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 podcast, 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 episode and begin with chapters 1-3.
As always be sure to check out ghostsintheburbs.com for all the links.
Now, onto the story.
Two days later and I was back at it. Down in the basement, a new scouring tool in hand and a spray bottle of vinegar and water in the other. It was a Thursday. It was cool and grey and windy. The basement felt as dreary as ever, if not more so. I began my work on the wall behind Lilith’s bed and sprayed three strips of paper with the removal solution. The scraper allowed me to peel back a top corner of the paper with relative ease. Here goes, I thought, expecting to have to struggle to get the paper free of the wall. To my surprise it came down in just a few easy sheets revealing a grey wall behind it. A little glue and backing clung to the dull paint, but not much.
I worked my way from left to right. The second sheet of paper also came down with little trouble. I was feeling cocky and optimistic, bopping to the music streaming from my cell phone over Lilith’s small speaker as I worked. And then I pulled at the edge of the third sheet of paper.
The beautifully painted blood red symbol stood out in stark contrast to the grey wall. I stared at it, balling up the stripped wallpaper I’d just torn down in my hand. It took me a moment to realize that the intricate symbol was upside down. It took another moment to realize what that meant.
I began frantically spraying the next sheet and the next. Waiting impatiently for the solution to do its job before frantically ripping down the wallpaper. It only got worse. Revealed were inverted crosses and pentagrams, their terrible red paint seemed to glow against the grey wall. After I’d peeled every single piece of paper from that wall I stood back and tried to make sense of the scene.
It was obvious that whoever had painted those symbols had done so with loving care. The most disturbing image stood in the wall’s center. Surrounded by a circle of inverted crosses were the words “Mother Demon,” in beautiful script.
Mother of God, I breathed, taking it all in. What sort of deviants would leave something like this on their walls and just paper over it? Who in the hell were the people who had lived in this house before us?
I was hysterical by the time I got Michael on the phone. He’d been in a meeting and hadn’t returned my call for over half an hour. I demanded that he come home immediately. He told me to calm down. I hung up on him, snapped a photo of Lilith’s wall and texted it to him. He texted back “I’ll be home in forty-five minutes,” within seconds of receiving the picture.
I didn’t want to know what lurked beneath the floral wallpaper on the remaining three walls in Lilith’s room, I decided to leave them for the time being. I knew I couldn’t let any of the kids see the awful symbols so I rushed to the hardware store and asked the clerk what I should do about bright red paint that needed covering up. I left with a pack of sandpaper, two cans of primer and four cans of pale pink paint. Then I went home and waited on the couch for Michael to arrive.
“Jesus Christ Almighty,” he spat taking in the satanic markings. “The guy at the hardware store told you how to cover it up?”
“Yes,” I breathed. “But Michael, what in the hell kind of people would do something like this? Do we know anything about the family who used to live here? We have to call the real estate agent and-”
Michael suggested we talk upstairs.
I followed him into the kitchen and poured us each a cup of stale coffee. I sipped the bitter drink and waited for him to tell me what he knew. Intuition told me he’d been keeping something from me.
“You know how I met Paul for drinks at the country club the other night?”
I sat in silence. Waiting.
“Right, well I met a guy there. Really nice guy, named Tom Murphy. He actually texted me his wife’s contact information, thought you guys might hit it off. Anyhow, he knew the people who lived here before us.”
I raised my eyebrows, wondering why in the hell he hadn’t mentioned any of this before.
“Tom was in school with their son.”
“And?” I pressed.
“Well, the thing is, it sounds as though the poor kid just might have died in the house.”
“Oh, Christ,” I breathed. “Might have died? How?”
Michael hesitated. “Suicide.”
“Oh no,” I groaned. “In this house? Oh my God, those poor people.” My mind spun with questions. “Wait a minute, how is this the first we are hearing of this? Shouldn’t it have come up when we bought the house? The lawyers? Kim! Kim must have known, she’s lived in town a long time!”
“I Googled it Tuesday morning,” Michael admitted. “Massachusetts law requires only that home sellers disclose the existence of lead paint or the presence of a septic system. They don’t have to offer any other information about the home or its history. If we’d known to ask whether their had been any deaths on the property then they would have had to tell us, but since we didn’t ask they were under no obligation.”
“That is ridiculous! Have you spoken to Kim about this?” I demanded.
“I left her a message yesterday, I haven’t heard back yet.”
“And when were you going to tell me all this?” I asked, hurt that he would withhold something so important.
“I didn’t want to worry you until I knew the full story. I figured we’d discuss it when I knew exactly what we were dealing with.”
“I can’t believe this. What exactly did this Tom tell you?”
“Just that he’d known the boy and that it was rumored that the kid was into satanic worship,” Michael held up his hands, obviously trying to stop me from losing my mind. “But, Tom also said that the boy had been dealing with untreated mental health issues and that’s what lead to his death.”
I stared at my husband. Outrage draining out of me, fear quickly stepping in to replace it. “Satanic worship?”
“I know, I know. But that has nothing to do with us or the house-”
“Michael!” I yelled. “The wall behind Lilith’s bed is covered with blood red satanic symbols. I’d say it has a lot to do with us.”
“We’ll talk to Kim and get to the bottom of this.”
“Kim,” I said in a growl. “If it turns out she knew and didn’t tell us…”
“The poor boy,” I said. “Do you know anything else about what happened to him?”
Michael shook his head.
“The neighbors,” I said, looking out the side window. “I bet those motherfuckers know everything.”
“Jesus, Laura. Language,” Michael said, grinning despite himself.
With nothing left to discuss we put our cups in the sink and went downstairs to paint over the artfully drawn symbols of satanic worship on our daughter’s bedroom walls.
The therapist, a plain Jane of a woman with what could only be described as a bowl cut suggested that Lilith was simply struggling to acclimate to the move and was missing her friends back home but that she could not find anything clinically wrong with the girl. Laura suspected the woman’s professional knowledge was as out of date as her haircut and was livid that she’d wasted so much time waiting for an appointment with the incompetent hippy when she could have been looking for a real therapist for Lilith.
Instead of easing her mind that a professional had reviewed her daughter’s mental state, the encounter with the therapist only caused Laura’s concerns to multiply. More unsettling than Lilith’s sullenness was the ease with which she turned back into her old self as she answered the therapist’s questions. When the woman suggested Lilith sign up for a club or a sport at the high school Laura watched as Lilith smiled and actually agreed with the woman. The girl even admitted that she’d been thinking about joining the yearbook staff, which Laura knew was a blatant lie.
The second they left the office, Lilith immediately descended back into a gloomy mood.
“Honey,” Laura said, “If there is anything you want to tell me or dad, well we would just do about anything to help you. If something’s happened-”
“You want to know what happened?” Lilith whispered.
“I do honey. If something bad happened you need to tell me.”
“Something terrible happened,” Lilith breathed.
Laura braced herself. They were at a stop light and she turned to look at her daughter. Lilith was staring out the passenger side window.
“You pulled me out of my home and took me away from all of my friends and family. Then you moved me to a cheap shitty little house and sent me down into a disgusting basement bedroom. All the while all you’ve been able to think about is yourself and how lonely and depressed you are.”
“Lilith, I-” Laura began, but she stopped speaking abruptly. Lilith had turned to look at her mother. Her face was expressionless. Her eyes had gone black, the pupils seeming to have taken over the irises completely.
Laura involuntarily shoved herself against the door to get as far away from the girl as she could. A car beeped behind them, the light had changed but Laura could not take her eyes off her daughter.
Lilith slowly turned to look out the passenger side window. “You’d better get going, Laura,” she said in a voice that was not her own.
The footsteps had gotten worse. Rosemary and Carrie would lie awake at night listening and counting.
“I don’t understand why we don’t just go tell mom and dad,” Rosemary whispered.
Carrie propped herself up on her elbow and looked over at her sister across the room. “Because they wouldn’t believe us, first of all. And second of all Jason said not to mention it.”
“I don’t understand why you’re even talking to that guy, he’s so weird.”
“He’s just shy,” Carrie argued. “Anyway, he used to live here and he said he heard footsteps too. He told me it was a friendly ghost.”
“Whatever,” Rosemary breathed, snuggling down under the covers. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“Oh yeah? Then who’s walking around in our attic? And who keeps on messing with the lights?”
“Dad said it’s an electrical issue and that once we have more money he’ll get it fixed.”
“Okay, sure,” Carrie replied, knowingly. “And the shadows? Do you think he can make those go away with money?”
“It’s an old house, the lighting is weird,” Rosemary countered.
“Yeah, it’s so weird that it makes shadows crawl across the dining room ceiling,” Carrie snarked.
Annoyed Rosemary sat up in bed. “Well then what do you think is going on?”
Carrie matched her twin’s posture, “This house is haunted. You might not want to believe it, but it’s true. Jason said-”
“Oh, just shut up about that weirdo. I think he’s lying, I don’t even think he goes to school with Lilith, have you even asked her?”
Rosemary shook her head. The girls were quiet for a moment.
“Lilith won’t talk to me anymore,” Carrie admitted.
“She screamed at me for going down to the laundry room to get my jeans out of the dryer. I don’t know what her problem is.”
Overhead the footsteps started up again, this time they were a bit more pronounced. The girls looked up at the ceiling.
“I still think we should tell mom,” Rosemary whispered.
“She’ll just freak out,” Carrie replied.
Nextdoor, Jack was wide awake. He’d never heard the footsteps, which was a blessing, but he did see the shadows. Right then he was staring at one of those small, black forms. It appeared to be standing in the corner of his small bedroom.
Jack tried his best to turn the form into something other than a shadow figure standing in the corner of his room. Maybe it was just a collection of his belongings that looked like a small shadow figure lurking the darkness. That had to be it. He’d woken up moments before, not knowing what had pulled him from sleep. When he rolled over in bed and opened his eyes he’d immediately noticed the figure watching him.
The shadow was child sized, it actually looked like a small kid about his little cousin Gracie’s age, three or four years old. But it was hunched over and it appeared to be grasping its hands together. But that didn’t make any sense because shadows don’t have hands.
Jack strained his eyes, trying to prove to himself that what he was looking at was some sort of optical illusion, but he could not. He did not know how long he and the shadow stared at each other, but it was long enough that Jack thought he might lose his mind if something didn’t happen.
But then something did happen and Jack immediately wished that things could go back to the way they had been a moment before when he and the shadow were merely in a staring contest. That hadn’t been so bad, really. But what happened next was terrible.
The shadow dropped it’s arms down by its sides and then pushed it’s hands flat against the wall. And then it began to climb, slowly. One foot moving up the wall, then one hand, then the other foot, followed by the other hand, sliding upwards methodically until the shadow made it all the way up to the ceiling. Jack stayed very still. His mind still trying to make what he was seeing out to be anything other than what he knew it was. And then the shadow continued on and it began its methodical crawl across his ceiling, maneuvering around the old light fixture before continuing on it’s course. The shadow stopped when it hovered directly over Jack’s bed.
Jack could not move, he was unable to make a sound. He refused even to blink and tears streamed from his eyes. It was a wonder he could even breath. But then the shadow spoke. It said Jack’s name. In a terrible low growl and that broke the spell. Jack began to scream and he didn’t stop screaming until his father had dragged him out of bed and into the light of the hallway.
Laura had been wide awake counting her worries when she heard Jack’s blood curdling screams. The first thing that had gone through her mind was that he had found one of his sisters dead. The scream had been so desperate that she couldn’t imagine what else could cause such terror. She leapt over Lilith who had been asleep on the floor beside her. Lilith had slept in her parents room the past two nights as she waited for the paint fumes in her bedroom to dissipate.
Michael had been sound asleep and first heard the screams in a dream in which he was locked out of their home. In the dream he frantically slammed his shoulder against the front door, desperate to get inside to his screaming son. He awoke disoriented and it took a long moment to discern the dream from reality.
Carrie and Rosemary stood in their doorway watching the scene unfold before them. They wondered if Jack had finally heard the footsteps and had freaked out over the noise. They also wondered if perhaps it was time to share their suspicions with their family. They quickly realized that it was not the time.
Lilith stood opposite the girls in their parent’s bedroom doorway. She watched her parents console her inconsolable brother and eyed the twins as they took in the scene. Then she pushed past her mother and went into Jack’s bedroom where she looked up at the ceiling above his bed. Her family watched her nervously.
“Lilith, honey, what is it?”
A smile broke out across the girl’s face. The first smile they’d witnessed on the girl in weeks.
“Hi,” Lilith said to the ceiling. “They’re ready,” she whispered before crawling into Jack’s bed and pulling the covers up to her chin, the smile never leaving her face.
The morning after Jack’s scare I got the kids off to school then went straight to the library and asked a librarian to show me how to search property records. I wanted information about our neighbors. I was determined to find someone who’d been in the neighborhood long enough to know about the family who’d lived in our home before us and about the boy who’d died there. As it turned out one of next door neighbors had owned their home since nineteen eighty seven.
I logged off the computer and went home to bake a batch of brownies.
There was something very wrong with my daughter and I knew in my bones that our house had somehow infected her. I no longer held hope that any child psychologist or therapist could help us. Once I’d gotten the kids settled back down after the previous night’s events (Jack in a sleeping bag next to Michael’s side of the bed, the twins back in their bedroom, Lilith in Jack’s room having refused to leave his bed) I’d sat up with my laptop researching Lilith’s “symptoms” and the strange things that had been happening in our home. I scanned a handful of articles on demonic oppression and then I began an online search for someone who might help us. It didn’t take long to unearth the websites of several area ghost hunting groups. I chose three that looked moderately legitimate and filled out the online “request a consultation” forms.
Hello, I wrote, My family is experiencing strange things in our new home. We’ve heard noises and seen shadows, photographs have moved inexplicably, and in removing wallpaper from a basement wall we uncovered paintings of inverted crosses and pentacles. My eldest daughter seems to be the most affected by these occurrences. Her mood and overall demeanor has changed and several therapists and psychologists have been unable to offer explanation or help. I am reaching out in hopes that you might offer your expert opinion and advice about our situation. Thank you in advance for your time.
In the light of day the idea of enlisting the help of ghost hunters felt ludacris. But the situation in my home was ludacris. Over breakfast the twins had admitted to hearing footsteps overhead every night at bedtime for weeks. Rosemary then tattled on her sister’s friendship with the strange boy in the hoodie who kept lurking around our home.
“Tell her how Jason told you the the house was haunted when he lived here too,” Rosemary pressed. Defensive, Carrie admitted to having discussed the strange occurrences in the house with the boy. I again warned her against spending time with him, though at that moment a weird teenager was the least of my concerns. I needed help and I would take what I could get. While I waited for a reply from the ghost people I decided to gather as much information as I could about our home and it’s previous owners.
I sat on a stool at my kitchen island with a book while I kept one eye on the side window, a plate of brownies wrapped and ready at my side. I had a good view of the neighbor’s driveway. At eleven-thirty a black Tesla pulled into the drive and a woman in her late-sixties or perhaps early seventies stepped out, retrieved the New York Times from the foot of the driveway and walked to her front door. I grabbed the plate and scurried out of my house, determined to drag every detail I could out of the woman.
The neighbor’s house was similar to ours, though it was a touch larger and had obviously been well cared for over the years. I walked up the driveway, fallen leaves swishing underfoot and was startled when the front door swung open before I’d had the chance to ring the bell.
“May I help you?” The woman asked, her politeness tinged with suspicion. She had a small frame and a blond bob streaked with grey. Her tortoise shell glasses looked expensive.
“Hi, uh, yes, Mrs. Rumsfield?”
“Yes,” the woman said, drawing out the word.
“Hello, I’m Laura. Laura Arnold, I’m your next door neighbor. We moved in this summer?”
“Oh, yes of course,” she replied, glancing over at my house. “I’ve been meaning to stop by to introduce myself, but you know how it is. Time just seems to fly. How is your family settling in?”
“Uh, fine, just fine. I’ve been meaning to come over to say hello too,” I held up the brownies. “I thought you might like a sweet, if you have time, of course.” I sensed that she had no intention of inviting me in, but then I had no intention of leaving. “These are great with tea!” I added.
“Well, alright. Please, come on in,” she relented, stepping aside.
I followed her into the kitchen. The house was bright, heavy with antique furniture and spotless. Dark bookcases overflowed with paperbacks and porcelain doo dads. Spindly dark wooden chairs held scripture-laden needlepoint pillows. The cream colored walls were decorated with an assortment of oil paintings and delicate plates.
I took a seat at a glass and iron kitchen table as Barbara Rumsfield filled the teapot and put out plates and paper napkins for the brownies.
“These are delicious,” she commented after taking a dainty bite.
I nodded. “There’s a layer of Hershey’s chocolate bar in the middle,” I replied. “That’s the trick.”
Barbara asked after my children and I asked after hers. She had one daughter, now in her forties who lived in Brookline, which I learned was a close in suburb of Boston. I asked if there were grandchildren. There were two.
Barbara got up to take the whistling tea pot off the stove. She said, “It must be tight quarters over there, with four children and all.”
Reading between the lines I knew what she meant was, If you couldn’t afford a proper sized house then why did you have so many kids? Bristling, I replied “The house is smaller than our place in Houston, but we’ve found that everyone has plenty of room.”
Barbara carried the teapot to the table. “Well, I’m sure the real estate market in Wellesley is different than you were used to in the south,” she commented, solidifying my opinion of her as a true Yankee snob.
“There is a bedroom in your basement though, isn’t there?” She asked with the practiced nonchalance of a true gossip.
I saw my chance. “Yes, my eldest daughter Lilith is using it. Actually, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you.”
“Oh?” I noted a hint of excitement in Barbara’s voice.
“Yes, well I wondered if you might know anything about the family who used to live in our house. All of our communication went through the real estate agents so we didn’t get a chance to get to know them at all.”
Barbara visibly tensed as she poured hot water into two yellow mugs. “Oh sure, the Butlers. They moved down to Florida, right?”
“They did. Did you know them?”
“Only to wave hello. We weren’t close,” she replied.
I wrapped my hands around the warm mug. “Did you know their son?”
Barbara tisked and shook her head. “That poor boy.”
“Did your daughter know him?”
“Heavens no,” Barbara said quickly. “I mean, she knew of him, of course. That boy’s reputation proceeds him.”
“Oh?” I said.
“Well, sure,” Barbara paused and studied me for a moment. I met her gaze. “How much do you know?” She asked.
“Not enough,” I admitted.
“I don’t like to gossip,” she shared unconvincingly, “But if that boy’s behavior was any indication then I’d say there was a lot of trouble in that house.”
I sipped my tea and nodded in understanding, not wanting to say anything that might make her stop talking.
“His appearance for one thing. Dying his hair black like that, and the clothing. Black hoodies and jeans in the middle of the summer. It was obvious he was up to no good, though God only knows how he got caught up in the first place. I used to see his parents at church every Sunday. My daughter heard he was into the drugs and she and her friends said he went off the deep end after the girlfriend broke up with him – that girl was a whole other story. At any rate, he didn’t take her rejection well and I suppose that’s when he started dabbling.”
“Yes, in the occult,” Barbara reported, her eyes twinkling. She leaned forward. “The police were involved at one point because of the missing neighborhood cats.” Barbara gave an exaggerated shiver. “I saw the cruiser in that driveway on more than one occasion and I just had to wonder whether his parents were doing anything to control his behavior at all. Their inaction was inexcusable. And look how it all turned out. The kid hung himself in the laundry room for goodness sake. Surely they could have done something to get him help before it got to that.”
I must have looked awful because she quickly recovered and said, “Oh dear, you didn’t know it happened in the house?”
“I knew he died in the house, but I didn’t have any details,” I admitted.
Barbara sipped her tea. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. I’m surprised your real estate agent didn’t let you know before you bought the house.”
“Believe me, I was surprised at that too, but apparently sellers don’t have to disclose any deaths that have occured on their property.”
“That’s a shame. Speaking of police, did I see them at your house in the past few of months?”
So the neighbors had been watching out their windows like spineless jerks, I thought bitterly. “Yes, I thought I’d witnessed a train accident. Luckily, I’d been mistaken.”
“I see. I thought I saw the police in your driveway one other time too.”
I stared at the woman for a long moment. “It’s been a really hard transition for my family,” I finally said. “No one has reached out to welcome us to this town and the people I have met haven’t even shown the smallest kindness. But the police have been a godsend. Thank you for letting me know about the Butlers. I’ll let you get back to your day.”
I stood and carried my plate and mug to the sink.
Barbara watched me then got up to walk me to the door, I thanked her again for her time and before I left she offered a piece of advice.
“It certainly wouldn’t hurt to get a priest over there to bless the property. It might grant Jason’s soul peace.”
“Jason, the boy who died in your house.”