The Tear Down

Before I share this next story, I have to tell you that my husband’s name is Chris. He’s given me the go-ahead to use his name, though he never really told me not to, and it’s not like most of you don’t know us anyway. Besides, I will get too agitated if I have to keep referring to him as “C,” and so will you. The poor man was actually with me for this interview and he is traumatized. Which means, it’s gonna be a good one. So, on with the story.

The night started as a simple weeknight dinner at The Cottage with Chris’ colleague Chad and his wife, Emily. Chris and I were running about five minutes late and as I panned the bar area I spotted the Hayes couple immediately. Emily wore a kelly green sheath dress with gold Jack Rogers. A little bit of my ever-present social anxiety disappeared.

Trust me, I know that, at least socially speaking, I am a thirty-seven-year-old eighth grader, but I just like to feel as though I fit in. I was wearing bright pink sandals with a navy blue, sleeveless dress with scalloped edges. A stack of mismatched gold bangles and a pair of big gold beaded earrings completed my go-to cocktail party outfit, and it seemed a safe bet for this dinner. Chris worked with Chad, whose family had recently moved to Wellesley, and I didn’t really know what to expect from the couple. In small town fashion, I’d actually met his wife, Emily, at Perrin Park, though we’d only spoken for a few minutes.

We ordered drinks and made small talk by the bar about kids and neighborhoods while Chad went to check on the status of our table. Emily was fun to talk to and I immediately felt at ease around her. Whereas I typically dread the couple-on-couple dinner date because it so often felt like a blind date mixed with a job interview mixed with a marriage therapy session, I was already thinking that I might have found a new friend.

After only ten minutes of conversation I was planning to invite her to my squad’s next playgroup. She seemed like she might fit right in, and as any mom knows, if you are lucky enough to find a playgroup where everyone has roughly the same vibe about parenting, you do not upset the apple cart (or apple sauce squeeze-pack box, as it were). A free-range parent among helicopters will absolutely kill the vibe and vice versa. Our little playgroup had a sip wine and if they keep interrupting us while we’re talking turn on Paw Patrol vibe.

We hung at the bar for about fifteen minutes and when we were seated the conversation turned, as it so often does, to explanations of how everyone ended up in the suburbs with kids. Chad and Emily had met at Michigan State, she was from Ohio, he from Indiana. I tried not to spaz out and scare them away, but I just LOVE mid-Western people. LOVE them. They have a calm, reasonable assurance about themselves and a spot-on sense of humor. Just about every mid-Westerner that I have befriended has unfolded like a rare buy-all-five-items Stitch Fix. In my experience, they have a refreshing lack of neurosis, a fantastic sense of humor, knowledge about interesting things like pontoon boats, and wild college stories.

I tried my best not to fan girl out. Chris started talking some sports ‘n such with Chad and the conversation split, with Emily and I discovering just how compatible we were and the guys talking about, well, I don’t really know what. Emily informed me that after college she and Chad moved to Manhattan, where he worked in Real Estate and she in some finance something or other. They had their three children in the city, Michael, her now seven-year-old, Benjamin the five-year-old and Margaret, the baby, coming in at three years.

After Maggie was born Emily wanted out of the city. She explained that ultimately it was the never-ending public restroom lines that did her in. She couldn’t take it anymore. After having her third, she was always scouting out the next bathroom and lived in fear of wetting her pants.

I had found my soul mate. I had to play it cool.

“I think you’re my soul mate,” I told her, after taking a huge sip of Chardonnay.

“Don’t jinx us,” she replied, sipping red wine. “Give me your back story.”

So I told her about our post college move from upstate New York to Boston, our slow crawl from Brighton, to Brookline, to the Back Bay, then finally to Beacon Hill and then, our inability to hold onto the dream. I glossed over the many careers I’d had, and she actually shrieked when I told her that I was a former librarian. Chad tried to break into our conversation to find out what was so thrilling and she actually shushed him and then peppered me with questions about librarianship.

I had a warm and fuzzy feeling that just grew and grew throughout the dinner. These people were funny and they laughed and drank and told interesting stories. We’d found new friends! New friends!! My friends are really just about the most important part of my life. I realized when the girls were babies that if we were going to survive parenthood, then we needed to establish a solid network of solid couples for Chris and I to lean on and find a way to laugh at the craziness with. We found those people, and here were two brand spanking new friends to add to the circle. I had to stop myself from asking the waiter to take a photo of the four of us.

We were eating dessert when Chris asked, “How long have you guys been here in town? A couple months, right?”

Chad looked at his wife and replied, “We’ve been in Wellesley about four months and we’re already on our second house.”

“How?” I asked, looking between them.

“You think our move was complicated?” Chris commented. “Wait until you hear what these guys have been through.”

I waited expectantly, but they just exchanged a sideways glance and looked back Chris and I.

“Was it that bad?” I asked.

“It was pretty ridiculous,” Emily confirmed. “We were only in the house for about two months when we called our real estate agent and asked her to find us a new home,” she paused and drained her wine glass. “It just became un-livable, we tried to make it work but we couldn’t.”

Chad nodded his head in agreement. Chris and I waited for further explanation, but when none came I demanded, “What was it? You can’t leave us hanging like that, was there fecal matter in the water or something?”

Chad snorted and a little bit of his vodka tonic came out his nose. Emily laughed and said, “I wish it had been as easy as shit in the water. No, it was just – ”

“We had ghosts,” Chad blurted.

“Chad!” Emily growled, thoroughly annoyed. “They’re going to think we are crazy.”

“Oh, shit,” Chris said in anticipation of my freak out.

“Shut the fuck up!” I declared, slapping my hand on the table. “You seriously moved into a haunted house?”

“Yes,” Emily admitted, embarrassed.

“I must know everything!” I practically shouted.

This cinched the deal, I was in friend love, and I didn’t care who knew it.

Chad looked at his phone, it was around nine o’clock, “We have to relieve the au pair,” he said. “How late do you guys have the sitter tonight?”

“Until ten thirty,” I answered.

“Why don’t you come over to the house, it’s just around the corner. We’ll have a drink and tell you our ghost story and I can show Chris that new grill we were talking about.”

Chris started to decline the offer but I put my hand on his arm to stop him and said, “We would love to!”

As we followed the Hayes’ car out of the parking lot Chris grumbled, “Let’s hope you didn’t just sign us up to swing.”

Stop it,” I said, tisking and rolling my eyes.


 

 

The Hayes’ au pair was waiting in the family room when we got to the house. She was a tall, thin, leggy blond with a huge smile and bright green eyes. One look at this girl and I was ready to shove Chris out the door and into the car.

Emily introduced us to Alison, the twenty-year-old girl from Denmark. After shaking hands Chris enthused, “I’ve always wanted to travel to Europe.”

I had to stop myself from saying, “Settle down; we are not getting an au pair.”
Of course, the hubs has never given me cause to worry. My aversion to au pairs is about my own insecurities, paranoia and fear of aging. I simply don’t want to be replaced with a newer, less bitchy model. So I certainly wasn’t going to move a newer, less bitchy model into my home for the same reason I don’t stock Oreo cookies and Parliament Lights in the house: temptation.

Anyhow, gorgeous Alison filled Emily in on the kids’ evening activities then excused herself to her suite above the garage. The guys went to the backyard to see the aforementioned grill while Emily and I headed for the kitchen to pour drinks. We walked through the cozy family room with its overstuffed sectional couch (grey) and colorful throw pillows. Family photos decorated the walls alongside framed kid’s artwork.
“Wait,” I said, following Emily through a set of double doors. “When did you guys move in?”

“About a month and a half ago,” she replied over her shoulder.

“How are you this settled? We’ve been in our house for a couple months and I’m still using a moving box as a night table.”

Emily waved off the comment, “Half of our stuff was still packed in the basement of the old house. The move was easy.”

I just made an affirmative noise. Two moves, with three young children in less than four months. How had she managed all of this? The rooms looked freshly painted (white on white, all of the color in the home came from artwork and accents). The floors were newly refinished (in a dark chocolate colored stain).

When I stepped into the kitchen it instantly became my favorite place in the whole world. The cabinets were a gleaming, glossy navy blue, set off by white walls and countertops. A large center island, and a long farmhouse style table (above which hung a crystal chandelier) completed my new happy place. I saw a hand towel draped over the oven’s handle that read, “It’s not drinking alone if the kids are home.”
I pointed to it and asked, “Alright, can we go steady?” Emily laughed and we set about pouring drinks.

As I happily watched her pour some peanut M&Ms into a big navy blue and white striped bowl I said, “OK, I’m going to come clean. I blog about ghost stories in Wellesley. I am a total freak.”

No,” Emily said in excited disbelief.

“I do,” I admitted, hoping this didn’t end the magical night. “You wouldn’t believe how haunted this town is.”

“Oh, I believe it,” she said. “You can totally tell my story on your blog, it’s a doozy. I used to love watching those reality T.V. ghost shows. I can’t anymore. That shit is real and it is nothing compared to what we went through.”

I couldn’t believe it. First of all, hashtag soul mates. Second of all, I’d never had a haunted friend before. It was amazing. I asked her if I could record the story (fate allowed that I’d left my little digital recorder in the car) and she enthusiastically agreed.


 

We met up again with the guys on the deck and each of us sank into one of four (navy blue and white striped cushioned) lawn chair set cozily around a circular table on their patio. Chris shook his head when he saw me set the recorder on the little garden stool between Emily and Chad’s seats.

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m sure it won’t be that scary.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Chad said ominously. “I haven’t slept through the night since we moved to Wellesley.”

“None of us have,” Emily agreed.

“Shit,” Chris said, surrendering to his fate. “Then we’re going to have to call an Uber because I’m not listening to this sober.”

“Deal,” I agreed then asked, “So what the hell happened?”

With her wine glass gripped between her hands, Emily began, “We bought a brand new house off Cliff Road. When Chad found out he could transfer to the Boston office we had, like, one weekend to come up here to find a house. We needed to buy a place in time for the school year to start for Michael, so we wouldn’t have any time for renovations prior to moving in, and most of the houses we saw definitely needed work. Then we saw the house. It was pretty much only framed, but we looked at the plans and it seemed like it would be perfect.”

“The lot was huge,” Chad chimed in. “Big backyard surrounded by woods.”

“I was never really, like, jazzed about the place, but I figured that was because when we saw it, it was basically a construction zone,” Emily continued. “It seemed like the ideal; a quiet neighborhood, bedrooms for everyone and then some. The five of us had been sharing one bathroom in the city. We were moving for space and suburbia. The house had three and a half baths, it was luxurious.”

“Was it a tear down?” Chris asked, referring to the town trend of demolishing smaller homes to build larger, more modern digs.

“Yeah, there had been an old ranch style house on the property that the developer took down in order to build the house.”

“We moved in the middle of August and I knew by the end of our first day there that something wasn’t right,” Emily confessed.

“I thought it was just the stress of leaving city life and diving into suburbia,” Chad said in agreement. “But it was undeniable, from the first time we stepped foot in that house, something didn’t want us there.”

“Like a bad vibe?” I asked.

“No,” Emily explained. “More than that. Weird things started happening right away. The day we moved in I was unpacking kitchen stuff while Chad and the movers were unloading the truck. The kitchen opened up to the living room, so I guess you would call it a “great room.” The boys were on the couch watching a movie on the iPad and Maggie was toddling around, bugging them every once in a while and playing with her Paw Patrol figures [See what I mean?!? She’s perfect for our playgroup.] I was unwrapping our wine glasses and happened to look out one of the kitchen windows when I saw Maggie walking through the backyard towards the woods. It took a minute to realize what I was seeing. I snapped at her brothers about opening the sliding door that lead out to the porch, but they seemed as surprised as I was. I rushed out to get her and walked her back to the house. I asked who’d open the door and she said it was the ‘pretty lady.’”

“Oh fuck,” Chris said, before draining his glass.

“What pretty lady?” I asked.

“That’s what I asked,” Emily said. “Maggie told me that a lady in the yard opened the door for her. It fucking freaked me out. Our movers were there, but they were a group of young guys. I was thinking that maybe there was a weird neighbor around. I mean, we were technically in a neighborhood, but the house was basically surrounded by woods.”

“We had an alarm system installed the next day,” Chad interjected.

“I insisted on having cameras installed too,” Emily continued. “I was so freaked out. It was, like, a total culture shock moving out of Manhattan and into this huge, secluded house. When we were in the city, listening to our neighbors stomp around overhead or overhearing their arguments through the vents used to aggravate the hell out of me. But this house made me miss that claustrophobia. I couldn’t keep track of the kids unless I gated half the house off. It was just too drastic of a change. Our apartment was tiny. There I couldn’t have lost one of the kids if I had tried.”

“We had this huge two car garage,” Chad said, putting his arm over Emily’s shoulders.

Tons of storage space. Anyway, I was stacking boxes with Kevin, one of the movers. We were taking loads from the truck and stacking boxes on one side of the garage. We were in and out, you know, passing each other as we went back and forth. On one of my trips from the van I slipped on the floor and almost dropped the box. Someone behind me said, ‘Nice catch, man.’ I thought it was Kevin. I put the box down and turned around to say something but Kevin wasn’t there, I was alone. I walked out of the garage and saw him coming out of the truck with another box.”

“Oh dear,” I said quietly.

“I didn’t mention that to Em, I tried to convince myself that I’d just imagined the voice. But, I heard it a few more times before we got out of that house.”

Emily nodded her head in agreement and said, “The next morning I was sitting at the kitchen table making out a list of stuff I needed to pick up at Target. This is weird, it’s hard to explain without sounding stupid, but I took a sip of my coffee, went to write something down then heard one of the kids call to me so I turned around to yell back to them. When I reached for my coffee cup again it had been turned around so the handle was facing away from me. I went to grab the handle while I was looking back at my list and my hand just grabbed at air.”

“No way,” I said, goosebumps tingling my arms.

“That was the calm before the storm,” Emily continued. “I’d say little weird stuff like that happened for about a week or two,” she looked at Chad for confirmation and he nodded his head. “Then I was on our back deck once, the house had this two level deck in the back yard and a wrap around front porch in the front, which were totally beautiful, but I never wanted to spend any time on either of them, there was something, like, off-putting about that yard.

“Anyway, I was dragging some pots around on the deck in the back trying to decide where I wanted them when someone banged on the underside of the porch, seriously, like, right beneath my feet. The top level was probably, I don’t know, five feet off the ground? It was so loud that I screamed. The two older kids were at school, and Maggie was inside for her nap. I had the baby monitor with me in my pocket. I backed towards the sliding glass door to go inside and all of a sudden the baby monitor went crazy with loud static and those beep-boop noises you hear when you put two walkie-talkies too close to each other.

“I had the worst feeling I think I’ve ever had in my life – well up to that point anyways. I ran upstairs to Maggie’s room as fast as I could and yanked her door open. I just ran over to her crib and grabbed her then ran out to the car and went to J.P Licks on Central Street. I called Chad to tell him what happened – “

“Yeah, I was glad you got right out of there, but so pissed that you hadn’t immediately called the police,” Chad interrupted. “I thought we’d missed the chance to catch whoever was sneaking around outside the house.”

Emily glanced over at him and said forcefully, “I called them from the ice cream shop and met them back at the house. One of them walked around the property while the other checked out the house. Then they asked to see our video footage. In my panic I had completely forgotten about the cameras we’d set up around the outside of the house after Maggie walked out into the back yard by herself.”

“Did they catch anything?” Chris asked. I looked over at him, I knew he was hoping it had been a person doing the porch banging.

“Nothing,” Chad said. “Well, the cameras didn’t catch a person, but when we watched the moment the banging happened, you could see Em jump up and scream and run into the house, and then there was a sort of glitch in the recording. It got staticy for a moment before returning to normal.”

“Fuck,” I said quietly.

“After that, I hated the house,” Emily insisted. “After only two weeks I was constantly looking over my shoulder. Obsessively checking the door locks and windows. I didn’t let Maggie out of my sight and I could tell that the boys were a bit nervous too. Michael began coming into our room in the middle of the night. He insisted that he heard someone banging around in the attic.”

“That fucking attic,” Chad chimed in.

Emily looked at him and repeated, “That fucking attic.”

I felt Chris’s hand tighten on my own and glanced at him, I knew he shouldn’t be listening to this, but this story was too good to abandon.

“What was in the fucking attic?” I asked.

“I’m going to need another drink,” Chris said. Emily started to get up but he motioned for her to stay seated. “I’ll get the refills, kitchen is through there, right?”

Emily began to protest but I said, “Let him go, he doesn’t want to hear this part.”

“Smart man,” Chad said, “I’ll come with you, I don’t like this part either.”

We watched the guys walk inside and I had a twinge of regret, I didn’t know if I wanted to hear this either.

Emily said, “Your husband is really sweet.”

“He is,” I agreed. “He’s my favorite. Now quick, what happened in the attic?”

She smiled and began, “So, the house was freaking massive. Way too big for us. Each of the kids had their own damn bedroom, and then there was our master and a guest room to boot. The third floor was an unfinished attic that the developer said he’d come back to finish for us when we were ready. The door to the attic was right next to our bedroom, it lead to a full set of stairs to the upper floor.

“When we looked at the plans for the house I thought the attic would make a cool office someday but once we’d moved into the house, there was something absolutely repellent about the space. I never even wanted to open the door, let alone climb those stairs.

“So when Michael started to complain about someone stomping around in the attic in the middle of the night, I had no desire whatsoever to check it out. I sent Chad. He wasn’t particularly psyched about going up there either, but he did, and of course, he didn’t find anything.

“This happened a few nights in a row and then I just gave in and said Mikey could sleep in his sleeping bag on our bedroom floor. Then one night the stomping woke me up. I tried to wake Chad but he was sound asleep and so was Mikey. I didn’t want to wake him so I tiptoed out of the room and stood in front of the attic door, just listening. There wasn’t any noise, but I had this, like, overwhelming urge to go up there.”

“Nope,” I said.

“Well, right, I mean, totally. But, this feeling completely overwhelmed the fear. I put my hand out to turn the doorknob and it turned itself. I felt it slip under my hand.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I said before draining my wine glass.

“Even worse,” Emily continued, “Was that as I snatched my hand away from the door knob someone, or something banged really hard from the other side of the door. I screamed and woke everyone in the house. Chad ran out into the hallway in his boxers all disoriented.

“I told him that someone was in the attic. I ran into our bedroom as he swung the attic door open, and I grabbed my cell phone and herded the kids into Maggie’s room and locked the door. I called the police, but before they arrived Chad had already come downstairs to say that he hadn’t found anyone up there.”

“What did the police do?” I asked.

“They looked around the entire house and even searched the yard and they didn’t find a blessed thing. They were wonderful, I mean, they didn’t make me feel like I had overreacted at all, but they couldn’t really give us any answers either. It was the second time we’d called 911 since moving into the house and they suggested that perhaps we were just hearing the new house ‘settling.’

“I didn’t buy it for a second, but what could I say? ‘No Officer, it’s definitely a ghost, could you please call the exorcism team?’ All we could do was be embarrassed and thank them. But the next day I got a padlock for the attic door and prayed that would be the last of it.”

“But it wasn’t,” I guessed.

“Not by a fucking long shot. Oh good,” she said, brightening. “Here come the guys.”

I smiled at Chris as he sat down and he just shook his head at me and handed me a fresh glass of wine.

“Thanks,” I said, accepting the drink, knowing that I owed him big time for making him listen to this terrifying story.

“You owe me big time,” he said as he sat back down and asked, “Did I miss the worst part?”

“One of them,” Emily said apologetically. She turned to Chad and said, “I just told her about the attic, when we had the police come.”

Chad took a sip of his beer and replied, “That night sealed the deal for me, I had the alarm company back out and had cameras installed everywhere. I was convinced that we had some insane neighbor who was screwing with us. I mean, I tried to convince myself that was what it was. But how the hell could I protect these guys from something I couldn’t see?”

“That’s awful, man,” Chris said.

Chad nodded his head in agreement, “We were all on high alert, and nothing really happened until – “

“The book club,” Emily finished for him.

“Shit, right!” Chad said enthusiastically. “That woman, what the hell was her name?”

“Colleen Barron,” Emily answered, rolling her eyes. “I’d attended the fall kick off for the neighborhood book club a week after we moved in and, like an idiot, I signed up to host the September get together. I’d figured that it would motivate me to pull the house together quickly.

“We were in pretty good shape, on the first floor anyway. The kid’s rooms were coming together slowly, and we still had a ton of boxes in the basement, but on the surface, we were pretty settled in. I couldn’t back out of hosting because we’d experienced a few weird things, so I had to just buck up and do it.

“About ten women came from the neighborhood, we were supposed to discuss Primates of Park Avenue, but everyone just ended up chatting and drinking too much. Honestly? It was great, I felt more like myself than I had since we’d moved. I even dared to think that maybe everything we’d been experiencing had just been, like, stress induced.

“The evening was wrapping up and these two women hung behind at my kitchen island. Once everyone else had stumbled out, one of them, Colleen, said, ‘Please don’t think I’m a wacko, but, I am a psychic medium.’

“My heart fucking dropped. She seriously popped my denial balloon with that crazy ass declaration. I just knew what she was about to tell me. I mean, I didn’t exactly know, but that’s what popped right into my mind when she said she was a psychic – ‘She knows about the ghosts.’

“What did she tell you?” I asked, enthralled by this story, but wanting Chris to call an uber immediately. I had to pee but I didn’t want to go inside alone, and I didn’t want to have to ask anyone to come with me either.

“She tiptoed around the issue by asking me how our move had gone and how we were settling into the house. I asked her to just cut to the chase, you know? What did she know? She said that the second she walked into the house she’d noticed a shadow lurking at the base of the staircase. It watched her the whole night and when I asked her where it was at that moment, she said ‘it’s gone back under the porch.’”

“Fuuuuuuuck,” I said slowly.

“Yeah. Then she went on to tell me that there was a woman there too, whom she’d spoken to in my bathroom. This ghost woman was so confused about the house that it was hard for Colleen to completely understand what had happened to her but she knew that the woman hid in the attic most of the time. Apparently there was also a man who sort of lurked around outside and in the garage and he was super angry. He had some sort of connection with the woman.

“She warned me that there might be more going on in the house but that the dark shadow under the porch was blocking her from seeing the full picture. She also said, ‘I really don’t like those woods back there, honey,’ referring to our back yard. I wanted to know how the fuck this could be happening in a brand new home, and she pointed out that there had been a house on the property before ours. It had been torn down to build our home.

“Then the other woman, Becky, the one that had stayed behind with Colleen, chimed in and told me about this website, diedinhouse.com. They said I should start my research there,” Emily said before taking a sip of her drink.

“I’ve checked that site before every single move!” I exclaimed.

“What in the hell is diedinhouse.com?” Chris demanded.

“It tells you who’s died in your house,” I replied, trying really hard not to follow it with ‘Duh.’

Chris looked at me as if seeing me for the first time, “I can’t imagine what goes on in that head.”

I rolled my eyes, and asked Emily, “Anyway, you checked the website and what came back from their search?”

“A murder/suicide,” Emily replied.

“What?” I demanded. “How is that possible?”

“The owner of the company, the guy that started the website, he actually called me. He left a message on my cell phone saying that one of his employees brought my search results to his attention and he asked me to call him back.”

“Nuh uh,” I said in disbelief.

“Yup. When one of their background checks turns up something particularly nasty, like a murder or a meth lab, he calls the client personally. He said it’s only happened a handful of times but he wanted to walk me through the search and, get this, ‘point me in the direction of some further research strategies if we planned to move forward with the home purchase.’”

“What did he say when you told him you were already in the house?” Chris asked.

“He was silent for a moment then suggested that I still do the research in case ‘anything came up in the future.’” Emily laughed, mirthlessly.

“Ok, so did you start packing immediately?” I asked.

“No, but we should have,” Emily admitted. “I followed the guy’s advice and did the research. Apparently, there was a man and a woman who lived in the original little ranch house on the property. In the winter of 1967 the man lost his mind, tied his wife up in their family room, stabbed her to death and then hung himself in the basement. But before he hung himself, the newspaper delivery boy came to the door to collect his dues for the month. The guy was covered in blood when he answered the door and killed the kid to keep him quiet. He carried the boy’s body out to the woods before he hung himself.”

“We asked a few of the neighbors if they had ever heard anything about the murders but none of them had lived there long enough to know anything about it,” Chad said. “We did find out that the home had been a rental property since the seventies until it was bought to be redeveloped. One woman in the neighborhood had lived there for about ten years and she told us that the renters had turned over constantly. No ever lived there for more than a year as long as she could remember.”

“What did your developer say about all this?” Chris asked leaning forward.

“You don’t have to disclose deaths in Massachusetts,” Chad answered with an angry laugh.

“I thought there was at least a seven year rule,” I said.

“Nope. Trust me, we talked to a lawyer, sellers do not have to disclose if there have been deaths on a property,”

“That sucks, man,” Chris said. “How did you get out of it?”

“We’d only been there for a little over a month, we were going to take a hit moving so quickly, but Em wanted nothing to do with the place.”

“I tried to get a couple priests out to bless the place, but I just didn’t have any luck,” Emily said, defensively.

“What was the final straw?” I asked.

The couple exchanged a look, Chris took a huge gulp of his beer and I leaned forward in my seat.

Emily began, “We were just trying to digest the information about the deaths in the house and figure out what to do. There was weird shit happening, like, constantly. I was climbing the stairs one night on my way to bed and when I looked up I saw a shadow hovering at the top step. It was fucking huge. I had to go up there to get to the kids, but I was so scared I couldn’t move. Eventually it just, sort of disappeared, well, not disappeared, it was almost like it got sucked backwards.”

“No way,” Chris said quietly.

“We heard walking in the attic, too,” Chad added. “Always around the middle of the night. One Saturday morning I finally made myself go up there to take a look. No one was there, but I found a pile of our stuff in one corner.”

“We’d been misplacing things since we moved in the house, or, at least that’s what we thought,” Emily explained. “Sometimes they would show up randomly in another room from where we’d left them. The kid’s sneakers behind the bathroom door, or my keys in the fruit bowl – usually, it was easily explained away. But some stuff actually did go missing and it was so annoying. We tried to blame the kids for it, but they swore they hadn’t been taking things.”

“Yeah, so… the pile in the attic,” Chad said trailing off.

“Shut the fuck up,” I said, excitedly. “The things you lost were in a pile in the attic?”

“Yes. The door had been padlocked, no one had been up there since that freaky night but there was a pair of my sunglasses, one of our remote controls, a few plates, and, what else?” He asked Emily.

“A couple toys and there were some books that I know I hadn’t unpacked from the boxes yet,” she confirmed.

“Yeah, I would have been out of there immediately,” I said.

“Right, well, that was scary, but that wasn’t what made me call the realtor,” Emily said slowly. “There was this one night. The kids were asleep and we were watching television in the living room. I thought I saw something, like, out of the corner of my eye outside near the sliding glass door.”

“I’d noticed it a few minutes before,” Chad affirmed. “But I looked out and nothing was there, so I tried to ignore it so we could have a normal night for once.”

Emily continued, “Right, I mentioned it, but sort of dismissively. I felt the same way, I just wanted to drink a glass of wine and zone out watching Game of Thrones.”

“You truly are my people,” I said.

“For Pete’s sake just let them finish the damn story,” Chris pleaded.

Emily smiled and continued, “I was making a comment about needing to get curtains for the sliding glass door when we heard a light tap-tap-tap at the front door. It was so faint, but we both heard it, and we froze.”

“I muted the television and we listened in silence before it dawned on me to go take a look on the computer to check out the camera feed from outside,” Chad said.

“Yeah, and I followed him,” Emily went on. “I didn’t want to be left alone, I had this feeling of, like, overwhelming anxiety.”

“So I grabbed the laptop from the kitchen and we sat back down on the couch. I pulled up the camera feed for the front and back doors and it was clear – no one was out there. We watched it for a couple of minutes, reasoning away the noise we heard, when all of a sudden someone started banging on the front door,” said Chad.

“It was so loud I jumped and nearly knocked the computer off his lap,” Emily went on. “It startled us so much that it took us a moment to see, or, I mean, not see what was on the computer screen. Someone was banging on the front door but there was no one at the front door.”

“It was the damnedest fucking thing,” Chad affirmed. “My brain couldn’t catch up with what was happening. I sat there like an idiot listening to this banging and staring at the computer screen. It was impossible. Then all of a sudden it stopped. Silence.”

“That was even worse,” Emily insisted. “We didn’t move, we just stared at the computer screen and waited.”

“Then it came to the porch again, to the sliding glass door. I thought the glass was going to shatter it was banging so hard. Em ran upstairs to grab the kids and get them in one room and I stayed downstairs and called the police and told them someone was trying to break into the house, even though I knew that wasn’t what was happening. I didn’t know what the fuck I was dealing with. So the cops came again and walked through and around the house, and again they didn’t find a thing,” Chad said with irritation.

“Right, but this time they really checked the backyard near the tree line” Emily said. “One of the officers, this older man, he went into the backyard while we were talking to the female cop in the kitchen. When he came back, he was acting, I don’t know, like, strange. I even asked, ‘what is it, what did you see?’ He wouldn’t answer me, he just shook his head.”

“Yeah and I totally saw him exchange a look with the other officer,” Chad affirmed. “The next morning, Em called our real estate agent and asked her to show us everything on the market.”

“What did you tell her?” I asked.

“I said that we didn’t like being in such a remote spot, that it was too much of a culture shock for us, moving to the suburbs from the city, blah, blah, blah. I told her we wanted a smaller, older house in a more populated neighborhood. I tried to play it off like we were a picky couple from Manhattan. We looked at a few places and I called the owner of diedinhouse.com to do a personalized records search for me, and we landed in this house,” Emily explained, pointing to their home.

“It was built in 1933, was not constructed upon Native American burial grounds, and, according to public records, no one has ever died on this property. We are the fourth family to occupy the home,” Chad concluded as though reading from a report.

“But what about your other house?” Chris asked. “How’d you get rid of it?”

“After we moved our things out, I finally found a Unitarian minister to come over and bless the property,” Emily replied. “We put the house on the market and it sold in about two months to a family relocating from Connecticut.”

“And nothing followed you from that house?” I asked.

The couple did that sideways glance at each other again and then looked back at me.

“Aaaaand, that’s where I tap out,” Chris said. He put his drink on the side of his chair and took his phone out of his back pocket. “I’m calling an Uber, and then I’m going to wait in the driveway. Chad, man, that shit is fucked up, but I will see you tomorrow in the office. I’ll swing by to grab my car in the morning.

“Emily, you have a lovely home, we need to have you over soon and get the kids together. Peace out,” And with that he stood, shook Chad’s hand, gave Emily a kiss on the cheek and turned to me. “See you out front in ten minutes.”

We all watched him walk around the side of the house and I said, “OK, so what followed you here?”

“It wasn’t just the dead people at that house, there was something else, something dark. That medium from the book club said so too. Em thinks the murders and the suicide attracted something to the property and it might have latched onto us.”

“What’s happened at this house?” I demanded.

Emily glanced at Chad, “Nothing major, just stuff out of the corner of my eye, you know, weird feelings. It could totally just be, like, posttraumatic stress. But Alison said she saw something from her window the other night, and – ”

“I have someone that I can put you in touch with,” I interrupted, thinking of Biddy. “She knows people who can get rid of these things.”

“We would really appreciate it,” Emily said. “I mean, this house has a totally different vibe, but I just want to be sure.”

“I would feel the exact same way,” I said, wanting to get out of there, immediately. “I’ll call this woman first thing in the morning and have her get in touch. She will know exactly what to do.”


 

I followed the couple inside and placed my wine glass and Chris’s beer mug into the sink. I asked to use the restroom, said good-bye to the traumatized couple and met Chris in the driveway just as the Uber was pulling up.

“Sorry,” I said a bit sheepishly. I knew he was pissed, and it was totally called for.

We crawled into the black Suburban and turned to our cell phones. I was searching for Biddy’s contact information when it hit me

“Oh shit,” I said, realization dawning.

“What now?” Chris demanded.

“It’s nothing. I just forgot something,” I replied, my hand at my neck. I’d taken off my blessed St. Benedict medal when I was getting dressed because it didn’t look right with my outfit.

“There’s no way I’m sleeping tonight,” Chris complained.

“I know, I’m sorry, but, it’s fine. Everything’s going to be fine,” I said, trying to convince myself.

Me And My Shadow (And My Shadow’s Yellow Eyes)

We are having some work done on the new house. It’s nothing major, but whenever I get an update on the renovation timeline from our contractors, I hear Tom Hanks and Shelley Long laughing and whispering “two weeks” in my ear. In the meantime, all five of us (and the two dogs) are holed up at the Residence Inn, or as I like to call it, The Grand Cluster Fuck. The family logistics are a mind numbing, patience-testing time suck, but I did manage to go out for a walk with a real live ex-paranormal investigator recently.

I met her at the Wellesley Wonderful Weekend Picnic in the Park. It was a fever dream of bouncy houses, ice cream trucks, toy carts and wild children hopped up on sugar and the freedom of knowing their parents won’t yell at them in public in front of all their neighbors. We ran into friends and set up our blankets near one another. Snuck some wine in to-go cups and chased each other’s kids around, trying really, really hard not to lose one of them again this year.

I ran into Nick Sayles (Ouija board creeper) with his wife Maeve and their son. It was a touch awkward. He congratulated me on our newest addition, and his wife cooed over Kat, confessing that they had been trying for another baby.

“You can borrow this one whenever you like,” I told her.

“Don’t tempt me,” she said.

“Hey, wait here,” Nick instructed, then disappeared into the preppy crowd. I made small talk with Maeve, asked after her best friend Jenn (poltergeist woman), and discussed our move and the house renovation.

C was off with the two older girls in the candy-themed bouncy house and I was sweating my ass off with Kat in the front pack. As we chatted, Maeve’s son kicked her in the shin over and over saying that he wanted ice cream which made me want to go get the biggest ice cream cone I could find and eat it in front of him while describing how incredibly delicious it was.

Finally, Nick reappeared with a woman I’d seen around town. She is one of those people that I share a schedule with. You know the ones? I see her every single time I go to Whole Foods. We get coffee at the same time and use the same dry cleaner. At any rate, we were un-introduced acquaintances and we smiled at each other in recognition.

“Liz, I wanted you to meet Biddy,” Nick said.

“Hi Biddy,” I said, holding out my hand for a shake. “You’re my errand partner.”

With a laugh she replied, “That’s right! I see you all over town.”

“Biddy used to be on our team,” Nick said.

It took me a moment to understand what he meant, and then it dawned on me, “Oh! Your investigation team, cool,” I smiled at them, but immediately felt suspicious of this woman. Who would want to spend extra time with Nick?

“Biddy was our Case Manager and Researcher, but she decided that the job didn’t suit her any longer,” Nick gave a forced laugh and clapped Biddy on her upper arm.

The awkward gesture made me flinch and Biddy’s stony reaction caused further social discomfort. We all stood for a moment, exchanging glances and I broke the silence and said, “Well, it was great to meet you, Biddy, and to catch up with you all, but I’d better go check in to see how C is doing with the girls.”

Nick nodded his head and Maeve smiled. Biddy asked, “Are they by the bouncy houses? I’ll walk that way with you, my daughter is waiting in line to climb the Special Ops course and I should check in with her.”

“Great!” I replied, meaning, no thanks.

“I didn’t leave paranormal investigating because it doesn’t suit me,” Biddy explained as we walked away. “I left it because it is dangerous. People like Nick think they have all the answers, but the truth is no one knows what’s out there. The only thing I am sure of is that it’s nothing to play around with.”

“I would love to hear some of your stories if you ever wanted to talk about them,” I said. “I write a blog, and -”

“Nick told me,” Biddy interrupted. “I would be happy to talk to you about the reality of ghost hunting. Do you walk?”

This question threw me for a moment because I was walking right alongside her. Then, I realized what she meant and nodded my head.

“Good, let’s meet up for a walk around Lake Waban, at the college. Do you know the path?” Biddy asked.

I did. Biddy suggested a date and we exchanged numbers so we could text. We said goodbye and I watched her walk over to an adorable teenage girl with a long blond ponytail. Biddy high-fived her and clapped her hands as the girl launched herself into the obstacle course.


On the appointed day and time, I left Kat with a babysitter and drove over to the Wellesley College campus. It had undergone its annual spring transformation. Lush plantings of all shapes and sizes blanketed the grounds, while wise old trees rolled their wise old tree eyes at the undergrads, having seen it all and then some.

I was well acquainted with the path around Lake Waban, but the healthy greenery disoriented me so much that I missed the entrance to the parking garage and had to wind around for a few minutes before I found my way back. Let’s be clear, it was a case of foliage disorientation – not “mommy brain.”

Once parked in the strange garage (the structure reminded me of Chinese wok), I strolled along a campus pathway towards the lake. You know, I loves me some background research, but Lake Waban, the body of water we intended to trek around, is a secretive little minx. And by that, I mean, several Google searches didn’t produce much information about the big puddle. I did find an article from the college newspaper that a nearby pond (Paintshop Pond) had been used as a dumping ground for a paint factory. Lead snuck it’s way into Lake Waban, and the college footed a hefty environmental clean up bill for the contamination.

A bit of forest, Wellesley College, and a handful of homes surround Lake Waban, and a path skirts it’s shores. The day that Biddy and I took our stroll, a sickly layer of greenish yellow pollen coated the lake’s serene surface. It was late May and it felt like the trees and whatnot had sneezed all over everything.

I was feeling optimistic. I’d put on the Moving 15 (not to be confused with the Freshman 15, the Winter 15, or the I Need to Cut Back To Just One Glass of Chardonnay a Night 15), and this walk felt so “active lifestyle” of me. I’d even worn workout clothes and sneakers. The exercise hadn’t been my idea, but that was neither here nor there.

I was staring out at the water when I heard my name called. I turned to see Biddy approaching in patterned shorts (J Crew) and a navy blue polo shirt with a popped collar. She wore pink slip on sneakers that looked like they might be Vans and her medium length coffee brown hair was pulled back into a high, bouncy ponytail.

She pushed her Wayfarers up and said, “Hey! I hope you weren’t waiting long, am I late?”

“Not at all, I just walked down here,” I replied.

Biddy’s long, toned legs traversed the distance between us at quite a clip and I began to worry whether I would be able to keep up with her on our walk. I also felt like a dope for getting all Sporty Spiced out and I coveted her crisp shorts and a preppy polo.

“Let’s do this,” Biddy said, and we headed down a paved walkway, past a little hill of tall grass that lead us to the lake’s footpath.

I fell in step alongside Biddy and did my best to match her pace. I had to hold my digital recorder up in front of us and felt like a reporter in an eighties superhero movie. After chatting a bit about her daughter (fifteen, at Wellesley High School, straight-A student, lacrosse/volleyball/swimming) and Biddy’s job (human resources director at a large consulting firm in Waltham) I finally asked her how in the world she got into ghost hunting.

“I don’t really seem the type, do I?” She mused.

“Not really, no,” I said as we walked across a long wooden bridge over a buggy, but picturesque marshland. I continued, “But the field does seem to attract type-A’s.”

“I come across as a type A?” She demanded.

“Well, I mean, you just seem like you’re a get it done sort of person,” I replied, a bit out of breath.

“I’m just fucking with you,” she said glancing over at me with a smile. “I know I come on a bit strong, and I agree. There’s something about ghost hunting that attracts strong personalities. I mean, look at Nick.”

I made a sound of agreement, saving my breath.

Biddy explained, “I grew up in a haunted house in upstate New York. It was a classic haunt, some residual stuff and a little intelligent interaction. We had slamming doors, disembodied voices, and one apparition, an old woman in overalls. I saw her a handful of times and we heard footsteps on the creaky floorboards all the time. Nothing too scary.”

“That registers to me as very scary,” I said.

[Side Note: For clarification, ghost hunters and paranormal researchers classify four different types of hauntings. A residual haunting is one that is sort of like one of those online gifs that play over and over. Like a bulldog on a skateboard, or a sleeping cat falling off the couch. Only, instead of a cute video set to replay itself, a residual haunting is suspected to be a place memory. It might be a traumatic event or something important that happened in someone’s life, and it plays in a loop – think Daryl Hannah in High Spirits.

A step up from this is the intelligent haunting. In these cases, there is a supposed spirit interacting with people. A ghost may tap or move items in an attempt to communicate, or frighten. Then there poltergeist hauntings, which appear to be tied to an individual who unknowingly provides telekinetic or emotional fuel for the beings. Finally, there are demonic hauntings. It is widely accepted in the paranormal community (and in many religious ones, too) that the goal of a demonic haunt is to break down a person’s will so the demon may eventually possess the haunted person.]

Biddy continued, “Don’t get me wrong, there were freaky moments, but my older sister and I shared a room and nicknamed the ghost Old Mrs. McDonald to make light of it. It didn’t frighten me so much as make me want to know everything that I could about the paranormal. I probably read every book in the occult section of our town library three times. My sister and I would go to Blockbuster and study all of the video cases in the horror section, of course my mom would never let us rent any.”

“When did you start actually looking for ghosts?” I asked.

“In college. I joined a club called the Upstate Ghost Hunters. We mostly sat around and drank Milwaukee’s Best and told each other urban legends and tried to pass them off as our own stories. But we did manage to investigate a few haunted places. We broke into an old abandoned factory and that was the first time I ever captured an EVP. It was the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me up to that point.”

“You grew up in a house with an overall-wearing grandmother ghost,” I said in disbelief.

“Right, but this was different. It was hard proof that something was actually happening. It couldn’t be explained away by an overactive imagination or wishful thinking.”

I was completely out of breath at this point and unable to say more than a few words at a time. We were walking through a particularly tree root laden area and I said, “What did the EVP say? Uh-oh, OH! WHOOOA!”

And then I went full on, ass-over-teakettle and landed awkwardly on my side. By some small blessing I was still clutching my voice recorder, and, by some small curse, it captured every little detail of the mortifying moment.

After much fussing and assuring that I was fine and that my skinned knee and elbow didn’t hurt one bit (truthfully, they burned like a motherfucker and I had blood all over my shirt and soaking through my sock), I caught my breath, brushed my hands off and started laughing.

“That was exciting,” Biddy said in an unsuccessful attempt to stop herself from laughing along with me. I couldn’t even respond I was laughing so hard.
Finally, I said, “I think I am going to wet my pants,” and I had to run back behind some Rhododendrons to pee.

“Alright,” I said, popping back through the foliage. “Can we try this again, but at a slower clip? I haven’t the coordination for power walking.”

“Of course!” Biddy said, “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize, I am a total spaz,” I replied. “Before I took that epic digger, I think you were about to tell me about the first EVP you recorded.”

“Yes, right. We were investigating a factory and my friend, Kim, and I wandered upstairs to this huge open room. We walked to its center and turned on our recorder to do an EVP session. We asked the usual questions, you know, ‘what is your name, do you know what year it is, can you give us a sign of your presence.’

“At first, all we got was silence, then I said something like, ‘My name is Biddy, can you say my name?’ and something responded. It said ‘Bridget.’ That’s my real name, Biddy is my nickname.”

“No way,” I replied.

“Yeah, it was amazing. Whatever responded was intelligent,” she said, tapping her finger on her temple.

“That’s more than just an accurate response,” I reasoned. “I mean it knew something about you specifically.”

“That’s right, and we caught another EVP that night. I asked it where I was from and it gave me my street name, Hepplewhite Drive. That’s not really a common name, it was very specific.”

“But how could some random ghost in an old factory know these things?” I asked.

“That was just the beginning. I think that was the night that I really opened up and it took the opportunity to jump into my life.”

“What did?” I asked.

“The supernatural,” Biddy pointed to two swans floating on the water not far off shore.

“Nasty animals,” I commented. “My husband grew up on a lake and a swan drowned their neighbors dog. Stood on him and flapped his wings to keep him under water.”

“Horrible!” Biddy replied. “Do you have a dog?” Biddy asked.

“Two,” I replied. “Westies, little white terriers.”

“Be careful if you bring them out here, actually anywhere in town. A coyote just got a dog off Weston Road. Those things are vicious.”

“So I’ve heard.”

We continued walking and I asked Biddy what she had meant by letting the supernatural in the night she recorded the EVPs.

“I think I made myself a beacon. I was primed and ready, having grown up in the haunted house and then having studied the paranormal so thoroughly I could have Mastered in it. I knew just what to look for, and I think that’s what made it look for me.

“After that night I could capture EVPs pretty much anywhere I went. But they were random, for a while anyway. My little ghost hunting team started to actually experience things. A door slammed in a home we were investigating when we asked the ghost for a sign of its presence. A ball rolled across the floor in an abandoned hospital supposedly haunted by children ghosts. It took me a very long time to realize that these things only happened when I was around; the team never had much luck when I didn’t go out on a hunt with them.

“After college I moved to Boston, and left those friends behind. I worked in the city for a couple years and met my husband. We got married, had our daughter and moved out to Wellesley. I didn’t do any ghost hunting when Alice was really little, though I would occasionally do some EVP sessions. I did one session in our house, right before we moved in, and I caught a voice saying, ‘Biddy’s home.’ I found it reassuring.”

“No, no, no,” I blurted. “That is, in no way, reassuring.”

“I know that now,” Biddy said forcefully. “But, at that time anyway, I was still under the impression that there were harmless ghosts just sittin’ around, waitin’ for the opportunity to talk into my voice recorder. That they had nothing better to do than answer my questions with one word responses and say things like ‘Get out,’ and ‘Help.’”

“What changed?” I asked.

“Well, once Alice was in school full-time, I needed a project. So I went and put together a ghost hunting team. One of my friends was really into it, she loved the whole thrill of it, and then another friend’s husband was a techie guy and liked gadgets, so the three of us sought out haunted places and explored them.

“Eric, the techie guy, made a simple website and posted some of our EVPs and videos. We were good and word sort of got around about us. We began to get emails from people with haunted houses. People who wanted us to document the activity and people who wanted us to talk to their ghosts and ask them to leave. For several years, I travelled all over New England doing just that.”

“What were some of the scariest things you saw?” I asked.

Biddy glanced sideways at me, “You’re really into this stuff aren’t you?”

“Scary ghost stories? Yes, I love them,” I replied.

She considered a moment, and then said, “Ghosts, or whatever they are, moving objects or slamming doors, or appearing one way or another is startling, and it is impressive. The EVPs can be chilling, depending upon the circumstances and the message being conveyed, but above all else, the most terrifying things that I encountered were the shadow people.”

“Eek,” I said dramatically. “You’ve actually seen a shadow person?”

“Several,” Biddy affirmed. “The very first time that I encountered one I was doing an investigation in this house in Vermont. The family had five kids; one of them had special needs, a little ten-year-old girl with Down syndrome. There was some freaky stuff happening in the house, mostly poltergeist-like activity, but the reason the parents reached out to us was because the little girl had been playing with a child ghost, who was warning her of the ‘angry men.’

“On top of that it seemed that everyone in the family was having health issues. Dizziness, nausea, fevers. The parents were at each other’s throats, but they could discern that it wasn’t really them fighting with each other, they were being influenced. Oppressed.

“I honestly wondered if maybe there was a drug problem in the family. But we interviewed friends and neighbors and everyone seemed to be on the same page, even their pastor. He was the most adamant that we investigate the house. So we did.

“I was sitting in a chair, getting a feel for the home. I used to do that, before we brought in all of our gadgets and started the investigation. I liked to get a lay of the land, a sense of the home, you know, its vibe. I was sitting there quietly and something walked past me, a bit too close to my chair. It brushed my shoulder, kept walking and went through the doorway to the kitchen.  At first I thought it was one of the guys on my team. I was annoyed, actually, because I liked to have at least a few minutes to myself in the house.”

“When did you realize it wasn’t a team member?” I prompted.

“When I turned to the doorway to ask what they needed,” Biddy stopped walking and put her hands on her hips and stared into the trees. I stopped too. We were in a heavily wooded part of the trail, just able to glimpse the lake through the thick tree line.

I swatted at the gnats gathering around us and asked, “What? Did you just see something?” If I had to jump in that damn lake to get away from a shadow figure you can bet your ass that I would do it and I would drag Biddy along with me in a lifeguard hold.

“No, no,” Biddy replied with a small smile. “It’s just that this stuff, stays with you. It’s hard to shake, and that night changed my life. That night, I turned to the doorway and there was a figure standing there, as clear as day. It was the outline of a man, but it wasn’t the outline of a man, because it wasn’t a man. It was huge, at least seven feet tall, and it was so still.

“For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what was so off about it, and then I realized, it was the arms. The arms were a touch longer than a person’s, just long enough to not be right. And the torso was a little bit short. It was like a mimic of a man.”

“What did you do? What did it do?” I demanded.

“Well, I stood up and took a step toward it, almost willing it to be only a trick of the light. And when I took a step forward, it did too. I fell back into the seat and then scrambled out the front door,” Biddy laughs and shakes her head. “It wasn’t my proudest moment as a paranormal investigator. I had a reputation for being tough as nails, but that thing? It had an almost predatory vibe coming off of it. Like a coyote waiting to pounce.”

“Did you have to go back into the house?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” Biddy replied. “Sorry, we can keep walking,” she motioned for us to continue on the path. “The team was excited, this is what we had been looking for, right? The problem was that it had been looking for us too.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“These things, I mean no one can know for sure, but it is suspected that they are ancient. Some people refer to them as elementals. You can find people who can cast them out, but they are so powerful that there are no guarantees, and once they see you, you can’t be unseen.”

“How the hell did this thing end up in that home?” I asked.

“I only have theories and they are mostly concocted from recurring coincidences. There are certain constants. Suicide, drugs, mental or sexual abuse, the Ouija board, Reiki, occult practices. Dark stuff. You know, I spoke to a Catholic priest once who had visions. He had seen demons doing the same moves that we call yoga in order to conjure dark power.”

“Uh uh,” I said.

“Yeah,” she confirmed. “In the case of this family, once we dug deep enough, we found out that their teenage son had been messing with Tarot cards and had gotten his hands on an occult book that had a spell in it to conjure a succubus.”

“Cut it out,” I said, shocked.

“Nope, he wanted to call up a sexual demon. Fucking teenage boys,” Biddy said shaking her head. She had a great way of really wringing out swear words for everything they were worth. ‘Fucking’ came out ‘fuuuh-king.’

She continued, “The home was ripe for the taking, the parents were pretty stressed out, you know, five kids and all, one of which had special needs. They were not at all religious, and had absolutely no protection whatsoever. And to top it off, they lived in a home that was over ninety years old.

“All of these things, taken one by one, wouldn’t necessarily amount to anything, but together? Together they created an environment that lead to very dark paranormal activity.”

“Well, I would think that trying to conjure a female sex demon would be enough to do you in,” I commented.

“Not necessarily,” Biddy replied. “You could go home and do that today, but chances are good it would be just play acting for you. I think that house had some darkness attached to it, the people were stressed, sad and negative, and the boy’s intention was very strong. He didn’t manage to conjure a sex demon, instead he caught the attention of the shadow people. And one of those shadow men followed me home. Or, I should say, it met me at home.”

“Fuck that,” I said.

“Yeah, I felt so irresponsible, and my husband was pissed. I think before he actually saw the shadow figure for himself, he thought this ghost hunting was just some eccentric hobby for me. You know, ‘the little lady needs something to work her mind.’ Just as long as it didn’t disturb his ability to leave for work early every morning and know that I had everything under control on the home front so he could relax and watch television in peace when he got back home at night, then I could do whatever I wanted.

“But then Andrew saw the shadow man. I was at that Vermont case and when I got home he was waiting for me in the living room. I used to get home late, at like five in the morning. I’d stay up to get Alice off to school and then go to sleep for a few hours. Usually, he’d be asleep when I got home, but the second I walked in and saw him waiting, I knew something was wrong.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“He had been asleep when he was startled awake to feel the sheets being pulled down around him. He said it felt as though two people were pulling down on the sheet on either side of the bed. At first he thought maybe it was Alice and me messing around with him. Then he woke up completely and realized what was happening. He could barely breath; the sheet was so tight across his chest. Then he noticed the thing at the foot of the bed. It was the shadow figure, standing there, motionless.

“Andrew said he was struggling so hard that he was unable to speak. He was terrified that the thing was going to get to Alice. The figure leaned over the bed and didn’t actually speak because it didn’t have a mouth, but somehow Andrew heard it say my name. Then all of a sudden it was gone and he could move. He jumped up, checked on Alice, found her sound asleep and sat outside her doorway until he heard my car pull in.”

“Please tell me that is the only thing that happened in your house,” I begged.

“Oh no, that was just the beginning. I met him the following night. I had what I thought was a nightmare about a shadow figure leaning over me in bed tapping on my shoulder. Just tap, tap tapping. It had these dull yellow eyes. Not what you see in horror movies, they weren’t glowing or anything. No, they were a sickly yellow, clouded. When I woke up I could barely move my arm. I went into the bathroom and took off my shirt. My shoulder was completely black and blue,” Biddy pointed to her left arm.

“Lord help us,” I said.

“I told my husband about the dream and when I told him about the yellow eyes, he lost it. He told me the thing that had pinned him to the bed had yellow eyes, but he had left that detail out because it had frightened him so much.”

“Don’t even tell me,” I said. We were just a little more than halfway around the lake, and I wanted, very badly, to be back at my car. But all of a sudden the thought of that weird parking garage terrified me. I wondered if Biddy would walk me to my car.

“The good thing,” Biddy continued relentlessly, “was that I didn’t wait a second to get help clearing the thing from my house. I knew we were in deep trouble and I reached out to several people who I knew could help us. Working together, they were able to banish it from the home.”

“Who were they?” I asked, wanting full contact information – names, numbers, email addresses, twitter handles – just in case.

“A psychic that I met at one of our investigations brought along a Wiccan priestess and after they came through I had a local Catholic priest bless the house and leave us with holy water and salt so that I could periodically cleanse the home.”

“And that did it?” I asked skeptically. “That got rid of the thing?”

“From my home, yes. From the rest of my life, no.”

Heaven above, what do you mean?” I asked.

“For one thing, it just fired me up about ghost hunting. I became obsessed, and I think this is part of their attack. Hanging in the shadows, so to speak, letting you glimpse them, so that you become obsessed. That sort of obsession is the beginning of oppression. Also, I think they give you things,” she explained.

“Give you things?” I asked, picturing a shadow figure holding a bouquet of dead flowers in his freakishly long arms.

“Well, it’s more like some of their abilities, or thoughts, rub off on you. Like, how since college paranormal activity would amp up when I was around? I think they’d been around me for a long time, letting me hear and glimpse things so that they could draw me in.

“It was more than intuition, it was like I knew when something was about to happen in a home. I knew to go to the attic or the basement. I knew which questions to ask so that I would get an EVP. I would know which person to press in a case, which one had opened the door to the darkness.”

“Psychically?” I asked.

“Not really, no, just strong feelings that were always right,” she answered quietly. “I began to get deep into the whole paranormal world. I spoke at conferences and taught how to record EVPs. I freaking showed thirteen-year-old kids how to contact ghosts. I would do anything to take that back. What is their next step after EVPs? The Ouija board? Tarot cards?

“Look,” Biddy said, stopping again. “I am not trying to brag, trust me, I am not proud of my past or what I opened people up to, but I was a real heavy hitter in the paranormal field. When I am shopping in Boston, and sometimes when we are away on vacation, people still recognize me and want to tell me their ghost stories.”

“Why did you stop?” I asked. “I mean, if a shadow figure in your house makes you more curious than frightened, what could possibly have happened to make you stop?”

Biddy took a deep breath and blew it out, then began walking again. She said, “I’ve never told anyone this.”

I wanted to say, well, let’s go ahead and keep it that way. But what came out was, “Uh oh.”

“Other ghost hunting teams began referring the really dark cases to us, the ones they couldn’t handle. I was feeling one part badass, one part curious, and one part fraud. I knew that I had absolutely no idea what I was actually dealing with, but I was in way too deep and didn’t know how to back out. My marriage was falling apart, Andrew hated the fact that I was still ghost hunting after I brought that thing home with me. He was terrified and I should have been too. But I was too arrogant to be scared and I had convinced myself that I had it all under control.

“On top of that, I had become consumed with catching voices on the digital recorder. Everywhere I went, I tried, and I was almost always successful. But then I began to capture the same voice everywhere I went.

“It was a pleasant-sounding man’s voice. He was always a bit matter of fact in his answers, kind of like a British man, without the accent. I would typically get one to three word responses to questions. He told me that his name was Poe,” she explained.

“Nope,” I replied, matter-of-factly.

“Well, right,” Biddy agreed. “There was this one time, at a haunted house over in Cambridge, I was doing my initial sweep of the house, sitting quietly and getting the vibe before anyone came in. I took out my recorder and asked if anyone was there with me. I rewound the recording and when I played it back a deep growly voice came through and said, ‘Ah, Bridget, Poe told us about you.’”

“Fuck,” I whispered.

“It was a full sentence, class-A EVP. Clear as day, intelligent and communicative. It was the Holy Grail, and now that I had it, I wished I’d never seen a digital recorder.

“The voice startled me so much that I actually dropped the device on the ground. As I bent down to pick it up, I felt something walk past me, brushing my shoulder. I knew it was the thing that had followed me home. I knew right then that it had never left me, that it was Poe. That it always had been Poe, and I knew I was in deep trouble.

“I slowly sat up, and looked across the room. He, it was there. Staring at me, and it felt like it was almost, amused. Like it was saying, gotcha! I know now what people mean when they say that they were frozen in place. I literally could not move a muscle. Those yellow eyes, God help me, they were evil.” She stopped talking and began walking faster.

My knee hurt and I was trying to keep up, after a moment I said, “Biddy, slow down.”

“Sorry, I’ve never talked about this before. I’m a little anxious,” she said, slowing.

“I can’t imagine why,” I replied sarcastically.

“I don’t remember walking to the front door and out of the house, but there I was and there was my team all around me asking me what was wrong. ‘What happened?’ They wanted to know, ‘should we grab the camera equipment?’

“I walked past them got into my car and drove to a McDonald’s. It was the brightest, most alive place that I could find at that hour. I sat there for a long while drinking dishwater coffee and then I went home and woke my husband up. I apologized for getting involved with these horrible things and asked him to forgive me.”

“And that was it?” I asked. “That sounds way too easy.”

“No, I had to have that psychic team and the priest back to the house three times. Poe found his way back in. It was small disturbing things that let me know he’d returned. I’d glimpse a shadow in a mirror, or have my eyes closed in the shower as I rinsed shampoo from my hair and I would just know that something was standing right in there with me waiting for me to open my eyes.

“We even ended up moving, to a smaller home in a busier neighborhood. We had a more wooded yard before, now houses surround us. I know enough about these things to know that they want to isolate you, keep you in fear and keep you in turmoil with your loved ones. I work hard to live peacefully.”

“But wait, how the hell did you end up working with Nick?” I asked, confused.

“It was a real fucking lapse of judgment,” she said in annoyance. “He started working with Eric, the techie guy from our team, and weaseled my email address out of him. I wasn’t working at the time and Nick insisted that all he needed was someone who could do research and run a background check on families before the team went in and did their investigation.”

“Why would you agree to that after working so hard to get away from it all?” I asked, incredulous.

“It was stupid,” Biddy admits. “But, honestly, I had spent my life in that field, I had amassed such knowledge, and it felt silly to waste it. I figured it would be harmless to do a few property records searches and interview neighbors and such.

“You know, I worry about Nick. He’s too fucking sure of himself, and let’s just say that he is way too cavalier with that damn Ouija board,” Biddy paused, choosing her words. “I’ve seen first hand what this stuff does to people. It is oppressive. Check their family lives, check their medicine cabinets – you won’t find a lot of carefree happiness there. And then there’s the whole what-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg thing.”

“I don’t follow,” I said, confused.

“Well, do people look for the darkness or does it seek them out? Some people think that only depressive, or angry Goth types are drawn to the supernatural. Or only people bent towards magical thinking or prone to depressive or dark thoughts encounter ghosts and demons.

“But then, what about the random housewife who experiences sleep paralysis and sees dark figures in her basement? How about the four-year-old little boy who says there’s a ghost under his bed who tells him things no four-year old could possibly know? What about those people? If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that there’s no certain paranormal “type.” Anyone can be affected, and, on the flip side, there are even some people who, no matter how hard they try, can’t experience a thing.

“The only fact we have is that we don’t know. We really don’t know what the hell the thing we call ‘paranormal’ really is.”

I followed Biddy across a narrow stone bridge that lead us back onto the college campus. It was humid and my knee hurt and I was scared. We actually walked in silence for a while. I considered what she had said and how she could possibly know whether or not that Poe thing was gone.

As we approached the parking garage, Biddy said, “If something takes a liking to you, just know that there are no guarantees. I still have a lot of contacts and I can put you in touch with; powerful people who know how to bind negative energies. But doors do not close. They just don’t. Are you doing anything to protect yourself when you gather these stories?”

My hand went to my chest, to my necklace.

Biddy noted my movement and said, “Good, but you should pray for protection too, and make sure you are constantly checking in on your intention. Curiosity? Fine. Wanting to tell people what it is really like to have a brush with the paranormal? Good. Just don’t get too sure of yourself.”

Biddy considered me for a moment, making me quite uncomfortable, then asked, “Did you really see a little girl spirit standing behind that woman with the haunted sailor’s valentine?”

It took me a moment to catch up, but then I realized she meant Pam. “Yes,” I admitted. “And a little blond girl ghost is -”

“Never really a little blond girl ghost,” Biddy finished. She furrowed her brow, “You’re probably fine but you’re Catholic, right?”

“Well, I grew up Catholic, but -” I began

“Then you’re Catholic,” she said, forcefully. “Go to church for goodness sake and take your family with you. It is fine that you are doing this, just do it to warn people, don’t do it to answer some deep dark question about whether or not we are alone in this world. Trust me, you don’t want to know the answer.”


 

I had the babysitter for Kat until I needed to pick up the older girls at school. When I got home, after showering and applying antiseptic and large Band-Aids to my battle wounds, I made a disappointing cup of Keurig coffee and headed down to the hotel lobby.

I sat with my laptop and Googled Biddy’s name. Countless webpages appeared and dozens of articles referenced her name and expertise. There were images of her on conference hall stages; microphone in hand, PowerPoint slides looming behind her. I had been talking to paranormal royalty and I hadn’t known it.

There was a website devoted to her strongest EVP captures, I listened to a few and then stopped. These were not the made for TV ghost hunting show EVPs. These were recordings of clear voices, responding directly to complicated questions.

I decided to listen to the recording of my interview with Biddy. I wanted to get a jump on transcribing the conversation. I popped in my ear buds and listened up to my to my epic stumble. Amused embarrassment washed over me as I heard Biddy’s are you sure you’re all right’s and my breathless reassurances.

Then I listened to us laughing about the fall.

Only, it wasn’t just us laughing. There had been someone else there with us, laughing at my expense. His laugh was soft and pleasant, almost British sounding, but not quite.

A Small Change and a Ouija Story

We are relocating again, from one Residence Inn to another Residence Inn located closer to our new home. Turns out the one hour and fifteen minute commute isn’t ideal with toddlers, a baby and two dogs. It’s so tricky, in fact, that we are giving up a two-bedroom hotel suite for a studio just to avoid the hellish traffic. So please, forgive me, but I will publish the next ghost story (about an ex-paranormal investigator from Wellesley who has a word of caution for anyone considering dabbling in the field) next Friday.

In the meantime, I am beginning to receive some truly disturbing stories from readers, several of which have chilled me to the core. I’ve been granted permission to publish one of these stories. You all know that I have a bee in my bonnet about Ouija boards. The following tale backs up my fear, and then some. Here it is, in one reader’s own words. She wishes to remain anonymous and I’ve removed identifying information, but if you would like to discuss the situation further, or if you’ve had your own similar encounter, please message me and I will put you in touch with her directly. She (and I) consider this a true cautionary tale.

*******

“Hi Liz,

I wish you had given me that Ouija board tip back in 1985 when I had just graduated from XXX.  I was just at that age where I had picked up so many bad habits that I just couldn’t move back in with my parents, so I did the next best thing, I walked down the street and moved in with my grandmother.  My grandmother ran a boarding house (think Lackawanna Blues) and she was kind enough to let me move into a tiny room off of her kitchen and pay her $100 a month.  My parents lived on the opposite end of the street in XXX, NY.  I had been fascinated with Ouija boards, and had started playing with one in my apartment before I graduated.  The fact that I had called forth an 18th century ghost that kept cutting off my TV, turning my lights on and off and drove my cat crazy wasn’t enough to deter me.  Nope.  The fact that my boyfriend (now husband) left my apartment at the crack of dawn one morning because he said a lady in old-fashioned clothing was standing over the bed and staring at him didn’t deter me either.  The fact that one night I was up late and saw this same woman with her hand on my bannister peering from the top step into my bedroom (like do I know you?) which made me scream, kick my door closed and play Prince songs until well after the sun came up still didn’t deter me.

Nope, I played with the Ouija board in my grandmother’s house.  Now remember this was a boarding house where people rented actual rooms.  People had lived and died in that house and I could remember at least three of them off of the top of my head.  There was Mr. XX who died of old age.  There was XX who died of cancer in his 30’s and I remember this kid XX who I grew up with – he rented a room from my grandmother with his girlfriend and they had a baby who died of crib death.  I remember all of these things.  So needless to say when I played with a Ouija in that particular structure all hell broke loose.

I really don’t like to talk about it but strange things happened, from my bed constantly shaking, to knocking on the walls.  Someone who looked just like my grandmother would walk into the room (my room was right off the door to the basement), go downstairs into the basement and I would come out later only to see my grandmother sitting at the table cutting up vegetables.  Round about this time my grandmother was starting to get Alzheimer’s.  I tried my best with her but she would forget where she parked her car and sometimes she would forget to eat.  My parents told me that they would take care of her and that it was time for me to move out.  My coming and going at all hours was inconsistent and I was too self-absorbed to be of any real consistent help.

Round about this time my sisters had moved out of the apartment that they were sharing upstairs from my parents (it was a two family home) and I was more than happy to high tail it from the ghosties that I had conjured up in my grandmother’s house.  I threw the Ouija board away…I think…I actually don’t remember what I did with it, but I’m pretty sure that I tossed it.  I moved into the apartment, never touched a Ouija and my boyfriend who was now my fiancé told me that I better not ever touch that shit again.  I agreed.

The bad thing was that even though I had walked away from the house and the Ouija, my grandmother couldn’t get away from it.  My mother used to tell me that my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s had gotten really bad, she couldn’t remember anything and she had taken to drinking beer.  My grandmother never drank the entire time that I knew her but now she would get her tenants to buy her cases of beer and she would drink it non-stop.  I stopped by to visit her a few times but she didn’t remember who I was and she had adopted this really creepy laugh that was NOT the woman who helped to raise me.  One time my mother said she came by to bring her dinner (my Mom took care of her every day, bathed her cooked for her etc.) and she said that my grandmother came to the door scooting her butt along the floor and walking like a crab.  C’mon the woman was 90.  My mother said it freaked her out completely.  I never told my parents about my Ouija games at my grandmother’s house and I can’t help but feel complete guilt about what I might have possibly let into her home.  I sometimes think that something from the Ouija possessed her and I live with an immense amount of guilt whenever I think about it.  My grandmother was a devout Catholic, she had just gotten old.  Eventually she passed away and I just hope that she went someplace peaceful.  My parents sold her house and it was flipped a couple of times.

About two years ago, I had just come from visiting my father (my Mom had died about 12 years prior and my Dad had remarried), I was in the car with my sister and I slowed down at the corner to look at my grandmother’s old house.  There was a little girl standing in the vestibule.  She was cute as a button and waving at us through the glass door.  But there was also something else.  A BEING… he was standing there with his hand on her shoulder and scowling…he had this hideous, monstrous frightening scowl.  It’s really hard to describe because he looked almost animated and he was wearing all black.  The little girl was still waving and my sister said to me…”Do you see that shit?  He’s not human, THAT IS NOT HUMAN!”  Eventually the little girl turned and opened the door behind her to walk back inside.  That thing was latched onto her back and slowly followed her inside.  Whatever I let into that house is still living there… and it just tears me up to know that it might be still hurting others.

You said that everyone has at least one ghost story and this one is mine.  Don’t know if you can use it, it’s short, but I have never admitted to anyone how playing with a Ouija board affected both me and my loved ones.  Playing with something like that opens a portal and if you don’t know what you’re doing you can let any damn evil ass demon or ghost into your life.  My children are now 22 and 20 and I told my sons that if anyone brings out a Ouija board around them to call me and I will come get them right away.  I told them that as children and 1x I did have to get my oldest when he was in elementary school and he was spending the night over a friend’s house.  The whole family was playing with a Ouija and he called me with a shaky voice.  I jumped into the car and brought him home.  I don’t play that shit…not after what I’ve seen can happen first hand.”

The Psychic

You have an unnaturally high tolerance for this stuff,” C told me as we drank wine on our patio.

The kids were in bed and we were enjoying one of our last evenings in our backyard. We’d sold the house, quickly, and bought another even quicker. We were moving across town to become a “Bates Family.”

I studied our garage, held together only by termite carcasses and a prayer, its ancient siding warped from the heat of a grill that someone had placed too close. That, I actually found amusement in, but when I looked down to the patio beneath us humor left me. Its crumbling concrete was so cracked and uneven that the girls’ knees were a perpetual bloodied mess. There would be no love lost for this home. We’d cut our teeth on suburban living here, but the past two years had been a never-ending renovation. Before us, a lovely couple had owned and raised their children in the home, they just hadn’t had the time or ability to care for it properly.

So, instead of tallying up the cost of digging up the patio and annihilating the garage, I was able to take a deep breath and enjoy a glass of wine with C on the shitty patio that was now a really lovely couple moving in from Brookline’s problem.

As ever, I was acutely aware of the five neighboring homes that overlooked our backyard. Their dark windows judged us, making note of our second (third) glasses of wine. It was late October and we were talking Halloween, my very favorite holiday. C wasn’t as big of a fan, he thought I was desensitized, thus his comment about my tolerance level. I argued that I was a total chicken when it came to anything remotely frightening happening in real life, but that I just liked a good, safe scare. I was, however, beginning to wonder if I was a bit of a weirdo.

That afternoon I’d brought the kids to the playground, taking advantage of the last mild days before the weather turned, and a woman recognized me there.

“You’re not the one who writes that blog, are you?” She asked, holding her hand out to introduce herself.

I confirmed her suspicion and my girls played with her son for a while. I didn’t get the feeling at all that she thought I was weird.  She was totally cool, but this interaction, in general, sort of freaked me out.

People were actually reading the stories that I was collecting. Of course, my friends were supportive, and my mom seemed to get a kick out of ghostly anecdotes, but neither of my sisters would read them. One wouldn’t even attempt it, and the other had to stop after she read about Jenn and what her family had been through. She basically implied that she thought what I was doing was demonically influenced. The term “spiritual warfare” was used.

That stung a little.

I had been paranoid about looking into the darkness and seeing more than I could handle, but maybe what I should have been worried about was spreading darkness to others. Was it a bad thing to be collecting these stories and disseminating them through the blog? Should these stories be kept in secret, spoken quietly in whispers among acquaintances so that they turned into “friend of a friend of a cousin in law” tales?

No. There was something here that was more than just a scare. I had my theories. I was beginning to suspect that maybe ghosts were a red herring. What if it was all something more? What if it was all tied together, as something that had the ability to present itself as anything that it needed to in order to drive a wedge (like between Becky and her husband) or distract (like Nick), or terrify (like Lilith’s possession), or consume (like Peyton). It was all adding up to something darker than dead people trying to communicate.

I’m getting ahead of myself. The suggestion by a family member that I was somehow promoting evil ways through this little project of mine had really gotten under my skin, and C was trying to look at it another way.

“You have to understand that this stuff isn’t for everybody. You know I can’t even read your blog, it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s I just that won’t sleep,” he reasoned.

“I know, I understand why you can’t read them, but it felt like I was being accused of, I don’t know, being, a devil worshipper or something,” I said in a pout.

“You know that’s not the case,” C reasoned. “Your being a devil worshipper has nothing to do with collecting ghost stories.”


Things had begun to snowball – in a good way – with the blog. I had received quite a few (nineteen!) emails. Several were inquiries wishing to verify whether or not the stories were actually real. A few messages asked that I name names or at least addresses. But a couple emails contained stories. Real ghost stories from people in Wellesley, and Weston, Brookline, the South End of Boston, even one from New Hampshire.

These stories were all eerily familiar. Or, I should say they had a familiar rhythm.

“I woke up in the middle of the night and my Aunt Melissa was sitting at the edge of my bed. It was impossible, she had been in the hospital being treated for a heart condition. I called my mom the next morning and told her about it. Mom told me that Auntie M had passed away the night before.” (Brookline)

“When I was little I used to play with this ‘imaginary friend’ Rocket. I remember him, he wore the same striped shirt all the time and liked to play with toy cars. My parents still tell stories about me and my imaginary buddy. I never told them that Rocket had only one eye. One day I overheard a neighbor tell my dad about a little boy who used to live in our house, he’d had an accident and had fallen off the back steps, impaling himself on a pipe that was stuck into the ground. He’d died. His name was Robbie but they said he was always running around and loved going fast so he would never walk. They nicknamed him Rocket.” (South End, Boston)

“I know that our house is haunted. I hear footsteps at night and the front door opens by itself all the time. The weird thing is that you would think the dogs would run out, but they don’t. Whenever it happens we find them upstairs, in my daughter’s bed, curled up next to each other. It’s like they are hiding.” (Weston)

The stories have a simple thread, that I think you could miss if you were looking too closely at the details. Or trying to prove that none of them are real, just a figment of the imagination.

It’s distraction. Whether through familiarity or fun, fear or intrigue, anger or worry. When I consider the stories I’ve heard, the emails I’ve received, the books that I’ve read, distraction is always present. From one’s life, from loved ones, from reality. The question was, who was doing all this distracting? And why?


Enough of that and on to the story. I received an interesting email from a woman named Beth, a retired guidance counselor. She used to work at our high school, and has lived in town for thirty years, having raised two children in her home on Cedar Street in the (Fiske Elementary neighborhood). She lives in adorable Cape Cod style home with her husband, Allen (an accountant). Her house is haunted, and it was the first haunted house that I’ve ever been to, as far as I know.

In Beth’s email she mentioned that she knew my daughter’s teacher and was interested in sharing her story with me to see if I could offer any insight. She invited me over for mid-morning tea.

I accepted.


“Liz?” Beth inquired, opening her screen door. “Come on in!”

Deep smile lines fanned out from Beth’s eyes and her forehead was deeply grooved, the lines appeared hard won through years spent in the sunshine. Freckles had matured into sun spots and dark circles under her eyes hinted at exhaustion. Her dark brown hair was cut in an excellent pixie that suited her tight little runner’s body. She had on a blue pin-striped button down with adorable cropped khakis and crisp white keds. Actually, “crisp” summed up her look quite nicely.

“Hi, Beth! Thanks so much for having me,” I replied, stepping into her foyer. It was painted a pretty sky blue and there were ocean prints on the wall. I took my shoes (grey tretorns) off and placed them to the side of a multi-colored braided rug.

Beth motioned for me to follow her to the back of the house. We walked through the kitchen (white beadboard cabinets and grey granite counters, clean as a whistle, though the surfaces were a bit cluttered with ocean-themed knick knacks) and stepped through sliding glass doors to a winterized back porch.

In keeping with the beach-themed home, two white wicker chairs and a wicker love seat held cushions covered in a navy blue fabric patterned with sea shells, starfish and coral. Side tables held lighthouse lamps. On a coffee table sat a navy blue lacquered tray, holding a teapot, two white mugs, and a ceramic fish shaped sugar and creamer set alongside a little plate of oreos.

Oreos! I hadn’t had an Oreo in years, and I’ll be damned it they didn’t appeared to be Double Stuf.

Beth told me to grab a seat and we each took a chair opposite one another, me looking out the porch windows towards the backyard and Beth facing the sliding doors. I asked if it was alright for me to record our conversation, she nodded her head but looked a bit unsure.

To distract her I commented on the coziness of her home and its aquatic accents.

“You’re sweet,” she replied. ”My husband, Allen, and I just love the ocean. We take a week in Eastham on the Cape each summer.”

“There’s nothing like the beach,” I said.

“We’re moving soon,” Beth said. “As soon as the house sells.”

I nodded.  I had made note of the For Sale sign when I pulled up to the house. “Are you moving to the Cape?”

“We plan to, yes. Allen is able to work remotely, so we intend to buy a little cottage in either Brewster or Eastham. But we’ll see,” she said, getting a bit shifty eyed.

“Both are such cute little towns,” I replied, eyeing the cookies. “Have you had much traffic?” I asked, referring to interested buyers.

“We have, but no real offers yet. Our agent assures us that it won’t take long. I hope that she’s right.”

“Well, your house is charming, and you are close to Fiske. A family with small children would be thrilled to live here,” I said.

“I hope you’re right,” she said. “There’s the issue of cemetery, but it’s not as though we have a view of it, like some of the houses on this street.”

Well, she was right on that point. Their house did not overlook the cemetery, a small hill across the street blocked the view of it’s tombstones.

“Your property is lovely,” I assured her. “Back here it  feels like we are in the middle of the woods on the Cape,” I said, motioning to the pine trees surrounding us.

“From your lips to God’s ears,” Beth replied. “Here, let me pour you a cup of tea. Please, take a cookie, too.”

I enthusiastically took a cocktail napkin (navy blue with white starfish) and dug in. I actually, Mmmm’d, then asked, “What kind of a ghost story do you have for me?”

“I don’t know if you’ll think I’m mad,” she said.

“I’m not here to judge. Actually, I am hoping that you don’t think I’m a weirdo for wanting to hear your ghost story,” I replied.

“In all honesty, I’m relieved that you’re here, any insight you might be able to offer would be so appreciated,” she said then sipped her tea.

“I’ll do my best,” I replied then shoved an Oreo in my mouth. Sweet heaven above, why had these ever fallen out of my life?

Beth took a moment, then said, “This house is haunted, or maybe I should say, I am haunted.”

I swallowed and managed to ask, “You mean this house is currently haunted?” I’d forgotten how the dark chocolate cookie part of the Oreo sort of got stuck in between one’s teeth. I tried to quietly use my tongue to create enough suction to get the treat unstuck, while contemplating leaving the home immediately.

Beth’s eyes began to tear up, she said, “I’m sorry, this is hard to talk about.”

I took a quick sip of my tea to wash away the delicious Oreo and said, “I understand,” though I knew that I didn’t understand. At all. And hoped to all things holy that I never would understand what it’s like to be haunted.

She took a breath and wiped her eyes and said, “I don’t know what came over me, I am not a crier. I am just exhausted, and not myself. You came here for the story, where shall I begin?”

“What happened first?” I asked, reaching for another cookie.

“Barbara’s party, that’s what started everything,” she replied, placing her mug on the table. “My good friend, Barbara – well we’ve called her Barb since we were in high school – had a big bash for her fiftieth birthday, at the Four Seasons in Boston. Her husband hired a band and it was such a fun night. It reminded me of when we were all young and attending each other’s weddings. Barb has a psychic who attended the party.“

“Has a psychic?” I asked.

“Barb’s consulted this woman, her psychic, since we were in our early twenties. She almost uses her as a therapist. I had always considered it a bit silly, but it was really none of my business and Barb swore that this woman, Milena, was truly gifted. She trusted her for every major decision in her life. Barb claims that Milena predicted when she would get married, how many kids she would have and when it was the best time to put their house on the market.”

“Freaky,” I said, sipping my tea and forcing myself to wait a few minutes before grabbing another cookie.

“In all honestly, I’ve always thought so too. How could you trust a stranger to tell you everything that was going to happen in your life and why would you want to? Besides that, over the years, as they’ve gotten to know one another, I’m certain that Milena could make some pretty accurate educated guesses about Barb’s life and pass them off as predictions.

“That was what I used to think, anyhow,” Beth said, shaking her head.

“And now?” I prompted.

“Now I respect that there are things that we simply can’t understand,” she replied.

“What happened at that party?” I asked.

“Barb’s husband hired Milena for the night to do readings for the party guests. He rented a little side room at the hotel, right off the ballroom, where she set up a table to do these readings. I had no desire whatsoever to have a reading. I go to church, I’m not going to judge what others do, but The Bible clearly states in Leviticus, ‘Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out.’”

“But, you did have a reading?” I asked a bit unnerved. People who are able to recite Bible verses (or can remember phone numbers off the top of their head) always unnerve me. I blank out when someone asks how old I am. My sieve-like mind is suspicious of these memory master types.

“Barb dragged me to the room, she insisted that I consult Milena about my upcoming knee surgery. I’m a runner, have been all my life, and I had some torn cartilage in my knee that had to be corrected. Quite naturally, I was having a great deal of anxiety over the procedure. I knew that it was necessary, but I was terrified that I would never be able to run again if anything went wrong.

“Barb wanted Milena to predict the outcome of the surgery. She said that the woman would even do a Reiki technique with me that could ease some of the anxiety,” Beth said.

“Uh uh,” I mumbled with a mouth full of cookie.

“I know,” Beth said, putting a hand up. “Now I know what a horrible idea it was, but it was a birthday party and we were all a little tipsy from too much Champagne. So I did it. I went and had a reading, but I insisted that Barb come with me. Milena told me a bunch of nonsense about the surgery going well and how I would be surrounded by love and light.”

“That seems to be the catch-phrase,” I said.

“Good heavens, isn’t it? I can recall all of that positive vibe mumbo jumbo but then Milena asked me to close my eyes and imagine myself in a peaceful forest, walking along a path that lead to a beautiful waterfall. I complied, but only to appease Beth. But the strangest thing happened. As I was imagining the forest and the trail leading to the waterfall, I lost the time,” Beth said.

“So you must have been more than a little tipsy,” I said with a laugh.

“No, no, it wasn’t that, though, now I understand that the alcohol acted as a sort of catalyst, but Milena managed to somehow hypnotize me. I don’t think that is exactly what it was. I was under, that’s for sure, and when I was, that woman introduced ideas into my mind. Barb said they were mostly ideas about health and wholeness, but that Milena said several times that when I returned to consciousness I would be open. Open to the possibility of health and wellbeing and open to the possibility of more.”

“More what?” I asked.

“More what,” Beth repeated with a small sigh. “I’d heard Barb go on and on about Milena and her predictions for years, but what I didn’t know was that Barb had discussed me and my life with Milena as well. When I pressed Barb to find out what exactly she had told Milena she admitted to saying that I was a bit ‘set in my ways.’

“I believe that Milena decided that once she had me in a trance, she would not only Reiki me into some sort of advanced healing, she would open my mind to otherworldly possibilities. It was a complete and total violation.”

“I’ll say,” I agreed imagining one of my friends discussing me with their psychic. Lord, help me, I had to stop that train of thought immediately.

“I didn’t ask Barb about what happened that night until about mid-way through the following week. We play tennis together on Wednesday mornings, and,” Beth sat back in her seat. “Frankly, this is where I have to admit that I have anxiety about being candid about this experience.”

“Don’t be silly,” I prompted, wishing I could just get her to loosen up a bit. Barb was right, Beth did seem tightly wound.

Beth took a breath and said, “I knew the night of Barb’s party that something followed us home from the hotel. It took me a couple of days, but by the time our tennis date came along, I had pieced things together. I knew that it all had something to do with that Milena woman.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The night of the party my husband drove us home.  He doesn’t ever have more than one drink, so he was fine to drive. We were in the car and I thought that maybe the bubbly had gotten the better of me because I felt a touch disoriented. We were listening to the radio and I distinctly heard Allen say my name. I turned and said, ‘What?’ and he just told me he hadn’t said anything. That happened three times, only the third time I could tell that it wasn’t Allen. It sounded like him, but Allen wasn’t the one saying my name.”

“Who -” I began.

“I don’t know, I still don’t know who or what it is,” Beth said. “I blamed it on the loud party and the champagne. I figured that my ears were adjusting. But when it woke me up that night at three o’clock saying ‘ElizaBethBeth’ – that’s what it calls me – I knew that it wasn’t my ears adjusting.”

“No,” I said, reaching for another Oreo.

“Oh yes, that was just the beginning. The next day was Sunday and we went to Church as usual. I brushed aside what had happened the night before, but it left me a bit, disturbed, to say the very least. I began to feel strange as I climbed the steps to St. Paul’s entrance. I stumbled a bit as we walked through the doorway and then, again, I lost the time for a moment or two. When I became aware of my surroundings again I was sitting on the steps outside and Allen and an usher were standing over me discussing whether or not to call an ambulance.”

“Oh no,” I said, draining my mug and placing it on the table.

Beth leaned forward to refill the cup and said, “It really was the darndest thing. I actually startled them when I asked, ‘What happened.’ They explained that I sort of folded when I walked into the sanctuary. My husband lead me back outside by the arm and this kind usher noticed that there was a problem and followed him out to see if he needed help.

“As I stood back up the usher said, ‘You gave us a real scare there, ElizaBethBeth.’ I heard him. I know that is what he said. I immediately asked, ‘What did you call me?’ He just looked startled and Allen jumped in saying that we should really head back home. When we got in the car I asked Allen what the man had said and my husband told me the man had called me Beth. He had told the man my name.”

“Freaky,” I said, glancing out the storm windows behind Beth. The wind had picked up causing the pine trees to whisper as they swayed. “What do you think happened?”

“Well, again, I tried to explain it away by too much champagne the night before. My husband did too, ‘You have a good old fashioned hangover,’ he joked. ‘What you need is a little hair ‘o the dog that bit ya.’That was the very last thing that I wanted.”

“Do you really think that man called you ElizaBethBeth?” I asked.

“I think that it makes me hear or see or perceive things the way it wants me to. So, no, I don’t think that man called me that name, especially considering his reaction. I think it wanted me to hear that name, so I did.” Beth replied.

“Ok, so you’re hearing your name – well, not your name, but a weird version of your name – called. What else?” I asked, reaching for another cookie. Only, the cookies were gone.

Beth looked down at the plate. “Here, let me go get more treats.”

“No!” I said, a little too loudly. “I mean, no thank you, I really shouldn’t have any more and I am a nervous eater, so please, go on,” I did want more cookies, but, even more than that, I did not want to be left alone.

“So that was Sunday. The Sunday after my mind was opened. The next couple of nights were carbon copies. I would awake to my name being called. Then, of course, I couldn’t sleep. So I blamed the shadows on lack of sleep.”

“Shadows?” I asked.

“They were, or I should say are, always just outside my periphery. It’s unnerving.  I will be folding the laundry or making my coffee in the morning and I’ll see something out of the corner of my eye and will be certain, positively sure, that someone is standing almost behind me or in the corner of the room. But I never actually see anyone.”

“I don’t at all mean to dismiss your experience, it’s just that, what if exhaustion coupled with the power of suggestion may have gotten you a bit jumpy,” I said, as delicately as I could.

Beth sighed and crossed her arms over her chest. She said, “I would have thought the same thing if the tables were turned and you were telling me this story. I agree, these things that I’ve told you so far could be explained by exhaustion and paranoia.”

“I didn’t mean to imply that you are paranoid, I -”

“Of course not, this is why this is so hard to talk about. I know it sounds too fantastic,” Beth said.

“I’m sorry, I was hoping that might be the easy answer because if it’s not, and you are hearing your name called and seeing shadows standing near you, then, well, life is more terrifying than I ever could have imagined,” I said.

“Yes,” Beth agreed. “It is terrifying.”

“You had several unnerving days, and nights, and then you mentioned that you met up with your friend for tennis?”

“I did, yes. I asked her what had happened that night. I didn’t tell her what had been going on with me, but I just said that I must have drank too much because I couldn’t remember what had happened during my so-called ‘reading.’ She tried to laugh it off, but I pressed her, and she told me that Milena had put me under and had put ideas into my mind. Or rather, she had opened my mind to ideas and anything else that wanted to visit.”

“Were you so pissed?” I asked, then said, “Sorry,” referring to my swearing.

“Don’t apologize, I was pissed. I couldn’t believe my ears. Barb made it seem as though it was nothing to be concerned about, that Milena had only been trying to help me with my life. I neither wanted nor needed help with my life. I hadn’t even wanted to speak with Milena, let alone have her New Age nonsense affect my mind.

“I was so angry that I had to leave. I left Barb right there on the court. I took a shower at the club and when I was throwing my damp towels into the basket one of the young girls who works at the gym walked past me and said, ‘What a violation.’

“I was startled, I looked right at her and said, ‘What did you say?’ She looked just as startled as I felt and replied, ‘It’s been nice outside lately, I hope that you can enjoy the day.’

“I rushed out of there. I hadn’t misunderstood her. She may have said, ‘Enjoy the day,’ or something equally as benign, but I heard her say ‘What a violation.’ She was referring to Barb’s stupid psychic meddling.”

“Yeesh,” I said, sipping my tea because I didn’t know whether to think this woman was having a psychotic break or a demonic oppression.

“I am well aware of how ridiculous this sounds. I used to scoff at the idea people seeing ghosts or claiming that their homes were haunted; I thought it was an attention seeking ploy. I was a guidance counselor at the high school, you know, for years. I’ve encountered a lot of damaged children and their broken parents. More than I care to remember.

“I’ve heard a lot of excuses for poor behavior. I’ve listened to people blame the weather on why they were such a bad parent or the economy on why they hit their kid. I have always been grounded in reality, but…” Beth trailed off.

“But this was different,” I said.

“Yes,” Beth confirmed. “It started happening more and more. I would hear someone say something that they hadn’t said. A barista told me to repent, the woman who cleans our house said, ‘There are forces we don’t understand but must respect,’ after I handed her the check for the month. Each time I reacted to these interactions, the responses let me know that I was the one with the problem. Then things began happening at home.”

“What things?” I asked, feeling like a sitting duck in this home that was either inhabited by a demon or a crazy lady.

“Besides the shadows, there were other signs. Things that Allen noticed too, not just me. There was one night, when we were out on the back patio,” Beth motioned to a door at the side of the screened in porch. I looked over and saw that past this door were several wooden steps leading to a brick patio with a table, chairs and grill. “We were grilling chicken and having a glass of wine when that door began to slam. Not one time, three times. It would sway open slowly and then slam. Open then slam, open slam. It was so hard that I thought that the glass would break.

“I am embarrassed to say that we just stared at it and watched it happen. Allen made a comment about the wind, but there was no wind. It was one of those heavy, humid August nights.”

“I would have gone to a hotel,” I said.

“I know, it sounds absolutely nutty, but we weren’t ready to acknowledge what was happening. We ate dinner and talked about anything and everything but that door and the voices I had been hearing.”

“So you were pretty open with Allen about what you were experiencing?” I asked.

“Oh, of course. We started dating when we were just sixteen, I can’t hide a thing from him, and he wouldn’t want me to,” Beth said.

“What does he think of all of this?” I asked.

“At first, he thought that I was just, having some sort of ‘episode,’ but then, after I had my knee surgery, he believed me.”

“What made him change his mind?” I asked, wishing I had let her go get more cookies.

“When I got home from the hospital after surgery I had to sleep in the living room. We rented a hospital bed to help me with sitting up and reclining once I was was home. I was on a high dose of pain medication, which I hated, but it truly was necessary, especially in order to endure the physical therapy. I believe the pain medication was the catalyst. It somehow blew whatever door Milena had opened in my mind wide open.”

“You know,” Beth said, crossing her legs. “I read that they did a study, whoever ‘they’ are. They did a study with patients who needed the same knee surgery that I had. Only half of the participants had the surgery done, the other half did not. They put those patients under and lead them to believe that they were having the surgery. Even made incisions on their legs to make it appear as though the surgery had taken place. All of the people who participated in the study, both those who’d had the surgery and those who had not, had the same success rate in healing. It was the ultimate placebo effect. Isn’t that crazy? Basically, a fake surgery is just as effective as a real one. Over a year of following these patients, there was no difference in their recovery.”

“Did you know about the study before you had the surgery?” I asked.

“No, I of course not,” she replied, shaking her head. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have had it. I’ve run 23 marathons in my life. I am good at mind games.

“I think that is why this whole thing had thrown me for a loop. I have always been in complete control. Even when I had the blues after my children were born. I willed myself out of them. I can’t make all of this stop, that’s why it is so frightening.”

“You said things got worse after the surgery. In what way?” I asked.

“Yes, sorry,” Beth ran her fingers through her short hair and picked up her mug. “I was loopy from my medication and sleeping by myself downstairs. I fell asleep each night in front of the television, something I hadn’t done since I was in college,” she said smiling.

“I believe that it was my second night home, that I woke up in the middle of the night. The television was off, though I didn’t remember turning it off. Anyhow, I woke up because my bed was inclining my itself. I awoke and was sitting upright. My knee was throbbing, well, that is putting it lightly. It felt like needles were being slowly stabbed through my leg through the back of my knee.

“It took me a moment to come to, I think that’s what it wanted – to wake me up fully and really have my attention. By the time I was done breathing through the pain, and coming to my senses I realized that I wasn’t alone.”

“Who was with you?” I asked, wondering if it was totally out of the realm of possibilities to just get up and walk out the front door. I mean, so what if it was awkward if I ever ran into her at the Whole Foods.

It was there, right behind the bed. I could feel it. But I couldn’t do anything, my knee was tortuous. I was breathing in, through my nose, holding it for a minute and then breathing out through my mouth to manage the pain. It’s an old trick to beat a muscle spasm or side stitch,” she nodded her head like a mother giving me age old health advice.

“And then?” I asked, wanting her to just get on with it.

“It was very quiet. Once I was able to get through the worst of the pain, I reached for the television remote, hoping to turn the TV back on for distraction. I checked the time, three o’clock. I still had two hours before I could take my medication. I had to gather myself.

“Allen had arranged a nice little bedside table next to me with everything that I might need overnight, water, cough drops in case my mouth was dry, a protein bar, the television remote. When I reached for the remote control it slid out of my reach.

“I yanked my hand back, After a moment the television turned on by itself, to Fox News. I never watch Fox. It was blaring. So loud it hurt my ears, and then it was off before I could try to reach for the remote again.

“My heart was racing so fast that I was afraid that I might be having a heart attack. As I sat there, trying to decide what to do, the bed began reclining itself. ‘Stop it!’ I yelled in a panic. The bed stopped and began to incline back up.

“Then I heard my name, or at least, what it calls me.” Beth said.

“ElizaBethBeth?” I asked.

“Yes. It started as a whisper, it was behind me and then in the corner of the room. Then under the bed. I screamed at it, ‘What do you want from me? Leave me be!’ And I heard it laugh,” Beth wrapped her arms around herself. “No, laugh isn’t the right word, it chuckled, as though it were making fun of me. Then I heard the front and back doors open simultaneously. I was completely helpless, I was moving slower than toast and my knee was excruciating. I began screaming my husband’s name.

“As I did, the doors slammed shut and then the television turned on again and then off. My cell phone rang and I just kept screaming for Allen, praying that I could wake him up. He’s an incredibly heavy sleeper. I used to have to literally kick him in the shins to wake him up when it was his turn on the weekends to wake up with the kids.”

“Did he hear you?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Beth replied. “It gets what it wants, and what it wanted that night was for me to wake Allen up and call him downstairs. He was disoriented from waking up from such a deep sleep. I heard him begin to descend the stairs and then, I heard him fall.”

“No,” I said, sad and frightened for this poor woman. “What the hell happened?”

“He tripped. Actually, he said that he had been pushed. That it felt like someone had taken both of their hands, placed them on his lower back and pushed. Hard. He was only about half way down the steps when it happened and he flew forward and slammed his head on the wall so hard that he blacked out for a few moments.

“They were the longest minutes of my life. I was in the bed, basically trapped. The pain in my knee had become unbearable. I was calling his name. Lord have mercy, I thought he was dead. He wasn’t answering me. I ended up getting out of bed and using the walker at the side of my bed to slide myself down to the floor, the entire time it felt as though someone was standing just to my side. Watching. Refusing to help me. I slid myself along the floor with my arms, calling Allen’s name. When I finally reached him he was stirring a little so at least I knew the poor man wasn’t dead.

“Eventually, we managed to pull ourselves together. Allen was fine, just disoriented from the fall. He was able to carry me back to bed, and, luckily, I hadn’t done any real damage to my knee. He sat next to me in a chair for the rest of the night. Every light on the first floor blazing, a channel was playing a Frasier marathon and we watched until the sun came up. We weren’t able to talk about it then, but in the morning, we tried to devise a plan.”

“What did you decide to do?” I asked.

“We decided that we had to call Milena and have her to the house. She had started this ridiculous mess, she had to come clean it up,” Beth replied.

“You trusted her to help you?” I asked.

“I trusted that she knew what she had done and she should know how to undo it,” Beth said, refilling her mug. “She agreed to come to the house, to do a ‘clearing.’ I called Barb and insisted that she be there too. Milena had a whole explanation for doing what she did, a whole lot of bullshit as far as I was concerned. Excuse me, please, for cussing. But that’s just what it was. She walked throughout our home, burning sage and spouting off about love and light, then she had me sit down with her so that she could ‘clear my chakras.’”

“Ugh,” I said.

“I was completely skeptical as well, but I had to try something. Even if what she had done had been some sort of placebo effect and my husband and I had psyched ourselves up into a paranormal frenzy, well, we had to try to un-psych ourselves.” Beth replied.

“Is that really what you thought?” I asked. “That you were just somehow imagining these things.”

“No, it wasn’t. But I was holding onto a glimmer of hope that Milena was just an extremely talented charlatan.”

“Was she?” I asked.

“No. She was an incredibly inept and in over her head phony.” Beth replied. “I could tell that she was really nervous as she was doing or trying to undo what she had done to me with her chakra clearing. Afterwards she confessed to having consulted with a more ‘advanced soul’ who had warned her that some doors, once opened could not be closed.”

“I’ve heard that,” I said, thinking of Casey Cotton and her demon buddy, Zila.

“Yes, well, apparently, the door that Milena opened was one of those doors that cannot be shut,” Beth continued. “We were cautiously optimistic the following week. Allen was, of course, sleeping next to my hospital bed on the living room couch, but everything was quiet for a few days. We were beginning to let our guard down, and then all hell broke loose.

“It started up again when I was sitting out on this porch. It was about a week and a half after my surgery and I was beyond stir crazy. I set myself up on the loveseat and was reading a book. These storm windows weren’t up yet, so it was all screens. It was early September, a little before seven o’clock, so it was dusk. Not dark out, but getting there. I was reading and listening to the pines in the wind when I heard a sort of snuffling snort. I looked up, it had come from that way,” Beth motioned to the windows beside us.

“Uh uh,” I whispered, nervously glancing at the floor to ceiling windows to my left.

“I looked out, and couldn’t see anything. It had taken me a great deal of effort just to get myself into the seat. I couldn’t just jump up and run back in the house. I was staring out the windows, listening as hard as I could and then something came right over close to the house, right beneath the windows. It began to scratch on the siding. Maybe it was an animal, but I don’t think so. I could feel that it was trying to frighten me. Trying to make me feel every bit as trapped as I was,” Beth said. “Besides, I’ve never heard a dog sound like that before, it almost sounded like a big pig snorting around the ground.”

“What did you do?” I demanded. I was seriously getting freaked out and rather pissed that she had invited me to her den of horrors.

“I got up as best as I could and walked back into the house, as I was slowly maneuvering to step over the little lip of the sliding door there was an enormous crash behind me. I almost fell, but I caught myself on the door frame. I fully expected to turn around and see that something had crashed through onto the porch.

“But when I turned around, there was nothing. Except, on the screen we had in that window,” Beth motions to the top of one of the windows. “There were three long rips.”

“Rips?”

“Yes, tears,” Beth holds up three fingers bent into what looks like a claw and drags them downwards.

“Are you saying that they looked like animal claw marks?” I demanded.

“That’s just what they looked like,” Beth confessed.

“But that is like, I don’t know, fifteen or twenty feet up. How could that be?” I said, incredulous.

“I don’t know, but it was,” she said in a small voice.

I was beginning to get a touch agitated by this woman and her story of hobbling around the house being harassed by some sort of nickname-giving demon.

“But, if Milena had done a cleansing, then everything should have been over,” I reasoned.

“It was far from over.  I continued to feel trapped here, by whatever it was outside and I was still having blackout moments. I sent emails that I don’t remember writing. Horribly inappropriate emails. I had to have Allen take the computer out of the house.”

Interest peaked, I asked, “What sorts of inappropriate emails?”

“I sent a rant to my book club that basically listed the faults of all nine members. I called one woman a simpering fool who wouldn’t know foreshadowing if it bit her on the ass. It wasn’t just emails, though, I made phone calls too. I fired every single person who has worked on this house over the past thirty years. Our landscapers, the garbage service, the handy man, our cleaning ladies. The worst though was the selfie,” Beth shook her head and actually started to tear up.

“Selfie?”

“I sent a -” she paused, composing herself. “I sent a topless photo to my husband’s business partner.”

“No!” I declared, trying desperately not to break a smile.

“It was the most terrible thing that has ever happened to me in my whole life. I was so humiliated. I still am humiliated.”

I had to take a moment to compose myself before I was able to say, “I can only imagine.”

“There have been fantastical moments, but it is the day-to-day harassment that is wearing us out. It’s the being startled awake in the middle of the night, the footsteps following us down the hallway, the doors slamming closed by themselves. The subtle things are so much worse than the full blown terrors.

“I get lulled into thinking that everything might be quieting down and then something pulls my hair as I am drinking tea in the morning and I spill the hot drink all over myself.”

Again, I fought the urge to smile, I mean, at least this ghost had a sense of humor.

“Do you think that moving will make a difference?” I asked.

“It’s the only thing we have left to try,” she replied.

“Forgive me for asking, but I have to assume that you’ve been to a doctor about this, yes?” I asked, feeling like a jerk but thinking that this woman might be the first certifiably crazy person I’d ever met in my life.

“Of course,” Beth said defensively. “I consulted with a psychiatrist and a psychologist. I even went to an alternative therapist that Barb recommended. He took one look at me and told me that I needed a six month cleanse and that his schedule was too full at the moment.”

“Right, sorry that I asked, I just wanted to be sure that if anything could be done medically, then -” I stammered.

“No, I know, it sounds like I am riding the crazy town express,” Beth waved off my discomfort.

“Again, forgive me, but what if the move doesn’t work?” I asked.

“That’s just it, isn’t it?” Beth replied with a sigh. “I don’t know how to fix this. What else can I do? I really screwed up. I knew that I shouldn’t have spoken with that psychic, I just had a gut feeling, but I ignored it because I didn’t want to offend my friend.”

“It can’t be unfixable -” I began.

“But that’s exactly what it is,” she said, nodding her head. “Unfixable. Doors can be opened, by doing things that we shouldn’t. But they cannot be closed.”

“Beth, if I’m being completely honest with you, I have to say I don’t think that moving is going to help you.”

“What do you suggest?” She asked.

“Please, don’t take this the wrong way, but, maybe it’s time to bring out the big guns. Have you spoken with your priest? About the possibility of oppression, or even -”

At that moment, the doorbell rang. We just looked at one another, neither of us moving even the teeny tiniest muscle. After a too-long minute, it became apparent that Beth was terrified. She couldn’t move.

“It must be FedEx,” I said, trying to convince both of us.

“We aren’t expecting a package,” Beth replied in a whisper.

I was overwhelmed and frightened and when I feel like this I tend to react with anger. I am more of a fighter than a flighter. Just ask the guy dressed as Jason from Friday the 13th who jumped on the back of the haunted carnival ride my sisters and I were on. My ten year old self knocked that motherfucker right to the ground.

But, I mean, what the hell? This damned woman had invited me to her fucking house for Oreos and a good old-fashioned demon possession tale. I felt like my kids had been invited to a playdate only to have the other mother tell me that her children had a bad case of Hand, Foot, and Mouth.

I said, “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Beth, it’s the mail,” I stood and stomped to the front door all amped up on terror and annoyance.

I grabbed the front door handle and swung the door open, only to find, no one. Nothing. I looked out to the little tree filled hill across Cedar Street and felt the wind push my hair back from my face.

I heard footsteps behind me and felt Beth standing right next to me. Nice fucking personal space, I thought.  I said, “We must have taken too long to get to the door.”

When Beth didn’t say anything I spun around, about to snap at her again, but, she wasn’t there.

“Beth!” I demanded, a panic attack on the rise. I would have sworn that she was right behind me.

“Who’s at the door?” Beth called from the screened in porch.

“No one,” I said, quietly.

“Liz?” Beth called and began walking towards me.

“Yeah, sorry,” I replied. “No one is there.” I had my back to the open doorway and was facing Beth. I didn’t know which situation made me more terrified.

Beth stopped next to the stairs and said, “I don’t think we should be talking about this anymore.”

“You were just right behind me,” I said.

“No, I wasn’t,” Beth replied.

Bunkmates

I’ve had, well, several career changes throughout my life. I waited tables in an assisted living home in high school then bartended in college. After graduating with a Bachelor’s in History, I became an insurance adjuster. Then I went back to school to become a failed hairdresser – an experience which deserves a podcast and blog of it’s own. After that I gave administrative assistanting a shot, and I nailed it. I worked at at a commercial real estate company, C got me the job. I convinced said company to let me give property appraisal a go round. Nope. Back to administrative/marketing assistanting at a different commercial real estate company. Then I snuck over to secretary work at a large publishing company which lead to a mini-promotion to assistant copy editor. The work was far too solitary so I applied to library school. I graduated to become the head librarian at one of the largest high schools in the state. Then I went and had two kids, which left me with the memory of a goldfish, so I downshifted (as they say on LinkedIn) and became a part-time children’s reference librarian at the Wellesley Free Library. Then I downshifted again and I currently work for three very demanding, very small people who have hysterical fits of rage.

Needless to say, throughout all of these career shifts, I’ve met a lot of people. One of those people was Tom Murphy. He’s a commercial real estate broker, like my husband, and we worked together for a while; well not together, but at the same company years back. He is still at that wonderful company, C is at a competing firm, and I am keeping three sociopaths alive.

Boston is small, the commercial real estate world is smaller, and Wellesley is a pin’s head. So naturally our paths crossed again now that we happen to live in the same town.

Shortly after we moved to town C ran into Tom at the Whole Foods, and then I ran into him at the dump. I was happy to see him. I liked Tom, he had always been kind and friendly and an easy smiler. I was quite young when I had worked in his office and there were a lot of men there with serious egos and wandering eyes. Tom hadn’t been one of those guys. He’s the kind of person who makes you remember that being kind matters.

The office building was connected to the Prudential Center and one of the sandwich shops in the food court gave out free, fresh baked cookies with their sandwiches. Tom passed several administrative assistant’s desks on the way back from lunch each day, including my own. And on the way to his office he would leave the cookie on one of our desks. It was such a small token, but it was sort of a “dad” gesture and it made me just adore him.


One Sunday morning in early October we went on a walk with the girls (one in a front pack on me, C pushing the other two in the double Bob). We were exploring a neighborhood and considering a move. A house had come on the market and it was located dangerously close to several of our friends. As Heidi put it, if we moved, it would be like grown-up college dorms.

As we scouted the turf we slowly fell in love with the idea of the girls walking to school with their buddies. Skirting Boulder Brook path we ran into Tom, who was on a jog with his oldest daughter, Meg. He lived one street over from the house we were interested in, and, after giving us the hard sell on the neighborhood as any good real estate broker is wont to do, he signed all three of his girls up for on-call babysitting duty.

“Now wait just a minute, you’re the Liz Sower who’s writing the ghost blog, aren’t you?” He said.

I admitted that I was that same Liz Sower. I’d recently pulled everything together well enough to pop the stories I had been collecting onto a blog and it was actually getting passed around town a bit.

“I knew it!” He declared clapping his hands together. “My wife turned me onto your stories. Are they real?”

“As far as I can tell,” I replied, bouncing a little so Kat wouldn’t wake up.

“Wait,” his daughter said. “You write those Wellesley ghost stories?”

“Yup,” I said, feeling guilty and mentally scanning to count how many times I had used the word “fuck” in my writing.

“Oh. My. Gawd!” She said, “My sisters and I got sooo freaked out about that one story with the break-in and the poltergeist! We literally won’t open the door to anyone anymore! That happened in Bates, right?” She asked, referring to the elementary school, the way all Welleslians demark neighborhood boundaries.

“It did,” I said.

“Which house was it?” She demanded.

“Oh, I couldn’t say,” I said with a laugh. “And it happened a really long time ago, you guys just keep those doors locked and you’ll be fine.”

She looked at me skeptically.

Tom said, “My wife told me I should email you, I have a ghost story! I grew up in town and we lived in a house that was haunted for a time, over in Wellesley Farms near the train stop.”

“Really?” I asked. “I would love to hear it.”

C said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you guys grab coffee or something. I don’t want to hear your old ghost story.”

“He’s scared,” I said with a laugh.

“He should be,” said Tom, lightly punching C in the arm.


“I miss bottles,” Tom said, gazing at Kat.

“Oh geez,” I said with a groan. “Your glasses aren’t just rose colored, they are a delusional hot pink.”

“I know, babies are exhausting, but, when they are little like that, they are just so bright and shiny.”

“I guess so,” I agreed. “I just wish I didn’t feel so sticky all the time.”

“Trust me,” he said. “You’ll miss it.”

We met up at the Starbucks on Monday morning, the day after we’d run into each other. He’d texted shortly after we’d parted ways on Sunday and suggested the time and place.

“Alright, alright, enough about the damn kid,” I said, shaking Kat’s bottle to mix her formula. “Tell me your ghost story.”

Tom smiled and began, “I grew up in a house in Wellesley Farms. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that part of town, near the train station?”

“That’s off Glen Road, right?” I said. I’d, of course, done my research beforehand. These real estate guys were obsessed with directions to and from places and “parts of town.” Trust me, I know. I’m married to one of ‘em and I have no bigger pet peeve than when someone insists upon describing the way someplace (a.k.a gives me directions). My mind doesn’t work that way and after the second, “then you take a left at the yellow house,” I am lost and feeling dumb and impatient. We have navigation in our cars and google maps on our phones. Enough already.

“Yup, that’s it,” Tom said, confirming the location. “That part of town is quite hilly, with lots of winding roads that all seem to connect. Our house was pretty close to the train station. The lot is difficult to describe, and it won’t seem to make sense, but our home was set at the top of a hill that sat at the base of a ravine. A dirt road ran along a stream that curved around the other side of the house and joined a different stream that ran behind the house. You don’t get a lot of land in town, but we had a nice spot there. There were homes around us, but when the trees filled out in the Springtime, you wouldn’t know it.”

“Wait, let me make sure I get this. A stream curved around the front and one side of the house and then met up with another stream in the backyard?” I asked.

“Yes, exactly. Part of our driveway was a little wooden bridge.” He replied.

“And the house was at the top of a hill? I seriously can’t picture this,” I said.

“I’ll text you the address so you can go see it. It is a unique spot.” He said, looking down at his phone and quickly sending me the information.

“Perfect, thanks,” I said, feeding Kat her bottle.

“I have a younger brother and we spent hours in these streams, damming them and searching for salamanders. We hardly ever went on vacation, but one summer, my parents brought us to this place called the Whiteface Lodge in the Adirondacks, ever been?” he asked.

“I grew up in Central New York, so I’ve been to Lake Placid a couple times,” I replied.

“Yes, that’s exactly where we went. We did some hiking and kayaking, the hotel even had a bowling alley.”

“How old were you guys?” I asked.

“I was probably eleven and that would have made Peter nine,” he said. “Our family stayed in this cool two-level suite in the lodge. It had that classic Adirondack look.”

I nodded my head imagining red plaid blankets, tree stump accent tables and deer heads.

“Our bedroom was on the upper floor along with a bathroom and the television sitting area. My parents room was on the first floor with the kitchen and another bedroom. My brother and I had these awesome bunk beds in our room. I got the bottom bunk and he had the top. We were in heaven, and we couldn’t stop talking about them. About how cool they were, about how they made the best fort, about how they were made of real trees. It was this totally novel concept to us,” Tom said with a laugh.

“We were on our way back to the hotel from a hike we’d taken at Cascade Mountain, I think the trail was called Owl’s Head. We drove past this little log cabin and it had a sign that said ‘Authentic Adirondack Furniture.’ My mom had my dad pull into the dirt driveway and we all go out to explore.

“There was a small barn behind the home and right when we walked in Pete and I spotted the bunk beds. We weren’t leaving there until we’d convinced our parents to buy them. I committed to mowing the lawn for two summers without pay and my brother swore to walk our dog, Bo, throughout the entire winter without complaining once.

“You know how it is on vacation,” Tom says with his crinkle-eyed smile. “You get caught up and buy things that you would never consider otherwise in your real life.”

“I bought a mumu on my honeymoon,” I said. “C was thrilled when we got home and I realized my mistake.”

“Exactly!” Tom said, laughing. “Those damn bunk beds were out of place in our house. I can see that looking back on it now. They were this massive piece of furniture in a home where my mother’s taste leaned more towards delicate antiques.

“Of course, my brother and I didn’t care. We were like pigs in shit, for a while anyway.”

I shifted Kat to burp her and asked, “And then?”

“And then it started,” Tom replied. “It was subtle at first, or, I guess I would say it was easily explained away.”

“What was?” I asked, again shifting Kat in my arms to give her the rest of her bottle.

“I am pretty sure that it started with the taps, but Peter insists that the voice came first. At any rate, I remember the taps. They started up one night, soon after we’d returned from vacation. At first, it sounded like they were coming from outside. Three taps at a time, I thought it sounded like when we were inside and our dad was outside chopping wood.

“That was my first thought the first night that we heard them, ‘What is dad doing outside chopping wood in the middle of the night?’ Peter and I were both awake and I made him get down from the top bunk and look out the window to see what was going on.”

“Mean big brother,” I said smiling.

“I’ve done my best to make up for it over the years,” Tom replied with a grin.

“Did he see anything out the window?” I asked, looking down at Kat to gauge how much of her bottle remained. She was a slow-poke.

“Nothing, zilch. Once he got out of the bed the tapping stopped. It was weird, we reasoned that it was someone outside banging a stick against a tree, which made no good sense, but we were kids.

“This kept up over several nights, but these taps, or chops seemed to get closer to the house. After a couple nights Peter refused to get down and look out the window. We were both a little scared, but I wasn’t going to let on to how frightened I actually was, so I razzed him about it. He finally told me that if I was so brave why wouldn’t I get up and just go outside to see who was making the noise. That shut me up.

“Then one night it stopped,” Tom said.

“Stopped?” I asked.

“Yes, nothing. We joked about it the next morning, said the tree-chopper – that’s what we’d nicknamed it – must have moved on. Then that night, it started up again, only this time, it was coming from the attic.”

“Uh uh,” I said, taking the empty bottle from Kat and putting her up on my shoulder to burp her again.

“Exactly,” Tom affirms. “We woke up in the middle of the night to this tapping. One, two three. One, two, three,” he counts out as he taps his fingertips on the table between us. “We told our parents and they thought it was squirrels in the attic. They didn’t believe our story of the tapping coming closer to the house, they thought we were fooling around,” he said.

“I don’t think I would believe it either,” I replied. “I would have thought you were either messing with each other or me.”

“Exactly,” Tom said. He watched me for a minute then asked, “Can I hold her?”

I looked down at Kat who was snuggled into my arms with her binkie and lovie blanket, “You are too much, Tom,” I said as I stood and placed her in his arms. I tucked the lovie between his chest and her cheek. Kat’s an ‘any port in the storm’ type of gal, so she was happy as could be.

“Did your parents set traps, or call an exterminator?” I asked as I sat back down in my chair.

Tom swayed back and forth slightly with the baby and replied, “They’ were do it yourself-ers and my dad set some humane traps for the supposed squirrels and laid out a couple wooden mice traps in case we were exaggerating about all the noise.

“That first night around two a.m. we heard all of the mice traps go off at once, right over our heads.”

“Any mice?” I asked, picturing a little Tom and a littler Peter tucked into bed, wide eyed and terrified in the middle of the night.

“No mice, and the cheese was still on the traps when my dad checked them in the morning,” Tom explained. “He took it as a challenge and put peanut butter on the traps the next night, but all it made was make a mess, melting off the traps in the hot attic.”

“What about the taps?” I asked, sipping my coffee and stretching in my chair. Enjoying the break from holding Kat.

“We heard the traps all go off again that second night, this time even the squirrel traps slammed shut, same time, two a.m. After that, the taps stopped for good, but the tremors started,” he said, continuing to sway in his seat with the baby. “The bed would, not shake, but tremor slightly. Pete called it ‘the shivers.’”

“Geez,” I said, leaning forward.

“The tremors stayed with us until the bed left the house. You know what reminds me of it? When I feel my cell phone buzz in my pocket if I have the ringer off. That quick three bursts of buzz, buzz, buzz. I hate having my phone on vibrate.”

“Did you say anything to your parents?” I asked.

“Oh sure, I even said that I thought something might be wrong with our bunk beds and, like any good set of parents, they got really angry. Dad went off on a rant about how we were ungrateful and needed to start recognizing all of our blessings and be more thankful for the things that he and my mom provided.”

“Sounds familiar,” I said. “I think I just gave that same rant yesterday.”

“Me too,” Tom said with a laugh. “Those tremors were with us until we finally got rid of the bunk bed. We actually got used to them. As we fell asleep they were soft, but towards the middle of the night they came closer together, I think to wake us up.

“The taps and the tremors were disturbing, but then I woke up one night to whispering. I thought at first that it was Peter calling to me from the top bunk so I called back to him, but he didn’t answer. I said his name a bit louder and still he didn’t answer, so I peeked up over the edge of the bed. He wasn’t there.

“I sat back on my bed for a moment trying to decide what to do. I knew that he would never get up in the middle of the night without me. As I sat there trying to decide whether I should go to my parent’s room I heard the whispering again. I realized that it was coming from the closet on the other side of the room.

“I listened for a few moments and could discern two voices, speaking very quietly. Then I heard one of them laugh and realized that it was my brother. I flipped the lamp on beside the bed and crawled out to walk to the closet.

“I put my hand on the handle and paused. The voices had stopped. It took all the guts I had in my eleven year old body to open that door, but I did it, and there was Pete. He had his back to me and had pushed some of our clothes to the sides of the closet so that he had a little space to stand. He was just staring at the back of the closet. He didn’t even flinch when I opened the door. I was scared stiff and I didn’t even want to speak, but I yelled at him, ‘Pete, what the heck? Pete!’ and then I grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.

“It took him a second or two to come around. Then he was scared. I asked him what the heck he had been doing in the closet and who he had been talking to. He said that he didn’t know, that he couldn’t remember. But I just sort of knew that he wasn’t completely telling the truth.

“I called him a weirdo and told him to cut it out and get back in bed. We both crawled into our beds and I shut the light off but I didn’t sleep the rest of the night.”

“For heaven’s sake, if I ever hear whispering in my closet I’m leaving a trail of lighter fluid in my wake and throwing a match of my shoulder as I run out of the door screaming,” I said.

“Yeah, I think I would do the same thing today,” Tom said with a shrug. “But we were kids. At that point, part of me was still thinking that this was some sort of adventure. Like a mystery for Pete and me to solve. It was summer and we were bored with playing at the creek and this gave us a bit of a thrill.

“It was when Pete started acting strangely that I become concerned.”

“Strangely?” I asked. “I’d call talking to someone in the closet in the middle of the night pretty strange.”

“Exactly,” Tom said. “But that was just the beginning. I found him like that in the closet a couple more times before I finally got up the nerve to go to my parents room and wake them up before opening the door to the closet. I could tell that it frightened our mother, but my dad was determined to blame it on sleep walking.

“Pete started talking to himself during the day,” Tom continued. “ We would be out at the creek building a dam or hunting for salamanders and I’d wander away from him only to return and find him sitting there whispering, shaking his head or motioning his hands like he was having a full conversation. I tried to kid him about it, tell him he must be losing it, but he wouldn’t joke with me about it. He’d always been a happy kid, always looking for a laugh and then that just changed.

“He even started to look different. There were dark circles under his eyes and he sort of scrunched his eyebrows all the time. He got really grumpy with me. I tried to tell my mom but she blamed it on his sleepwalking just like my dad. She said Peter was overtired and that I needed to be patient with him.

“One night I woke up and my dad was walking Pete back into our bedroom and helping him back into bed. I asked what was going on and he said Pete had been sleepwalking again and he found him in the backyard banging a stick against a tree. He said it with more choice words, something like, “Your jackass brother was in the backyard banging the hell out of tree with a damn stick.’”

“Oh no,” I said.

“That was the first time that I truly felt afraid. And then, after that night, I’ll tell you what, Pete got mean.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, it was little things that only I noticed. He acted fine around my parents, but when we were at the creek he’d look for crayfish and put them in with our little bucket of salamanders and watch them fight. I’d dump the bucket out whenever I saw him doing it. It gave me the creeps. It was other stuff, too.  We were riding bikes one time and he sped up and aimed to hit a cat.  He didn’t hit it, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He threw rocks at some bunnies in our yard, stuff like that.

“Then this one time, in our kitchen he was getting something to eat and our dog – we had this old deaf golden retriever – and Pete kicked him out of his way on the way to the refrigerator. I got so mad at him and I shoved him and said he’d better not ever do that again. Then he just came at me swinging. My mom had to pry us apart, we were rolling around on the kitchen floor going at each other.

“I got in so much trouble for that. She wouldn’t listen to me, only heard Pete say that I had shoved him first. That night, when he got home from work, my dad gave me a long lecture about how I should be looking out for my brother. He didn’t understand that I was looking out for Petey, my parents were the ones ignoring what was happening to him.

“Geez, Tom. You were so young, that’s a lot to take on,” I said, sympathetically.

“What are you gonna do?” Tom said, shrugging his shoulders. “It was a different time, us kids were to stay out of our mom’s hair during the day. Entertain ourselves, look out for each other. It’s so different today, but I can understand how my parents saw things back then. They probably figured that we were just getting on each other’s nerves from spending so much time together.”

“What changed their minds?” I asked.

Tom paused and took a breath, then said, “One night Pete woke me up saying, ‘Cut it out, Tommy’ I didn’t know what he was talking about and denied doing anything. He insisted that I had been kicking the bottom off his mattress with my feet and lifting him up. I had been sound asleep, I hadn’t done any such thing. As we were arguing back and forth about it, I felt something kick under my mattress and lift me up a little bit.”

“Holy hell,” I said.

“Yeah,” Tom said nodding his head. “I scrambled up the ladder to Pete’s bunk before I even knew what I was doing. We sat there, scared to death. It was the first connection I had really made with Pete in a couple weeks. I asked him, ‘What is it?’ and he just said, ‘It’s him. He needs something.’ But Pete wouldn’t tell me who ‘he’ was or what he wanted. The more I pushed for an answer the quieter he got and then he finally got angry and told me to get the heck out of his bed and to stop being such a baby.

“After that night Pete began carrying around this little red-handled paint scraper. You know the kind?” Tom asked. ”It’s metal, about six inches long with a flat metal surface at the top for scraping paint. The handle was covered in red rubber. My dad had it because he had scraped and repainted the deck that previous Spring.

“Pete became attached to the thing. If we were playing or hanging out he’d carry it in his jeans, the red handle sticking out above the top of his back pocket. One afternoon he was sharpening the thing in the garage against this sharpening stone that my dad used for his firewood axe. I asked him what the heck he was doing and Pete just ignored me, so I yelled at him, ‘Earth to Pete?’ and he looked up at me, but it wasn’t Pete looking at me. He looked older, and so filled with hatred. I backed out of the garage and he smiled and said, ‘He needs something.’”

“Come on,” I said. “What did you do?”

“Really, nothing. I avoided him after that. I knew my parents weren’t going to be any help, so I tried to stay away from him. The problem was, he wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d be at the creek and turn around and there he’d be, with that paint scraper in his hand, just standing there, staring at me. Or I’d ride my bike to the pond and he would be there. Sitting in the sand, watching me.

“The worst was a few times I pulled my covers back to see the paint scraper lying there on my pillow and Pete would reach past me to grab it before climbing up to his bunk.”

“I can’t believe your parents didn’t see this change in him,” I said.

“I think my mom saw more than she was letting on, thank God,” Tom replied. “Things came to a head one night. I was dozing off when I heard the bed creak above me. I could see Pete’s imprint on the mattress, and there was another imprint. Like someone was sitting at the end of his bed. I called up to him and he didn’t answer. Then he just slowly climbed down the ladder and stood next to my bed staring at me.

“I sat up and told him to cut it out and go back to bed, then I noticed the paint scraper. ‘I know what he needs,’ Pete said in a whisper. I told him to shut up, to leave me alone or I was going to go get our dad. I began to get out of the bed and he launched himself at me.

“He came at me with that damn paint scraper. He was trying to cut me, but I somehow managed to grab both of his arms with mine and stop him. He was doing his damndest to hurt me, and his face, Liz, it wasn’t my brother. I don’t know what came over me, but I started screaming, ‘Get out of my brother! Leave my brother alone! You can’t stay here!’ And I was calling to Pete, screaming his name, telling him to fight whatever it was off, I got through to him once and saw his eyes change a little, like he recognized me and I screamed, ‘Jesus won’t let you take my brother! Jesus won’t let you take Pete!’”

“Where were your parents?” I demanded.

“Oh, they came in and they saw what was happening right after I had yelled for Jesus to help Pete. I can still see them clear as day standing there in our doorway, frightened and confused. Then my dad pulled Pete off me and I just kept yelling for Jesus to help Pete. My mom sat down on the bed next to me and tried to calm me down. Pete was struggling with my dad, and then my mom jumped up and said, ‘Robert, the bed, it’s shaking,’ my dad looked at her and my mom looked between Pete and me and went straight to Pete and put her hand on his forehead and said ‘Demon, in Jesus name you leave my son. May all of God’s angels drag you back to hell. In Jesus name I demand that you leave Peter!’”

“Tom -” I began.

He held a hand out to stop me, “I know that this sounds like a tall tale. But, Liz, it happened. I think that when my mom felt the bed shake for herself and heard me calling out to help Pete, she believed. And you know what? I hadn’t even realized the bed was doing that tremor thing. I was so worked up.”

“What about Pete?” I asked. “What happened?”

“He came around. Slowly. It wasn’t like he all of a sudden snapped out of it, it was more like he stopped struggling with my dad and then he was very quiet and just staring at all of us like he didn’t know how we all got there. My mom went and got her Rosary beads and put them around his neck and then Pete started crying and saying, ‘Mommy’ over and over.”

“How did your dad react?”

“He never said anything about it. We all went downstairs and my mom actually made us hot chocolate and, even though Pete was still in a daze, he was definitely Pete again. The next morning my dad stayed home from work and took apart the bunk beds. I heard my mom tell him to ‘get those cursed beds out of her house,’ and he did. He dismantled them and dragged them out and didn’t tell us what he did with them.

“Sorry,” Tom apologized. “I know that it’s a real anticlimactic ending, but the rest of the summer was fine. Everything went back to normal. Pete was Pete again. I tried asking him about everything, but he said he couldn’t remember much. Just that he had felt really mad all the time.”

“We’ve talked about it a few times over the years, but I hadn’t thought too much about it until my mom passed away recently,” he said.

“I am so sorry to hear that, Tom,” I said.

“Thanks, we miss her a lot. Dad died about five years ago, so Pete and I need to sell the house. We cleaned out the basement and then tackled my parent’s storage unit in Framingham. It was mostly a hoard of dusty old antiques, ratty rugs and broken lamps,” Tom explained looking down at Kat who was sound asleep in his arms. “At any rate, we dug through to the back of the storage unit and there they were. The bunk beds.”

“Uh uh,” I said.

“Yup, looking just like the day we first spotted them at the barn,” he replied shaking his head.

“What did you do with them?” I asked.

“Well, that’s just it, isn’t it?” He said shrugging his shoulders. “I don’t know what to do with them. We’ve cancelled the storage unit, I couldn’t ask Pete to take them, and I can’t very well drop them off the dump swap and have some poor family take them home.”

“So where are they now?” I asked nervously.

“In my basement,” he said.

“Tom, no!” I replied.

“My wife is furious. When I came home with those things in the back of the pick up she damn near lost her mind.”

“So she’s knows the whole story?” I asked.

“Almost, she knows everything but the part about Pete trying to kill me.”

“You’ve got to get rid of them,” I said.

“How? He asked. “I can’t make a bonfire in our backyard, I can’t sell them, can’t donate them,” he trailed off.

“What about a wood chipper?” I asked. “Rent a wood chipper and chop them down to nothing. Then dump the wood chips in a lake somewhere. Wait, duh,” I said, reconsidering. “Take them out on a boat and just throw them overboard. Tie a nice cement block to each piece.”

“Hmm,” he said, looking off into the distance. “Pete has a boat, we could go out from the Cape, I guess.”

“Tomorrow,” I insisted.

“See, I knew you’d have an idea,” Tom said smiling. He stood up to hand Kat back to me. She stirred a bit but settled back down into my arms.

Tom grabbed our coffees off the table to throw the empty cups away. I put Kat’s bottle in the stroller then glanced up at Tom’s back as he walked to the garbage can. I notice something sticking out over the back pocket of his jeans. It was a red handle.

It took me a moment, and then I knew without a doubt what it was. I quickly looked away and felt goosebumps cover my body. Tom was back at the table before I could react.

He sat back down and asked, “What do you ladies have on tap for the rest of the day?”

“The usual,” I said, keeping my voice steady. “But, um, C is actually coming home early. Should be there by the time we get back,” I lied.

“That’s nice, what’s the occasion?” He asked.

“He’s just trying to give me a break, you know how it is with little ones,” I explained. “Speaking of, I should go grab the other two rug rats and get home.”

“You’re pulling them from school early?” He asked, his brow furrowed.

“Uh, yes, we’ll grab lunch then C will take them all to the park or something.”

“Dad of the year,” Tom said with his crinkle-eyed smile.

I agreed and quickly gathered my things, and stood, “Tom, thanks for your ghost story, it was truly frightening.”

“Will it make the blog?” He asked putting his hand out to shake.

I tried to hide my hesitation, but shook his hand and said, “Oh, most definitely.”

I quickly popped Kat into her car seat and wheeled her away, feeling Tom’s eyes on my back as I walked to the exit. I got us both into the car and called C, “I think Tom Murphy is going to hurt someone, if he hasn’t already. I’m going to the police station. You need to come home.”