ghosts in the burbs

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

Welcome back to Lilith, a tale I’ll share a few chapters at a time until her story is complete. If you’re new to the blog, Lilith is a great place to start (you don’t need any background information to enjoy this account of demonic possession) but do go back to January 7th’s episode and begin with chapters 1-3.

 

Chapter 21

The family left the house around ten o’clock. Laura looked exhausted, the younger children confused, Lilith haunted.

Noc waved to the family as they pulled out of the driveway then, fighting the urge to get into her own car and drive away, she gently closed the mudroom door. Her team was waiting for her in the dining room.

Typically on an investigation they would sleep in shifts. Taking turns leaving the haunted location for their homes to rest and wash up before continuing the investigation.

“We’ve decided that we should all stay here today,” Tyler announced as Noc slumped into a chair.

“What? Why?” Noc had been looking forward to a shower and a short break from the oppressive house. A chance to regroup.

Her husband and teammates exchanged looks.

“None of us want to miss any of the action, for one thing,” Maurice said.

Patricia said, “More importantly, we think it’s safer to stick together if we are going to continue the investigation.”

“Safety in numbers,” Tyler added.

Noc rubbed her eyes considering. “If we don’t all get some sleep we’ll be useless.”

The team nodded their heads in agreement. She realized they’d already made a plan.

“I talked to Michael and he said we were welcome to the twins bedroom-”

“Ah. The room where they are hearing the dead boy whisper jokes and stomp around in the attic above their heads.” Noc clarified sarcastically.

“No one would be in there alone, we’ll sleep in teams,” Patricia suggested.

Noc took in her teammates eager faces. She realized the decision had been made. “Fine, then I call first shift, but I’m not sleeping in that fucking creep show of a bedroom. I’ll take the couch.”

“Well, I for one am too wired to sleep for some reason,” Patricia said.

“Not me,” Maurice stifled a yawn. “But I can’t sleep in some chair down here. I don’t mind sleeping up there alone.”

“Alright then. I’m going to make a quick Starbucks run,” Tyler announced. “What does everyone want?”

Patricia ordered a black tea. Noc and Maurice said they’d grab something when they woke up in a couple hours. The team dispersed. Patricia sat at the dining room table, a legal pad in front of her as she cleared her mind for an automatic writing session. It was a practice she often used in haunted locations to help herself tune into the underlying vibrations around her. Patricia assured Noc she would take precautions. Noc was too tired to argue with her. She fell into a dead, dreamless sleep seconds after she closed her eyes.  

Upstairs, Maurice tossed and turned atop Rosemary’s floral comforter unable to fall asleep. He would be close to drifting off when a tap would sound above his head or on the wall next to him. As hard as he tried to ignore the tapping, it seemed the tapping would not be ignored. He finally gave up of the idea of sleep, took out his digital recorder and attempted an EVP session. The ghosts or whatever it was in the house were silent save for more of that incessant tapping.

After a time Maurice heard the mudroom door open and close downstairs and headed down to tell Tyler and Patricia what had been happening in the girl’s bedroom. He planned to suggest they bring up some equipment and investigate the attic.

He was looking down at his digital recorder when he came around the corner to the dining room. “Hey, man, there’s weird tapping going on upstairs. Let’s grab some equipment and-” He stopped mid-sentence when he looked up and saw the look of terror on Tyler’s face. Maurice followed his friend’s gaze and his eyes fell on Patricia.

She sat, her posture unnaturally straight, her chair pulled in so close to the table that it looked painful, pushing her stomach against the table’s edge in an unnatural way. Her hands rested on either side of a legal pad, clenched in tight fists. She was so still Maurice thought for a moment that she might be dead. From where he was standing Maurice could only see the back of her head. She looked to be staring straight ahead. Her chin slightly raised.

Maurice looked back up at Tyler, who was staring directly at Patricia’s face. A look of concern mixed with horror on his face.

“Ty, man, what is it?” Maurice asked, true fear gripping his body.

Tyler’s gaze broke away from Patricia for only a moment. “Her eyes,” he whispered. Then he took a tentative step forward. “Patricia?” He said softly. The woman didn’t stir at all. “Patricia?” He said again, with more force.

Maurice moved to stand next to Tyler, giving Patricia and the table a wide berth as he did so. Once at his friend’s side he saw why Tyler looked so terrified.

Patricia sat, unblinking, tears streaming down her face. Her face was a mask of sheer terror. Her jaw clenched as if she were enduring severe pain.

“Jesus Christ,” Maurice said. He pulled Patricia’s chair back from the table and took her clenched hands into his. “Patricia, wake up!” He said firmly. “Wake up, come on Patty, come on back.”

Patricia’s eyes, unfocused moved to Maurice’s face. She blinked several times then let out a scream like none of them had ever heard before. It was full of sadness and horror, pain and loss.

Maurice jumped back so quickly that he fell flat on his ass. Tyler backed himself into the wall, knocking down a framed family photo.

Noc stumbled into the room, obviously startled awake by the scream. “What happened? Patricia! What happened?” She said, taking in the scene.

Tyler, Maurice and Noc all stared at their teammate. Tears still flowed freely down her cheeks though she gave no other sign of crying, it was as though a faucet had been turned on behind her eyes. She wiped at them with her hands and breathed, “I don’t want to see anymore.”

 

******

 

Sleep was out of the question.  

Once Patricia had pulled herself together the ghost hunters filed into Maurice’s Suburban and drove to Maugus, a small diner nearby.

Once they were settled in a booth, coffee orders in place, Noc said, “I just want to go on record and say that I think we have plenty of information, hell proof to bring to the church at this point.”

“You can say that again,” Patricia said closing her eyes for a moment, they’d burned ever since she’d lost herself to the automatic writing.

“Are sure you’re alright?” Maurice asked her.

She nodded. “Yes, my eyes just feel really dry but it’s subsiding.”

“And you still have no idea what you saw?”

Patricia shook her head. “None. I was scribbling on my pad of paper and the next thing I knew the three of you were there looking completely freaked out.”

“Shit, you scared us,” Maurice said in a low voice. “It was as if you were somewhere else. I wish we knew what you saw.”

“Me too,” Patricia agreed.

“You said exactly what Lilith said last night. You said ‘I don’t want to see anymore,’” Noc pointed out.

“Well, then maybe I actually don’t want to know what I saw,” Patricia said with a small laugh.

Shaking his head, wishing he could erase the memory Maurice said, “The look on your face was terrifying.”

The team sat in silence, each member lost in their own thoughts.

“So, what are we going to do?” Noc asked finally, breaking the silence.

“Let’s get some food in us, and regroup,” Tyler suggested.

“I honestly don’t know if we should continue on in that house,” Noc admitted.

“We just had a bad scare this morning. Taking some time away from that house will help to clear our heads for tonight’s investigation.”

“Look, you guys know I don’t scare easily. I’m not saying this because I’m spooked. It’s that I’m afraid we’re going too far. I have this terrible feeling about that house. I’m afraid someone is going to get hurt,” Noc said.

“That’s what they want you to think,” Tyler said, dumping sugar into his coffee. “They can’t do a damn thing to us other than frighten us. If you have that bad of a feeling then it means we are on the right track. They’re trying to scare you off. They want us out because they know we’re the ones who will send them packing.”

“When you say ‘they’ you’re referring to demons, Ty. We can’t send them anywhere. We need a priest. Actually, probably need fucking boatload of priests to get rid of what’s in that house. Everyone in that family probably needs an exorcism. Our primary goal is to help this family, not to document evidence. We should focus our energy on getting these people help as quickly as possible.”

“We will,” Tyler said, his placating tone making Noc want to kick him in the shins. “But we committed to seventy-two hours and that’s what we should do. We should gather as much evidence as we can. Then we’ll get an exorcist in here ASAP.”

“What about attachments?” Noc asked.

“What do you mean?” Tyler replied.

“Well, I seriously doubt we’re just going to be able to leave everything behind us in that house at this point,” Noc said.

Tyler brushed the idea aside. “We’ll do a cleansing ceremony when we leave the property for the final time, we always do.”

Patricia spoke up. “Whatever is in that house is extremely powerful. We might want to schedule a blessing at St. John’s Monday morning. We don’t want to bring anything back to our own homes.”

“Excellent idea,” Tyler said as though that put an end to all concerns.

Though Maurice and Patricia seemed less convinced than they had before Patricia had channeled God-knows-what visions of horror, they were still firm in seeing the investigation through to the end. The ghost hunters ate breakfast and returned to the home despite Noc’s protests. Their defenses were down from lack of sleep. Dread at the thought of another night in that God-forsaken house weighed heavily on them all.

“We haven’t really investigated this part of the basement,” Maurice pointed out as he and Patricia ran an equipment check at basecamp.

Patricia shrugged and looked around the room, taking in the wood paneling. “I think that’s where one of the construction workers got trapped,” she said pointing to the door closing off the stairs that lead to the bulkhead.

“EVP session?” Maurice suggested.

They unlocked and opened the door revealing a short set of wooden steps. A set of rusty bulkhead doors loomed above.

“How long did they say the guy was trapped in here?” Maurice asked taking in the dank, spider webbed space.

“At least two hours I think,” Patricia replied.

“Geez,” Maurice breathed. He held out his digital recorder and said, “Is anyone here with us? Jason, is your spirit here?”

Patricia added, “Can you give us a sign of your presence?”

They waited in silence. Rewound the recording and listened.

“Nothing,” Maurice commented.

“Let’s try one more time,” Patricia said. Once the recorder was rolling she asked. “Is my old friend here? The girl I played with as a child?” She paused. “Do you have a message for me?” Maurice and Patricia fell silent. Allowing the recording device to run in hopes of catching a response. After a long moment, Maurice turned it off and played the recording.

To Patricia’s first question came the reply, “Yes.”

“Shit,” Maurice breathed after they’d re-listened to the recording of the disembodied voice of a little girl.

“I’m afraid to hear what comes next,” Patricia admitted.

The recording continued to play. “Do you have a message for me?” Patricia’s voice asked. The answer was chilling.

The same voice, this time with an edge of anger responded, “We almost had you.”

Maurice and Patricia looked at one another. Without a word Maurice closed and locked the door to the small space beneath the bulkhead.

Nighttime came too quickly and with it a sense of impending doom.

Noc was jumpy and nervous while Patricia felt completely drained from the day’s events. Tyler had crossed over from exhaustion to a feeling of manic excitement. Maurice wished they’d taken Noc’s idea of leaving the house seriously. He was washing his hands in the upstairs bathroom a little before five o’clock just as the sun was going down when the shower curtain twitched behind him. He caught the reflection in the mirror. He was immediately overcome with a level of fear he’d never known. An irrational fear that told him that if he pushed the curtain aside he would see the devil himself.  

He stood frozen, his mind racing, wondering if the horrible thing, whatever it was was about to leap out and kill him. He couldn’t find his voice. He slid along the wall as far as he could from the bathtub, grabbed the doorknob and yanked the heavy old wooden door open. Rushing out into the hallway he banged into Noc who had been checking the camera in Jack’s room.

“What is it?” She demanded.

He could only shake his head, still certain the thing was after him. 

Noc went into the bathroom, Maurice reached out a hand to stop her but it was too late.

She flipped on the light switch and glanced around, then flung the shower curtain aside, revealing nothing but an empty bathtub. She turned and took in the look of sheer terror on Maurice’s face. He was sweating and breathing heavily.

“What the fuck just happened?” She asked.

He shook his head, doing his best to calm down. Finally, he said, “I don’t know, I thought I saw something. But maybe this house is just getting to me.”

“Let’s go downstairs,” Noc suggested. “We need to make a plan before it gets dark. I don’t think any of us should be alone at any point tonight.”

It was decided that after dinner (take out from The Local) Tyler and Patricia would conduct an investigation of the second then first floors while Noc and Maurice manned command center and kept an eye on the camera footage.

After hearing of Maurice’s scare Patricia and Tyler started their investigation in the second floor bathroom. They conducted EVP and spirit box sessions and monitored the temperature of each room on the top floor, but found nothing abnormal. In the attic Patricia claimed she felt something touch her back, but nothing was caught on camera and whatever had touched her had left no mark.

Around nine-thirty Patricia and Tyler got their first real hit of the night as they attempted to make contact with the dark entity in the home. Noc and Maurice watched as their teammates listened back on the EVP session they’d just recorded. Noc had almost allowed herself to be lulled into thinking that the house may have gone silent for the night when her husband said, “Got it,” he fiddled with the recording device then held it up to the camera in the kitchen so that his teammates in the basement could hear the disembodied voice captured by the digital recorder.

Noc and Maurice leaned towards the computer screens in front of them.

In the recording Tyler said, “We would like to speak to the dark entity affecting the family in this home.”

A raspy voice, presumably the dark entity’s, replied, “Where is the scribe?”

“Oh, shit,” Maurice breathed.

Noc began, “The scribe, isn’t that what-”

“Lilith asked about it at the dinner table, yeah,” Maurice said quickly, wanting to hear what Tyler said next.

They watched as Tyler began to record again. “Who is the scribe?” He asked. He let the device record for a minute before he and Patricia listened back for a response. Again he held the recording device up to the camera so his teammates could hear the response.

The same raspy voice growled, “Elizabeth….. Sower.”

“Who the hell is Elizabeth Sower?” Noc said.

“What was the last name of the family who lived here before the Arnolds?” Maurice asked. “Could it be one of them?”

“No, that was uh, Butler,” Noc replied.

“Weird. Well, make a note of it anyway and we can ask Laura and Michael if it rings a bell,” Maurice said with a shrug.

The night wore on. Having no luck in capturing further evidence it was decided that Patricia and Tyler would sit upstairs quietly observing the house in hopes of witnessing the shadows Jack had described. Tyler was eager to capture evidence of the phenomenon. Maurice and Noc would remain in the basement continuing their watch over the camera feed.

At around eleven-thirty Noc and Maurice were studying the footage before them. Tyler sat on the couch in the living room and Noc was trying to determine if the shadow she’d seen over his left shoulder was a trick of the light or perhaps one of the shadow figures they’d been hoping to witness. She was pointing to the screen, describing what she’d seen to Maurice when they both heard Tyler call her name from the other side of the basement, the area near Lilith’s bedroom.

Maurice and Noc’s eyes met. “What the hell?” She breathed.

They sat, silently listening.

“Maybe there’s a delay in the feed,” Maurice suggested.

“We would have heard them come down here,” Noc whispered. She stood. Besides an electric lantern on the table in front of them and the light from the computer screens the basement was bathed in darkness. It was standard protocol to turn off all the house lights and conduct investigations in the dark. Noc grabbed a flashlight from one of the equipment bags and walked towards the stairs. She shined the light revealing no one, just as she’d expected.

“Is anyone there?” Maurice called from the table.

Noc shook her head. She continued past the stairs and shined the flashlight into the laundry room, again seeing nothing out of the ordinary. She walked down the hallway, her flashlight settling on Lilith’s door.

“Ty?” She called, her voice shaky. There was no response. With every part of her being she wanted to turn around and go back to the illusion of safety at the command center. To sit back down next to Maurice and continue watching the computer screen, a perceived safe distance from the darkness in that house. But she’d heard her husband’s voice call to her from that room. That terrible bedroom. Maybe he’s concentrating on something, she thought to herself. Or maybe he’s in trouble, maybe he needs my help.

She intended to say Tyler’s name out loud again, but it only came out as a whisper. She forced herself to reach out and push the door open and as she did something growled in her ear. It said, “He’s dead.”

Noc screamed and rushed into Lilith’s bedroom, away from the growling voice. She spun around so that her back wouldn’t be to the door and heard Maurice call to her. It felt as if he were miles away.

She opened her mouth to yell back to him when she heard a low and menacing growl coming from the hallway outside of Lilith’s bedroom. Noc screamed again and scrambled backwards, backing into the bed which caused her to fall down and drop the flashlight. It’s beam lit up the closet across from her. She thought she saw movement, perhaps a shadow.

She grabbed the flashlight and shined it at the doorway, somehow more frightened at whatever had growled at her than what could be lurking in the closet. Then Maurice’s flashlight came bouncing down the hallway.

“Maurice!” Noc screamed. “Be careful!” She gathered her courage and bound out of the bedroom, grabbing Maurice’s arm and dragging him up the stairs. The whole time screaming Tyler’s name.

Tyler met them at the top of the stairs. “What’s wrong? What happened?” He asked, grabbing his wife by the shoulders. She fell into his chest, overcome with relief at the sight of him and unable to stop shaking.

“What the fuck just happened?” Tyler demanded staring at Maurice over his wife’s shoulder.

Maurice put his hands up. “I honestly don’t know. We heard you call her name from the Lilith’s room. She went to investigate, and-”

“You let her go alone?” Tyler demanded.

Maurice let out a breath. “I’m sorry, man.”

Noc took a step back and extracted herself from Tyler’s grip. “It said you were dead,” she breathed, wiping tears from her face.

“No, honey. I’m right here, I’m fine.”

Patricia appeared suddenly by his side. “There is a fucking goat in the middle of the backyard. I just saw it out the window. It’s just standing there staring up at the house. ”

 

Chapter 22

They had all of their belongings packed when I got back to the house. I left Michael and the kids at the hotel, they were just about to go to the pool. Lilith had even shown interest, her mood had brightened a bit since we’d been at the hotel. I wasn’t about to bring her back to that house.

The psychiatrist and the so-called demonologist were sitting in his fucking car when I pulled into the driveway.

“We’ve seen enough,” Noc told me. “We won’t be staying another night.”

“But you said you would be here three full nights and that you would get rid of whatever is in this house,” I said, trying desperately not to sound as desperate as I felt. If they weren’t in the house then that would mean we’d have to come back a night early. If they weren’t in the house figuring out what was there then we would be left alone again with whatever was tormenting my family.

In a business-like tone, Noc’s husband said, “We feel that we have documented enough evidence and that we can begin to reach out to the appropriate people who can help you-”

“You’re passing us off on some other group?” I demanded, cutting him off.

“No, not at all,” Noc said, her voice irritatingly placating. “We aren’t equipped to remove anything from this house, we need to-”

“But you said you would take this case and now you’re leaving and asking someone else to help us?”

“We believe there is a demonic entity in your home,” Tyler said.

“No shit! That’s why you’re here, and you can’t even make it three days in my house! What am I going to tell my kids?”

“Laura, we are still going to help you. I am reaching out to a contact in the church today and-”

“The church won’t help us, we’ve tried!” I yelled.

I admit it, I was good and worked up and I wasn’t really listening to what they were trying to tell me. But the fact that these seasoned ghost hunters couldn’t make it more than one night alone in my home terrified me. I wondered what exactly they had seen, what evidence they’d gathered, what had pushed them to leave early. At the same time, I didn’t want to know any of those things. I just desperately wanted get back to that budget hotel, swim in the pool with my children, and try to lose myself in the fantasy that we were just on a vacation.

I slumped down into a chair at the dining room table. “What exactly did you see?” I asked.

The couple exchanged a knowing look that made me want to throw them out of my home right then.

Instead of answering the question Noc asked, “Have you or the kids seen a goat around the house at all? Maybe in the backyard?”

“Do any of your neighbors keep goats?” Tyler added.

“Goats?” I said, well actually screeched. “No. I haven’t seen any goats in the neighborhood. Is that what you saw? Goats?”

Again, my question was met with a question.

“Do you know anyone named Elizabeth Sower?”

“No, I don’t. Is that who you’re shoving me off on?”
“No, no, no,” Noc said, “It was a name we caught during an EVP session.”

“The scribe,” Tyler said.

“Scribe? Like Lilith said? What does that even mean?”

“We don’t know, that’s why we need to consult-”

I cut her off. I couldn’t help it. I was overcome with panic and disappointment that they were leaving. “Is that why your bailing on us. An EVP?”

“We are not bailing on you,” Tyler said in a firm voice.

His tone set me off even further. “If you’re leaving just leave.” I said, terrified that they would actually go. But they did, leaving a string of meaningless apologies and reassurances behind them.

I sat alone in the house for too long. It was completely silent, as if leaving me to soak in the reality of what had just happened. There were none of the usual taps or footsteps from adjoining rooms, no bits of whispers barely heard. Just silence. As though the house had no need to prove it’s little points any longer. It had won the round. It chased off the ghost hunters. Scared them right out the door.

It was several brutal, terrifying weeks later when I saw the posting on the community board in the library. I had the opportunity to reshelve books just once more, though the announcement had been made that they were hiring someone internally for the library aid position. The news hit me harder than I thought it would. I hadn’t realized how much I’d wanted that job.

I was leaving the library when a notice caught my eye. It was a simple half sheet of paper bordered by cute little black and white ClipArt ghosts.

I scanned the text. A blogger in Wellesley was collecting ghost stories. When I saw her name a shiver of recognition ran through me. Liz Sower. The blogger’s name was Elizabeth Sower. The scribe.

aa7f36ff27fedfb629be6fb8bc2bd9cbRegularly on the podcast I write short stories for listeners who support Ghosts in the Burbs at the $10 tier level on Patreon. These stories always appear at the end of the podcast episodes. Here’s a sample of the most recent set of stories. Listen to the podcast for more of these fun horror stories, and head over to Patreon for more information.

******

Welcome back to the Ghosts in the Burbs Patreon Donor stories. I’ll release these extra episodes bi-weekly until Lilith’s story is complete.

But before we get to this week’s story I’d like to offer a million thanks to Lexi, Amanda Perkins, Tara Bates, Ozge Bird, Ellen Casey, Rachel Burlage, Amy Hopper, Stephanie Mosier, Murphy Williams, Ewa MykyntynRuth Virkus, Kristen Jennings, Christie, Katlyn Callaghan, Jocelyn M. Thomas for their generous support on Patreon. Without it, this podcast wouldn’t exist. If you haven’t yet head over to check out Ghosts in the Burbs on Patreon where each patron tier carries with it a small token of my thanks. The following patrons, Karen Langhofer, Allison Smith, and Winter Amoura, chose the $10 per month tier so that I might create a spooky story just for them.

 

Theirs is a tale of revenge. You don’t want to mess with Wellesley moms…

 

******

 

Karen Langhofer and Winter Amoura lounged in Karen’s immaculate sun room. The plantation shutters allowed in plenty of light while still concealing the space from prying eyes.

“I’m still not sure about that lantern,” Karen said referring to the massive fixture above their heads.

Winter shrugged. She found the lighting rather predictable or at least too on-trend for her taste. The whole room in fact looked like it had walked out of Pinterest. She said, “I think it looks great,” then sipped her iced coffee. It was the only thing she intended to consume that day and she wanted to enjoy every last sip. “I do love those chairs, are they new?”

“No, I just had them recovered,” Karen replied in a bored voice.

The women both turned towards the doorway at the sound approaching footsteps. Moments later Allison Smith rushed into the room.

“Where have you been?” Karen hissed.

“I had a doubles match,” Allison replied, smoothing her perfect ponytail.

“Did you lock the door behind you?” Karen demanded.

“Of course.”

“I told you I have to be somewhere at eleven,” Karen snapped.

“Well, then let’s get to it,” Winter said, interrupting her friend’s bickering.

“Did everyone bring their assigned items?” Karen asked, arching an expertly shaped eyebrow despite the Botox fighting against it.

Winter adjusted her Gucci sunglasses to keep her long shiny hair back from her face, then pulled a small package from her Goyard tote. “I had such a hard time finding the red and black string,” she commented.

“And I have a hard time understanding why we have to listen to you complain about gathering ingredients every time we’re dealing with something that doesn’t involve you,” Karen sniped.

Allison dug in her Louis Vuitton Neverfull. “I need a smaller bag,” she whined. “Oh, here it is.” She pulled out a small vile of liquid and a plastic baggie and placed them on the table in front of her.

The women took a moment to be sure they had everything they needed. Then Karen struck a match and lit the red candle that sat on the custom white lacquered coffee table. She placed the lit candle in the center of a black bowl then carefully poured a glass of spring water into that bowl. The women held their arms out and held each other’s hands, forming a circle around the centerpiece.

Without a word they each focused their intention on the flame, quietling their minds and bringing themselves fully into the present moment.

After a short time the women let their hands drop to the table top. Karen asked, “Alright, what is this little fucker’s name again?”

“Benjamin Rupert Tussle, the third” Allison said.

Winter snorted.

“His mother will tell anyone who listens that it’s a ‘family name,’” Allison replied.

“Dumbass,” Karen breathed. “As if ‘the third’ didn’t spell that out for everyone.” She checked her notes and held out a hand. Allison carefully withdrew a single blond hair from her ziplock bag.

“I can’t forget to go to Roche Bros. today,” Winter said, “We’re out of garage bags.”

“Focus,” Karen said quietly. With the single blond hair resting in the palm of her hand she closed her eyes. Her friends followed suit.

She lead them in a brief chant, then commanded, “State the offense.”

Allison spoke. “Benjamin Rupert Tussle, age seven of Woodlawn Avenue in Wellesley, Massachusetts has offended my daughter and caused her emotional and physical pain.”

“Do you accuse him,” Winter intoned.

“I do,” Allison stated firmly. “Does the coven wish to intervene?”

“We do,” Winter and Karen replied as one.

Then Karen demanded, “List his crimes.”

“On Monday, February 4, 2019 the year of our master, in front of a group of classmates the boy told my daughter that she was pudgy and called her Miss Piggy. The following Wednesday, February 6th, he threw a snowball at the back of my daughter’s head and called her a ‘loser with no friends’ and this past Friday, February 22nd, the boy, with two friends in tow, approached my daughter (who was innocently swinging on the swing set) and asked her why she was such a weirdo.” Allison’s voice broke in telling the last offense and she took a deep breath to gather herself.

Karen held the boy’s hair between two fingers. She said, “We believe what is put out comes back to us threefold. Benjamin Rupert Tussle the third sent hurt to Allison’s daughter and he will get hurt in return.” She placed the hair into the flame and the three women watched it sizzle. Karen nodded to Winter.

Winter took the black and red string she’d had such a hard time locating and began to carefully wrap it around the candle three times. “We bind Benjamin Rupert Tussle from causing Allison’s daughter any more harm.”

Allison uncorked a vile of vinegar and poured it into the bowl then used an unsharpened number two pencil to stir the concoction.

Once complete the women held out their hands to each other again. Again they closed their eyes and lasered their focus. Opening her eyes, Karen said, “It is done.” Then the three women leaned forward and blew out the candle together.

Smiling, Allison said, “I feel better already.”

Their task complete, the coven dispersed.

Across town, Benjamin Rupert Tussle, the third climbed the ladder to the tipity-top of the playground structure. “Come on loser,” he called down to a classmate far below. “What are you a baby?” In a sing song voice he yelled, “Vincent is a cry baby!”

He should have been paying less attention to the cautious boy below and kept his eye on the ladder. For a screw on the top rung had rusted and was just about ready to give way.

Benjamin Rupert Tussle’s luck was about to run out.

 

This has been Ghosts in the Burbs. Head over to Ghosts in the Burbs.com for all the links. Goodnight, sleep tight, and don’t forget your night light.

Welcome back to Lilith, a tale I’ll share a few chapters at a time until her story is complete. If you’re new to the podcast, Lilith is a great place to start (you don’t need any background information to enjoy this account of demonic possession) but do go back to January 7th’s episode and begin with chapters 1-3.

Alright, let’s go ahead and find out what the ghost hunters make of this whole situation.

 

Chapter 19

Noc pulled the car into the small driveway and took in the little house. At her side Tyler said, “I checked out the property on Google Earth and it looks like there’s a stream just past their back yard between the property line and the commuter tracks.”

The couple got out of the car. Noc glanced behind them at the busy road, “So they’ve got a busy thoroughfare in front of the house, running water behind it and railroad tracks beyond that. That’s a hell of a lot of energy swirling around this little house.”

Just then Maurice and Patricia arrived in Maurice’s Suburban. With no more room in the driveway, they pulled the car up in front of the house so that half of it was parked on the sidewalk, the other half on the road. Noc explained to the guys that the home was tight so they’d need scout out the best location for a command center before bringing any of their equipment inside.

It was seven o’clock on a Friday morning in early January. Several inches of snow had fallen on Wellesley the night before and Ty noted that the Arnold’s hadn’t had the chance to clear off their cars yet. He and Maurice grabbed ice scrapers from their cars while Patricia and Noc went to the door.

A moment later a bear of a man came out to the driveway in his suit jacket. “Oh, man guys. Y’all don’t have to do that!” He said jovially.

“No trouble at all,” Ty replied, reaching out a hand to introduce himself.

Michael said, “You might just be are the friendliest people we’ve met since we’ve moved here.” He invited them inside and they met up with the women in the dining room.

It was apparent that they’d arrived at the busiest point in the morning. The kids were in front of cereal bowls in the kitchen, Michael tied his tie as they spoke and Laura was at the kitchen sink speaking with the teenage girl. She held up a hand to indicate she’d be just a minute.

“Leave us here and do what you need to do, we don’t want to interrupt your morning routine,” Noc assured Michael.

He looked relieved. “I’d hoped to have some extra time for you this morning but my manager called an early meeting. Grab yourselves some coffee in the kitchen, Laura’s put out the mugs and fixin’s. She’ll have time to talk once she gets the kids off.”

Aware of the tight space in the home and not wanting to get in the way of the family’s preparations for the day, the team agreed that Patricia should grab coffees and bring them to the table.

She went into the kitchen as Laura was holding out a glass of water and a pill to Lilith.

“Honey, please, just take this,” she said quietly. “I know it doesn’t seem like it’s doing anything but your doctor said it would take a couple weeks for it to start working.” Then, embarrassed she looked over at Patricia and said, “All the fixin’s are out for coffee but you let me know if you need anything else, ok?”

Patricia expressed thanks and set to pouring four cups while trying to appear as though she wasn’t eavesdropping on the conversation between mother and daughter.

Her attention back on her the girl Laura pleaded, “Lilith, please just take it.”

In a low voice that made the hair on Patricia’s arms stand on end, Lilith said, “You and I both know that pill isn’t the answer Laura.” She took the medicine out of her mother’s hand and popped it into her mouth, chewing the pill and ignoring the glass of water. As she left the room she glanced briefly at Patricia, her mouth a smirk, her eyes blank.

Laura went to fuss over the younger children while Lilith descended into the basement.

It took two trips, but Patricia carefully delivered the coffee to her team in the dining room where they were in the midst of discussing the placement of cameras on the exterior of the home.

“I’d like to cover the entire property if possible. But the priority is complete coverage of the backyard from several angles. That’s where the kids are seeing the boy, right?” Ty asked.

Just then Laura ushered the three younger children into the dining room, “Let’s go on and say a nice hello, please,” she instructed. The children shook hands with each of ghost hunters, there was appropriate eye contact and Misters’ and Missus’ all around.

The little boy, Jack, asked, “Are you really going to catch the shadows?”

Maurice smiled at the boy and said, “We can’t catch them, but we know people who can chase them away for good.”

Jack looked at him skeptically.

“All right, off with you three or you’ll be late,” Laura said. The kids said their goodbyes and headed out the door, backpacks slung over their little shoulders. Laura called down to Lilith. The girl slunk upstairs and out the door moments later, long shiny black hair hiding her face.

With her children out of the house Laura appeared to visibly relax. She said, “It isn’t ideal, I’m sure, but I’ve signed up to volunteer at the library today, just reshelving books for a few hours. Will you be alright here on your own? I don’t feel right cancelling, it’s just that it might lead to a part-time job, and-”

“We’ll be perfectly fine,” Noc reassured her. “We’ll just be setting up equipment and getting some baseline readings. What time should we expect you back?”

“My shift will be done at one-thirty, the kids will be home at two-fifteen.”

“Perfect,” Noc replied, relieved they’d have run of the place without interruption while they captured baseline thermal and electromagnetic readings of the home.

Noc and Tyler went outside to grab the handheld devices they’d need for their initial sweep while Maurice and Patricia cleared the coffee mugs. Laura scurried out the door a short time later and the team set to work.  

“See what I mean?” Noc said. The four ghost hunters were crammed into Jack’s bedroom.

“Yes,” Tyler replied.

“My chest is so tight in here I can barely breath,” Maurice added.

“Just wait until we get down to the basement,” Patricia said.

“Let’s split up, two groups, and get readings of the rooms up here.”

Tyler and Noc took the twins room, Tyler with a notepad and Noc with a device for reading electromagnetic fields and another to measure any temperature fluctuations in the room. Maurice and Patricia did the same in the Arnold’s master bedroom.

With the girls’ room complete, Noc and Tyler moved on to Jack’s room. While Noc called out readings in Jack’s room (which proved to be four degrees cooler than any other room on the second floor) Maurice was in the hallway about to investigate the attic. Intending to pull down the attic ladder he reached up a hand to grab the string. As he was about to close his hand around it three loud footsteps sounded above Noc and Tyler’s heads in Jack’s room.

“What the hell was that?” Tyler breathed.

After a moment’s pause, Noc called out, “Can you do that again? Can you make another noise for us?”

The team stood still and silent. Just when they’d given up hope of hearing another sound there were three loud knocks on the window in Jack’s room. As if someone were just outside the window – the second story window – knocking to come in.

“Who has a digital recorder on them?” Maurice asked.

Patricia took one from her jeans pocket and turned it on.

“The Arnold family invited us here,” Patricia began. “We are here to interact with whoever or whatever is in this house causing paranormal disturbance. This device will record your voice even if our ears can’t hear you. Who is here with us?” She asked. Pause. “Can you tell us your name?” Pause. “Did you used to live here? Is your name Jason?” Pause. “Can you give us a sign of your presence?” Pause.

Patricia turned off the recorder, rewound then pressed play. The ghost hunters gathered around the little silver device and strained to hear if it had captured for any disembodied voices.

The first two questions went unanswered. Then, they heard a deep growly laugh. It was so ominous, so spooky that the four seasoned ghost hunters actually gasped and leaned away from the device. Patricia replayed the recording. The growl was more disturbing upon second listen. It was chilling and strange, as if several people, or wolves rather, had growled out a chuckle at the same time.

They continued listening to the recording. After Patricia had asked for a sign the recorder caught a static-y interference followed by a voice saying “Jennifer Montgomery.”

“Who is Jennifer Montgomery?” Maurice asked. “Is that another family member?”

Noc had gone pale. Tyler reached out and said, “Are you okay?”

“What’s wrong?” Patricia asked.

Noc shook her head. “That’s me, I mean, that’s my real name. My old name, I changed it years ago.”

Maurice let out a low whistle.

Noc made eye contact with Tyler. “I told you this place was the real deal.”

“I think we should set up base camp and get the cameras rolling immediately,” Maurice insisted. “I don’t want to miss an opportunity here.”

Tyler agreed. Patricia protested that they should continue documenting baseline readings as had always been their practice. It was left up to Noc to decide.

“Well,” she said, after a moment of thought, “It seems the baseline here is high strangeness. So, I agree with Maurice. Let’s take a break from the investigation and get the control center and the cameras up and running. Then we can continue to document baseline. That way we’ll be ready to catch anything else that might come up.”

It wasn’t ideal, but the decision was made to set up shop in the basement’s main room. The team was fully aware that a spooky environment could influence their read on a situation and the basement was straight out of a nineteen seventies horror movie. Dark, damp, low ceilinged and atmospheric with it’s outdated wood paneling they all knew it would make for long nights of looking over their shoulders while they monitored the camera feed. But it was the only place in the house they could be out of the family’s way and have enough room for their equipment.

Tyler arranged two computer monitors on a fold out table while his fellow investigators placed night vision cameras strategically throughout the house. Ty set up the exterior cameras himself. Then he checked to be sure each camera’s feed came through to the base camp monitors and then triple checked that the feed was indeed being recorded.

Once everything was set up to Tyler’s standards, it was decided that Maurice and Patricia would monitor base camp while Tyler and Noc did a baseline sweep of the basement. They started in the laundry room. Aside from the intense feeling of being watched by unseen eyes the readings on their devices were normal and they didn’t have any luck capturing any EVPs. Noc began to let her guard down. She hadn’t let on about how much hearing her old name spoken by a disembodied voice had rattled her. She’d left behind that name years ago along with a dangerously bad relationship. She knew in her gut they were dealing with a demonic presence, but it wasn’t the first they’d encountered. She reminded herself that in her experience, demons had always been more bark than bite. Though they were very good at knowing just what buttons to push.

She followed her husband into Lilith’s bedroom. Noc closed the door behind them and Tyler began taking temperature and EMF readings. The room proved to be cooler than the rest of the basement and the EMF detector spiked several times around Lilith’s desk. Tyler commented that the readings could be explained away by some naturally occurring phenomena, though neither of them believed that to be the case.

“I’ll start an EVP session.” Noc held out her little digital recorder. It was considered the standard in the industry, a little silver square of a device she’d special ordered online and had spent way too much money on. “Would the entity who has been speaking to Lilith like to speak with us?” The room was silent for a long moment. Noc opened her mouth to ask another question when a large stuffed dog fell off Lilith’s bed, actually it was as though it had jumped off the bed. It caused the couple to jump too.

Tyler lifted a hand, pointed behind Noc, a look of shock on his face. She was standing with her back to the small half window with a ground level view of the back yard. She spun around and yelled, “What is it? What did you see?” He began to explain when they were startled again as they heard Patricia scream from the other side of the basement.

They rushed out of the room – Noc went right to command center while Tyler blew past her and ran up the basement stairs. Noc called to him but he didn’t answer so she focused her attention on Patricia.  

She found the psychiatrist standing up in front of the command center table with her headphones in her hands. Maurice stood next to her looking stunned.

“What the hell happened?” Noc demanded.

“Did you hear it?” Patricia asked, her voice shaky. “Did you hear it say my name?”

“Oh no,” Noc replied quietly. “Don’t tell me you changed your name too?”

“No,” Patricia said slowly. “We were listening to the audio from Lilith’s bedroom camera through the headphones – we didn’t want you to pick up the feedback during your EVP session. When you asked if the entity speaking to Lilith would speak with you, I heard a  little girl say, ‘Patricia remembers me.’”

“Oh fuck,” Noc breathed.

“I heard it too,” Maurice said. “Clear as day.”

“It was her, it was that little girl I played with as a child.” Patricia was holding out the headphones to Noc as if she wanted her to take them from her, to rid her of the whole experience.

“What little girl?” Maurice asked.

Patricia sighed shakily. “When I was young I played with an imaginary friend at my grandparent’s Cape house every summer. She always wanted to go far out in the woods behind their house. There was an accident with an old tree house one afternoon, it made me suspicious of the little girl. I- well I just had the feeling that she wanted me to get hurt. Soon after I began to suspect the girl was trying to kill me.”

“Whoa,” Maurice breathed.

“I stopped following her into the woods and she got really mad at me. Long story short, a couple years later I learned that a little girl with the same name as my ‘friend’ had died on the property.” She looked between her teammates. “I know, it sounds like some made up ghost story, but it’s the reason I got involved in investigating the paranormal.” She paused. “I just heard that little girl’s voice over these headphones. I know it was her.”

“Let’s go upstairs, I gotta get out of this basement so I can think straight,” Noc said. Patricia and Maurice readily agreed.

Once upstairs they headed to the dining room, Tyler was just coming back in through the sliding glass door.

“What did you see out the window?” Noc asked.

“It was the weirdest thing,” he said, shaking his head. “Behind you, through that little half window I saw a small grey goat looking in at us.”

“What in the fuck,” Maurice said slowly.

“Yeah, I just ran around the entire house, even back to the stream, but it’s gone.”

“Could it have been a dog?” Patricia suggested.

“No,” Ty replied. “And there were no footprints.”

“What?” Noc asked.

“In the snow. There were no footprints at all.”

“Fuck,” Noc breathed, the hair standing up on her arms. “Let’s go rewind the footage and see if we caught it on video.”

The foursome trooped down to the basement. The footage showed only an unexplained shadow around the time of Tyler’s goat sighting. Patricia suggested they head back upstairs and discuss their next steps. Maurice wanted to keep investigating, things were just getting good, he insisted, they should capture every last bit of evidence they could.

Noc and Tyler sided with Patricia. They needed a breather and they needed a game plan.

“I for one don’t need any more proof that we are dealing with something demonic,” Noc said once they’d taken seats around the dining room table. “I think the most responsible thing to do at this point it to call in the church.”

“And miss the opportunity to not only document, but actually experience what is going on in this house? It is eleven o’clock in the morning! Can you even imagine what this place must be like in the middle of the night?” Tyler asked excitedly.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this house,” Patricia said quietly. “It’s terrifying, for sure, but this is exactly what we’ve been looking for. Intelligent responses and documentable activity.”

Maurice nodded along. “We can’t pass up an opportunity like this.”

Noc knew she’d been outvoted. “Fine, we’ll stay.”

 

Chapter 20

The timing of the volunteer opportunity wasn’t ideal, but then again, maybe it was. As tormented as I was by worry and fear, re-shelving books proved to be exactly what I needed. On one of my frequent trips to the library I’d noticed a posting on the community board asking for volunteers willing to re-shelf a cart of books or two once a week. I’d inquired at the desk and learned that while awaiting budgeting approval for a part-time library aid the librarians were desperate for help in keeping books on the shelves. The woman I spoke with suggested that if I liked the work I could throw my name in the ring once the position opened up.

The work was pleasant, time-consuming and it required just enough of my attention that it kept the obsessive thoughts about my home at bay. Dread at having to return to my home grew as the books dwindled on the second cart I’d been assigned to re-shelf. I said goodbye to the librarian on duty then reluctantly left the safety of the stacks and headed home.

I entered through the mudroom doors and heard the ghost hunters talking in low voices around my dining room table. “Hello!” I called, announcing my arrival. As I entered the dining room the group turned as one to look at me. On their faces I saw a mix of guilt, fear and excitement.

“I take it something strange happened today,” I said, forcing a smile.

Noc acknowledged that the team had documented significant paranormal activity.

“Oh? What did you catch?” I asked as I slid into an empty chair at the table, though I didn’t really want to know.

Noc was vague in describing their morning but I gathered they’d caught some voices on one of their recorders. Relief flooded me that they’d witnessed some of what we’d been experiencing for months. Tyler assured me that once they’d had a chance to review and gather all of the recorded evidence they would share it with Michael and me. I thanked him, but I’d seen enough living in that house. I had neither the desire nor the need to go over their so called “evidence.”

“We were actually just discussing the symbols you found on Lilith’s walls,” Patricia said. “It seemed odd to us that they were simply papered over.”

“Michael and I wondered at the same thing,” I replied.

Maurice asked. “Do you know anything about the boy’s parents? The ones who owned this home before you?”

“No. The next door neighbor, Ms. Rumsfield, uh, Barbara, implied that there must have been something going on in the home in order for the boy to go so far off the rails. I got the feeling she thought the parents were negligent.”

“Have you tried to contact the previous home owners?” Tyler asked.

“We have,” I said, though I thought Well, duh, would have been a more appropriate response. “We tried to get in touch with them through the real estate agents and our lawyers but it seems they don’t want to speak with us.” I looked around the table. No one said a word so I asked, “What is it?”

Noc finally spoke up, “It’s a stupid thing to be stuck on, I mean, maybe they simply hired someone to cover over the symbols, but it doesn’t sit right.”

“Do you think the parents had something to do with the boy’s death?” I asked shocked.

“No, no,” Noc said quickly, “It’s more that I wonder if they might have been into the occult as well.”

“Jesus, Lord,” I breathed. “So we moved into the home of a bunch of Satanists?”

Patricia actually shrugged. “It’s just a theory, and a weak one at that. But it doesn’t add up, does it? If you found those symbols painted on your child’s walls would you just throw wallpaper over them?”

“I’d do everything I could to remove them and if I couldn’t then I’d paint over them,” I said seriously.

“Exactly,” Ty agreed.

With Noc and her team apparently lost in thought about the damn wallpaper I said, “Well, the kids will be home from school in about fifteen minutes. I should get their snacks ready.”

I was surprised when Noc told me they were going to give us some space and grab a bite to eat at the California Pizza Kitchen down the road. She said they intended to game plan for the coming evening. Did I want them to pick anything up for dinner? I did not. I watched them go and got the distinct sense they were all relieved to take a break from my home.

I felt a sense of relief as well. The kids and I could have a normal afternoon. I needed to pack everyone’s things, I’d booked us a hotel room in neighboring Needham for the weekend. The hotel had a pool. I thought there was a chance we might even have fun. Regardless, two nights away from that God-forsaken house sounded dreamy.

Lilith was late coming home. I wondered if she’d stayed for academic help, or perhaps had spent time with a friend. I didn’t have the chance to ask. When she came in, she kicked off her sneakers and made a beeline for the basement door.

Her three siblings watched her silently from the kitchen table. I sat with them and dipped apples in peanut butter and told them about my day in the library. I wasn’t yet ready to let go of the small spark of happy it had created within me.

Jack wanted to know where the ghost hunters were. “Did they leave for good?” He asked.

“They had a busy morning and went to have lunch at the CPK. They’ll be back tonight. Hey, are you guys excited to swim at the hotel?” I asked, but I failed to change the subject.

“Did they hear the footsteps?” Carrie asked.

Then Jack said, “Did they see anything in my room?”

I shook my head. “They said they had captured some evidence and that once their investigation is complete they’ll share it with daddy and me.”

I brought up swimming again and I agreed to dig out their diving sticks and goggles if I could find them.

Out of the blue Carrie asked, “Want to hear a joke?”

Rosemary shot her sister a warning look that Carrie ignored.

“Two hunters are in the woods when one of them collapses. His hunting buddy immediately calls 911. My friend isn’t breathing, he shouts into the phone. What should I do? Relax, the operator tells him. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead. There’s silence, and then a gunshot,” Carrie had a big smile on her face as she delivered the punchline. “The guy gets back on the phone and says, OK, now what?

Jack and Rosemary giggled. “Carrie, that’s not a very nice joke,” I admonished, wondering which of her little friends at school had shared it with her.

“I have another one!” She said smiling impishly. “A guy walks into the woods with a young boy. The boy turns to him and says, Hey mister, it’s getting really dark and I’m scared. The man replies, How do you think I feel? I have to walk back alone.

I gave my daughter a stern look. “That’s dark, Carrie. Did you hear those at school?”

Carrie looked down at her plate looking guilty.

Rosemary said, “He told us those jokes.”

“Who?” I asked, as a shiver of fear ran through me.

Carrie snuck a glance out the window.

“I told you that you were not to speak to him anymore. Where was he?” I asked in a shaky voice.

The girls exchanged a look and Rosemary shook her head slightly.

“Where did you see him?” I demanded.

“We didn’t see him,” Carrie said in a small voice.

“What are you saying?”

Rosemary spoke up. “It’s true, we haven’t seen him. We just…” She trailed off. I stared at her waiting. “We just heard him.”

“What? Where?”

“In our bedroom,” Carrie admitted.

“Christ Almighty,” I breathed.

“I want the ghost hunters to come back,” Jack said, terrified.

“Me too,” I breathed.

 

***

 

We watched television for the rest of the afternoon. I bribed the kids with Oreos and milk, then buttered popcorn and a promise of pizza for dinner. I didn’t want them out of my sight. After they’d watched a movie I sat with them at the dining room table for homework then ushered them back to the couch for more television. I sat on a stool at the kitchen counter and kept watch.

To our collective relief, Noc and her team returned around four o’clock. I ordered pizza and salads. Michael got home at six and we all ate around the table like a big happy family. Even Lilith came up for dinner, though she stared down at her plate the entire time, only nibbling at her food.

We excused the kids from the table and asked them to clear the paper plates to the kitchen before resuming their spots on couch. Lilith sat still as her siblings cleared the table and left the room.

“That was some good pizza,” Michael said, to fill the silence that had fallen over the dining room.

Tyler began to voice his agreement but fell silent when Lilith spoke up.

“Have you spoken to the scribe yet?” She asked, directing her question to Noc.

“The scribe?” Noc repeated. “No, honey, I don’t think we’ve met.”

Lilith looked disappointed.

“Who is the scribe?” Patricia asked in a soft voice.

Lilith shook her head and gave a small shrug. She looked around the table before standing abruptly and turning to leave the room.

“Lilith, wait,” I called after her. But it was too late, she’d was already through the basement door.

I turned back to the table. Patricia was writing something down in a little notebook.

Noc gave me a weak smile. “We’ll piece it all together,” she said confidently.

 

****

 

Getting ready for bed with a house full of ghost hunters, knowing they were recording our every move was strange, to say the very least. The younger kids all camped out in our room so Noc’s team could have access to their bedrooms if need be, though she assured me they would simply be sitting vigil, either in the kitchen or at what they referred to as their “command center” in the basement. Regardless of the ghost hunter’s needs, Jack had been sleeping on our floor for weeks and I certainly wouldn’t have let the girls sleep alone in their bedroom after what they’d told me about hearing that boy’s voice.

Noc assured me that they would keep as silent as possible at their basement command center so as not to disturb Lilith’s sleep. All I felt was relief that she wouldn’t be alone down there for at least one night.   

Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up in the dark with the distinct sense that someone had whispered my name. I sat up groggily and looked around the room. The kids were snuggled into their sleeping bags on the floor around our bed, dead to the world. Michael was snoring softly beside me.

“Laura,” a voice hissed. I looked over and saw that our door was open a crack. It was Patricia. She waved a hand, gesturing me to come to the door. I was thankful that I’d thought to wear my flannel pajamas to bed just in case I needed to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I grabbed my bathrobe off the hook on the back of the door and slipped out into the hallway.

“What is it?” I whispered. “Is everything alright?”

“Oh yes, no emergency. We just, well, we wondered if you might like to check on Lilith.”

“Why? What’s happened?” I demanded, my voice raising.

“Nothing, nothing,” Patricia said in a soothing voice. “I’m so sorry to wake you, but she’s been awake for a while and we thought you might want to go in to her room and check in. Come on downstairs and I can show you on the camera feed.”

Down to the basement we went. Noc was waiting for us at the bottom of the steps.

“I’m sorry we woke you,” she said.

I waved away the comment. “What’s going on?” I asked, scanning the basement. The two men were standing, arms crossed against their chests staring at one of the computer monitors on the fold out table they’d brought with them.

I glanced down the short hallway to my left and saw that Lilith’s door was closed. Then I followed Noc to their so-called command center.

In the top corner of one of the computer screens I saw a black and white image of my daughter’s room. I could make everything out, the bed and her side tables, the desk, even the laundry strewn across the floor. Then I saw what had caused them to wake me.

Lilith was standing in front of her closet. She was completely still, which is why it took me a moment to notice her there. I watched, waiting for her to move, to do something. When she didn’t I asked, “How long has she been like this?”

Noc caught my eye only for a second then looked back at the monitor. “About an hour.”

“She’s been standing stock still in front of her closet like that for an hour?” I breathed.

“She stood on her tiptoes for about twenty minutes,” Maurice said. “But there hasn’t been any other movement.”

“What in the hell,” I said, more to myself than to anyone else.

“Do you want me to go in with you?” Patricia asked.

I looked at her for a moment, realization dawning that I would have to go into that room and get my daughter back into bed. Terror gripped my chest. I took a breath and nodded.

When I opened the door Lilith didn’t react. I put my hand on her arm and said her name softly. She jumped and cowered away from me as if I’d hit her causing me and Patricia to jump back.

Lilith scurried away from me, crouched down with her back against her desk.

“Honey, it’s me,” I said in a calm voice though I felt anything but calm. “It’s just me, you were sleepwalking. Come on, let’s get you back in bed.”

Her eyes were wild, reflecting the light from the hallway, Lilith began to shake her head back and forth violently. “I don’t want to see anymore!” She screamed. Mommy, tell her I don’t want to see anymore!”

Welcome back to Lilith, a tale I’ll share a few chapters at a time until her story is complete. If you’re new to the blog, Lilith is a great place to start (you don’t need any background information to enjoy this account of demonic possession) but do go back to January 7th’s entry and begin with chapters 1-3.

Several readers have asked how many chapters there are in Lilith’s complete story. And the answer is… I don’t know yet. Her story had so much to it than I realized. When we began I estimated 13 chapters, but here we are on Chapter 17… Her tale continues to unfold surely it’ll have to end at some point. For now, all I can say is that the wallpaper came down last week… this week we meet the ghost hunters.

Here we go.

 

Chapter 17

The stress of their situation took its toll. Laura began losing weight and Michael appeared to gain every ounce she lost. Jack insisted upon sleeping in their bedroom each night while Lilith flat out refused to do the same. She barely left the basement save for going to school or using the restroom. Rosemary and Carrie were watchful, quiet, secretive. Laura suspected they knew more about the strangeness in the home than they were willing to share but she didn’t have the energy to drag it out of them. Michael finally got a hold of Kim who admitted to knowing that there had indeed been a death in the house, though she claimed not to know any of the details. Her excuse for not telling the Arnolds about the home’s macabre history was that the seller could have accused her of killing the sale of the house if they’d pulled out as a result. She might have been sued.

Laura brought Lilith back to the pediatrician and got the name of yet another therapist. The results were the same. Lilith changed back into her old self when she was in the presence of other adults. Laura could only say so much about her daughter’s behavior without looking like she was suffering from Munchausen by proxy. Michael spoke with a friend back home who’d suggested they have the house tested for high electromagnetic fields. Apparently, when elevated they could cause hallucinations, hearing disembodied voices, even the feeling of being watched. Convinced this must be the key to escaping the strangeness in the home, Laura and Michael convinced themselves that these wonky electromagnetic fields must be the cause of all their problems. They spent two blissful days believing the theory until the test results came back showing that the readings on their property were on the low end of normal.

Laura still held onto a glimmer of hope that a ghost hunting team might come to their rescue. Of the three inquiries she’d sent, she received back two responses. The first came from a man named Nick Sayre. He claimed to be the lead investigator of the Metrowest Ghost Hunting Society. In his email Mr. Sayre suggested that their eldest daughter had been dabbling in the occult. He was insistent that he come to their home immediately with his own “talking board” and a professional Tarot card reader in tow. He intended to use those tools to cross examine Lilith in what he referred to as a “data gathering session.” With that completed he claimed he would be able to diagnose the family’s paranormal problems with one hundred percent accuracy. He’d added that Lilith’s name had come up in his “talking board” session that very morning and that he took it as a sign that he was uniquely suited to help the family. He wanted to get started right away. Would Laura please respond immediately with her home address and a confirmation that she would cover all travel expenses associated with her case. At this final line Laura scanned back through the wordy email to confirm that Nick did indeed live in Wellesley. What sort of travel expenses could he possibly be referring to? She wondered.  

Completely put off by the man’s pushy email and about ninety-five percent sure that she didn’t want his brand of help, Laura googled “talking board.” The search returned article upon article about Ouija Boards pushing Laura to one-hundred percent certainty that she didn’t want this Nick person anywhere near her home, let alone her daughter.

Hopelessness threatened to overtake her at that point but then she received an email from a woman named Nocturnal Druid. Of course, the woman’s name put Laura’s guard up, but her email was so thoughtful and kind that Laura went ahead and called the phone number provided in the message. The ghost hunter answered on the first ring.

Anxiously, Laura gave her a run down of the things her family had witnessed and the strange behavior Lilith was displaying.

Noc, as she’d told Laura she’d like to be called, took a deep breath before sharing her suspicion. “Listen, I’ve been a paranormal investigator for about seven years and I’ve experienced a good amount of legitimate phenomena, so I wouldn’t say this unless I was certain. If what you have told me is true, then I suspect that you’ve got some sort of demonic infestation happening in your home.”

Defeated, Laura began crying so hard she could not speak. Somewhere in the back of her mind she’d been harboring hope that there was a logical explanation for her family’s experiences. Hearing this kind and seemingly normal woman not only confirm her worst fear but to do so in such a straightforward way broke her.

Noc gave her a moment to pull herself together. “Look, it might not be all that serious, it could just be that something low level demonic has attached itself to your daughter.”

“How would that not be serious?” Laura asked.

“I’m sorry. I’m not implying that would be a good thing at all. It wouldn’t be any better, of course, it might just be easier for us to clear. But if it’s the house, the land, and the girl that need to be cleansed of demonic influence then things get complicated. Not impossible, just tricky. The truth is, I won’t know until I come and get a look at things for myself. We can do an initial intake interview in which myself and another team member come to the house, it would be best if I were able to speak with both you and your husband at the same time. If I am certain that our group is the right one for the job then I’ll pull together the whole team and we’ll come for an investigation. We’ll do our best diagnose exactly what is going on in your home and we will get you in touch with the professionals to get rid of the problem.”

“Do you use anything like Ouija Boards or Tarot cards?” Laura asked.

“Oh, God no,” Noc replied with a snort. “That would be like throwing fuel on the fire. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, it’s just I heard back from one other ghost hunter and he wanted to bring both things into the home to make his own diagnosis of our situation.”

“Please tell me you didn’t let him do it,” Noc said nervously.

“Of course not.”

“Thank God. That could have been catastrophic. Do you mind me asking who suggested doing such a thing?”

“His name was Nick, um, and his last name started with an ‘S.’”

“Sayre?”

“That sounds right, yes.”

Noc made a noise of disgust. “Well, I’m glad you didn’t let that guy into your house. He’s not ill intentioned but that doesn’t mean he can’t instigate major problems. Anyhow, would you like to set up a time for myself and my friend Patricia to come for the initial review of your situation? Patricia is our team psychiatrist. We’ve found it to be advantageous to have her attend all of our primary client meetings.”

It all sounded a little too good to be true. Laura hesitated a moment before asking, “And how much would all of this cost if we decided to move forward?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Noc responded quickly.

“Nothing at all?”

“Of course not, we offer our opinion free of charge. The honest truth is that we are grateful to people who grant us access to their haunted properties. We only ask that you grant us three full nights in the home for our investigation. One with the family there, the other two with the family off the property. Most of our clients stay in a hotel or with relatives those nights.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I’ll be able to convince my husband of that-”

“Let’s just start with with the the initial meeting and interviews, then we’ll see where things go. I could come over as soon as Monday morning.”

Laura said that sounded fine.

When they discussed it later that evening Michael was skeptical about inviting a group of so-called “ghost hunters” into their home. He was certain what they needed was spiritual warfare carried out by a true professional.

“What we need is a full fledged Catholic priest to sort out this here hell hole,” he declared after Laura said he needed to be home Monday morning to meet Noc’s team.

Laura wondered aloud where he would find a priest who would believe them, let alone come to the house.

“We’re Presbyterian, Michael-” Laura started.

“Do you even know anything about these people?” Michael demanded. “What if they’re just coming to case the joint?”

“I highly doubt they would advertise their services online only to come and rob us blind. They’d be caught instantly. I’ve read all of the customer comments and recommendations on their website. Over and over again people said how professional the group was.”

“They probably wrote those reviews themselves,” Michael said, suspiciously.

“Fine, then what’s your suggestion? What do you think we should do?”

Michael sighed. “Well why not a priest? Or a reverend, or anyone religious for Christ’s sake? Maybe we could have someone come perform a blessing.”

We,” Laura said with a humorless laugh.”Sure, ‘we’ can get right on that. I’ll just go looking for some sort of religious figure to wave his magic wand.”

“Well if it is a demon causing all of this then isn’t that what we need? A priest? What the hell can a bunch of ghost hunters do about it?”

“You’re right,” Laura conceded. “I’ll find someone religious. But I do think these ghost people could help us. Noc said they have a demonologist on the team so I have to assume he or she would have ideas. I’ll find a way to get a priest or someone out here if you agree to at least meet the ghost hunters Monday morning. Deal?”

“Deal,” Michael agreed.

 

****

 

Michael had listened to Laura’s concerns all along about his daughter and he’d accepted the fact that the twins were actually hearing footsteps coming from the attic and that one of them was interacting with some ghost boy in the yard. Jack’s scare and Lilith’s strange reaction had shoved him further out of denial that there was something frightening happening to his family. But it was a rainy Saturday afternoon when Michael became aware of just how serious the situation in his home had become. Laura had gone to the movies with Jack, Rosemary and Carrie while he hung back with Lilith who’d refused to join them. It was just as well, he was happy to hang out on the couch with a beer and the game.

Laura was, as had become the norm, worried about Lilith so Michael reassured her that he would, indeed keep an eye and ear out as he lounged around. Lilith holed up in her room, but Michael had insisted that she keep the basement door open.

He was in the kitchen refilling his bowl from a bag of microwave popcorn when he first heard the whispering. A whispered conversation, actually coming from the basement. The voices were very faint so he grabbed the remote and turned down the volume on the television then went to the top of the basement steps to listen.

He thought, Lilith must have a friend over. His next feeling was one of relief that she’d finally made a friend. That thought was followed quickly by concern that the friend might be a horny fifteen year old boy. He strained his ears trying to determine whether the second voice he was hearing was male or female. Unable to tell who exactly Lilith was speaking to he walked as quietly as he could down the steps. Still, the old stairs creaked and groaned beneath him.

He was certain Lilith and her friend would hear him coming so he was surprised that the whispered conversation continued until he was in front of her bedroom door. Michael was reaching for the door handle when he heard what he was certain was a male voice say, “Shh, he’s coming.”

“Here we go,” Michael muttered to himself, then he gave three quick raps on the door before pushing it open.

Lilith was sitting at her desk with her back to the door, her lava lamp offering the only light in the room. She turned around slowly, calmly to look at him.

Michael flipped the light switch on the wall next to the door, the overhead light illuminated the dreary space. A quick glance around the room proved his daughter was alone.

“Who were you speaking to?” He asked, trying to keep his voice steady.

“No one, daddy,” Lilith said, a smile in her voice.

Michael stepped into the room, looked behind the door and under the bed while Lilith calmly watched him from her desk.

After he assured himself that there was no one hiding in the girl’s closet he said, “I don’t want you having any friends down here unless you clear it with either me or your mother. Got it?”

Lilith nodded and began to turn her back to him.

“Know what, kiddo? I think you best come on upstairs for a bit. The games on and I’ve got some popcorn.”

She began to protest, but Michael made it clear the idea wasn’t up for discussion.

When Laura and the younger kids got back home she found Lilith and Michael sitting at opposite ends of the couch. He stood up and nodded for her to head up to their bedroom to talk.

Once they’d closed the bedroom door he told her, “We gotta find a priest or something ASAP, and call that ghost hunting group and get them over here as soon as possible.”

 

Chapter 18

The ghost hunters arrived at our home in a red VW wagon. I don’t know what I had been expecting, perhaps a Scooby Doo van, but the cute little car surprised me. They didn’t look at all the way I’d imagined them either. Actually, that’s not totally true. Patricia, the psychiatrist, was pretty much what I’d expected. She was in her late forties, with kind smile lines around her eyes, a business casual outfit, no makeup and wavy shoulder length hair parted in the middle and tucked behind her ears.

Noc, on the other hand was about fifteen years younger than I’d had her pegged after our phone conversation. Her gravely voice brought to mind a much older woman, one who’d smoked heavily. In reality, Noc was probably around my age, if not younger. She had rosy cheeks, freckles across the bridge of her nose and wore her shiny sable brown hair in a high bouncy ponytail.

I watched nervously from the window beside the front door as the women got out of the car. They appeared to be in mid-conversation and from what I could tell they were talking about our property, from their hand gestures I suspected they were discussing the train tracks and the stream that ran past the backyard.

I made a quick check on Jack, who was home from school with a low fever. I had him set up on the couch with his iPad and a bunch of cozy blankets. It was far from ideal to have him home for the conversation we were about to have with these people, but it wasn’t as if I could send him up to his room while they were there.

“They’re here!” I called up to Michael on the second floor. Then I went to the front door and welcomed the ghost hunters into our home.

After introductions were made I offered the women coffee, which they declined and we sat at our dining room table to discuss our haunting. From where I sat I could keep an eye on Jack, he appeared to be entranced by whatever game he was playing on his iPad, but Lord knew he was probably hanging on our every word.

“Why don’t I tell you a little bit about what we do,” Noc suggested. “Then we can go over what’s been happening here and determine if our team is the right one to help your family, or if there is someone we feel might be better suited to your particular case.”

Michael and I nodded in encouragement.

“Great,” Noc said with a big smile. “Well, I’m the case manager for a team of four paranormal investigators. My husband Tyler is our lead tech specialist. We all have a working knowledge of the equipment but he’s the expert. We have two investigators, Patricia here our team psychiatrist, and Maurice the demonologist. We also enlist the help of a young man who does our evidence analysis. After an investigation he reviews the hours of audio and video footage, making note of any anomalous events. Though he opts not to accompany us on our investigations.”

“How do you all get your cases?” Michael asked.

“About fifty percent come in through our website, like yours did,” Noc smiled at me before continuing. “The rest come from word of mouth referrals, past clients who’ve benefited from our help and suggest us when they hear of friends or acquaintances are dealing with disturbing paranormal phenomena in their homes or businesses.”

“And how much do you all charge for this?” Michael asked.

“Michael,” I hissed. “I told you, they don’t charge anything.”

“It’s a valid question,” Noc said, calmly. “But it’s true, we don’t charge a dime. Pardon my language in advance, please, but we believe that charging people for a paranormal investigation of their property would be outlandish bullshit. Our service points people to other people who maybe might possibly be able to help them. We’re grateful that our clients allow us into their homes. How else would we have the opportunity to experience this phenomena?”

“I don’t mean to come across as suspicious here,” Michael said, “We are just in completely new territory. But it sounds to me as though you run a pretty professional team, that’s gotta cost something.”

“I know it sounds pretty involved, and it is. Over the years our team has learned to schedule investigations around our other obligations so that our daytime professions aren’t affected. And even though Patricia and I do an initial walk through of about thirty to forty properties a year we only take on between seven and ten of those cases. A case has to be pretty extreme for us to commit. We don’t apply our expertise or resources to a home that only has occasional wall taps or slamming doors. The amount of time and effort we put into our investigations has to be worth it for us too.”

“But what about the houses with the banging and slamming doors?” I asked, feeling protective and worried for those people.

“Once we get a read on the situation we either refer the client out to more appropriate resources, like someone with the ability to clear negative energy from a space or perhaps mental health professionals would be their best option. Then we follow up with clients over the next month or so to be sure they are getting the help they need. But when I believe our team is the appropriate group to help the family we take the case.”

“So if you were to accept our case, what would happen next?” I asked suddenly terrified that she might refer us out to some crystal and sage yielding hippy or yet another therapist.  

“If we accept the case my husband, Tyler, and I will conduct some background research on the property’s history to prepare for an investigation. Then we will set a date for the team to come in and spend seventy-two hours here. The whole team will spend all three nights in the house and at least two of us will remain present in the home during daytime hours as well.”

“Whoa,” Michael breathed. “Seventy-two hours?”

Noc paused powerfully before responding. “We won’t short change the family or ourselves in gathering the information we need to determine exactly how to rid a home of negative paranormal activity.”

“What happens after the investigation is over?” I asked quickly.  

“We review the evidence which typically takes about a week or so. Then we would meet here and go over our findings. Patricia and I would share our conclusions and line up all of the resources we believe you need to resolve the haunting. We’d stay in close touch over the next few months to be sure you felt that everything was handled to the best of everyone’s ability.”

“This sounds too good to be true,” I sighed.

Patricia spoke for the first time, “From what Noc has told me so far, it sounds like you’re family has been under an incredible amount of strain since you moved into this house.”

Michael and I agreed that what she said was true. We told them about the fire in the house, the strange occurrences reported by the contractor, my seeing the boy jump in front of the train and the voice I’d heard behind me in the basement.

Noc began taking notes when I shared what we’d learned about the boy, Jason, who’d lived and died in the house.

“You believe his spirit has been interacting with one of your younger daughters?”

“Yes,” I replied nervously. “I know how outrageous that sounds but I think she’s been talking to his ghost.”

“And you think Lilith is staying in what was his bedroom?” Patricia clarified.

I explained the drawings I’d found beneath her wallpaper and showed them the photos I’d taken of the walls before painting over the satanic symbols.

“You see these ones?” I asked, zooming in on a grouping of symbols that we’d found when we tore down the paper on the wall behind Lilith’s desk. Noc squinted at the image of four inverted crosses arranged to form a sort of box around a pentagram. I hadn’t even really paid much attention to those symbols when we’d been dealing with the issue and painting the walls because I just wanted them covered up and gone. But then I caught a glimpse of the same exact image drawn on the back of one of Lilith’s notebooks.

“She left her science notebook on the kitchen counter and I recognized her scribbled drawing on the back as this exact image,” I said, shakily.

“Is there any way she could have seen the image before you covered it up?”

“No,” Michael said with certainty. “We did that wall in one morning. The kids weren’t even home before it was painted over.”

“Could she have seen the image on your phone?” Patricia asked me.

I shook my head. “I mean, it’s possible, but no I really don’t think she did.”

“So you believe she came across these symbols elsewhere,” Noc began making a note.

I said, “Not just her notebook. I saw a page on her desk covered in them a couple days ago and then I was putting clothing away in her closet and, well, it’ll be easiest to just show you.”

We brought the women down to the basement and I showed them the inside of my daughter’s closet.

Noc let out a low whistle. “Wow, guys. This is really something.”

“She’s covered the entire space,” Patricia breathed. “Now, you mentioned in your email that you’d sought medical help for your daughter, is that correct? Can you tell me what her doctor said about her state of mind?”

I went over the meetings with the pediatrician, the school counselor, the two therapists and a recent meeting with an adolescent psychiatrist which had resulted in a prescription for antidepressants.

Noc turned on the flashlight on her cell phone and moved it over the walls. “You did a great job covering up those symbols,” she said. “I can’t find a trace of them so your daughter definitely didn’t see them through the paint.”

“When exactly did you find these?” Patricia asked, referring to the symbols covering Lilith’s closet walls.

“Saturday afternoon,” I said. “So that’s when I found a reverend to come to the house.”

“He was a Congregationalist,” Michael added.

“And Lilith was incredibly difficult when he was here,” I added, suddenly finding myself fighting back tears.

“She swore pretty good at the man and stormed out of the house,” Michael said. “Laura followed after her. The reverend really was a nice guy, he seemed to chalk the whole situation up to teenage rebellion. He offered to bless the house for us, so I lead him upstairs to Jack’s room, you know where the thing happened with the shadow on the ceiling-”

“I haven’t told them about that yet,” I interrupted.

“Well, one thing at a time,” Michael said. “Anyhow, he began to pray and fling around holy water and damned if we both didn’t feel the entire house tremor.”

The four of us stood in Lilith’s room. I could tell that Noc and Patricia were trying to process all they had been told.

“We could show you Jack’s room next,” I offered. “And I can explain how he said the shadow climbed up the wall and then across the ceiling to hover over his bed.”

Patricia and Noc exchanged a look. “You know what, if you don’t mind, just walk us through the rest of the house and point out any place where something paranormal has occurred,” Noc suggested.

I nodded, then started to turn to walk out the door but stopped and looked right at Noc. “Are you going to take our case?” I asked.

“Bet your ass,” she said.

Michael snorted. “Atta girl.”

Welcome back to Lilith, a tale I’ll share a few chapters at a time until her story is complete. If you’re new to the podcast, Lilith is a great place to start (you don’t need any background information to enjoy this account of demonic possession) but do go back to January 7th’s episode and begin with chapters 1-3.

As always be sure to check out ghostsintheburbs.com for all the links.

Now, onto the story.

*****

Chapter 14

Two days later and I was back at it. Down in the basement, a new scouring tool in hand and a spray bottle of vinegar and water in the other. It was a Thursday. It was cool and grey and windy. The basement felt as dreary as ever, if not more so. I began my work on the wall behind Lilith’s bed and sprayed three strips of paper with the removal solution. The scraper allowed me to peel back a top corner of the paper with relative ease. Here goes, I thought, expecting to have to struggle to get the paper free of the wall. To my surprise it came down in just a few easy sheets revealing a grey wall behind it. A little glue and backing clung to the dull paint, but not much.

I worked my way from left to right. The second sheet of paper also came down with little trouble. I was feeling cocky and optimistic, bopping to the music streaming from my cell phone over Lilith’s small speaker as I worked. And then I pulled at the edge of the third sheet of paper.

The beautifully painted blood red symbol stood out in stark contrast to the grey wall. I stared at it, balling up the stripped wallpaper I’d just torn down in my hand. It took me a moment to realize that the intricate symbol was upside down. It took another moment to realize what that meant.

I began frantically spraying the next sheet and the next. Waiting impatiently for the solution to do its job before frantically ripping down the wallpaper. It only got worse. Revealed were inverted crosses and pentagrams, their terrible red paint seemed to glow against the grey wall. After I’d peeled every single piece of paper from that wall I stood back and tried to make sense of the scene.

It was obvious that whoever had painted those symbols had done so with loving care. The most disturbing image stood in the wall’s center. Surrounded by a circle of inverted crosses were the words “Mother Demon,” in beautiful script.

Mother of God, I breathed, taking it all in. What sort of deviants would leave something like this on their walls and just paper over it? Who in the hell were the people who had lived in this house before us?

I was hysterical by the time I got Michael on the phone. He’d been in a meeting and hadn’t returned my call for over half an hour. I demanded that he come home immediately. He told me to calm down. I hung up on him, snapped a photo of Lilith’s wall and texted it to him. He texted back “I’ll be home in forty-five minutes,” within seconds of receiving the picture.

I didn’t want to know what lurked beneath the floral wallpaper on the remaining three walls in Lilith’s room, I decided to leave them for the time being. I knew I couldn’t let any of the kids see the awful symbols so I rushed to the hardware store and asked the clerk what I should do about bright red paint that needed covering up. I left with a pack of sandpaper, two cans of primer and four cans of pale pink paint. Then I went home and waited on the couch for Michael to arrive.

“Jesus Christ Almighty,” he spat taking in the satanic markings. “The guy at the hardware store told you how to cover it up?”

“Yes,” I breathed. “But Michael, what in the hell kind of people would do something like this? Do we know anything about the family who used to live here? We have to call the real estate agent and-”

Michael suggested we talk upstairs.

I followed him into the kitchen and poured us each a cup of stale coffee. I sipped the bitter drink and waited for him to tell me what he knew. Intuition told me he’d been keeping something from me.

“You know how I met Paul for drinks at the country club the other night?”

I sat in silence. Waiting.

“Right, well I met a guy there. Really nice guy, named Tom Murphy. He actually texted me his wife’s contact information, thought you guys might hit it off. Anyhow, he knew the people who lived here before us.”

I raised my eyebrows, wondering why in the hell he hadn’t mentioned any of this before.

“Tom was in school with their son.”

“And?” I pressed.

“Well, the thing is, it sounds as though the poor kid just might have died in the house.”

“Oh, Christ,” I breathed. “Might have died? How?”

Michael hesitated. “Suicide.”

“Oh no,” I groaned. “In this house? Oh my God, those poor people.” My mind spun with questions. “Wait a minute, how is this the first we are hearing of this? Shouldn’t it have come up when we bought the house? The lawyers? Kim! Kim must have known, she’s lived in town a long time!”

“I Googled it Tuesday morning,” Michael admitted. “Massachusetts law requires only that home sellers disclose the existence of lead paint or the presence of a septic system. They don’t have to offer any other information about the home or its history. If we’d known to ask whether their had been any deaths on the property then they would have had to tell us, but since we didn’t ask they were under no obligation.”

“That is ridiculous! Have you spoken to Kim about this?” I demanded.

“I left her a message yesterday, I haven’t heard back yet.”

“And when were you going to tell me all this?” I asked, hurt that he would withhold something so important.

“I didn’t want to worry you until I knew the full story. I figured we’d discuss it when I knew exactly what we were dealing with.”

“I can’t believe this. What exactly did this Tom tell you?”

“Just that he’d known the boy and that it was rumored that the kid was into satanic worship,” Michael held up his hands, obviously trying to stop me from losing my mind. “But, Tom also said that the boy had been dealing with untreated mental health issues and that’s what lead to his death.”

I stared at my husband. Outrage draining out of me, fear quickly stepping in to replace it. “Satanic worship?”

“I know, I know. But that has nothing to do with us or the house-”

“Michael!” I yelled. “The wall behind Lilith’s bed is covered with blood red satanic symbols. I’d say it has a lot to do with us.”

“We’ll talk to Kim and get to the bottom of this.”

“Kim,” I said in a growl. “If it turns out she knew and didn’t tell us…”

Michael nodded.

“The poor boy,” I said. “Do you know anything else about what happened to him?”

Michael shook his head.

“The neighbors,” I said, looking out the side window. “I bet those motherfuckers know everything.”

“Jesus, Laura. Language,” Michael said, grinning despite himself.

With nothing left to discuss we put our cups in the sink and went downstairs to paint over the artfully drawn symbols of satanic worship on our daughter’s bedroom walls.  

 

Chapter 15

The therapist, a plain Jane of a woman with what could only be described as a bowl cut suggested that Lilith was simply struggling to acclimate to the move and was missing her friends back home but that she could not find anything clinically wrong with the girl. Laura suspected the woman’s professional knowledge was as out of date as her haircut and was livid that she’d wasted so much time waiting for an appointment with the incompetent hippy when she could have been looking for a real therapist for Lilith.

Instead of easing her mind that a professional had reviewed her daughter’s mental state, the encounter with the therapist only caused Laura’s concerns to multiply. More unsettling than Lilith’s sullenness was the ease with which she turned back into her old self as she answered the therapist’s questions. When the woman suggested Lilith sign up for a club or a sport at the high school Laura watched as Lilith smiled and actually agreed with the woman. The girl even admitted that she’d been thinking about joining the yearbook staff, which Laura knew was a blatant lie.

The second they left the office, Lilith immediately descended back into a gloomy mood.

“Honey,” Laura said, “If there is anything you want to tell me or dad, well we would just do about anything to help you. If something’s happened-”

“You want to know what happened?” Lilith whispered.

“I do honey. If something bad happened you need to tell me.”

“Something terrible happened,” Lilith breathed.

Laura braced herself. They were at a stop light and she turned to look at her daughter. Lilith was staring out the passenger side window.

“You pulled me out of my home and took me away from all of my friends and family. Then you moved me to a cheap shitty little house and sent me down into a disgusting basement bedroom. All the while all you’ve been able to think about is yourself and how lonely and depressed you are.”

“Lilith, I-” Laura began, but she stopped speaking abruptly. Lilith had turned to look at her mother. Her face was expressionless. Her eyes had gone black, the pupils seeming to have taken over the irises completely.

Laura involuntarily shoved herself against the door to get as far away from the girl as she could. A car beeped behind them, the light had changed but Laura could not take her eyes off her daughter.

Lilith slowly turned to look out the passenger side window. “You’d better get going, Laura,” she said in a voice that was not her own.

 

***

 

The footsteps had gotten worse. Rosemary and Carrie would lie awake at night listening and counting.

“I don’t understand why we don’t just go tell mom and dad,” Rosemary whispered.

Carrie propped herself up on her elbow and looked over at her sister across the room. “Because they wouldn’t believe us, first of all. And second of all Jason said not to mention it.”

“I don’t understand why you’re even talking to that guy, he’s so weird.”

“He’s just shy,” Carrie argued. “Anyway, he used to live here and he said he heard footsteps too. He told me it was a friendly ghost.”

“Whatever,” Rosemary breathed, snuggling down under the covers. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

“Oh yeah? Then who’s walking around in our attic? And who keeps on messing with the lights?”

“Dad said it’s an electrical issue and that once we have more money he’ll get it fixed.”

“Okay, sure,” Carrie replied, knowingly. “And the shadows? Do you think he can make those go away with money?”

“It’s an old house, the lighting is weird,” Rosemary countered.

“Yeah, it’s so weird that it makes shadows crawl across the dining room ceiling,” Carrie snarked.

Annoyed Rosemary sat up in bed. “Well then what do you think is going on?”

Carrie matched her twin’s posture, “This house is haunted. You might not want to believe it, but it’s true. Jason said-”

“Oh, just shut up about that weirdo. I think he’s lying, I don’t even think he goes to school with Lilith, have you even asked her?”

Rosemary shook her head. The girls were quiet for a moment.

“Lilith won’t talk to me anymore,” Carrie admitted.

“She screamed at me for going down to the laundry room to get my jeans out of the dryer. I don’t know what her problem is.”

Overhead the footsteps started up again, this time they were a bit more pronounced. The girls looked up at the ceiling.

“I still think we should tell mom,” Rosemary whispered.

“She’ll just freak out,” Carrie replied.

 

***

 

Nextdoor, Jack was wide awake. He’d never heard the footsteps, which was a blessing, but he did see the shadows. Right then he was staring at one of those small, black forms. It appeared to be standing in the corner of his small bedroom.

Jack tried his best to turn the form into something other than a shadow figure standing in the corner of his room. Maybe it was just a collection of his belongings that looked like a small shadow figure lurking the darkness. That had to be it. He’d woken up moments before, not knowing what had pulled him from sleep. When he rolled over in bed and opened his eyes he’d immediately noticed the figure watching him.

The shadow was child sized, it actually looked like a small kid about his little cousin Gracie’s age, three or four years old. But it was hunched over and it appeared to be grasping its hands together. But that didn’t make any sense because shadows don’t have hands.

Jack strained his eyes, trying to prove to himself that what he was looking at was some sort of optical illusion, but he could not. He did not know how long he and the shadow stared at each other, but it was long enough that Jack thought he might lose his mind if something didn’t happen.

But then something did happen and Jack immediately wished that things could go back to the way they had been a moment before when he and the shadow were merely in a staring contest. That hadn’t been so bad, really. But what happened next was terrible.

The shadow dropped it’s arms down by its sides and then pushed it’s hands flat against the wall. And then it began to climb, slowly. One foot moving up the wall, then one hand, then the other foot, followed by the other hand, sliding upwards methodically until the shadow made it all the way up to the ceiling. Jack stayed very still. His mind still trying to make what he was seeing out to be anything other than what he knew it was. And then the shadow continued on and it began its methodical crawl across his ceiling, maneuvering around the old light fixture before continuing on it’s course. The shadow stopped when it hovered directly over Jack’s bed.

Jack could not move, he was unable to make a sound. He refused even to blink and tears streamed from his eyes. It was a wonder he could even breath. But then the shadow spoke. It said Jack’s name. In a terrible low growl and that broke the spell. Jack began to scream and he didn’t stop screaming until his father had dragged him out of bed and into the light of the hallway.

Laura had been wide awake counting her worries when she heard Jack’s blood curdling screams. The first thing that had gone through her mind was that he had found one of his sisters dead. The scream had been so desperate that she couldn’t imagine what else could cause such terror. She leapt over Lilith who had been asleep on the floor beside her. Lilith had slept in her parents room the past two nights as she waited for the paint fumes in her bedroom to dissipate.

Michael had been sound asleep and first heard the screams in a dream in which he was locked out of their home. In the dream he frantically slammed his shoulder against the front door, desperate to get inside to his screaming son. He awoke disoriented and it took a long moment to discern the dream from reality.

Carrie and Rosemary stood in their doorway watching the scene unfold before them. They wondered if Jack had finally heard the footsteps and had freaked out over the noise. They also wondered if perhaps it was time to share their suspicions with their family. They quickly realized that it was not the time.

Lilith stood opposite the girls in their parent’s bedroom doorway. She watched her parents console her inconsolable brother and eyed the twins as they took in the scene. Then she pushed past her mother and went into Jack’s bedroom where she looked up at the ceiling above his bed. Her family watched her nervously.

“Lilith, honey, what is it?”

A smile broke out across the girl’s face. The first smile they’d witnessed on the girl in weeks.

“Hi,” Lilith said to the ceiling. “They’re ready,” she whispered before crawling into Jack’s bed and pulling the covers up to her chin, the smile never leaving her face.  

 

Chapter 16

The morning after Jack’s scare I got the kids off to school then went straight to the library and asked a librarian to show me how to search property records. I wanted information about our neighbors. I was determined to find someone who’d been in the neighborhood long enough to know about the family who’d lived in our home before us and about the boy who’d died there. As it turned out one of next door neighbors had owned their home since nineteen eighty seven.

I logged off the computer and went home to bake a batch of brownies.

There was something very wrong with my daughter and I knew in my bones that our house had somehow infected her. I no longer held hope that any child psychologist or therapist could help us. Once I’d gotten the kids settled back down after the previous night’s events (Jack in a sleeping bag next to Michael’s side of the bed, the twins back in their bedroom, Lilith in Jack’s room having refused to leave his bed) I’d sat up with my laptop researching Lilith’s “symptoms” and the strange things that had been happening in our home. I scanned a handful of articles on demonic oppression and then I began an online search for someone who might help us. It didn’t take long to unearth the websites of several area ghost hunting groups. I chose three that looked moderately legitimate and filled out the online “request a consultation” forms.

Hello, I wrote, My family is experiencing strange things in our new home. We’ve heard noises and seen shadows, photographs have moved inexplicably, and in removing wallpaper from a basement wall we uncovered paintings of inverted crosses and pentacles. My eldest daughter seems to be the most affected by these occurrences. Her mood and overall demeanor has changed and several therapists and psychologists have been unable to offer explanation or help. I am reaching out in hopes that you might offer your expert opinion and advice about our situation. Thank you in advance for your time.

In the light of day the idea of enlisting the help of ghost hunters felt ludacris. But the situation in my home was ludacris. Over breakfast the twins had admitted to hearing footsteps overhead every night at bedtime for weeks. Rosemary then tattled on her sister’s friendship with the strange boy in the hoodie who kept lurking around our home.

“Tell her how Jason told you the the house was haunted when he lived here too,” Rosemary pressed. Defensive, Carrie admitted to having discussed the strange occurrences in the house with the boy. I again warned her against spending time with him, though at that moment a weird teenager was the least of my concerns. I needed help and I would take what I could get. While I waited for a reply from the ghost people I decided to gather as much information as I could about our home and it’s previous owners.

I sat on a stool at my kitchen island with a book while I kept one eye on the side window, a plate of brownies wrapped and ready at my side. I had a good view of the neighbor’s driveway. At eleven-thirty a black Tesla pulled into the drive and a woman in her late-sixties or perhaps early seventies stepped out, retrieved the New York Times from the foot of the driveway and walked to her front door. I grabbed the plate and scurried out of my house, determined to drag every detail I could out of the woman.

The neighbor’s house was similar to ours, though it was a touch larger and had obviously been well cared for over the years. I walked up the driveway, fallen leaves swishing underfoot and was startled when the front door swung open before I’d had the chance to ring the bell.

“May I help you?” The woman asked, her politeness tinged with suspicion. She had a small frame and a blond bob streaked with grey. Her tortoise shell glasses looked expensive.

“Hi, uh, yes, Mrs. Rumsfield?”

“Yes,” the woman said, drawing out the word.

“Hello, I’m Laura. Laura Arnold, I’m your next door neighbor. We moved in this summer?”

“Oh, yes of course,” she replied, glancing over at my house. “I’ve been meaning to stop by to introduce myself, but you know how it is. Time just seems to fly. How is your family settling in?”

“Uh, fine, just fine. I’ve been meaning to come over to say hello too,” I held up the brownies. “I thought you might like a sweet, if you have time, of course.” I sensed that she had no intention of inviting me in, but then I had no intention of leaving. “These are great with tea!” I added.

“Well, alright. Please, come on in,” she relented, stepping aside.

I followed her into the kitchen. The house was bright, heavy with antique furniture and spotless. Dark bookcases overflowed with paperbacks and porcelain doo dads. Spindly dark wooden chairs held scripture-laden needlepoint pillows. The cream colored walls were decorated with an assortment of oil paintings and delicate plates.

I took a seat at a glass and iron kitchen table as Barbara Rumsfield filled the teapot and put out plates and paper napkins for the brownies.

“These are delicious,” she commented after taking a dainty bite.

I nodded. “There’s a layer of Hershey’s chocolate bar in the middle,” I replied. “That’s the trick.”

Barbara asked after my children and I asked after hers. She had one daughter, now in her forties who lived in Brookline, which I learned was a close in suburb of Boston. I asked if there were grandchildren. There were two.

Barbara got up to take the whistling tea pot off the stove. She said, “It must be tight quarters over there, with four children and all.”

Reading between the lines I knew what she meant was, If you couldn’t afford a proper sized house then why did you have so many kids? Bristling, I replied “The house is smaller than our place in Houston, but we’ve found that everyone has plenty of room.”

Barbara carried the teapot to the table. “Well, I’m sure the real estate market in Wellesley is different than you were used to in the south,” she commented, solidifying my opinion of her as a true Yankee snob.

“There is a bedroom in your basement though, isn’t there?” She asked with the practiced nonchalance of a true gossip.

I saw my chance. “Yes, my eldest daughter Lilith is using it. Actually, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh?” I noted a hint of excitement in Barbara’s voice.

“Yes, well I wondered if you might know anything about the family who used to live in our house. All of our communication went through the real estate agents so we didn’t get a chance to get to know them at all.”

Barbara visibly tensed as she poured hot water into two yellow mugs. “Oh sure, the Butlers. They moved down to Florida, right?”

“They did. Did you know them?”

“Only to wave hello. We weren’t close,” she replied.

I wrapped my hands around the warm mug. “Did you know their son?”

Barbara tisked and shook her head. “That poor boy.”

“Did your daughter know him?”

“Heavens no,” Barbara said quickly. “I mean, she knew of him, of course. That boy’s reputation proceeds him.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Well, sure,” Barbara paused and studied me for a moment. I met her gaze. “How much do you know?” She asked.

“Not enough,” I admitted.

“I don’t like to gossip,” she shared unconvincingly, “But if that boy’s behavior was any indication then I’d say there was a lot of trouble in that house.”

I sipped my tea and nodded in understanding, not wanting to say anything that might make her stop talking.

“His appearance for one thing. Dying his hair black like that, and the clothing. Black hoodies and jeans in the middle of the summer. It was obvious he was up to no good, though God only knows how he got caught up in the first place. I used to see his parents at church every Sunday. My daughter heard he was into the drugs and she and her friends said he went off the deep end after the girlfriend broke up with him – that girl was a whole other story. At any rate, he didn’t take her rejection well and I suppose that’s when he started dabbling.”

“Dabbling?”

“Yes, in the occult,” Barbara reported, her eyes twinkling. She leaned forward. “The police were involved at one point because of the missing neighborhood cats.” Barbara gave an exaggerated shiver. “I saw the cruiser in that driveway on more than one occasion and I just had to wonder whether his parents were doing anything to control his behavior at all. Their inaction was inexcusable. And look how it all turned out. The kid hung himself in the laundry room for goodness sake. Surely they could have done something to get him help before it got to that.”

I must have looked awful because she quickly recovered and said, “Oh dear, you didn’t know it happened in the house?”

“I knew he died in the house, but I didn’t have any details,” I admitted.

Barbara sipped her tea. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. I’m surprised your real estate agent didn’t let you know before you bought the house.”

“Believe me, I was surprised at that too, but apparently sellers don’t have to disclose any deaths that have occured on their property.”

“That’s a shame. Speaking of police, did I see them at your house in the past few of months?”

So the neighbors had been watching out their windows like spineless jerks, I thought bitterly. “Yes, I thought I’d witnessed a train accident. Luckily, I’d been mistaken.”

“I see. I thought I saw the police in your driveway one other time too.”

I stared at the woman for a long moment. “It’s been a really hard transition for my family,” I finally said. “No one has reached out to welcome us to this town and the people I have met haven’t even shown the smallest kindness. But the police have been a godsend. Thank you for letting me know about the Butlers. I’ll let you get back to your day.”

I stood and carried my plate and mug to the sink.

Barbara watched me then got up to walk me to the door, I thanked her again for her time and before I left she offered a piece of advice.

“It certainly wouldn’t hurt to get a priest over there to bless the property. It might grant Jason’s soul peace.”

“Who?”

Jason, the boy who died in your house.”