Have you ever listened to the recording of the 911 call from the woman living in a rural town in the middle of nowhere? The one where the 911 operator assures her that the police will not be there in time to protect her from the madman breaking into her home. She is urged to use the gun she has in the house, and she does. Google it. The recording is suspenseful and horrible and satisfying all at the same time.
When I hear of rural home-invasion stories like that one my mind runs through a list of reasons why I am safe from that particular situation. I’m in a populated area. People would hear me scream. The police are just a hop skip and a jump away. Once in a while we keep the doors locked. We have that ridiculous alarm system… But I’m sure that’s what that woman on the 911 tape thought too. And she had a gun. I don’t have a gun. My great uncle’s old billy club would have been my knife in that gun fight.
Because I haven’t fallen victim myself I find true crime stories of survival fascinating. I devour podcasts that tell of of kidnappings, serial killers, and home invasions as if I’m studying for a final exam. I’ve read The Gift of Fear several times. I’m confident that I can gauge the level of creepiness coming off of a person. On the other hand, I’m really bad that “fuck politeness” concept. I’m a sucker for a friendly stranger.
When we lived in the city I enjoyed a false sense of security just by living in an apartment building surrounded by the semi-strangers I considered neighbors. The truth is there isn’t safety in numbers. But I have to convince myself of that at two in the morning when I can’t sleep and every noise might be a person creeping up the stairs and crawling on their hands and knees to the foot of my bed.
How would I react? What would I do or not do? Would I fight? Would I comply? Remain silent or scream and attack back by pinching that sensitive skin under my attacker’s arm (the only defense move I can think of)? I don’t know and I don’t ever want to know. But what really scares me is what happens after the violence. After the trauma when you’re left with the memories, the fall out. Left to relive the nightmare over and over again in your mind.
Even that I can try to work through by considering the options. Maybe I’d start a victim’s rights advocacy group, maybe I’d repress the memory, maybe I’d become agoraphobic, or alternately hyperactive to the point of never being alone. Victims and survivors are as unique as the traumas they have endured. And each one has a right to react to their experience any way they choose. Kimberly Barker handled her situation in a rather unique way. It got the job done, but I wouldn’t suggest it.
You might not have met Kimberly Barker, but you know her type. She’s a jeans, fleece and sneaks kind of mom in constant motion. She’s the woman who turns the elementary school garden in the Spring and weeds it in the summer while everyone else is at the beach. She works the cash drawer at the cookie swap, a job I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. She lead an effort to crochet mats out of plastic bags for homeless people in Boston. She works part-time in Human Resources in a large medical office and scoops up a stack of books from the library every single week (and she’s never paid a late fee). Her little boy is incredibly well-behaved and a touch on the shy side and you’re pretty sure her adorably nerdy husband does something or other in insurance. She wears her medium-length brown hair in a simple ponytail at all times. She remembers your name and your kid’s names but refers to your husband as “your husband.” She’s nice enough, but a touch on the anxious side and there’s no cracking her politeness. She’s both highly involved and completely removed from the community life swirling around her.
Kimberly Barker is one tough nut to crack. Max and her son are in the same kindergarten class and I’ve tried to connect and make inroads because, I kinda liked her. I liked how self contained she was, a trait that eludes me. My own energy tends to scatter all over the place, my enthusiasm for any given thing evaporating as something new, bright and shiny catches my attention. I’d all but given up on the possibility of developing an acquaintanceship with the woman, when out of the blue she stopped Max and I after school one day and invited me to coffee.
Despite my initial excitement at the invitation, my guard went up almost immediately. I simply can’t get involved in another PTO volunteer activity right now. You all see how long it takes me to get these stories out as it is. My plate is full and coffee suggested a long conversation, maybe a sales pitch to suck me into a bigger role in the group. I hesitated for a split second and Kimberly quickly said, “I’ve been reading your blog.”
That stopped me short. Again, I hesitated. Kimberly rushed on, “I have something to share, what I mean is that I might need some advice, I-” Now it was her turn to hesitate. She glanced down at Max and then looked at me with worried eyes. “I need some help and if you could point me in the right direction then I would be so grateful. Of course, I would wish to keep it between us. I mean, I know you record your interviews to document what is happening in this town and that is fine. But, of course I wouldn’t want my name used.”
“Coffee would be great,” I said, cutting her off because, though Max knows I ‘write ghost stories’ she doesn’t know they are real and I need to keep it that way so that we can all get some sleep at night. I continued, “Tomorrow doesn’t work, how about Wednesday?”
“Sure, sure. Do you think Biddy could come?”
“Um, I can ask her,” I replied, surprised.
Kimberly blew out a deep breath. “Great. Thank you, this is great. I’m so relieved that I finally asked you. I already feel a little bit better about the whole thing. Okay, Wednesday morning. Where should we meet? Nine o’clock? Quebrada? You like it there, right?”
“Great. Okay, thank you. See you then. I’ll see you tomorrow too, here of course at pick up. But then I’ll see you at Quebrada at nine o’clock on Wednesday. What’s your phone number? I’ll put it in my phone now and call you so you have mine. Okay, is your phone ringing? Perfect. Great. Thank you. Bye, bye.”
Max and I watched Kimberly and her son walk to their car. “Can we watch Vampirina when we get home?” Max asked.
“What? Yeah, sure,” I answered, my mind churning over what Kimberly Barker could possibly have to tell me.
As we waited for Kimberly to arrive I dug into a cinnamon roll and Biddy sipped black coffee.
“What’s this chick like?” She asked.
“She’s very nice, super involved in the school, one kid, no frills, you know pretty down to earth. She’s also a bit of a nerve end.”
Biddy nodded in understanding. “What’s new with you guys?”
“Oh, not much. We’re just moving again,” I replied.
“Cut it out.”
“Yeah, in town just a few streets over from where we are now. We walked through an open house last weekend and blah, blah, blah the offer was accepted and our place goes on the market on Thursday,” I admitted before shoving the rest of the pastry into my mouth.
“That place just never felt right,” Biddy said without missing a beat. “It’s an adorable house, I mean there’s nothing wrong with it. It just wasn’t right for your family. The area is a little vortex-y. Is the new place any bigger?”
I nodded my head.
“Well that’s good. You have too many damn kids and dogs crammed into your place now.”
I laughed. “I’m dying trying to guess what Kimberly is going to tell us.”
“I hope it’s good, I’m missing my favorite spin class for this,” Biddy complained.
We chatted about working out and family stuff. I didn’t share the fact that I suspected I might have some sort of a stalker spirit lurking around me. Frankly, I had enough going on. Again, the plate was rather full. The voodoo doll mystery had been solved and I felt I could afford to have my old buddy Denial sit on the stalker story for a minute so I could catch my breath.
Kimberly showed up ten minutes later, about twenty minutes late. She was flustered.
“Oh my God, I am so so so so sorry. I am never late. This morning was an absolute nightmare,” she explained as she struggled out of her coat, hat, mittens and scarf. “You must be Biddy. Thank you so much for meeting me, I mean for coming to talk. I am in a bit of a pickle and I didn’t know who else to talk to. It’s like it was meant to be that Liz’s daughter is in my son Jacob’s class and that she knows you. I mean, I just started reading the blog. It came up after I googled ‘paranormal problems in Wellesley.’ Anyway, hi. Thank you. Again, I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said soothingly.
“Do you want to grab a coffee or something?” Biddy asked.
“No no no, I can’t take any more of your time,”
“We’ve got until eleven forty-five to get back to the school,” I assured her. “Seriously, go grab a coffee, we’re fine.”
After a moment’s hesitation Kimberly took our advice and went to the counter. Biddy smiled and raised her eyebrows before bringing up some random town gossip to pass the time.
Kimberly returned with a large coffee, a sugar cookie, and a stack of napkins. Biddy and I watched as she took a moment to carefully arrange her items on the table top.
Satisfied with the set up, she looked back and forth between us and said, “So. How does this work? Is that the tape recorder there? My name will be changed I’m sure, so I’m not worried about that at all. Anyway, I know it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t seem like I’m alone in having a paranormal issue in this town. I mean, my problem didn’t begin here but I think this town made it worse. I mean, it kind of made it come back if that makes any sense.”
“I’m sorry to hear your having trouble,” I said, gently. The poor woman looked like she was about to spin off into orbit.
“Your shadow figure,” Kimberly said abruptly, looking at Biddy, “Is it gone now? Can you actually get rid of them?”
I could tell Biddy was surprised by the question though she concealed it well. “Well, I don’t know if one can ever completely rid themselves of a shadow figure attachment. I’m no longer affected by its presence, but I know it’s always there, testing the perimeter.”
Kimberly began to cry.
“Oh shit,” I said, handing her a napkin from her pile. “Tell us what’s happening.”
Kimberly wiped her face and took a deep breath and then her story burst out of her.
“Everything was fine until we moved here. I mean, it wasn’t fine, but it wasn’t like it is now. I thought I had it under control, you know by saging and keeping up with the damn candle and salt rituals. If I hadn’t thought it was under control I never would have gotten married. I certainly wouldn’t have had Jacob if hadn’t been convinced that I’d blocked them out of my life for good. Maybe I got too comfortable and let down my guard down, I hadn’t really thought about them, specifically at least in years. The rituals had just become habit.
“I don’t even know what possessed us to move here,” Kimberly segwayed abruptly. “We were perfectly safe in Needham. But my husband worked with a man who lived in Wellesley and we went to their Christmas party and we got thinking about how great it would be to live near the town center and walk everywhere. We live in one of the condos behind Roche Brothers. Do you know them?”
Biddy and I confirmed that we did. In fact, I told Kimberly that I had actually rented one of those condos for a couple months while work was being done on our first Wellesley home. Sandwiched between one of the elementary school’s soccer fields and the grocery store it was a cozy little introduction to suburban living. If we hadn’t been sharing the space with a nine-month-old baby and a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler at the time it would have been a perfectly pleasant experience.
“Oh good, you know the layout of the development. I wasn’t sure if I should have you to the house so you could get a sense for where I’ve seen them.”
“Uh uh,” I said automatically. Then softened my response. “I mean, that isn’t necessary.” After hearing mention of a shadow figure I was afraid to even be in the same room as this woman.
“I don’t know what I did wrong. It started up our second night in the condo. Our place backs onto the soccer fields. That’s one of the reasons we chose that townhouse in-particular. Well, really my husband liked it best. I would have prefered to be right in the center of the development, but he convinced me that it was safe and secure. There’s a thin patch of woods blocking the view of the fields, and I have to admit that at first it was quite peaceful.
“We moved last April. We were so excited that Jacob could walk to school and we’d have the grocery steps away. We missed that about the city and this felt like the best of both worlds. Besides, our house in Needham was really old and required a lot of upkeep. In a new townhouse we wouldn’t even have to worry about landscaping or shoveling. And we’d be sharing a wall with the neighbors. They’d easily be able to hear us if we screamed.”
I snuck a glance at Biddy, her face betrayed nothing so I tried to keep my expression neutral too.
“I mean obviously you both know that Wellesley’s crime rate is eight-eight percent lower than the national average. I admit that Needham’s statistics were more attractive, but when I went to the police station to speak with one of the detectives she assured me that violent crime was very low in this town. Sure, there was that man who murdered his wife back in the nineties, but random acts of violence are rare here.
“The townhouse felt safe from a crime standpoint and I did the work and put every spiritual safety measure into place that I know. I saged the space three times, salted the windows and doors and had a Reiki healer perform a clearing before we even moved in. I even sage the entire place every night before I get into bed to clear the day’s darkness.
“I’m driving myself crazy trying to figure out what I did wrong,” she said miserably.
“Let me be sure that I understand, you did all of this to protect yourself from a shadow figure?” Biddy asked.
“Three. Three shadow figures,” Kimberly replied quickly.
Biddy sucked in a breath. “How in the hell did you end up being stalked by three shadow figures?”
Kimberly shook her head. “It’s bad isn’t it? I knew it. If it shocks you, then it must be really bad.”
“How long have they been with you?” I asked.
“Since I was nineteen years old,” Kimberly admitted.
“How did they find you?” Biddy asked.
Kimberly fell silent and began to shred the napkin in her hand.
“Whatever it is, it’s not your fault,” Biddy said reassuringly.
“But that’s just it,” Kimberly said quietly. “It is my fault. I was so set on revenge I sort of invited them in.”
Biddy and I stared at her, waiting for her to elaborate.
Kimberly chewed the inside of her lip.
“Look, I don’t want to have to dredge up the past. I just want to deal with what is in front of me. Can you help me to do that?”
“Maybe,” Biddy replied. “What exactly are they doing to you?”
Kimberly blew out a breath. “It started with nightmares a few weeks ago and then my dreams started to get really violent and gory. Last night I dreamt I made a man-” she stopped herself with a quick shake of her head. “I just know that these dreams aren’t my own. And I can feel them in the dream with me even though I can’t see them yet.”
“Is this how you experienced them before?”
Kimberly teared up again. “Sort of, but it used to be so much worse. They were everywhere whether I was awake or asleep. I would see them in my house, you know how they like to sort of attach themselves to the wall in the corner of a room and crane their necks to watch you?”
Biddy shook her head slightly. Apparently she wasn’t familiar with this particular shadow figure trick.
“Oh, yours didn’t do that?” Kimberly said quickly wiping her eyes. “Well, mine do, I mean they did. If I’m being totally honest, I know, I mean I think they’ve found a way back inside, they just haven’t shown themselves to me yet. I saw them in the field the other night right past that strip of trees behind my house. I was doing the dishes and I looked out the window. It was about dusk and at first I thought it was three men standing in the field staring at our place, which scared the hell out of me. I was about to grab the phone to call the police when I realized what I was actually seeing.
“The one who stands in the middle is about a head shorter than the other two. I turned off the light so they couldn’t see me watching them. Which is ridiculous because I know they see everything, but it just made me feel less exposed. The moon was bright enough that I could watch them from the second floor bathroom window and they stood there the entire night. I must have dozed off around dawn, they weren’t there when I woke up. I’ve been driving Jacob to school since then obviously, I don’t want him in that field.”
“It’s Jacob that has me the most worried. He’s been coming into our room in the middle of the night complaining about the shadows in his dreams that show him bad things. I’ve tried to just brush it aside because I don’t want to scare him. I don’t want him talking about them at all even though I know it’s too late, if he’s dreaming about them then they’ve seen him.”
“My best advice is an exorcism,” Biddy said plainly.
I held my breath waiting for Kimberly’s response.
“No way, I’m not going through that again,” Kimberly snapped.
“You’ve had an exorcism?” I said in disbelief.
“Yes and it was a waste of time. That priest did nothing but stir them up and make it worse.” With mention of the exorcism, Kimberly’s nervous demeanor disappeared.
Biddy leaned forward, “I’ve never heard of a situation where an exorcism hasn’t provided at least some relief from a shadow figure attachment. What aren’t you telling us?”
Kimberly sat back in her chair and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Something bad happened to me when I was nineteen.”
When she didn’t elaborate I prodded, “What?”
Kimberly let out an annoyed breath. “My Sophomore year in college I decided to live off campus with three friends to save money. We rented this crappy two-level house. We drew straws and I got the biggest bedroom, the only one of the first floor.”
[Dear listener/reader, if you are in any way triggered by personal accounts from victims of violent attack then please skip the rest of this story. Come on back next time for a chilling tale about a haunted doll. That may require its own disclaimer but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.]
“On a Tuesday night that January, a noise startled me awake around two o’clock in the morning. I shot up in bed and even turned on my bedside lamp, but I didn’t see anything out of place, except a book on the floor. I figured it had just fallen. I was a little bit freaked out but I turned off the light and tried to fall back to sleep.
“But then I heard another noise, a footstep near the end of my bed. The room was really dark, but I suddenly realized there might be someone standing near the foot of my bed. I turned to reach for the lamp again but before I knew it he was on top of me and there was duct tape around my wrists and over my mouth before I even had a chance to react.
“He was there for almost three hours and none of my roommates heard anything. By the time he left there was enough light coming in through the edges of the blinds that I was able to get a good look at his ugly face. I memorized every detail about him that I could. If he wasn’t going to kill me then I decided my purpose in life would be to find and kill him.
“The police told me he’d done the same thing to two other women in town. Both college students like me. It was the first time I’d heard of those other attacks. Long story short he was found, arrested, and convicted. The courtroom was as close as I got to him since the night he attacked me. The entire trial I sat a few rows back all the time thinking about what it would be like to walk up behind him and shove a pen into his throat.”
I inhaled sharply. Biddy sucked her teeth and said, “I can’t imagine how much you must have hated him.”
“I hated him with every single fiber of my being. I hated that he was breathing. I hated that he had the memories of what he’d done to me and those other women in his head to keep him company at night. I hated the public defender who sat next to him in her shitty skirt suit. I hated the back of his head and the way he was allowed to have a cup of water as he listened to the depraved things he had done.
“They made me go to therapy. My parents insisted that I had post traumatic stress and had to talk through it with someone. The therapist tried to get me to work through my anger so that I could ‘process my pain.’ She didn’t get it. No one did. The only thing that would make me feel better was for him to truly suffer for what he had done. He needed to feel every bit of the pain he’d put me through.
“The only useful thing that therapist taught me was visualization. I got really good at it, but I wasn’t visualizing some calming Carribean beach. Each day I’d play out a different situation in which he was brutally killed. And that did help calm me down.
“One time I was practicing my visualization and these three dark shadows showed up in the scene I’d envisioned. They stood around me, one on each side and one behind and watched along with me as he was thrown from the window of a car as it careened down an embankment. Their presence was nice at first, I could feel their approval. They were the first ones to validated my anger. It made everyone else so uncomfortable, but the shadows just let me be mad.
“I figured that I’d somehow conjured them up in my imagination because I desperately needed someone to understand how I was really feeling. And after that day they came everytime I sat in visualization. But then they began to sort of energize my visualizations. They made them more vivid. I could kill him in my mind over and over again in more-” Kimberly stopped, searching for the right words, “specific ways.”
“They made me feel powerful. Even if it was only in my mind, I felt like I had control over my life again. This one morning I had been intending to watch him drown in a lake when instead they showed me a vision of him sitting in his jail cell. I was angry and tried to pull myself out of the vision. I didn’t want to see him like that. Safe and sound in a cell to live out the next seven to ten years of his bullshit life. But the shadow figure, the one who stood behind me put it’s hand on my shoulder and held me in place. Then the figure to my right moved into the scene and he actually saw it. He looked at the thing and was terrified. The shadow man grew so that it was almost as tall as the ceiling while that bastard cowered beneath it. It was awesome. It was so satisfying to watch him cowering on his bed, helpless as that shadow figure towered above him.
“Then, quicker than I could understand, the shadow figure had a pen in its hand. It thrust the pen into his neck then slowly shrunk back down and slid back to its usual spot next to me at my right hand side. I stood there, surrounded by the three shadow figures and watched him bleed out. Even though I’d killed him in my mind a thousand times, this was different.
“That afternoon my attorney called and told me that he had been found dead in his cell. She told me that the details weren’t clear but from what she could gather he’d slit his own throat. But I knew that wasn’t true. My shadow man had done it for me. It was freaky but really I was grateful. Stupidly, I thought the shadow men had come to help me seek revenge and that it was all finally over.
“I stopped practicing my daily visualizations, I just didn’t need them anymore after he’d gotten what he deserved. But the shadows didn’t leave. That’s when they began to show me really terrible things in my dreams. I’d know that I was dreaming but I wouldn’t be able to wake myself up and I am almost positive that what they showed me was all real.
“I watched so many people die. I don’t know if they were all like him, you know if they deserved it, but it wasn’t easy to watch. They showed me disgusting executions and stabbings, ugh, there were a lot of stabbings. The most disturbing thing I watched was this old man die at the bottom of his basement steps. He must have fallen. It took hours, my entire night of sleep in fact. It got to the point that I just wanted to die. I couldn’t watch it any more. I tried to stay awake but they didn’t let me, I slept soundly every night. I had this horrible feeling that they wouldn’t even let me kill myself if I tried. So my only option was to go into a visualization one last time and beg them to leave me alone. I stupidly hoped that if I thanked them for what they had done for me then maybe they’d let me off the hook.”
“And that didn’t work,” Biddy guessed.
Kimberly shook her head. “It didn’t. So that’s when I got in touch with that useless priest. After that I tried a psychic but the second I sat down at her table she started screaming at me to get out of her house. The Reiki healer was the only one who helped me. She gave me all of those little tricks to create a kind of a bubble around my life and it worked until we moved here.”
Biddy stared at Kimberly for long enough that it became uncomfortable.
Finally she said, “You’re a different person right now than the one who first sat down at this table.”
Kimberly scrunched up her face in confusion and shook her head. “What do you mean?”
“There’s nothing jittery or anxious about you now.”
Kimberly looked at me and I agreed, “It’s true. Sorry, but you seemed like a total nervous wreck at first but once you started telling us about your past you sort of got, like, calm and, I don’t know, mad.”
“Well, of course I got mad!” Kimberly said defensively. “Did you even listen to what I was telling you?”
“Yeah, I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be mad, I’m just agreeing, you know that you did sort of change. I’ve never seen you like this. Usually when I talk to you, you know you seem sort of nervy,” I rambled apologetically.
“You’ll never get rid of them unless you forgive him,” Biddy said simply.
“I can’t do that.”
“Then they’ll never leave you alone. The anger you had for him is long gone now, you know that right? But it was their way in and they know exactly how to work you up over the past. What you are feeling is theirs, it’s not yours. You don’t have to hold onto all of that hate.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because it’s the only way you’ll ever be free. You have to forgive him. You’re hurting yourself now, can’t you see that?”
Kimberly put both hands on the table and shoved her seat back. “Thanks so much for your expert advice,” she spat before storming out of the bakery.
I picked up her untouched sugar cookie and took a bite. “How in the hell am I going to act normal when I see her at pick up in twenty minutes?”
“She’ll come around,” Biddy said before crossing herself.