ghosts in the burbs

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

I know I said I wouldn’t be back with a new story until next week, but I need some distraction and I’m guessing that all of you do too. I desperately need to shut my brain off from real world horror, to escape – from the news, from my children (I apologize in advance if you hear them in the distant background of this recording…), from Chris loud talking to clients into his earbuds, from the dwindling package of Twinkies calling to me from the basement, from the four elderly dogs who awake from every nap disoriented and thinking it’s time for their next meal, from the obsessive thoughts of what’s to come… 

And so I’ve done what I always do when I need to escape. I’ve found a delightfully spooky little story and I’d love to share it with you. 

I spent hours upon hours in the woods as a child. A creek ran behind our home and so much time was spent building dams, searching for salamanders and making half assed attempts at tree houses. That last activity came to an abrupt halt when a rusty nail sticking out of an old wooden board slid right through my mud encrusted Ked and into my left foot. I limped for a week, but it was the eighties so my family just thought I was being dramatic. There was talk of determining the date of my last tetanus shot, but as far as I can recall the issue was simply dropped. And since I didn’t end up with the tell tale lockjaw, my time in the forest continued. 

I hoped for a glimpse of magic in those woods, but I never did encounter any, save for the feeling of pride from spending an afternoon building a sturdy dam across the creek, returning the following morning to find the surrounding forest floor completely swamped. 

Of the many emails I receive from readers and listeners by far my favorite are those that involve woodland monsters. I adore a demon story,but a cryptid tale well told? There is nothing like it. And they are truly few and far between. Most cryptid sightings are disappointingly brief. The mere glimpse of a Bigfoot scurrying into the woods, a ten-second stare off with the Mothman, a Dogman spotted on the side of the road as one speeds past on a foggy night… 

So you can imagine my glee when I received an email from a woman who had a full on encounter with several creatures of the forest.  

As so many of the messages I receive do, Carrie’s email began, “I’ve never told anyone about this,” and she went on to share her complete story with me over the course of several email exchanges. Her brush with the strange happened in her home state of Connecticut. It may be telling that the second she graduated high school she moved across the country to Arizona, returning home each year only for the week between Christmas and New Years. 

When Carrie was eight years old, she and her best friend “Annie” spent a lot of time in the woods behind their homes. Surprisingly, she couldn’t recall the name of the forest near her house. I looked it up and based on her parent’s home address, it is the Pootatuck State Forest in Connecticut close to the New York border. From what I could gather online it’s a good sized state park with lakes and a bunch of walking trails. 

So what did Carrie and her friend do in those woods? They built fairy houses. Little stick structures. Decorating them and creating tiny furniture held together by the same string they used to make friendship bracelets. 

“We got quite good at it,” Carrie wrote. “At first we built little lean-to structures but then we figured out how to build proper houses.” In a follow up email Carrie clarified that the structures were only about a foot and a half tall. She went on to say, “I think Annie had the idea to bring along the bracelet string. It turned out to be a great idea. It allowed us to create these charming little homes out of the twigs and branches we gathered. We lived just two doors down from one another and we’d ride our bikes into the state park every morning. This was when kids could take off for the day and no one thought anything of it. I would never let my kids do that now. Even without seeing what I saw, I would worry they were being kidnapped or hit by a car and dead on the side of the road. But it was a different time. We had a lot of freedom.”

Carrie explained that she and her friend rode down an old fire road for a ways before ditching their bikes and taking a certain trail out to their favorite spot in the middle of the forest. A rocky place with a small stream flowing  through it. There they spent hours building what she referred to as fairy homes. 

“We really got into it. We had to be home by one o’clock for lunch every day so the afternoons were spent drawing up plans for the houses.” 

The girls took the setting into account, building the structures to fit in with the surroundings. “The little houses were beautiful. I wish we’d thought to drag a camera out there with us,” Carrie wrote regretfully. “It wasn’t until we started making furniture for the houses that we began noticing things weren’t quite how we’d left them the previous day.” 

How so? 

“We built small tables and chairs and even little beds for the homes. We realized that while we could only work on the houses while we were in the woods, we could fill up our backpacks with twigs so that in the afternoons we could build furniture. We cut up old fabric to outfit the tiny beds and make little table cloths. Then we strung beads and created all sorts of decorations for the houses. It was really fun for a while.”

How many of these houses did you actually build? I asked. She told me they created seven in total before shifting their focus to decorating and furnishing them all. Sounds so fun, right?

“The day we realized something was off was pretty much a morning like any other. But later on we did realize that the day was a little different because the day before that was the first time we’d decorated the houses with wildflowers. Maybe that’s what attracted them. 

“We were unloading our backpacks when Annie noticed one of the houses. The furniture inside it had been rearranged. It sounds crazy, I know, but when we drew up our little architectural plans for each house we made simple floor plans for them, planning what furniture to create and where to put it. The house she noticed was a two level thing, an upside down house, with the sleeping area on the first floor and the living area on the second. I’d gone with my family on a ski vacation the previous winter and we’d stayed in a house like that. The bedroom in our fairy house had two sets of tiny bunk beds. The beds had been moved from the first floor to the second. The little couch and table from the upstairs had been moved down to the first. 

“And it wasn’t like some critter had knocked them around. The furniture was intentionally placed. I think we both suspected each other of doing it and pretending that we hadn’t. I suspected Annie, anyhow. But at the same time, something had changed. We didn’t stay in the woods as long that day. I think we sensed something wasn’t right. The next day the linens, all the little blankets and pillows and rugs we’d created for the houses had been moved into that one upside down house. And, again, they’d been placed nicely – intentionally. 

“We debated for a while, wondering if maybe some other kids found the houses and were messing around with them. But the way we talked about it, I think we both knew that wasn’t the case. We put everything back the way it was and continued working on the new decorations we’d planned. But again, we went home early. We didn’t say out loud that we were spooked, but we definitely felt that way.”

Carrie went on to explain that she felt as if they weren’t alone. “It didn’t feel like we were being watched by a person. I’m not sure how to explain it other than something shifted. The woods felt eerie. Like we shouldn’t be there.” The following day they returned to the site and found that three of the houses had been moved alongside one another. The furniture within and the “linens” as Carrie had referred to them, had also been rearranged. 

“…the houses looked lived in. There were little bits of what I assume was their food. Pieces of berries and leaves on the tables. Annie was the one who saw the foot prints first. They didn’t have any toe marks, but they were definitely footprints. They made me think of what a Ken doll foot would make. And the way the houses were lined up, it was like a tiny little neighborhood.”

“But still, even though it was freaky we weren’t scared at that point, honestly we were excited – what kid wouldn’t be? We left the houses as they were and got to fixing up the houses that hadn’t been moved, hoping we could attract more of them, and Annie had the idea that we should bring them food.”

Them?

“The fairies. Somehow we just knew it wasn’t people moving the houses. There was magic all around it. I’m sure that sounds ridiculous, and maybe it was just the wild imaginations of eight year old girls, but we were right. And I’ve gotten that feeling since then. It’s unmistakable. I live near Sedona and I hike a lot. There are some caves, you would have to feel it for yourself, but the vibe I get in those caves is the same one that I had in the forest. It’s magic. Whatever we saw in those woods? I’d bet money that their cousins live here in Arizona.”

“But we brought them blueberries the next day. We shouldn’t have done it. But what did we know? We thought we were dealing with glittery cartoon fairies, like little magical ballerinas with wings. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. We left the berries in a Tupperware container so the chipmunks couldn’t get to them. They were gone the following day. In their place was a collection of smooth pebbles. They’d literally eaten the berries, gifted us with pebbles and then put the top back on the container.”

The gift exchange went on for several days. Carrie and her friend placed trinkets and sweets in the container and received tiny pebbles in return. 

“By this time all seven of the houses had been moved into a horseshoe formation facing the narrow stream. The furniture was swapped around too and it was obvious there were fairy families living in each home. The last day Annie and I went to that spot in the woods, it was pouring rain. The forest was darker than usual and we both had this feeling that we shouldn’t go, but our curiosity won out. They must have thought the weather would keep us away… 

“They didn’t hear us coming. We walked up on them doing some sort of ritual. We counted seventeen of them – horrible ugly little things with stick bodies and long mushy looking heads. They had short grey patches of hair or fur all over their bodies and their hands had long skinny fingers like pine needles. 

“They stood in a circle, hunched over something. Annie and I crept up on them, mesmerized. When we got closer we saw that they’d tied two bluebirds together with some of our friendship bracelet string. They were swaying back and forth together and there was one fairy who was taller than the rest, she was obviously the leader. She picked up a big stone and held it over her head above the birds. Annie yelled out. She said, ‘no,’ or ‘don’t,’ or something like that and the fairies all turned around and saw us. We were frozen in place and then the big fairy dropped the rock and said something to the other ones and they all crouched down, and then sprung after us like tiny little dogs. We sprinted down the path screaming. We made it back to our bikes but one of them grabbed onto my leg and almost knocked me over. I was able to shake it off, but not before it sliced open my calf. For weeks I was terrified I’d come down with some unnameable incurable disease from that cut, but it healed up just fine.

 “Anyways, we made it back home and Annie and I never went back into the woods after that. We spent the rest of the summer safely indoors, rehashing the whole thing over and over again and making friendship bracelets.”

Wow. Needless to say I had several follow up questions for Carrie. 

How big were the fairies? “Maybe seven or eight inches. Definitely less than a foot.”

What did they sound like? Get this – she said they sounded like rustling leaves. I asked how, I mean, like how could she make out that noise over pouring rain. She said she didn’t really know, just that their language was “whispery and rustly – sorta raspy.” 

What did she mean when she wrote that they “moved” like dogs? “They bent over and elongated their bodies so that they could run on all fours. Sorry, I actually didn’t explain it well, because the way they ran actually reminded me more of squirrels. I think if you caught sight of one out of the corner of your eye in the woods you wouldn’t think anything of it. You’d think you saw a squirrel.”

Shivers.

Her parents still live in the house she grew up in. I asked Carrie if she ever considered going back into those woods, back to the place where she and Annie had seen the fairies. 

“Never. I haven’t stepped foot into any forest since that day. No way would I ever go back there.”

Well, there you have it. Yet another reason to stay out of the forest. 

I’m wishing all of you the very best. Stay sane, stay healthy and stay the fuck home. 

All those haunted houses that my neighbors told me about… do you ever wonder what happened after they cut and run? After they hired a real estate agent to list the home and a professional interior designer to stage it, after they’d lugged all their clutter into a storage locker to present prospective buyers with the illusion of  minimalist living. After the purchase and sale was signed and the inspection complete. After the closing. When their moving truck pulled out of the driveway and the new owners pulled in. Do you ever wonder how long it took for the newbies to realize the hornet’s nest into which they’d walked?

I think about it a lot. Afterall, a lot of people tell me what goes on in their homes – or what went on in their previous homes – and even I carry some guilt over not seeking the new owners out to let them in on the secret. I’ve even considered doing an anonymous letter drop in some of the worst cases. It just doesn’t seem right to let people happen upon the horror unwittingly – especially if they have kids. 

As you all know, we’ve had our own issues at home. An exorcist had to come to our last house to clear out that tapping, evil little thing that had attached to me. I know I wouldn’t have just moved and left new owners to deal with the issue. I mean, in that case it wouldn’t have mattered, the thing would have followed me wherever we went. But in a lot of cases a haunting is attached to the house, not the person. Regardless, I know we left our last home free and clear. I can’t say as much for the house we live in currently. But again, I’m the problem here. Claire “haunts” us, but when I leave she’ll leave. I’ve drawn firm boundaries around our property, but spirits slip in once in a while. Again, I’m the issue, the beacon. When I leave, they’ll most likely follow. 

If you watch as much reality ghost hunting television as I do then you’re familiar with the inevitable moment when the current home owners track down the previous owners to ask whether or not they ever experienced “anything out of the ordinary” at the house. Sometimes they admit they had and sometimes they don’t. Simple it is not. Sometimes the house is haunted, sometimes its inhabitants are, and sometimes the two come together and create the perfect paranormal nightmare. 

The truth of it is that every haunted house is it’s own little unique shit storm. I happen to know of one spectacularly awful case in Wellesley which resulted in the haunted house actually being demolished. I wasn’t able to tell you all about it before because there was a little tiny bit of litigation involved in which I was deposed to relay what the home’s previous owner had shared with me – but that is all sorted and I cleared it with all parties involved and so… I can finally tell you what happened after Becca, her baby and her husband moved out of that shadow man infested house and Margaret, her husband and three daughters moved in. 

Do you all remember Becca? She was the very first person I interviewed for the blog. Becca of the perfect ponytail and seasonal appropriate crafts, the homemade baby food and the inexplicable scratching in her house. Her property bordered the Crosstown Trail, it was the gorgeous five bedroom on wooded estate with au pair suite (and evil housemate). To recap, Becca, lonely and reeling after the birth of her first child and a move to the suburbs, began to suspect her home was being haunted by her grandmother. That was until she saw a shadow person in the form of a cowboy hat wearing man reflected in her baby’s tummy time mirror. 

It took time to convince her rather pig headed husband Jake that she wasn’t sliding into madness, but what he saw in their basement one night – and whatever it was scared him so much he never told Becca exactly what he’d seen – convinced him that their house was so haunted they had to sell it immediately. Becca and her baby never even returned to the house after that night. They lived in the Four Seasons in Boston until they found another home, this one across town off Weston Road. It’s actually quite close to where I live now and I sometimes see Becca and her little girl in the neighborhood. 

As for their old house, Jake dragged a friend along with him to gather some of their personal belongings, hired a company to haul out and sell everything that wouldn’t stage well, and put the house on the market with all the art and furniture included in the sales price. The house quickly sold over asking price to a family with three little girls, ages eight, six and two. 

Becca and Jake failed to mention the reason for their abrupt move to the new owners. 

The new owner emailed me about a year after my interview with Becca. 

Margaret Wrede was angry with me and she didn’t bother to hide it. We arranged to meet at Quebrada after exchanging several emails regarding the blog post I’d written about her house. The one in which Becca relayed the story of her haunting. I didn’t want to meet Margaret. The tone of her emails led me to believe I was in trouble. They gave me that tight chested feeling of being called down to the principal’s office. Chris assured me that I most certainly wasn’t in trouble, that she probably just wanted to hear exactly what Becca told me. Still, I was anxious and feeling a heavy sense of guilt. Afterall, I knew her house was haunted. I didn’t know her, but shouldn’t I have done something to reach out? 

As soon as I sat down across from her at a table in the back corner of the bakery, Margaret confirmed that very point. 

“You should have tried to contact me at the very least.”

I apologized quickly. I felt terrible that I hadn’t bothered to contact her. But in truth, it hadn’t really occurred to me to do anything to help her until I’d read Margaret’s email. Becca’s was my first interview. At the time, I had no idea the reality altering whirlwind that was about to swoop into my life via the blog. Had I interviewed Becca later on, surely I would have tried to get a hold of Margaret and put her in touch with Biddy or whoever else might be able to help her. At least, I like to think that’s what I would have done.  

I explained as much to Margaret, stressing the fact that if I’d known then what I know now I would have been more empathetic. When I interviewed Becca, I was just being a looky-loo, a rubbernecker. As time passed and I met more people like Becca that changed and I accepted the seriousness of the situation. I didn’t want to seem like I was making excuses, but I needed Margaret to understand the context under which I heard the story about her house. 

In a weird way Margaret reminded me a lot of Becca. For one thing she rocked the same casual outdoorsy style that quietly communicated wealth. She wore a Patagonia vest over a tissue thin long sleeved white t-shirt and really cool distressed boyfriend jeans, a pair of camo patterned Rothy sneakers on her feet. Her dark shiny brown hair was cut to skim her shoulders and she wore it tucked tightly behind each ear. Her skin was smooth, save for the puffy dark circles under her eyes. I could tell just by the way she carried herself that she had her shit together. And I knew in a glance she could tell that I didn’t

Margaret studied me, as comfortable with a pause in conversation as I was panicked by one. Another trait she shared with Becca. 

“How many people have you interviewed for this blog?”

I shrugged. “Quite a few actually, but I don’t post every story I hear,” I hesitated. “How did you hear about it?”

“Wellesley Mothers Forum. I brought the girls to one of their events at the library and I heard some women talking about it.” She sighed. “I recognized our house immediately in that post.”

“Really?”

“It wasn’t that hard to spot. The location on the Crosstown Trial stood out for one thing, but when I read Becca’s description of the unexplained scratching I was ninety-nine percent certain I’d moved into that house.”

“What convinced you that it wasn’t just a coincidence?”

“Becca telling you she included the furniture in the sales price. It’s not a common thing around here. We moved from a much smaller house in Needham and I wanted to take my time with the new house, hire my decorator and go room by room.”

“Fancy,” I said. 

Margaret smiled for the first time. “I suppose so.”

“I am truly sorry. I should have contacted you, warned you somehow.”

Margaret played with the sparkly eternity band on her ring finger. She pursed her lips and held them that way for a long moment before responding. “I think I get what you’re doing with your blog, but you just…” She sighed. “Nevermind. It is what it is, right? I appreciate your apology.”

“If there’s anything I can do to help you-”

“And how exactly could you do that?”

“I know some people who deal with this sort of thing. I don’t know how much of the blog you read but I actually had to have an exorcism done in my own home.”

Margaret’s eyes went wide. “Well I didn’t read that far.”

“I’m happy to connect you with someone who can help.”

“So you believe me?”

“Yeah, of course.” 

Margaret crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t know if I even believe what’s happened. Now that we’ve been out of the house for a while it all seems so… unlikely. I feel like we were under a spell and I start to get hopeful that it was some sort of misunderstanding. But after reading Becca’s description of that shadow man…” She trailed off. 

“Would you consider telling me what happened?”

Margaret blinked. “For your blog?”

“No!” I said quickly. “I would relay what’s happened to my friend Biddy so she can reach out to the appropriate help.” I hesitated before adding, “I have to admit though, I’m curious.”

“Let me grab another coffee and I’ll tell you what happened.” Margaret stood and began to walk towards the counter then turned back. “You know what actually? You can put it on your blog. People in this town, or anyone considering moving to this town for that matter, should know what goes on here.” 

I watched her join a short line at the counter and wondered if I should grab a coffee too but then reconsidered thinking it would be awkward to stand in line beside her. A trio of young women walked into the bakery and solved the issue for me. I went to the end of the line behind them to wait my turn then ordered another coffee and a sticky bun to go with it. The anxiety within me told me to order two. Arguing that it would help make me feel better, that it was a way to celebrate the fact that my apology had calmed Margaret’s anger. I agreed with it and compromised, mentally agreeing to pick up another sticky bun on our way out, reasoning that it would be weird to eat two pastries in front of Margaret.  

Back at the table Margaret sat sipping her black coffee. She agreed to have her story recorded then watched me pull the sticky bun from the bag. 

“I miss sugar,” she said sadly.

“Why can’t you have sugar?”

She smirked. “How old are you?”

“I’ll be thirty-nine next month,” I told her. 

“Well, I’ve got a couple years on you. You’ll see. I can’t even look at a pastry without gaining weight.” 

“Then I’d better make the most of it while I can,” I said before taking a bite of the pastry. 

“So where should I start?”

“Move in day.”

Margaret considered. “Okay, but let me just preface this by saying that I never believed in any of this shit.”

I nodded in response and took a sip of my coffee.

“I thought people who saw ghosts were either looking for attention or they were just wildly mistaken about whatever it was they thought they saw. But I’ll tell you what, something is very wrong in that house. We didn’t really realize that for a while, though. We did some work on the place before we moved in. Redid the kitchen, freshened up all the bathrooms, put down carpet on the second floor… oh, and we finished the basement. The house was built in nineteen thirty. It was well cared for but the last real reno was done in the eighties. It desperately needed updating. It was one of the reasons we chose it. 

“We liked that it felt private even though neighbors weren’t far away, and there was a lot of room to make changes to the house without having to worry about over improving the place and being unable to get our money back out when and if we decided to move again.”

“Do you guys move a lot?”

Margaret held out a hand and tilted it back and forth. “I get antsy when I don’t have a project.”

“Me too,” I admitted. “We’re on our second house in three years and I’ve already got an eye out for our next place.” 

“Are you currently living in the house that needed an exorcism?”

I nodded.

“And it actually worked?”

“Definitely.”

“Huh,” Margaret said, her eyebrows knitted in concern. “Ours didn’t do a thing. I actually think it made things worse.”

I put the sticky bun down. “You had an exorcism performed on the house?”

“Dan was raised Catholic. We don’t attend any church now, haven’t since our wedding, but we thought it was worth a shot.”

“But it made things worse?”

“Yes.”

“What exactly happened?”

“That incessant scratching didn’t make me think the place was haunted, but it was the first sign something was wrong. I heard it in the kitchen first, and yeah, just like when Becca was living there, it came in threes. I looked everywhere. The cabinets were all brand new, I would have seen signs of rodents, but everything was clean. It drove me insane. It took a while before Dan heard it, I think it matters how long you spend in the house. I work from home so I was there a lot more than he was. And Lucy was only two when we moved in, so obviously we were home during the day for her nap schedule. 

 “When it began to keep the girls awake at night I called an exterminator. Dan thought there might be a family of squirrels in the walls. We agreed that it was definitely louder than mice. It crossed my mind that there might be rats coming off the trail, from the stream.”

“The exterminator didn’t find anything did he?” I guessed. 

“Nothing. Not even a hint of critters. The night after he came to the house I heard the scratching coming from the ceiling in our bedroom for the first time. But it changed, it sounded like scuffling. I couldn’t sleep so I went to check it out. To get to the attic you pull a ladder down from a trapdoor in the ceiling in the second floor hallway. I climbed up and forced myself to poke my head up into the space to look around. I was peering around, half certain a rabid raccoon was about to attack me when I felt something grab my leg. It startled me so badly I didn’t even scream, just hugged onto the ladder tightly so I wouldn’t fall. Then I heard my oldest daughter, Jill, say, ‘Mom, I think Amelia is in the basement.’ I turned to look and she was already down the hall and going back into her bedroom. 

“I rushed down the ladder and ran right down to the basement. Amelia was only four at the time so it frightened me that she’d be wandering the house by herself.” Margaret leaned forward in her seat. “She wasn’t down there. I checked everywhere, I even checked the alarm system and made sure the doors were locked to be sure she hadn’t gone outside. By the time I got back up to the second floor I was in a real panic. I opened her bedroom door and there was Amelia, sound asleep in her bed just as she should be.
“So I went into Jill’s room and she was back in bed sound asleep too. Lucy, the baby, was safely cuddled in her crib. I pushed the ladder back up into the ceiling and as I turned to go back into my own bedroom I heard three distinct scratches from inside the wall right beside me. It scared the hell out of me. I knew right then that it wasn’t any animal making that noise.”

“How long had you been in the house at that point?” I asked.

“Uh, probably a little over a month,” Margaret replied. 

“And you’re oldest daughter-”

“Jill.”

“Did she tell you why she thought her sister was in the basement?”

Margaret shook her head. “No, she didn’t remember waking up at all, let alone seeing her little sister. ‘Mom, how could I have seen her go down to the basement if I was upstairs?’ It was a good point. Dan and I chalked it up to sleepwalking, though none of my kids had ever done that before. I reasoned that the move had unsettled her sleep and I had a child gate installed at the top of the stairs. I definitely didn’t want the kids wandering the house at night. More than that, I did not want them going outside. There was the stream, and the trail, the woods…” Margaret shuddered. “It was spooky.

“The weirdest thing was that after that night the scratching throughout the house died down and concentrated in the attic. It woke me up every single night – didn’t bother Dan for a minute though. He slept right through it. I had the exterminator back out and insisted he set every single size and shape of trap he had in that attic even though I know he thought I was crazy.

“And believe it or not, after two days one of the traps caught a small raccoon who must have been squatting up there occasionally.”

“No he didn’t.”

“Yup. He totally did. We all had to go get rabies shots on the off chance we were exposed to the raccoon’s saliva.”

“Ouch.”

“It wasn’t all that bad, frankly I was relieved. I thought we’d found a legitimate reason for the noises we’d been hearing. The exterminator set more traps to be certain, but it turned out to just be the one animal.”

“How long until you knew it wasn’t just the raccoon making noise in the house?”

“Not long. I woke up one night and couldn’t get back to sleep so I got up planning to go downstairs to watch television and hopefully doze on the couch. But when I went out into the hallway I found the attic ladder pulled down halfway. It hadn’t totally unfolded, but it was open.”

“Oof,” I breathed. “That is super creepy.”

“Yeah. I woke Dan up and made him go and check to make sure there was no one up there. It didn’t happen every night after that, but maybe three times a week I’d get up in the morning and find the stairs pulled down. There was nothing wrong with the door, our handyman took a look at it. He told us it was functioning perfectly and suggested one of the kids must have been screwing around with it. Didn’t have an answer for me when I asked how they could possibly reach the string though.”

“Did the scratching stop completely after you got the raccoon out of there?”

“Uh, yeah, the scratching stopped, but then we began to hear knocking noises. Those were pretty much concentrated on the first floor though, like on the actual floor, it was weird. But anyway, the attic. Once I saw that shadow figure pop it’s head out of the darkness at me, we nailed the damn thing shut.”

“Oh my God.”

“The baby woke me up around three in the morning, I heard her over the monitor. I went out into the hallway and found the attic ladder all the way down. I had to walk past it to get to Lucy’s room and it gave me pause. I looked down to tie my robe and as I did I thought I saw movement up near the ceiling, you know in the hole where the ladder should be. 

“It startled me, but I stood still for a few seconds just watching that hole and didn’t see anything else so I figured it was just a trick of the light. Lucy was beginning to get loud and I moved to fold up the ladder and was just about to push it up into the ceiling when the shadow figure sort of lunged out of the darkness towards me. I screamed and crouched down, covering my head thinking it was going to attack me, but when it didn’t I stood back up and slammed the ladder up into the ceiling and ran to get Lucy. I brought her back to our bedroom and woke Dan up-”

“He didn’t hear you scream?”

Margaret shook her head. “Weird right? I told him to go check on the older girls while I called the police. He wanted to go up to the attic himself but I wouldn’t let him.”

“Just like Becca,” I commented.

“Yeah, it was another reason I knew it was our house after I read the blog. She hoped it was a real man too. As terrifying as that would have been, you know… I just hoped it had been a man who’d been hiding in the attic all along.”

“I dragged blow up mattresses into our bedroom for the big girls and set up Lucy’s pack ‘n play. They slept with us for at least a month after that. But the funny thing is, we didn’t hear anything else in that attic for a long time after that night. After that night the shadow man started to appear around the house.”

“How often did you see him?”

Margaret considered the question. “I didn’t actually see him again. He targeted the girls, each of them differently.”

“How so?”

“He scared the hell out of Jill. It got to the point where she wouldn’t go anywhere in the house alone, even the bathroom. Then one afternoon she’d just gotten home from school and I asked her to empty her backpack in the mudroom. I was in the kitchen fixing a snack when I heard her start screaming. It was the most frightening sound I ever heard, I thought… I don’t know what I thought. I ran into the mudroom and found her crouched against the door covering her face with her hands. 

“‘He’s here! He’s here!’ She started shouting. I spun around thinking there would be a man standing right behind me. But the room was empty. Amelia had followed me and was standing in the doorway wide eyed staring at her sister. I pulled Jill up and kept asking ‘Who, Jilly? Who’s here?’ She was inconsolable. I moved the girls back into the kitchen because Lucy was in her high chair and I wanted to get eyes on her. 

“When I finally calmed Jill down enough to tell me what had happened she told me she’d been pulling her homework folder out of her backpack when she felt someone pat her on the back. She thought it was me and she started telling ‘me’ about her day at school and when she turned around she said there was a big man standing there towering over her. She said he was all black like a shadow and he didn’t have a face.”

“Oh, Margaret, that’s awful.”

“Yeah it is, but the worst part about it was Amelia’s reaction. She sat there crunching away on Goldfish crackers listening to her sister and when Jill was done, she goes, ‘He doesn’t want to hurt you Jilly, he just likes to be near us. That’s why he rubbed your back. He wants what’s best.”

“Uh, uh.” 

“Yup. Then she told us that he loved the baby the most.”

“Oh my God, did you just get the fuck out of there right then?”

“Sure, yeah. I mean, I wanted to but we couldn’t just leave immediately. We don’t have any family in the area and we hadn’t met many people in town yet. Certainly no one we could tell we had a shadow man in our home stalking our daughters. It was just so freaking spooky. I drilled Amelia about it, I mean as much as you can drill a four year old.”

“What did she tell you?”

“She said she could sometimes hear the man even if she couldn’t see him. Especially in the morning when she first opened her eyes. He would do silly things with her stuffed animals. She said he could ‘make them dance’ and that’s when he would tell her things. He would ‘pretend to do the stuffed animals’ voices like daddy does.’”

I made a noise of disbelief. “Did your oldest daughter see him again?”

“If she did she wouldn’t admit to it.” Margaret stared out the front window of the bakery, oblivious to the cars and people passing by. In a low voice she continued,“Jill changed. She was quiet and sullen one moment and then bubbling over with manic energy the next. But not happy energy, more frantic, amped. She and Amelia began to play in the basement more and more. I was actually happy about it because the activity in the house had focused upstairs so I mistakenly thought they were better off down there.”

Obviously reacting to the look on my face, Margaret explained, “It wasn’t like things were happening every single day. There were lulls, right when I would get serious about getting out of there things would calm down and make me think the strangeness had passed. And, I mean, denial is a beautiful thing until it isn’t? I’m an architect. I only work part time, but you know how it is, there is no such thing as part time when you work from home. So I was probably missing a lot of the signs because I was just trying to keep my head above water. 

“Anyways, we’d finished the basement really nicely before we moved in the house, intending it for a play space for the kids. There was a playhouse and kitchen down there. I hung some cool swings from the ceiling that they loved and I even put an old fashioned green chalkboard on the wall because they love playing teacher.’ 

“So this one afternoon while Lucy was napping and the big girls were at school I’d just run a load of laundry in the basement and I was straightening up the toys down there. The girls are responsible for cleaning up their own messes, but they clean the way a four and nine year old clean up. So I was sorting the toy bins when I noticed the chalkboard. 

 “It had a bunch of silly little girl drawings, kid stuff like sharks and mermaids and some nonsense words. But beneath that I saw that words had been semi wiped away and then drawn over. It struck me because Jill is quite delayed academically. She was in third grade at the time but she wasn’t reading at all save for a handful of sight words, and yet…” Margaret trailed off.

“What did it say?” I pressed. 

“It said, ‘I promise not to tell.’ Three lines of the same sentence, ‘I promise not to tell.’ And there was no question that it was Jill’s handwriting. A million things flew through my mind at once, my first thought was that some pervert had done something to her. That certainly is not a sentence that a nine year old girl comes across. She copies words or phrases out of her picture books sometimes but she can’t read what she’s writing. And what child’s picture book would ever include a sentence like that? I took a picture of the chalkboard and sent it to Dan, he was completely freaked out too.”

“Would Jill tell you what it meant?” 

“She clammed up at first. We promised her that she wasn’t in any trouble, that we just wanted to know how she wrote a sentence like that, if she knew what it meant, where she had heard such a thing… Finally, Dan threatened to take away a trip to Chuck e Cheese they’d been planning for a long time. That made her crack.”

“And?”

“She said the shadow man told her to write it.”

“Jesus.”

“When I asked her what she wasn’t supposed to tell she just started crying. That was enough for me. I called her pediatrician and we got right in with a child psychologist. I wasn’t going to mess around with a nine year old little girl keeping a secret some ‘shadow man’ told her not to tell.”

“You’re a good mom,” I said quietly, meaning it.

Margaret sniffed. “If I was a good mom I would have gotten us out of that house a lot sooner.”

“Look, from my own experience with this weird stuff so much of it only makes sense in retrospect. The puzzle doesn’t fit together until it does. The sort of haunting you’re describing sets little fires that you can keep putting out until you can’t. I’m sure that once you saw what it all added up to you reacted.”

“We had a fucking inferno on our hands by the time we reacted,” Margaret replied bitterly. “I’ll leave out a lot of those ‘little fires’ as you call them – including that useless house exorcism – and tell you exactly where it all led. It was one of the quiet weeks when everyone seemed to be doing fine. There hadn’t been any incidents with the girls, Jill seemed like she was in a good place, Amelia hadn’t mentioned the shadow man at all. But then something woke me up in the middle of the night. I don’t know what it was. My eyes just flew open and I knew something was terribly wrong. 

“I got out of bed intending to check on the girls and when I got into the hallway I almost had a heart attack. The attic ladder was down – which was impossible, right? Because I made Dan nail it shut after that shadow lunged out at me. Not only was it down, one of Amelia’s stuffed animals, this blue whale she was obsessed with, was at the base of the ladder. I ran and climbed the ladder without thinking. It was pitch black up there but there’s a bulb at the top with a string pull so once I got up there I had a little light. I searched the attic, certain that I would find Amelia up there, but she was nowhere to be found. I was at the far end of the house when I heard the ladder slowly creak closed and then slam shut into the attic floor. 

“I have never been that frightened in my life. I tried to push it down but it wouldn’t budge so I began stomping on the ceiling and screaming for Dan. He was up and pulling the ladder down within seconds but before he even had the thing all the way down I screamed at him to go check on the girls. He was coming out of the baby’s room and already opening Amelia’s door before I’d stepped off the last rung. When he stepped out of Ameli’s room he was frantic. He strode across the hall to Jill’s room, poked his head in and said, ‘They’re gone. Are you sure they aren’t in the attic?’

“We ran downstairs, screaming their names. The alarm hadn’t been triggered so we were relatively certain that they couldn’t have gotten outside. Dan opened the basement door but it was pitch black, so he ran back up to our bedroom for his cell to call 911. I wanted to go with him, wanted to offload the entire problem on the police so they could fix everything with a reasonable explanation. ‘Look, the girls are in their beds,’ I wanted them to tell us. ‘You overreacted, they were just snuggled under all the blankets.’ 

“As I watched him run upstairs something drew me to the basement door I stared down into the pitch black. Something inside me knew the girls were down there but I did not want to go find out why. I wanted the police to do it, for Dan to do it. Anyone but me.”

Margaret absentmindedly reached up to wipe a tear from her cheek. “They were down there. I found them huddled in a small space between their playhouse and the wall. There was just enough room for them to all fit back there with their legs pulled up to their chests. Even the baby. Even two year old Lucy sat there still as a statue. 

“‘What in the world are you doing sitting down here in the dark?’ I demanded, scooping up the baby. 

“Amelia started crying and Jill put a hand on her leg to comfort her. ‘We tried to be good, mommy,’ she told me, ‘We were so good all week so he wouldn’t hurt you and daddy. I promise, we didn’t tell anyone. But he’s mad now. We came down here to hide.’”

“No,” I groaned.

“We waited in the kitchen for the police to arrive. They checked the house and we left when they left. Haven’t been back since.” Margaret suddenly looked exhausted. “That was almost a year ago. We’ve been in a hotel since, but our new house should be done in about a month. It’s not ideal, but what can we do?”

“Did you sell the house?”

Margaret’s face darkened. “No. I would never do that to another family. No one should live there. What Becca and her husband did to us is despicable. We’re suing the shit out of them.” 

***

Margaret was true to her word. Shortly after they moved into their new home they leveled that shadow man infested house and had a high end landscaping design company plant a mix of trees and shrubbery on the land. They gifted that property to the town so that it might be used as a public park space, an extension of the Crosstown Trail. They turned over the deed with the iron clad provision that it is never ever ever to be built upon. I drove by the spot recently. It was beautifully done. In a few years you won’t be able to guess that a house once stood there. 

The couples settled out of court. From what I understand, Becca and her husband were quite apologetic and compensated the Wrede’s for their troubles appropriately. I don’t blame them knowing how deep the Wrede’s pockets are and how far they could afford to take the suit if they wanted to.

There was so much I didn’t tell you. So much that happened – and continues to happen for that matter – but the craziness swirling around my life as I gathered all those stories made it difficult for me to think straight so I did my best to pick and choose what I felt most comfortable sharing… And really, only now looking back can I see that I left out some pretty important details… but stories began to spill out whenever I talked to anyone I came across. It was so much. And that was all before Claire started talking to me and I began to see dead people.

But I think it’s time to tell you everything, well, almost everything. Now that we know how it all ended (and a devil who looked a lot like Alexander Skarsgard laid out the why of it for us) we can take our foot off the pedal, we can afford to vear off through some side streets since we aren’t speeding ever forward towards a conclusion. 

I propose we zig and zag our way back to the beginning and learn a little more about this spooky town. I admit that everything wasn’t exactly as it seemed. 

And I think right now we’re all in need of some safe scares, some good old fashioned spooky stories – with a little Real Housewives of Wellesley thrown in the mix. I’ll shoot for a new story every other Friday but we’ll see how things go. 

I am excited to dive back in and if I may enlist your help, the most important thing you can do to keep Ghosts in the Burbs going is to rate and review it wherever you listen to podcasts. Podcasters are constantly begging you to rate their programs because that two minute effort of giving a star rating and perhaps writing a few sentences about a show you enjoy makes a huge difference. It lets me know whether I’m doing a good job or not. It raises the shows visibility, and it helps other listeners find these ghost stories in an endless sea of podcasts. So, thank you in advance!

As always, instagram and twitter are the best places to find updates about the show and the GhostsintheBurbanites Facebook group is alive and well, do think about joining. They are a fabulous group of people. You’ll find all the social media links at ghostsintheburbs.com along with the link to Patreon if you are interested in supporting the podcast further. 

…Now, let’s get ready, because next Friday, March 13th, Ghosts in the Burbs returns, and we’re headed right back to the beginning. 

You didn’t really think that was the end of the story, did you? I warned you I was an unreliable narrator.

Before I tell you how the story ends I wanted to say… I am incredibly appreciative of the support I’ve received from all of you over the years. The kind email messages, the ridiculously positive reviews, and all of the interaction on social media encouraged me to keep writing. Without all of that the blog and podcast never would have become what they did. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I honestly never thought anyone would read or listen to these ghost stories but because people like you have been vocal about the it and have shared it with friends – word spread like wildfire! 

It’s true. Ghosts in the Burbs is coming to an end. It was a difficult decision and not one I took lightly. I’ve realized that I simply can’t put in the massive amount of attention and time Ghosts in the Burbs deserves any longer. The stories will live on forever, or at least until the robots come to save us from ourselves and shut down the internet, but I have no intention of taking the stories down. They’ll be right where you’ve always found them. 

I thought this ending would take three episodes to tell. But I was wrong, again. This is it. The very last episode. People ask me all the time “Are these stories real?” The honest truth is that every single one of these characters told me their stories. They walked right into my mind and started talking about their houses and their lives and the scary thing that was happening to them. And as I was writing what I thought would be part two of a three part ending, a very scary man walked into a basement in my mind and ended everything right there and then. I wished for another chapter, but stories are like that. Things don’t always go the way you want them to.

And I know I have to close this door so I can open a different one for all of the other ghosts and monsters stomping around in my mind to spill out into the world. So while it is true that the podcast and blog are coming to an end, I still intend to write. From here on out you’ll find me at lizreadsandwrites.com and on instagram @lizreadsandwrites.

But first, we have a three and a half year long story to bring to an unsatisfying conclusion. We’re onto the very last ghost story. #49 The Final Interview Part 2 – The End

[Author’s note: In the previous post (The Final Interview Part 1), our haunted neighbor was referred to as Bonnie. I have changed Bonnie’s name in this episode to Sarah. Thank you Sarah Miller for your kindness and your incredible support of the podcast.]


***

The girls were down for the night, if not yet asleep they were at least quiet in their beds. Chris and I sat in cozy chairs in our kitchen, me sipping coffee, him Chardonnay. 

How long do you think you’ll be? You’re wearing that saint necklace right? Will you be able to tell if something attached to you or whatever? Are you scared? You’re sure this is safe?

I answered his nervous questions as best I could. It would probably take a couple hours. I had on the necklace plus a bracelet of St. Benedict medals that I’d dipped in Holy Water. I was pretty sure I’d be able to tell if someone was attached to me. Afterall, I always knew when Claire was around, if someone else wanted to tag along then I could deal with it before I came home. I was scared. No, I wasn’t sure if it was safe. 

Speaking of Claire, she was there with us. Standing near the door in our mudroom. The protections around my home never applied to her because I wanted her there. She’d taken on the role of guide for me, and though she wasn’t always around she stayed close when I interacted with the dead, and provided snarky commentary when I interacted with the living. But if I asked her to scram and give me some space, she did. 

“Will Claire go with you?” Chris asked. 

Claire smiled. I do hate missing an episode of Goldrush.

I laughed. “She’s coming,” I told him.

“What did she say?” 

“She likes watching television with you.” 

“What does she want to watch?” he said hesitantly. “I’m open to suggestions, but I can’t watch anything scary.” 

Out the picture window headlights flashed across our front lawn. “Judith’s here,” I said, standing up. I brought my mug to the sink while Chris went to answer the door. 

“Christ Almighty, how many dogs do you have?” Judith crowed, her voice nearly drowned out by excited barking. She and Chris exchanged a hug. Holding him out at arms length she asked, “You ready for this? Did she spray you down with Holy Water?”

Like a deer in headlights Chris stammered, “Uh, I wasn’t planning to-”

“She’s joking,” I said, giving him a kiss goodbye.

He chuckled in relief. “I still don’t understand why you have to go do this at night.”

“It’s when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest,” Judith said in a low voice. 

I could tell Chris was trying to manage his expression.

“She’s joking,” Claire and I said in unison. 

“Oh! So Claire’s tagging along then,” Judith said happily having heard the ghost’s voice. 

Hi Judith. Claire replied. 

Judith gave her a nod. “Let’s get goin’, this is going to be a nasty one.”

Chris gave each of us a hug and told me to keep my phone on and text if “anything happens.” 

As we drove to Sarah and Ed Miller’s home Judith filled me in on her current cross stitch project (a jack o’ lantern surrounded by zombies), her dog’s current health issues (food sensitivities and a pain in the ass raw food diet), and the current state of her marriage (rocky). 

“Anyway,” Judith continued, “The therapist says we need to honor each other’s communication styles.’” She glanced over at me. “Are you picking anything up?”

Startled I said, “About your marriage? God no.

Judith let out a bark of laughter. “No, not about my marriage. About where we’re going. About the couple, the house, anything?”

“Oh,” I said relieved. “No, I mean not really. Though my anxiety is at about an eleven on a scale of one to ten.”

“I’m not feelin’ too settled either,” Judith replied. The Miller’s lived on Ledgeways Street, a wooded winding road off Cliff. Judith squinted at a black mailbox. “And… there it is.” Judith pulled into a curved gravel drive in front of an imposing brick colonial with black shutters and a red door. To the right the driveway branched off to a freestanding three car garage.

We sat in silence each consumed by our own thoughts and worries. Finally I unclicked my seatbelt and said, “Ready?”

I just about hit the roof of the car when Claire whispered, You’re not going to like what you find in there, right beside my left ear as if she were leaning forward from the back seat. Turning to look I saw she wasn’t there, and yet I heard her voice again. I’ll go back to the house and watch that stupid show with Chris. If anything happens I’ll tell you.

“Wait, what? Claire? Wait.”

“What did she say?” Judith asked.

“You didn’t hear her?”

Judith shook her head.

“She’s going back to the house she said she’d tell me if anything happens. Why would anything happen at my house?”

“One of my guides just took off too,” Judith admitted. “I knew this was going to be a nasty one.” She took the key from the ignition and shifted in her seat to look straight at me. “You’re gonna take the lead in there.”

“Ha.”

“Yup. I’ll be right there with you, but the only way to learn it is to do it.”

“I don’t know if I’m particularly interested in building this skill set,” I replied.

“You don’t have a choice,” Judith replied.

“Yes I do,” I argued.

“No you don’t, and I’m supposed to train you.”

“Says who?”

“That guide who just took off. Things have… changed.”

I looked from her to the woods surrounding the house. I didn’t need to hear dead people to know that there was something very wrong with the place. “I don’t want to go in there.”

“Me either,” Judith replied opening the car door and stepping onto the gravel drive. 

I did the same, eyeing the dark woods around us. I could feel that we were being watched by angry eyes. I glanced at the house, movement in the dormer at the center of the third floor caught my eye. 

But my attention was pulled away from the window when the front door opened wide, spilling warm light onto the lawn. “Hi,” Sarah called in a small voice. “Come on in. You must be Judith.” She stepped out onto the front stoop and extended a hand. Judith accepted it and followed the woman inside. Hesitantly I left the car and forced myself to follow them. 

In the brightly lit kitchen after we’d said a round of hellos and Judith and I had turned down polite offers of coffee, seltzer water and wine, we explained our intentions. We would walk through the house to discern the nature of the haunting. The information we gathered would help us determine who they needed help from. A priest? A Voodoo practitioner? A Wiccan Priestess? Only walking through the house and meeting their spooks could tell us that. Sarah filled me in about the  footsteps in the attic, the disembodied voices throughout the house, her terrifying sleep paralysis, and the boy in the hoodie over the coffee meeting we’d had earlier that week and I in turn had filled in Judith. 

Judith said, “We’ve got a good idea about what’s going on here, but have you been bickering?” 

The couple looked guilty. 

“How about the kids?”

“They have, it’s driving us crazy.” Sarah admitted. 

Judith nodded her head and turned her attention to me as though she expected me to say something. 

“So then, let’s go ahead and take a look around the house,” I said, dumbly.

“What would you like to see first?” Ed asked.

I looked at Judith hoping she would answer and was met with raised eyebrows. I realized she’d meant it when she said I would be taking the lead. 

I hesitated. “Uh, hang on a second okay?” I closed my eyes and took several calming breaths as I’d been coached to do by Judith and despite everything in me screaming that it was a very bad idea, I dropped my guard and opened up my all of my senses and I listened. I listened for the dead, for the sound of unsettle and for the thing that I knew was there but didn’t want to acknowledge. 

The rooms around us on the first floor vibrated with the dispersed energy of an argument. No arguments. Nasty ones. The basement beneath our feet pulsed with fear and excitement, radiating an evil I hadn’t known existed until that moment. The detached three car garage held a playful sort of danger, and image of teenage boys playing with knives entered my mind. The second floor felt somehow bleak and intentional at the same time. There were two dead people in the attic. Wanting to talk.

“Let’s start in the attic,” I said.

The couple looked at eachother. “Why do you want to start there?” Sarah asked, her voice shaky. 

“There are two dead teenagers up there and they have something to say, but they absolutely refuse to come downstairs.”

“We’ve seen them,” Ed said, incredulously. “The kids too, they say the ‘big kids’ have warned them to stay upstairs. Away from the basement.”

“Then up we go!” Judith said sounding positively gleeful. 

We climbed two flights of stairs and stepped into a beautifully finished attic. To one side of the house was a bedroom with three twin beds built right into the wall under the eves. Cheerful royal blue striped bedspreads gave the room a nautical vibe. To the other side a playroom stuffed to the gills with brightly colored toys sat quietly waiting for us. I noted the dormer windows in both rooms, it was through one of those that I’d seen movement from the driveway. 

“Do your kids play up here a lot?” I asked, trying not to sound as concerned as I felt. 

“They did when we first moved in but now they avoid it. [Name omitted] saw what she described as two “big kids” up here who told her things about the house and they warned her to never go into the woods out back.”

“They’re right about that,” Judith muttered. 

“What’s wrong with the woods?” Ed asked looking at Judith who in turn looked at me.

“Uh, I’m not sure yet,” I said. I glanced around us in the annoyingly dim lamp light and listened. “Wait here, okay?” I left the playroom and walked across the hall to the far end of the bedroom. 

You should go, the boy said. He knows why you’re here.

Tell them the woods aren’t safe, the girl added. 

It’s the garage they should avoid, the boy argued. 

“Why won’t you guys go downstairs?” I asked. 

We don’t want him to trap us. That’s what he wants. A collection, the girl explained. 

We don’t want to end up like them, the boy said. 

“Why can’t he come up here?” I asked. 

We don’t know, they said in unison. 

“Has he attached to these people?” 

To the mother, he will collect her then move onto the kids. It’s all about the kids, it always has been, the girl said sadly.

It’s the first wave, the boy added.

“The first wave?” 

They nodded.

“Can I help you?”

They shook their heads. We are fine here.

“It sounds like you’re just as trapped up here as they are in the basement.”

Where would we go? The boy asked. 

“Across,” I said, feeling an overwhelming rush of sadness and loss. 

We are safe here, the girl repeated. Tell them not to go into the woods.

“You can leave anytime you want,” I argued. “You have the power to make that decision.”

Not while he’s here, the boy said. The garage isn’t safe. Be careful. 

And with that they were gone. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around to see Judith standing behind me. 

“Sorry,” she said.

I wiped my eyes. “Someone is trapping souls in the basement and there’s something else in the garage.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know… but I do somehow. How does that make any sense?”

“There’s something here that feels like unfinished business to me. Or at least it’s something you’ve encountered before. One thing’s for sure, it doesn’t want you here.”

I laughed. “Well that makes two of us.”

Ed cleared his throat, he and Sarah stood anxiously in the doorway. I smiled awkwardly, “We need to go down to the basement.”

Sarah sucked in a breath. 

“You don’t have to come down with us, but that’s where Judith and I need to go next.”

“Do you know who’s haunting us?” Sarah asked. 

“Well to start with, there are two teenagers up here, it’s where they feel safest. They don’t mean you or your children any harm, they’ve actually been trying to warn you all to keep you safe.”

“Did you get them out of here?” Ed asked. 

“No, they said they can’t leave until the other, uh, issues are cleared up.”

“This is just about the cutest darn guest room I’ve ever seen,” Judith declared, her voice bright. “I feel like I’m in a real live Pinterest post.”

“Thanks,” Sarah said with a small smile. “My mom is an interior designer, it was her idea.”

“Now that is a good mom to have,” Judith declared. “My mom’s a nutritionist, and that’s as agonizing as you can imagine and then some. Shall we?”

We trudged down the soft carpeted steps. On the second floor Ed said, “Uh, there is one room that’s an issue on this floor.”

“Oh?” I said, sensing exactly the room he meant and not wanting anything to do with it. 

“Yes, it’s the office at the end of the hall,” he pointed. 

Hesitantly I looked in the direction he indicated. The hallway was well lit. There was no reason for there to be a shadow blocking the view of the last door on the left. But there was. And that shadow slipped into the room and out of sight. 

“Did you see it?” Sarah whispered. 

Trying very hard to keep the accusation out of my voice, I said, “You didn’t say anything about shadow figures.”

“I thought I was imagining things,” she replied defensively.

“I think I’ll take that coffee now,” Judith said easily. “Sarah, you and Ed go on and brew up a pot. We’ll be down in two shakes.”

The couple didn’t need any further prompting. They took off down the stairs leaving Judith and I alone in the long hallway. 

“Was that a real shadow figure?” I hissed.

“I don’t know. But that’s not even the worst of it.”

“What in the hell is this place?”

“I don’t think it’s necessarily the place or even the people, though I might be wrong. There’s something bigger at play.”

“I’m not stepping foot into that room,” I said, crossing my arms. 

“That makes two of us,” Judith agreed.  

We stood listening for several moments. “Are you getting anything?” Judith asked. 

“Beside pure terror?” I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. It was a text from Biddy. 

Hey. Are you going to that haunted house tonight? Just got a weird phone call, all static. Something about it made me think of Poe. I haven’t had any trouble from him in a long time. Be careful, got a bad feeling about that house. Could they have shadow figures?

“Is it from Chris?” 

“No, Biddy. She got a weird call. Said it made her think of Poe.”

“The shadow figure she had attached to her?”

I nodded. 

“Well, shit.”

“Could Poe be here?” I asked in disbelief.

“I don’t think so, but maybe one of his buddies is,” she closed her eyes in concentration.

“Shadow figures are just about as bad as it gets right?”

“Right. Shush and let me focus.”

I sent a quick reply to Biddy, letting her know that I was indeed at the haunted house and that it was much worse than we’d thought.

Be careful. She texted back. I’m spooked. 

Still looking down I said, “Biddy is creeped out. I think we should…” but I trailed off. Looking up from the phone I saw that Judith had made it almost all the way to the last door on the left. 

“Judith!” I whispered. “Get back here.”

“It’s not a shadow figure, but he can make himself look like one. He wants us out of here,” she said in a low voice.

“Well then let’s give him what it wants,” I hissed. “Come on!”

Judith took a small step forward. “He’s planning something. No, he’s part of a plan and he’s proud of that. It isn’t about these people, about the Miller’s though he, no they, draw energy from their fear. This house is just a base. There are many.” 

“Judith!” I said, trying to build up the nerve to walk down the hall and pull her back. 

“Jason,” she said. “It’s Jason.” She turned back to look at me, a look of horrible understanding on her face. “You know him. He’s the boy who-”

The lights flickered and I let out a little squeak without meaning to. Judith stood in front of the door now, peering in. “My God,” she said, her voice shaking. The door in front of her slammed shut with enough force to knock it off the hinges. Judith threw herself back into the wall behind her then scrambled back along the hallway towards me. 

“Go!” She said. 

I turned and started down the stairs, stepping directly onto something small, my right foot slipped out from under me and I slid down several steps before stopping myself with the handrails. All at once, I let out a sort of “whoops!” and heard Judith say, “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Liz, are you alright?” as the small thing I’d stepped on shot out and bounced off the wall across from the stairs almost hitting Ed, who peered up at us in horror. 

“What happened? Are you alright?” Sarah asked, holding tight to her husband’s arm. 

Judith and I pushed past them into the dining room. Sarah hot on our heels. 

White as a sheet, Judith insisted, “You mustn’t let anyone in that office. At least until we get a team here to clear it out.”

“Of course, never let anyone in there. We keep that door closed and locked so the kids won’t wander in.”

“So you opened it for us tonight?”

“No. I thought about it but figured you would ask us to unlock it if you wanted to go in,” she paused. “Was that door open?”

“Where did you find this?” Ed said suddenly, standing behind his wife. He held up the rectangular plastic box that I’d slipped on. 

“It was on the stairs, I’m sorry, did I break it?”

Sarah stared at the box in horror. “That’s impossible,” she whispered.

“We haven’t seen this in at least a month,” Ed said firmly, setting the thing down on the table. Seeing it close up I realized that it was an old garage door opener. “I backed over this damn thing with my car, threw it in a garbage bag and drove the pieces to the dump myself.”

I giggled nervously like a dolt. “Why would you do that?”

“I had to disconnect the automatic door openers. The garage doors were keeping us up at night, opening and closing. The electrician said she’d never seen anything like it, couldn’t replicate the problem and told us that she couldn’t find a thing wrong with the system.”

“I asked her to come back at three in the morning to see for herself,” Sarah added. “Of course she didn’t. She looked at me like I was nuts.”

Ed nodded, staring down at the grey plastic box. “I unplugged the units, but it didn’t make a difference. Every night like clockwork at three a.m. those doors would go up and down steadily for half an hour. So I dismantled the system but it didn’t make a damn difference. I found this on a shelf in the garage a couple days later, realizing it was the last of the garage door system. I admit I went a little crazy,” Ed said looking embarrassed, “But I was at my whit’s end. It was creepy. That door slowly opening and closing by itself.”

“I’ll bet,” I said with a shiver. 

“This went on from three until about three-thirty?” Judith asked. 

Like clockwork,” Sarah insisted. “Most nights I couldn’t fall back to sleep. I didn’t know what was scarier, a ghost doing it or some neighborhood kids screwing around out there. We’d seen them on the trail out back and I worried it might be them lurking around.”

“What trail?” I asked as Judith said, “What kids?”

“There’s a path in the backyard that leads to a walking trail around Rockridge Pond. The teenagers must have a hang out in the woods, I’ve seen a couple boys back there a few times.”

“Rockridge Pond,” I said, my slow mind catching up. I turned to Judith, “The kids, you remember Eric, the guy who was on Biddy’s old investigating team? That’s where he saw them for the first time – the path around Rockridge Pond.

Judith remained silent. She peered at the Miller’s, seeming to study them. “Why do you two ended up here?”

They stared back at her.

“Come on now,” she pressed. “You’ve got ghosts in your attic, an evil dead boy in your office, Black Eyed Kids in your backyard and I’m not ready to say what I think is in your basement. What have you been up to?”

“Nothing,” Sarah said, her voice edged with hysteria. 

“We are good people,” Ed said, pointing to his wife and then at himself. “And our kids are too young to be involved in the occult if that’s what you’re implying.”

“We’re Presbyterian for heaven’s sake,” Sarah insisted.

Judith eyed them. “I believe you, but you know I had to ask.”

“It’s not them,” I said, the basement pulling on me.

“Then they have the worst luck I’ve ever encountered,” Judith muttered. 

I walked to the back of the house, and open layout, the kitchen overlooking a sectional-filled living room. Sarah, Judith and Ed followed, fanning out along the marble topped kitchen island. I closed my eyes. The basement pulsed. The teenagers panicked above us. The office was empty now, the boy had gone to the basement. Black eyes watched us through the windows. A thought came to me.

“The house you first stayed in when you moved to Wellesley, the one where the paranormal activity began,” I said, opening my eyes. “Who did you rent it from?”

“A couple named Michael and Laura Arnold,” Ed replied.

“Lilith,” I whispered.

“Bingo,” Judith said. “That’s what I was trying to tell you upstairs.” 

Three loud knocks reverberated throughout the kitchen. The four of us jumped and moved instinctively away from the source of the noise, crowding together near the refrigerator. 

“It’s the basement door,” Sarah said, pointing towards a door at the far corner of the living room. 

“Does that happen often?” Judith asked.

Sarah nodded. “Sometimes.”

“Well, we sure as hell aren’t going out to that garage, we know what’s out there. Looks like the basement’s calling,” Judith said, moving across the room. She turned to look back at me. “Come on.”

I forced myself to follow her, every cell in my being screaming at me to turn and run out the front door. My phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out and looked down at a text from Chris. Everything alright? Just got a little spooked here. When do you think you’ll be home?

I texted back, Don’t worry, Claire’s watching TV with you. Home in half an hour. 

“Is that Biddy again?” Judith asked.

“No, Chris. Said he’s a little spooked.”

Judith raised her eyebrows. “Same thing Biddy said, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

We moved in front of the door. For the life of me I didn’t know how I’d gather the courage to walk through it. 

“There’s a switch on the left right inside the doorway,” Ed called. 

Judith gripped the door handle and yanked it open. “You first,” she said, motioning me forward. Our eyes met. “You know it’s you they want to talk to.”

I reached out and flipped the light switch bathing the hardwood stairs in bright light. I walked through the door and onto the first step. Down we went. 

At the base of the stairs I turned and stepped into a finished basement. As I did a floor lamp set beside a leather couch flickered on and the overhead light shut off. There was someone sitting on that couch, I took a tentative step forward to get a better look at him.

The man was handsome in a Hollywood way, tight and toned with chiseled features and bright blond hair. He may have been thirty and he may have been fifty, from moment to moment my perception changed. An ankle rested on one knee revealed bumblebee striped socks beneath straight leg jeans. He wore a grey long-sleeved Allman Brothers t-shirt, the sleeves pushed up. A tattoo of a red Bic lighter seemed to almost glow on his left forearm. He bit his lip and smiled with sickening charm. “Hello, Scribe,” he said.

I couldn’t speak.

He looked me up in down and tilted his head to the side. “I don’t get it,” he said, “You go to spin class five days a week.”

“Fuck you,” I said without thinking.

The man smirked and stood. “You wish.”

He was tall, intimidatingly so. Somehow I managed to stand my ground. 

He pointed up, “They did their best to get you to understand,” he watched me look at the ceiling. “Not those idiots you idiot. Higher than that. They’re the ones who influenced you to talk to all those little people, but no matter how many clues we let slip you just never put it together.” There was laughter in his voice. “But you did follow the calling to become the Scribe, so I guess  that’s something…” He crossed his arms over his chest and in my own voice he said, “I created a little sign and pinned it to the library’s community message board. I promised free coffee and muffins in exchange for a scary tale.” His smile widened alarmingly and his voice changed back. “Would you like to hear a really scary story, Miss Liz?”

I took a step back because somehow he’d come closer without moving. 

“Once upon a time there was a little town. It was a proper little town and it’s proper little people had proper little lives. They were busy bees, those little people. Filling their days with the business of wealth, with their high powered careers, shuttling the children to and from safe places, volunteering their time indignantly, sweating out their manufactured stress and anxiety at spin class,” he gave an exaggerated wink. “Those little people cherished their little lives and they thought about their little lives and they protected their little lives and they refused to accept anything that might interrupt those little lives. 

“And then one day a great king looked up from his throne and surveyed the domain above him. Where might I go where no one would notice? Where might I go where the proper little people would refuse to acknowledge my presence? Where might I go to create a safe place for me and mine? He asked himself. And he saw the proper little town with it’s proper little people and he saw an opportunity.”

“What makes this town so different than any other?” I asked, my voice shaking.

“The land. The land is good.” He laughed, “Well… the land is good for us. It is very bad for proper little people.” 

“Who are you?”

“I’m the one who was sent to start the little fires. And it was my job to distract you.” His face changed, slowly at first then faster and faster. He was Biddy, then Judith, Becca with the problem in her basement, Jenn who’d been attacked in her own home by a religious zealot, Lindsay or perhaps her mimic, then Tom Murphy, quick as a flash he was Hillary, Vanessa and Jill. He became every single person I’d interviewed in Wellesley and finally, his face was Laura Arnold’s for a too-long moment before returning to its original sickeningly handsome form. 

Without meaning to I’d backed myself against the wall, I was near enough to the stairs to run up but unable to move. 

He raised his eyebrows up and down. “You’ve documented all the little games we’ve played with all the proper little people here. You’ve been a good scribe,” he said almost apologetically. “But you chased the wrong story, Liz. You chased distraction.”

The boy in the hoodie stepped out of the shadows. Expressionless he stared at me. 

“Do you remember Jason?” The man asked. “Or I should say, does your tiny proper little mind understand who he is yet?”

The boy named Jason pulled down his hoodie and put his hands in his pockets. 

“Jason’s sacrifice opened a door, one that won’t be closed.” 

“You’re the one who haunted Lilith and her family? The boy who died in their house?” 

The devil clapped slowly. “Yes, Jason’s the boy who sacrificed himself so that all this could be possible,” he spoke as though he was talking to an idiot. “Isn’t it brilliant? The rest of it, the ghost and monster theatrics were all in good fun. But it’s the girls like Lilith, and the boys like Jason that we want. Well, not like Jason, he’s dead, but there are little live boys to ignite. We’ve set these little fires everywhere. And they walk and talk and look like all the other little boys and girls in your little town. They live in your cozy little homes, play field hockey for your cozy little high school, ride their bikes down your cozy little streets. And they’ll do that and they’ll do that and they’ll do that until I tell them to do something else.”

“Jesus Christ,” I breathed. 

The man winced. “He’s not invited. Now run along and tell those assholes upstairs what lives in their basement. And tell them if they don’t get the fuck out of this house I’ll take their children as soon as they come of age.”

Legs shaking I backed my way up the stairs right into Judith. 

“What is it? What did you see?” She asked. “At least go all the way down and see if you can get a good read on the space.”

“What?” 

“You’ve gotta at least step off the stairs and look,” she whispered.

“I just did-”

She looked at me, “Are you alright?”

“We have to go right now.” I grabbed her arm and dragged her up the stairs, refusing to turn my back on the basement I climbed backwards, certain that man would come and drag us both back down there. 

Once through the door I slammed it and moved away across the kitchen. 

“That didn’t take long,” Ed said. 

To Judith I said, “You didn’t hear any of that? You didn’t see him?”

She shook her head. 

I closed my eyes, unable to look at the Miller’s. “You all need to get out of this house, now. And you can’t come back.”

“Now, hold on a minute-”

“Ed,” I said, quietly, “Your children are in real danger. You need to leave tonight and not come back. Do you understand?”

“Why?” Sarah asked.

“There’s a devil in your basement and he’s orchestrating everything, every single thing that is happening in this town and he wants your house so you’d better give it to him.”

“The Devil is in our basement?”

“Not The Devil, a devil. Hell has a hierarchy. I don’t know, we don’t have time to explain it right now. You can come to my house-”

Liz,” Judith interrupted. 

“Just for tonight, we will find you a place tomorrow, but you cannot stay here tonight and your children can never come here again. Ever.”

***

People approach me with their paranormal horrors all the time, and it is wonderful. There are so many stories I haven’t shared with you. Like the woman who brought home a chest of drawers from the dump swap only to find it infested with a strange mold that made her break out in hives and caused such paranoia that she believed her husband was an alien sent to deliver messages about the solar system to the Town Council. And there was the woman at a PTO fundraiser who drunkenly shared that she knew for a fact she was hanged for treason in a past life. She even showed me the birthmark on her neck to prove it. I’ve kept some of these stories in confidence and others simply because they were too wild or disjointed to even begin to relay (like the woman who swore her kitchen contractor was a psychic vampire hell bent on draining her life force and strong arming her into oak cabinets). 

And listening to these magical stories is fun and spooky and exactly what I’ve always wanted. And in my retelling of those stories, if I have one regret, it is that in all the snark and descriptions of my neighbors and community I fear it didn’t come through that I was poking fun at myself too. Afterall, I live here, I’m right up in it, I get Botox, wear Lululemon sometimes, carry a designer bag, and drive a massive SUV.

I would love to continue interviewing neighbors about their hauntings and share their stories, if only it were as simple as that. But I find myself in a situation that neither a house cleansing nor a St. Benedict medal will cure. The interviews aren’t the point, they never were. I was chasing ghosts and monsters while a devil quietly carried out his terrible orders. 

This blog (and podcast) has always been about me listening to other people’s stories and retelling them with a little snark and a lot of side notes so we could enjoy a good safe scare together. Tidy little hauntings for us to dip in and out of when we wanted, with a “nope” and a little shake of the head before we carried on with our lives. But there is something very wrong in this proper little town and I don’t have a tidy ending to relay.

And so… I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t do both things – I can’t interview neighbors and share their stories with you and listen to the dead and demonic. And it seems that I don’t have any choice in the latter. 

So I’m going to leave Ghosts in the Burbs right here before it gets tainted or stale. Before it turns into something different than what I intended it to be. I do hope to keep telling stories, And I’ll quietly edit the book I’ve written about a haunted cul de sac and pray I find someone to publish it. But for now, I need to step back from this beautiful whirlwind that we created together.  

And who knows, maybe someday I’ll find myself on the other side of the table, being interviewed by a writer looking for a safe scare. 

And she’ll describe me as a rather scattered middle-aged woman, with the basic brown shoulder-length highlighted hair that is so common in the burbs and nails bitten down to the quick. She’ll say I told her my story in a disjointed, winding way that was as hard to follow as it was to hear in my raspy vocal fry.

She may say all of that and more, but above all, I hope she’ll tell you that I scared her. 

And now, it is with gratitude and love that I say for the last time, This has been Ghosts in the Burbs. Good night, sleep tight, and don’t forget your nightlight.

So here’s how it finally happened. I was in Bruegger’s Bagels (of all places). I’d just polished off a nice bagel sandwich and was breaking off pieces of a pumpkin bagel and dipping them in a pumpkin spice coffee because when I get close to bagels I can’t and won’t stop devouring them until I have a proper stomach ache. And when it is fall I can’t stop won’t stop with pumpkin everything. I was feeling good for the first time in several days. I’d been battling the worst headache for longer than I ever had, but when I woke up that morning it was gone. After dropping the girls off at school I went straight to Bruegger’s intending to work on the first draft of my book for a few hours, editing and rewriting a few scenes. 

So when a woman came over and stood beside the small corner table where I’d set up my little office I did my very best to hide the irritation I felt when I looked up to greet her. She was in her twenties, dressed rather nicely in a forest green belted dress and heels. Her hair swept into a flawless bun. From the expression on her face I could tell she thought recognized me from somewhere. Now, I don’t think I’ve mentioned my slight facial blindness issue before, have I? It is the most annoying thing ever because it makes me seem like a self involved jackass – as if I need any help with that. But the maddening thing about this is that I have no control over it. 

Facial blindness is this weird thing where your brain doesn’t recognize faces. Even ones that should be familiar. In severe cases, people don’t even recognize their own reflections. Now, have I ever gotten an official diagnosis? No. But do I completely and totally not recognize people who I’ve spoken with several times? Yes. And it’s not like the whole “I’m so bad at remembering people’s names,” thing. It’s not that. I’m pretty good at doing one of those little memory tricks with people’s names. But if I don’t recognize someone then trying to pull up their name with a trick is impossible. Here’s an example of how embarrassing this can be. Chris and I met a really cool couple on the playground a while back, it was a weekend afternoon and our kids played together nicely and they lived in the neighborhood. We chatted for at least an hour and a half and I did the name trick for them – in this case linking one with a Friend’s character, the other with a famous comedian and their kids names got the same treatment. Great, right? Look at me being so social and proactive.

Well, then about a week later I’m out in the front yard with the girls and a car slows down in front of our house. A blond woman rolls down the window and says, “Hey! So this is where you guys live! How are you?” 

I literally had absolutely no idea who she was, and when this happens I’ve learned to stamp down the social panic and try my best to draw clues out of the person who moments before I would have considered a complete stranger. The woman finally mentioned one of her kids by name (luckily it was a rather uncommon name) and just like that my mind connected her name and her husband’s name and I was able to determine who she was – but I still didn’t recognize her. 

Super weird, right? Even weirder is that it doesn’t last forever. Depending upon the person and if it’s in the same location it’ll take me a few times talking with them before my brain sort of, like, imprints on them and then I’ll recognize them forever. If they have some great defining feature like red curly hair or pretty, straight white teeth the imprint may happen sooner. But if they are like most people then it’ll take me several conversations and some real attention on my part. IN the case of the playground woman, because I have no home base for her, like school or the library, I don’t know that I will ever recognize her.

You guys, I swear it’s a real thing. Brad Pitt has it. 

Anyhow, back to this nicely dressed, eager looking young woman interrupting my editing time in Bruegger’s. I could see by the look in her eyes that she knew me. I scanned through the possibilities. Did I know her from my time at the library? The food pantry? One of the kids’ schools? 

“Hi!” I said in what I hoped was a friendly tone. 

“Oh my God, I’ve been looking for you,” she whispered. 

“Oh?” I said, now feeling panic rise that I should definitely know this woman. 

“Yes. I’ve been trying to get someone’s attention. I just, I don’t know why I knew you would be different, but you are and, oh my Lord. You have no idea how long it’s been.” At that she began sobbing.

I glanced around us to see if anyone else saw what was happening. A couple business men sat at a table with coffee, talking at each other with genial aggression. Three young mothers and their tiny children created a flurry of movement and noise at the long table in front of the windows. The employees continued fulfilling orders. No one noticed the drama playing out at my little table. 

“Uh, I’m so sorry, that I don’t…” I trailed off not wanting to offend the poor woman by saying I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I began to stand up but the second I did I became overwhelmingly dizzy and had to sit back down. 

“I have to tell you something,” the woman insisted, “I might not have another chance.”

I’d closed my eyes to wait for the dizziness to pass and when I opened them and looked back up at her she sort of, like, wavered. Like when you see heat rising from hot blacktop in the summer, only her entire body did that while everything around her remained steady. 

“Oh, shit,” I breathed. “You’re a-”

“You can hear me? You can still hear me?” She asked. 

I nodded and looked around again to see if anyone was watching us. I began to gather my things off the table. “Let’s go outside and-”

“No!” She exclaimed stepping closer to me.
I pushed my chair back against the wall and a look of utter sadness passed across her face. 

“I’m sorry,” I said in a low voice, feeling badly for hurting her feelings. “I am just not used to this yet.”

“Please don’t go anywhere, I have to tell you and then you have to tell them. I didn’t do it. I didn’t. It was an accident.”

I pulled my seat forward and looked back down into my bag on the floor. 

“Oh, no! Please! Listen!” She was crying now. 

“I am going to put in my headphones, okay and take out my phone. I can hear you and I will listen and have a conversation, but I don’t want these people to think I am talking to myself, okay?” I pushed the chair across from me out with my foot. “Can you sit down? Or is that, like not possible for you?”

She sat down in the chair. It was absolutely, positively surreal. 

I slid the airpods into my ears. “Okay,” I said, my voice shaking, “I’m listening.”

“My name is Chelsea Coltz. Will you write that down?” She watched as I reached for my planner. “It’s C-h-e-l-s-e-a, C-o-l-t-z-as-in-zebra. That’s correct,” she said, watching me write. “I’ve thought about what I would tell someone if I could just get them to listen. I’ve practiced it for so long,” she began. She went on to tell me that she lived in the house next door with her husband. That they were blissfully happy save for the fact that they could not get pregnant. They’d tried for nineteen months – she was very specific about this – and they’d made an appointment with a reputable specialist in Boston. Her cousin had consulted with the man and was pregnant within two months of following his instructions. 

“Why would I do it when we had that appointment in three weeks? It’s absurd!” She insisted. 

“What do they think you did?” I asked, then quickly looked down at my phone screen remembering that no one else could see this woman but me. 

Chelsea told me that she’d been tidying the kitchen. She’d baked a roast for her husband and his parents the night before and the carving knife had been left to dry in the counter. As she carried it across the kitchen to the knife drawer her foot caught on the edge of the crochet rug that lay in front of the kitchen sink. She tripped and slammed her hand down on the counter to catch herself. In doing so she managed to slice her right wrist open. She panicked. Blood was everywhere, she wasn’t thinking straight. She didn’t want to bleed all over the rug, which had been a Christmas gift from her mother-in-law. She gathered her skirt around her injured wrist and ran outside, planning to go to the nextdoor neighbors for help, but she’d lost too much blood by the time she made it across the yard. She had to sit down to wait for the dizziness to pass. She told me that she must have closed her eyes and lost consciousness. 

And when she came to her husband could neither see nor her. Her mother walked right through her. Her sister sat crying in her sewing chair while Chelsea uselessly screamed “I’m right here!” Over and over. But the baby, her cousin’s baby saw Chelsea at her wake in their front parlor. She got the little girl to giggle by making silly faces and that’s how she knew that eventually she would find someone who could see and hear her, and that person could carry her message. 

“So you see, I didn’t kill myself,” she sat back in the chair – though how that was possible I honestly haven’t a clue – and folded her hands in her lap. Her demeanor changed considerably. Her face softened and she smiled at me shyly. 

“I apologize,” she said, “I didn’t ask your name.”

“Liz,” I told her, but she was looking past my shoulder out the windows at the front of the bagel shop. 

“Oh my word,” she breathed. “Philip, oh my word!” 

I turned to look behind me to see who she saw, but the only person on the sidewalk in front of the shop was a middle aged woman with an elderly Golden Retriever. I turned to look back at Chelsea, but she was gone.

I sat there for quite some time wondering if it had all really happened. 

“You’re lucky in one regard,” Judith said during a very long phone call about the incident.

“How so?” I asked. 

“When I see ‘em I usually feel how they did when they died. Drowning victims are the worse. Lord above, save me from drowning. I’ll take a broken neck any day, at least it’s fast.”

I shuddered at the thought of having to feel what it must have been like for Chelsea to grow weak from loss of blood. Judith was positively joyful over the fact that I could not only hear ghosts now but could see them too. She claimed to have known all along this was where my whole debacle was leading. 

“You’re too damn open. You’re too damn stubborn to listen to reason. And you are too damn interested in the dark. You got exactly what you wanted.”

Not true, I argued. True, she insisted. And I began to doubt myself, not that that’s anything new, but was this what I wanted? I went back and scanned through the blog. I read through over three and a half years of stories and I don’t know if I can say with full sincerity that I didn’t go into my search for local ghost stories without any intention of getting in on the action. I wanted to listen to other people’s terror, sure. Safely. Over coffee and pastries. In looking back at those stories I found myself cringing at how relentlessly snarky I’ve been in my descriptions of people. Yikes. 

I barely recognize the woman who blogged those early stories. So much has happened over the past three and a half years. Thankfully, life knocked me down a peg or two since the beginning and I hope it’s made me kinder and more able to point that judgy ass finger at myself. Rereading some of those posts was a great reminder to not be an uppity snob for sure. But it also forced me to be honest with myself. I was a bored mom with very small children when I began writing. Of course I wanted something magical and spooky to happen in my life. That’s why I didn’t stop interviewing people when the tapping started in our last house or when I began to actually hear ghosts or when I started having those awful dreams. 

And here I am right smack dab in the middle of the story. 

It started a few days after I met Chelsea. Let me be clear, I’m not, like seeing dead people everywhere I go. No, it’s more like, they see me, the ones who are looking anyway. And when they do, they are incredibly eager to chat. Judith explained that the dead who still hang around either want to stay here in order to cause a little chaos, or because they are afraid of what might be waiting on the other side for them. But there are other dead who stick around because they have unfinished business and that business is usually in the form of an undelivered message. And for most of those dead people it doesn’t matter who they give the message to, it’s just the opportunity to have someone listen and validate their concerns that allows them to pass onto the other side. Whatever that is.

So that’s what I did for Chelsea. I listened to her and that was all she needed to move on. 

But the other dead. The ones who stick around for chaos, they’re in no rush to go anywhere. And just like I appear differently to the dead who have something to get off their chests, apparently I’m a beacon for the troublemakers too. 

My first experience with one of those creepers was at the kindergarten social. Each autumn there is a parent party for every grade level at our elementary school. The adults get together at someone’s house (in this case mine) to get to know one another, eat finger foods and drink a little too much. This party was actually the first one I’d attended, let alone hosted, in which I wasn’t drinking. So I was a little more, uh, attentive than I might have been in the past and the second that couple walked through my front door I knew something was off. 

They were a pleasant couple, just moved to Wellesley the previous spring, their oldest in kindergarten their youngest at the same pre-school as Kat. We were all surprised we hadn’t crossed paths yet. Chris and I chatted with them briefly before getting pulled to different hosting duties. I had this sort of, I don’t know, ping about them though. Especially her. She was lovely and friendly and social, but I could feel the tension rolling off her in waves. Actually, not just tension. Fear. I could sense his anxiety too, but could tell it had to do with whatever she was worried about. It was not his own, it was more of a sympathetic anxiety if that makes any sense. 

So I kept my eye on them throughout the evening and I didn’t see anything odd. The night wore on and the crowd thinned. I’d just grabbed a bottle of wine to top off some glasses in the living room when I came around the corner and saw him. He stood beside the woman, let’s call her Bonnie, and he stood out from the crowd in a navy blue hoodie. His very dark eyes and the most evil smile I’ve ever seen peeked out beneath the hood. When I locked in on those dark eyes he pulled that hood down, revealing dull, jet-black hair. The kind that comes from a box. Then his entire body wavered the same way Chelsea’s had. A wave of dizziness washed over me and I had to lean against our dining room table until it passed. 

As luck would have it, Bonnie saw the whole thing. I looked at her and saw a flash of terror in her eyes.

“Now no one will believe I’m not drinking,” I said with a nervous laugh after she came over to see if I needed help. The ghost disappeared the second I looked away from it and that frightened me more deeply than seeing it in the first place. Where had it gone? And how in the hell did it get into my house? There are protections along my property line and at all of the doors into my home to keep just that from happening.

I excused myself to check on the girls and found them all sleeping peacefully. The rest of the night was a blur. Everyone seemed to decide at once that midnight was the collective curfew and our remaining guests filtered out. The kitchen was empty and I approached Bonnie as she placed an empty wine glass on the counter.

“Hey, I hope I’m not overstepping here,” I said awkwardly. “But I saw someone standing next to you in the dining room.” 

She looked confused. “Oh, I’m still not sure of everyone’s name,” she replied. “What did he look like?”

I shook my head. “It wasn’t one of the other parents,” I said in an apologetic tone. 

Her eyes went wide. “Fuck.” She breathed. 

“Why don’t we grab coffee tomorrow,” I said quickly. “I might be able to help you.” 

“I’m so sorry,” she said in a low voice. “I didn’t know he could follow me.”

I spent the next hour saging our own house and spraying salted holy water in every single corner. Even though I was bone tired I didn’t fall asleep until well after three o’clock. I was pretty certain the ghost had left with her, but I couldn’t be sure. 

Over coffee at Cafe Nero the following morning I learned that Bonnie picked up her ghost when they first moved to Wellesley. Her family had lived in a short term rental for three months while the renovations were completed on their new home. She told me the place had been “classically haunted.” A lot like the home where she’d grown up, in fact. The rental had been all footsteps in the hallway at night and disembodied voices during the day. But the most alarming thing was that she could feel herself change the longer they stayed in the house. She became less patient and kind with her family, more angry and depressed. “And I’m drinking like a fish,” she added. She blamed it on the stress of the last move and the anticipation of the next one. She was sure that it would resolve once they had moved into their new home. 

It hadn’t. Things got worse. She and her husband bickered constantly. The kids had nightmares and refused to sleep alone in their new bedrooms. She experienced sleep paralysis several times and then one night she woke up and saw a young man in a hoodie standing beside her bed. Just as he had when I saw him, he took off the hood to reveal jet black hair. He stood over her for far too long with an evil grin on his face. 

“Is he here now? Can you see him?” Bonnie wanted to know when she was done giving me the rundown. 

I shook my head, grateful that I couldn’t. “I am really new to this, but if you’re open to it I know a couple of people who can help you.”

“I am willing to do whatever it takes to get rid of this asshole.” 

So I called Judith. She agreed to come do a walk through Bonnie’s home the following weekend to diagnose her ghost issue and put together a plan of action to resolve it. She would do it on one condition. I had to tag along.