ghosts in the burbs

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

unnamedHave you ever listened to the recording of the 911 call from the woman living in a rural town in the middle of nowhere? The one where the 911 operator assures her that the police will not be there in time to protect her from the madman breaking into her home. She is urged to use the gun she has in the house, and she does. Google it. The recording is suspenseful and horrible and satisfying all at the same time.

When I hear of rural home-invasion stories like that one my mind runs through a list of reasons why I am safe from that particular situation. I’m in a populated area. People would hear me scream. The police are just a hop skip and a jump away. Once in a while we keep the doors locked. We have that ridiculous alarm system… But I’m sure that’s what that woman on the 911 tape thought too. And she had a gun. I don’t have a gun. My great uncle’s old billy club would have been my knife in that gun fight.

Because I haven’t fallen victim myself I find true crime stories of survival fascinating. I devour podcasts that tell of of kidnappings, serial killers, and home invasions as if I’m studying for a final exam. I’ve read The Gift of Fear several times. I’m confident that I can gauge the level of creepiness coming off of a person. On the other hand, I’m really bad that “fuck politeness” concept. I’m a sucker for a friendly stranger.

When we lived in the city I enjoyed a false sense of security just by living in an apartment building surrounded by the semi-strangers I considered neighbors. The truth is there isn’t safety in numbers. But I have to convince myself of that at two in the morning when I can’t sleep and every noise might be a person creeping up the stairs and crawling on their hands and knees to the foot of my bed.

How would I react? What would I do or not do? Would I fight? Would I comply? Remain silent or scream and attack back by pinching that sensitive skin under my attacker’s arm (the only defense move I can think of)? I don’t know and I don’t ever want to know. But what really scares me is what happens after the violence. After the trauma when you’re left with the memories, the fall out. Left to relive the nightmare over and over again in your mind.

Even that I can try to work through by considering the options. Maybe I’d start a victim’s rights advocacy group, maybe I’d repress the memory, maybe I’d become agoraphobic, or alternately hyperactive to the point of never being alone. Victims and survivors are as unique as the traumas they have endured. And each one has a right to react to their experience any way they choose. Kimberly Barker handled her situation in a rather unique way. It got the job done, but I wouldn’t suggest it.

You might not have met Kimberly Barker, but you know her type. She’s a jeans, fleece and sneaks kind of mom in constant motion. She’s the woman who turns the elementary school garden in the Spring and weeds it in the summer while everyone else is at the beach. She works the cash drawer at the cookie swap, a job I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. She lead an effort to crochet mats out of plastic bags for homeless people in Boston. She works part-time in Human Resources in a large medical office and scoops up a stack of books from the library every single week (and she’s never paid a late fee). Her little boy is incredibly well-behaved and a touch on the shy side and you’re pretty sure her adorably nerdy husband does something or other in insurance. She wears her medium-length brown hair in a simple ponytail at all times. She remembers your name and your kid’s names but refers to your husband as “your husband.” She’s nice enough, but a touch on the anxious side and there’s no cracking her politeness. She’s both highly involved and completely removed from the community life swirling around her.

Kimberly Barker is one tough nut to crack. Max and her son are in the same kindergarten class and I’ve tried to connect and make inroads because, I kinda liked her. I liked how self contained she was, a trait that eludes me. My own energy tends to scatter all over the place, my enthusiasm for any given thing evaporating as something new, bright and shiny catches my attention. I’d all but given up on the possibility of developing an acquaintanceship with the woman, when out of the blue she stopped Max and I after school one day and invited me to coffee.

Despite my initial excitement at the invitation, my guard went up almost immediately. I simply can’t get involved in another PTO volunteer activity right now. You all see how long it takes me to get these stories out as it is. My plate is full and coffee suggested a long conversation, maybe a sales pitch to suck me into a bigger role in the group. I hesitated for a split second and Kimberly quickly said, “I’ve been reading your blog.”

That stopped me short. Again, I hesitated. Kimberly rushed on, “I have something to share, what I mean is that I might need some advice, I-” Now it was her turn to hesitate. She glanced down at Max and then looked at me with worried eyes. “I need some help and if you could point me in the right direction then I would be so grateful. Of course, I would wish to keep it between us. I mean, I know you record your interviews to document what is happening in this town and that is fine. But, of course I wouldn’t want my name used.”

“Coffee would be great,” I said, cutting her off because, though Max knows I ‘write ghost stories’ she doesn’t know they are real and I need to keep it that way so that we can all get some sleep at night. I continued, “Tomorrow doesn’t work, how about Wednesday?”

“Sure, sure. Do you think Biddy could come?”

“Um, I can ask her,” I replied, surprised.

Kimberly blew out a deep breath. “Great. Thank you, this is great. I’m so relieved that I finally asked you. I already feel a little bit better about the whole thing. Okay, Wednesday morning. Where should we meet? Nine o’clock? Quebrada? You like it there, right?”

I nodded.

“Great. Okay, thank you. See you then. I’ll see you tomorrow too, here of course at pick up. But then I’ll see you at Quebrada at nine o’clock on Wednesday. What’s your phone number? I’ll put it in my phone now and call you so you have mine. Okay, is your phone ringing? Perfect. Great. Thank you. Bye, bye.”

Max and I watched Kimberly and her son walk to their car. “Can we watch Vampirina when we get home?” Max asked.

“What? Yeah, sure,” I answered, my mind churning over what Kimberly Barker could possibly have to tell me.

 

***

 

As we waited for Kimberly to arrive I dug into a cinnamon roll and Biddy sipped black coffee.

“What’s this chick like?” She asked.

“She’s very nice, super involved in the school, one kid, no frills, you know pretty down to earth. She’s also a bit of a nerve end.”

Biddy nodded in understanding. “What’s new with you guys?”

“Oh, not much. We’re just moving again,” I replied.

“Cut it out.”

“Yeah, in town just a few streets over from where we are now. We walked through an open house last weekend and blah, blah, blah the offer was accepted and our place goes on the market on Thursday,” I admitted before shoving the rest of the pastry into my mouth.

“That place just never felt right,” Biddy said without missing a beat. “It’s an adorable house, I mean there’s nothing wrong with it. It just wasn’t right for your family. The area is a little vortex-y. Is the new place any bigger?”

I nodded my head.

“Well that’s good. You have too many damn kids and dogs crammed into your place now.”

I laughed. “I’m dying trying to guess what Kimberly is going to tell us.”

“I hope it’s good, I’m missing my favorite spin class for this,” Biddy complained.

We chatted about working out and family stuff. I didn’t share the fact that I suspected I might have some sort of a stalker spirit lurking around me. Frankly, I had enough going on. Again, the plate was rather full. The voodoo doll mystery had been solved and I felt I could afford to have my old buddy Denial sit on the stalker story for a minute so I could catch my breath.

Kimberly showed up ten minutes later, about twenty minutes late. She was flustered.

“Oh my God, I am so so so so sorry. I am never late. This morning was an absolute nightmare,” she explained as she struggled out of her coat, hat, mittens and scarf. “You must be Biddy. Thank you so much for meeting me, I mean for coming to talk. I am in a bit of a pickle and I didn’t know who else to talk to. It’s like it was meant to be that Liz’s daughter is in my son Jacob’s class and that she knows you. I mean, I just started reading the blog. It came up after I googled ‘paranormal problems in Wellesley.’ Anyway, hi. Thank you. Again, I’m sorry I’m late.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said soothingly.

“Do you want to grab a coffee or something?” Biddy asked.

“No no no, I can’t take any more of your time,”

“We’ve got until eleven forty-five to get back to the school,” I assured her. “Seriously, go grab a coffee, we’re fine.”

After a moment’s hesitation Kimberly took our advice and went to the counter. Biddy smiled and raised her eyebrows before bringing up some random town gossip to pass the time.

Kimberly returned with a large coffee, a sugar cookie, and a stack of napkins. Biddy and I watched as she took a moment to carefully arrange her items on the table top.

Satisfied with the set up, she looked back and forth between us and said, “So. How  does this work? Is that the tape recorder there? My name will be changed I’m sure, so I’m not worried about that at all. Anyway, I know it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t seem like I’m alone in having a paranormal issue in this town. I mean, my problem didn’t begin here but I think this town made it worse. I mean, it kind of made it come back if that makes any sense.”

“I’m sorry to hear your having trouble,” I said, gently. The poor woman looked like she was about to spin off into orbit.

“Your shadow figure,” Kimberly said abruptly, looking at Biddy, “Is it gone now? Can you actually get rid of them?”

I could tell Biddy was surprised by the question though she concealed it well. “Well, I don’t know if one can ever completely rid themselves of a shadow figure attachment. I’m no longer affected by its presence, but I know it’s always there, testing the perimeter.”

Kimberly began to cry.

“Oh shit,” I said, handing her a napkin from her pile. “Tell us what’s happening.”

Kimberly wiped her face and took a deep breath and then her story burst out of her.

“Everything was fine until we moved here. I mean, it wasn’t fine, but it wasn’t like it is now. I thought I had it under control, you know by saging and keeping up with the damn candle and salt rituals. If I hadn’t thought it was under control I never would have gotten married. I certainly wouldn’t have had Jacob if hadn’t been convinced that I’d blocked them out of my life for good. Maybe I got too comfortable and let down my guard down, I hadn’t really thought about them, specifically at least in years. The rituals had just become habit.

“I don’t even know what possessed us to move here,” Kimberly segwayed abruptly. “We were perfectly safe in Needham. But my husband worked with a man who lived in Wellesley and we went to their Christmas party and we got thinking about how great it would be to live near the town center and walk everywhere. We live in one of the condos behind Roche Brothers. Do you know them?”

Biddy and I confirmed that we did. In fact, I told Kimberly that I had actually rented one of those condos for a couple months while work was being done on our first Wellesley home. Sandwiched between one of the elementary school’s soccer fields and the grocery store it was a cozy little introduction to suburban living. If we hadn’t been sharing the space with a nine-month-old baby and a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler at the time it would have been a perfectly pleasant experience.

“Oh good, you know the layout of the development. I wasn’t sure if I should have you to the house so you could get a sense for where I’ve seen them.”

“Uh uh,” I said automatically. Then softened my response.  “I mean, that isn’t necessary.” After hearing mention of a shadow figure I was afraid to even be in the same room as this woman.

“I don’t know what I did wrong. It started up our second night in the condo. Our place backs onto the soccer fields. That’s one of the reasons we chose that townhouse in-particular. Well, really my husband liked it best. I would have prefered to be right in the center of the development, but he convinced me that it was safe and secure. There’s a thin patch of woods blocking the view of the fields, and I have to admit that at first it was quite peaceful.

“We moved last April. We were so excited that Jacob could walk to school and we’d have the grocery steps away. We missed that about the city and this felt like the best of both worlds. Besides, our house in Needham was really old and required a lot of upkeep. In a new townhouse we wouldn’t even have to worry about landscaping or shoveling. And we’d be sharing a wall with the neighbors. They’d easily be able to hear us if we screamed.”

I snuck a glance at Biddy, her face betrayed nothing so I tried to keep my expression neutral too.

“I mean obviously you both know that Wellesley’s crime rate is eight-eight percent lower than the national average. I admit that Needham’s statistics were more attractive, but when I went to the police station to speak with one of the detectives she assured me that violent crime was very low in this town. Sure, there was that man who murdered his wife back in the nineties, but random acts of violence are rare here.

“The townhouse felt safe from a crime standpoint and I did the work and put every spiritual safety measure into place that I know. I saged the space three times, salted the windows and doors and had a Reiki healer perform a clearing before we even moved in. I even sage the entire place every night before I get into bed to clear the day’s darkness.

“I’m driving myself crazy trying to figure out what I did wrong,” she said miserably.

“Let me be sure that I understand, you did all of this to protect yourself from a shadow figure?” Biddy asked.

Three. Three shadow figures,” Kimberly replied quickly.

Biddy sucked in a breath. “How in the hell did you end up being stalked by three shadow figures?”

Kimberly shook her head. “It’s bad isn’t it? I knew it. If it shocks you, then it must be really bad.”

“How long have they been with you?” I asked.

“Since I was nineteen years old,” Kimberly admitted.

“How did they find you?” Biddy asked.

Kimberly fell silent and began to shred the napkin in her hand.

“Whatever it is, it’s not your fault,” Biddy said reassuringly.

“But that’s just it,” Kimberly said quietly. “It is my fault. I was so set on revenge I sort of invited them in.”

Biddy and I stared at her, waiting for her to elaborate.

Kimberly chewed the inside of her lip.

“Look, I don’t want to have to dredge up the past. I just want to deal with what is in front of me. Can you help me to do that?”

“Maybe,” Biddy replied. “What exactly are they doing to you?”

Kimberly blew out a breath. “It started with nightmares a few weeks ago and then my dreams started to get really violent and gory. Last night I dreamt I made a man-” she stopped herself with a quick shake of her head. “I just know that these dreams aren’t my own. And I can feel them in the dream with me even though I can’t see them yet.”

“Is this how you experienced them before?”

Kimberly teared up again. “Sort of, but it used to be so much worse. They were everywhere whether I was awake or asleep. I would see them in my house, you know how they like to sort of attach themselves to the wall in the corner of a room and crane their necks to watch you?”

Biddy shook her head slightly. Apparently she wasn’t familiar with this particular shadow figure trick.

“Oh, yours didn’t do that?” Kimberly said quickly wiping her eyes. “Well, mine do, I mean they did. If I’m being totally honest, I know, I mean I think they’ve found a way back inside, they just haven’t shown themselves to me yet. I saw them in the field the other night right past that strip of trees behind my house. I was doing the dishes and I looked out the window. It was about dusk and at first I thought it was three men standing in the field staring at our place, which scared the hell out of me. I was about to grab the phone to call the police when I realized what I was actually seeing.

“The one who stands in the middle is about a head shorter than the other two. I turned off the light so they couldn’t see me watching them. Which is ridiculous because I know they see everything, but it just made me feel less exposed. The moon was bright enough that I could watch them from the second floor bathroom window and they stood there the entire night. I must have dozed off around dawn, they weren’t there when I woke up. I’ve been driving Jacob to school since then obviously, I don’t want him in that field.”

“It’s Jacob that has me the most worried. He’s been coming into our room in the middle of the night complaining about the shadows in his dreams that show him bad things. I’ve tried to just brush it aside because I don’t want to scare him. I don’t want him talking about them at all even though I know it’s too late, if he’s dreaming about them then they’ve seen him.”

“My best advice is an exorcism,” Biddy said plainly.

I held my breath waiting for Kimberly’s response.

“No way, I’m not going through that again,” Kimberly snapped.

“You’ve had an exorcism?” I said in disbelief.

“Yes and it was a waste of time. That priest did nothing but stir them up and make it worse.” With mention of the exorcism, Kimberly’s nervous demeanor disappeared.

Biddy leaned forward, “I’ve never heard of a situation where an exorcism hasn’t provided at least some relief from a shadow figure attachment. What aren’t you telling us?”

Kimberly sat back in her chair and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Something bad happened to me when I was nineteen.”

When she didn’t elaborate I prodded, “What?”

Kimberly let out an annoyed breath. “My Sophomore year in college I decided to live off campus with three friends to save money. We rented this crappy two-level house. We drew straws and I got the biggest bedroom, the only one of the first floor.”

[Dear listener/reader, if you are in any way triggered by personal accounts from victims of violent attack then please skip the rest of this story. Come on back next time for a chilling tale about a haunted doll. That may require its own disclaimer but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.]

“On a Tuesday night that January, a noise startled me awake around two o’clock in the morning. I shot up in bed and even turned on my bedside lamp, but I didn’t see anything out of place, except a book on the floor. I figured it had just fallen. I was a little bit freaked out but I turned off the light and tried to fall back to sleep.

“But then I heard another noise, a footstep near the end of my bed. The room was really dark, but I suddenly realized there might be someone standing near the foot of my bed. I turned to reach for the lamp again but before I knew it he was on top of me and there was duct tape around my wrists and over my mouth before I even had a chance to react.

“He was there for almost three hours and none of my roommates heard anything. By the time he left there was enough light coming in through the edges of the blinds that I was able to get a good look at his ugly face. I memorized every detail about him that I could. If he wasn’t going to kill me then I decided my purpose in life would be to find and kill him.

“The police told me he’d done the same thing to two other women in town. Both college students like me. It was the first time I’d heard of those other attacks. Long story short he was found, arrested, and convicted. The courtroom was as close as I got to him since the night he attacked me. The entire trial I sat a few rows back all the time thinking about what it would be like to walk up behind him and shove a pen into his throat.”

I inhaled sharply. Biddy sucked her teeth and said, “I can’t imagine how much you must have hated him.”

“I hated him with every single fiber of my being. I hated that he was breathing. I hated that he had the memories of what he’d done to me and those other women in his head to keep him company at night. I hated the public defender who sat next to him in her shitty skirt suit. I hated the back of his head and the way he was allowed to have a cup of water as he listened to the depraved things he had done.

“They made me go to therapy. My parents insisted that I had post traumatic stress and had to talk through it with someone. The therapist tried to get me to work through my anger so that I could ‘process my pain.’ She didn’t get it. No one did. The only thing that would make me feel better was for him to truly suffer for what he had done. He needed to feel every bit of the pain he’d put me through.

“The only useful thing that therapist taught me was visualization. I got really good at it, but I wasn’t visualizing some calming Carribean beach. Each day I’d play out a different situation in which he was brutally killed. And that did help calm me down.

“One time I was practicing my visualization and these three dark shadows showed up in the scene I’d envisioned. They stood around me, one on each side and one behind and watched along with me as he was thrown from the window of a car as it careened down an embankment. Their presence was nice at first, I could feel their approval. They were the first ones to validated my anger. It made everyone else so uncomfortable, but the shadows just let me be mad.

“I figured that I’d somehow conjured them up in my imagination because I desperately needed someone to understand how I was really feeling. And after that day they came everytime I sat in visualization. But then they began to sort of energize my visualizations. They made them more vivid. I could kill him in my mind over and over again in more-” Kimberly stopped, searching for the right words, “specific ways.”

“They made me feel powerful. Even if it was only in my mind, I felt like I had control over my life again. This one morning I had been intending to watch him drown in a lake when instead they showed me a vision of him sitting in his jail cell. I was angry and tried to pull myself out of the vision. I didn’t want to see him like that. Safe and sound in a cell to live out the next seven to ten years of his bullshit life. But the shadow figure, the one who stood behind me put it’s hand on my shoulder and held me in place. Then the figure to my right moved into the scene and he actually saw it. He looked at the thing and was terrified. The shadow man grew so that it was almost as tall as the ceiling while that bastard cowered beneath it. It was awesome. It was so satisfying to watch him cowering on his bed, helpless as that shadow figure towered above him.

“Then, quicker than I could understand, the shadow figure had a pen in its hand. It thrust the pen into his neck then slowly shrunk back down and slid back to its usual spot next to me at my right hand side. I stood there, surrounded by the three shadow figures and watched him bleed out. Even though I’d killed him in my mind a thousand times, this was different.

“That afternoon my attorney called and told me that he had been found dead in his cell. She told me that the details weren’t clear but from what she could gather he’d slit his own throat. But I knew that wasn’t true. My shadow man had done it for me. It was freaky but really I was grateful. Stupidly, I thought the shadow men had come to help me seek revenge and that it was all finally over.

“I stopped practicing my daily visualizations, I just didn’t need them anymore after he’d gotten what he deserved. But the shadows didn’t leave. That’s when they began to show me really terrible things in my dreams. I’d know that I was dreaming but I wouldn’t be able to wake myself up and I am almost positive that what they showed me was all real.

“I watched so many people die. I don’t know if they were all like him, you know if they deserved it, but it wasn’t easy to watch. They showed me disgusting executions and stabbings, ugh, there were a lot of stabbings. The most disturbing thing I watched was this old man die at the bottom of his basement steps. He must have fallen. It took hours, my entire night of sleep in fact. It got to the point that I just wanted to die. I couldn’t watch it any more. I tried to stay awake but they didn’t let me, I slept soundly every night. I had this horrible feeling that they wouldn’t even let me kill myself if I tried. So my only option was to go into a visualization one last time and beg them to leave me alone. I stupidly hoped that if I thanked them for what they had done for me then maybe they’d let me off the hook.”

“And that didn’t work,” Biddy guessed.

Kimberly shook her head. “It didn’t. So that’s when I got in touch with that useless priest. After that I tried a psychic but the second I sat down at her table she started screaming at me to get out of her house. The Reiki healer was the only one who helped me. She gave me all of those little tricks to create a kind of a bubble around my life and it worked until we moved here.”

Biddy stared at Kimberly for long enough that it became uncomfortable.

Finally she said, “You’re a different person right now than the one who first sat down at this table.”

Kimberly scrunched up her face in confusion and shook her head. “What do you mean?”

“There’s nothing jittery or anxious about you now.”

Kimberly looked at me and I agreed, “It’s true. Sorry, but you seemed like a total nervous wreck at first but once you started telling us about your past you sort of got, like, calm and, I don’t know, mad.”

“Well, of course I got mad!” Kimberly said defensively. “Did you even listen to what I was telling you?”  

“Yeah, I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be mad, I’m just agreeing, you know that you  did sort of change. I’ve never seen you like this. Usually when I talk to you, you know you seem sort of nervy,” I rambled apologetically.

“You’ll never get rid of them unless you forgive him,” Biddy said simply.

“I can’t do that.”

“Then they’ll never leave you alone. The anger you had for him is long gone now, you know that right? But it was their way in and they know exactly how to work you up over the past. What you are feeling is theirs, it’s not yours. You don’t have to hold onto all of that hate.”

“How can you say that?”

“Because it’s the only way you’ll ever be free. You have to forgive him. You’re hurting yourself now, can’t you see that?”

Kimberly put both hands on the table and shoved her seat back. “Thanks so much for your expert advice,” she spat before storming out of the bakery.

I picked up her untouched sugar cookie and took a bite. “How in the hell am I going to act normal when I see her at pick up in twenty minutes?”

“She’ll come around,” Biddy said before crossing herself.

6604_anemoneChris and I recently joined LifeTime fitness. It’s a massive Costco of a gym with a “Kids Academy.” The thirty minute sales pitch and tour was a waste, they’d closed the deal at the mention of “three hours of childcare.”

I like to go into the steam room until I can’t stand it anymore, and then chug a water and go sit in the sauna until I can’t stand that any longer. I’m prone to magical thinking and I like to believe that overheating myself drains all the toxins out of my body and atones for that extra glass of Chardonnay (or three).

On Wednesdays the kids have a half day of school so I bring them to play in the kid’s space while I take a half-assed walk on the treadmill and then attempt to bake the alcohol and Bantam bites out of my system. I was in the sauna nearing my boiling point when Hillary Stone and Vanessa Fairchild walked in and sat opposite me.

So there we were alone in the sauna. Me overheating and them glaring at me like the smug, skinny witches they were. I didn’t even attempt to make small talk. I just waited until they told me what they wanted. I knew they wanted something.

“Noticed any new toys at the house lately?” Vanessa asked with a fake little laugh.

And then I knew.

It was them. They were the ones leaving those fake voodoo dolls at my home.

I couldn’t have been more surprised if you told me they were there to ask me to join the National League of Women Voters. In the regrettable absence of my digital recorder, here’s the gist of our conversation:

 

Me: You broke into my house!

 

Hillary: Don’t be dramatic. The door was open and you were in the yard. We just wanted to scare you into deleting your blog.

 

Me: So you left a bunch of fake voodoo dolls around my house? How exactly was I supposed to connect those dots?

 

Vanessa: You did a really shitty job of concealing our identities in the story.

 

Me: I changed your names just like you asked me to. Jill told me everything. You all are lucky you’re not in jail.

 

Hillary: For what? An accident? Stop. Claire’s death was unfortunate, but here’s the thing, you’re going to need to stop posting your interviews on the blog.

 

Me: snort

 

Vanessa: It’s not funny. Claire is really pissed that we told you about the conjuring. We weren’t supposed to tell anyone.

 

Me: Shaking my head no.

 

Vanessa: Then just take down the stories about Claire. It’s the least you could do for us.

 

Me: noticing the dark circles under Vanessa’s eyes

Is she watching you at night again?

 

Vanessa: Not just her. Chris is with her now.

 

Me: glancing nervously around the small room

Her boyfriend? The one who drowned himself in the pond?

 

Hillary: Yeah. She managed to drag him through. Look, you should thank us for trying to get you to take down that ridiculous blog. Claire isn’t the only one on the other side who’s unhappy with you broadcasting their business.

 

Me: Whatever you guys. Just stay away from my house and quit moving my lawn chairs around for fuck’s sake.

 

Hillary: What are you talking about? We didn’t touch your lawn furniture.

 

Me: If I even see either of your cars on my street I’m calling the police. If you guys are that worried about my tiny little blog then I know you don’t want to end up in the Townsman’s police blotter.

 

And with that I walked out of the sauna. And I had half a mind to drop my towel and moon them. I struggled back into my workout gear and immediately went to get the girls out of the Kids Academy. Hillary and Vanessa really rattled me, and I couldn’t get over how stupid their plan to scare me had been.

But if I’m being honest, I seriously considered taking down the blog. Not because of their doll nonsense, but because I believed Hillary when she said they weren’t the ones messing with my lawn furniture.

That guy, the one I’d seen that night a couple months ago when I took the garbage out, the one who’d been sitting on my front lawn smoking a cigarette? The man who appeared (without a shadow I might add) in a photo I’d taken of snow falling at night in front of my home? That’s who had me worried.

 

While I attempt to sort out that mess, I have another story to share but it doesn’t contain the kind of scare we’re used to ‘round these parts. There’s more crippling regret than terror in this neighbor’s tale, though her abridged autobiography does involve a monster. A good natured one, but a monster all the same.

Let’s begin with a question; if someone offered to make your every wish and deep desire come true, what would you do? No strings attached, only that you accept the dream granter into your life indefinitely as your closest confidant. She’d help navigate every twist and turn in your life, removing obstacles and shoving aside anyone who dared interfere. And in return she would require only companionship. But remember, it’s for forever. She’ll make your wildest dreams come true, and no matter how contrived it all becomes, you have to remember that you’ll only get exactly what you asked for.

Natalie Hoskins was presented with this very offer when she was fourteen years old. She said yes.

Now in her late fifties, Natalie is the Soul Cycle lifestyle brought to maturity. She is tight (borderline gaunt, really) after years of carefully counting calories and vodka sodas. Her hair is enviable; long and flowing and highlighted to the hilt. To our meeting she wore an adorable high-low cashmere sweater in the perfect heather grey, with black skinny jeans and Frye boots. Instead of expensive jewelry, her suspiciously unlined face betrayed her tax bracket.

We met at the Starbucks on Central Street and sat at a small table tucked in the back corner. It was days before Christmas and I had no business taking the time to do an interview. I admit that it’s indulgent to spend time listening to my neighbor’s ghost stories when I have so many other responsibilities, and these interviews may very well be getting me into a sticky spot again, but story has always been my escape. And right then I needed an escape from the holly jolly hustle.

Natalie ordered a green tea and I got a grey one. Next to us sat a group of elderly women exchanging Christmas gifts. A mug. A set of flameless candles. A stack of festive coasters. Natalie and I spoke briefly about our holiday obligations and then she pulled her gorgeous hair into a high pony tale and sighed. “I don’t even know if my story is appropriate for your blog.”

“Is it weird?” I asked.

Natalie considered. “It’s rather fantastical, to put it lightly.”

“Then it’s appropriate for the blog,” I assured her.

And so Natalie told me her story. “My parents ran an antique shop out of our home on Abbott Street. Though, the business was really just a way to justify an expensive habit, I rarely saw them part with anything. They were collectors. My father was one of the first professors at MassBay, that’s why we moved to Wellesley in the mid-seventies. He taught undergraduate Psychology. I am an only child and mom stayed home with me. She was a brilliant artist, watercolor mostly, but her creativity was boundless. I’d wake up in the morning to find her in the kitchen having stayed up all night teaching herself to knit, or I’d come home from school to find my bedroom walls transformed into a magical woodland scene.

“It was a perfectly pleasant, if lonely childhood. My parents were fascinating people more interested in each other than in their unremarkable daughter. I’d been gifted neither an ounce of my mother’s creativity nor even a hint of my father’s brilliance. I was a mediocre student and aside from possessing a deep love of soap operas, Guiding Light was my one true passion, there was nothing about me to capture my parents attention.

“So, when Tabitha came I didn’t stand a chance,” Natalie smiled sadly. “She was plain, a plain Jane like me. I was thirteen years old and just about as devastatingly ordinary as a girl could be. If Tabitha had been fabulous in any way it would have scared me off. But that was all a part of her charm. She read me in an instant and know exactly what I needed her to be.

“I think it was my mother who’d purchased the vase at an estate sale in Quechee, Vermont. It was a tiny little porcelain bud vase and I begged her for it. It was so delicate and pretty, everything I wasn’t. Mom allowed me to keep it on my windowsill. I loved glancing over at it’s dainty beauty as I did my homework. It felt grown up, glamourous, like something one of the characters on my soap opera would own.

“I was in the midst of a distinctly lonely moment when Tabitha first appeared to me. My parents had left me home alone for the night, that particular weekend I believe they were off exploring somewhere in the Adirondacks. They preferred to travel alone and needed someone to watch the cats so I was often left by myself. That night I was in my room listening to music, most likely Carly Simon, wallowing in the loneliness, when suddenly that little bud vase hopped off the windowsill and fell to the floor.

“I quickly snatched it up, afraid it had been cracked in the fall. Relieved to see it still intact I held onto it and continued my crying session. Wishing for a different life, a soap opera life. Filled with handsome men and passion and catty girlfriends, beautiful clothing, and a home filled with fresh flowers and several well-behaved children.

“And then, all of a sudden Tabitha was there. Sitting right next to me on the bed. I should have been frightened but I wasn’t, just startled, and she quickly put me at ease.

“‘Hi, I’m Tabitha,’ she said simply. And then she asked me why I was sad and every thought I’d ever had just spilled out of me. She listened for hours as I rattled on about my life and the life that I wanted to have. She was sympathetic and kind and she didn’t dismiss one of my complaints.

“By the time I was done airing my grievances it was dawn. Tabitha and I went downstairs and she made me breakfast; egg sandwiches and fresh cut fruit, neither of which I’d even known were in the house. As I ate she told me all of the things she could do for me. She told me that the life I wanted was possible, that she could help me create it. That together we could make all of my wildest dreams come true.

“Then she asked me a question, ‘Do you desire my assistance?’ I nodded my head. ‘You must tell me, you must say it out loud,’ she instructed quietly. ‘I want your help,’ I replied simply. And with that we were off to the races.”

Natalie went on to tell me that her life changed overnight. When she returned to school on Monday the most popular girl in her Freshman class took an interest in her, which lead to the rest of her grade seeing her in a different light. A boy, the one whom she’d sat behind in math class, turned around one day and asked her to the winter dance. There she received her first kiss. She was invited to sleepover parties where she took shots of whiskey straight from the bottle and giggled along as her new friends took turns throwing up in basement toilets and sinks. Her previously stringy blond hair grew thick and shiny and her soft and shapeless body formed curves.

Of course, she’d had friends before Tabitha came, old friends whom she’d grown up with playing Barbies and pretending silly nonsense games but those friends weren’t as bright and shiny as the new ones who for some reason seemed to think she was interesting and funny. Natalie watched and learned the subtle rules of the new group she’d been invited into. Tabitha helped her get a part-time job at a local coffee shop so she could earn money to buy the right clothing and chip in for beer and pot on the weekends. By her Junior year Natalie was a star volleyball player, a straight-A student and the quarterback’s girlfriend.

And Tabitha? She was there for every single spark of good fortune. She’d moved into Natalie’s home. When her parents returned from their overnight trip Natalie informed them that Tabitha was a transfer student who needed a place to stay, could she stay with them? Natalie’s parents readily agreed, brought up an antique twin bed and rearranged Natalie’s bedroom so that the girls could share it. They seemed relieved to have someone in the house for Natalie to spend time with. Not once did they inquire of the girl’s origins or family.

“Tabitha had that kind of influence over people,” Natalie explained. “She made any detail that didn’t serve her purpose fuzzy so that only the things she needed people to accept were obvious. How else could you explain my straight A’s? I’d always been a mediocre student, earning only Bs and Cs. But once Tabitha came I quickly achieved a 4.0 average. Teachers liked me, they let me get away with anything. Forgotten homework, tardiness, wrong answers didn’t make a difference. They saw the image of me that Tabitha projected. I was smart, beautiful, charming. And eventually I caught up and sort of morphed into the image she projected.

“‘It’s your potential self,’ she explained to me once when I hadn’t studied at all for a Spanish final and still managed to receive full credit. ‘I’m simply letting them see the person you are capable of being. You’ll be that person, but in the meantime I’m allowing everyone else to see who you’d like to be.’

“It was strange. I was still me, my loneliness and the feeling that I didn’t belong were still within me, but I learned to play my part. The longer I was with the cool kids the more I became their idea of the perfect girl. Sometimes I missed my old friends and their low expectations of me. I’d never had to try and be anything other than who I was when I was with them, but the excitement of being a part of that fun crowd dulled my misgivings. Being with them made me feel like I’d been accepted into an elite group. But deep down I knew they would never have accepted me, the real me. They accepted a projection of me, they were seeing what I wanted them to see, what Tabitha made them see.”

“What about your parents?” I asked. “Didn’t they notice this major change in you?”

“Oh, I’m sure they did. But they benefited from Tabitha’s magic too. With me busy and suddenly surrounded by friends they could go ahead and completely focus on each other and their work. On top of that my father got promoted and a woman who wandered into my parent’s shop turned out to be an art dealer from some fancy gallerie in New York. She ‘fell in love’ with my mother’s watercolors and became her agent. When I asked her if their good fortune was her doing Tabitha explained, ‘We’re going to need some more money to make this work.’

“My parents were good people, but my life just confused them. Eventually, I built a glittering suburban fluff of a life, but they didn’t get it and I couldn’t make them understand. When they both passed, dad died before Ainsley was born, mom right after John Jr,  it was as if a burden had been lifted. Is that too awful of me? It was just such a relief to be out from under their benign confusion and judgement. We didn’t see each other very often, I was too busy living in the glow of Tabitha’s creation, but my parents got a taste for my life at the holiday parties I threw. That used to be my favorite thing, throwing parties with all the catering and beautiful people and forced laughter. Anyhow, I know they didn’t approve of my life. But then, they’d never truly welcomed me into their own world so what did they expect?

“Tabitha was all I needed. She listened to all of my fears and she did everything she could to ease them. My parents offered no guidance when it was time to apply for college. I heard from a friend that Tulane was a fun party school and Nola sounded exotic so Tabitha got me accepted. There I met John, we graduated and moved to New York until I got sick of the city and then Tabitha arranged to have his job transferred to Boston.”

“Wait,” I interrupted, “Did John know Tabitha too?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Natalie’s frozen forehead made the ghost of a scrunch, “It’s hard to explain. We always had a cover story for why we were together all the time. She was an exchange student, then my roomate at college and in New York and then in Boston I think we told everyone she was my full-time assistant. And then she was our nanny and housekeeper until the end of our relationship. She was able to do this thing where people just dismissed her, you know? No one ever remembered her, I was constantly re-introducing her to people.”

“Crazy,” I said.

“Magic,” Natalie replied. “Anyhow, the night before John and I move to Boston he proposed, which was exactly what I wanted. Of course he became shockingly successful, so we bought a brownstone in Beacon Hill and planned a wedding at the Four Seasons. When I got sick of city living I got pregnant and we found the perfect house here in Wellesley. We had Ainsley and John Jr. in quick succession and once I was out of my baby fog I looked around and found the group I wanted to be a part of and Tabitha got me into it.

“Those days reminded me so much of the beginning of our relationship when Tabitha helped me to make friends in high school. I think those were our best days together. Our best times were when we were conspiring over some project, job changes or moves or infiltrating a new social scene. It was exciting and she seemed to like it as much as I did.

Natalie fell silent for a moment, lost in thought.

“Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t met her?” I asked.

“Certainly, but what I really wonder about is all the things I missed out on because I was so laser-focused on controlling my image, you know just to fit in to what I thought was the perfect life. I was outright obsessed with making everything perfect.

“It was a hard habit to break. Sometimes even now I forget that she’s gone. I’ll find myself making lists of things in my mind to report back to tell her about. Things I need to stay current, things I think I might like to own or do. Like, if I run into an old friend and she has a new bag or if someone I know goes on some fabulous vacation I automatically make a mental note to tell Tabitha about it. It’s crazy now thinking how incredibly distracted I was by keeping track of all the things I needed Tabitha to control for me.”

Natalie laughs softly, “Now instead I have to make lists of everyday tasks, little to-dos that seem to just come naturally for everyone else. Wash my face before bed, pay bills, check my email, buy groceries. She always took care of all of that for me.

“You know, I think a lot about what it’s like for her now. I asked her once what it was like to be seperated from one of her hosts. She told me that it was blisteringly hot. So hot that it turned everything black. When she was with a host, she said it coolled the world down, cleared her vision.”

“Did she tell you about any of the other people she helped?”

“Oh sure. She bragged once in a while about all the things she’d made happen for the people who used to be under her influence. She even claimed responsibility for a famous actresses career.”

“Who?” I asked.

Natalie just shook her head, “I can’t say, who even know if she was ever telling the truth. I think she knew just what my teenage mind needed to hear so that I would turn over total control.

“Long story short, I ultimately made the decision to restrain her because my life had become this shell of perfection around me but I realized that no matter what Tabitha made happen to me there was no perfecting me. I had a beautiful home and children, a loyal husband, everything in its place. Vacations, a crazy social life, every outward show of luxury and enough distraction to keep me from ever wondering what could be on the other side of that fragile shell. Tabitha gave me the life I’d dreamed of as a fourteen year old girl. It never occured to me to veer off from that course. How sad is that?

“I was at a holiday dinner party with my closest girlfriends, having cocktails before we sat down to eat and this woman, a woman I’d known for years, she turns to me out of the blue and tells me she’s getting a divorce.

“I couldn’t have been more shocked. I thought her life was perfect. She told me that her husband had gotten his mistress pregnant. Before that moment, if you had asked me I would have told you that this woman was one of my very best and closest friends. We’d spent years having drinks in similar settings for similar events. We’d stood alongside one another watching our kids at games and recitals. Dropped off food when illness struck and picked up eachothers children when schedules were tight.

“But in that moment, when she told me that her marriage was ending, the only thing that I felt was smug pride. I was proud that I wasn’t in her position and that I never would be. As it bubbled up within me I realized that we’d never shared friendship, what we’d shared was a friendly game of passive-aggressive competition. And I knew that she knew it too. This conversation, this devastating revelation about her life was her way of conceding victory. But I had cheated. I had an ace in the hole, Tabitha working behind the scenes to ensure my win. And right then I saw so very clearly that the group around me was in a race that none of us would win.

“In an instant it all became so clear. Tabitha had made me into a scheming automaton. I didn’t have a life, none of it was real. I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t even know if my husband really loved me. I’d treated my children like accessories and only put in enough facetime to make it look good. I basically let nannies raise them when they were young, and by that time they were teenagers and I barely saw them at all. I ended up having a full-blown panic attack and had to leave the party. I was overcome by heat. I was so hot things began to turn black.

“I sat in my car trying to calm myself down and then there she was. Tabitha. Sitting right next to me. She didn’t say a word, we drove home together in silence. She might not have known exactly what I was thinking, but she’d felt my realization and she was frightened. And so was I.

“Over the next few months I watched everything and everyone around me. I watched how we interacted with one another. I watched how they reacted to me. I became guarded, obsessing over whether or not they even liked me or if I just fit a role that needed filling within the group. I mean, for all outward appearances I did fit in. For years I’d pushed aside anything about the life I was building with Tabitha that made me uncomfortable. But when I began to actually look at those unsettling details I couldn’t divert my attention back to the bright and shiny facade of my life.

“Over that year I simply lost the will to do all that it took to fit into the life I’d always wanted. And when I did I realized just how many unspoken rules I’d been following in order to keep the relationships I’d built,” Natalie sighed deeply and shook her head as if shaking off an embarrassing memory. “Of course friends noticed me pulling away from them and I carry a great deal of guilt about that. It wasn’t their fault that Tabitha and I had built and entire phony persona and that I was about to burn it down. But none of those friends stuck around very long once I wasn’t playing my roll any longer. For my part I was almost cripplingly embarrassed by how much acting I’d been doing my entire life.

“In reality, I’m an introvert. But when I was with Tabitha I had to constantly surround myself with people just to stay distracted from the doubts always at the edge of my mind. I simply burned myself out and I let her down. If I’d been a little stronger we could have made it all the way. It frightens me to think about what we would have done together.

“So, after about a year of considering my options I decided to put an end to it. I didn’t know what was on the other side of the protective facade but it had to be better than feeling like a complete and utter phony.

“Tabitha kept a close eye on me. I made excuses for not putting in any new requests. I did my best to hide it and pretend that everything was perfect just as it was, but she knew I was unhappy. I hired an online shaman to research how to get rid of her, how to break the spell she’d put over my life. I explained the meetings away by telling Tabitha I was meeting with a new party planner. Together the shaman and I devised a ritual to separate Tabitha and me and then imprison her within a vessel. I agonized over that. I knew I wanted it to be a vase, but none seemed right. Eventually I chose a simple Simon Pearce bud vase of crystal clear glass. It was ridiculous but I hoped she’d be able to see out of it.

“I hid my plan until the very last minute. It was a Monday morning. John was off at work and when Tabitha’d returned from dropping the kids off at school I was waiting for her in the kitchen. ‘What’s that pretty little thing?’ she asked me, pointing at the vase I’d chosen for her imprisonment. I must have glanced abscently at the ceiling above her head and so she looked up and saw the symbols drawn on the ceiling above her. Trapping her in that very spot. ‘How could you?’ she screamed. ‘I gave you everything you wanted. Everything! I made you!’

“I began to explain, but there were no words and I knew that if she kept me talking I would lose my nerve. I started the chant the shaman taught me and then her attitude changed. She became frightened, that’s what really almost made me lose my nerve. She began to promise me the world. Told me we could remake my life, dial everything back, start from scratch. But I just closed my eyes and recited the chant over and over and as I did her voice began to fade away until it was gone completely.

“When I could no longer hear her I opened my eyes and she was gone. Only the vase stood on the floor. I missed her immediately. I felt regret. Panic. She was gone, I’d essentially killed her. I knew I could bring her back if I wanted to, and I almost did many times, but it was over. It had to be.”

“Did anyone notice that she’d disappeared?” I asked.

“No, it was as if she never even existed.”

“Not even your kids?” I said in disbelief.

“Nope, not even the kids.”

“What was she?” I asked.

“A demon. A mid-level demonic entity that most cultures refer to as a djinn. In attaching herself to me she escaped hellfire. As long as she could keep me distracted, burning my soul up in self absorption she kept her cushy place by my side.

“I sent her back there. I know she was never my friend, but she did love me in her own way. The same way I loved her. We used one another. We needed one another to build a safe life for ourselves. But what we’d built we built on sand. My husband left me, my children can barely stand to even speak to me on the phone. Maybe I sent her back to the fire but she left me in my own little hell.

“Separating from Tabitha was devastating and there are times when I think how easy it would be to unrestrain her and start over. I think about what I would request now, how different the life would be that we could create. But that’s absurd. My life may be painful now, but at least I know it’s real. And now that I’ve lost everything, I don’t have to be afraid anymore. And that is something that I realized had always been with me when I was under Tabitha’s influence. It was fear, floating around inside that shell with me. I called it anxiety, or me being controlling or a perfectionist. But it was pure fear. It kept me in that shell. It kept me following all the rules, forcing the square peg of me into the round hole I wanted to fit. Holding my breath when I should speak, or screaming obnoxiously when I should have held my breath.

“I can sit with fear now just observing it, feeling it. It doesn’t run me any longer. It’s not that I’m not scared. I have a very strong suspicion that I’ve doomed my soul to hell, but while I am alive they can’t control me.”

I asked Natalie what she planned to do with the vase.

“It’s on a windowsill in my bedroom,” she replied.

“But what about after that?” I pressed.

“Oh, you mean when I die?” She said with a laugh. “It’s in my will. The vase is to be buried with me.”

unnamed-3“I’ve got another one for you,” Biddy declared. “I think this one might actually be the real deal.”

“A demon?” I asked before taking a bite of my Busy Bar.

“What the hell are you eating?”

“A snack bar, my cousin Greg makes them. They’re really good. Here,” I handed her a little piece of the protein bar.

Biddy scrunched her nose but accepted the bite. “Actually, that’s not bad.”

“Get ‘em on Amazon. Anyway, you think you might have found a real demon case?”

“Maybe, the house is on Washington Street close to St. John’s,” she explained, eyebrows raised.

“Coincidence?” I suggested.

“Maybe, but the family is actually in a rental. They moved in about three months ago and things escalated quickly.”

“Is one of them possessed? I’m not coming with you if someone is possessed.”

“No one is possessed,” Biddy assured me. “I think the family might be under oppression, though. It’s suspected that the house might have a demonic infestation. That’s why the church asked me to interview them and determine if they are good candidates for an exorcism. From what I understand they’ve already passed the medical and psychological interviews.”

“I don’t know, are you sure it’s safe?” I asked.

“You’ve got your necklace, I’ve got holy water and we’ll say a prayer of protection before we go in. It’ll be fine.”

I took another bite of my bar, considering. It was tempting. Out of all the paranormal creepers that I’d heard of it was the demonic that had me the most intrigued. And terrified. “Can you get me my own bottle of holy water?” I asked.

“Sure.”

“Alright, I’ll go, as long as you really think nothing can follow us home. I don’t need anything else creeping around my house.”

“Yeah, speaking of that, any more dolls?’

“No, no dolls. But someone keeps moving the Adirondack chairs in our front yard around. Maybe it’s the landscapers or a neighbor, but the chairs are always arranged so that they’re facing the house.”

“You’re recording our conversation right?” Biddy asked.

“Yup.”

Biddy picked up my digital recorder and held it in front of her mouth. Slowly and deliberately she said, “And then Biddy told me to get my head out of my ass and call ADT to install security cameras.”

 

***

 

“So what do you think we should do?”

Shannon Coursey, a trim little brunette wearing skinny jeans and a navy blue cardigan over a plaid button down looked at me intently.

“I’m not sure,” I said, glancing over at Biddy.

“I thought you were the Wellesley paranormal woman.”

Clearly agitated, Shannon shifted in her seat, an off-white overstuffed boxy thing that reminded me of a beach house. Next to her, her husband Doug watched his wife nervously from a matching chair.

And next to me on the couch Biddy jumped into the conversation. “As I explained to Doug on the phone, Liz is here because she is knowledgeable about hauntings in Wellesley as she maintains a blog on the subject. I’m sure we’ll be able to offer insight once we have a clear picture of your predicament. Doug, you indicated that you were interested in having your story recorded for Liz’s blog, yes?”

Doug looked like a deer in the headlights. Shannon’s agitation turned on her husband, “We’re going to be on a blog, Doug?”

“No, no! I mean yes. This is all a part of it honey,” he stammered. Then he pointed at Biddy, “She’s here representing the Catholic Church. These people know what they’re doing.”

“I am here to produce a report for the Church in which I will provide information to help them determine whether or not your problem is demonic in nature,” Biddy clarified.

“But what do you do then?” Shannon asked me.

I glanced at Biddy for reassurance. Women like Shannon wig me out. Biddy sat up taller in the seat, prompting me to do the same. I said, “I’m collecting ghost stories and other paranormal, uh, situations, here in town. I was hoping to record your interview but that doesn’t mean I have to publish it on the blog,” I hesitated for a moment, looking between the couple. “Look, there are a lot of people like you in Wellesley. You definitely aren’t alone. Biddy helped me when I had a problem in my house and I’ve seen her help other people. You can trust us.”

Shannon took a deep breath. “I didn’t know there were other people in town having the same issue.”

“Well, not exactly the same problem, there are lots of other paranormal problems in town, like monsters and stuff but I have spoken to neighbors who were demonically influenced in one way or another.”

Shannon turned and looked squarely at her husband. “That would have been nice to know when we were deciding between Wellesley and Weston.”

“You loved the house,” Doug pointed out weakly.

Our house,” Shannon hissed. “I loved our house, not this hell hole.”

“How long have you been in this house?” I asked.

“Three months,” Doug said quietly.

“The longest three months of my life,” added Shannon.

“Why did you move here?”

“We moved to Wellesley about a year ago, to a house over on Swarthmore Road.”

“Near the Woodlawn Cemetery,” Doug pointed out.

“Boops,” I said without thinking.

Biddy gave me a look. I smiled and shook my head. “Sorry.”

“There isn’t any problem with that house,” Doug insisted.

“Other than the fact that our construction project has taken about three times as long as promised,” Shannon swiped.

“I know, honey, but if we keep on adding on projects every time we visit the house then it will continue to push the completion date back, won’t it?” Doug pointed out.

“How long did you rent this house for?” I asked.

“Six months,” the couple said in unison.

“So you’re halfway there,” I reasoned. “If things are so bad here why don’t you just break the lease and go to a hotel or something until the work on your home is finished?”

The couple exchanged a look. “Because it’s attached to us,” Doug replied.

“How do you know that?”

“We tried going to stay with my parents and it followed us,” Shannon explained.

Biddy turned to me, her tone serious she asked, “Are you wearing your St. Benedict medal?”

I nodded my head and fought the urge to walk out of the house. Biddy turned back to the couple who appeared to have forgotten how irritated they were with one another as they watched our exchange.

Biddy retrieved a small black notebook and a pen from her canvas tote. She opened the notebook to a blank page and wrote, in neat script,

Shannon and Doug Coursey

 

  • Entity followed couple from rental property to S’s parent’s house –

 

She glanced up and directed a question at Shannon. “Where do your parents live?”

“Greenwich, Connecticut?”

Biddy looked back down and added,

…out of state to Greenwich, CT

“Is that important? That it can travel to Connecticut?” Doug asked.

“It’s concerning that the entity is so attached to your family that it is able to follow you out of this house. So yes, it’s very important,” Biddy replied seriously.

We all sat in silence for a moment.  

“Tell me how you landed in this rental,” Biddy prompted.

“He found it on Craigslist,” Shannon said.

“We were desperate and you hated every other option we looked at,” Doug whined.  

“One was a fully furnished mansion over off Cliff Road, I wasn’t going to let our eighteen month old loose on the place. The other two were disgusting. They should have been torn down. I wasn’t going to bring a newborn into a mold infestation.”

“We could have gone to the Residence Inn,” Doug tried.

“So Bailey would have been on a pullout couch and the baby would be in with us? Yeah, no.”

Biddy jumped in. “Tell us about the Craigslist ad.”

“The place was listed under ‘for rent by owner,’ I called and the first thing the landlord asked was whether or not we had kids. I definitely got the vibe that she didn’t want kids living in the house. The thing was, construction was set to start on our home the following week so we had to find someplace stat. I convinced the woman, her name’s Susan McCormack, to show me the place.”

I was at a tumbling class with Bailey while all this communication was happening,” Shannon informed us, as if it mattered.

“Where do you work?” Biddy asked Doug, ignoring Shannon’s comment.

“Fidelity.”

“In the city?”

“No, Framingham.”

“Alright, so when you walked through the house with the landlord. Did she tell you anything about the home’s history or why it was being rented?”

Doug considered a moment, “Actually, she did.” He glanced nervously over at his wife.

“What?” Shannon demanded.

“Nothing bad. Susan and her husband bought the house from St. John’s,” he said as he motioned out the front window. The large Catholic church sat about a block away and across the street from the house. Without meaning to I groaned.

“Is that bad?” Shannon asked.

“Not necessarily,” Biddy replied unconvincingly. “Did the landlord tell you anything about the circumstances of the sale?” She asked making another note.

Doug avoided his wife’s glare. “She told me the house had been vacant for a good while before she and her husband bought it from the church. She said they’d had to do quite a bit of work to clean up the place and had intended to live in it themselves but decided to just stay in Poet’s Corners and rent the house instead.”

“Any mention of exactly what ‘cleaning the place up’ entailed?” asked Biddy.

“Uh, well she said the basement was a disaster, but we don’t really ever go down there anymore so that’s okay, and uh, I think they had to repaint everything, you know?” Doug had become shifty eyed.

Biddy sat back in her seat and Shannon leaned towards her husband, “What else did she tell you Doug?”

The poor man looked terrified. “Nothing that bad, I-”

Biddy cut him off, “Look guys, you’re going to need to tell me everything that you know about this house if you hope to even have a ghost of a chance of qualifying for a home exorcism. The Church doesn’t waste its time on simple hauntings.”

Doug slumped in his chair. “The house sat vacant for twenty-three years before the Church put it up for sale. The McCormacks told me that in 2014 they bought it at auction so they were unable to walk through it before the purchase. Susan said the living area was in pretty good shape, except for some graffiti on the walls-”

“Graffiti?” I interrupted, surprised.

“Yeah, high school kids had been breaking in and partying in the house for some time.”

“No one checked in on the place? I mean we’re on a super busy road and the church is like, right there,” I pointed out.

Doug shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess the caretakers or whatever must have thought it was locked up tight. But Susan told me the basement was in bad shape. The kids had painted the walls red and black and there were a bunch of symbols painted on the floor.”

“Symbols,” Biddy said in a tone that told me her eyebrows had moved far up her forehead.

Doug sighed, “Pentagrams.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me, Doug,” Shannon seethed.

I jumped in before they could begin bickering again, “What exactly has happened in this house since you guys moved in? What scared you?”

Shannon sighed dramatically. “The lights were the first noticeable issue. We’re literally blowing fuses constantly. Sometimes the lights do this weird thing where they burn really bright and then dim down until they go out completely. It’s really annoying. And the basement is the worst, I hate it down there. It’s finished so it’s not like it’s a dungeon or anything, but it’s still awful. I mean, there is one unfinished section where the boiler and breaker box and laundry are located. I did one load of laundry down there and it felt like someone was watching me the entire time.”

“Anything besides a spooky feeling happening down there?” Biddy asked, scribbling away in her notebook.

The couple exchanged another look, “Something growled at me,” Shannon admitted.

“What now?” I breathed.

“When we first moved in we thought it would make for a good play space for Bailey. I’d just put Jeremy down for a nap and Bailey and I were down there pretending with her Little People figures. I was leaned up against the wall next to the door that leads to the unfinished section of the basement when something on the other side of that door growled at me. It was loud and I honestly thought that there was, like a wolf or some big dog in the house.”

“Uh uh.”

“Yeah, I jumped up and grabbed Bailey and ran upstairs. I closed and locked the door behind me and then went right up to Jeremy’s room to check on him. He was still sound asleep. So I closed his door then closed Bailey and I in her room and called animal control.”

“No!” I exclaimed.

“Of course I did,” she snapped. “This really sweet woman, um-”

“Sue Webb?” I interrupted.

“Yeah, that’s her, Sue. She came over pretty quickly and went right down to the basement and was down there for about ten minutes but when she came up she told me she hadn’t found anything. She said she carefully checked along all the walls and the bulkhead to see if there were any places where an animal could either hide or slip into the house, but she couldn’t find anything like that. She was certain there was no way an animal could get inside let alone escape from the room. Honestly, like that’s when I started to get really scared, I mean I know what I heard. It was a large animal, it sounded, like predatory. I know Sue believed me, she wasn’t treating me like I was hysterical or anything, but she couldn’t do anything to help, you know?”

“That is terrifying,” I commented dumbly.

“Is that the only time you heard growling?” Biddy asked, her voice tight.

“No. That was just the first time.”

“Always in the basement?”

“No, I heard it in the mud room once and one time when I was on the phone with my sister it was behind me in the kitchen.”

“That’s the other thing,” Doug added.

“What?” Shannon asked annoyed.

“The phone. We have trouble with the landline. I mean, we use our cell phones for everything no one we know has the number for the landline. But we get these weird calls, at least a couple of times a week. It’s always this man who sounds like he’s talking really really fast, you can’t understand anything he’s saying.”

“But you can tell that he’s frightened,” Shannon added. “I always feel like he is trying to tell me something, or like, warn me. It’s really unsettling. I’ve tried ignoring the phone or just picking it up and then hanging up, you know? But until one of us answers it just keeps on ringing.”

“That is so creepy,” I said.

“It’s the worst,” Shannon agreed. “We hear noises all the time, especially at night after we’ve put the kids to bed. There’s knocking and shuffling on the stairs and sometimes when I am home alone during the day with the kids I’ll hear this, like, whispering. It’s really faint and it always sounds like it is in the next room over. Like, if I’m in the kitchen I’ll hear it coming from the dining room. It sounds like there are people whispering something to each other, I can’t tell what they are saying but it sounds like they are excited about something.”

“So the whispering moves throughout the house?” Biddy asked.

“Well, actually it moves throughout the first floor,” Shannon clarified. “I’ve never heard it upstairs. But the noises, like the knocking and shuffling and everything, that happens everywhere.”

“Just at night?” Biddy asked right before we all heard a loud bang come from the fireplace.

I froze, my fight or flight instinct screaming at me to get the hell out of there.

“That happens sometimes,” Doug said wide-eyed.

“What in the hell was that?” I demanded.

“Well, sometimes something bangs on the flue like that,” he replied.

I looked at Biddy, “What do you think? We have enough information, right? Maybe we should wrap this up?”

Ignoring me she asked the couple, “Is the entity interactive? I mean if you ask it to make a noise or even move something will it respond?”

“I’ve told the whispers to shut up before and they stopped,” Shannon replied.

Biddy scribbled on her notepad. I was in too much of a panic to look at what she was writing. I wanted out of that house. The vibe had shifted, I don’t know how to explain it other than it didn’t feel like there were only four of us in that room. Biddy and I were on a couch with a large window behind it, I had this feeling that something was outside looking in at us. At the same time I felt as though someone was crouched behind Shannon’s chair. Really. I imagined someone there, crouched down, listening in on our conversation.

“The haunting appears to be primarily auditory, is that accurate?” Biddy asked.

“You mean, like, we are only hearing things?” Shannon asked.

“Correct, are you mostly plagued by phantom noises?”

“No,” Doug replied. “We see things.”

Holy Mary Mother of God, I thought, We need to get out of here. Ghosts and monsters were one thing, but demons are just too much, too evil. I didn’t completely trust that Biddy’s holy water would keep the beings from following us home and I didn’t know if we’d already doomed ourselves just by being there.

“What have you seen?” Biddy asked. She wasn’t messing around any more, not that she ever does really on her interviews, but her tone and demeanor had changed. I knew that she believed demonic hauntings were rare. That people often jumped to the conclusion that the devil was in their home when another explanation was more appropriate. But I sensed her growing tension and it made my tension skyrocket. I realized that I was gripping one of the Coursey’s throw pillows in my lap as if it could offer me any protection.

“There’s a woman in this house. She doesn’t look like a ghost or anything, she looks like a real person. She’s awful,” Shannon told us.

“I saw her when we were at Shannon’s parent’s house in Connecticut. That’s how we knew it had followed us,” Doug added.

“Tell me about the first time she appeared to you and then detail the subsequent sightings,” Biddy instructed.

“I was in Jeremy’s room rocking him after he’d finished his bottle. It was about eleven o’clock and Doug was downstairs watching television. I had the noise machine on so it wasn’t that I heard anything, it was more that I sort of sensed that someone was in the hallway just beyond Jeremy’s doorway.

“The door was open and I’d left the bathroom light on so the hallway was dim but I could see it clearly. I got this really weird, like agitated feeling. I was scared and mad at the same time. I mean was exhausted and just wanted to put the baby down so I could go to sleep, but I knew something wasn’t right. I stopped rocking Jeremy and whispered Doug’s name, hoping it was him out there. Then there were these heavy footsteps in the hallway, like a man in work boots. I was absolutely frozen in place staring at the open doorway and that’s when I saw her.

“She’s a young girl, maybe fifteen? And she wears a plaid flannel shirt and Doc Martins. You know how we used to dress when grunge was cool? That’s what she looks like. She has this long wavy brown hair that is so greasy it’s stringy and she’s thin, too thin really. Her jeans sort of hang off of her.

“So that night she slowly walked past the doorway and my brain just like, stopped working for a second. I thought maybe a teenager from the neighborhood had come into the house but it didn’t make any sense. Just before she passed the doorway she turned and looked towards me and the baby. She didn’t have a face.”

“No,” I breathed. My chest tight with fear.

“She was headed towards Bailey’s room and I had to do something. I got up and tiptoed to the doorway and forced myself to look out into the hall but she was gone. I rushed to Bailey’s bedroom and found her sound asleep. So I went to the top of the stairs and called down to Doug. After he made sure that girl wasn’t in our bedroom we brought Bailey and the baby in there and then we called the police. They didn’t find anything. Of course I didn’t mention that she didn’t have a face. In fact, I didn’t even tell Doug that that night.”

“I didn’t know about the face thing until I saw her myself,” Doug added. “I was taking the garbage out at my in-laws place. They are basically in the middle of the woods. Anyway, I dragged the garbage bins down to the end of their long driveway and when I was walking back to the house I saw something step out from the shadows at side of their garage. It was a young girl, a teenager. She had on the same clothing that Shannon described. The girl just stood there, staring down at the ground with her hands in her pockets.

“It was really freaky, man. I stood there like an idiot watching her for a minute then I called out to her, I said something like, ‘Hey kid, what’s up?’ and she just shrugged her shoulders. I was, I mean, honestly? I was fucking terrified. It didn’t make any logical sense to be scared of a young girl standing in the driveway but something wasn’t right about her. I could feel it. I didn’t want to take another step towards her. So I called out to her again, like ‘Do you need help?’ And then she looked up.

“Her hair covered her face until she tilted her head up completely to the sky and then I saw that her face didn’t have any features. It was dark out but there was light from the house, you know? It wasn’t some optical illusion. She didn’t have a face.”

“Jesus, why didn’t you lead with this?” I demanded, shocked.

“Because it sounds ridiculous!” Shannon yelled. “We know how insane this sounds. After Doug saw her at my parents house the noises and shuffling started up in their home. So we had no choice, we left and came back here. It’s like trapped. So please tell us how to fucking get rid of it.”

“Honey, settle down,” Doug said in a low voice.

“No Doug, you settle the fuck down. I’m going to get as shrill as I fucking have to until someone helps us!” With that she got up and stormed out of the room leaving us to stare awkwardly at one another.

Biddy looked down at her notes and made a few additions to the writing.

Doug was looking down at his hands which were gripped together in his lap.

I shifted in my seat awkwardly and asked, “What do you think is actually haunting this place? You think it is demonic?”

Doug glanced over his shoulder towards the doorway through which his wife had stormed. “Look,” he said in a forced whisper, running his hands over his Matt Lauer haircut, “Shannon doesn’t know everything, okay? I suspected the girl we were seeing in the house was just a ghost, you know? Like maybe she had a message for us or something. So I did a few Google searches for missing teenagers in the area to see what turned up.

“I went through old news reports until I came across this one article, it was a memorial piece written in nineteen-ninety-eight, five years after the body of a young girl was found in the woods off the Centennial Reservation trail. The article gave an overview of the circumstances and reported that the case was still open, no suspects had ever been arrested. The victim, a fifteen-year-old sophomore from Wayland had been stabbed over 200 times by four different blades. It was believed that the killing was ritualistic.”

“Oh my God,” I breathed, horrified. “How have I never heard about this?”

“Small towns hold big secrets,” Biddy murmured. “But why do you think this has something to do with your house?”

“The girl’s name, Amy Tuttle, it was written in the middle of one of the pentagrams painted on the floor in the basement.”

“You said your landlord cleaned everything up down there before you moved in,” I pointed out suspiciously.

“The McCormacks photographed the entire interior of the house before they began the renovation,” Doug replied. “When I talked to them about the problems we were having in the house and they mentioned the state the basement was in when they bought the place they said something to me like, ‘You should see the photos we took.’ So I asked to see them.

“When I found the article about the girl I remembered that the name ‘Amy’ had been painted inside one of the pentagrams the McCormacks had photographed. So I asked to see the pictures again and that’s when I saw that someone had actually painted ‘Amy T’ within the symbol.”

“Oh my God, you think that girl was killed in your basement?”

“I do. I’m trying to convince Bruce to turn the photos over to the police, but he’s dragging his feet.”

“Who the hell is Bruce?” I asked, my mind spinning with all the details being thrown at us.

“Bruce McCormack. Susan’s husband,” Doug replied and I could almost feel Biddy roll her eyes at me.

“Anyhow, that’s why I contacted the Catholic Church to help us. Shannon wanted to see if we could find one of those ghost hunting teams or a psychic to come to the house. But I knew we needed an expert.

“So, to answer your question,” he said, looking at me, “I think there is a demon in this house. I think a bunch of kids pretending to be Satanists killed that girl in this basement,” he pointed to the floor under his feet, “and they opened a doorway they had no idea how to close. The thing they brought into the world is attached to my family and it disguises itself as that little girl.”

“Holy shit,” I breathed.

Right then Shannon stepped out from behind the doorway. “You son of a bitch!” She spat.

I screamed. I mean I fully screamed out loud and look, I’m not proud of this, but at least we know my reflexes are on point. Without thinking, I took the pillow I had been white knuckling in my lap and threw it at Shannon. Hard. It hit her square in the face.

“What is wrong with you?” She yelled.

“I am so so sorry! You startled me!”

Shannon ignored my apology and tore into her husband about keeping the information about the murdered girl from her. She’d been listening to his story from the other room. As she yelled at him and he defended himself I became aware that the lights in the living room were growing brighter and brighter.

I gripped Biddy’s arm and said, “Look,” and pointed to a glowing lamp on a side table.

She crossed herself and closed her eyes. Instinctively, I grasped my St. Benedict medal.

And then the lights went out.

It wasn’t completely dark outside, but it was getting there. We could all see one another in the dim and shadowed room and the effect was eerie.

“I can’t be here anymore,” I said after several deafening moments of silence.

Biddy insisted that we stay with Shannon while Doug attended to the fuse box, but you best believe we hightailed it out of there shortly after.

Here’s the thing. You know, I’ve been asked to share the actual recordings of my interviews with you all so you could hear past EVPs that I’ve caught on my digital recorder. I’ve turned down those requests because I can’t out my neighbors. This is a small town and it is easy enough to connect the dots without hearing their actual voices.

If you want proof that EVPs are real, just go online. You’ll find thousands. But be careful what you wish for, those raspy, disembodied voices are hard to get out of your head.

There are EVPs on my recording of the Coursey’s interview. But I didn’t catch any voices. I caught a growls. Several of them, and they are distinct and menacing. They are so clear in fact that it sounds as if there was a pet wolf sitting next to my digital recorder for our entire conversation.

I did have the urge to share the audio with you. I intended to isolate the growls in the recording to protect Doug and Shannon’s voices from being recognized. I did my whole [text in brackets] deal throughout the story to indicate where the growls had occurred in the recording and I had a moment where I thought it would be a good idea to play the recordings for you at the end of this story.

So you would know that it was real.

So that you would be as terrified as I was when I heard them.

But then I took the brackets out of the story. And then I deleted the recording of the Coursey’s interview because I think that whatever is in that house, and let’s not kid ourselves, it’s a demon and an incredibly powerful one at that, it wants you to hear its voice. It wants me to show you how real and how powerful it is and I’m not going to do that.

unnamed-2

 

Before our story, an old fireside tale:

In a dark, dark wood, there was a dark, dark house.

And in that dark, dark house, there was a dark, dark room.

And in that dark, dark room, there was a dark, dark cupboard.

And in that dark, dark cupboard there was a dark, dark shelf.

And on that dark, dark shelf, there was a dark, dark box.

And in that dark, dark box, there was –

something unspeakable.

 

Chris and I dragged the girls up to Lake Winnipesaukee over Columbus day weekend. I’d booked a quaint VRBO online but when we drove up to the small home Chris refused to step inside. He insisted it looked like a good place to get strangled. I’m telling you, he doesn’t do creepy. We didn’t stay there – of course, we paid for it, we just ghosted.

Instead we found a room at the two-hundred year old Wolfeboro Inn, which I thought was fantastic. Chris didn’t sleep. Nothing in particular happened, he just convinced himself that the place was haunted. Our second night in town we stayed at a sort of condo community right on the lake. It being October and “off season” the vacation town was quiet. That night I took a turn not sleeping. I was certain no one would hear us scream when the undead backwoodsmen broke in and dragged us down to the lake.

I know, we’re quite the adventurous travelers. Despite the accommodations kerfuffle we loved the lake and had been looking forward to visiting again next summer. We were even big talking about how great it would be to buy our own lake house.

That is, until I spoke with Jane. The week after we returned I mentioned our trip as I was restocking shelves in the food pantry. As it turned out, Jane had a whopper of a story about the lake. It was so disturbing, in fact, that there is no chance in hell I’ll ever go back there. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I’ll ever step foot in New Hampshire again.

 

***

 

Though we’ve worked together almost every Monday at the food pantry for the past three years I haven’t spent much time with Jane outside of our volunteering. So I invited her over to the house for tea to tell me her story.

“Oh, wow,” Jane breathed as she entered my kitchen.

I’m so used to my house that I tend to forget it is a lot to take in upon first glance. Our last house was all grey. Grey walls, grey pillows, grey furniture grey blankets, grey everything. It was nice and all, but with this new home, a little yellow Cape Cod, I couldn’t bring myself to grey everything out again. And so the pendulum swung real hard in the other direction. The house is a hodge podge of color. The walls in my kitchen and dining room are covered in lime green leopard print wallpaper (there’s oversized navy blue zebra print wallpaper in the powder room) and the butcher block countertops in the kitchen don’t match, I liked both stains so I did one on the island and another on the counters. The mud room ceiling is painted a bright pink called Strawberry Shortcake. My office is lined in a colorful floral wallpaper that I’ve nicknamed, “Oh, Nana.” There is a cozy emerald green wingback chair with a matching footstool in the living room. There are pink garden stools and blue and white Oriental vases and lamps and cheetah print carpeting. Kids art and toys everywhere and so are Walter and Artie (the dogs). I admit it, it’s a lot.

In addition to the kaleidoscope that sort of smacks you over the head, the art in my dining room is, at first glance at least, unsettling. It’s a painting of a woman from the neck down in a blue and white striped 1950s house dress and sparkly high heels. Her bejeweled arm hangs at her side casually grasping an axe. The artist, Kelly Reemsten, created a whole line of paintings of women in gorgeous dresses holding different household tools or climbing step ladders, doing traditionally masculine activities as they glow with femininity. They’re really quite beautiful. This one with the axe just spoke to me.

“Too much?” I asked Jane.

“No, no,” she insisted. “Let me just get my bearings.”

I gave her the short tour of the first floor and explained the renovations we’d had done since moving in a year and a half prior.

“So that’s the Clubhouse up there?” She asked when we wandered back into the kitchen.

I nodded and filled mugs with hot water from the Poland Spring bubbler.

“Can I take a peek?”

She climbed about halfway up the ladder. “I don’t get it,” she called down to me. “How in the hell did someone get up there without you noticing?”

“Chris thinks it must have happened during that little block party, which is just about the creepiest explanation because that means we know the person who put it there.”

Jane hopped down and accepted a mug from me. “Have you set up cameras?”

I shook my head.

“You’d better. Even if just one outside the front and back doors. You have an alarm system, right? Just call ADT and ask them to set up a couple motion triggered cameras.”

She had a point. “That’s not a bad idea. I know I should do it, but actually catching someone really freaks me out.”

“Do you think it was, like a paranormal phenomena?”

I smiled. “No. Ghosts don’t use paint and duct tape.”

“Scary,” Jane said, staring up at the space.

“Come on, let’s sit in the living room,” I suggested. “I’m dying to hear your ghost story.”

We sat in deep navy blue chairs angled to face one another. In-between which was a window overlooking our tiny back yard. I flipped the switch on my digital recorder and placed it on the green lacquer tray atop the large circular wicker table in front of us.

“Cozy room,” Jane commented.

“Thanks,”I replied. “So… what happened at the lake?”

She took a small sip of her tea and then placed the mug on the tray to cool. “You know, I’ve wanted to tell someone about this for a long time, but Paul felt it was safer to keep it a secret. But after reading your blog…” She trailed off.

“It’s crazy how many people have stories,” I offered.

“The cabin has always been there, a bad memory right in the back of my mind and when you mentioned you’d brought your family to the lake it all came back to me,” she shivered. “Listen, you can’t ever go there again, alright? To the lake, I mean. It isn’t safe.”

“What the hell happened?” I asked nervously.

“We inherited a house from my great uncle Frank. I barely knew the man. I was probably, I don’t know maybe four or five years old the last time I saw him. He had some sort of a falling out with my mother. She never told me what it was about, but they stopped speaking at some point and then he fell out of our lives. Until his lawyer called to tell me that I was the sole beneficiary of his will.

“I was only twenty-five years old. Paul and I had just gotten married and then about a month later I found out that a forgotten uncle left me a really nice little sum of money. It was like something out of a fairy tale. And then there was the house,” Jane leaned forward to retrieve her tea cup. She quietly held it in her hands for a moment before taking a small sip. “I don’t know if it is just hindsight, but I knew that house was trouble the second I found out it would be mine. The money was thrilling, of course, but the house? ‘You will take possession the property on Winnipesaukee and everything residing upon it,’ the lawyer told me as though I’d better not argue the point.

“I’d never been up to the lake. Paul had though, his family had spent a week there on summer vacation when he was ten and he remembered it fondly.  

“We picked up my check and the keys to the cabin at the lawyer’s office in Boston. At the time we were living in the Back Bay, you know before it was a good idea to live in the Back Bay. You wouldn’t believe the rats,” she shivered again. “The idea of a cozy cabin on the lake was an impossible luxury. Something for real adults, not us.

“And so, we drove up north and I felt, I don’t know, I think I was overwhelmed with the possibility of it all. But Paul was so excited. He kept saying, ‘Can you believe it? Our own vacation house?’ He began to jokingly call me Buffy and refer to himself as Chaz. The ride up was beautiful, late October and perfect for leaf-peeping. The house was in a town called Wolfeboro.”

“That’s where we stayed!” I said, excitedly.

“You were at the Inn, right?”

I nodded.

“It’s safe enough there, I suppose with all the people around. But it chills me to think that you were there with your children,” Jane said darkly. “You didn’t go into the woods at all did you?”

Guiltily I admitted that we had taken a few steps down a trail but turned back when we realized the girls weren’t into it.

“Thank God for that. Those dark woods,” she looked down at her cup. “You know what? I actually dreamed of those woods last week, it would have been right before you were to go up to the lake. It likes to remind me that it’s there. Wouldn’t it have just loved for you to stay at that cabin,” she said more to herself than to me.

“What would have loved us to stay?” I asked, spooked.

Jane gathered herself, and ignoring my question, she continued, “It took us a few shots before we found the narrow dirt road that was a sort of driveway to the cabin and by the time we did it was dark out. The entrance was overgrown and there was no mailbox to mark the address, we only had the lawyer’s terse directions to go by.

“The driveway was about half a mile long, and the woods to either side had almost completely overtaken it. I wish I could describe to you just how dark it was. Trees closed in overhead and there was no room between our tiny Volkswagon and the forest to either side, branches and brambles scraped along the car. Halfway down the road I desperately wanted to turn around but that would have been impossible. We didn’t even know if we were on the right path, we just had to keep moving forward hoping the path would end. Finally, we emerged from the woods and there was the lake, black and huge right in front of us. The day had been cloudy so there was no moonlight or stars to offer any illumination. The driveway curved and then the high beams lit on the house.”

Jane looked out the window at my little fenced in back yard and the little red house directly beyond that with it’s own little fenced in yard. She said, “It’s good to have neighbors so close. Seclusion is dangerous. The cabin was secluded. The second I saw that house, sitting alone in those awful woods, I knew. I knew in my heart that the place was bad. Paul did too, but he made a joke about Freddy Krueger and I forced a laugh and pushed aside my fear.

“There wasn’t anything particularly strange about the house. It was a small one-story cabin that faced the lake. It had been painted dark brown, which just added to the gloom, though there was a row of small rectangular windows set high up along the back wall that let a modest amount of light inside during the day.

“We got out of the car and I actually felt unsafe. I said so. It was as though we were being watched. Paul said we were city slickers and would have to get used to the quiet. He  grabbed a couple things from the trunk and we approached the house. The key that the lawyer had given me didn’t work, someone had poured liquid cement in the keyhole. It didn’t matter, the door swung open with a little push.

“Inside the house,” Jane paused, considering, “it was dark. Even after turning on every lamp, the place was cold and dark. The walls were painted what must have once been a robin’s egg blue but it had dulled over time to a dingy blue grey. From what I understood, my great uncle hadn’t used the cabin very much in his final years and the lawyer had suggested we hire a cleaning service to open the house for us before we arrived. We took his advice, so the cabin was clean, though quite worn, dingy even.

“A small kitchen lined the front wall of the house, with low cabinets beneath crank windows overlooking a porch and the lake, though we didn’t see the view until morning. There was a kitchen table, a couch and some worn out chairs in that main living area. On the left side of the house were the cabin’s only other rooms, the bathroom to the back of the house and the bedroom to the front. The bedroom had those awful crank windows too. I can’t see those today without thinking of that terrible place.

“A porch extended the length of the house out front with steps leading to a sparse lawn and the narrow beach beyond. We only stepped out there for a minute that first night. Neither of us wanted to be outside for long, inside the cabin wasn’t much more welcoming but at least there was light.

“Paul went out to grab the rest of our things from the car and I stood in the doorway watching him. I swear it was as though the woods had closed in around us as we were inside the house. I never went into those woods, the whole time we were there. I had to dump some branches and debris from gardening in the woods several times, but I never went further than a few feet back, it was just too…”

“Dark?” I guessed.

Jane smiled though her eyes were worried. “This is harder to talk about than I thought it would be. I’d thought I’d pushed these memories down, but talking about the cabin is bringing it all back.

“I really wanted to love the place and I tried at first. We spent a month of weekends there, but every time we went up things got worse. That first night though, something woke me up at three o’clock in the morning. It was a noise, a soft creaking from out in the living room but I couldn’t place it. I stayed in bed, listening, too afraid to investigate. Somehow I fell asleep and in the morning, Paul was up before me and when I met him at the kitchen table he said, ‘We really shouldn’t leave these windows open at night, who knows what critters could crawl in.’

“I hadn’t opened those windows. In fact I had made darn sure they were closed tight before we went to bed. That had been the noise I’d heard, the little cranks turning as the windows opened.”

“Oh, Jane,” I breathed. “Uh uh.”

“We did everything we could to keep those windows shut. There were four of them and they opened at random. Never during the daytime, only in the middle of the night. We’d wake up to the soft creaking noise and just know.

“We tried to enjoy ourselves at the lake and we made the best of it during the daytime. We didn’t discuss how unsettling the place was at night. I think we both felt that if we acknowledged it, then it would make it real and we’d have to do something about it.

“So we set to work on the yard. It was late fall and we wanted to do as much work on the exterior of the house as we could until the cold chased us indoors. We made plans to paint and brighten up the interior that winter, but that never came to be. My first job was to dig out a garden bed beneath the front of the porch while Paul cleared leaves and debris from the small yard and beach.

“That first morning I was digging up the garden, turning the soil when I hit something with my shovel. It was a small silver box that had been taped shut with electrical tape. I called Paul over and we carried it inside to clean it off. It was really a pretty little thing with delicate carvings engraved all over. We pried it open and inside there were some random trinkets. A small geode, some white ribbon, um, what else… I think just a tiny crucifix and a bunch of old acorns.”

“Nope,” I said.

“I know. It was strange, but I didn’t automatically think there was anything spooky about the box. I assumed a child had gathered a bunch of treasures then buried and forgot about them. It never occurred to me that it might have been placed there for protection. I put everything back in the box, besides the acorns, and then arranged it on a shelf in this rather grand cupboard in the living room.”

I tsked and shook my head.

“It was a colossal mistake opening that box,” Jane admitted. “In fact, bringing that box inside the house was the worst mistake of my life, though it took time to understand what I had done.

“We were packing to leave Sunday morning after our second night in the house. I was so relieved to be getting back to the city and away from that awful place. Paul was just shutting the trunk when we heard a car slowly crunching down the driveway towards us. We looked at each other and Paul cracked, ‘Welcome Wagon?’

“It was a beat up old pickup truck, the driver was this tiny little woman, perfectly turned out in a power suit and heels. She introduced herself as Nancy Kline, a local real estate agent who represented Home Away Builders. They were interested in acquiring our property so they could build a resort community with little individual cabins and an activity center.

“I told her we hadn’t even had time to settle in but that we’d talk over the idea. She gave me her card and we chit chatted a bit. ‘Dark back here, isn’t it?’ She commented. Then she said something about how Home Away would be able to fix that by clearing out the underbrush and cutting the treeline back from the waterfront.

“Just as she said it there was this loud grumbling that came from the woods behind the house and then we heard what sounded like a big tree crack and fall to the ground. We all stood stock still, petrified. Paul said something like, ‘Maybe the trees will do the work for them,’ and we all laughed nervously.

“Nancy offered a quick goodbye then hopped back in her truck and got out of there. As we watched her go I said we ought to consider the builder’s offer. Paul brushed the comment aside, ‘Where’s your sense of adventure, Buffy?’ He asked. We drove back to Boston and I simply did not stop thinking, or dreaming about that cabin until we drove back up the following Friday. I was consumed by the place, and not in a good way.

“That trip we made sure to get up there before dark. We didn’t discuss it at the time, but we were thinking the same thing. We did not want to be outside that house, near those woods for even a second in the dark.

“When we went inside we discovered that all the windows were open.”

“No way,” I breathed.

“Yup, even the bedroom windows. We searched the house top to bottom to be sure no raccoons or anything else had gotten in and that’s when Paul first noticed the fact that we hadn’t heard any animals around at all, not even birds chirping near the house. The woods around the cabin were exceptionally quiet except, of course, for the occasional cracking branches. It was strange.

“Once we’d determined there wasn’t anything in the house we settled in, built a fire and cooked dinner. We were on our third glass of wine in front of the fireplace when we heard the scratching. Something was outside scratching along back of the house, beneath one of those high windows.

“I immediately said, ‘Don’t go out there,’ to Paul. He told me not to worry, that it was the last thing he wanted to do. We tried to guess what it was. It was far too loud and the claws sounded way too long to be a raccoon. Could it be a mountain lion? Maybe a moose’s antlers? We had no idea. Paul got up and banged on the window. The noise stopped and we were absolutely silent for a long moment, listening. Finally, Paul shrugged and said, ‘I guess that scared it away,’ and then the window above him smashed into a million pieces. I screamed and Paul sort of threw himself onto the ground to avoid being hit by the glass. As he did I saw something pass in front of that window, and it was big. Really big.

“It was too dark to truly see it, and thank God for that. What I saw was taller than the window and the window was at least six feet off the ground. Paul insisted that it must have been a moose that had smashed the window with its antlers. But what I saw-” Jane took a breath. “It wasn’t a moose, it didn’t have antlers for one thing, it had horns. Short horns atop a sort of figure-eight shaped head. And the body – it was immense, the thing had been bending down to peer into the window,” Jane shuddered.

“Oh my God,” I breathed, wanting to move away from the window in my own living room.

“We didn’t sleep that night. I was certain that the thing would smash through the larger windows along the front of the house, especially the ones in the bedroom. That next morning, like clockwork two of the windows above the kitchen cabinets had been cranked open and that was when I made the decision to sell the place to the resort builders. I never wanted to come back there again. Paul wanted to discuss it after we’d had some sleep, but when he went out back to investigate the side of the house where we’d heard the scratching he changed his mind. The massive claw marks on the wood beneath the window convinced him. We had to get rid of the place.

“As we stared at the scratches on the wood I happened to look down at the ground, I don’t know why we hadn’t checked before, I suppose we were too freaked out by the claw marks to notice. There were prints in the dirt, but they weren’t footprints, they were hoof marks. Paul tried to convince both of us that it must have been a moose. He argued that it had simply scratched its antlers against the house and his banging on the wall startled the animal.

“The thing is, the scratches on the house? They were sort of systematic, or I suppose intentional – a pattern. And they were in threes, all hash-marked beneath that one window. Like something was marking the house – for what God only knows. I knew what I had seen move past the window that night but I was too frightened to press the point with Paul. I begged him to leave immediately. He finally agreed that we probably wouldn’t get any sleep if we stayed another night but he insisted that we board the window up before we left.
“I didn’t tell him how ridiculous I thought that was, I mean, for Christ’s sake! The windows had been opening by themselves! What was one more open window. But I knew that if I argued about it he’d just dig his heels in. I was so desperate to get out of there that I told him to go on ahead to the hardware store in town to buy plywood for the window. Meanwhile, I would stay behind to pack everything we’d brought to the house, which wasn’t much, but I had no intention of ever returning to that place.

“I will never forget watching Paul disappear down the driveway in our little car. I set to work packing our things which didn’t take me long at all. I tried to sit and read to pass the time until Paul came back but I couldn’t concentrate so I ended up pacing around the cabin, attempting to calm my nerves. That’s when I noticed the box I had uncovered in the garden, sitting there on the cupboard shelf. It sounds absurd, but I was overcome with the need to bring it back outside. It didn’t belong there.

“I grabbed that silver box and carried it out onto the front porch. I was afraid to walk out onto the yard, but something inside me knew that the thing I’d seen the night before was somehow tied to that damn box. I’d left the shovel leaning up against the house on the porch, so I grabbed it and marched down the steps to the front yard. I just started digging a hole near the area where I’d found the thing.

“I cursed my uncle for leaving me the house and I wondered, not for the first time, if perhaps he had done it as a final swipe at my mother. She had passed away several years before that, but maybe leaving me that horrible place was his final way to hurt her somehow.

“I dug down about two feet and threw the box into the hole. As I did I heard a loud crack come from the woods to my left. I turned and stared into the forest. It was really windy and it being late fall, the leaves were only about half down which made it difficult to see far past the tree line. But in all the movement a big fallen tree branch caught my attention. It was laying on the ground at an odd angle and I stared at it, trying to understand how it could be. And then something above it moved.  

“It was the thing, the one I’d seen the night before. I thought that it was leaning out from behind a tree to watch me, with all the leaves and the underbrush swirling I couldn’t completely make it out at first. But then it began to stand up. What I had thought were fallen tree branches were its legs. They unfolded as it stood, it was at least twice as tall as me. Ten feet tall if anything and, though there were branches swaying in front of it’s face, I glimpsed the short horns again and saw its huge black eyes for the first time. It’s body was a mottled brown and grey. It’s thin shoulders were rounded, slumped forward and as it watched me it lifted one of its long arms to grab onto a branch at least fifteen feet off the ground.

“It yanked it’s arm down and ripped the branch right off the tree. I screamed and it crouched back down quickly, you know how when kids hop around with their hands between their feet like they are frogs? That’s how it sat, very still, only now instead of just watching me it was more as if it were poised, ready to launch itself out of the woods.

“I backed away and stumbled up the porch steps. As I did it leaned its long body out of the woods, I think so that it could get a better look at me,” Jane closed her eyes and said quietly, “Those tiny horns on it’s head made it look like a grey demon. I don’t remember opening the door but I found myself inside the cabin with the shovel still in my hands and then I began shaking uncontrollably. It was almost more terrifying that I didn’t have my eyes on the thing anymore. I didn’t know if it was going to come crashing through the windows or just wait outside and attack Paul when he got back. I grabbed my purse and decided that everything else we’d brought to that horrible house was replaceable. This was before I had a cell phone so all I could do was wait for Paul to return. I hid in the bathroom, it was closest to the front door and had only one small high window. It was another half an hour before I finally heard the car bumping down the driveway.

“I stood on the toilet watching out the window and I waited until the entire car was beyond the trees. Then I dashed out of the house and sprinted towards Paul. I was screaming hysterically but I didn’t even realize it. Paul jumped out of the car, terrified. I screamed at him to get back in the car and get us out of there. He tried to calm me down and that’s when I really lost my mind.”

Jane actually smiled at the memory, she shook hair from her face and said, “I think I started screaming at him ‘Now! Go now! It’s coming you asshole! It’s coming!’ That got him moving. We peeled out of there and didn’t stop driving until we made it to a rest stop halfway back to Boston.”

“What did he say?” I asked

“He was scared. He didn’t know what to do, neither of us did. Should we call the police? Animal control?”

“What did you do?” I asked.  

“For a time, nothing,” Jane admitted. “Aside from drinking too much cheap wine every night and rehashing it all we didn’t do anything but try and process what had happened. Going back to the cabin was out of the question, but I began to feel responsible for the property. I felt obligated to keep people away from it.

“Whatever that thing had been, it was evil. It wasn’t any kind of animal I’ve ever heard of. I’ve had a long time to think about this and I believe it was more than just some monster. It felt primal. I’ve come to the conclusion, though it really isn’t anything more than a guess that it was some kind of an earth spirit or even an ancient god.”

“How the hell can you protect people from that?”

“I found a shaman and asked that if he couldn’t chase it from the property to at least contain it. He warned me that if the thing truly was a powerful ancient, there would be nothing he could do to restrain it. Even trying to do so might put us all at risk. Instead, he placed a boundary around the property to dissuade people from entering the area.

“Who knows how it works but he told us that if someone were to wander onto the property they would become overwhelmed with an urge to turn around and go the other direction. I hired a work crew to dig up the dirt driveway and put down topsoil in hopes that the forest would simply reclaim the path after a time. By now, I imagine you wouldn’t even know a path had ever existed there.

“Boaters can probably glimpse the cabin through the trees, but I don’t think anyone would want to dock and check it out.”

“So the cabin is just sitting there empty, in those dark woods,” I said, the image of the dark house vivid and chilling.

“Yes. Oh, and that real estate agent, the one representing the builders, she dug up our phone number and tried to make another offer for the property. I won’t say that it wasn’t tempting to just sell it and be done, but I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. Who knows what that thing would have done if those people went in and began digging up the property and taking down trees.
“I actually went a step further and hired a lawyer to help me track down the owners of the properties abutting my great uncle’s and over the years, Paul and I used the money I inherited to buy up acreage near the property. It drives the yuppies crazy. We get offers all the time but no one has business living there. Everyone is safer with a buffer around that property.

“The land has been put in a trust, that Paul and I control, it can never be sold and it must always remain free of development of any kind. And I mean no development, no nature trails, no fences, nothing. I hear we have a lot of enemies who blame us for halting economic development in that town and a lot of fans who consider us conservationist warriors. I don’t care what any of them think. They are safer for what we have done.”

“So you’ve never gone back?”

“Never,” Jane said resolutely. “Except in my nightmares.”

unnamed-1I did the right thing. I pulled one of those awkward K turns and followed Lindsay back to her house. I’m sure you can imagine her response when I pulled my ginormous car into the driveway behind her Mercedes SUV. Her initial, “Um, excuse me but I think you have the wrong house,” was followed by obvious annoyance and then alarm when I insisted that she not go into her home.

Maddeningly, Lindsay began repeating, “Maam, I feel unsafe,” over and over no matter what I said. So I finally yelled, “Lindsay, shut up. I just spent forty-five minutes in your sunroom talking to the monster that came with the pearl necklace you bought at auction.” She shut up. Eventually I was able to convince her to follow me to the Starbucks in Linden Square. Biddy met us and took it from there, but not before she revelled in an “I told you so” moment.

You guys, I talked to a monster and it cured my insomnia. I feel great. Whoever left that fake voodoo doll in my home can bring it. I talked to a monster for fuck’s sake. And now people are coming out of the woodwork to tell me their stories.

It’s awesome.

It’s terrible.

I admit, it’s getting a little out of control. But I haven’t had this much purpose, this much drive in a long time and I’ll take it. I’m OK with the minutia of daily life because there is something wonderfully terrifying happening and I’m in it. My childhood dreams are coming true. Though instead of Nancy Drew I think I’ve willed myself into the Bess role. Biddy might be George, or maybe she’s Nancy. I don’t know, let’s not overthink it. At any rate, it’s October, our high holy season, so I’m leaning in.

***

However, I do have one confession to make. I’ve been going to yoga. It turns out it’s worth the hype. I’ve heard for years that it would help my back but it sounded too damn boring to even consider. In reality it’s quite entertaining. I love the way the instructors talk. They say things like, “Now, reach your arm back and grab your toes, but only if they’re available to you,” and “Bring your leg into tree pose. You are rooted, you are strong. You are a tree. Now reach, reach to the sky and listen. What is the sky telling you?” It is really quite lovely.

So, I was in a class last Friday when the instructor, Alston (a silver fox type who could have been anywhere between forty-seven and seventy-seven years old), ended the class and we did that thing where you relax for ten minutes – which really is so incredibly relaxing – and then as everyone was rolling up their yoga mats he asked, “Has anyone heard about this blog of Wellesley hauntings.”

I gasped, and he looked right at me and said, “You’ve read it!” Before I could answer a woman in the back row called out, “My girlfriends and I drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out where all the houses are!” Another woman chimed in, “I only made it halfway through one story, it was too scary.” A third said, “Are they really true?”

I listened, shifty eyed and wishing that I could make like a tree pose and leave as three of my classmates debated the probability of the blog’s authenticity. The instructor chimed in here and there as the rest of the class whipped out their cell phones and googled the blog.

“Have you read it?” He asked me. I froze for a moment before admitting, “I’m Liz.”

He yelled. He yelled in the small, peaceful yoga room, “The universe is a bewildering tease! I knew we were meant to meet!”

Pandamonium, the kind that can only break out after middle aged women have been lead in a calming practice by an incredibly good-looking older gentleman, broke out. There were “Oh my God’s,” and “Who is Liz’s” and some shaking heads. There were questions, one about Mattie Payne, another about my St. Benedict medal.

A suburban women’s exercise class is a sure fire way to disseminate information. I’d been found out. It was exciting and scary and overwhelming and the instructor wanted me to come to his house for advice about an “ethereal conundrum.” He’d consulted his spirit guides, and my blog came up in three different synchronicities; a conversation, a business card, and a gut feeling to mention the blog in class that morning. He’d made up his mind to contact me that afternoon but that still small voice moved him to mention the blog after class.

“The universe delivered you in my moment of need,” he declared.

He insisted that we seize the opportunity our spirit guides had gifted us. I was high on relaxation fumes  and I wasn’t due to relieve Kat’s babysitter for another hour and a half so I agreed. He unhooked his phone from the speaker and called his wife in front of me.

“Siggy! Spirit answered. You’ll never believe who is coming over. That woman Liz from my dream… No, no the other one, the one from the blog.”

Okay, that was a sizeable red flag (I mean, how many women did this guy dream about?) but I found him so earnest and enthusiastic that I couldn’t wait to hear what the old hippie had to say. And these weren’t strangers, I knew his wife, Sigourney. She was an instructor at the studio too and I’d taken her class several times. She was prone to over sharing about past physical ailments of the gastrointestinal kind. Clean eating and bone broth had been her dual saviors and she preached their magical healing properties. Yes, I tried them, it didn’t stick. Anyhow, I went ahead and got into my car and followed my yoga instructor to his home.

Alston and Sigourney Mercer lived in an enormous mansion. The real old-fashioned kind, with groundskeepers and maids. It was a mammoth brick house set far back from Pond Road on Lake Waban (whose banks the Mercer’s shared with Wellesley College). The property was all trees and landscaping in front and wide open rolling green lawn extending gently down to the lake in back. I parked behind Alston in the driveway and followed him up wide, leaf strewn steps to the front door.

Once inside, we set our shoes (pricey leather flip flops, his and slide on cheap Champion sneakers from Amazon, mine) neatly onto a cowhide print mat. As I took off my rain jacket, Alston rang a large gong standing to the right of the doorway. Naturally, I screamed and crouched down on the ground.

“I’m sorry if I startled you,” he said softly. “As I’ve progressed in my practice I’ve become prone to absorbing other people’s energies, both emotional and physical. I’ve adopted this practice to scatter the energy that attaches to me during class.” He considered me for a moment. “Did the tightness I was feeling in my lower left back belong to you?”

I stared at him and stood back up.

“I thought so,” he nodded his head knowingly. “I can feel that your body is beginning to let it go, you’ve learned what you needed to from the pain. Just be patient as your body catches up with your mind.”

Sigourney saved me from a reply as she walked out of their immense open concept kitchen towards us. Her hair in a long braid down her back she wore an an oversized grey cashmere sweater and grey yoga pants. Her feet were bare. My best guess pegged Sigourney somewhere in her mid-forties though clean eating and Botox may have shaved off a few years.

“I knew there was something special about you,” she declared softly. “Alston often has meaningful dreams but this one seemed especially powerful.”

“Thanks for inviting me over,” I replied, dodging her comment. “Your home is beautiful.”

“Are you allergic to dogs?” She asked.

“No, thank God,” I replied.

“Baci! Bella! Come.”

Two glorious dogs entered the scene from stage left.

“What!” I gushed idiotically.

“Our silly Goldendoodles,” Sigourney said lovingly, as I bent down to scruff their huge curly-q heads.

“Let’s sit in the cove,” Alston suggested, smiling down at the dogs.

“The Cove” was an area in their kitchen. It contained the largest couch I’ve ever seen, a big half circular thing in soft grey leather. It’s shape mirrored by the outward bend of a window-lined wall overlooking the lake. It seemed that every home I’d been to lately had incredible views. In the “baby belt” (the part of town in which I lived) the only vista was of hodgepodge fences and toy strewn yards.

We sat, Alston and Sigourney at the couch’s apex (her legs draped over his lap) me to their left (wedged between the two hundred-pound dogs who guarded me on either side like stone lions).

“So, what can I help you with?” I asked wishing we could just talk about the dogs.

“Well, I fear we’ve gotten in a little bit over our heads,” Sigourney replied sheepishly. It was my first time experiencing a sheepish attitude. Turns out it’s like obscenity, you know it when you see it and it makes you distinctly uncomfortable.

“Siggy is in touch with Spirit,” Alston declared.

“Okay,” I said slowly.

“It’s true, through meditation I’ve opened my mind so that I am in a constant feedback loop with my spirit guides,” she explained.

“And that’s good?” I guessed.

“Absolutely, but,” she hesitated looking to Alston for reassurance, “Well, recently there’s been a lapse in communication. Some new energy came on the scene and it was very positive at first-”

“Indeed, by all appearances they were good spirits. You see, Siggy’s abilities are a blessing, and she has worked hard to-“

“Manage them,” Sigourney cut in. “But something happened. These new ‘energies’ caused me to completely lose touch with my spirit guides. It’s besides the point, though I could really use their guidance right now, but I think they were chased away.”

“By whom?” I asked, mentally patting myself on the back for using the word whom and then immediately panicking that I hadn’t used it properly.

Alston released a deep breath, “The fairies.”

I pinched my lips together willing myself not to giggle.

Rubbing Sigourney’s foot absently Alston said, “They are not what they initially presented.”

Stalling until I could trust myself to speak, I blinked slowly and nodded my head. Then I asked, “So they were nice to you at first but now they are causing problems.”

“To put it lightly,” Alston confirmed.

As Alston took another deep breath Sigourney launched into an explanation, “We have many spirits here with us. I’ve always been open to that, you know, open to the other world’s alongside ours. But since I’ve been meditating upon intentionally opening myself up further I’ve begun to attract [dramatic pause] other things. There have been a few negative encounters, but before the fairies came my spirit guides always enveloped me in a golden light of protection.”

“Hmm,” I said, meaning Oh, for fuck’s sake.

“I’m not a medium or anything,” Sigourney continued. “I am just in tune with the energies that surround us and I’ve been gifted with the ability to read other people’s energy fields.”

If that were true then she must have seen my energy field turn cloudy and dark. I don’t dig people who claim this ability. If it’s true then it’s intrusive, if they’re lying or are just good at picking up on other people’s moods then making this magical claim is manipulative at best.

I changed the subject. “Can you see ghosts?”

“Oh sure,” she replied as though that were a given.

“So you’re intuitive and you can see ghosts and sense otherworldly energies. Then you’re a medium,” I pointed out.

“Well, I suppose you could say I’m a self-taught medium, not a natural one.”

“Okay, what about the fairies, can you see them?” I asked, looking back and forth between the couple’s concerned faces.

“Yes,” they replied in unison.

One of the dogs gave up sitting and collapsed on the couch, dropping it’s massive head on my lap. I really just wanted to talk about the dogs. “So what have the fairies done to make you think they are bad?” I asked.

“They weren’t bad at first,” Sigourney replied defensively. “They were nice and, sort of playful. When I experienced them the first time in my meditation they were like little orbs of light in a rainbow of brilliant colors. They became more actualized the more I noticed them and over time they began to take shape.” She looked over at Alston guiltily.

“Can you see them too?” I asked.

He nodded his head seriously.

“They look like tiny little stick figures now, about two feet tall, and-” Sigourney hesitated, “They’ve lost those brilliant hues.

“They remind me of tiny birch trees,” Alston added, “Their weird heads are sort of a part of their bodies if that makes any sense.”

It did in a really creepy way.

“I invited them into our world, into our home. They were just so sweet in my meditations and I intuitively knew that they wanted to bring me gifts.”

“Gifts?”

“Yes, they told me they had been attracted to my open vibrations and if I were to give them safe harbor they would bring blessings that I had never even dreamed of.”

Oh man, I thought. “Where’d they come from?” I asked.

“They said they came from the woods but you really can’t believe anything they say,” Sigourney replied with a nervous laugh.

“That’s where I first encountered them,” Alston explained. “In the woods around the house. Siggy had told me all about them, it was exciting. We thought… well we first met at a yoga retreat and we connected over our shared interest in energy work. I truly believe that if we can just get out of our own way, there are energies that we can tap into that will completely heal and help us.”

“You mean like Reiki?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” Alston replied slowly. “Yes, indeed there is space for energies to heal people of their diseases, and that is wonderful. But that is not our calling. We are interested in tapping into energies in the universe to strengthen and guide us along our path to fulfilling our life purpose.”

I wasn’t following.

“We wanted to tap into the power of the universe,” Alston said trying to explain.

I still wasn’t following.

“We thought we could manifest everything we ever wanted if we could just align ourselves with the one true source of universal power.”

“Like the Secret,” I said.

“No,” Sigourney said, obviously offended. “That is abundance work. It’s beginner level. We were looking to find something to bring us up to the highest vibration possible.”

“Like the fairies?” I guessed, completely confused.

“Not specifically the fairies, but I cast a wide net in my meditation and they showed up. And they told me they could do for us what we could not do for ourselves. They would deliver our dreams to us if we would feed them,” Sigourney admitted.

“Oh God, please tell me they don’t eat small animals or something,” I pleaded.

No, nothing like that. It was energy, emotional energy they wanted. It was a trade off, you see. They guided good fortune and positive events to us and in turn we allowed them to feed off our energy.”

I shook my head. I didn’t completely understand what the hell they were talking about but I got enough to know it was a bad idea.

I decided to get away from the airy fairy talk and back onto firm footing. I said, “Okay, so you saw them in the woods?”

“Yes,” Alston replied quickly. “I was practicing Tai Chi in the yard one morning,” he motioned towards a spot in the woods that lined the yard. “We created a small patio area back just beyond the treeline for my practice.

“It was this past summer probably late July, just after dawn. The woods were beginning to wake up but it was still rather dark. I was staring out at the water when I heard a loud shuffling behind me. I often hear shuffling in the underbrush and it’s usually just squirrels or chipmunks scurrying around, but this was different. The noise came towards me, right up behind me and then stopped. I had the feeling that whatever it was was watching me and that I was in danger.

“I was immediately gripped with a fear. I turned slowly and saw three of them there, standing right on the edge of the patio. At that point they were still projecting an image of color, those three were a dim purple, with spindly legs and arms. They wore sort of interested expressions and they were just watching me.

“I still felt frightened but I suspected these were the spirits Siggy had been in communication with so I asked, ‘Are you Sigourney’s friends?’ They nodded their heads at me as one. In fact, all of their movements were aligned. I introduced myself and thanked them for their presence and then, and I’ll always regret doing this, but I told them I was a willing host and that they were welcome on our property.”

“Uh uh,” I breathed.

“They seemed harmless,” Alston said defensively.

“You said you were terrified of them,” I pointed out.

“You’re right,” he acquiesced, “I should have trusted my first instinct that morning, I-” he paused and glanced over at Sigourney before admitting, “I truly thought they were they to kill me and I think they would have if I hadn’t been so, uh, welcoming.”

Sigourney looked down, she was crying.

“What exactly have these things done to you guys?” I asked.

“They’ve taken over everything,” Sigourney whined. “We can’t do anything without them interfering.”

She wiped tears from her cheeks and took her own cleansing breath, “I let them in completely and their meddling was very positive, at first. People began showing up to my yoga classes and asking me to be their life coach. Opportunities came up out of nowhere, an editor contacted me and wanted me to write a book on my yoga lifestyle. I was able to fall into meditation upon a moment’s notice, I could manage poses that should have taken me years to master. It was a whirlwind.”

“What about you?” I asked Alston. “Did they give you good luck too?”

He nodded. “You name it. Our investments grew, a knocking noise in the Wrangler that I’d been meaning to have looked at just stopped. Problems disappeared and good things happened in their place. I no longer have to take a medication for high blood pressure that I’d been on since I was thirty. My hair is growing back, getting thicker-”

“Yeah,” Sigourney interrupted enthusiastically. “I can’t gain weight now even if I try. I’m in better shape than I ever have been and I can eat like a pig and it doesn’t affect me at all.”

“So then what’s the downside of all of this?” I asked. Careful not to talk too loudly or move, the dogs were asleep and I didn’t want to disturb them even though they were putting off an incredible amount of heat.  

“It wasn’t just positive emotions that they wanted to feed off.”

“Then why were they doing such good things for you?” I asked.

“I think they are somehow vulnerable in a way that I don’t understand and they need, like, a home base. It’s like they need the protection of a host. I invited them here and they are willing to make our dreams come true, but they thrive off negativity and the more of it they get the more powerful they become.”

“But where do they get negative energy?” I pressed. “You guys seem thrilled about what they’ve done for  you.”

“We are sort of the yin so they can yang. It’s like, when they do good for us it gives them license to do bad to others. For some reason it has to be a balance, because they create positivity in our lives they are given the permission or ability to balance that out by creating negativity and chaos in other people’s lives,” Sigourney explained.

“How did you figure that out?”

“It took us longer than I’d like to admit,” Alston said heavily. “I did notice that people around us, especially acquaintances, you know people that we come in contact with often enough but aren’t close with, there just seemed to be a lot of bad luck swirling around our outer circle of friendships.”

“For example?” I said, subtly trying to make a little space for myself in-between the heater dogs.

“Um, well for instance, our favorite barista, she had a black eye this one morning and I asked her what had happened. She told me that she’d been in a car accident that had totalled her car. Then I saw another accident that same day in the parking lot at the studio. It was one of my students and wouldn’t you know it, she got a black eye. Then when the gardner showed up with a black eye and a dented fender I recognized the synchronicity for what it was and I began to pay attention,” Alston said.

“It’s the three’s,” Sigourney pointed out. “They create chaos in groupings of three and they seem to like to play around with different topics or, like methods. Three black eyes from three car accidents, or three broken bones from three bad falls.”

“Couldn’t you just be reading into those things a little bit? I mean it could just be weird coincidences, right?”

Alston took a deep breath, gaining patience. Sigourney said, “It wasn’t like that. I know we aren’t explaining it well because some of it is simply intuition but I think the best example is the boat,” she looked to her husband to explain.

“Right,” he agreed nodding his head, “Do you remember that huge wind storm we had this summer?” I didn’t remember. “It hit the lake hard and all of the neighbors lost trees and had some pretty significant property damage. Our boat took on a lot of water and the insurance company declared it totaled so we got the full amount for it.”

“Okay,” I said slowly, suspecting these people just had a bad case of magical thinking.

“The engine had died earlier in the summer. To replace it would have cost a fortune. The boat needed other work that we’d been putting it off. We basically got to just buy a new boat because of that storm. The thing is, our closest neighbors, over there to the right. They lost their boat, falling trees caused major damage to their roof and they were without power for two weeks.”

“Storms are weird,” I said. “Couldn’t you just chalk it up to luck of the draw?”

“No,” the couple said as one.

“What we gain, other people lose.”

I wasn’t convinced.

“The better our fortune, the more grand the gift the fairies give us the worse the punishment for the people we come in contact with,” Sigourney said firmly.

“But not your close friends and family,” I said, “Why?”

The husband and wife exchanged a glance and Sigourney began to cry again.

“We made a deal,”Alston said blowing out another cleansing breath. “As we came to realize that they needed us in order to receive the negative energy they craved, I asked that they keep our close friends and family out of their scope.”

“What did you give them a list or something?” I asked with a laugh.

The Mercers just stared at me.

“Please tell me you added my name to that list,” I said quickly.

“Oh, of course we did! Right after Alston called me this morning I requested your safe passage here,” Sigourney said in a tone meant to be reassuring. She sighed, “The fairies are getting more… creative. I am so grateful for all they have done for us and I certainly don’t want to cut off this positive energy flow. But we just aren’t sure that it is the best thing to continue on at this level. We, I mean I thought that maybe you or one of your friends might know how to sort of curb their power a bit.”

“Wouldn’t it be safer for everyone if you just got rid of them?” I asked.

“We tried that already,” Alston admitted.

“And they wouldn’t go?”

“No, they went, but we just, well I missed them,” an edge had crept into Sigourney’s voice.

I stared at her. When she didn’t elaborate I sighed heavily and said, “Out with it. What happened?”

Alston shook his head and looked down at his lap. Sigourney prattled, “We, you know, we got a little overwhelmed because it felt like things were a bit out of control. I mean I had to let the staff go because it was becoming an insurance liability with the rate at which people were getting injured here.”

“We stopped mail delivery so now I have go to the post office to pick everything up. It isn’t safe for strangers to come onto the property,” Alston added.

“What about me?” I blurted.

“Oh no, I told you, we have you covered,” Sigourney waved away my concern. “But, we reached a point where, though we were so grateful for all they had done for us we felt it best to part ways.” She spoke about it as if it were a matter of firing a landscaping company didn’t work out.

“So where’d they go?” I asked.

“I moved them onto a couple that we know.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“It was a gift, really. The husband ended up getting elected.”

“Did they know they had the fairies with them?” I asked.

“Neither were enlightened enough to see them, you understand. But they were totally the type of people fairies are attracted to. The couple was very goal driven and focused on success. It seemed like a nice match.”

“Then why did you change your mind and bring them back?” I asked, my view of this zen couple having completely deteriorated.

“I missed their company for one thing,” Sigourney said, “And I realized that ultimately it was too… dangerous for them to attach to people who didn’t know what they were dealing with.”

“The woman’s mother was living in their guest house. She fell down the basement stairs and they didn’t find her for over forty-eight hours. Her back was broken and she swore that someone pushed her,” Alston said, the edge now in his voice.

“Guys, you know these things aren’t fairies,” I insisted.

“Of course they are, I see them. We see them. They are fine, we just need to find a way to tone things down a bit, maybe put a few more safety nets in place. They are still being incredibly generous with us-”

“But if they have to maintain a balance of bad and good energy output-” I began.

“Right, of course, we don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone, but when they first started helping us we were really benefiting from the small blessings they provided and it only caused minor disturbances with other people. Stubbed toes, lost contact lenses, minor illnesses, you know just little extra upsets.”

“They might little upsets when they happen to other people, but do you want them to happen to you?” I asked.

“Of course not,” Sigourney said quickly, “and we don’t want them happening to anyone else. The thing is, these fairies are here and they’re not all bad it’s just that the speed at which things have escalated might be a little concerning. At first it was yoga poses and good luck, but now… Someone just reached out to me from the Gaiam Network. They want me to have my own lifestyle program, kind of like the Kardashians but for spiritual people. It is everything I’ve ever dreamed of. Think of how many people I could reach, showing them the benefits of clean living and yoga. I could expand my influence and together we could begin to heal ourselves and the planet.”

“Sigourney,” I said, shifting in the seat hoping that the dogs would move over a bit. They basically had me pinned in place and I would never even consider shoving them off the couch but I was steps from having a panic attack. “Okay, so you’re telling me that these spirits cause serious problems for anyone who comes into your orbit. If you had a television show do you think they would be able to affect the people who watch you?”

She was silent. Alston said, “I hadn’t even considered that.”

“I just have to learn to contain them,” Sigourney said quickly. “ Maybe I could even change them.”

Alston appeared to be getting more and more uncomfortable with the conversation. I asked him, “Do you think she can control them?”

He took one of his maddening cleansing breaths then turned to his wife, “I trust your intuition and your abilities one hundred percent, Sig. It’s just-”

Sigourney snatched her legs back off of his lap and pushed away from him a bit. “It’s just what?” She challenged.

“I know you hold incredible intuitive power but I am afraid that your vision might be clouded on this one. I’m just not sure that these things are what they appear to be.”

“That’s ridiculous, you’ve seen them yourself. What else could they possibly be?” Sigourney demanded.

“Demons for one thing,” I pointed out.

“Demons? Why is everyone so convinced that every spirit is a demon?”

I made eye contact with Alston, then said calmly, “Maybe demons is a strong assumption, but there are levels, you know higher and lower negative entities. I’m only drawing upon the stuff I’ve heard on the Dead Files, okay, but it sounds to me like these are almost like tiny little energy vampires. They’re getting off on your excitement over these ‘blessings’ or whatever you want to call them, but I think they really want bad things to happen. If it truly comes down to a fifty-fifty positive-negative energy swap then think about it – they are making your dreams come true, you’re getting a television show, right? Then won’t they have to ruin someone else’s career or dreams in order to even out the energy?”

Alston had been staring at his hands in his lap, he looked up and said, “It’s true, Sig. And, the other thing that’s bothering me is their appearance. Why do they look so scary now? I’m sorry honey, but I think they tricked you into thinking they were these beautiful glowing creatures but now they walk around here looking like freaky little evil twigs.”

“Walk around here?” I asked, startled.

“Yeah, you never know when they’ll just be standing there, watching. And Sig, honey, I’ve never really gotten a loving vibe from them.”

Sigourney’s arms crossed over her chest, “How long have you doubted them?”

Cleansing breath. “Since I saw them in the forest, every fiber of my being wanted to get away from them. I felt, in my bones I felt that they wanted to hurt me. But I sort of fell for it when they acted kind because I think I was just so relieved they weren’t there to kill me.”

Sigourney looked really pissed. Alston looked relieved and worried at the same time. I felt like a marriage counselor.

“Have you ever gotten a bad vibe from them?” I asked.

Sigourney uncrossed her arms. “There was this one time when I was down on the dock. I was leaning over the water to grab Bella’s tennis ball and when I pulled myself back up they were there, two of them standing right behind me. I swear the look on their faces wasn’t right, but then they started glowing pink and I figured they were just there to watch us play catch. They’ve always seemed to get a kick out of the dogs.”

Chilled I said, “To quote Oprah quoting Maya Angelou, ‘when someone shows you who they are believe them the first time.’ Trust me, those things are nothing but bad news.”  

“How do we get them out of here?” Alston asked.

I’d begun to shrug my shoulders and mention Biddy as my go-to fixer when Sigourney growled, “We are not kicking them out of this house. Where will they go?”

“Honey, we need help. This has gone too far.”

“Too far? You didn’t think things were going too far when you filled up your yoga classes or when you stopped having to take that little blue pill.”

“For Christ’s sake Sig, they are running us. I can’t even have the damn trash service to the house anymore after that poor man’s arm got caught in the truck. I’m spending half my days running garbage to the dump the other half tip-toeing around this house trying to avoid those freaky little bastards.”

“Shhhhh!” Sigourney hissed. “Be quiet, what if they hear you?”

I interrupted the quarrel. “Where are they right now?”

“In the theater-“

“The theater?” I asked.

“We have a little home theater in the basement, it’s small,’ Sigourney said dismissively, “just sixteen recliners.”

What in the hell had these people done for work before becoming yogis? I thought, not for the first time.

Alston explained, “I put the television on for them, it will hold their attention for a few hours.”

When I realized he wasn’t kidding I asked, “What do they like to watch?”

“Real Housewives,” Sigourney replied, “of Atlanta mostly, though New Jersey sometimes does the trick.”

I held back nervous laughter and considered the couple for a moment, their faces clouded with worry and what I hoped was a little guilt.

“So what do you want me to do?” I asked. “If you don’t want to get rid of them-”

“We do, we want to get rid of them,” Alston held up a hand, silencing his wife, “This has gone far enough. Honey, we’re in over our heads.”

Sigourney looked like she had a whole lot more to say but she kept her mouth shut.

I wanted out of there. I offered to put them in touch with Biddy. They, well Alston thanked me and walked me to the front door alongside the dogs. I was jumpy, worried that I was going to run into one of the little stick creatures. It was the same feeling I used to have when walking down Marlborough Street in the Back Bay. Only then it was the fear of encountering a rat that made me skittish.

I rang the gong after I put my shoes on, making Alston laugh. As I walked to my car I checked my phone to see if I’d missed any texts while I’d been in the house. When I looked up from the phone I saw that my car looked funny, it was sort of leaning to one side. On closer inspection I found that both of the tires on the driver’s side were completely flat.

Son of a bitch, I thought.

I froze, unsure what to do. I decided I would call AAA and wait in the car. I didn’t really feel like dealing with the Mercers. As I was searching through my bag for my wallet so I could pull out my AAA card Alston and Sigourney rushed out of the house.

“What’s wrong?” Sigourney called, worry in her voice.

“It’s nothing, my tires are flat, I’ll just call AAA.”

“No!” The couple yelled.

“What do you want me to do?”

“You can’t have those people come here, it’s not safe for them,” Alston insisted. “I’ll put the spare on and then you can drive it to a shop.”

“It’s two flat tires, I only have one spare,” I said, feeling trapped and increasingly panicked.

“Then I’ll go buy you another spare,” he said quickly. “It will only take a moment you can wait inside with Siggy.”

“No, no way. Why did this happen? I thought you said you put me on your stupid protection list,” I snapped Sigourney.

“I did, I did. I guess maybe they just wanted to cause some mischief.”

As she said that the front door to the house slammed shut and we heard the deadbolt click into place.

“Damn it,” Alston said, “They’ve locked us out again.”

“You people are crazy, I’m calling AAA and I’m getting my car fixed and I’m getting the hell out of here.”

“You can’t, it’s not safe,” Alston pleaded.

“We could just make a swap,” Sigourney said quietly.

Alston considered her for a moment, “How about Bill? He’s been such a shit about fixing that pothole.”

Sigourney nodded in agreement. She walked back to the house and sat criss cross applesauce on the steps, held her hands in front of her heart and closed her eyes.

“What in the fuck is she doing?’ I demanded.

“Shhh, just give her a second. She just needs to offer the fairies an alternative.”

“To what?”

“The AAA tow truck guy.”

I stared at him and then I climbed into my car and shut and locked the doors. To distract myself I Googled “yoga studios near me” as I waited for help to arrive.