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“Do you know anything about the prosperity gospel?”
“Uh, a little. It’s something like, donate money to the church and get ready for overwhelming abundance to knock your socks off, right?” I replied with a nervous laugh, not sure where the conversation was headed.
Across from me at the back corner table at Crepeberry, Karen smiled as she ran a hand through her short gray hair. It fell forward again, framing her round face prettily. She was dressed in a black turtleneck and jeans, a scotch plaid scarf around her neck in forest green, black and grey. The tortoise shell glasses she wore were captivating, simply the perfect accessory. I wanted to follow her around for a week and take notes so I could fashion myself into a knock off of her absolute perfection.
The woman was somewhere in her sixties, distinguished smile lines curved at the corners of her mouth and fanned out from her light brown eyes. She was interesting and self-contained. She paused for only a beat at times, for an uncomfortable length at others, communicating her thoughts with obvious intention. There was zero rush to her. Zero sense that she had anywhere else to be or anything else to do but to be right there with me, fully engaged. To sum it up, Karen is who I want to be when I grow up.
She grinned at my summation of the prosperity gospel. “I was raised in a church where that concept was heavily preached, or rather enforced. My parents donated far above their means, hoping that what the pastor promised was true. That their financial investment would pay off ten fold both spiritually and materially. It never did. I watched them scrape by for years, my father working extra shifts and taking on seasonal work, only to funnel every extra cent into that church.
“When I was sixteen I finally gathered the courage to suggest that the church might not have our best interests at heart. I tried to reason with them… but reason has no place in the church – only blind faith. Blind faith and money,” Karen made a noise of disgust. “They were shocked at my disbelief, actually… no. Frightened is a better description, as if my lack of faith could be catching. They disowned me, swiftly. I knew going outside the accepted belief system in our household was risky, that they wouldn’t approve of my dissent, but it wasn’t any less upsetting.
“My mother handed me a letter as my father shuffled me and my suitcase out the door the morning after I’d told them I didn’t believe what the church had been telling us. They’d telephoned the pastor and he’d advised them to sever all ties. I was to be ‘sent out into the wilderness to see the error of my ways.’ He told my parents that the sin of disobedience that had fallen on me would contaminate the entire household if they let me stay. That was it. I had to go.
Karen paused, shaking her head at the memory. “It broke my heart. Even though I knew there was a big chance they would choose the church over me, seeing it in writing, plain as day in my mother’s pretty cursive nearly killed me. There was no contact. For years and years. I put myself through school and became an engineer. I bought a house, got married. I thought of them all the time, worried about their health, worried that the church would leave them destitute.
“And you know what? That’s exactly what happened. That pastor sure as hell didn’t pay for the assisted living home that cared for them in their last years. I did that.” Karen jammed her finger at the table for emphasis. “The money that I worked for and saved and invested and protected – that’s what gave them a comfortable end to their life. If it weren’t for me they would have been in a homeless shelter in the end. I saved them from that. Their prosperity God was nowhere in sight when they couldn’t continue to support that church.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, inadequately. “Taking care of them was pretty saintly on your part.”
Karen waved away the comment. “No, a large part of me did it out of sheer spite. Afterall, I proved my point in the end, didn’t I? All that money they poured into the church – what did it do for them? It didn’t buy any special favors from God, that’s for damn sure. Of course I didn’t want to see them waste away on the streets, but I admit that I was pretty damn smug writing those checks.”
“Did they apologize?”
Karen sniffed. “No. To their last dying breath they insisted that the only reason I had the means to take care of them was because of their faith in the church. ‘God works in mysterious ways’ and all that.”
“Oof,” I groaned. “That is so dismissive.”
“Dismissive and delusional,” Karen agreed.
“Their church sounds more like a cult,” I suggested.
“You hit the nail on the head there,” Karen agreed. “But I only tell you about my background to give you a sense of my stance on religion and by extension the paranormal. Growing up in that church…” she paused, collecting her thoughts, “I don’t know what your beliefs are and I don’t want to offend-”
“Don’t worry about that, I’m not very church-y,” I assured her. “And besides, I’m just here for a spooky story.”
She smiled. “Well then. I think the whole Judeo-Christian belief system is an archaic load of bullshit that has absolutely no bearing on modern life.”
“Don’t pull any punches,” I giggled.
“No point in tiptoeing, right? Before this whole debacle, I didn’t believe in ghosts or spirits or angels. I believed in science, facts. We’re here and then we’re gone. Nevertheless…” She shifted and met my eyes, “The demon that attached to me didn’t give a damn about what I believed.”
“Oh, boy,” I said, shocked. “I was not expecting that.”
“Neither was I.”
“So… how did you wind up with a demon?” I asked.
“My husband is a youth pastor-”
I was unable to hold back laughter. “The plot thickens!”
“I know, I know,” Karen said, her cheeks reddening. “It’s pretty hypocritical of me.”
“Oh stop. The heart wants what the heart wants,” I joked.
“His church is very progressive. He’s dragged me along a few times and from what I gather it’s more about building community and support networks than generating income.”
I nodded in understanding.
“At any rate, he is charged with planning and overseeing community events for the young people at the church. He runs a graphic novel book club, they have movie nights once in a while, he oversees a holiday bake sale to raise money to send the kids to summer camp. That sort of thing. There is a nice little group of teens at the church and last year Paul, my husband, took notice of their interest in ghost hunting shows and he came up with the idea of a Halloween night ghost hunt. The kids planned the whole thing out for months. It wouldn’t fly to have them simply run around a haunted establishment spooking each other, they had to make a project of it. So they came up with the idea to create their own ghost hunting reality show. A one hour program they would share the following Halloween at the church.
“Paul reached out to the congregation and enlisted the help of some of the more tech savvy congregants. One woman worked in television production and she instructed the kids about best practices in planning and carrying out the event. The kids filmed an interview with the minister about the church’s stance on ghosts and the paranormal. The church even gave them money to purchase pseudo-scientific ‘ghost hunting’ equipment and let them borrow the church camcorder.
“They researched several supposedly haunted buildings in the area and narrowed the list down to three. It was up to Paul to get permission to use one of those locations and the winner, unfortunately, was an old asylum in Waltham. They granted the kids access to one of the abandoned hospital buildings.”
“Oh wow! I’ve been there,” I said enthusiastically.
Karen raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“My oldest daughter loves that show Kindred Spirits, so I brought her there last spring. We just walked around the outside of one of the public buildings and she played with a ghost hunting app on her iPad.”
“How old is she?” Karen asked, her tone serious.
“Seven,” I replied guiltily.
“Under no circumstances should you go back to that property, or any other supposedly haunted establishment for that matter. That is no place for a child. It’s far too dangerous.”
She hit a nerve. I knew I’d been playing with fire bringing Max to that place, but she’d been so excited about the idea and frankly so had I. “What exactly happened on that ghost hunt?” I asked, nervously.
“They needed chaperones and the kids obviously didn’t want their parents to attend the event so Paul roped me in. He presented it as an opportunity to present the kids with a more skeptical view of the paranormal. The kids really latched onto the idea too. Apparently, there were skeptical characters on some of the television programs they enjoyed, and they were thrilled to have someone in that role.
“That sounds like so much fun.”
“Mm, the kids certainly seemed to enjoy themselves. It certainly was as spooky as you can get for Halloween night. There were three chaperons, Paul, myself and a father of one of the kids. We separated the kids into three groups and fanned out, each group taking a floor of the building. I basically trailed along behind the teenagers to make sure no one peeled off or got lost or hurt. It was largely uneventful. I was just so relieved when the night was over and we’d sent all the kids home safely.
Karen paused in her story, then said, “You know, I was in the middle of wrapping up a large assignment at work at the time so my mind was consumed in the days following. I admit that I wasn’t really paying attention… but in hindsight I realize that things got strange at the house as soon as the morning after the ghost hunt.”
“What sort of strange?”
“Um, the lights in our house acted oddly. I’d flip a switch and there would be a long delay before the light actually turned on. The overhead lights would dim then come back to full power randomly. Oh, and the alarm system kept tripping all over the house, different doors and windows, we couldn’t make sense of it. Um… I began waking up in the middle of the night too, startled awake as though I’d heard a noise, but I could never recall exactly what it had been.
“And then, the first time I saw it, I thought it was my husband. I was up early to go for a run and I like to have a cup of coffee first. I got the feeling that someone was standing behind me while I waited for the Keurig to do its thing and I said, ‘Sorry honey, did I wake you?’ When Paul didn’t answer I turned around and there behind me, standing in our front hall was a figure. It was still dark out and the light from the kitchen didn’t reach the hallway very well.
“He was standing so still, it spooked me. Annoyed, I said, ‘What are you doing slinking around out there?’ And then he took a step backwards. That’s when I knew for sure it wasn’t Paul. I was about to yell when it just disappeared. It was there and then it simply wasn’t.”
“What the hell did you think it was?”
“A trick of the light? I’m not sure. It certainly rattled me, but I convinced myself that there had to be a reasonable explanation. But that denial became impossible, especially after I got a good look at it. After all, no human I’ve ever seen has four arms.”
“Good Lord,” I muttered.
Karen picked at the cardboard sleeve on her coffee cup. “This is harder to talk about than I thought it would be.” She smiled sadly. “I appreciate your being so open minded, but it’s hard to admit that these things happened.”
“I’m sure,” I offered, but when I interviewed Karen I truly had no idea how experiencing something so inexplicable and terrifying could affect one’s entire world. I haven’t shared her story before because it sort of got lost in the shuffle. I spoke to her in late August of 2016 shortly after Chris and I’d gone to Chad & Emily Hayes’ house and caught the attention of their spook (see The Tear Down) and shortly before I interviewed Eric about his experience with the black eyed kids (see Kids Are the Fucking Worst). When I interviewed Karen I was still in my looky-loo phase. I didn’t truly believe any of the darkness could touch me. By October of that year I knew how very wrong that assumption had been.
Karen went on, “I could no longer deny what was happening after I saw the creature in broad daylight in our dining room. Paul and I were having a lazy Sunday morning reading the paper at the table when he went to the kitchen to refill our mugs. When he returned I looked up and saw it standing in the corner of the dining room, directly behind Paul. Who knows how long it had been standing there, just watching us.” Karen shivered and crossed her arms.
“It appeared to be considerably taller than it had been that morning I saw it before my run. Paul took one look at my face and spun around, saying, “Karen, what is it?’ As he turned, the shadow figure raised its arms. All four of them. Two on each side, the lower arms slightly longer than the upper ones. I thought it was going to grab him so I stood and pushed him aside knocking the coffee mugs out of his hands. Coffee went everywhere.
“And the thing just disappeared again. It was there, as menacing and aggressive as anything I’ve ever seen, and then it was just… gone.”
“What did your husband say?”
Karen chuckled. “I told him that I thought I saw a mouse. I am not a great actress so he knew something was up. But I was convinced I was losing my grip on reality. After all, I had no context for what was happening. I didn’t believe in the supernatural and I hadn’t yet tied the shadow figure to our visit to the asylum.”
“When did you realize the two things were connected?”
“One of the young women who’d attended the ghost hunt emailed me a video clip from that night. Her message read something like, ‘those shadows look pretty freaky, huh Mrs. P?’ She expressed her excitement in using the clip in their documentary to set a spooky tone for the film.”
“I’m afraid to ask…”
“It wasn’t all that bad. If you didn’t know what had been happening to me – which, of course the girls did not – then you might mistake the shadows in the clip for just that, shadows. But I knew instantly what I was looking at. In the clip she sent, there were four of us in a room on the second floor of the building. Three teenagers and myself. I was quite uneasy with the whole situation. My biggest concern that night was that there might be squatters living in the buildings who could pose a threat to the kids’ safety, so I was on high alert and only half paying attention to what the kids were doing.
“In the video, one young woman recorded two other young women conducting an EVP session. I was doing my best to stay out of the frame and pay attention to our surroundings rather than the kids’ little shrieks when they claimed to hear voices coming through their recordings.
“I had my back to the wall about five feet from the front corner of the room. I admit there was a large window at the back of the room that may have caused shadows, but not the kind that appeared in that video.” Karen leaned down to retrieve her cell phone from her tote. She moved her fingers around the screen then handed the device to me. “Here,” she said, “tell me what you see.”
I accepted the phone and pressed play. There were two girls huddled over what must have been their digital recorder in the foreground of the grey night vision footage. It took several moments but then Karen came into view in the background as the camera shifted it’s perspective. I could see that Karen wasn’t paying attention to the girls, I watched as she turned quickly and stepped halfway through the door beside her then came back into the room fully. She glanced at the teens before turning her head to again look into the hallway. She took a step away from the door and it is then that the strange shadow became visible.
It materialized about halfway up the wall beside her then moved up until it was close to the ceiling before it moved down towards Karen as if it were reaching for her. The shadow began as a sort of blob, but as it moved down the wall towards Karen’s right side it sort of fractured out into four distinct, well arm like tentacles. Finally it disappeared behind her. I replayed the video three times. The way the shadow simply disappeared defied logic. If it were a shadow it should have moved across her body and continued on along the wall to Karen’s left.
“Four arms,” I said, handing the phone back to Karen. She dropped it in her bag without giving it a glance.
“Not a shadow,” Karen muttered.
“The girls didn’t think it was strange?”
“Luckily they were too distracted by watching themselves on the screen to question the strangeness of it.”
“What made you look out into the hallway?”
Karen tilted her head in question.
“Right before the shadow thing appeared, you stepped out into the hallway. You looked out there again when you came back into the room.”
“Oh, that.” Karen looked down at the table. “I thought I heard someone out there.”
Her eyes met mine. “Someone called my name. But no one was there. Paul was on the first floor and the third chaperone was in the basement at the time. I assumed I was hearing things.”
“Weird timing that it happened right before that shadow appeared.”
“It is,” Karen sighed. “And it wasn’t the last time I heard my name called. It began to wake me up at night. I would hear someone whisper my name and then I would wake up and I wouldn’t be able to move. The first time it happened I thought it was Paul. But when I tried to turn towards him I couldn’t move. There was this pressure on my left shoulder… it is hard to describe. I couldn’t feel anything touching me but something had pinned me to the bed. I kicked my legs against the mattress and struggled against it and I finally came to my senses and called out to Paul but just as I was saying his name I saw it.
“It materialized right beside me and I saw that it had one of its, not hands because it didn’t have hands, more like paws, but not paws… at any rate it was pressing my shoulder down. I froze and then Paul said, ‘Karen what is it?’ and the thing disappeared.”
“That was the moment I really knew I was in trouble. Not only had I seen the creature, I’d felt it touch me. Actually control my movements. Still, I kept it to myself and dove into Google to try and determine what sort of mental illness or brain tumor might cause what was happening to me. It had been one thing when I was having visual disturbances, but the feeling of being touched – held down. That didn’t feel psychosomatic to me, but what do I know? I’m not a doctor.
“The other concern running through my mind was that I’d recently gone back onto an antidepressant for a generalized anxiety disorder. It’s something that has popped up for me over the years and I usually end up taking the drug for about a year then weaning off until I hit another bout of it. I prefer to deal with the anxiety with exercise and meditation but there are times when it gets away from me and the medication is good at putting the fire out.
“But the timing of it made me suspicious… I’d been on the medication for about a month and a half when I started seeing that shadow. I had to wonder if the two things were linked.”
“But you had that video,” I pointed out.
“True. But the girl who’d sent it to me only saw shadows whereas I’d seen a four armed shadow creature.” Karen shook her head. “What would you have thought? What would you have done if you were in my situation?”
“I probably would have thought I was losing touch with reality,” I admitted.
“For a time that’s exactly what I believed was happening. I tiptoed around the idea with my therapist and psychiatrist and both of them assured me that such side effects were unheard of. I was able to keep it from Paul… until I couldn’t any longer.
“For a time the creature, or demon – whatever it was – just seemed to want to frighten me. It would wake me up in the middle of the night, making it impossible for me to move. It would appear standing before me in the closet when I open the door and then just dematerialize right in front of my eyes.”
“Oof,” I groaned, “That one’s gonna stay with me.”
“Ha, you and me both. Eventually though, after about a week or so of pure mental torture, one night he – it began showing me things. Horrible things. He was able to transmit images directly into my mind… awful, just awful things that I’ve done my best to push aside, though what he showed me was just burned into my mind. It was as if he were implanting memories in my mind. Memories of things that hadn’t happened yet.”
Karen hesitated. “Do you remember a few months ago when the commuter rail hit that person in Wellesley?”
Karen folded her hands and rested them in her lap. She watched me.
“You’re saying that you saw it happen before it happened?”
“Yes. Every last excruciating second of it.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I offered uselessly.
“Thank you. I’ve struggled with the trauma response. Seeing so much violent death, even if it is just in what others might consider dream form, takes its toll. The most horrifying were the black outs. I could hear what was happening but I couldn’t see. And those voices begging, or calling for help. The gurgling when it was close to the end. Trauma therapy can only go so far.” Karen paused to collect herself. “There are some things that plague and pester, that even now wake me up in the middle of the night with vivid detail.”
“When did you tell your husband?”
“I should have told him right away, but after two weeks of trying to reason and wish it away I simply couldn’t keep it together any longer. I was missing work, I was exhausted and extremely jumpy. You have to understand that part of my delayed ability to react and respond to the situation was the fact that I didn’t believe in demons or creatures. What was happening to me turned my world completely upside down. I’d spent my life stubbornly committed to denying the existence of anything remotely spiritual or paranormal. My stubborn pride kept me from asking Paul for help for too long.”
“How did he react when you told him?”
“I didn’t tell him. He saw it for himself. I was getting close to my breaking point as it was, the fact that he caught sight of the thing must have been divine intervention. I’d begun to experience waking black outs. I would be sitting at my desk one minute checking my email and the next thing I knew I was standing in our powder room writing on the mirror in marker.”
“Yikes. What did you write?”
Karen closed her eyes. “Dates. Names. The word ‘admonition’ over and over again.”
“You don’t get much creepier than that. Did your husband find you doing that?”
“No, no. I was able to cover those instances up, but it filled me with so much terror. I was afraid the entire life I’d built, we’d built was coming apart. But then one night, the demon woke me up as he usually did. This time he stood over me on the bed, his feet to either side of my hips, his two upper arms pressing my shoulders into the bed, the lower two pressing down on the center of my chest. I could barely breathe, I thought I was going to die.
“Paul must have heard me wheezing. I felt him shift beside me in the bed and then I heard him shriek, ‘Jesus Christ Almighty, what in the hell is that?’ The thing on top of me let off a little bit and Paul started praying, loudly. As he did the demon let up and eventually dematerialized.
“We left the house and went straight to his church, the whole way I had a lot of answering to do. ‘I’m a minister, Karen. How could you keep this from me?’ He was furious, scared, but furious. He called a minister friend of his from the Congregational Church who met us at Paul’s church not fifteen minutes later and together they performed an exorcism on me. They blessed the house the next day and that was the end of that.”
“Wait, that’s it? You got rid of it that easily?”
“I know, I was shocked too. I thought it would be like the movies, but it wasn’t. I felt quite sick while they were saying prayers over me at the church and I believe I did pass out for a time, but it was all over in under an hour.”
“Do you worry about it coming back?”
“Every single day.”
I sat in thought for a minute. “What about the kids?”
“Oh, yes, that was tricky. Paul felt compelled to reach out to their families to let them know that the visit to the asylum had been in poor judgement and he suggested that if any of the kids had reported strange occurrences he was on hand to counsel the entire family through a spiritual cleansing.”
“How’d that go over?”
“Like a lead balloon,” Karen laughed. “We’re talking about Unitarian Universalists here, not the Catholics. But luckily, so far anyway, it seems that I was the only one to have brought something home with me from that abandoned hospital.”
“Well, thank God for that,” I said.
“Hmmm, yeah,” Karen looked down at her empty coffee cup. “I’ve turned it all over and over again in my mind. Aside from the inevitable, why me? I wonder what the reason for the attachment was. The thing is… I’m not so sure that demon was completely evil. It scared me to death, and I don’t ever want to see it again, but… I don’t know, I can’t quite put my finger on it. I just have this idea that it was trying to communicate something to me. As though it were desperate to relay something really important.
“You know,” she continued, “Demons are just fallen angels after all. All the goodness and perfection within them couldn’t have just disappeared the second they went against God’s plan. No human is all good or all bad. Just because they were on the losing side and fell into the abyss, I can’t imagine that every ounce of light within them disappeared. At least not in all of them.” She shook her head, and smiled. “It’s just a thought. It was that word that got me thinking,the one I wrote on the mirror. Admonition. I think he was communicating with me the only way he was allowed to, the only way he knew how. He was showing me horror. And I can’t shake the feeling that he was trying to warn me about what’s coming. And I think it’s something really really bad.”