that only incredibly wealthy people could afford to join the club, but actual numbers would never have been discussed. Not so up north. Paul had outlined the finances involved in club membership at the office that morning after he’d confirmed Michael would be able to make it to the event. He did so under the guise of suggesting that Michael meet a few members to gather the prerequisite recommendations to get on the waiting list. But they both knew the club was way out of Michael’s reach. Joining the waitlist alone cost one thousand dollars and it was no guarantee of membership.
He parked his car and took in the massive building, it’s Georgian architecture aglow in the dimming light. Michael had never thought of himself as a person concerned with status. But the short time he’d spent in Wellesley had taught him that he hadn’t cared about status in Houston because he’d had it. Now that he was surrounded by such entrenched wealth, he was beginning to care about status a great deal and he found that it made him feel inferior. He had no idea what to expect as he walked through the huge doors and into the elegantly decorated club. A woman in a traditional black and white maid’s uniform greeted him and asked his business. He mentioned Paul’s name.
“Mr. Hensley is with the gentleman in the club room,” she pointed to a hallway behind her. “Straight through, you can’t miss it.”
Paintings of distinctly British looking landscapes in ornate gold frames lined the long wallpapered hallway. Sconces provided dim light and Michael fought the urge to turn and run. At the end of the hallway he could make out a dark room. As he got closer he found it to be a high ceilinged bar; all mahogany and plush leather chairs. A substantial bar stood to his left, a line of glass doors across the room lead out to a veranda overlooking the golf course, to his right a massive fireplace flickered.
He scanned the crowd. There were about thirty or so men in the room and though his eyes adjusted to the darkness it was still hard to make anyone out. Guys sat in front of the fireplace smoking cigars, others gathered around a pool table in the far corner. He decided to head to the bar for a drink when he felt a hand clap him on the back.
“There he is!” Paul said cheerily.
“Hey, man,” Michael replied, relief overtaking him. “This place is great.”
Paul accepted the compliment as if it were about his own home. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get you a drink.”
Michael followed his boss to the bar and ordered a beer. He was introduced to several men, all of which had at least twenty years on him. For the most part they were dismissive and uninterested once they learned that he was just an employee of Paul’s with no family ties to the area. Shortly he ordered another beer.
He followed the group to a table near the fireplace. There he was grateful to get a seat next to a man named Tom Murphy, who’d been the most welcoming of the group. He was a friendly guy in his late forties who worked in commercial real estate. He seemed genuinely interested in Michael’s family and their move. Michael began to feel his guard lower.
“How’s your wife handling the move?” Tom asked.
“Well, you know, it’s actually been pretty hard on her. We were in Houston our whole life, so this has been a pretty big transition. But she’s managing it.”
“Has she gotten out to meet people?”
Michael admitted that Laura had been having a hard time connecting with other women in town. “It’s probably just the kids ages,” he said, hoping he wasn’t making his wife sound desperate. “When they’re little you see the same faces all the time at pick up and play dates and everything. I’m sure she’ll get plugged in, though.” He suddenly felt ashamed that he hadn’t done more to help Laura acclimate to this new town.
“I’ll tell you what, my wife Sara has a book club that meets once a month with a nice group of women. They go out to dinner once in a while too. I’ll email you and we’ll put them in touch.”
“That would be fantastic. Thank you,” Michael said, immensely grateful. Maybe this town wasn’t so bad after all, they couldn’t expect to just have a group of friends ready made for them when they arrived. They’d have to work at it a bit, but he suddenly felt optimistic that they would find their people.
“How’s the new house?” Tom asked.
“It’s good, it sure is a work in progress, but Laura’s great at that sort of thing. Already it’s feeling like home.”
“Where is it, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“Oh, man. You’re in the old Miller place,” Tom said in a low voice when he heard Michael’s address. “I wondered who’d bought it.”
“Oh yeah?” Michael replied, taking a gulp of beer.
“Yeah,” Tom said, fixing his expression. “I knew the Millers – the family who owned the place for years. I went to high school with their son, Jason. Poor family. I don’t think they ever got over it, I mean, how could you though, right? And having him do it right in the house.” Tom shook his head, then looked embarrassed. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s shitty of me to bring up.”
Michael, shocked and trying to make Tom’s story about his house mean anything other than what he knew it did, could not respond.
Tom leaned forward, “The seller disclosed the history, right?” Seeing the look on Michael’s face, Tom knew the answer was no. “Shit. Listen, it was a really long time ago. The kid was troubled, back then we just thought he was some sort of a devil worshipper, but now you know, with kids of my own, I can see he must have been struggling with mental health stuff.”
Michael was about to ask exactly what had happened to the boy when his boss leaned across the table.
“Hey there, Murphy I see you’ve met my newest recruit. So did you see my new ride?”
The conversation turned to cars, Michael was reeling. No matter what, he had to make sure that Laura never, ever learned that a teenage boy had died in their home, especially if the boy had died by suicide.
Why in the hell hadn’t Kim mentioned anything about this? Or our real estate lawyer for that matter? Weren’t those people supposed to dig up this sort of information? Michael took a deep breath. It didn’t matter. The history of the house had nothing to do with his family. The only thing that mattered was keeping this information from Laura. He could tell she hated the damn place enough as it was, he didn’t need to throw fuel on that fire.
He did his best to contribute to the conversation for the next half hour or so, but it was hard to add anything meaningful. The town was a new league he hadn’t encountered. The guys spoke of couples vacations to the Amalfi coast and ski houses in Colorado. They drove six figure cars and bought their wives $80,000 SUVs. Sitting there listening to the excessive wealth swirling around him he felt a pang of sympathy for Laura and wondered at what these men’s wives were like.
None too soon the guys started to peel away from the evening. Michael walked out with Paul and a couple of his golfing buddies.
His boss clapped him hard on the shoulder as they walked outside through the club’s grand front doors. “Mikey! We’re headed over to Smith & Wollensky for a nightcap, you wanna join us?”
“Better not,” Michael said, bristling at the nickname. “Laura’s expecting me.”
Paul rolled his eyes. “Alright, man. Next time then.”
“Next time,” Michael repeated.
The next day was cold and dreary. Fall having arrived in full force. The kids enjoyed the colorful leaves and the crisp fall air, but to Laura in meant the oncoming winter. She worried about the snow. Icy roads, frostbitten fingers and something expensive called ice dams that could apparently happen to houses without warning.
The rain let up just after the kids got home from school. Lilith was curled up on the couch with a book, having turned down an afternoon snack. The younger kids split off to their separate activities after inhaling the ants on a log Laura had prepared for them. The house was immaculate, Laura had kept herself quite busy tidying, scrubbing, organizing. It had been too stormy that morning for her usual walk and she’d needed something to distract her mind from the worries plaguing her.
It was an immense relief to hear the kids walk in through the front door every afternoon. She knew she should be signing them up for more extracurricular activities, but selfishly she wanted them near. Safe. Close by. She was straightening the dining room chairs when she’d glanced out the sliding doors. One of the girls was in the yard, turned away to face the creek and tracks beyond it. Laura watched the girl talking and gesturing with her hands. A train passed by and Laura watched as Rosemary doubled over with laughter. Laura slid the door open and stepped out onto the rain soaked patio.
“Hey, you’d better come in and get some homework done before dinner,” she called.
Rosemary, obviously startled, turned to look at her mother. Laura looked around the yard, she realized that the girl was alone. “Who are you talking to, honey?”
“That boy,” Rosemary replied.
“The one in the sweatshirt,” Rosemary gestured towards the creek. “He was just here, didn’t you see him?”
A chill overtook Laura. “You are not to speak to that boy,” she said in a voice that sounded more stern than she’d intended.
“He’s my friend,” Rosemary protested.
“No he isn’t,” Laura snapped. “Where did he go?”
Rosemary glanced back towards the creek. “I don’t know, he was just here. You probably scared him away.”
“And what does that tell you?” Laura demanded. “Did he tell you his name?”
“No.” The girl replied.
“Well, then what kind of friend is that? You are to tell me the second you see him. Do you understand me?”
Rosemary nodded sullenly. “It’s not like he’s a stranger. He knows Lilith.”
“He’s always asking about her. Wants to know how she likes her new bedroom, I guess he used to live here.”
Laura froze. “Get inside,” she said in a low voice. “Now.”
Startled by her mother’s reaction, Rosemary did as she was told. Laura locked the sliding glass door and slid the bar in place to secure it. Then she went to the mudroom and set the security alarm. She dialed Officer Davis’ cell phone and left a message, explaining that it wasn’t urgent but they had seen the boy again. Then she made herself a tea, sat at the kitchen counter and pretended to read a magazine as she kept an eye on her oldest daughter.