ghosts in the burbs

A blog about the people who live in Wellesley, MA and the ghosts (and monsters) who haunt them.

1-1Alicia was a specific type of Wellesley woman, one whom I haven’t spoken of often because they tend to be loners. To be concise, she was an NPR listening, reusable grocery bag carrying, train the kids to bring home their lunch scraps for compost, turn the engine off at stop lights, historical society defending socialist at heart who guiltily reaped the benefits of her husband’s very capitalist, very successful job. She spread her guilt under the guise of community involvement, championing causes that, though noble made most people suppress deep sighs.

In theory, I liked everything she stood for, but when she took the plastic lid off my half full cup of coffee and said she’d be happy to bring it home to recycle it for me I found myself feeling attacked. Alicia in theory was great, in reality she was a lot.

Her husband Doug was a fucking know-it-all. Doug was fifty-two, his bride, fifty-one. They told me that within the first five minutes of our meeting. I also learned a blessedly abbreviated history of their infertility battle (Doug had low count and low motility), Alicia a “hostile internal environment.” But even in this perfect storm they’d managed to produce a boy. Glen, nine years old, “smart and headstrong like his father, community minded like his mother.”

I met the couple at Peet’s Coffee because, as Doug pointed out in our group text, “Starbucks is about three months overdue for a new water filtration system and Cafe Nero burns their beans.” He seriously took the time to write that out over text. A mutual acquaintance had given Alicia my phone number. That mutual acquaintance was officially kicked out of my circle of trust.

Burned beans and coffee filtration aside, I was willing to meet the couple at Peet’s.

“You look so familiar,” Alicia said, maintaining a laser-focused eye contact as we shook hands.

I shrugged and nodded vaguely, she didn’t look at all familiar to me.

“Do you do yoga?”

“Sometimes,” I replied.

She named a yoga studio. I admitted that I used to frequent the studio but had gotten distracted by indoor cycling, I left out why I’d needed a distraction from that particular yoga studio [see story #28, Namaste].

After stating, “Those bikes are murder on the knees, you’ll be sorry,” Doug gingerly sipped his coffee and said, “Excuse me for a moment,” in an authoritative tone. I watched him walk to the counter and, ignoring the person who’d been waiting their turn, begin speaking sternly with the cashier. Alicia’s back was to the counter, and she was talking about the last school committee meeting so I was only half listening to her when I heard Doug raise his voice and say, “No! Dump out the coffee but use the same cup.”

As for me, I will literally take the wrong meal or drink if offered just to avoid making the person helping me feel uncomfortable. Doug had a different way of doing things. I tried to push aside embarrassment in being associated with the crank as he huffed and puffed back to our table.

He sat down and, though it had been attention he’d so obviously wanted, he didn’t appear to want to address the angry exchange.

I interrupted Alicia’s story of personal offense and the school committee and said, “All better?” To Doug.

He huffed some more. “Well you’d think they’d train these people. At least they poured me a fresh cup.”

Just as he was about to take a sip of this new cup I said, “I hope they didn’t spit in it.”

The couple forced out laughter as though I were joking.

To Alicia I said, “You mentioned that there’s something going on with your son?” I wasn’t here to listen to her spout off about the school committee. *Insert here their infertility tale, then –

“I found your blog and I thought that, you know, since you can hear dead people and everything then maybe you might have some insight into how we might deal with his…” Alicia trailed off.

“His new abilities,” Doug finished for her.

“Oh, man. Okay sure, poor kid,” I said. “I’ll tell you everything I can. When did he first start hearing them?” I suddenly felt guilty for being so annoyed and judgy about the couple. If they had a kid who was hearing dead people then they must be scared to death.

“Him,” Alicia said.

“Him?”

“He only hears one dead person. Moby.”

“Oh?” I said, a feeling of dread coming over me.

That’s not a dead person, Claire stated, matter-of-factly compounding my worry.

“What I think we have here is a chicken or the egg situation,” Doug said, confidently. “By that I mean, did his interest in video games simply coincide with the dawn this ability in him, or did they awaken it.”

“iPad games, honey. He’s too little for video games,” his wife corrected.

iPad games, then,” Doug conceded. “I for one think he is too young for them, but-”

“The boys in his class play the games. It’s a way for him to connect socially,” Alicia said, an edge in her voice.

“He should be focused on learning at school, not socializing,” Doug muttered.

“His social-emotional development is just as important as his academic growth. How will he lead a team of people or develop products that people relate to if he doesn’t have strong interpersonal skills?” Alicia shot back.

Stumped, Doug swerved. “The boy has too much screen time as it is.”

“Those parameters are changing too, I just read an article-”

“Sorry, but if we could just stay on topic,” I interrupted. I considered trying to ballpark how many hours of screen time my children enjoyed on any given day just to watch them attempt to control their expressions, but thought better of it. “Do you think an iPad game was the source of the issue?”

Alicia and Doug exchanged a long look. Doug spoke, “Again, chicken and egg,” he moved his hands up and down alternately, like a scale. “In hindsight, we can pick out other instances which were, well strange. But it was the game that introduced us, at least, to Moby. We believe it was a sure way for the ghost to connect with Glen, that perhaps the ghost’s previous attempts at communication were unsuccessful.”

“Are you saying that it talks to him through the game?”

They nodded.

“Yeesh, you sure it’s not some, uh-” I hesitated, not wanting to freak them out even more.

“A pedophile masquerading as an animated character?” Alicia said.

“Well, yeah,” I said.

“No, it’s not that kind of game. It’s not multiplayer or interactive, it’s an app where he has to solve puzzles and complete little quests to gather points.”

“I still contacted the creator of the app,” Doug added, “To determine whether something like that might be possible. They assured me that though it could be possible for an extremely advanced hacker to do something like that, the alterations he’d have to make to the game would send up massive red flags that they would take note of immediately.”

“Okay, well what does this Moby have to say?”

“I know, your probably thinking ‘indulgent parents of an only child,’ but we really are quite structured with him,” Alicia assured me quite unnecessarily.

“I wasn’t thinking that at all,” I said honestly, “I was thinking of the pretend play iPad game my oldest daughters have been really into lately.” It was called, like Pica Pika or something and they moved these little characters around a town to different locations, like the hospital or a horse stable. It was cute and it really held their attention. I sent up a prayer that these people weren’t going to ruin that game for me. I mean, for my daughters.  

Alicia continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “We were older when we had him, obviously. Of course, we think the world of our child, but we aren’t loosey goosey about screen time.”

“She doesn’t care about that,” Doug snapped. “The game was the first thing that we noticed, but it’s not the crux of the issue.”

He. Is. Miiiiiiiiinnnnne, a deep male voice growled. The voice had come from right in front of my face, I’d never experienced that before. When I heard the dead they were usually over my shoulder. Near my ears. I sucked in a breath.

“Are you all right?” Alicia asked.

“Yes, uh sorry. I just-”

“Did you hear a dead person? Do you think you could connect with Moby?”

“I don’t know, maybe, I can’t really control who I hear. But this is a busy place so it might be someone else’s attachment.”

“Attachment?” Doug demanded.

“Dead person,” I said quickly. “I’ll let you know if I hear anything that for sure pertains to your family, okay?”

They studied me, Alicia looking frightened, Doug skeptical. For my part, I was terrified.

“What exactly has Glen seen and heard?” I asked, wanting to get their attention off me so I could collect myself. I sent out a mental call for help to Claire, but she was silent.

“Well, he began talking a lot while he played his game. I thought at first that he was just pretending, you know, using his imagination. But one afternoon when he was sitting in the kitchen and I was next door in the dining room reading I began listening to what he was actually saying and I realized that he seemed to be answering questions. As though he was having an actual conversation, but with an adult if that makes any sense.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, he was saying things like, ‘I’m nine… no, third grade… I guess so… no my parents don’t let me…’ just like that. You know how adults will ask a child a string of questions but only get one word responses? It was that sort of interaction. After I heard him say ‘My parents won’t let me,’ I got up and looked in on him. ‘Five minute warning,’ I told him. He quickly hit the home button, closing down the app. I asked what he’d been playing, though I’d already gotten a glimpse of the game. He was honest with me, but he was acting pretty guilty like he was hiding something,” Alicia explained.

“I overheard a similar one-sided conversation,” Doug chimed in. “I heard him say, ‘But how would I get there?” And that’s when we deleted the game off the iPad and contacted its creator.”

“Did you ask your son who he’d been talking to?” I asked, wondering if perhaps they’d grossly overreacted.

“I’d been asking him all along. These were just two examples of conversations overheard, but they were the ones that pushed us to make the decision to get rid of the game.”

“What did he say about that?”

“He was very upset that he could no longer spend his thirty minute technology allotment with the game, he expressed concern that Moby would be angry with him for no longer interacting through the game. But after an in-depth discussion, he came to understand and respect our concerns,” Doug said as though he were referring to a recent discussion with a co-worker. “We realized that we had a bigger problem on our hands when Glen began speaking to this Moby via other means.”

“Such as?” I asked. I was doing my best to focus on the couple’s story, but I found myself inexplicably on the edge of a panic attack. My chest was tight, I felt like the coffee shop was far too crowded, and the feeling of impending doom was so overwhelming I had to hold onto the edge of the table to keep from bolting. To make things worse, the breathing tricks I usually employed to calm that sort of panic storm weren’t doing jack.

“Glen was in the basement, playing before school,” Alicia said, oblivious to my inner battle. “I was packing his lunch and getting things ready for the day when I heard him talking to himself. I went and stood at the top of the stairs to listen, hoping that perhaps he was just pretending with his LEGO figures, but I suspected that again I was listening in on only half of the conversation. When I heard him say, ‘I thought you lived in the game,’ then, ‘Really? That’s awesome,’ I went down to put eyes on the situation.

“He was sitting on the couch with an old toy, it was one of those plastic pretend computers for toddlers, the ones that teach kids the alphabet. I asked him who he was talking to and he looked guilty. I told him to go upstairs and brush his teeth because the bus would be there any minute. I saw that he intended to bring the little computer with him so I took it and told him that I’d up in a minute to make sure he had everything he needed for school. I looked over the computer, to see if maybe it had been tampered with in some way, and when I was sure he was out of earshot I’m embarrassed to say that I even tried asking it questions.”

Alicia stopped talking and stared at me, seeming to want me to say something. Truth be told, I was only half listening to her. Along with the tingly numb feeling at the tips of my ears that accompanies my panic spells, I’d begin to hear a low humming. And I was pretty sure it was getting louder. I was about to excuse myself from the table when Doug shared another strange experience.

“Alicia told me about the incident with the toy computer and I began to form a hypothesis. That night I dug out some old walkie talkies that I had in my tool chest and I left them on the counter at dinner time. I figured Glen would be interested in them and I was correct. He grabbed them immediately and asked to be excused to his room right after dinner. I gave him a few moments then went up and stood outside his bedroom door. Sure enough, the boy was having a conversation with someone on those walkie talkies. Presumably, Moby. You see, I made the assumption that the ghost could use electronics as a means of communication and the walkie-talkie experiment proved my guess.”

The hum in my head was getting louder, stronger. At times I could almost make out a word or two. I was so locked in my mind at that point in the conversation that I wasn’t even listening to Doug. Playing back the recording of the interview was the first time I’d really heard about the walkie talkies. During the interview I was struggling too hard to hold it together and simply couldn’t listen to what he was saying.

“Doug came downstairs to get me and we went and stood outside Glen’s door together, listening to a complete conversation between our son and Moby, only we didn’t hear Moby’s end of things. We’d hear Glen speak and then pause to listen. In those pauses we only heard a low humming coming over the walkie talkies, a few times we could almost make out a voice but only just.”

At that moment on the recording you hear me say loudly, “Shhh, shhh!” The hum had grown suddenly to a roaring din. I squeezed my eyes shut and pressed my fingers over my ears, trying to make it stop. On the recording you hear me saying, “Stop, stop,” quietly. Then, I begin to recite a Hail Mary. I haven’t said a Hail Mary prayer since I don’t know when.

Abruptly, the noise turned down in my head like someone had quickly turned down the volume on a car radio. It was so fast in fact that my ears popped. I stared down at the table, my entire body vibrating with fear. Eventually I was able to look up at the worried couple before me.

“Are you all right?” Alicia asked dumbly.

I shook my head and wiped my eyes. After a moment I was able to calm myself down enough to speak. “I don’t know what just happened. Everything got really loud for a minute.”

Alicia looked at me with concern. “Loud in what way?”

“Like a roaring hum in my mind, I don’t know how to explain it. I’m sorry, that’s never happened to me before.”

“Do you think it might be the dead person, Moby, trying to talk to you?”

I blew out a slow breath, “Your son isn’t talking to a dead person,” I said in a shaky voice.

Doug was irritated. “It’s not all in his imagination, or ours for that matter. The boy has been communicating with something-”

“I know,” I nearly growled. “It just nearly made my head explode. It’s an elemental that’s after your son. That’s who he’s been talking to, that’s who’s trying to lure him out of your home.”

“Oh, God. What are you saying? The ghost wants to kidnap him?” Alicia stammered nonsensically.

“How in the hell could a ghost kidnap a child?” Doug demanded.

“I don’t know but earlier, I heard something very scary say ‘He is mine.’ So obviously, the thing wants your son.”

“Oh my God, what does a ghost want with our boy?”

“She said ‘elemental,’” Doug snapped at his wife. “What is that some kind of bad ghost?”

“No. It’s not a ghost at all. It’s an ancient, extremely powerful earth spirit and it’s set its sights on your son.”

“What are we going to do?” Alicia asked, obviously terrified.

“You’re going to need to see, I don’t know, you might need to find a Native American healer, and your son should definitely see someone who practices Reike. There are cords between him and that thing that need to be cut.”

“We don’t know anyone like that,” Alicia whined.

“I do, or at least I know people who will know those people. I’ll put them in touch right away.” My mind was spinning and clear. It was as if it had opened somehow, expanded in a way that I couldn’t fathom. Whatever that monster had done to me had left behind a terrifying clarity. An unearthly knowing.

“How could something like this happen?” Glen demanded.

I shrugged. “Where do you live?”

“Oakland Road,” they said as one.

“Well, there are a lot of woods over there,” I said, guessing at the source of the elemental.

The couple exchanged a glance.

“We live across the street from the cemetery. St. Mary’s,” Alicia admitted.

I let out a shaky laugh, “Wow. You really buried the lede on this one didn’t you?”

 

***

 

The girls were all in bed for the night and we were relaxing in our family room half of our attention on a television show, the other half on our phones. I’d heard the knocking occasionally in that room and had always assumed it was tree branches or sound traveling from elsewhere in the house so I was used to ignoring it. But then, as I was halfway through watching a zoo keeper try to rake leaves in a baby panda bear enclosure, Chris grabbed the remote and muted the television.

“What the hell is that noise?” He asked.
I looked over at him, “What noise?”

“That knocking, it’s driving me crazy.”

We sat in silence.

“There it is again,” he said when the knocking rattle sounded again.

I suggested it might be the dishwasher.

“It sounds like it’s coming from beneath us,” he insisted.

I followed him to the basement door and down the steps. Chris unhooked the latches on the old wooden makeshift door that served as our only protection from the dark place beneath the family room and hoisted it down to lean it against the concrete wall. The crawl space had been added when the family room had been built onto the house so it was not as deep as the rest of the basement. Truthfully, I couldn’t fathom the point of it. It was dirt floored and a constant source of rodent infestation.

Chris flipped on his flashlight then leaned his head into the darkness and looked right to left. Exasperated, he said, “Well, shit, there’s the problem.” He shone the flashlight around the space top to bottom, side to side. “Come look at this, no wonder it’s so noisy.”

I hesitated. He turned and motioned me over, a smile on his face.

For a moment I wondered if he’d found a family of rabbits inhabiting the place. I walked to him and he handed me the flashlight. I shined it into the pitch black and it lighted on a face. The face of a young girl. She was sitting on the dirt floor with her back to the wall, her knees drawn up to her chest and she wasn’t alone. People lined the gloomy room. All were sitting, some with their legs stretched out in front of them and crossed at the ankles, others with knees pulled in like the girl’s. Some old, others middle-aged, I saw one more child. A teenage boy with black hair who was somehow familiar.

They all stared at me intently, as if they were relieved to see me.

“You’d better get started,” Chris said in a low voice. “You can’t keep them waiting like this forever.”

When I woke up I was already sitting up in bed, the blankets thrown off, one leg out and ready to leap to the floor. To run.

I was out of breath and for several moments I didn’t even realize that I was crying. I could make out Chris’s shape in the bed and I heard one of the dogs groan as he adjusted himself near our feet. I snatched my cell phone off the bedside table and turned on the flashlight app. I shone it around our room, certain there would be dead people lining the walls.

When I was certain we were alone I got out of bed and went down to the girls’ rooms. Kat was sound asleep, arms thrown over her head in her toddler bed. I decided then that I would move her bed into the big girls’ room in the morning. They’d been talking about it and looking down at her, all alone in this room made me realize how tiny and vulnerable she was. Max and Joey were safely nestled in their twin beds across the hall. I walked through the entire upstairs and then the first floor, checking doors, forcing myself to peer in corners.

I made sure the latch on the basement door was secure before retreating back to my bedroom where I reread an old Agatha Christie novel by booklight until dawn.

But I couldn’t distract myself from the truth. I’d gotten the message. The dead had only begun speaking to me.

 

1“Are you Liz?”

I looked up from undoing my velcro shoes and stood up straight. “I am, uh-”

“Emily, I’m Emily Crum.”

“Hi,” I said, scanning my brain and trying to figure out if I knew the woman and if so from where and when.

“I thought I recognized your picture from the blog. I love the stories. Are they all real?”

“As far as I know,” I said with a smile, relieved that I wasn’t supposed to know or remember her.

“I’ve seen you here a few times,” she said.

We were at bSpoke, an indoor cycling studio on Central Street. “I’ve become a little obsessed. The classes are hard but they’re just so much fun.”

“I like it too.”

The woman shifted anxiously from foot to foot. I wasn’t sure how to get out of the exchange. I said, “Anyway, we can check it off the list for today. Back to real life!”

She smiled. “Yeah, so uh, I had this really crazy thing happen to me. Sorry to bring this up here,” she waved her hands indicating the studio. “Should I email you instead?”

“No, I mean, sure but is it about a haunting?”

“Yeah, I mean it’s not exactly a haunting, but this strange thing happened when I was growing up. I would never have said anything about it, but it’s sort of reared up again and I was thinking you might be able to give me some advice.”

This is going to be interesting. Claire said, almost causing me to jump. I never thought she would follow me to a spin class.

“You know, I have some time now,” I said without really thinking. “Want to grab a coffee at Starbucks?”

Emily accepted the invitation. I told her I just needed to grab my purse out of my car and that I’d meet her there.

There’s something so familiar about her, Claire said as I slipped into Uggs.

“You’re following me to spin class now?” I whispered to my shoes.

 

***

 

Emily stood, venti coffee cup in hand, near the front door. She watched me with nervous eyes as I approached her indicating that I’d ordered my drink on the app. I snagged the soy latte and we moved to the back of the cafe and found a small table tucked at the back of the space.

“Will you record this interview?” She asked.

“I was just about to ask you if that would be all right,” I said reaching into my bag for the little recorder.

“Sure,” she said. “Oh, wait,” Emily turned to rifle through the bag she’d slung over the back of her chair. When she turned back there was a small plastic container in her hands. “You like sweets, right? I just made a batch of these. I was going to give this to my daughters tutor, but I have plenty more at home. Their gluten-free, nut free, vegan.”

And, they were also covered in powdered sugar. “Ooo, thank you,” I said happily, plucking one of the chocolates up and popping it in my mouth.

“I call them chocolate bombs,” Emily said, smiling, selecting one of the little chocolates for herself.

“Mmmm,” I replied, reaching for another.

“I’ll give you the recipe.”

I nodded in reply because it would have been rude to speak with my mouth full.

Emily smiled and watched me for a moment. “Um, you know, I knew Claire. I was a year below her in high school.”

“Oh, wow,” I said. The statement took time to sink in. I’d only imagined Claire as a part of the foursome that had led to her demise. I hadn’t even considered that she might have had a life outside of that little group.

And then I had to look down at the table. Too overstimulated from trying to maintain the conversation with the woman while listening to Claire chattering away in my ear.

That’s Emily Crum! She was a freshman. I knew she looked familiar!

“Okay,” I said quietly.

“Oh my God, is she here?”

Claire was excited. I didn’t recognize her at first. She’s stunning! She looks so different! She used to carry that cat backpack and wear her hair in a tight french braid – tell her I remember her!

I relayed Claire’s excitement.

“You can really hear her. That backpack! I was such a nerd,” Emily said with a sad smile. “I brought a lot of ridicule on myself.”

Tell her I remember what Vanessa did in the cafeteria. I’m so sorry. Claire insisted.

“Oh, that,” Emily said after I’d offered Claire’s apology. “What a cringer, huh? There is no need for Claire to apologize about that. Vanessa was and always has been a total bitch.”

Claire made an affirming noise.

“Have you seen any of them recently? Hillary, Vanessa, and Jill, I mean.”

“No, thank God,” I replied honestly.

“I ran into them at a cocktail party a few weeks ago. They’re looking a little worse for wear.”

As well they should, Claire hissed.

“I’m not surprised,” I said. “Their past definitely came back to bite them.”

“Well, Hillary looks like she’s been biting into about half a dozen donuts a day,” Emily quipped. “Sorry that was mean. I just, well they deserve whatever they get for what they did to Claire.”

“I’m sure Karma hasn’t been kind,” I agreed.

Fuck karma, Claire spat. They don’t have me to genie all their evil plans into existence anymore.

I must have winced because Emily said, “What did Claire say?”

“She’s happy she isn’t tied to them any longer,” I summed up.

“I’ll bet,” Emily said. “Is she with you all the time?”

I shook my head. “No, she just sort of pops up now and again.”

“And other spirits? Do you just hear them all the time?”

“No, same thing. They just sort of pop up unexpectedly. I mean, Claire is around a lot, but there’s no predicting when I’ll be able to actually make contact with her, or with any other spirit for that matter. It’s unsettling, startling most of the time because I’m not expecting to hear a voice and it comes out of nowhere.”

Emily looked at me, considering. She said, “Do you ever hear anything else? Like other than dead people.”

“I have in the past, but it’s been rare, thankfully.”

“Do you believe in monsters?” She asked abruptly.

“Um, well, I don’t know. I’ve interviewed a few people who’ve encountered them. And I do believe in ghosts, so yeah, I guess. I mean, why not?”

Emily chewed on the inside of her lip. “I’ve never told anyone this, but I’m frightened. It’s come back.”

“What has?” I asked, intrigued.

Oh no, Claire said beside me.

“The imp,” Emily said in a small voice. “I was certain that I’d contained the creature, but I wasn’t cautious enough.”

“Imp?”

“That’s just what I called it when I was seven and the name stuck. I don’t really know what it is.”

Be careful, Claire said and that was the last time I heard from her for three days.

I grabbed another chocolate, it paired perfectly with the latte. “How in the world did you meet an imp?”

Emily began, “When I was seven I used to play in a creek behind our home. I grew up over on Woodland Road.” When I indicated that I wasn’t familiar with the street she explained, “It’s the dead-end road that runs right behind Elmwood Church. It’s a short street, only about eight houses and ours was at the very end, at the edge of Boulder Brook.

“I was, well, like I said, I was a complete nerd. I got into this phase where I would build dams across the creek. Creating different models and trying to figure out which design worked best.”

“That doesn’t sound nerdy that sounds fun,” I commented.

“It was, actually.” Emily reached back and undid her pony tail. She brushed her thick auburn hair with her hands and pushed it up into a messy bun on top of her head. Claire was right, she was absolutely stunning. Clear skin, free of makeup, soft brown eyes. She wasn’t skeletally thin, which seemed to have become the norm for many women in town. Instead her cheeks had a nice plumpness to them, she looked younger than she was, which I guessed at based on my knowledge of Claire’s age. Rather, what Claire’s age would have been had she not died tragically as a teenager.

Emily continued. “I got pretty good at it, the dam building. I scavenged old wooden boards and found that bracing them upright with sticks then gluing the structure in place with mud created the most sturdy dam design.”

“Oh, you really were a nerd,” I said, jokingly.

Emily let out a bark of laughter. “I truly was.”

“There was a stream that ran behind the house I grew up in,” I said. “I used to build dams too – certainly not as advanced as yours. I don’t know what made it so much fun, but it really was.”

Emily nodded her head in agreement. “Isn’t it funny how we change? The thought of being up to my ankles in muddy water, patting handfuls of mud into rotting boards absolutely skeeves me out now, but then…” She trailed off. “Anyhow. I was building one of those dams, digging up dirt about five or six feet from the creek and hauling it over to my beautiful structure. As I was digging in the dirt I found something. A cookie tin, you know those blue ones with the  boring shortbread cookies that pop up around Christmas time? It just appeared, about four feet down in the dirt. It had rusted slightly, but only along its seams.”

“Four feet? You were really digging a good-sized hole,” I said with a smile.

“I suppose I was, it was pretty awesome. I just stared down at the tin for a bit, wondering if I’d unearthed someone’s dead hamster or rabbit or something, but curiosity got the better of me. I brought it up and set it on the ground. Stared at it some more. Imagining that it was something spectacular. Because that was always the dream, right? Discovering something magical and secret in the woods? I played around with the idea that I finally had.

“Eventually, I went for it and opened the tin. Inside was a silk scarf that had been knotted around something, creating a small little package. It took me some time to undo the knot, my fingernails were painfully short – I was a nail biter – so I really had to work at it. As I was doing so I heard something splash in the stream behind me.

“I spun around and saw something scurry up the bank and into the underbrush. It unsettled me, I tried to tell myself it was just a little critter. But if that had been the case it must have been sickly, it was grey like a squirrel or rabbit, but it didn’t have any fur.

“Slightly unnerved I went back to work on the scarf. When I finally opened it I wasn’t disappointed. Wrapped inside was a delicate gold chain bracelet with a charm. A glass ball, the size of a marble with a black spot right in its middle.”

“Weird, that’s all that was in there?”

“No, there were some dried leaves and flowers in the scarf with the bracelet. I suppose that if I found the tin now I would assume it was some sort of tribute or remembrance for a lost loved one. But then I thought I’d dug up buried treasure. I slid the bracelet on my arm and threw the scarf back in the tin. I’d carelessly scattered most of the dried foliage on the ground as I’d untied the scarf though. I threw the tin back in the hole and covered it back up with dirt.”

“Cue the ominous music,” I noted.

“You know it,” Emily replied grimly. “In fact, it began to rain on my way back home. The rain actually lasted for several days. An intense band of storms that turned the land near the creek into a muddy mess. I tried, but I never could find that tin again. It was as if it had disappeared.”

“You wanted to put the bracelet back?” I guessed.

“Desperately so,” Emily affirmed.

“Why?”

“It marked me, made me his,” she said, her voice low.

“I’m afraid to ask,” I said, matching her tone.

“It was little things at first. Hiding my dad’s car keys to make him late for work. Spilling milk on my brother’s baseball cards. But it got worse. I did much worse things.

“The bracelet made you do them?”

“No. No, the imp made me do those things, the bracelet simply marked me as his.”

“How?”

“I don’t know how, exactly. Magic, I guess. Old magic. I would get ideas in my mind, bad ideas. But they weren’t my ideas, the thing put them there. Made the ideas too compelling to ignore.He snuck them right into my thoughts and made me think they were my own. I think it had something to do with the way that he watched over me at night as I slept.”

“What now?”

“Yeah. The rocking chair from when I was a baby it was still in my bedroom. I had it in the corner near my bookshelf, and I used to read there. Soon after I found the bracelet the rocking chair would move from the corner to the end of my bed. As though someone had been sitting there watching me sleep at night.”

I blew out a breath. “That is truly terrifying.”

“It was. I accused my older brother of moving the rocking chair, but of course he wasn’t the one doing it. I began to remember my dreams, though I suspected that some of them weren’t dreams at all. I dreamt of a small creature rocking in the chair at the end of my bed, quietly suggesting the bad ideas.”

“What it look like?”

“He was small and gray like the thing I’d seen in the forest after I dug up the bracelet. Pudgy around the middle with rolls encircling his neck, though his legs were so skinny they looked as though they couldn’t possibly hold him up. His hands were horrible, with long sharp fingers like grey toothpicks. He would do this thing where he rolled his wrists around and around while he spoke to me at night, it was oddly calming, even when the things he suggested were terrible.”

“What did he suggest?”

“At first it was just annoying tricks to play on my family, but they turned mean. I dropped the bowl my grandmother had given to my parents as a wedding gift. Slammed it on the ground on purpose and said it was an accident. I poured bleach into a load of dark laundry, that contained my brother’s baseball uniform. And then it wasn’t just my family anymore. I woke up one morning and looked out my window towards my next door neighbor’s house. A girl named Monica lived there. We’d been friendly, not exactly friends, though we would walk to school together sometimes. Out my window I saw that someone had written in large letters with black marker along the side of her house ‘Monica is a fat bitch face.’”

I laughed but then apologized. “Sorry, it’s not funny.”

“No, it’s silly now. But then, that was the height of name calling. There was no denying that I had done it. My handwriting was perfectly recognizable and I got into a lot of trouble. The thing was, I didn’t remember doing it and that’s when things shifted. I could remember and even enjoy the little tricks I’d played on my family. Enjoy isn’t the right word, maybe I was channelling his feelings, but part of me did get a kick out of the mischief.

“But when the mischief turned mean I had no memory of it. A family friend raised prize Checkered Giants and kept them in a hutch in their yard. Someone opened the cage door and let them all out. I don’t have any memory of it, but I know it was me. Those poor rabbits, there were so many more coyote around back then, they didn’t stand a chance.

“There were other instances, but I try not to think of them. I took to the library and found plenty of fairytales about mischievous creatures and that’s where I learned out about imps. They were described as mischievous troublemakers but the only difference was that in the fairytales the imps were the ones carrying out the mischief, I didn’t find any examples of them holding influence over people.

“I’ve searched for years, trying to find someone with a situation like mine, but I can’t find anyone with quite the same story. I have found people online who say they had small monsters in their bedrooms as children. Monsters who watched them sleep. But none of them mentioned being controlled or influenced by the creature. It was more like their monsters were simply there to terrorize them.

“But, back to my childhood, when I realized I had no control over my actions any longer I begged my mother for a tin of those stupid Christmas cookies. She thought I’d be disappointed by them, but thankfully they were under the tree Christmas morning. I had tried just taking off the bracelet but that didn’t work. So I thought maybe it was the tin that could hold the magic. I stole some of my mom’s potpourri, sprinkled it in there and put the tin at the back of my closet and over time I felt the creature’s control less and less. I stopped forgetting what I was doing and could discern when I was being influenced by him to do something bad.”

“Why didn’t you bury it again?”

“I didn’t want anyone else to find it.”

“And that took care of it, huh? You never saw the thing again?” I asked in disbelief.

“Not exactly.” Emily pushed the sleeve of her puffy coat up on her left arm revealing a delicate gold chain bracelet. She turned her wrist side to side to show off the marble sized charm.

“Why the fuck are you wearing that?” I leaned back in my seat, repelled by the deceivingly pretty bracelet.

She pushed the sleeve back down, covering up the enchanted object. “The tin moved with me from home to home. First to college, then to several apartments and finally back out here to Wellesley. I’ve always been so careful to conceal it so no one could find it.”

“Who found it?”

“My daughter.”

“Oh no,” I breathed.

“We had a couple frustrating days. The jack o’ lanterns were all smashed on our porch and then my wedding band went missing. I began to get suspicious when I saw what looked like dried pumpkin innards on her sneakers. Then she began refusing to take a bath. She didn’t ever want to take off her long-sleeved shirt.

I insisted that she did and then I saw it.” Emily stared down at her wrist.

“How long,” I began.

“Have I been wearing it?” Emily finished. “Almost a week. That’s why it’s so crazy that I happened to run into you at spin class. It’s like I was supposed to tell you. That you might be able to help me.”

“Synchronicity,” I said reaching for the last chocolate bomb.

“Could you? I mean, do you think you might be able to help me.”

I chewed and considered. “I don’t know if this is something Biddy could help with, but I actually do know this psychic, her name’s Molly Vail, she dealt with her own monster. I could put you in touch with her. If nothing else maybe she could, like, read the thing and figure out where it came from.”

“I would truly appreciate it.”

“But why don’t you just put the bracelet back in the tin again?”

Emily shook her head, “My daughter would have to be the one to do it…”

“Okay,” I said.

“She won’t do it.”

“Why not?”

“She’s, well she’s a lot like I was when I was her age, the poor thing. She marches to her own drummer, she’s never had many friends and she likes him, it. She thinks he’s her friend.”

 

****

 

Three days later Claire popped back up while I was re-reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and hoping for inspiration.

You need to deal with that basement. She said out of nowhere.

“Why do you think I’m trying to read this book?” I said after the jolt of surprise had worn off.

That book isn’t going to help you with what’s going on down there.

I clapped the book shut. I’d just wanted one normal minute. One moment where I could lose myself in the rich literature of sweater folding.

“Well then just tell me what’s going on down there.”

I was met with silence.

Annoyed I said, “Where did you go anyway? You bailed on the interview with Emily, I thought you were excited to see her.”

Claire took long enough to answer that I thought maybe she’d gone again.

I saw one of those things, she said finally. When I was trapped in between.

“An imp?” I asked.

Yes. They’re awful. You’re safe from them unless it’s been assigned to you and then there is basically no hope.

“What do you mean no hope? There has to be a way to get rid of them, right?”

No one can get rid of them. They’re forever.

9d064555-834e-4f12-adcd-e21f04211efd_1.8d5d3394df9a1b9479ff74689760f01f“Can you come down here for a minute?” The man called from the bottom of the basement stairs. “There’s something I want to show you.”

I groaned as I got up from the desk in my office.

“Sure!” I called back as I crossed the foyer to the basement door. “But I don’t think I want to see anything down there.”

The man smiled up at me. “Oh, it’s nothin’ a little poison won’t take care of, just something you should be aware of.”

I hesitated in the doorway when I saw that he had unlatched and opened the doors to the crawl space beneath our family room.

“Come on over, I’ll show you what we’re dealing with.”

I tried to shake off the fear, but it only increased as I walked closer to that dark, cave-like space.

I stood next to the exterminator and peered into the darkness.

The man moved his flashlight beam first along the dirt floor, “See there, you’ve got a few dead bodies,” and then up to the ceiling which had been lined with insulation held in place by clear plastic stapled to the wood beams. “See those dark trails running to and fro?” He asked. “That’s feces and urine. They’re tracking it all throughout their home. You’re home.” He had a beautiful Irish accent, which I wouldn’t dare try to emulate, and he pronounced ‘urine’ as yoo-rYn..

Disgusted I stepped back. “Are there a lot of them?”

He nodded, gravely.

“What are we going to do?” I asked. Feeling a stab of guilt. I knew we had to kill the things, we couldn’t just let them completely infest the house, but still… they were just doing their little mouse thing.

“They’ll be dead and gone within five days,” the exterminator assured me.

“Do I have to worry about the dogs or the kids?” I asked, referring to the poison he intended to use to massacre the family sharing our home.

He assured me that the girls and the dogs would be perfectly safe, “even if one of the dogs ingested a poisoned mouse.” Gross.

“Sorry little guys,” I whispered into the crawl space. I thanked the exterminator and began my retreat, eager to get back to my office.

“Hold on now,” he said, “I still gotta show you the spiders. In my twenty-two years at this job I’ve never seen anything like it.”

We’d had critter infestations in past homes. In fact in our Beacon Hill condo we’d had a nasty mouse problem. When Max was a toddler and Joey an infant I was straightening up and reached down to retrieve their pajamas from the bedroom floor. As I picked up the little bundle of clothing I heard two little thumps as something dropped out of the bundle onto the ground. It was two small, dead mice. Chris had reasoned that someone in one of the other condos must have put out poison and the mice had crawled into the baby clothes to die.

Needless to say, it was one of the last nails in the coffin of city living.

Alas there are mice in the burbs too.

We hadn’t taken my psychic pal Judith’s advice and renovated the basement so it still held a spooky vibe. I would have loved to redo the place, thereby eliminating the negative feelings that had etched themselves into the material space before we’d owned the house, but we simply didn’t have the funds lying around to do it.

The basement was overly sectioned. One room for the laundry and furnace and such, one wood-paneled room that had been the previous owners children’s den, and then a large storage space where we’d thrown unopened moving boxes and a bunch of other stuff we didn’t need. That’s where the crawl space lived and I barely ever went into that portion of the basement. I kept that door shut, a hook and eye latch carefully in place so that the girls wouldn’t wander in there either. But the exterminator reminded me of the place and it occurred to me that in Judith’s walk through and spiritual cleansing of my home I hadn’t shown her the room.

So after the exterminator pointed out an absurd amount of spider webs in a far corner of the basement I’d gone back upstairs to my office and said quietly, “Is it just critters down there or do I need to be worried about something else?”

A brief silence and then Claire’s answer. “I don’t go down there.”

“Why?” I asked.

But our conversation was interrupted by the exterminator who needed me to sign a consent form to deploy his death traps throughout my home.

When I tried to bring the issue up again Claire was silent. Whenever she wanted to speak she did, but when I needed information she’d only answer if she felt like it. Maybe that was unfair, maybe she couldn’t for some reason. Or maybe the problem was me, maybe I wouldn’t hear her. Still. There was obviously more than bad memories affecting my basement. It would have to be sorted out and I was overwhelmed with life as it was. Add it to the fucking list, I thought.

 

***

 

Before the basement could be dealt with I was due to meet with a woman who had a paranormal story to share.

Jess Curtain and I were cut from very different cloth. The nurse was a tight little bundle of energy and spunk, optimism and make it work-ness. She wore her highlighted brown hair in a swishy bob. Her tortoise shell glasses looked like an expertly placed punctuation mark on an outfit that screamed effortless style (a double pocket light pink button down silk shirt and bootcut jeans with cheetah print kitten heels). Her whole persona threw me for a loop because, like an idiot, I’d for some reason expected her to show up in scrubs.

It was a chilly autumn morning and I’d intended to go for a walk after interviewing Jess over coffee at Quebrada. So I had on workout gear and a baseball hat. It was a Saturday and Chris was treating the kids to a Whole Foods breakfast and a trip to the dump followed by a shopping spree at BJs; their idea of a killer outing.

“I’m so glad this worked out,” I said to Jess as we arranged ourselves in front of the windows at Quebrada’s new bar seats. I was happy we weren’t sitting at the back tables, walking in I’d been reminded of the recent conversation with the Jessica Heng. Despite her warning, or perhaps threat, Biddy and I had neither seen nor heard anything from the woman. Her stunned and confused ex-fiancé claimed that he hadn’t seen her since that day we met either.

“Sorry it was such a cluster fuck trying to find a time that worked with both of our schedules,” Jess apologized. “Working nights makes it difficult for me to be a part of regular society.”

“I’m sure,” I replied.

“Anyway, I can’t believe how long it took me to find your blog,” she said.

I smiled and sipped my coffee not sure what she meant.

“A guy I used to work with emailed me the link last week. For real, I read it in two days.”

“Oh, wow,” I said, thinking of the punctuation and grammatical errors that must have overwhelmed her over the course of those two days.

“When I read the About page I just knew that we were cut from the same cloth. I read the Fear Street series growing up too. I was absolutely obsessed. How old are you?”

“Almost forty,” I replied.

“When’s your birthday?”

My brain took a moment to retrieve the information. Jess spoke quickly, jumping from topic to topic, rapid firing questions and then offering intense revelation. I gave her my birthdate.

“Aries,” she said confidently. “Makes sense. I’ve been wanting to talk about what happened for a long time but most of the people I know don’t believe in this stuff, and I have to be careful with confidentiality and everything. I live over in Poets’ Corner, where are you?”

I was as vague as I could be without being rude, giving her a cross street we were close to. My run in with the demon possessed Ms. Heng had reminded me that I should be more careful in sharing personal details about my life.

“I told you I’m a nurse, right?”

I nodded.

“Good, well, that’s when everything happened, when I was on overnights with a patient, Shelly. You’ll change her name, right? She lived over near the dump in a brick split level. Below grade was pretty much it’s own living area. Like a little efficiency, it even had a separate entrance and a little patio out back.

“The house was nice enough, a rental for her. The place was a dark and dreary, but the woods in that area are pretty intense, the important thing was that it was clean. I won’t take a job in a dirty house.”

“Oh,” I said, trying to keep up. “When you said overnights I was picturing you in a hospital.”

“No, not anymore. I’ve been a terrible sleeper my whole life so I was drawn to the night shift while I was in nursing school. Worked on Med Surg for years at Brigham and Women’s but two years ago I transitioned into home healthcare. It lets me really meet a patient’s needs. Most of the time I help people recover at home from surgery, or I help get them through their cancer treatments. I’ve built a good reputation so I can be selective in choosing patients. It was Shelly’s daughter who contacted the service.”

“What did she need help with?”

“The daughter made it sound as though Shelly was rapidly descending into full-blown Dementia and that she wanted someone in the house at night to make sure she didn’t hurt herself or wander off.”

“The poor women,” I said.

“I know, it’s a fate worse than death. I don’t typically assist patients with advanced Alzheimer’s or dementia. The risk for them is too great, they’re much better off in a secure environment. Houses can be dangerous for confused people. The daughter was insistent and I asked to meet Shelly before I accepted the job. She was perfectly lovely and seemed pretty with it.

“I thought, you know an overnight nurse is pretty expensive if you don’t have a person who needs actual medical assistance, but it was their money and I didn’t have any other pressing patients. If I did, I would have given them priority.”

“How many nights a week did you stay with her?”

“Six.”

“Wow,” I commented.

“Yeah, it paid really well,” Jess sighed. “But on with the spooky stuff, right? So, the first night I’m there I was in my room on the ground level, you know in that little efficiency, reading. It was probably about one in the morning and I hear someone walk into the kitchen and turn on the faucet. I figured Shelly was getting herself a glass of water. I didn’t want to crowd her so I just listened. But the water stayed on for too long so I went up to check that all was well – oh, so there was a short staircase from the efficiency that led up to the kitchen.

“Anyhow, she wasn’t there but the thing that concerned me was that the kitchen light was off. I’d left it on just in case she got up. I turned off water, flipped the light back on and went to check on her. She was sound asleep. It put me on alert, I thought, okay I get why the daughter wants me here.

“Next night, same exact thing. This time I stood at the bottom of the stairs, listening. When I thought it had been long enough I went up. No Shelly, light’s off again and the damn faucet was on full blast. I peeked into her room and sure enough, there she was, sound asleep.”

“Third night. Same song, same dance. But this time I went right up there the second I heard what I thought were her footsteps. I heard the faucet turn on as I was halfway up the stairs, I fully thought I’d see her standing there so when I turned the corner and saw a dark empty kitchen and that faucet running, it stopped me. Gave me a chill. I turned the water off and just stood there for a second trying to figure it out. Then I went down the hall checked her room, can you guess?”

“She was sound asleep,” I said.

Jess put her finger on the tip of her nose. “Bingo.”

“Spooky,” I said, smiling.
“Damn straight. I psyched myself up and thought, all right, I was forged in a fire greater than this. You know, by some fluke, I was on shift the day of the marathon bombings, covering for a nurse on maternity leave. We took thirty-one trauma patients that day. A ghost who likes to play at the kitchen sink isn’t going to ruffle my feathers. At least, it shouldn’t have. But turns out ghosts require a different kind of brave. I need another coffee, you?”

“Oh, yeah, sure.”

“I’ll grab you one, do you like Hazelnut?”

“I do, here,” I said, grabbing my wallet.

“No, it’s on me. It feels so good to tell someone about this,” Jess said waving my money away. “I’ll be back in two shakes.”

I looked out the window as Jess purchased the coffees and tried to process what she’d shared so far. Then I checked my phone and saw that Chris had texted several photos of the girls sorting recycling at the dump.

“Here you go, I put soy milk and sugar in it.” Jess placed the coffee in front of me and climbed into the tall chair.

“Thank you! Perfect.”

“Where did I leave off? Uh, yeah the kitchen faucet. So that’s how it started. That night, the one where I realized it wasn’t Shelly who’d been turning on the water, I turned on every single freaking light in the basement and jumped at every creak and bump.”

“Did you ask Shelly about it?”

“Well, that was tricky. I didn’t want her to think I was lurking around at night. But after that I asked if she’d been up to get water in the middle of the night. I didn’t mention the previous two nights with the faucets, I just said I thought I’d heard the water. She claimed she’d slept through the night, that she’d been sleeping so much better just knowing that I was in the house with her. And this I’ll never forget, she said, ‘You’ve quieted things down.’”

“Uh oh.”

“That’s what thought. So I asked what she meant but she didn’t really answer. Just sorta ignored the question. Thing was, the more time I spent with her, even though it was just for about a couple of hours at night and one or two in the morning I just wasn’t seeing the tell-tale signs of Dementia. And morning and evening can be the most disorienting times for people with the disease. She was pretty sharp when we watched Wheel and she wasn’t a bad poker player either. Besides that I didn’t notice many instances of confusion, or time slips and she recognized me and referred back to earlier conversations we’d had.”

“What had the daughters told you about her condition?”

“Ah, the daughters. Well, the eldest, Marny was the one who’d contacted me and I’d interviewed at her house with the younger sister Alexis. They weren’t exactly on the same page where their mother was concerned but they agreed she should have someone in the house with her at night. Marny was convinced her mother was beginning to ‘lose her mind’ – her words, not mine – but Alexis was of the opinion that their mom was lonely and still getting used to the new house. At the time I thought maybe she was in denial.”

“Oh,” I said, “so it was a recent move. I was going to ask.”

“Oh, yeah. They’d moved mom out of the house they grew up in over in Dover, dad had died about three years prior, so they wanted mom close by ‘To keep an eye on her’ again, the daughter’s words, not mine. As I mentioned, the house was a rental. Marny was building a guest house on their property, I guess Shelly had refused to move into the main house with her. So that was the compromise. Apparently, the old family home sold faster than they thought it would so the rental house was a short-term solution until the guest house was complete.”

“How long-”

“Had she lived there?” Jess finished the sentence for me. “Six months.”

“And had she been-”

“Displaying any signs of confusion before she moved into that house?” Again, Jess completed my thought. “No, at least according to her daughters.”

“Did you mention the kitchen faucet thing to them?”

“No. At least not right away.”Jess seemed to hesitate.

“And then?” I prompted.

“Then things got really creepy,” she admitted. “The whole kitchen thing happened the first week I was there. Then one night during my second week at the house I must have dozed off while I was reading because the next thing I know, Shelly is gently rubbing my arm to wake me up.

“‘Did you see him?’ She wanted to know. ‘See who?’ I asked once I’d shaken off the sleep. ‘The little boy, he walked past my room and I followed him down here. Where did he go?’”

“Oh no,” I groaned.

“Mm, well, here’s the thing. It was startling, for sure. But remember why I was there – to take care of someone who supposedly had dementia, right? We walked through the basement checking the rooms and doors and then did the same upstairs. I was finally able to convince her that it had been a dream. She did say one thing that gave me pause, though. She sad she’d seen the boy before. In the garage once, in the middle of the day.”

I let out a breath. “I’m guessing it didn’t end there.”

“Not even close. Soon after I was up having a midnight snack in my little living area at this cute cafe table. I had my back to the kitchen area and all of a sudden the damn faucet turned on. That gave me a jolt. I shot up to turn it off and when I did I heard the door at the top of the stairs – the one that lead right into the first floor kitchen – slam shut.

“I bolted up the steps not even sure who or what I thought I’d catch and when I got up there I saw that the damn faucet had been turned on up there too. And yes, Shelly was right where she was supposed to be, tucked in tight fast asleep in her bed.

“So now I’m fully unsettled, right? I went back downstairs and grabbed my book and camped out in the living room the rest of the night on the main floor. Lights ablaze. This is going to sound cliché, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched.”  

“I’ll bet,” I said.

“That next morning over coffee I asked Sherry if she’d noticed any issues with the plumbing. No, she hadn’t really, except for the faucets. Said that sometimes she’d come home and they’d be on. She told me it was one of the reasons her daughters got so worked up about her being alone at night. ‘What if you’d left the stove on by accident instead, mom?’ They’d asked. She was pissed they wouldn’t believe her that she hadn’t left the water running.”

“And now she was seeing little boys running through the house at night,” I commented.

“You know it. Classic escalation, right?”

“You seem to be pretty familiar with hauntings. None of this seems like a surprise to you.”

“Yeah, no. I love this stuff, have ever since I was a little girl. I’d just never experienced anything paranormal myself, you know? It scared me more than I thought it would.”

“I know exactly what you mean.”

“Yeah, um, so do you really hear spirits?” Jess asked, cautiously.

“Sometimes,” I said.

Jess watched me, an expectant look on her face.

“I haven’t heard anything recently if that’s what you’re asking.”

“I just wondered, you know…”

“Sure. Usually, in busy places like this I’ll hear someone. But there hasn’t been anything of note so far.”

“Would you tell me if there was?” She asked.

I smiled, “Maybe. Probably.”

“Do you watch Ghost Adventures?” She asked abruptly.

“Do you mean it?” I said.

“Yeah, I think that’s the best reality show about the paranormal out there. I mean, best show ever, really.”

“I one hundred percent agree with you.” I said, trying not to completely geek out.

“Would you ever go to one of those really haunted locations they investigate? Like the Washoe Club or Bobbie Mackey’s?”

“Absolutely not.”

“But what if you heard something incredible, you know, that could prove those things are really there.”

“Those things are there whether I hear them or not,” I said.

“True. And I guess no matter how much proof you have barely anyone will believe you. Even if I’d managed to record that ghost boy or the faucet turning on by itself, there would still be people who thought I’d faked it.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “There will always be skeptics.” I said simply.

“Well. I know what happened in that house, and it cured me of my skepticism completely.”

“What else happened?”

Jess took a deep breath. “Objects began to move on their own. I went up one morning and there were four of Shelly’s little porcelain figurines lined up on the floor right at the top of the steps. I noticed them when I was halfway upstairs, it stopped me cold. I stepped around them and found Shelly, who was just walking out of her bedroom and showed them to her. She was pretty pissed. She was really into those Hummel things. Told me that most had been packed away awaiting the move to the guest house, but she’d brought her favorites to the rental because she didn’t want anything to happen to them while they were in storage.”

“Oof, figurines moving on their own. I don’t like it,” I said with a nervous laugh.

“Neither did I,” Jess said, seriously. “I was jumpy in that house as it was. That little ghost trick sent me over the edge. You’ve mentioned a couple of times in your blog how kid ghosts might not actually be kid ghosts, right?”

“Well, yeah, I mean who knows, right? They could very well be demons or some other negative entity pretending to be a child. But from there my mind starts to freak out, like what if everything is demons just pretending to be ghosts. Tricking us all for some scary reason.”

Jess looked at her coffee and gave a subtle nod. “That thought kept sneaking up on me. Like, if it was just some kid’s ghost being all mischievous then why did I feel so threatened? More importantly, why did I have such a strong intuition that Shelly was in danger? Like the thing was after her? There was no logical reason for me to think that, a faucet and some figurines don’t spell out sinister intentions, but the feeling I had. It was tense, anxious.

“And then it wasn’t long after that I heard the voice over the baby monitor.”

I let out a whistle. “Baby monitor?”

“Yeah, it was just the simple old school kind. You know, only sound, no video or anything. Shelly agreed to put the transmitter on her nightstand and I kept the receiver with me so I could hear if she needed anything.”

“I was watching a movie on my iPad, I’d stopped reading at night at that point, I needed more company than that. So I’m watching the movie and I hear static come across the monitor. I listened for a minute, nothing. I went back to the movie but with one ear on the monitor just in case.

“A few minutes later I hear my name. It startled me a little, but I assumed it was Shelly and that she needed help. I was alarmed, actually. She’d never used the monitor to call for me before so I was afraid she was in trouble. I rushed upstairs and, dun dun duuuuun, the kitchen faucet was on full blast. I don’t know how I hadn’t heard it. Along with that the kitchen lights were off. It scared me. I basically ran to Shelly’s room and there she was sitting up in bed staring at her closet.

“I asked if she was alright and she said, ‘Did you hear that?’ I told her that yes, I’d heard her call for me over the baby monitor. But that’s not what she’d meant. She hadn’t called for me. But she’d heard someone in her closet.”

“Yeesh,” I breathed. “What exactly did she hear?”

Jess reached up and rubbed the back of her neck. “She said she woke up to her closet door sliding open and then she heard a little boy say, ‘We can’t wait for you to join us, Shelly.’”

“Oh, shit,” I said, laughing nervously.

“Yeah. I immediately clicked into calm nurse in a crisis mode and told her to get up out of bed. I had to get us both away from that closet and I didn’t like the vibe on that main level. So we went down to the basement and watched Moonstruck until morning.”

“And then what did you do?”

“I wasn’t about to mess around. I called Marny at seven and asked her to come over right away. I laid everything out for her and told her that in my professional opinion, from what I had observed in my time with Shelly, she wasn’t experiencing the initial stages of Dementia. What she was going through was a haunting and the house was not a safe place for her to be. I had serious reservations about her even spending time alone there during the day.”

“How did the daughter react?” I asked.

“Defensive, at first. Which I’d fully expected. But she asked a bunch of questions and I think she really took us seriously when I told her that Shelly and I had discussed it and we both felt that the best plan of action was for her to go live with Marny and her family until that guest house was complete.”

“And that was that. Shelly didn’t stay there another night. She moved out of that house and in with her daughter to wait for the builders to finish the guest house. She’d been adamant about maintaining her independence up until that point, but that little house or whatever was in it chased her out.”

“Crazy,” I said.

“Yeah, sorry there’s no big scary reveal here. It was just a regular old haunting, I guess.”

“Those are the scariest ones,” I commented.

“True,” she conceded.

“So that house must still be a rental, right?”

“Yup. I drove by it not long ago and there was a Suburban parked in the driveway and a bunch of kids stuff, you know bikes and scooters strewn around.”

“Great,” I breathed.

“So, you still haven’t heard anything, right?”

It took me a moment to realize what she was asking. I’d thought she’d meant about the rental. “Oh, you mean have any ghosts chimed in on your story?”

“Have they?”

“No,” I said, apologetically.

But I wasn’t telling the truth. Around the time we’d been debating whether it had been ghosts or demons pretending to be ghosts haunting the rental house, Claire had spoken up.

“It’s getting worse,” she’d commented.

I don’t know why I didn’t tell Jess. Maybe because it scared me and by not telling her I could pretend things weren’t escalating in Wellesley.

hall-of-shadows“Are you hearing anything now?” Adam asked excitedly.

I told him I hadn’t and that I usually didn’t, that it was a rare occurrence as of late. It was a lie. As I’d watched the man and his fiancé walk through Quebrada’s front door Claire had cautioned, “Be careful with those two.”

The truth was that Claire had stuck around after that night in Smith and Wollensky’s when I’d broken the news of her freedom to the three witches who’d bound her in between. After that night she’d told me that there had been a chance to move on and her boyfriend had taken it but she had chosen to stay behind. She said Wellesley was just getting good and that I was just getting started.

Wonderful.

The dead were speaking, but not very often and when they did it wasn’t all that informative or helpful. Claire’s voice rose above the rest and when she felt like it she could be rather chatty. But she was respectful when I needed space and irritatingly silent when I needed an answer.

But as far as Adam Harrison and his wife to be, Jessica Heng, were concerned it was neither here nor there. The twenty-somethings had been drilling me about the blog and the people I’d interviewed for about ten minutes and I didn’t much care for being on the other end of an inquiry.

I attempted to take charge of the conversation. “How long have the two of you lived in Wellesley?”

The couple side-eyed each other and Jessica fielded the question. “We moved from the Back Bay about a month ago.”

“My husband and I lived on Marlborough Street for a while when we were your age, I loved it.”

Adam’s smile didn’t meet his eyes. “The city’s great, but things were getting too-”

“We needed a change of scenery,” Jessica finished for him.

“Well, good for you,” I said dumbly. “Did you guys grow up in the area?”

Nope. Jessica was from New Hampshire, Adam from Pennsylvania.

Perhaps I was projecting my own hesitation to leave Boston, but I wanted to know why this painfully hip couple had moved themselves out to one of the most suburban of suburban communities when they could be living in a cool apartment in the city. But I wasn’t sure how to ask. And they weren’t giving any details.

“So, Biddy’s still coming, right?” Adam asked.

“Oh, yeah. She’ll be here,” I affirmed.

Adam had contacted me through the blog, he said that he was a “huge fan” of the stories and that he’d recently turned his fiancé onto them. In his email, Adam described her as a “paranormal enthusiast” and said that they’d encountered something on an overnight in a famous haunted location he was “looking for insight about next steps in dealing with the fallout from that night.”

Initially, I hesitated to reply to the email. Something felt off from the get-go but a back and forth exchange with him made me feel that the couple truly was looking for advice about how to handle whatever it was that had been happening to them since they’d visited what Adam had described as the “second most haunted place in the United States.”

We agreed to meet at Quebrada on a Thursday morning.

“One more thing,” Adam wrote, “Do you think you could ask Biddy to come? We’re in it sort of deep and I’d appreciate hearing her opinion too.” I told him I’d ask.

I broached the topic on a morning walk. We’d gotten in the habit of walking around Lake Waban once a week after dropping the kids off at school. On that particular day it was freezing cold and I was in no mood to embrace an active lifestyle.

“It’s a couple who say they visited some famous haunted place and have been having problems ever since,” I huffed, trying as always to keep up with my athletic friend.

“An attachment?” Biddy guessed.

“I don’t know,” I said, conserving my breath.

“If people had any idea how dangerous it is to visit those places they wouldn’t step foot near them.”

“Really?” I said, forcing out my words. “I thought they were all hype and orbs.”

“Some are just fluff, but some are the real deal. Did he say where they went exactly?”

“Second most haunted place in the country,” I replied.

Biddy considered for a moment. “So these jackasses either went to an old prison or an asylum,” she declared.

 

***

 

“We went to an abandoned insane asylum in upstate New York,” Jessica admitted, “Adam wants to hear your friend Biddy’s professional opinion of the place.”

I sucked air through my teeth but forced a smile.

“That bad, huh?” Adam asked slumping in his chair.

I nodded and sipped my coffee. Willing Biddy to appear.

While we waited for my friend to arrive we chatted about the couple’s favorite area restaurants. Chris and I have a sitter every Thursday night, have for the past few years, and we never deviate from our three favorites – well favorite is a stretch, we don’t deviate from the three closest restaurants in town. I think it’s boring in the safest most lovely way but other people tend to find us boring in the most predictable, well, boring way. Jessica and Adam found it predictable boring and I could tell they felt bad for me. This suburban wife, aging along and looking forward to her one night out a week. Well, joke was on them. To me, getting old and boring is such a relief.

Finally, Biddy arrived. She breezed in in her usual fashion, dropping her coat, hat and mittens on the table before bounding over to the counter for a coffee.

Jessica and Adam sat taller in their chairs when Biddy joined us. I hid a smile over her effect on them. If they were even a tiny bit full of shit she was going to eat them alive.

“So, what’ve we got here? An attachment?” She asked bluntly.

The couple was visibly shocked.

“We’re not exactly sure what’s happening,” Jessica hedged.

Biddy looked at me pointedly. “You guys visited some famous haunted prison or something, right? And now you’re having trouble in your home?”

Adam spoke up, “It was [the name of the haunted location omitted due to the location’s strict requirements regarding articles written about the property. Going forward I’ll refer to it as The Asylum].”

Biddy let out a low whistle as I exclaimed, “Not really! You guys actually went there?”

“You know about it?” Jessica asked, and in that short sentence I heard her implied surprise that someone as lame as me could have anything in common with her.

“Of course I do, I mean not to toot my own horn, but I have, like a PhD in reality ghost hunting shows. That place is really dark,” I said.

Adam looked at his partner, “See, I told you she knew all about this stuff.” Jessica looked skeptical.

“So you’ve watched a couple of television shows, that doesn’t mean you can help us,” she snapped.

“Maybe, but Biddy is an ex-professional paranormal investigator,” I pointed out defensively. “Not only that, she works with the Catholic Church to determine exorcism eligibility.” I stopped myself from adding, And, I have learned a lot from those ghost hunting shows.

“What brought the two of you to The Asylum?” Biddy asked calmly.

Jessica crossed her arms tightly over her chest. Her dark shiny hair cascaded over one shoulder, her cashmere sweater looking expensive and judgy the way only quality cashmere can.

Adam gave her a nervous look, he began to speak but Jessica beat him to the punch. “I’ve just always been interested in the paranormal, you know? I watch all those shows too,” she said, giving me a pointed look. “But I did some actual ghost hunting when I was a teenager in abandoned houses, and Adam knew that I like that stuff so when our friend got married in Rochester I mentioned that The Asylum was close by and Adam surprised me with a private overnight ghost hunt.”

“I had no idea what I was getting us into,” Adam added guiltily, “I completely misread the situation. I was expecting a haunted inn.”

“Did the two of you sleep there?” Biddy asked.

“We didn’t get much sleep,” Adam replied.

Biddy sighed loudly, “But you did treat The Asylum as though it were a bed and breakfast?”

“Pretty much,” Adam replied, looking guilty. “But it was a big night for us,” he grabbed his fiancé’s right hand and gave it a squeeze.

Jessica held up her free hand to show us sparkly diamond ring.

My eyebrows shot up before I could stop them from doing so. “You got engaged there?”

“Right before we went in, I got down on one knee and proposed,” Adam said, proudly.

“Look, I know it probably sounds weird, but Adam knew how much I love haunted places, it was really romantic,” Jessica explained.

“Sure. So were you guys a part of a tour group, or…” I trailed off trying to figure out exactly what these two had been up to.

“No, I paid the owner so we could have the place to ourselves,” Adam replied.

“Are you into ghost hunting too?” I asked, shocked.

“No, but I mean I like horror movies, so…”

“Let me get this straight, the owner of the The Asylum allowed the two of you to stay alone on the property for the entire night?” Biddy asked in disbelief.

The couple nodded in sync.

“I’m really surprised at that,” she said, crossing her legs.

“I don’t understand why you guys are so shocked and offended by all of this,” Jessica said cooly.

“Because it’s shocking,” I said simply.

“It’s not that we’re offended,” Biddy added with another sigh, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to give you a hard time, your story is bringing out the know-it-all mother in me. I apologize.”

“I didn’t realize what a huge deal it was that we stayed there overnight all by ourselves,” Adam said with obvious concern.

“It really wasn’t that big of a deal,” Jessica complained.

“Well, something must have happened, or you wouldn’t have contacted Liz,” Biddy reasoned.

The couple side-eyed each other again.

Jessica spoke. “We saw some stuff, yeah. I mean, I know this is all my fault, but-”

“Let’s go back, walk us through what happened that night, start to finish,” I interrupted, impatiently.

Jessica gave me a look, then said, “Adam told me before we left for our friend’s wedding that he’d rented out The Asylum for us. We’d have the place to ourselves overnight from seven to seven Sunday evening through Monday morning. I was thrilled, it was beyond anything I could have imagined. So I started researching the place, I’d seen it on Ghost Hunters, and Ghost Adventures, oh, and The Ghosts Detectives went there too, so I was pretty familiar with the place. I re-watched all the episodes and made a list of hotspots that we couldn’t miss. And I actually reached out to T.A.P.S. to ask them exactly what gear I should bring with me. The guy who emailed me back was super helpful, if a bit condescending, he thought I was in over my head, but whatever.

“I got a hold of the floor plans and ordered the suggested gear off Amazon. I felt we were prepared for anything.”

“We packed a blow up mattress and sleeping bags too,” Adam added.

“Well, it sounds like you really knew what you were doing,” Biddy said to Jessica.

The woman shrugged, “Yeah, well like I said, I did some amateur ghost hunting in high school and I’ve always wanted to explore a famous haunt. This was my chance.”

“What’s that guy’s name, the tall one, the shadow figure people always see there…” I asked, wracking my brain.

“Roy?” Jessica said with a smile.

God, you didn’t make contact with him did you?” I exclaimed.

Jessica’s smile disappeared and her face went steely.

Adam shifted in his seat, “Um, yeah I think we did. We got a couple of EVPs of a guy answering our questions. Uh, we didn’t record any visual evidence though, right babe?” He asked, putting his arm around the back of Jessica’s chair.

She blinked and looked over at him. “Uh, no. Nothing on tape.”

I waited for them to continue but they sat. Adam looking concerned, Jessica looking a little confused.

“So, then what?” I prompted.

“Well, things weren’t happening like I’d hoped,” Jessica said slowly. “Sure, we got a few Class-A  EVPs that may have been Roy, but other than that the place was quiet. I didn’t want to miss my chance, I just wanted to really experience something that night, you know?”

“What did you do?” Biddy asked, her voice almost sad.

“Adam was such a good sport about it,” she turned and smiled at her fiancé, “He even agreed to this little ritual thing that I put together.”

“Here we go,” I said.

“What kind of a ritual?” Biddy asked with another sigh.

“It was just-” Jessica faltered. “I had this idea, you know? Like that we should mark the occasion, and I made a little ritual out of it. I hoped it would be like an offering, that it might sort of, like turn the place on.”

I grimaced. Adam said quickly, “It wasn’t like we drank each other’s blood out of wine glasses.”

I blanched, “That’s not what I was picturing at all, but yikes. What exactly did you do?”

“It was nothing. We gave ourselves little stick and poke tattoos, that’s all.” Jessica pushed up her sleeve and showed us the inside of her wrist. On it was an obviously amateur tattoo of a triangle.

I was speechless. This preppy woman marked herself and her fiancé with homemade tattoos on an old abandoned, dirty insane asylum. It didn’t add up.

Adam held out his arm to show us the triangle on his inner wrist. His was slightly different, it was upside down and it had a circle around it.

“What in God’s name would possess you to do that?” Biddy asked.

Jessica’s face fell. She looked down at the table. Adam watched her nervously.

“We thought it was romantic,” he offered.

“Kind of unhygienic though, yeah?” I said. “But, um I guess I kind of understand why you would want to do something to call out the paranormal activity. It just sounds so extreme.” I was shocked by the change in Jessica, worried that Biddy had been to harsh.

“Was that it? You just gave each other those little tattoos, you didn’t do anything else to, what did you call it? ‘Turn on the location?’” Biddy asked, obviously skeptical.

“Jess did some work with her Ouija board,” Adam admitted.

“By yourself?” Biddy asked the woman.

Jessica nodded.

“Oh, God,” I said. “And then what happened?”

Jessica looked me square in the face. Her eyes fixed on mine, her lips pursed. I met her gaze for a moment but looked away, over to Adam and when I glanced back her way she looked furious.

Adam cleared his throat and put his hand over Jessica’s on the table. “Yeah, so it was really scary.” Jessica looked down at his hand then back up at me, before looking down again.

“What was really scary?” I asked warily.

“Uh,” Adam said, nervously. “Well, we’d set ourselves up for the night in the electrotherapy room.”

I made a noise of disbelief.

Adam pressed on, “I got to work setting up the blow up mattress and everything while Jess, you did your thing with the board, right babe?” She tilted her head slightly in assent, he continued. “Uh, yeah, so while you were doing that-”

Biddy cut off Adam’s nervous description of the night. “Sounds like you must be pretty familiar with a Ouija board.”

“It’s just another way to connect with the other side. I use voice recorders, electromagnetic sensors and other tools to connect with spirits. The board is no different, it’s gotten a bad rap with people who don’t understand it. But that’s their problem, they’re missing out on an excellent way to gather information and make real connection with the dead.”

“Who did you connect with that night?” Biddy asked.

Jessica considered for a moment. “One of my spirit guides was there, he’s a Native American chief who has advised me many times in the past and there were a couple of residents who’d lived in The Asylum that came through.”

“What did they have to say?” Biddy prompted.

Jessica shrugged. “They told me their names and ages and I asked if they felt trapped, which they did. I asked them if there was anything else in The Asylum besides people who have not properly crossed over and,” Jessica glanced at Adam, “That’s when things got a little intense.”

“The heavy footsteps started up on the floor above our heads, I’m not going to lie, it scared the hell out of me. I don’t know what freaked me out more, though, the idea that it was a ghost doing it or the chance that it might be an actual person up there. We were in such a secluded place. All of a sudden it occurred to me how dumb it was for us to be there by ourselves,” Adam admitted.

“The vibe completely shifted, it’s true. It began to feel unsafe, but it was the spirits who were creating the atmosphere, not anyone living. We were safe, for the most part. I did see shadows at the edge of the room, though, or it might have just been one shadow lurking around, but it was something,” Jessica said.

“We finally dozed off around three, the footsteps were still happening above us but we were too exhausted to stay up.”

“Didn’t it occur to you to just leave?” I asked.

Adam glanced at Jessica. She said, “Why would we do that? We’d come to witness paranormal activity, I wasn’t going to walk out when something that incredible was happening right there in front of us.”

“I woke up for some reason when it was just starting to get light out and that’s when I saw him.” Adam said, shifting nervously in his seat. “I turned over in bed to face Jessica and there was a man there, standing at the head of our blow up mattress, he was sort of bent over her with his face over hers and he was moving his mouth like he was talking but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or not so I reached out to touch Jess, and the guy turned to look at me. His face was, well he looked like a Halloween mask, like the scariest old man monster mask I’ve ever seen and I screamed which woke Jess up and he disappeared and, babe I didn’t tell you this. But when you woke up you said, ‘How dare you? We were almost done.’”

“What?” Jessica said. “I don’t remember that, why didn’t you tell me?” The woman’s defensiveness dropped and I saw fear in her for the first time since we’d begun talking about their night in The Asylum.

“Since then,” Biddy asked quickly, “What have you experienced?”

“Well, we started hearing those heavy footsteps on the ceiling in our apartment as soon as we got back home, but our place was on the top floor. So it wasn’t a neighbor or anything walking around on the roof,” Adam said.

“And I began seeing the shadow soon after we got back home too,” Jessica admitted. “It slinks around and sort of morphs up from the ground behind you. You feel it tower over you and then when you turn around it, like darts away.”

“You see it too?” I asked Adam. He nodded.

“So you guys moved to try to get away from it?” Biddy asked.

Jessica nodded. “Yeah, but it’s only made it worse. I think we were safer in the city surrounded by so many people, you know? But in the house, we’re just sort of isolated and I think it feels safer there to express itself, or whatever.”  

“I did some research online and there are thousands of people who go ghost hunting in places like The Asylum but they don’t bring anything home with them. I don’t understand what we did wrong,” Adam complained.

Biddy held out her hand and counted down on her fingers, “You slept overnight in an extremely haunted location that is fairly accepted to be demonically influenced, thus allowing the entity access to your subconscious as you slept. You,” she said nodding in Jess’s direction, “opened yourself completely with a Ouija Board, and you did an ancient bloodletting ritual-”

“Wait, now that is a bit extreme,” Adam insisted. “We just gave each other stupid little tattoos.”

“Tattooing is an ancient act of bloodletting. I’m sure you were aware of that,” again, Biddy nodded towards Jessica. “That was the whole point, wasn’t it? And did you even notice that if you were to lay your two tattoos over each other they create a pentagram?” Biddy spat. I could tell she’d left you jackass off the end of the sentence.

Jessica let out a bark of laughter then clapped her hand over her mouth.

We all stared at her. “Sorry,” she said, looking horrified. “I don’t know why I laughed, I guess I’m nervous.”

To fill the ensuing silence I said, “Is that true about your tattoos? Jesus, guys what are you playing at?”

Jessica shoved her seat back from the table abruptly. Startled I said, “Whoa, are you okay?”

She stood and made a beeline to the bathroom at the back of the bakery.

Babe,” Adam called, his voice filled with worry and warning, but she didn’t respond. To me he said, “You have to stop doing that.”

“Doing what?” I asked nervously.

“Mentioning God,” he ran both hands through his hair roughly. “Look, I needed you both to see her, to find out if I’m just overreacting. But you saw how she act whenever anyone mentions God or Jesus or whatever, right? And sometimes she just does that now, laughs at inappropriate times. I, well, a couple of nights ago I woke up and found that she wasn’t in the bed beside me. So, I got up to look for her, because, well, because I’m worried about her and I found her downstairs staring at our basement door. I was like, ‘Babe, it’s the middle of the night, what are you doing?’ She wouldn’t look at me so I was about to say something else when I heard our dog. I could hear his nails clicking on the stairs on the other side of the door. ‘What the fuck, Jess?’ I said and pushed past her to open the door and let Fenway out. I think she, like, locked him down there for some reason. I don’t know. It sounds insane but I think, I think she might be, you know-” he looked at us, pleadingly.

“You think she’s possessed,” Biddy said.

He nodded gratefully, “Yeah, I really do. I thought, I mean I hoped that moving out of the city would solve the problem. Like maybe it was just a coincidence and the apartment was haunted, right? But it’s only gotten worse.”

“Wait, she doesn’t know you think she’s possessed?” I asked in a low voice, suddenly aware of a table full of mom’s from my daughter’s elementary school near us.

“No,” Adam said quickly.

“What does she think we’re here to help you with? A haunting?” Biddy asked.

“She’s just as freaked out as I am, when she’s, you know herself. But she thinks it’s a ghost or something that followed us back. I told her you guys would put us in touch with a ghost hunting team that could clear our house.”

“I suppose I could get clearance from the Church for a pre-interview,” Biddy said, considering the options.

“But couldn’t this be her pre-interview or whatever?” Adam asked, sounding panicked. “Isn’t this enough to get her an exorcism? I don’t know how much more I can take and I seriously don’t know what she’s capable of at this point.”

“Yeah, I guess I could treat this as an interview,” Biddy turned to me, “Can I have your audio recording once your done transcribing this?”

“Sure,” I replied.

“The thing is, Adam, you have to tell her,” Biddy said firmly.

“Tell her what?” Jessica said, gracefully taking her seat.

We fell into an awkward silence.

“Is there something you need to tell me, Adam?” She asked in a low voice.

“Babe,” he said in what was close to a whine. “It’s just…”

Biddy jumped in, “Adam was just telling us that you haven’t been yourself since you returned from your overnight in The Asylum. Would you agree?”

“I may be a little on edge,” Jessica conceded, “But so have you, Adam.” She was calm. Too calm.

“Since you left The Asylum, have there been any instances where you might not quite remember everything clearly?” Biddy asked. “Adam mentioned an incident in which you found yourself in front of your basement door in the middle of the night.”

“Oh. Is that what Adam mentioned?” Jessica went stony. Her eyes squinted slightly, almost in amusement but she looked furious.

“Babe, I just think that maybe there might possibly be, like, something else going on besides just a haunting at our place, right?”

She stared at him icily.

“No one thinks you’re at fault,” I tried to reason. “I mean you did do that ritual thing, but you weren’t asking to be possessed or anything.”

“Wasn’t I?” She said, still looking at Adam.

“Oh,” I said dumbly. “Well, were you? Were you asking to be possessed?”

“What do you think, Liz?” She said, her tone mocking. “You’ve interviewed enough freaks. What’s your expert opinion?”

I met her gaze straight on. “I think you’ve got a big problem on your hands.”

“I’ll refer you to one of my contacts at the Church,” Biddy said directly to Adam.

“Not interested,” Jessica said, her voice low and deep.

“Jess,” Adam said, shocked.

“Fuck off, Adam, and stop whining. It’s pathetic.” With that she took off her engagement ring and plopped it into her fiancé’s coffee cup. “I’ll see you two around,” she said looking carefully at Biddy and then at me.

Then she got up and walked out the front door without looking back.

1a6e5e16bf1d95d8d0b8a2aa56e4739fI climbed several steps to the side porch of the cottage style home. Though it was only around five-thirty the grey cloud muted daylight was rapidly fading. The home’s weathered shingles were a faded brown, turned even darker by the rain that had saturated them over the past few days.

I peeked in through the side door, it’s pretty window a decoration of clear and frosted glass. Beyond it, the dimly lit kitchen looked inviting and warm. I was about to raise my hand to knock when I heard a car pull into the driveway behind me. I turned and saw a black SUV parking in front of the detached garage.

I waved before shoving my hands down into the pockets of my raincoat, defense against the chill that had finally descended over New England after a relentlessly hot summer.

“Hey!” Brian called happily as he bound up the steps to give me a bear hug. “Hop in there,” he insisted pushing open the porch door. “Sorry, I got caught up at a client’s.”

I slid off my sneakers and threw my coat on a hook by the door as Brian flipped light switches.

“What’s Chris’s ETA?” He asked happily.

“He’s shooting for six-thirty,” I said.

“Man, it’s been way too long since we’ve hung out.”

“Agreed,” I replied, smiling.

“I’m glad I didn’t lose you guys in the divorce,” Brian replied with forced cheer.

I waved the comment away with a hand. “Wild horses couldn’t drag us away from you,” I reassured him. “I’m just sorry we haven’t seen each other more over the years.”

“No apologies necessary. Life is crazy with these kids.”

“How are the boys doing?”

“Good, they’re good. They hate splitting time between our houses, but what can you do?” Brian shrugged. “It’s Teddy’s first year at the high school.”

“That’s impossible,” I said, feeling guilty. The last time I’d seen the boys they’d been toddlers. “And Jack?”

“Sixth grade. Your girls?”

“First, pre-k and daycare,” I listed.

“I hope we don’t look as old as we sound.”

“Well, I certainly don’t,” I joked.

“You still hittin’ the sauce?” He asked walking over to the refrigerator.

I nodded and he retrieved glasses from their undermount beneath the kitchen cabinets and poured us each a glass of wine.

We sat in wooden stools at the kitchen island and Brian agreed to allow me to record our conversation with my digital recorder. “The house is beautiful,” I said, meaning it.

An architect, Brian’s style leaned hard towards modern farmhouse. Exposed wood beams, clean white subway tile, framed vintage maps and cozy furniture created a Joanna Gaines-esq haven.

“It was one of the things Melissa and I fought the hardest about. She loved shiny metal and glam. I hate that shit.”

“I’m so sorry you guys split up.”

Brian shrugged. “What’s done is done. Enough of that. You’re here for a scary story and I know we gotta wrap it up before Chris gets here, yeah?”

“For sure,” I said remembering how much I liked Brian and his laid back manner.

“I ordered sushi, it should get here around the same time as Chris.”

“Thank you, that sounds great.”

“You want anything to eat now?”

“No, no. The wine’s all I need.”

Brian, Chris and I worked at the same commercial real estate company way back when we were in our early twenties. The place was flush with money and brokers looking to spend it. Our co-workers threw epic Christmas parties and even rented out an entire club one year for Halloween. We all lived in the Back Bay at the time, Brian with his now ex-wife Melissa were newly married and the four of us would often grab drinks together on Thursday nights. It was so fun and so out of touch and when I look back I can barely recognize the people we were. But seeing Brian brought back a tide of vivid memories. He and Melissa had been the perfect couple. I could picture the night they told us they were expecting. We were at a client cocktail party and Melissa ordered a soda water with lime. We knew immediately.

As luck would have it our families landed in the same town. Job changes and real life caused us all to grow apart but we had run into each other here and there in town, each time pledging to grab dinner and catch up some night. And then Chris heard through a mutual friend that the Keaton’s were getting a divorce and though I hadn’t truly known the couple for years I insisted that it must be a cruel rumor. I could still see them in my mind’s eye at our Thursday night dive bar holding hands and laughing.

But it was true. And I pushed Chris to reach out to Brian to check in and offer moral support. Melissa and I had coffee one morning this past summer and I immediately saw the change in her. She’d fallen down the hole of competitive suburban bullshit. She sprinkled names of other competitive Wellesley women and casually dropped both her past and future vacation locales into the conversation. Not once did she ask after Chris and she only inquired about the ages of our kids to find out whether or not we had any shared social ties.

Chris reported back that Brian hadn’t changed a bit. Still as jovial and generous as we’d remembered, Brian invited us to his new house. “Liz has that blog, yeah? I have a story for her. You guys should come over for dinner,” he’d suggested.

Chris, not wanting to hear our old friend’s scary story but knowing it was unfair to keep me from it, suggested he give us time for an interview before meeting up for dinner.

“So is this house haunted?” I asked Brian, pointing at the countertop.

From behind me I heard a drawn out, “Yessssssssss.” I spun around as Brian answered my question.

“Thank God, no! No, the thing I’m going to tell you about happened in New Hampshire while I was camping with friends. What’s up?” He asked, “You okay?”

“Um, sure. Yes, I’m fine I just thought I heard something. Uh, have you read my blog?” I asked.

Brian sucked air in through his teeth. “Sorry to say I haven’t. I’ve never been able to handle scary stuff. But I know Melissa read a couple of your stories.”

“Oh, no need to apologize. I know it’s not for everyone. I just wondered if you were familiar with the interview format,” I said, half relieved that he hadn’t read the stories and appeared to have no idea about my new found ability to hear dead people. “Basically, you tell me your story and I sit here listening and getting creeped out and saying annoying things like, ‘nope,’ and ‘uh, uh.’”

“Got it. I can do that.” Brian sat in his seat, his hands shoved between his knees. “So should I just start?”

I nodded, completely freaked out by the hiss of a voice I’d heard moments before but not wanting to frighten my old friend.

“Hold on!” Brian declared, slapping a hand on his knee causing me to almost jump up onto the kitchen island. “Do you ever write about stories that don’t happen in Wellesley? My story happened on Mount Washington, in New Hampshire. Damn it, why didn’t I mention this before?”

“Oh,” I breathed, my heart racing. “Absolutely. A scary story is a scary story, right?”

Brian blew out a breath. “Yeah, and this one was pretty frightening. To me at least. I’m sure you have a higher threshold, but it’s been, well it’s just been a lot.”

“I can’t wait to hear what happened,” I encouraged, scanning the room and trying not to be obvious about it. Recently I’d begun to be able to sort of cast my hearing out, if that makes any sense. It’s a way of making myself available to anyone with a message. Conversely, I’d also been working on closing up shop where this otherworldly hearing was concerned. That was more difficult, especially if I wasn’t completely focused on it. Like if I was in the middle of a conversation, or tired and distracted, or in the middle of a task, which was basically all the time.

So as I listened to Brian I opened myself up and cast out my hearing. Even though all was silent, I was on edge. That hiss had come from someone or something in the house and I was certain it wouldn’t be the last thing it had to say.

“Shoot,” Brian breathed, “All right, here I go. So it all started with a camping trip last fall. I went up to Mount Washington with a couple of buddies,” Brian began. “Something we’d done together I’d say, at least ten times. But this time,” Brian looked down at his lap and shook his head, “I gotta say, it was a bad plan from the start. First off, it was far too last minute to safely plan a hike that time of year. The weather turns on a dime up there and we were right up against the end of the season. But Mike emailed us Thursday afternoon to tell us he scored a reservation at the Dungeon-”

“Wait,” I said, holding back a laugh.

“Great name, huh?” Brain’s eyes crinkled with his smile. “It’s a hiker refuge in the basement of the AMC’s Lakes of the Clouds Hut.”

“Sounds dreamy,” I commented with a grimace. “What’s the AMC?”

“Uh,” Brian looked at the ceiling, obviously trying to recall what the abbreviation stood for. “The Appalachian Mountain Club.”

“Go it, and the hut dungeon?”

“Huh, yeah it’s exactly what it sounds like. The fall had been rainy so the place was extra rank. Luckily Paul, my other buddy, has a severe mildew allergy. He took one look in there and nixed the plan.” Brian considered for a moment. “At the time I was psyched that we had to find alternative shelter but had we stayed there none of this would have happened.

“It was freezing and getting close to evening so we needed to set up camp ASAP. We’d treked up the Tuckerman Ravine and we were pretty beat. I was ready to get a fire and dinner going.”

“I’ve always wondered about Mount Washington, what’s the hike like?” I asked. “Is it difficult?”

Brian considered. “Eh, no it’s moderate.  It takes about three to four hours, depending on how fast you climb and how many stops you make. I’d say it’s about four and a half miles, give or take.”

“We have different definitions of moderate,” I commented.

Brian looked down at his lap with a smile. “Maybe I’m downplaying it a bit. In the summertime, well actually just in July and August? It’s a good day’s hike. June and September, the bookends? Eh, you’re probably gonna see some ice. The rest of the year, though, you’re taking your chances. Those mountains have teeth, there’s a lot of ways they can kill you. Hypothermia is its softest trick but it can be just as deadly as a bear attack,” he said seriously.

I laughed nervously at this remark expecting him to crack a smile. He didn’t.

“Have you been up there?” He asked.

“Not to the actual mountain but we’ve taken the girls to Bretton Woods the past couple years to go skiing.”

Brian beamed. “You’ve already got ‘em on skis? That’s great!”

“Max is into it but the boots have been a real barrier to entry for Joey. We’ll see how it goes this season,” I laughed. “But we’ve stayed at the Mount Washington Hotel every time, love that place. I even saw a huge black bear from the back porch! It was amazing.”

Brian nodded, “Melissa and I took the kids there a couple times when they were little, it’s a great place for family vacation.”

Faintly, I heard a woman’s voice say, “He’s better off.”

I fought to keep my expression neutral. The voice I’d heard had become a familiar one. One that had been commenting on my life and the people around me more and more frequently.

Getting back onto sure footing I said, “So you guys made it up the mountain and your accommodations weren’t exactly up to your gold standard, what did you end up doing?”

“Well, that was tricky. The general AMC rule is that you can camp anywhere that’s two hundred feet from a trail or water source, a quarter mile from any established campsite or shelter, and is not above treeline. And then on top of those guidelines, there are several areas that have special protection where there is no camping allowed, yeah? And the Tuckerman Ravine happens to be one of those protected areas.”

“Did you have to hike much further to set up camp? You must have been exhausted.”

Brian looked at me with a mischievous smile, “There aren’t too many people up there that time of year enforcing the rules. We were respectful, of course, but we didn’t kill ourselves playing by the book.

“I think it was Mike who spotted the narrow trail. The weather was turning again, we needed to get beneath the treeline and set up camp before the rain hit. It had drizzled some on the climb, but at that point we knew we had to get a fire goin’ before the rain killed our chances.

“We found Crawford Path which took us past the Lakes of the Clouds. I’d seen the lakes before but the storm rolling in was black and the wind had picked up. It looked so choppy and mad that if the Loch Ness Monster had poked his head up out of the water I wouldn’t have been surprised.”

“Sounds like the stage was perfectly set for a good scare,” I commented.

Brian gave a small smile. “I’ll never forget that walk to the campsite. Mike leading the way, Paul behind him, me bringing up the rear. It’s the order in which we were affected. Weird, huh?”

“What do you mean?”

Brian drew in a breath. “Mike’s gone, Paul won’t walk again after the crash, and my marriage is over, that gutted me, ruined me.”

“Brian, you’re not ruined,” I said sadly, “I’m so sorry.”

My old friend was silent. I could tell he was holding it together as best as he could.

I stood, went to the refrigerator for the wine and refilled our glasses. I clinked my glass into his and took a sip. “I’m sorry we weren’t there for you.”

Brian took his own sip. “You’re here now. Sorry to be such a downer, seeing Chris brought up so many happy memories and seeing you-” he took another gulp of wine to save himself from having to speak.

“Tell me what happened to your friends,” I said, wishing Chris were there with us. He always knew the proper midwestern thing to say to a grieving person.

Brian smiled sadly. “Mike died last Spring, only a couple months after that night on the mountain. He used to skate once in a while in a league and he had a brain aneurysm during a hockey game. Died right on the ice. Left behind three little kids. Then Paul, God he’s lucky he’s even alive. He was an orthopedic surgeon at Beth Israel, and was heading home real late from call and he must have been way overtired, the poor guy was driving with his lights off. A tractor trailer side swiped him on the pike, slammed him right into the guardrail. I’ve seen photos of the car, it doesn’t look like anyone could have survived. But the amount of pain that guy’s had to endure? I know sometimes he wishes he didn’t survive.  

“Compared to them? I sound like I got off scot free, but when I found those texts on Melissa’s phone, Liz it was like a knife to my chest. I thought I was having a heart attack.”

“Jesus, Brian,” I breathed.

“We didn’t tell anyone, I didn’t want it to get back to the kids. She was in a serious relationship with a trainer she met at Orange Theory.”

“Fucking fuck,” I breathed in the least helpful, most un-midwestern way.

“Fucking fuck,” Brian mimicked. He shook his head as though shaking bad thoughts away.

“Mike’s dead, Paul lost the ability to walk and to do his job, and my wife left. The thing hit us all where it would hurt the most. It took Mike from his kids, stole Paul’s career, and killed my marriage.”

“What the hell happened on that mountain?” I breathed.

“Be careful,” the familiar voice whispered to me. I closed my eyes and gave a small shake of my head.

“Well, we followed the main trail down under the treeline and just as it was starting to rain again Mike spotted the path. We figured we’d hike on a bit into the woods, far enough at least to be able to say we made an effort on the off chance a ranger came by to make sure we weren’t disregarding the guidelines.   

“The forest up there is craggy, yeah? The ground is rocky and the trees are tough, like they’ve put up a good fight to claim their spot. It’s pretty but it took some searching to find the right spot to set up camp. We found a small clearing near an arrangement of huge boulders. It gave us some good coverage from the wind. It looked like a good spot, yeah? But it didn’t feel right. And right away Mike tripped over a tree root and sliced his forehead open on one of those boulders. Paul carried a first aid kit and put a couple butterfly strips across the cut, but he said Mike would probably need stitches to really close it up. I did my best to get the fire going while Paul tried to get the wound to stop bleeding, but what I really wanted to do was get us packed up and head down off the mountain. But we were losing daylight, quickly.

“So, I built the fire in front of the boulders and we arranged our tents around it in a semi-circle.”

“You guys had tents even though you thought you’d be staying in that hut dungeon?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Brian laughed, “I think we all knew deep down that wasn’t gonna work out. The tents are small, yeah? Not a big deal to lug. And then everything basically went to shit. I tweaked my back slipping in the mud while I was gathering firewood. Paul twisted his ankle pretty badly trying to see if he could climb up to the top of those boulders. It was a stupid thing, but,” Brian shrugged, “You know, there wasn’t much to do and the weather turned.

“We each brought a part of the meal. Mike beer, Paul hot dogs, me chili. Melissa packed it for us. We sat close to the fire and tolerated the freezing rain for as long we as could, but it was brutal. I could tell Mike’s head was killing him. I needed to lie down to rest my back and Paul kept leaning over to rub his ankle. We were all pretty beat up so we finally gave in and retreated to the tents for the night.”

“Soaking wet, though?” I commented with a shiver.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Brian insisted. “If you’ve got good gear, you barely feel it.”

“Yeah right,” I said doubtfully.

“Maybe it was a little damp,” he admitted. “But we were all fried. I fell asleep to the rain beating on my tent, it was so loud I wouldn’t have known if there’d been an explosion outside. But then I woke up with a start at two o’clock. It had stopped raining and the forest was quiet. It was disorienting, I didn’t know what had woken me up. And, well I admit, it was freezing. I was lying there, trying to warm up and will myself back to sleep when I heard a twig snap outside of my tent. I listened for a moment, then I realized I was holding my breath. ‘Guys?’ I called in a low voice, hoping it was just one of them coming back from taking a leak.

“Neither of them answered. But then I heard this huff, from right next to my head. It was like, you know how a bull will huff air out through its nose?”

“Yeah, I mean, I can imagine from seeing it on television,” I said.

“Right, just like that, and it was right outside the tent right near my head. I immediately thought, ‘Oh, fuck it’s a bear.’ I grabbed my cell phone as quickly as I could from my vest pocket and found our group text. ‘BEAR’ I wrote to the guys. Paul wrote back immediately. ‘KEEP STILL’.

“As the texts were sent and received we heard Mike’s phone ding. He hadn’t put the damn thing on silent. More twigs snapped as whatever was outside my tent followed the noise towards Mike’s tent. I slid out of my sleeping bag as quietly as I could and grabbed my knife from my backpack. I lifted my hand to start sliding the zipper down on the tent when the thing growled, low and long. I froze and held my breath. My phone lit up with a text seconds later and I flipped it over so the light wouldn’t show. More twigs snapped. The animal was walking around our campsite, checking it out. I snuck a glance at my phone.

“‘NOT A BEAR’ Mike had texted. I sent back a couple question marks. ‘BIGGER’ he wrote back.” Brian ran a hand through his hair then picked up his wine glass. “I wish I could tell you that I’d done something brave, yeah?  But I just sat in my tent cowering, praying that whatever was outside would just leave.

“Crazy thing was, that’s just what it did. It huffed around the campsite for about, God I think it was at least ten minutes. We were texting back and forth the whole time, all the while Mike was insistent that we not go outside. ‘Just stay put’ he kept writing whenever Paul or I would suggest trying to scare the thing away. At one point the thing slammed itself against Paul’s tent and he screamed. I didn’t blame him, I’m pretty sure I screamed too after I heard him yell.

“I’ll tell you, at that moment, I thought that was it. That the thing would go after Paul and we’d have no choice but to try and kill it with our useless knives. But nothing happened, the thing didn’t react and that’s when I started to get really scared. We were sitting ducks, it was like it was toying with us. But it was only matter of minutes before we heard it plod back down the trail away from the campsite. We texted each other and agreed to wait until we were really sure it was gone. Mike had a slight view of the path and he said he’d peeked out when he felt the thing was far enough away and saw it’s back.”

“What was it?”

“He didn’t know. He wouldn’t describe it to us, he just kept saying ‘it was big, too big.’”

“Wait,” I said, holding up my hand, “Is this a Bigfoot story?” I asked, cracking a smile.

Brian let out a bark of laughter. “No! Oh I wish it were,” he shook his head smiling sadly, “but no, it’s not a Bigfoot story.

“Oh, bummer,” I said. “What did you guys do? Did you just pack up right then and leave?”

“God, no!” Brian said forcefully. “We would have had to take the same path we’d just listened to it clomp on down. Besides that the heavy rain from earlier in the night had created a film of ice over everything, it would be treacherous getting down the mountain in the daylight let alone in the middle of the night. So we decided to take shifts, to really get the fire going again and for one of us to stay up and keep a lookout. I volunteered for the first shift, I couldn’t stand the idea of getting back into my tent and not being able to see what was around me.

“I stayed up from around two thirty until a little after four when I started to get scared I’d fall asleep and get hypothermia out there. I woke Paul up and he sat out until five thirty then Mike got the last shift. I guess the sun began to come up a little before seven, later Mike told us he had planned to let us sleep for a little longer and let the sun defrost the trail a bit before we broke camp.

“Right before the sun was up, Mike said he heard something coming down the path towards us, clomping along loudly just like that thing had done the night before. He stood up and strained to see what was coming he was about to yell and wake us up when something came into view.”

Brian was squinting his eyes, looking out the window over his kitchen sink, not really seeing his home but remembering the mountain. He put his wine glass down on the countertop and said, “It was a little boy. A little boy in overalls and a long sleeved t-shirt and no shoes.”

“What?”

“That’s what Paul and I said when Mike told us what he’d seen,” Brian said, “We were like, what are you talking about? But Mike swore that what he saw was a little boy, about six or seven years old with very dark black hair that had been slicked back as though it were wet.”

The voice behind me whispered, “See?” Chilled, I ignored her and tried to focus on Brian’s story.

“So Mike said that he watched the boy walk slowly down the trail towards our campsite and he told us that he was more frightened than he’d ever been in his life but he tried to convince himself that the boy might be lost and need help. He called out to him, ‘Hey, buddy! Are you okay?’ But the boy didn’t respond. Paul said he woke up when her heard Mike call out, ‘Kid! Are you lost?’

“Mike started walking toward the boy, not wanting him anywhere near the camp but knowing how ridiculous it was to be frightened of a child. He talked to him the whole while but the kid wouldn’t answer him. They were about fifteen feet apart when the boy stopped and knelt down on the ground, Mike said he sorta crouched down and hid his head in his knees. At that point Mike figured the boy was real in trouble. People do crazy things when they’re in the late stages of hypothermia, yeah? They hit a point when they start taking their clothing off because they start to actually feel hot even though they are freezing to death.

“‘We need to get you over to the fire, kid, come on,’ Mike told him. He bent down to touch the boy on the shoulder and that’s when the kid growled at him. That same low growl that we’d all heard the night before. He jumped back, screamed and by the time Paul had gotten out to see what was going on the boy had disappeared. Just like that, he was gone.

“Paul heard the growl too. At first we tried to explain the whole thing away as some sort of a hallucination brought on by Mike being freezing cold and sleep deprived, but if it were Mike’s hallucination then how could Paul have heard that growl? When I came out of my tent they were both standing there, staring out into the woods. ‘He was just here, man. Right there!’ Mike was saying, pointing to the ground. They caught me up to speed and we decided to just break camp and hike out of there as fast as we could. Whatever was happening was bad news. If it was some prank by another hiking group then we didn’t want anything more to do with it, and if it was something big and hulking that could look like a boy and disappear into thin air then we really wanted nothing to do with it.

“It took way too long to get off that mountain. The ground was slick with melting ice and Paul’s ankle slowed us down. I wasn’t doing much better, I basically had to will myself not to let my back completely seize up until we got back to the car. We didn’t talk much on the hike down but I tell you our heads were on a swivel.”

I shook my head and rolled the stem of my wine glass between my fingers, thinking. “What do you think it was up there?”

“I was hoping you could tell me,” Brian said

“Geez, I don’t know. If I had to guess then I’d bet that it was some sort of a shape shifter. Or maybe an elemental? You know, like an earth spirit? But, why do you think it had anything to do with all the trouble that’s happened since?”

“We didn’t talk about it after we came back. We came to a silent agreement that it would be best if we didn’t think about it anymore, yeah? But the day before Mike’s, uh accident, the day before he died he texted Paul and I and said, ‘I think I’ve figured it out – that kid, the one I saw in the woods. I saw him today. Someone must have been pranking us, someone who knew we were camping up there and had their kids with them on the hike.’  

“It was reassuring, even started to be funny. Like, hey man, someone really got us! Next level scared the shit out of us up there. We texted all day trying to figure out who we knew that might have pranked us like that.”

I smiled but shook my head slightly.

“I know,” Brian said quietly. “We were grasping at straws but what choice did we have? The idea that Mike was seeing the kid from the mountain was too upsetting to contemplate. And then,” Brian, cleared his throat, “Mike had the aneurysm that night and Paul and I didn’t talk about the boy again until he called a couple months later and asked if I remembered our last text chain with Mike. He wanted to know if I thought it was possible that Mike had actually seen the kid from the mountain. I asked him why and he beat around the bush a while, yeah? But finally he said he’d been seeing a kid the last few days that sounded a lot like the one Mike had seen on the mountain.”

“And then he had his accident,” I guessed.

Brian nodded.

“What about you? When did you see him? Right before you found out about Melissa?”

“I never saw him,” Brian said simply.

“But then, I mean, you’re sure your divorce was this kid – or whatever the thing was – you’re sure it’s his fault?”

“Yeah, I have no doubt. Melissa would never have-”

But Brian was interrupted by very loud knock at the door, which of course startled us both. Actually, I was so startled I just missed knocking my wine glass onto the floor.

“Hello!” Chris boomed, letting himself into the house. “Hey man!” He said cheerily to Brian before giving me a kiss on the cheek. “You guys look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he joked. “Must have been quite the story.”

A glass of wine was poured for Chris, dinner arrived and we talked about less frightening things. After we’d each had a cup of coffee we cleared the table said our thanks and began the process of saying goodbye to our old friend, all of us promising to stay in closer touch.

“I don’t want to be an annoying old lady, but can we say hello to Jack before we go?” I asked, sliding into my rain jacket.

“Oh, man, he won’t be home for another hour if you can believe it. Hockey practice.”

“Oh, well then how about Teddy?” I asked.

“You need to leave,” the familiar voice whispered in my ear. I shook her off.

Brian smiled. “He’s staying at Melissa’s tonight.”

Confused I began to ask a question but stopped myself.

“What?” Brian asked, his smile fading.

“It’s just,” I looked at Chris apologetically, “There was a boy in the kitchen when I came up to the house. I was just about to knock when you pulled into the driveway.”

The color drained from Brian’s face.

“Maybe I was mistaken,” I said, knowing that I hadn’t been.

Chris was looking back and forth between us, first in confusion and then with growing concern.

“What did he look like?” Brian asked with forced cheer. “Maybe one of the boys had to stop back home for something.”

I hesitated. “I couldn’t really see him all that well, he was just a boy with dark hair like yours.”

“No,” Brian breathed.

“What’s wrong?” Chris demanded.

“No, stop. We are just wound up from your story. I’m sure you’re right. One of the boys must have forgotten something and came home to pick it up.” I reasoned.

“The boy had dark hair?” Brian asked.

Reluctantly, I nodded my head.

“The boys are towheads, like Melissa.”