Throughout my life I’ve had what I refer to as Horror Movie Dreams. They happen when I’m stressed. In these dreams, I am one of maybe five or six people and we are in a horror movie. I know this, though they do not. I know we will be picked off one by one by an axe wielding man (he’s always axe wielding, though I never see the axe). We are in a cabin, or a hotel, or my house, and I just have to wait and watch and say my lines until it is my turn. We have dialogue, movie dialogue, like “I am so glad we’re finally getting away for the weekend,” and “Did you hear that noise?” We are all young. We are friends, though I don’t recognize any of them. It is vivid and real and an impending sense of doom leaves the dream and follows me into the day.
I’d begun to have these Horror Movie Dreams every night.
Sure, I was stressed. Expecting my third child and all, but I didn’t think that was the problem. Out of nowhere my sister sent me a Blessed Mary medallion. She insisted that I wear it, especially when I was interviewing people. She said she’d “had a dream,” and was worried.
I was worried too. And so was C. He wanted me to take a break from the ghost interviews, said I was getting too wrapped up and it was freaking him out. Our phone would ring; yes we have a landline. C thought this was a silly waste of money, but he wouldn’t think that when the zombie apocalypse hit and we could call, well, other people with land lines. It was best that he didn’t know about the box I had stashed in the basement that contained a water purifier, Bear Grylls fire starter, handheld crank flashlight/cell phone charger/radio, first aid kit, candles, two survival fishing tins, instant coffee and waterproof matches. There was a drug dealer’s sized stash of twenty dollar bills in there too, though I hemmed and hawed over them. I mean, will money be worth anything when the zombies rise? Probably not, but trade might be the way, so the Starbucks Via instant coffee packets might allow us to live like post-apocalyptic kings.
Anyway, what was I talking about? The phone. So the landline was ringing a few times a day and when we answered there would be nothing and then a click. Like someone was listening and then would hang up. C insisted that I take the flyer down from the library. He had this whole plotline where a crazy old woman had taken down my name, googled it, found our home phone and address and was going to show up one night standing over us in bed. He kept talking about her bony hands and yellow teeth.
You know, I dragged him along on a walking ghost tour years ago, in Nantucket. He laughed it off, said it was so stupid. But that night he woke me up at two o’clock in the morning because he had to pee. I had to walk him to and from the bathroom because he was so frightened. I have to be careful what I expose him to. His imagination is worse than mine.
I admit it, I was a little jumpy too. But I like feeling jumpy. I like being scared and getting startled by the littlest noise. Besides that, I felt like l was on to something. This was the feeling that I had been chasing since I was young and in the woods behind my house pretending to be George (Nancy Drew’s boyish friend) searching for clues about the “forest ghost.”
Maybe there was a little magic, a little intrigue in life. Maybe everything wasn’t what it seemed. Maybe there was a veil and maybe it was thin. Maybe I could take the teeny tiniest little look-see and catch a glimpse of something wonderful and horrible and unimaginable.
Casey Cotton had freaked me out, with her dramatic warning about the darkness. But, in hindsight, I chalked it up to just that. Drama. I did believe her about her experiences with the Zila creeper, but what did that have to do with me?
I was ready to press on. And by press on, I meant, not really do anything, just listen to another person’s ghost story. I’d declined the invitation to the tunnels under Wellesley College. I just couldn’t do it. C played the “you’re pregnant, there’s no way you’re doing that,” card. I let him think that he’d made the decision for me, but in reality, I was too chicken.
There was this one intriguing email in my inbox, though. It was from a woman whose kids went to Fiske, the elementary school that shared a parking lot with the Wellesley preschool, P.A.W.S., that my oldest daughter attended. This woman had actually heard of my interviews through a mutual acquaintance who had kids at both schools. She suggested that we meet on the playground after morning drop off. There were some picnic tables and we could bring coffee and she would tell me her story.
It was a safe place to meet. The acquaintance gave a solid reference for this woman. The weather had turned and the mornings were gorgeous. She had me at coffee.
It was warm, but cloudy and quite windy the day that I met Peyton Trellis. Preschool opened about fifteen minutes after the elementary school, so she was already sitting at a picnic table when I approached the playground. I had been curious about this superbly named woman since I’d first seen her email address, a simple firstname.lastname@example.org. She didn’t disappoint.
You know how there are photos of super chic women on instagram – the one’s that look like they were just caught on the street on any given day in an outfit so effortlessly cool it is almost exciting? Yeah, well, Peyton Trellis could have been one of those women.
She was straddling the picnic table bench, in perfectly worn skinny jeans – with one expertly ripped knee – a white, tissue paper thin t-shirt and a worn leather, fitted, sort of, like, tight, grey leather jacket. You know the kind. She had on diamond studs the size of my big toe, and a friendship bracelet. Seriously. It was all pastels and ratty and so agonizingly cool I wanted to clap. There was Not. A. Stitch. Of. Makeup. on her creamy skin. Hair down to her elbows. Not beachwaved, like, cooler than that. It was bedhead-waved. The bitch woke up like this. It was 8:50am for God’s sake.
I couldn’t stop myself, “You look amazing,” I said, awkwardly climbing onto the picnic table bench across from her.
Peyton pushed Chanel (Chanel!!) sunglasses up to the top of her head and smiled. There was a tiny gap between her top two front teeth and she had a dimple when she smiled.
Enough already, I thought.
“Liz?” She said, reaching across the table to shake my hand. “It’s so great to meet you!”
She was facing the wind, so it whipped her hair prettily. I had my back to the wind, so my hair flapped against my cheeks angrily. I shook her hand then reached into my bag for my baseball hat. I had on running pants and a workout shirt – Old Navy, not LuLu Lemon.
“Michelle didn’t tell me you were pregnant, when are you due?” She asked.
“Early August,” I told her.
We chatted a bit about babies (she loved them), hospitals (she’d delivered at Beth Israel Deaconess too), and cars (the car seat space in a Suburban vs. a Volvo).
Eventually, Peyton said, “Ok, soooo, my haunted house! I am so psyched to tell you about it!” As though she were telling me about a new pedicure place she’d discovered.
“Where is your house?” I asked.
“It’s close by, do you know that pond over that way?” She asked, motioning with her hand.
“Yup, I’ve walked the trail there a couple times,” I replied.
“Exactly, well, my house is right on that pond. It’s on a street right off of Oakland, set pretty far back into the woods.”
“That sounds lovely. Five houses overlook our backyard.” I said with a laugh.
“Yeah, it is nice to have the privacy,” she agreed. “But it can get a bit spooky at times, especially at night. And when we lose power, ugh, the worst.”
“Especially if you have a ghost,” I said.
“Exactly!” She declared. “Ok, where should I start?
“Um,” I said, “Well, when did you first start to notice odd things happening at home?”
I liked this woman. I felt like she had stepped out of a television series about forty-something parents living in California. She had a sense of humor, and I’d like to be friends with her, but the way she had referred to her haunting already had me a little disappointed. I mean, she sounded a bit too excited. I was bummed because I had been in the mood to be scared. So it was a pleasant surprise to be so freaked out by her story that I wouldn’t be able to go into our basement for the next two weeks to do laundry. Really – I had to buy new underwear for my daughter when we ran out. My husband could fend for himself.
“Ooo-Kay,” Peyton began, nibbling a thumbnail in thought. “So we moved into the house about six years ago, and I guess it was, really the day we moved in that I knew something was, like, off, you know?”
I nodded in encouragement.
“We had to do a ton of work to the house, it was built in 1796,” she said.
“Whoa, that is, like, I don’t know, how old is it?” I asked.
“This year the house turns 220 years old,” she said with a sigh. “Oh, and don’t worry,” she reached across the table to touch my arm, “we didn’t, like, go in and make it all modern tract home.”
I hadn’t been worried, it hadn’t really occurred to me. “Of course not,” I said.
“We hired a historic restoration company. They were meticulous, basically taking apart the home bit by bit, mending it, and putting it right back in place. I’m from California,” called it, I thought, “Everything was, so, new, where I grew up. Very cookie- cutter. When I came to Wellesley for college, I fell in love with the New England aesthetic. I lived in Beacon Hill for a few years with my husband, Derek, and we restored a brownstone.”
“My husband and I lived in Beacon Hill for a few years too, what street were you on?” I asked.
“Stop it right now!” She said excitedly, “We were on Mount Vernon! Where were you?”
“River Street for two years but before that we were on Willow, between Chestnut and Mount Vernon. Small world,” I said.
“I bet we ran past each other on the Esplanade, and waited in line at the Starbucks together and didn’t know it!”
“Totally,” I agreed. “And you probably saw me fighting back tears while I attempted to maneuver a Bob double stroller down the sidewalk.”
“Amen,” she said, nodding her head. “That’s what eventually pushed us out here too.”
“It was so romantic to think about bringing the kids up in Boston, but, we just tapped out after the second,” I affirmed.
“Ditto,” she said, “We still have the brownstone, I couldn’t bear to sell it. Derek has dreams of living there when the kids go to college, but, who knows. I like it out here, it’s quiet and this town has the most interesting people. I mean look at this. It’s a random Tuesday morning and here we are, sitting in a playground and I am telling you about my haunted house.”
We laughed, and she continued, “But yeah, the house. The first day we moved in I was unpacking the kitchen. The kids were out with my parents, who’d come to help us with the move.
“I was sitting on the floor opening boxes and I misplaced my exacto knife. I heard stomping around upstairs so I called to my husband, asking if he could grab one for me and bring it down. ‘Yeah, hang on a second,’ he called back. It was a bit harsh, but I figured he might be in the middle of something.
“I stood up to stretch my legs and grab a glass of water at the sink. I was turning off the tap when I looked out the window and saw Derek, his arms filled with boxes, walking out of the barn and towards the house. I seriously didn’t believe my eyes for a minute. It had been, at most, like, two minutes since I had called up to him and he had answered from upstairs. There was no way that he could be walking out of the barn. But he was.”
“So who the hell answered you?” I asked.
“Right? I totally freaked out. I mean, I literally stared at him for a moment and took off out the back door saying, ‘Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.’ and pretty much ran into Derek, knocking the boxes out of his hands. He thought I had seen a mouse or something. Come on! I kill the mice and spiders. He’s too afraid of them.”
“Did you guys search the house?” I asked.
“Totally. Derek stomped into the house, all puffed up, yelling, ‘Hello? Sir?’ Which we laughed about later, but he walked through the entire house. He even climbed up those stairs that go up to our attic, you know, the ones you pull down from the ceiling? He didn’t find anyone! I would have thought I had imagined it, but it was so real.”
“I would have sold the house immediately,” I said, honestly.
“Ha!” She laughs, giving my arm a light slap. “I mean, of course it freaked me out, but I just, like, sort of got wrapped up in unpacking and didn’t think too much about it. At the time, the Trips were only three years old, so I had my hands full.”
“Trips?” I asked.
“Oh, sorry. The triplets, that’s just what we always call them.”
“You have triplet boys?” I asked, about to get up and walk away from the table.
“Yes! They are nine now! I can’t believe it,” she said, shaking her beautiful head of hair. “I feel like I blinked and I have these three little men living in my house.”
“Right,” I said. “They do grow up so quickly.” Meaning, there but for the grace of God go I.
“Ok, but anyway, we were busy moving in and chasing the Trips around. I was trying my best to make new friends here so I signed up for the Juniors and Wellesley Mother’s Forum. We were out of the house so much during the day, but I began to notice this funny thing whenever I came home.
“Anything that had been left on the edge of the kitchen counter would be knocked off. Sippy cups, keys, the mail, toys. It wasn’t like these things were just falling off by themselves. And then it finally dawned on me! I used to have this cat, when I was in my twenties, he was a little rescue tabby and he would do this exact same thing whenever I went out. I made a game of it for him, actually. Crumpling up paper balls and twist ties and putting them on the counter so he could have plenty of things to play with when I wasn’t home. And, it helped me from cleaning up, he would only knock off the paper and ties, not the other stuff.
“And it was happening again! But Jude Paw had been dead for, like 15 years!”
“How – “ I began to ask.
“I know! I think his ghost is at the house. I really do,” Peyton held her hands in a Scout’s Honor position.
I opened my mouth to say something, but, for the life of me, I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“I know, I sound crazy as hell, but listen. I did an experiment. I crumpled up a bunch of papers like I used to and lined them up on the counter among all of the other junk. We went out for the day and when I came back, I swear to Goddess Earth, only the paper had been knocked to the floor.”
Again, I was speechless. Sure the ghost cat experiment was chilling – on many levels – and the fact that she had named her cat Jude Paw was fucking brilliant, but “Goddess Earth” had thrown me for a loop.
“I know, I know, it is totally unbelieveable. But that was just the beginning!” She exclaimed.
“No, it’s not unbelievable, I am just processing. I haven’t heard of many animal hauntings,” I said.
“I know, right?”
“Is it still happening?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, we all treat him like the family pet now. The boys leave paper and little twist ties out for him to play with.”
“That’s sweet,” I said, meaning, that’s really fucked up.
Peyton smiled, “I know, it’s saved us from having to get a dog.”
Oh dear, I thought, grateful that my daughters were too young to be in school with this woman’s children.
“So you have a ghost cat, but did you hear anything else from the guy stomping around upstairs on moving day?”
“Oh, yeah, you could say that,” she said, rolling her eyes. “The rest of the spirits seem pretty benign, but he has a dark energy around him. If I’m not vigilant with my good intentions, his bad intentions could take over.”
I decided to let the ‘the rest of the spirits’ comment slide for a moment, and asked, “What has he done?”
“I call him The Watcher. His hostility is palpable. I meditate after yoga every morning in our sunroom. It’s a fantastic space, with all of the windows you feel like you are in the middle of the woods. It is very restful, unless he is present. Often times, I feel as though I am being watched as I practice yoga.” She said.
“He’s in the room with you and you still do yoga?” I asked, horrified.
“Oh, no no no, he’s in the woods, that’s where he stays most of the time, just at the edge of the tree line. With all of the windows in the sunroom I can just feel him watching me. Then, when I begin to meditate, if he is feeling particularly bold, he will try and communicate with me. He is angry, so angry. I don’t know if he lived in our home, or on the property at some point. But he rants and raves about the barn.”
What the fuck? I think, at a total loss for words. She’s talking to a dead man who watches her do yoga in the mornings?
“I know! I know! I sound crazy, but I’ve always been sensitive to the other side. Even when I was a little girl, I can remember seeing spirits around my crib. I’ve always just accepted them, even the bad ones. They are on their journey, live and let live.”
“Or live and let die,” I said.
“Well, right,” Peyton laughed.
“What does your husband think of this Watcher?” I asked.
“Well, the only time that he senses him is in the barn. He was getting the chills and a creepy feeling, like he would turn around at any moment and see a man there. Then one day he had been working up in the loft and as he went to climb back down the ladder he felt something try and push it away from the wall. He could have been really hurt.
“So, I saged the barn’s interior and salted the doorways and windows. This created a bit of protection, but it enraged the entity. Now when Derek’s working in there, he sees shadows walk past the windows and hears knocking on the door. But, the salt and sage keep the spirit out.”
“Peyton, that is terrifying,” I said, not sure what to think of this woman and her story.
“It’s just a dead person,” she replied with a shrug.
“How can you be sure? What if it is something pretending to be a dead person?” I asked.
“Oh, I would know. We have some of those too, in our basement,” she said.
“Some of what?” I asked.
“I guess I would call them lower astral entities. They are these little creatures who seem to be attached to our home. I have done some work to keep them in the basement, but their attachment is so strong that I can’t seem to get rid of them,” she said.
“What the fuck are they?” I asked, picturing Gremlins in 3-D glasses watching T.V. in a basement playroom.
“They are these little, like, critters that sort of scurry and stay just out of the light. They are super negative and definitely want to attach to one of us. But I’ve prayed protections over the Trips and Derek. Though there’s been a kerfuffle or two when we’ve had people come to work on the house. The electrical and heating systems are in the basement and these critters jump at the opportunity to attach. One electrician actually came back to the house and asked me to take one of the things back. It had followed him home and was pulling the covers off him at night and putting bad thoughts into his mind. They somehow feed on negative energy, so they do their best to generate it.”
“Lord have mercy,” I said. “Why are you still living in this house?”
“The house is perfect for us, it just takes a little extra effort. And, honestly? I am a kind of beacon for these things. It really doesn’t matter where I live. Things find me.”
“What about your kids?” I asked. “Do they see anything?”
“Well, they play with the cat,” she began which was just about the most macabre thing I had ever heard in my entire life. Allowing your triplets play with a ghost cat? Fucking ghoulish.
Peyton continued, “They get creeped out by The Watcher and I simply won’t allow them in the basement. But, Gunner, one of the boys, seems to have inherited some of my abilities, so I have to keep an eye on him.”
“How so?” I ask, not wanting to know. At all.
“He is quite open to communication, and I just have to make sure that he isn’t, like, letting anything in. When he was really little he would stare at empty space as we were playing and then say things like, ‘Mama, that little girl’s dress is all wet, she says she fell into the pond,’ or he’d draw a picture of two stick figures lying on the ground in a forest and explain that they ate the wrong kind of berries. It just wasn’t stuff that a little kid could come up with on his own.”
“Does he still see things?” I ask, making a mental note to pay closer attention to what my four year old was drawing instead of just throwing out the pile of papers from preschool.
“He does, but he has better control over it now. I had to do some protections over him. I sage him once in awhile and have salted all around his bed. When he was seven, he and his brothers were in the playroom and I was cleaning up and left them for a while. I came back and his brothers were sitting watching him write with a crayon. He’d filled about ten pages, top to bottom, front and back.
“‘What are you boys up to?’ I asked, thinking it was some kind of game. Paxton and Dane just looked up at me and didn’t say anything. Gunner wouldn’t answer me, he wouldn’t even look up. I had to grab his hands to stop him from writing and it took him a moment to sort of snap out of this, like uber-focused daze.
“He was disoriented and I was totally freaked out, so I set them up to watch television in the living room and went back and gathered the pages he had written. It was all sorts of nonsense. Some of the words I couldn’t decipher, but I could read some of them and they were tweeked. ‘Revenge,’ was written over and over and I could kind of make out a story about a woman and her husband, ‘he’ll pay’ and “where’s the baby’ were two sentences I could make out. One page just spelled out ‘revenge.’ But it was, like, one line of R’s the next line of E’s, then V’s and so on. Written in crayon it looked psychotic. But I think a spirit had just communicated through him about something in her life.” She shrugged. She actually shrugged her shoulders. After telling me this. Shrugged.
“Peyton, that’s called automatic writing and it’s when a spirit possesses you so it can write through you,” I said.
“Mmm,” she agreed, nodding. “It really is quite an advanced skill, so I was amazed that he could do it so easily,”
“Do you do automatic writing?” I asked, wary of the answer.
“I have in the past, yes, but now I use my angel cards when I feel like a message needs to come through.”
In case you’re not familiar, angel cards are basically tarot cards. Users believe the information gleaned from the cards is coming from angels, unlike tarot cards which are relied upon to tell the future through a darker divination. Personally, I neither understand nor trust the subtle difference.
“Peyton, this is a lot to digest. I don’t know what to say. You’re sort of tied up in a lot of different things. And you’re opening up to them. It’s like the beginning of a horror movie and in the end, someone is going to need an exorcism or major medication.”
“Oh, no! I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, I’m sort of only telling you the weird stuff. There’s so much good too! The other spirits in the house, the one’s besides The Watcher, they are so helpful and they totally surround us with love and light. I did have to put my foot down when the boys started talking about playing hide ‘n seek with a little boy named Jeremy. I caught them halfway down the basement steps before I told them that space and that game were off limits. The boy wanted them to hide down there.”
“Uh uh,” I said, shaking my head.
“I know. It was, you know, like, worrisome, but we’ve talked through it, and they understand that not every spirit has good intentions.”
Oh, for the love of Pete, I thought. This nitwit was seriously going to get one of her Trips sucked into another dimension.
I asked, “Why are there so many of these things in your house? It’s infested.”
“It’s my fault, really. I just attract spirits and other, you know, entities. I’ve worked hard at opening my mind through meditation, but I suspect it may have opened some sort of a portal that allows beings come in and out of this realm. The angel cards have hinted at it.”
“You need to be careful,” I said.
“I am,” she replied. “I’ve had years of practice. My parents were Spiritualists, and very knowledgeable.”
Fuuuuuuuuuck. I thought. Those were the people of table raps and séances. Mediumship and spirit guides. Skeptics wrote them off as charlatan performers. But that was too simplistic. If nothing else, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Or, in this case, where there’s tapping there might be dead people.
This woman had hodgepodged the shit out of a bunch of occult practices and spiritual belief systems and if what she said was true about her house, she had, indeed, fucked things up royally. She was super cool, and, I mean, call me judgmental, but she was legit nuts. Not as in, “I see dead people,” nuts, no, that would be interesting. She was “I think I may have opened a portal but I’ve totally got it under control,” nuts.
“So you’re alright with all this, I mean, you don’t have any problem with the hauntings, negative or otherwise?” I asked.
“Oh sure, I’m more than alright with it, I welcome it,” she said, as though she couldn’t understand why I would even ask. “You should come to the house and see for yourself. It isn’t all creepy footsteps and slamming doors. If you are open to them, they are comforting.”
Um, hell’s no. I thanked her for the offer, but was honest and said that I was too chicken to actually experience anything paranormal. Our conversation petered out after that. I think I offended her by saying that I was frightened of her home. We were polar opposites where the unexplainable was concerned. She wanted to be right up in it. I wanted my paranormality second hand, maybe even third to be safe.
It was an obvious wedge between us, which was disappointing because I could have seen us having a cold glass of Chardonnay together while we kept an eye on the kids in the backyard – my backyard, not her backyard, obviously. Well, honestly, I wouldn’t let my girls near her kids. But, had things been a little different, we might have been tight.
We parted ways and I rushed to the grocery store for milk. I had time to drop it off at the house before returning to the school to pick up Max.
When I got home I put the milk in the fridge, threw my keys on the counter and rifled through the mail. I made a quick run to the bathroom and came right back into the kitchen. All of my mail was on the kitchen floor alongside my keys.